I posted a blog recently about a Seven Towers Last Wednesday open mic at which I read my poem ‘To the Memory of Edward Tenison, D.D., and the Glorious Resurrection of His Church as a DIY / Decorating Centre Superstore This Poem Is Dedicated ‘, which I wrote some time ago when St Mary’s Church in Mary Street Dublin had been converted into a DIY centre. I was taken by the idea that it was now a place where one could go for refurbishment of a kind. And that, once upon a time, a long time ago, it had been then too a place for refurbishment of a kind. I was also reading John Betjemann at the time and was impressed by the amount of work he put in trying to save old churches like this from extinction so I paid homage with an introductory quote.

The plaque on the wall inside the church which speaks about the dedication of Edward Tenison (and his wife Ann), and all the other plaques, carry an enormous freight of history. The woodwork and general decor is stunning.  The church is now a restaurant (called, for some reason, ‘The Church’) and I am glad to see the that the interior is well preserved and looked after by the proprietors. Well worth a visit.

This poem was first published in the Electric Acorn on-line magazine (issue 10, and thank you again Nessa O’Mahoney) in 2001 and subsequently in my second collection ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’ (2010). (And for some reason I can’t fathom I can’t get wordpress to make the stanza breaks so I have inserted numbers)


“The Church’s Restoration

In eighteen-eighty-three

Has left for contemplation

Not what there used to be… ”         From ‘Hymn’ by John Betjeman


To the memory of the Right Reverend Father in God

Edward Tenison DD, late Lord Bishop of Ossory,

departed this life November 29, 1735 AD,

in his 62nd year and whose plaque looks down

on the best ceramic tiles available in Dublin’s city

centre: designs arrived just newly from Italy and Spain

in all good brands of quality (there’s Kalebodur,

Kleine and Pilkington), this poem is dedicated.


Many a Sunday did the faithful decorate themselves

and sit in pews to parley with their Lord ~ Yea,

would they congregate to pray and deck the soul

in colours pleasing to Him, led by Edward Tenison,

His representative on earth. Yea, would they climb

their voices past the highest organ note, past

curtain rails and satins 60 inches wide, past

facingboard and every paint and stain and shade


the modern soul finds needful, nay, finds balm

to spirits peeled and stripped and sanded daily: Oh,

lift up your hearts and praise the wallpapers of suburbia

and walk with me in heaven, feast on tasteful decors,

double-glazing, sunken lighting, sliding door — These

hallowed boards he trod year after year now bend

beneath their rows of sealant, stacks of grouting pastes

and curious implements designed to paint a ceiling


without splashback, all his sermons stashed somewhere

that God has rented out to store such truck as time

has shelved for good. They were for Good. They were for God!

But even He, in His divine, unguarded moments

fain would cast them out (His mansions too could maybe do

with some refurbishment?). Fain would, but can’t. (They’re Edward’s.

Edward Tenison’s. One can’t). So let poor churchmice gnaw

long into night until they break a tooth on texts


that dwell uncompromisingly upon the need

to sweep clean every crack and cleft and dusty shelf

and fling wide open every aperture will welcome

Grace of God. Remember, Edward, all those doubts

you had and nursed long winter nights beside your Ann

(beloved and commemorated here too) telling over

and again how it is said the Kingdom of the Good

will never fail, an we but rise each morning bent


upon remaking of ourselves. See, Edward, Heaven

come on earth around you: method, mean and mechanism

(all in handy packs) to smooth the rough, rebuild again

the fallen, stem the grim disintegration all

our masonry is heir to. Yea, verily I say:

the lion of solemn vespers here lies down beside the lamb

of pelmets, curtains and Swish-Rail. Excuse me, Can you

help me? I want a can of outdoor paint. And, oh yes, a brush.

Last Tuesday (19 April) at 8.00pm the first of my ‘Behind the Lines’ programmes was broadcast live on Liffey Sound FM. However, for those unfortunate persons unable to get us on 96.4 a podcast is available from ‘Radio Archives’ in the Blogroll on the right hand side of this site.  ‘County Lines’ is a collection of personal accounts of life in the South County Dublin area and produced in book form by Desmond Bolger when he was Writer in Residence with South County Dublin Co. Council in 2006. It’s on the shelves of all libraries in the area and also exists in audio-book form. It is truly a wonderful selection of writings and, quite apart from its main purpose of giving a flavour of life in the county, it is a great testiment to writing talent available to Desmond in his project. This particular programme features Brian Kirk, Colm Keegan, Eileen Casey and the late Joan O’Flynn. There is such a wealth of great material in this book that I intend to feature it in future programmes and to have some of the writers on the show in person.

This is a warts-and-all portrait, released in time for the 2006 centenary, and some of the warts are quite large. His continual ‘falling in love’ for instance gets a bit tedious as one reads on. His unashamed desire to climb as far as he could into high (titled) society is also a bit off-putting, as is his ambivalence about his sexuality: one minute he’s telling everyone he is. Then he’s saying he isn’t. And also, rather like Graham Greene, his firm Christian beliefs became flexible when the situation required.

Well, we can’t all be perfect. He was a fine poet with a terrific skill at rhyme and timing and the striking turn of phrase. And he involved himself fully against one of the great vandalisms of the day: the destruction of England’s architectural heritage, especially its Victorian heritage. He was also one of the most popular broadcasters on the new medium of television with a gift for being understood by ordinary people (something not too usual in poets!).

John Betjeman 1906-1984

The downside to this TV / film success was that it more or less took over his life and there’s a view, shared by this biographer, that he would have written more and even better poetry if he had not been engulfed by the BBC and other bodies like Shell, for which he did out a series of county-by-county tourist guides.

He was a gregarious, friendly sort of person with a pronounced sense of humour, traits which Wilson brings out in this book, and which  infuse his poetry, although he too had his dark moments (‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough… ‘). I think the author does a good job of work: “When we assess the life of a popular writer, we are doing rather more than telling the story of their days from birth to death. We are also describing someone who made a profound appeal to their own contemporaries, and therefore we are seeing something about their generation’. Betjeman certainly did appeal to his contemporaries. He was a fine poet,  is a fine poet, with all the usual personal failings.

A good read this book, although I would have liked a little more about the poetry. To which the only reply must be: Well, then, go and read the poetry. Quite right too.


Listen to Aisling Fox talk with me on Liffey Sound FM (96.4) about her work as a performance
poet in Dublin and how music has influenced her style of delivery. Lively,  engaging, socially conscious work and plenty of music and performance to listen to! Go to ‘Radio Archives’ in the ‘Blogroll’ list on my site TVIVF to download the podcast. Enjoy!

Well, no mic, but not needed in the room we have now at the ‘Twisted Pepper’ cafe in Abbey

Tony Gilmore

Street in Dublin. Smallish, but acoustically very good. I got to start off the evening and launched into my ‘To The Memory of Edward Tenison‘ poem (included in my ‘And Suddenly the Sun Again’ collection from Seven Towers, 2010). This poem was written some time ago when St.Mary’s Church (just up the road in Mary Street) had been resurrected as a DIY store and I wrote it after reading a great deal of John Betjeman, so there are the usual traces of influence that stays in the mind after reading a master craftsman. I’m not particularly interested in old churches, certainly not as interested as Betjeman, but there was something poignant about the way the magnificence of St Mary’s internal architecture (old plaques and all) had been made to vie with modern DIY merchandise that caught at the heart.

The Twisted Pepper Open Mic

Great fare tonight. Very impressed with Tony Gilmore‘s analysis of comedy and  Ann Tannam’s poem on Irish attitudes towards the weather, which was both comic and rueful. And so much more good stuff. Also it seems to me that there is not so much doom and gloom poetry around as there once was. I think the recession is cheering us up?