Death of an Irishwoman by Michael Hartnett

This makes me want to read Michael Hartnett, and wish I knew Irish Gaelic.

Top of the Tent

Sketch of Michael Hartnett (1941-99) by Wendy O'Shea Sketch of Michael Hartnett (1941-99) by Wendy Shea

In 1975 the Irish poet Michael Hartnett announced his decision to give up writing in English by publishing the volume, A Farewell to English in the Irish language. The following poem recalls his maternal grandmother, Bridget Halpin who fostered him from the age of 4. Mrs Halpin was Hartnett’s door into the Gaelic/Irish past. His attachment to her as a substitute parent also enmeshed him with the shrinking Irish-speaking community (at least in the 1970s) to which she belonged. Hartnett’s lyrical representation of his grandmother in free verse is somewhat pared down, but in my opinion this makes the poem all the more powerful and hard-hitting. Further commentary follows the poem.

Death of an Irishwoman by Michael Hartnett

Ignorant, in the sense
she ate monotonous food
and thought the world was flat,
and pagan, in the sense
she knew the things that…

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