Kushti Grai - by Raine Geoghegan

23 January 2020
Kushti Grai - by Raine Geohegan

Romany poet and writer Raine Geoghegan writes about Edward O’ Neil’s horse Mad Alf – a former war horse that had shell shock from its time serving in the British Army in World War One:

Im Michael Edward O’Neil and the horse known as Mad Alf

He was called Mad Alf, on account of ‘im bein’ on the nervous side. He couldn’t stand still, ‘cause of the shell shock see, all the noise of the guns, did ‘is ‘ead in. Me da bought ‘im fer a shillin’, otherwise it would’ve bin the knacker’s yard, like so many others. ‘Ee was an army grai, a kushti grai.

Me da thought the world of ‘im and took ‘im everywhere. The chavies loved ‘im and ‘ee them. The only time ‘ee stood still was when they were strokin’ ‘im. ‘Ain’t you a luvley boy?’ They’d say. Me da sold ‘errin’s in the main square and Mad Alf would trot to and fro until it was time to go ‘ome. I was only a nipper but I remember it well. Me da comin’ back to the vardo, tellin’ us about ‘is day, stinkin’ of fish.

‘Ee used to let me give Mad Alf some ‘obben, carrots and grains and all the time ‘ee kept ‘oppin’ from one foot to the other, ‘ee was beautiful though. When we settled fer the raddi, we’d ‘ear a strange noise, a sort of screechin’ sound, ‘igh pitched. Da said ‘Ee’s ‘ad it ard, ‘ee done ‘is bit.’  ‘Ee must of bin frit to death, going didilow on the battlefield’ me da said, then ‘ee tutted and put ‘is ‘ead down so I couldn’t see the tears.

One day I ‘eard someone cryin, ’ I went outside and saw me dad on the ground, is ‘ead bent down, one vast on the grai’s neck, the ‘uver on ‘is back. Mad Alf lie mullered.  The first time I ever saw a mullered grai. No words fer it.

Da made a wooden carvin’ of Mad Alf which took pride of place on the mantle piece. ‘Ee   couldn’t spell but ’ee managed to write, ‘Ere is Mad Alf, our phral, a kushti grai. Duvel Parik me freno.

By Raine Geoghegan

With sincere thanks to Charles O’Neil, who kindly allowed me to write about his Grandfather Michael Edward O’Neil who lived in Carlisle and bought the horse known as Mad Alf.

Romani words:  Kushti – lovely; Grai – horse; Chavies – children; Vardo – wagon; Hobben – food; Raddi – night; Didilow – out of his mind; Vast – hand; Mullered – dead;  Phral: brother/best mate; Duvel parik me freno: God bless my friend.

Raine Geoghegan, M.A. is a poet and prose writer of Romany, Welsh and Irish descent. Her work has been nominated for the Forward Prize, Best of the Net & Pushcart Prize. Publications include: Poetry Ireland Review; The Curlew; Travellers’ Times; Ofi Press and Under the Radar and many more. Her pamphlet, ‘Apple Water: Povel Panni’, was launched in December 2018 and was listed in the Poetry Book Society Spring 2019 Selection.  Her new pamphlet, ‘they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog’ also published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in December 2019.  She performs her work here in the UK and Ireland.