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Brendan O’Brien


famous architecture around the earth
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When I was at school, I learned a poem in Irish called ‘Tháinig Long ó Valparaiso’ by Pádraig de Brún (it’s actually a translation of one called ‘The Ship’ by Oliver St John Gogarty, but I didn’t know that then).

A ship from Valparaiso came

And in the Bay her sails were furled;

She brought the wonder of her name,

And tidings from a sunnier world.

The idea is that the poet, as a child, is enraptured by the sight of this ship and the name of the city it came from, which represents the world of exciting possibilities. (Gogarty was a colourful character who leapt into the River Liffey to escape gunmen during the Irish Civil War, and later gave two swans to the river as a gesture of thanks — but that’s another story.)

I’m an Irish person who hasn’t done a huge amount of travelling: I’ve visited several European countries as well as Turkey and Canada, and lived in London for a few years. The point of all this is that my network of editor friends around the world (which I wrote about in my last blog post) is, for me, like a fleet of little ships from Valparaiso. Facebook posts and comments from colleagues in Sydney, Shanghai, Cape Town and Toronto are tidings from places that, if not necessarily sunnier, are certainly different.

They serve as energy pills for which I’m grateful in the course of a tedious or arduous edit, bringing camaraderie and insight into other worlds — physical and psychic — and what things are like there: weather, wildlife, religion, politics, parenting, music, how people relate to each other, turns of phrase, food, ways of cooking, ways of swearing, ways of dressing, ways of being. Even a map showing where someone is eating lunch in a North American city, for me, is fascinating on account of the strict grid-like pattern of the streets, so different from our chaotic schemes. The place names are endlessly intriguing.

There’s a particular mystique about the USA, possibly because of long exposure to its music, television and film (Evelyn Waugh said that for the Irishman there are two final realities — hell and the United States), so it’s really interesting to catch a glimpse of fairly ordinary people just walking around there, so to speak, and doing stuff. But every place has its own charms.

In Gogarty’s words:

O you must voyage far if you

Would sail away from gloom and wet …

(Believe it or not, Ireland is often gloomy and wet.)

Voyaging far, at least mentally, is hugely facilitated by my social media network. He concludes:

But she will come for me once more,

And I shall see that city set,

The mountainous, Pacific shore —

By God, I half believe it yet!

Personal paraphrase: I’ll do more travelling, go to more conferences and meet more of my edibuddies around the world — I hope.

And maybe rural Ireland can serve as someone else’s Valparaiso from time to time.


Previous post from Brendan O’Brien: My Network.

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12 Comments on “Valparaiso”

  • Anita Jenkins


    This is beautiful, Brendan. You Irish people and your way with words! In your DNA.

    The idea of connecting with other editors speaks to me very strongly. As I repeatedly say – boring everyone to death I’m sure – the reason for belonging to an association is to meet kindred souls. Yes, there’s other stuff, but most of it is available somewhere else. The people are what it’s all about.

    Thank you. (One of my grandmothers was born in Dublin.)

    • Brendan O'Brien


      Thank you so much, Anita, Certainly many Irish people do have a way with words, I have found.

      I agree that the people are what it’s all about.

  • Rosemary Shipton


    A lovely post, Brendan, and beautifully expressed. Keep writing …

    • Brendan O'Brien


      Thank you very much, Rosemary.

  • Wilfred Popoff


    An intriguing post and an introduction to a great poet. No more do poets write like this; perhaps in Ireland.

    I worked in newspapers with people from Ireland and I assume it was their love of words that attracted them to the business.

    • Brendan O'Brien


      Thanks very much for this, Wilfred.

  • Margaret Cahill


    Lovely post, Brendan. Gogarty is a real Dublin personality. For many of us in New Zealand, rural Ireland is the romantic Valparaiso of our ancestry.
    By the way, we’re having a conference for writers here in the Far North in August. There’s an editing strand included and an editing master class, so if you have your travelling boots on, we’d love to welcome you.

    • Brendan O'Brien


      Thank you very much, Margaret. Cahill is certainly an Irish name!

      I do hope to travel to New Zealand at some point, but it won’t be this year, unfortunately. I hope your conference will go well.

  • Richard Nagel



    From someone who once lived in Valparaiso.

    Valparaiso, Indiana, USA, that is.

    ~ Richard Nagel

    • Brendan O'Brien


      That’s great, Richard—what a great place name! And thank you.

  • daniel


    Interesting post.

    I spent half the year, so far, in rural Ireland, a place called Bantry. The other time, becoming full-time is an island called Cortes in BC. People are the same everywhere once they get over their bias. Evelyn Waugh might have rephrased that were he to look at what is happening in England over Brexit.

    Valparaiso I learned in school, we sung it! Think many Irish traditional and not so traditional singers have released on CDs etc.

    Hope this finds you well – no rain in West Cork for three weeks – no rain on Cortes for a similar time.
    Small planet. Tkare

    • Brendan O'Brien


      Hi Daniel: thanks for this. West Cork is a nice part of the world (as is Cortes, I’m sure). It’s interesting that you sang Valparaiso: we only spoke it, but that was a long time ago!

      Plenty of rain here in Cavan in the past couple of days. Best wishes to you.

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