The Quiet Quarter: Ten years of great Irish writing

Edited by Máire Nic Gearailt
New Island, €12.99
PICK up this collection of short pieces of writing broadcast in Lyric FM’s Quiet Quarter and you will find it hard to put down.

The short two-page pieces encourage compulsive browsing, whether prompted by the name of the writer or the title of the piece: John Moriarty on Where we Come From, The Rest is Silence by Nóirín Ní Riain, Gerry Galvin on Food from the Wild, Boat Dreaming by Fred Johnston, Love and Onions, Dancing on the Edges of Time, Strangers on a Plane. As in the much-loved radio slot, you never know what is coming next.

It is hard to believe that Lyric FM, in its recent schedule shake-up, has got rid of both Lyric Notes and its verbal interlude, The Quiet Quarter. One assumed, that like its elderly grandparent, Sunday Miscellany, the Quiet Quarter would be with us for ever. Máire Nic Gearailt dreamed up the title when she was a producer at RTÉ Radio 1 and took it with her when she moved to Lyric FM where it first went on air in 1999. Eoin Brady was the first producer of Lyric Notes and he developed the Quiet Quarter feature as we know it today: a few minutes of quiet reflection on some topic, followed by an appropriate piece of music.

It was immediately recognised by writers (and by teachers of creative writing) as one of the few accessible radio slots and gave their radio debut to numerous writers, both aspiring and professional. Writers had to read their own work on air: this brought a wonderful range of fresh voices to RTÉ, some shy and tentative, most quietly confident, whether with rare country accents from Munster or Connaught, distinctive Ulster vowels, American, English or even Italian accents: everyone simply being themselves.

The brief to writers was a simple one: they were asked for a personal response to an experience, a person or an event. What interested the producers was the personal response, not a descriptive report of the event itself. And this was to be achieved in about 600 words, that is to say, about two sides of double-spaced typing. Try it, it’s not easy.

Poets, I always believed, had a head start, as they are used to compressing their personal response to the world into short pieces. But reading Vona Groarke’s The Jar confirmed the reaction I had on hearing it on the radio – to my mind the prose piece is more vivid than the poem that it introduces. Whereas Gerald Dawes’ remarks in Human Wishes, prefacing his poem of the same name, seems to enhance the poem by giving it a precise, everyday context – Sunday walks from Dun Laoghaire to Sandycove.

Musicians also seem to have privileged access to interesting thoughts, and the section entitled Music and Silence bears this out. Singer Judith Mok’s account of her mother dying, Silence, is especially memorable. But some of the most moving pieces are in the section Love, Passion and Faith, outstandingly Brigid O’Connor’s Broken Boy. People; Fur, Feathers and Leaves; Travel and Place; Language; Home and Time and Christmas are the other categories.

Short biographies are included at the end. Brigid O’Connor, originally from Dublin’s north side, now living in Meath, is one of several people for whom acceptance by The Quiet Quarter must have marked an important stage in their ambition to write.

While this collection, the second of its kind, is a fine memorial to the programme, let us hope that the powers-that-be at Lyric FM recognise the importance of finding another outlet for writing of this kind. My only quibble is with the subtitle ‘Great Irish Writing’. The first Quiet Quarter volume (2004) was subtitled ‘New Irish Writing’, which is more accurate.

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