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Spring 2006


Eritrea My Ithaca
- L. Calio
- P. Corso
Losing a Country
- M. C. Delea
- EF Di Giorgio
A Sicilian in Potter’s Field
- G. Fagiani
a color called family
- J. Farina
The Past
- M. M. Gillan
Don’t Speak
- D. Gioseffi
- G. Hanoch
The Old Blatherskites
- T.S. Kerrigan
Seal Woman’s Lament
- C. Loetscher
- C. Lovin
L'amara Primavera
- Q. Marrone
- L. A. Moseman
Brooklyn and America
- F. Polizzi
Death of Brahan Seer
- T. Reevy
For Sean Sexton
- T. Sexton
The City at the Center of the World
- A. Verga
Right Angles
- R. Viscusi
- J. Wells

Spring 2006


No Matter How Far
- L. Dolan
Ireland and Sicily: Two Islands
- E. Farinella
Southern Exposure
- M. Lisella
Because She Was
- J. O’Loughlin
- P. Schoenwaldt
- T. Zeppetella

Melissa Kennedy



Enzo Farinella


Sicily and Ireland have a lot in common. Both are islands almost at the extreme poles of Europe, were dominated for centuries by big powers, have a similar agricultural and fishing background and dealt with similar problems, as poets and writers show. Both are very hospitable and friendly and yet both fought courageously for their dignity and freedom – it was on a Easter Monday, several centuries ago, in 1282, that Sicilians rebelled against the French of the Anjou dynasty in the famous “Sicilian Vespers,” immortalized by Verdi’s music, while on another Easter Monday in 1916 the renaissance of a new Ireland began that would eventually end British control. Another coincidence! Both excel today in the literary field, producing the best literature and poetry in Italian and English respectively. This has been rewarded by world opinion with four Nobel Prizes for Ireland – Beckett, Shaw, Yeats and Heaney – and two for Sicily – Pirandello and Quasimodo – in the twentieth century.

Irish and Sicilian people are both noted for their warmth, openness, hospitality and when abroad, for their geniality. Creativity and fierceness, curiosity and disenchantment, sorrow and exuberant living unite them on the noble and immortal level of Poetry and Literature, as demonstrated in the various meetings between Sicily and Ireland in the last years.

Literary Connections

Irish authors and literati admired Sicily a lot. John Henry Newman wrote: “I am drawn to Sicily as by a lode stone... It was the theme of almost every poet and every historian and the remains in it of the past are of an earlier antiquity and more perfect than those of other countries...”

Oscar Wilde fell in love with its splendor and its people on his two visits to the island. He was in Palermo in 1900, just months before his death, and in 1897 he stayed in Taormina, where he met the Prussian Baron Von Gloeden. These trips and their cultural climate appear in a book by Stefania Arcara, Oscar Wilde e la Sicilia, temi mediterranei nell’estetismo inglese – Oscar Wilde and Sicily, Mediterranean Topics in English Estheticism – (Editor Cavallotto). A letter by Wilde to his intimate friend, Robert Ross, describes some cultural notes on Palermo and the tomb of the Emperor Frederick the II, as well his erotic experiences with young Sicilians.

W.B.Yeats and Ezra Pound found inspiration in the natural beauties of the island, when they visited during the early twenties, under the guidance of the Sicilian poet, Lucio Piccolo, renowned for his mystical poetry. The echoes of Selinunte and Taormina, the classic mythology, which found its congenital place in this island, the art of Monreale and of Syracuse still vibrate through the verses of Pound. His book, Lettere dalla Sicilia, (Edizioni del Girasole, 1998), reveals that Pound wrote a postcard from Taormina, where he dreamed he would live one day, dated 20.XII.’24 and eight letters, two of which were from Palermo. His dream of living in Sicily did not succeed. However, he spent 34 years of his life in Italy, most of it in Rapallo and died in Venice in 1972.

W.B.Yeats, already Nobel Prize winner for literature and Senator of the Irish Free State, went to Sicily, the largest Italian island, in January 1925. He needed to recover from a long illness – his doctor prescribed him absolute rest under the healthy sun of Sicily – but he wanted to also admire the classical glories and the beauty of the island. Ezra Pound, his friend and a relative who was with him, tells us in his letters of their visit to Girgenti (Agrigento) "hell or promised land,” and to Cefalù, "mosaics and remains of ancient walls upon the hill" by the two Irish "grand" tourists. In 1925 the two poets visited Syracuse together with the archaeologist Paolo Orsi, director of the Museum, which is famous for its collection of Greek coins. This visit struck the two Irish poets and it was destined to write another chapter in the links between Sicily and Ireland, with the Mediterranean island providing the model of the future Irish money-coins for Ireland.

Senator Yeats had the task to “coin” money for the Irish Free State. The Sicilian coins, seen in Syracuse, were then among the most beautiful of the Greek world. Those of Euainetos were artistically well done, similar almost to sculptures, and signed by the artist. Yeats was particularly struck by them. When the moment of presenting the new designs of the coins in Ireland arrived, he gave the Greek-Sicilian coins to the tenders, asking to reproduce them in their design and topic, a task that fell on Percy Metcalf. The Irish coins, existing since 1927, were reproduced up to the advent of the Euro (the world of animals on one of their sides) and testified for years this little known connection of their Greek-Sicilian origin.

The Greek mythology of the Sicilian world influenced many writers of all times and in Ireland as well. An echo of such a mythology can be found in modern times within the poem, “Sicily,” by the Irish poet, Desmond Egan. The points of comparison between Sicilian and Irish writers are so many and varied that they shed new light on many literary and humanistic fields: Verga and Synge for rural civilization and for the humble world of fishermen (Synge’s Riders to the Sea has a lot in common with Verga’s Malavoglia); Pirandello and Beckett – the creators of 20th century theatre boundaries; Shaw defined Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author as "the theatrical masterpiece of the century;" Brancati and Flan O’Brien (satire and parody); and Lucio Piccolo and Yeats (Mystic Poetry).


In the field of music, the lyricism and the melancholy of Irish ballads are quite similar to Sicilian songs. The vitality and rhythmic pulsation of the reels or of the jigs echo in the Sicilian tarantellas. The uileann pipes, which resound in the Irish flat lands and pubs, find some equivalent in the ancestral “zampogne” of the Madonie Mountains and valleys, as demonstrated by the “sounds of the sea between Atlantic and Mediterranean” with Ronnie Drew and Antony Breschi from one side and David Calvo from the other or with The Chieftains and the Aes Dana.

Sicily is the largest of the Italian islands. It is slightly more than one third the size of Ireland, but its population is somewhat greater – almost six million people. Friendly people, superb cuisine – rich and colorful with a unique blend of flavors, due to the Phoenician, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Arab influences, to name but a few, sunshine, fine beaches and high mountains, culture and ancient traditions, making it one of the most sought after places in the world. In the past, the island’s strategic position made it much fought-over, with different civilizations leaving their monuments. So you can still admire Greek temples, Greek and Roman theaters, Roman mosaics, Norman castles and Cathedrals, Baroque and Liberty architecture, legends and myths. Today a network of motor ways crisscrosses the island, running on high pillars and disappearing inside mountains – a masterpiece of modern engineering in harmony with the surrounding environment.

For centuries the values of friendship bonded Ireland from one side and Sicily and Italy from the other. The existing twinnings between the two countries and lately the meetings of Irish and Sicilian poets, together with exhibitions of Sicilian artists in Ireland, are a living proof of this long lasting friendship, as history recalls.

Does it belong to the world of legend or perhaps the historical theory that the first inhabitants of Ireland came from Sicily? Whatever the answer might be, it is certain that there were solid links between the two islands.

Partholons in Ireland

The Partholons (later called the “sons of Bartholomew”) who lived in the small islands surrounding Sicily, such as Favignana, Ustica, Pantelleria, Levanzo, whose Saint Protector became St. Bartholomew in the Christian era, installed themselves in Ireland before the Celts, around five thousand years ago. Seemingly, a plague later cancelled the memory of these people. They were sailors, relatives of Noah, who came to Ireland as farmers and builders of long barrows, passage graves, and mounds at the time of the New Stone Age. They could have been the creators of the monumental works of Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange, true jewels of world civilization. Built more than 5,000 years ago, one thousand years before the Pyramids in Egypt, they could have had the functions of sophisticated calendars and/or imposing mausoleums, destined to challenge time and space. No one really knows the deep meaning of these masterpieces or the unique phenomenon of archeo-astronomy, which takes place yearly in their chambers, when a single ray of sunshine penetrates inside perhaps to announce the New Year. However, the sunshine, the precision of their construction and their architecture spontaneously call to mind the Mediterranean people. We agree with James Lydon, when he writes in The Making of Ireland, pp. 1-2: "While we may wonder at the religious impulse which drove the people to construct such massive monuments as Newgrange, they demonstrate the existence of large, settled communities, with the necessary resources and leadership to provide and organize the considerable labor forces required for the construction over long periods of time and for the carriage of huge stones, often from long distance away," even though he does not mention the Partholons by name.

Robin Williamson in one of his poems speaks of Noah’s brother, Partholon,
“whose children
haggling like gulls
mysteriously arose from Sicily.”
While examining the vision of the poet, we can add that the appearance of man in Sicily can be documented around 10,000 years ago; the islanders in particular knew well the science of navigation and, as one can see from the grotto of the “Genovesi” in the island of Levanzo (Trapani), their art and way of expressing themselves were at a very advanced state. Later on in time, walls similar to those of Newgrange, with multicolored blocks, were found in various parts of Sicily, above all in Gela. All these considerations validate further the thesis that the Partholons could have come from Sicily and could have been the builders of the monuments in Dowth, Knowth and Newgrange.

Celtic Myths in Sicily

Still in the world of legend, many books describe one of the main characters of the Druid world, King Arthur. Was he born in Tintangel (Cornwall)? Was his kingdom in Camelot, the Roman Camulodunum, the present Colchester in Essex or Cadbury Castle in Somerset, which is near the city of Queen Camel and the river Cam? King Arthur was wounded in a battle and brought by his sister, the fairy Morgana who lived in the Straits of Messina (Is she the same who lived in Chiramonte Gulfi, Sicily and is called Muriana?) into an enchanted garden inside the Mt. Etna volcano of Sicily. It was precisely here that, according to the tradition of Gervase from Tilbury and Caesar of Heisterbach, as Arturo Graf writes in Artu' nell'Etna (Rome, 1980) that the great Arthur appeared “in a very spacious and joyful country side, full of all kind of delights, in a palace of wonderful making” to the groom of Catania’s Bishop, who was looking for the fiery horse of his patron. “When King Arthur knew the reason of his trip, immediately he ordered the horse to be brought back and given to the groom so that he could return it to the Bishop. Besides he said how, having been wounded a long time before in a battle against his nephew, he had dwelled there already for quite some time.” According to Arthurian legend, it is believed that he would return one day to redeem his people.

Morgana, in Breton’s Fata Morgana (Fairy of the Waters), is the fairy of Scin of Celtic mythology and she possessed, among other powers, the gift of hallucination. One example that is attributed to her is found in the rare optic, meteorological phenomenon in which the Sicilian coast on the Straits appears not only closer but also reflected at the center of the same sea to people looking from Calabria. Morgana, guiding a silver boat with golden sails, left the Isle of Man, the mythical Avalon, crossed the Atlantic and then the Mediterranean, and brought King Arthur, who was bleeding to death, up the slopes of Mt. Etna. There in a castle where no one can die, Arthur got his health back by the arcane and eternal strength that eviscerates from the volcano and which finds a visible form in the red of its lava and the velvety of its wines, capable of putting Cyclops to sleep or restoring someone to new life. There are many other stories that still exist in Sicily about Morgana and her brother, the mythical king of Avalon. Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, is shown proudly as the name of various, fine restaurants, like the one on Viale Don Bosco in the medieval hill town of Gangi.

We must also add that the Isle of Man has a three-legged symbol, the “Triquetra,” the three legs running after each other with Gorgone’s or Medusa’s face at the center, with wings on the sides and hair formed by snakes and surrounded by ears of corn. Is this the same as the one of Sicily or the “Trinacria,” where it appears around the 7th or 6th century B.C., and almost certainly, century afterwards, was brought by the Normans in Northern Europe from Sicily? This symbol was connected in a special way with sanctuaries and places of cult, associated with mystic divinities and linked to the terrestrial religiousness, such as Goddesses Demetra and Proserpine.

Customs and Legends

There is also another link between Catania and the Emerald Island, the “canderole,” huge candles, which people carry every year for the feast of St. Agatha on February 5th that bears some analogies with the feast of St. Brigid, the Patron of Ireland, which would originate from the pagan feast of Brine, the goddess of fire and of the awakening to life. The cult of this female divinity was connected with rites of fertility and it would seem that the “annacata,” the movement of the strong bearers of candles, would symbolize the sensual dances invoking fertility. Consider also the prayers that the Druids uttered to the “Casta Diva,” who covers the world in silver, and that Vincenzo Bellini, centuries after, invoked in his opera, Norma. We don’t know the extent of his consciousness of this prayer as when Bellini tempers the “daring zeal” and to spread on earth “that peace which you make reign in heaven”, yet we can find a certain link. It is also extraordinary that the first opera of the composer from Catania, Adelson and Salvini, is set in Ireland and that another opera, The Pirate, is based on a drama by Charles Mathurin.

There are also many legends of the Celtic world that can be found in various forms in Sicily. The Children of Lear, transformed into swans in Irish mythology, appear in “Leda and the Swan” carved on a sarcophagus in Agrigento. It would seem from the mythology of the Hibernian island that whoever eats salmon will have an unlimited knowledge. In a sarcophagus of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento it is said that eternal life is conquered eating salmon.

During an Irish wake the dead person is laid out in the main room of the house, where the family’s friends pay their respect with food and drinks that are provided for the occasion, with music and weeping women accompanying the funeral. This ritual is represented on a Roman sarcophagus in the Museum of Agrigento. The caoiners still exist in Connemara and something similar remains as well in Southern Italy, such as Naples. These are facts which, beyond the legendary sphere, corroborate a certain link between the two islands of Ireland and Sicily and may have their importance in reinforcing the strong bonds already existing between the two places.

Celts in Sicily

We must also add that the Celts were on the “island of sun,” at the centre of the Mediterranean, as the many legends show. Still today in the so called “valley of the Lombards,” described by Elio Vittorini in Conversazione in Sicilia, people speak a kind of Celt-Lombard language. Sperlinga or “Speirl(i)ng” at the top of this valley would mean, according to scholars of the Gaelic language, “rock” and also “flying ship” – from “speara” (spiral rock) e “lo(i)ng” (ship). The town of Sperlinga is right on a big rock upon where a castle, shaped as a ship and carved in the same rock, dominates the view. Only the Celts could have given this place such a name.

The Celts fought also as mercenaries for Dionysious, tyrant of Syracuse, not only in the South of the Italian peninsula, but also in Greece. Xenophon mentions them in 367 B.C. – the Iberian mercenaries in the expedition of Syracuse against the Thebans. During the Punic Wars we find the Celts beside the Carthaginians against the Romans in Sicily. In The Mystery of the Celts by Gerhard Hern, you can read that “being there in Agrigento as garrison troupe, once they ransacked the town because they had not been paid. In another occasion they compromised their victory due to their intemperate passion for drinking. In fact immediately after the battle, they drank all the enemy’s supply of wine, who, returning at night, found them completely drunk and asleep on the straw.”

Besides mercenary soldiers there also must have been commercial links between Ireland and Sicily. Similar people could have provided information to the Greek-Sicilian historian, Diodorus Siculus, for the page that he wrote in his Encyclopaedia about Ireland. He mentioned “the island under the Bears,” which he never personally visited. This observation shows there must have been an ongoing relationship, since early times, between the two island civilizations.

St. Cathal – San Cataldo

Another important link between Ireland and Sicily can be found with the Irish monk, St. Cathal, still today the Patron Saint of Taranto and much venerated throughout Europe and particularly in Southern Italy: The Palatine Chapel of Palermo has a precious mosaic and pastoral of the Saint (12th century); a Church with its beautiful Byzantine domes was dedicated to St. Cathal during the same century and in the same city; in the province of Caltanissetta there is a town is named after the Saint, who is also the Patron of various other places in Sicily, such as Gangi in the Madonie Mountains, where in every second family you will find the name “Cataldo.”

Peter Kenny, Irish Jesuit in Sicily

In the 19th century the Sicilian Jesuits helped to reintroduce the Society of Jesus in Ireland, re-establishing the Provincia Hibernica. Various young Irish men studied in Palermo in this educational context, while various Sicilians had the opportunity later on to perfect their formation in Ireland. One of these young men was the Irish Peter Kenney, later the founder of the most important Jesuits Colleges in Ireland, Clongows and Belvedere – James Joyce studied at both institutions. Kenney was held in high esteem by the Irish Bishops and even journeyed to America, where he distinguished himself also there for his work, founding St. Louis University.

Like him other young Irish Jesuits came to Sicily to profess their vows in the “Provincia Sicula,” then recognized by the Pope. After their studies they returned to Ireland by order of the General of the Society. So they went back officially as Jesuits. It was after the arrival in Palermo of some of these young Irish people that the then Superior of Sicily, Fr. Angiolini wrote on August 22: “Frs. Glover and Kenney continue to give the greatest satisfaction. They have lately passed an excellent examine in theology and it must be said that among our students in divinity, they are the two foremost. Fr. Kenney, without hesitation, is the first. What fervent workers are being prepared here for your mission?” Fr. Peter Kenny and other Jesuits provided a continuum of Irish and Sicilian bonds that continues today.

As we look at the cultural links between the two islands, such as the Partholonians in Ireland, and the Celts, King Arthur, and St. Cathal in Sicily, then the rebirth of the Irish Jesuits through Sicily, the literary fame of the Bronte sisters, a name originating from a Sicilian town, reading the Irish writers, Synge, Wilde, Yeats, and Becket and the Sicilian writers, Pirandello, Piccolo, Verga and Vittorini, and finally hearing about and maybe even experiencing the contemporary twinnings, exhibitions, university meetings between Ireland and Sicily, you will have to admit there is something to this notion that these islands are connected, one Celtic and the other Italo. Even if you are unaware of the mythical and historical connections, or just skeptical, visit these two islands yourself, one after the other, and intuitively you will feel you are traveling in familiar territory. Just watch the families interact and you’ll get the picture.