15 January, 2019

"Said Hanrahan" by John O'Brien

The following poem was written in 1919 by Father Patrick Hartigan, at that time priest-in-charge of the Parish of Narrandera in the newly-formed Diocese of Wagga Wagga. He wrote under the pseudonym of "John O'Brien".

If one man could be said to be the bard of Irish-Australian Catholicism, it would be Father Hartigan. The scene he depicts in this poem is very familiar to older Catholics, particularly those in rural areas. Mass is yet to commence and a group of men-of-few-words is gathered outside, to chew-over a few matters before walking into the church.  Their wives seem already to have entered the church.  Central to discussion in any rural community, is the vagaries of the weather.

It would be easy to regard this poem as a satire, but that would be to misunderstand its underlying love of Australian-Catholic culture.

1921, Father Hartigan had published a small collection of his verses, titled Around the Boree Log"Said Hanrahan" was among those poems.  It presents a cultural Catholicism that has largely disappeared. 

"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."

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