The Irish Brigade: Book Review

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Brigadier General Robert Nugent poses with the Irish Brigade in Washington, D.C.   1865

 

“The Irish Brigade”, by Steven J. Wright, is a slim volume that packs an emotional wallop far out of proportion to its size. In a mere sixty pages, the book offers vivid photos and moving descriptions of the Irish who fought in the United States Civil War. There is no shortage of heroism or honor on display in this book. But just as these traits are heralded, so is the tragedy of war driven home.

Most of the people featured in the book did not survive the War. This is a startling reality. Letters to family from fallen soldiers highlight the toll war took on millions from both the North and the South. Although some Irish did join the Confederate effort, overwhelmingly, these men fought with the Union army.

Though sourcing in this book is necessarily selective, because of its size, the material cited is very affecting. A wealth of first-person accounts captures the experience of war.

I found the book in a local library. It is listed for sale in most places as a collectible or rare book. The book would be of particular interest to Civil War buffs or to those who would like to learn about Irish-American history.  I highly recommend Steven J. Wright’s “The Irish Brigade”.

A. G. Moore  June, 2017

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Star Strangled Banner: Book Review

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County Waterford Countryside Near Dungarvan, Ireland: Photo by Jorge 1767

By  Dan O’Donnell

When I respond well to a poet’s work I try to understand why. In Dan O’Donnell’s “Star Strangled Banner”, I don’t have to search long for a reason. His poetry resonates with a yearning that echoes in every heart that ever left home. His yearning is not merely for a home but for a past. And in this, his work is universal.

The Irish flavor of Mr. O’Donnell’s work is inescapable. He is “Paddy”, “born from the sod”, working the sod and, finally, dying and being buried “under the sod”. Mr. O’Donnell’s poetry extends to subjects besides his Irish roots. There’s age, and love, hard labor and the burden of corpulence. But it is his Irish-themed poetry that affects me most. Perhaps that’s because my mother-in-law was from Roscommon and spoke often of the hard early years when she would cut peat to burn in the fire. The grand houses she passed on the way to school were remote from the reality of her life.

Mr. O’Donnell’s last poem, “Ireland”, is my favorite and it is a perfect ending piece. “Although I have nearly always been in exile…my mind is free to send me back,” he begins.” He writes, “Every day is long with the stranger.”  However, he continues, clear memory “of a far-off past eases my yearning and helps me to send in the day.”

Though pleasing and well-crafted, his poetry falls short for me in only one respect. He strains at times to find a rhyme. The rhyme is not essential and gives an occasional poem a forced quality. However, this minor point does not detract from the overall quality of his work.

Take the time to read Dan O’Donnell’s “A Star Strangled Banner”.  It would be a hard heart indeed that could not take pleasure in this poetry.

A. G. Moore  1/8/2017

The Red Petticoat: A Collection of Poems

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This illustration is from a 1905 book of Irish legends, Celtic Myth and Legend, by Charles Squire.

By Joan Slowey

People sometimes ask what the difference between prose and poetry is. Certainly the lines between these two forms have blurred in modern times, but generally a reader expects prose to have literal significance and poetry to have an emotional component. It would be good to keep this distinction in mind as you read Joan Slowey’s The Red Petticoat.

Joan Slowey’s poetry is personal and yet it has the kind of emotional resonance that echos in the ear and the heart of the reader. Ms. Slowey draws upon her experience. The tone of her work tends to be reflective as she looks back over a lifetime of joy, love, and loss. She uses language that has significance for her, that draws upon her Irish roots. Gaelic words pepper her writing, as do characters from Irish lore. At one point she writes an entire haiku in Gaelic. This is her heart and her psyche speaking, of her tradition and to her tradition. All of it works.

Ms. Slowey covers a variety of subjects. In each case there is evidence of a mature intelligence and a deep empathy. Ms. Slowey has witnessed the full cycle of life and is coming to terms with her place in that cycle. In Minus One, for example, she mourns the passing of her “own particular Adam.” Her “magic circle” has been broken and she wonders

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Two of my favorite poems draw upon her insight as a sentient observer.  One haiku, for example, notes the slime of a snail on her patio and ends with the line, “Well, snails must live too”.   Another, more thought-provoking piece contemplates a creature even more despised than the snail: a flasher.  In this poem, entitled, The Flasher, she lends complexity to a subject most of us dismiss out of hand.  What is the dark secret behind such a low act?  She wonders, as the poem draws to an end,

‘Did he shake with wicked glee?” or did he “Turn away to hide?”

The Red Petticoat is a slim volume. Its brevity invites a leisurely read, and perhaps a re-read.  If you indulge in this temptation you’re bound to find a gem, one poem that resonates with you as so many in this collection did with me.

I highly recommend Joan Slowey’s The Red Petticoat.

 

A. G. Moore 9/2016