Geraldine Mitchell is reading this Friday as part of the Lunchtime Reading series at the Irish Writers’ Centre on Friday, March 2nd at 1.05pm. The Lunchtime Readings run (on Fridays) throughout February and March in the Irish Writers’ Centre and are organised in association with Poetry Ireland. The readings will be alternating between prose and poetry, offering audiences the chance to experience a wide-range of literary talent. Here’s an interview printed in the Mayo News with Geraldine (written by Áine Ryan).
THE difference between the view from the rock of Gibraltar and from the remote, windswept landscape of Devlin, near Louisburgh is patently dramatic. The Mediterranean and the Atlantic create very distinctive colours and moods with the elemental power of their seasonal and whimsical brushstrokes. Poet, Geraldine Mitchell has an intimate knowledge of these natural tableaux. Her poetic interpretations and musings in her recently launched book, ‘World Without Maps’, are more nuanced. They microscopically unfurl ‘the layered scents’ of her sensitive observations.
Geraldine Mitchell was born in affluent Dublin 2 to a Presbyterian father and a Methodist mother. While she attended Primary school in Dublin, her parents packed her off to a boarding school in Scotland when she was just 12 years old ‘because they felt there wasn’t a good enough Protestant school in Ireland’. “I think temperamentally boarding school didn’t suit me. I was very independent and for example refused to go to church. I’m not sure now if I totally challenged the poor principal, at the time it didn’t feel like that. Eventually, I got a room in the attic – my own little garret – and had a special regime.”
For over a decade, Geraldine has lived on the edge of the ocean near Killeen. In an earlier life she reported on the killing of the Gibraltar Three – Mairéad Farrell, Sean Savage and Daniel McCann. These IRA activists were shot by British SAS soldiers on March 6, 1988, accused of plotting to bomb a military ceremony. At the time, Mitchell had tentatively launched her brief career as a freelance journalist. “The Irish Times sent over their journalist Andy Pollak but he didn’t have Spanish, so I did all the interviews. I remember skipping past all the police at Malaga police headquarters and going up to the top of the old building to talk to the police officer who had leaked the story to the Press. He was no longer in charge of the case”.
“Andy Pollak taught me a lot about the complexities of the Republican movement. I had left Ireland when I was 20. Andy helped me get behind the facile interpretations of what was happening in the north.” Geraldine, who had worked as an English teacher in France for some years, moved to Spain with her two children, then aged eleven and eight, in 1982. Her marriage to a French man subsequently ended in 1984. “I had always loved writing and then I discovered the Spanish language, and it opened up a whole new world for me. I began to find teaching a little predictable, so I started freelancing, doing a bit for the Sunday Tribune and The Irish Times. It wasn’t easy.” It was sometime during 1985 or 1986 that Spanish teaching colleagues suggested that Geraldine organise a holiday in Ireland, somewhere in the west and – ‘in pure serendipity’ – she rented a house owned by well-known authors Michael and Ethna Viney, right across from her present home in Devlin.
“I totally fell in love with the place, and because my marriage had ended, I felt I needed a fixed point in my life and that I needed to reconnect with Ireland.” So, Geraldine let it be known to locals that she was on the look-out to purchase a house. “The following winter the house I now own came up for sale. I bought it, sight-unseen. It was a great adventure for the kids and myself and for the ensuing years we came every August for the entire month.” Finding the home of her dreams was not the only serendipitous twist in her life. While living in London for a time, Geraldine met her second husband, Neil Middleton – a publisher and later a writer for NGOs through connections with the (resourceful!) Vineys. In 1992 the couple moved to her native Dublin for a time where she wrote her two Children’s books, and a biography of Muriel Gahan, founder of The Country Shop and champion of rural Irish women. Some years later, shocking news of a breast cancer diagnosis ‘catapulted’ the decision to move full-time to the west, Geraldine explains. Resilient as always, when she recovered, she was soon involved with the Louisburgh Community Project as a volunteer and when a job came up later she worked as a Development Worker from 2001 until 2007.
“While working for the project, we set up a writing group and invited Jean Tuomey to facilitate the group. She has a great gift of bringing the best out in people. I wasn’t at all convinced about writing groups, but I decided to sit in on it. Jean puts you in touch with your subconscious, because that’s where poetry comes from.” The first poem Mitchell had published was in the Cork journal, The SHOp, in 2006. Two years later – having made her application while on a Mayo County Council bursary at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig – she won the prestigious Patrick Kavanagh Award. She couldn’t believe it! “People think I write poetry because I live in a beautiful place. But I don’t write about the beauty of the place; but because of its beauty I can find the space to listen to myself. It also affords me the space and time to read a lot.”
“In a funny way, poetry is a way of thinking and seeing. When you look at a landscape the normal way, you look at it is horizontally; poetry makes you look at it vertically, to go down into yourself … “In poetry you want to touch people in a way that they come away from the poem with a new feeling. It is such a shame people are put off by the word poetry, just like they are by classical music. Poetry is a way of understanding, a way of life.” World Without Maps by Geraldine Mitchell is published by Arlen House.
Deep in the pockets of my memory
are coins rubbed smooth from fingering,
stories I have hoarded, guarded
from the corruption of sharing.
The night we spent in the one-room house
in Kabylia, after broad beans and buttermilk
from a single dish.
You in the big bed with him.
Me and his wife on the floor.
How in the night she wrapped her arms around me,
and from behind the fortress of her belly
her child tapped messages on my back.
– Geraldine Mitchell
– Geraldine Mitchell