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Poem: Three Epitaphs of Irish Immigrants in the Style of 'Spoon River Anthology'

Updated on April 26, 2012
Spoon River Anthology
Spoon River Anthology

The book includes a few hundred epitaphs, written in free verse.


In 1915 Edgar Lee Masters published "Spoon River Anthology,' a book of poems about small town American life. Each poem told the life story of one person in the town of Spoon River. They were written as epitaphs: statements written after a person's death. I found the interlocking stories the most moving - when a husband and a wife each talk about their point of view, or an employer and a worker. I wrote the poems below to be the story of an Irish American immigrant family. In a history textbook I once saw a photo of a sign that read "No Irish Need Apply" on the door of a factory, and it made me think how prejudice against the Irish must have impacted their family lives.

Colleen O’Leary

To a family of six brothers

in the laborer’s section of town

I brought with my advent

the death of a mother.

Richard loved me in his grief

and I thought him the greatest man alive

larger than life, tale spinner, center of a crowd.

Coveting his youngest child,

he let my child’s world last long

and my eyes shone

despite the sullen men around the table

with their tired faces and rough hands

for I looked past a grey shoulder

to a rustle of silken fluttering…

Richard’s bright-eyed Irish faeries….

Tim O’Leary

We have only cursed ourselves

with the evils of liquor.

What is it for a man

in his youth and strength

to be passed idle in the street by a snip of a clerk!

Day after day I hated the signs:

“No Irish need apply.”

David O’Leary

I was eldest in the family

and my mother trusted me in all.

Late of an evening

we sat in the warm bright kitchen

after the boys were asleep upstairs

and I would forget for a time

my troubles in the yard.

Richard I ceased to consider.

Then the death in childbirth:

the daughter wanted so long.

I meant to love little Colleen as no other child had ever been loved

but Richard wooed her from me with his Irish magic.

Where was he when Tim

drunk in a filthy pub

fought ‘til he near got himself killed?

Statue commemorating Irish immigrants
Statue commemorating Irish immigrants | Source
Irish Immigrants memorial, Boston MA
Irish Immigrants memorial, Boston MA | Source


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    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 5 years ago from Florida

      I haven't spoken Gaellic for quite a while but when I come across a fellow Irish man/woman who speaks it I pick it right back up. My family insisted I learn it. And yes, it is your ancestors calling.

      I was surprised to find out Gaellic is the rarest language and is considered a language on the verge of extinction. But you know the Irish we would never tell if we still had Gaellic. Gaellic is our lucky charm.

      Great poem!!

    • graceomalley profile image

      graceomalley 5 years ago

      JT - I envy you for speaking Gaellic! I find the sound of it so evocative - must be my ancestors calling me.

    • JT Walters profile image

      JT Walters 5 years ago from Florida

      I was so touched by this poem as my Aunt and Uncle were from Northern Ireland. We were brought up speaking Gaellic. It would seem each minority has to advance past the prejudice they face in this country to be accepted. But those minorities have strong loving families which I believe your poem captures.

    • graceomalley profile image

      graceomalley 5 years ago

      Nice to see you aviannovice, thanks for reading!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Beautifully said, Grace, and the photos illustrate your hub so well.