Posts Tagged ‘Irish Soldiers’


Kosovo Sky 2001 (c)Michael J. Whelan

Nectar of War

The ground could feel them,
returning to nests with the arsenals
of their colonies,
rotors vibrating the air
on convoys of black silhouettes
zipping by,
dozens of helicopters
swarming overhead
like eager wasps,
tail-booms jutting out
like giant stings
with artillery pieces,
heavy mortars and vehicles
slung beneath their painted bodies
like sacs full of the nectar of war.


Michael J. Whelan


Published in the ‘contemporary Irish poets feature’ in issue 22 of Rochford Street Review – July 2017

see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2017/07/06/michael-j-whelan-five-poems/

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MASS-GRAVE near Prizren, Kosovo-2001. (c)Michael J. Whelan


Old Man’s Tears



Wandering through ashes and misery
of memories daily desired,
landscapes of loving existence entwined
to a day of infamy fired.
Why graves in back garden we enquired
through interpreter we witnessed tragedy,
for old man’s tears trapped on beard
told a story of brutal savagery.
Burnt shell of home – on hurting ground,
daughters and wives ravaged within sight of sons.
All put to death by order of state
in front of old eyes,
no more to sire ungrateful children.


Michael J. Whelan


Published in the ‘contemporary Irish poets feature’ in issue 22 of Rochford Street Review – July 2017

see https://rochfordstreetreview.com/2017/07/06/michael-j-whelan-five-poems/

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Irish Peacekeeper - Lebanon 1990s. Photo: (c)Michael J. Whelan

Irish Peacekeeper – Lebanon 1990s. Photo: (c)Michael J. Whelan




The peacekeeper,

flak-jacket buttoned to the neck,

blue helmet fastened tight

under the chin,

rifle slung across the chest,

muzzle pointing at the distant ground,

trigger finger tensed

along the trigger guard

switched to automatic.


Alone he stands there,

holding the road

in front of wire entanglements

and tank-stops

in the narrow chicane

of a sun trapped checkpoint,

left arm raised high,

the palm of his hand

facing the threat.


Michael J. Whelan

Published recently in L.E. Poetry Magazine April 2017 issue  http://liveencounters.net/le-poetry-writing-2017/04-april-p-w-2017/michael-j-whelan-the-hero/

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Irish Peacekeeper on foot-patrol in South Lebanon -1990s. Photo: (c)Michael J. Whelan




You say I’m the hero.

I save you, saved your broken heart

but I am stilled,

eclipsed forever in a burst

of perfect colours,

a flash of brilliant light

where I am killed.

Ever waiting

in this living moment

I become the Universe

and all the world within.

I touch you

and I am saved again.


Michael J. Whelan

(In memory of Irish Peacekeepers

killed on U.N. Peacekeeping service in Lebanon)



Published in L.E. Poetry Magazine – April 2017 issue http://liveencounters.net/le-poetry-writing-2017/04-april-p-w-2017/michael-j-whelan-the-hero/

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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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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 everyone, this is Peter O’Neill’s fantastic introduction to my debut collection ‘Peacekeeper‘ (Doire Press) at the launch in the County Library Tallaght on the 13th of April 2016 .

It was recently published in this current issue (June) of Ireland’s Military Story & Reveille Magazine for which I would like to say a massive thanks to Wesley Bourke and his team and also to Peter O’ Neill.




Arma virumque cano!

Peacekeeper by Michael Whelan,

Doire Press, 2016.



War is the father and king of all (Heraclitus).


Every age has its wars.

Since the first existing literary text, believed to date from Babylon in 1300-1000

BC, The Epic of Gilgamesh and onto Homer in 750 BC, till the arrival of Virgil,

whose opening line to The Aenied forms the title of this text, in and around 40

BC, to our own Táin , or Cattle Raid of Cooley,  in the first century AD; war

and war poetry have been with us.

Look around at events going on in the world today… Syria, Georgia, Iraq,

Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine these are just some of the areas currently

Embroiled in Conflict.

Not very long ago, you only had to pick up a newspaper to read about the latest

victims  to terror of one kind or another up in Northern Ireland. We read the

headlines year after year, down in the south, and simply thought to ourselves

there, but for the grace of god go ‘WE’.

The poet whose work we are gathered to hear reading to us today was

involved in two major conflicts, those in the Lebanon and in Kosovo. Michael

served as a Peacekeeper with the United Nations Interim Force in the Lebanon (UNIFL ) and with the Peace Enforcement mission in Kosovo (K.FOR), and it

from his experiences of both these conflicts that the majority of Michael’s

poems in his debut collection of poetry Peacekeeper come.

It is a very great honour for me to be here, at Michael’s request, to help launch

the book with him today. I first became aware of Michael’s poetry while editing

an anthology of contemporary Irish poetry called And Agamemnon Dead for the

French writer and publisher Walter Ruhlmann for mgv2>publishing. Walter and

I were attempting to put together an anthology of Irish poets and writers who we

both felt were not getting a chance to present their work on a suitable platform,

and which we hoped to be able to offer them with the anthology.

When we hear the term ‘war poetry’, most of us would immediately think of

WW1, the names of poets like Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke,

Siegfried Sassoon and our own Francis Ledwidge. Why is this?

There are, I am sure, many reasons. One, surely, is as it was the first fully

mechanised and so modern war, in which millions of men were so

systematically massacred, and on an industrial scale. We are all familiar with

the horror of life for soldiers in the trenches, and it is mainly due to some of

the poets listed above. WWII is less associated with poets, perhaps, than the

‘Great War’, but from it also came a formidable body of work. Poets such a

Dylan Thomas, for example, described life during the Blitz, for war had a new

side to it now, as civilians as well as soldiers were also among the casualties.

There was Rene Char in France,  a voice from the resistance. Aresny

Tarkovsky, father of the famous film maker, who reported back from the

Russian front, and Karl Krolow writing from the German side. But the majority

of writing which came from WWII was written in prose; one thinks

immediately of the American writers Joseph Heller ( Catch 22 ), Norman

Mailer (The Naked and the Dead) and Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse 5 ),

which all recount the horrors and the absurdities that the soldiers had to endure.

Again, the impact of civilian literature is also considerable, considering the

apocalyptic and all encompassing nature of the war; Primo Levi’s Is This Is A

Man, and the Diaries of Anne Frank being two of the most known books to

come out of the war.

Yet, when I spoke to Michael about his influences, he spoke to me of the

American soldiers who had just returned from tours of Iraq and Afghanistan,

such as Brian Turner (Here, Bullet).

And this is the thing which struck me immediately about Michael, as an Irish

soldier- ‘poet’ he was alone. I couldn’t think of any other contemporary Irish

poet, at least, who were writing in the country with a similar kind of

background or experience, as Michael’s. To the best of my knowledge there are

none. So, in this, Michael is truly an original and authentic voice in

contemporary  Irish poetry, reaching back to a tradition that is as long as

memory itself. And Michael is very much part of that tradition, that poets like

Brian Turner too belong too. For Michael is writing as both a survivor, and as a


The first thing which strikes you, when reading the poems of Michael Whelan,

is the very natural poetic ability Michael has, particularly when treating highly

sensitive material, such as the impact of warfare upon children.

His poem Chocolate in which he describes an encounter with a couple of

children, sheltering in a bombed out house perfectly illustrates Michael’s

capacity, in the space of three short sentences, to completely encompass a

particular microcosm of the atrocious events which happened in Kosovo, in the

last decade of the previous century. Events, which we said in Europe, which

were “‘never to happen again!’”

Michael’s style of writing is unencumbered with artifice. It is minimal,

essential…. And yes, it is brutal.

In the Poetics, Aristotle famously speaks of the cathartic element when

he is attempting to analyse and define the nature of tragedy, which tragic

writing has; ‘ …effecting through pity and fear (what we call) the catharsis

of such emotions.[1]

Listening to the poet reading his own work, about his experiences in Lebanon

and Kosovo, makes us dearly realise the price that one pays for freedom.


Peter O’ Neill

22nd February, 2016.


Michael J. Whelan- Poet Peacekeeping South Lebanon 1994

Michael J. Whelan – Poet, Peacekeeping South Lebanon


Peter O’Neill is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently Divertimento The Muse is a Dominatrix ( mgv2>publishing, France, 2016 ) and Sker ( Lapwing, Belfast, 2016 ). He edited And Agamemnon Dead, An Anthology of Early Twenty First Century with Walter Ruhlmann also for mgv2>publishing (2015). He is the founder of Donkey Shots, an avant garde poetry fest which takes place in his hometown of Skerries where he also hosts The Gladstone Readings.

A translator of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, he was awarded a first class honour in his final exams answering on Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. On completing his BA (2007), he went on to do a Masters in Comparative Literature (2013), also at Dublin City University.






[1]              Aristotle: Poetics, Translated with an Introduction and Notes by James Hutton, W.W. Norton, New York, 1982, p.50.

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