First Published September 2021
POET, PAINTER, ACTIVIST
One of the longest-running spoken word events in Ireland, Tullamore’s SCENE OF THE RHYME (SOTR), makes its long-awaited return to the world of ‘live’ events this coming weekend. Saturday, September 11th will see the first of two special performances taking place in John Lee’s Bar and Venue at 5pm, while on Sunday a ‘pop-up’ show will happen at Chocolate Brown in Tullamore. And the man behind the return of the SOTR is poet, painter, activist, and Tullamore Rhymer, DAVID ‘MALLY’ MALLAGHAN.
In describing Mally for an edition of the Under The Fading Lamp chapbook published by the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club some years ago, I wrote the following…
“A writer without honesty in their work is a writer in fear of the very characteristic that can transform mere lines on a page into the trenches of the soul, the places where the hardest, bloodiest, most unforgiving and merciless battles of life are waged and recorded with every passing moment counted off into eternity. David Mallaghan is a poet who has made a very brave and deliberate choice to embrace in its entirety the depths and span of his being in all of its forms; his dreams, his nightmares, his passions, his demons, his frustrations, and his desires. His honesty in stripping bare any pretense of what disguise may need to be donned to gain the acceptance or approval of some sections of society is not only admirable, but stands as a lesson to all writers, of all genres and formats. David knows, and proves in his work, that writing is not a calling pursued in hope of being understood by the world, rather it is a world entered into and a mission undertaken to understand and accept oneself.”
That’s still Mally.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Mally last Saturday, and, by coincidence, our fellow Tullamore Rhymer KEN HUME too, who we’ll get to a little later. But Mally and I began our chat by talking about the two very special SOTR events that were a week out as we spoke, and he gave me the low-down on how it all came to be…
“Well Scene of The Rhyme (SOTR) has been running for almost ten years now. It was Cormac Lally who started it, but then Cormac moved down to west Cork, and Richard Brennan and I took over. Richard then moved on to some other commitments as well, so David Hynes and I ran it for a while. And now it’s me. Before the pandemic, we were running every month, but then everything collapsed. So these events next weekend will be the re-launch of SORT as a monthly event in Tullamore. We’re the longest-running event in the midlands for spoken-word, comedy, and music, and we want to get back out there again. Poetry Ireland contacted Terri Dale, event manager for Castlepalooza and Shakefest at Charleville Castle, she then contacted me, and we put things in motion from there. So we have John Lee’s booked for the 11th of September, and we’re also doing a pop-up event on Sunday at 3pm in the Chocolate Brown coffee shop. The re-launch will be these two events. At the Lee’s event, it’s in a bar, you can have a pint, that’s where we regularly hold the SOTR. At Chocolate Brown on Sunday, it’s something new for SOTR, but you can have a coffee and a cake while listening to some poetry. That’ll be new for us. We’re really looking forward to getting SOTR back as a monthly event in Tullamore, for local poets, comedians and musicians, but also to bring talented people from around the country to Tullamore, so that people in Tullamore can see poets, comedians and musicians that they wouldn’t normally see.”
I asked Mally to give readers an idea of what a typical SOTR night might be like…
“I’d open the night and I might read a poem or two, and tell a joke or two, and then I’d introduce the acts for the night. I usually start with the poets first, the spoken-word artists, and we’d have maybe two or three at the start. Then in the middle of the event I’d have one or two comedians, and more than likely I’d wrap things up with a music act or two, maybe someone like Niamh Dooley, aka Dubh Lee, or Eoin Martin, for example, just to name two of our local Tullamore musicians. That’s the progression we’d usually have. We like to have poetry first, then comedy, then music. I find it’s very hard to follow comedy, and it’s very hard to follow music, but poetry is a great way to start the night. And, of course, poetry is what we started with, SOTR was just a poetry night. Then Cormac started to add a few musicians, and when I started I added the comedians. But at its heart and soul, it’s a poetry night.”
The re-launch events happening on Saturday and Sunday, however, will just be poetry, as Mally went on to explain…
“I decided for the relaunch that it would be just poetry, and not only just poetry, but just local poets. Except for David Hynes (from Dublin) who is an honorary Tullamore man at this stage. All the other performing poets are local. We’ve got Noeleen Flanaghan from Clara, Ken Hume from Tullamore originally but also living in Clara now, David Hynes from Kilcock whom I just mentioned, Roseanna Tyrrell, Seamus Kirwan, Thomas Carty we’re 90% sure of, yourself Anthony, and of course, Tullamore’s poet laureate for the Poetry Town event, Cormac Lally, who we’re hoping will be able to perform at one, or maybe even both events. He’s actually doing some workshops this weekend too. The Poetry Town event organised by Poetry Ireland runs from 10th to the 18th of September. Twenty towns around the country were picked, and Tullamore was one of them. Those towns got funding to run events in that time period, live events, workshops, to get people into poetry who maybe aren’t already. But also, for people who are into poetry, to give them something to go see and perform at. Poetry Ireland, fair play to them, they spotted that all these nights and events around the country were struggling to get back going, so they came in with the funding, which is great.”
As mentioned earlier, one of the poets that Mally mentioned would be performing at the SOTR events, Ken Hume, also happened to be with us on the day we spoke. Before turning to the author of the Snowstorm of Doubt and Grace poetry collection to hear from him, I asked Mally to share a little bit about his own creative background, and to tell us who David Mallaghan is as an artist…
“I started writing poetry in 1986, in sixth class, in Ballinamere National School. The teacher we had was Larry Fleming. Every second Friday, we had to have a poem or two written for him, while in sixth class. So for nine months in 1986, every second week I was writing poems to perform in front of the class. Cormac also came through Ballinamere National School so he had Larry Fleming a few years after I did. A lot of people came through that school who would have had Larry in sixth class, and he got them all writing poems, and he got me started too. I didn’t start performing until I hooked up with the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club about ten years ago. And once I started performing, I started to write a lot more because I realised I was enjoying it. And I had events to go perform at. So I think joining the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club was a big part of things for me too. Then when Cormac got SOTR going, that’s when I started to perform not just in Offaly, but around the country. I started to meet other poets and promoters, and I started to realise that there was a scene all around the country. Galway, Dublin, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Belfast, there’s a scene in every part of Ireland, and events in every part of Ireland. Especially in Dublin, there was a huge scene in Dublin. The first year I started to perform with SOTR, I started to do stand-up comedy as well. That was another avenue for performing. But when I go to comedy clubs, I’m doing my funniest poems as my show, so it’s still poetry, just funny poems. But when I do SOTR, I might do a serious poem, or a political one, maybe a mental health issue poem. But when I do comedy clubs, they’re just funny poems. By now, I’ve performed at five Electric Picnics, five Castlepalooza events, and two more events at Charleville Castle pre-Castlepalooza. And we actually brought the first ever spoken word event to Castlepalooza. They kept it on every year after we did it first. That was done through Terri Dale as well, I think. I’ve performed all over Ireland, in Amsterdam as well, and Berlin. I love performing. I use a lot of the same poems, but they’re my best poems. I always go with my best poems. So if you’ve seen my show five or six times, you’ll see that I’m rotating my best poems all the time with the odd new one.”
In the same edition of Under The Fading Lamp that I referred to earlier in relation to Mally, I wrote these words about Ken…
“Many writers, knowingly or not, are chained to certain portals of possibility by way of their own perception of themselves. They think they are a certain ‘type’ of writer, so even before they leave the first drop of ink on paper or hit that first key, their voyage has begun and they are merely a passenger on a ship they should be captain of. Ken Hume, however, is not this kind of writer. Constantly evolving and maturing into a wordsmith of tangible self-confidence, Ken can sit calmly before a blank page or screen awaiting the next world of words to reveal itself to him, that he may then bring it to life by a sure, poetically calibrated hand. Equally so can he begin with just a simple seed of thought and shape and grow that small beginning into a deeply meaningful end. Nothing is forced, but a gentle attention to detail is constant. ken is a fully accepting but fully aware passenger when cresting literary waves, and also a steady presence on the bridge when in command of turning sail to wind and bringing a new creation to shore.”
Turning my attention to the same Mr. Hume, and picking up on the fact that Mally had mentioned the Tullamore Rhymers’ Club, of which Ken was a founding member, the man himself filled us in on how the Club came into existence…
“Well I began my writing journey as a film critic with the Tullamore Tribune, that gave me a taste of writing regularly. I’d always written poetry, for as long back as I can remember, since I was a kid, encouraged by my late mam. And I’d always been talking about publishing a book, so a couple of friends of mine said well, why don’t you do it? Maybe now is the time. So I wrote it, with my mam – there’s some of her writing in there as well – we had it published, but I still felt there was something else I wanted to do, something more. I was wondering if there were other poets out there to share work with, and encourage each other, get ideas, ya know. So I thought wouldn’t it be great to have a group that would meet up on a regular basis. I texted a couple of my friends – Thomas Carty and yourself – and we set up a meeting. We started first in a back-room in my old family home, and we called it the ‘Hume Library’ because there were so many books in it! [Laughs].”
It was the idea of Thomas Carty to name the collective The Tullamore Rhymers’ Club, in a nod to the famous Rhymers’ Club of which W.B. Yeats was a founding member in London.
Ken continued, “After a few months, our numbers had increased from three at first, onto to four, then five, then six, including Mally here who was brought along by Cormac, and there was Seamus Kirwan, our friend the late Camillus Boland, Lorraine Dunican, Richard Brennan, James Delaney, and others too. It started to grow beyond what any of us had originally anticipated, so we moved the venue to the Bridge House Hotel, who kindly offered us a room for use. From there really, we started to talk about spreading our wings a bit further, to start performing, and move away from just sharing our work privately.”
I wondered what did being a part of a group of writers like that did for Ken as a poet, and even as a person, too?
“It gave me huge confidence. I’ve always written because I’ve found that I express myself better in the written word than in any other way. So for everything to have evolved from scribbling a few words on a page to meeting up with a group regularly to share poetry, and talk about it, get feedback, that was incredible. A very satisfying feeling. For that then to evolve into public performances with some of the leading entertainers in the country – Brendan Bowyer, Brendan Grace, Mike Denver, the Fureys – incredible experiences. Nerve-racking too, for me. Public speaking is something I find challenging, but I’ve always wanted to share poetry with people, to make it accessible for people.”
And sharing his work, and making poetry accessible is exactly what he’s going to be doing as part of the return of SOTR next weekend. How is he feeling about that?
“I’m excited. And nervous at the same time. But mostly excited, because I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to sharing my work for a while. I took a break to focus on family (proud dad of two, Grace and Ava), and on writing. But in the past year or so – ironically in the time that you couldn’t go out at all! [laughs] – I’ve really wanted to get back out to sharing my work, and back in front of an audience. I think now the country needs it more than ever, to be able to get back to live events like SOTR. Poetry is for everybody, that’s what I feel. And everybody has a story to tell. So we want to reach out to people with poetry, because there’s a hunger out there for the arts, there always has been in Ireland. We’re a nation of bards, storytellers, and writers.”
And in Tullamore in particular, there’s probably a lot more along those lines happening than most people ever know about. And Mally has been a man at the heart of so much of it during the last decade, through his involvement with SOTR and the Rhymers’ Club as well. But there’s also much more to Mally than simply being a creative and insightful wordsmith. He’s also a passionate activist, with what’s happening in Palestine being something that he has focused a lot of energy on in recent years…
“I follow world history and world events, and for years and years and years, ever since the Second World War, the Palestinian people have been treated terribly. They’re being murdered – even children are being murdered – they’re being bombed, they have no rights. There are two million people living in Gaza and it’s like an open prison, they can’t leave it. Human rights have been destroyed. What’s happening, at this moment in human history, is unacceptable. Palestinians need their own state. They need passports. They need healthcare. They need all the things they’re being denied. But because America is backing Israel, Israel is just stealing all the land, and knocking down villages, hospitals, and schools, replacing them with their own settlements. It’s totally against everything that’s right in the world. And it’s going on in our time. But we can do something about it. We can make people aware that this situation is going on. Just on a human rights level, it shouldn’t be going on in 2021.”
And Mally doesn’t just talk about doing something, he actually did something – bothe amazing and profoundly sad – to raise awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people…
“I asked poets and writers around the country if they would, if I contacted them with details of a child or a woman or a man who had been killed in Palestine, would they write about that person. We spent six months – me and Dr John Ennis from Mullingar – collating these poems and these writings about people that died, and we put them into a book called ‘Turangalila Palestine’, which is sanskrit for “an event that keeps occuring in Palestine.'” From all around the country, and even with some writers and poets from abroad, we got people writing about the people that were being killed. It’s a very personal book. It’s not a very happy one, you’re not going to read it and feel that way, because every poem that’s in it was written about someone that was actually killed. And that’s quite sad. You can check the news – I mean, look, it’s not in the news enough – but every week the Israeli Defence Forces are killing innocent Palestians. That’s unacceptable in 2021. It just is. And all around the world there’s a network of people who are trying to help the Palestinians and raise awareness. Roger Waters from Pink Floyd is one of the big guys behind it. Maverick Sabre from Ireland is involved too. There’s a lot of support. But that support has to turn into changing things.”
Mally is not shy about letting people know about his own roots as a Tyrone man, and rightly so. And those roots are one of the reasons why he feels such an allegiance of sorts to the pain and suffering of the Palestinians…
“There’s a huge solidarity between Northern Ireland and Palestine, because very similar things happened in each place. People were being oppressed, people were being killed. The people of Northern Ireland have been through that, so they kind of reached out to the Palestinians, and they reached back. In fact, Ireland did in general, because we have a history of 800 years of struggle with the English invaders. Because we have this history of struggle, we know what they’re going through in a way, and we want to help. We have ways of helping them that we used to get over our struggles, without violence. Peaceful protest. Information. Like the hunger strikers, that was a peaceful protest, and that changed things. They have hunger-strikes going on at the moment as well. So we can say, look, we had it really bad for a while, but we sorted it out. This is how you can do it.”
Does Mally see a resolution being found and agreed upon by all parties?
“I hope so. It has to be a two-state solution. The Palestinians have to be given a state, and a capital. Their capital was Jerusalem, but Jerusalem has been stolen from them, which isn’t right. And the Americans were kind of behind that. There needs to be a state of Israel and a state of Palestine. At the moment, there’s only a state of Israel. The UN is very powerless on this. The UN, have they any power at all? I don’t know.”
Before we finished up, I wanted to ask Mally about what began as just a lockdown project for him, his wonderfully and beautifully artistic tree paintings…
“The entertainment industry collapsed overnight, so during the lockdowns I had nothing to do! I was sitting here one night and I said, I’ll go down to Mr. Price and I’ll buy paint and start painting. So I did, and I started painting trees. I started posting them on Facebook, then one day someone said, “I’ll buy one of your paintings”, and I went…ok! [Laughs]. Six months later, I’d sold forty-four! All done, basically, off my Facebook page, and by word of mouth. Still have some for sale, too [laughs].”
My last question for Mally before wrapping things up with one more for Ken, was how did he think he’d feel come next Saturday, and being back at the mic for a SOTR event again?
“I can’t wait! The SOTR ethos, well for me anyway, is that I want to support local talent. Local artists, local poets, local comedians, local musicians, get them involved. And if I can be the first person to put them on stage, I want that. Because someone gave me my first time on stage, and I want to pass that on. If I can give a poet, a musician, or a comedian his or her first time on stage as a boost to them, that’s what SOTR is for. But also featuring established acts, national as well as local, we want to bring them to Tullamore and get them performing. A mixture of fresh, raw talent, giving them a boost, and poets, musicians, and comedians, and putting on shows in Tullamore. There’s no-one else doing this here, or even in the midlands. Giving people a boost, and getting established artists in, that’s what SOTR is about.”
And for Ken, as a performer, how will he be feeling when Saturday comes?
“Woaaa…[deep sigh]…nerve-racking! Getting up on stage has always been a challenge for me, in front of people, but that’s countered by my desire to share my poetry, and that always wins over. I’m excited, because I have a lot of new material, a lot of new experiences since I last really performed. A lot of things have happened, births, deaths, and everything in-between that have shaped me and my viewpoint on a lot of things. And that has impacted hugely on my writing, and can be seen in my writing. So I’m looking forward to sharing that with the general public and seeing how it impacts on them, and can they relate to it. If people can relate to what I write, that’s my job done.”
~ The SCENE OF THE RHYME events take place on Saturday, September 11th in John Lee’s Bar and Venue, 5pm; and on Sunday, September 12th at Chocolate Brown coffee shop, Tullamore, 3pm.