Buying Winkles | Summary and Analysis

Analysis of Buying Winkles by Paula Meehan

Poet Paula Meehan’s poem “Buying Winkles” captures the local flavor and dialect as a young girl describes buying winkles from a winkle seller who sits outside the Rosebowl Bar with her pails of winkles in front of her. The poet employs the dialect used in Dublin, which is very specific, particularly in the inner city. The language has a poetic quality to it. The Pattern and The Exact Moment I Became a Poet are some of her popular poems, the analysis of which may be accessed in the link below: 

Analysis of The Pattern by Paula Meehan

Analysis of The Exact Moment I Became a Poet by Paula Meehan

Buying Winkles | Summary and Analysis

In “Buying Winkles,” a child’s adult poetic alter ego remembers a time when her mother spared her sixpence and the younger self would jump every crack in the pavement and weave a glad path to buy winkles. W here the moon lights up the way for the girl through the gap left by the high buildings, nature may be an accomplice who ventures into the dark, solitary streets, thus intruding on a public space hostile to women and reserved only for men. This poem evinces the spatial politics that divide the city into public and private spaces along gender lines, as well as the ecofeminist claim that women should struggle to recover the night. To bring the people and events to life, Meehan uses accessible language and, on occasion, direct speech and idioms.

Buying Winkles, Lines 1-5

My mother would spare me sixpence and say,

‘Hurry up now and don’t be talking to strange

men on the way.’ I’d dash from the ghosts

on the stairs where the bulb had blown

out into Gardiner Street, all relief.


The poet hints at poverty in the very first line of the poem. Her mother spares her sixpence and would warn her not to talk to strangers on the way during her journey to buy winkles.  Childhood fears are portrayed in a way that the imaginary blends with the real. The stranger men and ‘ghosts on the stairs’, perplexes the child. The child gets confused about which of the two are scarier because of their innocence. The child does not know how to differentiate between the two. The sense of excitement of the child is conveyed through hurry up and dash. Gardiner Street is the place where the action takes place. The child rushes to the buy winkles and this rush gets reflected by the repeated use of the ’s’ sound in the above-mentioned lines.

Buying Winkles, Lines 6-14

A bonus if the moon was in the strip of sky

between the tall houses, or stars out,

but even in rain I was happy – the winkles

would be wet and glisten blue like little

night skies themselves. I’d hold the tanner tight

and jump every crack in the pavement,

I’d wave up to women at sills or those

lingering in doorways and weave a glad path through

men heading out for the night.

The moon in the sky acts as a bonus between the tall houses and stars. The possibility of rain brings happiness to the child. This journey seems like an adventure for the child. There is also an indication of the existence of gender roles and the fact that the lives of women are more than restricted as compared to men. While the women are either indoors or lingering in doorways, the men are heading out for the night. The child nevertheless is unafraid and weaves a glad path through all the men. The lines also refer to silly games that children makeup and hints at their innocence. The poet uses images of dark and light to represent the existence of binaries.

Buying Winkles, Lines 15-21

She’d be sitting outside the Rosebowl Bar

on an orange-crate, a pram loaded

with pails of winkles before her.

When the bar doors swung open they’d leak

the smell of men together with drink

and I’d see light in golden mirrors.

I envied each soul in the hot interior.

The above-mentioned lines describe the winkles seller who sits outside the Rosebowl Bar with an orange crate loaded with pails of winkles before her. There is a contrast between the women who are inside and the men who are outside. The men coming from the bars are drunk and they smell. The pubs are appealing with their golden interiors. The child envies the soul in the hot interiors. The poet hints at poverty with “hot interiors”.

Buying Winkles, Lines 22-28

I’d ask her again to show me the right way

to do it. She’d take a pin from her shawl –

‘Open the eyelid. So. Stick it in

till you feel a grip, then slither him out.

Gently, mind.’ The sweetest extra winkle

that brought the sea to me.

‘Tell yer Ma I picked them fresh this morning.’

The stanza depicts the regularity with which the task is being carried forward. With childhood innocence, the child asks, again and again, the right way to take the winkles from the shill. Meehan describes the task with utmost practicality and realism. The winkle seller is kind towards the child. The description of winkle presents vivid imagery, for the readers. If brings the taste of the sea and is fresh something which the winkle seller reminds the child to her inform her mother. The winkle brings the poet closer to sea and away from city life. The repetition of ’s’ and ‘ee’ sounds highlight the sweetness as well as the regularity of the task. The language should be given special attention as it reflects the local dialect of Dublin which is quite different from standard English.

‘Tell yer Ma…”


Buying Winkles, Lines 29-32

I’d bear the newspaper twists

bulging fat with winkles

proudly home, like torches.

The child takes delight in completing the task and bringing back the winkles. The poet attempts to explore childhood memory and her relationship with her mother. Her myth is created around this heroic adventure that the child undertakes. By equating the threats of strange men and ghosts on the stairs.

The poem has a strong sense of place. In the face of globalization’s all-homogenizing tendencies and the increasingly ill-defined boundaries of belonging and attachment, her poems, in the imagining of her childhood, point to the local and the indigenous and of a more ancestral past. Furthermore, this emphasizes the importance of reclaiming her cultural past as a necessary reminder of the value of ancient ways of knowing, which are now undervalued in today’s society. The importance of the local in Paula Meehan’s work demonstrates how her understanding of Irishness is shaped by a specific cultural history – that of her childhood, her ancestors, and her working-class neighborhood. Her poetry reflects the often tense relationship between globalization and cultural history, as well as the undervaluation or skepticism with which our forefathers’ cultural significance is viewed in today’s world. Meehan honors a rich cultural heritage of ancestral oral traditions, dreams, and myths, cultural mediums that have been marginalized in a modern, technological, and disenchanted world.



Buying Winkles | About the Author

Paula Meehan is an Irish poet and playwright who grew up in a working-class family in Dublin. Return and No Blame (1984); Reading the Sky (1986); The Man Who Was Marked by Winter (1991); Pillow Talk (1994); Mysteries of the Home (1996); Dharmakaya (2001), which won a Denis Devlin Award; Six Sycamores (2004), with artist Marie Foley; and Painting Rain (2005) are her poetry collections. Her plays for children and adults have been widely staged and broadcast.




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