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Eccentric poetry of Ireland's 'first civil servant' given new life at Imram festival

Liam S Gógan is credited with creating the Irish word for republic – ‘poblacht’.

Image: Rdonar via Shutterstock

IF YOU DON’T know the name Liam S Gógan, or his work, here are a few quick points to get you started.

He was born in into a family of sweet shop owners, and quickly became involved in the Republican movement that was gathering pace at the time.

He became a secretary to Eoin MacNeill, a Sinn Féin politician, leading him to proclaim himself as “the first civil servant” in Ireland. And although he wasn’t involved in the 1916 Easter Rising (because of Gógan’s limp), he believed in the fight for freedom.

A lot of the man’s poetry, written in Irish, addressed the nationalist sentiment in the country.

The story goes that Gógan was asked by 1916 leader Tomás MacDonagh what the Irish for ‘republic’ was (we didn’t have one around the time of treaty negotiations) and it was Gógan who came up with poblacht - coined based on the word for public (pobal).

All of this would make you think that the poet’s work is totally unsuited to modern, young audiences. But an event at Imram, the Irish language literary festival, is putting a new twist on the poet’s important work.

A multimedia performance called Ceo Draíochta will celebrate the work of Gógan, fusing poetry, music and on-screen archive photos and work. Colm Breathnach and Sinéad Ní Uallacháin will read extracts from his work to live music composed by Colm Ó Snodaigh, and screen projections by Margaret Lonergan.

Colm Breathnach, a poet himself, says that the work of Gógan still touches on themes that will resonate today, and the event Ceo Draíochta brings in music, visuals of the poet, and live readings from his work to highlight that fact.

“He used strange language from different areas and made up words based on the resources of the language. He was a moderniser, he was trying to develop the language.

He employed old words and forms, he coined new words (particularly compound words) from the existing resources of the language and mixed various dialectical usages throughout his work. Readers often found it difficult to follow these experiments.

“Some of his work would resonate with people today, he has a lot of love poetry, other works would portray urban angst, others are in a household setting.”

Ceo Draíochta (or Fantastical Fog) is just one of the events on at Imram, which runs from 16 – 21 October, but there’s a lovely line-up of events to choose from. For example:

Cork born poet Liam Ó Muirthile will read extracts from Oilithreach Pinn, an account of his journey across the famous Camino de Santiago in 2015 (20 October).

Short story writer Daithí Ó Muirí, whose own work explores Kafkaesque situations and themes has translated Kafka into Irish, working from original German texts. Daithí will read the translations to musical accompaniment from Seán Mac Erlaine (18 October).

You can read more about the Imram festival here.

Read: ‘They were creating their vision of a new Ireland’: Bringing up your family as Gaeilge in the 1950s

Read: A Czech Gaeilgeoir tells us why people should go to this Irish-language festival

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