Louis Mulcahy reads in Cork this weekend for the Winter Warmer fest, writes Colette Sheridan.
Best known as one of the country’s leading potters, Dingle-based Louis Mulcahy is also an accomplished poet, currently working on his fifth collection.
When Wexford-born Mulcahy becomes interested in something, he says he gives it his all. He started writing poetry at the age of sixty-four, 14 years ago.
For the 60th birthday of his Swedish wife, Lisbeth, he wrote her a poem which was considered good. Up until then, Mulcahy had been writing prose.
“I had over 30 long short stories and I never did anything with them,” he says.
“They were horrendously long. I went to a couple of poetry gatherings and workshops in order to try and learn how to be concise.
“It went on from there. I became totally engrossed in poetry. I spent a lot of years getting up at 4.30am trying to learn how to write poetry. I found poet, Paddy Bushe, a very easy man to talk to. He went through a series of poems I had written and he marked them ‘poetry’ and ‘not poetry’,’ good’ and ‘bad.’”
Mulcahy’s early poetry dealt with his background and his poor relationship with his father.
"I was very sad for him when he died because he never had a relationship with me. We never spoke about anything serious. That was a killer for me.”
Mulcahy says writing saved his mind during the recession. “The recession was so traumatic that I’d wake in the middle of the night with floods of adrenaline because of the realisation that we were on a knife’s edge,” he admits.
The pottery business employed between 30 and 50 people, depending on the time of the year. Voluntary redundancies made the business more efficient. Mulcahy, who still works part time as a ceramicist, no longer runs the business. His son, Lasse, has taken over that side of things.
Mulcahy’s afternoons are usually spent writing, following mornings in the family business.
“The way I work with poetry is that I like narrative. I get ideas and put them down very fast. I make a rough shape of a poem and then I refine it. I don’t carry a notebook. I sit down for a period. If you’re going to write, you have to write. I suppose I’m more enthusiastic about writing than disciplined. I love writing.”
Mulcahy gave up a secure job in RTÉ as a cameraman in 1975. He and Lisbeth (a tapestry artist) sold their Dublin house and moved to Dingle with their three children, investing their savings in the risky venture of making pottery for a living.
Looking back, Mulcahy says that people thought he was mad.
“We wanted to live in Dingle. We had been all around Ireland. At the time, Dingle was a very quiet place.
Mulcahy had worked with Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show.
“He was an amazing professional and did a lot of good. Whether he was aware of that at the beginning, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a bit mean spirited of me to say it but I think Gay’s interest was in the TAM rating and a little controversy.”
Just as Byrne was at the top of his game in broadcasting, Mulcahy’s Kerry venture worked out with the Craft Council of Ireland describing him in 2014 as “the godfather of Irish craft”.
In 2004, he became the first Irish craftsman to receive an honorary degree from the NUI in recognition of his artistry. Now, poetry is giving him whole new lease of life as heapproaches the age of 79.
Louis Mulcahy will read at the Winter Warmer Festival (November 22-24) in Cork, where 23 poets from sevencountries will take part, mostly in the Kino. obheal.ie/winterwarmer