An Undertaker’s Son

Issue EightIssue Eight PoetryPoetry

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By Daragh Byrne


In memory of Des Byrne


You would find him on a wet November

Wednesday, sideways rain in New Abbey

Filling the freshly dug six feet, sheets

Of fake plastic grass half covering the gape

Hid until the last lowering of the departed.

His grave face for the graveside –

Black woollen coat, black hat

Black borrowed hearse, bright burnished heart.


There is in every churchyard a statue that

Weathers the storms we cannot. Strong walls

To break the wind while we are breaking.


Above the pub brass plaques engraved by hand

A tinny drilling nib to carve the names

Familiar to the town – Dowling, Kelly

Mitchell, Nolan, Berney

Each bright plate mounted on a casket

From a stash of angled pinewood boxes

I later learned not found in every home.

A procession of passings – poignant punctuations

In the long rambling paragraphs that wrote

Kilcullen down, invisible ink inscribed across the years.


At the houses of the lost he’d take the reins

Make the arrangements – call in the death notice

Lean on Billy Dowling for the laying out, raise up

Naggins of Powers for the old men who’d lift the clod

Bent over in the shadows of bent trees

Supplicate the parish priest he’d only ever see

While undertaking, honest in his faith.


He followed his own father in the trade

Continuing with pride the family name.

Sons only follow fathers if they wish it –

So they think. I did not escape his ways.

Decades later when I find myself patient

Heart open to somebody else’s pain

I see the line time drew from me to him –

Remembering I’m an undertaker’s son.