FINNEGAN’S WAKE, WITH AN APOSTROPHY.
By Mattie Lennon.
Poet Paddy Finnegan passed away, unexpectedly, on 16th July.
Shortly after his death poet and writer Stephen James Smith wrote, “Paddy was a wonderful man who inspired me with his poetry and acted as a great supporter of other young poets too. He fought the good fight and was seen most days outside Belwey’s selling the Big Issue. I’d often stop and have a chat and buy him a cup of tea, he’d offer up a smile and a few words in Irish.
“I’m sitting here now listening to his CD ‘Fion Ceol agus Filioct’, only a couple of months back he’d asked me to help him make more, I was awaiting his call to help make this happen, and as he speaks to me beyond the grave his verse is still unnerving me with his gravely pitted voice holding my ears and I can’t help but think he got that tone from much harshness, perhaps self-inflicted but also perhaps because society looked past him. “Paddy you’ll always live on in my memory, you’ll always be one of the first people who made poetry sing to me, you’ll always be a writers’ writer, a warrior with words. The Fionn mac Cumhaill of verse. “
Paddy was born “between two years” either in the dying moments of 1942 or just after midnight on New-year’s day 1942. Like everywhere else in rural Ireland clocks weren’t all that accurate in rural Ireland at the time.
He got a Scholarship to St Jarleths College in 1956 and continued his formal education in UCD..
Paddy had a fantastic knowledge of the English language, was fluent in all dialects of Gailge and had a good grasp of Greek and Latin. His versatility was increased in the year he spent in Wolverhampton as one of “the men who built Britain”. He became an expert on how to fry steak on the head of a shovel.
He joined the Irish Civil Service in 1962 but office work wasn’t for Paddy. Apart from being on a higher mental plane than most of his colleagues he was an open- air man. During his stint there I’m sure Sigersun Clifford’s line often went around in his head, “They chained my bones to an office stool and my soul to a clock’s cold hands. “ He later worked as a bus conductor with CIE for many years.
When I got a job as a bus-conductor in 1974 I was sent to Donnybrook garage. I didn’t ask who was the most intelligent person in the garage but if I had the reply would have been concise, “Paddy Finnegan.” As a conductor he could reply to any criticism from an irate passenger; in several languages if necessary. During this period Paddy and a few of his fellow intellectual would assemble in a city centre flat which was known as Dail Oiche. It was a later edition of “The catacombs” as described by Anthony Cronin in Dead as Doornails. With such a collection of intelligentsia you can imagine (or can you?) the topics under discussion. He lived for many years in Lower Beechwood Avenue, Ranelagh. If ever a house deserved a Blue Plaque its Paddy’s former residence.
He brought out a collection of his poetry, sadly now out of print, titled Dactyl Distillations. I know dear erudite reader that you know the meaning of dactyl but I had to look it up. It is, “a foot of poetic meter in quantitave verse.”
He was inspired by everyday events. His Post from Parnassus was inspired by the annual Saint Patrick’s Day commemoration of Patrick Kavanagh on the banks of the Grand Canal.
Post From Parnassus
(after Patrick Kavanagh)
by Paddy Finnegan
Here by my seat the old ghosts meet.
Here, the place where the old menagerie
Relentlessly soldiers on
Remembering the old green dragon, me,
On the feast of the Apostle of Ireland.
Ye greeny, greying catechumens
Will cease to stage this ceremony
Only on the command of Sergeant Death.
Then break not the heart of poet past
Nor that of preening poet present:
But know, ye prodigies of prosody
That multitudes in times to be
Will listen to my lays
And look askance
While cods forever fake
Their own importance.
More recently he recorded a, limited edition, CD, Fion Ceol agus Filioct. I hope that somebody will now bring out an “unlimited” edition. In his later years he was a familiar sight selling the Big Issue outside Trinity College and more recently at Bewleys on Grafton Street.
Paddy always had a story, like the day he was chatting to his fellow poet Professor Brendan Kennelly at the gate of Trinity as dark clouds hung overhead . “ . . . I asked the Ballylongford wizard for a meteorological prognostication. He replied in the immortal words: ‘ There’’ be no rain; it’ll be as dhry, as dhry as a witches tit.’ He wasn’t gone fifteen minutes when amazingly the cloud dispersed and as our old friend Pythagoras used to say: ‘ Phoebus played a blinder for the rest of the day.” That was Paddy.
I asked his brother James if there were poets in their ancestry. He said no, that their father was a farmer but, in the words of Seamus Heaney, “By God, the old man could handle a spade.”
The soil of Kilkerrin will lie lightly on Paddy; didn’t his friends drop it gently on his coffin. Such a scene was described by his friend Dermot Healy who pre-deceased him by a couple of weeks, “ . . . shovels work like oars, rowing the dead man from this world”
The soil of Kilkerrin will lie lightly on Paddy; didn’t his friends drop it gently on his coffin. Suck a scene was described by his friend Dermot Healy who pre-deceased him by a couple of weeks, “ . . . shovels work like oars, rowing the dead man from this world”
P.S. Head shot courtesy of Irish Times.