My father says ‘if you haven’t got friends, you’ve got nothing’ and what has kept me bouncing between Ireland, Australia and Turkey? Place, history, lineage, the search for belonging, but mostly friends. Because loving friendships cross borders and boundaries; gives us a fall net in hard times; and our giving in return brings a kind of harmony to life. And travel is adventure, difference enriches, inspires a sense of awe, unblinkers the mind, asks us to confront our prejudices, our ignorance.
I came to Ireland in 1983. I wept in the Wicklow hills when the fuchsia was bleeding its crimson purple onto the road and thought ‘I’m just overtired’. It was genetic memory, but it took me 20 years to accept that. We came out of Cork and only recently have I published those poems on their leaving in 1890 that tore at me for so long. Now 36 years after my arrival back, 20 of those (seven permanently) in the wild west of Connemara below Clifden, I’m leaving indefinitely. Going back the path they went with my Irish passport firmly in hand. My two boys, now men, grew partly here, attended Ballyconneelly primary school, came and went with me. Four of my poetry books are embedded in this country. Physical, emotional, spiritual, the wrench is profound.
Knocknarone Press and I will be hosting bon voyage drinks to say farewell and to launch my latest book Under this Saffron Sun, in Clifden on Sunday, November 17. The wonderful Mary O’Malley Madec, author, from NUI Galway will launch the book at Foyles Hotel at 4pm. All welcome there, and to hear Lynn Saoirse on the harp. For anyone who can’t make that date, my dear friend and fellow writer Susan Millar DuMarrs will launch the book at the Black Gate Cultural Centre, Galway on Thursday November 14, 5.30 for 6pm. Again, everyone is welcome.
My brother did me a great favour by marrying Sevil Kılıç Rowland in Australia 17 years ago. Divorced, now friends, we share a love of ancient history and archaeology. Without her insistence that I go to Turkey in 2009, my life would be much poorer. I got involved in writing about Turkey when the Australian consulate in Çanakkale near Gallipoli arranged for me to read and teach some workshops there. I visited the Naval Museum and was shocked to experience for the first time, myself as ‘enemy’ in the history of that place. It gave me another viewpoint on history I thought I had known. I started to read, to talk with people, to trawl the web. Turkish people gave me their photos, their stories, their history of loss and out of it all came This Intimate War Gallipoli/Çanakkale 1915 – İçli Dışlı Bir Savaş: Gelibolu/Çanakkale 1915, Turkish translations Mehmet Ali Çelikel
I visited Istanbul and was overwhelmed by nine layers of civilisation. I fell in love with the Ottoman architecture, the food, the music, the kindness of people.
I learned of the great cosmopolitan city from which the nation arose. In Turkey, no-one wants you to be alone. Everyone helps. I have a poem ‘The Young of Turkey’ in my new book showing this. But also how important the remembrance of Ataturk is and the celebration of Republic Day October 29th. This day marks the founding of the Republic of Turkey with its secular government. After their defeat in world war one which the Ottomans entered because the British refused to hand over two ships which public subscription had bought – the allies carved up the Ottoman empire and only the diligence of battle-weary Ataturk drove the deal at the Treaty of Lausanne which created the new Turkey in 1923. Much like the Irish battles for independence, Turkey was aspiring for its own new state with this basic stated intent: Peace at Home, Peace in the World.
I’ve danced with the Roma in Turkey, seen the great 16th century mosques of Mimar Sinan who lived a hundred years; sat in Newgrange and on the Cliffs of Moher before tourism took off. Everywhere serendipitous meetings set me ablaze with curiosity and still draw me on.
My most recent book Under This Saffron Sun returns to Turkey; capturing place, friendship, change and uncovering the similarities between peoples which unite us all, rather than divide. It gently alludes to Syrian refugees, to the desire for peace and for stability, to hold onto the things which bind.
Mostly, it is about friendship, ‘different ways with love’ and place.
Now my own father is almost 100. Time to go ‘home’, for now; to the one I grew up in. But I have other homes, other ‘families’. And I’ll be back to them soon enough, god willing, inshallah. Until we meet again!
– Under this Saffron Sun will be launched in Foyles Hotel, Clifden, at 4pm on Sunday, November 17.