Cooney’s Daughter [poem by John O’Brien, 1954]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]

Cooney’s Daughter

Well, we’ve married Cooney’s daughter with a mighty hullabaloo,
And I could wish the lot of them as far as Timbuctoo.
Huh! The airs of Cooney’s daughter with the satins and the silk,
Sure, I mind the time when ‘Cooney’s daughter carried round the milk.
Faith, she was a freckled thuckeen with a plait of fiery red
Like a crooked little finger sticking sideways from her head.
She was shabby, she was streelish when she strode behind the cow,
But she spent twelve months in Sydney — and you ought to see her now.

I was walking the veranda, at the Office,* when there came
Through the gate and up the garden path a most unusual dame,
Dressed in all the mad figaries of the latest city style;
“Here’s the dear old fellow,” says she, with a wide and toothful smile.
But I think that she was sobered by the frown that I put on,
For she asked in sheer amazement, “Don’t you know me, Father John?”

I informed her that I didn’t, then she stared point-blank at me.
“He’s forgot his little Marian! Now, wouldn’t it!” said she.
No, I’d not forgotten Marian, but that same was Mary Ann,
Without the bit of varnish when she carried round the can.
Well, I took a look at Marian when she looked the other way,
And the transformation brought about was perfect, I must say.
Not a trace could I discover of the little foxy plait,
But instead were yellow tresses peeping shyly from the hat.
By the grace of paint and powder and these things they traffic in,
She had made herself a sweet young thing, complete with teeth and grin,
Plus the latest thing in handbags — genuine leather by the way,
Just to carry her complexion, mind you, and her Craven A.
She was modern, she was super, yes; but one thing in review
Did remind me of the old days — ’twas the toe out through the shoe.

Still withal she was the finest thing that ever struck the town,
And the perfume that surrounded her ’twould nearly knock you down.
You may talk about your mannequins, your models and what not,
Cooney’s reconditioned daughter could have trounced them in a trot.
Wisha, vanity of vanities, the wise man had to say,
Yerra, Solomon, me boyoh, you saw nothing in your day;
Had you seen this apparition you’d have broke another lance,
And I would have let her have it, but I didn’t get the chance,
For she started high-falutin’, finding fault with this and that
As she tucked the yellow tresses up beneath the crazy hat.

“Oh, the church,” says she, “is shabby, should be painted, is too small.”
And she couldn’t understand how people prayed in it at all.
Well, I’m not surprised she couldn’t, with her high and mighty airs,
No, My Lady from the cowshed wants St Mary’s for her prayers.
Then the statues are old-fashioned, and all that sort of bosh,
“Poor St Patrick is a scream,” says she. “St Joseph wants a wash,
And the seats are simply awful, and the kneelers out of date;
There’s a cobweb on the ceiling and a picket off the gate,
And the fence in front is broken: it’s a positive disgrace,”
Says My Lady Cooney’s Daughter with the raddle on her face.

Yes, I know the fence is broken, and I could have told her how
’Twas an old acquaintance of her own that did it — ’twas a cow.

Still, I let it go, I spared her, though I shouldn’t have all the same,
But she bowled my sticks right over when she told me why she came.
She was going to be married and she thought it only fair
That the “Old Home Town” — that’s this place — should have the honour there.
His name was Aloysius — Aloysius Herbert Brown,
But he doesn’t like the first name, so they call him Buck in town.
It doesn’t sound so sissy, and I think so, too, don’t you?
He will drive up in his motor-car and bring a pal or two.
Such a bonzer set of fellows, and the car is just a dream,
And the sayings they come out with will just make you want to scream.

Well, she chattered of this rubbish while she wagged the powdered chin,
And she called him “the fiancé” as I filled the papers in.
At the door I left her chattering as I bade a cold adieu,
Wisha, Buck, me Aloysius, it’s meself that pities you.
But, bedad, I was mistaken when I thought the thing would be
Just the usual little wedding with the usual ceremony,
For the postman dropped a budget here which beat the very deuce,
In a dainty pink-lined envelope, and the colour, it was puce.

Yar! it simply reeked of perfume and I sniffed the thing, whereat,
Though you mightn’t believe me, “Cooney’s Daughter,” says I, quick as that.
’Twas an invitation to me from old Mrs Cooney — well!
To be here, it said, and “afterwards” at Mrs Flynn’s hotel!

Erra, “Afterwards,” how are you! Like the Marchioness of Fyffe,
Is it quiet old Mrs Cooney and at this hour of her life?
And as fine a poor old woman, then, who ever crossed the wave,
She has worked her two old hands off, she has made herself a slave
Trudging, plodding late or early, wet or dry, whate’er betide,
Just to keep that pack of numbskulls right since Peter Cooney died.
And there’s none of them can help her — not one of them worth that!
Now she makes herself a laughing-stock to please this stuck-up brat.

Well, I went along for her sake, but be the “hokey five”,
Never again will I be cot, man, as long as I’m alive.
I’m attending no more “afterwards” — that’s final now, so there!
Just a lot of tommy nonsense, a delusion and a snare;
And a hopeless disappointment was their wedding feast indeed,
Why, I had to come home here along to get myself a feed.
And that wretched fool, confetti stuff — enough to sink a boat —
Which a hussey thrun a fist of it upon my Sunday coat
Just put on for the occasion. Lookat! find me out the man
Who is putting up for Parliament and has a forthright plan
For to make it hanging matter just to chuck this stuff about,
I will vote for that lad though he be a commo out and out.
And God knows I hate the commos, but don’t lead me all astray,
I’ve the stuff for twenty sermons on the things I’ve seen this day.

And the clever coves from Sydney with their banal blethering,
Out to show us grass-fed waybacks how we ought to do the thing.
With their jests about the married state and tonicking the while;
Not a word about the grace of God to help them o’er the stile.
And the lad himself, the bridegroom, looked an awful angashore
As he stammered out the speeches, and he mogalore*
With the dead marines around him, the display me hero gave
Must have sent old Peter Cooney shaping up there in his grave.

There’d have been some fun, I tell you — there’d have been a first-rate fight —
If Peter Cooney had got out of where he is tonight.

Well, at last I left them to it and got away as soon
As the happy couple started out upon the honeymoon.
It was then I saw the motor-car, so tiny, I declare,
You could hang it on your watch-chain, and you’d never know ’twas there.
Ah! but wait: before they started some rare genius gone astray
Tied a tin behind the jumping-jack to speed them on their way;
Oh, the tatter and the clatter and the batter, do you mind,
With the cause of all the murder hopping, hopping on behind.
May God bless the hand that did it, and the brain that hatched the plan,
Here’s My Lady Studebaker, honeymooning with a can.

[at the Office] * Reciting the priest’s daily Office.
[mogalore ] * Half tipsy.

Published in:
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954

Editor’s notes:
Craven A = a brand of cigarette
dead marines = empty bottles
raddle = red ore, mark or paint with raddle, to paint (the face) with rouge
thuckeen = a young girl (Irish word)
thrun = (unknown, presumably “threw”)

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