“Jaysus, Paddy,” said Shane loudly, “watch where you’re putting those feet of yours. Better take it easy friend, for one little mistake might just send you, arse over tit, two hundred feet down to where you could become supper for the sharks. There are very few that would dare venture down here, wee man, except for the odd wild fox and the honest smuggler. God help them, for they are both poor persecuted creatures, but the ‘Big Man’ has given them good helpings of gumption that allow us to find a place of shelter, where we can enjoy the rewards of our good work. Glory be to his holy name!”
Shane knew this place well and was not far short with his estimate of the sheer cliff’s height. The fearful cliff overhung the deep Atlantic Ocean, and a narrow pathway wound its way, snake-like, round and beneath so many terrifying precipices. It was likely, that if Paddy Corr had realised his predicament in the clear light of day, he may have been so frightened that he may have slipped in his fear and became a cold meal for sharks, just as Shane had intimated. Being ignorant of his frightening situation was the thing that saved Paddy’s life. Shane, meanwhile, had an inherent knowledge of this secret pathway, and a limberness of muscle unknown to most men. It was his ability to move so assuredly and smoothly that allowed him to swiftly follow every twist and turn of that treacherous path as it wound its way downward.
As the two men moved down the path the wild sea birds were disturbed from their sleep and swept past them from their nests, screeching cries of alarm that aroused others that were resting farther down the path. As they moved around the foot of the cliff, where the projecting crags formed the sides of a little cove, a harsh and threatening voice demanded “Who goes there?”
The voice echoed along the receding wall of rocks and sounded like the challenge from a huge guardian that was conducting its nightly patrol of the area. Those loud words blended with the sound of beating wings, and the frightened cries of sea birds. The horrid sounds of these cries were multiplied a thousand fold, almost as if all the demons of Hell had chosen to gather in that lonely place at that hour, and add their shrieks of terror to the wind.
“Who goes there?” demanded the guardian of this wild place and once again brought about a cacophony of terrifying noises.
“A friend, my old pal,” Shane answered. “Peadar, big man, what powerful lungs you have! But keep your voice a little bit lower, my friend, or you might waken the guagers and they could grab you when you least expect it.”
“Shane Fee! You old thief!” the guardian replied. “Is it yourself?” Both men laughed and big Peadar turned his attention to Paddy, saying “You, wee man, take care of that tall, pasty-faced schemer doesn’t take advantage of you. But, I will shake your hand in the knowledge that Shane will yet come to a nasty end. Not another creature, except maybe a fox, could creep down that cliff in the full dark of night. But I know what saved your arses. Fate says the man that’s born to be hanged will not be drowned!”
“By Jaysus, Peadar,” said Shane, who was rather annoyed by the manner in which the big guard had made fun of him, “do you carry that big gun over your shoulder to convince people that you are not the wee woman that you truly are? Aye, just like a woman you wave the gun about and scare every bird on the cliff with your bull-roar of a voice! Now, make way there, you big gobshite, or I’ll stick that gun’s barrel up your arse and pull the trigger!”
“Away to the boss, bucket mouth,” replied the big guard. “I swear that, as sure as there is an eye in a goat, after you have danced on the gallows, you blackguard, I will buy your corps from the hangman and use it as a scarecrow!”
After they had moved on a few paces along the narrow ledge that lay between the steep cliff and the sea, Shane and Paddy entered a large cave excavated from the rock, which seemed to have been formed some kind of volcanic activity when the world was young. The path running through the cavern was covered with fine sand that had been hardened by frequent pressure, and it caused the sounds of their feet to reverberate in the gloominess. Ahead of the two men a strong light gleamed, piercing the darkness and partially revealing the walls of the cavern. The far space beneath the lofty cavern roof, was impervious to the powerful light and extended onward, dark and undefined. From this darkness came the sound of human voices shouting and laughing uproariously. As Paddy and Shane moved onward a strange scene burst into view.
Before a huge, blazing fire which illuminated all the deep recesses of the high over-arching rock that rose to form the lofty roof of this Gothic cathedral, sat five strange and unkempt men. They were wild-looking men who were dressed in a variety of seamen’s clothing. Between the men was a large sea-chest, upon which was placed a large earthenware flaggon, from which one of the men, probably their leader, poured sparkling amber liquid into a single glass that was quickly passed around each of them. As they drank, the men joked, laughed and sang loudly echoing throughout the expansive cavern.
“Well men!” said Shane loudly as they approached the group of men. “Ah! Mister Cronin, it looks like you and the boys are having great fun. Let’s all have another glass of Brandy and we can all laugh and sing together. How is it with that big hound of a dog, that knows how to bark so well at those dirty, plundering thieves of guagers?”
“Ah! sure you’re very welcome, Shane,” replied Cronin with a large smile across his face. “The customer you’ve brought us may be depended upon for his discretion, I hope. Sit down, boys.”
“We thank you,” Shane answered. “As for being dependable, there is no decenter man in this land than Paddy Corr, that stands here.”
“Come on boys, and get yourselves a wee drink of our best Brandy, while I help you to some ham,” the smuggler offered. “I know you Shane Fee, you have the stomach of a shark, the digestion of an ostrich, and the good taste of the connoisseur.”
“By God, that’s a compliment when it comes from your mouth, Mister Cronin,” replied the much flattered Shane. “Gentlemen, here’s a toast to free trade among honest men, and hang all informers from the highest trees! By all that’s good!” he said , smacking his lips, “But that’s the quare stuff! It brings a powerful warmth to the stomach!”
“You are welcome to our home, Paddy Corr,” the leader of the group spoke loudly, “there’s a roof over our head, the rent is paid, and the barrels of best Brandy have not been watered down. So eat, drink, and be merry. When the moon reaches its highest point, we can proceed to business.”
Paddy, being the gentleman that he was, made ready to thank his host until Shane Fee again interrupted. “I have never saw a man, himself and his friends. Drinking and womanising on land, and spreading the sails of that boat of yours ‘The Black Widow’ over the sea. By the Devil, if I had Donald the Piper beside me, and that barrel of Brandy, sure I’d drink and dance until morning. But here’s to God’s blessing on us all, and success to our trip, Paddy, my friend.” And with those words he drained his glass.
Then, after many successive rounds passed by, the emaciated looking Shane Fee became totally intoxicated, and he called out at the top of his voice, “Silence now, boys, untl I give you a song.” In a squeaking, non-melodic,and out of tune voice he began to sing:
“Ah, will you come to the bower,
O’er the deep and thunderous ocean,
Where stupenduous waves roll,
In deep and thunderous motion.
Where the mermaids are seen,
and the fierce tempest gathers,
To Ireland the Green,
Dear home of our fathers.
Will you come?
Will you? Will you?
Will you come to the bower?