There’s little need for rapid pace, Nor frowns that wrinkle up your face.
Castleisland poet Maurice J Reidy, better known as Moss Tommy, is fondly remembered in the town as a great character, often found thumbing a lift along the road with a satchel hung over his shoulder or, if travelling out of town, with an old leather schoolbag on his back.
He was fond of speaking in schools about poetry, and promoting literature. He had, no doubt, the Castleisland branch of the Carnegie Library in mind when he offered a message of thanks to Andrew Carnegie for the ‘sea of intelligence’ found there:
Carnegie’s wish to help others proved successful. The library is as a large tree whose branches cover the whole earth … Almost every corner of the world reap the fruits of such goodwill and peace bestowed on mankind.
Moss Tommy published his verse and short stories in the 1970s and 1980s and today his books, printed locally, are rare. The books were sold in Castleisland and its surrounds. It was no doubt from a sale of books in Tralee that he put an experience there to verse:
When well nigh Christmas Joyful Power, Near Moyderwell, Tralee, One maiden laughed for half an hour, ‘Twas all the while at me.
Mirror of Truth: Natural Poetry Anthology appeared in late 1980. It was appropriately sub-titled, for nature in the hands of the Castleisland poet fared well. Barely a poem escaped allusion to the wildlife of the Irish countryside, and in this the poet was writing about what he knew, be it the thrush:
‘Twas early dawn, the first of spring How rare and sweet the song you sing … Your perch upon the thorny tree, Oh million voices copy thee.
or the pheasant:
Why dost thou play those curious tricks, On innocents like me? Did you forsake this brood of chicks, So beautiful to see.
Indeed, birds – even when reynard the fox is lurking in the background – flock for a place in his poetry, and they are not let down. They are all there, the blackbird, dove, raven and crow; the lark, hawk, robin and gull. And owl, heron, sweet nightingale.
In The Crow we find a feathered friend perched atop a shaky branch, ready to dive ‘with pickaxe beak’:
When looking down the dizzy height, All smaller fowl he saw, ‘Twas time to boast with all his might, He tried one loud sad caw.
The poet informs us that as a schoolboy, he found joy in cheerful thought, and good friends in nature around him:
With cat-lick wash, and cow-lick brow, He loved the wayward route, Which led direct where well he knew, He’d catch the morning trout.
He learned as he went through life that friends like these did not let him down:
All sporting games, from pitch-and-toss, Horse-racing was great joy, The swimming pool, fine fellow fool, On friends none can rely.
Indeed, False Friendship suggests he witnessed a near-drowning incident; a life saved just before the victim ‘crossed the line’:
One only heir his parents had, how sad it all would be, The news to reach his mam or dad that no one got him free.
His compassionate nature is revealed in The Itinerant’s Reply which conveys a message of wealth beyond poverty:
Don’t be ashamed of me, she said, For many days were rough; We often had to ask our bread, Thank God we’ve had enough.
In this poem, poverty and bereavement are overcome by a noble nature: ‘Her prayer to save all souls she sighed, The one true art of fame.’
An act of nature is recorded in The Lightning and Thunder which describes a storm that occurred in June 1973. The poet attributes the event to God, who sent ‘artillery from heaven’:
How easy it would be for You To choose some Wayward Route, Effacing all the Human Race, Where many are in Doubt!
At times, Moss Tommy moved away from nature to record contemporary events, like the Listowel Races of 1973 and the Galway Chase of 1974. The victories of ‘Fitzie from Tralee’ for the green and gold are enshrined in The Sportsman.
Elsewhere, he makes poetic reference to a lady in trouble on the Dingle cliffs in 1979 and Two Brothers Drowned in Dingle Bay treats a double tragedy:
Ah, now cruel sea, I say to thee, Your varnished face decoys, Where in repose, that wave you rose, And drowned two lovely boys.
His poem, Nine and Ten, also hints at tragedy of a different nature:
Oh listen please, we love to know So tell us if it’s true. The place you bought my daddy’s tie Were you in England too? Our daddy sent us lovely clothes With toys and all his pay, Until it stopped and no one knew, He’s gone too far away. Our mammy plays no games at all She says her heart feels sore. The bomb went off outside the wall And daddy wrote no more. So this is this, and that is that, But how our kith and kin, Could once efface that homely grace That sheltered Nine and Ten.
To North and South tackles contemporary politics, and the poet conveys a message that all, wherever they live, have beloved mothers who worked hard to raise them. Nothing is ever gained by war, he writes, and ‘half-one million battles fought won’t save one single soul’:
How vain past rebel songs will sound To praise false heroes’ fame, For blood you spilled and friends you killed Leave dark spots on your name.
Moss Tommy was a horseman and the animal hardly escaped his poetry. In The Vain and the Wise we encounter a donkey challenging a horse to a race.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, a stallion named Ballyplymouth was regularly selected by breeders for mares. The Friend addresses the death of this horse, and tells us a little about his life:
Some news just reached the peasant’s ear, Though the master could have cried, The echo broadcast far and near, That Ballyplymouth died. Now many shared the heavy blow, He was their greatest pride. Although his small disabled make, His fame was far and wide. In infancy, when full of glee, He met one big setback, For in the leap across the tree That sprung his lovely Hock. Retarded thus, for all his life, As this is nature’s way, Though college surgeons, full in strife, All failed to gain the day. When orders failed to put him down, As some one prayed till the end, That could rely, until he’d die, There was one faithful friend.
The musically gifted Padraig O’Keeffe of Sliabh Luachra is paid tribute by the poet, who compares his music to the dawn chorus of nightingale, lark, and blackbird in the glen, a glen where ‘each sally and trout pool you knew.’ The poet reminisces on carefree younger days when the ‘ring from the bow’ made it certain he’d go to the ‘sweet music of Padraig O’Keeffe.’
Padraig O’Keeffe, he tells us, loved ‘mother nature within’:
‘Twas not bacon nor beef Worried Padraig O’Keeffe, But live notes from his sweet violin.
Castleisland Town takes the reader on a journey across Europe and suggests that it matters not how far you travel, for the town of Castleisland wears the ‘golden crown, where fish and honey flow’:
When at home in your own town, To view its ancient ruin, And from the dizzy heights look down The stairs of Gleannsharoon. There’s not one place, in earth’s dear face, You’ll find without a frown, With the peaceful sight, of rare delight, In Castleisland town.
It is in nature, however, that the spirit of the poet is truly at ease. The gentle charm of his verse does not disturb the flutter of a butterfly or moth, nor does it trespass on the beetle or worm. In Small but Homely, the poet compares the strength of an elephant to a fly:
The mighty towering Elephant, Like Samson, loses strength – When little flies doth pierce the eyes, And his canvas hide will vent.
The bee is ‘the gem of earth’ that has ‘music all its life.’ It is more precious than ‘the monarch king and his armies’ who, nourished by its honeycomb, recoil from its ‘one defence, that little sting’:
Still dread to battle when they meet, The bee whose life is short and sweet.
The Porcupine is the journey of a slow moving hedgehog, a ‘thorny hog’ whose ‘steps are short’ and ‘feet so small.’ The poet addresses the animal’s love life:
The journey now he was to go, He never wanted me to know. He kept his right side on the way, And looked at me as if to say, Have I some mission of my own, When don’t he wish to be alone?
The night grows dark, there’s a ‘whistling bark’ and the hog is off:
Now then it’s hard indeed to beat The way those hoggies love to meet.
We find, in To a Salmon who Eloped, the poet saddened by the death of a stranded fish. Finding it ‘young and helpless there’ he begs for help in ‘such evil hour.’
Oh richest gem that ocean yield, How come you here upon a field? Did pride attract you from your strands To wander here upon my land?
A word of warning is offered to the fly – ‘beware where spiders sleep; it’s wiser look before you leap.’ And to illustrate, the poet tells of a little spider, ‘tired and weak’ from spinning, who goes to rest but is soon roused by the ‘lonely SOS’ of a fly in distress:
And to the scene in rapid stride For chance might lose his lovely bride, The spider dressed in coat of armour Did hug and greet the newly charmer.
In the poet’s Attractive Moth snatched by a Swallow we learn how a charming, eye-catching moth displays her skill in flight: ‘No ballet dancer ever born, could balance there like her that morn.’ Sadly for the moth, her fate is sealed by a ‘pirate of the air’ whose accurate ‘downward trend’ ensured ‘she never saw him coming.’
The demise of a beech tree, which ‘feeds and warms all sheltered kine’ and where ‘singing leaves and music bees, each play about your head,’ finds the poet lamenting its passing. He acknowledges its strength and utility ‘from cradle to grave’:
You won the race of life from birth, And reached the lovely sky. You’re nourished from fond mother earth, ‘Twas sad you had to die. You laughed at many the stormy game Until the fight was done, And catch each ray throughout the day Until the setting sun.
A man so in love with nature spent much time in contemplation. His Mysteries questioned nature about itself in an effort to find ‘one clue to solve Creation,’ to understand why the ostrich hid its head below the sand, or ‘Just why the oak and cedar tree, outlive the king of palms? And fircone nuts are planted by the squirrel without hands?’
His search continued in Some Mysteries, when he asked why the ‘handsome pansy’ in ‘lovely May’ should die upon its own birthday? While tortoise stay ‘three hundred years’, and crow ‘one hundred good to say’ yet ‘daddy-long-legs live one day.’
The unanswerable question aside, the poet contented himself with his surroundings. His outlook on life is beautifully encapsulated in Happiness:
How many love to watch at night The moon and stars, with comet bright. So seldom seen, but once in life, Then why the need for all the strife? There’s little need for rapid pace, Nor frowns that wrinkle up your face. When comets feed the sun on high, There’s always hope for you and I. The sweetest fragrance from the flower Can come to you and me each hour. With humble thoughts as comets feed, With kindness, love, but not with greed.
An appreciation of M J Reidy’s Anglo-Irish poetry by Ludwig P Niesert of the Free University, Berlin – who was preparing an anthology – is also included in Mirror of Truth.
 Mirror of Truth (1980), Smiles of Cheer, p9. O’Donohoe Collection reference IE MOD/C79.  A notice of it appeared in the Kerryman in January 1981.  Ibid. The Song by the Thrush, p3.  Ibid. The Pheasant, p13.  Ibid. The Crow, p15.  Ibid. Country Schoolboy – in this poem we also meet the heron and the horse. P4.  Ibid. False Friendship, p75.  Ibid. The Itinerant’s Reply, p82.  Ibid. The Lightning and Thunder, p81. ‘One of the heaviest thunderstorms for many a year hit this district late on Sunday night, lasting up to midnight. Three cows were killed in Mount, Scart, and there were also a number of ESB poles split in two and damage caused to transformers’ (Castleisland Notes, Kerryman, 2 June 1973).  Ibid. The Sportsman, p83.  Ibid. Two Brothers Drowned in Dingle Bay, p40.  Ibid. Nine and Ten, p29.  Ibid. To North and South, pp74-75.  Ibid. The Friend, pp65-66.  Ibid. To The Master, pp93-94.  Ibid. Castleisland Town, p64.  Ibid. Small but Homely, p12.  Ibid. Bees, p20.  Ibid. The Porcupine, p29.  Ibid. To a Salmon who Eloped, p56. Ultimately, the poet concluded that fate caught on its path too soon, ‘and ended all your honeymoon.’  Ibid. The Spider and the Fly, p60.  Ibid. To an Attractive Moth snatched by a Swallow, p71.  Ibid. The Dead Beech, p73.  Ibid. His Mysteries, pp89-90. The poet found the greatest wonder in the bat ‘that flits around the house.’  Ibid. Some Mysteries, p51. Daddy-long-legs is the name used for the Crane Fly.  Ibid. Happiness, p54.