Some years ago, while visiting farming friends in the west of Ireland, I went for a walk in the nearby countryside. It was a beautiful evening, but as I started to return to the farmhouse, there was a sudden rainstorm, so I sheltered in the ruins of an old house close to a church. As I stood in the only room which still had some kind of roof above it, a small ruddy-faced man with a scruffy beard and a wooly hat appeared and shook the rain from his clothes. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, we got talking about the house and he told me a little about its history, and particularly about the owner, Old Tom, who had never married but had always been involved with the local community. With the rain easing, the man in the wooly hat took his leave and disappeared into the shadows, while I continued along the road to the farmhouse. As I strolled along, I started to compose a short poem about the house and this is how it went.
Old Tom’s house had daffodils where children used to play.
A gate shaped like the rising sun would welcome each new day.
And on a summer’s evening when the air was warm and still
The sound of happy laughter echoed all round Old Tom’s hill.
But how the years have thundered by, as busy lives unfold
And now the house beneath the church lies silent, dark and cold.
I sometimes pass its sad grey walls through which the four winds blow
The garden just a wilderness where weeds and rushes grow.
So children play in other fields for life is much the same,
But Old Tom’s house is dying and it really is a shame.
When I returned to the farmhouse, I went to my room and quickly jotted down the words before I forgot them. After dinner, some neighbours called round to play cards, and as we sat around a turf fire, I recited my poem to them. They seem quite impressed with it and wondered how I had acquired so much information about the old house such as the daffodils, the children, the rustic gate and Old Tom. I explained to them that there had been two of us sheltering from the rain and described my companion and informant to them.
‘That sounds like Old Tom, sure enough,’ said one of the visitors.
‘Yes,’ agreed another, ‘Especially that red face, the scruffy beard, and always wearing a wooly hat no matter what the weather.’
‘I can just imagine him wanting to come back and have a look at the old place before it falls down completely,’ said a third. ‘It must be quite a change from where he is now.’
Although I hadn't been aware that he was the owner of the house, I was quite pleased to discover that I had met Old Tom. Accordingly, I asked my companions if they thought that he would appreciate a copy of the poem.
‘No,’ replied my host, shaking his head, ‘I doubt it very much.’
‘It isn’t that bad, is it?’ I asked. ‘I mean, I could always tidy up a bit, change a few words here and there, and then deliver it to where he lives now.’
‘No,’ replied an elderly farmer knocking out his pipe on the range, ‘There’s nothing wrong with your poem, young fellow. It’s just that yer man has been dead for close on twenty years.’
Tony Crowley (c) 2004