I’ve been doing my last ever read through of BLUE MERCY as I finalise it for the print-on-demand (POD) edition of the book.
While doing so, I’ve been enjoying the reconnection with two of its major inspirations. One was a place — Laragh in County Wicklow, Ireland — and the other a poem: “St Kevin and The Blackbird” by Seamus Heaney.
Whenever I write a novel, I take a writing retreat or two, preferably in one of the book’s settings. While working on BLUE MERCY, I stayed a number of times in a hermitage in the grounds of St Kevin’s Church at Laragh.
Situated on the edge of Glendalough Monastic Site and National Park (which also turns up in the novel), surrounded by Brockagh Wood and mountain, and in the grounds of a church with meditation gardens and walks, it makes a very special place to spend a night or two, in solitude. (Pablo Picasso – Without great solitude no serious work is possible.)
Here’s a slide show of the hermitage’s simple accommodation, its gardens and surroundings.
The second inspiration for the novel was Seamus Heaney’s take on the story of Kevin, the patron saint of Laragh and Glendalough, and the blackbird. This poem is soaked, as so many of Heaney’s poems are, with an Irish spiritual sensibility that draws on beliefs wrought from wood and wildlife and water that are older than Christianity, but deeply interwoven with it.
Star, one of the narrators of BLUE MERCY, tells the story for which St Kevin is famous: “One morning, as he held out his hand through the open window of his rough, exposed and tiny hermitage, a blackbird laid her eggs in his palm. Unfazed, attuned to the spirit of his natural surroundings, Kevin continued to hold his hand up and out,, still and steady, for weeks — all through the nesting season until her chicks were hatched and reared.”
This poem inspired the final lines of BLUE MERCY: “Imagine. Just Imagine. Because it’s all imagined anyway”. So it seemed fitting to celebrate the final publication stage of the novel by sharing it with you.
St Kevin and the Blackbird. By Seamus Heaney.
And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird.
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
and Lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his hurting forearms?
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river,
‘To labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird
And on the riverbank forgotten the river’s name.