A collection of poems by a Cloughaneely writer has been listed among Ireland’s ‘Books of the Year’.
‘The Poison Glen’ is from the pen of Annemarie Ní Churreáin and pivots on the theme of the systematic mistreatment of Ireland’s unmarried mothers down through the centuries.
As well as weaving together landscape and history, the work draws heavily on the mythology of The Poison Glen, stories that were told to Annemarie and her classmates during their school years.
“The Poison Glen is part of the Gaeltacht landscape in which I grew up,” said the poet.
“It’s an auspicious site associated with Balor of The Evil Eye who locked his daughter Eithne into a tower on Tory Island and stole her three infant sons, drowning two of them.
“Lugh, a God of Light, was the surviving son who returns from his fosterage as an adult to slay Balor in the glen. Lugh strikes his grandfather in the eye, causing a poison to spill all through the glen, hence the place name.
“As a writer I was keen to delve into that story but in my retelling I wanted to write back the female perspective and so the poems feature the voices of Eithne, Eithne’s handmaids and Eithne’s mother.”
The story of the stolen or missing child sits at the heart of The Poison Glen and the collection is anchored by ‘The Foundling Crib’, a poem that dwells on a long-gone foundling hospital in Dublin.
“It is part of Irish history, these children who went missing through reform schools and through mother and baby homes. We have family links to those homes and it is a theme that I keep coming back to – What happens to a family or to a community when a child is separated from them or is taken away? What does that look like and what are the consequences of that?”
A core part of the work for The Poison Glen involved visiting the left-behind sites of ‘care’ institutions.
That research though was halted in 2020 due to the national lockdown. It was at that point an invitation came from the Solstice Centre in Meath to create a new text.
“During the writing process I came upon the work of Dr Marie Keenan at UCD who is a campaigner for restorative justice services, a system of truth and justice that dates back to the Brehon Laws and which seems to me to centre the voice of the victim in a way that is not always possible within the confines of our current judicial system. Some of the questions a restorative justice approach might ask are who has been harmed? What needs to be done to repair the harm? Who should repair the harm? How might this be done?
“Drawing inspiration from the concept of restorative justice circles, I decided to put the voices of my mythological family into an imagined circle and give them each a turn to speak about the family trauma. What happened when I did this was extraordinary, a new light started to come into the writing.”
Unexpectedly the poetry collection came to conclusion with a poem of blessing and light written at Fanad Lighthouse. It was set to film by artist Laura Sheeran and ran at the lighthouse as part of last year’s Earagail Arts Festival.
While keen to stress that she is not an activist but rather a writer, Annemarie clearly holds strong views on the mother and baby homes scandal. These include that the report published last year was “very flawed” and did not fully take into account the stories of those who survived the institutions.
“I don’t see myself as an activist but more as someone who takes a subject and creates poems around it. Obviously there is a crossover between activism and art but my role really is to write books by taking material and showing how it can be transformed through language and metaphor. That in itself then adds to the conversation.”
Since its publication The Poison Glen has been named by both The Times Literary Supplement and The Independent as one of their Books of The Year.
The focus for Annemarie over the next year or so will be on touring her new collection, a tour that begins in America later this month followed by readings in Germany and possibly Spain before a return to her native Donegal.
The Poison Glen is now available at all good bookstores and at Dunfanaghy Workhouse in Falcarragh. It is also available to order on www.gallerypress.com
Posted: 4:33 pm January 14, 2022