The Moon on his Back

by John Kelly 11th June 2016

recieving treatment in hospital

On my last visit to Dublin I was introduced to John Kelly, a documentary photographer and sculptor with some incredible stories from 1990s Dublin. He mentioned about having documented Pat Tierney, a poet and playwright who died in tragic circumstances. The story was deeply personal and touching. I suggested to him that on edge street would be a good place to share Pat’s story. John got to know Pat while photographing him over the course of a year in the mid 90s. The following is Pat’s story through John’s pictures and words.

book reading nuns island galway

Pat Tierney was born in 1957 in Galway city. His mother, who was 17 years of age gave birth out of wedlock. They were both taken to a home for unmarried mothers and their children. From a very young age Pat was transferred from religious institution to institution before ending up in St. Patrick’s institution for young offenders. Pat made contact with his family in England and he travelled to meet them and for a reunion with his mother.

Unfortunately this reunion did not work out and after getting in trouble with the law Pat was deported back to Ireland. Pat couldn’t settle in Ireland and soon left for America. He travelled around the United States residing in Michigan, Wyoming, California and Florida. In each place Pat played an active part in the social and cultural life of the Irish American community.

However Pat was to encounter the dark side of life with excessive drinking and intravenous drug use which was later to come back to haunt him.

Pat’s final journey took him to rural Newfoundland where he discovered the joy and freedom which poetry can be. He became something of a local celebrity in Newfoundland appearing on the radio and TV. However his stay in Newfoundland was cut short when local authorities began to investigate his status in the country. In fact Pat was in the country illegally and had to leave quickly.

He decided to return once more to Ireland.

tyrone guthrie centre monaghan

with diceman

Upon returning Pat decided to take poetry to the people and started reciting poems in Henry Street and Grafton Street. Pat moved into Ballymun on Dublin’s northside and became active in various community activities throughout the area.

He established the Ballymun Rhymers Club where taught children how to recite poems and encouraged them to write their own. He self published several books containing his poems as well as an autobiography entitled “The Moon On My Back”

rhymers club ballymun

During a routine examination lumps were discovered in his armpits. As a result of his intravenous drug use and sharing dirty needles, Pat was diagnosed as being HIV positive.

start of sponsored walk galway

I was initially approached by a journalist writing a book on Pat. He was to write the text and I was to photograph Pat over the period of a year. I had known Pat from a distance from his time spent reciting and selling poetry on Grafton Street.

Towards the end of the year I was told that the book at been scrapped. At first I was disappointed having spent a year photographing Pat. I got to know Pat and I was determined to continue.

aids alliance protest

Pat continued working on several community projects as well as with the Dublin Aids alliance. “The Moon On My Back” was adapted by Pat and was eventually staged in the Emblana Theatre Dublin. A second autobiography was planned and on the surface all was well. This however was not the case.

Pat’s health worsened the play was not the commercial success and he ended up getting into debt. The second autobiography did not materialise. I could clearly see a change in him. He became less active the lack of energy must have been frustrating for someone like him. It was only then that I began to see another side of Pat. He felt vulnerable and not in control.

I began to see less and less of Pat I was in contact with him on Monday the 1st of January 1996. He told me he had made a decision to take his life that Thursday the 4th his 39th birthday.

coffin on balcony ballymun

open coffin ballymun

Pat had mentioned in his book The Moon on my Back that as a child he had had a dream that a moon was chasing him.

The 4th of January 1996 was the first full moon of that year.

funeral glasnevin cemetary

scattering ashes grafton street dublin

You can contact John Kelly via the following email address: [email protected]


  1. These photos have a nuance I can’t articulate that captures Pat’s way of life very movingly. Beautiful.

  2. Pat was a very close family friend!
    Took me and my brother all around Dublin in ballymun rhymes club, Dublin zoo, beach, even buskin!!!

    Nicest man, to date I’ve ever met and still sadly missed!!

  3. I remember the news of the “poet who hanged himself”. I’d seen Pat around and about but the deepest impression he made on me was the resigned sadness in people’s eyes. We’d come through the 80s in Ballymun and Pat had moved there at the height of uncare in the community. the pictures above are a reminder of the concrete realities of Irish life.

  4. I absolutely love this first met him outside Was one in Galway reciting…I have a signed copy of that beautiful sad ,funny memorable book.He was an amazing man..I have his picture on my wall and remember him daily.. There was only one Pat Tierney but so many more that never got to tell their story…Never forgotten Pat.Rest easy .x

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