Terry Toner’s Gander

This is a story of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century and tells about Terry Toner, an honest young man from a very well-to-do farming family, who rented the biggest farm on this side of the Black Mountains. Because Terry was enthusiastic about farming, worked hard on his father’s farm, and was open-minded toward the new farming methods that were being advanced.  His industriousness, unsurprisingly, was quickly rewarded and brought great profits with every harvest he reaped. Terry was, however, greatly blessed by having a large family of healthy daughters, and this was a time when it was expected that a father would have a dowry for each of his daughters. Striving to be an honest and hardworking man, Terry was exhausted by the constant efforts he made to gather up the dowries that all his daughters needed to possess if they were to marry well.  There was not a trick or a crafty method for making money out of a farm that Terry did not know and would not employ to its full capacity.

Terry Toner Cottage
Terry and wife

Among all the different methods that Terry had used to raise himself up in the world, he always enjoyed breeding and raising turkeys and many other types of poultry. From all the poultry breeds available, Terry was particularly partial to raising geese.  From his own experiences Terry had many reasons for his preference. Twice every year the poultry farmer can pluck the geese to the bare skin and get a fine price for their feathers. At the same time his geese can provide the farmer with plenty of very sizeable eggs for eating and selling. Then, when the geese become too old to lay any more eggs, they can be killed, and can be sold on to the public for eating. The goose, Terry had recognised, was among the most valuable of all poultry and could provide him with a steady income, even when the land itself is not very fertile.

Thanks to the tender care and feeding that Terry gave his geese the flock expanded quickly. But, there was one old crafty gander that took a great liking to Terry, and he took to the farmer so well that there was nowhere that Terry could go about the farm without the gander following him. Whether it was to work himself or to direct the work of the farm labourers the gander would be at Terry’s heels, rubbing itself against his legs, and looking up into his face just like any other pet would do. There was no one in the district who had ever seen the likes of this activity before, and they continued to wonder as Terry Toner and the gander became closer companions. In fact, Terry was so taken by this particular bird that he would not allow his workers to pluck its feathers at all. Henceforward, the gander became Terry’s very special pet and he showered it with so much love and affection that one would have thought it was just another one of his children. Unfortunately, love and affection are not always perfect gifts and they seldom last very long. Terry’s neighbours very quickly began to suspect and question what the true nature and intentions of the gander could be. Some of the more superstitious among his neighbours even began to suggest that the gander was the devil himself, while many others were convinced that the gander was a fairy.

Fairy Doctor
Fairy Doctor

Being a conscientious and community minded man, Terry could not ignore all the things his neighbours were saying. But, because he was a man who had little belief in fairy creatures, or demons, you can imagine just how uncomfortable he was about those things being said by his neighbours and how difficult it was for him not to react. But, as the days passed into weeks, Terry began to become more and more uncomfortable with what was being said and, finally, he told everyone who wanted to know that he would send for Jerry Girvan, the fairy doctor in Ballydun.  Jerry Girvan was, of course, a man who was well-known in the entire district for his dealings with spirits and the ‘Good People’. It was said that there wasn’t a spirit that would say a cross word to him, nor would any priest in the diocese question him. Moreover, Jerry Girvan had been a very good friend to old Terence Toner, who was Terry’s late father. It was this fact alone that caused Terry to send for the fairy doctor to come as quickly as he possibly could. Sure enough, when Girvan got the message from Terry he made immediate preparations and returned that very same evening along with the boy that had been Terry’s messenger. As soon as he arrived at the farm, Terry greeted his friend and ensured that Girvan was given a good supper after his tiresome journey. They chatted for a while but, as soon as they were finished talking, Jerry immediately began to investigate the question of the crafty old gander.  He took a hold of the gander, turning it this way and that way, to the right and to the left, horizontal and upside down, until he was tired of handling the bird. Then he turned to Terry Toner and said, “Terry, you must take the gander into the next room and put a scarf, or any other convenient item around his head.”

“And why would you want me to do that?” asked Terry curiously.

“Because,” replied Girvan.

“Because what?” asked Terry.

“Because,” began Girvan, “if you don’t do as I ask, then you will never feel easy again. You will still be fearful in your mind. So, I say that you should ask me no more questions, but simply do what I bid you to do.”

“Well,” replied Terry, “have it your own way.”

With that he took the gander and gave it to one of his children standing close by.

“And you take care,” said Girvan to the child. Then, as soon as the bird was gone from the room, he turned to Terry and asked, “Do you know what that old gander is, Terence Toner?”

“I haven’t a clue,” replied Terry.

“Well, then,” laughed Girvan, “let me tell you that the gander is your own father!”

“Get away out of that, surely you must be joking with me,” gasped Terry, completely shocked by what he had been told and as the digested the revelation his face turned very pale. “How can that old gander be my father?” he asked Girvan, nervously.

“I am not joking with you about this, Terry,” Girvan told him. “What I tell you is the truth. It is your father’s wandering soul that has taken possession of this old gander’s body. Now, I knew your da in many ways, and I have to wonder why you didn’t notice that well-known way he would cock his eye.”

“Oh! In the name of God,” sighed Terry, “what will happen to me now! I must be cursed for eternity because I plucked that old gander bald at least twelve times. Bald, I tell you! What will I do now?”

“Well, in all honesty, Terry, there’s absolutely nothing that you can do about that now,” replied Girvan. “It was a terrible thing to do to your da, but sure it’s too late to lament about it now,” says he, “the only way to prevent what’s done, is to put a stop to it before it begins.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” said Terry, “but, tell me, how did you realise that it was my father’s soul that was in the old gander?”

“Sure, If I was to tell you that, you wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, at least not without a bit of book-learning and cookery knowledge,” said Girvan “So it’s better that you ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies. You will just have to believe me when I tell you that it’s your father that’s in that gander, and if I don’t make him speak tomorrow morning, then I’ll allow you to call me a fool.”

“Say no more,” Terry told him, “that settles the business. But, isn’t it a quare thing for a decent, respectable man like my da to be walking about the country in the body of an old gander? And, oh, God forgive me! Didn’t I pluck him clean all those times and not know he was there. Sure, it’s a wonder that I didn’t stuff the damn bird, roast him and eat him for Christmas or Easter.” Then, after saying all of this, Terry fell into a cold sweat as he began to realise what could have happened, and he was on the point of fainting when images of what could have happened flashed through his mind.

When Terry finally came to his senses again, Jerry Girvan leaned over and spoke quietly and calmly to him. “Take it easy now, Terry,” says he, “don’t you be aggravating yourself, for I have a plan in mind that will make him speak out and tell us just what it is that he’s wanting.” Taking a deep breath, Jerry continued, “Now just you remember not to allow your mouth to run off and repeat anything that I tell you. Just pretend, as soon as the bird is brought back, how we’ve decided to send him to the market early tomorrow morning.  Then, if he doesn’t speak tonight, or make his escape out of the place, put him into the hamper early, and send him in the cart straight to town, to be sold for eating. Put two of your labourers in the cart with him, and my name is not Jerry Girvan if the goose doesn’t speak out before he’s half way there.” Then with a sense of urgency in his voice Jerry told him, “But, just you remember that as soon as he ever says the first word, you must immediately grab a tight hold of him and quickly bring him off to Father Carty. If his Reverence doesn’t make him retire into the flames of Purgatory then there is no power in my charms.”  Then, when all this was said, the old gander was let back into the room again and they all began to talk about sending him off, early the next morning, to be sold for roasting in the county town. It was all discussed in a matter-of-fact way, just as if all the details had already been discussed and settled. The gander, however, appeared to be taking absolutely no notice of the two men, at least no more notice than if they had been discussing someone who was a stranger to them. Terry wanted one of his men to prepare the cage for transporting the gander, by ensuring it was both there was plenty of hay to the journey soft and snug. He told the man, “This will be the last trip that poor old gander would be getting in this life.”

As the night fell and the hours dragged by, Terry became restless and unable to sleep. He began to grow very despondent and sorrowful as the night passed and his mind became entirely filled with images of what was going to happen the next day. So, as soon as his wife and the farm animals were bedded down for the night, he brought out some of his best poteen, and sat down with Jerry Girvan to have a few drinks. But, the more uneasy that Terry began to feel, the more he drank, and both he and Jerry Girvan finished almost two pints of the smooth clear spirit between them. It was to prove to be more than enough for the two men and, indeed, would have been enough for a few more if they had been invited. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every drop of the poteen and were very happy that they had not been foolish enough to follow Father Matt, who took the pledge against alcohol, which is a terrible and blasphemous thing for any Irishman to do.

Sure, there was a time when my own lady wife persuaded me, as only a woman can do, to take up the ‘pioneer medal’ and when that fine woman is with me I will stand proudly and loudly boasting that abstention from the demon drink is a fine thing for any man. But, quietly, I will admit to you that giving up the gargle leaves a man very dry. There are times, therefore, when I have reason to travel far from home and wife that I can get quite befuddled and lose my pioneer medal in my pocket. But, there is no harm done and anyone can be a little forgetful. Sure, there would be no need for forgiveness if a man didn’t give in to temptation now and again.

Terry Toner, however, was no pioneer and when he had finished his pint, he thought he might as well stop. “Enough is as good as a feast,” he told Jerry, “and I pity the unhappy man that is not able to control his liquor, and to keep constantly inside of a pint measure.” Then Terry got up from his seat and wished Jerry a good night, as he walked out of the room. But, he went out by the wrong door, being a trifle worse for wear, and not able to know whether he was standing on his head or his heels, or even both at the same time. As a result, instead of him getting into bed that night, he threw himself into the poultry hamper that the boys had prepared for transporting the gander in the morning. In that well-prepared hamper, sure enough, Terry sunk down to the bottom of the snug, warm and comfortable hay that had been piled there. With his turning and rolling about in the night, there was not a bit of him that was left uncovered as he lay up as snug as a lumper spud in a potato furrow before morning.

As the first light of day broke through the early morning cloud cover, the two boys that were to take the gander got up from their beds and made themselves ready for the journey to the county town. They set about catching the old gander and putting him in the hamper, before throwing a good lump of hay on the top of him, and finally tying him down strongly with a bit of baling twine. Once they had done this, they made the sign of the cross over him, to protect themselves from any harm, and then lifted the poultry hamper up on to the car. But, as they did this they were wondering all the while what in the world was making this old gander so very heavy. With the hamper finally aboard, they went along on the road towards the county town, wishing every minute as they travelled that some of the neighbours might be going the same way and would join them. Though they were fully grown men they didn’t quite like the idea of having no other company on their journey but the bewitched gander, and who could blame them for being worried. They were already trembling with an overwhelming fear that the old gander would begin, at any minute, speaking to them. Although each could see the concern of the other, they continued singing and whistling as loud as they could to try and keep the fear out of their hearts. Well, after they had continued along the road for more than half an hour, the two labourers came to the bad bit that was close by Father Crotty’s house, where there was one rut which was at least three feet deep. As the cart went over this rut it got such a terrible jolt that it wakened Terry, who was still lying snugly within the basket. “Oh!” says he, “my backside is broken with all this jumping and jolting! What the devil are ye doing with me?”

“Did ye hear anything a bit queer, Paddy?” asked the boy that was next to the car, as his face began to turn as white as the top of a mushroom. “I mean, did ye hear anything queer that might be coming out of that poultry hamper?” the boy asked.

“No, I heard nothing” replied Paddy, but he was turning just as pale as his companion, “it’s just the old gander that’s grunting with all the shaking about he’s getting.”

“What have ye put me into?” Terry cried out, from inside the hamper. “Let me out,” he shouted aloud, “or I’ll be dying of suffocation this minute.”

“There’s no use in you pretending,” says the boy to Paddy, “the gander’s speaking, glory be to God!”

“Let me out of here, you murderers,” screamed Terry.

“In the name of all the holy saints,” replied Paddy, “hold yer tongue, you black-hearted creature.”

“Who is it, that dares to call me such names?” asked Terry from inside the hamper. Then roaring at them both angrily he demanded, “let me out of here, you blasphemous heathens, or by this cross, I’ll give you a mighty beating.”

“Who are ye?” asked Paddy.

“Sure, who would I be but Terry Toner, ye eejits,” says he. “It’s myself that’s in here, you unmerciful blackguards,” says he, “now let me out, or I’ll get out of here despite ye both, and I’ll give the two of you a kicking you’ll never forget.”

“Sure, it is old Terry, sure enough,” said Paddy, “isn’t it great that the fairy doctor found him out?”

“I’m on the point of suffocation,” said Terry, “now let me out, I tell ye, and wait until I get at ye, for there will not be a bone in your body that I will not break and pound into powder!” With that said Terry began kicking and flinging himself about the hamper, and driving his legs against the sides of it, so that it was a miracle that the hamper was not knocked to pieces.

Well, as soon as the two labourers saw this, they began to beat the old horse into a gallop as hard as he could towards the priest’s house, through the ruts in the road, and over the stones. All the while the hamper could be seen flying three feet in the air with the jolting. It was small wonder, therefore, that by the time they got to the priest’s door, the breath was fairly knocked out of poor Terry, and he was lying totally unable to speak in the bottom of the hamper. Well, when his Reverence came down, they immediately began to tell him about all that happened, and how they had put the gander into the hamper. They told about how the gander began to speak, and how he confessed that he was old Terence Toner. Excitedly, they asked his reverence to advise them how they might get rid of the spirit for good and all.

The priest now turned to the boys and told them quietly, “I’ll take my book and I’ll read some really strong holy bits out of it. In the meantime, go you and get a rope and put it round the hamper. Then let it swing over the running water at the bridge and it will not matter if I don’t make the spirit come out of it.” Well, with all now said, the priest got his horse, and tucked his book in under his arm, and the boys followed his Reverence, leading the horse, and Terry holding keeping quiet, for he had seen that it was no use in him speaking. Besides, he was afraid that if he did make any noise they might treat him to another gallop and finish him off entirely. Well, as soon as they all came to the bridge the boys took the rope they had with them and made it fast to the top of the hamper, and swung it over the bridge, letting it hang in the air about twelve feet above the water. The priest rode down to the bank of the river, close by, and began to read from the book in a very loud and bold voice. When he had been speaking for about five minutes, all at once the bottom of the hamper dropped out, and down went Terry, falling with a splash into the cold river-water, and the old gander on top of him. Down they both went to the bottom with a splash you could have heard from half-a-mile away. Then, before they had time to rise again, his Reverence, in complete astonishment, gave his horse one dig of his spurs and, before he knew where he was, in he went, horse and all, on top of them, and down to the bottom they went. Within a moment or two, up they all came again together, gasping and puffing, and off with the current they went like shot. On they went, under the arch of the bridge until they came to the shallow water, where the old gander was the first to get out. The priest and Terry came out next, panting and blowing and more than half-drowned. The priest was so shocked by the experience he had underwent, especially seeing an unnatural spirit, as he believed, that he wasn’t the better of it for a month. As for Terry, as soon as he could speak he made it clear that he would have the life of those two eejit boys. But Father Matt would not allow him to harm the two boys and, as soon as Terry got had calmed down, they all tried their best to explain what had happened. Terry, however, believed that he had went to his own bed the night before. Father Matt concluded that it was all a mystery and he swore that if he caught anyone laughing at the accident he would lay a horsewhip across their shoulders. The years passed by quickly and Terry grew more and more fond of the old gander every day until, at last, he died at a wonderful old age. He left the gander after him and a large family of children, and to this very day the farm is being rented by one of Terry Toner’s legitimate successors.

Paddy Kelly’s Riches

Many years ago, I am told, there was a man by the name of Paddy Kelly, who lived quite near to the market town of Lurgan in the beautiful, ‘Orchard County’ of Armagh. One bright morning, as was his custom, he rose up from his bed when the sun was not much above the horizon. He had no watch on his arm and he was unsure about what time of day it was. A confusion not at all helped by the fact that the fine light coming through his window originated from a watery early morning sun. But, Paddy did know what day of the week it was, and that he had wanted to rise early so that he could go to the fair in town. There he had high hopes of being able to sell his young, healthy donkey, which he had raised from birth.

 Paddy washed and dressed before taking his breakfast of porridge and toast, Then, as he finished his white enamel mug filled with strong tea, Paddy gathered his coat before he set out on his journey to the fair. He had not gone more than three miles along the road from his home that morning when a great dark cloud dimmed the light of the early morning sun, and a heavy shower of rain began to fall. Paddy looked about him and, about five hundred yards from the road, slightly obscured by some trees, he caught sight of a large house. Without a second thought he decided that he would make his way, as quickly as possible, to the house and shelter there until the rain came to an end. In his rush he was a little out of breath when he finally reached the house, and he was very surprised to see that the door before him was already opened wide. Thinking that maybe the owner had seen him rushing to the house in the rain, and opened the door for him, Paddy went into the house unannounced. As he entered he saw a large room to his left, with a grand, welcoming fire already burning in the grate. Paddy decided to sit himself down upon a small stool that stood beside the wall to await the house owner’s arrival. But, the warmth from the fire soon filled the room and rapidly began to make Paddy sleepy. weaselThen, just as his eyes started closing in sleep, he noticed a big weasel coming to the fire place and it had something very bright and yellow in its mouth, which it dropped on the hearth-stone before hurrying away again. Within a few moments the weasel returned with a similar object held tightly in her mouth, dropping it on the hearthstone before again disappearing. The weasel soon came back again with the same object in her mouth, and Paddy realised that it was a bright gold sovereign that she had. Once again, the weasel dropped the coin on the hearth-stone and scampered from his sight. But, she kept coming and going until, at last, she had piled a great heap of shining sovereigns on the hearth. When Paddy was sure that she was finally gone from the room he quickly rose up from the stool and walked over to the fireplace. Then, using both hands he rapidly bundled all the gold coins, that the weasel had piled up on the hearth, into his jacket pockets and, as quietly as possible, he hurried out of the house.

Despite his best efforts, Paddy was not as fast on his feet as the weasel, and he had not gotten very far before he heard the noise of the angry animal coming after him. The irate weasel was screeching and screaming loudly at Paddy, like a set of Uileann-pipes that were being played very badly. Filled with wrath the weasel quickly overtook Paddy on the road, where she jumped and twisted herself in the air, making every possible effort to get a hold of his throat, so she could tear it out. But, Paddy carried a good thick stick of oak and he used it to keep the snapping weasel from him. Then two men, who were travelling along the same road as Paddy, and in the same direction, came up to him. With one of these men was a large, sturdy dog that began snarling at the angry weasel and chased it into a hole in the wall.

Paddy continued along the road to the fair in the company of the two men and arrived there without any more interruption. Earlier that morning Paddy had headed off to the fair with the sole aim of selling his donkey and returning home immediately with the money he earned from the sale. By the afternoon things had changed and instead of coming straight home with the money he got for the donkey, Paddy went to a trader and bought himself a horse with some of the money he had taken from the weasel. He felt like a wealthy man and he wanted to come home just as a wealthy man should, proudly riding a horse. As they trotted along Paddy reached the place where the dog had chased the weasel away from him. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, the angry weasel came scrambling of a narrow hole in the wall. With great athleticism the weasel leaped up from the ground, catching Paddy’s horse by the throat and causing the terrified animal to bolt.

Tormented by the pain of the weasel’s bite the horse rushed off and Paddy could only keep his tight grip on the animal’s mane with the greatest of difficulty. Finally, blinded with agony, the poor horse took a huge leap that brought his rider and he into a big, wide drain that was filled with brackish water and black mud. Both horse and rider were out of their depth, choking and drowning very rapidly, until a small group of men, coming along the road from Portadown, saw the difficulty they were in and they managed to chase the weasel away from the scene. They also helped Paddy and his mount to exit the drain and put them back on their way along the road.  Paddy, now in a very dishevelled condition, finally brought the horse home with him and put him into the byre, while he went to his bed and fell fast asleep.

It was very early, the next morning, when Paddy rose up from his bed and prepared himself to go out to the byre and give his new horse some fresh hay and oats. But, when he finally reached the byre door, Paddy saw the weasel scampering out of the byre with her fur completely soaked with a large patch of thick red blood. “Christ almighty! A thousand curses on you and may each one be worse than the one before,” screamed Paddy, “Satan’s polecat and killer of the innocent, what have you done now?”

Paddy hurried into the byre wondering what he would find. There, lying on the hay covered floor, he found the horse, two of his dairy cows, and two newly born calves lying dead in pools of blood. Shocked, upset and angry, Paddy came out of the byre cursing and swearing loudly, and he went immediately to his large farm dog, which was already fighting in its chains, barking and snarling at the weasel as it glared menacingly at Paddy. He now took hold of the chains, loosened them and set the massive dog at the evil killer. The dog snapped at the weasel, taking a tight grip of the struggling creature which, at the same time, took a strong hold of the huge mastiff. Although Paddy’s dog was an excellent farm guard-dog, and despite his size, he was quickly forced to loosen his hold of the weasel before Paddy could reach the battle site.

As the vicious weasel scampered off to make good her escape, Paddy kept his eyes on her movements. He followed her every twist and turn, through grass and bush, until he saw her slink into a small, disused and badly dilapidated cottage that stood at the edge of a shallow lake. Paddy, with the dog at his side, now ran rapidly to catch up with their fleeing enemy. When, at last, he reached the front of the small cottage Paddy took a tight hold of the dog, shook it violently to make the animal very angry and prepare him for the vicious fight ahead.

With his hound well prepared, Paddy sent him into the cottage before he would enter it himself. As the dog moved into the hovel it began to bark loudly and growl threateningly, which encouraged Paddy to go into the building after him. But, as his eyes became accustomed to the dark of the building, he noticed an old hag of a woman lurking in a corner of one room. Taken completely by surprise with the presence of the old woman, Paddy nervously asked her if she had seen a weasel running through the building.

I saw nothing,” said she quietly. “Sure, isn’t it myself that is all destroyed with a terrible sickness that’s upon me. You must get out of this place as quickly as you can before you catch it and are destroyed yourself.

As Paddy and the old woman were talking, the large dog quietly keptCailleach creeping up closer to them. Unnoticed by Paddy the dog came to a point from which it suddenly gave a big leap upward and caught the old woman by the throat. With a piercing and terrified scream of pain the old woman cried out, “Paddy Kelly get your dog off me, and I’ll make you a very rich man.”

Paddy taking a tight hold of his dog once again, forced it to loosen its hold on the old woman. He shouted at her, “Tell me who you are, you old witch, and tell me why did you kill my horse and my cows?

“First tell me why you stole away my gold that I had been gathering, throughout the hills and hollows of the world, for five hundred years or more?

I thought you were a weasel,” Paddy said, “or I wouldn’t have touched your gold.

And, another thing,” said Paddy, “if you have been living in this world for five hundred years already, is it not about time that you went to your eternal rest now.

I would if it were not for the fact that I committed a great sin when I was very young,” explained the old woman, “and now I can only be released from my terrible sufferings if you can pay the cost of one hundred and fifty masses for my soul’s salvation.”

Where would I get all the money to pay for them? ” asked Paddy.

If you would go and dig under a bush that stands over a little well in the corner of that field over there,” she pointed, “you’ll find a pot filled with gold. Just you pay the money for the masses, and you can keep whatever is left of the gold to yourself. But, I will tell you that there is a great stone that covers the pot and, when you lift the stone off, you will find a big black dog rushing out. This hound might look fierce to you, but don’t be afraid of him, because he is a son of mine. As soon as you retrieve the gold from the pot, buy the house in which you saw me for the first time. There is no doubt that you will get it at a cheap price, for it is well known that the house has a ghost haunting it. Then, look and you will discover my son down in the cellar of the house. He will not do you any harm, but he shall be a good friend to you. Then, in a month from this day, I will be dead and, when I am dead, I want you to put a fire under this little hut and burn it down so there is nothing left. Be assured that if you never tell any living soul a thing about me, you will have a great amount of good luck in your life.”

Just tell me one thing before I leave, old woman; What is your name? ” asked Paddy.

Maura Keown,” she told him.

Silently, turning away from the old woman, Paddy left her standing alone in the hut and went home. But, when the first dark shadows of night fell across the country, Paddy grabbed hold of a spade and took it with him as he went to seek the bush that was in the corner of the field, which the old woman had indicated to him. As soon as he had come upon the bush, Paddy immediately began digging with the spade, and it did not take him very long to uncover the pot. As he had been told, when he removed the large stone off the pot, a big black dog sprang out of the hole and ran off, with Paddy’s dog in close pursuit. Meanwhile, Paddy worked quickly to collect up the gold and brought it back to his home, where he hid it in the cow-house.

It was about a month after this episode that Paddy went up to the fair at Dromore. While he was there he bought a pair of cows, a horse, and a dozen sheep for his farm, much to the surprise of his neighbours. These people were very taken aback at Paddy’s new spending power and they wondered and discussed among themselves the source of the man’s new-found wealth. Of course, there were rumours circulating that Paddy had been granted a wish from the fairy folk, while others speculated that he had captured a Leprechaun and received his crock of gold as the ransom. Paddy, however, paid little attention to the rumours and speculations of his neighbours. Then, one day, Paddy dressed himself in his best clothes and set off toward town. He had decided to pay a call on the man who owned the large house where he had first seen the weasel, and he asked the owner if he could buy the house from him, as well as all the land that was round about it.

You can have the house without paying any rent at all” said the owner, “but there is a ghost in it, and I wouldn’t like you to go to live in it without my telling you. However, if you wish to purchase it I must tell you that I cannot part with the land unless I can get at least a thousand pounds more than you have offered me.

Perhaps I have as much money as you require,” replied Paddy. “I can be here to-morrow with the money, but only if you are ready to give me immediate possession.

I’ll be ready,” the gentleman assured Paddy, who immediately went home to tell his wife that he had just bought a large house and a considerable holding of land.

Where did you get the money?” asked the wife anxiously.

Never you mind,” Paddy told her. “It isn’t any of your business where I got it?

Leprechaun 2The very next day Paddy went to meet the gentleman again, gave him the money, and got possession of the house and land. Alongside this, the gentleman left him the furniture and everything that was in the house, as part of the bargain. Then, to confirm his possession, Paddy stayed in the house that night. After darkness fell he made his way carefully down to the cellar, as he had been instructed to by the old woman. In the cellar, to his surprise, he saw a little man with his two legs spread out upon a barrel. “God be good to you for an honest man,” said the wee man to Paddy.

May God be good to you to,” replied Paddy, nervously.

Don’t be afraid of me at all,” says the little man. “I will be a constant friend to you, if you are able to keep a secret.

I can be assured that I am able to do that. Sure, didn’t I keep your mother’s secret, and be confident that I’ll keep yours as well.

Maybe you’re thirsty?” asked the little man.

I am indeed,” said Paddy, “just a little.”

The small man put his hand into the pocket of the coat he was wearing and took out a finely made goblet of gold material. He gave the goblet to Paddy, and told him, ”Draw some wine out of that barrel under me.

Paddy took the goblet and filled it wine from the barrel, and he handed it to the little man. “You have the first drink,” the man said.

Paddy drank the wine and then drew another full goblet from the barrel, which he handed to the little man, who drank it.

Fill up and have another drink,” said the little man. “I feel like having a good session tonight.”

The pair of them sat there drinking until they were both half drunk. Then the little man leaped down to the floor, and asked Paddy, “Do you like music?’

Of course I do, ” said Paddy, “and I’m a good dancer, too.”

Lift up the big flag-stone over there in the corner, and you’ll get my pipes under it.

Paddy lifted the flag-stone, got the pipes, and gave them to the little man. He squeezed the pipes on the bag and began playing a fine melody. Paddy began dancing in time to the music until he had tired himself out. Then they had another drink together, and the little man spoke to him softly, “Do as my mother told you, and I’ll show you great riches. You can bring your wife in here, if you wish, but don’t tell her that I’m there, and she won’t see me. If you need a drink of ale or wine at any time, feel free to come here and help yourself. Goodbye for now. Go to your bed and sleep, then come again to me to-morrow night.

Paddy went to his bed, and it wasn’t long before he fell fast asleep. Early the next morning Paddy went home, and he brought his wife and children to the big house, where they made themselves comfortable. That night Paddy made his way down to the cellar, where the little man welcomed him and asked him if he wanted to dance.

Not until I get a drink,” said Paddy.

Drink your fill,” said the little man, “that barrel will never be empty as long as you live.

Paddy drank the full of the goblet, and then gave a drink to the little man. The small companion accepted the drink from him and told him, “I am going to the fairy castle tonight, to play music for the good-people, and if you come along with me you’ll see some great fun. I’ll give you a horse, for the journey, the likes of which you have never seen before.

I’ll go with you, of course,” replied Paddy, ” but what sort of excuse will I make to my wife.

There is no need for you to worry about that. I will bring you away from her side without her knowing it, when you are both asleep together, and then I will bring you back to her in the same manner,” explained the little man.

That sounds like a good plan,” smiled Paddy, “but we will have another drink before I leave you.” Paddy drank goblet after goblet until he was half drunk, and then he went to bed with his wife. When Paddy awoke, however, he found himself riding on a huge horse near to the legendary fairy castle, and the little man was riding on another horse by his side. When they came as far as the green hill of the castle, the little man said a couple of words that Paddy did not understand. At that moment the green hill opened, and the two men went rode into what was a fine chamber.

Paddy had never saw such a gathering of people like of that which was in the castle. The entire place was filled with little people, men and women, young and old, and they all welcomed the little man they knew as ‘Donal the Piper’, into their midst with Paddy Kelly. From among the crowd the king and queen of the fairies stepped forward and said to them, “We are all going on a visit to-night to Knockmore, to the high king and queen of our people.”

At the king’s signal they all got up from where they were seated and went out of the chamber. There were horses ready for each one of them and a coach prepared for the king and the queen to travel in. The king and queen got into their coach, while each man leaped on his own horse, and Paddy followed close behind them. The wee piper had gone ahead of them all and began to play music for them as they rapidly rode off into the night. With the magic of the good people it did not take them long until they came, at last to the hill of Knockmore. As they arrived at the hill it opened, and the king passed in with the rest of his followers.

Awaiting them all were Finvara and Nuala, the High-king and Queen of the fairy host of Uladh, surrounded by thousands of their little people. Finvara came up to them and told them, “We are going to play a hurling match tonight against the fairy host of Munster, and unless we beat them our fame and magic will be gone forever. Our match is to be fought out on the ‘field of gold’ that lies beneath Slieve Gullion”.

The host of Uladh cried out in unison, “We are all ready for the fight, and we know that we shall beat them all.”

“Let us all get out there then,” cried the high king, “or the men from the hills of Munster will be on the ground before us.

They all went out of the hill, with little Donal and twelve more pipers moving ahead of them, playing music they could march to. When they came to ‘The Field of Gold’ the fairy host of Munster had gathered in great numbers before them. For those who don’t know fairy lore, it is a requirement at such events, whether they are for fighting or playing hurling, that the fairy host have two live men beside them. This was the reason that little Donal took Paddy Kelly with him and, meanwhile, there was a man they called the “Rory Geary“, from Cork, who stood with the fairy host of Munster.

Hurling 1

In moments the two fairy hosts had lined up their teams and the ball was thrown up between them. From that moment the real fun began in earnest. They were hurling away, and the pipers playing music, until Paddy Kelly saw the host of Munster was starting to get the upper-hand, and he began to help the fairy host of Uladh. The man ‘Geary‘ came up and he made a move toward Paddy Kelly, but Paddy was the quicker of the two and turned him head over heels. It didn’t take long for the two opposing groups of fairies to abandon hurling and begin fighting. But, in a very short period of time the host of Uladh had gained victory by beating those from Munster. Defeated and deflated, the host of Munster turned themselves into flying beetles and, in revenge, began to eat every green thing that they came across. They were destroying the entire country before them until they came as far as the place where the Bann River flows into Lough Neagh. At that place there rose up thousands of doves from out of the trees, and they began to swallow down the beetles and, since that time, this place has been known to all folklorists as ‘The Sanctuary of the Doves’.

When the fairy host of Uladh had won their battle, they came back to the hill of Knockmore filled with a great joy. Finvara, the High King of the fairies, gave Paddy Kelly a purse of gold and, after the presentation, the little piper brought him back home, putting him into the bed beside his wife, and leaving him sleeping there.

Another month passed by, but without much happening. Until, one evening, Paddy went down to the cellar. When he reached the cellar the little man, Donal, said to him sadly, “My mother is dead, and it is time to burn the house over her.

I should have remembered,” said Paddy. “She told me that she had only a month of life left in this world, and that month was up yesterday.

The next morning Paddy went to the hut and he found that the old woman was indeed dead. Just as he had promised, Paddy put a lighted coal under the hut and set it on fire. When he returned home, Paddy visited the little man and told him that the hut was burned according to his mother’s request. In return, the little man gave him a leather purse and said to him, “This purse will never be empty as long as you are alive. From now, you will never see me again, but in your heart always hold a loving remembrance of the weasel, because it was she who was the beginning and the prime cause of your prosperity.” Then Donal went away from view and Paddy never saw him again.

Thereafter, Paddy Kelly and his wife lived for many years in the large house and, when he died, he left a great wealth behind him, and a large family to enjoy it.

 

Absence makes…..

She was just a little girl, slender and insignificant. It was only her love that made her heroic. Meanwhile, the man was big, broad, a man to be noticed in a crowd, but his love made him as helpless as a little child. They were standing opposite each other in the poor, shabbily furnished little room. His eyes scanned her face wildly, incredulously, but her eyes were, all the time, fixed upon a great hole in the faded carpet on the floor. Her mind seemed to be in a state of chaos, for with his eagerly spoken words of love came others that totally bewildered her. Alongside the man’s passionate words of love for her, his yearning to have her for himself and the promise to live and work only for her happiness, the man added other words. He spoke of his ambition and great hopes, of his intention to travel the world far and wide, of his hardships and discomforts that he would have to bear for the sake of a book that was yet to be written. It would be a book, he was certain, that would bring fame and great satisfaction to its author. As he spoke, his words held a deep note of earnestness and strength, which overpowered those eager, pleasant tones that had been pleading to her so wildly.

“I called you ‘Kathleen My Darling’ last night. Do you remember? You smiled and blushed as I spoke!” he protested to her. “Why did you do it, Kathleen? I know you love me, you do! Why don’t you speak to me? I tell you, I have seen it in your eyes. So, why do you deny it now?”

The girl shook her head, and in an agonising tone of voice she pleaded with him to tell her, “How long? How long?”

The man held out his arms to her despairingly and in a humble, quiet voice that was unnatural to him he asked, “Won’t you try, then? For Kitty, little Kitty, I cannot live without you!”

Calmly and quietly she told him, “I have a singing lesson to give at one o’clock,” and in response the man’s arms fell limply to his sides.

The sun was streaming through the window and on to the pretty, pale, face of the girl, as well as on to the white, haggard face of the man who stood opposite her. There were no shadows in that little room, for it was all glare and shabbiness. “I will leave,” the man said curtly, and then his eyes began to fill with an angry fire. “But, you are a flirt! Do you hear me, a pitiable and heartless flirt! You have led me on and played with my feelings for you. You have softened your eyes, made your lips sweet and tempting, and amuse yourself at my expense! How can you do such a thing?” He gave a little cynical laugh and then continued, “You have been very clever in your own way – you know——” and he moved towards the door. As he reached the door, he stopped and turned toward the girl, saying icily, “I beg your pardon, I should not have spoken so to a woman. Good-bye.”

“You will begin travelling now?” she asked.

He laughed and said, “Why keep up the pretence? It’s rather late now to pretend you have any interest in my life.” For her part, she was silent and watched as he paused at the door. This was a proud man, and he had an iron will. But his love for this woman had made him helpless and weak as a little child. “Kathleen,” he breathed, “you are sure?” As he awaited her reply for a moment, she stood still and rigid as a statue. “Oh, little one, I love you so much,” He sighed, his voice soft and caressing. Her love, however, made her heroic and strong. She raised her head and steadily told him, “I am certain,” she said steadily.

*** Couple 2

The young girl sat in a corner of the warm, well-furnished drawing-room, and she wished that people would not nod and stare at her so energetically as they passed by. She was used to it by now, but she had grown very tired of it. In fact, she had never liked it, but accepted that fame brings notoriety with it, and notoriety, unfortunately, brings nods, whispers and stares. She was dressed beautifully. It was not a major surprise, for she had always liked pretty things, and now she could have as many as she wanted. But, a man standing in a doorway across the road was watching her with contempt in his eyes. He had not seen her for five years, and as he stood there another man approached him and spoke. “Looking at our wee star, are you?” the passer-by asked. “That wee girl is the best thing that ever happened to this place, you know. Have you ever heard her sing? No? Well, maybe you’re just back from your travels and sure you can go to the Town Hall tomorrow evening. She’s going to sing there, and her voice is something wonderful to hear. Now, I never go to hear the girl myself for it makes me so sad, like a miserable sinner somehow. But, I’ve heard her twice, and then I stopped, because I didn’t like feeling so bad.”

The man slowly walked away again, and the watcher with contempt in his eyes continued to stare at her. The girl’s head was turned away from him, allowing him only a view of her soft, fair cheek and little ear nestling in a soft mass of hair, a white throat, and a lot of pale chiffon and silk. And suddenly the cheek and even the neck were flooded with a red blush, and then they looked whiter than before. He wondered at the cause for a moment, and he smiled bitterly as he did so. The girl’s eyes, however, remained firmly fixed, eager, and fascinated on the long looking-glass before her. But, she was not looking at herself. Afterwards he sought her out. “You were wise,” he spoke mockingly, and her normally soft, sweet eyes grew dark with pain. Meanwhile, he took the vacant seat beside her and played with the costly fan he had picked up from a dressing table. “I must congratulate you,” he said indifferently and with a wave towards her dress and the diamonds around her throat he added, “This is much better than the old days.”

“Yes,” she replied softly “But, perhaps you have forgotten since it has been, how long? Is it ten, no, five years ago?”

“No.” For a moment she furled and unfurled the fan in silence, admiring her beauty and wondering who had given her the Parma violets blooms for her hair. “Your book?” she asked timidly. But, as he stared back at her blankly she could feel herself begin to slowly redden. “You were going to travel and write about your adventures in strange places …” she continued falteringly.

“Oh, yes, I believe I was, some five years ago,” he replied and her face returned to its normal colour.

“Have you travelled far?” she asked.

“Oh, yes! I’ve done nothing else for five years. I’ve shot tigers in India and bears in the Himalayas. I’ve lived with Chinamen and African tribesmen, even making friends with cannibals on one occasion. Oh! I’ve had a fine time!” he declared with a laugh. Her eyes were filled with yearning as her hostess brought up a man to be introduced. Then, when she turned again to the other man she saw that the chair was empty again and she did not see him again for two weeks.

In those days there was an added sadness in her beautiful voice as she sang. But, although she brought tears to many thousands of eyes, her own were dry and restless. It was now beginning to dawn on her that she had made a mistake five years ago.

“Have you seen Hugh Hagan?” she heard one man say to another. “Never have I been so disappointed in a man in all of my life. Several years past he had the promise of being able to achieve some fame. Those articles that he wrote about ‘Foreign Ways and Customs’ made quite a sensation, you know. There was also some talk of wild travels and a book that was going to be a ‘Best Seller”. Well, he has had the travels alright, but where’s the book?”

“It’s down to the usual thing. A woman,” the other man replied. “Didn’t you know? Some pretty young thing. The usual scenario, but the cost to him was heavier than he could handle. It knocked the life out of him, you know. I don’t think I have ever saw a fellow so hard hit. That all happened five years ago, and he’s never written a line since. Poor fellow!”

The knowledge that she had made a mistake five years ago was becoming much clearer in her mind now and, at the end of the fortnight, she met with him and asked him to come and see her. Although he smiled pleasantly he chose not to visit and this upset her very much, causing her eyes to swell in her small, sad face. Then, she met him again, and when she asked him why he had not come, he looked down into her soft, sweet eyes and immediately began to feel love for her weakening his will once again. Once more he promised that he would come to visit her. But, when he came, he only stayed with her for five minutes. As she opened the door to him, he looked at her sternly and greeted her tersely. “Why do you want me?” he asked her, and watched the colour come and go in her cheeks with his pitiless eyes.

“We used to be friends,” she replied in a quiet and halting voice. He stood before her and laughed.

“Never! I never felt friendship for you,” he said mockingly, “nor you for me. You forget. Five years is a long time, but I have a retentive memory. I forget nothing.”

“Nor I,” she murmured.

“No? Then why did you ask me to come and see you?” When she gave him no answer, he looked round the pretty shaded room for a moment and he laughed again. “There is a difference in you too,” he told her.

She looked up at him quickly and confidently said, “I am the same.”

“Are you?” he asked and there was anger in his eyes.

“Listen,” he said, in a low, tense voice, “I am five years wiser than I was, then and I will never be anyone’s plaything again. You have ruined my life; doesn’t that make you happy? I would have staked my life on your goodness and your purity in those days. But, I can’t allow myself to believe in the goodness of any woman since you, with your angel’s eyes, proved to be so false. I used to be full of ambition and hope, but you killed both in me. I even tried to write my book after we had split, and I found that I couldn’t. Now, I shall never do anything and never be anything. I despise myself, and it’s not a nice feeling for any man to live with. It makes men desperate. But, still I love you. Do you understand? I have loved you all the time, and I hate myself for it.” His voice changed. “You may triumph,” he said, “but now that you understand, I will not come again.”

She stretched out her arms after him, but he was gone. And in that one moment she knew quite clearly that she had made a terrible mistake five years ago. She did not see him again for three and a half weeks. Then she saw him, one day when he thought he was alone. From a distance she studied his face and her eyes ached at what they saw, bringing her almost to tears. Then she decided to go to where he was sitting, and she touched him gently on his arm. “Well?” he asked, feeling the softness of her touch.

“Will you come,” she said in a soft voice, “to see me——”

“Thanks, but no thank you,” he told her as his eyes rested bitterly on her rich gown. Nevertheless, it came across his mind again just how wise she had been. Being tied to him, he was convinced, she could not have been as she was now.

“I have something I must say to you,” she said nervously, “will you please come, just this once?” He looked down into those soft, warm eyes with the beautiful light in them.

“I would rather not,” he said gently, but firmly.

The weariness that was in his eyes brought a sob to her throat and she pleaded with him, “Ah, do! I won’t ask you again.”

He looked at her, not really believing she meant what she said, and then he turned away. She had looked the same way that she had looked five years ago. Then she laid a small, despairing hand on his, and the iciness of her touch went to his heart. “I will come,” he said gently, and went away. On this occasion, when he came, he wondered at the apparent agitation in her small white face. Her eyes were red with the tears she had cried, and he waited silently and watched her twist her hands restlessly together. He noticed that she was trembling, and he drew a chair forward. “Please, will you sit down?” he said.

She sat down in a nest of softest cushions. “I, I,” she began to speak hesitatingly, and put up her hand up to her throat, “I want to, to, to explain.” His face darkened as she rose from her seat restlessly and faced him. His thoughts turned to that time when they had faced each other before, in the shabby, glaring little room, and his face hardened toward her. “When you,” she began, “I thought it was for you. I had heard you say.”

“Are you going back five years?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then please don’t,” he said. “There can be no good come from it, and to me at least it is not a pleasant subject.”

“I must!” she burst into tears. “Oh! Can’t you help me? It is so hard!”

As she held out her hands pathetically toward him, a darkness came over his tanned face, and he stood still, looking at her with a strange expression. “I think I will go,” he said; “there is no use in prolonging this.”

“Do you love me still?” she cried suddenly.

He turned on her in a white passion of anger. “You’re not content yet?” he breathed. “What are you made of? Do you want me to show you all my degradation? Why? Oh, Kitty, Kitty, be merciful! Be true to those eyes of yours.” He abruptly stopped speaking and moved over to the door.

“Hugh, I love you!” She said in the quietest of whispers, but it forced him to stop, and it brought a great light of happiness leaping into his eyes. Just as quickly that light died down again.

“It is too late!” he said wearily and turned away from her again.

“Hugh, please listen! I have always loved you, even five years ago. It was for your sake …”

“Kitty?” he said uncertainly, as he turned back to her.

She went on bravely, encouraged by the deep love she felt for him. “I was a poor and insignificant person, while you were ambitious and clever. I had heard all your dreams for fame and greatness. Hugh, how could you travel into those wild countries with me? I knew you would give up your dreams, and how could I bear that? To be a drag, a hindrance to you! And in the coming years I thought you would resent me. Hugh, you were poor, too, though not so poor as me. I did it for you and it nearly killed me, Hugh. I was ill after we parted, but it was for you!”

As her voice died away into silence, Hugh stood very still, and his face turned was white, as if it all the blood had drained from it. But within his eyes there was a new reverence for the woman before him. “Forgive me!” he said urgently.

She smiled softly at him and said, “Oh, yes.” The cynicism had gone from his face, as well as the hardness and bitterness he had felt.

“Oh, can’t you help me? It is so hard!” He pleaded and, as she looked at him wistfully, he turned his head away from her eyes and hid his face in his hands. “It was a mistake,” he said, slowly, and dully.

“Yes,” she replied softly, and she waited to see his face. When he finally looked up she tried to read his face but failed. It was sad, and set, and yet there was also a new light there.

Hugh now gently took her hands in his, and told her, “Kathleen, God knows what I think of you, and I can work now. So, Good-bye to you my dear.” She was mystified by his response and she raised her eyes anxiously to his. He answered the silent question in those eyes, very gently, but with a firmness that would ensure there was no mistake. “You are famous,” he said, “when I have made a name for myself in the world I will come to you. Will you wait for me, Kitty?”

“For ever, Hugh,” she answered, knowing that this answer was enough for him.

He now bent forward and tenderly kissed her hands.

****

Kitty knelt at the side of Hugh’s bed. She paid no attention to the nurse at the other side of the room, and her warm, soft tears flowed from her eyes, wetting his hand. His right hand and arm were swathed in bandages, and he smiled sadly as he looked up at her. “I am a failure,” he said.

“Ah, no, no! All of Ireland is filled with praise for your name, Hugh,” she said, her face all alight with pride and joy. “You are famous now!”

A little flush rose to his white face as she spoke. “Nonsense,” he replied, “rescuing a woman and a few children from being burnt to death. Sure, anyone would have done the same.”

“Ah, no, Hugh! Not just anyone! Brave men shrank back from that storm-tossed sea and burning ship!”

He lifted his bandaged hand and after looking at it for a few moments he said, “I must learn to write with my left hand.”

Kitty bent closer to him and whispered, “Let me write for you. Let me finish your book, Hugh, while you dictate it to me. I do not sing now in public, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” he said and drew her closer to him, resting cheek against her soft hair. “I said I would not come to you again until I had made a name for myself in the world. I am a wreck now! I shall be a wreck for a long while …”

“But, you are famous, my darling!” she interrupted him lovingly.

“I cannot do without you any longer, Kitty,” he sighed, “I am a beaten man at last. Will you take a wreck?”

“I will take you, Hugh, a famous …”

“A famous wreck,” he finished with a smile.

The Discontented Stones

This is an old tale that relates to the famine days in Ireland, when ideas of liberty and justice were refreshed among the ordinary people. But, this story is also a warning about what liberty means to some people, and how it affects the lives of others.

This was a time when paid work for any man was a bonus. So it was that, with some gratitude, a stone-mason was busily employed in the building of a stout wall to protect a garden. At the side of the mason there was a heap of stones that had been piled up. One by one he picked up each stone in succession, examined it, and then decided the best place in which to set it. The stones, for their part, quietly accepted what was their lot in this world, allowing themselves to be handled by the mason and to be introduced into those places that he thought was most appropriate. There was no need for the stones to be difficult, for they were fully aware that the mason’s object was simply to erect a strong wall. They were also very much aware of the fact that this wall would not be built if they decided to oppose the mason’s efforts.

Isn’t it ‘Murphy’s Law’ that states – “If something can go wrong at the most inopportune moment, then it will.” To the amusement of this stone-mason, after he had completed a considerable portion of the wall, one particularly cantankerous rock became very argumentative the moment the mason laid a hand upon it. The rock began to vehemently argue about the rights of stones, and the terrible tyranny of mankind in forcing stones to do their will. He told the mason, in no uncertain terms, that whether placed in the wall or out of it he was determined to enjoy the liberty he believed was the right of every stone upon this earth. This stone also swore that he would sooner be broken down into dust than surrender its liberty.

“Let me speak plain and honestly to you, Master Mason,” said the stone. “I will never allow myself to be restrained by anyone. I must have room to do what I want to do. To be able to look about me and decide for myself where I want to go, and to be able to roll freely as I think proper.”

Totally taken aback by this outburst, the mason could not help but laugh aloud. “By the good God,” says he, “haven’t I found an odd, mouthy specimen of the ‘Rock People’? And it tells me that it wants to have enough room to roll freely about, is that the way of it?”

“Aye, that’s the way of it,” says the rock.

“Tell me, Mr. Stone, did you ever hear of the old saying that, ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss?’”

“I did of course,” sneered the stone, “and I don’t like it one little bit! Moss you see is a sign of old age, and in my world old age is an absurdity. So, I tell you, I hope to God that I will be kept from ever gathering any moss!”

“What?” the mason gasped with complete surprise and disbelief. Then, contemptuously he asked, “Just what the hell do you think you are?”

“What am I!” the rock angrily replied. “I, sir, am just a plain and simple stone, nothing more and nothing less.”

“Well, now that we have that sorted can I ask if you are happy that I should give you a place in this wall I am building?”

“Well, of course I am,” confirmed the stone.

“Hold on!” said the mason, “You have just told me that you will never allow yourself to be forcibly restrained by anyone or anything. You said that you must have room to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted to! Your inconsistency is really most ridiculous, and you should really make up your mind as to exactly what you want. So, for the last time, will you go into the wall where I place you, or shall I simply leave you lying there on the ground?”

“Inconsistent? What inconsistency? I have already told you that I will allow you to place me into the wall,” replied the Stone, patronisingly, “but I will not allow you to ever deprive me of my natural rights! Liberty is the first of these rights, and I must insist that I have liberty, even in the wall.”

 “And so you shall!” said the mason. “Your liberty will be that of obtaining your proper place in the wall, and of maintaining that place without being disturbed by anyone or anything.”

“You certainly have some funny ideas about liberty. I will tell you again, you gobshite, that I need to have room in which I can expand and move about in. What, in the name of God, makes you even think that I would lower myself to fill a place in the wall as just another mere wedge?”

“You are now beginning to stretch my patience, friend,” the mason warned. “You know, of course, that there is very little to be gained by continuing to argue the matter any further. If there is no hope of getting you to take up a particular place in the wall, then there is nothing left to me but to throw you back on the ground.”

 “If that’s the way you feel about it, then go ahead and do your worst,” replied the Stone, stubbornly. “But I must still insist on liberty before all things! So, just throw me away, but at a respectable distance from these other stones. In this way I might just feel myself to be free and independent. When all is said and done I have exactly the same right to be a free-stone, as much as you have to be a free-mason.”

“That’s it then, there you go!” said the mason as he raised his hand and threw the stone away from himself with all of his might. It landed with a loud clatter in the middle of narrow road that passed nearby.

stone-walls-ireland 2The Stone was now in a place where could fully enjoy every minute of the liberty he had longed for. This, he counted as a victory and he congratulated himself on winning through stubborn defiance. For a time everything went well for the stone in his new found liberty. It was the summer time and the weather was mild, the skies were bright, and the road was busy with various people making their way from one place to another.  As the vehicles and people passed over the stone it was being continually transferred from one place to another, daily opening it up to more and more of the world’s ways. But, unfortunately, all good things come to an end eventually and the summer could not last forever. The autumn came, bringing with it clouds of dust and great showers of golden yellow leaves. When the gusts of wind had subsided they were followed by heavy torrents of rain, covering the narrow the road in a mire of mud, which also covered the entire stone and made it almost indiscernible from the land on which it rested. In this condition it lay there, fallen from the heights it had once considered itself to have reached, completely unrecognisable to the passing eye and treated in the same manner that the vilest of rubbish would be.

Unfortunately for the stone this was not the worst that it was to endure. Over the following few weeks the rains continued to fall quite regularly and the ground became a virtual sea of mud. The earth beneath the stone softened and the stone, under its own weight, sank slowly deeper in the mire until less than a quarter of its surface remained above ground. To add to the stone’s misfortunes there was no longer any possibility of retracing its steps, because the mason had now completed his wall and had moved on to other profitable work elsewhere. There was nothing left for the stone but to sink deeper and deeper into the earth, until none of its surface remained visible.

The stone’s fate was sealed. The ideals of Liberty and Independence had been very much desired by the stone, and he was determined that he would achieve these things in his life. But< In The manner in which he tried to achieve these ideals, the stone learned a very valuable life lesson. He had seen that those who seek such ideals at the expense of the social order do absolutely nothing but make a senseless and irremediable blunder.

In the spring of the following year the mason was once again gainfully employed in building another wall, which he hoped would be completed without the interruption he had suffered the previous year. He was, however, to become greatly disenchanted very quickly when, just like the year before, one of the stones began to grumble, and loudly protest against the treatment to which it was about to be subjected. The stone-mason, recalling the hassle he had endured on the previous occasion was just on the point of throwing the stone away, but hesitated. He had second thoughts about casting the stone away without at least trying to reason with it.

“Since no two stones are alike,” he said loudly, “it may be just that I met a stone that stood up against my arguments. It does not mean that another stone might to be prove to be less intractable after I have talked to it.”

“It was spoken truly! You are definitely a gobshite!” shouted the stone angrily. “You think that no two stones are alike! And this ignorance on your part is definitely your biggest and most foolish mistake. I can tell you here and now, eejit, that there is no difference between one stone and another. I am just as good as any of those stones in the wall, and I demand my rights.”

“Aren’t you the one with the big mouth?” exclaimed the mason, “But, I admit you are a sturdy lump of rock! Would you like to briefly inform me as to what you consider your rights to be? Don’t take all day about it, but simply tell me how you would like me to dispose of you.”

“I want to be a corner-stone,” the rebel stone demanded, “and I will be nothing other than a corner-stone. It is my destiny and I demand that this be done. Be quick now, mason, and place me in the wall as a corner-stone!”

“That I cannot do for you, my friend,” replied the mason. “Can you not see quite clearly that I have already chosen and placed all the corner-stones in their proper places?”

“Do you think that I’m blind?” asked the stone impatiently. “I can see well enough what has been done, but a man of your talents can easily take one of them out of the corner and put in its place. I have just as much of a right to be there as any of those stones, after all we are all equal. Each of us originated from a common quarry and, therefore, we are all alike. Just take one of them out, now, and put me in its place.”

“Now, can you not see just how grossly inconsistent you are?” The mason asked. “One moment you insist that all stones are equal, and have the same rights as each other. And yet you insist that I just rudely remove one of the corner-stones, just for your pleasure, despite your own acknowledgement that you are no better than they are! Christ, stone, I have to say that you have a very peculiarly odd idea of what equality actually entails. There is absolutely no way that I can continue to stand here and question what actually constitutes equality, because my time, unlike yours, is precious. I ask you, therefore, to decide if you want to be placed in this wall or not.”

“Of course, I want to be part of the wall,” said the stone, “but only as a corner stone. How can you be so blind as not to see that each of us stones is alike, and all, therefore, equal?”

“You are all stones alike,” replied the mason, “and are equal, but only in a certain sense. Your equality with each other exists in the fact that you are all equally able to be used as wall-stones, and not all of you being equally qualified to be used as corner-stones.”

The stone now cried out aloud, “To the devil with your ideas and doctrines! Either you make me a corner-stone, or you can build your wall without me.”

“Is that your final decision?” asked the mason. “Let me warn you not to try and make an eejit out of me, for I have not the patience or the time for such nonsense. This wall needs built and I cannot wait on your decision any longer.”

“I have decided! That’s it!” said the Stone. “Let me tell you that I would prefer to see your wall toppled and crushed into dust, along with everything else, before I would give up any of my principles in life. So, mason, just do whatever pleases you.”

“You are just one crazy, mixed-up, rock,” exclaimed the mason, “You are a complete gobshite, stone, so go and enjoy your ideas on equality where no one is likely to dispute it!” Saying this, he raised his hand and threw the stone as far away as he could from him. The stone-mason had thrown the stone with such force that, after it had travelled through the air, the stone fell down to the ground and sank several feet into the soft bottom of a deep and slimy pool.

To all intents and purposes this terminated the existence of that rebellious stone, for whatever became of it in that pool is impossible to know. It is almost two hundred years since the events in this tale took place and, since it became a total unknown because of its attitude, it is highly probable that is has eroded away. If this has not been the case, the stone has at least been eaten away by its foolishness in confronting the mason. We could conclude also that its predecessor from the year before suffered a similar fate. In this way, when seeking equality and liberty, it is important to know exactly what these two terms mean and how best you can achieve them. Knowing your role and keeping true to its ideals will encourage others to join with you in the cause. Being too demanding and having no support for your ideas may cause you to be cast out and perish in total anonymity. Equality and freedom is every person’s ideal, but you cannot hope to achieve it if demands and recklessness cause you to die in the course of achieving them.

Mr. Mangin

Last week as I drove home from my work office I passed by my old primary school, which caused me to recall the days that I spent there, so many years ago. As I thought about those days, a certain image returned to me and was very clear in my mind. It was the image of one of my teachers, Mr. Mangin. Even when he had taught me, all those years ago, Mr. Mangin was a very old man who must have been near to retirement age. He had a head of silver-grey hair which, unusually for a schoolmaster in those days, reached just over the collar of his shirt. A small, knowledgeable man with thick rimmed glasses, Mr. Mangin was given a lot of respect among the people in the area where I lived. To most of those people he was known simply as “Master Mangin”, and he was considered by all to be a respectable, a decent, and a religious man. He was also believed by many to be a man of great generosity, of whom it was said that, “He would go out of his way to do another person a good turn.”

school 2Being the oldest, Mr. Mangin was also the most senior teacher in that school, which was actually a small, two-roomed, unprepossessing building situated in the countryside about four miles from the biggest town. Despite its age and outward condition the school was just about big enough for the townland population for whom it had been built so many decades before. The roof of the school was covered with ‘Bangor Blue’ slates, and the two chimney pots in the centre protruded upward to expel the smoke from two old pot-belly stoves that were the only source of heating in the classrooms. The solid stone walls of the building had been plastered over on numerous occasions and were regularly whitewashed by willing volunteers. In those far off days when it was first built there was little thought given to cavity walls and to insulation, and I still remember how bitterly cold those classrooms were in the winter months. In each of the two classrooms were two medium sized windows with squared panes of single glazing that did little to help improve the temperature in the building.

At one end of the old stone building there was a playground, which was enclosed by a high, rough-stone wall. The playground floor had been constructed of solid concrete and, at the farthest end, were two toilet buildings. On the left stood the boys’ toilet and to the right was the girls’ toilet, each made private by slatted wooden doors, which had been painted a dark olive-green colour. Adjacent to one side of the school ran a main road while, on the other side of the building stood a row of three mature trees. Some of the older boys would carve their names in the tree trunks while others stuck old pen nibs or drawing pins into the trunks in a variety of patterns. During the summer, which was our favourite time of the year, the classroom windows would be opened wide and the rustling leaves filled the air with their sounds when the breeze blew heavily. The windows on the side adjacent to the road would always be closed in a vain attempt to keep the noise of tractors, lorries and cars at a low level. At the same time, it was a gallant effort to reduce the strong natural smells of the countryside from wafting into the room on those days that muck-spreaders and the like were busy at their work. In the winter, however, the windows on both sides of the classroom were firmly closed, and through them we would watch the rain-drops on bare twigs slowly develop into icicles as the temperatures dropped. Overall then, the old school building was a cold, damp structure that was particularly uncomfortable from Autumn until Spring, a period that covered the larger part of the school year. Master Mangin, meanwhile, was a man who always complained about the cold, even in the early Autumn when the weather was quite mild. On those days he would always wear a heavy overcoat over his thick woollen jumper and rubbing his hands together roughly he would complain, “By God boys, it’s very cold today. All the ‘brass monkeys’ will stay indoors on a day like this.

In our efforts to please Mr. Mangin we would confirm his observations by saying, “It is very cold, Sir. It’s Baltic!

Outside the wind would be blowing a storm, forcing the last dead leaves from their refuge on the branches of the trees. Occasionally they would rattle off the classroom windows when the wind was particularly strong. Above us, along the edge of the school’s roof ran the guttering which channelled the rainfall to the damaged down-spouts and would regularly splash on the window pane. The very sight of a cold, wintry day outside those classroom windows had the effect of making you feel cold without any other help. Not surprisingly, therefore, we would quite often follow Mr. Mangin’s example by keeping our coats and scarves wrapped closely around us while we sat in class.

One other unforgettable habit that Mr. Mangin possessed was his almost compulsive efforts at maintaining his personal hygiene and grooming. Three or four times each day he would take his black comb from an inside pocket of his coat and use it to tidy his hair, whether it needed attention or not. He also consistently kept cleaning his hands, washing them constantly with soap in a basin of ice-cold water and drying them on a roller-towel that was fixed to the inside of a tall cupboard door. In Spring and in Summer he always hung his coat tidily on a hanger and, throughout the year, he would use a clothes brush to remove chalk dust and fluff that seemed to accumulate on his clothes every day.

I will always remember November and March as being among those months when we experienced the most rain and the heaviest winds. During those months four or more buckets would be strategically placed on top of desks throughout the classroom to catch the drips that fell from various leaks in the roof. As we studied at our desks we could hear the music caused by the drips of rainwater as they plopped into the buckets with varying amounts of water in them. They were usually accompanied by different tones of whistling as the wind blew over the multitude of holes, cracks and loose frames that were so much a part of that old building. Then, every now and again, one of us would be called upon to empty a bucket that was almost filled. On almost every occasion it was a boy who was selected to lift the bucket and carry it outside, where it would be emptied down one of the drains before being returned to its place on top of a desk. On each of these occasions Mr. Mangin would ask, “What’s happening out there now?

All the old man had to do was to look out of the classroom window for a weather update. Instead he would ask the windblown and wet boy carrying the bucket back into the classroom. Despite his frustration and discomfort the boy would always politely reply, “It’s still very wet and windy, Sir.

There was, however, one talent which Mr. Mangin possessed and that was the manner in which he could always use his time to his own best advantage. He would often write a series of mathematical problems on the blackboard, which we were expected to write down and answer in our exercise books. At the same time, he would appoint one of the older boys in the class to monitor the students while he went out to the school porch to enjoy a quiet smoke of a cigarette or two. There were other occasions when he would sit at his desk and read the racing pages of the daily newspaper, while we completed our mathematical exercises. Some days he would write down a theme for a story on the blackboard and, while we wrote, he would take his coat and disappear for periods of up to fifteen minutes. It was much later that I found out that, at these times, Mr. Mangin would walk to Billy Whyte’s house and use the phone there to place a bet or two on the horses he had picked.

During these periods of the teacher’s absence the boys would usually play mock battles, fighting with rulers like knights of the round table. Paper darts would fly from every corner of the room and, sometimes, balls of paper dipped in ink would be catapulted across the classroom using the wooden rulers. It is needless to say that we went through quite a number of those twelve-inch wooden rulers and the noise level we caused would rise to such a pitch that the lady teacher next door was forced to act. Miss O’Neill, as she was known, would storm into our classroom through the adjoining door and scream, at the top of her voice, “SILENCE!!!”. Not being a woman who was known for her gentle manners, Miss O’Neill would let loose with her “adder-like” tongue, spitting out an unending stream of poisonous invectives at her targets. “You are all low lives! Just good-for-nothing corner boys who will never amount to anything in life! Its Borstal you need and not school. Just wait until Mr. Mangin returns and I will tell him what sort of evil brats you all are!”

I can recall at least one occasion when that old witch picked me to shake her bony fist at, hissing, “And you boy! I will give a good account of your behaviour. Serving the priest at Mass like an Angel in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt, while you act like the devil you truly are the rest of the week! I have my eyes on you, boy!” The class, however, would remain silent in the face of her verbal onslaught and we would turn our minds to the music of the drips that fell into the various buckets. Thankfully she never tarried long in our presence because her own class would begin to fidget and make a fuss while she was away from them.

Whenever Mr Mangin returned to the classroom the first question he would ask was if we had disturbed Miss O’Neill. Of course, he knew the answer even before he had asked the question. Our silence and the condition in which he would find the classroom always confirmed his opinion of our behaviour. Turning to the blackboard he would commence writing the answers to the mathematical problems he had written there and then call us up one by one to recite aloud the stories we had written. As he listened to our efforts Mr. Mangin would stare out of the classroom window and study the great beauty that nature presented. He would often say, “There can be no other county in all of Ireland that has the natural beauty that County Armagh possesses. When the songwriter wrote that, “There’s one fair County in Ireland”, he never spoke a greater truth.

One December Mr. Mangin became very ill and was told by his doctor to remain in his bed for at least two weeks before going back to work. Later he would say that these were the longest and most tedious days that he had ever spent in his entire life. When he did, finally, return to the classroom he still retained a sickly pallor about him and his physique had failed considerably. But, to ensure that he would have no relapse of his illness, Mr. Mangin immediately began to block off the ventilators in the classroom with perforated plywood. At the same time, he stuffed blotting paper into the wide gaps that existed at the door frames. On one of the windows there were several muddy marks caused by a ball that had been kicked by several of the boys. The ball had hit one pane so forcefully that a large crack in the glass had been created. When Mr. Mangin saw this crack in the window pane he smiled softly to himself and said, “Someone has created a map of the Shannon.” Every occasion after this when he taught us geography, Mr. Mangin would point to that pane of glass and simply tell us, “Take a look at the Shannon.

Another important feature of the classroom, especially in winter, was the fire, which was required to be ‘banked-up’ with coal on a regular basis. On occasion, when our ration of coal was used up, Mr. Mangin would send one of the boys down to Billy’s house to borrow a bucket or two of coal, which he would ensure was repaid. The student selected to go to Billy’s house for the coal was always given a reward by Mr. Mangin, which was usually in the form of a couple of ‘Jelly Baby’ sweets that he took from a packet that he always kept in his coat pocket. Sometimes the fire would burn out and on these occasions one of us would be called upon to get it lit again. From a corner of the room we would retrieve several old and well-used exercise books, which we would crumple up before placing them in the hearth. Bits of stick and other kindling would be placed on the top of these crumpled books, while coal was carefully placed upon this. Finally, the exercise book would be set alight and very soon thereafter a warm fire would be blazing in the small hearth. On one occasion I can recall stretching a newspaper across the fireplace, which helped in lighting the fire by causing an upward draught. But, on this occasion the newspaper caught fire and from that moment Mr. Mangin nicknamed me ‘The Arsonist.’

I can recall one time, just after the Christmas break, when the first heavy snows of winter fell across the province and the countryside was almost cut-off from the town. But, in those days, the school did not stop because of the weather. In fact, even if someone had blown up the school the students would have been expected to report to class the next morning. On the occasion to which I refer, however, some person or persons climbed over the school yard wall and stole away the school’s entire supply of coal. Mr. Mangin sent no student to Billy’s to borrow a bucket or two of coal and we had, therefore, no choice but to suffer the cold as best we could. The stone floor of the classroom was constantly wet from the shoes and boots that we all wore, and it was so cold that when we breathed upon the window panes it frosted over immediately. When the door from the classroom to the outside was opened an icy-cold wind would rush in and instantaneously remove all the air that had been warmed by our bodies and breaths.

Under our desks, and as quietly as possible, we would regularly move our feet in a fast, dancing motion, while sitting upon our hands to keep them warm. It would have put you in mind of a flock of swans upon a lake, with our upper bodies unmoving and straight while hidden from view under the desks our feet and legs worked double time in a vain effort to keep them warm. On the coldest days Mr. Mangin would make us stand at our desks and sing “McNamara’s Band”, stamping our feet on the spot as if marching. All the tricks that he did teach us helped us greatly to almost forget just how cold we were. But, most of all, on a freezing-cold day we could always look forward to Mr. Mangin’s science lesson. On a side counter there was a ‘Bunsen Burner’ attached to the gas supply of the classroom. As soon as Mr. Mangin set light to this ‘Bunsen Burner’ everyone in the class knew what was to come, namely the usual experiment that demonstrated the processes of evaporation and condensation. Although it was the same experiment on each occasion we didn’t mind because the ‘Bunsen Burner’ gave us a source of heat around which we could all gather. It was only many years later that I came to understand the true purpose of the experiment when I saw an old uncle set up similar equipment to distil poteen.

I will show you how to get pure water from even the dirtiest of waters,” he would tell us. In a large glass jar he had poured a dark-brown, almost black, liquid. The one occasion when I caught the smell from the container I recall the aromas of treacle, fruit and other sweet things. Mr Mangin would empty some of the liquid into a long glass tube and showed it to the class.

From this liquid,” he would say, “I will show you how a clear, pure, drinkable liquid can be produced.” To us innocent children, of course, there was nothing untoward happening and we would watch attentively as the experiment proceeded. First, Mr. Mangin would set the burner under the long glass tube and allow the flame to bring the dark liquid to the boil. The steam produced by the action was then trapped in a long-necked flask that was hung over a small basin, and the cold-water tap would pour water over this flask. No matter how many times we saw this experiment we were always amazed at what happened. We would see the bubbling liquid create steam and then the steam turned into drops of liquid which quickly fell to the bottom of the flask. The air in the classroom was filled with a sweet, malt smell and the only sound to be heard was the hiss of the ‘Bunsen Burner”. Finally, the burner would be turned off and he would hold up the flask, which now contained a clear liquid. To prove that the liquid was pure to drink he would pour some into a tumbler and delicately bring it to his lips. “That’s pure!” he would say.

Looking back on it now, I can understand why he did not choose any of us to test the liquid and left us to study the scum that had been left behind by the process. After the experiment, while he continued to quench his thirst, Mr. Mangin would ask us questions about what we had seen. To add an interesting item to the experiment he would tell us that if we were trapped in a jungle we could get pure water from dirty river water by doing this. There was, of course, more chance of aliens landing on earth than there was that any of us would ever find ourselves trapped in a jungle. Nevertheless, at least once a week, throughout the winter he would set up the equipment and carry out the same experiment every time.

When I see that old two-roomed school now I can see a patch of new slates on the roof, various repairs to the whitewashed walls, and an ugly iron barrier at the big metal gate, which is there to prevent the children from rushing onto the road immediately after the last bell sounds to send them home. There are no children in that old schoolhouse now, but there are those who look at such a building and wonder just how children received an effective education within its walls. As for me; I have no complaints. I gained an interest in science and, after university, I secured a job in the production department at one of Ireland’s largest whisky manufacturers.

©Copyright 2018                        Pinebank Books

For more publications by us go to http://www.irelandeyesite.wordpress.com