New term: new texts: new normal?

The Covid-19 pandemic is so ubiquitous it would be perverse not to focus on it in this year’s Literature & Medicine module, so we are. (Having said that, I’m planning be perverse in the second term and escape from the pandemic, metaphorically, into Elaine Feeney’s As You Were.)

The low-hanging, extremely appealing option (though problematic in a number of respects) would be Camus’ deep-dive novel, The Plague, of course. But as I’m determined to play my part in overturning the patriarchy, I cannot ignore the almost complete absence of female characters in that novel (not to mention native Algerians); and anyhow I want to put female authors first. (I will, however, be quoting from Camus where it sheds additional light on the theme.)

So, without any reservations, I’m opting for Emma Donoghue’s just-published The Pull of the Stars. It is set in Dublin in 1918, with a focus on the suffering caused by the Spanish Flu as reflected in one small hospital ward. Another plus is that is narrated by a woman. And another is that she is a nurse. Another is that it is a maternity ward. All fitting in perfectly with the underlying (occasionally explicit) principles of my courses.

Additional reading:

Fergus Shanahan’s new study The Language of Illness, especially the last chapter, ‘The Language of Plagues and Pandemics’ > (Here’s a link to the recent launch of that book > and I’d particularly draw your attention in our context to the contribution of Professor Mary Horgan of UCC, consultant in infectious diseases.)

Michael D Higgin’s speech from last year on remembering the Spanish Flu >

Surprisingly, at least to me, we are running the classes, at least for now, face-to-face, in a classroom. So, I’ll be feeling a bit anxious, and I imagine some or all of the students will be too. While reading and talking about a deadly virus that spread rapidly through communities across the globe 100 years ago, specifically in Dublin city centre, we’ll be doing our best to avoid contributing to the spread of another deadly virus, specifically in Dublin city centre. If we’re not careful, we could end up creating the perfect setting for a new work of existential fiction.


Enda Coyle-Greene’s poem, ‘Visitors, Kidney Ward’ in the Irish Times

Nabbed from over here on the Times website >>>

I opened my eyes

again, certain I had died,

that what might have been

a lie was the truth. Gowned

in sky, sky-veiled and silent,

a flutter of women fussed

around the Virgin

while a bell sang something

jangled. I watched them

as they drifted and left

space for her, all solicitous

grace and vows taken

on the basis of the now

which is breath.

Later, you came in,

you brought my hairbrush

and my toothbrush, nothing

of much use for suffering.

Yet I still see you, hunkered –

our faces level, both of us

too young – I see my father,

blessed, blessed man,

walking through the ward

with that day’s Irish Times

in one hand, and a bag,

split open, far too thin,

brimming with oranges

bought on Moore Street.

‘Poems for Patience’ unveiled at Galway hospital

Three years ago, Dennis O’Driscoll selected work for the “Poems for Patience” project, which GUH and Cúirt have run annually since 2004. This year, poet Theo Dorgan introduced his selection of 21 pieces of work by Irish and international writers, which are framed and displayed during Cúirt, and which are then installed in waiting areas of University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital.

Authors ranging from Carol Ann Duffy, Samuel Green, Sharon Olds, Moya Cannon andJean Valentine to Persian lyric poet Hafiz, the Greek poet Sappho and Minamoto No Morotada of Japan are among the selection, while a piece entitled Just the One by Galway poet Síghle Meehan – the winner of this year’s annual contest as part of the project – is also displayed. (Times) >

Closure of St Finan’s Hospital, Killarney

Donal Hickey in Examiner >

For the first time in 160 years, an imposing building which dominates Killarney, Co Kerry, and which once had more than 1,000 residents, was unoccupied last night.

The final group of seven patients yesterday left one of the country’s oldest psychiatric institutions, St Finan’s Hospital, amid hopes that traditional ways of dealing with, and attitudes towards, mental illness are also very much in the past.

The huge Victorian-era building on 30 acres overlooks Fitzgerald Stadium and has commanding views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.

Its closure has been planned for many years and conditions have been strongly criticised by the Inspector of Mental Hospitals and the Mental Health Commission. (Examiner >)

Continue reading “Closure of St Finan’s Hospital, Killarney”

Operation ‘deck the halls’ is just the medicine as children’s ward transformed for Christmas

Marie Watson, the clinical nurse manager in Cork University Hospital’s paediatric department, said the unit has been transformed.

“It really does mean a lot to everybody here,” she said.

“Happy children are healthy children. And this makes life easier for them, with all the distractions like Santa Claus figures and snowmen dotted around. It all helps to make hospital a little less daunting.” (Examiner) >

The Mermaid in the Hospital, by Núala Ní Dhómhnaill

She awoke
to find her fishtail
clean gone
but in the bed with her
were two long, cold thingammies.
You’d have thought they were tangles of kelp
or collops of ham.


“They’re no doubt
taking the piss,
it being New Year’s Eve.
Half the staff legless
with drink
and the other half
playing pranks.
Still, this is taking it
a bit far.”
And with that she hurled
the two thingammies out of the room.
(Read the rest here on Poetry Foundation’s website >>>)