Mike Gallagher

Stick on Stone

We knew each other only as men,

emigration saw to that:

Him in London, me in Achill,

me in London, him in Luton.

Even living together, we remained

strangers in a rented room,

speaking, not talking,

robbed of our relative roles.

Sure, there were memories –

one golden Dukinella day 

when Mick the Yank, called;

we straddled a low stone wall,

talked of Wimpy and McAlpine, 

roads and bridges, 

digs and pubs.

The boy was man!

A lunchtime booze in Wandsworth;

three of us now living in London, 

yet conversing only the once.

Inheritance was split, spoils divided,

unequally, but with good humour,

Paraic was always his favourite – and mine.

Nights in Castlebar hospital

after the emigrant’s dreaded summons:

“Come now, while he still knows you” 

Between the awkward silences,

came words of stuttered support.

And he survived – again and again.

I almost made it, that last time –

got to Westport before news

of our final silence.

Now, as I walk in Dromawda,

his gnarled stick, a stolen spoil,

taps the unsaid 

on the tarstone road.

Across the Waves


It happened to our own people:

four hundred Achill Islanders heading for the tatty fields of Scotland.

From Darby’s Point, they were currached to hookers, packed to the gunwales

and beyond the gunwales; mostly girls, 14, 15, 16; forced to leave home –

landlord’s steep rack-rents, Balfour’s seed rate bills, staving off starvation.

Waiting on the other side of Clew Bay the steamer, SS Elm.

The cry went out: Big boat! See! The big boat! A surge to one side. 

The skipper wrestling with the helm. But…

too late the jibe. too fast the boom,

too full the sail, on Healy’s boat,

too little ballast in the bilge; 

too great the crush to stay afloat;

the Victory, lost, her keel aground, 

two and thirty migrants drowned.


Drifting aimlessly in a fishing boat, far south of Lampedusa,

migrants are fleeing war and fear and famine, a despot’s tyranny.

Then someone spots a merchant ship, way off on a far horizon, shouts.

Big boat! See! The big boat! A surge to one side. 

The skipper wrestling with the helm. But…

too long the gap, too far away; 

too low the hull, too frail the boat, 

too many children in the hold, 

too great the crush to stay afloat,

another wreck, Med’s seabed found, 

another four hundred migrants drowned. 

Mike Gallagher, an Irish poet, has been published and translated worldwide. He won the Michael Hartnett Viva Voce award in 2010 and 2016, the Desmond O’Grady International Award in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Hennessy Award in 2011. His collection, Stick on Stone, is published by Revival Press.