“Droichead na nDeoir” and other poems by BILLY FENTON

This month Trasna is featuring writers participating in Words Ireland National Mentoring ProgrammeEvery year, 22 emerging writers are selected for the program in the areas of literary fiction, creative non-fiction, children’s/YA fiction, and poetry. Each are paired with mentors.

Featured this week is poet Billy Fenton. On participating in Words Ireland, he writes: “I had the privilege of working with Mark Roper over the last eight months, under the Words Ireland National Mentoring programme. As well as enhancing my craft, he gently pushed me to listen more intently to my internal voice, the one that I sometimes don’t want to hear.”

BILLY FENTON on Trasna and the thematic connections with his poetry.

Droichead na nDeoir (Bridge of Tears) is an actual place in the Donegal mountains. In the 19th century, emigrants to the US said goodbye to their families at this bridge. Many of them would never see each other again. The US returned many good things back to the world, including new music. Cracked Voices explores how jazz affected the life of this writer when he was in his early twenties. Finally, the theme of migration continues worldwide and the poem Returning is inspired by Syrian Refugees being turned back at European borders in 2016. Interestingly, the Syrian Christian Church, still uses a form of Aramaic which was the language spoken by Jesus.

The Bridge of Tears is in the Derryveagh Mountains. It was the last place where emigrants saw their loved ones. Photo by Billy Fenton.


Droichead na nDeoir

A stream bites through Muckish gap.

At the bridge, you can’t see back,

or forward. Only the slopes. Heather.

Sky. Like it has always been.


We crossed it each morning

on our way to work. Each evening

when we returned. Maybe

a thousand times or more.


We planned a home. Argued.

Sometimes just sat in silence.

Every evening we came back,

to the rest of our lives together.


I cross the Bridge of Tears,

lean over the wall, stare at

the pictures tossed back

by the water. Your hospital bed.


You wake. You touch my face.

I touch yours. Fall back

into sleep. Never guessed

it was our final goodbye.


Above me at the mountain gap,

the road vanishes. Hands in clay.

New plants growing. Dirty wellies.

Blue boat skimming the waves.


Two naked bodies under the sky

on a bed of mountain heather.



Cracked Voices


It was on my father’s

old Normende radio,

that I first heard your jazz.

Your trumpet mournfully rippled,

across my little bedroom,

broke over my mind,

and we were brothers.


It was on a cassette player,

in a house in Belfast,

that I first heard your flamenco.

I didn’t understand your words,

but your voice was tangled and raw.

It gurgled up from some dark cave,

and spat its pain into Belfast night.


It was on an old LP,

in a Cork boarding house,

that I first heard you sing.

You sang of strange fruit,

and many ordinary things.

In a voice almost broken.

In a voice almost sweet.


Cracked voices,

Not polished,

Not perfect,

Not afraid to risk,

Not a role model to be heard.

Just ordinary to the core.

Just dazzling for the heart.


First published in The Irish Times New Irish Writing. With thanks to editor Ciaran Carty





Betrayed by a mouse click

a thousand miles away,


a man with a face like Jesus

is driven back.


On the returning road

that he cannot take,


he rests under the shade of an olive tree.

A small hand squeezes his.


Angry voices ride the breeze.

A helicopter circles overhead.



Billy Fenton lives outside Waterford City and he writes poetry and short stories. His work has been published in the Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, Crannóg, Honest Ulsterman, Galway Review and others. He was shortlisted for a Hennessy Award in 2018, and for a Write by the Sea Poetry Award in 2019. He was chosen as a mentee for the Words Ireland National Mentoring Programme in 2019.


26 Responses to “Droichead na nDeoir” and other poems by BILLY FENTON

  1. PaulM says:

    Thanks for this set of poems, Billy Fenton. No extra word. I like that approach. Welcome to the reading-world of RichardHowe.com

  2. Jeannie Judge says:

    I am so pleased to discover Billy Fenton’s poetry through this Trasna introduction. These poems are unifying from the Bridge farewells to the flight of the refugee with the jazz music that brings emotion to the core of movement.

  3. Owen Gallagher says:

    I love the poems. Particularly the ‘Bridge of Tears’. My father walked over this bridge, like his father, to be sold at a hiring fair in Letterkenny.

  4. Fionnuala o shea says:

    Thank you Billy for these poems. They evoke sadness, experience and humanity . Made me pause in thought.

  5. Eileen Acheson says:

    Droichead na nDeoir is a wonderful passing over poem – such gentle beauty and reverence.
    I can hear the jazz crackling here in Tipperary and your final poem Returning gives food for thought.
    So glad yourself and Mark linked .
    A gift to my day.

  6. Mary O"Gorman says:

    Such quiet lyricism with not a spare word Billy.
    Each one a gem. With those few words, you can go straight to one’s heart. I loved them!

  7. Mary O"Gorman says:

    Such quiet lyricism with few words to spare.
    Billy is a meticulous craftsman
    Each poem evokes so many feelings and having read them, I am humbled.
    Absolutely beautiful poetry.

  8. Theresa Jones says:

    Bill, Such visions you envoke. I love them, you make me want to travel to the Bridge of Tears. Listen to music. You capture it all so well.

  9. Kevin Halpin says:

    Just like all forms of art , poetry tells a story that creates a picture in the mind of the reader through words. Your words Billy evoke powerful stories, raw emotion & lasting images through your 3 beautifully written poems . Thank you .

  10. Mary-Claire says:

    Billy has a gift for conveying the enormity of love, loss and inhumanity in a raw humble simplicity that is disturbingly good. His poems have made me re-boil the kettle for coffee and time out to muse on justice,jazz and love interrupted. I’m awed,thank you.

  11. Mary Nugent says:

    Beautiful. I love how poetry simply stops us and asks us to pause for thought. My most loved medium – along with music. The bridge is powerful – and I love the image of the naked bodies in the heather. But cracked voices is the absolute winner for me today…I shall quote it and share it with friends if I may. Thank youb