When I was young in Abbeyleix
It was a really magical place
By day it was bounded
By as far as I could see
And by night it was bounded
By the farthest stars from me
They told me God lived just above the stars
And all was well in my universe

An open stream meandered its way
Down the left hand side of Main Street
It was traversed at intervals by little bridges,
A veritable Venice in the heart of County Laois.
Well not quite. And not a Bridge of Sighs was in sight

The traffic was mainly of the horse drawn variety
With only occasional cars passing though
From faraway places like Durrow
Ballacolla and Marborough
The one exception was when Cork or Tipperary
Was playing in an all Ireland Final
And then our little backwater
Became host to a frenzy of transient cars
And on these special Sunday mornings,
I sat on the gate pillar of our house
Enthralled by the parade of passing horsepower pressed into service
To support their beloved counties glorious endeavours
In that mythic field known as Croke Park
Then back that night through Abbeyleix still supporting their teams
And all we could do, being from Laois, was look on and dream

The different shops were a source of fascination.
The white haired Mr Mitchell sold groceries
From a green wooden structure on Lower Main Street.
I am tempted to call it a shack
But it was more upmarket than that
You did not have to pay for anything,
Everything was written up in a big book.

Morrissey’s pub looked the same then as it does today
It later became famous for being Morrissey’s
They too had a big book and a delivery service
Long before Superquinn or Tesco
Except that Morrissey’s delivered by bicycle
With space for a big basket of groceries
And of this was long before, it’s owner, Paddy Mulhall
Became lord and master over all he surveyed
And in the years in between
It made it to the pages of Time Magazine

In Baggot’s you could buy hardware as well as groceries
But you had to pay and the busy shop reverberated
To the sound of an overhead rail system
Carrying cash from customers to the office
And carrying their change back on the return journey
In the nineteen fifties Abbeyleix
Baggot’s had achieved the ultimate in retail sophistication

But it was not the only rail system in town
We were blessed with our very own train station
Which was visited on a daily basis
By big black engines pulling wooden carriages
From cities and towns across the nation
They were a godsend to a people
Without cars in those difficult times
And were great for flattening pennies
That we left on the lines

I used to be an altar boy
And I learned the Latin text
And thought I’d like to be a priest
Until I discovered the opposite sex

Much of life revolved around the next life
And the Church was overflowing every Sunday
With the congregation assembled
According to their station in life
The readings of the scriptures were in Latin
So we became highly evolved day dreamers
However, there was one ritual
That commanded our attention
And had us sitting on the edge of our seats
The reading of the Christmas and Easter dues provided a snapshot
Of the financial status of the haves and of the have-nots
And although I am sure it was not its intent
It must have been a source of both pride and embarrassment

The highlight of the liturgical year was mission week
With the merchants of fire and brimstone
Terrorising the faithful with intimations of
Everlasting punishment for perceived sin
And the pedlars of prayer books and rosary beads
Selling the means whereby they might be made whole again

The fair days were truly a sight to behold
With the Main Street and Market Square thronged by
Young and old, people and pigs, in their assorted trailers and carts
The buzz on the street was palpable
And I can only guess what it was like in the bars.
The hucksters from out of town with their sophisticated patter
Were seeking to part us from whatever little money we had
Selling essentials and trivia that didn’t matter
From their tented shops and covered stalls
They were unwelcome competition for nearly all
Of the local traders, as they as they struggled to make a living

In the lazy hazy crazy days of Summer
There was many a bicycle trip to the river Nore
Where we learned to swim and have such fun there
And pretend we were sun bathing in Tramore

The Nore field was often black with people
It was free entertainment for young and old
In those days before heated swimming pools
When we hardly noticed the freezing cold

The boy scouts came on the train from Dublin
And camped in the De Vesci estate
They were Jackeens and we were Culchies
But their songs ‘round the campfire were great

The De Vesci estate was an adventure playground
With so much for young boys to explore
A treasure house that could never be exhausted
That kept us coming back for more

Fr. Breen Memorial Park, the home of our teams
With its sloping grassy banks was our Field of Dreams
I dreamed of the annual Féis
And winning the under ten race
I experienced success and failure
While young girls dancing in Irish Costumes
Dreamed of winning a medal place.
On the back of a lorry or trailer

Interclub matches were deadly serious
With much pride and prestige on the line
And supporters were even more involved
Than some of the players at times
So our hurling and football heroes
Dreamed of those rare occasions
When they could get on with playing the game
Without the threat of a pitch invasion

And there is much more I could tell you about
But I fear I go on too long
And I’m not too sure about this poetry
I think I prefer writing songs

Now I am growing old with grace
Abbeyleix is still a magical place
By day it is bounded by as far as I can see
And by night it is bounded by the farthest stars from me
They tell me God now lives in me
And all is well in my universe

Thank God for Abbeyleix