John Moriarty (1938-2007) was a graduate of UCD (University College, Dublin)—a double-first in philosophy and literature—who, after postgraduate studies at the University of Leeds (in the north of England), lectured on the western literary canon at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg in Canada for a number of years. In the 1970s, however, Moriarty turned his back on the academic life and, à la [the Spanish saint] John of God, became a live-in gardener in a Carmelite monastery near Oxford [John of God became a gardener in a Spanish Carmelite monastery, obviously, not in one near Oxford!]. After a few years of this—where Moriarty’s ebullient table-talk and free-flowing philosophizing had become renowned—Moriarty returned to Ireland and there built a little dwelling for himself on a plot of land he’d been gifted in Roundstone, county Galway, on the west coast of Ireland.
And it was here—having driven up from west Cork to seek him out—that my friend Pat “the barber” Crowley first met the great poet and mystic and philosopher—“A large, rough-hewn man with bright, deep set eyes beneath a leonine mass of curls”—sheltering from an April downpour under a wind-blown whitethorn. These west-of-Ireland years were great flowering years for Moriarty—all the publications for which he is celebrated date from his Connemara days onward: Dreamtime (1994) the Turtle trilogy (1996, 1997, 1998), Anaconda Canoe (1999), Nostos, (2001), Invoking Ireland (2005), Night Journey to Buddh Gaia (2006) and What the Curlew Said (2007).
The two men became fast friends and, a little while later, when Moriarty removed to his native Kerry to realise his long-cherished dream of establishing ‘Sli na Firinne’, a Christian monastic ‘hedge school’ in the Mangerton Mountains near Killarney, it was Pat in his VW van who ferried Moriarty and all his belongings (books mostly, apparently) south to the holy ground.
Earlier this year, Pat—a man who left school before he was 14 years old—published a book of his own, The Rose and the Stone, which is a wonderful tribute to the teaching and friendship of Moriarty (for which—full disclosure—I wrote the introduction). I’ve often heard Pat speak about being in Moriarty’s place and what it was like listening to him in full flow, therefore, I was very pleased to come across this YouTube clip of stand-up Tommy Tiernan (during TT’s walk around Ireland) paying a visit to the great Kerry mystic, which gives some sense of what it was like . . .