I Couldn’t Believe My Ears

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I couldn’t believe my earsCatriona O’Reilly, Cavan Arts Officer, and Philip Doherty, Cavan playwright extraordinaire, did me proud at the launch of my poetry collection, Threads,  in Cavan, last night. Truly, I couldn’t believe my ears (now I understand that expression) when I listened to them talk. It was as if they were discussing  someone else’s work. When I heard both of them read extracts , I actually nodded,  as one does when one hears an impressive poem. Then I understood it was my poems they were reading. They made them sound so good! I wanted to go home straight away and re-read the collection borrowing their eyes! Thank you, Catriona, Philip and the Johnston Library. You made me feel so thrilled and proud last night.

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I am launching my second collection of poetry, Threads, in the Johnston Library, Cavan on Thursday 19 April at 6.30pm with Catriona O’Reilly and Philip Doherty. Everyone is welcome. I really hope to see people there. It is exciting and nerve wracking. But can’t muse more as I have to go bake cakes and buy wine.

cover pic

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London in Spring

Last weekend, in London, the sludge of the Thames flowed with blue sky and spring lamb clouds. Park cafes were snaked with daffodils and people tottering on Spring legs. Folk flowed up the steps from the depths of the Underground into the sun strewn streets of St Paul’s, Piccadilly, Green Park, Knightsbridge. The city highways and by-ways were like a murmuration of starlings gathering, dividing, re-shaping.
I sprang back into my home town by eating, drinking, visiting the Pooh and Picasso exhibitions, meeting friends, family, theatre. The Picasso Exhibition was fabulous. A circular swoop of colour and shape, of women and sexuality with a pumping under current of lust and sensuality. The Pooh Bear exhibition was charming. I travelled to South Ken in a tube carriage over flowing with excited, neatly limbed, small children, the sort that go to exhibitions. I loved the narrative around EP Sheppard’s drawings: how to show expression with a just a dot and a dash.
On Friday and Saturday morning, I woke in bed bathed in sunshine and traffic. As I stretched, so did the day. Each morning, afternoon and evening was creased into a linen fold of coffee, lunch and tea, exhibitions, theatre, restaurants, all arrived at by way of linked arms, laughter, murmured secrets and silver service. Sirens blazed, horns blared, people forged. Prince Albert glowed golden in Kensington Gardens. Snippets of stories spilt into the Serpentine or on to cracks in the pavement as we walked, talking of work, writing, retirement, rape, child sex abuse, war and chemical weapons, and books. We single filed and dodged through traffic, hailed taxis, grabbed tables. And my world mixed the magic and sadness of belonging and un-belonging.
On Sunday, it rained. In the morning, I sat quiet in the grey of the window, watching my brother’s magnolia tree slowly bloom in his London garden. In the afternoon, I went out for tea.
Of course, my mother wasn’t there. But that’s okay. She left me London, family and friends and I am grateful to her for that. I thank her.



Launch of Threads

A Second Poetry Collection from Kate Ennals

Thursday 19 April 2018 at the Johnston Library, Cavan. 6.30pm



As Trump continues his reign of turmoil and the Russians and Syrians poison and bomb, and as the British wreak further havoc with Brexit and debate abolishing school meals, and as the Chinese President consolidates his power for the next decade, I am launching my second collection of poetry on Thursday 19 April at the Johnston Library at 6.30pm. It is called Threads.

Adrienne Rich said, “poetry can’t free us from the struggle for existence”, but my poems and writing do help me to express the “inchoateness” (Seamus Heaney) of being. Poetry and writing are my anti-dote to the fading thread of hope in the world we live in today.

The poems in Threads were written over the last five years. The book is divided into three parts: Familiar Threads, Threads of Thought and Other Threads. In Familiar Threads, many of the poems are about my mother who died last year. They are not particularly pleasant, but they helped me deal with her decline. In Threads of Thought, the poems respond to the political upheaval and are tiny expressions of my frustration, anger and fear. The poems in Other Threads reflect on the extraneous threads of life that make up our every day.

I titled the collection Threads because it seems, increasingly, that threads are all we are: threads unravelling from a woven patchwork.

It would be lovely to see you all at the launch (there will be refreshments). I am very happy that Catriona O’Reilly of Cavan Arts Office and playwright extraordinaire, Philip Doherty from Cavan Town Hall, have agreed to do the honours. Over the last ten years, the Arts Office has provided me with tremendous support and encouragement as has the Town Hall Cavan which has put on amazing, exciting extravaganzas and productions which keeps the arts scene flourishing in Cavan. I’d love to see the broader Cavan community there because we are what make life good and I want to celebrate this poetry book with you. But, I hope, all of you friends, poets, writers will come from wherever you are for you are all threads in my fabric.

And many thanks to Nuala O’Connor for the review on the back cover.





A Valentine Thought: The Rugby Rape Trial in Ulster

kate culture nightI have a lot of respect for the complainant in the Rugby Rape Trial. It must be so daunting to take on such statuesque, well known and popular men. It must be very scary to put yourself into the hands of more men (the legal team) trying to besmirch your character. It must be so stressful to face more aggression after having already experienced shame, fear and anger at their hands. It must be so demeaning to have all your actions while drunk put into the public domain.

I feel all this because I have been in many similar situations but did not have the courage or fortitude to tell anyone, let alone take a court case. On numerous occasions in my life, when I was young and drunk, I was taken advantage of by older men who wanted sex. In some cases, I had flirted, and had been flattered by their attentions, but then didn’t know how to say no. I felt like I had gone too far, and I deserved whatever happened next.  In one case, where I did say I did not want sex, I was chased around my flat by the gentleman, naked, who refused to accept I meant no. It was not a pretty sight. In the end, he had his way. He was angry and I was frightened. I worked with this guy.

On other occasions, the men were colleagues of my father. They worked for human rights organisations. One came to my hotel door, suggesting a night cap. I was sixteen. I was undressed. I was flattered. I will never forget the way his hairy body grazed my young flesh as he rubbed himself on every part of me, or the scrubbing of the hot shower afterwards. Another man was my father’s colleague with whom we were staying who came to my room. Yes, I had been chatting and flirting with this man over dinner. I was his guest. I was my father’s daughter. Mea culpa. And I couldn’t tell my dad. They were his friends and colleagues.

These events when I was young and impressionable, led me to have a blasé relationship with my body and sex which wasn’t healthy. There were numerous times when I ended up having sex I didn’t want with men I didn’t like because they expected it.

On all occasions drink was involved. On each occasion the men felt that they had the right to act, that my behaviour had warranted it, and I complied. But, every single time, I felt abused. Then, I would not call it rape. Rape has so many connotations: it means victim, oppression, violence. I was a middle class young woman who fought for women’s rights, went on protests. I did not like to think of myself as oppressed; I was not a victim, just an immature, silly, drunken girl. And I did enjoy sex. I thought I knew it all. The generation of the seventies who understood sex. I loved the intimacy, the love, the exploration of each other. I loved the gentleness, and physicality the body brings to the relationship. But I didn’t enjoy sex with these men. It was nothing to do with love, intimacy, appreciation. There was no relationship. I had been afraid and ashamed. And I hadn’t known how to stop it.

So, I think this woman is very brave to come forward, and in effect, put herself on trial. She is showing us how honest, honourable men can assume that what they are doing is consensual and it is not. They are imposing their will. They are taking advantage. They are raping women because they are drunk.

I would hazard a guess that, like the ‘me too’ campaign, there are a lot of women with the same experience. My heart is with this young woman, and I thank her for taking the stand on behalf of us all.


Food For Thought in Doolin

The writers’ festival in Doolin not only whetted my appetite, but sated it too. Every workshop was shared with scones, Danish pastries, chocolate drop strawberries, cheese, exotic crackers, fresh fruit, shell fish, bagels, tiny savouries. There is no better inspiration than food for thought: thank you, cooks, at Doolin Hotel.

On the Friday morning, I didn’t know where I was when I woke up in Limerick after spending the evening with my son in an extremely nice wine bar. A very, very nice, ‘will we have another’? wine bar. So, rather poorly prepared, I set off for Doolin (leaving my poor son rolled in a hammock trying to avoid daylight). Rain swept Clare had not changed much since I was there twenty years ago when I was flooded out of my tent. Barren, and bleak wilderness swooped across the shoulders of boulders, muds of puddles and isolated signs of life that dot the landscape and there I was, bobbing alone in Doolin, in a sea of a writers, feeling a mere pebble among celebrated rocks.

However, my first workshop with John McKenna was excellent. He is a great performer who gave of himself with humour and gentility.

The reception later was hosted by two divine, cucumber cloaked salmon, curled in yin and yang connectivity. When I delved under the silver threaded skin, my fork yielded a beautiful cream of pink flesh, that the fish was definitely worth dying for. And there were crab claws, and clams, oysters.

The Saturday morning workshop on advanced fiction was lugubriously intense with Sean O’Reilly. He took us through the perils of narration and language, instructing us to delve deep into the borders of our character, and keep ironic distance. It was fascinating. You could hear a pin drop.

This was followed by three hours of blurring the lines with Rob Doyle. The workshop was great fun, with lots of exercises, chatter and ideas for different writing. We did auto portraits, wrote Wikipedia pages, and filled suggestion boxes – great writing tools.

From experimental writing to the Mad Hatters Tea Party which served prosecco, G&Ts in jars with cucumber and poetry (with a particularly beautiful performance by Raven). And so, it went on, as it does, with greetings and meetings, dancing and prancing, arguing and barking, blisses of kisses, exchange and arrange until after the Blessing on Sunday morning with Susan, June and bagels and bloody marys, I went home in a blaze of Burren and sun. Now, sadly, it’s time for the weighing scales.

Thank you, Donal, writers and performers for an absolutely fabulous (yes, Ab fab) week end.


The Paradox of Borders

The first time I crossed the border into Northern Ireland (maybe 1996, after living in Ireland for nearly two years), I experienced a frisson of excitement. The road surfaces were familiar, so were the building materials, the red pillar boxes, and the housing developments reminded me of home. It could be the North of England, I thought, and immediately, felt at ease. When I moved to Cavan in 2001, I regularly crossed the border for work, often late at night. I drove along dark, rural roads bordered by bushes, fields, and cloudy night skies where only one menacing bright star would gaze down at me.  I would sigh with relief to see the yellow paint of the Southern Irish road markings; Then, I would feel safe. It’s odd, but crossing the border, in whichever direction, became a valued milestone, and provided me with security of some kind.

Recently, it occurred to me, If the border disappeared, I would miss it. Why? I guess because it delineates a space I call home – on both sides. This realisation startled me. I was reared in London as a European liberal, on a diet of rights and responsibilities. As far as I was concerned, borders, class systems, gender, hierarchies, boundaries were there to be breached, crossed, broken. That was their value. But, as I get older and more vulnerable, I find those very boundaries increasingly comforting. I even find myself erecting more. I have daily routines which have become restrictive in their every day occurrence.

Right from the beginning our DNA forges a being which our parents or guardians set upon a road. Sometimes, we are guided or forced to break boundaries. Some of us become emigrants, others change class, some change gender. As we grow, we cross boundaries and break barriers, and in these modern times, there are so many more to breach: civil, criminal, moral, physical, mental, economic, scientific. Today, there are few limits. Yet, in our global, ‘everything within our fingertips’ world, we end up creating more boundaries for ourselves because we find comfort in the space they provide. And those spaces, both physical and mental, seem to become smaller and smaller.

So, what are boundaries: they can be physical, mental, they can be simple as routine activities. They can be family, they can be anything that impedes us or, ironically, makes us feel safe. I used to enjoy crossing or challenging boundaries. Now I don’t. Why? A number of factors are involved: my age and vulnerability (ageing is not for wimps), recent grief (bothering is a bother) but I also feel stymied by the never-ending stories, statistics, viewpoints, arguments, the endless stream of invective and sanctimoniousness that stream these days into my threads of operation. I am a rabbit caught in headlights.

I listen to the radio, arty podcasts, read probably 20 plus books a year, enjoy poetry, watch the news and too much crap on TV. I walk and swim daily. I love to cook. Occasionally, I get to a writing workshop because that is what I do, writing. I follow politics less and less, though I have a keen interest in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, Brexit and Repeal the Eighth. But that is the extent of my engagement. I have erected boundaries that are restrictive, but,  having got them in place, I am not happy to breach them! They are comforting.

At the moment, I am taking part in the Irish Writers Centre’s XBorders Accord project and we discuss borders and boundaries. We have a FB page and we all share information, articles, research, books, blogs and because we are creative writers, the definition of border has extensive boundaries. When I was working as a peace facilitator or co-ordinator in Peace II and III programmes, the work was about silence, cross community, the legacy of the conflict, the ignorance of different traditions. The peace programmes were tools of introduction, instruments to bring people together, to cross the border, to learn and engage with difference. Today, we are learning to ‘unsee’. At the first meeting of the Xborders Accord project, David Landy of UCD discussed how we all ‘unsee’. In Ireland, we avert our eyes from the homeless, the slave sex industry, the corruption of the financial system, inequality. We  ‘unsee’. We  adjust.

downloadsex slave

So, with the British soldiers gone, the border is now easily crossed, and relations are more relaxed, but,  we still have a North and South, a rich and poor, a Protestant, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew, a rural and urban, white and black, men and women, educated and poorly educated. And each of these groupings still have their value systems, their beliefs, their anger, their righteousness, but today their principles are more easily, and  noisily, promulgated through social media. To quote Louis Macniece, ‘the world is crazier and more of it than we think’, for now all that ‘crazy’ is narrated everywhere – it is the early morning chorus that starts our day. We see and hear everything, so, to protect ourselves, we try to ‘unsee’, create our own boundaries where our newsfeeds serve only to bolster the narratives we want to know.

Narratives. This word also has a new meaning which is akin to fake news, maybe a cousin. A narrative has the implication of truth, a chronicle, history. David Landy, the UCD lecturer, showed in his talk that the Israeli tourism initiatives in Jerusalem, and the archaeological digs taking place in the Palestinian areas all serve a common purpose: to narrate and depict a one-sided history. ‘Narrative’ also implies a static listener, which, indeed, reflects the status of the face booker and twitter pundits.

Social media, governments and corporations have limitless boundaries which, personally, make me feel insignificant, and worthless, unless I add a voice, like I am doing now, and add to the ‘crazy’ so I can feel engaged. An alternative is to erect personal boundaries that make me feel secure: writing poems, reading, walking, swimming, cooking. All of these take place within a five mile radius. And the more I do them, the more restrictive they become, and the more I want to ‘unsee’.

I suppose all this ‘reduction’, this ‘unseeing’, these ever decreasing but safe boundaries, do correlate to the fact that as I get older, I feel more powerless. I am told that this does happen and in one sense, I am no different to any other generation. I sigh as I watch the news, my heart sinks when I read the papers and swipe quickly through the on-line media.  I worry for my children. My grandmother, and my mother did too. So, all this could be normal, I could just have reached the ‘the grumpy old woman’ stage of life because whatever I have to say isn’t usually nice, but I don’t like to say nothing at all. Not after all this living. However, I do sometimes say nothing, because, If I’m honest, because I cannot be bothered. The end.

Update: having written and re-read this, I thought to myself, ‘screw that’ and booked a week in North Cyprus (what is it about division that intrigues), talked to my publisher about my new poetry collection and I’m about to head off to Doolin Writers Festival for the weekend to learn and engage. Just to spite this blog, I’ll be crossing lots of borders yet, though I may be grumpy. Louis MacNeice was right. ‘The world is crazier and more of it than we think’ and this blog is no different.