Our latest Poem Of The Week, selected by Poetry Ireland, is Mill Jiggers by Elizabeth O’Carroll.


Mill Jiggers

Down boreens, loanens, over sheoughs,

stiles, they walked or ran

to be on time for the man who drove them

waited in groups

standing in heat, rain spit, frost bite,

teeth chattering, tongues clattering,

headscarfs anchored curls, covered ears

kept their wee heads warm

mill jiggers from 13 years onwards,

press ganged into work,

money the imperative,

help mammies rear the bairns.

The lorry van trundled, rattled to

the mill, where they tumbled out to work,

a 13 hour day,

a harsh reality of noise, dust,

hammer click, machinery clack,

standing in water up to knees

linen sticks or "stoves" had to be kept moist,

breakages would corrupt the measure.

Auntie Lizzie worked it, breathed it, wove it,

a cog in the industrial wheel,

as her "betters" pranced, swaggered, lounged, swanked,

admirers "ooed" and "aahed"

at the hang of it, the style of it,

children, women, bent beyond their years,

wizened into crumple, harsh voiced, fetish,

arthritic ankles, jellied legs, knuckled knees,

Dust filled lungs, TB, death.

A pinny wrapped, weave-wrap,

Waspish drudgery.


About The Poet: Elizabeth O’Carroll is a founder member of Bealtaine Writers Group, which originated in a series of workshops offered by the Irish Writers’ Centre and Age and Opportunity as part of the Bealtaine Festival celebrating creativity in older people in May 1999. She is a teacher/facilitator with Le Cheile Writers Group, Donnycarney and a member of Iona Writers. Her work has been published in the two Bealtaine Writers Poetry Anthologies and in numerous publications and online.

A former teacher, born in the orchard county of Armagh, she is the mother of six and grandmother of eleven.