Posts Tagged ‘Kosovo’


Dark kosovo (Michael J. Whelan -2001)




Children huddled together on high ground,

barefoot in the freezing mud, no adults found.


The police had come like hunters

pictured victorious over their fathers.


Bodies hanged by distended knees

from branches of petrified trees.


Protecting arms reaching down

surrendering to the black blood ground.



Michael J. Whelan


Published recently as part of a sequence  in ‘From the Cradle of Civilization: Contemporary Arabic Poetry”, the fifth edition of Life and Legends’ http://lifeandlegends.com/cradle-civilization/


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Damaged house Kosovo, 2001. Photo: Michael J. Whelan

Damaged house – Kosovo, 2001.  Photo: Michael J. Whelan


In the depths of your despair
I come,
With these eyes I see
those who would purge you,
desecrate your identity,
your existence.
With these same eyes
I see your vengeance
meted out, tenfold.
I see the scars,
the landscape,
the missing,
the future.
I will leave this place
and one day bear witness
to your glories.

Michael J. Whelan

Published in Tinteán online magazine – an initiative of the Australian Irish Heritage Network https://tintean.org.au/2017/01/06/poetry-12/

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Michael J. Whelan - Kosovo

Michael J. Whelan – Kosovo



This day 16 years ago (Christmas Day, 2000) I was serving in Kosovo and was part of a small team visiting a local family, an event that would eventually inspire this poem and photo.

The Family

There were nine of them.
Eight children under the age of ten,
existing in the rough shell
of a house with a hole in its roof
and a young mother, whose
sanity had run out.

I stood there in the bowel of
her existence,
slack-jawed in the middle
of that frozen room,
rifle under my arm.
It was Christmas time at home.

How do I sort this out?
No one can threaten hunger with bullets.

Tiny hands were in my pockets.
I gave her my watch.

Michael J. Whelan

Published in the ‘Moth’ Magazine & ‘Peacekeeper’ (Doire Press, 2016)

Photo: Michael J. Whelan – Kosovo.

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An Irish peacekeeper’s war poetry

Michael J Whelan’s collection Peacekeeper draws on his experience as an Irish soldier serving with the UN in Lebanon and Kosovo

I saw all that I witnessed, I just didn’t realise I was absorbing it and though it was hard and sometimes it is still difficult to reconcile to the world I lived in I hope at the end of my days to be able to say this was one of the good things I did with my life.

Distant Whisper

Do you remember
how drops of water
trickle down stone walls
in the wadiis of south Lebanon,
as they have for a thousand years,
over contours, between grooves,
slowing on rough rendering?

How it reminded you of the west of Ireland,
white lines on her hills?

Do you remember
liquid moving like a teardrop,
trickling in a whisper of life,
the hum of a bee, or an insect
living in its own significance,
going about its business
as time stands still
long enough for you to study
the erosion of war,
knowing that a belt of Point Five ammunition
fired at you could turn this feature to rubble
in an instant?

Do you remember thinking
if you die here today – behind this old wall,
trickles will go on forming slow grooves
and you will be that distant whisper?


In the orphanage a child
cowers from cursing men outside.
She wants to climb back into
her dead mother’s womb
and hide inside its warm, soft,
un-edged safety,
where no explanation is needed
or reason to hide under splintered
staircases or run the gauntlet to basement
bomb shelters, existing minute to minute
with strangers until the dawn arrives with her
deliverance and she refuses to be born.

Broken Spade

You lay in your frozen field, slack-jawed at how you
came to be there, your mouth caked in last year’s mud,
limbs twisted about your body as if in the midst of some
remembered dance or tempered at your rotting crops,
bent over in disgust, yielding in the half light and startled
at the cold – they have never felt.
This harvest, un-reaped and yet reaped upon you
hides the stale shoe and crushed spectacles,
the broken spade that hastily covered you in the soft
clay you loved, now steeled hard against the sharp sky.

I imagine the fears of your kin as they searched the high
golden horizon that summer day.
They might have felt the distant calamity that took you
following the bullet casings along the beaten track,
and I wonder if they found you,
then I see the scars of cluster bombs and scorched
stalks of your petrified labours and there, there in the shrapnel
of this bitter harvest I behold your seed,
torn apart but reaching out to the one who bore them.

Michael J Whelan is caretaker of the Military Aviation Collection at Baldonnel. He holds an MA in modern history from NUI Maynooth. His poems have won second place in the Patrick Kavanagh and 3rd in the Jonathan Swift Awards. Peacekeeper was published in 2016 by Doire Press and is available from good bookshops at €12. 

Massive thank you Martin Doyle for publishing this article see original here http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/an-irish-peacekeeper-s-war-poetry-1.2897917?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

'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

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This article/review of PEACEKEEPER was published Tuesday August 2016 in the Leinster Leader Newspaper


A Review by Liam Kenny

Michael J. Whelan, 2016, Peacekeeper, Doíre Press,

Casla, Co. na Gaillimhe.

ISBN: 978-1-907682-46-9.


Voice of the soldier-poet

Local newspapers are good at reflecting the nuances and characteristics of the community they serve. The reports of meetings, court-cases, politics, profiles, incidents, matches, launches, local notes and much else create a nuanced picture of everyday life in the locality covered by the paper. It is often been said that to reconstruct Dublin in the early 20th century a reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses would provide all the working drawings needed by way of its multi-layered descriptions of people and places. Much the same can be said about the local newspapers. To view the files of this paper from, say, a hundred years ago, is to surround oneself with the ebb and flow of life in a past generation.

Making friends: Peacekeeper and poet Airman Michael Whelan chats with local children in Kosovo

All of this appreciation of the strength of local newspapers also points up a weakness. While papers are strong in covering the activities of the population within the local area they do not have the reach to document the experiences of local people in foreign settings. It’s as if the interest value melts when a local passes over the county boundary. Perhaps this reality explains why the experiences and service of the Irish women and men on peace-keeping missions throughout the world has gone largely untapped by local newspapers.




With the presence of the Curragh Camp in the county, and going back some years, the active military stations in Kildare town and Naas, there were inevitably many hundreds of soldiers from the locality wearing the blue beret of the United Nations.  It was an awareness of this commitment that prompted the Leinster Leader to send a journalist to the Lebanon in 1989 – the first regional paper to do so — and report on the reality of life for Lilywhite soldiers north of the contested Lebanon-Israel border.

The emphasis in the Leader reportage was to convey a sense of connection and explore how the service of two or three generations of army families meant that there was a familiarity with the geography and culture of the Middle-East which had not been registered by writers on the home front. It soon became apparent that place-names such as Tibnin, At Tiri and Roshaniqra were as familiar around the kitchen-tables of soldiering families in Kildare as were Brownstown, Moorefield and Ballymany.

Creating a sense of connection across such different cultures is often best achieved through the sensibilities of poetry rather than the less malleable word structures of prose.  Taking up the poet’s pen for some years now has been Ireland’s first soldier-poet of the modern era – Michael Whelan who is stationed at Casement Aerodrome, a little north of the Kildare-Dublin county boundary. An accomplished student of military history – he holds an M.A in History from Maynooth University and is curator and champion of the Air Corps museum – he is steeped in the culture and tradition of the Irish Defence Forces. His intellectual scope covers an even wider range through his service on peace-keeping missions under the melting sun of a Lebanese sky and the sharper climes of the Kosovan hills. The imagery and colour of local life and the brutal sights and sounds of gunfire and death form contrasting but interwoven themes in his poetry.

His latest collection of poems entitled “Peacekeeper” published by the Doire Press, Inverin, Co Galway blends the grit of peacekeeping with sensitivity for local people suffering as uncaring warlords vent lethal fury.   This quality of emotional generosity in the face of death and destruction is identifiable in a striking poem titled “Grapes of Wrath” which was inspired by the notorious Qana massacre when in April 1996 Israeli artillery deliberately poured lethal shellfire onto a small village under UN protection where Lebanese refugees had sought sanctuary from the fighting.

Michael Whelan writes of the aftermath:


“A soldier climbs from the rubbled limbs

and discarded faces, his eyes caked black with tears,

his hands at arm’s length clutching the newborn baby

that looks like a headless doll.”


A frequently cited characteristic of the Irish peacekeepers is their ability to – using that word again – “empathise” with the people in their area of operations. Beneath the radar of their armed peacekeeping duties are their thousand-and-one kindnesses which try and bring relief to the desperate existence of men, women and children whose lives have been atomised by war. In his poem “Peacekeeper” he writes of being among the frozen hills of Kosovo at Christmas and visiting the home of a local family – eight hungry children and their mother “whose sanity had run out.” He is faced with the disturbing contrast of the privations of the family compared with the Christmas plenty being enjoyed by families in Ireland at the same moment. His conscience troubles him with a question:


“How do I sort this out?

 No one can threaten hunger with bullets.”


But what can he do – a lone peacekeeper witnessing the broken humanity caused by political forces way beyond his ability to influence? The situation claws at his conscience for a response and it is one that comes with generosity:


“Tiny hands were in my pockets.

I gave her my watch.”


While such instances go to the heart of peace-keeping it would be wrong to characterise the collection as being dark and depressing. The collection is leavened with lyrical verse perfumed with the aromas of Lebanon’s cedar-scented hillsides. The skin warms with his powerful depictions of the blaze of the sun against the background of azure skies. His poem entitled: “An Irish Peacekeeper on the Coast Road Driving South from Lebanon to Israel” flows with the sensuousness of the environs:


Eyes closed and I’m there

cruising along the coast road

in the back of a white soft-topped UN jeep,

rifle at my knee, sun warming my face

burning my outstretched arm.

in the open window.”


A reading of Michael Whelan’s poetry has the great value of impressing on the mind the ancient and multi-layered civilisation of the Middle East. While to many, the place-names of that region are nothing more than the ticker tape flicking across a TV screen reporting the latest atrocity the poet delves deep into the stories of a people who inhabit the cradle of the civilised world. In “Paradox of the Peacekeeper in the Holy Land” he writes:


“In Lebanon I sought redemption

like the pilgrim at the cross of Helipolis,

on the Bekaa’s great range where Bedouin caravans met

and Romans laid their bodies down in supplication to their gods”


Poets come from many backgrounds – farmers, teachers, home-makers, and full-time writers but the voice of the poet-in-uniform is one which has been absent from Irish bookshelves. Now with the publication of “Peacekeeper” Michael Whelan has claimed a space for the soldier-poet in the literary consciousness of the nation. Series no: 499.


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Ladies and Gents,

Just a quick update on my reading of poems from the PEACEKEEPER collection in the Crescent Arts Centre on Tuesday evening 14th June during the Belfast Book Festival 2016. I really have to say that I totally enjoyed the event, everybody involved in the festival from the staff of the of the Crescent Arts Centre, the Europa Hotel and the festival director Keith Acheson and staff themselves looked after the three Doire Press poets and our families so well. Stephen Connolly introduced us before we read and made us feel very welcome.

Doire Press Poets Michael J. Whelan, Stephanie Conn, Simon Lewis with Stephen Connolly in the Crescent Arts Centre during the Belfast Book Festival 2016 Photo: Niamh Power Whelan

Doire Press Poets Michael J. Whelan, Stephanie Conn, Simon Lewis with Stephen Connolly in the Crescent Arts Centre during the Belfast Book Festival 2016 Photo: Niamh Power Whelan


Belfast is a beautiful, busy city and I’m so glad that my poems have taken me there.  The only other time I visited Belfast was about ten or fifteen years ago when I landed by helicopter in Belfast Airport/Aldergrove, for  short while for the Air Cadets Open Day, so never got to see the city itself.

Doire Press Poets at the Belfast Book Festival 14th June 2016. Photo: Niamh Power Whelan

Doire Press Poets at the Belfast Book Festival 14th June 2016. Photo: Niamh Power Whelan

Anyway it was really great to finally meet Stephanie Conn in person and to hear her read from her collection The Woman on the Other Side and Simon Lewis, who I have read with before in Dublin, also read from his collection Jewtown.  Both of their collections are powerful and interesting a I highly recommend them.


Michael J. Whelan in the busy Belfast City. Photo: Niamh Power Whelan

Michael J. Whelan in the busy Belfast City. Photo: Niamh Power Whelan


So again I want say a massive THANK YOU to everybody in Belfast and who were involved with the festival for making us feel very welcome,


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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,




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