The Old Mass Shandrydan [poem by John O’Brien]

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

The Old Mass Shandrydan

I can see it in my dreaming o’er a gap of thirty years,
And the rattle of its boxes still is music in my ears:
With a bow to family vanity it rises from the past
As the pride of the selection where my humble youth was cast.
It was fashioned in a nightmare by some wandering genius,
And it wasn’t quite a waggon, and it wasn’t quite a ’bus;
’Twas an old four-wheeled gazabo that was something in between,
And the wheels were painted yellow, and the rest was painted green
(It would waken lively interest in the antiquarian)
And ’twas known to all the country as the Old Mass Shandrydan.

It did duty on a week-day in a dozen ways and more,
And it seemed just made to order for whate’er ’twas wanted for;
It would cart the chaff to market, carry wood and hay in turn,
And the neighbours in rotation used to cadge the old concern.
But the Sundays we were due for Mass would cancel every loan,
For the Little Irish Mother then would claim it for her own.
She inspected it the day before (and criticized it, too),
And the ten of us were set to work to make it look like new.
There was one to every yellow wheel — ay, one to every spoke;
One to nail a piece of hardwood on the part “them Careys” broke:
Another from the floor of it the chips and straw would rake,
While the Dad went searching rubbish-heaps for old boots for the brake:
So we rubbed and scrubbed and hammered up, and beat the rattertan
Till it stood in all its glory as the Old Mass Shandrydan.

When at last, with velvet sandals shod, the Holy Morning crept
Through the mists above The Sugarloaf, that silent vigil kept
O’er a little old slab dwelling which the years have brushed away,
You would hear the Little Mother stirring round before the day,
Rousing sleepy heads from blankets, washing faces, doing hair,
Scolding, coaxing, bustling, breathless in her hurry everywhere.
Half the night before she laboured, and we’d hear her come and go
With the Sunday suits of “reach-me-downs” to place them in a row.
There was this to patch, and that to darn, and something else to mend;
She would see to every single thing before her work would end,
To the dresses and the pinnies — oh, the memory she had! —
There were lace-up boots for Morgan, and a clean white shirt for Dad.
And the hubbub and the murder that the household used to make,
When she had us tumbled out of bed, and painfully awake.
Here a voice in anguish lifted to announce a button gone;
Someone calling from the back-room “Mum, what socks will I put on?”
While “himself” was like a Bolshevik athirst for human blood,
Shouting “Mother,” as he wrastled with a fractious collar-stud.
But she kept the tumult under till she had us spick and span,
Packed like pickles in a bottle in the Old Mass Shandrydan.

We had ten good miles to drive to Mass — and Mass was sharp at eight;
But we’d never hear the end of it if something kept us late;
So we started ere the morning hung its bunting in the sky,
And the kookaburras chortled as we rumbled slowly by.
For the frost was on the barley, and the rime was on the trees,
And our little faces smarted with the whip-lash of the breeze,
Still we watched the branches redden to the first kiss of the sun
And we counted all the cart-wheels that the busy spiders spun,
Then the magpies sang to greet us, and our little hearts began
To forget that we were shivering in the Old Mass Shandrydan.

So the old contraption lumbered, safely towed, as Dad knew how,
By a pair of hefty elephants promoted from the plough,
And it rattled like a saw-mill, and it thundered like a dray;
Faith, you’d hear the circus coming a half-a-dozen miles away!
All along the road the neighbours used to take the time from us,
For they never made a start until they heard our omnibus;
Then a shrill soprano shouted, “Put the horses in the van,
“Them’s The Sugarloaf O’Briens in the Old Mass Shandrydan.”

We were first to Carey’s Crossing, first to reach Moloney’s Mill,
But the opposition caught us as we laboured up the hill;
Then the air became electric as they tried to pass us by,
For “himself” for family reasons (which I needn’t specify)
Kept the road in deadly earnest, and would never seem to hear
The abuse of the procession that was gathering in the rear.
Oh, they whistled and they shouted till their feelings overflowed,
But the old man in the Dreadnought was the master of the road.
It was suicide to bump it, and the horses wouldn’t shy,
So he trundled on before them with a bad look in his eye.
Then, as suddenly the whistling and the bantering shouting ceased
And a solemn hush denoted the arrival of the priest,
Would a fine “good Catholic” thunder “Yerra, shame upon you, man!
Pull one side there, Pat O’Brien, with your Old Mass Shandrydan.”

Pull! Bedad, he’d pull the town down when His Reverence hove in sight,
Pulled his hat off with the left hand, and pipe out with the right;
Pulled his family in the gutter, pulled the horses off their feet,
And a shower of small O’Briens went skedaddling from the seat.
Then they rattled loudly past us, and a wild stampede began,
For they all had family reasons to outpace the other man.
There were buggies, traps, and turnouts there of every shape and rig;
There were Murphys in a spring-cart, and the Caseys in a gig;
There were Barnes’ ponies pounding twixt a gallop and a trot,
While the Careys with their pacing-mare went sailing past the lot.
Faith, we had it in for Carey, and our disrespect increased
At the cheek of “them there Careys who would try to beat the priest.”
No, we wouldn’t stoop to things like that; we’d act the gentleman
Half a mile behind the others in the Old Mass Shandrydan.

It’s a long way back I’m gazing, and the stage has changed since then;
Just an echo finds me sometimes, bringing back the scene again.
Oh, the heart beats slower measure than it used to beat, alas,
When a Little Irish Mother dressed us all in time for Mass.
I have lounged in fast expresses, I have travelled first saloon,
I have heard the haunting music that the winds and waters croon,
I have seen the road careering from a whirring motor-car,
Where the Careys couldn’t pass us, or our sense of fitness jar;
But the world is somehow smaller, somehow less enchanting than
When I saw it o’er the tail-board of the Old Mass Shandrydan.



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

Editor’s notes:
bedad = an Irish exclamation, a euphemism for “By God”
’bus = an omnibus
shandrydan = a rickety vehicle
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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