Tom Kelly

This small patch

by th’ Slaaks
Don dribbles
where rough grass
meets dark earth.

Gyrwe-(pronounced Yeerweh) were Fen Dwellers, Anglo Saxons who occupied the area before Bede (673-735). Gyrwe through constant usage became Jarrow. Jarrow’s Slake is reclaimed land on the south bank of the Tyne, near St. Paul’s Church. It was made-up of mud-flats and became known as Jarrow’s Lake, corrupted to Jarrow Slake or ‘Jarra Slaaks’ as we locals call it. It was here, in 1832, Willian Jobling, the last man gibbeted in the north, was placed on a gibbet and displayed for three weeks. Chemicals from the nearby Alkali Works fed into the river Don and Slake creating a toxic mix. Timber was seasoned here and it became a bird sanctuary until 1972 when reclamation work began and it is now used by Port of Tyne for storing cars.

Jobling’s Prayer

Father art you in Heaven,
praying for aal ower souls?
Ah’m aa young lad bought an’ sold,
in th’ pit from just seven.

Chest frozen waata, grab coal,
eager watching th’ lamps lick,
waitin’ for aa blinding kick
ti be left in that black hole.

An aa’ve lived wi’ death most days,
seen loads dead, me brother died;
aa hung on ti life an’ cried,
in Jarrow’s Pit wi aal pray.

Aa knaa now aa’l meet me end
on aa rope, not aa fall or gas,
an’ it’s not aa lot ti ask,
can ye be God an’ aa friend?

William Jobling was gibbeted for his part of the murder of South Shields magistrate Nicholas Fairles. He was tried at Durham Assizes, found guilty, hung, covered in pitch and his body was escorted by one hundred Hussars to Jarrow Slake where he was placed upon a gibbet 17 feet high. After three weeks his friends, risking transportation, stole and hid his body. The location is unknown. Today the gibbet can be
found in South Shields Museum.

Tom Kelly © 2018

Th’ Slaaks


‘Aa man’s hung out there.’
The oldest lad that knew everything
tells us in a shaky voice.

I saw a man upside down
in me bed hanging.

Now the river Don,
bathed in lurid chemical waste for decades,
has me examining remains:
a mess of left-overs
no seasoned timber but posts
monuments to a past
dead an never buried.

Bede & Temple meant nowt ti me

as aa try ti recall th’ monastery,
‘Old church,’ we would say.
‘Bede’ was th’ name of lads in me school.

Ah’m lookin’ in th’ windows of th’ Hall,
not knowin’ Simon Temple built it
then opened Jarra’s Alfred Pit with aa grand opening
aafore his Hylton Castle bankruptcy
an ended-up wi’ nowt: we had that in common.

My great grandfather, Thomas Cumiskey, came from Clonbur, Galway late in the nineteenth century. He married Jarrow lass Bridget Lydon and had four daughters and one adopted son. They lived in Albion Street, Lord Street and finally High Street where he died in 1944. He could neither read nor write and his daughters would read the ‘Gazette’ to him, after he told them he had had lost his glasses or it was too dark for him to read. Like many Irishmen in Jarrow he supported Home Rule for Ireland and spoke Gaelic.

Thomas Cumiskey
(1866- 1944)

I am with my great-grandfather
looking for work,
finding lodgings in Jarrow.

He’s uncertain in these paved streets,
joining men spitting down Ellison Street
to Palmers' shipyard.

His boots sturdy
cobbled by his father
before he left Galway.

He works with the riveters’.
Noise is hell.
The fields of Clonbur
he would love to cup in his hands,
hold silence he dreams of carrying.

Geordie voices confuse
he deals in nods and smiles
carrying riveters’ hammers
on decks’ of marooned boats.

Today he wants to be home
there is a hole
where family should be.

The Foreman knows an Irish face
when he sees one,
calls him, ‘Paddy’.

Grandmother at that door, Jarrow 1913
(Margaret Cumiskey 20.1.1893- 18.2.1969)

Grandmother’s held-in smile
I have not seen before.
In this photograph
you are a young woman
standing at a door
with a man I imagine is an Irish lodger.

Did he whisper honeyed words?
Opening your heart
to the possibility of love.

I want to eavesdrop
discover his name,
feelings’ abandoned
at that door.

Tom Kelly © 2018