Sunday, 26 June 2016


Shaughnessy's Bridge in winter, not far from my ancestral home; built to control the flow for the power station at Ardnacrusha, a favourite swimming and fishing place in Summer.

Gort-a-callow, marshy field,
Where my forebears lived,
Beside the canal beside the isle,
Where potheen was distilled,

 Beside the strange flat stone, Corr-clough,
Where the bedrock broke through,
Where the devil played a game of cards
To capture the soul of Hugh,

Who whistled for his dogs in time,
When finally he looked down,
And saw the cloven hoof
Upon the stony ground,

But found his two brave hounds stone cold
On the doorstep of his cabin,
When he arose next day relieved
At his escape last even,

Where my grand-dad was engaged
As keeper of the bridge,
When boats plied up and down the way,
And the canal trade still lived,

And four sons and a daughter
Were reared in spartan times,
When potheen took my grand-dad’s heart,
His fortune in decline,

And the War of Independence
Saw the family divide,
The first a captain of police,
But the rest on the rebel side,

And the pregnant daughter,
With no assets to endower,
Was entrusted to the nuns to keep
In a sheltered bower,

And my uncle Rody pointed
A shot-gun at a stopping car,
Saying, "Get the hell out of here;
I know well who you are,"

And nobody ever believed
On only my account,
And Rody never bothered
His version to recount,

And, one day as I read my book,
I almost saw a ghost,
For somebody passed the window by,
Who never reached the door,

And I heard, when Shaughnessy came round,
His great bridge to design,
Rody made him go the long way home,
For the weather was not fine

Enough to take the  rowing boat
Across the river wide,
Where many a neighbour had drowned,
When weather was defied,

And for the rising water table,
Rody got no recompense at all,
For he canvassed Oliver Flanagan
Instead of Fianna Fáil,

And one day a fisherman called in,
To beg a fist of oats,
To save him from the hungry grass
That by the river grows,

And I broke my aunt's new cast-iron pan
When she told me put it down
As I spun it centrifugally,
But it snapped when it hit the ground,

And now the family home is gone,
And the Celtic tiger brought
A fancy marina of sailing boats
To inhabit this fine spot.

Shannonside Marina, Gortachallow, Lusmagh, Offaly


  1. Gort-a-callow is the name of the place where my grandfather's house stood, beside a canal built in the 1790s to aid navigation of the River Shannon, marshy and full of islands at this spot. The building of the power-station at Ardnacrusha in 1927 made the canal redundant, as the river was divided into two channels by the engineers and each channel deepened. "Gort" means neither "field" nor "garden," but something in between, i.e., a patch of cultivated ground. "Callow" is the Irish word "cala," which means river-side meadow, flooded in winter and dry in Summer. The name indicates a patch of cultivated ground beside callows.
    "Corr-clough" was the postal address, the name (meaning "strange stone") of the adjoining townland where the Killeens owned about 2 acres of land, including the strange stone that lay bare in the ground. A poor man who lived in a cabin nearby, coming home from a gambling session late at night, was challenged to a game of poker on this stone by a strange gentleman, and almost lost his soul to the man, before he saw the cloven hoof and realised he was the devil. He whistled for his two fine hounds, set them on the stranger, and raced home. Next morning, he found the hounds dead on his doorstep (or so I heard). Hard times and good times; the land and cottage were sold and now is the location of the Lusmagh Shannon Marina.

  2. I added some more verses today that were ghosting in my mind since yesterday. The fisherman who borrowed the fist-full of oats may have been Wilcon Bracken, (childhood memory remembers shapes and characters, not names), who a neighbour who I sensed was outside the community, like the character in Seamus Heaney's "The Other Side." This was because all the community at that time (except Wilcon) met together for Sunday Mass. I suggest, though it is now too late, for times have changed, that "communion" should be a meeting of all the community, no matter what persuasion (like the Galway Races), to foster compassion and understanding, not to divide into them and us.
    When the Shannon works were completed, holding back the water raised the water-plate and worsened the rising damp in my paternal home, but Rody would not canvass the party in power because of his allegiance to the other side in the Civil War. Who did he point the shot-gun at? Who could it be but my English cousins, calling to mend old fences?
    I am miss-placing the Hungry Grass, for the visitor was, I remember, intending to try a bit of fishing in the Canal, but feared the hungry grass along the canal bank. Standing on hungry-grass makes you dizzy with weakness, and you might fall down, whether on the grass or into the water, and never be found. The sensation probably, in fact, had to do with un-diagnosed diabetes.