Images Of Ireland



The Poetry of Patrick MacGill
(The Navvy Poet from Donegal)


Down On The Dead End

Have You

A Lament

Listening Patrol

The Rachary Wor

The Return (Hughie Gallagher)

The Return (The boy came home)

The Song Of The Cigarette


Down On The Dead End
(On tramp, 1909)

I've toiled at the end of creation, stripped to the trousers and shirt,
I've hashed like the very damnation and squandered my money like dirt,
And jobs that are nameless I've wrought in, and deeds that are shameless I've done,
And fights without number I've fought in, and paid like the deuce for my fun.

 I've piled up the slush in the bucket, down to my knees in the drift,
Wet till I felt I must chuck it, or drop like a mule at my shift,
In dreary and desolate places, with the boss standing glowering by
At his men and their fungous-white faces, I've felt as if ready to die. 

Drink, and I've tried to keep from it, women and cards-'t was the same,
The dog will return to his vomit, the devil is boss of the game,
The red of the wine cup has hidden the adders with poisonous teeth,
The sunlight is bright on the midden, with the rot of the wide world beneath.

 Disheartened discarded, disgusted, I'm down on the deadline once more,
Beggared, benighted and bursted, the jail or the workhouse before.
Well, life had its trouble and worry, the Fates have been devilish hard,
My chances went by in a hurry, I plunged on the rottenest card.

 I haven't a pipe-full of Carroll's to cheer me while tramping it out,
And getting because of my morals a hell of a knocking about,
,-Well!  life was a foolhardy gamble and down in its by-ways I strove,
And  perhaps in the ultimate scramble I'll corner a shakedown above. 

Patrick Mac Gill

Have You
(On the road to KinIochleven, 1908.)

Have you tramped about in Winter, when your boots were minus soles?
Have you wandered sick and sorry with your pockets full of holes?

Have you wondered which was better, when your capital was light,
A plate of fish and taters, or a hammock for the night?
Have you smelt the dainty odour of some swell refreshment shop,
When you'd give your soul in barter for a single mouldy chop?
Have you sought through half the kingdom for the job you could not get?
Have you eyed the city gutters for a stump of cigarette?
Have you dossed in drear December on a couch of virgin snow
With a quilt of frost above you and a sheet of ice below? 

These are incidental worries which are wrong to fuss about;
But God! they matter greatly to the man who's down and out. 

Have you sweltered through the Summer, till the salt sweat seared your eyes?
Have you dragged through plumb
-dead levels in the slush that reached your thighs?
Have you worked the weighty hammer swinging heavy from the hips,
While the ganger timed the striking with a curse upon his lips?
Have you climbed the risky gang
-plank where a bird might fear to stop,
And reckoned twenty fathoms would he hellish far to drop?
Have you swept the dotted point
-rods and the reddened reeking cars
That have dragged a trusty comrade through the twisted signal bars?

Have you seen the hooded signal, as it swung above you cear,
And the deadly engine rushing on the mate who didn't hear? 

If you want to prove your manhood in the way the navvies do,
These are just the little trifles that are daily up to you.
And if you haven't shared the risk, the worry and the strife,
Disappointment, and the sorrow, then you know not what is life.

Have you padded through the country when the Summer land was fair,
And the white road lay before you leading on just anywhere?

Have you seen the dusk grow mellow, and the breaking morn grow red,
And the little diamond dew
-drops come to sentinel your bed?
Though your clothes were rather shabby, and your toes and knees were bare,

The little silly birdies sure they didn't seem to care;
But just sang to cheer your journey, as they would to cheer a prince,
For they saw old Adam naked, and they know no better since.

 Have you slouched along the meadows, have you smelt the new-mown hay?
Have you smoked your pipe and loved it as you plodded on the way?
Have you bummed your bit of tucker from the matron at the door
And blessed the kindly woman who had pity on the poor?
A pipe of strong tobacco (if you get it) after meals
And there's many a scrap of comfort for the man who's down at heels.
Have you felt your blood go rushing, and your heart beat strangely high,
As the smoke of your tobacco curled upwards to the sky,
When lying 'neath a spreading tree that shaded from the sun
The happiest mortal in the land, it dared not shine upon.

If you haven't shared the pleasure, that follows after strife,
You do not know the happiness that fills a navvy's life. 

By Patrick Mac Gill

A Lament

I wish the sea was not so wide,
That parts me from my love.
I wish the things men do below
Were known to God above.

I wish that I were back again
In the glens of Donegal
They'll call me coward if I return
But a hero if I fall

Is it better to be a living coward
Or thrice a hero dead?
"It's better to go to sleep my lad"
The colour sergeant said

Patrick MacGill


Listening Patrol

 I oft go out at night-time
When all the sky's a-flare
And little lights of battle
Are dancing in the air.

I use my pick and shovel
To dig a little hole,
And there I sit till morning­
A listening-patrol. 

A silly little sickle
Of moon is hung above;
Within a pond beside me
The frogs are making love 

I see the German sap-head;
A cow is lying there,
Its belly like a barrel,
Its legs are in the air. 

The big guns rip like thunder,
The bullets whizz o'erhead,
But o'er the sea in England
Good people lie abed. 

And over there in England
May every honest soul
Sleep sound while we sit watching
On listening patrol.

Patrick Mac Gill

The Rachary Wor 

Said Peadar the Rachary Wor, God rest him I
Man alive and no one could best him­-
His back wouldn't bend to the heaviest load,
And his feet were as sure on the rise as the road,
Foot-certain and fit on the hill and the bog­-
(For the level the pup and the rough the old dog).

Born and bred in Rossnagull,
Where the kindly man is never dull,
Where the cattle are good and the pastures prime,
Where no woman is old before her time.           

And Peadar! No beast of his stock was thin,
No hole in his roof let the water in.
For harvest he prayed 'neath the cloudy sky
But sharpened his scythe ere the storm was by.

And his friend: the neighbour, whose word of grace,
Brought a smile of hope to the widow's face,
And whose step was the ready step to the side
Of the friend by misfortune sorely tried-
And if this was his own for his friend, to claim,
He never stood much on his colour or name.

And Peadar at Fair.... The mart was full
Of his mountain sheep and mountain wool,
Branded and ribbiged, wether and ewe,
A man of substance whom everyone knew-
With his gnarled fingers against his hips,
His coloured dudheen between his lips. 

Woolen wrapper and woollen socks,
Bawnagh-brockhagh. Keeper of Flocks!
My!  how he stood in the market town,
Paying in guineas money down;
Ready to bargain and ready to spend
Or stand a drink to a drouthy friend.

 A man whom the neighbours spoke about
As they stood at the bar and drank their stout,
Wishing the Man of Flocks increase
Who had not his heart in the penny piece.

Strong was his house. In all things handy
Thatching a haystack or mending a pandy
Cement in a bargain. His word was bond
In his own townland and many beyond.

In Warranty certain. When he departed
All his neighbours were broken-hearted
And they gathered together and pondered o'er
The Word and Wisdom of Rachary Wor.

For thus he spoke: 'Twas me to discover
That we twist the same rope over and over.
Faith and Charity, Love and Hope
Show in the strand of the meanest rope,
And the seven threads of deadly sin
Are set in the line that all men spin.                                      

For all is the same for us man and men,
On the lift of the hill, in the lap of the Glen-
We come and we go, but the end is sure.
Kind word, act and purpose. These three endure-
For 'tis digging Of graves and sowing of corn
Now as on the day we were born.

What do we know and What have we thought?
Much, but never as much as we ought.
This thing or that thing ? Read me the riddle,
And on knotted strings, come play the fiddle!
Life is a journey, but once to make­-
Not great for foes but the friends that we make.

Not even here or in any town
Is the place for the man whose lips hang down,
Whose bitter look and jeering tone
Cuts to the heart and bites to the bone-
For three are the things that come from the devil:
The tongue, the eye and the mind that is evil.

Cursed be he of blood and name
Who jokes abroad of a womans shame-
And scant is their welcome at heavens door
Who envy the worthy and scorn the poor.

Worthy your deed! But no one knew
In your own townland what was done by you -
Now close your lips on your deed of shame,
But seven townlands will speak your name-
Though the worthy deed may be chained to its seat
The deed that is evil has supple feet.

Thus far, now further. Take heed once more
To the Word and Wisdom of Rachary Wor.

Three things accursed. The Gambling Den,
The Whisky Bottle, the Lawyer's Pen.
Once to the hazard! And Once calls Twice
To win on the Cards what you lost on the Dice.
Winning!  A gift?  No:   the luckless bait
That drags you to ruin soon or late­
For this, the say and the word of sense:
Your profit is made at a friend's expense­
Thus to the finish and this the end:
You lose your portion or lose your friend.

True of the world as of Donegal:
As the brook from the mountain sings to its fall
So the drunken man goes down to his fate,
His paunch the coffin of real estate.

Empty the bottle and empty the purse
To the end and certain, bad to worse­-
Broad acres your own, grazing and grass­-
And are gone in the dregs of the whisky glass. 

That man among men I never saw
To add to his store by the aid of the law-
Writ, summons and plea make the lawyers fatter,
Who catch their best fish in troubled water.
The fool to its refuge! The fool is shorn­
Sheep lose their best wool in the sheltering thorn.

The House of your Stay it is yours to watch,
For. a downdrop creeps through the snuggest thatch.
Look not to his faults and forget your own.
For the sin not yours was never known;
And thin the roofing that does not keep dry
A finger-nail breadth of the meanest sty.

A word in your hearing! just listen once more
'To the Wit and Wisdom of Rachary Wor.
Three slender things on which all men rest
The slender stream of milk from the breast,
The slender blade on the green corn-lands,
And the slender thread through the spinner's hands.

Three sounds of increase: a lowing cow,
The smithy sparks, the swish of a plough.
Three things strong and a house is blest :
The table, the fire, the hand to a guest.
Three are the tokens of goodly dress
Elegance, Comfort and lastingness.

Three hands and the world its best will yield:
The hand in the smithy, the byre and the field.

Three things to trouble a woman's rest:
A neighbour's butter on the bread for a guest,

 Three are the words of grace from the tongue:
 The good, the merciful, the word that is sung.

Three sorrowful things for a man of pride:
A saddle but not the horse to ride,

A narrow seat on the country's land,
The treat in the ale-house he cannot stand.

Two have feet that are often bare:
The shoemaker's wife and the smithy mare.

Three are the suits for a man to own :
One for the field where he works his lone,

A second to wear on a market day,
But the best for the church where he goes to pray.

The Gombeen Man. He is scraggy and thin
And always is getting the money in-
And the money he gathers, penny and pound,
Is fashioned round, but not to go round-
Flat to be built on, and that his say,
As he adds to his portion day and day.
He has rolls of notes and bags of gold,
As much as a wooden chest can hold;
That he has and nobody knows
What will be done with it when he goes.
 But where will
he go when he leaves it?
Where? Nobody knows or seems to care.
Dead he will count, so good folk tell,
Red-hot coins on the hob of hell.

Three things of wonder I've seen in my day:
house in which no man kneels to pray,
The thing that feeds fat and is always lean,
The tree that bears where no blossoms have been.
Three things of wonder: and these the three:
The grave, the sword and the gallows tree.

Truth has one face, but seven a lie­
All truths are good save three that try :
The truth from the tongue of an angry lass,
The truth that comes from a whisky glass,
And the truth to drive a mother wild,
The ill-timed truth from the lips of her child.

Keep your own guinea. Beware of the friend
Who sleeps while you save but is near while you spend.
Share out the loot and finish with blows-
Oh!  who is the soldier whom nobody knows!

Keep to your promise. The world will pay
Heed to "I will" while forgetting "I may."
"I may." To your thatching! Lone Widow, no hope.
"I will."  Quick!  The ladder, the straw and the the rope!

 Keep to your own counsel. A secret will be
Roared to the world when whispered to three.
"A word in your car and listen. Speak low!
None know it. 'Twas told me a minute ago."

the House of the Merry him to the door,
The one who has heard that story before.

On famine your thought when the feasting is gay-
Don't cut your scollops on a windy day.
Blessed the Meek who throw aside,
The chains of conceit, the shackles of pride-
Humble, but worthy, as corn is found
When heavy of ear, with its head to the ground.

Three times married. Just listen once more
While he speaks of his wives, the Rachary Wor.

Three things put years on a good man's life:
The curl in the gub of a scolding wife,
The purse in the petticoat he cannot fill
And the nagging tongue that is never still.

In your House be Master. But remember still,
To a man his due but a woman her will.
So Man of the House be mute in your chair
Two women and a goose make a noisy fair.

A man m the house and all to himself,
milk the cows and wash the delf­
The teapot is cold that sits on the hob,
'Tis bad with Herself not there on the job.
A fireless hearth at Wintertide
Is the single man's bed without a bride.

Better to find her, for good or ill.
Across the ditch than across the hill-
And seven leagues is a space to roam,
And I found her there and brought her home-
Oonah from Meenarood, the same
Came into my house and took my name.
Her portion strong. But she loved her gold-
To see was to have and to have was to hold,
And the decency bite folk left on her plate
Was not what they could not but should not eat.

What was she not and had she but known,
Better (her talk) to have lived her lone!
Meenarood, in her every say,
From the break of dawn to the shut of day-

And soon it was mine to understand
That I married with Oonah her whole townland.

One thing not right! Another not good!
We did it better at Meenarood!
The milk went thin and the fire went dull:
Just what she expected in Rossnagull!

I can see her now who rests in Heaven,
Seven years my wife, the mother of seven.
Tidy and thrifty she toils and spins
At the shut of day and when day begins:
And the dust she swept from the hearth and floor
Came back in gold to the woman's door.

Near-going Oonah and tight of hand
And never liked much in her own townland.
Oh! the back of my hand to her at the door,
Who never adds weight to a poor man's store­
And rusty her heart wherever she lives
Whose eye looks after the gift she gives.

So far so good just listen once more
While he speaks of his second, the Rachary Wor

We never see, though we claim to be wise,
The Last Year's snare in the New Year's guise-
The fair was at Creenan. I met her there,
The pick of the coolens at Creenan fair
And her face her portion. But bare, her feet
the road or the street.
Her quality style! Ah there the trouble-
Boots for the cradle-none for the stubble.

Conceited the coolen, cuddled and kissed,
Ring her and then you'll spancell your wrist-
And as woman's warranty set greater store
On the washing tub than the dancing floor.

Discretion her gin. Her blush a lie,
Tricky her heart, fraud in her eye,
Guile in each tress from her curling pins
Where a man's art finishes a maid's begins.

She would not yesterday 1 She will to-day!
Not strange, my son! 'Tis a woman's way­
As her fishing season has its rise and fall,
Better a sprat than no fish at all .

Skittish the woman. Her seed's the same,
For the wild duck's egg is never tame!
Softer her arms. A hangman's rope
Throttles surer when greased with soap.

Her name was Eileen from Carrigmore.
Dead thirteen years. Her children four.

Three times married. Not me to say
A word of the woman alive to-day.

Over the ditch he has cattle and land­
Oh! big is the crust in the neighbour's hand.
From the start you've striven and striving still!
What road runs straight to the top of the hill?
Butter your buffets, your stress and strain,
Yet threshing removes the chaff from the grain-
And God for your work, when he judges that same
Give so much for the job, but much more for aim.

A moment for thought. Just listen once more
And his talk of Himself - the Rachary Wor.

For seventy years I've lived in peace,
Watching my store and stock increase
March and mearing stretch far and wide,
Round land the best of the countryside,
Tilth and turbary, meadow and moor
Prosperous now who once was poor.

And all to what end when my days are told?
Clay in the face and a bed in the mould
And a prayer maybe, from those who live on
For the Rachary Wor who is dead and gone.

Will I go when the seed is set in the clay
And struggles to rise to the peep of day?
Or yet when the mowster, sned in hand,
Sweats o'er the swathes in the meadow land?

Or yet when the brave young eyes alight
Shine to the dance of a Winter night?

What matters the season? Where I lie
Will know no change when the Spring goes by-
Will know no Spring whose harvest is mown-
Will know no dance of the many I've known-

But this to all: Be merciful, kind,
And leave a name that will live behind,
At the c
ertain end all men to bless
The man who is gone, for his righteousness-
And his seed will stand, sound to prevail,
And the name that he leaves will never fail.

And thus his Word, the Rachary Wor,
A man of substance and goodly store -
And he left his holding, his hearth and home
And they buried him deep in the churchyard loam.

They carried him there one Lammas-tide,
Thrice seven years now since he died­
But the word that he left will never die
In his own Townland and many forbye,
Where they pray for him still as they did of yore,

For the soul of the good man, Rachary Wor.

Patrick MacGill


The Return
(Hughie Gallagher, son of the Widow Gallagher, 
returns to Dooran, his native townland
 with the Fairy Queen his wife.) 

WHEN Hughie Gallagher came home, his bosom filled with pride,
And brought to Dooran, as his own, his bonnie Fairy Bride,
The people gazed on her dismayed. The Widow stroked her chin:
" She's nice enough," the Widow said. " But my! she's very thin! " 

" Thin's not the word," said Eamon Wor. " To meet the work in hand
A ranny like her never yet was seen in all the land;
She's just the woman that meself would never want to own.
Thin's not the word," said Eamon Wor. " She's only skin and bone." 

More bones than skin," said Norah Friel. " Sure, I did never see
A rachary like Hughie's wife, so doncy and so wee.
He sure could hide her in his boot or house her in his cap!
I never saw a thing like that get married on a chap!” 

Said Fergus Dhu who dug for spuds: " God help us, but she's small,
The   like of her was never seen in County Donegal.
The way she walks, the way she talks, her figure, cut and shape !
I've hoked up pratees twice as big at Lammas on a graip !" 

Neal Hudagh laughed a mighty laugh, as if his sides would break
Poor Hughie Gallagher," he said. " It's you that has the cheek
To take that thing to tend your home. And married to her now,
You'll never see her bake or sow, nor churn, nor milk a cow."

Said Myles O'Malley: " Grosha Yagh! that such a thing I've seen!
God help you, Hughie Gallagher, you and your Fairy Queen!
You've house and home and stock and store, but all will go to pot,
Because the woman that ye need is what ye haven't got." 

Now Hughie turned him to his wife and looked at her and said:
Than house ourselves in Dooran, dear, we'd better far be dead.
We'll scoot, my love! " And as he spoke he caught her by the hand.
And both together toddled off again to Fairyland.

Patrick MacGill


The Return (The boy came home)                           

The boy came home from a foreign land,
Weary and wan, with his staff in hand;
Five years' absence had left their trace
On golden hair, and on sunny face.
His gait was weary, his limbs were sore;
His youthful friends knew him no more.
The grey‑haired padre passed him by
Unrecognised. With a heedless eye.
The toll gatekeeper saw him pass and go
Up the dusty road, but in years ago,
The boy was the dearest friend he had,
But the tollman's eyes with the years grew bad.
As fair as of old 'neath her summer hat,
At the cottage door his sweetheart sat,
But the white dust rose from the road on high,
And she knew him. not as he passed her by.
He entered his home with footsteps slow-
His friends forgot him, would his parents know?
God bless you, stranger," the father cries,
But the sun shone strong in the old man's eyes.
But the mother wept on his neck with joy-
My son, my son, my wandering boy." 

Patrick Mac Gill


                       The Song Of The Cigarette               

 Get thee gone, my erstwhile loved one, I am weary of your sighs,
Smothered by your fond embraces, tired gazing in your eyes
No,  I do not want to nurse him - Baby, prattling little fool-
Would he were a little older, we would pack him off to school-

No, confound the morning paper, take it from the blessed room,
I am sick of Peer-less Asquith, Cripper, and the Rubber Boom.
Now the cosy room is quiet, and I hope the world will let
Me   sit down in calm enjoyment to my soothing cigarette.

 Let me see what brand will suit me;  ah, it doesn't matter much,
Every cigarette's a pleasure, so I'll take one up as such;
Oh,  the delicate aroma!  What perfume could e'er excel ?
Oh, the beautiful tobacco and the life-inspiring smell.

  What is wine, and what is woman? Vanity, the preacher says,
If there's vanity in smoking, I am vain for all my days.
Slightly changed, what says my Kipling? Recollect ‘tis not a joke
What’s a woman? Just a woman, but a cigarette’s a smoke.

England's kicking up a racket on the passing of the Peers.
Let them pass, I care not twopence while this smoke goes past my ears;
What the mischief am I caring if the German army comes,
I will smoke in peace and paper 'mid the rolling of their drums;

Let them fly until they're stupid, man was ever vain, I know,
Why the reptiles (Latin something) flew ten thousand years ago!
All the world's a show of puppets, and the wisest of them yet
Sits behind the scenes and calmly smokes a Woodbine cigarette.

Let the sickly poet picture scenes from his excited mind,
If I'm left unto my smoking then the gods are very kind;
Let the taxing legislators tax the beer and all the rest,
If they spare my gentle Lady then I'm very surely blest;

Makers of the law and sufferers, mankind of whatever stamp,
Prince or pauper, saint or sinner, tyrant, teacher, tailor, tramp,
Leave me, and I ask for little, but that little I must get,
just a cosy spot and silence and a soothing cigarette.

By Patrick Mac Gill (1908)


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Revised: March 03, 2004 .