John O'Donoghue

Fools & Mad (2014)



While out walking by the river one warm summer morning the author encounters a portly figure in Augustan get-up. He takes the author to a huge white palace in the woods, andreveals himself to be Jonathan Swift. The palace is his gift to Ireland, the asylum he left to the nation in his will. There he introduces the author to twelve Irish poets, from Kavanagh and Yeats through Wilde and Mangan all the way back to Mad Sweeney. They are all bemused to be in Swift’s House for ‘Fools & Mad’.

Once the author has met the poets Swift releases them and takes them to a clearing in the woods, the full moon shining down on them all, a long table and a bench before them. Kathleen NiHoulihan emerges from the forest, a shabby-looking creature in front of her. It is the Celtic Tiger and the twelve poets are to form a jury to put the Tiger on trial in a ‘Court of Poetry’.

With references to Brian Merriman’s The Midnight Court as well as the works of the poets who form the jury and Swift himself, Fools & Mad seems to refer to the twelve foolish, mad poets. But as the poem reaches its conclusion it becomes apparent that the real Fools & Mad are the Irish people, forever falling for the fraud perpetrated on them.

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Praise and Poems

John O’Donoghue is a true son of Brian Merriman – poetically gifted, fluent, technically accomplished. He writes with a wit that is both mischievous and humane.
Ciaran O’Driscoll, poet, novelist, memoirist

John O’Donoghue proves he is part of that proud tradition of Swift and Dante, combining savage indignation with divine comedy in this epic poem where wise men are fools and the lunatics are the only ones fit to run the asylum. O’Donoghue captures the maddest excesses of the now expired Celtic Tiger through the eyes of some of Ireland’s finest writers, from Joyce to Behan to Yeats and back again. It’s a bravura performance.
Nessa O’Mahony, poet

Witty, poignant and revelatory. Shot through with sharp and frequently hilarious insights on madness, Irish identity, and the Irish economic delusion. ‘Beneath the laughing mask’ John O’Donoghue delivers an autopsy on the Celtic Tiger and its legacy for our ‘troubled race’ which should be required reading. The most exciting London-Irish voice to emerge since Shane MacGowan.
Dylan Tighe, actor, playwright, musician


from VII

“I am the poet William Butler Yeats,
Whom all of Ireland loves and Dean Swift hates.
I hardly think I deserve this awful hole.
Magic after all’s a harmless rigmarole,
And to be frank something of a dreadful yawn.
I was in the Order of the Golden Dawn
And I’ll have you know that I was Chief Mage
Back then when the occult was all the rage.
Well, let me look at you – what kind of man
Are you and how do you fit in with Swift’s plan?”

He lowered his pince-nez and peered at me
And I thought of that line of his poetry:
Surely some revelation is at hand.
Here is a poet who must understand
What this place is and why we are all here,
Here is a poet who could make the mists clear.

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