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The Shortlist

Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin

Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin

by Paul Durcan

When I was a boy, myself and my girl
Used bicycle up to the Phoenix Park;
Outside the gates we used lie in the grass
Making love outside Áras an Uachtaráin.

Often I wondered what de Valera would have thought
Inside in his ivory tower
If he knew that we were in his green, green grass
Making love outside Áras an Uachtaráin.

Because the odd thing was – oh how odd it was –
We both revered Irish patriots
And we dreamed our dreams of a green, green flag
Making love outside Áras an Uachtaráin.

But even had our names been Diarmaid and Gráinne
We doubted de Valera’s approval
For a poet’s son and a judge’s daughter
Making love outside Áras an Uachtaráin.

I see him now in the heat-haze of the day
Blindly stalking us down;
And, levelling an ancient rifle, he says, “Stop
Making love outside Áras an Uachtaráin”

Copyright © Paul Durcan 1978. Reproduced by kind permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge & White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN.

About the poem

Dating from 1751, what became the Viceregal Lodge in the nineteenth century became Áras an Uachtaráin in 1938 and Eamon de Valera, third President of Ireland lived there from 1959 to 1973. When he retired, aged 90, he was the oldest head of state in the world. As Ireland changed, especially during the 1960s, de Valera was seen by many as out of touch, his vision for Ireland old-fashioned and out-of-date.

Paul Durcan’s poem in its very title announces a different world, a world of individual freedom and a refusal to be curbed by convention and a conservative past. ‘Making Love Outside Áras an Uachtaráin’ is from Durcan’s 1978 collection Sam’s Cross [which takes its name from near where Michael Collins was killed]. This narrative poem ushers in a new Ireland but it also reminds us of Ireland’s rich inheritance and glorious mythological past, an Ireland where Diarmuid and Grainne were young and in love.

Paul Durcan

Paul Durcan was born on 16 October 1944, in Dublin, of County Mayo parents. His father was from Turlough, his mother, Sheila MacBride was a niece of John MacBride, Maud Gonne’s husband, who had been executed for his part in the Easter Rising. He was educated at Gonzaga College, dropped out of UCD, worked in London, married Nessa O’Neill, lived briefly in Barcelona, then London, and they had two daughters.

In London he was a freelance writer and looked after the children. The family later moved to Cork and Durcan graduated from UCC in 1973, with a first-class honours degree in archaeology and history. Durcan had studied English in his First Year at UCC and intended to take it to degree level but was told by a lecturer at the end of First Year that he ‘did not have a proper understanding of poetry’.

In 1974, Durcan won the Patrick Kavanagh Award with his collection O Westport in the Light of Asia Minor. Since then he has published over twenty titles. In 1984, one hundred and sixty secondary schools were sent books by Raven Arts Press for their libraries. Among them was Durcan’s 1980 collection, Jesus, Break His Fall; following a newspaper report some TDs, some teachers and some parents, some of whom hadn’t even read the book, called for it to be banned.

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