Poems from Old Breifne

The Big Tree in the Park

As I gazed around Stradone Park
on a day not long ago,
I was thinking of time gone past
and the players I used to know.
When I noticed something missing
from where it used to be
And I realised with a heavy heart
that gone was the Big Tree.

Like a giant umbrella’
it had risen to the sky,
Giving shelter to the players
in days now long gone by.
But my mind is full of memories
and I’m lonesome as can be
When I think of all the great men
who togged out beneath that tree.

Dressing rooms and showers
were unknown to players then,
But those primitive conditions
produced tough and hardy men.
With skill and determination
they gave it anything they got,
And at county and college level
some made it to the top.

When the team they had assembled
and were ready for the game,
They were placed in their positions
each one called out by name.
Arrayed in their club colours,
I think I see them yet,
And pre-match nerves were settled
with a few pulls from a cigarette.

And when the game was over
they returned to the tree,
Where they discussed the opposition
and sometimes the referee.
They’d talk about missed chances
and the usual iff’s and but’s,
And disputes were sometimes settled there
with a bout of fist-cuffs.

Down through the years great teams stepped out
from underneath that tree
In search of highest honours
but it was not to be,
But they carried on regardless
and kept knocking at the door
Till at last they were rewarded in 1944.
‘94 was the golden jubilee
of that historic test

And the survivors they were honoured
though many had gone to rest.
For that year in November
the junior championship was won,
Afore runner of great victories
which in latter years did come.

But that is all past history now
the Big Tree it has gone,
But in the hearts of many
its memory will live on.
When I look for a comparison
I think of Noah’s Ark,
But it never housed as many
as did that Big Tree in the Park.

Jack Leddy Killygarry

The Mill
There’s a special day in all our lives, in our hearts we hold so dear
It maybe just one event, or may happen every year
The special day I recall to mind, I can see it clearly still
Was when all our neighbours gathered round, on the day we had the mill.

When the big steam-engine turned in our lane, we could hear it snort and snore
As it edged around the middle gate, it could take an hour or more
When it finally reached the haggard, it would always be quite dark
So they manoeuvred round until at last, beside the rick they’d park.

Pat the driver and Mick the fireman, to the kitchen would retire
And when they polished off a good hot meal, we’d all sit round the fire
Mick sang some rousing ballads, the words I have them still
We would always have a great sing-song, on the day we had the mill.

Like a football team upon a pitch, each man his place was found
Some cutting sheaves, some pitching straw, the rest were spread around
My father always made the rick, so neatly and so trim
There was no-one in the parish that could build a rick like him.

The neighbours helped my mother, in the kitchen they did toil
To feed a gang of hungry men, a fine dinner they would boil
From Daly’s we’d borrow chairs, from Reilly’s plates and knives
But God help the child who would mention this, we’d be threatened with our lives

In the afternoon the women came to fill their sacks with chaff
As they were chased around the haggard, there was many a hearty laugh
We always had the day off school, our ticks of chaff to fill
We’d need a ladder to get into bed, on the night we had the mill.
Maureen O’Dwyer

Well, the combine now does all the work, there isn’t half the fun
The job it took ten men to do, can now be done be one
There’s no communal spirit left, they’ve machinery of their own
They’re all so independent now, they don’t borrow, beg or loan.

I’ve attended many gatherings, in strange places I have been
But there’s none of them could compare with this old traditional scene
And I’d give all I won right now to be in the haggard ‘neath the hill
To meet all the friends and hear all the yarns, on the day we had the mill

Old Virginia Town

Among the rolling hills of Breffni
With its lakes and vales so fair
Lies the old town of Virginia
It’s equal is nowhere
Beneath the slopes of Murmod Hill
Where in legend we are told
The gold and honey treasures
Were all found in days of old.

And proud Lough Ramor reigns supreme
A jewel in the crown
Its sure an angler’s paradise
And a lake of high renown
The old ruins on Tighe’s island
Tell a story grim and true
Of the holy monks where were massacred
In 1762

The many tree-filled island
Lend enchantment to the scene
While the rhododendrons line the edge
Of it’s waters so serene
From the nine-eyed bridge I watch
The golden sunset o’er Tor Bhui
Where we held our picnics long ago
When young and fancy-free.

If you’re passing through Virginia
Be sure and stay for a while
Where you’ll get a friendly greeting
A handclasp and a smile
Bord Failte twice have named it
Ireland’s neatest tidy town
And I’m proud to sing the praises of
My old Virginia town

Maureen O’Dwyer

The Bards

In years to come you’ll hear the tale,
of Mountnugent’s great win being told.
How the white and yellow flew higher,
than Killinkere’s green and gold,
although they played a mighty game,
Killinkere finally did resign,
to the best fifteen that ever passed,
through the famous tidy town.

When Norbert Hanley stood in goals,
the hopes of the ‘Bridge ran high;
“Skin” Garry was most determined
That no ball would pass him by.
And Owenie Commiskey with Tom Lynch,
at centrefield excelled.
The strong attacks from the Killinkeremen,
they very soon repelled.

Willie and Norbert Smith
were never known to yield,
and famous Jim Reilly
was a star upon the field.
Full-forward Mattie Cahill
held his own upon the square.
And roving Johnny Brady
made the Killinkere backs despair.

Barney Garry’s clever judgement
forced the Killinkeremen to yield;
And Brianie Commiskey’s lengthy clearances,
put the forwards into action.
Kevin Mullen, Vincent Lynch and Norrie Reilly,
were glorious on the field.

We’ll start the New Year bright and clear,
and of Drumalee we have no fear.
Although they may have dark horses,
when we meet them we’ll be their bosses.

Composed by Tommy Smyth and Paddy Brady following Mountnugent’s junior championship final win over Killinkere in 1964.

The old school house

The old school house is all boarded up
Such a desolate sight to see
While one housed so many scholars
And was filled with activity
It was here we were taught our basic needs
And learned our ABC
How to write our name and do our sums
To show that two and one made three

Our teachers, God be good to them
Had very few books on hand
But they did their best to peruse each page
And help us understand
The defined our languages for us all
As they broke each sentence down
And explained the various adjectives
The adverbs and pronouns

Our spellings were a must those days
We had to learn them off by heart
And the handwriting in our copy books
Had to be a work of art
We all sat in rows at little desks
Our pen in ink wells we would dip
With blotting paper at the ready
Just in case our pen would drip

The geography was taught to us
From the huge map on the wall
We knew the chief town of each county
And the industries of them all.
The European capitals were pointed
out each day,
We thought that Germany and Russia
Were a million miles away

The Catechism was difficult
From the little penny book
We knew the answers like a song
But no meaning ever took,
I remember First Communion
And the Confirmation Day
They were the highlights of the year
And the memory always stays.

The winters were severe on us
As the sleet and snow did fall
Our little coats were saturated
When we hung them in the hall.
The older girls had the school fires lit
With the turf and logs and coal
We had ‘glorious’ in our fingers
From the constant classroom cold.

Now the new schools are all modern
They have everything laid on
With calculators and computers
And every known mod con.
But I often think of that old school
With all the hardship and the strife
And those grand old teachers
Who prepared us all for the long
hard road of life.

The Grand Oldcastle Train

Long long ago, when we were young
And summers were warm and fine
We loved to hear that old steam train
Come trundling down the line
And the farmers working in the fields
Would wave a friendly hand
Because the crew on the Oldcastle train
Was known to every man

The cattle grazing near the track
Would lift their heads and stare
As the thick black smoke from the
engine’s fire
Went puffing through the air
Or sometimes wandering beasts
would stray
And get right on the railway track
If the driver spotted them in time
They were driven safely back

In the years of emigration
When our loved ones said goodbye
That station platform was a lonely place
There was many a tear-filled eye
And when they returned in later years
There was joy and celebration
As family and friends all gathered round
To meet them at the station

In the war time years of rationing
All consignments came by train
And when the G.N.R. lorry came
down the road
Our hopes would rise again
My father, God be good to him
Would be dying for a fag
And when the Woodbines
came to Mullagh
We’d cycle off with our little bag

The goods trains were in great demand
With their wagon loads of stock
We had no juggernauts on our
roadways them
No congestion at the docks
After each fair day the drovers walked
The cattle along the road
They were ‘penned in’ at the station
Until in a wagon they would load

Our Annual outing each July
Was a pilgrimage of prayer
When we visited Blessed Oliver’s head
For a five shilling return fare
And for another sixpence we took a train
To Laytown by the sea
And we paddled in the water
Where the air was fresh and free

In the Thirties and the Forties
When Cavan football did us proud
The Oldcastle train with full steam ahead
Carried the East Cavan supporting crowd
From early on Sunday morning
In sunshine or in rain
The pedestrians and cyclists
Were all heading for the train

But now the steam trains
are no more
The railway lines all dug up
There’s no smoke along
the Balgree hills
No sign of the Sam Maguire Cup
But I dream my dreams as I stand and wait
At the bus stop in the rain
I recall that cosy waiting room
For the Grand Oldcastle Train

Christmas Memories of Mullagh

It's strange at this time of the year
How our thoughts go rambling back
To the friends we met and sometimes lost
Along life’s busy track.
To our loved ones now departed
Or our exiles far away
Who can no longer be with us
To share our Christmas Day

My memory takes me back again
To many years ago
When I waited up for Santa Claus
To come tripping through the snow.
As I walked up the lane on Christmas Eve
All Cloughbally seemed alight
With candles in each window
To guide the travellers through the night

When we gathered round for midnight mass
St.Kilian’s Piper Band
Would march around the Chapel grounds
With music sweet and grand.
In the choir we sang Adeste
And when we sang the Silent Night
The congregation all joined in
And sang with all their might

In later years when Santa left
And boyfriends did appear
I got fur backed gloves and fur lined boots
And a wrislet watch one year.
We had a round of Christmas parties
Which lasted all night long
We danced half sets and the old time waltz
And sang our favourite songs.

The postman was a welcome guest
With his heavily laden sacks
He brought no ESB nor Phone Bills then
Nor demands for farmers tax.
Instead he brought good tidings
From our loved ones far away
With sterling pounds and dollars too
To help us on our way

Well! we hear debating every date
That Christmas is not the same
With inflation high and wages low
That its all a money game
But I can’t agree I still believe
That the spirit is still there
To remember friends at Christmas time
With our joys and tears to share

Mullagh Fair

The last Friday of every month
Is a day I can’t forget
‘Twas the monthly fair of Mullagh
When all the jobbers met
From early Thursday afternoon
We’d hear the drovers about
As they rounded up the cattle
From the countryside about

The drovers stayed in Bracken’s
The only lodging house in town
At crack of dawn next morning
The whole town would come alive
Man, woman and child got busy
Like bees around a hive

Each little home was turned into
An eating house that day
Serving breakfasts, dinners, coffees
And good strong cups of tea
While the carts of pork and suckers
Were in rows along the street

By early morn’ the bidding would start
And the bargains they were made
With a spit on hand and a firm hand clasp
The money then was paid
To the public house they’d then adjourn
And the luck penny handed out
The deal would then be firmly sealed
With a pint or two of stout

The hawkers placed their stalls
Along the centre of the street
They’d sell cures for coughs and falling hair
Or corns upon your feet
They’d sell working clothes for every day
And suits for Sunday best
And Mickey and Rope with tongue so glib
Made sure they were all well dressed.

They’d sell household goods and
Tableware and lovely china jugs
Fancy pots for underneath the bed
As well as plates and mugs
Paddy Carroll had his fish stall too
With herrings fresh and sweet
With gift of the gab he’d entertain
To hear him was a treat

The musicians always came that day
They never let us down
I remember red-haired Boylan sing
The Bridge Below the Town,
When an old man played with violin
We’d all stand around and gawk
As he drew the bow across the strings
He could almost make it talk

By evening time the town was cleared
And all that could be found
Were a few stray dogs or
Maybe calves and boozers hanging round
The aftermatch of each fair day
Wasn’t good for our hygiene
So the footpaths always were
washed down
And the streets swept nice and clean

Well, the fairs have gone
The business now is all done
through the mart
No cattle standing on the green
No suckers in the cart
The jobbers are redundant too
We don’t see them anymore
The brown laced boots and trilby hats
Are hung up behind the door

The hands of time have changed a lot
The country way of life
And modern ways have eased a lot
The hardship and the strife
But I can’t forget when as a child
The excitement that was there
Because we always got the day off school
For the Mullagh Monthly Fair

Handball Poem

The Alley in question is Virginia Handball Alley
by Jack Robinson (circa 1930)

Some time ago ‘twas whispered ‘round
That if we got a piece of ground
We’d spend at least five hundred pounds
to build a grand ball alley
we held a meeting in the hall
and every lover of the ball
attended there both great and small
it was a mighty rally

They said that golf had lost its fame
that football was a vulgar game
we see so many young men lame
it’s quite a serious matter
but handball as the people knew
was patronised by Brian Boru
he built a famous alley too
somewhere in Stoneybatter

The next thing was the hat went round
and fowler gave a plot of ground
it only cost about five pound
to buy it out for ever
the site was chosen on a spot
not far away from Fairview cot
you could not find a nicer spot
convenient to the river

The next thing was to clear the ground
and if some people could be found
that had some land about the town
perhaps he’d do it gratis
they searched about to find a man
they sounded Arnold, Matt and Dan
but no one could adopt their plan
and then they thought of Matthews

As soon as Jimmy crossed the style
we saw at once ‘twas virgin soil
he rubbed his hands and with a smile
said he “twill be a winner”
I’ll send the men without delay
to cart the blooming stuff away
‘Twill be of use some other day
we’ll start it after dinner

‘Twas master Reilly drew the plan
the clerk of works was patent Dan
you could not find a better man
from Derry to the Shannon
He’ll build the walls two feet thick
all lined with white enamelled brick
with granite coin from Carrick click
the architect was Brennan

He says the roads are now complete
except some potholes in the street
from now until the council meet
all work has been suspended
His men are now improving lanes
or clearing up some boggy drains
so if they want his time and brains
he’s quite prepared to lend it

The cutting of the sod was made
by that young sportsman Sam McQuade
He did it with a brand new spade
I don’t know where he got it
He’s not a man for buying tools
but when he meets some careless fools
He quite forgets the golden rules
i’m sure he never bought it

And now the work is well in hand
they’ll want to buy the lime and sand
a concert by the new string band
should be announced for Sunday
And if the day is fine and fair
we’ll hold it in the open air
and charge them half a crown a pair
then start the work on Monday

The masons came from far and near
with shining trowlers bright and clear
they said the porter was to dear
and none of them could buy it
In every place they worked before
‘twas just a tranner and no more
unless the sell it something lower
we can’t afford to buy it

McDonnell sent his foreman round
and every trader in the town
agreed to pull the porter down
they said we can’t deny it
The workman is our only friend
the farmers very seldom spend
unless to gain some selfish end
they’re not linclined to buy it

A neat contrivance fixed in place
just fifteen cubics from the base
records correctly every ace
I don’t know what they call it
But experts say that this machine
reflects the numbers on a screen
twas patented by Paddy Green
and Murray that installed it

The Munterconnacht forty niners

On the fifty day of December in Nineteen
Forty Nine,
The boys in blue in colours new togged
out in tick of time.
Right after them came Annagh men, like
lads going to their drill,
And the game it was soon started, by Tom
Reilly from Cootehill.

The Annagh boys they were no match, for
the lads from the Lakeside,
The boys in blue came smashing through
on a score of twelve to five.
I salute those gallant heroes that played
their way to fame,
If you’ll bear with me a moment, I’ll tell
of each mans name.

Brave Paddy Tuite from Knockaveigh in
the goalmouth there he shone,
Not even once could Annagh beat, this
great custodian.

Jack McGovern right fullback, cool, calm
and very sound.
With Mattie Farrelly on the left jumping
high he pulled them down.
And in the centre there he stood, a man of
great renown.
His name was Ambrose Canning, from
old Virginia town.

The halfback line they were sublime, they
gave a great display
And the hero of the hour was a chap called
Pat McCabe.
Young Paddy Farrelly on the right he too
did play his part,
And Michael Donoghue on the left, that he
mastered Cormac North.

The centre field was glorious and the story
they did tell.
The Annagh boys tried all they knew but
at their feet they fell,
Big Pat Conaty from the hill, he pulled
balls from the sky
And young Ernie Flynn from
Crossafehin who had mastered Tony Tighe.

The six forwards were magnificent and played it at their ease,
Liam Hetherton from Ballydurrow, he was deadly at the frees.
Pat McGovern from the town, he was always there on time.
But young John Mac was the boy that cracked, the Annagh half back line.

Miles Duffy from Virginia, he couldn’t have done more,
In one great forward movement, he got a vital score.
With Paddy McGovern on the left, he was always on the spot
and to his very special friends this lad
was known as ‘Tot’.
And on the square a man stood there
whom Paul Russell called a ‘sinch’
He hails from near the Croghan wood, and
his name was Bartle Lynch.

So now my song is ended and you have
them in line,
The men who brought us victory in
Nineteen Forty Nine.
We salute those gallant heroes, for
it is forty years or more,
Since the boys in blue brought
honour to our grand Lough
Ramor Shore.