Posts Tagged ‘Irish Peacekeepers in Lebanon’


Harvest Time - postcard - Lebanon 1990s

Harvest Time – postcard – Lebanon 1990s




A 155mm shell

fired from northern Israel

collides with an orchard

in south Lebanon


villages shake

landscapes awake

and echoes

rush the wadii


fear clings to grass and stone

retaliation or a violation?

we listen for the small-arms fire

but there is only crying.


Michael J. Whelan


Painting on a postcard, which I sent to my parents almost 25 years ago, titled ‘Harvest Patrol’ by Commandant J. Coates of 72 Irish Battalion UNIFIL. A postcard depicting Irish Peacekeepers protecting local Lebanese villagers during the olive harvest. This was dangerous work for them during the conflict.

Published by Mark Ulyseas in a sequence of poems titled ‘A Hundred Black Horizons’ in L.E. Poetry Magazine, February 2017


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Bunker S. Lebanon, 1994. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

Bunker S. Lebanon, 199os. Photo: Michael J. Whelan



The reign of artillery

is about to fall


in the dark valley.

We cannot see


the fear

but hear


the groundhog

sirens wail


about the bunkers

night and day.



Michael J. Whelan


(Groundhog = during periods of intense shelling,

UN troops and civilians in the UNIFIL area enter underground bunkers)

Published by Mark Ulyseas in a sequence of poems titled ‘A Hundred Black Horizons’ in L.E. Poetry Magazine, February 2017

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I will be taking part in this event to celebrate the 50th issue of A New Ulster (Ed. Amos Grieg)
With David Rigsbee 
and Peter O’ Neill, where I will also read and discuss poems from the Peacekeeper collection (Doire Press), which were first published in ANU. Please come along to what promises to be a fantastic event in Books Upstairs on D’Olier Street, Dublin City at 6.30pm next Tuesday evening 15th November 2016.

Hope to see you there

See details below

Michael J. Whelan - poet, Lebanon 1994

Michael J. Whelan – poet, Lebanon 1994




Celebrating the 50th issue of A New Ulster
With David Rigsbee,
Michael J. Whelan and Peter O’ Neill

A New Ulster magazine was established in 2012 and is celebrating its 50th issue this month. To mark this milestone, some of the magazine’s most prolific contributors will come together to read and discuss their poetry and translations. On the night we’ll have guest of honour, American poet and translator of Joseph Brodsky, David Rigsbee, as well as poets Peter O’Neill and Michael J. Whelan. A New Ulster magazine promotes contemporary literature across all 32 counties, publishing poetry, fictional prose, translations and transversions, reviews, interviews and art works from writers and artists not only from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland but from the USA, UK, and the EU making it a truly international literary journal which, in its four intensely packed years, has made it truly a force to be reckoned with.

David Rigsbee is the author of School of the Americas and Not Alone in My Dancing:  Essays and Reviews, as well as the forthcoming Dream Baby (Lapwing) and This Much I Can Tell You (Black Lawrence Press). He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in Literature and awards from The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Academy of American Poets. He is the author of critical studies of Carolyn Kizer and Joseph Brodsky and has coedited Invited Guest:  An Anthology of Twentieth Century Southern Poetry.  He lives in New York.

Michael J. Whelan is a historian and award-winning poet. A serving member of the Irish Air Corps, he is currently curator and keeper of the Irish Air Corps Military Aviation Museum & Collection at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. He is the author of two history books and his poetry has been published in Ireland, Mexico, Paris, the UK and included in The Hundred Years’ War –Anthology of Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe UK). His debut collection ‘Peacekeeper’ (Doire Press, 2016) is the first of its kind to reference the role of Irish citizens on international peace support missions.

Peter O’ Neill is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Divertimento The Muse is a Dominatrix(mgv2>publishing, France) and Sker (Lapwing). He edited And Agamemnon Dead, An Anthology of Early Twenty First Centurywith Walter Ruhlmann (mgv2>publishing). He is the founder of Donkey Shots, an avant garde poetry festival which takes place in the spring in his home-town of Skerries, north county Dublin, where he also hosts The Gladstone Readings.


Tickets are  €5.92 and available at the Eventbrite link below



Tue 15 November 2016

18:30 – 19:30 GMT



Books Upstairs,

17 D’Olier Street

2 Dublin



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Part of the Irish Battalion area from Camp Shamrock with Hill 880 - 1990s (c)Michael J. Whelan

Part of the Irish Battalion area of operations viewed from Camp Shamrock with section of ‘Hill 880’ – 1990s (c)Michael J. Whelan



(Observations in Irish UN Operations area S. Lebanon – 1990s)


Early morning.

A steely mist waited

through the night

to storm the hilltop hiding

the warriors approach

in resistance and stealthy guile.

They paused at pre-ranged paces,

unleashed hate from guns,

then retreated

to whence they came

before the mist released

a battlefield, and enemies

were seen.


Michael J. Whelan

Part of a sequence of poems titled ‘Holding The Road’ which was published by Mark Ulyseas in Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016 see link below


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Local children - Kosovo - 2001 (c)Michael J. Whelan

Local children – Kosovo – 2001 (c)Michael J. Whelan



Passing A.P.C.s

and troops at every corner

between the clanking,

twisting clatter of metal

caterpillar tracks on

hulking tanks

and the labouring monsters

of armoured cars

hovering close

to keep them safe

from hand grenades

and open windows,

K.FOR soldiers

escort children to school

hand in hand,

two by two

through narrow lanes

of yellow tape

with skulls and bones

warning of unexploded bombs

on cold thin mornings

in Lipjan.


Michael J. Whelan


APC – Armoured Personnel Carrier

K.FOR – Kosovo peacekeeping forces

Lipjan – Town in Irish area of operations



Published by Mark Ulyseas in Le Poetry Magazine, October 2016 issue

Link to LE Poetry October issue :http://liveencounters.net/2016/09/20/live-encounters-poetry-october-2016/



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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/

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Hi guys, looking forward to the luanch of  PEACEKEEPER, only 3 weeks away from today. Here’s a piece about the upcoming launch of Peacekeeper‬ published in last week’s Tallaght Echo newspaper – thanks to Mary Dennehy and the team!
Doire Press


PEACEKEEPER launch Tallaght Echo article 09 March 2016

PEACEKEEPER launch Tallaght Echo newspaper article 09 March 2016

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