Ireland’s Best-Loved Poem



00000401Seamus Heaney with the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1995

Embargoed until 4.15.

The waiting is over.

Ireland’s best loved poem of the last 100 years is…

‘When all the others were away at Mass’

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Seamus Heaney

As voted by the general public.

Beating works from Kavanagh, Durcan, Yeats and Moynes.

Judges felt the poem had everything.

Mammy. Check. Potatoes. Check. Parish Priest. Check. Hammer and tongs. Check. Death. Check. Tears. Check. Dipping knives. Check.

Sinead Harrington writes:

The sonnet When All The Others Were Away at Mass [from Clearances III – In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984] by Seamus Heaney topped the RTÉ poll to identify the best-loved Irish poem of the past century. This iconic poem was revealed in front of a live audience during a special filming of The Works which will be aired this Friday 13 March at 8:30pm on RTÉ One. Seamus Heaney’s son Mick Heaney noted: “ Dad was never happier than when reading or writing poetry, so for his work to be part of a project that shows the sweep of Irish poetry and underlines its crucial part in our culture is a wonderful tribute to his life and work, for which our family are truly grateful.”


A Poem For Ireland (Facebook)

26 thoughts on “Ireland’s Best-Loved Poem

  1. Spaghetti Hoop

    Much as I liked the contenders, you can imagine Heaney reading this. Because everyone has heard him speak and many have met him, it brings the poem to life. Plus the themes and imagery is so identifiable by Irish people.

  2. Frank

    i don’t know what the others were like, but this IS the best Irish poem.
    If you think of when it was written; when NOT being at Mass was a MAJOR thing.
    “Her” is NOT explained as being his Mother.
    WHY they were not at Mass is not explained – rightly.
    And, he then takes it to time of her death, as a precious memory.

  3. Sheikh Yabooti

    Wot? No turf?
    Sorry all, I have no soul. A previous girlfriend useta call me Mr. Spock.

      1. Ultach

        All the British tropes he had them: bogs, turf, steamy vegetables, digging, atavistic restrictive love hate thing with the land, rootedness, Catholicism and uneasy relations therewith. And oh yes, he spoke fluent Gaelic as well.

  4. Parochial Central

    Here come the letters to the Irish Times whingeing about “Mass” and Catholic domination.

    Personally, I think David McSavage, I mean Kavanagh should have won it.

  5. Trish

    I’m jealous – how did he get away with missing mass? Sure he must’ve been on death’s door!

  6. Soundings

    Do we have a clickbait drawing of John Moynes’s reaction to the announcement of the winner? Gentlemanly applause and noble look of “fair play, best man won” on the outside, but inside a welling rage of burning resentment at being overlooked.

  7. Soundings

    It’s a terrible poem.

    How many people will get the imagery of solder falling from a soldering iron? Done much soldering have you?
    The timeline is all out of whack – were they peeling spuds together, or was the Ma on death’s door having the Last Rites read? If the latter, it was cruel to make her peel spuds at the same time.
    If all the others were away at Mass, then who were the lot at the bedside? The usual shower waiting to see if they’re mentioned in the will?
    What’s a “dipping knife”, let alone a “fluent dipping knife”?
    Is he taking the mickey about the “whole rest of our lives” if his mother was on her death bed.

    Genuinely, my main thought on reading that poem was how having a proper potato peeler – you know, the paring knife with the little hole in the middle – would have saved a lot of childhood misery.

    Dreadful, just dreadful.

  8. Ger Nalist

    It’s not even our favourite Heaney poem, not to mind our favourite Irish one. What a crock that competition was….

Comments are closed.