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