Michael Longley - Northern Ireland
Background: The people of Northern Ireland went through a prolonged period of sectarian violence commonly referred to as The Troubles.
I brought along a little letter, you know, to show you the sort of thing that can happen. I wrote a poem called the “Ice Cream Man,” I don’t know that any of you know it? Oh. And it’s a poem that ends with a list of flower names as a kind of a bouquet, a kind of a wreath for the man who was murdered on the Lisburn Rd. And I got this letter:
‘Dear Mr. Longley,
My daughter bought your book Gorse Fires for me after hearing you on the radio. Your verse on “The Ice Cream Man,” was clear to us who you were writing about. But I do appreciate very much that someone outside our family circle remembered my son, John. The fact that there were 21 flowers of ice cream in the shop and you wrote twenty-one flavours was coincidental. I do bless you for your kind thoughts. May God bless you.
The Ice Cream man’s mother, Rosetta Laura ’
Now imagine getting that letter. So that’s the sort of thing that matters, you know? And I had no idea it would have that effect. And then, you remember-no, you wouldn’t remember- but when Mountbatten was blown up off the coast of Sligo. And that’s all that’s ever remembered, but there were a couple of boys earning holiday money on board. And one of them was called Paul Maxwell. And I had published this book: this poem called “Ceasefire,” have you read that one? It’s all about Achilles, and Hector, and Priam, King Priam. Anyway, it appeared in the Irish Times. My son- this is the father:
‘My son, Paul, aged fifteen years was killed by a bomb in Mullaghmore in County Sligo in August, 1979. I’m still trying to come to terms with this and have found that writing down my feelings in the form of poems, which may have little value to someone, to anyone but me, has been therapeutic. Your poem ‘Ceasefire’ in the Irish Times, Saturday, 3rd September, I feel encapsulated a great deal of my own thinking on this most effectively, as well as contributing to the therapeutic process. I have referred to it for five years.