Luke Kelly : Raglan Road (A Parade of Posts for St Patrick 1)

For the week that’s in it The Immortal Jukebox series A Parade of Posts for St Patrick celebrates Ireland’s glorious heritage in Song, Poetry and Painting.

It seems to me that the, ‘Secret Sign’ has been revealed to generations of Irishmen and Irishwomen and that in response they have blessed us with inspiring voices and visions that will always echo through stone and time.


A Song from Luke Kelly

A Poem by Flann O’ Brien performed by Eamon Morrissey

A Painting by Jack B Yeats

Staff in hand let’s set off with Luke Kelly’s magisterial performance of Poet Patrick Kavanagh’s great, ‘Raglan Road’.



Luke Kelly was born to Sing.

Born to Sing.

In his singing there is passion pledged.

In his singing there is grief and rue.

In his singing there is enchantment.

In his singing there is Love and the whisper of old ghosts.

In his singing there is the creature made of clay and the angel.

In his singing there is life in abundance.

Life in abundance.

Patrick Kavanagh : Raglan Road

On Raglan Road on an Autumn Day,
I saw her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare
That I may one day rue.
I saw the danger, yet I walked
Along the enchanted way
And I said let grief be a falling leaf
At the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November,
We tripped lightly along the ledge
Of a deep ravine where can be seen
The worst of passions pledged.
The Queen of Hearts still baking tarts
And I not making hay,
Well I loved too much; by such and such
Is happiness thrown away.

I gave her the gifts of the mind.
I gave her the secret sign
That’s known to all the artists who have
Known true Gods of Sound and Time.
With word and tint I did not stint.
I gave her reams of poems to say
With her own dark hair and her own name there
Like the clouds over fields of May.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet,
I see her walking now away from me,
So hurriedly. My reason must allow,
For I have wooed, not as I should
A creature made of clay.
When the angel woos the clay, he’ll lose
His wings at the dawn of the day.


After such an intense experience I think it’s time to perch on a high stool and imbibe the wit and wisdom of Flann O’ Brien a writer of genius as attested by, ‘At Swim Two Birds’ and by the blazing brilliance of his, ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ column for The Irish Times under the name of Myles na gCopaleen.

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Eamon Morrissey gives a virtuoso performance of, ‘A Pint of Plain’ from his show celebrating the work of Flann O’Brien, ‘The Brother’.

I must confess I’ve been known to perform this, though with more enthusiasm than skill, myself on licensed premises when the humour is on me!



Flann O’ Brien : The Workmen’s Friend (A Pint Of Plain)

When things go wrong and will not come right
Though you do the best you can
When life looks black as the hour of night
A pint of plain is your only man

When money’s tight and hard to get
And your horse has also ran
When all you have is a heap of debt
A pint of plain is your only man

When health is bad and your heart feels strange
And your face is pale and wan
When doctors say you need a change
A pint of plain is your only man

When food is scarce and your larder bare
And no rashers grease your pan
When hunger grows as your meals are rare
A pint of plain is your only man

In time of trouble and lousey strife
You have still got a darling plan
You still can turn to a brighter life
A pint of plain is your only man

Jack B Yeats paintings are deeply imagined encounters with the life force present in ourselves and the world around us.


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When I stand before them I am always shocked by the level of silence and attention they demand of me and by the magnitude of the reward such silence and attention produces.

Replete with Irish generosity and fortified by several Pints of Plain as a parting gift today I leave you with a glorious live version of Raglan Road.


Recommended Websites:

746 Book  (

is an outstanding Blog which has an annual Reading Ireland series.

Cathy (@cathy746books) is in addition Arts programmer for the Seamus Heaney HomePlace

Raging Fluff   (

is another excellent Blog featuring original writing from Niall McArdle (@ragingfluff) .

Niall has hosted the highly entertaining ‘Begorrathon’ for several years and has generously featured Posts from The Immortal Jukebox.

Do visit these sites and tell them The Immortal Jukebox sent you over!

N.B.   Look out for Post 2 in the series in two days on March 13th.

Christmas Cornucopia 2016 : Eighth Day

Eighth Day :

A Painting by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos 1541 to 1614)                                      

A Poem by Patrick Kavanagh (1904 to 1967)

Music by John Dowland (1563 to 1626) played by Julian Bream, The Chieftains with Nanci Griffith and The Trinity Lavra Choir


Our painting today, ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ is a work of blazing, visionary brilliance by El Greco who had the artistic bravery characteristic of genius in all ages.


El Greco depicted the human body and used colour and perspective in a manner that was wholly individual.

The awe inspiring intensity of his vision breaks down any conventional, ‘tutored’ response.

To my mind his art is a true veil shredding glimpse into a co-existing reality : present then and present now.

This painting, more than any other I know, captures the enormity of the event which took place some two thousand years ago.

It is a peerless hymn of exultation and adoration.

Today’s spirit refreshing music comes courtesy of John Dowland who can genuinely be described as a Renaissance Man in view of the time he lived in and the depth of his talents as a composer, Lutenist and singer.

His works will enter your consciousness like a pebble dropped into a pond with ever widening circles of effect.

Julian Bream is another musician with, ‘The Touch’.

Music played by Bream flows purely and naturally from his fingers to our hearts.



Further music comes from two countries: Russia and Ireland which share a reverence for poets and prophets, visionaries, bards and shamans.

Both have produced more than their fair share of saints, scholars and wayward genuises.

In both lands a sense of the numinous pervades the air and prayers ascend unceasingly heavenward – even in the increasingly secular modern age.

Of course, both countries are filled with a hundred times the number of would be writers to actual page blackening writers and both have to deal with the drunken consequences of frustrated spirituality encountering the demon drink.

Still, veil-piercing poetry and song are central to the cultural life and achievements of Ireland and Russia.

Both peoples love to carouse until they are stupefied yet both are capable of being stilled to silence and tears by a simple lyric or an exquisite slow air.

Let’s listen now to the exquisite, ‘Wexford Carol’ performed by the veritable custodians of Ireland’s traditional music, The Chieftains (here accompanied by a Texas rose, Nanci Griffith).


The Wexford Carol may well date back to the twelfth century though it’s widespread popularity is due to the work of William Gratton Flood, who was musical director of Enniscorthy Cathedral in the late 19th century.

The Chieftains play with an authority born of thousands of hours of perfecting their craft as traditional musicians – always respectful of the source material while being alert to each other’s role in bringing a tune to shimmering life.

The Chieftains, led by Piper Paddy Moloney, who has proved to be a natural born networker, have recorded many inspired collaborations with leading artists in many musical genres (though their greatest collaboration is probably with an artist from their own island – Van Morrison).

Here, Nanci Griffith sings the carol with a beguiling gravity befitting the immensity of the events portrayed. Listening I feel as I were marching in a torchlit devotional procession with the same moon that shone over Bethlehem above the sentinel trees of the forest around me.

Next, from a powerhouse of Otthodox Russian monasticism, ‘The Song Of The Magi’. The choir is from the Trinity Lavra (monastery/hermitage) of St Sergius in Sergiyev Posad some 50 miles from Moscow.

This has to be the sound of the breath of the Russian soul. Russian Othodox services provide doorways to contemplate the divine – an opportunity in stillness to be lifted into a different realm of being.

Giving ourselves over to such an experience can be profoundly uplifting and over time transformative.



Russian spirituality opens itself to mystery and awe accepting that grace cannot be willed but only gratefully accepted.

The Magi travelled long miles in search of a new kind of King and gave their gifts to a babe in a manger. Perhaps, listening to this work we could learn to give the gift of an attentive soul.

The poem today, ‘A Christmas Childhood’ is provided by one of the great figures of 20th Century Irish Literature, the sage of Iniskeen, Patrick Kavanagh.

‘Cassioepeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon – the Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodian’. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse’.


This post dedicated to the deceased members of The Chieftains:
Fiddler Martin Fay, Tin Whistle and Bodhran player Sean Potts and the mystical doyen of the Irish Harp, Derek Bell.



A garland of poems for ChristmasTide

In a time when more than ever we are hectored and daily assaulted by instant, ill informed and ill expressed opinions from commentators and pundits in print, on the airwaves and on social media we need more than ever the considered voice of poetry.

I believe that poetry is one of the glories of our species. Proof, that somewhere in the human spirit there is always a blessed movement towards understanding, reconciliation and wholeness.

Poetry has been a constant nurturing companion in my life. It’s poetry I turn to most for fellow feeling, illumination and consolation.

So today I’m collecting a garland of Christmas poems for you to ponder as you gather round for your seasonal celebrations. Drink deep!

First, ‘December’ by John Clare (1793-1864) a poet who was deeply attuned to the turning of the seasons and the rhythms of rural life.

‘… And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window-seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
In fancy’s infant ecstacy;
Laughing with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies’
Of people pulling geese above,
and keeping Christmas in the skies.’

Next the short but immensely wise, ‘BC : AD’ by the much under rated
U A Fanthorpe.

‘… And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.’

Now we turn to that great rarity a genuinely popular poet – John Betjeman (1906-1984).

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Lets her this one!

Now for a very distinctive voice. ‘Advent: A Carol’ by Patric Dickinson (1914-1994) a writer who revered and translated the Classical poets while looking at the world himself with a sharply individual measured intelligence.

He’s pictured below with a much more famous poet – Dylan Thomas.

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‘What did you hear?
Said stone to echo:
All that you told me
Said echo to stone.

Tidings, said echo,
Tidings, said stone,
Tidings of wonder
Said echo to stone.

Who then shall hear them?
Said stone to echo:
All people on earth,
Said echo to stone.

Turned into one,
Echo and stone,
The world for all coming
Turned into one.’

One of the greatest ever Christmas poems is surely by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)

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‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ is one of the glories of English poetry.

‘Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air-
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss

What can I give Him?
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him-
Give my heart’

Let’s hear that sung with elegant fervour by the very fine choral ensemble, Chanticleer.

‘The Carol Of The Poor Children’ is by Richard Middleton (1882-1911) a fascinating turn of the 19th/20th Century figure now more known for his stories like ‘The Ghost Ship’ than for his striking poetry.

‘Are we naked, mother, and are we starving-poor
Oh, see what gifts the kings have brought outside the stable door
Are we cold, mother, the ass will give his hay
To make the manger warm and keep the cruel winds away
We are the poor children, but not so poor who sing Our Carols with our voiceless hearts to greet the new-born king
On this night of all nights, when in the frosty sky A new star, a kind star is shining on high!’.

Anyone who has been a regular visitor to The immortal jukebox will know that I have deep feeling for the Irish contribution to literature and music.

So it was compulsory for me to include ‘A Christmas Childhood’ by
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967) the sage of Iniskeen, one of the great figures of 20th Century Irish Literature. Kavanagh became a major figure in Dublin life and is commemorated by a Canal side statue.

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Sit back and listen to the wonderful musical of Kavanagh’s words read aloud and linger for a performance of The Wexford Carol.

‘Carol For The Last Christmas Eve’ is by a favourite poet of mine,
Norman Nicholson (1914-1987). He came from Millom in England’s rural Cumbria. Never fashionable Nicholson’s work will endure.

‘The first night, the first night,
The night that Christ was born,
His mother looked in his eyes and saw
Her maker in her son.

The twelfth night, the twelfth night,
After Christ was born, the Wise Men found the child and knew
Their search had just begun.

But the last night, the last night,
Since ever Christ was born,
What his mother knew will be known again,
And what was found by the Three Wise Men,
And the sun will rise and so will we,
Umpteen hundred and eternity’

Our next poet Charles Causley (1917-2003) had a mythopoetic imagination and the ability to make his words sing with bardic power.

‘Mary’s Song’ has always moved me.

‘Warm in the wintry air
You lie,
The ox and the donkey
Standing by,
With summer eyes
They seem to say:
Welcome, Jesus,
On Christmas Day!

Sleep, King Jesus:
Your diamond crown
High in the sky
Where stars look down.
Let your reign
Of love begin,
That all the world may enter in.’

I am going to conclude and hang my garland with ‘Christmas Night’ by a contemporary English poet, Lawrence Sail (b.1942).

‘On the wind, a drifting echo
Of simple songs. In the city
the streetlamps, haloed innocents,
click into instant sleep.
The darkness at last breathes.

In dreams of wholeness, irony
is a train melting to distance;
and the word, a delighted child
Gazing in safety at
a star solid as flesh.

May you all enjoy every moment and morsel of Christmas Tide.