Cullen 1 was the exchange at the Post Office
Where Loretta filtered and enabled
Incoming and outgoing calls. Cullen 2
Was the Creamery store where they took orders
For ration and issued the milk account books
Of folded canvas. We had the next phone
Because our father drove to sell insurance
From here to Dingle and up to Kerry Head.
So we were where the neighbours had to turn
To ring for inseminators or the vet.
Sometimes the number led to a confusion
With the Cistercian Monastery in County Louth,
Also Cullen 3. We used to imagine
A Brother picking up the phone to listen to
A Cork accent reporting whether the wash
For ringworm treatment was yet in stock.
A generation later, here in Oxford,
Bent-backed Tony with his jaunty hat
And clipped vowels came often to our door
To ring for a taxi to take him home
To his flat in Princes Street from the house
Of blind Miss Monk where she wept amidst
Her starving cats, numerous beyond count.
Mostly we waved away the shilling payment:
‘How kind of you!’ But I’d like to be able
To report that we did it with a better grace
After a lifetime of practice in noblesse.
Bernard O'Donoghue was born in Cullen, Co Cork. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College, where he taught Medieval English and Modern Irish Poetry. He has published six collections of poetry.