The Seasons of Cullen Church is a new collection of expert lyric poems which movingly animate the characters of Bernard’s childhood in County Cork.
The book title comes from the village of Cullen in North County Cork where Bernard grew up and still returns to regularly. “When I was a child there in the 1950s, the church was very much the centre of everything, so the different stages and seasons of the year (Christmas, Lent, Easter and the rest) were marked as much by church ceremonies and attendance as by the weather and the movement of the sun. For example, 'Easter' was a more resonant term than 'spring'. When people were marking the church's centenary about ten years ago, they asked me to write something for it and the title-poem is what I came up with.”
Some of the poems are about the poverty of country living and farm labourers in Bernard’s early days while others draw on more specific characters, as Bernard explains: “One of the poems is called Connolly's Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in the middle of Cork city which was run by a man called Adrian Connolly for many years. He gradually reduced the operation as he approached retirement, and he once said to me he expected finally just to sit on a high stool in the middle of the floor with all the sections closed down. When asked on his retirement what he thought the new incumbents should do with the building, he said 'If it was me, I think I'd open a bookshop’. The Republic is about a friend in Oxford, Martin le Vay who suffered from mental illness. He was a great lover of books who every so often gave all his books away as a kind of revulsion against them. So the republic there is the republic of letters.”
Most of the poems in The Seasons of Cullen Church were written in the last five years although Bernard describes some of them as having been ‘hanging around’ in various forms from earlier than that, until he had further material that brought them together. “You tend to find a theme after the event in a way that you are not aware of as you write; it strikes me now that this book is about 'shutting up shop', or something like that!”
The Seasons of Cullen Church is published by Faber this month. In 2017, OUP is publishing The Golden Bridle, a selection of the prose writings, critical and biographical, of Cecil Day-Lewis who was a student at Wadham in the 1920s. It is edited by his friend, the American scholar Albert Gelpi, with an introduction by Bernard.
Bernard O'Donoghue was born in Cullen, Co Cork in 1945. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, where he taught Medieval English and Modern Irish Poetry. He has published six collections of poetry, including Gunpowder, winner of the 1995 Whitbread Prize for Poetry, and Farmers Cross (2011) which was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot prize. His Selected Poems was published by Faber in 2008. He has published a verse translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Penguin Classics 2006), and is currently translating Piers Plowman for Faber.