Philip Casey


Life
1950- ; b. North London, to Irish parents; grew up on farm in Hollyfort [nr. Gorey], Co. Wexford; poetry collections incl. Those Distant Summers (1980), After Thunder (1985); a one-act play, Cardinal (1991), premiered Hamburg; issued The Fabulists (1994), a novel about down-and-outs in Dublin, and winner of the Listowel Novel of the Year Award, 1995; issued The Water Star (2000), which follows five Londoners in aftermath of the blitz, with final sequence in Ireland; ssued The Fisher Child (Nov. 2001), a story of abuse and vengeance, completing the Bann River Trilogy;
 
he has also published the poetry collections The Year of the Knife (1991) and Dialogue in Fading Light: New and Selected Poems (2005); Casey created “The Fabulist”, an Irish literary webpage incorporating a ‘Dictionary of Contemporary Irish Writers’, later developed as “Irish Writers Online” [link], being a comprehensive database of contemporary poets, dramatists and novelists; he also has a blog; he has experienced periods of hospitalisation and convalescence; member of Aosdána; his Selected Poems were launched by Ronan Sheehan in the Oak Room of the Mansion House, Dublin (Aug. 2015); issued The Coupla (2015), children's novel about twins whose mother walked into the sea; lives in Dublin. FDA

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Works
Poetry collections
  • The Planets and Stars Become Friends ( Gorey: Funge Art Centre [1974]), 1 folded sh. (8pp.);
  • Those Distant Summers (Dublin: Raven Arts Press 1980), 40pp.;
  • After Thunder (Dublin: Raven Arts Press; Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1985), 64pp.;
  • The Year of the Knife: New and Selected Poems 1980-1990 (Raven Arts Press 1991), 96pp;
  • Dialogue in Fading Light: New and Selected Poems (Dublin: New Island Press 2005), 74pp.
Fiction,
  • The Fabulists (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1994; London: Serif 1995), 235pp. [see notice]
  • The Water Star (London: Picador 2000), 434pp;
  • The Fisher Child (London: Picador 2001), 261pp.
  • The Coupla (Amazon Digital Services 2015), 124pp.
 
Note: The Fabulists is available for download on a dedicated website using a Creative Commons licence [link].
Miscellaneous
  • extract from The Fisher Child, in The Irish Times [“Write Now”] (Weekend, 3 Nov. p.13);
  • ‘Comforts of Youth’, in The Irish Times Magazine (14 Sept. 2002), “Finishing Lines” [column], p.66 [reflections on the smells of childhood - see extract].

See the internet pages ...
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Criticism
Interview, Books Ireland (Oct. 1994) [self-admitted surrealist]; review of The Fabulists in Times Literary Supplement (18, Nov. 1994) [down-and-out-ers in Dublin, ‘spoofing’].

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Commentary
Paul Magrs, reviewing of The Fisher Child (Picador), recounts the plot: Dan’s wife Kate becomes pregnant on a visit to Florence, and bears a black child, Meg, which Dan rejects and sinks into a depression; his own father, living a new-age life in Co. Wexford, reveals that an ancestor Hugh as involved in the 1798 rebellion and fled to Montserrat where he became a small landowner and had three children with a black slave Ama, one a white boy and two others black girls, a family doomed to tragedy since she favours the boy; Dan achieve compassionate reconciliation and learns through a ‘rush of hurt; to appreciate the troubles of others. Magrs calls it a ‘wise, tender novel’ about the ‘muddled connections and continuities of [the characters’] lives.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 16 Nov., p.24.)

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References
Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares & Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994), selects prose.

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Quotations
1916 & All That: ‘It [visiting Kilmainham] was very moving, but I have long come to regard 1916 as an act of monumental foolishness, however undeniably heroic and noble. I believe their putative military descendants to be even more foolish. Ostensibly struggling to unite the island, they have before their eyes the evidence of what lies before them should they succeed. [/.../] I am proud to be Irish but that pride derives from a cultural source. I believe that Pearse and Connolly gave their lives for a political freedom which is of little benefit to the mass of the Irish people, its workings confined to meaningless arguments about non-issues and the clash of a few dominant personalities. Economic freedom has been tenuous and largely mythical. [... / ...] despite the pious rhetoric, the Easter Rebellion remains a pathetic waste of life.’ (Letters from the New Island, 16 on 16: Irish Writers on the Easter Rising, Raven Arts Press 1988, 47pp., Contribution [author name/no title], pp.28-29; p.29.)

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Comforts of Youth’, in “Finishing Lines”, The Irish Times Magazine (14 Sept. 2002): ‘[...] The curlew in the bog and the gasmask in the [London] bombsite have followed me through life as emotional contradictions. It is like declaring something to be true, then immediately seeing that its opposite is also true. This is probably why I have trouble believing that three plus two is five, but can quite easily grasp that an electron can be in two places at once. That space and time are relative concepts sits quite easily with me. Yet the gasmask and the curlew have a peculiarly unvarying character. They are things as themselves, in a particular, fixed time. Even though a bird is hardly stationary, the curlew’s cry always seemed to come from the same part of the bog. Though I must have heard it many times, it is as if I only heard it once, perhaps because its two lonely notes etch themselves into the brain, like a nervous metronome. The gasmask, on the other hand, despite the fact that it had a history, that its owner had perhaps died horribly, seems now to have been more lifeless than any mask or any corpse. / Not so the third image which has followed me around since my youth like an umpire of the game between the curlew and the mask: Croghan mountain, the same mountain over which the rain inexorably crossed like a blind animal that knew where it was going. The word Croghan comes from the Irish cruachán, meaning stack, or small mountain, and there are many so named in Ireland. Like most mountains, it looks different depending on where you view it from, but from where I stood, near Hollyfort, it had the classic shape of a peak. In winter it was reminiscent of the mask: cold - indifferent it seemed, even to the curlew; as if by contrast on a fine summer’s day when it was exquisite to watch, it somehow cared for you, which is to say you could love it then. / On a fine day in summer it was fascinating, as it shimmered, apparently blue, and seemed to breathe. In a lovely poem, James Liddy called it the Blue Mountain. I think I must have projected my inchoate sense of the spiritual onto it, and it has been refining and offering it back to me ever since. / No doubt there lurks in some psychoanalysis or poetics handbook a name for these enchantments that one carries to the grave. Im convinced that everyone has at least one to which they return in times of reflection, or crisis, and it is always there, in the background, waiting to release its power if only its carrier will allow it. It is where empathy begins. If a term for such solaces exists, 1 dodt want to know it. In a way, 1 shouldn’t even be mentioning them here. They should be sacred and therefore secret. But ifs too late. They permeate everything I have ever written, and perhaps they always will.’ (p.66; end.)

An Indian Dreams of the River
(for Terry and Kevin)

I can no longer smell freedom on the river.
A woman’s life is always hard, but at least
I had my teeth, then. My smile was famous
in the village.
They have polluted the river with the burning leather
of their jackboots.
At night, when the fireflies eat my brain,
I think of how they broke my husband,
bone by white bone.
Curse by obscene curse they raped me,
clutching José’s eyes open
to see our shame.
I cannot eat fish anymore because they remind
me of their eyes.
Sleep comes like a caravel of conquistadores,
gleaming Toledo bayonets flecked with blood.

—Printed in The Irish Times (27 Aug. 2015) in a feature article on the publication of his Selected Poems.
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Notes
The Fabulists
(1994), set in Dublin, concerns Tess and Mungo, lonely people who begin sporadic affair after chance encounter on Ha’Penny Bridge having both been through ‘marriage, children, death of love’; exchange fantasies; rediscover capacity to feel; Mungo has previously lived in Barcelona; Tess receives postcards from Berlin; opens with Tess joining the Parade of Innocence to highlight the case of the Birmingham Six as it crosses O’Connell St. Bridge, where she first sees Mungo; ends with the couple waving to President Robinson as she leaves Dublin Castle following her inauguration; skill in handling of elements of fact and fantasy. (See review by Liam Harte, in Irish Studies Review, Winter 1994/5, p.49.)

The Fisher Child (2001) - author’s plot-summary: ‘Like [a] Renaissance painting [...] The Fisher Child is in three parts. In the first, Kate is happily married to Dan, both of them second-generation Irish and comfortable in their middle-class north London lives. They have two children, a boy and a girl, with another one on the way. But when Meg is born, Dan cannot accept her as his child, and retreats to Ireland in bewilderment. In Wexford, his family are partaking in the the bi-centenary commemoration of the 1798 Rebellion, and he learns about his ancestor Hugh Byrne, a rebel who was forced to flee Ireland, presumably to America. Dan will never know what the reader discovers in part two – that Hugh had not settled in America but in the Caribbean island of Montserrat, where he fell in love with Ama, a black slave whose genes have lain hidden in Dan’s family for two centuries.’ (Posted on Facebook, 20.01.2015 - at the Kindle launch of the novel.)

The Coupla (2015): Will Kate and Danny find their mother? A magical twist on the shape-shifting wonders of Irish myths and sea legends. Kate and Dan are twins. When they were three, their mother Ana walked into the sea. Cormac, their dad, and Mrs Janey who looked after them while he was away, both tried their best to comfort them, but they still missed her. [See Amazon.]

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