My Writing Life



 The Comeragh girl sang a song…she sang a song of love

She sang about the curlew in the skies high above

She sang about the sunrise, and the burning feel of heather

And the long lonely sunsets in every kind of weather

(chorus) But she never sang about the times we danced together

How we kissed in the moonlight and pledged true love forever

Oh yes, we kissed in the moonlight and pledged true love for ever

The Comeragh girl said she had to go…go and find some lost treasure

I said I would go with her, that it would be my greatest pleasure

But she said she had to go, and go alone or not at all

And I heard her singing softly above the curlew’s lonely call

(chorus) But she never sang about the times we danced together

How we kissed…

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He lay in the box quite comfortably

His waxen face staring into infinity

Looking much better in death

Than he ever had in life.

It was all that I could do to peer

At him through slatted fingers

From the back of the room;

The ever-present smell of tanning

And leather aprons absent now;

More than forty seeping years of it

Scrubbed away one last time

His moped – a natural progression from pedal power

When his legs gave out –

Lay discarded in the coal shed

At the back of the house.

(No driver you see, and mother still had the shopping to do)

He dug turf, cut down young Sally trees,

And turned over his bit of stony ground endlessly.

In summer he clipped sheep slowly

With a machine bought by post from Clerys,

Carefully stowing it away in its box

When the shearing was done.

The clay pipes he sucked on – their broken stems

Held together with blood pricked from his thumb –

Were redundant now

And his three bottles of Sunday-night Guinness

Would stand corked under the counter evermore.

Who would dance half-sets with her now?

My mother enquired of no one in particular,

The smoky saloon bar stunned that the music had felled him

Knocked him to the floor in the middle of the tune.

He lay there with a smile on his face

Knowing it was over

And I never got to know what was on his mind.

We put him in the ground

And sadness trickled through me

Like a handful of sand through my fingers.

Later, everyone stood around

Eating sparse ham sandwiches

While I stood there, dry-eyed;

He was a great man they all said

Slapping the back of my overcoat;

Sure he gave forty years to that tannery

And what did it give him?

I wanted to shout to the throng;

A gold watch and a tin tray

And both had his name spelled wrong


What do you say to bodies that talk

As you pass them by?

You can’t just say Hi!

Pursed lips and straight-ahead eyes

Are somewhat at odds with surly thighs;

Nice! You want to cry

Look at me!  They silently scream

Aren’t I the cat’s whiskers,

The impossible dream?

And then they open their mouths

And it’s GOODBYE!


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…’


Hey, conveyor stop your motion

You tread on ice and leave an ocean

Once you lay in slumber deep

What was it that broke your sleep?

Standing on this moving shoal

I still can’t see my aging soul

Where you come from none can tell

Where you’re bound for must be hell

Did you, were you, will you, can you?

We in darkness bleed upon you

Babylon has come and gone

And still your engine thunders on


book available on Amazon, titled 67 PLUS


my latest book of poetry MORE POEMS FROM THE BOREEN is now available in paperback on It has been described by one critic as ‘William McGonagall on speed’! For those who don’t know who William M was he is widely regarded as the worst poet ever published! Now, there’s high recommendation! So, is this bad poetry? Well, there’s only one way to find out!

some extracts:

Raising the lights like a stage curtain
Playing little movies
Serenading me with melodies
The welcome – farewell experience
They call it
“An emotionally resonant experience”
And that digital note of appreciation
“Thank you for driving a hybrid”
As if it was something…well
Unconnected with this thing on four wheels.
And those door handles
Illuminating when they sense my presence
The needles on the instruments
Snapping to attention as I open the door
There’s a welcoming theme
Part Hollywood soundtrack
Part plane swoosh
And that puddle lamp!
A welcome mat of light.
My car is a robot I think
With a personality not just in its body
But also in its behaviour.
“How can I help you?”
It asks now
As I prepare for take-off.
I really feel like telling it
To shut the fuck up
But I don’t want to hurt its feelings

A disused rail track in south Paris;
A dark tunnel;
Crawling, wading, through water
To a dank chamber with vaulted ceilings.
This is where the cataphiles meet;
Lovers of catacombs
And all things underneath.
The walls are covered with art
Awash with glow-in-the-dark paint,
Egyptian black-and-orange devil faces,
A multi-coloured parrot image.
One wall is encrusted with mirror shards
The centrepiece a glittering disco ball
The ghostly faces leering
Down the long subterranean hall
This is the City of Light
Where nobody sleeps at night
And where the remains of six million Parisians,
Transferred from Paris’ overflowing cemeteries
More than one hundred years ago,
Now artists prowl these same catacombs
Sometimes unseen
Ghostly in their movements
The spectre of real ghosts always in their slipstream

High in the Hollywood hills
In the shadows of Sunset Boulevard
Hockney is dabbling again.
A copy of Mulholland Drive rests against the studio wall;
Outside, the land drops away;
A jungle of exotic palms and ferns
With a swimming pool at the bottom
Not much used anymore.
He doesn’t go out much these days, he says;
‘I go to the dentist , the doctor, the bookstore
And the marijuana store
And that’s about it.
I’m much too deaf to go out
I don’t really have a social life
Because socialising is talking and listening
And I can’t really listen any more’.
Okay David,
But really, the marijuana store!
I wonder if it’s the one on Venice beach
Where the aged musculatorians of Muscle beach
Tramp with regularity to the nearby marijuana clinic
To see the marijuana doctors,
In their neat green cross uniforms,
Who will prescribe some medical marijuana
For forty bucks
Or thereabouts
To anybody who needs it.
When I’m working again I feel thirty,
And when I smoke I feel like Picasso, he says
Yeah, David, okay
But that’s not the work
That’s the fucking weed.

GILMARTIN – play reading video

When Bertie Ahern resigned on May 6th 2008 after 11 years as Irish Taoiseach and more than thirty years all told in the corridors of power, it was as a direct result of the fall-out that occurred from the treatment meted out to Irish businessman, Tom Gilmartin, which only emerged in its entirety at the conclusion of the Mahon Tribunal, which had sat for almost 15 years before reaching its conclusions in 2012. Tom Gilmartin had emigrated to Luton in the 1950’s from Sligo, and over the years had built up a successful business in construction and engineering, in Luton and South East England. Now a multi-millionaire he decided in the late 1980’s to invest his experience – and money – in some projects in Dublin, where unemployment was high, and where poverty had once again seen many young Irish people cross the water in the hope of a better life. Tom had ambitious plans for several major retail developments in the city, which he hoped would provide work for hundreds, if not thousands, in the city, but little did he know that in order to do business in Dublin, senior politicians and public officials would want a slice of the action – in large amounts of cash. Embittered and impoverished by his experiences, Tom finally blew the whistle on the corruption at the heart of government and the city’s planning system. His complaints resulted in the setting up in 1997, by order of the Oireachtas, of the Mahon Tribunal to look into ‘certain planning matters and payments’. Ironically, it was championed by none other than one Bertie Ahern.


Writing is easy, you just sit at your desk and bleed. Hemingway said that. He also said ‘write drunk, edit sober’. And he also said, “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” Not that he did much of it as far as I can see; he was up in the early morning, standing at his desk, slaving away for 5 or 6 hours, then spending his evenings drinking and partying till late.

This is an extract from FOR WHOM THEY TOLL, a play about Ernest that I have been struggling with for years; it certainly reminds me of his remarks about bleeding…



Tom O’Brien

                                                               ACT ONE

scene one

A burial ground. Bells can be heard tolling in the background. Off-stage a burial is taking place. VALERIE DANBY-SMITH , a vivacious 21yr old, dark-haired and somberly dressed, watches the proceedings in the distance, a tearful expression on her face. After a few moments, GREG HEMINGWAY, not so somberly attired, arrives and looks on.

GREG:           (extending his hand)  Hello. I’m Greg

VAL:              (shaking hands)  I know.  I saw your picture.  I’m Valerie.  

GREG:           I know. I saw your picture too.

They watch the scene again for a moment.

GREG:           It’s a great day for a funeral.

VAL:              It is – if you’re not the main attraction.

GREG:           How well did you know my father?

VAL:              I worked for him and Mary for about eighteen months.  (pause)

                        He was a wonderful person.

GREG:           Yes – I expect he was. (pause) I am glad he is dead.

VAL:              You don’t mean that.  (Greg doesn’t reply) Why Greg?

GREG:           Because it means that I can’t disappoint him anymore. (he shrugs)

                        How come you’re not…?

                        (he indicates the funeral party)

VAL:              It’s a bit…delicate. I was officially invited then when Mary

 found out I was working for Newsweek…(shrugs)

You know how it is with reporters.

GREG:           No, how is it?  (laughs) Family secrets have

                        a way of escaping at funerals don’t they?

                        I can imagine Mary being mortified when she

                        realised her mistake.

VAL:              Not that I would have said anything of course.

                        But I can understand why she doesn’t want me too

                        close. (pause)  What’s your excuse?

GREG:           Oh, nothing dramatic. I simply wasn’t welcome

                        when he was alive, and I don’t suppose he’s had any reason

                        to change his mind just because he’s dead.

                        (pause) He never spoke to you?  About me?

VAL:              No.

GREG:           Not even disparagingly?

VAL:              Not even that way. I saw a photo of you once, but

                        Mary warned me never to speak of you in his presence.

                        (pause) It must have been something terrible between you.

GREG:           In his eyes it was unforgivable (he doesn’t elaborate then shakes his head.) He finally took the coward’s way out.

VAL:              Why would you say a thing like that?

GREG:           I was thinking of something he himself said about his own father. ‘My father was a coward. He shot himself without necessity’.

VAL:              He committed suicide too?

GREG:           Yeah. Almost identical. Only thing different was the gun. He used a revolver.

VAL;              Your grandfather?

GREG:           (nodding) He was a weak man. He made bad investments and was bullied by my grandmother, so he shot himself. When Papa found out the true facts he came to hate her. ‘My mother is an all time all American bitch’ he once said, ‘she would make a pack mule shoot himself. He eventually forgave his father but felt ashamed for him’. (a long pause)

                        Why did he kill himself?

VAL:              I don’t know, Greg

GREG:           He never confided in you?

VAL:              I haven’t worked for him or seen him in…oh, six months

                        You really should speak to Mary.

GREG :           My wicked stepmother?  She is in complete denial about

                        the whole affair. I read that she keeps insisting it was an accident.

VAL:              Perhaps it was.

GREG:           Do you believe that?

VAL:              No.

GREG:           Papa knew about guns. He was a crack shot.

                        How could he accidentally blow his head off

                        with a shotgun for chrissakes?

                        (looks into the distance again)

                        Look at them. Like vultures circling

VAL:              You’re wrong. They’re his friends. All his friends.

GREG:           Huh! Isn’t that Uncle Leicester I see?

                        What’s he doing there?

                        They haven’t spoken for years.

VAL:              It will hardly make any difference now, will it?

                        They are just paying their respects that’s all.

                        He was a great man you know. A great writer.

GREG:           I know that. It’s just that I wish I’d…

                        Oh Christ, I need a drink.  Where’s the nearest bar?

Lights change to signify change of scene.

The scene is now a bar, where the mourners are ‘celebrating’ after the funeral. Valerie and Greg are seated at a table drinking shorts.  LEICESTER HEMINGWAY  sees them and heads towards them. Leicester is in his mid forties, a younger version of his brother Ernest.

LEIC:             Greg!  How the hell are you?  I haven’t see you since

you were, well  knee-high to a grasshopper.

GREG:           Uncle Leicester. (they shake) It’s not that long. We spoke a

                        couple of years ago. Some convention, I believe.

LEIC:             Did we?   Nope, I don’t recall.

                        (he looks at Valerie)

GREG:           This is…

LEIC:             I know who it is. (Val and he shake)

                        Your ladyship. I seen your picture in the paper.

VAL:              All the papers seem to have used the same ones

LEIC:             They say my brother’s eyesight was fading,

                        but seeing you I am not so sure.

                        (pause) Can you tell me where my manuscript is?

VAL:              Your manuscript?

LEIC:             The one I sent to Ernest. In Cuba. You were there.

                        I know.  I read about it. Personal assistant they

                        called you. You must have opened it…in that


VAL:              Yes, I did.

LEIC:             And?

VAL:              I don’t know what happened to it. Perhaps  P…

                        Ernest read it, perhaps he didn’t. He was very

                        busy at that time.

LEIC:             You passed it on to him?

VAL:              Yes I did

LEIC:             He never commented on it?

GREG:           Uncle, this really isn’t the time…

GREG:           It was my life’s’ work goddamit. I don’t

                        want it rotting in some stinking cellar in Havana…

VAL:              It’s all right. No, he never spoke to me about it.

LEIC:             I really must have it back.

                        I wouldn’t want it to fall into the wrong hands

                        now that Ernest’s gone.

VAL:              I don’t see how I can help. I no longer have

                        any connection…

LEIC:             I think my sister-in-law may have plans for you.

                        in that respect. (he waves at somebody)

                        I do believe she has spotted us.

                        (he pauses ,then whispers conspiratorially)

                        Ernest had this thing about young women.

                        And about every ten years or so he fell in love with a new one

                        You were the next in line, you know that?

VAL:              Next in line for what?

LEIC:             The next Mrs. Hemingway. Come on, surely you knew?

                        All the signs were there

                        (Val doesn’t reply)

                        He never asked you?  Well, all I can say is that you must’ a

                        been putting out  the right signals – otherwise you wouldn’t’ a

                        been keeping him company for so long.

                        (finishes his drink)

                        Time for this old horse to find another watering hole.

                        I never could stand weeping widows.

And remember, if you do lay your hands on my

literary masterpiece, guard it with your life. 

Leicester exits as MARY HEMINGWAY enters. Mary is in her fifties, still strikingly beautiful, in a well-worn sort of way

MARY:          Well, the manners of some people!

                        What did Leicester want?

VAL:              The whereabouts of his manuscript.

MARY:          And did you tell him?

VAL:              No-oo.

Both women laugh at this

GREG:           Well, come on, where is it?

MARY:          Papa took one look at it and threw on the fire.

                        He took great pleasure in describing the colour

                        of the flame as he watched it burn. ‘Look at that – Purpley-blue.

The colour of Leicester’s cheeks I expect,

could he but see it. One genius is enough in a family’.


                        One genius less now.

                        I am glad you came, Greg. Papa would have liked it.

GREG:           I think he would be indifferent. Just as he was in life

                        I don’t like this glorifying the dead. I think we should all be

                        chucked over a cliff or down a ravine when our time comes,

                        with as little fuss as possible.

                        Let the buzzards or the coyote have us

                        Don’t you think Papa would have liked it that-a-way?

                        (he rises)

                        I’m going back to New York. Anybody coming?

                        (no reply)

                         It’s been nice meeting you Valerie.

                        I hope we can do it again sometimes.

VAL:              I ‘d like that.

(she writes something on a piece of paper and hands it to him)

Call me sometime.

Greg exits

MARY:          Greg is more trouble than he’s worth.

VAL:              What kind of trouble?

MARY:          You’ll find out soon enough.

VAL:              It’s only for a drink.

MARY:          Oh yeah?   I’ve seen that look before. (shrugs)

                        Go ahead, it’s your funeral

                        Oh Christ, did I really say that!


                        Papa’s gone. What am I going to do now, Valerie?

VAL:              My mother had a saying back in Ireland  ‘We never

                        died a winter yet’

MARY:          Meaning?

VAL:              Meaning we’ll get by somehow.

                        You’ll get by somehow.

MARY:          I intend to go back to Cuba sometime soon.

I want to try and get as much

of Papa’s personal stuff out as I can.

VAL:              Don’t you think that’s dangerous.

MARY:          Fidel Castro’s war is with America, not Ernest Hemingway.

                        Papa was good for Castro, good for Cuba.

                        The world’s greatest writer living there!

                        Besides, they were personal friends.


                        I want you to come with me.

VAL:              Why?  You don’t even like me.

MARY:          Don’t be ridiculous!  Why wouldn’t I like you?

                        As a matter of fact you remind me a lot of

                        myself when I was your age.

                        You think it’s because of Papa? How he felt.

                        Nothing happened, did it?

VAL:              Of course not.

MARY:          Well then, what are you worrying about?

VAL:              I have a job

MARY:          Newsweek? I can offer more than them.

                        Think of the excitement. The sense of adventure.

                        Remember Pamplona? The matadors, the bullfights,

                        the camaraderie. Weren’t you excited then?  Even

                        a little frightened?

VAL:              Yes.

MARY:          This will be better. Much better.

                        Can Newsweek offer you access to Papa Hemingway’s

                        private and personal papers? And a promise that you can work

on them when we get them back from Cuba?

VAL:              No

MARY:          See? No contest is it?

                        What were you going to write about today?

VAL:              Nothing. I was going to write nothing

MARY:          More fool you then.  Because I would have.

                        You forget that I was a journalist before I gave

                        it all up to look after Papa.

                        Here’s some advice;

                        Don’t let sentiment get in the way of a good story.

                        I did – and look what happened to me.

                        Well, what do you say? Cuba or bust? Valerie miles at her, but doesn’t reply

GILMARTIN – the greed and corruption at the heart of Irish politics


The greed and corruption at the heart of Irish politics

A rehearsed play reading

written by Tom O’Brien


The Club for Acts and Actors
20 Bedford Street
London WC2E 9HP


Tuesday 3rd August @ 3pm


Running time: 95 mins. approx.

Characters & cast

Maire Ann Howard/Woman – Judith Paris

Tom Gilmartin – Anthony Cable

Liam Lawlor – Paul Lavers

Bertie Ahern – Kenneth Michaels

Owen O’Callaghan – Andrew Fettes

Padraig Flynn – Tim Skelton

George Redmond –  to be confirmed

Maguire/narrator – Tim Heath

(cast appears subject to availability)

Theatres, producers, and other interested parties please contact Tom O’Brien or Tim Heath for further details.

Admission free but, owing to limited space, places need to be booked in advance. This can be done by emailing up until 10 am on August 3rd, then up until 12.30 pm. Please put ‘AUG 3’ in the subject line. Requests for places will be dealt with on a first come, first served basis.