Poems from the Book - The Rectory Dog

Quicklinks: Lugnaquilla Occupational Hazard The Rectory Dog
  Times Past Albert A Visit To His Grandparents


The first time my wife and I climbed Lugnaquilla
we made love on the summit.
We had to do something to celebrate,
and we hadn’t brought anything else with us.

Since Lugnaquilla is a public place,
this was technically an act of gross indecency,
but, as there was no one else there
it was entirely private.

If the local Guard had been present,
after he had recovered
he’d have had to arrest us.

Can you imagine the journey down the mountain,
especially as the local Guard
is over sixty and extremely unfit?

In court he would stand up and say;
‘Your honour,
on Monday the 24th September 1990
at four thirty in the afternoon
on top of Lugnaquilla I observed.....’

The judge would stop him and say to the defendants:
‘How do you plead?’
We would say: ‘Guilty your honour;’
He would then say: ‘How old are you?’
We would reply: ‘62 and 63 respectively.’
He would then say:
‘I find you guilty on a technicality,
but on account of your age
I recommend a citation from the President’.

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‘What happened?’
I asked the undertaker
with half his little finger missing.

‘A recalcitrant corpse’ he replied,
‘I normally run a tight ship,
but these things happen’.

‘I didn’t think...’ ‘Oh yes,’ he said
‘there are two degrees of dead,
ordinary and stone.

We never worry it they’re not “stone”
when they come to us’ he said,
‘ordinary is irreversible.’

I ask you not to tell this to others,
it’s the undertakers’ trade secret,
and better kept that way.’

‘Jesus!’ I said, and he interjected:
‘if you didn’t laugh, you’d die,
and may I suggest,’ he added.

‘When you do, in the interest
of the safety of the profession
you go straight for “stone”!’

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The rectory dog thinks theologically,
as you might expect.
Much more so than his master,
whose theology, the little bit he had,
has disappeared entirely.
Now as there are just two of them
the dog feels somewhat alone.
None the less
he’s glad of the rector for company.

The rector hasn’t time for theology;
too busy in the parish,
which of course isn’t the case with the dog,
whose liturgical and pastoral responsibilities
are negligible.

To be truthful,
his liturgical functions are nil,
but pastorally he welcomes,
and puts at their ease,
even the most tormented souls
who arrive at the rectory.

When the bishop comes,
which isn’t very often,
and three dog collars
sit down to the fire,
the one on the mat is the only one
with a theological thought in his head.

The other two talk about
the weather, the garden, the Glebes Committee
and extensively about parochial finance,
but never about theology.

Meetings of the Select Vestry
are held in the drawing room,
and though not a member,
the rectory dog is always there.

He is careful to sit quietly,
but takes in everything.
So far no one has objected
that since he is not a member
his presence is unconstitutional.

But he is prepared that,
sooner or later someone will object,
and regretfully, he knows
he will have to go.

The rectory dog himself
knows nothing about parish finance.
It’s his canine opinion
that finance is for the parishioners,
and he is surprised that his master
is very knowledgeable on the subject.

He enjoys vestry meetings
and plays games to himself.
He tries to work out the theological bases
for vestry decisions,
and usually fails miserably.

At one meeting
there was some explicit mention of theology.
He turned over on the hearthrug,
put his head between his paws
and cocked his ears.

It was to do with putting a cross on the altar,
but he was sorely disappointed,
for much of what he heard
had a lot to do with other things,
but little of the matter
had anything to do with theology.

Despite much puzzlement,
the rectory dog
has the utmost confidence
in his master,
because he is always busy.

But he knows that
since he doesn’t meet
the dogs in the street,
he must wait for his next visit to the kennels
to continue his theological education.

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I still have a suit
with buttons in the fly of the trousers,
and remember well
the misfares box
on the platform of Dublin buses.

I remember when
women stood discretely into doorways
to fix suspenders
to make sure
their stockings stayed up.

I remember when
acknowledgements from the Revenue Commissioners
for conscience money,
appeared on the back page
of ‘The Irish Times.’

God be with the days
before zips and tights
when people paid their dues,
when scandals were scandals
and not everyday occurrences.

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Today that voice fell silent
in the small farmhouse
where he brought his bride
some sixty years ago or more.

A son and daughter grown and gone,
ewes to lamb, a cow for the house
on the small hill farm,
the centre of his universe

that stretched no more than twenty miles
in all his ninety years.
The kitchen: table, chairs, a dresser,
where he sat beside the range

winter and summer in wellingtons,
regaling callers with stories of time past
when he ploughed his piece of arable with horses,
did all by hand; got by.

Left school at fourteen, with fitful attendance
at haying, lambing or other work to do.
Yet he spoke an unaffected language
of Old English and Irish idiom

in beautifully crafted sentences.
No record left but in the memory.
In time all will be lost
of his unselfconscious artistry with words.

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He came this afternoon,
A joy into an ordinary day.

A one year old
With time for wonderment and awe,
And trusting exploration.

The lure of everything that moves
Invests the slightest action with some interest,
Long since lost to us
By casual familiarity.

An hour of love and tiny laughter
Lifts two hearts
Weary from work and world,
And brings much joy
To revive dulled spirits,
And renew their lease on life.

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