Sniper’s Moon – A story of the Irish War for Independence
June is a month of short nights and long, warm days. But, for some, the long June nights proved to be no advantage, when it came to fulfilling their assigned tasks. It was not until midnight that darkness first began to really envelop the town of Derryard, with the full moon shedding its bright silvery light over the streets and houses. If there were clouds or rain in the night sky then darkness would come sooner and gave extra cover to those who used the blackness to hide them from observation. But, in the quietness that night-time brought there could be heard the occasional growl of a lorry engine, or the heavy clip of military boots upon the cobbled roads and paved footpaths. In the ill lit streets there were shadows of small squads of armed men making through their way through the town. Here and there the sound of automobile engines could be heard as lorries filled with troops and armoured cars are moved, spreading out in their search for those who were prepared to spread treason. This was the terrible, dark days of war with Black and Tan auxiliaries, as Ireland sought its independence from Britain.
A slow moving river wound its way through the centre of town and an ornate iron bridge carried traffic across from one bank to the other. On a high rooftop overlooking the bridge there lay a young man with a rifle by his side. He had skilfully established a hidden sniper’s nest for himself high above the road that ran across the iron bridge. From this vantage point he scanned the area with a pair of binoculars, seeking an easy target for his bullets. Making the minimum of movement the young man studied the scene before him with eyes that were both bright and cold. He had a lot of spare time to himself, in which to consider the fate that would most likely befall him if he was ever captured by the enemy. The young man, filled with the courage of youth, preferred, however, to put such negative thoughts to one side and concentrate on the next target that unwarily moved into his rifle’s sights.
There was an uneasy quiet over the entire town as the Church clock struck the half-hour, and the sniper felt his stomach rumble with the winds of hunger. There, lying at his side, next to the rifle, sat a small satchel that he had brought with him from home. He put his hand into the small satchel and took out a roughly cut sandwich that had been prepared that morning and began to eat it very hungrily. The young man had eaten nothing since the previous morning, an hour or so prior to entering the building below and making his way up to the roof, where he had immediately proceeded to settle himself down. Then, as he chewed on the bread he muttered satisfyingly to himself, “By Jaysus, that is one hell of a good sandwich Ma has made.”
He felt that the sandwich had been well worth the wait and, when he had finished it, he reached into the satchel for a small flask of whisky that he had also brought with him. He took a swift drink and enjoyed the feeling of comfort that immediately began to spread through his stiff body before he replaced the flask. Then, just for a moment, he thought about lighting a cigarette to enjoy a soothing smoke after his snack. It was an idea, however, that he quickly discarded because it was much too risky. The lighting of a cigarette might easily be seen in the growing darkness, and he did not wish to give the enemy any kind of signal as to where he was hiding.
As the sniper raised his head cautiously above the roof’s parapet, he noticed the shadows of four soldiers as they crossed beneath a street lamp on the bridge below him. In the light of that street lamp he could just discern that the four figures crossing the bridge were members of the hated British auxiliaries, the Black and Tans. So, pointing the barrel through the parapet’s ornamentation, the sniper took careful aim along the barrel of the rifle, picked out his target, and gently squeezed the trigger. There was a flask as the built exploded out of the gun’s barrel, spinning its way down toward the target that had been chosen. It only took a fraction of a second for the bullet to reach its destination, but it missed the chosen target and smashed into the concrete casement of the bridge, just above the soldier’s head. “Jaysus, steady yourself man,”the sniper muttered to himself.
Just as he finished reloading the rifle, with the bolt action, there was another explosion from a rifle shot, and a bullet flattened itself against the ornate parapet that was camouflaging the sniper’s nest. Down below, on the bridge, three of the four auxiliary soldiers immediately sought cover, while the fourth soldier prepared to defend his comrades. He had seen the flash from the muzzle of the sniper’s rifle and had hurriedly fired a shot in reply. “Return fire!” he instructed his comrades and bullet after bullet whizzed over Sean’s head, crashing into the parapet and chimney pots and causing him to keep his head down. While the sniper was thus engaged two of the auxiliary soldiers broke cover, and ran across to the building in which the sniper was hiding.
Sean, the sniper, realised that it was time to move his position and he crawled about ten yards to his left. While the enemy was continuing to lay down suppressing fire on his previous position, Sean felt he was now secure enough to raise his head carefully above the parapet. On this occasion, however, only two of the soldiers on the bridge were visible to him, one of whom was creeping closer to the gas street lamp. Sean raised his rifle and sighted it upon his new target, who was illuminated by the gas light. He squeezed the trigger of the rifle and let loose another bullet, which flew perfectly toward the enemy. The bullet struck home, exploding in the man’s head, killing him instantly, and causing his body to convulse with the impact.
From the roof, the sniper could clearly hear the shouts of men calling out to each other as he reloaded and sought yet another target. Just at that moment an armoured car rattled down the cobbled main street of the town, and slowly advanced across the bridge until it reached the remaining soldier. Sean felt it was time to move his position again and, on this occasion, he crawled over to a chimney stack, raising himself up behind it. Hidden from view of the pursuing soldiers, Sean felt free to sneak a peek over the parapet to identify a new target for himself. Although he had wanted to open fire on the armoured car he did not want to give his new position away on a fruitless task. Both Sean and the troops in the armoured car knew that the bullets would never pierce the armoured steel that covered that vehicle.
From the street below Sean could hear the crash of a door being forced open. He had not a doubt that the door that he heard being broken belonged to the building on whose roof he was hiding. It was obvious that the Black and Tans had now gained entry to the building and that they would soon be on the roof seeking him out. But, Sean did not allow himself to be distracted from the armoured car on the bridge and he caught sight of the remaining soldier there breaking cover. Creeping his body bent and low to the ground, the man quickly made his way to the side of the car, and he began to talk to another soldier who had made an appearance in the vehicle’s turret. The soldier standing at the side of the armoured car began to point in Sean’s direction, causing the man in the turret to raise his head and shoulders above the turret protection. Sean exhaled calmly as he gently squeezed the rifle’s trigger. Within a fraction of a second the bullet hit the soldier in the turret, causing his head to be jarred backward and his body to fall heavily, as it folded over the turret. “Two,” Sean said to himself, quietly pleased with his efforts so far.
The auxiliary who had been standing at the side of the armoured car was stunned by the swiftness of his comrade’s demise. One moment he had been talking to a friend and the next moment he was covered in the blood of that friend. Unfortunately, the shock of the incident had caused him to stand motionless for a few seconds as he took in the total horror of it all. Sean, did not take his eyes from the scene, pushed another bullet into the chamber and, as the auxiliary began to run for cover, he fired the rifle again. In an instant the bullet smashed into the fleeing soldier’s body, causing a fountain of blood to spurt high in the air as the man’s torso twisted, and he fell with a great shriek to the road. “Three,” Sean smiled, pleased with himself.
Then, suddenly, and without any warning, an access door to the roof burst open causing Sean to turn quickly and loose off a shot towards the origin of the sound. The bullet found its mark in the body of another soldier, but he had managed fire a shot from his own gun. There was a sudden and excruciating pain that shot through Sean’s arm, which caused him to drop his rifle. “The game’s up,” said Sean to himself as the rifle fell onto the roof with a loud clattering sound that Sean was certain the other soldiers would have heard. With his forearm virtually immobile, Sean immediately flung his body flat against the roof, and painfully crawled away to protective cover.
The soldier that remained at the door was in no mind to be reckless with his life after seeing how his comrades had been so efficiently killed by the sniper. He had heard the armoured car pulling up outside the building and thought it would be a much better tactic to await reinforcements. While he waited the nervous soldier kept a watch on the roof, hoping to get a clear shot at the sniper and be declared the hero of the hour by his comrades.
Sean reached a suitable place of cover and with his left hand examined the injury to his right forearm. There was still sufficient light in the sky to see the blood that was oozing through his jacket sleeve, and he was quite surprised that there was no real pain. But, there was a numbness in his forearm that made him start to think that his arm had been cut off. Since this was clearly not the case, however, Sean took a large knife from his jacket pocket, opened it with his teeth and began to cut the sleeve of his jacket.
At the site of the wound there was only a small hole that indicated where the bullet had entered, while on the other side of the arm there was no sign of where the bullet had exited. Sean knew enough, however, to realise that the soldier’s bullet had lodged in the bone of the arm and must have caused it to fracture. He gritted his teeth and bent his arm below the wound. His arm bent back quite easily causing him great pain, and he had wanted to scream out aloud. But, Sean didn’t dare make a sound that might expose him to any danger.
From another pocket in his jacket Sean took out his field dressing and ripped open the packaging with his knife. Breaking the neck of a bottle of iodine, Sean allowed the bitter fluid to drip on the wound and sterilize it. There was a tremendous burning sensation that wracked his entire body with great pain, and he quickly placed the cotton padding over the wound. With a good deal of difficulty he wrapped the dressing over his fore-arm and tied the end with the help of his teeth. He was exhausted by the effort and he lay still against the chimney stack, closing his eyes in a vain attempt to shut out the pain that was sweeping through his body. Sean could not, however, permit himself to sleep though his eyes were very heavy and his mind sought some means of relief.
Below Sean’s hiding place, in the street, there was almost complete quiet. The armoured car’s engine was no longer turning over and the body of the dead soldier still hung lifelessly over the turret. The other members of the crew had disembarked the car and were quickly making their way through the building. All this while, Sean was still lying motionless against the chimney stack, nursing his wounded arm and making frantic plans for his escape. The enemy, he now knew, were at the door that led on to the roof and that they would be very reluctant to expose themselves to any danger, without knowledge of his exact location. Sean would have to kill whatever number of soldiers were there and, not being able to use his rifle, he only had his revolver with six bullets to help him achieve success in his escape attempt. This called for Sean to devise a new exit plan from the roof .
Sean removed his cap and pulled his rifle closer to him. Placing the cap over the muzzle of his rifle he slowly pushed the rifle out from the side of the chimney stack until the cap was visible to the black and tans hiding in the doorway. Almost immediately there was the crack of a rifle shot and a bullet pierced the centre of the cap. Gradually, Sean slanted the rifle forward until the hat fell down on to the roof. A few seconds later he allowed the rifle to drop on to the roof with a clatter and immediately rose to his feet with the revolver ready in his left hand.
“I got him!” declared an excited English voice from the open doorway. “That sneaky bastard’s dead! Let’s go get him!” The doorway opened a little wider and the light from a gas light caused the auxiliary soldiers to be exposed to Sean. His plan appeared to be starting out successfully and he smiled, knowing that his enemies had made a serious error of judgement. He lifted his revolver and braced himself against the brickwork of the chimney stack as he took aim at the figures only about thirty feet distant. It was a hard shot in the dim light, despite the short distance to the targets, and the pain in his right arm was like someone sticking a dozen knives into him. Though his hand trembled, he took as steady an aim as he possibly could. Pressing his lips tightly together he breathed heavily through his nose and squeezed the trigger once, twice, and three times. The sound of the revolver being fired was ear shattering and the recoil of each shot shook his arm violently. But, when the smoke had cleared, Sean saw the lifeless bodies of two men lying on the roof just outside the door. The others had escaped back into the sanctuary of that doorway. It was now time for Sean to quickly execute his own escape. He began to move further to his left, to a place on the parapet where a steel ladder had been fixed that ran down the side of the building to the narrow dark street below. The death of two more comrades might just cause the other auxiliaries to delay a further assault and, therefore, give Sean enough time to descend to the street.
A chill now descended over Sean’s body and he trembled a little. The anger and blood-lust that had filled him only minutes before was now gone. A sense of great remorse for the lives he had taken that night now filled him. But, despite the chills he was experiencing there were beads of sweat that stood out on his forehead. He was very much weakened by the wound he had received and by the loss of blood that he had been forced to endure. In fact, if he had had anything substantial in his stomach he would have, most likely, been physically sick at the sight of two slain men lying in a pool of their own blood. The chills began to worsen, perhaps it was shock, but his teeth began to chatter and his mind began to wander. In his pain and confusion he began to mutter quietly to himself and curse this damned, bloody war. He had not, however, heard the silent approach of an enemy soldier, who had scrambled over the parapet after climbing the escape ladder at the side of the building. There was moment’s pain, followed by deep unconsciousness. “Got the rat!” an English voice cried in triumph.
When he awakened Sean’s head was throbbing very badly and he was lying on a cold stone bed with a rough army blanket spread over him. If the blanket was there to give him some warmth, Sean thought, it had failed very badly. The pain in his head was almost overpowering, and he reached up his hands to find that a thick bandage had been wrapped around it. When he pulled the blanket off he saw that he was only dressed in a light cotton shirt and his trousers, from which the belt had been removed. With pain coming from every quarter of his body Sean sat up on the makeshift bed to examine his new surroundings, though there was not much to see. He was in an eight by four feet cell with four walls that had been painted a grey colour. Above his head daylight shone through a small, iron-barred window and in the opposite wall stood a grey metal door with a sliding panel about two-thirds the way up the door. Sean looked down at his forearm and saw that his wound had been freshly dressed by someone who knew what they were doing. Then he lay back on the cold stone bed, with no pillow for his head and resigned himself to the fact that he was now a prisoner of his enemies.
The panel in the door quietly slid open and allowed Sean to see a red, bespectacled face staring in at him. “You’re awake the?” the red-faced man asked.
“I am,” replied Sean disinterestedly.
“Aren’t you the big man, Cullen?” asked the guard sarcastically. “Caught today, Court Martial tomorrow, and a courtyard firing squad tomorrow or the next day.”
“It will be quick then,” said Sean as he spat at the door of the cell. Sean knew the danger that he was in and was resigned to whatever fate befell him.
“As quick as any of your comrades did,” the guard smiled. “But be careful, Cullen, for there are all sorts of strange things happen here. So, sleep tight if you can,” he ended the conversation and slid the panel back in place.
The hours passed peacefully and the prison guards changed their shifts on a regular basis, rarely looking into Sean’s cell. He could clearly hear the Black and Tan auxiliaries talking as they smoked cigarettes and played cards. There was also the clink of glass, suggesting that the men were also enjoying a few bottles of beer, or something stronger. They were enjoying the fact that they had captured the man who had been considered the scourge of the crown’s forces in this area for several months. This was the man who had been nicknamed, “Hawkeye” and had caused the death of at least eighteen members of the British forces. It was time for the soldiers to celebrate that they would soon have the pleasure of seeing “Hawkeye” executed by firing squad.
At six o’clock in the morning the sun was already shining brightly and the night shift of prison guards went about their final inspection of the cells, awakening the inmates. On this occasion the guards were escorted by a small squad of armed soldiers, who were sent to bring Sean Cullen to the Court Martial in chains. Loudly, the heavy army boots of the men echoed off the stone floor of the narrow corridor. Step by loud step the marched until they came before the door to Sean’s cell. “Get up, Cullen!” the leader of the military escort barked out an order as the guard turned his key in the lock of the door. With a creak the heavy metal door opened to reveal that the cell was empty. The escort leader rushed into the cell, with army pistol drawn, and confirmed that there was no prisoner there. “Alarm!” he cried out and began to rush back down the corridor with his men.
“Alarm!”; “Prisoner Escape!”; The alarm spread rapidly throughout the jail block that had been incorporated into the old castle building. In just a matter of minutes the entire building was filled with soldiers and auxiliaries running here and there, seeking the whereabouts of Sean Cullen. In the main office telephones and telegraphs were busy spreading the news of Cullen’s escape throughout the entire countryside. Police patrols, flying columns of Black and Tans, and squadrons of soldiers scoured the land searching every possible place that Cullen might seek refuge. Cottages, whether full or empty, were ransacked. Barns, hedgerows and known caves were all searched with great thoroughness, but the fugitive remained at large.
By afternoon the warm sunshine of the early morning had given way to dark clouds and heavy downpours of rain. By early evening “Wanted Posters” had begun to appear throughout the district. Even in the small fishing village of Kilcurragh, which lay on the coast some five miles from Derryard, the local policemen were busy pasting posters in ever available prominent position. Each poster proclaimed that a reward was available to any person giving information to the authorities, which would lead to the arrest of the fugitive, Sean Cullen. The head of the local constabulary, Sergeant Thompson, was being assisted by Constables O’Neill and Kelly in the task of posting the town and district. By the time they actually got into the narrow streets of the small fishing town darkness was beginning to settle. Thankfully the heavy rain showers had ceased, but a mist was beginning to settle on the town as the three officials hurried to finish their thankless task and return to their homes.
The taller of two constables, Kelly, addressed the sergeant, “Sergeant, that big door over there looks a great spot to put up one of these posters.”
“He doesn’t hear you, Kelly,” said O’Neill. “Try him again.”
Pointing to the huge door of a nearby store Kelly called to the sergeant in a voice that was a little louder. “Will this door be a good place for one of these posters, sergeant?”
But sergeant Thompson’s attention was attracted elsewhere and was not hearing anything his subordinates had to say. “For God’s sake, sergeant will we put one of these posters on this door over here?” O’Neill shouted.
Rather distractedly the sergeant answered, “Look over here! There are steps that lead all the way down to the water.”
“It’s a fishing harbor,” Kelly informed him. “Fishing boats dock here all the time!”
The sergeant appeared unmoved by Kelly’s sarcastic tone of voice and continued with his own discussion. “You know boys, this is the sort of place that would need to be carefully watched. If this Cullen fellow managed to make his way down those steps some of his friends might get a boat to meet him. In fact, those same boys could very well steal a local boat for the job.”
Kelly just looked at his superior with quite some disbelief and repeated, “The door? It’s a good place for a poster!”
“Aye!” replied the sergeant. “Stick one of them up there.”
As O’Neill and Kelly pasted the poster on the large wooden door the sergeant began to read aloud the writing that the poster contained, “Wanted for Murder and Absconding Jail; Sean Cullen; Dark Hair, Dark Eyes; Smooth Faced and Five Feet Five Inches in height. Last seen with bandaged hand and bandaged right forearm.”
“That’s a good description to be going by,” commented Kelly.
“It would have been much better if I had seen the man with my own eyes,” said Thompson, “but they didn’t hold on to him long enough. How in the name of Jesus did a wounded man get out of that jail. He must have had friends on the inside, or the help of the Holy Spirit!”
“You might not be too far from the truth there, sergeant,” said Kelly. “But look at that! A hundred guineas is a tempting amount for any man and any policeman nabbing him will take a good leap up the ranks.”
“You’re right, Kelly!” Thompson told him. “I tell you what, I will take care of this area. It wouldn’t surprise me that Cullen has already scoped this place. If Cullen and his pals do come this way then he will be mine, and someone who needs the reward will get it!”
Constable O’Neill regarded his sergeant with disbelief at what he had heard. “Are you a mad man?” he asked Thompson. “If any of us catch Cullen we will be signing our own death warrants. The people around here, and maybe even our own relations, will spit in our eye. None of us would know the minute or the hour when we would get a bullet or a knife in the back one dark night when we are on our own.”
Sergeant Thompson gave the constable a look of complete disgust. “We are the police and we have a duty to uphold the law. If we fail to do our job then the entire country will fall into chaos.”
“Sure isn’t the entire country already in a complete state of chaos?” said O’Neill.
“You know what I mean, you smart arse. Just finish putting up those posters both of you and get yourselves back here as soon as possible. Don’t be too long, for I am not too fussy about standing around this place for too long!” Sergeant Thompson told him.
As the two constables left him alone on the dockside Sergeant Thompson perused the poster once again and began to think about what he could do with one hundred guineas. If only he could be the man to capture Sean Cullen he would get a well-deserved promotion as well as a decent reward. “Wouldn’t I be on the pig’s back,” he muttered to himself quietly and smiled. It was then that he heard a slight noise coming from behind him, and he turned to see a poorly dressed man who had been trying to slip past him unnoticed.
“Where do you think you are going, little man?” Thompson growled at the stranger.
“Sure, I did not want to disturb you sergeant,” the man replied.
“And who are you?”
“Ah sergeant, sure I am just a poor travelling man who is fond of the gargle and sleeps among the old netting down there. Some of the fishermen and the harbor workers give me a few pennies now and again to put some meat on my bones, thanks be to God.”
As the stranger went to walk on, sergeant Thompson took a step toward him. “Did I not tell you to stop? Are you deaf, or do you not know what “Stop” means?” the sergeant asked. “These days, you just cannot go wherever you like, you know.”
“God bless you sergeant, but it is a hard fate for a man to be poor and wanting a rest from a hard day trying to keep yourself alive.”
“Just who in the name of God are you?” asked the sergeant impatiently. “I don’t recognise you as someone from around these parts.”
“My name, sergeant, is Tommy Carney, and I live anywhere I can lay my head, and make a few pennies tinkering.”
“Never heard of you, Tommy Carney,” Sergeant Thompson told him.
“I am thankful for that,” Tommy smiled. “If you knew me already it might not be in the best light. But, I am harmless tramp who is not known too well anywhere.”
“And so what brings you here?”
“I came here to earn myself a few shillings when the fishing boats get in after daylight breaks. I’ll do a bit of lifting and carrying from the boats and that will allow me to survive another day or two,” Tommy told the policeman.
“Get out of here, you gobshite!” Thompson told him. “Move on out of this!”
The ill-dressed little man simply smiled at the sergeant an said, “Sure I will just make myself comfortable among those boxes and nets at the dock steps.”
“Indeed you will not,” insisted Thompson. “No person will be allowed near those dock steps this night.”
“Can I not just sit over there at the steps themselves? Those boxes will give me shelter from the chilly sea breeze and I can use the nets as a blanket to cover me,” said Carney, rather forlornly.
Thompson shook his head and asked Carney, “What part of the word “No” do you not understand, little man?”
“I’ll go,” Carney told him. “Could you just give a few pennies to get myself something to drink that might keep me warm?”
“Tea, I suppose?” replied Thompson sarcastically. “Do you think I’m a fool? Get away out of this!”
But Carney opened his coat and took out a half-bottle of poteen, which he offered to the policeman. “Would you like a wee mouthful, yourself?”
“By Jaysus, Carney, will you get out of my way before I put my big size twelve hobnail boots up your arse!”
Carney replace the bottle and buttoned his coat before he began to moving off toward the steps of the dock. Sergeant Thompson could not quite believe it and angrily asked, “Where the hell are you going now?”
“You told me to move on sergeant and I am obeying your order, like any law abiding citizen,” replied Carney.
“Are you really looking trouble, or are you really just a complete eejit?” Thompson asked angrily and shouted at him, “I pointed for you to go back where you came from!”
“To the town?” asked Carney.
“Let me show you the way, Sir!” said Thompson as he took hold of Carney by the shoulders and pushing him in the direction that he wanted him to go. “Now, get out of here!”
Carney took two steps forward and came to an abrupt halt. It was the ‘last straw’ for the sergeant. “What the hell are you stopping for now? You must be looking for trouble!”
Carney pointed to the ‘wanted poster’ on the large wooden door saying, “I bet that’s the fella you’re waiting for, sergeant.”
“And what if it is?”
“Sure it’s just that I know that man, Sean Cullen, well. But, I’ll just get on my way like you asked, sergeant.”
“Just hold on a minute!” said Thompson. “What sort of man is this Cullen? There’s no pictures of him, and we don’t know what he looks like!”
“I can tell you nothing,” Carney told him. “Just speaking to a policeman could get me killed in a very short time.”
“Why would that be? Sure aren’t we only talking?”
But Carney just shook his head and replied, “If you don’t know by now then God be with you. But let me tell you that I would not want to be in your shoes if you catch Cullen. I wouldn’t get involved in this matter even if the reward was three times as much.”
In a flash, Sergeant Thompson rushed forward and took hold of Carney with both hands. “Alright, smart arse,” he shouted, “What kind of man is this Sean Cullen and where do you know him from? Are you one of his friends?”
“Friends?” questioned Carney nervously. “I hardly know the man well enough to call him a friend. I only met the man about four months ago in a pub, but I can tell you that he is a man to strike fear in others. You wouldn’t want to be left alone facing him, for there is not a weapon that man doesn’t know how to use. But he doesn’t need a weapon for that boy has muscles as hard as oak, and could do some real damage.”
Thompson looked into Carney’s eyes and was convinced that the tramp was exaggerating. “I don’t think that he is that bad.”
But Carney’s expression did not change and he insisted, “He is!”
The sergeant released his grip on Carney as he asked him, “Tell me more.”
Carney pulled himself together and began to speak quietly, making sure no person was around to hear him. “There was a man on the other side Kinvarra, another policeman, and Cullen killed him with a sledge hammer.”
“When was this?” asked Thompson with a definite tone of suspicion. “I never heard a word about that one.”
“Of course you wouldn’t have heard about it,” insisted Carney. “He was an undercover policeman and his battered body was dumped in a rubbish pit.”
“Jaysus, but this has become one hell of a terrible country to live in!” said Thompson as he removed his helmet and rubbed his brow with the back of his hand.
“Isn’t it the truth?” said Carney. “One minute you could be standing giving your full attention to something, and comes up quietly behind you and does the job.”
“Cut your throat,” said Carney.
The sergeant took a very deep breath and told Carney, “It will take a whole troop of police and auxiliaries to catch this murdering rebel and not the few boys we have here.”
“I could stay with you,” Carney offered. “You keep watch the one way and I will watch your back.”
Thompson thought for a moment and put his helmet back on his head. “That just might work, since you actually know the man.”
“Ah, that Sean Cullen! Sure I would know that man a mile away, Sergeant.”
“Aye, but you would want a share of my reward money!”
“Are you crazy, Sergeant? I don’t want the name of being an informer,” Carney insisted. “A ‘tout ‘ (Informer)does not live very long these days, and I wouldn’t have much time to spend what I would get. No, you can keep it all yourself and I will make myself scarce!”
“Just you stay where you are!” Thompson ordered him.
Together the two men stood in silence, looking out across the small, darkening harbor and the policeman gave a great yawn. “You’re a tired man, sergeant. All this walking up and down here, keeping your eyes open has exhausted you,” Carney told him.
“I’m well used to it,” replied Thompson.
“Aye, but you just might need all your strength, should you come up against Cullen in the dark,” Carney warned him and pointed to some large, wooden fish barrels standing close the large wooden door of the store. “Look, let’s get up on those barrels, where we can rest ourselves and still have a good view of things.”
Sergeant Thompson nodded his head in approval and the two men clambered on the fish barrels. “We will sit back to back,” suggested Thompson, “ so we have the best view all around. To be honest, the way you described Cullen to me has made me awful uneasy.”
“Just give me a light of my pipe, sergeant,” said Carney and Thompson obliged him with a match to light his pipe. “Maybe you would like a smoke yourself, sergeant. It would ease your nerves and make you feel a little more comfortable. Just you keep your eyes peeled ahead of you and I will reach my pipe around to you.”
Thompson didn’t move, but kept staring straight ahead of himself. “Don’t you worry wee man, I won’t look away. But, I will light my own pipe and we can have a smoke together.” Thompson struck a match, lit his pipe and the two men sat back to back on the barrels smoking in the pleasant night air.
“Do you know Carney that being a policeman is not all it’s cracked up to be,” complained Thompson. “You are out to all hours, in all types of weather, and never a word of thanks is heard for the dangerous situations we find ourselves in. We only ever get dog’s abuse from all sides, and yet they expect us to carry out our duty. There’s not one would ask or even care if you are a married man with family before they send you into the most dangerous situations.”
Carney took another drag from his pipe and with a sweet voice he quietly began to sing, “They say that the Lakes of Killarney are fair, but none with the Liffey will ever compare! If it’s water you want you will get plenty of it there! Thank God, we’re surrounded by water!”
“For Jaysus’ sake Carney, don’t be singing those songs around here. You know these are dangerous days and those Black and Tans are trigger happy. They would shoot you just for being Irish, never mind the song,” Thompson warned him.
“But, sergeant, a little bit of a song helps keep my heart light, especially when my thoughts are turned to Cullen and his friends. I can’t help thinking that he is lurking about here just waiting for his chance to jump both of us.”
“Well stop singing and keep a good look out,” the policeman urged.
Carney shrugged his shoulders and assured the sergeant, “Isn’t that just what I am doing, sergeant Thompson, sir. And sure aren’t I doing it for free? What kind of a fool am I?” He took yet another puff from his pipe and blew a large cloud of fragrant tobacco smoke into the air. “But, sure I could never stand by and just watch another man in trouble.”
“Don’t worry Carney, you will get your reward in heaven.”
“Don’t I know that, sergeant. But, I would like to enjoy life on earth first.”
Thompson smiled at the tramp’s comment and told him, “Sing your song then, if it gives you comfort.”
Carney cleared his throat and began his song where he left off, “The sea, the sea, the geal grá mo chroí, long may it reign between England and me. It’s a sure guarantee that some hour we’ll be free …”
“Wheesht! For Christ’s sake! If you sing that type of song I will have to arrest you, you eejit” said Thompson. “If you want to sing, sing something like “the Galway Shawl.””
Carney turned his head slightly around, “That’s a good song sergeant. Imagine a man of the law knowing such a song?”
“There’s many a thing that I know,” replied Thompson. “I wasn’t always a policeman.”
“I bet you were some boy in your youth, sergeant. Sitting up with your friends drinking the ‘porter’ and singing all the old songs of freedom,” Carney laughed.
“I did, to be sure!” smiled Thompson as he recalled those days of his youth.
“May be Cullen also enjoyed a glass of ‘porter’ and singing freedom songs when he was a young boy. Maybe singing the same songs as yourself,” Carney commented. “It’s a small world filled with queer coincidences, sergeant. You took one road and
“Quiet!” urged the Sergeant. “I think there is someone coming this way,” he declared nervously and shuffled himself slightly to try and obtain a better view. “Ah! Sure it’s only an old dog!”
“Do you not think this is a queer world, sergeant?” asked Carney as he resumed from where he was before being interrupted. “With you, being a policeman ,could even be faced with arresting one of those friends you sang those songs with, and putting him before a judge.”
“True enough! It could all happen,” the sergeant responded
“You know, in those days, after a few drinks and a few songs those boys may have talked a little treason. Maybe you joined in. If they talked about ways in which to free this country you may have also joined in those discussions.”
“I couldn’t say that I didn’t, for I was a wee bit wild in my younger days,” smiled Thompson.
Carney laughed a little and told him, “It’s a queer world, Sergeant, sure enough. No mother knows what might happen her child as that child goes through life, and how may it end up.”
“You couldn’t speak a truer word,” Thompson told him. “if it wasn’t for the sense beaten into me by my parents, and the fact that I am a father and a husband, I could have gotten into trouble. Only for joining the police force I could well be a fugitive from justice, hiding in the darkness and seeking refuge in whatever hovel I could find that would take me in. It could have even been the case that Cullen would be sitting here instead of me. Him keeping the law and me breaking it, and trying to escape justice. Me waiting to put a bullet in his head, or even beat his brains out with a brick. What the ..?” the sergeant gasped and turned his attention to the water.
“I didn’t hear anything,” said Carney.
“It sounded like the splash of an oar. I had thought maybe friends of Cullen will try and free him, by sailing him out of here,” said Thompson.
“Not at all,” sneered Carney eager to get his attention back to their conversation. “You are and will always be a man of the people and not just a slavish servant of the law.”
“Aye, I was foolish in my young days, but those days have long gone,” Thompson declared.
Carney looked at Thompson for a minute before saying, “I bet those feelings are still in there somewhere, despite the uniform and badge.”
“You would be wrong, then,” snapped Thompson.
“I think you will be on his side very soon,” Carney told him.
The sergeant’s expression darkened, “Keep your thoughts to yourself, you gobshite!” he snarled. “How dare you talk to me like that, a policeman. I have my duty to do and my orders to obey.” There was another splashing sound and Thompson turned his attention to the dockside again. He jumped down from the fish barrel, telling Carney, “That is a boat, for I can hear the splash of oars in the water.”
As Thompson moved closer to the edge of the dock Carney again broke into song, “Thank God we’re surrounded by water?”
“Didn’t I tell you to be quiet?” the sergeant turned back toward Carney with a very angry look on his face.
“The Sea, the sea, the ….” Carney began to sing louder.
“Stop now, Carney, or you will go to jail!” said the sergeant as a soft whistling noise came from the area of the dock steps.
“Now that is a signal to somebody,” declared Thompson, causing Carney to get down of the fish barrel and move toward the dockside.
“Keep back there, Carney,” Thompson urged him. “You cannot pass this way.”
But, Carney did not stop and kept coming forward. “Just who, in God’s name, are you?”
“You know me by the name on that poster,” Carney declared.
“Cullen? You are Cullen?” said a shocked police sergeant.
Carney removed his hat and the wig he had been using to disguise the bandage on his head and threw them at the sergeant’s feet. “I am Sean Cullen and there are a hundred guineas on my head. Furthermore, there is a boat at the bottom of these stone steps that contains some very close comrades of mine who are ready to take me to safety,” he said.
“Well, Cullen. You certainly tricked me this night, but it will do you no good!” Thompson angrily assured him.
“Look, Sergeant. I have one hundred guineas on my head because I fight for our freedom.”
“I heard about the reward, Cullen and I have heard something of what you have done. I have a certain sympathy but I have my duty to do,” replied Thompson.
“There’s no more time to waste on idle talk now. Will you let me pass or will I have to force my way past?” Cullen warned in a cold tone of voice.
“Good God, man, I am an officer of the law and I cannot knowingly allow a criminal to escape. In fact I actually hoped I might convince you in a friendly manner to … What’s that?” said the sergeant as he placed his right hand into the breast of his jacket.
There were voices talking as they approached the dockside from another street. “This where we left the sergeant,” said one of the voices that Thompson recognised as Constable Kelly.
“Those are my constables returning from patrol,” said the sergeant as he looked into Cullen’s face.
“You will not betray me to them, Sergeant. Not a true Irishman like you,” Cullen told him as he returned to his hiding place behind the barrels, just in the nick of time.
“That was the last of the posters, thanks be to God,” said Constable O’Neill.
“Well, if that boyo makes good his escape it will be no fault of ours. All the posters we have put up will ensure he is well known in this area, now,” pointed out Kelly.
In the meantime, as his comrades came closer, Thompson kicked the fugitive’s wig and hat, behind some barrels.
“Did you see anyone since we left?” asked O’Neill.
“Not a one,” replied Thompson nervously, for it was the first occasion that he had deliberately lied.
“Not a single soul,” the sergeant replied more confidently.
“Since we have no orders to go back to the police station we thought we would come and keep you company, Sergeant,” said O’Neill.
Thompson looked at the two constables for a moment and bluntly told them, “There is nothing here for you to do!”
“You told us that we should come back to this place as quickly as we could,” Constable Kelly reminded him. “You wanted us to keep watch with you.”
“I would rather be on my own, boys. Sure why would any escaped convict come this way with all the noise and racket the two of you make with all your chatter? It might be better if I was here on my own..”
“Right then, sergeant. But we will leave you this torch,” said Constable O’Neill.
“Just bring it with you, I don’t need it,” The sergeant told them.
“It is still dark, sergeant and there are rain clouds gathering that will make it even darker,” O’Neill pointed out. “I will just put it over here on the barrels so it will be handy for you.”
“Just take the damn thing with you, for God’s sake, and go” snapped Thompson angrily.
The two constables were taken aback by this change in the sergeant’s tone. “We only thought it would help you. It’s a big torch and gives plenty of light, but you could also use it as a weapon if someone creeps up on you. That torch would give some eejit a quare dig in the head,” said constable Kelly.
“I will give you two a quare dig on the head if you don’t get out of here and take that damn torch with you.”
“Jaysus, sergeant, we were only trying to help,” said O’Neill as the two constables stormed off toward the police station.
As the two policemen marched away, Cullen stuck his head up from behind the fish barrels. Sergeant Thompson went closer to him and asked, “What are you waiting for now?”
“I need my hat and wig! It’s cold and it might even rain,” said Cullen.
Sergeant Thompson handed the items to Cullen and he put them back on his head as he walked toward the dock steps. “Good night, my friend,” he said. “You have helped save my life this night and I will never forget it. Maybe the day will come when I will be able to do something for you that will be just as important, when freedom comes. I would shake your hand on it but you know that I can’t because of my wound. I will, however, give you my word of honour.” He nodded his head in respect to the police sergeant and began to walk down the stone steps.
Thompson just watched as Cullen descended the steps and sighed sadly to himself, “Am I as big a buck eejit as I feel?” He turned on his heels and followed the same path as his constables back to the police barracks.