Saturday, November 19, 2011

Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge

Bill West has challenged genealogists from all around the world to:

1. Find a poem by a local poet, famous or obscure, from the region
one of your ancestors lived in. It can be about an historical event, a
legend, a person, or even about some place (like a river)or a local
animal. It can even be a poem you or one of your ancestors have written!
Or if you prefer, post the lyrics of a song or a link to a video
of someone performing the song.

2. Post the poem or song to your blog (remembering to cite the source
where you found it.)

3.Tell us how the subject of the poem or song relates to your ancestor's
home or life.

I immediately thought of the great Australian ballad writers Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson for this challenge but thinking about my Irish catholic ancestors who lived in the bush I elected to share a poem by  John O'Brien.  John O'Brien was the pseudonym for Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan.

O'Brien's poems have a special meaning for me as my Grandmother, Mary Tierney, gave me a book of his poems that she owned when I was quite young. I treasure this book today. I have fond memories of reading these poems with her. I especially loved performing the poem I have chosen as I loved putting emphasis on the  word "rooned" that is repeated throughout it.

For people living in the bush as my Irish ancestors did the social aspect of Sunday Mass was most important. It gave them a chance to talk about the effects of Australia's harsh elements on their farming activities. I can imagine my ancestors gathered on Sundays in Dungog, Cobar, Cowra and Canowindra taking part in conversations similar to that related in this poem.


"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
  In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
  One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
  Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
  As it had done for years.

"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
  "Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
  Has seasons been so bad."

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
  With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
  And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
  "It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
  "Before the year is out."

"The crops are done; ye'll have your work
  To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
  They're singin' out for rain.

"They're singin' out for rain," he said,
  "And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head,
  And gazed around the sky.

"There won't be grass, in any case,
  Enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place
  As I came down to Mass."

"If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
  And cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
  "If rain don't come this week."

A heavy silence seemed to steal
  On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
  And chewed a piece of bark.

"We want an inch of rain, we do,"
  O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
  To put the danger past.

"If we don't get three inches, man,
  Or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
  "Before the year is out."

In God's good time down came the rain;
  And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
  It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
  And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
  Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
  A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
  Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
  And dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
  "If this rain doesn't stop."

And stop it did, in God's good time;
  And spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime
  Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
  With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
  Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
  As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
  Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
  Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
  And chewed his piece of bark.

"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
  There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
  "Before the year is out."

From Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921


Merron Riddiford said...

Oh dear, just finished the Surname Saturday and now another great are keeping me busy Jill. I've got a poet, just need to choose a poem (and find some time!)Enjoyed your poem, really depicts life in the bush and the battle with the elements. I liked "rooned" too

Anonymous said...

This challenge had passed me Merron said you're keeping us on our toes! Love hanrahan and has personal memories for us of a friend who died recently.

Sharon Brennan said...

I have my Irish poet chosen. Now just have to go through the 4 books of his that I have on my bookshelf to find the right one. Could be difficult - there are many set in the immediate area.

Sharon said...

Here's my post.

Bill West said...

Jill, this was my favorite poem in the Challenge. Thanks for sharing it!


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