Time to acknowledge Pádraic Fiacc’s poetic genius



Seamus Heaney said next to nothing about his fellow Ulster poet Pádraic Fiacc, whose centenary is being celebrated this year with the publication of two new Fiacc collections – Unpublished poems, and a bilingual (English/Irish) collection, both being released in the run of this spring and summer (2025). Both books are poetic and visual gems. Your author has had a minor role in both books.

Superb poet that Heaney was, he admitted to being the Incertus of Troubles literature. The intriguingly avant-garde, yet eclectic Irish Catholic, Pádraic Fiacc was incapable of such dithering. His only urge was to speak of the visceral truth happening all around him. Whether that suited one agenda or another was irrelevant. The Irish literary establishment preferred not to gaze too deeply at Fiacc’s all-too revealing hall of mirrors.


Fiacc’s ‘The wearing of the black’ (1974) provoked fierce criticism


Just like the 1974 anthology The Wearing of the Black itself – for which Fiacc was the editor – his poem ‘Tears’ in this collection provoked outrage with its graphic description of the shooting of a young girl by way of a stray bullet:


When the ricocheting bullet bites into

The young child who wanted to walk

In her mother’s high heels to push

The doll’s pram, she gives out

A funny little ‘oooh!’

And lets the blood spill

All over her bright new bib …


Fiacc’s effect is the same as the smartphones now relaying the barbarity in Gaza in real time. We are there. And it has, or should have, the same galvanising effect. We – all of humanity – are to blame for this. What happened instead was that Fiacc was castigated for exploiting violence for sensationalist effect. That he was not writing poetry at all.

With its in your face engagement, The wearing of the black, was a watershed moment. Fiacc’s implicit criticism of the “pyjama poets” who skirted around the Troubles, became explicit in his subsequent defence of the anthology, sharpened as it was by the murder of his young protégée, Gerry McLaughlin, just after publication. There was, Fiacc said, an “odour of sanctity” about the Heaney circle (those same pyjama poets), whereas Fiacc’s realm was “The Odour of Blood”. (The Christ Crucified title of his 1973 collection.)


Fiacc’s truth was that the North of Ireland in general and Belfast in particular was a sectarian cesspit and that its inhabitants had been tainted with its poison, including Fiacc himself. His poem ‘The British Connection’ stands with the work of Franz Fanon and CLR James as a seminal text on the trauma and civic strife colonialism unleashes:


And guns under the harbour wharf

And bullets in the docker’s tea tin

And gelignite in the tool shed

And grenades in the scullery larder

And weedkiller and sugar

And acid in the French letter



Editor Michael Mckernon’s achievement, not just with his remarkable ability to visualise Fiacc’s poetry but also in resurrecting Fiacc’s importance cannot be overstated. The very fact that Fiacc bequeathed his literary estate to a visual artist and painter – McKernon – rather than the poetic-cum-academic community is telling. Fiacc felt that he was becoming an obscure curio for academic study, as opposed to the literary lightning rod he actually was.

These new books seek to assert Fiacc’s rightful place as a major, indeed vital, Irish poet, building as they do on McKernon’s 2006 ‘Sea’ edition of Fiacc’s works. They herald a completely new approach to Fiacc, illustrating his cinematic style, adding context and a glossary. Just as was required with much of Joyce, Fiacc is reported to have said that with ‘Sea’ he had been brought back from the dead.

The unpublished collection reveals Fiacc’s growth as a modernist artist seeking to push the boundaries of language and form. Then his disgust at mass market living. The lack of air to breathe. In ‘Night riders’ for example (set in New York):


Into a tinned tight sardine

‘togetherness’, our dead

Silent waiting, train-hooted,

Shunting, not half shrieked for…


In the bilingual English/Irish edition, I particularly like ‘Stormbird/Éan Stoirme’ and ‘Stolen Child/Fágálach’. This latter poem is a direct nod to Yeats and the changeling of Irish folklore:


Your head is a stayed dawn

Will moon not, will never know

Night but child-stay the sandy

Linnet of a winter’s day.


There is tenderness here as Fiacc ponders this child, but also despair in the poem as a whole, like a pall of nausea in the very fabric of Belfast brick, park and pondlife.

‘Stormbird//Éan Stoirme’’ signals Fiacc’s joy in the great outdoors and references to bees and birds abound in his poems. But this bird is an albatross. A bird that famously never settles and is a harbinger of fate. Just like Fiacc himself.

The loneliness of the poet who refuses to look away.


Pádraic Fiacc (born Patrick Joseph O’Connor -15 April 1924 – 21 January 2019)