An Irish Mystery
“Ah, would you ever be quiet?” the old man in the corner shouted as we were in the middle of discussing strange stories we had heard. “Would you ever believe this?”
“Would I believe what?” I asked him.
“I’ll tell you a true story that I heard from the man’s own mouth. God be merciful to him and him as truthful as the day is long,” the old man declared.
“What story would that be?” I asked.
“Do you know Barney Douglas who lived over beyond Ballymore?” replied the old man. But when I shook my head to show that I didn’t know the man, the old man continued, “Ah, sure, you would not have known him, for he died before you came here. Well, Barney was coming home from town one night, after midnight and, maybe, nearer to one in the morning. He had his ‘donkey cart’ with him and he was walking along happily at the pony’s head. He was enjoying a wee smoke to himself on a fine moonlit night until he came across three men ahead of him in the middle of the road, and they were carrying a coffin. It was quite a while before they let the coffin down. Sure, the hair was standing on Barney’s head with fear, but blessing himself with the sign of the cross he walked on until he came to where the three men were standing beside the coffin.”
“‘The Blessing of God on you all,” Barney greeted them in Irish. ‘and what is happening?’”
“’The same to yourself,’ said one of the three men, “but c’mon take a place under this coffin and ask no more questions.’
“Well he was going to aske them what would he do with his pony and cart, but he decided not to now that he was told to ask no more questions. But he didn’t have ask for the men knew well what was in his mind, and another one of the men told him, ‘Sure, your pony and cart will be alright here until you get back.’
“Well, Barney went with them and helped them to carry the coffin, and a heavier corpse he had never known, by God. They went ahead until they left the coffin in the graveyard and then he was told that he could go back to his pony and cart. ‘Sure, men, I will help you to dig the grave.’
“’Do what you’re told,’ said the third man, who hadn’t spoken before, ‘or maybe it would be the worse for you.’
“’Well, Barney didn’t want to repeat himself, so he returned to his pony and cart and found them exactly where he had left them.”
“Did Barney know them?” I asked when the old man had finished.
“Did he know them? By God he knew them! For they were three of his own first cousins who had died long before that night.”
“So, who was in the coffin?” I asked.
“Barney’s own brother, who had died in California that same night, as he heard afterwards in a letter that was sent by his uncle in America,” the old man informed me. But he also assured me that Barney was never known to tell a lie in his life, and that he is dead now, may his soul rest in peace.
“Amen,” I answered.
Now, all of you who are reading this let me ask you not to make fun! You may never be asked by the dead to carry the dead at a mysterious midnight funeral, but I urge you not to make fun of Barney Douglas’ experience.