The Mission

Ireland, 1919


Shaking him from sleep
they came in the night,
rain falling off their wet clothes
like the sky he’d soon be under.
“We want you to go with old man Heaney
to cut down young Martin.
The Tans have hung him from a pole
in Kilbeggan. His brothers can’t go,
they’re already drinking
and likely be shot on sight.
Even the Tans won’t shoot a boy
with an old man coming for his son.”
Kilbeggan, Jesus, that’s a day in a trap,
even with Heaney’s stout horse
but no one was asking him, they never did,
just telling him, and he’d go.
“Good boy Mickey” they all said;
they needed a boy who could work like a man.
Though he hated obeying them
feeling wanted was reward
and relief from his grandfather
snoring to wake the dead
and his grandmother groaning
before the awful cough began again.
All the way to Kilbeggan
not five words between him and the old man;
when they got there full light
though rain dim and empty in the Square.
The damned horse wouldn’t hold,
the death smell frightening it,
the body already stiff
with gaping holes in his chest
where they’d shot him.
Mickey grabbed the corpse
as the old man cut the rope
with the knife he used on pigs.
Mickey could hardly hold both his breath and the horse
but when they got the body down he turned the trap,
the old man sitting there with the knife in his lap
and his dead son in the back.
Two Tans smoked in a doorway
under dripping slate:
“Let them have the body,
take it back to them all for a sign.”
It was dark by the time they got back to Heaney’s,
the dooryard full of smoking men,
the two brothers drunk and swearing,
crying as they took their brother in the house.
“You can’t wake him” the priest said, “he’s been dead too long”
but the brothers said “we’ll do as we goddamn please Father”
and they did. Put that stiff corpse on the kitchen table
then closed the door so the women could clean him
and lay him out in the parlor.
The men were roughing his hair, clapping his shoulder,
saying “good boy Mickey,” but he didn’t care.
He wanted to stand by the stove but not with that smell
so he stood out in the dark with the men
while the brothers swore and fired their rifles,
cursing at the sky, the Brits
and the rain that wouldn’t stop.



Nan, Carmel, Patrick


17 Responses to “The Mission”

  1. So graphic the emotions of man, the attachment to dogma, the emotion of clannish grudges felt, the loss of love. In that separate state there is no unity, no call to love, no realization from the heart and mind of who we really are. Thanks for the reminder Don , to let my past be released, my grudges be forgiven and my anger be gone making room for the Divine.

  2. Rose says:

    Eloquently pictured. Thank you for sharing this poignant experience from your past.

  3. Jack says:

    It’s been a hundred years now, since the uprising, and nearly a hundred since the black and tans, and the fires have still not gone completely out…..not completely…….this is a heavy hearted one to read, and so well written……

  4. Sylvia McAfee says:

    Don, I haven’t read it yet…Saving it for the 17th! Will have a reading at Seaside with friends of ours…AND, have forwarded it on to my Iris/Catholic Favorite Son-in-law!!! Thank you for the gift…

  5. Stuart Maclean says:

    ‘T’aint right! T’aint fitt’n!’ How does a boy ‘carry’ that forward? I know a lot of these emotions surfaced in Scotland’s ‘vote’ last year. The ‘clearances’ are still fresh! Powerful story!

  6. Ellen Faith says:

    Thank you for this story-poem portrayal of a deeply felt and compelling moment in your father’s life. You have beautifully captured and honored a moment in his history and thus your heritage.

  7. Paul Blythe says:

    Face facts and forgive. The Mission is an effort to clarify the mass consciousness! Good-on-Ya Don

  8. Jane Halsey says:

    Incredibly powerful. I had to read it twice to make sure it all sunk into my brain. Stirs so many thoughts and emotions. Don, your skill with words is amazing. Thank you.

  9. David Kyle says:

    You’ve given both the forgiveness and the blessing to your father, and also to yourself. The words have power to heal. The weaving of the tapestry of the old memories, pains and deep scars all get healing in the naming. As so many have said before me above, your words are healing words. Blessing to you.

  10. David Banner says:

    It hurts the heart but this is what happened, and continues to happen, in the world of shadow-laden humans. And, yes, there is honor,too, in this poem.

  11. Thea says:

    I surely am glad that I live here now and not there then.

  12. Marco says:

    fearless. Thank you.

  13. John Walsh says:

    A courageous thing Mickey did that night, a life of courage, determination, and prayer he grew into. Thank you, Don.

  14. Tom Wishing says:

    What a story indeed! Thanks, Don.

  15. Pat Fitzsimmons says:

    This story conveys the essence of the “pain-body” we Irish have inherited from our ancestors. I let this sink to the bottom of my heart until it breaks into a million little pieces, each one a man walking through this bittersweet world.

  16. joebrennan says:

    Don A truly graphic memory of the shared history of the struggle all oppressed people share.Thank you from the bottom of our collective soul. All my love to you my brother Joe

  17. Bob says:

    Beautiful Don, let’s remember and pass the story of Dad’s experiences to our children. I hope this story will inspire them thru hardships that come into their lives.

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