Growing Up in Northern Ireland

Paul Muldoon is a writer, academic and educator, as well as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet from County Armagh, Northern Ireland.  Since 1987 he has lived in the United States, where he is now Howard G. B. Clark '21 Professor at Princeton University and Chair of the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts. In 2007 he was appointed Poetry Editor of The New Yorker. Between 1999 and 2004 he was Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford, where he is an honorary Fellow of Hertford College.  He won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for this work, Moy Sand and Gravel (2002).

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Paul Muldoon was given an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature for 1996. Other recent awards are the 1994 T. S. Eliot Prize, the 1997 Irish Times Poetry Prize, the 2003 Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry, the 2004 American Ireland Fund Literary Award, the 2004 Shakespeare Prize, the 2005 Aspen Prize for Poetry, and the 2006 European Prize for Poetry. He has been described by The Times Literary Supplement as "the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War."

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TRANSCRIPT

Question: Where are you from and how has that shaped you? 

Paul Muldoon:  I was born in Northern Ireland. I was born there in 1951, brought up in 50s and 60s to some extent and so far I was brought up in Ireland, so that of course was a major component, in terms of the mind set and what of course impinged mostly had to do with the political situation in Northern Ireland. 

The state, the altered state as some would have it, was set up basically because a united Ireland, as it was then conceived, it was not manageable in the early 1920s. So there was a sense, of course, always of some sort of unfinished business during my childhood. It’s not as if I was conscious of violence in the streets, though mind you, in the 1950s, of course, or more notoriously from the late 60s on, there was an IRA [Irish Republican Army] campaign.

So I remember quite vividly as the child being brought, well, actually stumbling upon with my father and neighbor or two a site where there had obviously been some digging going on--probably for an arms dump or something along those lines. Of course one promptly forgot about it.

There was a sense of the British army on the roads, of course. There was the sense of the B Specials, as they were known, so as not to confuse them with the A Specials, the auxiliary police force helping out the Royal Ulster Constabulary [RUC], as it was known, and helping them out at night, often farmers, neighbors predominantly protestant police force, helping out the RUC and stopping their Catholic neighbors asking them who they were, what their business was, what their title was indeed, though they knew perfectly well what that was.

So there was a sense of all that. Mind you, having said that, it was a terrifically, as I remember it anyhow, actually quite a joyous childhood. I was brought up in the countryside. I had a countryside that then, certainly in that part of the world, was still predominantly a little, one little field after another, overgrowing hedgerows, full of little birds, cheeping away. Most of, or at least many of which, have now of course gone the way of all bird flesh. They have been poisoned one way or another. The land has been cleared in ways that were unimaginable then, built up in all sorts of ways.

So the place was County Armad, about halfway across northern Ireland, an apple growing district where some of the people who had been planted there in the Elizabethan era had come from Warwickshire and brought with them their apple plants, but also much of the language, which William Shakespeare was using and which was fossilized where I was brought up. So my father, for example, would use expressions like “I’ll warrant” and--what I think else the other day--various expressions that really have fell in to disuse in most other parts of the world, but which continued to be current where I was brought up.

There was a sense of the Irish language and in the back of the mind, of perhaps even quite so far, back as the back of the mind to the forefront of the mind, and all the place names again were fossilized versions of the Gaelic place names in many cases.

College Lands, the school I went to, referred to an area of property that had belonged to Trinity College Dublin when Trinity owned that land. The immediate town land was known as Kennahan, which means a mossy, boggy place, which was an accurate enough description of where we were. This is just a little smattering of the backdrop as it were, and the back of the mind--but all of that going on there.

Recorded on: Jan 30, 2008

 

 


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