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Born Dublin 1945. Member of Aosdana, nominated by Samuel Beckett and Michael Hartnett.


Bremen, die horen and Galway, Salmon Press, 1992

Poems by Brian Lynch with photographs by Peter Jankowsky. Translated into German as Oster Schnee –Ein Iland vor Irland.

Another book with a less than happy publishing history. As it was being prepared for printing, Jessie Lendennie’s Salmon Press was in grave financial difficulties and in the process of being taken over by Philip MacDonagh’s more commercial Poolbeg Press. The result was the book was poorly distributed and scarcely noticed. However, Michael Viney wrote about it warmly in The Irish Times.

Sadly, too, the quality of the reproduction of Peter’s photographs is not the best – they deserve better and I have often thought that either a new edition or an exhibition of the photos and the poems together would be a good idea.

When I wrote the majority of the poems I had never been on Clare Island, so the book is, for my part, purely, or impurely, formal.

The poem reproduced below describes a carved head in the Abbey on Clare Island – when I saw it the abbey was open to the four winds and one could only dimly see the frescoes on the ceiling through moss and mould. These extraordinary works, almost all of them secular rather than religious, have now been restored after many years of labour by Christoph Oldenbourg and others and can be seen in the Royal Irish Academy volume devoted to the fourth Clare Island survey. The images do not appear to be on the web, which is unfortunate, not least because the interpretation of their meaning is still uncertain and their significance in the iconography of European art history would seem to be great.

[Update: some pictures of the conservation are now on the web. Conservation work on the Abbey]

The Face

This is a religious object,
Which means it’s hard to find,
In the ruined Cistercian Abbey
At Cille on Clare Island.

I’d searched and couldn’t see,
Yet when my German friend,
Whose photograph this is,
Showed me it was obvious,
This hidden thing, and godly.

The stone on which it’s carved
Is stuck into a wall, waist
High, the first block
That butts the arch
Above the bishop’s throne,
The sedilia, as it’s known.
The other blocks that make this up
Are otherwise unmarked
With carving, and this is odd
Since as the face is side-
Ways to the vertical,
You’d think it would repeat
Until the curve were capped
And held together by
An image of the Lord.
It does not. It’s on its own.

The face is mantled with a mould,
A shawl of blooming stuff, a moss
More tightly napped and emerald
Than baize. It’s earlier than the church
And probably was used by chance,
Because it fitted into place.

Because it was there and fits here.
This is an answer to anxiety,
A definition of the art of poetry.

For this face, as you can see,
Opens its mouth and sings or cries
Or shouts the glory of its maker –
In art there is no difference
Between our grief and joy: it’s all,
In high or low or no, relief.
In life there’s no confusing them.

Being sideways and damaged round
The eye and nose does not affect
Its wholiness. Instead it adds to it,
As a lover sees on the beloved’s neck
A bruise and knows who made it
And for that reason will not forsake her,
The wounded creature of the day
Displaying what their night approved….

Nor do I disregard, being blind
To grammar, the ambiguity above:
I knew then whose was this photograph.
This is a German face you’re looking at –
And a poet’s too and also yours,
If you have come to be this hard to find,
All those who ever have been moved
By god, the sex of art, or earthly love.


Tony O'Malley

By Brian Lynch
Dublin, New Island Books, 2004
ISBN 1-85928-235-0

The cover of ‘Tony O’Malley’ is based on Summer Solstice, Summer Kite, 1992.
48×48 inches, oil on board

A 324 page book of essays with more than 300 illustrations, selected and introduced by Brian Lynch and first published by the Scolar Press, London and the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny, in 1996. A new and revised third edition was published in 2004 by New Island Books, Dublin. The contributors were Aidan Dunne, Brian Fallon, Patrick Heron, Patrick J. Murphy, Frances Ruane, Vera Ryan, Hugh Stoddart and James White.

O’Malley has a rare and remarkable talent. He is certainly one of the most profoundly gifted painters ever to have come from Ireland. – Patrick Heron

The following is from The Butler Gallery PR for The Visual Diaries

The Butler Gallery

Fifty Years of Tony O’Malley’s Sketchbooks
Curated by Brian Lynch
October 15–December 4, 2005
Tony O’Malley The Visual Diaries

Visual Diaries
Visual Diaries


The Butler Gallery has had a long and proud association with Tony O’Malley, a native of Callan, Kilkenny, which we are delighted to continue with this exhibition and publication Tony O’Malley – The Visual Diaries, Fifty Years of Tony O’Malley’s Sketchbooks. O’Malley’s work is beloved, and he holds an important position in the history of 20th century Irish art. To mark this position, the Irish Museum of Modern Art will open later this month with a major retrospective of his work.

Almost every day for fifty years Tony O’Malley drew and painted in his sketchbooks. These visual diaries, as he called them, are a record not only of what he saw in front of him but of what he remembered from the distant past, often with startling clarity. Portraits of himself and his wife Jane; of friends, of poets and painters, of people in streets and shops; landscapes of Kilkenny, Clare Island, Cornwall, the Bahamas, Switzerland, the Isles of Scilly; pictures of flowers, of animals, especially cats and birds, as well as experiments in pure abstraction and colour – all of these, and more, are to be found in these stunning visual diaries.1

Butler Gallery, The Castle, Kilkenny, Ireland
t +353 56 7761106 f +353 56 7770031

1 Lynch, Brian. Introduction in the publication ‘Tony O’Malley ’The Visual Diaries’, 2005

Caught in a Free State

Caught in a Free State
script by Brian Lynch

RTÉ/Channel 4 co-production. 1983. Jacobs Award for script. Banff International TV Festival, Canada, award for best drama production 1984. A four-part series about German spies in Ireland during World War II.

The main spy, Dr Hermann Goertz, is played by Peter Jankowsky, with whom I subsequently translated Paul Celan: 65 Poems and who took the photographs of Clare Island about which I wrote the poems that comprise Easter Snow – Peter also translated the poems into German.

The series was directed by Peter Ormerod who went on to direct Eat the Peach before quitting the film industry in disgust to become a Ryanair pilot.

Love & Rage

Love & Rage
Love & Rage

Love & Rage
script by Brian Lynch

Feature film directed by Cathal Black, about the man who inspired Synge’s Playboy of the Western World.
Starring Greta Scacchi, Stephen Dillane, Daniel Craig (chosen in 2005 to be the new James Bond), Donal Donnelly and Valerie Edmunds.
Photographed by Slawomir Idziak (Three Colours Blue, etc)

The basis for my script is ‘The Playboy and the Yellow Woman’ by the distinguished Gaelic scholar James Carney. Carney’s book, which largely depends on a contemporary manuscript, tells the story of James Lynchehaun who was employed as land agent by Mrs Agnes McDonnell, the English owner of a large estate on Achill Island at the end of the 19th century. When she dismissed him he set fire to her house and attacked her viciously and sexually. After hiding out on the island for some six months, aided by his relatives, he was arrested and sent to jail for life. He escaped from Portlaoise Prison and fled to the United States where the Irish-American community resisted his extradition on the grounds that he was a rebel fighting against the English oppressor. The case reached the United States Supreme Court which eventually accepted that his offences were political and refused the extradition – a judgement with far-reaching consequences in the legal attitude to definitions of terrorism. Lynchehaun had some connections with the Irish republican Brotherhood, the IRB, but it seems clear that his grudge against Agnes was more personal than politicial. The script describes their relationship as an affair, but while there is some evidence for a more than business intimacy, the story I tell is purely imaginary.

The film was shot in the Valley House, on Achill Island, where the original events took place. The house, then a youth hostel, was transformed to a gloomy Victorian mansion in shades of brown and green to such effect that the owners wanted to retain it – and for all I know may have done so.

Additional footage was shot on the Isle of Man, which necessitated the movement of an enormous amount of equipment as well as of a crew and cast comprisng some one hundred people. This was just one of many factors that brought the producers to the brink of bankruptcy.

The worst result of the shortage of money and a tight shooting schedule – the film was shot in forty days – was that large chunks of the script were never shot.

For instance, the film was originally intended to begin with the riot in the Abbey Theatre on the first night of ‘The Playboy of the Western World’, during which the central character, James Lynchehaun, disguised as a priest (the sort of thing he did in real life) was supposed to congratulate Synge. Lynchehaun is referred to in the play as ‘the man bit the Yellow Woman’s nostril on the northern shore’ – this, in turn, is the culminating action in the film and in real life, an assault which led the Yellow Woman, Agnes MacDonell, to wear a silver nose. In a sense the entire film is a critique of the violent romanticism that underpins ‘The Playboy’, and I contrived the script in such a way to bring Synge and Lynchehaun face to face again at the end of the story – literally face to face in that Lynchehaun is in a position to give the artist a taste of his own medicine but, at the last moment, instead of biting his nose off, gives him a kiss. If this seems unlikely, unreal and bizarre it was meant to be, and in fact this is how I conceived the film as a whole: it was an exercise in impossibility, a test of the audience’s credulity, particularly as far as the character of Lynchehaun is concerned. In an earlier version of the script, for example, Lynchehaun seduces Agnes while he is dressedas a woman, a perverse joke that might have worked if the actor Cathal Black had chosen to play the part, a feminine-looking guy, hadn’t got cold feet and turned it down. There was, of course, no possibility of Daniel Craig passing himself off as a woman under any circumstances – Daniel is all animal man. He does, however, disguise himself as a clergyman and as Agnes’s upperclass English husband. Both disguises are so effective that I’ve met people who didn’t recognise him at all as the clergyman and, more explicably, didn’t realise he was pretending to be the husband – in the latter case you had to grasp that he has stolen a photograph of the husband and makes himself up using the photograph for the purpose. But that is by the way. In the event, Synge doesn’t appear in the film, so the literary subtext can only be grasped, if it can be grasped, by those who know that Lynchehaun is, partly, the inspiration for ‘The Playboy’.

Another example of how the script was curtailed: an important scene in the script shows Agnes returning to the Valley House after being raped by Lynchehaun in a hotel. She comes up the drive, enters the house, goes upstairs, runs a bath, changes her clothes and goes back into the bathroom, all the while engaging in dialogue with her maid Biddy, Valerie Edmunds, and her friend Dr Croly (Stephen Dillane). On the morning this sequence was to be shot, Cathal Black said he couldn’t do it – I reckon that, properly done, the sequence would have taken at least two days. So I took the script and, without even sitting down, reduced the scene to two camera set-ups, in the drive and in the doorway to the house. The latter scene, between Greta and Stephen, is very effective: in every rehearsal Greta cried, but in every take she could only act it – wonderfully well in my opinion. Indeed, I think her performance in the film is the best she has ever given in her career.

One final example, this time of editing: I myself played the part of Lynchehaun’s father (another variation of the film’s impossibilist theme) in a scene where he threatens his son with a loy, the kind of spade with which Christy Mahon, the Playboy, says he killed his father in the play. Slawomir Idziak contrived to shoot the scene, from under a black cloth, through a piece of thick distorted glass – Slawomir, or Swavek as his name is shortened in Polish, understood the intentions of the script very well and shot it, using a huge variety of his own hand-tinted lenses, in tones of green not unreminiscent, but less extreme, of Kieslowski’s ‘Short Film About Killing’. My memory of the shoot is that after repeated takes of me brandishing the dreadfully heavy loy I was so exhausted that I feared I was having a heart-attack. In the end the scene was left on the cutting-room floor.

Cathal Black Films

Let It Run And Set It Black

Let It Run And Set It Black

This is a 1983 play about Northern Ireland which I rewrote in 2004. The new version was, like the first, rejected by the Abbey. The play is set in a Dublin newspaper at the time of Bloody Sunday and the Aldershot bombing, events also described in Pity for the Wicked. For me it’s interesting on two counts: primarily, of course, as a political statement, but also structurally. A great deal of what is said on stage is quoted directly from reports published in newspapers on the days referred to, so the play is essentially a documentary. In other words what is usually background is here foreground. One consequence of this is that the characters are deliberately veiled – they are, of course, to the forefront but hidden by what is happening.

The play was commended in the 1984 O.Z. Whitehead Play Competition, but as yet is unproduced.

Crooked in the Car Seat

Crooked in the Car Seat
by Brian Lynch
Gemini Productions
Dublin Theatre Festival 1979.

Nominated for Best Play in the Harvey’s Theatre Awards.

Another work with an unfortunate history. When Hugh Leonard was Script Editor for the Abbey Theatre the one play he recommended for production in his first year was ‘Crooked’.

I was welcomed into the theatre by the then Director Tomas MacAnna and told that approval by the Board of the Theatre was a formality. As I remember it, the Board was to meet some days later. When I heard nothing I began to phone the Abbey, but MacAnna was never available. After about a week I rang again and by chance MacAnna picked up the phone. He told me the play had been turned down by the Board and that they would be writing to me about it.

Their letter was pretty lame: my memory is that they didn’t like the bad language. I responded, very unwisely of course, by writing a letter, copied to each member of the Board, in which I gave them a piece of my mind.

The real reasons, however, related less to the play than animosities directed towards Hugh Leonard. To this day I don’t know the details, but at the time I heard a variety of stories about the involvement of other Abbey playwrights – one of these stories in the Evening Press Dubliner’s Diary column led to an apology being printed in the paper.

In the event Leonard resigned from the Abbey.

He then persuaded Phyllis Ryan of Gemini to put the play on in the Eblana, a nice little space under the city’s main bus station. She had difficulties getting a director: the future Director of the Abbey Patrick Mason, for instance, refused on the grounds that the play’s central character, a self-hating sharp-tongued gay journalist, was unsympathetically portrayed. Donald Taylor Black, who got the directing job, went on to become perhaps Ireland’s leading TV documentary-maker. Getting someone to play the lead role was also difficult: Donal McCann turned it down and the part eventually went to Kevin McHugh, a highly competent and intelligent actor. Deirdre Donnelly played the female lead. The other members of the cast were Oliver Maguire, Paul Murphy, Maria McDermottroe, Bob Carlile, and Ronan Smith. The reviews were good on the whole, but I remember Maeve Kennedy, daughter of the novelist Val Mulkerns and not a first-string reviewer, saying in The Irish Times that wonderful dialogue was not enough in a play. I think she was right: the play didn’t have a proper shape and the ending, in particular, was less a dying fall than a stumble towards the exit. Irving Wardle in the London Times disliked it thoroughly. On the other hand, the doyen of Dublin theatre critics, JJ Finnegan, compared it to Look Back In Anger and said in time to come it would be seen to have the same importance in Irish theatre as the Osborne had in English theatre. Some prophesy.

The main result, apart from the fact that it effectively terminated my career as a playwright in the Abbey, was that RTE (in the persons of the then Controller of Programmes Muiris MacConghail and the director Peter Ormerod) commissioned me to write Caught in a free State.

Incidentally, the title comes from Van Morrison.


Paul Celan 65 Poems
Paul Celan: 65 Poems

Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1985

translations from the German by Brian Lynch with Peter Jankowsky

This book sold out rapidly – there was a great interest then (and there is still) in Celan’s work. The publishers were grudging about permissions, insisted the edition should be confined to Ireland, and as a consequence a second edition was not pursued.

Peter Jankowsky and I subsequently did translations of a further ten poems which were published in Krino and the large volume that anthologised that magazine. For more information on Peter Jankowsky see the links to Easter Snow and the TV drama Caught in a Free State.



Translated by Brian Lynch & Peter Jankovsky
(Raven Arts Press, £3.95 pb)

Paul Celan, regarded as one of the great poets of the German language, thought of his poems as stones.

When he drowned himself in the Seine in 1970, his pockets were full of stones.

His later poetry is akin to stones washed clean by the remorseless flow of water. His style, as the introduction to PAUL CELAN: 65 POEMS points out, “becomes increasingly lapidary, avoiding what he called the “thyme carpet” of language. Yet, to stretch the metaphor, the water’s mineral traces cling to the stone, and build up as time passes.

In several of the poems here, one has almost to stop thinking to let the meaning come through of its own accord – even when it seems most obvious.

TO STAND, in the shadow
of the wound-mark in the air.

To stand-for-no-one-and-no-thing.
for you

With all there is room for in that,
even without

In a sense, this is only difficult in its simplicity. Celan’s poetry, more than any other, requires a suspension of expectations, an ability to meditate on the purity of its language.

above the grey-black wasteland.
A tree-
high thought
takes hold of the light-tone: there are
still songs to be sung beyond

In Jankowsky and Lynch, Celan would seem to have ideal translators: the precision of Jankowsky’s German coupled with Lynch’s sense of poetic power and correctness. It is interesting to compare their translation of ‘Matiere de Bretagne’ – one of the few poems from this volume translated before – with that by Michael Hamburger in the ‘Selected Poems’ (Penguin 1972).

That they have succeeded in doing justice to Celan in these 65 poems I have no doubt. A pure poetic spirit and sense of precision sing out from them. It is a very exciting book.

– Philip Casey, The Sunday Press, 1985.

Beds of Down

Beds of Down
Beds of Down

by Brian Lynch
Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1983

Cover design by Leo Duffy from an illustration in the Poetical Works of William Cowper by Thomas Secombe

The title comes from a famous passage in William Cowper’s great long poem The Task, which begins:

‘And now with nerves new-braced and spirits cheered/ We tread the wilderness’, and goes on to describe ‘the thresher at his task./ Thump after thump resounds the constant flail,/ That seems to swing uncertain, and yet falls/ Full on the destined ear’ – a wonderful phrase – and then goes on: ‘Wide flies the chaff,/ The rustling straw sends up a frequent mist/ Of Atoms sparkling in the noonday beam./ Come hither, ye that press your beds of down/ And sleep not – see him sweating o’er his bread/ Before he eats it – Tis the primal curse,/ But softened into mercy, made the pledge/ Of cheerful days, and nights without a groan.’

I was clearly under Cowper’s influence by 1983, an influence of course that led to the writing of The Winner of Sorrow.

This is the first poem in the book – as can be seen, it has some connection with the Cowper passage, though I don’t think I was aware of the link at the time:

The New Typewriter Ribbon

A new blackness, less penetrable.
What seemed to be an afterthought, tonight
Turns out to be the main thought.
Because of this I don’t go out much
Any more: a blackness that turns –
I have to look now – from left to right
Or from right to left and back again.

A bell rings. The door opens next door
And John Doyle laughs Ha Ha and then
Come in he says I hardly knew ye.

I set to thinking about returned greetings,
About how writing is the purest invitation
And about the time my mother called
And I was found out in the way I said hello,
Being guilty of what I most attacked.

A new blackness, less penetrable, more smudged,
And yet I am ready now and willing,
Both aimed and pierced.

Perpetual Star

Perpetual Star
Perpetual Star

Perpetual Star
by Brian Lynch
Dublin, Raven Arts Press, 1981

cover image by Rosaleen Davey. Back cover photo by Roy Esmonde incorporating a drawing by Rosaleen Davey

Some reviews

Laurels should be placed in a champagne mood on Lynch’s brow for one very great and clear reason. Our culture, notoriously cold in sensual knowledge, has produced here a love poet of absolute integrity. – The Sunday Press

This is highly impressive work. If one is to go into ratings, I rank with this Durcan’s recent collection as the best in Irish poetry today. –Cyphers

Here are some of the finest poems written in Ireland since World War II. – Cork Examiner