McCarthy, Thomas

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McCARTHY, Thomas

Nationality: Irish. Born: Cappoquin, Waterford, 1954. Education: University College, Cork, B.A. 1975, higher diploma in education 1986. Family: Married Catherine Coakley in 1982; one daughter and one son. Career: Since 1978 librarian, Cork Corporation, Cork. Visiting professor, Macalester College, Minnesota, 1994–95. Editor, Poetry Ireland Review, 1984–85. Awards: Patrick Kavanagh award, 1977; Irish Arts Council bursary, 1978, 1983; International Writing Program fellow, State University of Iowa, 1978–79; Alice Hunt Bartlett prize, Poetry Society, 1981; annual literary award, American-Irish Foundation, 1984. Address: Cork City Libraries, Grand Parade, Cork, Ireland.



The First Convention. Dublin, Dolmen, 1978.

The Sorrow Garden. London, Anvil, 1981.

The Non-Aligned Storyteller. London, Anvil, 1984.

Seven Winters in Paris. Dublin, Dedalus Press, 1989.

The Lost Province. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1996.

Mr. Dineen's Careful Parade: New and Selected Poems. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1999.


Without Power. Swords, Dublin, Poolbeg, 1991.

Asya and Christine. Swords, Dublin, Poolbeg Press, 1992.


Gardens of Remembrance. Dublin, New Island Books, 1998.


Critical Study: "'Orphaned Like Us': Memory in the Poetry of Thomas McCarthy" by James Naiden, in Eire-Ireland (St. Paul, Minnesota), 26(2), summer 1991.

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Thomas McCarthy's work can be seen as an exploration of politics, society, and the self in contemporary Ireland. For McCarthy reality is linked with the politics of the Fianna Fáil Party, formed by Eamon de Valera in the 1920s. McCarthy was born in the 1950s into the republic of Ireland only a few years after the final ties with the United Kingdom had been severed. Therefore, his heroes are not so much the heroes of revolutionary change as the men of a more recent past and a modern era. His heroes are the makers of Ireland such as de Valera.

The poems in The First Convention reflect a young man's concerns in present-day Ireland. The themes are stated in an idiom that reveals an interest in political identity, an identity the poet regards with a certain disenchantment but one that provides him with a sounding board for the diverse subjects of his work. The Irish past and its traditions, his background in a small provincial town, and the isolation of the creative mind are all reflected in the collection. It reveals a poet capable of writing in a thoughtful elegiac mode with a appraisal of the political colorations of Ireland in the 1950s.

In Seven Winters in Paris McCarthy writes tenderly about private affections and acutely about public figures and events. The title sequence is a series of brief poems reflecting on Ireland and Paris in the past and the present. This sequence evolves into another dealing with the joy and trouble of parenthood in a time of menace and bombs. Other poems are set in London and Cork, their starting points including library work, being in a hospital, railway stations, and family life. The moving and eloquent moments of the volume are best seen in quiet poems that are full of detail, such as "The Gathering of Waves":

You are always heading for the ocean,
Unhappy until you can eavesdrop on water
And the waves' conversations.
The sea must be an adequate listener
Or an expansive, avuncular teller of tales.
Happy with your feet in water,
You are always calling to me at the shore,
Telling me what the sea is,
What a lover can't miss, what the ocean tells you.

McCarthy also writes with a political voice that is deeply rooted in his own country:

There was no Thomas MacGreevy waiting
With a stroke of orange in his morning-dress
But undiplomatic Paris:
Fireflies on the rosewood spinet.

Reality for McCarthy is linked with the internal workings of the Fianna Fáil Party. His work is as much an exploration of the constituency politics of the Dáil, a house of the Irish Parliament, as of idealism. He achieves his aims by applying a lyric impulse to a mundane world of disappointments and animosities. His characters are often party members and senior officials of the government or heroes of the past. In the sequence "A Neutral State, 1944" on de Valera, in The Sorrow Garden, he writes in a mood of regretful, measured, and mature evaluation:

There would be the neutral yawning of the sea
Above immediate memory; troubles in the black
City of war would move across their night eye
Like the wash of a periscope causing an ache
Of fear. But they would look across the bow
Beyond the wash of sorrow, over the war-sea
To the naked lights of Ireland: (the soft glow
Of De Valera's land, and her bog neutrality).

Other poems look at figures who combined politics and writing, such as Vladimir Nabokov, André Gide, and Arthur Koestler.

Though McCarthy's political themes dominate his poetry, he is also a love poet and an elegist. The title poem of The Sorrow Garden is an emotional poem for his late father:

It is an image of irreversible loss,
This hole in my father's grave that needs
Continuous filling. Monthly now, my
Uncle comes to shovel a heap of earth
From the spare mound. Tear-filled, he
Compensates the collapse of his brother's
Frame. I arrive on my motor-bike to help
But he will not share the weight of grief.

The Non-Aligned Storyteller is a volume that focuses mainly on the theme of postwar Ireland, its long Sunday afternoons and its population depleted by emigration.

The main influences on the poetry of the republic have been older poets such as Thomas Kinsella and Richard Murphy and, more distantly, Yeats. An exception to the divisions between the poets of Northern Ireland and of the republic of Ireland has been the cross-border work of John Montague, who has powered the work of many young poets from the republic. There are other poets of both Northern Ireland and of the republic who have had an influence on McCarthy—Derek Mahon, Anthony Cronin, Desmond O'Grady, and Paul Durcan. McCarthy also celebrates a number of figures in his poems: Francis Stuart, Bashevis Singer, AE, and Parnell. He tends to side with men who were victims of convention yet were the protectors of it.

McCarthy is a poet with a strong social awareness of the humiliations suffered by his family in an Ireland marked by poverty and emigration. He is a voice for the emergent middle-class in a country with a long history of struggle for freedom.

—Renu Barrett