Michael J. Whelan - Poet, South Lebanon -1994

Michael J. Whelan – Poet, South Lebanon -1994


I’m very lucky and honoured to be taking part in the May ‘Poems Upstairs’ Event in Dublin City tomorrow evening (Wednesday).

Rita Ann Higgins will read from her new collection ‘Tongulish’ and will be joined by two poets published by Doire Press: Simon Lewis, who will read from his debut collection ‘Jewtown’, and myself  – Michael J. Whelan who will read from ‘Peacekeeper’. Simon is from Carlow and won the Hennessy Prize for Poetry last year. I will read some poems from my debut poetry collection, which revolve around the personal and collective experiences from my time as a UN Peacekeeper in Lebanon and Kosovo.

Yes I am very lucky and honoured to be where I am now, and to be reading in ‘Books Upstairs,’ D’Olier Street in Dublin City tomorrow evening (Wednesday) with Rita Ann Higgins and Simon Lewis as part of the ‘Poetry Upstairs Poetry Ireland / Éigse Éireann reading series’ and I am very much looking forward to meeting them both.

So.. everyone is welcome to come along to ‘Books Upstairs’
Tomorrow evening (Wednesday) May 4 @ 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
Tickets are €6 and include a glass of wine to help the poetry go down…he he.


Please see link below for details or pay at the door


Hi all, this is the first published review of PEACEKEEPER and is available also on the Doire Press website, details below!

'Peacekeeper' by Michael J. Whelan. Poetry collection published by Doire Press - April 2016

‘Peacekeeper’ by Michael J. Whelan. Poetry collection published by Doire Press – April 2016



Review of PeaceKeeper by Michael J. Whelan
– by Rob Buchanan

Let’s get something out of the way. Sometimes readers are put off by poetry collections which seemingly hinge on one theme. The military for example. Fortunately Michael J Whelan’s debut offering Peacekeeper has enough variety in its presentation of scenarios, its reportage and its reminiscences to maintain interest and guarantee it many rereading’s whether or not the topic war is your usual predilection.

Much could be made of the unique perspective that Whelan’s previous profession brings to the subject. He served in the Irish Defence Forces as a UN peacekeeper in South Lebanon and Kosovo. But it’s as important to realise that the poet’s authority comes as much from his own fatherhood and humanity as from his military role. Equally the uses of metaphor and perspective seen throughout the collection are as informed by his other profession, as a military historian. There’s a fascination for small details, bits of beauty and grace. And a certain uneasy neutrality and detachment.The poems show a respect for the locals as fellow fathers and sons, wives and daughters, tinged with regret at their aggression as combatants in interminable disastrous warfare. Violence directed both toward each other and the peacekeepers.

Frequently grim this first collection from Whelan has enough peppering’s of beauty to keep it from being a masochistic carnival. There is neither a glorification of war nor a fetishisation of weaponry. When guns and bombs are described it is almost as if read from a bestiary. Works like “Distant Whisper” and “Through the Steyr AUG….” elegantly point out the near mystical quality of how a gun can undo the miracle of life. Mostly we see the combatants in a non-judgmental pragmatic perspective of the outsider. When the conflicts are viewed in the context of comparison with the poet’s home in Dublin Whelan just about maintains an unsentimental longing. There is neither the flowery existential despair of Sassoon nor the baroque metaphysics of Brooke. We are seeing the inglorious chaperoning of local savagery instead of the blazing guns and wholesale slaughter of world war yet even outside the confluence of global history, we are in the rock pools whose tempests are no less terrible for their scale.

Whelan’s soldier boots are metaphorically and literally firmly on the ground, whether it be the desert sands of Lebanon or the grimy rubble of Kosovo. The language doesn’t run away with him. The text is usually short, especially when presenting the understated vignettes of wonder or horror. There are rare scenes of near normality like “Showing the Flag” that offer contrast. The verse is often sophisticated while keeping a vulnerability about it. The colour palette shifts from the sandy yellows and whites of arid deserts in the Middle East tinged with biblical mysticism to the grungy greys and blacks of urban Eastern Europe flavoured with the depressing familiar tasted of war.

Perhaps the title of the collection itself most laconically describes the predicament of the underlying theme. Peacekeeping. The transience and fragile nature of security. Whether its manifested in the vulnerability of children in the face of conflict or the chaos and physical disorder that can be wrought by explosives and shifting allegiances. The irreparable undoing of destruction and disorder and the Sisyphus-like task of the UN Peacekeeper trying to separate and restore. The paradox of all the effort being only a temporary denouement, a sticking plaster over a wound that mankind will inevitably scratch open again for a new generation to bloody. The geopolitical as well as the moral position of UN Peacekeepers in these foreign lands is best summed up by the final line of the poem “Moral of the Story”: Peacekeepers [in Lebanon] may not always hold the centre ground but they are always caught in the middle.

Khalil Gibran , ever the witness and watcher of men, is oft quoted and fittingly so. The Lebanese poet was notoriously indirect with his messages and parables much like the code talking Middle Eastern nationals is alluded to in “Irish Martyrs in Lebanon.” Likewise the allusions to biblical locations and their supposed bucolic Arcadian properties are held in contrast to the conflicts in those much promised lands. There are so many stark stories and low key gory details that stick in the mind. But beyond those there are some stand out pieces which will linger long after the understandable repulsion of the blood. “Critical Outcome” has the reader drawn psychically as well as physically in to the brain of a prone soldier, mentally wincing as he imagines being shot in the head. It triggers a primal reflex, self-preservation and leaves you wondering how you would feel lying there. A companion piece for that poem would be “Mosaic” where we see the all too visceral reality which spawns the fearful scenarios that soldiers torment and protect themselves with. Again in both of these pieces there is an attempt at detached explanations of the weapons. A disassociation, even shame at bearing them. “Broken Spade” and “Question” are haunting tombstones that have a timeless quality.

“Tour of Duty”  is a great example of how uncomfortably close we can come to losing our cosy safety as the reader and being superimposed by Whelan in to a time and place where corporeal security is as fragile as sanity. Where the human body is placed prey-like before the awe inspiring weapons. The weapons have no conscience and are blameless. Violence creates chaos, and the uncertainty subverts domestic life. Even the seemingly solid protection of homes, institutions are unsafe because they are prey to bombs and bullets as readily as flesh is. An interesting metaphor for the unwinnable exercise of rebuilding and defending is offered by the sandbags in “Portal.”

“An Irish Peacekeeper on the Coast Road….” includes another quote from Gibran, and it imbibes the immediacy of the sense experiences of travelling through ancient lands towards a biblical city. It places the timeless nature of the role of a liberating or peacekeeping soldier. The misunderstood and sometimes naïve outsider who treads the thin neutral line between sworn enemies. In the observance of his thankless and deadly task it’s easy to forget that this foreigner is also a tourist of sorts. He is a visitor who is not immune to the beauty and history that is inseparable from the theatre of war he performs in. He is a young Irish father abroad. Wide eyed, candid and self-consciously terrified at times. “Phosphorous Dreams” and “Wild Juice” further elaborate on this dimension of the husband attempting to reintegrate and demob. The realities of PTSD are nodded towards. Even so we are left wondering at how frequently the soldier’s dream of home only to return home and dream immediately of being back in battle, for better or for worse. There are unforgettable images in “Grapes of Wrath” and “Chocolate” but less on the nose. As a father himself Whelan’s sincere sense of empathy for the most vulnerable victims of war, children, is apparent in pieces like the aforementioned Chocolate and Deliverance and especially heart wrenching in “The Soldier’s Face”. The last six lines of “Liberators” in particular is almost post-apocalyptic. Although sympathetic and almost righteous the tone never turns saccharine.

Occasionally disturbing, frequently enlightening and always beautiful Whelan’s verse is deceptively simple even when studded with military tech and biblical illusions. It’s easy to imagine how close to home this collection will hit for both those involved in the military and their families. There will be many previously inarticulate memories and emotions stirred up and perhaps it may even lay certain ghosts to rest when readers see a kindred spirit and realise their own nightmares and treasured memories are part of the burden of peacekeeping. But no military experience is required to take value from this collection. Neither triumphalist glorification of war or apologist travelogue of exotic lands, there is still a humanity which makes the grueling bleakness worthwhile. Peacekeeper is not a pleasant read, and it shouldn’t be. Whelan’s is a vivid and unique voice with an insightful vulnerable masculinity. I look forward to reading more from Whelan in the future.


see http://www.doirepress.com/writers/m_z/review_of_peacekeeper/

…. when my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written. I have done. – (extract from the speech of the Irish Patriot Robert Emmet prior to his execution 1803).


Tieing history, peacekeeping and poetry together…


Lt Gearoid O' Briain with a signed copy of PEACEKEEPER in the Air Corps Museum on Poetry Ireland Day 2016.  Photo: Michael J. Whelan

Lt Gearoid O’ Briain with a signed copy of PEACEKEEPER in the Irish Air Corps Museum on Poetry Ireland Day 2016. Photo: Michael J. Whelan


Well today is Poetry Day in Ireland and it was a really fantastic day for me on the literary and history side of things as it falls in the middle of the Centenary week of the 1916 Rising (calendar). The Irish Defence Forces (and Irish Air Corps, of which I am a member) requested and posted some poems and images from my recently published collection ‘PEACEKEEPER,‘ (Doire Press); and they did a great job putting the pieces into context on their facebook and twitter pages. I’m very happy indeed to have this support from the defence forces, it means a lot.

The other really cool thing that happened today was that Lieutenant Gearoid O’ Briain came down to the Air Corps Museum, where I work, to purchase a copy of PEACEKEEPER from me and to get me to sign it for him, which I did. I also asked him if I could take a photo of him with the book as this was an important occasion for me as a writer and historian because you see not only is Gearoid a flying instructor in the Irish Air Corps, he also led the parade carrying the national colours of Ireland for the state commemorations of the 1916 Centenary at Easter this year. He is also the Great-Grandson of Cathal Brugha and Great-Grandnephew of Terence MacSwiney both of whom are very famous Irish patriots involved in the 1916 Rising and the revolutionary period as well being intrinsically tied into the Irish historical narrative. He is also a very humble and terribly nice guy and I’m really glad that I got the opportunity to come to know him over the last number of years.

The quote above is taken from the words of the other famous Irish patriot Robert Emmet, which he spoke from the courtroom dock just before he died, and it’s those words, which I use here, to tie my collection of poems about the experiences of Irish citizens engaged on international peace support missions across the globe for the last fifty eight years through Lt Gearoid O’ Briain, the Irish Defence Forces, peacekeeping and all the strands of history and symbolism which crossed over in the Air Corps Museum at Baldonnel today on Poetry Ireland Day.

Baldonnel (Casement Aerodrome as it is now) is the location where the first Irish troops to serve on United Nations peacekeeping service in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1960-61) departed from in 1960 and where many still fly out to various peace support missions around the world to this day.


Lt Gearoid O' Briain with a signed copy of PEACEKEEPER in the Air Corps Museum on Poetry Ireland Day 2016.  Photo: Michael J. Whelan

Lt Gearoid O’ Briain with a signed copy of PEACEKEEPER in the Air Corps Museum next to Colonel James FitzMaurice – Atlantic Conqueror on Poetry Ireland Day 2016.                Photo: Michael J. Whelan


Peacekeeping is just one form, but a very important manifestation, of Ireland taking her place among the nations of the Earth!

I would like to say a big THANK YOU to the Irish Defence Forces and Air Corps Press offices and to Lt Gearoid O’ Briain for today, #PoetryDayIRL


poetry ireland doire press - day offer

Poetry Ireland – doire press – Poetry Day Special Offer


Hi all, just to let you know that in honour of Poetry Ireland Day today Thursday 28th April Doire Press the publishers of my recent poetry collection ‘Peacekeeper’ are offering a special deal.

For one day only (in association with Poetry Ireland), you can purchase one of the recent titles from their website and you’ll get another free,

please see poster and link below for details of this fantastic deal,

take care,




Hi all, as you know my début collection of poems titled ‘Peacekeeper‘ was launched last Wednesday 13th April by Peter O’ Neill in the County Library Tallaght. Peter gave an excellent introduction to my poems and to the place this collection holds in the literary and historical narrative of war/peacekeeper poetry in Ireland. Over 100 people from family, friends, writers, editors of history magazines, retired and serving personnel of the Irish Defence Forces including veterans of the various peacekeeping mission that Ireland has supported over the last 55 years with troop commitments came along to the launch, there was two retired generals of the defence forces in the audience too.

It was a very humbling experience to read some of the poems and to feel the warmth of the reception from that large amount of people. The room was choc-a-bloc and standing room only at the back. There was a wonderful energy in the room and I want to sincerely thank everybody who came along to the launch that evening, which by the way was the birthdays of Irish poet Seamus Heaney and the play-write Samuel Beckett. I didn’t realise the significance at the time (a friend and poet Enda Coyle-Greene sent me a congratulatory postcard depicting Heaney) and it wasn’t planned that way but to me, because of this, the book being launched on the 13th of April is now very symbolic.

So again I want thank everyone who came along to the launch, also  a big THANK YOU to Anne, Catherine, Sile and staff at the county library Tallaght and South Dublin Libraries, to John and Lisa at Doire Press for taking on the collection and publishing it, to Peter O’ Neill for launching the collection in such a fantastic way, to Maria Wallace and the members of the Virginia House Writers, to Eileen Casey and the members of Platform One Writers and to every literary journal, newspaper, magazine and person who has helped me a long my journey.



Michael J. Whelan reads from 'Peacekeeper' at the launch in Tallaght Library on 13th April 2016

Michael J. Whelan reads from ‘Peacekeeper’ at the launch in Tallaght Library on 13th April 2016

Irish U.N. foot-patrol, Tibnine Castle, S. Lebanon 1994. Photo: Michael J. Whelan(L)

Irish U.N. foot-patrol, Tibnine Castle, S. Lebanon 1994. Photo: Michael J. Whelan(L)


Hi all, it’s getting very close now, so this is just a reminder that I would like to invite you to join me at the launch of my new collection PEACEKEEPER this evening (Wed 13th April) in Tallaght Library at 6.30pm.

It would be great to see you and you’re more than welcome to bring some guests too.


Promises to be a great evening,




The Chicken Farm

(Camp Clarke – Irish Peacekeeping Forces Head Quarters – Kosovo 2000/01)


After reveille in Camp Clark

the ground raised itself up,

moved around the ‘Chicken Farm’ camp

of guano that nearly always stank

and bred flies brave enough to attack

our eyes and hovered as if we were

the walking dead.


They assaulted in force from a cesspit trench

dug in the cold dirt outside the wire

and we were unable to eat,

arms crossed over defending our plates

against their swarming dives

while others tried to snatch morsels

from our mouths.


That day the ground lifted towards us

with a million mice, like locusts,

eating all the earth.



Michael J Whelan

Published recently by Arthur Broomfield in OUTBURST Magazine No 16, April 2016.

Also included in the poetry Collection titled ‘PEACEKEEPER’ by Michael J. Whelan published by Doire Press 2016


Camp Clarke - Kosovo 2001

Camp Clarke – Kosovo 2001


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