Dermot Bolger’s ‘Poem During a Pandemic for Patricia Lynch’

This is another international submission with a moving story behind it. We are very honored to host Dermot Bolger’s ‘Poem During a Pandemic for Patricia Lynch.’

Dermot Bolger is an Irish poet, novelist and playwright who received the 2021 O’Shaughnessy Poetry Award. His fourteen novels include The Journey Home. His debut play, The Lament for Arthur Cleary, received the Samuel Beckett Prize. Recent plays for Ireland’s National Theatre, the Abbey, include his adaption of Joyce’s Ulysses.

Dermot explains about this poem: ‘The poem is about writing a night during the pandemic and the theme set me thinking about my walks. In Dublin it is impossible to walk anywhere without passing a writer’s house (my back garden quite literally backs on the back garden of one of Joyce’s childhood homes) and one house I pass most nights once belonged to a very famous but now forgotten Irish children’s writer, Patricia Lynch. During the pandemic I wrote a poem about her one night when stopped outside her home.’

Poem During a Pandemic for Patricia Lynch

(Author of “The Turf Cutter’s Donkey”, 1894-1972)


It required a pandemic to cause this birdsong

To sound as vibrant here as when greenfinches sang

In the fields that once besieged this secluded road

Where you quietly wrote books for four decades.


You are all but forgotten now, but I always pause

To gaze at what was once your book-filled abode.

Your garden a riot of flowers, a weekly shopping list

Of sensible provisions phoned into the local grocer

To arrive in late afternoon, after you finished writing

And patiently answered letters from young readers,

Whose parents were blithely unaware of how you first

Came to Dublin to write reports for Sylvia Pankhurst’s

Staunch communist paper, The Workers’ Dreadnought,

Or how your husband, R. M. Fox, was upstairs typing

Defiant books about Lenin, Mao Zedong and Jim Larkin.


During the lockdown birdsong became the only sound

On the streets as children learnt lexicons of dangers;

Infection rates, social distancing, phased lockdowns:

Phrases becoming as woven into their consciousness

As your book titles were for a generation who adored

The Bookshop on the Quay or The Old Black Sea Chest.


No plaque exists to you, but you might feel embarrassed

By any fuss in this deluxe enclave where you struggled

In old age; your husband gone, your novels starting

To drift out of print, your garden unmanageable

With your arthritic hands. Cocoa and cherry brandy

Became occasional treats that helped steer you to sleep,

As your house, unchanged since the 1930s, fell apart.

The modernist suntrap rooms where you embarked

On fictional voyages started to ship water and capsize,

Until a puppeteering family rescued you from loneliness,

To bestow a miraculous final chapter to your life.


So perhaps it was apt, amid the birdsong of lockdown,

That while no hint of your physical presence pervaded

This street that felt as hushed as in any ghostly tale,

I possessed an eerie sense when passing neatly parked

Audi SUVs, sensible second cars and E-class Mercs.

I knew that my sensation of being watched was illusory

But I felt reluctant to look back, lest I discovered

A turf cutter’s donkey patiently standing on the corner,

Its reins held by a spirited young girl and her brother,

While an old lady in a headscarf beckoned them forth

From this street on which they were first conjured

By a writer robbed of all sense of home in childhood,

Who rediscovered it here with the man who loved her.


Dermot Bolger

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