Three poems by Donagh MacDonagh

Donagh MacDonagh (1912 / 1968), son of Thomas MacDonagh, executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising, and Muriel (nee Gifford), who died of a heart attack while swimming in Dublin Bay in 1917, was the subject of a custody battle between the Protestant Gifford family and the Roman Catholic MacDonagh family, which was won by the latter. He went to school in the Jesuit-run Belvedere College, followed by UCD and the King’s Inns, was called to the Bar in 1935, practised on the Western Circuit, and sat as a District Justice in Mayo and Dublin for over twenty years.  He wrote poetic dramas and operas and was a popular radio personality.


Dublin Made Me (1941)

Dublin made me and no little town
With the country closing in on its streets
The cattle walking proudly on its pavements
The jobbers, the gombeen men and the cheats
Devouring the fair-day between them
A public house to half a hundred men
And the teacher, the solicitor and the bank-clerk
In the hotel bar drinking for ten.
Dublin made me, not the secret poteen still
The raw and hungry hills of the West
The lean road flung over profitless bog
Where only a snipe could nest
Where the sea takes its tithe of every boat.
Bawneen and currach have no allegiance of mine,
Nor the cute self-deceiving talkers of the South
Who look to the East for a sign.
The soft and dreary midlands with their tame canals
Wallow between sea and sea, remote from adventure
And Northward a far and fortified province
Crouches under the lash of arid censure.
I disclaim all fertile meadows, all tilled land
The evil that grows from it and the good,
But the Dublin of old statutes, this arrogant city
Stirs proudly and secretly in my blood.

The Hungry Grass

Crossing the shallow holdings high above sea
Where few birds nest, the luckless foot may pass
>From the bright safety of experience
Into the terror of the hungry grass.
Here in a year when poison from the air
First withered in despair the growth of spring
Some skull-faced wretch whom nettle could not save
Crept on four bones to his last scattering;
Crept, and the shrivelled heart which drove his thought
Towards platters brought in hospitality
Burst as the wizened eyes measured the miles
Like dizzy walls forbidding him the city.
Little the earth reclaimed from that poor body;
But yet, remembering him, the place has grown
Bewitched, and the thin grass he nourishes
Racks with his famine, sucks marrow from the bone.


A Warning to Conquerors (1969)

This is the country of the Norman tower
The graceless keep, the bleak and slitted eye
Where fear drove comfort out; straw on the floor
Was price of conquering security.
They came and won, and then for centuries
Stood to their arms; the face grew bleak and lengthened
In the night vigil, while their foes at ease
Sang of the strangers and the towers they strengthened.
Ragweed and thistle hold the Norman field
And cows the hall where Gaelic never rang
Melodiously to harp or spinning-wheel.
Their songs are spent now with the voice that sang;
And lost their conquest. This soft land quietly
Engulfed them like the Saxon and the Dane
But kept the jutted brow, the slitted eye-
Only the faces and the names remain.





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