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Michael J. Whelan

Poet Michael J. Whelan


MICHAEL J. WHELAN joined the Irish Defence Forces in 1990, serving on tours of duty as a United Nations Peacekeeper. He has received the General Officer Commanding Irish Air Corps Award, the Paul Tissandier Diploma and the Tallaght Person of the Year Award (Arts & Culture section). Michael’s poetry has been widely published, including in The Hundred Years’ War: Anthology of Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe) and his work was the subject of a centenary of the Great War exhibition entitled Landscapes Of War & Peace 1914-2014: War Poetry & Peacekeeping. He won 2nd Place in the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Awards, 3rd Place in the Jonathan Swift Creative Writing Awards and a commendation in the Carousel Creates Creative Writing Awards, as well as having received an Arts Bursary from South Dublin Arts Office. In 2012 he was selected to read at the Poetry Ireland Introductions series.

Genre: Poetry
Number of publications: 2

Sample Work

Sample Poem From Peacekeeper


It is the quiet time.
We have disturbed a hornet’s nest.
Sandbags give shape to the sand.
We fill them in pairs,
one holding the mouth open
the other bending into a bridge over the earth,
the spade lifting grains of time as they pour away,
escaping like blood from an open wound.
The rest is just history
shovelled down the neck of a hungry war feeding
on souls, a monster that’s never satisfied.

We rest now and then,
catch our breaths, switch tasks,
wipe silver beads from our foreheads with burnt forearms,
stretch our backs, curse the Gods and warmed bottled water.

We fill sandbags with the erosion of time.
Pile them, shape them and square them off
around the bunker.
Life is shorter for the hornet.

I think of its shiny green body,
remembering how it dug into the sand, pushing with its legs,
as we are digging now with shoulders arching in the sun.
The hornet is dead.

The bunker has a doorway in the shade,
a portal to the underworld
when the sky is filled with lead
and we become creatures of the dark.

Sample Poem from Rules of Engagement

Blood Stealing All the Snow

Early snow laid quiet the land,
kept still in silent slumber,
streams curving under frozen shields
caressed the virgin wonder
and scars of war upon the earth
were hidden to the sky,
for in that morning’s dawning breath
both man and bird could fly.
But in the woods bold soldiers woke
a bear from angry sleep,
their marching songs fuelled his hate,
brought bloodlust to his teeth.

And in the field a stomping mare
feared her awful fate,
biting and kicking she fought to live
until the fateful claw
that laid her quiet on the ground,
blood stealing all the snow.
As she died her heat rose up
like steam from all her wounds,
her organs bled the air above
and soldiers warmed their hands.


Video of Michael talking about Peacekeeper

Video of Michael reading at the Irish Poetry Archive series at UCD

Video poem of 'For Peace this Piece of Your Has Ended'


Rules of Engagement
Rules of Engagement Poetry Book by Michael J. Whelan published by Doire Press

ISBN: 978-1-907682-70-4 | Pages: 80 | Published: 2019

On the centenary of the Great War and the Irish Revolution, Rules of Engagement explores an Irish soldier-poet’s search for truth and meaning, his efforts to reconcile his place in the natural world and futility at the modern human one, referencing surreal experiences and memories of conflict zones abroad and life at home. There is a sense of history, family and loss, self-identity, and recognition, through the lines of earlier poets, that nothing has really changed.

Peacekeeper Poetry Book by Michael J. Whelan published by Doire Press

ISBN: 978-1-907682-46-9 | Pages: 80 | Published: 2016

The poems in Peacekeeper reveal the little known landscapes and events experienced by soldiers sent to keep the peace in highly volatile situations — experiences and events that stay part of his make-up long after his return: the natural and unnatural landscapes, camaraderie, fear, the spiritual¬ in the face of incoming artillery fire, the underground semi-light existence of bomb shelters, minefields, destroyed villages, mass-graves, ethnic cleansing, the missing and the pity towards the innocent victims — the pity of it all. The poems are written in language that is full of the imagery of conflict, accessible and immediate and intended for an audience that wishes to discover the Irish peacekeeper’s tour of duty in foreign warzones, the warzones that they bring home. It is the first of its kind to be published in Ireland about Irish soldiers.