When I was a child, a lot of my summer holidays were spent in Ireland. My mother, Bridget, is from County Kerry, and my father, Bernie, was from County Mayo.
Kerry was where we spent most time. In those days, I was too young to be an atheist, thank God. Though I don’t think I was particularly keen on going to Mass on a Sunday morning, it was the done thing. I have vague memories of it, probably a mish-mash of memories in fact.
It’s hard to separate individual memories from each year of your life. And when you revisit a place over several years, the memories tend to overlay each other, a bit like an artist might add layer upon layer to the same picture.
I have this aggregated memory of Mass in Ballydonoghue, near Lisselton in Kerry. The memory says that there was a pub just over the road, and that the men of the parish congregated near the door of the church, as if making a token appearance, and not wanting to be too far from the pub when it opened. I know most of this memory is accurate, but just to prove some of it, I’ve used Google Maps to verify that the pub (Cantillon’s) is indeed right opposite the church.
Here’s the pub:
Here’s the church:
and here’s the
Mass in the West of Ireland
the men in their shiny arsed suits
gather close to the door
inhale the incense, the mothball aroma of their neighbour’s Sunday best
endure the droning of the priest,
who denounces the idleness of men
the sinfulness of women
they feel ferocious thirsts building
their minds have wandered
to the pub where the publican is pulling pints of porter
letting them stand, almost full, on the bar
foaming, settling, forming voluptuous heads
waiting for the appreciative lips, mouths, tongues of the restless church bound men.
one breaks ranks, sidles out the door
the others look sheepishly at each other and sidle, dribble
across the road to slake their thirsts
knowing that they have, barely, done their duty for the week
they can, with an almost clear conscience
drown their sins in the landlord’s best beer.
© Mike Hopkins 2011 (This poem was published in Friendly Street New Poets 16 by Wakefield Press in 2011)