[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]
They hadn’t met for fifty years, or was it fifty-one?
They’d parted when their ship arrived their separate ways to run.
The old Baptismal Register back home in County Clare
Held both their names in faded ink, the same day written there.
Together in the parish school they conned the ABC,
Together, too, they went along to join the seminary.
Together in their long white albs with new-anointed hands
They took the yoke and sailed away to work in foreign lands;
Nor did they meet again till now, when, each upon his stick,
Two bony hands are gripped, and Father Pat meets Father Mick.
The spring and summer days have gone, the winter’s nearly through,
Says Father Pat to Father Mick, “And here’s long life to you.”
Says Father Pat, “’Tis fifty years; and how the time has gone.”
Says Father Mick, “I think you’ll find it’s nearer fifty-wan.
“And how’s the world been treating you these many summers past?
You don’t look one day older, man, than when I saw you last.”
“That all depends,” said Father Pat, “upon the point of view,
But thanks for them kind words, Mickeen, and here’s respects to you.
And how is this and how is that? Now tell me have you heard
From those who took the step with us. I haven’t had a word
At all at all, since we came out, from Mat or Tim or Con
These fifty years.” Said Father Mick, “’Twill soon be fifty-wan.”
But whether it was fifty-one or just the fifty neat
The time went by as time will do when after years we meet:
A kindly fairy flitted in to touch the past with gold,
And two old fogies gazing back forgot that they were old.
The Irish larks were in the skies, the Irish hills were green,
There came the smell of new-mown hay along the old boreen:
Old friends were met, old tales retold again and yet again —
“Ho, ho, begob,” said Father Mick, “it was a grand world then.”
And when at last the parting came and twitching fingers met,
It might have been the wintry breeze, but four old eyes were wet.
Said Father Pat to Father Mick, “A mighty treat it’s been;
Now, can’t we meet again, and soon? We’re getting on, Mickeen —
The years are passing overhead, and passing dreadful quick;
Don’t wait another fifty.” “Fifty-wan,” said Father Mick.
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954
begob = an Irish exclamation, a euphemism for “By God”
boreen = a narrow country lane; from the Irish word bóithrín, meaning “a little road”
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