"Growing up in the Sixties"




Star-studded sky
above Gougane
kept me company
as I drove home.
Pity Pat Kavanagh
never knew
this wild starry place
for no poet praises
this local beauty.
"Fine for tourists
but what about us?"
Farmers prefer green fields,
high milk yields and a drop of rain.
What use are lakes
and worse still-hills?
Who profits from purple heather,
gold-flecked furze
and red-berried mountain ash?
Place of my heart and home
I return and rememeber..


We spent silver sixpences
in Kelleher's shop
every Sunday after Mass.
Eating ice-creams
to observe the Sabbath.
In Creedon's pub
red faced men
sank pints of porter
to quench the weeklong thirst
of field and bog.
Their women went about their weekly shopping:
swopping stories,
sharing secrets,
even scandals in long low whispers!
The village hummed with life
from near townlands and back the hills.
People meeting, laughing, talking
neighbours, friends, relations.
No anonymity here
or not for long
a stranger stayed a stranger.


Father of fun
larger than life
he burst into my childhood
on his battered bicycle
with images of Long Island.
Singer of songs
weaver of magic stories....
Fairies, wild women and wakes,
white horses in the night!
I see him
on a Sunday evening
calling on his way
up the caol
to set other traps
while warning me
they'd break my bones
before they'd let me go.
September sees him always
fixing up the thresher in the haggard
happy swigging "white stuff"
or a keg of porter.
I see him sometimes
at the bog
on hot summer afternoons
turning turf between his yarns
or piking hay into the shed
before the weather broke in mid-July.
But-he is gone
those days are lost
and gone forever.
No more barefoot toes
sticking to tar bubbles
coming home from summer school;
no August nightfalls
drawing warm milk
from stall to churn
and back again.
No more.
Old people leave us
one by one
and in their absence
we are weaker
but strong, calm places
stand forever.



You'd never think that hillside
held a houseen like it.
The bóithrin is now bedecked
by honeybees and hives.
That time it was an open house.
Nights of laughter
at our "scóraíocting"
echo down the years.
There were some good acres
a few rocky outcrops
a donkey and car
some cats, a dog
and a brother
smiling in the corner.
Her erady smile
with soft words of welcome
always put us at our ease.
The paraffin lamp threw shadows
through the kitchen
on dark wintry nights
while the door was always open
in the good weather
to let the light and callers in.
She knew joy.
We met like magnets around her
sharing stories and small secrets.
May you rest in peace, dear Mary.



Flickering candles in the island church
held out against the rainy wind
of a mid-April evening
in Gougane.
What do I expect to see
when I drive in?
Each time I come to worship
I know the scene is set
and has been since the ice-age.
So-why wonder?
Times there are, the mountain-top
is dark and brooding
sheltering the valley
from the world without.
But on sunny summer evenings
those same hills
bend down
caressing holy waters
with the gentlest streams.
Place of peace and pines:
My heart comes home to you.