Two Views of Migration

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Two poems By Martha Ashwell

As part of the Manchester Irish Festival 2017, I wrote this original work for our event, ‘Echoes of Ireland’. Voices from our past echo down to us through the years, inspiring us to create more words and pass that echo on. I’ve written two poems echoing the experiences of migration. The first poem, ‘Leaving Ireland’, tells of the hopes and dreams of the young emigrant. The second poem, ‘Migratory Mourning’, expresses the feelings of the mother left behind. They were inspired by the words of  Danny Boy.


You’re off to America, I hear, Sean.

So, what are your thoughts as you leave?

I know your parents will miss you;

You’re the last of their boys to be gone.

Aye, … I’m leaving Ireland tomorrow

And I’ll yearn for the family, I know.

But I ought to be making a future;

Become what I need to become.

Danny, he got there before me.

I’ll be living with him for a start.

I’ll find me a job and get moving.

Mam, … always says I’m smart enough to stand on my own.

Sure, I know she’ll be glad of the money

Whatever I’m able to spare.

But, ‘twill take time to settle and prosper;

Take time to share my good fortune.

I’ll be pleased to support the whole family,

Make up for the company they’re missing.

I know it won’t go so far, but

At least it’ll be something I’m giving.

I’ll be homesick at first, God, I know it.

I’ll miss all the comforts of home;

I’ll miss young Rosie and Caitlín

They’re our Mary’s, … and she’s on her own.

I’ll miss all the flowers of the summer

And the soft haze that rains gently down.

I’ll miss the sunrise and sunset.

Oh, … I’ll always be thinking of home.

But, I’m looking for work and good prospects

And I’ll do all I can to impress.

It’s not like I’m leaving for nothing,

I’m seeking my way to success.

I’ll enjoy the new-found freedom

Away from the church and the neighbours;

Where nobody knows all my business

And nobody judges my choices.

That’ll be grand!

I’ll have to adapt to new customs,

Adjust to new thinking and feeling.

But I’ll try to stay true to my heritage

And not lose sight of its meaning.

I’ll never abandon my music

And the poetry’ll stay deep in my soul.

To leave them behind I’d be wretched.

They’re part of this land that I love.

My journey’s a flight to the future,

Leaving childhood at the farm door.

I’ll work as a fireman or stoker

From sapling … to great oak I’ll grow.

Though I’ll settle and have my own family

I’ll always be thinking of home.

I’ll visit them then with my children.

Bring parcels for Caithlin and Rose.

Sean, you sound very hopeful

And I wish you every success

But whatever you have you’ve to work for;

Nothing comes easy. … God bless!

I’ll try and get home when I can, Joe,

When weddings and funerals dictate.

That would mean such a lot to my mother

And it’s respect for the family that counts.

Keep an eye on them Joe, for me will you?

Let me know if you’ve any concerns.

I know that the leaving is painful and I worry for things left unspoken,

…  By them and … by me.


He’s gone, Siobhan, he’s gone;

The last of my little ones gone.

My heart is breaking with the loss.

Migratory mourning,

Migratory mourning.

Whatever it is, I feel the pain.

Yearning again for another lost child;

Deep in the quagmire of Irish desertion,

Another severance I did not contrive.

Tis mourning I am.

It tears at each family.

It abrades our country.

Our young ones have flown away.

Faraway into memories of time,

Leaving us mourning and moaning.

There’s a hole in my heart,

A narrowing in my throat.

I’m grieving for my children.

Grieving for the past;

The way it used to be.

Where’s the hope for me, Siobhan?

Michael barely knows me, I feel it again.

Sitting and dozing and reading his paper.

He’s no idea of the searing pain.

A mourning twice over.

So much for the claim it will bring us together.

His lacking increases my longing.

I need them to stir the ingredients of life

And eat at our table once more.

Laughing and telling.

There’s a letter from Danny this morning.

He’s home from America soon.

I feel the great joy at his coming

But fear his departure;

The dread of his going again.

They say that modern technology

Eases the pain and attrition.

But, for me, the suffering is heightened and

I float in a sea of illusion.

Drowning in a mirage of words.

The birthdays, the weddings and funerals

Bring the children back home.

When they visit, their visits are fleeting.

And again we’re left to bewail

Their coming and their going.

Sure, life’s always full of adjustments.

Identities shifting; evolving.

Experiences change you.

Everyone knows it;

That’s simply the way of the world.

When it comes to my ageing and dying,

How many will want to return?

Will they walk into church as strangers?

Or follow the path and resume

Their prayers and their faith alongside me?

I’m used to it all now, Siobhan.

I’m well-practiced in loving and loss.

I’ll find a new hobby to follow.

Immerse myself in the chaos.

The chaos and battle for life.

My useful life has not ended.

The crying will quickly abate.

The sun will flow through me tomorrow

Dissolve and dissipate

And raise up my spirits again.

I’ll not tell the children or Michael;

Not put my anxiety on them.

But confiding in someone is healing;

So, I’m grateful to you Siobhan

For holding my heart in your hand.


Text © Martha Ashwell