Padraic Fiacc

1924- [Patrick Joseph O’Connor; pseud. Padraic Fiacc; var. Pádraic; known as Joe]; b. 15 April, Elizabeth St., Lower Falls, Belfast, eldest son of Bernard O’Connor and Annie Christna McGarry, the former a Belfast barman and IRA activist; moved to stay with his grandmother, who was burnt out of her home in Lisburn after the killing of Police Inspector Swanzi; returned to Belfast and an alcohol father; father emigrated to New York in the late 1920s, and was reluctantly joined by his wife with three sons in 1929; lived in Hell’s Kitchen;
intended to manage father’s two grocery stores, bankrupted in Crash; ed. Commerce and Haaren High Schools, Manhatten, among, predominantly blacks; submitted ‘Inisfail Lost’, a manuscript on the Irish emigrant experience, to Macmillan and met Padraic Colum, who encouraged him (‘Write of your own people - Dig in the garden of Ireland’); received from Mary Colum her trans. of Rimbaud’s Le bateau Ivre (as The Drunken Boat); entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, Calicoon, NY State, 1941;
wrote ‘Der Bomben Poet’, his ‘first real poem’; abandoned study for priesthood, 1946; also briefly studied at Holyoak, Delaware, where he wrote verse play, Fire (dealing with St Patrick); returned to Belfast in 1946 on board Swedish ship Neutral [ORM err. 1936]; worked in Belfast as night porter, writing poetry; commenced publishing poetry, 1948; death of mother, 1950; returned to New York to look after sister; met Nancy Wayne, of Detroit, a painter, 1956; m. Wayne in Belfast and settled in Glengormley;
his collection as Woe to the Boy won AE [George Russell] Memorial Award for Poetry, 1957 - in competition with Tom Kinsella and John Montague; issued By the Black Stream (1969), with a title after Joyce’s poem (‘I bleed ... for my torn bough’); suffered death of Gerry McLoughlin, a young friend assassinated in the Troubles, 1975; marriage disintegrated, his wife and daughter moving to Limerick; suffered a nervous collapse;
issued Odour of Blood (1973); ed. controversial anthology, The Wearing of the Black (1974); Arts Council Awards, 1976, 1980; Poetry Ireland Award, 1981; elected member of Aosdana, 1981; writes in Linen Hall Library; Missa Terribilis (1986); Ruined Pages: Selected Poems (1994); Red Earth (1995); lives at Wellesley Ave., Glengormley; dg., Bridget, a doctor, lives in Ballycastle; there is a 2-tape tv. programme, “Atlantic Crossing”, produced by Paul Muldoon [q.d.]. DIW DIL ORM OCIL FDA

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Poetry collections
  • Woe to the Boy (1957; rep. Belfast: Lapwing 1994), 54pp., and Do. [Commemorative edition] (Belfast: Lapwing 2006), 46pp. [see details];
  • By the Black Stream: Selected Poems 1947-1967 [Poetry Ireland Edn., 7] (Dublin: Dolmen 1969), 52pp.;
  • Odour of Blood: Poems from Northern Ireland (Kildare: Goldsmith Press 1973), 54pp.; Do. [2nd edn.] (Kildare: Goldsmith Press 1983), 43pp.;
  • Nights in the Bad Place (Belfast: Blackstaff 1977), 48pp.;
  • The Selected Padraic Fiacc, intro. by Terence Brown (Belfast: Blackstaff 1979), x, 69pp.;
  • Missa Terribilis: Poems (Belfast: Blackstaff 1986), 60pp.;
  • Ruined Pages: Selected Poems, ed. Gerald Dawe & Aodán Mac Póilin (Belfast: Blackstaff 1994), 171pp. [see details];
  • Red Earth (Belfast: Lagan Press 1996), 68pp. [ded. to Norman Dugdale; sections, “Conor”, “Mac Cuhal”, “Mac Erca”, “Brian”, and “Adam Street”];
  • Semper Vacare (Belfast: Lagan Press 1999), 60pp.
  • My Twentieth-century Night-life (Belfast: Lagan Press 2009), 322pp., ill. [16pp. of pls.]
  • ed., The Wearing of the Black: An Anthology of Contemporary Ulster Poetry (Belfast: Blackstaff 1974), vii. 174pp. [contains Fiacc (21 poems); Hewitt (13); Heaney (9); Michal Brophy (8); Gerald Dawe (7), also Muldoon (2); George Buchanan, Ciaran Carson; Geoffrey Squires; Mahon, Montague, Longley, Deane, Meta Mayne Reid (6), Roy McFadden, Trevor MacMahon, Robert Greacen, &c.].
  • ‘An Ulsterman’s Search For Identity’, in Hibernia (26 Apr. 1974), p.11 [poem].
See also See also Pádraig Ó Snodaigh & Aogán Ó Muircheartaigh, Vae Puero: Athleaganacha ar dhánta le Padraic Fiacc (Baile Atha Cliath: Coiscéim), 48pp.;

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Bibliographical details
Woe to the Boy (1957; rep. Belfast: Lapwing 1994), 45pp., and Do. [Commemorative edition] (Belfast: Lapwing Publications 2006), 48pp. - incl. 13 poems first printed in Ruined Pages and here reinstated in their original form, with new poems. [‘a commemorative edition’].

Ruined Pages: Selected Poems, ed. Gerald Dawe & Aodán Mac Póilin (Belfast: Blackstaff 1994), [10] 171pp., contains Biographical Outline [13-16] and autobiographical fragment [‘Hell’s Kitchen’, pp.151-166].

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  • Terence Brown, ‘Pádraic Fiacc, The Bleeding Bough’, in Northern Voices, Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.141-48;
  • Gerald Dawe, ‘Secret Being, the Poetry of Padraic Fiacc’, in Honest Ulsterman, 67 (Oct 1980-Feb. 1981), pp.71-82;
  • Terence Brown, Introduction to The Selected Padraic Fiacc (Belfast: Blackstaff 1979), pp.[1]-x;
  • Francis Hagan, ‘Failure as a Strategy in the Poetry of Padraic Fiacc’, in Honest Ulsterman (Autumn 1994), pp.5-9;
  • Brendan Hamill [on Fiacc], in Krino (Summer 1995);
  • Michael Parker, review-article on Ruined Pages, Selected Poems, in Irish Studies Review (Jan. 1996), pp.46-50 [with photo-port.];
  • Gerald Dawe, ‘Finding the Language: Poetry, Belfast, and the Past’, in New Hibernia Review, 1, 1 (Spring 1997), pp.9-18 [espec. pp.9-10]
  • ‘Padriac Fiacc: Poet of the Pagan City’ [Supplement to Fortnight, 370] (Belfast: May 1998), 19pp., photo-ports. [contribs. with Fiacc, Paul Grattan; Chris Agee, Damian Smyth, John Minahan, John Brown (interview)].
  • [...]
  • Elmer Kennedy-Andrews, ‘Padraic Fiacc and James Simmons’, in Writing Home: Poetry and Place in Northern Ireland, 1968-2008 (Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer 2008), pp.118-36.

See also Michael Longley, ‘Letter to the Editor’, in Hibernia (10 Dec. 1974) - protesting his inclusion in the anthology Wearing of the Dead, together with a statement on the non-relation between poetry and the Troubles [under Longley, infra].

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Terence Brown, ‘Pádraic Fiacc, The Bleeding Bough’, in Northern Voices, Poets from Ulster (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1975), pp.141-48, ‘To be Irish in By the Black Stream is to know a permanent condition of loss; in Odour of Blood it is to know unending psychic pain. To one is a vision of poignancy sensitively presented, the other of anguish confronted directly with moral and aesthetic courage.’ (Brown, p.148).

Patrick Ramsay’s belligerent review of Patrick Crotty, Contemporary Irish Poetry (1995), ‘Fiacc in particular is an upsetting omission. As the only authentic american and continental European voice in Irish poetry, connected to the Ulster school largely throughthe conduits of late Twilight and ridiculed simultaneously by poets much younger than he for alleded crudity in response to the ‘troubles’, Fiacc has been deliberately censored from the critical record for the sheer cussedness of his range of influences. Praised early by John Hewitt, his work has been more honest, more urgent, more intelligent and more Catholic than it should have been. His omission, particularly by his own publishers, is a disgrace.’ (Fortnight Review, Jan. 1995, p.33.)

Patricia Craig reviewing Frank Ormsby, ed., Rage for Order; poetry of the Trouble (TLS Review, 19.2.1993), compares this favourably with the ‘ill-advised immediacy’ of Fiacc’s 1974 rush-to-press anthology, The Wearing of the Black. In the course of the review, she opines that even here ‘the neurotic demotic mode of Fiacc gets far too substantial a showing. The failing of such poetry, when it fails, is called portentiousness.’ (p.27).

Brendan Hamill, ‘Many More Bright Aprils’, appraisal of Fiacc in Fortnight Review, 327 (Apr. 1994), pp.45-56, remarks that Fiacc wrote a study of Michael McLaverty for Irish Bookman, ed., J J Campbell; also, studies of Mary and Padraic Colum at insistence of Austin Clarke; seven poems in Irish Bookman, 1946; four poems in New Poets (Devin Adair 1948); publ. in Poetry Ireland, Irish Times, and iRann; wrote elegy and tribute for Sibelius, addressing it to his widow; early collections, Innisfail Lost [not extant]; Brendan[ ’s] Odyssey [one surviving poem in Ruined Pages, 1994]; The River to God [partially extant in By the Black Stream (Dolmen 1969); AE Memorial Award, 1957, especially for collection Woe to the Boy; also submitted were a verse play from cycle Men as Gods; incomplete collection, Haemorrhage; and excerpts from four novels. Hamill characterises The Wearing of the Black as a collection, not an anthology. Quotes John Hewitt: ‘Fiacc is not an easy poet. He constructs poems iwth scrupulous craftsmanship, weighing every syllable. He suppresses the connections of formal narrative and leaves the reader to supply them for himself. Even the way the words lie on the page and the spaces in between are part of their significance.’ Robert Nye wrote in the Irish Press that the volumes contained ‘automatic and moving poems made out of the chaos of immediate history ... gentle lyrical, effective talent compelled towards elliptical intensities of insight by the violence in the streets.’ Film commentaries on Fiacc include Der Bomben Poet, by George Stefan Traller; also Hell’s Kitchen and Atlantic Crossing, autobiographical features produced by Paul Muldoon; current collection in progress, Dead Trees, title from Des Arbres Mortes, a play written by him in the 1940s; Woe to the Boy, to appear in revised form from Lapwing, Belfast; cites four-part autobiography, working title, Cold Water.

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James Simmons, review of The Wearing of the Black, in The Honest Ulsterman, Nos. 46-47 (Nov. 1974-Feb. 1975), pp.67-71; ‘the result is not impressive’; ‘Mr. Fiacc is “posing the question [...] how deeply can contemporary violence enter a poet’s inner being?” by presenting poets “...touched by violence.” It isn’t a question I ever put myself, and I’m not sure that publishing an anthology answers it. It might help us to realise who has written most poems about the violence, in which case Mr. Fiacc would be the winner, entitled to wear the Blackstaff designers heart on his sleeve until the next anthology. However, the question of quality intrudes./A bad odour has surrounded this book resulting from the nonsense that pours out of the editor when hc ieces to iournal;sm. .Aiso the introduction has portentous passages like, “There is a time to speak and a time to keep silent ...”. and worst of all, “there is nothing in this anthology that did not cry out to be said.” That is the sort of prose that sells Heron books. The blurb is a disgrace and the cover one of the ugliest and most impertinent I have seen.’ (p.67); criticises ineptitude of selection, noting inter alia that under ‘Belfast horrors’ appears his own poem about a fight in a Portrush lavatory of twenty years previously, and omission of his political poems in The Long Summer p.69); ‘most literary people I know have little time for him; but he seems to be on good terms with a younger generation of Belfast poets. I respond to his intensity and sharp insight, although many poems taill off into hysteria, are not properly worked on.’

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Robert McMillen, interview with Padraic Fiacc (Anderstown News, 3 Feb. 1997): Fiacc speaks of fights with Muldoon, Simmons, and ‘the Nobel Prize winner himself’, of whom: ‘Heaney’s never seen a potato in his life’; he wrote in Glass Grass: ‘My fellow poets call my poems ‘cryptic, crude,, distasteful, brutal savage, bitter ...’; ‘I still haven’t got away from being a smartass new Yorker.’; ‘The school I went to was 99 per cent black and any grievances they had, they took out on the white kids’; ‘[A teacher] asked me to write a short story and I did one about child abuse, something which was not ever mentioned way back then. It was shown to some people who went looking for the person in the story but they never discovered who it was about.’; ‘My teacher then asked me to write a poem and I wrote one about Dunluce Castle which I still remember to this day. So that was the beginning of my career as a poet.’; cites poem, ‘Winter On His Bride To Be Spring A Child’: ‘The hair a fair May day/Eyes, sunlit pear leaves/Two moons over the tiny mouth/The star-green eyes.’; also ‘An Old Woman Roams the Battlefield After Clontarf’: ‘I go not in quest of a dead child/Years have taken to the tops of pine cones/Nor nest fallen/I roam the shore with a stone in my womb.’; cites backpage notes on Red Earth: ‘Surprising, evocative, pungent, and disconcerting, Red Earth exposes another deep dimension in this worrisome imagination, restoring a poet who has so often been out of kilter with the ethics of the time, and to the sombre mainstream of Irish verse.’ [supplied on Internet by Suzanne Hicks.]

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Fred Johnston, ‘A poet of Blakean wrath’, Irish Times, 8 Feb. 1997, review of Red Earth (Lagan Press), and other poets, noting Brendan Hamill’s review article in recent issue of Krino, and expressing concern about his characterisation as poet’-as-victim’, but applauds Hamill’s Blakean comparison and characterisation of Fiacc as talking ‘the language of wrath’, before passing on to say: ‘some time in the future we may come to understand Fiacc as one of our most modern poets, his work transcending local politics yet grounded in a deep and very Northern - and urban - significance. We need to hear more of him; we meed the occasionally chilling newness of his Belfast Blakean voice.’

Michael Parker, ‘Elegies for Orszula’, reviewing Seamus Heaney, trans., Jan Kochanowski, Laments (1995), quotes Fiacc: ‘written in/The shaft of the sun/In the moment on the/Margin/Never to be sung’ (“Tenth Century Invasion”), calling it a lament for the loss of epiphanies from earlier ages (TLS, 22 Mar. 1996, p.26).

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Missa Terribilis: ‘Run like rats from the plague in you./Before death it is no virtue to be dead’ (Quoted in Blackstaff Catalogue, 1986).

As others see us: ‘My fellow poets call my poems “cryptic, crude, distasteful, brutal, savage, bitter ...”’ (Ruined Pages, 1994).

John Brown, interview with Padraic Fiacc, in “Fiacc Supplement”, in Fortnight (May 1998) [extract only]

JB - ‘Your sexuality though is a subject for speculation and dirty gossip in Belfast.’

PF - ‘Well, people want me out of the cave and into some other closet. I know they say I’m homosexual but naturally I love both men and women and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Edna O’Brien says that “Woman are the Valleys and men are the fountains.” And she’s right. That’s the way God made us. I was conscious of that in Swansea recently, the valley of the swan. I am fond of men; I have five or six close physical relationships with men; I love their bodies but I’m vulnerable because men pick up on my feminine side; whilst I try to accommodate everybody, I’m only a human being. I’d gladly give in to a man but I’m a Catholic so I would have to make a confession to the priest; there would be a hell of a lot of Hail Marys. As a priest once said to me, “You have to think of the other guy”.’ (p.12.)

PF - ‘The secret of my work is my wife Nancy, her leaving me - its loss. I was left on the ground when she left with our beautiful baby daughter; even the dog she left chewed up my shoes when I was upstairs watching television. I suppose that coming back to the North brought back my childhood which I’d tried to avoid [...]’. (idem.)

[Fiacc speaks of himself further as a poet who believes in omens. &c.]

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Anthologies (Sundry: New Irish Poets (NY 1948), incls. ‘Woe to the Boy’; also included in James Simmons, ed., Ten Irish Poets (Cheadle: Carcanet 1974) [‘Dirge’; ‘First Movement’; ‘The Poet and the Night’; ‘The Other Man’s Wound’; ‘Alive Alive O’; ‘Gloss’; ‘The British Connection’; ‘The Black and the White’; ‘Enemies]; Frank Ormsby, Poets of the North of Ireland (1979; new rev. ed. 1990); Brendan Kennelly, ed., Penguin Book of Irish Verse (1970); Derek Mahon, ed., Sphere Book of Modern Irish Poetry (1972); Poetry One (London Arts Council n.d); see also ‘Six Poems by Padraic Fiacc’, Fortnight (May 1994), p.49 [all dealing with the troubles].

The Honest Ulsterman (contributions by Fiacc): ‘Morning Dark (for John McGahern’), No.3, p.29; ‘Listening to Debussy the Poet, No.10, p.13; ‘Three Holy Blue Flower People’, No. 10, p.27; ‘Three Poems’ [‘An Intimate Letter 1973’; Saint Coleman’s Song for Flight’; ‘Shadow, Love’], No. 55, pp.39-40; also prose, ‘Fiacc Answers Back’, No. 50, p.133. (See Tom Clyde, ed., Honest Ulsterman, Author Index, 1995.)

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3: selects from Nights in the Bad Place, ‘The British Connection’, ‘Credo, Credo’, ‘Soldiers’; BIOG, 1431. And NOTE, Denis O’Donoghue, ‘Padraic Fiacc’s recent anthology The Wearing of the Black contains many poems, most of them bad in nearly every respect, which testify to the thrill of blood and sacrifice. It also contains a few poems in which the transfiguring power of violence is recognised, its way of turning boredom into drama ... &c’ (from ‘We Irish’, in Hibernia, 1978).

Books in Print (1994): By the Black Stream (Dublin: Dolmen 1969); Odour of Blood (Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1973); Nights in the Bad Place (Belfast: Blackstaff 1977) [085640 111 0]; The Selected Padraic Fiacc, intro. Terence Brown (Belfast: Blackstaff 1979) [0 86540 151 X]; Missa Terribilis (Belfast: Blackstaff 1986) [0 85640 360 1]; Ruined Pages, Selected Poems, ed. Gerald Dawe and Aodán Mac Póilin (Belfast: Blackstaff 1994) [0-85640-529-9]

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