Waterworks Valley, Then and Now

Once this long valley hummed with sounds of trade

By horse and cart the farmers’ grain would come

To busy mills from which the flour was made

The tireless stream driving the wheels along

This valley road was thronged with horse and carts

It seemed like half the countryside was there

No room to move just endless stops and starts

While Jersey chatter filled the dusty air

The mills now gone the millers had their day

The stream still runs the reservoirs to fill

Now flour is made in quite a different way

But the whispers of the valley linger still

Few cars or carts are to be seen today

Walkers are at peace as they make their way

Ode to the British Curling Team

(Sung to the tune of ‘The British Grenadiers’)

Some talk of Robin Cousins and some of Bartelski

Of Alcott and Jayne Torvill

The greats of history

But of all our winter heroes there’s none of whom we dream

Who will bring great glory to our shores

But the British Curling Team

When they step out onto the ice they step so merrily

And neither do they fall about

They have gripper shoes you see

I guess they’re likely legal but maybe they are not

But it means they are so steady as

They line up their first shot

The British stone it slides away and ends up in the house

The foreign shot is very poor

Enough to make them grouse

For all their busy sweepers their shots go all astray

While the British stones line up and guard

Their winning shots all day

All through the opening rounds they’ll go

Beating every team in sight

For none at all can match their skill

And they’re beaten out of sight

And when they reach the final we’ll watch them on TV

By now we know the funny rules and recite them endlessly

And now we have new heroes

We sing of Eve and Bruce

For never do they miss a shot none of them are ever loose

But if they lose the final they’ll ruin our greatest dream

No longer are they British

They’re the Scottish Curling Team

A Sonnet

(Shakespeare would be impressed. Edit – no he wouldn’t, it’s not strict iambic pentameter. But let’s call it practice.)

I once loved you from afar

Your freshness like a dew-soaked rose

A silver cloud, a shining star

You passed me by with upturned nose

Then down the line you said good day

Your youthful dreams had not worked out

Your petals dropped and sad to say

My own life plans had come about

It was too late the chance had gone

I waited long but then I left

Your shimm’ring light would still have shone

Our lives entwined you not bereft

And now I see you’ve gone to seed

No more than a tangled weed

Running in the Trinity Lanes

We trotted through the Trinity lanes

A damp and dreary February day

When all at once there in the fields

All in their rows so silently

Awaiting just a little warmth

To tempt them into vibrancy

Not golden hosts yet to unfurl

But emerald stems shy like a girl

But see, there is one splash of yellow

Over there there’s one brave fellow

We ran on in more cheerful state

Our spring runs to anticipate

Irish native poetry

You’ll have noticed that, over the last few days, I’ve lapsed into a bit of poetry. This has been inspired by a friend and fellow writer Yvonne Heavey who has never spurned an opportunity to bash out a few lines of verse to suit the occasion.

Yvonne is from County Westmeath in Ireland. That country has a long history of culture and, in the so-called Dark Ages, Ireland was a shining light when it came to literature, song and art as well as promoting an advanced set of common laws – the Brehon Laws. At the end of the 19th century we had the Gaelic Revival when there was much renewed interest in the Irish language, culture and sport, a kickback against centuries of Anglicisation.

The best of these Revival poets are legends – Yeats, Heaney, Joyce, Beckett etc. It is not these giants I talk of today but more the common man of Ireland. In these decades we had growing discontent with English rule and the War of Independence. And also there was growing interest in Gaelic sports, hurling and football in particular, and growing allegiances to parish, town and county teams. All this seems (to my unscholarly eye) to have bred very many hack poets in Ireland. At the drop of a hat, out would come a rhyming verse to commemorate the occasion. Examples:

The Boys of Kilmichael – commemorating an ambush by a rebel flying column over a two-vehicle column of British Auxiliary troops in Cork in 1920.

And over the hills came the echo
The peal of the rifle and gun
And the flames from the lorries brought tidings
That the boys of Kilmichael had won

So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael
Those brave lads so gallant and true
They fought neath the green flag of Erin
And conquered the red white and blue

This is a prime example of the sort of verse that can popularise within hours. I can almost see a chap in a bar in Dunmanway (my father’s home town, not far from the ambush site) hearing the news, buying himself a pint, borrowing paper and pencil and sitting in the corner. An alternate rhyming pattern, a bit of rhythm in the lines, you have a verse. Along comes a musically-inclined friend who gives it a bit of a melody. That night the bars in the area are all singing it, and it is being played and sung 100 years later.

Come Out Ye Black and Tans from the same era made a surprise comeback in 2020

Come out ye Black and Tans
Come out and fight me like a man
Show your wife how you won medals down in Flanders
And how the IRA made you run like hell away
From the green and lovely lanes of Killashandra

What a great, sneering bit of mockery with all three elements – rhyme, rhythm, melody.

Also from those times, a lament for Kevin Barry, best sung solo over a Guinness.

In Mountjoy Jail one Monday morning high upon the gallows tree
Kevin Barry gave his life for the cause of liberty
Just a lad of 18 summers yet there’s no one can deny
As he walked to death that morning he proudly held his head on high

And finally, again from County Cork, the story of a less successful ambush, The Lonely Woods of Upton

Let the moon shine out tonight along the valley
Where those men who fought for freedom now are laid
May they rest in peace those men who died for Ireland
Who fell at Upton ambush for Sinn Fein

At a local level there are thousands of well-recorded examples. Many are little more than doggerel which anyone could dream up. They were written far from Dublin’s literary pubs – Gogarty’s, Davy Byrne’s, McDaid’s etc. where the literati were wont to gather, debate and argue. Brendan Behan was at one time-hard-pressed to find a bar which would serve him. WB Yeats, on having been persuaded into Toner’s on Baggott Street was said to have declared, “I have now been into an Irish bar and I have no wish to see another.” No, there is a sea of verse written by the common man (and woman), much of it lost and forgotten.

The lesson is, bad or not, anyone can knock out a poem and who, other than literary critics on high, is going to judge them? They might be sung in bars a hundred years from now.

The Rugby’s Back in Town

In Wales they sing of Bennett, of Edwards and JJ

Their harmonies are famous as they head down Arms Park way

The pits up in the valleys are all grassed over now

But their rugby boys are skilled and strong and winning they know how

In Dublin fair the streets are thronged the morning of the game

Their Guinness sweet they drink at length as they recount the fame

Of Gibson, Ward, O’Driscoll too, their new men just as much

As they head off down Lansdowne way to watch the kick-and-rush

Up north the Scots they play in blue and drink their whisky neat

Their games are played at Murrayfield where they are rarely beat

The names of Hastings, Renwick, Weir are known in speech and song

Their players are few but they don’t care, they’ll fight the whole day long

Now the French are strange, their manners odd, they eat a lot of frogs

But their rugby play is very good and their players are demi-gods

Of Blanco, Chabal, Jean-Pierre their history is made

As they walk along the River Seine towards their famous Stade

Well Italy it has its strengths but rugby is not one

They try and run around a lot but for them it’s just not fun

If they train hard then one fine day they’ll even win a match

But all the other teams do find them easy to despatch

But I have left till last of all the teams the others fear

For England in their snowy white are skilful without peer

Car park champagne before the match is order of the day

Then into Twickers to see the foe sent soundly on their way

Fridays Long Ago

No meat on a Friday I used to be told

No reason don’t ask and no one knew why

No bother to me as we stood in the cold

And queued for the chippy my brother and I

No boys on a Friday the barber’s sign read

No short back and sides because heavens forfend

The grown-ups can’t get their hair done instead

And when leaving buy something for the weekend

Democracy

Democracy is the best form of government

Always the cream will rise to the top

Be careful therefore that your disparagement

Will make our leaders angry and cross

For you may be left with cheaters and liars

And all our good folk left with the dross

How would it be because of your jeers

Lovely Boris was no more the boss

Poem for Ashling

(Acknowledgement to the great Alan Hull)

I can see it all now falling into place

I can leave all my troubles behind

I haven’t had the greatest day at work

And it’s really screwing up my mind

But it will be alright, I’ll have a drink on this Wednesday night

It’ll be oh so good

Now I’ll go for a run like I know I should

It’ll be alright

It wasn’t alright

(Ashling Murphy was murdered on 12th January 2022)

Poem for Tuula

Cold in the ground these last 50 years

Your Finnish homeland guards your bones

That time you left your native land

To visit Jersey’s golden shores

Was not the time, was not the place

You planned to leave this mortal life

With so much hope you tried to fly

Snuffed out beneath a Jersey sky

(Tuula Hoeoek was murdered on 30th December 1966)