Rachael Hegarty is in her back garden in Raheny, hanging out her washing. She’s thinking about how she’s going to keep her two children amused during the pandemic.
Last week they cleaned out the shed and turned it into a home gym. This week she’s thinking of digging up a part of the garden and sowing potatoes.
She has just received a copy of the book she’s been busy editing, Making Sense of Finglas, by post.
And as she heads upstairs towards her attic she ruminates on the irony of working on a collection of poems about a community that she cannot currently enter.
“It was bittersweet this morning reading the book in book form for the first time,” she says over the phone.
“‘The Hoi Wun House’, ‘Macari’s Chipper’, ‘Charlestown Football Pitches’, ‘The Silver Spoon’, ‘The Basketball Court’, ‘The 140 Bus Stop’, ‘Tolka Valley Park’, these are all the names of poems I’m looking at.”
“It’s like a litany of loss, I can’t go there. It’s a blessing to have this book in my hands, but it’s also bittersweet because I can’t go home for now,” she says.
Home and identity are threads that run through most of Hegarty’s poetry to date. Her debut collection, Flight Paths Over Finglas, was awarded the 2018 Shine/Strong Award, while part of her PhD thesis looked at two established Finglas poets, Dermot Bolger and Paula Meehan.
It makes sense, then, that she was drawn to editing a book of poetry about the place she calls home.
The anthology, Making Sense of Finglas, features work from writing groups, transition-year students, migrant workers, residents of the Abigail Women’s Centre (a hostel for homeless women) and others, who share their representations of the place they were born in or live in.
From October and November last year, Hegarty began to run poetry workshops, with the aid of Dublin City Council, and helped participants with varying degrees of experience shape, edit, and eventually publish their work.
“I wanted to include not just working-class voices, but within that different voices from a working-class space but what they all have in common is Finglas, and what every poem has in common is a sense of place.” she says.
Growing up in Finglas, she thought literature had a capital “L”, she says. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or Jane Austin. “And I thought, what the fuck does that have to do with my life?”
This attitude changed, she says, when her father brought her as a child to see a production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock in St Canice’s Parish Hall.
“The first line was ‘Out beyant Finglas he was found’ and I remember people roaring and shouting and laughing and clapping at the sound of Finglas being said on stage,” says Hegarty.
“My da told me that this was one the best plays in literature and I was like, ‘Ah right, Finglas belongs in a land called literature.’”
Micheal Fitzpatrick recalls his time as a youth in Finglas fondly, as he looks out the window in his house in Deanstown.
“I was born in Kevin’s, which is St James’s now, over on the south side, but when I came across the Liffey I never went back.”
His poem, “Summer Jaunts”, which features in the anthology, is about Finglas in the ’70s — large fields and streams punctuate the landscape, as well as construction sites.
Finglas South was being built at the time. Fitzpatrick and his friends would amuse themselves by getting chased by the “gotchy”, a security guard who was paid to watch the place.
Fitzpatrick credits Hegarty’s poetry classes, which he attended through the CDETB Adult Education Services, for making him realise that writing in a Finglas vernacular is valid, he says.
“When I was doing English in school I hated verbs and pronouns and anything like that,” he says, “but you can just write the way you speak.”
“Going up to the school and meeting people is great therapy. You get out of the house.
You can express yourself in a way that it’s like therapy too,” he says.
For Hegarty, it’s not just about the participants seeing their names in a book and getting a “psychological boost”, she says.
It’s also about empowering communities, so they can increase their cultural capital through poetry, along with “the tangible possible economic outcomes” such as writers’ grants, she says.
For Sandra Dunne, another participant in the poetry group, going back to education after taking redundancy leave in her last job and doing Leaving Cert English sparked her love of poetry.
“I got this love of poetry and all of a sudden I just started writing poetry it just flew out of me, I don’t know where it came from,” she says.
“This week I’m starting to submit some to poems to see where I can go from here. I just said to meself, with all that I’m doing I have books of poems so I have to start submitting them somewhere,” she says.
Alex Rowan, a 6th year student at Beneavin De La Salle College, is similarly keen to continue to write after the workshop.
“I am just obsessed with getting down my mind on a piece of paper, no matter how vulnerable I may feel after doing a poem or how happy or amazed at what I created, there’s always an incentive to push yourself more and more,” Alex says.
Need for Expression
“People have a need for expression and I think – I think what I learned was even for those who might not write beautiful lyrical ballads, poetry is still a mode of sense-making for a lot of people,” says Hegarty, towards the end of the phone conversation.
Unfortunately, plans to launch the book on Poetry Day 2020 have been scaled back due to Covid-19. For now, Hegarty will record a poem from each group, to be broadcast online for Virtual Poetry Day on 30 April, she says.
It’s more important than ever to have poems about Finglas out there, she says. “People need to feel hope that you can still have culture, that you can still have solace in poetry and that Finglas still matters.”