Radio review: Love song to Strabane

Nuala McCann

Conversations on a Bench Radio 4

Poetry Aloud Lyric FM

Snatched words and snatched worlds – you hear secrets and heartache when you sit on a bench in an open square.

Strabane is the hometown of poet Maureen Boyle and her love song to home is woven through this programme.

Producer and presenter Anna Scott-Brown took a bench in Abercorn Square in the town and people talked the town; its troubled past and its wary future.

But it is Maureen Boyle’s elegy that weaves the conversation together.

Strabane is in “a pocket of mountains” and the love act is in the naming - the gap at Barnes Mor, Glenties.

Here are the stories of boys, mere children, waiting in this same square to be hired by a rich farmer who came and squeezed young muscles before making his choice.

Here is talk of hard borders and heartache; the harsh life of the mill workers; the dark secrets of the river; a journey with the poet’s father on the last train to Sion Mills.

The conversation is of bombs and the Troubles to the backdrop whirr of cars and lorries trundling along modern streets.

The poet recalls the bombed drapery shop when “in the name of Ireland, underpants and socks would fly into the air.”

Back at the bench, a woman stops for a chat and talks of a longed for and lost baby and having to “get on with life”.

This is a bitter sweet, haunting love song to home. You can hear it still on the iPlayer.

And if this whets your appetite for the joy of poetry then Lyric FM offers the highs and lows of the 2018 annual schools Poetry Aloud competition that celebrates speaking and listening to poetry.

It is live from the reading room of the National Library of Ireland in Dublin – enjoy.

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