Feature Articles

PAUL CAHILL (1950-2003) by Macdara Woods

(Poetry Ireland News, September/October 2003)

Paul Cahill, Rathdowney Co Laois man in Umbria, died on the second of August last, suddenly, at his home in La Goga, just ten days short of his fifty-third birthday. He isMacdara Woods buried in the little hilltop country cemetery in Col Piccione, across the valley from where he lived, shimmering in the distance now, like a mirage, in the summer heat.

But there always was something of the mirage about Paul, the moving image, the magician in the moving lights. For a start, quite simply, he was busier than anyone I’ve ever known. He had to be, to be involved in so many enterprises. He was a teacher in the language school he partly owned, an art critic, a poet and essayist, latterly finishing a collection of short stories for publication, a lecturer in the University of Perugia, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardener, a farmer – with his life-partner Fernando Trilli – who ran an Agriturismo for guests, an examiner for teachers, a scholar and academic adviser to students, generous above the odds with his time and support.

And he was also a visionary impresario for Irish culture, a pragmatic manipulator of mirrors who got things done. Amazing things. It would be hard to reckon how many Irish artists in so many disciplines he gathered under the constantly re-invented umbrella of Immagini d’Irlanda in Umbria, organising exhibitions of painting and sculpture in the mediaeval palazzi, organising poetry readings in the public buildings, in the Umbrian Parliament, in the Sala dei Notari, inviting Irish writers to conferences, debates, to book-launchings in Umbria Libri book-fair, giving them room in his house, setting up meetings with translators, publishers, readings in Rome, Florence, Milan. It would be impossible to reckon how much of Ireland he made known to Perugia, and to Italy and Italians, and, quite properly, vice versa.

His promotion of Irish poetry and art came from his own ongoing engagement with language, his immersion in it and fascination with its usage. He inhabited language, lived in it like a house, moving throughout the day from room to room, and he inhabited more than one language, occupying that clear immediate space beyond translation. He spoke exquisite Italian, inhabited Italian culture as he did Irish culture, and, being European, was constantly investigating others.

By the time we met in the eighties, at a reception, I had been hearing for years from the local barber about the Irish professore con barba rossa, constant reported sightings. The skies opened that afternoon, washing away a stretch of roadway, bearing out my contention that if you put more than five Irish people together anywhere it will rain, but that same meeting was one of the most important of my life. As happened to so many others, I was subsumed into Paul’s profound gift for immediate and sustained friendship, coming from a generosity that was all embracing and almost automatic, so much so that it was often not until later that the recipient realised how extraordinary it had been.

Over the years the house at La Goga, and the friendship with Paul and Nando, became for me a kind of magical extension of Umbria itself, a version of Prospero’s garden, both a wonderment and functional, the orto burgeoning in a frenzy, the collection of goats, the hens with trousers, the dogs, the two daft peacocks roosting in the trees, good food, marvellous books and better chat, laughter, a friend whose delighted acquiescence in life was physical in its intensity, a constant surprise of who might be there, or was expected, or who had just left.

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