Desi's Diary

The Last Gleeman but One

February, 2007

In his essay "The last Gleeman" first published in "The Celtic Twilight", 1893, W. B. Yeats gives us a potted biography of Michael Moran better known in Dublin folklore as Zozimus. He describes him as being "a true gleeman, being like a poet jester and newsman of the people."

Zozimus had a poem of his own called "Moses" which "went a little nearer poetry without going very near", a poem that has survived in the Dublin folk cannon since the ragged busker belted it out on Essex Bridge, nearly two hundred years ago. The first verse went:

"In Egypt's land, contagious to the Nile
King Pharaoh's daughter went to battle in style.
She took her dip then walked unto the land
To dry her royal pelt she ran along the sand.
A bulrush tripped her, whereupon she saw
A smiling babby in a wad of straw."

Despite Yeats's claim, Zozimus was not the last of the gleemen. Since his demise in 1843, the street poet, for that is essentially what Moran was, has survived, sometimes even thrived, and has remained a vital part of Irish cultural life, the raw edge of an underground literature. Today its chief celebrant is Pat Ingoldsby.

True to the fierce independent tradition of the street poet, Ingoldsby is his own man. Describing his poetry he writes:

"I love all the poems in this book. I wrote most of them under the red lamp in the corner of my sitting room in Clontarf. I usually start around midnight and the next two or three hours are my special time. My poems are my truest thoughts and I am very proud of them. I really do hoe that you enjoy reading them."

Pat Ingoldsby is very much a private man. Once when asked about writing his autobiography he replied no, his life had been lived. It was enough that it has done that and it should be left alone. Yet there is an inherent openness in his demeanour that is open and sympathetic. That he has suffered is evident in the poetry, but his verses also demonstrate that he has overcome his hardships and come to terms with his own humanity.

The work is not the stuff that academics will drool over, nor will it find its way into Poetry magazines, but this will not worry Ingoldsby. His audience are the people who stop by in whatever doorway he has set up for the day, and buy one or preferably two books of his poetry. It is the bus driver of the bus full of people which included Pat after a bad days selling, made the general announcement that the next stop would be the final stop as the bus was going for service and would everyone please disembark. "Not you, Pat," he finished, "I'll take you home first."

When I asked him on the phone which of his collections was the best he sent me this:

"In a doorway up near Molly
With my books
1 - 2 - 2007
It's a hard one Dessie!
The only way I could
Fix on one of my books
And one only is to
Imagine I've been told-
It will be as if
You have never been here-
No trace of you
Tippexed away go deo.
Except for
One book
That sort of a thought
Is good for concentrating
The mind Dessie
Enclosed is
The Book!

With the note was "How Was it for You, Doctor?" and contains such gems as the following:-

"I saw a hole in the world
Full of still water
Across the middle of a field
And the sky was at the bottom
Of it."


"I was minding the rain
Until I thought about
Everything having a drink.
The cracked earth
The flowers
The wet apples
All drinking deep
And saying
"God - that's lovely
And suddenly
I didn't mind any more."

Go mbeidh a leitheid ann igunaí.