Radio review: Fascinating, funny and moving Makar’s story

For poet Jackie Kay on Radio 4′s Start the Week, May Day is less about paganism, more about protest; less maypoles, more marches

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

New Makar Jackie Kay will be an interviewer at the book festival
Jackie Kay is a former Makar – national poet – of Scotland (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Start the Week, Radio 4
May Magic – Bealtaine Rituals, RTÉ Radio 1

Poet Jackie Kay, the former Makar – national poet – of Scotland, was a fascinating, funny and deeply moving interviewee for Start the Week.

Her blend of wit, her no-nonsense ways and her heartfelt emotion are winning.

The theme was protest and patriotism. For Jackie, May Day is less paganism, more protest; less maypoles, more marches.

Her parents were engaged political activists. Straight after they adopted her, they went on a peace march and got arrested.

Her parents were engaged political activists. Straight after they adopted her, they went on a peace march and got arrested

Her father was locked up in Dunoon prison. There were so many peace protesters that the jail was full, so her mother was held in a Catholic church. It became a great family story.

Her life is signposted with protest: anti-apartheid; anti-Iraq war; Black Lives Matters.

May Day was the celebration of comradeship and marching under banners – “a story of these islands and what has joined people up,” she said.

She told a lovely story about Peggy Seeger coming to Glasgow.

Kay was in Ireland at the time and her mum and dad couldn’t have gone to the concert themselves, so Seeger went to them and sang her peace songs to them in their Scottish home. Kay had to write a poem about that.

This was a poignant interview – the ghosts of Kay’s dead parents hover close by. You could almost touch her splintered heart.

But you could also hear them scolding: “Stop bletherin’”. You surely could.

May Day and the month of May is big in Ireland too.

The true Bealtaine this year was May 4, pagan priestess Deirdre Wadding told RTÉ’s Brendan O’Connor.

RTE presenter Brendan O'Connor
RTÉ presenter Brendan O'Connor

Wadding offered a host of ways to celebrate the festival that’s all about blooming. Think of the year as a pregnant woman and May is the culmination – the “big full belly” time, she said.

With all the talk of blooming and fertility, we managed three minutes without mentioning the word “sex”, said O’Connor.

Wadding talked us through laying out flowers at the door of the house the night before May 1, decorating the May bush and rising with the sun to wash your face in the May dew.

Pagan and Christian – the link to Mary, May altars and children in procession scattering blossoms was never far away.