Going Home to Mayo, Winter, 1949 (a poem by Paul Durcan)

Leaving behind us the alien, foreign city of Dublin
My father drove us through the night in an old Ford Anglia,
His five-year-old son in the seat beside him,
The rexine seat of red leatherette,
And a yellow moon peered in through the windscreen.
‘Daddy, Daddy,’ I cried, ‘Pass out the moon,’
But no matter how hard he drove he could not pass out the moon.
Each town we passed through was another milestone
And their names were magic passwords into eternity:
Kilcock, Kinnegad, Strokestown, Elphin,
Tarmonbarry, Tulsk, Ballaghedereen, Ballyvarry;
Now we were in Mayo and the next stop was Turlough,
The village of Turlough in the heartland of Mayo,
And my father’s mother’s house, all oil-lamps and women,
And my bedroom over the public bar below,
And in the morning cattle-cries and cock-crows:
Life’s seemingly seamless garment gorgeously rent
By their screeches and bellowings. And in the evenings
I walked with my father in the high grass down by the river
Talking with him – an unheard-of thing in the city.

But home was not home and the moon could be no more outflanked
Than the daylight nightmare of Dublin city:
Back down along the canal we chugged into the city
And each lock-gate tolled our mutual doom;
And railings and palings and asphalt and traffic lights,
And blocks after blocks of so-called ‘new’ tenements –
Thousands of crosses of loneliness planted
In the narrowing grave of the life of the father;
In the wide, wide cemetery of the boy’s childhood.



Filed under Ireland, Poems

17 responses to “Going Home to Mayo, Winter, 1949 (a poem by Paul Durcan)

  1. jaimeatdnmyt

    I enjoyed this poem, Brendan. There’s something about the journeying that draws you in and opens up thought.

  2. That’s right, Cymbeline … I remember saying that somewhere, but wouldn’t have known where. ‘Jack’ for ‘John Bull’, and ‘een’ as the Irish diminutive/

    Thanks, Jaime … I agree about the journeying … especially train journeys, perhaps.

  3. My daughter, before she could talk, was fascinated by the moon … she always pointed to it and made excited noises.

    ‘Wired to the moon’ is a Northern Irish expression for ‘crazy’.

  4. madeoforléans

    Brenadano Do you still have time for rugby? Good final, Biaritz fought hard but the right team won. Few too many handling errors to be a classic. Exciting try at the end.

  5. moo, I only watched a few minutes of it. I believe there were thousands of Irish people there.

  6. Will certainly watch the Champions League final, though. Cheering for Internazionale.

  7. madeoforléans

    Inter win, make it look easy. Mourinho approaches sainthood.

  8. Definitely, moo. Bayern were very poor … Robben played like Cristiano Ronaldo on a bad day. Inter handled them easily … not surprising, as they’d already beaten Chelsea and Barcelona … either of which would have beaten Bayern, imo.

  9. Back to the poem…
    This made me think of driving from Guildford to Stranraer, or rather being driven, when I was very small, on the way to get the ferry to Belfast. Too late to get going on that memory now.
    I’ve got two Paul Durkan books of poetry. I find that sometimes he is so spot on, and he is so good at touches of humour too.
    I like the way you post poems on your page Brendano. It’s nice, especially before going to bed, to read something that changes the tempo of the day.

  10. Thanks, Isobel … kind of you to say so, and this will encourage me to post more.

    Very little of Durcan’s poetry is available online. I read quite a lot of it in the 1980s, in books and periodicals. Yes, some of it was very funny, surreal and original.

  11. Extraordinary poem. There’s a lot to unpick here.

    I loved your comment B about your daughter getting excited about the moon followed by your N. Irish saying of being ‘wired to the moon’. I get that!
    I might just borrow it one day.

  12. Hi Flavia … nice to see you. A variant is ‘wired up to the moon’, or ‘wired up’ for short … this was used a lot by my future wife and her friends when I first met her … not always about me. 🙂

    Chris Rea has a song and album called Wired to the Moon … I think he’s a Middlesbrough Irish-Italian.

  13. Cymbeline, please don’t ban yourself. I was delighted when you showed up here.

    As I have just mentioned, am not very sober just now … but hope to speak to you soon.

  14. He knocked the whiskey back
    his friends considered him disgusting
    He only ever drank when the bar was black
    A down and out friend shrugged, suddenly lusting

    They hit the whiskey hard
    glasses on constant clink
    Carry on and they’d soon be barred
    it continued like this, their boisterous arm in arm link

    Faces hard as leather
    bodies light as a feather
    All of the customers gasped
    while lil old lady Monica laughed

  15. thank you for the Durcan…just what I needed in the moment

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