Whittled Words

Brian Mac Domhnaill

In 2016, having remarked upon the poetic nature of Mark’s blog posts I set about ‘whittling’ the text down into sections of spoken word. I also added content from blog posts by Cathy and Ben by means of introduction and context. I may also have added a few words of my own.

I did not follow any particular poetic rules but roughly chopped the content into stanzas based on each written passage or paragraph. I inserted an occasional pause in the form of an utterance of Pallasboy, the townland where the original vessel was laid to rest and later excavated. Also, the name Pallasboy inadvertently personifies the original artefact and our crafted object.

The first six ‘stanzas’, set in Prehistory, refer to the imagined story of the original vessel. The remainder is set in 2015 and describes the crafting of our replica.

I whittled the words down over a number of afternoons in my studio, also spent whittling splinters and sticks that had been removed from the vessel during crafting. The resulting whittled objects and pseudo artefacts may come to form part of sculptures or may just exist as themselves. To be confirmed.

I intended to record a few of us reading the full piece of spoken word and then edit  a mix using all our voices. I got Mark to record himself in UK and send it over. I was struck by how differently he interpreted it. If I was to use a recording by each of us and have it flow the way I intended I would have to record myself first to set the pace and tone. This is yet to come but in the meantime you can enjoy the script in print and read it out loud yourself:


Words whittled by Brian Mac Domhnaill from blog posts by Caitríona Moore, Benjamin Gearey and Mark Griffiths.

Black Alder; Alnus glutinosa
Bright green leaves
Dark brown bark
Fractured into scales
Bad luck to pass it on a journey

Hidden until now
A commoner of the wood’; ‘Aithig Fedo’
A crown of honeysuckle
Tall, straight and proud
In a clearing in the Bog Wood

Tended to, chosen
Sentenced to death
Red droplets on white flesh
The first man sprang from a tree such as this
‘the red man’

A person working
A growing carpet of woodchips, each one the strike of a tool
Important and telling waste
The story of daily life

Skill, interaction, instinct, judgment, symmetry

A tree reborn as a vessel
Admired, used, carried, submerged in a bog pool


Meitheal Mara
A bright morning
Familiar sounds, vibrancy, people flow
The perfect working space
Shared knowledge
A warm welcome

Knots and defects
Closeness to root
Grain follows its own random path

Scoring a deep groove along the guide line with an axe
Hardwood wedges driven in with a large mallet
From tree top to root
The split widens
The air is filled with the sound of cracking wood
Larger wedges replace smaller ones
The timber yields

The large unwanted riven away
Axe and adze
A level face hewn
A plan laid out
Fibre-tipped charcoal lines
Satisfying proportions
Inside roughed out
Soft, wet, easy to work


More than one maker
Working together
Inside and out
Master craftspeople
Master and journeyman
Master and his apprentice


Becoming familiar
The muscles and joints of Pre-History
Sore, cramped hands
Binding blistered fingers
Reinforced wrists

A striking colour change
A soft creamy white, A brick like orange
Bark removed
It bleeds a rich, thick, blood-like sap
Great spiritual significance

Wear and tear
Keeping a keen edge
Underside and curved ends
Fluid carving
Shifting on a wood chip blanket
Wedges to hold it in place
Working alone


Wind chills and blusters, the rain comes
A deep grey sky devoid of light
The cymbal crash of torrential downpour on a roof
A drum-like beat
The upturned vessel
Primal sounds

Chip away
The power behind the blow
The angle of the strike
The tool marks left behind
Overwhelmed with fatigue
A feeling of deep melancholy
The damp chill of the dark evening
Too tired to eat


Finishing  shaping
Forming handles
Carving bow shaped ends
Hourglass Oak Mallet
Seamus on a log, smoking, watching
A crisp edge carved at the outer rim

Unseasoned ‘green’ wood
Removing structural timber
Moisture released
Splits radiating from the heartwood
Submergence, Stabilisation
A damp hessian shroud


A journey
Now a shade of pale straw
Internal depth
A gentle carved slope
Dark skies
Biblical rain
A restless night


Small stone bridges span the Lee
Swollen with rain the river rages below
Water rolls over a weir at a ferocious pace
Foaming white eddies
Intrigued visitors
The form of the vessel
Curvaceous exterior
The precise thickness of its sides and base
Would it carry a cargo?

Different carving
Fibres dry and tight
Furred and splintered
Cuts crisp and positive
A stronger resemblance
Blending  sides into floor
The chill of now familiar back streets

Carving  detail
Leveling  rim
A crisp defined edge, as new
Boring holes in shaped handles
A small gouge and mallet

Chip carving
Intriguing detail
A deceptively simple linear pattern
Fish scales, fur, feathers
The tool marks formed on a worked metal surface

New cracks
Linseed oil, paint brushes, rags, gloves
A preservative finish
Drenching the parched timber
Dull straw turns to a rich honey
The grain magically displays its wild, complex pattern
The chip carving suddenly comes to life as the light plays across the vessel’s surface


A new home below a wall of glass
Looking out on to parkland, and beyond to the river
Visitors touch the vessel
Fingers explore the shapes and patterns formed by the tools
An object of significance
Reaction and response
Detachment, a sense of loss


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