The Carey’s [poem by John O’Brien]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921.]

The Carey’s

Their new house stood just off the road.
A fine big brick two-storey,
All gabled, tiled, and porticoed,
To flaunt its owners’ glory.
We never had, to tell the truth,
At Carey’s door alighted,
We had good reasons too, forsooth —
We hadn’t been invited.
But down to Mass we passed the gate,
And passed it, too, returning,
And hid away in mien sedate
The grievance in us burning.
But in the Old Mass Shandrydan —
Well, envy little varies —
We heard “herself” and her good man
Discourse about the Careys:

“Wisha, that big house of Carey’s with its power of fal-de-daries.”
“Faith, he’s in the bank to build it, so I hear the people say.”
“It will break him now to clear it; and it’s grieved I am to hear it;
Wisha, I wouldn’t be in Carey’s boots to-day!”

They came here in the early days,
And settled down as neighbours;
With tilted carts and bullock-drays
They shared our griefs and labours.
We tramped it to the old bush school,
In fine or rainy weather;
And there upon the dunce’s stool
We tools our knocks together.
But now they stood for “class” among
Our little congregation;
And, as they passed us by, they flung
Mere scraps of toleration.
And sometimes down to Mass they’d bring
Fine strangers holidaying,
Who laughed and gushed at everything
Within their orbit straying.
By soft white hands and modish gowns
They sought the world to measure,
And seemed to think our reach-me-downs
Were staged to give them pleasure.
And, faith, it set the tongues a-wag
And entertained the flippants
To see the fifteen-guinea bag
That held the little “thrippence,”
While in the church they plied the fan
And practised like vagaries;
So in the Old Mass Shandrydan
We gave it to the Careys:

“Wisha, did you see the Careys? They’re the high-falutin fairies.”
“Tell me, who were them play-actors there that had so much to say?”
“Och, the antics and the wrigglin’, and the goin’s-on and gigglin’ —
Wisha, did you see the Careys there to-day!”

They sometimes drove a spanking pair,
Which brought them speed and honour;
They sometimes drove a pacing-mare
With straps and pads upon her;
They covered us with clouds of dust,
As thick as we could wear it;
And we could plod, as needs we must,
And keep the faith and bear it.
When skies were blue and days wore bright,
And leaf and bud were sprouting,
They came to Mass in splendour dight,
To make a Sunday’s outing;
But when the mom was blank with storm
And winter blasts complaining,
The Careys kept devotion warm
Beside their fire remaining.
So, while the chilling torrents ran
And soaked our best figaries,
Within the Old Mass Shandrydan
We pummelled at the Careys,

“Wisha, where were all the Careys? Sure the rain might melt the fairies!”
“Faith, and if it was the races then, they wouldn’t stop away.”
“That’d be another story; there they’d be in all their glory —
Wisha, what could keep them all from Mass to-day!

And when we held the big bazaar —
A fine and lively meeting —
And people came from near and far,
In buoyant zeal competing,
’Twas rush and gush and fulsomeness
And Careys superintending;
They raced about in evening dress,
And deftly dodged the spending.
We might have been in Amsterdam,
Or somewhere out in Flanders;
We sold some tickets for “the ham”
And stalked about like ganders.
So when we gathered up the clan,
And sought our distant eyries,
Within the Old Mass Shandrydan
We blazed it at the Careys:

“Wisha, did you see the Careys, like some wild things from the prairies?”
“Faith, I never met ‘the bate’ of that for many ’n many a day.”
“Sure it’s pounds we would have taken with them tickets for the bacon,
If them thuckeens* of the Careys were not always in the way.”

And when the little choir we had
In tender hope was springing,
And nervous lass and awkward lad
Were mobilized for singing,
We all went down our own to hear,
As holy triumph crowned them,
But Careys sailed in shrill and clear,
And silenced all around them;
Our Nellie’s range they quite outran,
And even Laughing Mary’s;
So in the Old Mass Shandrydan
We pitched into the Careys:

“Wisha, did you hear the Careys? Don’t they think they’re fine canaries?”
“Yerra, wouldn’t you think they’d hold the tongues, and let the people pray!”
“Faith, my head is all a-reelin’ from them Careys and their squealin’ —
Wisha, did you hear them shoutin’ there to-day!”

The angels, in their peaceful skies
Through starry paddocks straying,
Must sometimes smile with kindly eyes
To see the tricks we’re playing.
Now rosy-cheeked and smart and fair
Was Carey’s youngest daughter;
And lo, our Morgan did his hair
With mutton-fat and water;
But days and days the lovers spent
On thorns (and roses) treading,
Till down to Carey’s house we went,
Invited to the wedding.
For life’s a fine comedian,
Whose programme shifts and varies,
And in the Old Mass Shandrydan
We smoodged a bit to Careys:

“Wisha, now we’ll see the Careys in their weddin’ fal-de-daries!”
“Faith, I mind the time the Careys slep’ beneath their bullock-dray.”
“Sure, I wouldn’t hurt their feelin’s, though I never liked their dealin’s;
“An’ if just to please poor Morgan, I’ll be nice to them to-day.”

* Celtic for “flapper.”



Published in:
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921

Editor’s notes:
faith = in this context, an old exclamation, dating back to 1420, meaning “By my faith!”; although, according to Shane Walshe, it has been overused in later times in literary, stage, and television productions to convey Irishness, especially in the “stage Irish” phrase of “Faith and begorrah” (begorrah being rarely used in modern Irish speech) — Walshe says that “stage Irish” phrases like “begorrah”, “Faith and begorrah”, and “Top of the morning to you” are more the province of television stereotypes and tourism promoters, whilst Terry Eagleton has wittily remarked that “if you hear anyone saying ‘Begorrah’ during your stay in Ireland, you can be sure he’s an undercover agent for the Irish Tourist Board pandering to your false expectations” [see: Shane Walshe. Irish English As Represented in Film, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main, 2009, pages 260-262]
smoodged = kissed; a variation of the word “smooched”
thuckeens = young girls
wisha = an Irish exclamation; P. W. Joyce says that wisha is “a softening down of mossa” and defines “mossa” as “a sort of assertive particle used at the opening of a sentence, like the English well, indeed: carrying little or no meaning. ‘Do you like your new house?’ — ‘Mossa I don’t like it much.’ Another form of wisha, and both anglicised from the Irish má’seadh, used in Irish in much the same sense.” [see: P. W. Joyce. English As We Speak It in Ireland, Longman, Green & Co., London, 1910, pages 296, 351]
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, page 62]

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