Gerry Hanberry: a flash interview

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1. Gerry – you are coming to give a talk about the Wilde family on Friday 27th in the Strand hotel based on your book: “More Lives Than One – The Remarkable Wilde Family Through the Generations.” Could you tell us some of the challenges you faced when researching the Wilde family?

To take on any project involving Oscar Wilde is a bit like treading on hallowed ground. There have been so many books on various aspects of his life and indeed his death that one feels the need to justify adding to the pile. Academia can also at times feel certain ownership of Wildean studies. My book arose out of a non- fiction project I undertook as part of my MA in Writing at NUIG many years ago now. Oscar’s father, Sir William Wilde, published a book in 1867 called ‘Lough Corrib: Its Shores and Islands’ where he describes setting off from Galway to circle the lake examining the many historical sites and the rich Archaeological heritage of the area. My project involved retracing his footsteps and seeing what remained of his ruins and locations and in doing so to find out something about the man himself. I soon found myself drawn into a story about an amazing man who married a remarkable woman and fathered a genius. The story of Oscar had been told many times. However, the story of the remarkable Wilde family from their earliest origins down to the present day, spanning the generations and thereby supplying a full overview of the family, had not been done. So what was intended to be a straightforward project for my MA extended into a ten year labour of love and admiration.
The Wilde family roots are to be found in County Roscommon… finding Oscar’s grandfather’s grave, finding their little hunting lodge deep in Conemara, finding the ancient sites that sparked Sir William’s imagination – all this was very exciting and challenging at times.
The Wildes were also very good at creating a myth around their more humble origins – breaking through this myth is always a challenge .. some more recent research that I conducted following the publication of the biography has thrown up even more interesting insights into the Wilde family roots– these I have recently published in ‘Roscommon, History and Society’ (Geography Publications- Ed- William Nolan). These I will mention at my talk in Bray.

2. Your other non-fiction book is: ‘On Raglan Road – Great Irish Love Songs and the Women Who Inspired Them’ What was the inspiration behind this?

As well as being a writer and poet I am also a working musician . I like acoustic folk music and world music so I have a wide repertoire ranging from Irish ballads and folk songs to English and American material. I am often asked questions about the inspiration behind some of the great iconic songs we all know so well – Who was ‘Nancy Spain’? Who was ‘Grace’? Who is the real ‘Galway Girl’? Who exactly was the enchantress who inspired Patrick Kavanagh to write ‘On Raglan Road’?
A few years ago I was asked by the Percy French Society to give a talk on Percy and his songs. While researching the haunting love song ‘Gortnamona ‘ written by Percy about the death of his young wife at the age of twenty, I was so struck by the story that I though it deserved to be more widely known – I put that idea together with the curiosity about the other songs and before I knew it I had the bones of a book.. The book ‘On Raglan Road – Great Irish Love Songs and the Women Who Inspired Them’ contains the stories behind fifteen well known songs from the ancient ‘Una Bhán’ down through Thin Lizzy’s ‘Sarah’ and Mick Hanley’s ‘Past the Point of Rescue’ etc.. including ‘Danny Boy’ and others.

3. You are of course an award-winning poet. Does music also inform your poetry or do you see the two as separate art forms?

Song lyrics are related to poems but they are distant cousins – certainly not brothers and sisters… Some songwriters are indeed poets, Dylan, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen to name but three but mostly song lyrics need the music of the tune to live and survive … ‘She loves you , yea, yea, yea!!!’ Comes to mind (although Lennon and McCartney did write the finest of poetry as lyrics too – ‘A Day in the Life’ for example).
My own poems often tend to be brief reflections, or short narratives, written mostly in free verse . I do occasionally write poems that rhyme but I find rhyme in my poetry can sometimes make the poem sound false or forced ….Music is important in a poem.. there must be musicality — The music often comes to the poem through rhythm and assonance and alliteration rather than direct end-rhyme as one finds in most song-lyrics… Having said that, Yeats, though tone deaf, was a brilliant user of rhyme. Philip Larkin also ..
A lot of people today find their poetry in song lyrics and so do I to a degree.. but I am always amazed by the power of words arranged on a page.
Interestingly, I find I can write some poems, read some poetry, sing a few songs and listen to music – with maybe some cross-fertilisation … but I find it very difficult to write any poems when I am working on prose or non-fiction – It’s as if a light has been switched on in another room in the ‘grey matter’ and has been switched off in another…

Gerry will be giving a talk entitled “Wilde Times” on Friday 27th September in Cafe Vergnano in The Strand Hotel @ 8pm directly after the Bray Arts Journal launch.

The Strand Hotel was built in 1870 by Sir William Wilde!

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