[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921.]
St. Patrick’s Day
’Tis the greatest splash of sunshine right through all my retrospection
On the days when fairies brought me golden dreams without alloy,
When I gazed across the gum-trees round about the old selection
To the big things far beyond them, with the yearning of a boy.
Drab the little world we lived in; like the sheep, in slow procession
Down the track along the mountain, went the hours upon their way,
Bringing hopes and idle longings that could only find expression
In the riot of our bounding hearts upon St. Patrick’s Day.
There were sports in Casey’s paddock, and the neighbours would assemble
On the flat below the homestead, where the timber fringed the creek;
With Australian skies above them, and Australian trees a-tremble
And the colours of the autumn set in hat and hair and cheek.
Mighty things were done at Casey’s; mighty bouts anticipated
Made the Sunday church-door topic for a month ahead at least;
On the cheerless Sundays after, with misguided hope deflated,
We explained away our failures as we waited for the priest.
So when morning Mass was over, it was trot and break and canter
Helter-skelter down to Casey’s, banging, pounding all the way,
And the greetings flung in Irish, and the flood of Celtic banter,
And the hectic flush of racial pride upon St. Patrick’s Day.
Everywhere was emerald flashing from the buggies, traps, and jinkers,
There was green in every garment, and a splash in every hat,
In the bows upon the cart-whips, in the ribbons on the winkers,
In the wealth of woven carpet neath the gums on Casey’s Flat.
There the new dress faced the critics, and the little beaded bonnet
And the feather flowing freely like a sapling in a gale;
And “himself” inside his long black coat that bore a bulge upon it
Where for twelve forgotten months its weight had hung upon the nail;
And the “splather” of a necktie only once a year paraded,
And the scarf that came from Ireland, “ere a one of you were born,”
And the treasured bunch of shamrock — old and withered now, and faded,
Blessed by every tear that stained it since the cruel parting morn.
Mighty things were done at Casey’s. Men of solid reputation,
Ringing bells and giving orders, kept the programme moving by;
And they made you sickly conscious of your humble situation
When they glared upon your meanness with a cold official eye.
Every “maneen” with a broken voice and backers there beside him.
And his socks outside his breeches, was a hero in his way;
Every nag around the country with a raw bush lad astride him
Was a racehorse with an Irish name upon St. Patrick’s Day.
Oh, the cheering that betokened those I knew so well competing,
With their long legs throwing slip-knots, and the look of men in pain —
Put me back into the reach-me-downs, and let me hear the greeting,
Set me loose in Casey’s paddock, where I’d be a boy again!
Yes, ’twas good to be a pilgrim in a world that held such wonders,
Though eternal bad behaviour put me neath parental ban,
Though the staring, and the wandering, and a score of general blunders
Got me gaoled behind the taffrail of the Old Mass Shandrydan.
“Yerra Johnnie, stop that gawkin.” Is it — with the pulses pumping,
And the little heart high-stepping to the music of the drum —
Is it “stop it,” with a something in the young blood madly thumping
With a foreword of the purpose of the pregnant years to come?
Mighty things were done at Casey’s. Mighty impulse was behind them,
’Twas the sacred spark enkindled that was burning to the bone;
Never yet were men more loyal to the holy ties that bind them,
And the love they gave their country made me conscious of my own.
Never yet were men more loyal. Be they met in thousands teeming.
Be they gathered down at Casey’s with their kindred and their kind;
They are marching on for Ireland, with the beauteous vision gleaming
Of the altar-fires of Freedom in the land they left behind.
Not a torch was ever lighted at a tomb where Freedom slumbered,
But it smouldered — grimly smouldered — till the stone was rolled away;
When it flashed across the half-light, rallying rocket glares unnumbered,
Like the spangled blades of morning that bespeak the march of day.
Not a voice was ever lifted, but an echo never dying
Flung the slogan once repeated when the hand was on the gun;
Though the prophet tongue was ashes, came the conquering banners flying
With a dazzling watchword flashing, blazing signals in the sun.
Yes, the world has ever seen it in its journey down the ages,
Seen it writ in living scarlet in the blood that has been shed;
And a hand re-writes the head-line deep across the lurid pages,
When the stricken, fearless living meet the deathless, martyred dead.
Thrills a leaping thought within me, when I see a land around me
That has never seen the foeman’s steel, nor heard the foeman’s shot,
At whose shrine I lit the tapers, when her witching sweetness bound me
With an iron vow of service of a pulsing pride begot;
To that big free land I’ve given all the love that courses through me;
That her hands have rocked my cradle stirs my heart in every beat.
An Australian, ay, Australian — oh, the word is music to me,
And the craven who’d deny her would I spurn beneath my feet.
Thrills the thought that, did the traitor stretch a tainted hand to foil her,
Did I see her flag of silver stars a tattered thing and torn,
Did I see her trampled, breathless, neath the shod heel of the spoiler,
And her bleeding wounds a byword, and her name a thing of scorn,
There would flash the living bayonets in the strong hands of my brothers,
And the blood that coursed for nationhood, through all the years of pain,
In the veins of patriot fathers and of Little Irish Mothers
Would be hot as hissing lava streams to thrill the world again.
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921
shandrydan = a rickety vehicle; see the poem by John O’Brien entitled “Old Mass Shandrydan”
splather = to spread about; in this context, a widely spread-out large tie (not to be confused with “splathering”, when someone is speaking confusedly; nor with its meaning as a foamy lather of spit that may form in the corners of the mouth during speaking)
taffrail = the rail around the stern of a vessel; presumably, in this context it refers to the rail of a cart
yerra = yerra or arrah is an exclamation, a phonetic representation of the Irish airĕ, meaning take care, look out, look you — ‘Yerra Bill why are you in such a hurry?’ [see: P. W. Joyce. English As We Speak It in Ireland, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1910, page 62]
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