Month: March 2018

The Quest Part II

Sorry about the delay folks, but here it is ……

 

When, after many days, Dinny reached the city he went immediately to London Bridge, without stopping for rest or food. His journey had not been easy, often being given wrong directions and, just as often, mistook  turns that led him off course. It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon, with blistered feet, bedraggled clothing, exhausted and agitated, that Dinny joined the crowd of people crossing over the bridge.

Having been born and raised in rural Ireland, everything in this huge, bustling city was so new and so alien to him. It did not take him very long to feel overwhelmed by a place that displayed a complete lack of warmth toward the poor and friendless people who came there to seek their fortune. In such a city, Dinny quickly began to feel insignificant, abandoned, and terrified. He looked at the faces in the crowd as they jostled past him, and he timidly shrank back from their stares and sneers. Dinny stumbled about among the crowd, unable to collect his thoughts and bring himself back to what had brought him there. He began to recall the long, hard journey that he had just undertaken, and where that journey had brought him. Dinny now began to wonder about the words of the vision he had and he began to lose all faith in them. He wondered how stupid he had been for believing in what was nothing more than a simple dream. In his confused state he ran out of the crowd, seeking some kind of sanctuary in the side streets of the city. Finding a quiet, sheltered doorway of an empty shop he sat down, crying himself to sleep as he thought of his poor wife back home, despairing of what the future might bring to her.

Dinny awoke the next morning, a little more rested and a little less agitated, but there was no longer any light of hope in his heart. But, being in a better frame of mind Dinny decided  that the best thing that he could do now was to go back to Ireland, as soon as he had begged, borrowed, or stolen enough money to make his passage easy. With this in mind he moved out into the public areas again and beg from those people who appeared vulnerable to his appeals. It was early in the morning, which he much preferred to the later hours of the day, when the city’s streets would be thronged. On this occasion, Dinny met very few passers-by as he walked  through the streets, and very few of those were able or willing to go give him even a half-penny to him, despite all his pleading, trembling lips and tear-filled eyes.

He wasn’t sure what streets he had taken, or in what direction he had gone. But, by some strange twist of life he found himself once again at London Bridge. This time, however, there was nothing to terrify or overwhelm him. On this occasion there were, fortunately, a lot less people about and those that were moving to and fro made little impression on Dinny. Under such changed circumstances Dinny began to regain some of his self-confidence and soon began to recall the message he had received  from the apparition. “Come on,  Dinny! Get your arse in gear,” he urged himself. “You’re on London Bridge now, so go over every square inch of it to see what good it will do you.

Dinny crossed the bridge and, as he reached the far end, he noticed that a public house was beginning to open its doors to customers. As he walked past this public house he caught sight of an elderly man with sunken eyes, red cheeks and a prominent red nose, whom he was sure he recognised. The elderly man noticed Dinny staring at him and, in return, the elderly man returned his stare, taking his time to decide whom and what he was looking at. Dinny took an immediate dislike to this publican and, uncomfortable at the way he stared at him, Dinny hurried on. “I think I will walk back over on the other side now,” he thought, after giving the elderly publican enough time to finish opening his premises and move indoors again.

But, as Dinny moved past the pub once again, the elderly man appeared. He was leaning against the door-jamb, as if waiting for Dinny’s return and, on this occasion, he took his opportunity to examine the young man much more closely. “What the Hell is wrong with him?” Dinny asked himself. “Do I have two heads and that’s why he is examining me so closely? Ah, sure let him look! Him and his ferret eyes! I’ll just walk on down the middle of the road.

Once again Dinny walked toward the public-house, keeping to the middle of the road this time. “Good morning, friend,” the old publican greeted him, as Dinny passed his door for the third time.

Nervously Dinny replied, “And good morning to you too!” respectfully touching the brow of his battered old hat he was wearing, and began walking a little faster.

Isn’t’ it a bit early for a morning walk?” asked the publican.

Without slackening his pace even a little, Dinny told him, “Aye, it is brave and early.

Sure why don’t you stop for a moment and take the weight off your feet?” the elderly publican asked and Dinny came to an abrupt halt. “I can see by your dress and hear by your voice that you are Irish and a fellow countryman of mine. Sure I would know one of my own people at a glance, even though it is many a years since I left my native home. And if you don’t mind me saying, you’re not looking very well-off on London Bridge this morning. Sit down sure and give us some of your craic.

Ah, sure I know what I look like, sir,” replied Dinny, “I’m about as badly off as a man could be. If it was raining good fortune, sure I would be standing with a fork!

Are you here looking for the work?

In all honesty, no,” Dinny told him. “I just came out here this morning, hoping to beg enough money that will get me at least some of the way.

Well, here is a shilling or two that just might help you,” said the old man. “Why don’t you sit on this bench by the door and I will bring you some bread and cheese to accompany a big mug of tea.

old london bridgeSmiling, Dinny accepted the man’s kind invitation, gratefully. He now blamed himself for having allowed his opinion of the kindly publican to be guided by his first impression of the man. Now, while he ate his bread and cheese, and drank his strong tea, Dinny and the old man talked freely with each other. In fact, Dinny felt so comfortable in the man’s company that he began to really open his heart more and more. The old publican asked the young man about his reasons for coming to London. Dinny, however, didn’t want to give the man the real reason at first, but the more they talked the more Dinny felt it was not right to hide the answer to his generous new friend. “You are probably wondering why I haven’t given you a straight answer, but my reason will sound terribly foolish to you. What brought me to London and London Bridge is an odd sort of dream that came to me in Ireland, which told me to come here and I would get my fortune.

Much to Dinny’s embarrassment, the publican burst into a loud laugh. “Good Jaysus, why would you be so stupid as to put your trust in stupid dreams like that. You know, I have had many of those dreams myself but I never bothered my head with them. In fact, in those days you were travelling and dreaming of finding a pot of gold in London, I was dreaming of finding a pot of gold in Ireland.

Surprised by this revelation, Dinny lay down his empty pint on the table and asked, “Did you?”.

I did, indeed,” the old man smiled. “Night after night an old friar with a pale face, and dressed all in white and black, and a black skull-cap on his head, came to me in a dream. He told me that I should go to Ireland, to a certain spot in a certain county that I know very well, and under the slab of his tomb, that has a cross and some old Latin lettering on it, in an old abbey that I know about, I would find a treasure that would make me a rich man all the days of my life,” he laughed.

Holy God!” Dinny exclaimed and a strange expression came over his face. “Did he tell you that the treasure had lain buried there for a very a long time under the open sky and the old walls?”

No,” replied the publican quietly, “but he did tell me that I would find the slab covered in by a shed that a poor man had lately built inside the abbey for himself and his family.”

Christ!” screamed Dinny, caught off his guard by the sudden joy that he derived from hearing such news, which was also helped by the refreshment he felt after the food he had been given. At the same time, Dinny jumped up from his seat and stared angrily at the man.

“What’s the matter with you?” the publican, frowning and with a look of fear on his face.

I’m sorry friend,” said Dinny quickly as he regained some of his former composure. “Sure there’s nothing is a matter with me, and why should there be? Isn’t what we were talking about just pure nonsense? The funny thing, though, is that you had a dream about your home country, which you haven’t seen in many years. Did you say twenty years?

Dinny, of course, had a very good reason for asking this question. But the old publican was still puzzled at the young man’s sudden change in attitude. “If I said so, I forgot,” answered the publican, “But it is about twenty years, indeed, since I left Ireland.

With manners like yours, and the kind way in which you treat strangers, I would say that you were a man of some note in that place before you left?”

You’re not far wrong, friend. Before misfortunes overcame me, I owned quite a large bit of property as well as the ground upon which that  old ruined Abbey stands. You know, the same one in my foolish dream that I mentioned.

So did that Lucifer’s child of an uncle of mine,” thought Dinny. The young man’s heart pounded heavily and his blood began to boil, but he used every ounce of will to keep calm in the man’s presence. Here before him stood that evil, treasonous man but Dinny decided to hold  his peace for a while longer.

The grounds that the ruins of the old Abbey are on, sir, and the good land that’s around it? And did you say that these lie somewhere in the county that I come from myself?”

And what county would that be, friend?” the publican enquired and Dinny noticed a studious frown return  to his face.

County Armagh,” lied Dinny, as he said the first county name that came into his head.

No, not Armagh. It was in County Louth,” the publican told him.

Was it, indeed?” screamed Dinny, springing up from his chair. He just could not control his temper any longer and blindly lashed out at his uncle, causing him to fall, stretched out, at his feet. It was time now, Dinny decided, to reveal his true identity.

Do you know to whom you are telling this story? Did you know that the sister that you caused to die left behind her a son, who one day might overhear you?” Dinny was now kneeling beside the prostrate man, keeping him down as he struggled.

It is that son, Dinny Sweeney, that is by your side now, and he has more to tell you. That shed that you were talking about, which was built over the old friar’s tombstone was built by the same hands that you now feel on your throat,” Dinny spat out viciously.

He now took a rope from under a nearby bench and began to tie his uncle tightly with it. “That tombstone you mentioned is the  hearthstone of my fire, and now while you are lying here in the cool of the morning, and with no one to help you, I’ll make a start on the journey home. When I get there I will lift that flagstone and get the treasure for myself.

The uncle struggled to free himself and Dinny gave him a very stern warning. “Now you can follow me if you dare! But, you know that you are a wanted man back home, and there is a good reward for your capture.” As the uncle continued to struggle he dislodged a heavy cash bag that he had prepared to deposit in the bank. It fell to the floor and Dinny immediately took possession of it.

Now this will help me to get home all the quicker! I am sure, uncle, you will agree that I deserve to get a little bit of my own inheritance from you. So now, uncle, I wish you a good morning, and bid you farewell!”

Dinny now dragged his bound-up uncle into a back-room of the premises and closed the door. Taking the keys to the premises he shut the front door, locked it, and threw the bunch of  keys into the river. As fast as his feet would carry him, Dinny made his escape, confident that once he was free his uncle would set out after him. He was certain that his uncle would seek revenge for the beating Dinny had given him, and for the bag of cash that he had taken with him. Above all, however,his uncle would track him down, because as an outlawed murderer he would be determined to rid himself of someone who was knew of his true identity, and was prepared to hand him over to the law. What troubled Dinny most was the fact that it would now become a race between him and his uncle as to who would recover the treasure that lay under the old tombstone. He was, therefore, determined not to waste even a minute of time in getting back to that shed he had built in the ruins of the old Abbey again. To assist him he made free use of the money he had liberated from his uncle to purchase speediest means he could to get home first.

After leaving London he went directly to Liverpool, where he would get one of the regular ferries to Ireland. But, because the departure of his ferry was delayed a few hours Dinny started to become anxious that such a delay would allow his uncle to catch up to him. As the ferry finally began to ease its way out of the dock Dinny began to breathe a lot easier at the thought that he would be back in Ireland in a matter of a few hours. He went up on deck to watch the departure and, as he did, Dinny noticed a slight commotion on the dockside. Although the ship was already a good distance from the dock, Dinny could still see the figure of a shouting angrily and pointing towards him. He could not, however, hear what was going on, but he became concerned that the angry man was his uncle. Dinny was greatly relieved as the ferry began to make good speed through the sea, though he was still worried that his uncle might only be an hour or two behind.

A worrying thought came to Dinny’s mind that his uncle just might hire a faster vessel to catch up with him, and even pass the ferry. He stayed on deck for a long while straining to see if such a vessel was pursuing him. Eventually, though, weariness and the want of sleep overpowered him, and he fell into a disturbed slumber from which he would awake covered in a cold sweat. In Dinny’s dream filled sleep he saw a fast vessel bursting through the  of the sea and pulling past the ferry that he was sailing on. But, when morning dawned and he saw the shoreline rise up before him, Dinny felt greatly relieved and went back on deck to see his ship enter the harbour. He had reached Ireland, and yet, there was still niggling feeling within him that his uncle could not be far behind him.

Disembarking his ferry, Dinny hurried home as quickly as he could and, the closer the steam train took him, the easier became his concerns. At last he reached the nearest station to home, and jumping on the platform he rushed to get a taxi that would take that last leg home. The road ahead was a level winding road and any thoughts of being pursued had seemed to have left him. As the sun rose to its highest point the road began to ascend a hillside that was surrounded by a large bog. Only when Dinny’s taxi reached the summit of the hill did he look back along the winding road to see another vehicle speeding up the road from the foot of the hill.

Get a move on, for God’s sake” urged Dinny as the taxi began to speed down the descending road and then along another level section, which continued for at least two miles. At the end of this stretch was another, not as steep as the previous but, as he reached the summit and  looked back, he saw the other vehicle breaking the summit of that previous hill. On and on the chase continued in this fashion, until the road narrowed and began to wind its way through an uncultivated and virtually uninhabited wilderness. Urging the driver onward along the road until, at last, they reached the end of the valley, through which they had been driving. In the distance Dinny could now see the sloping ground and the Abbey ruin, which encircled his poor home with its grey, destroyed walls.

The setting sun was now streaming its warming rays over the land and with the end of his journey in sight he urged his driver to speed on. They had not gone far when there was a loud sputtering noise, and the clanging of metal upon metal. A huge cloud of steam came out of the front of the vehicle and it shuddered to a stop. As he got out of the taxi Dinny could hear the sound of the pursuing car, approaching him along the road. Fear now entered his mind as the vehicle carrying his uncle came nearer and nearer out to him. Straining his ears to listen, Dinny could just hear the feint voice of his uncle crying to him, “Stay where you are!” Within moments the pursuit car screeched to a  sudden stop on the gravel road, and his uncle got out of the car brandishing a revolver. It was he, himself, that had been diving the car, Dinny noticed as his eyes sought an escape route.

The uncle stood directly in front of Dinny and spoke to him menacingly, in a low but clear voice. “I have you now, me Bucko! This bullet is not for the money that you have already taken,  and are about to take from me. No! Neither is it for the beating you gave me, before you tied me up and abandoned me. This bullet is set to close the mouth that, with one word, can get me hung. By your death, nephew, Nephew, I will have life!

Dinny had paid little attention, preferring to plead with God for his life. The fear and confusion that had once gripped him suddenly left him and, just before his uncle spoke his last words, Dinny threw himself at his assailant. In a tight clench they rolled on the ground together, struggling with each other as Dinny felt the barrel of the gun pressed against his chest. He fought now to seize the gun and wrench it from his uncle’s hands, knowing that this alone would help him master the situation. But, with the gun in his hands, and him ready to fire it, Dinny stopped himself from pulling the trigger. He stared down at his uncle, who was still on the ground, and told him, “No! You are the my mother’s and it will not be me who ends your evil filled life. But, rest assured, you wretch, that I can make sure that you never bother me or mine again.

While his taxi driver still had his head stuck under the bonnet of the taxi, and had seen nothing of what had happened. Dinny took his uncle by the scruff of the neck and led him away. Then, taking a small wad of notes from his uncle’s cash bag, that he had taken with him from London, Dinny paid his driver and waved him goodbye. “Sure you can use that car to get someplace for help. I’m sure the money will cover all.”

Aye, it will,” said the taxi driver with a huge smile.

Dinny urged his uncle forward with the hidden revolver pressed up against his back. After a short distance they came upon an old barn, inside of which Dinny found several lengths of heavy rope. With these ropes he securely tied up his uncle’s arms and legs, so that he could not escape, no matter how hard he tried. “Just you lie there,” he told his uncle. “I will send someone we both know well and he will take very good care of you in a cold, lonely cell. And, in the meantime, I will go to the old hearthstone and retrieve my pot full of gold. You, of course, get nothing!” With those words he left his uncle securely tied in the barn.

When he entered his home, Dinny found Nancy nursing her new-born baby as she sat up on the old iron-framed bed. |Annie, the old woman, was still there as he burst into the shed and threw himself on the bed, beside his wife and child, smothering the baby with kisses of joy and tears of happiness. Then he went to the fireplace, and lifting a heavy sledgehammer over his head   he brought it down with one swift movement and smashed the hearthstone.

Are you mad, Dinny?” asked a terrified Annie.

Of course I am,” he replied as he hurriedly removed the broken pieces of the hearthstone.

But, what is it you’re looking for?” the old woman asked.

Our future, Annie! Now you can go!” laughed Dinny as he took her gently by the shoulders and led her out of the shed.

Divil the bit of it!” Annie said. But, Dinny lifted some of the broken pieces of hearthstone and made to throw them at Annie, who quickly sped homeward.

Rushing back into Nancy’s presence he quietly asked, “Do you know what is making this noise?

He lifted handful after handful of gold coin and laughed loudly at the shocked, but happy expression on his wife’s face. Within a few weeks Dinny and Nancy, and their children, settled down to a new life in the house that his parents had once owned, taking over enough land and livestock to secure their future. As for Dinny’s uncle, the police rescued him from the barn and he got his day in court, which sentenced him to a whole of life prison term for murder.

The Quest Part I

It was a cold, wet evening as Dinny Sweeney returned home, a silent, plodding, and sorrowful young man who looked older than his twenty-five years.  He had watched as his old, decrepit father became ill, faded physically, and was laid to rest in his grave. The sun was setting now, warmer than it had previously been and its glorious rays broke through the gaps that were now appearing among the scarlet and grey clouds that were dispersing. From the bough of a tree a thrush sang its song, and was a sound that would often gladden the hearts of those returning from their work in the fields. But, even this joyful tune could do little to lighten Dinny’s mood.

As he looked at the fields that he passed by, noticed just how fruitful they were and the half-matured crops promised the prospect of a good harvest, as well as a prosperous future to come. But, at that moment Dinny’s heart was heavy because it was filled with a deep, dark sorrow, and there was no room for the light of joy to enter. The usual good mood that filled his life had gone from him, and no cheerful birdsong would encourage it to return. The promises being made by the softly undulating fields of light-green wheat, or the silken-surfaced patches of barley, were ignored. Dinny was simply a poor, penniless, friendless, young man, who was groaning under the responsibilities that were now left to him. He was totally worn out by the grief he had born, and was continuing to suffer. At that moment it appeared that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadly, and much to his embarrassment, the body of Dinny’s father had only received a proper burial due to the charity that had been shown by their neighbours. The country people of Ireland are known for coming together when a neighbour is in trouble, and ensure they overcome the problem. Among themselves the neighbours had collected money and made all the necessary arrangements for the burial of Dinny’s father. Such was the degree of respect that Dinny and his father were held within the local community that all their neighbours were saddened by the very low standard of living this hardworking father and son had been reduced.

Abbey RuinsThey lived in an old, almost derelict building, which they called “home.” Dinny was a married man and he had left his young wife lying on an old iron-framed bed, listening to the hungry cries of two small children. As she lay there she awaited the time when she would become the weary, weeping mother of a third child. All the while, as he walked home, Dinny’s mind was filled with a deep bitterness for the family treachery, which left both him and his father to financial destitution. All these years, he and his father, both respectable and hard working men, could have been living a comfortable life in this world only for that despicable act of treachery. Not surprisingly, therefore, Dinny held a deep bitterness and anger at what had happened, and these feelings festered within him the more he contemplated those far off events.

After all these years, Dinny could now only faintly call to mind those days of his early childhood, when he lived in a large house with his parents, and was surrounded by servants and workers of all types. He could remember eating only the best of foods, dressing in the best of clothes, and sleeping on the most comfortable of beds. But, Dinny could also faintly remember that terrible day when their lives changed for the worse. His mind went back to the very strange and very rude people who had forced their way into the house, so many years ago. For some reason, unknown and unclear to him as a boy, his father, servants, and workers were all turned out of the house, and left without anything. It was something of a blessing that Dinny’s mother had died just prior to this event and she had not been forced, as they had been, to seek warmth and shelter in a place almost unfit for human habitation. It was only when Dinny had reached the age of eighteen years, that his father had given him a full explanation of what had happened all those years before.

Dinny’s father was the youngest son of a large, wealthy farmer, who divided his lands between his two eldest children. In those far off days it was tradition among Catholic families that the youngest son joined the priesthood. It was this that was to be the fate of Dinny’s father and the family sent him abroad for his education, providing him with a liberal allowance while he studied. But, a few days before he was due to be ordained he returned home to visit his family and friends, joining with them to celebrate the beginning of his priestly ministry.

Being the first person from the district to reach the stage of ordination, Dinny’s father soon became something of a minor celebrity and was invited into the homes of many of the local dignitaries from all faiths. It was while he was a guest in the home of one wealthy local Protestant family, that he met the owner’s sister. She was a very beautiful young lady, who was quite wealthy in her own right. When this young woman talked and smiled sweetly at Dinny’s father any idea of him being a candidate for priesthood began to disappear, and he fell totally in love with her. By the end of the evening he had abandoned the entire idea of dedicating his life to the service of others. But, such a relationship between Catholic and Protestant had its opponents, and the couple were forced to run away together and get married in private. By doing this, however, they brought upon themselves the deep hostility of both families, particularly his own. It took them a considerable period of time until they were eventually accepted by her kindly and generous brother. With the help and guidance of this man the young couple regained much of their reputation among their neighbours, and they settled into the house which filled much of Dinny’s childhood memory. It was in that house that he spent a very happy childhood, at least until he reached the age of six years.

This kindly man died quite unexpectedly a few years later and, being unmarried, his only direct heir was his brother. This uncle of Dinny’s was not, however, as generous as his brother and had spent a good portion of his life as an unsuccessful lawyer in Dublin. It did not take him long to show everyone that he had inherited his brother’s wealth. But, he wasted even less time to show that he had inherited very little of his amiability and generosity of character. The one thing that he did demonstrate quite rapidly was his deeply felt enmity toward his sister and her husband. He made it absolutely clear that his actions against this couple were his revenge for her decision to marry a Roman Catholic. Such was his enmity towards them that he refused even to see them when they came to welcome him after his arrival in the district. At the same time he would not even consider accepting any invitation to visit their home.

Dinny’s mother was very sensitive woman who disliked all forms of confrontation, and she had hoped the enmity of her family was a thing of the past. But, the conduct of her brother at this time caused the poor woman great stress and put a great deal of pressure on her unborn child. In fact, such was the strain on her that the lady went into premature labour, during which she gave birth to a lifeless baby, and she unexpectedly died due to the efforts she had made.

Because they were so young neither Dinny’s father or mother had expected her to die so suddenly, and without ever making a will in Dinny’s favour. Through various legal trickery and numerous underhand dealings, the brother-in-law successfully managed to have her private marriage to Dinny declared null and void. Under such circumstances the law declared that the nominal husband did not have any rights to her property. Both Dinny’s parents had been living of his wife’s wealth and , with her death, this was now the only source of income from which Dinny’s father could maintain his family in comfort. Almost immediately the avenging brother set about gaining control of his sister’s property, and had little trouble in achieving this. As a result, with hardly a penny to their name Dinny and his father were forced to take up residence in a distant, and almost derelict cabin. By hiring himself out as a field hand  he was just about managed to feed and clothe his child, raising him up to be a fine, respectable young man. Then, as his father grew older and weaker, Dinny was able to shoulder some of the old man’s burden and work to better their lot in life. Now, after burying his father, it was to this ramshackle of a cabin that Dinny trudged home with heavy steps.

Dinny later discovered that this evil and malicious uncle did not enjoy his spoils for very long, but this certainly did not make him feel any happier. The uncle, in fact, only enjoyed his newly acquired wealth for only a very few years after he had gained possession of it. He was despised for the cruel manner in which he had treated his relatives, and for the scrooge-like meanness and vulgarity that he had displayed toward everyone. He constantly kept watch for any and all opportunities to use his wealth to gain revenge of all of his enemies. The only problem he faced, however, was that his legitimate income was totally insufficient to achieve his goal in a reasonable period of time. He had, therefore, to consider indulging in illegal means of gaining sufficient wealth to achieve his aims. Because he had lived so close to the coast he decided that his best route to obtaining a fortune was for him to engage in some large-scale smuggling operations.

Dinny’s uncle was not the businessman or criminal mastermind that he had thought he was. Despite every precaution that he took to ensure he would not be caught, the former lawyer did fall foul of the law and received some hefty fines that caused him to lose over half of his property. The ensuing bad publicity arising from his failed smuggling operations did, however, cause him to take much more desperate measures. Rashly he attempted yet another wild scheme, which he hoped would retrieve his fortunes, but was once again surprised by the forces of law and order. On this occasion he, and his gang of smugglers, were confronted by the revenue officers and, in the struggle that followed, he killed one of their number. In the confusion that followed the tragic incident the uncle had ran away from Ireland, and had not been heard of again for over twenty-years. Local people had speculated that he hid himself in London and was living somewhere in that city under an assumed name. One thing everyone was certain about was that he was financing his new life through some illegal means, that allowed him to continue to enjoy all the vices that he experienced when living as a Lawyer in Dublin.

Dinny had no idea about what his uncle’s fate had been, because all of these things had happened when he was only a child, and had no interest in the business of adults. He had learned about his uncle’s activities and his exile much later, and from the reports of others who had known his uncle well. As a matter of fact, Dinny did not even know what his uncle looked like and, in all honesty, he didn’t care to know. If Dinny had shown some pleasure at the downfall and disgrace of that man there would not have been one person who would have blamed him. But, Dinny showed not one sign of enjoying his uncle’s fate, because such thoughts could do very little, if anything, to alleviate the misery of his current situation.

Heavy footed, Dinny trudged under a large, open arch that was part of the Old Abbey ruin, and he then entered that squalid shed that he called home, which rested against the Old Abbey’s wall. Just at that moment his heart felt as if it had been completely shattered into so many pieces that he felt as dismal as those ruins that rose up around him. As he entered that cabin there no words of greeting between him and his young wife. She was sitting where he had left her, on the old iron-frame bed, mechanically rocking their youngest child in her arms. As she rocked slowly to and fro she emitted feeble and mournful noises that described her feelings of utter hopelessness.

Silently Dinny went to the makeshift hearth and set light to a fire of dry, withered twigs mixed with pieces of tree branch.  As the fire took light he took from his several potatoes that he had been had been given by a kindly neighbour an hour or two earlier, and he placed these among the glowing embers of  the fire. He watched as the potatoes were roasted to a satisfactory level before he removed them, and divided them between his wife and the crying children. The hours passed by silently until the moon rose high in the dark night sky, signalling it was time for bed. Exhausted by the day’s events, Dinny sank himself upon the couch from which his father’s mortal remains had been laid during the wake, and from which they had been lifted to be brought to the burial ground. He had not eaten that day, not even one of the potatoes that he had roasted, and yet he did not feel at all hungry.

As his beloved wife and children slept soundly in the quiet of the night, Dinny lay for hours unable to sleep or even close his eyes for any length of time. From the place where he lay, Dinny could see, through the large window at the front of the derelict cabin, and he contemplated the ruins of the old Abbey. He simply lay there, deep in his own thoughts. The silence that filled the cabin gradually brought a sense of desolation to him that felt almost like a special spiritual moment with God. The magical effect created by alternate moonshine and darkness, of objects and their various parts finally diverted Dinny’s mind but could not relieve it from its troubles. He finally came to his senses once again, remembered where he was, and he suddenly began to feel like he was an intruder among the dwellings of the dead.

Looking out of the cabin window Dinny also called to mind that this was also the time when spirits would reveal themselves in the remote, lonely and obscure place. They would flit here and there among the crumbling walls and intricate arches that had once formed the Abbey. As Dinny’s eyes fixed upon a distant stream of cold light, or of blank shadow, the movement of some bushes hanging from the walls, or the flapping of some night-bird’s wings, caused a stir of alarm as it came and went. He began to think that, perhaps, some ghost had shown itself challenged and disappeared so quickly that he had failed to see it. Dinny would, however, remember the causes of real terror even though he could not really tell if he was awake or asleep as this new circumstance caught his attention.

That night the full moon shone its light through the window of the cabin and settled upon the hearth. When Dinny turned his attention to this particular spot he saw, standing before him, the image of a man, advanced in years, though not very old. This image stood motionless with its gaze fixed upon him.  Strangely, the still, pale face of the image shone like marble in the moon’s beam, and yet Dinny could not tell if there was any solidity to that strange image or not. The forehead of the image cast long, deep shadows over its eyes, but left those normally very expressive features both vague and uncertain.

Upon the head of the image was a close-fitting black cap, and the image itself was dressed in a loose-sleeved, plaited garment of white, which flowed down to the ground. In every way it resembled the costume which Dinny had seen in a small framed and glazed print that hung in the sacristy of the humble chapel, which had been recently built not far from the ruin. Those who had built the chapel were descendants of the great religious fraternity to whom the Abbey had belonged in its hey-day. With a puzzled expression on his face, Dinny returned the fixed gaze of this midnight visitor. Then he heard a voice speaking to him and telling him, “Dinny Sweeney, get yourself to London Bridge, and you will become a very rich man.

“London Bridge? Aye, that would be right enough,” said Dinny as he rose quickly from his bed.

But, as quick as it had appeared the strange figure was gone again. With eyes still filled with tiredness, Dinny stumbled among the cold, black embers that were scattered on the hearthstone, where the image had been standing, and he fell prostrate to the ground. That fall caused Dinny to experience a change of sensation. Now he could see the objects surrounding him much more clearly, which he chose to explain to as being the transition from a sleeping to a waking state of mind.

Dinny managed to crawl back into his bed but he got very little sleep that night. His mind filled entirely with those words that the image had spoken to him, and wondered what the entire incident meant. As he thought about this encounter he felt it would be better if he said nothing about his vision to anyone, and especially his wife. In the present conditions, Dinny was worried that news of the encounter might just increase her present anxiety and her over the edge. As for the advice that the strange image had given him, Dinny decided to do nothing but wait to see if this messenger returned.  Despite his initial doubts, the messenger did return, appearing in the same place, at the same time hour of the night, and wearing the same clothes. But, on this occasion, the expression on the face of the apparition had changed, now looking more stern and determined. “Dinny Sweeney,” the vision called out to him, “why have you not gone to London Bridge, and your wife being so near the time when she will need what you are to receive by going there?  Remember that you have now been given a second warning.

“But, tell me, what am I to do on London Bridge?” asked Dinny as he rose again and moved toward the figure. Once again, however; the mysterious figure vanished as quickly as it had first appeared. Nonetheless, the apparition had once again stimulated his interest in what he might find at London Bridge, if he should go there. At the same time Dinny was somewhat surprised and annoyed at the angry attitude that had been displayed by the apparition. But, that was another day wasted on worrying about how he could undertake such a long journey to London without a penny in his pocket. There was also the added concern that it was almost time for his wife to go into labour and give birth to their child. For Dinny such a journey was neither possible or sensible, and he wondered if he could bring himself to obey any such recommendation made to him under such circumstances. However, Dinny remained unsure about the validity of the apparition’s message, because he had been told that a dream instructing him how to get rich should be experienced three times before it could be considered authentic.

Dinny lay down again on the bed and hoped that his vision might just return a third time. Still, much to his surprise, this hope was realised.  “Dinny Sweeney,” said the apparition, looking angrier than previously, “you have not yet gone to London Bridge, although I hear your wife crying out, telling you to go. This, remember, is my third warning to you.”

I know that, but just tell me….” But, before Dinny could say another word the apparition disappeared and, at the same moment, he thought he could hear the voice of his wife. It was weak and was coming from the old iron-framed bed, and it sounded as if she was about to go into labour. Dinny went immediately to her and after brief, excited conversation he left the cabin in a hurry and went to fetch a neighbouring woman who would act as midwife to the poorest women who were in the same condition as his wife, Nancy.

Please hurry over to her, Annie,” he urged the woman. “Do the best that you can do for her. Would you also tell her from me……” Dinny stopped, breathed heavily and wrung his hands nervously.

Dinny, my son! What is wrong with you, boy?” old Annie asked him. “What in the name of God is causing you to cry so bitterly this early in the morning?

Will you tell her from me,” continued Dinny, “that I ‘ll be praying, both morning and evening, that God will give her ease in her ordeal and provide us with a good, healthy child, just like the other two that He has given us. Tell her I won’t be far away and I will be ready to return as soon as I can.

Just what are talking about, Dinny?

It’s not important, Annie. May God be with you, and with her, and with the wee ones! Just tell her what I have said, and also tell her that Dinny has left her at this time of need with more love in my heart for her than on the first day that we came together. I will be back, and of that she should have no doubt. Whether I will be richer or poorer when I return, God alone only knows the answer. So, I will say goodbye, Annie, and don’t let her go hungry for the sake of a mouthful of potatoes and cabbage, while I’m away. I must leave now because my dream commands it, and I dare not look at her in case one word from her would convince me to stay.

With these final words Dinny rushed off, although he was not at all sure what roads would take him to London Bridge. He walked and begged his way along the coast to a port                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        where he hoped to embark a ferry bound for England. Hiring himself out on the docks, Dinny gathered enough money for his passage to South Wales, from where he once again walked and begged his way to the great city of London.

Sacred Tree of Killygann

The breeze of that cold March day blew harshly as I walked steadfastly across the wide windswept fields towards the old burial-ground that rested in the townland of Killygann. On reaching the remains of the ancient church, I sat down for a moment upon the grassy bank that enclosed the cemetery. Taking a moment or two I contemplated the ground that lay before me and my mind wandered, thinking upon the generations of men that had taken the road to this place over the many years of its existence. In this place they had been buried to spend an eternity waiting upon the judgement of God, for whom an altar had been raised on this spot so many long years previously.

If you didn’t know what was inside this grassy enclosure, you would never have guessed that it was indeed a place of burial. There were, however, little hillocks here and there on the surface, which were about two or feet long, and defined by a stone. They were tombstones, marking the little graves that were the last resting-places of unfortunate babies that died in the act of being born, or who been born and fated to live but a short time before uttering a brief cry of pain, and going to sleep for eternity. These innocent, but unbaptized, children were never permitted to mingle with the baptised Christians and were always placed in these long disused cemeteries. In this old churchyard had not received the body of a baptised person in many decades, and its presence was almost untraceable beneath the long, rich green grass that flourished there.

It was said that the grandfather of the present landowner had decided to plant the entire area with fir-trees, which flourished in the rich soil formed by the decomposed bodies that lay many feet below. The trees, themselves, had grown to a very unusual size, and demonstrating to all that no man is totally useless, even in death. When his time is finished, and his labours are ended, a dead man’s body may still enrich the ground that is so often impoverished by his greed. In the meantime, among these tall, sheltering trees, a colony of rooks had established their airy city. And, while the young settlers to the place busily built their new nests, the older residents of the grove were engaged in repairing the damage their homes had received from the storms of winter. The air itself was busy with the shrill discordant voices of the black horde as they seemed to be mock those that sought sleep in the lower branches.

1_fairy_treeAs I sat upon that grassy bank, reflecting upon the old graveyard before me, I noticed a man walking along the same path that I had followed. He appeared to be very advanced in years, but he a tall figure of a man, who supported himself with a long wooden staff.  Against the chill of the March wind the old man was wrapped in a blue-grey coat that folded close under a belt of string, and a woollen hat that was drawn over his face, as if to screen it from the sharp blast of a cold-wind that rushed toward him. He suddenly stopped, then fixed his eyes on a spot in the burial ground where a wind-blasted and branchless whitethorn stood. This ‘fairy tree’ looked as if it had become part of the fabric of this ancient, lingering as it did over its grass-grown foundation. The old man then raised his eyes heavenward and sank to his knees, while his lips moved as if speaking some silent prayer. His actions at that place fuelled my imagination as to why this old man’s deep devotion, at such a place and time. I was confident that it was not from some ordinary motive that the old man had felt the need to pray. There must have been some reason, or some tradition connected with this ancient place, that had caused the old man to pray with such enthusiasm. So, as the old man rose from his knees, I approached him and said, “My friend, I hope you will pardon me for intruding, for your sudden and impassioned prayer has awakened my inquisitiveness.”

To my surprise the old man answered me in Irish and explained, “I was only begging mercy and pardon for the souls who in the close darkness of their graves cannot help themselves and I begged the good Lord to cease placing the guilt of their fathers upon the children. This spot caused me to remember a terrible act of sacrilege that my forefathers had committed. For this great sin their descendants continue to suffer, and I did not think for one moment that someone other than God had seen me.”

“Perhaps,” he continued, “as you seem to be a stranger in these parts, you have never heard of the Bald Berrys, and the blessed Whitethorn of Killygann. It is a very old tradition, and you might even say it is just a superstitious legend. But there is the whitethorn, blasted and decayed from the contact of my ancestors’ unholy hands. And here, before you, stands the last of their name. I am a homeless wanderer, with no other inheritance than this mark of the curse and crime of his race.” Removing his woollen hat as he said this, revealing a perfectly smooth head, upon which there was not one single hair.

“That old heads should become bald, is not a rare thing,” I told him, “and I have seen younger men whose heads are as hairless as yours.”

“My head,” he replied, “from my birth to this moment, never had a single hair upon it. Sadly, my father and grandfather endured the same fate, while my great-grandfather was deprived of his long, thick hair in one tearful moment. I shall tell you the whole story as we walk along together, if you are going in the direction of this path.”

As we walked together, he told me the following story. The old man spoke in such a poetic and energetic way that I wish I was able to infuse these qualities into my translation. But, for a wider audience I have had to write in English, which is a much colder language than Irish and fails to do justice to the wonderfully poetical language of the story.

“Many a biting March wind has passed over the heads of men since Colonel Berry lived at Lisnarick, whose veins had the true blood of one of old Strongbow’s chiefs, who became a sovereign prince in the land. His forebears had formed strong alliances with the ancient owners of the land, eventually renouncing any Anglo-Saxon connection and name. This noble family subsequently gloried in the title of McCoille and the colonel did nothing in his life that would bring shame on his forebears. He kept open house for all comers, and every day an ox was killed and consumed at Lisnarick. All the influential men of note in the province came there to hunt, fish and hawk. To feast and lodge there and enjoy the hall, which was always crowded with harpers and pipers, rich men and beggars, and jesters and story-tellers, who came and went as they pleased, in constant succession.” Then the old man let out a long sigh, “I can recall some of these good old times, but now they are vanished and gone for ever. The great hospitality that was so much a part of the chieftain’s hall has gone now and the hall has become a hovel on the moor. The wanderer now turns from the great towers of a Lord’ home, seeks the shelter of the peasant’s shed!

Davey Berry and his seven brothers lived with McCoille and held his name and family. Whether McCoille went hunting on horseback, or took the opportunity to shoot, or moved among the high and titled families of the land, they always went with him. They acted like a sort of body-guard, share in his sports or helping him assert his will in any quarrels. At that time, on the banks of the Bann, near the ruined tower of Shanlieve, lived a man named Edward Berry. On his farm there was a thick and thorny thicket that, for many years had been the hiding place for a fox. This, however, was no normal fox. This fox was famous throughout the Province and was celebrated for the extraordinary speed and prowess that he had shown to those many men who had tried so hard to hunt him down. There had, indeed, been many gallant and noble huntsmen sought the honour of bearing that fox’s tail as a trophy. But all efforts had been in vain and after exhausting both hounds and horses in the arduous pursuit the fox invariably returned every night to his favourite sanctuary. To outsiders it seems that a treaty of peace existed between Edward Berry and the fox. Edward’s poultry for several years, whether they sought the banks of the Bann or the barn door, never suffered because the fox was nearby. It would mix with Barry’s dogs and spend an hour or two playing with them, almost as if he belonged to the same species. Mr. Berry gave his wild crafty friend the same protection and freedom that he permitted his own domestic animals. The fame of this strange union of interests was widespread and even to this day the memory of Berry’s fox survives in the traditions of the country.

One evening as McCoille and his followers returned from a long and unsuccessful chase of Edward Berry’s fox, their route lay by the ruins of the ancient church of Killygann. Near this sacred spot a whitethorn tree had stood, and its beauty and bloom were talked about by every man, woman, and child. The simple prayerful folk who poured their petitions to God beneath its holy shade believed that the hands of guardian angels pruned its luxuriance and developed its form of beauty. They believed also that dewfall from heaven was sprinkled by angel hands to produce its rich and beautiful blossoms, which filled the cold winds of December with many tokens of holy fragrance that welcomed the heavenly coming Him who left his Father’s throne to restore to the sons of Adam the lost inheritance of heaven. McCoille was so enamoured by the beauty of the tree and caring little for its sanctity or the superstitious awe that was attached to it, he was firmly resolved to move it to his home at Lisnarick. He wanted his lawn to have that rare species of thorn which blooms in beauty when all other trees in the field are bare and barren.

Next day, when McCoille made known his intention to remove the sacred whitethorn of Kilygann, his people were astonished at his blatant lack of respect for tradition. In response they all declared that they would resist until death any attempt to commit such an audacious act of sacrilege. Now, McCoille was not a man who would permit resistance to his will and had always been accustomed to his commands being obeyed immediately and without question. When he found that his men were now refusing to obey him he exploded with uncontrollable anger. He cursed and damned all those who were standing around him, shouting, “Traitors!  You have all eaten at my table and enjoyed the hospitality of McCoille, and you have all sought and been given my protection. Yet, there are none you who are grateful enough to abandon your superstitious nonsense and carry out my commands!”

“Here, my Lord, are seven of your own name and Clan,” cried Davey Berry, “men who are sworn to stand or fall together, who obey no commands but yours, and acknowledge no law but your will. The whitethorn of Killygann shall leave its sacred place, if their strong hands and brave hearts can manage its removal. If it be a sacrilege to disturb the tree, which generations have revered, the curse for this sacrilege does not rest on us. Even should McCoille command us to tear the blessed gold from the shrine of a saint, we would not hesitate to obey him. We are just carrying out the will of our legal chieftain.”

They sang McCoille’s praises as they marched to where the tree had stood for many centuries, and they immediately proceeded to desecrate the spot that was made holy by those who had revered it over the ages. Such was the reverence shown to this holy whitethorn that a mystic circle surrounded it, within which no mortal foot may go. But, men have committed many wrongs and salved their consciences by convincing themselves that they acted in obedience to the commands of their leaders, and that a prayer of contrition will purify their souls.

That same evening McCoille saw the beautiful whitethorn planted in his garden and many were thanked for bringing it to him. Gold and rank were his rewards to those faithful men who had risen to the challenge and overcome the terrors of superstition to carry out his commands. But, McCoille was very much surprised when Davey Berry interrupted his morning sleep and announced that the tree had disappeared during the night. Confusion when he told his chieftain that the tree was again planted where it had stood for ages before, in the ancient cemetery of Killygann. McCoille was convinced that the tree venerated by the people had been secretly taken by them during the night to where it formerly stood. He immediately sent his most trusted men bring it back and stand guard until morning.

The Berry brothers obeyed the call of their chief and brought the whitethorn back. They replanted the tree, carefully covering its roots with rich mould, and made ready to watch over it all night. It proved to be a long and dark night, and they were wide awake. The night-breeze had stilled and all of nature appeared to have been mysteriously silenced. In this strange quietness a deep and undefinable feeling of dread crept into the hearts of the guards. These were men who had been tried and tested in the heat of battle but were now frightened by this fearful calmness. Their normal steadfast obedience to the commands of McCoille could not still their hearts against the remorse they began to feel, and there was talk amongst them against the sacrilege he had committed. As the night advanced their fear increased and they spread out their watchful circle around the mysterious tree. Davey, the eldest and bravest of the brothers, finally fell asleep. But, his short and fitful dozes were disturbed by wild and indistinct dreams. Then, as his sleep settled down and those vague images disappeared, the following vision came into his mind –

He began to dream that as he was keeping watch by the sacred whitethorn of Killygann, there stood before him a saintly man. This man’s radiant features and shining ancient clothing illuminated the entire area around him, piercing far into the darkness that surrounded him. In his hand he held a crosier, and upon his head sat a towering mitre. His long, white beard descended to the belt that encircled his rich bishop’s clothes, and he looked every inch the mitred abbot of some ancient monastery, which the rage of the English reformation had levelled to dust. The face of this saintly man, however, bore a fearfully severe expression, and the sleeping man fell to the ground, prostrate before the piercing eye that searched his inner-most soul.

“Wretched man,” said the shining apparition, in a thunderous voice, “ lift your head and listen carefully to your fate, and the fate that shall befall your sacrilegious brothers.”

Berry lifted his head in obedience to the instruction he received, though his soul sank within him, as stood before this dreadful voice and eye of terror. “Because you have violated the sanctity of this place” the holy man continued, “which has been consecrated to God, you and your family shall wander homeless ever more as beggars, and your heads, as a sign and a warning to future generations, shall suffer the pelting of every storm, and the severity of every changing season, unprotected by the defence that nature has bestowed upon all other men. This curse will last until your name and family be erased from memory.”

After hearing this angry denunciation against him the terrified man fell to the ground prostrate pleading for mercy, and he awakened with a cry of terror which alarmed the other guards. As he began to tell them about the terrible vision he had seen in his sleep, there was a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning, and the sweep of a whirlwind, which enveloped them all. As the new day dawned, the guards were to be found senseless, and at a considerable distance from the spot where they had lain the preceding night to guard the sacred tree. The thorn had also disappeared and, most strangely of all, the long black hair that shone like a raven’s wing, and was their pride, no longer adorned their heads. The fierce whirlwind, that had tossed them about, like the stubble of the field, had brought reality the dream, and removed their thick, long hair in its vengefulness.”

This was the story of the of the ‘Bald Berrys’ as it was told to me and I hand it on to you, the reader. I will make no further comment or note on this story, but I leave it to you to decide the truth of it. Some will question how an apparently cultured people can attribute the downfall of families, or the entailment of hereditary disease, to be caused by supernatural intervention. Others will remind you of an old saying –

             “There are more things in heaven

and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your

philosophy.”

Bisto and the Priest Part II

Lizzie Kelly was a lady in her early sixties, a widow, and the housekeeper for the priests in the parochial house. Father Lennon always enjoyed his Sunday morning stroll and he always looked forward to the Sunday Dinner that Lizzie prepared. There was always a Steak Roast, done to perfection in the oven and accompanied with peas, carrots, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and a thick, brown, onion gravy that sat in a porcelain gravy-boat in the centre of the table. Father Lennon could smell the beautiful aromas of the Sunday meal wafting from Lizzie’s kitchen. She, however, met him at the door of her kitchen and told him rather sternly, “There is someone here who has been waiting almost an hour for you, Father.”

“Who would that be?” he asked.

Lizzie was back at her usual station, fussing around all the pots and pans that were smoking and hissing on top of the stove. But she stopped for a moment and told him, “It’s that woman from the Primary School, Father. She is sitting in the parlour.”

“Ms. Ryan the headmistress?” he asked.

“That’s right,” replied Lizzie without even looking at him. “It’s Philomena Ryan, with all her airs and graces,” she sneered, putting her nose in the air at the very mention of Philomena Ryan’s name.

Father Lennon was puzzled as to why Philomena Ryan would ask for him. “I wonder what she would want me for?” he said aloud.

Lizzie’s didn’t know and could care less about what Philomena Ryan wanted: the food was almost ready to be served and she had no time to spend answering such questions. More importantly she did not like Philomena and just wanted her to leave. “Now, that woman would not tell the likes of me what she wanted, Father,” Lizzie told the priest. He immediately realised the error of his ways, for he knew that there was not one person in the entire district who would confide in Lizzie Kelly. She knew it as well as he did.” Better you go and see to it Father, you have only ten minutes until I put the lunch on the table.”

“Better get to it,” he said as he left the kitchen and Lizzie could get on with the meal. He walked across the hallway to the parlour, where the headmistress was waiting for him.

“Hello Ms. Ryan,” Father Lennon greeted the lady, politely. She was sitting on a high back chair that sat at a huge, highly polished, rosewood table near to the window. “I am so sorry for keeping you, but the duties of a priest you know,” Fr. Lennon explained to her with a polite smile. But Philomena Ryan maintained her stern pose as if she was set in granite. She was a typical middle-aged spinster and was totally self-obsessed with her status as an important personage in the town. Usually Ms. Ryan was usually the first to be consulted by certain groups, concerning “run of the mill” problems encountered within this Parish. Only, on this occasion, it was the mighty one who was the person needing guidance on handling some difficulty or other.

“It is of no concern Father. I fully understand” she politely assured Fr. Lennon. “But, the matter I need to speak to you about is an extremely serious problem,” Philomena told him in a quiet voice that was deliberately hard to hear since she did not want to be overheard discussing such things with a priest. “This problem, Father, is so serious that it requires your immediate attention before things get out of hand.”

The priest could hear a definitive tone of concern in her voice and he was eager to discover what had caused her so much consternation, “My dear Ms. Ryan, whatever has caused you so much trouble? Please tell me what has happened?”

“It’s that old pervert, O’Dee, Father,” she told him quietly and took a quick glance around the room to make sure no one else could hear.

old-man-in-the-woods“Slinky O’Dee?” Father Lennon asked in a similarly quiet voice. He should have known that it would be about that lecherous old man. Almost every other day the priests or the police received a complaint about this troublemaker and, yet, the priest was slightly amused by this mention of one of the district’s oldest perverts.

Ms. Ryan’s face blushed red as she answered, “Yes Father. I believe that is the name he uses to describe it.” She lowered her eyes to the ground in embarrassment at the fact that she had to discuss such things with a member of the clergy.

“Calls what, Ms. Ryan?” asked Father Lennon, already knowing the answer but wanting to make things a little bit more difficult for this interfering busybody.

Again, her eyes scanned the room in search of prying ears before she answered him, very quietly, “His thing, Father.”

“His what?” asked the priest, pretending lack of understanding.

“His penis,” Philomena hissed out at him, as if spitting the words out of her mouth. She was annoyed at having been obliged to use the word, which she believed no lady should have to utter.

“Ohhh! I see” said Fr. Lennon,” His thing?”

“Yes, Father,” the embarrassed woman told him. “He has been exposing his “Slinky” to the girls on their way home from school after classes.”

“Disgusting beast,” the priest said. “And where does he expose his Slinky?”

“He lies in wait in the trees and bushes around the corner from the bus stop. When the girls least expect it, he jumps out from the trees into the middle of the girls, wiggling it about in front of these children. He is a disgusting little man and should be put away,” she demanded. Then, believing she had misspoke in the presence of the priest, she stopped and apologized, “I beg your pardon for my coarse language and anger.”

“Please Ms. Ryan,” he assured her. “There is no need for embarrassment. Your feelings are quite understandable under the circumstances.” He contemplated for a moment then, speaking directly to her, he said, “Something must be done.”

She smiled slightly at Father Lennon’s assurances and continued, “He has done the same thing with older girls and even women, but he soon found that they were fit for him and his ways.” Ms. Ryan pointed out. “Mrs. Brady grabbed him by the collar one evening and gave him a good hefty kick in his Slinky. He couldn’t walk properly for a week after it.”

Fr. Lennon laughed to himself quietly at the idea of wee Mrs. Brady assaulting Slinky O’Dee. But Father Lennon quickly realised that incident was a serious escalation in “Slinky” O’Dee’s actions and that he had to do something to stop him.

“This might mean we will have to involve the police,” Fr. Lennon suggested and noticed that Ms. Ryan flinched, almost in horror, at the prospect of involving the police.

“Dear God, Father,” she said. “I don’t know about involving the police. It would mean I would be called to give evidence against the man. We must think about the school and about the children. Whatever would people say?”

Father Lennon fully appreciated the woman’s concerns and tried to ease her anxieties. “Just you leave it to me Ms. Ryan. I will sort it out quietly,” Fr. Lennon assured her.

“Thank you, Oh, thank you, Father,” she said with great relief. Now that she had told the Priest she felt much better. Furthermore, she knew that whatever the priest eventually decided to do, it would be the right thing. Much more content, Ms. Ryan shook Fr. Lennon’s hand firmly and left the presbytery.

As he closed the front door on the departing Ms. Ryan he sighed with relief, “Now for my dinner.” It was yet another duty done but not yet fully completed Fr. Lennon said aloud to himself with a sense of relief.

The next day, Monday, at quarter-past two Father Lennon went into the hallway of the parochial house and put on his overcoat. He had decided to go to the bus stop where, it was alleged, Slinky O’Dee was causing some trouble. The children would soon be getting out of school and he wanted to get himself into position before anyone else arrived. When he reached the bus stop he chose to conceal himself in some bushes, which gave him an excellent view of the road. He heard the school bell ring loudly in the afternoon quietness, informing the children that it was time to burst out of the gates and go home. But, as the sound of the school bell ringing came to an end, Father Lennon heard a suspicious rustle among the bushes a few yards from where he was hiding. It was Slinky and he waited until several young girls had gathered at the bus stop before bursting out of the bushes. Out he jumped with his trousers around his ankles and exposed the entire lower half of his body, making lewd gestures and laughing lecherously. Swiftly the priest moved against him, grabbing Slinky by the scruff of his neck and pulling him backwards into the bushes as the girls looked on in amazement. Once he had gotten Slinky into cover of the bushes, Father Lennon lifted his big, heavy boot and planted it firmly into the old pervert’s backside. Slinky howled with the pain as the priest’s boot connected with his cocyx and, just for good measure, Father Lennon gave him two more hefty kicks in his rear end. Slinky screamed loudly with the pain and began to beg Father Lennon for mercy. The priest showed mercy by letting him go and pushing him away but, the force of Fr. Lennon’s push threw Slinky to the ground, where his bare buttocks settled into a patch of stinging nettles and thistles. Father Lennon bent over the crying man and warned him, “Now you listen to me, Slinky O’Dee! You ever do anything like this again I will give you the biggest kicking you have ever gotten in your life. Then, when I am done I will ensure you get jail as a sex pervert. Now get out of here and sin no more.” Still screeching, Slinky squirmed and shuffled to remove his red, bruised and stinging backside out of the nettles. Very little was seen of him again in the town and there were no more incidents reported. The duties of a priest in Ireland are not just to lead people in prayer.

Bisto and the Priest Part I

The small town in which I have lived most of my long life is not much different from any other small rural town in Ireland. There are some towns that may be larger than others, and some that are smaller, but in each of these towns lives at least one character whose reputation is known both far wide. Sadly, almost every town contains some people who are known for their anti-social activities, which attract the anger of their fellow residents. Their actions within the community gain for them disparaging names, such as ‘Wastrels’, ‘Spongers’ and ‘Jam Trampers’, among their neighbours. While the offenders might be worthy of such names, in many cases, the community is inclined to rush to judge others, based on the antics of one person. Far too often people are too quick to “tar” a troublemaker’s entire family with the same “brush”. They fail to accept that each person is an unique individual in their own right and they fail to measure each on their own individual merits. In my own town, most of the anti-social behavior that we experience can be traced to the age-old human weakness for alcohol, which seems to be an ever-present problem for some within Irish society.

As a proud Irishman I confess that I am not teetotal. I enjoy the occasional drink or two, and I can see no reason why any hard-working man or woman should not be allowed to enjoy one or two glasses of their favourite alcoholic beverage. The choice, after all, is theirs and so long as they can afford to buy the drink, who has the right to stop them. My tolerance, however, does start to wear a bit thin when a man or a woman drinks excessively, spending all that they have without giving a thought to the welfare of their spouse or children at home.

In my hometown the majority of those who take a drink are, thanks be to God, very mature people who enjoy moderation in all things. They are not the type of people, from my experience, who would ever consider leaving their families short of money and food just for the sake of alcohol. But, as is the case in most things, there are exceptions to any rule. There are always those who have no sense of responsibility or feel accountable for any of the actions they take. We have all seen men and women, both young and old, who seem to always spend their government welfare benefits on beer, lager or spirits without much thought being given to the family at home. Even worse are those who work all week and, after getting their wages, they spend it all on alcohol even before they reach home. When they eventually stagger home all they bring with them are empty pockets and a foul mouth for those left hungry and bedraggled. Sadly, in my opinion, the spouses would be much better off as single parents to enjoy life without fearing the mental and physical abuse that an alcohol dependent man or woman can bring to a family.

Now, I am only too aware that such things are not confined to Ireland or the Irish people in general. Yet, I can tell you that in our small town one of the most sober, considerate and compassionate men is the Parish Curate, Fr. Lennon. He stands over six feet tall in his socks, and he has been graced with a physique like a main battle tank. The man’s hands are just massive lumps of flesh and bone, resembling great sledge hammers that are ready to deal out punishment to any potential opponent.

Within our small town and the county Father Lennon had built a big reputation for himself as a tough centre full-back for the County Football Team. Although he wears the garments of a man of God there are very few members of the opposing teams who could get past him with the ball in their hands without first suffering some sort of injury, minor or otherwise. Then, at the lectern, every Sunday morning the same man preaches proudly about sin, violence, fair play, sex and the evils of alcohol.

Every Sunday, since he retired from playing football, there was no activity that Fr. Lennon liked to do more than to take a leisurely walk through the town. His usual route took him past “River View”, which was one area of the town that was one of the most socially challenged areas of the town, because it mostly low-income families that resided there. Consequently, it was an area that Father Lennon frequently visited in his Parish pastoral visits and, in its two hundred feet length, there were six very small, old, two-bedroom cottages without central heating or indoor plumbing. The families that lived in this small street were obliged to draw fresh water from a pump at the foot of the lane. They were also obliged to share the discomfort of a communal toilet area, with a chemical toilet, at the back of the cottages. It was, for the want of a better description, a slum area that was long-past its time for redevelopment. For a long time, Fr. Lennon had been urging the local authorities to demolish the cottages and rehouse the residents in more modern accomodation. His appeals, however, had been falling on deaf ears.

One Sunday morning, as he turned into “River View” he was almost knocked over by a small, scruffy boy who looked to be about eight years old. The boy had been running so fast, and with his head down, that he had not noticed the priest walking on the footpath. Father Lennon managed to stop the boy from crashing into him by grabbing his shoulders and, steadying him. He asked the boy, “Where in the name of God are you going to?”

Breathlessly the boy replied, “Oh Jesus, Father! My Da is murdering my Ma!” Through the grubbiness of the boy’s face, and the long, tatty hair that flowed almost to his shoulders, the priest could see a great fear in the boy’s eyes. “I need to get away from him before he starts into me!” he stammered.

Dublin Slum ChildrenFr. Lennon immediately recognised the boy as being Sean Mackey, and one of fourteen children that belonged to Mary and “Bisto” Mackey. Sean bore such a resemblance to his father that anyone who knew “Bisto” could easily identify the son, and “Bisto” was, by no means, unknown in the small town. He was, without doubt, a troubled man and was known to regularly beat his wife, which Fr. Lennon thought was a disgusting act to be perpetrated by any man. It was time, he thought to himself, to take some action and try to get “Bisto” to desist from acts of violence against his wife and family. Bracing himself to face down an angry “Bisto” Mackey, Father Lennon moved down the row of houses until he came to the Mackey’s bright blue, front door. It was already slightly opened, probably caused by young Sean’s hasty escape, and he could hear raised voices coming from within, swearing and damning each other. Without knocking on the front door, or even announcing himself, the priest walked on into the house, to the living room. Here he saw Mary sitting on an old, battered armchair in a very bedraggled condition, tears in her eyes and her mouth was bleeding slightly. As he came closer to the woman, Fr. Lennon noticed that one of her eyes was very badly swollen and several bruises were beginning to rise on her face. “Bisto”, was standing over his wife, shaking his clenched fist at her, and he was shouting all sorts of obscenities at the poor woman.

“Ah, just shut your big gob, Bisto!” and angry Father Lennon demanded. “If you put that fist of yours near her again I will personally lay you out flat on your back!” the priest warned.

“Bisto” immediately stopped his threatening manner and stared sullenly at the priest. “This is none of your business,” Bisto told Father Lennon angrily. “Do you think that dog-collar you wear will save you from a thumping?”

“I don’t need a dog-collar to protect me,” replied the priest confidently and drew himself up to his full height, showing his muscularity to its best. Bisto took a second glance at the clergyman and began to regret his antagonism toward him.

“Now, just you sit yourself down there, Bisto,” Father Lennon said calmly, pointing toward an empty armchair. “Let us try and get this nonsense sorted out.” As “Bisto” moved toward the chair Father Lennon scanned the room and noticed several young girls huddled in a corner and seeking protection beneath a heavy table.

“You,” he called out to one of the girls who appeared to be the eldest. “Will you please get me a clean cloth and some clean water, so we can get your mother cleaned up.” The young girl said nothing in reply, but she crawled from under the table and nervously moved into the kitchen.

“This is all that bitch’s fault, Father,” Bisto said. “No matter what I say or do she just continually nags me. She drives me mad, the ungrateful trollop!”

“Bitch, Trollop, these are not words a man uses to describe his wife, the mother of his children, and a woman as good as Mary,” Fr. Lennon told him. With this said he spoke no more but lifted the bowl of clean water from the young girl. Using the clean cloth that had been brought he began to gently dab at the cuts and bruises with the cool, clear water. “Tell me, Bisto,” he said after a few minutes, “what kind of a thrill does it give you to beat a defenceless woman? The mother of your children.”

“It is not enjoyment, Father,” Bisto told him angrily. “She drives me to it. Mary’s always nagging me about having a few drinks, and about spending time with my friends”.

“Because you are never out of the pub,” snapped Mary with a fire in her eyes and wincing under the attention Fr. Lennon was giving her eye and nose. “You spend every penny you have on your friends and drink. We have no food on our table and our children run around in rags. I don’t see too many of your so-called friends giving us anything. Yet you still buy them drinks.”

Bisto jumped to his feet once again and moved toward Mary. “Do you see what I mean Father?” he asked.

Mary visibly trembled with fear as Bisto came closer. “I don’t have to open my mouth for him to give me a dig in it. He comes home drunk and lashes out at me for no reason. If there’s no food on the table he beats me,” Mary declared.

Bisto shook his fist threateningly at Mary and told her, “Just keep your mouth shut and do what I tell you!”

“Will the two of you be quiet?” demanded an exasperated Fr. Lennon as he continued to clean up the cuts on Mary’s face. “The two of you are concerned about little victories over each other and don’t seem to care about what your fighting is doing to those poor children,” he pointed out to them. “I think it is time that I talked some sense into you both.”

The Priest finished cleaning up Mary’s cuts and bruises. Handing the bowl back to the oldest girl in the family he turned to face Bisto, who appeared to be still quite inebriated. He looked up at the husband, who was now standing above him and asked, “Where did you get the drink so early on a Sunday morning?”

“’Wee Minnie’s’ Pub, Father,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ”Bisto replied. “All you do is rap the back door and you can get whatever you want, Father.” He was smiling very slyly at the priest and winking his eye conspiratorially. “It’s all done on the quiet, Father. You know what I mean?”

Angrily Father Lennon snapped at him, him “No! I don’t know what you mean, because it is illegal!”

“Ah, but sure everyone does it,” Bisto laughed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

“That doesn’t make it right,” replied the priest. “But I would know how you paid for it.”

Bisto shied away a little and muttered, “I had a few pounds.”

“I understand that, but where did those few pounds come from?”

“Tell him,” interrupted Mary. “Tell him what you did!”

“Be quiet, woman,” snarled Bisto.

Father Lennon looked sternly at the man and urged him, “Come on Bisto, man up and tell the truth.”

“With the last of the Family Allowance,” he confessed.

“The last bit of money we had,” cried Mary.

“Do you want another slap woman?” Bisto asked angrily and lifted his hand to Mary threateningly.                  

The priest now stood up, towering above Bisto, and asked, “Would you like me to give you one?” He then moved closer to the drunken man and told him, “I will lay you out flat if you ever touch her in my presence, you gobshite!” He sat                                                                                                                                        down on a chair for he was not about to take any chances with this bulk of a man, man of God or not.

“Father,” Mary interjected. “There is no food for the children and he has left me with no money to buy any. What am I to do? I can’t let them starve.” She was crying, and her tears ran down her cheeks. Mary’s eyes, red and swollen from the battering she had received at Bisto’s hands were beginning to darken as bruises formed. The right eye, particularly, was almost a purple-black colour already.

She nodded her head in agreement saying, “Yes, Father.”

“You’re far too kind Father,” said Mary, lifting the corner of her cardigan to wipe the tears in her eyes. Fr. Lennon replaced the wallet into his pocket before turning to both Mary and Bisto, telling them, “Listen, both of you. Someone has to look after this precious family for you two are not doing it.” He had succeeded in calming down both parties to the dispute and now began the task of negotiating a settlement and some sort of reconciliation. He looked kindly at the children and said to them, “Why don’t you go outside and play in the Lane for a while? Don’t come back in until I call you. Ok?”

“Yes Father,” they replied, almost in unison.

Over the following two hours the priest tried everything he knew to get the warring parties to agree to a cessation of their hostilities and set up a peace plan of sorts. By the end of the first hour Bisto had regained at least some sobriety and he began to weep as he answered the priest’s questions. He was encouraged, thereafter, to talk about his feelings and particularly his feelings for his wife. Bisto talked about the difficulty in finding work, his depressed condition at the lack of money the concern he had for his children living in a totally unsuitable house. He also professed his deep sorrow at having hit his wife and he vowed that he would never raise his hand to her again. At the same time Fr. Lennon succeeded in persuading Mary to accept her faults in the relationship. She was still weeping, and she got down on her knees, swearing she would never say another nagging word to Bisto. He now got down on his knees in front of his wife and they embraced each other comfortingly.

“I swear no more squandering money on drink, Mary!” Bisto told his wife tearfully.

“We will work our way through all these difficulties,” Mary told him, still sobbing. “There is absolutely no problem that we cannot overcome if we work together.”

Putting his hand on top of his wife’s head, Bisto stroked her hair softly. It is something he used to do when they were a courting couple and Mary enjoyed these special moments. “We will overcome these difficulties, Mary. You take the next family allowance payment and get yourself a new pair of shoes, or a skirt, or something.”

It was a special moment and Mary was happy to hear Bisto being so concerned for her welfare. But, Mary believed there were more important things that they needed to do. “We should see to the Kids first,” she urged

They were now hugging each other and kissing as Fr. Lennon turned and moved toward the front door. His job was done, and he decided he could now leave them to their own devices. It was time for him to now hurry home to the presbytery, hoping that he would not be too late for lunch. Father Lennon had been obliged by circumstance to forego his usual Sunday walk and yet, in his opinion, the time had been well spent and he was satisfied.

Ireland’s Last Hope

Over one hundred years ago Britain still governed the entire island of Ireland. In many major county towns throughout the country the British Army had established barrack buildings and, through a variety of methods, continually made an effort to recruit young Irish men to the regimental colours. In fact, over the many centuries since the English Crown occupied Ireland, their military leaders had always looked upon the country as a fertile ground where they could recruit Irish blood into their ranks. The men and officers, who had been born and raised in Ireland fought gallantly on many of the battle fields that became an integral part of the British Empire’s glorious martial history.  These men made up many world famous regiments, such as “The Dublin Fusiliers”, “The Connaught Rangers”, “The Munsters”, “The Inniskillings”, “The Leinsters”, and “The North Irish Horse”. Many other regiments, however, filled their ranks with brave Irish men from every strand of society, whose valour in battle could never be questioned. But bravery, heroism, fame and medals were never the main reason for such men to enter into the ranks of the British Army.

Ireland under British rule has always been a troublesome country. Over the many centuries there had been countless armed rebellions and protests that had cost many lives and divided loyalties. In general, in the two decades prior to the “Easter Rebellion” of 1916, anti-British feelings among the general population were actually confined to a small minority. It was, therefore, not uncommon to see the various British regiments organising military exercises, with marching columns of uniformed men and military bands, often accompanied by mounted cavalry in the rural towns and villages of Ireland.

It was not uniforms and pageantry that encouraged young Irishmen and  For the majority of Irish men and boys to enter the army’s ranks. The major factor that persuaded most Irish recruits was that they was that they would receive a regular wage. Such was the poverty among working class Irish people, at this time, that the fact each soldier received three good meals each and every day was a great attraction on its own. In addition soldiers each had a clean bed of their own, an excellent pair of working boots, and a complete set of new clothes. In a time when there were often families of ten and more in a single room tenement, or cottage, sharing beds, sharing clothes, and being lucky if they had one small meal during the day, the attractions of the army were obvious.

There were, however, many men who preferred to avoid service under the crown’s colours, and these men did everything possible to evade the clever ploys of the nomadic recruiting sergeants. On many occasions young men and boys were very keen to sample the adventurous life promised by service in the army of the Empire. But, these young men and boys were, more often than not, prevented from acting on their impulses by their parents and other family members. One young man who could be numbered among this latter group was a certain Mick Farrell, whose mother had been raised in a family that had absolutely no love for ‘redcoats’, their triumphant trumpets, or their pipes and drums.

It began with rumours that the army was about to undertake a series of military exercises in the area, and the news spread like wildfire among all the young men of the district. Other rumours told that a detachment of locally based soldiers were about to leave their barracks and carry out several gruelling route marches along the country roads and tracks that surrounded the village of Killyconn like a geographical spider’s web. These exercises were an excellent opportunity for the local army commander to make an impression on the local male population with his fine men marching in unison, and dressed in colourful uniforms. This spectacle, however, was one that Mick decided didn’t need his attendance. He simply wanted to avoid further heartache and he decided that he would take a nice long walk and enjoy the fresh air. There was, to be honest, very few things in life that Mick enjoyed more than a good stretch of the legs through the fields and the peat bogs of the Killyconn district. Mick was certain that, because of the lack of roads in these places, there would be virtually no chance of encountering those ranks of marching soldiers.

Unlike many young men of his age, Mick preferred to avoid quite a lot of the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the soldiers when they were on exercise. This avoidance of the pageantry was not due to any dislike of the Army on his part, or the army’s presence in the district, but he had been totally humiliated when his mother had forbidden him to ever enlist in the British Army. The other villagers, however, would spend most of the day, standing or sitting, admiring the ranks of uniformed soldiers marching and parading with their rifles and bayonets resting on their shoulders. Many of the inhabitants of Killyconn, especially the young ladies, would seek out the very best vantage points from which they could see the soldiers, while also being seen by them. Naturally, being Ireland, there were some people who were opposed to, what they saw as, the occupation of the country by the British forces, and they protested the army’s presence in their area. This small group of opponents were all members of a recently formed republican organisation that had dedicated itself to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland, and replace it with the establishment of a totally independent nation for its people.

The commanders of various military regiments in Ireland were very much aware of just how valuable route marches, band parades and other ceremonial exercises were to the recruitment of men into the ranks. In rural Ireland, especially, these ceremonials often encouraged the young men to come forward and accept ‘The King’s Shilling’. But, the recruitment sergeants had not been able to enlist any big, healthy men from Killyconn area in many months. For this reason, the powers that be had decided that they should make some kind of effort to reverse this trend, and ordered the new exercises to be staged in that particular area. In response to orders from higher authorities all types of military formations were ordered into Killyconn district to undertake a variety of ceremonials and war-game exercises.

As the soldiers marched through the village and its environs they gathered large audiences of admiring followers that travelled from many miles away. Along all the various roads that criss-crossed this area there were large numbers of followers who had assembled to watch the spectacle, which was becoming a rare event and was always unforgettable to those who saw it. The army officers, of course, hoped that when all the exercises were completed, to the satisfaction of the audiences, many of the young men witnessing the great spectacle would be convinced that they were missing out on a new,special and exciting opportunity.

IIreland's Last Hope 1.jpgn the past large numbers of young men and boys had eagerly sought to put on the uniform and experience the life of adventure imagined lay ahead of them, but found themselves to be bitterly disappointed at the reality. Even the old men, the infirm and ladies felt a certain disappointment at their fate when the spectacle ended. They were, of course, aware of their inability to join the ranks of the army, but they were also aware of missed opportunities they had when young or in much better health. Thankfully, their disappointment never lasted too long because life in the countryside meant that there were always jobs to be done, and these would soon take their minds off any disappointment they might feel. Meanwhile, young and healthy boys and men would seek out the recruiting sergeant in the local pub. There they would sign their enlistment papers, and celebrate their decision with a few pints of beer, costing the shilling that they had just been paid. Those who could write their name and those who just made their mark, returned some time later that evening to their homes to face their parents, or spouses, without a penny left from the ‘King’s Shilling’ they had been given.

Mick Farrell was a broad-shouldered, healthy young man of less than twenty years, who had never been shy of doing a hard day’s work. The man was always in demand employment with local landowners and businesses in the district, and he had no pressing need to be enlisting in the army’s ranks. He knew very well that by enlisting his family would still be better off in some ways, but he would not go against his mother’s will. It was she who held who held sway over the family and she was very determined that none of her children would become ‘cannon fodder’ to enhance the glory of the Empire. Since the unexpected death of her husband, Mrs Farrell had worked her once pretty hands to the bone to raise her two daughters and two sons. To make ends meet she had taken in washing,  and she had carried out other menial jobs at the houses of the more prosperous people in the district. Through hard back-breaking work she had managed to put sufficient food on the table and decent clothing on the backs of her children. Her eldest son, Barry, had gained a good position as a game-keeper for a rich English Lord, who had a great estate in the west of the country. The eldest daughter, Elsie, had done well to be married into a farming family and now wanted for nothing.

Mick, the younger of her two sons, was her favourite and she watched him work all the hours God sent, just to earn a wager. Being a casual labourer meant that there was no guarantee of work, of course, and regular wages often depended upon seasonal work, good weather, good harvest, and good prices for the crop. There were numerous occasions when Mick had gone, cap in hand, to seek jobs with local farmers and could find none. But, Mrs Farrell, was as stubborn as a rock and consistently barred Mick’s entry into the army with her obstinacy.  

The colourful military exercises lasted the entire week-end, which ensured good crowds of people, who had been attracted to the various venues by the noise and clamour of the activities. On Sunday morning, just after Mass, Mick met his oldest and best friend, Paddy Brannigan. This was not an unusual meeting the two young men, but on this occasion, Paddy had come to an important decision and he wanted to discuss the entire matter with his best friend. Brannigan went on to tell Mick that he had decided to enlist, next day, at the regimental barracks, which did not really come as a surprise to Mick. But, although it wasn’t a surprise, Mick was filled with envy and a little angry that his friend’s had decided to enlist. To Mick, it was as if that almost all of his closest friends had now enlisted in the army, and he was worried that with Paddy’s departure he would be left all alone. Mick was angry because, although his mother had seen all of his friends go  she still frustratingly and very stubbornly, refused every request by her son  to join them.

With Mick encouraged by Paddy’s news and the fact that his friend would be at his side, Mick was re-invigorated. He confidently marched off, determined to persuade his stubborn mother to give in to his wishes. He was more confident than ever that on this occasion he could persuade his stubborn mother to finally change her mind and, with a certainty in his step, Mick and Paddy marched off. As expected they eventually came upon Mrs. Farrell standing at the kitchen sink and washing a few shirts. As the two young men entered the kitchen by the small cottage’s back door and Mick told her. “Get your hands out of the suds, Mother.

Mrs Farrell stopped her work and turned from the sink to see her son and his best friend,Paddy, standing smartly in her kitchen. “Now, mother, salute the brave new soldier who has come this day to bid you farewell!” Mick announced with a snigger, and Paddy bowed politely, as if he was a gentleman. Mrs. Farrell, however, as she dried her hands appeared to be greatly confused by her son, Mick’s, announcement.

Paddy is away tomorrow, Mother,” said Mick. “He’s going to enlist in the local battalion. This will mean that he will be stationed near at hand for a good while yet and we will still be able to see him regularly,” Mick said comfortingly.

Sure, it’s congratulations I bid to you, Paddy Brannigan,” said Mrs Farrell. “I am sure your family will be proud of you, all dressed up in your uniform. The army is a good life for any young man, who has the inclination to be a soldier.

Thankyou, Mrs Farrell,” replied Paddy shyly.

As for Mick, he had seen his mother’s kind words as an opportunity for him to bring up his wish to enlist in the army, There should be no hesitation he decided, although he would not just approach the subject in a direct manner, but would first try to build up the life that a soldier could lead. “You know, mother, it’s a great healthy life for a young man like me, isn’t it Paddy?

Paddy knew he had to be supportive of his friend and he nodded his head in agreement, confirming, “Oh it’s a wonderful life indeed, Mick!”

Armed with this positive response, Mick pressed home his argument, “There is no other life that even comes near to that of a soldier, mother.” Once again he looked to Paddy for affirmation.

The question caught Paddy a little off-guard. He coughed, stammered and stuttered for a few moments before he could manage a reasonably intelligible response. “Seven or eight shillings, at least,” he spluttered. You could tell from the tone of his voice that he was not boasting, even though this amount of disposable income was considerable for a young man of his age to earn. “Well, it could be a little more than that,” he added, hesitatingly. “All that money and I still get the best of grub and drink each and every day. Three good meals and a whole set of new clothes I get, and I don’t have to spend one penny unless I need something for myself.

Brimming with confidence, Mick now turned to his mother and, with a large smile across his face,he said quietly,”Isn’t that great news Mother?

But Mick had interrupted Paddy in mid-flow and, realising his error, he gave way to Paddy’s next positive point. “Wee Tommy Murphy was telling the other day that a few weeks ago he had business in the Post Office and found that the place was packed with soldiers. He said that these men, had just received their pay and they were at the Post Office to get some of those ‘money order’ things that they could send home. Murphy also told me that the Post Office was so full of them that he could hardly get old Sally, the postmistress, to sell him a stamp because her hands were so full.

“Isn’t that great news to hear, Mother?” said Mick. “All these young men like us sending money home to help their families rather than spending it foolishly. And another bit of good news is that each of them only has to serve three years in the ranks before they are free to return home to their families. Now, three years is not a very long time, Mother.”

Sure, that’s no time at all, Mrs. Farrell” Paddy reinforced Mick’s statement. “Sure it will all be gone in the blink of an eye.”

Mrs Farrell stayed silent and just continued to stare at the two young men. Mick , however, could discern a minute change in her expression, which began to cause him some concern. He was awaiting the expected verbal tirade from his mother, but still it did not come. Instead, Mick’s mother quietly explained that three years can actually be a considerable period of time for some people.

When there was no tell-tale sign of emotion crossing her face, Mick chose to take this as a positive omen. He began now to press his mother to abandon her objections to his enlistment. “Don’t forget,” he said, “that there is also a great amount of leave that a soldier gets. And he gets paid for it. Isn’t that right, Paddy?

Once again Paddy had been taken by surprise with Mick’s question and did not answer at first. “Don’t forget the great amount of leave that you get in the army, Paddy!” Mick reminded him.

Aye!That’s right, Mick” Paddy answered with a slight hesitation.

Sure, isn’t it a fact that those soldiers appear to at home on leave more often than they are on active service. The army gives them all free travel and, sure you know yourself, that they are never off the trains and buses going to and from home.

Free travel passes, is that right?” She asked as she stared at Paddy.

As true as I am standing here,” he replied, hoping to God that what he was saying was indeed true. “Every one of us is entitled to a free travel passes, Mrs. Farrell, when we need to go home on leave. Sure Mick would be able to nip home and see you whenever he has a mind to.” There was a new sense of excitement in Paddy’s voice, confident that Mick and himself were breaking down Mrs Farrell’s opposition. It was herself that had asked about the free travel passes, after all, and this was the first positive sign that she had, perhaps, given up her objections. But, typical of Paddy, he had jumped to the completely wrong conclusion, and he had used both feet without testing the water first.

Mick?” demanded Mrs. Farrell with a deep scowl.

Her scowl made Paddy jump and he was taken aback so much that he had to gather himself by gathering a huge lungful of air. Now, Paddy realised that he had, perhaps, just one step too far. He now thought it  would be better to back-track a little to try save the situation for his friend, Mick. “You know, Mrs Farrell,” he began. “I have been told that the Army will even arrange a special train for a man in case he needs to get home quickly. That’s the way the army treats its men.

But, Paddy could not just leave well enough alone and went on to add, “What is even better, they will promote good, healthy fighting men from being just ordinary soldiers to corporals, sergeants and sometimes higher. Promotion would mean more money in your pocket and sure there is no limit to what a good man, like Mick, can achieve.”

He was on a roll now and Paddy decided to give his argument one final push. “Sure, it would be a special woman you would be Mrs. Farrell. In fact, I would say that any mother would be very proud to know that she stood firmly behind her son, and did nothing that would hinder his advancement in the world,” he told Mick’s mother. “And when it comes to the end of his army service, a man will receive a handsome pension that will give his family great comfort in the years that follow.

Aye, but, please God, that will not be for a very long time,” insisted Mick. “But, Mother, there is a very good living to be gained and great prospects for an ambitious man in the army.

And the food that they give out to their men is second to none,” added Paddy. “Those who have already joined the ranks have told me that the army only feeds them the best of everything, cooked and uncooked. There are joints of meat on the bone and off the bone, alongside plump chickens, juicy fresh fruit and vegetables, and all manner of fresh fish.

Both young men now took turns to point out the good life that they could live when among the army’s ranks. Mrs. Farrell still made no reply, but listened intently as the two men before her tried their utmost to convince her to give her permission to Mick. But, while she listened, Mrs. Farrell continued her task of washing shirts, rinsing them in clean water, and then wringing out the excess water before putting them out to dry in the fresh breeze. In an almost robotic fashion she continued with her work, repeating each part of her task both silently and efficiently, until all the shirts were washed clean.

By her silence, Mrs. Farrell had led both young men to believe that she was prepared to agree that Mick could enlist in the army. There was no open show of celebration between the young men. Nevertheless, they did offer congratulations to each other with a series of winks, nods and smiles. Mick and Paddy, overjoyed with their apparent success, now left the house to stretch their legs in the afternoon air. It would be an excellent opportunity for both men to talk over what the future might just hold for them now that Mick’s mother seemed to be ready to permit her son to enlist. Sensible men, however, know that assumption is not the basis of fact.

Feeling extremely happy, and with a new spring in his step, Mick returned home that evening just as the sun began to set. Outside the cottage he saw his mother feeding the flock of excited chickens from a small pile of corn feed that she carried in her apron. The cottage in which they lived was the last of a small row of white-washed and thatched cottages that were sited just on the edge of town. Each of the small homes gave their occupiers a wonderful view of the valley that swept from one hill to another. Mick stopped for a moment to study the scene that was spread out before him, and the triumphant marching tune, that he had been whistling since he parted from Paddy, fell silent. As he looked at the chickens clucking around his mother’s feet it suddenly became apparent to Mick that at least one chicken was missing from the group. He doubled the speed of his march to the cottage and, when he came before his mother, he asked, “Where is the old speckled pullet? Has it gone off wandering the countryside again?

When his mother did not reply to his questions he told her,”I will get myself ready as quickly as possible and go look for her after I get myself a drink of water. She’ll be hungry and will not be too far away.

There is no need,” his mother answered him at last.

No need?” he asked in a puzzled tone. “Why would there be no need to look for our plumpest chicken?

Mrs Farrell looked her son directly in his eye and revealed to him,”I’ve sold her!

Mick was almost speechless, so shocked was he at his mother’s revelation and he wanted an immediate explanation as to why she had sold his favourite chicken. So, as she fed the remaining chickens she began to explain,”I have too many chickens to be looking after all by myself, Mick,” she said. Totally taken aback by this explanation, Mick chose to say nothing for the moment. “I sold that old hen this morning to Mrs Dunne, who lives below, and she gave me a good price for it!

But, you loved that old speckled hen, mother. It was almost like a pet to you,” Mick said.

Well, Mrs Dunne will look after her now. She has been looking to buy that speckled hen this long and many a day, but I never had the heart to sell it until this very day.

But, why today?” he demanded to know.

She had now grown impatient at the manner in which Mick was questioning her decisions, and she curtly told him, ”The food required to feed those damned chickens gets dearer and dearer, and so I sold it.”

Shaking the remaining corn out of her apron, Mrs. Farrell turned to her son and told him, “Your supper is ready to put out. It has been ready for some time now and you had better eat it before it gets spoiled. Your sister isn’t home yet and there’s only the two of us, so come now and let’s eat.

Mick now quietly followed his mother into the cottage and the familiar aromas of smoke from the turf fire mixed with the smell of fresh bread being baked on the griddle. Mrs Farrell now lifted the griddle from the range and brought it over to the kitchen table. While they were still hot she removed the farls of bread and, cutting one, she spread fresh butter thickly on the each slice of soda bread.

Any Irishman or woman will willingly tell you that there is nothing in this whole wide world that is as nice as rich, creamy butter spread thickly upon fresh-baked, still warm, soda farls, and the way that the butter melts into white, fluffy bread. Without hesitation, Mick reached out and took two thick slices of the soda farl, beginning to hungrily eat it and wash it down with a large mug of hot, strong, sweet tea. “Take some of that sliced cold meat with your bread and tea, son” Mrs Farrell suggested.

Mick, of course, did not require a second invitation and hungrily helped himself to several slices of cold brisket that his mother had laid out on a serving dish in and placed in the centre of the table. On many occasion you must have wondered at the way that fate intervenes in our lives, and causes changes in those ideas that we may have formed, or arrangements we have made. It feels almost like fate is making fun of our decisions and the plans we have made for the future. Even as Mick sat in the kitchen of that cottage he quickly came to realise that any hope he may have had for a future in the army was dead for him. When he was asked what he thought about his supper, Mick smiled at his mother and gave high praise to her culinary skills. Then, almost without thought, the young man began to describe various proposals he had for improving the small land holding that they owned.

These are all good ideas,” Mrs Farrell said in praise of her son and they began to discuss each of his proposals while they ate their supper. She seemed to be very happy that the plate of cold meats and fresh-baked bread seemed to have helped remove all thoughts of joining the army from Mick’s mind. This, of course, was exactly what she wanted to achieve and with as little fuss as possible. Content in her own mind that her son would be staying, Mrs. Farrell sliced and buttered more bread, after which she refilled his mug with more fresh, hot tea. Her happiness began to show in her demeanour as she began chatting merrily with Mick about even the most frivolous of things. Mick, meanwhile, tried to reflect on how he would set about the problem of explaining to Paddy Brannigan why they would not be comrades-in-arms after all.

So, as soon as supper had ended, Mick got up from his chair, telling his mother that he had decided to go to hid friend’s house and tell him the bad news face-to-face. The sun had already set but there was still a bright and clear sky in which the stars had just begun to emerge, and a crescent moon was arising in the east. Outside the small terrace row of cottages children were still at play running, skipping, jumping, and laughing as they enjoyed their last moments of play before they would be sent to bed. On the outskirts of town, other children helped their parents in the fields to herd the goats, pigs, and sheep together before settling them down for the night ahead.

Mick continued on his path, down past the other cottages until, in front of the last one, he saw Fibber Morrissey sitting on a small stool and playing his violin. Now, Fibber had been blind from the moment he was born and he was a man of some fame in the area. His constant scraping and twanging on the violin strings, however, resulted in a wonderful variety of music being played every day by the blind man. Mick greeted Fibber as he walked past him and, as usual, the old man returned his cheery greeting without even skipping a beat. He had recognised Mick’s voice and raised his violin to him before resuming his playing. In the meantime, Mick continued on his way, following the path and humming to the tunes that old Fibber was. He began to notice, now that the sun was well down, the cool evening breeze had begun to blow a little stronger. There were scraps of straw and pieces of paper that were picked up by this breeze and blown down the road ahead of him and, without even realising he was doing it, Mick loosened a small stone from the edge of the road and kicked it with the toe of his boot.

He hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards from the blind fiddler when  Mick came upon an old friend of the family. Peter McGann had been a close friend of Mick’s father and here he was, driving home a flock of ducks and ducklings from a nearby water hole. Every time that he saw Peter herding his flock of ducks Mick could not help but laugh to himself at the sight. Peter McGann was a large, burly man, with great broad shoulders and it was highly amusing seeing such a man herding ducks. Armed with a long, willow rod Peter was “shoo-shooing”, in an increasingly frustrated manner, his ducks and ducklings in an effort to ensure they did not straggle and wander all over the place.

A good evening to you, young Mick Farrell,” Peter greeted Mick cheerfully as they approached each other.

Mick, for his part, was rather distracted and he didn’t quite hear Peter’s greeting. “What the hell is wrong with you, Mick Farrell?” asked Peter curtly. “Do you not return a greeting that has been given to you?

Peter’s curtness brought Mick back to his senses quick enough to answer the rebuff he had just received. “I’m sorry Peter,” he apologised. “ My mind is so full of other things at the moment.”

Peter laughed and asked, ”A wee girl, I suppose? Sure what young man, like yourself, would not be distracted by some lovely wee girl?

 It’s not a girl, Peter. I want to join the Army,” Mick began to tell him. “I want to make a life for myself but my mother is dead set against it and I cannot go. Now I have to tell my best friend that he will be enlisting on his own tomorrow.

Joining the Army?” asked Peter, almost as if he didn’t believe what his ears were hearing. “You want to join an Army that has tormented your people for centuries? You want to join an Army whose sole purpose is to ensure that the people of Ireland give up any hope of freedom and self-determination, and  do what they are told to by their English masters?

Jesus Christ, Peter?” Mick exclaimed in shock at these words. “Be quiet before someone hears you! If somebody reports it you could be looking at being charged with high treason!

Treason my arse!” Peter sneered. “Sure it is you who are plotting the treason! You who is about to betray our people, your faith, your country and your ancestors! Just who do you think you are? Do you want to die for England or to live for Ireland?. You know Mick Farrell that it only on stout, hardy young men like yourself and Paddy Brannigan who are Ireland’s only hope for freedom. In fact, it is only the likes of you who maybe our last hope! So I plead with you to keep true to your own, Mick, and don’t join the ranks of the enemy!.”

Ireland’s last hope?” Mick muttered to himself as he stared down at the ground to avoid Peter McGann’s eyes. A moment later he raised his head to thank Peter for his advice but found that Peter had vanished, the same way that any ideas of enlisting in the army had vanished.