John McCullagh July 22, 2008
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We publish here a tribute to an old storyteller of long ago.


Padraic O’Conaire, Gaelic Storyteller


by F.R. Higgins (1869-1941)

They’ve paid the last respects in sad tobacco
And silent is this wakehouse in its haze;
They’ve paid the last respects; and now their whiskey
Flings laughing words on mouths of prayer and praise;
And so young couples huddle by the gables.
O let them grope home through the hedgy night –
Alone I’ll mourn my old friend, while the cold dawn
Thins out the holy candlelight.

Respects are paid to one loved by the people;
Ah, was he not – among our mighty poor –
The sudden wealth cast on those pools of darkness,
Those bearing, just, a star’s faint signature;
And so he was to me, close friend, near brother,
Dear Padraic of the wide and sea-cold eyes –
So, lovable, so courteous and noble,
The very West was in his soft replies.

They’ll miss his heavy stick and stride in Wicklow –
His story-talking down Winetavern Street,
Where old men sitting in the wizen daylight
Have kept an edge upon his gentle wit;
While women on the grassy streets of Galway,
Who hearken for his passing – but in vain,
Shall hardly tell his step as shadows vanish
Through archways of forgotten Spain.

Ah, they’ll say, Padraic’s gone again exploring;
But now down glens of brightness, O he’ll find
An alehouse overflowing with wise Gaelic
That’s braced in vigour by the bardic mind,
And there his thoughts shall find their own forefathers –
In minds to whom our heights of race belong,
in crafty men, who ribbed a ship or turned
The secret joinery of song.

Alas, death mars the parchment of his forehead;
And yet for him, I know, the earth is mild –
The windy fidgets of September grasses
Can never tease a mind that loved the wild;
So drink his peace – this grey juice of the barley
Runs with a light that ever pleased his eye –
While old flames nod and gossip on the hearthstone
And only the young winds cry.

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