Growing Up in Northern Ireland

The political climate of Muldoon's childhood gave him a sense of unfinished business.
  • 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