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Posts Tagged ‘Peacekeeping’

 

Harvest Time - postcard - Lebanon 1990s

Harvest Time – postcard – Lebanon 1990s

 

HARVEST TIME

 

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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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
(Kosovo)

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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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

 

BATTLEFIELD

(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

http://liveencounters.net/live-encounters-poetry-2016/12-december-poetry-2016/3-michael-j-whelan-holding-the-road/

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Michael J. Whelan - poet, Tibnine Castle, South Lebanon 1994

  South Lebanon 1990s – (c)Michael J. Whelan

 

SPECTRE

 

There are nights when you have had enough.

Disappearing into the shadow corners of your room,

watching the fabric of grey days unfold again,

move about in strange colours on the walls,

the window open to the world,

white curtain hanging half in

half out like a trapped ghost

fighting hard to escape,

to find its former self,

go home,

sink into its own bones and flesh

and the smiles of a lover.

Then, somehow, you shut the window on those dreams

and wait for a moment while the spectre hangs by its neck

till stilled, goes silent, limp.

You switch on the light and the shadows disappear,

courage fills you up for one more day.

 

There are nights still when I remember the grey days

but in my house the windows have blinds.

 

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

http://liveencounters.net/live-encounters-poetry-2016/12-december-poetry-2016/3-michael-j-whelan-holding-the-road/

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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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Something really cool happened on my way home from work today, my son phoned to say that my book had arrived in the post so getting in the door had a slightly different level of excitement and anxiety. So here it is my first copy of PEACEKEEPER, which I have to say I am very impressed with.

Doire Press have done a magnificent job with the design and production, I’m well impressed and I hope you will be too. Please join me for the launch on Wednesday 13th April in Tallaght Library.

Thank You John and Lisa!

 

My first copy of PEACEKEEPER

My first copy of PEACEKEEPER

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Prishtina - highway, Kosovo

Prishtina – highway, Kosovo

 

PRISHTINA

 

It was only a moment

but he looked into me.

Could see me as clearly

as I see him after all this time,

his eyes piercing my soul,

digging deep.

 

I’m at a main junction in Prishtina,

my jeep is turning left into

the raging river highway

near the barracks flattened by

NATO bombers a few months before.

 

I’m counting satellite dishes that

seemed to over populate the high-rise

landscape overnight,

‘a sign of normality at last perhaps?

 

The rusty orange car catches my attention.

Starting and stopping in a crazy fashion,

like a piece of farmyard machinery that

hasn’t seen a road in years, fueled with

kangaroo juice, its driver on the loose.

 

I caught his eyes then, as he lay across

the back seat. The agony in his face as they

reached out to me and I saw what remained

of his leg. The ball of his knee hanging,

attached by loose skin and gristle

and wrapped in a bloody white shirt.

 

The drivers took control then and sped

in opposite directions. I couldn’t help him

but I know he sees me,

like I can see dead people.

 

(c)Michael J. Whelan

 

Published in the ‘Voices for Peace anthology,’ edited by Amos Greig, in A New Ulster Magazine, December 2015

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