POEMS FROM THE BOREEN is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook form.


A chapbook


Tom O’Brien

(c) 2016 Tom O’Brien

The moral right of the author has been asserted. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, journal or magazine.

First printing

Published by tomtom-theatre


Those green forgotten valleys,
No longer can be seen
Lying hidden behind the tall fir and larch
That have made these brown hills green
Relentlessly marching down the hills
Burying everything in their wake
The dead are long gone from this place
The pike no longer in the lake
The houses just hollow shells now
Where the past ghosts eerily through
The vacant windows and doors
With rotted frames and jambs that once were new.
Back then there was no silence, only the sound
Of human laughter, and bird-calls to each other
The dogs growling at a wayward sheep.
And children’s scrapes kissed better by their mother
Nature is having the last laugh now
Soon there will be no trace of us at all
As the trees come marching down the hillside
No one hears the lonesome curlew’s call.


September is the loveliest month.
The sky is on permanent fire
The trees painted many colours
Burnished, it seems, with pure desire
In the park, ducks glide silently by
And the always busy seagulls
Resemble sea-planes
Coming in to land from on high
Whilst near the dozing oak tree
The squirrels nutmeg each other
Each acorn hoarded
For the soon-to-come cold weather.
Your arm in mine
We stroll down the park
Heading towards the sunset
Home before dark.


Where I come from is who I am:
Tangled blackberry bushes
Smoke rising from a solitary chimney
The pine grove in the distance
And Father shouting
“More water in that barrel”
As we bucketed it from our well
To our asses cart,
Creel-less for once.
Other days Neddy would be laden down
With wood from the nearby thicket
Ash trees, young Sally’s, stumps of furze bushes.
Sometimes he hauled sand and gravel
From the quarry at Carroll’s Cross,
Part of Father’s master plan
To build us an outside toilet.
This would mean more water from the well
To feed the tank on its roof,
Unless it rained a lot
Which of course it often did
In our neck of the woods.


Ah Lackendara
You heard the voices too
At Passchendaele where you
Cowered as the big guns
Bombarded your world to silence
Blasted your thoughts to kingdom come
And left you forlorn
On that ragged outcrop
In the foothills of the Comeraghs
The fox and the curlew your only companions
The gurgling Mahon Falls
All there was to quench your thirst.
For thirty years you trod those hills
Taking little notice
Of ordinary life around you going on
Your presence on the mountain a constant reminder
Of mans’ inhumanity to man.


Like oceans behind my eyes
The blue lagoons of Mayo glittered in the mist
‘Blue lagoons of Mayo? – Christ that’s rich’, remarked O’Hare
‘Unless the bogs have changed their colour since I resided there’
‘I remember ploughing through the Mayo wind and rain
And ne’er a pinch of blue did I ever snare
Do you remember The Playboy of the Western World?
Christy Mahon – now he could tell you a thing or three
About bogs, blue or otherwise
And windswept, storm-ridden, mackerel skies
He thought he killed his father
But no such luck
Like a faithful old dog
He followed Christy fretfully through mist and fog
Howlng into the wind
You never killed me with your loy
That time back there in the bog, boy’ ‘.


Every month a ritual enactment
For the rent man
Mother, floury nose and doughed-up hands,
Smiling practice-perfect
Us children banished to the scullery,
A whispered ‘don’t you laugh now’
A silent prayer
And the teapot ready
Beside the rent book.
Every month ‘good morning Mrs Moran’
Lovely day to be sure’ and
YesI will have a cup of tea, thank you’
And every month a glowing red nose,
Lit up like a hot coal.
Every month silence from the scullery
Until the day little Tommy fell off his perch
And tumbled through the scullery door
To land in a heap in front
Of that illuminated face.
And then mother turning,
The sugar bowl in her hand
Saying – much too casually –
‘How many sugars would you like on your nose?’


I never thought I’d say
That Ireland is to me
Just another piece of ‘real-estate’ today;
The place where we murdered rabbits
On nights both windy and dark
Giving them that old one-two
With a rigid hand behind the neck;
The place where we captured hares
For coursing in the glen
The blood coursing wildly through our veins
As Morrisseys lurcher
Swept them up from behind – again
The place where Mass was said
And Politics pled
On Sunday mornings
Outside churches
While inside, the sermon was read;
The little man was important then
And favours done or causes won
Were little enough
To cause much concern to anyone
Not any more
Now that the greedy guts hold all the floor
And all you hear is rampant cheers
And raucous shouts for more
And more…
And more…
And more…


It’s that time of year again
Blackberries everywhere;
Black fingers, black lips
And nobody seems to care.
We picked them as youngsters
Way back when;
My mother making some pin money
By collecting them for the Blackberry Man
Who called round once a week
In his big truck
And shovelled our offerings
Into his steel bin
As close-packed as they would go,
Dripping black water as he worked;
Mothers little trick of making them heavier
Than they should be
Was to add water to the barrel.
I see you were out picking them in the rain again, Mrs O’Brien
Was his only comment as he handed over her payment,
Here’s an extra half crown for your trouble.


The cows were in the fields again today,
Lowing softly
As they grazed their lives away.
What thoughts did they possess
As they chewed their grass so sweet;
Did they think about their comrades
That they did daily meet;
Or the colour of their skin
As they passed in the noonday sun;
With their patchwork blankets skin-tight
As they congo-ed past as one.


Walking through an ancient woodland
Wildflower meadows glinting through the trees
Man and nature working together
The whistle of unseen songbirds drifting on the breeze.

Watery flatlands and Roman dykes
Juxtaposed with hydro-electric pumps
Stratiform precipitation falling from nimbostratus
Condensing into water droplets that look like rainy lumps.

Grey unchanging weather that doesn’t go anywhere fast
Two woodpeckers on a grass verge looking for ants
A kingfisher unzips the air
And a shrew lies dead by the river banks.

Worms brought to the surface by tapping rain
A sparrow hawk hunched in a leafless ash tree
While above a coven of goldfinches cause a riot – again.
An April walk through the sunshine and showers
Huge, creamy candles of horse chestnuts hang down
Still locked inside ripening green flowers

This is farmed arable land
But laymen have long lost interest
Where food come from anymore
Apart from what’s written on the packet inside the supermarket door
The rain falls on everything
Both the living and the dead
Walking has deepened my feeling for outside
This is my week of getting wet.


God in his heaven never bettered this;
Never hit perfection more square-on.
Rugged cliffs lip the strand,
Opening to fields behind,
The Atlantic, white-layered,
Sweeping into the bay,
Its hurry washed-out
By the tug of sand, gently rising,
Before it.

A tangle of marram crowns the dunes,
Tousled, like windswept hair;
Whilst, on the slopes nearby,
A line of white cottages
Vie for prominence with the old church

Yet, it is the call of the waves
That steals most of the aces;
Those riderless white horses
Sweeping relentlessly in,
With their whispering lisps;
‘I love you, please don’t go,
I love you please don’t go’

And I, watching the ebb-tide dragging them back,
Silently mouthing in their wake;
‘She loves me, she loves me not,
She loves me, she loves me not…’


Nights when we were young
We raced the wind;
Banshees in our wake
Dracula lying in wait.

We had left him oozing blood
From the stake wedged in his chest
In the Rainbow Cinema.
But with vampires you could never tell

Hair slicked back, stiff with Brylcreem,
Newly perched on our Raleigh three-speeds
(with dynamo)
We explored the world,
Our winkle-pickers pointing the way.


I once knew a man
Who frightened crows for a living.
In between, he brewed cheap beer
And stole old books.
He cycled the universe
Looking for answers;
All he found was a cold grave
When he was thirty nine.


Who coaxed me screaming
Into the world in ‘46
When blizzards were raging.
(Or was it me?)
Who carried turkeys in her shopping bags
Suspended on the handlebars of her bicycle
(going to see the turkey cock)

Who picked blackberries with purple hands
And topped the full barrels with water
To increase her payment from the blackberry buyer
(her pocket money she called it)

Who ate dilisk on June Sundays in Bonmahon Strand
And washed her feet in the foamy salt water near at hand
Who grew fat when I was ten
And was bed-ridden till grandma came;
Then the doctor gave her something
That made her thin again


Footprints on sand are washed clean
Nature’s way.
Likewise those on grass
Never intend to stay.
The fox, the rabbit, all creatures of the wild
Over hill and dale can pass;
Only humans heed the warning signs

I was weaned on country music
Rock-n-roll and poverty
Irish style.
Son, the priest said,
Put that guitar away
And get that hair cut right
And don’t play
‘I Can Get No Satisfaction’
It’s a sin to call yourselves
The Red Devils, he said,
And in his shadows
I could see mother nodding her head.
So we became The Royal Dukes,
Zig-zagging across Munster
And played ‘Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown’
This will not do, he roared,
Rattling his pulpit,
The youth of my parish,
Harbingers of the Devil’s music,
What is wrong with Frank Ifield?
Dead music, Father, I told him
And offered to debate it
But he wouldn’t listen.
So I emigrated.

My mum says you’re my dad
The words ripped through me
Like a chainsaw through soft timber
Then scattered like spindrift
Along the sea wall
Lean young people glistened in the sun
While my heart pounded
And the young boy,
With shoulders rounded,
Hurried along to keep up with his mum
It was true; I was his father,
Of a sort.
Ten years ago I was for sure;
Ten lifetimes since I
Had slammed the goodbye door.


Maybe it was a dream I once had
This part of Ireland with no lights on
A place where strangers
Looked over the border
With razor-blade eyes
Where tall trees swayed South
From one vast plantation
And bowler hatted drum-bangers
Stomped the streets like toy soldiers.
A game – perhaps that was it;
Where the lowest common denominator
Was religion…or the lack of it.


The picture house is full of it tonight;
See that old woman?
She has three carrier bags of it
To comfort her in her doorway.
Belfast Johnny has two bottles
Of it in his greatcoat pocket
And eight shiny photos of it
Bridging the gaps in his shoes.
The preacher ladles out doses of it
With hot soup. Georgie Best,
Rock-n-Roll, wedding vows,
They are all part of it.
The past follows you around:
Like a faithful old dog
It never leaves your side.

Autumn mornings are best;
The sun smiling low over the gasworks
Flighty leaves browning the common
Kites lark-high over the tree-tops
Coffee and a roll in the old rectory
And you by my side

When I was knee-high to a man
And fields were free
We picked mushrooms
On mornings such as this
Barbed wire, where it existed,
Was negotiable.
Now the Stalag-masters have returned
And fenced us out

Or is it in?


Woke up this morning
Barbered the lawn
And bathed in the scent
Of new-mown grass

There, said the Sun
Smiling on my efforts
Isn’t that better
Than sitting on your arse.


Now there’s a pastime for you;
Young enough not to know better
We taught ourselves how to,
And sometimes paid the price

We carved figures of eight
Figures of three and five too
While Hopper McGrath kicked a hole in the shallow end
With thumps from the heel of his shoe

But nature had the last laugh
And slid him into a clump of nettles
And the breath laughed from the rest of us
Like steam from the spouts of kettles

Cracked ice, grass-crunching like apple-munching
Shiver-me-timber dancing
The old farmer prancing
And helter-skelter
For the school-yard shelter

Nowadays skating on thin ice comes easy


Father always hummed at the milking
Pausing only to say ‘easy girl, easy there’
When a troublesome horse-fly struck

Sitting on his three-legged stool
His pail clamped between his thighs,
He caressed old Daisy’s belly with his head
And sometimes sank his fist into the wrist
When she lashed out

The sound of milk hitting the pail
Was like rain dancing on corrugated steel
He could hit one of those flies
At three paces with one long squirt.

Sometimes he practiced on me.



Tom O’Brien is a native of Kilmacthomas Co Waterford Ireland, and is a full time writer, playwright and poet.
Performed plays include Money from America, Cricklewood Cowboys, On Raglan Road. Johnjo, Gorgeous Gaels, Brendan Behan’s Women Down Bottle Alley, No Blacks, No Dogs, No Poles, etc
Books include Letters To Mother and Other Dead Relatives, Cricklewood Cowboys, The Shiny Red Honda, The Missing Postman and Other Stories, etc

His first 2 collections of poetry ‘67’ & ‘67+’ are available online

All his books are available on http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tom-OBrien/e/B0034OIGOQ/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1388083522&sr=1-2-ent

Website: https://gorgeousgael.com/


Tom has lived in Hastings UK since 2000.

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