Brian O’Dowd – Kevin the Menace

Brian O’Dowd was born in Dublin. He lives in Toronto. O’Dowd is a Professor at the University of Toronto. His novel ‘A Wicklow Girl’, was published in 2017. Available on Amazon etc. Publisher: Tellwell, Canada. In 2019 he won the prestigious Prix Galien 2019 Canadian science award, as reported in the Irish Times.  

The piece here is from the collection of his unpublished short stories, Kevin’s Lament’ which is the best.

Kevin the Menace

Brian O’Dowd Ⓒ

Cats out the bag

Nerves raw months after our Easter’s Rising,
‘Irish question’ in those toff’s newspapers,
blarney truths going down smooth as swill,
monkeys chattering, collecting their peanuts.
You’ve a Rosetta stone but not understand us.
No bread and circus only their woodshed,
needed room to swing cats why they came,
not with nine lives, but nine clawed tails,
have the whip around our freckled hides,
town square floggings easy get hit for six.
Chopped their queen at drop of an axe.

Shame them to shoot our rebel leaders,
salt in wound, sent our best to their graves.
Bullies long innings, now they messed up,
it’s not over, so take that to the post office!
Swing your hook, be gone stout John Bull.
Enough with whitewashed balderdash,
sinn fein lays claim for each invaded field,
obvious as lice on old man’s bald noggin.
Get off our grass!

Rathmines Post Office

‘Easter’ no final straw only that hump,
hope is no oasis mirage. A catalyst!
There can be no armistice with them now,
never let Europe’s waging war be wasted,
artful plans are needed, cunning strategies,
chaos causing commotions, not artillery.
Bunch of lads descended on the post office,
nourished to the gills with dutch courage,
petrified knowing the stakes before us,
as blood spattered posts in Kilmainham.
Outside we stuck GPO’s Proclamation!
Pamphlet, bull horn, bodhrán drum, whistles,
one weird lad even played his accordion.
Citizens gathered, us banging goat skin,
bull faced folks endeavoring get stamps.
Astride our soapbox, I rattled the statement,
with arms pointing, I’d studied the Big Fella.
Our goal galvanize Rathmines as our bastion,
time to follow Sarsfield, Parnell and Pearse.
All be with us in this final grasp of escape.

‘We are here today as the Liberators!
Our zeal not wayward or wandered.
We with wounds to heal, to be a nation,
language to cherish, children to educate,
build churches in every town, value clergy.
Support our gaelic sports, foster culture.
Not let tragic Gorta Mor bygones be forgot.’

Then star boy Charlie, reading from ‘GPO’,
“Long usurpation of rights by foreign people.”
“Youse usurping getting me pension. Fridays!”
Feisty one irritated with us blocking her way.
“Youse are a bunch of useless straggly youths.
Can I nip in for a moe get me business done?”
Worse for wear Charlie, rattled off the rails,
mostly that whiskey took over his speech.
Gist of an awful rambling rant.

“Worst of times, and even more worse times.
We’ll parcel your contributions in a thimble,
not be sticking with it. No good memories!
On Seven seas go find Homer’s Atlantis,
maraud new worlds with unpleasant crews.
Don’t be discouraged by Cooke in Hawaii!
Cleo’s needle wasting sweetness in a desert,
blooms by the river! Shift Ayers rock to shires!
Flags on Moby dick, steal Easter island eggs,
Sends us a card from this Christmas island!
Address Irish President in Dublin Castle!
Gift for the fireplace!

Felt gang’s nervous tension, dodgy supports,
Rathmines wanted better. Not us buskers.
Need postal orders, telegrams, parcels to Donegal,
cashing cheques to feed childers, or evictions.
One irate plump gentleman with his fine wife.
“Famine, famine, famine, famine so long ago,
we’d fried kidney for breakfast with two eggs.
Later dine with wine from France and cheese.
Youse may be out of place and time?”

I’m all right Jackeens

Citizens tossed our pamphlets away, not read.
We were then mightily harangued on the spot.
‘Go away gombeens, we need you not.’
‘What on earth are you rabbiting about?
We cheered Queen Victoria back in 1900,
not part of the Empire, we are the Empire!’
Double quick angry uniform plods showed up,
whistle and helmet, as Keystone cops films,
dishing baton whacks, treated as commoners.
Cuffed tied, bereft waiting for a Black Mariah,
other louts snatched every music instrument,
likely ended up in pawn shops in Ranleigh.
Even if hog tied, feeling disheartened pain.
Our whole crafted shebang, fiasco shambles,
now so nervous shaking in our boots.

Behind bars

Tucked up in a local Jail house, on a month’s tariff,
spared slop out at Kilmainham’s horror show,
done for crime of agitating, a thorn in their side.
‘Try it again and watch out. No mercy next time.’
Days to chew the cud, busy composing my history.
In case of accidents.

Crickey, in Newsies

Next day jailer tossed us the newspapers.

‘RPO rebels failed.’
‘Copy cat thugs in lock up.’
‘Spuds nobodies fault, natural mold.’
‘Wait till great War is over’
‘Rathmines residents satisfied,
participate in Crown’s opulence,
not back down the boreens.’

Still job done, worth a month in pokey.

My brother Freddy and Me

Year older, ciotóg left the womb right shambles,
me gestating getting dolled up by mixed confusion,
forever wobbling, misshapen hand me down clogs.
Grew up close, later as penguin and the white bears.
Up to capers, both spiffy in patched blazer and cap,
mitching, boxing orchards, dodging tram fares,
copying arithmetic homework in religion class,
fecking cursing, not left to chance cheat exams.
Nabbing gob stoppers, not poor box tanners!
Don’t get me wrong!

Atoning venial sins, served Mass ton of times.
Weddings with shillings from posh Rathgar,
encouraged my billiard hall and boozing habits.
Religiously flag box collecting on Sundays.
Early teens I’d taken to the drink by skin full,
Fred signed up, took a musket ball at Gallipoli,
arm lost, still remains one bellicose south paw,
posing as hero Horatio Nelson on the pillar.
‘Right arm? Only for show as ears on a deaf man.’
Talent with ceili reel and jig, catching balls,
in goal for Dartry Rovers, call him the bandit.
Got to hand it to him.

Then I shoved a kid’s gansey in a red post box,
fear an phoist kept his mitts on it, not delivered.
Hauled on the ragged carpet for school assembly,
face dreaded black strap six of best humiliation.
Last minute, cry babies father shows up,
embarrassed by blithering idiot son. Heaven’s sake!
“Hold your horses! Just shenanigans, an altar boy!”
Lucky me, got off scot free as Royals at Balmoral.
Miracles happen!


Untamed feral specimen from Rathgar red brick,
classmates since striking conkers in the yard.
Good soul, holy water crossed himself as nuns,
wore hand made leather boots from Tuscany,
regular nicking church wine from the sacristy,
scattered empties in pews by itinerants kipping,
only lad equipped with such devious thinking.
‘Best not keep things so bottled up.’ He’d relate.
No argument!

Grand house, below stair maids to boss about,
Dad away gallivanting over in the colonies.
Belter finger whistle to summon egg sandwiches,
tea in China cups, sugar cubes, cream in a jug.
Sat in the drawing room smoking cigars,
John McCormack voice on a gramophone!
Toys on shelves, bed room ceiling to floor,
train, tracks, cap guns, holsters, bow an arrow,
firemen hat, Ottoman’s Turkey scabbard sword.
Young lad best dreams!

Junior school final, jam packed Donnybrook,
got a try from wicked pass, he’d done the labour,
‘Go win it,’ he shouts in that scrum pack melee,
body a tapped barrel of porter, ten yards short,
could have crashed over his own damn self.
Shared glory had made him a true cara,
paraded silver cup round big shot seniors.
Dad forked out for spanking bike.
Me on cloud nine!

Face of it

Two magnifico churches our neck of the woods,
exquisite domed Rathmines, Rathgar’s steeple.
Our ‘Maids Church’ sited betwixt them two,
anonymous edifice, pass by no tip of the cap,
resemble a bank or theater, no front window,
not expose tram passengers to inner sanctum,
fears Chapel would drive off well to do yobs.
On Sunday’s, charwomen pack the pews,
catering for snobs, hoping Saints would help.
Rush for breakfast, tending other’s home fires.

Dodder Park day

Charlie with me langered by Dodder’s park,
half day, full bottles in school satchels,
next to maths home work, from the swots.
I coughed up for 20 cigs and matches,
chatting with two National school girls.
‘Go on then gives a fecking drag already,’
says Carmella, brassy ways, eyeing Charlie.
“I’m only with just gasping for it.” Yikes!

Some gurrier fella with blaggard 1916 gruff,
knowing how to get Charlie right riled up.
“So the roof fell in on Sackville street,
youse got hammered! What now Napoleon?
Better luck with Republic of Aran Island!”
My lad got him choking, miscreant crushed,
forced to recant, respect heroes names!
Call Black and Tans plonkers to survive,
repent and cover green all red about.
After, Charlie tossed a banger under a bench,
for laughs with us lot getting half bagged.
Wheezing doddery geezers, wound up,
got old tickers exercised, had it coming.
Walking sticks waving, yelling fierce curses,
‘Wait here, Constables will be busting youse!’
Scarpered past allotments to Nine Arches pub,
gas time had with them two romping tomboys!
Girls went and pinched bunch of gooseberries,
easy pickings from that Milltown hill grocery.
Then jumped on a steam train to Harcourt street,
sling shots fired at back garden window targets!
Over Grand canal bottles got heaved. One half day!

Rathgar gardens, ladies

Tennis, bowls, golf, summer garden parties,
children times at their Palmerstown park.
Seesaws, gentle cricket, hide and seek, flowers!
Reedy tranquil pond with ducks and swans.
Now with lower class ruffians encroaching,
pouring over canal at Portobello bridge.
For goodness sake! Pull up the bridges!
Riff raff, unkempt in homemade shoes.
Proper orders eroded. Too much.
Dreadfull language. My goodness!
Look dodder parks fields is for them.
That’s what is agreed for so long!

Old park custodian tries to dispatch them,
football never permitted and stolen bikes!
Install penny toil collector with the railings.
Dreadfull rebellion disruption, who wanted?
Thankfully constables and soldiers ended it.
Standards to be maintained. Or else?
Mayhem to reign? For us?

My Calamity

Scoundrel by Rathmines library nicked my bike,
lined up in a row, mine one a sitting duck.
Not what Carnegie’s funding had anticipated.
Toe rag hanging about, right done me head in,
busy upstairs inscribing legitimate demands!
Back on shanks mare, no conveyance vehicle!
Freecking peelers, not bothered one wit.
Not one hauled before those magistrates.
Left me wanting farthing cross bar rides,
barrow boy had me slung in front basket.
Me two legs forked, leading the street.
Father with a right fit.

Zoo house

Dublin’s 14 lions created for Africa’s Serengeti,
not caged in the Park or feasting on fit gazelles,
desperate roaring, pacing to an fro, it ain’t right.
Us suffering conquered people know better!
Have them on Dalkey island, with Martello’s tower,
Mating life, hunting goats, chewing fat hares.
‘Liberty Island’ hail ships from across the waves.
Putting that out there.

Charlie’s leaving

Scary-Mary patrolled our lanes to rein in Charles,
grandma blast us ‘ne’er-do-well, good for nuthins’.
Upper crusts dubious, his wayward acquaintance,
No Civil servant uncle, hampered my prospects.
Caught him cavorting with dodder’s Carmella,
declared that dear girl ‘common as muck hussy’.
Scary grabbed Charles, got hauled by the ear.
Last time either seen about.
Curtailed Amore.

Do something! We suppose out went a panic call,
hierarchy gathered with their far away eyes.
He ended up by Uncle Henry in Capetown,
That leaving had me unhinged, still bristles.
Not expecting my mucker to disappear,

Charlies appeal by letter

Come on!
Forgo United Irish men! Never happen!
Not wallow anymore in that forsaken place.
Brand new land, better way to go.
Servants and so many women!
Come enjoy life, with uncles.
Henry has wines, Philip mines, Gordon farms,
I’ll send the boat tickets! First class.
Eire is too miserable, get over here.
Grandma was so right!
We are on the pigs back!

Kevin not straying

That ship would not be leaving with me.
I’m sticking with Mick Collins and his lads.
There will be no slainte parting from me.
Beig la eile ag on phaorach


Eight months later Charlie returned in a box,
lion safari went belly up, mostly all we heard.
I’d kept my home shirt, never played away.
Best decision!













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