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Lyons’s lens adds new layer of lyricism to poems

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Pictured at th e launch of ‘Best Loved Poems: Favourite Poems from the West of Ireland’, edited by Thomas F Walsh and photography by Westport photographer Liam Lyons, from left, are Thomas J Walsh, Liam Lyons and special guest, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman
UNIQUE PROJECT?Pictured at th e launch of ‘Best Loved Poems: Favourite Poems from the West of Ireland’, edited by Thomas F Walsh and photography by Westport photographer Liam Lyons, from left, are Thomas J Walsh, Liam Lyons and special guest, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, Mark Patrick Hederman.?Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Lyons’s lens adds new layer of lyricism to loved poems


Áine Ryan


IT is not only the landscapes of Westport’s elder photographer, Liam Lyons, that are poetic, his portraiture is equally as elegiac and lyrical. Comparing his work to the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh, internationally acclaimed poet Desmond Egan writes about the underlying spirituality and silence in his images. He suggests that “Liam Lyons is a remarkable photographer and that his best work – like any true artist is a dialogue with time, space and light, the metaphors of our existence – will survive.”
No surprise, then, that Liam Lyons’s photographs enhance – and add a new visual narrative – to the recently published ‘Best Loved Poems’ from the west of Ireland, edited by Thomas F Walsh. Launched last week, during the Rolling Sun Book Festival in Hotel Westport, by Mark Patrick Hederman, the Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, the beautiful book celebrates the poetry of such Irish poets as William Allingham and Pádraic Colum, Dubhghlas de Híde and Paul Durcan, Richard Murphy and Seán Lysaght, William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge.
Speaking about how, during Victorian times, poetry ‘created a whole climate of mysticism around natural beauty’, Mark Patrick Hederman observed that with the invention of the camera, the photographer could capture beautiful scenes and moments just as creatively as an artist with his brush.  
He drew interesting parallels between the two art forms – poetry and photography – noting that before the 19th century, ‘relatively wild, remote areas were not seen as beautiful but [rather] as uncivilised and dangerous’.
“It was poetry that changed our view: Wordsworth and the Romantic Poets created a whole climate of mysticism around natural beauty and the aura of the countryside which most of us take for granted today.”
So too, observed Mark Patrick Hederman, did the invention of the camera add an important new dimension to the visual arts, also during the middle of the 19th century.  
“A painting by Caravaggio, for instance, makes you think you are really present at the scene he portrays. And yet his canvas is no more than a trick – a limited flat surface pretending to be a window onto a world. The inventors of photography managed to produce a machine which could do all that much more realistically. From the first decades of the 20th century, photography seemed to capture more detail and information than painting and sculpture ever could.”

Walsh’s words
IN his introduction to ‘Best Loved Poems: Favourite Poems from the West of Ireland’, Thomas F Walsh, writes: “The west of Ireland, the old province of Connacht, is, for the most part, a wild and beautiful place. Its rugged coastline breasts the broad Atlantic. Its mountains and glens are often lonely places, but if you look closely against a slanting evening sun you might see the traces of some old cultivation ‘where mountainy men have sown’ as Padraig Pearse observed.”
These poems include Seán Lysaght’s ‘The Clare Island Survey’: “I have the sketch of Clare Island,/ in your hand. You drew the great brow/ in silhouette from the mainland,/ and scribbled gulls over a blue sound,/ then etched a furze bush/ with pencilled spikes in the foreground/ and in between some trees, a slate roof/ and a red gable huddling together.”
There are also the famous ‘The West’s Awake’ lines  from Thomas Davis: “When all beside a vigil keep,/ The West’s asleep! The West’s asleep!”. Richard Murphy’s ‘Years Later (From ‘The Cleggan Disaster) has a poignant resonance for the seafaring communities of Mayo also:  “Whose is that hulk on the shingle/ The boatwright’s son repairs/ Though she has not been fishing/ For thirty-four years/ Since she rode the disaster?” 

Lyons’s lens
THE cover photograph of this beautiful book depicts four horses on a craggy knoll overlooking Inishturk harbour with holy island, Caher, in the background. It was sometime in the 1980s, recalls Lyons, and a regular sailor to the islands, he was walking along the winding roadway along the cliff edge from the harbour when he spotted the huddle of horses. He was afraid they would disperse suddenly so crept up the hill and found the best vantage to capture the panorama.
“All I have to do is look at a picture and I can recall the story surrounding it,” says Liam Lyons.
Entitled, ‘Tír na nÓg, another one in the book (page 114) captures an occluded Clare Island rising out of a sparkling Clew Bay with all its classic mysticism, as the whims of nature flit and float in and out of an ever-changing land and seascape.
“I was going to Achill doing a job and saw this sudden mist coming in over Clew Bay. There was a lot of foreground so I found an unfinished house, with no roof, a ladder and got up as high as I could to isolate the castellations on Rosturk Castle which framed the foreground,” Liam Lyons said.
Of course, his subject-matter was not only pastoral and there are several portraits in the book that show his genius for catching the soul of a person whether that is the devout Mai McGing (page 108) or the pipe-smoking Clare Island men in ‘Gathering for the Regatta’ (page 69).

MORE ‘Best Loved Poems: Favourite Poems from the West of Ireland’, edited by Thomas F Walsh and photography by Liam Lyons. Currach Press. All profits from the sale of the book go Westport-Aror Partenership, Kenya.

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