The Durkins [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.]

The Durkins

Have you ever seen the Durkins at the Sunday morning Mass
At the little old St Peter’s week by week,
Since Old Man and Granny Durkin, then an Irish lad and lass,
Made their home upon the farm along the creek?

There’ve been Durkins and more Durkins ranged sedately in a row,
Thumbing prayer-books with the pictures through the text.
When the bench was filled with Durkins then the Durkin overflow
Had to take up fresh allotments in the next.

Years ago came Old Man Durkin when the world and he were young,
And the colleen wife he brought across the sea
With the dimples and the blushes and the brogue upon the tongue
And a little Durkin cooing on her knee.

Then another, and another as the years went marching on
And turned them into sturdy lad and lass,
But whatever were the changes, you could always count upon
Another Durkin cooing at the Mass.

Faith, Old Man and Granny Durkin left a string of them behind,
Splendid men and splendid women, loved and prized.
And the Durkins that came after kept the lesson well in mind
Till St Peter’s, so ’tis said, was Durkinized.

Yes, and some were Durkinesses, and they wouldn’t be outshone,
But of course they had to change the honoured name,
So we’ve Walshes and McCarthys and O’Connors, and so on,
But we reckon them as Durkins just the same.

There are little toddling Durkins lisping sweet phonetic prayer,
There are Durkins in the First Communion class,
There are Durkins for confirming, and as everyone’s aware,
There’s a further Durkin cooing at the Mass.

Yes, the altar-boy’s a Durkin, proper, pious and sedate,
And the choir is mostly Durkin kith and kin,
While a sober-sided Durkin, faith, he takes around the plate,
And it’s Durkin, Durkin, Durkin putting in.

Now, then, hold your tongue a minute, I know what you’re hinting at —
’Tis that everyone’s a Durkin but the priest.
You can leave that to the Sisters, for they all have noticed that,
And their wonderment at such has never ceased.

Now they’re making a novena that the Durkin altar-boy
Will develop leanings that way; and if so
There could be no heavenly gesture which would bring a greater joy
To a loyal band of mortals here below.

If the Bishop will ordain him in the little church out here
There’ll be Durkins! — ha-esh, it’s looking far ahead,
But begobs I’d love to see it. See them come from far and near,
I’ll be looking forward to it though I’m dead.

Well, Old Man and Granny Durkin take their sleep in holy ground
Where the Durkin plot is filling up, alas!
If a monument you’re seeking, well, then, take a look around,
Count the Durkins at the Sunday morning Mass.

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

Editor’s notes:
begob = an Irish exclamatory oath, a euphemism for “By God”
colleen = girl (from the Irish “cailín”)
ha-esh = (unknown; presumably an exclamation)

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