The Little Irish Mother
Have you seen the tidy cottage in the straggling, dusty street,
Where the roses swing their censers by the door?
Have you heard the happy prattle and the tramp of tiny feet
As the sturdy youngsters romp around the floor?
Did you wonder why the wiree* comes to sing his sweetest song?
Did the subtle charm of home upon you fall?
Did you puzzle why it haunted you the while you passed along? —
There’s a Little Irish Mother there; that’s all.
When you watched the children toiling at their lessons in the school,
Did you pick a winsome girleen from the rest,
With her wealth of curl a-cluster as she smiled upon the stool,
In a simple Monday-morning neatness dressed?
Did you mark the manly bearing of a healthy-hearted boy
As he stood erect his well-conned task to tell?
Did you revel in the freshness with a pulse of wholesome joy? —
There a Little Irish Mother there as well.
There’s a Little Irish Mother that a lonely vigil keeps
In the settler’s hut where seldom stranger comes,
Watching by the home-made cradle where one more Australian sleeps
While the breezes whisper weird things to the gums,
Where the settlers battle gamely, beaten down to rise again,
And the brave bush wives the toil and silence share,
Where the nation is a-building in the hearts of splendid men —
There’s a Little Irish Mother always there.
There’s a Little Irish Mother — and her head is bowed and gray,
And she’s lonesome when the evening shadows fall;
Near the fire she “do be thinkin’,” all the “childer” are away,
And their silent pictures watch her from the wall.
For the world has claimed them from her; they are men and women now,
In their thinning hair the tell-tale silver gleams;
But she runs her fingers, dozing, o’er a tousled baby brow —
It is “little Con” or “Bridgie” in her dreams.
There’s a Little Irish Mother sleeping softly now at last
Where the tangled grass is creeping all around;
And the shades of unsung heroes troop about her from the past
While the moonlight scatters diamonds on the mound.
And a good Australian’s toiling in the world of busy men
Where the strife and sordid grinding cramp and kill;
But his eyes are sometimes misted, and his heart grows, brave again —
She’s the Little Irish Mother to him still.
When at last the books are balanced in the settling-up to be,
And our idols on the rubbish-heap are hurled,
Then the Judge shall call to honour — not the “stars,” it seems to me,
Who have posed behind the footlights of the world;
But the king shall doff his purple, and the queen lay by her crown,
And the great ones of the earth shall stand aside
While a Little Irish Mother in her tattered, faded gown
Shall receive the crown too long to her denied.
* Also known as the Chocolate Wiree (pronounced “wiry”): a very fine songster, called by ornithologists “Rufous-breasted Whistler.”
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921