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Out and About

Irish Poetry Evening
Ian Mitchell

On Monday 13th of June, a small group of Irish and Russian poets and poetry-lovers gathered in the Irish Embassy for an evening of readings and chat, as well as delicious food and plentiful liquid refreshment. Before dinner, we were treated to a lecture on the famous Irish poet, Thomas Moore, who has been called the Rabbie Burns of Ireland, though he lived a little later, dying in 1852. The talk was given by his biographer, Ronan Kelly, author of Bard of Erin: the Life of Thomas Moore. This was relevant because the visit of all the poetry people from Ireland was for the unveiling two days later of a statue to Thomas Moore in St Petersburg. I did not realise how well known he is in Russia, particularly the poem, Those Evening Bells. This has been set to the tune of The Bells of St Petersburg, and all the Muscovites in the audience were able to sing along with it in Russia translation. After the talk on Moore, the Embassy supplied a sumptuous dinner, which was followed by a series of readings by Irish and Russian poets, including some by the host, the Irish Ambassador, His Excellency, Philip McDonagh, and the organiser of the trip, Joseph Woods, who is Director of Poetry Ireland. Others who read were Gerard Smyth, Caitriona O’Reilly and Alan Jude Moore, all of whom, I think, were seeing the new Russia for the first time. Some of the Russians present recited poems from memory, including some of the classics, which would probably have been a new experience for the Irish visitors. The evening was an illustration of the way in which intelligent diplomacy these days is increasingly conducted at the level of cultural exchange, in muted tones, at civilised gatherings where personal friendships can be established. The Irish Embassy under the charge of Philip Mc- Donagh seems to be leading the field in Moscow in this respect.

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