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Dragon Book Review: The Fox, the Whale and the Wardrobe – a Collection of Poems by Dónall Dempsey

Published on: 27 Apr, 2023
Updated on: 27 Apr, 2023

Poet Dónall of the Dempseys, a showman and troubadour.

By Hugh Coakley

The launch of a new book, The Fox the Whale and the Wardrobeby local poet Dónall Dempsey treated the invited audience to poems and songs of children and childhood, to memories and observations and to performance and drama, all in the evocative surroundings of the Guildford Institute library (April 18).

And what a treat! Dempsey brought his irrepressible enthusiasm and charm to the reading of his newest book. He is a performer, whether you are chatting to him over coffee or sitting in an audience, Dónall of the Dempseys, as he signs himself, wants to perform.

And he is brilliant at it. He has a lovely way about him and it’s great fun to be there, listening to him changing utterances from a child to an old uncle, declaiming Chaucer in Old English then back to his speaking voice.

The title poem, the tearful The Fox, the Whale and the Wardrobe, is about going back to a ruined house in Cork, remembering hiding in his aunt’s’ wardrobe after his sister’s death. The aunt’s fox stole: “Ah little boy, you join us in this dark”, and has the whalebone corset “poking him in the ribs”, recalled by the 67-year-old man “trying to make amends” for the nine-year-old boy as he was.

He suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, a terrible, often incurable sudden and severe facial pain. His poem How to Describe Indescribable Pain offers an explanation of putting his head into a T-Rex’s mouth in a prehistoric circus and it going wrong.

“Your headless body, running around the ring, bleeding all over the sawdust.

“Yeah I guess, it’s a bit, like that.”

Dónall Dempsey at the Guildford Institute.

Random quotes don’t do the 120-page book any justice. It is a wonderful glimpse into his life. He is full of the present, as is the book, but he can look back with some of the wisdom he has collected on the way.

Get the book, published by Dempsey and Windle, it’s a must, there is so much in it.

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