THE RIVER Nore that meanders through the city centre has different associations for the people that walk along it’s banks.
For most it is a peaceful oasis - a place of escape in the heart of the city. But there is a more sinister side to the river and what it represents for some people. Poet Eoghan O’Drisceoil delves into the dark underbelly of the river in his anthology of poems - I Went Down to the River.
O’Drisceoil, who was born and reared in the Marble City is frank about his life to date. In a society where a contrived strive for perfection can be prevalent it is refreshing to hear the voice of a young man who is honest about his demons and does not shun the darkness away. “I was born and bred in Loughboy and I went to Kilkenny College. From there I went to university and studied Creative Arts and I spent a year of my studies in France. After that I suppose was the start of a solitary existence. I lived in Spain in the mountains for a year and I lived in Italy and Scotland. I have lived in teepee villages in Buddhist monasteries and in Christian monasteries.
“I have been writing poetry since I was 14 or 15. My uncle Denis, who was a poet died at Christmas and after that I had a dream of him passing a pocketwatch - to me that was a symbol of passing on a gift and I want to honour that tradition. I think you have to sacrifice so much to honour your art form. If you look at people like Seamus Heaney and Paul Durcan and realise that some people manage to make a living out of poetry - that is quite inspiring,” he added.
After wandering and travelling Eoghan spent a period of time working for the National Library where he read everyday. “I read everything from Beckett to Behan to Flann O’Brien and I became an academic of American Literature. I enjoy an eclectic range of poets. Kavanagh is one of my favourites, the idea of a country boy living in Dublin, I suppose his voice spoke to me,” he said.
The title of Eoghan’s recently published anthology is simple and stark. “I don’t think that you should be afraid to write about something that is perceived as dark. There is nothing wrong with writing about suicide. I spent two years on anti-depressants and spent one year in and out of the mental hospital. I also spent a period of time homeless in Dublin and on the streets begging. When you get out of hospital there is no support system. I think that the system failed me.
“Saying that I have learned a lot from my experiences. I got into meditation and spirituality. Alcohol was an issue for me in my twenties but I gave it up for seven years.
“I think life is a journey and you just have to keep on going. I was written off at 21 when I had a nervous breakdown and all I wanted was to wander and that is what I did. I left university with a sleeping bag and a didgeridoo and I ended up working in Edinburgh for six months with autistic artists.
“I wandered for years but I remember coming back from Spain after spending a year and a half in Spain. I was so disillusioned with the radical environmentalism and socialism that was there and I just wanted something normal and I realised I had to start again. “
Eoghan has been living in Kilkenny for the past seven years and admits that finally he feels more settled. “I have gone through the biggest journey coming home and getting a flat and a few bobs together. I am finding more peace now and I find the universal in the local. What travelling taught me is that there is no utopia and that no matter where you go you are dealing with yourself and your issues.”
The poet is honest about his experience with mental illness and believes that society is still to a large extent in denial. “Depression is really real and society is in denial. The title of the book is so blatant and I hope that people will acknowledge the people and their pain - both of the people that went into the river and never came out and the people who went down to the river and came back. Kilkenny has an epidemic of suicide and until this is acknowledged that will continue. As a community we need to make it safe for people to talk and people need to get real with their emotions and issues be it abuse or addiction. This whole process need to be humanised and not perceived as flawed. It is really important that ordinary people and their pain and cruelty is acknowledged.
“As a child the river symbolised innocence - a place where we went fishing, exploring and swimming. As a teenager we hung out by the river, fighting for our freedom. We thought we were mavericks who were into poetry and music and drama. As an adult though it became more sinister. It is now into double figures the amount of people I know who have lost their lives to the river. I hope this book helps people a bit to feel able to talk properly and remove some of the taboos that still exist,” he added.
When I ask him where he believes peace exists he replies simply that the only place he has ever found it is by ‘looking within’. After travelling all over the world and questioning the point of existence it is somewhat reassuring that this literary man has come to the conclusion that the universal is in the local by the banks of the Nore and the tools for peace are within his own soul. I Went To the River is available from Rollercoaster Records.