Paul Durcan

The MacBride Dynasty by Paul Durcan

Within ‘The MacBride Dynasty’ Durcan makes use of a humorous and light-hearted tone to depict his extended family members and briefly, their relationships with one another. The mood is mostly upbeat, but it solemnizes towards the end when Durcan explains from a matured perspective the lack of regard his mother has for his Aunt Maud. 

The MacBride Dynasty by Paul Durcan


Summary of The MacBride Dynasty 

The poem describes through clear narrative detail an experience that Durcan had as a child. He was taken, by his mother, to see his “grand-aunt Maud Gonne”. The trip went fine until he was passed over to Maud and saw her face and hands. He was terrified by her animalistic features and ran from the room. The whole experience helped him understand the relationships on his mother’s side of the family and how the “MacBride Dynasty” chooses to tolerate one another, even if there is no respect between them. 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of The MacBride Dynasty 

‘The MacBride Dynasty’ by Paul Durcan is a forty line poem that’s contained within a single stanza of text. The lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme, nor do they conform to a metrical pattern. Written in free verse, ‘The MacBride Dynasty’ is a narrative poem that tells a very specific and personal story from the poet’s own youth. Recalling events from the perspective of an adult, Durcan is able to tap into his childhood experiences and imbue the poem with some of his youthful fears and insights. 

Despite the lack of a structured rhyme scheme, there are moments of full and half-rhyme within the poem. For example, full rhyme also known as complete or perfect rhyme is seen at the ends of lines twenty-three and twenty-four with “balcony” and “me”. There is another example at the ends of lines twenty and twenty-one with “place” and “embrace”. In comparison to other sections of the poem, the lines depicting the young poet’s fear of his Aunt Maud contain more rhyme. This influences the speed at which one moves through the text and takes in the information, mimicking the panic and escape of Durcan. 

Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. Examples include the long “e” sound in “motherly” and “Anglia” in lines two and three. Or, in line five, the repetition of the “n” consonant sound in “grant-aunt” and “Gonne”. 


Poetic Techniques in The MacBride Dynasty 

Durcan makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The MacBride Dynasty’. These include alliteration and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, the repetition of words starting with “m” in lines thirty-five through thirty-nine. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. There are examples throughout the text, including the transition between lines eleven and twelve. 


Analysis of The MacBride Dynasty 

Lines 1-8

In the first lines of ‘The MacBride Dynasty’ the speaker begins by asking the reader a rhetorical question. He is considering mothers, and through a metaphor, their power, and the care they exert when it comes to their children. He speaks of them as “vengeful goddess[es]” that channel “dynastic” and “motherly pride”.

In the third line the speaker, who is Durcan himself, takes the reader back to 1949 when he was a “walking, talking little boy”. The internal rhyme in these lines is common within Durcan’s poetry. It helps with the overall rhythm and rhyme of the text, especially considering that there is no single rhyme scheme in ‘The MacBride Dynasty’. 

The memory he’s recalling is a specific one. There was on time that he was taken, by his mother, out to visit his “grand-aunt Maud Gonne”. Durcan makes the setting very clear, giving the reader the exact location. The point of this trip is to “show off” Durcan to the extended family. He is the “latest addition”. This alludes to the possibility that there are a number of other new “additions” and he’s only the recent. 


Lines 9-16

In the next eight lines of ‘The MacBride Dynasty,’ the speaker introduces various members of his family. Durcan uses small, telling details to describe them. For example, “Cathleen Ní Houlihan” is old and welcoming. She likes “admirers,” especially when they are young. 

The speaker explains, through intentionally dramatic detail, a scene from Cathleen’s recent past in which “the actor MacLiammóur / Had been kneeling at her bedside reciting Yeats”. These few details tell the reader something about Cathleen as well as what she values. But, the narrative quickly moves on to “Cousin Sean and…Kid” who take the young Durcan and his mother upstairs. 


Lines 17-26

The image of Aunt Maud that Durcan depicts in these lines is a very unpleasant one. The imagery comes from the mind of a very young child who is caught unawares by the strangeness of a very old person. Durcan saw her as having animal features. These include claws and lizard eyes. The child is obviously frightened by these factors and the poet “recoiled from her embrace”. 

He ran from the room, trying to get away from her as quickly as he could. Eventually, Cousin Sean catches up with him and calms him down. 


Lines 27- 34

Durcan’s mother was in reality only slightly embarrassed by these events. In fact, Durcan adds from his adult perspective, she didn’t really like Maud Gonne that much to begin with. Her dislike stems from events of the past. Specifically, when Maud betrayed her own husband. Her husband, Uncle John was ordinary, courageous, and “The pride of our family”.


Lines 35-40

It was Maud’s disloyalty that really bothered Durcan’s mother. By repeating the word twice in the thirty-fifth line the emphasis on this value cannot be escaped. In the final lines of ‘The MacBride Dynasty’ the speaker comes to terms with what he learned about his mother’s side of the family. He knows his mom cares deeply about loyalty, and that the only reason they tolerate Maud is for “dynastic reasons”. They did not, and do not, want to cause a split in the family. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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