In years gone by the towns and districts of Ireland were under British administration and relied upon appointed Magistrates to dispense justice to those lawbreakers brought before the court system by local police. In the decades that Britain governed from Dublin most of the resident magistrates were retired officers from the British forces, who often had their own means of income and were part of the gentry class in society. It appeared to be obvious to the administration that there could be no better candidate for dispensing British justice to the Irish than an officer of the crown’s forces. Because he had been a former Captain of Infantry, Robert St. John Stevens was appointed to the vacant magistracy at Ballyskeagh, which he thought was a quiet, rural backwater.
The local tenants, labourers, and ‘scallywags’ had never liked their Resident Magistrate and were excited to here that he had been replaced by a younger man. They were keen, of course, to discover just how harshly this new Magistrate would deal with those lawbreakers brought before him. The local native Irish Catholic population was on the lower step of society’s class system, and many of them were involved in various criminal offences, both minor and major. So, on that first day of Robert’s court there was a large and inquisitive crowd of local people, who were waiting at the courthouse to see how this new Magistrate dealt with those brought before him.
With Robert comfortably seated in his judicial chair the court was called to order and the Clerk of the Court, a young Dwyer Patton, immediately stood up from his seat and declared, “We have only the once case before the court this morning, which alleges the defendant is guilty of house-breaking, public drunkenness, possession of illicit spirits, and of resisting lawful arrest by local police officers. The defendant is Richard Fearon, resident of this Parish, and better known to his neighbours and friends as ‘Dick Fearon’, and cross-summonses have been issued to both Mr. Fearon and his wife.”
The charges had been read out to the court and the packed public area anxiously waited for proceedings to begin, looking toward Philip Duffy who had the honour of beginning the case. It was Philip who rose slowly from his chair and announced that he had been appointed to defend Mrs. Fearon, and looking toward the new magistrate’s bench said, “I wish to impress upon this court that the offences that have been laid against Dick Fearon are very grave. This man drank a great amount of illegal spirits with friends before making his way home. These spirits, popularly known as ‘Poteen’, which are known to inflame male emotions and cause upset between man and wife. So, put out of his mind by the Poteen, Mr. Fearon came to his home, broke down the front door, and began to wreck all around him while terrorizing his poor, frightened wife.And, to make matters worse, when Sergeant Heaney arrived at the house to pacify Mr. Fearon, he refused to obey police instructions and physically resisted arrest. This man, therefore, has shown by his actions that he is undoubtedly a destructive menace that can threaten the peace of our community at any minute. Surely, not since the days when Viking warriors stormed our shores and ravaged our peaceful land has so much havoc been caused by a single individual? Not since those dark days has there been a time when gentle women like Mrs. Fearon are forced to suffer such a terror!”
During this opening statement by Philip Duffy, Dick Fearon had been fidgeting nervously as he sat in the prisoner’s dock, but these last words of Duffy’s statement caused his patience to snap. He suddenly sprang to his feet, his face red with anger, and immediately interrupted Duffy’s opening words to the court. “Holy God!” he shouted aloud in his anger. “Can a man not take a notion to tidy his own furniture? Can he not bring a cantankerous wife back into order when he feels the time calls for it? Jesus, man, are you telling me that the men of Ireland have been castrated by the law?”
Magistrate Robert St. John Stevens was not appreciative of Dick Fearon’s angry outburst and hammered heavily with his gavel to regain order. “Order!” he called out several times. Then, addressing the defendant, he told him, “You cannot disrupt the proceedings of this court in such a manner, Mr. Fearon. You will get your chance to speak, but if there is any repetition of this type of behaviour, we might just consider it to be contempt of court, and it will not end well for you!” Dick looked fiercely at the magistrate and sat down on his seat again, muttering some derogatory remark under his breath.
Duffy now continued with his opening speech and told the court, “You can just imagine how terrified Mrs. Fearon was, thinking that her end had come. She had been forced to watch all her lovely delph pieces smashed into a thousand small fragments, while her well-loved furniture was smashed and broken in front of her. On her hearth the alarm clock had been smashed and broken, and no longer able to awaken the house and allow Mr. Fearon to take his wife’s breakfast into her,” he added with a tone of sarcasm. “Can any of you even imagine how this poor, mistreated woman felt as she looked at her home, now wrecked beyond recognition.”
Again, Dick Fearon jumped up from his chair, red faced and very angry. “Holy Christ!” he exclaimed loudly. “Do you not know that there are more feelings in a bloody tombstone than there is in that woman?”
Undeterred by this outburst Philip Duffy turned away from Dick Fearon and continued, “Can I ask the court to simply consider the feelings of this decent, respectful, loving wife, and mother, who has had no less than three husbands.”
“Aye!” Mrs. Fearon now called out. “And, if please God, I will get myself another one!”
Duffy smiled at this comment, but he did not allow the interruption to disturb his train of thought as he spoke on. “Yes, gentlemen! Three husbands and ten children, six of whom rest peacefully in the family’s plot, while the remaining four are all distinguished members of the constabulary. This man, Dick Fearon, was once a model husband and father until he took to the poteen. He once would have done anything his wife asked, just to please her, but the ‘gargle’ changed him into the useless blackguard you see here today.”
It was Mrs. Fearon who now jumped to her feet and stared at Philip Duffy with eyes full of anger. She brought herself up to full size and, gritting her teeth, she said, “Hold on for just one minute! Who, in the name of God, do you think you are Philip Duffy, to have the gall to say that my husband is a blackguard? Let me tell you, gobshite, that my husband is one decent, hardworking man who has never had reason to call on the likes of you for any help!”
The magistrate, Robert St. John Stevens, was very irritated by Mrs. Fearon’s outburst in the court and, believing that things were getting out of control he began to bang his gavel and shout, “Order! Order!” When he had restored some order he announced, “Unless you all begin to behave in a correct and proper manner, I will have the entire court emptied, the guilty arrested for contempt, and this case will continue without you.”
“Ah, now, your honour!” Mrs. Fearon smiled, “Sure, a man like yourself does not expect a woman as upright as me to sit quietly while her husband is insulted before her very eyes? Well, I will tell you this! There is no way that I will listen to puffed-up gobshites, like that boy, say bad things against my man, as long as I have a tongue in my head!”
“Now, now, Mrs. Fearon! I must prevail upon you for a modicum of order,” insisted Robert, hoping that he would be able to quieten her a little. But Robert was a stranger to the ways of Irish women and did not realise just how determined she was to make herself heard. As she moved to stand up again Sergeant Heaney was concerned about what she might say in front of the court and put his hand over her mouth.
Mrs. Fearon was annoyed by Heaney’s efforts to silence her, and she struggled to get free of him. She succeeded when she nudged her elbow forcibly into the police sergeant’s groin and causing him to groan loudly as he crumpled to the floor. With a great deal of ‘tut-tutting’ she helped Heaney back to his feet again despite her anger with him. “By Christ!” groaned Heaney, “If you were my wife, I would stitch that mouth of yours closed!”
Looking him straight in the eyes she answered, “And do you think that I would be allowing you? It would not be just a nudge in the boondocks you would be getting!”
“That’s quite enough, Mrs. Fearon!” shouted a very Irate magistrate, who was determined to have his voice heard. “This is scandalous behaviour for any lady! You must learn to keep your unwelcome comments to yourself in this court! In short, Mrs. Fearon, shut up!”
“Aye, that will work,” Dick Fearon commented sarcastically. “Sure, you might as well tell a whale to whistle the ‘Foggy Dew’ or ask a Cavan man for the loan of a penny!”
“Mr. Fearon, you have been warned! Now, Mrs. Fearon you can come forward and give the court the benefit of your testimony,” said Robert, more calmly.
Mrs. Fearon tidied her dress and fixed her hat correctly on her head before she strode up to take her place in the witness box. “You are Margaret Fearon, better known to your family, friends, and neighbours as ‘Peggy’?”
“That’s right, your honour,” smiled Peggy confidently.
“You are married to the prisoner?”
“I am, may God forgive me,” she replied. “That lump of manhood is my third husband, and he is twice the bother of the two fine men who came before him. That man would drink the bit out, day and night if he could, and then stumble home at all hours of the night, all heated up and ready to fight.”
“Has he ever hit you in the past?”
“Hit Me?” Peggy laughed aloud. “Well dare he even lift his hand to me, for I would swing for him. They would have to dig me out of him, and I would make sure there wasn’t a part of him to be found. No. Dick knows better than attempt to hit me.”
“Well, could you please tell us what caused him to wreck the house on the evening in question?”
“Sure, wasn’t the blackguard drinking and gambling with his friends and when his money was spent, so was his welcome. He had no choice but to come home and some comfort in a bottle of poteen.”
“You were storing the bottle of poteen for him?”
But Peggy was not going to be caught out that easily and replied, “Sure, I didn’t know there was any in the house! I had closed and locked the door for I didn’t want him coming in and staggering all over my clean house, while I was in bed. I was in bed a good couple of hours when he began his hammering on the front door and calling me every vile name he could think of, but I stayed silent until he broke the door down!”
“Aye and tell them who was in the bed with you!” Dick Fearon called out.
“That’s a damned lie!” Peggy squealed at him.
“Wasn’t it himself that you were sharing the bottle with? You Jezebel!”
Peggy turned to the magistrate and told him, “That was his excuse for breaking down the door and wrecking my furniture and possessions, the thug. He was drunk and there was no other man in my bed. When he could not find anyone else in the house, he began to pull the house apart, shouting out for his bottle of poteen.”
“Did he find it?”
“Aye,” answered Dick. “I found it in the bedroom, beside the bed where her and her lover had lain and shared the bottle.”
“You’re a liar, Dick Fearon, and everyone knows it. Sure, the truth would choke you to tell it!” roared Peggy.
“It will hang you,” laughed Dick. “Sure, isn’t that why the sergeant is sporting the two black eyes I gave him for his romantic dallying?”
Seán Óg McVeigh was a tall man whose body was thin as that of a skeleton, and he would walk around the town in a long, heavy black coat, the hems of which trailed the ground. On his head he would wear a wide-brimmed hat that cast a shadow to hide his bright blue eyes. But in the area Seán Óg was a widely known and highly respected personage who was greeted with deference that would usually be reserved for a doctor or a clergyman. This was surprising since Seán Óg had left school at the tender young age of thirteen years, without any qualifications or hope of a trade. He had, however, been the only child of a woman who was famed for her wisdom in the use of herbs and charms to cure many ills and difficulties. Under her tutelage, Seán Óg had spent years studying the ways of ‘mother nature’ and the cures that proper use of her fruit could provide. There were those who were certain that Seán Óg’s mother had spent a long time living among the ‘good people’ from whom, it was said, she had been gifted with many cures and fairy knowledge. It was because of the care taken in passing her knowledge to her son that Seán Óg was often called upon to treat ailments that affected the local people.
As part of his treatments, Seán Óg refused to resort to pills, or bottles filled with foul tasting potions to achieve cures. Instead, he used his time gathering nettles and other plants that he would combine in various ways to create his cures, and he was always the target of hurtful, disparaging comments by the local doctors. Each time that Seán Óg was sent for, he would readily answer their call, arriving punctually at the patient’s home carrying a bundle containing his herbs, nettles, and other plants in neatly tied bunches. But the nettles he carried were of a special type. They were mature nettles that he had plucked at dawn the same day and they still had the dew of morning still coating the leaves.
Perhaps it was a sign of their confidence in Seán Óg that made them feel so much better the moment that he entered their home. But with raised spirits they would watch as the tall, thin man removed his long, heavy black coat, and take off his wide-brimmed hat from his head. This done, Seán Óg would immediately set about getting his patients to lie down on a nearby couch, or bed. If it was a male patient, they would be politely asked to remove their shirt or their trousers, if it were parts of their lower body that were giving them bother. And being a true gentleman in all things, Seán Óg would always defer to natural shyness of women when it came to them revealing the areas of their body that were affected by pain.
With the affected areas revealed Seán Óg that made them feel so much better the moment he entered their home. With raised spirits they would watch as the tall, thin man removed his long, heavy, black coat and took off his wide-brimmed hat from his head. This done Seán immediately set about getting his patient to lie down on a nearby couch, or bed. If it was a male patient, they would be politely asked to remove their shirt, or their trousers if it were parts of the lower body that were giving them bother. And being a true gentleman in all things, Seán Óg would always defer to the natural shyness of women when it came to them revealing the areas of their body that were afflicted with pain.
With the affected area revealed Seán Óg would spit lightly on both hands and rub them together like a man making ready to dig a ditch with a spade. Then, holding a bunch of nettles with both hands, Seán would begin to beat the affected area of the poor patient’s body until it was a mass of red, blistered lumps that stung the patient to the bone. The procedure would take Seán between ten and fifteen minutes before he would feel ready to step back from his patient and inspect his work. Satisfied that his treatment had been delivered properly Seán Óg would tell them to redress, while assuring them they would not feel so much as a tinge of pain ever again, although the pain they had felt had been due to rheumatism, lumbago, or other ailments. Naturally, the treatment they had received had painful side-effects which had taken several days to disappear. But Seán Óg’s assurance was not a false one, for many who had suffered long years of pain before undergoing the ‘nettle treatment’, had become a new person and enjoyed better health because of Seán’s efforts.
Now, those who live in rural areas have learned by bitter experience that nettles are always at their stinging best in the Spring or early Summer. The seasons, however, had no influence over Seán Óg or the treatment he was famed for giving patients suffering from pain. Most of us believe that in the depths of winter the stinging nettles lose most of any curative properties they may have. It is further proof to how good Seán Óg was because his treatment was still effective even at the Christmas period when the nettles barely had a sting left and he could continue to attend patients who needed him.
As is usual with such unusual treatments there are always the immoral and unethical people who will follow Seán Óg’s actions, in the hope that they would gain fame and wealth. ‘Spring-heels’ Eddie was just one of these characters, who was always on the lookout to make a bit of easy money on the back of another person’s difficulties, and he thought he would take up Seán Óg’s therapy. However, Eddie had the bright idea of collecting huge bunches of nettles and extract their juices from them, which he believed would achieve the same results as Seán had, but without the side-effects. ‘Spring-heels’ immediately established a production line in the kitchen of his home and, despite his wife’s bitter complaints, filled his first twenty-four small bottles with the elixir. With his first production complete, Eddie was keen to test it, and he began his journey to wealth and fame. For his first guineapig, therefore, he chose his next-door neighbour and best friend who was always complaining about his sore back.
The neighbour was informed by Eddie that the bottle contained Seán Óg’s treatment that would, in this new form, act much more quickly to ease his pain. He also assured him that there would be no uncomfortable side-effects. Putting the small bottle of liquid to the patient’s mouth, Eddie watched as he gulped down almost a half of the bottle. Within seconds the patient went a bright red, which turned very quickly to a sickly yellowish-green and he began to roll on the ground grabbing his chest. An extremely frightened Eddie wasted no time in sending for the doctor, who rushed to the scene in his car. Deciding that the patient was poisoned he gave him something to drink which induced him to be sick, and then an ambulance was called.
There was once a neighbour of our own family who suffered terribly from pains that prevented hi from ploughing his fields since he found it very difficult to guide the plough behind the horses. He constantly complained to anyone who would listen that, “I would be dead if I had the will to stiffen”, and he called on his long-suffering brother-in-law, ‘Squinky’ Hoy, to help him on the farm. The patient, who was known to all as Joey ‘Soup’ Campbell, heard about the wonderful results that Seán Óg was achieving in curing people in persistent pain and he begged ‘Squinky’ to contact the ‘miracle worker’.
‘Squinky’ was not a man who believed in magic cures or fairy charms, although there were many in the district that did. He was not convinced, therefore, that a beating with stinging nettles by Seán Óg would cure ‘Soup’. He was sure if Seán Óg could do it, then so could he. That afternoon he went to a nearby woodland and gathered a large pile of nettles and, later that night, he took them to ‘Soup’s’ house. In the kitchen area of the house several men had gathered to play cards and ‘Soup’ was surprised to see his brother-in-law arrive with a huge bunch of nettles in his hands. Looking at him quizzically he asked ‘Squinky’, “What in the name of God are you doing with those nettles?”
“Right, Big Man,” began ‘Squinky’ as he reached down to his brother-in-law. “Drop those trousers and we will soon have you on your feet again!”
‘Soup’ stared at ‘Squinky’ blankly as he stood there waving his nettles in front of his friends. “Have you lost your feckin’ mind, you buck eejit?” he shouted as he rose angrily from his seat at the kitchen table and painfully moved toward ‘Squinky’. “Get out of here, you gobshite before I put my size twelve boot up your arse, so far you’ll be sucking leather for a year!”
‘Squinky’, you can understand did not need to be told twice as he fled quicker than a hare at a coursing event.
It was one of those nights when low-lying clouds virtually covered the sky, obscuring almost all the light from the moon, making the entire area dark and impenetrable. Then, in the blackness of the night, bright flames coloured red, orange, yellow, and gold stretched upwards to the sky giving light to the dark clouds as they slowly floated over the mountains, westwards. The source of those bright leaping flames shone out like a beacon from its position higher up the mountain, visible for many miles in all directions and attracting the attention of many who were living nearby. It is difficult to recall exactly what the time when I first noticed the great hullabaloo of an approaching crowd of people that awakened me from a deep and most enjoyable sleep. In fact, it was my wife that was awakened first and, in her panic, nudged me with her boney elbow until I finally opened my eyes. “What the …,” I began to complain angrily but I held my tongue when I heard the crowd approaching the house. There was a rumble that appeared to be an earthquake threatening to shake the house, followed by the sound of voices.
“Who is it, Jackie?” my wife asked. When I didn’t answer immediately, she bellowed in my ear with a voice that sounded like that of a ‘Maghery Fishwife’. “Will, you get up, Jackie, for God’s sake and see what’s happening?”
The sleep needed to be rubbed from eyes before I could get up out of bed and move to the cottage door. “Who’s there?” I shouted sleepily, and then asked my wife, “Who do you think is out there?”
“How would I know?” she replied with a hiss and a sour look that I had often seen during forty years of marriage.
“It’s just that I am wondering who it is that is making all that noise, and it’s making me nervous,” I told her.
“Now, how would I know the answer, for Christ’s sake, you gobshite?” she snapped back impatiently. “Just get your fat arse out outside and ask them ‘what the hell is going on?’”
Still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I went and lifted my trousers from the top of the blanket box sitting at the bottom of the bed, and I pulled them on. “There had better be a very good reason for all this noise-making, Maggie. Decent people are asleep at this hour and not shouting all over the place! Is this some kind of joke? If it is, then it is not very funny, and It will be their greatest ever mistake.”
“Christ, Jackie, will you get out there and stop this nonsense?” urged Maggie.
Taking the oil lamp from the top of the ‘Tall Boy’ and, turning up the wick, I went to the front door od the cottage, quickly running my fingers through my hair to tidy it a little. I opened the door and was immediately confronted by a tall man who was making ready to rap my door with the knob-end of his blackthorn stick. Immediately I recognized the man was Seán Curran, a close neighbour and friend to both Maggie and me.
“Jesus, Jackie,” groaned Sean, “Have you not seen the great fire that is blazing up yonder.” I had not seen a thing since, until five minutes previously, I had been fast asleep until rudely awakened by Maggie. In total amazement I looked in the direction that Seamus was pointing. “It looks like it’s old Paddy-kill-the-Cats’ house that has gone up in flames!” he said.
In the hope of getting a better view I stepped out of the doorway and, pushing my way through about a dozen men or more, I reached the gable wall of our cottage. From this viewpoint I could look up the mountain to where I knew Paddy’s cottage stood, and I saw the great flames leaping angrily toward the heavens, splitting the black, overcast sky and casting a flickering light over the entire area. “What, in the name of God, has happened? Paddy’s place is an absolute inferno!” I asked.
“Sure, Jackie, who would know the answer to that question?” Sean replied. “But I have gathered a crowd of local men, as you can see, and we intend to go up to that place to see if we can save anything from those flames.”
“That sound good to me,” I assured him. “I’ll get my heavy coat and boots and follow you up there. Let’s hope and pray that old devil up there and his wife, Bessie, have both survived this disaster.” I was still pulling up the collar of my overcoat up and around my neck as I caught up with the group, and we quickly marched up the stone-covered lane toward the blazing house. When we reached the site, the flames were still leaping skyward, and the air was filled with smell of burning thatch and charred wood. The men started their work without delay by establishing a chain of men passing buckets of water from the nearby stream to the burning house. Others, armed with various agricultural tools began pulling down large burning areas of the building and dowsing the flames with water. But there was no saving the old cottage which had quickly become a burned-out ruin that was beyond rescue. With the burning thatched roof removed the glowing embers that were once wooden rafters quickly crumpled into the house, while the earth walls that had once the cottage its strength crumbled and tumbled to the ground in the heat. Even a cursory glance at what remained of the cottage, still burning, or smoldering on the ground, gave proof to any claim that if there had been any person alive in there when the fire started there was certainly no one left alive after the conflagration.
Sean’s face was grime covered by the smoke and ashes from the fire. As he approached me, I could see his weary, sad eyes seeking me out. “Ah, Jackie, it looks like Paddy and Bessie are lost to us,” he sighed as he made the ‘Sign of the Cross’. Then, he added “May they rest in peace.”
“You might be right Sean,” I answered him. “But let us both join the rest of the lads and get stuck into putting out these gorse fires before the entire mountain goes up in flames.” The flames, the sparks, the intense heat from the cottage fire had caused nearby tinder-dry patches of gorse to burst into flames. With our shovels, rakes, and every other tool at our hands every man worked together, systematically, to beat out the fires and glowing embers so that the rest of the hillside would be secure.
Slowly the sky began to lighten as the new day began to dawn from the east just as the last flames of the burned-out cottage were dying, leaving only embers of wood that glowed red when the morning breeze blew over them. There was nothing left of the building that had once been a home to the elderly couple, who were so well-known in the area. Scattered about the place were the broken, charred and still smoking remnants of furniture that had once filled the rooms of that small comfortable home. “Whatever will we do with Paddy’s sheep, now that he is gone?” I asked as the problem first entered my mind.
Sean shrugged his shoulders and suggested, “Why don’t you take Paddy’s sheep and graze them with your own, Jackie?”
“And then what?”
“Well, at the next fair day you could sell them, and you could give the money to a charity, naming Paddy and his wife as the benefactors.”
“By Jesus, Sean Curran and Jackie Murphy, you will do no such thing!” came a voice from somewhere behind us. “The first man who dares to put a hand on just one of my sheep, I’ll crown him with my ‘Plant’. (Blackthorn Stick)” Taken by surprise I turned to see who had spoken. About fifty feet away, in the direction from which the voice came, there was a group of furze bushes and from the middle of these Paddy Dillon stood up with Bessie at his side, and both were looking in my direction. They were standing upright, rigidly and were wrapped in white bedclothes like no ghosts in that early morning light, with the grey smoke from the ruined cottage drifting over them.
Both Sean and I stared at the two figures whom we had been sure were buried in the ruins somewhere. “Christ, Paddy! Where did you and Bessie spring from? We were sure you were both dead!” I told him.
At this point, the most unnerving thing for me was that the two people that I had assumed to be dead were now actually walking toward me. Paddy called out to me, “It wasn’t for any lack of effort on the part of the all-consuming flames, for they wanted to consume us as well as our home. But we managed to scramble quickly out through our bedroom window to safety. When we found a secure place, we just lay down until we heard voices.”
“But what happened, Paddy? How did the fire begin in the first place?” I asked.
“Ah, sure, it was all down to Bessie and her novenas,” he answered. “She always lights one of those damned candles she buys from the chapel, and she starts to say her prayers for continued good health and for the souls in Purgatory. But we were very near joining them this night!”
“Come on, now, both of you,” I replied. “We will get you some warm coats to wrap yourselves in and then we will go down the lane to any house and get some hot tea with buttered bread. We will get you settled comfortably and then we can talk about what can be done to help you to get your lives back on track.”
At Dromahaire Abbey, in County Leitrim, many years ago there was a man saying his prayers in a part of the sacred enclosure. It is said that, when he rose from his knees, he took an iron spoon that lay under a slab covering a grave and put his hand into a hole up to the shoulder and drew up a spoonful of the clay. This he wrapped up in paper and told people it was for a sick person who subsequently mixed it in water, and he drank it for a remedy. he declared that this was the grave of Father Peter and that he had been a very holy man.
There are many legends and superstitions that surround these beautiful ruins of Ardmore Abbey and its round tower. It was said to be Saint Declan who founded the original abbey and its tower, building the base course in one night, while on the second night he built it up to its second level, carrying it to the third level on the third night. But an angry old woman scolded the saint and asked, “Will you never be done?” Saint Declan immediately completed the final part of the structure finishing it off with a conical cap.
It was also said that Declan went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his return, as his ship approached Ardmore some gigantic pagans tried to prevent his landing and ran out to sea threatening him. But Declan transformed them into rocks, and they stand there to this day, forming a reef. At this time also, it is reported, that a large glacial boulder floated behind Declan’s ship all the way from Rome. It followed in the ship’s wake and lodged itself safely on a ridge near the ship and cried out, “The clerk forgot the bell,” whereupon they found the bell and his vestments on the rock although they had been left behind in Rome. The stone lies there until this day, resting upon an outcrop of local rocks on the shore, and it is said to work miraculous cures to those who rub their backs against it, or creep under it in the hollow between two supporting rocks. There is a warning, also, that anyone attempting to gain a cure with a stolen garment or having unabsolved sins on their soul will have the stone press down upon them and prevents their passage through.
At Ardmore, County Waterford, in the churchyard of the ancient and most interesting ruined abbey, they show the spot where it was said Saint Declan, the founder, was buried. It is walled around, but inside the soil has been excavated to a considerable depth in past times and the custodian of the place was selling the earth as a cure for sick people.
Also, in the graveyard the practice of creeping beneath stones is seen when a childless woman creeps under a tombstone in their quest to become mothers. (from ‘Notes on Irish Folklore’, Folklore vol.27, No.4, 1916, pp419-426: JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/ 1255596)
There have been volumes upon volumes written about the terrible events that blighted and tore apart Northern Ireland in the thirty years, from 1965 until the ‘Good Friday Agreement’. There is hardly a family in the Province that did not suffer in some way from the terrors, pain, heartache and devastation of the ‘The Troubles’. But, despite all the words that have been written there are none that can truly describe the horrors of those days, except those that have been expressed by people who lived through those dark days. The ‘peace’ that has now existed for the past twenty years is tenuous, to say the least, and has done little, if anything, to remove the bitterness and hatred caused by those years of strife. Among the many stories of those days is a sad tale, which involved a man of faith who was forced to come face-to-face with his own devils.
There was nothing special about the Murphy family. They were simply a group of average individuals living a quiet life in a medium-sized mid-Ulster town. The parents had always been determined to have their children well educated, and all four sons had very much focused their attention on this. Two of the eldest sons had attended university and qualified as Chartered Accountants prior to moving to Australia to make their fortunes. The second youngest son, Martin, had chosen to join the priesthood and, after his ordination, he was assigned a Parish close to home, much to the joy of his pious mother and father. Frank, however, was the youngest son and, although as academically gifted as any of his brothers, but he wanted to enjoy his youth for a while after finishing college, rather than throwing himself into a career immediately.
After the death of their father, the two youngest brothers had spent more of their time with their mother, Annie. She missed her husband dearly but, like a typical Irish mother, she had her sons around her to keep herself active and busy taking care of them. She was a pious and loving woman, adored by all her sons and, in return, she spoiled them terribly. But, the youngest son had always been her favourite, for he was her last child and she would always look upon him as her baby boy. Although she had always shown a little more affection toward him, Annie had never allowed him to become a spoiled, weak and capricious boy. At the same time, however, she did not give her other sons any reason to feel left out, because she made a point of sharing her deep store of maternal love equally between all four boys. Naturally, with the two oldest boys being so far from home, it was Martin and Frank who benefitted most from their Annie’s care and attention.
Martin had been aware, all of his life, that his mother had a special place in her heart for Frank, but he never had any feelings of jealousy toward him. Frank, after all, was the only son who still lived in the home-place with Annie, and Martin was happy that his youngest brother got all that extra attention and love that he undoubtedly obtained from her.
Frank was a gentle, quiet-natured young man who had a great mind and a wonderful imagination. He was greatly admired by his brother, the priest and his mother called him her ‘Little Lamb’. They both expected that Frank would, eventually, achieve a degree of greatness in whatever he chose to do with his life. Annie was not overly concerned about the amount of time that Frank spent with his friends because they knew that he was the type of person who would always maintain the highest standard of personal behaviour when in public. Although Frank had always enjoyed a drink, he was never known to drink to excess. Furthermore, like his many friends, Frank liked to party but always made a point of coming home no later than midnight and completely sober.
The lives of the Murphy family, however, changed abruptly one night in the Spring of 1967. That night, Annie watched the hands on the large mantlepiece clock turn very slowly as the ‘tick, tock’ of the second hand sounded loudly in the quietness of the living-room. The clock struck one o’clock, and the anxiety that had been building up inside Annie that evening had brought a sense of panic to the mother. Frank, in all the time he had gone out with his friends, had never returned later than one o’clock, and he had never brought any trouble to the door.
It was now past one o’clock and, yet, there was no sign of Frank, and no word of excuse received from him. Fortunately, Martin was in the house that night, sitting with his mother. Rather than return the Parochial House after supper Martin decided that he would stay with Annie. He was now well settled on a comfortable armchair, which stood beside the glowing coal-fire to await Frank’s return home. But, as the minutes continued to tick by slowly, he watched his mother’s already well-frayed nerves begin to come apart. With tears forming in her eyes she quietly muttered, “I just wish Frank would come home.”
“He’ll be alright, Ma! He’ll soon be coming through that front door as if there’s nothing wrong, kiss you on the cheek, as he always does, and go on to his bed,” Martin told her in a soft, comforting tone of voice.
But, Annie was not comforted by Martin’s soft words. “I don’t know, Martin,” she told him. “He has never been this late and I am really worried that something might have happened to him.”
“Please stop fretting, Ma,” Martin urged her as tenderly as he could. “He has just been delayed, ma, and he might not be home for an hour or so yet.”
But, Annie just could not relax, because her worries over Frank’s whereabouts filled every corner of her mind. She fidgeted nervously in her chair, then she made tea for her and Martin, and then she would go to the front door to see if there was any sign that Frank was nearing home. The hours, however, continued to pass slowly and still there was no sign of her youngest son. Then, as darkness gave way to the light of early morning, Annie’s concerns had grown to a point where she began to cry silently to herself, afraid that she might not see her son again. Martin could only sit and watch silently as those bitter tears fell from his mother’s eyes. He was becoming increasingly angry with his brother’s tardiness, and he promised himself that when his younger brother did arrive he would get a piece of his mind regarding his irresponsibility. At that present moment, he could not show any sign of his anger to his already upset mother. He believed it would be more beneficial to maintain his efforts to keep the old woman calm about his brother’s absence.
Martin managed to settle his mother in the chair beside the fire and began telling her humorous anecdotes about some of his parishioners, in the hope that they would keep her mind occupied with lighter thoughts. Quite suddenly, Annie’s body went rigid and her head turned quickly toward the living room window. “It’s him! It’s Frank!” she cried out. “I can hear his footsteps on the path.” She rose from her seat quickly and, loudly sighing “Thank God!”, she went to open the front door to him.
But, Martin heard the voice of a man, which he knew was not the voice of his brother, Frank. He then heard his mother give a loud and painful groan, and this caused Martin to rush to her assistance. Annie had fainted in the hallway and Martin noticed that it was a uniformed policeman that was giving her assistance.
“What in God’s name has happened?” asked Martin anxiously.
The policeman rose up from his knees and helped to bring Annie into the living room, laying her comfortably on the sofa, with a cushion at her head. “I am sorry to be the one that brought such terrible news to you,” said the constable.
“We have found your brother’s abandoned motorbike this morning, lying in a hedge.”
“Is he badly hurt, or …?”
“We have not located your brother yet, Father. But, we did find traces of blood on the seat and are concerned for his welfare,” said the policeman, interrupting Martin.
You can imagine the great shock and fear that Martin felt when he received this grave news. Calling a neighbour over to stay with Annie, he asked the policeman to take him to the scene of this apparent accident. He was driven, in a police car, to a narrow lane that turned off the main road and led through a bog, and he eventually came to the scene, which was marked by another police car and several uniformed officers. Some of the police officers were diligently searching the hedgerows on each side of the narrow, bog lane and Martin quickly joined in with their efforts. Even as Martin searched, there was a definite feeling of unease that began to fill his entire body, and he knew in his mind that this lane held some terrible secret for him. Martin had been up all night and was very tired, and yet he knew that this was not the reason behind his feelings of unease. There was a smell of death in the air about him, but Martin continued to search every possible nook and cranny on each side of the lane, thoroughly, for almost a mile.
They could find nothing in their searches. There was not a trace of Frank anywhere. All that was left to be found was the motorbike and its bloodstained seat. As he took a final look around the area where the motorbike was found, Martin was suddenly brought to an abrupt standstill and he called out to the others to join him quickly. The grass in that place was very much trampled down, and Martin could not be sure if this was a sign that a struggle had taken place, or if the police had trampled the grass during their search. When the police searchers came up to Martin’s position, he was able to discover from them that they had not trampled the grass in that area. They insisted that they had found the area in that condition. Martin now got down on his knees and began to take a closer look at the grass around him and, after a little time, discovered a quantity of fresh blood. Beside this patch of blood, Martin found a thin leather wallet that he knew belonged to his brother, and he picked it up to show the policemen. It all seemed to confirm his worst fears, that his brother Frank was indeed dead. Confirmation of this belief appeared to be supplied by the condition in which the motorbike had been found. From the way it lay in the hedgerow, it was apparent to Martin that this had not been caused by any road accident and indicated, instead, that Frank may have been murdered.
It is almost impossible to describe the pain and agony that tore through Martin’s body at this terrible moment of realisation that his brother was probably dead. There was a terrible rage that filled his heart, which was matched only by the deep sorrow that he felt for the loss. He didn’t want to believe that this tragedy had happened and that there was still hope that Frank would suddenly appear in front of Martin, alive and well. With renewed vigour and his head filled with contradictory thoughts, Martin continued in his frantic search for a body that would give the family closure on what had happened to Frank. Although the search lasted for many hours, stretching well into the evening, Martin had to return home without success. But, Martin found it was a much different home from the one that he had left earlier that day. In those long hours, the stress had aged greatly Annie and Martin now found her in a state of stupor, which had taken hold of her after a wild frenzy of screaming and crying, all brought about by the news she had been given concerning the fate of her youngest son. It was almost as if the light of life had gone out of her, and her heart had been smashed to pieces, rather than broken. Martin was at a complete loss as to what he should do and watched over his mother as she lingered for a few weeks, steadily going downhill and calling out for her dead child.
Sadly, Annie finally passed away one evening as she slept in her bed. As Martin stared down upon her small, pale face he noticed that there was a peaceful expression upon it. There was no longer any trace of the torture and agony she had been feeling since she had first gotten the news of Frank. Although there had not, even yet, been any definite confirmation from the police about Frank’s fate, Martin now felt certain that his youngest brother was dead. He could not, however, comprehend who would have wanted to kill Frank, or why? If it was an accident then why was there no body found? Surely, he thought to himself, no one could hold a grievance, but Martin could not understand who would have had a grievance against such a friendly, harmless man like Frank Murphy.
With so much sectarian hatred prevalent in Northern Ireland at this time, Martin’s first suspicions fell upon ‘loyalist’ paramilitaries. He believed that these dark, evil men murdered young Frank, believing it would be seen as a great victory to kill the innocent brother of a Roman Catholic priest. Yet, he had no proof. Despite the widespread horror that was felt at young Frank’s disappearance and probable murder, there was not a single clue as to who might have perpetrated such a crime. Using every possible contact that he had, both Catholic and Protestant, Martin tried to discover what had happened and who may have done the evil deed. But, all his efforts were in vain, and as the months passed public interest in the event seemed to fade.
The first anniversary of Frank’s disappearance had passed, and the anniversary of his mother’s death was quickly approaching. Since their deaths the young priest had chosen to throw himself completely into his Parish duties as a means of helping him to come to terms with the tragedies that had so changed his life. One Saturday evening, as was usual, he sat in the confessional box in the chapel and made himself available to those who wished to confess their sins and show penance for the wrongs they had done. One of the penitents was known to Martin but appeared to be completely unaware of the form of the religious ritual. He was not a regular church-goer and Martin was, to say the least, very surprised to see this young man enter his confessional. He knelt and began to confess the many misdeeds of his ill-spent life. It appeared that this young man simply wanted to unburden his entire conscience in one go, and he spoke of sins that were filled with unbounded selfishness, oppression, revenge and unlimited passions. There was no sin that this young man had not committed in his short life, everything from theft to betrayal, and from mild sexual thoughts to wild encounters actions were included. Martin had heard many of these same sins during his short tenure as a curate, but the confession of this young man thoroughly shocked him.
Martin would later admit that he was both nauseated and disgusted by this young man and the sins he had confessed. Even the young man himself began to falter as he revealed to the priest each immoral action and thought he had committed. At one point it seemed to Martin that the young man was equally sickened by his faults and had never realised just how extensive and appalling they were. Martin saw both surprise and confusion on the man’s face as he laid out his sins. Then, as Martin began the rite of absolution the young man called on him to stop. “Please Father,” he spoke nervously, “I am not yet finished my confession.”
“I’m sorry,” Martin replied, “please continue.”
But he could hear the penitent moving uneasily as he knelt in the confessional. Martin felt as if the penitent was fighting with his conscience about whether, or not, he should admit some particularly grievous sin. The man had already confessed to so many unsavoury sins already, and the priest could not quite understand why he was so reluctant now. “You have done so well this far. If there is more that you wish to confess you should continue. Free yourself of your sins and you will feel so much better. God already knows your sins and by you confessing them you are showing that you are aware of how hurtful they have been to him. Return to his love. He wants to forgive you all your sins and break those chains which bind your soul to evil. So, speak freely,” Martin urged the penitent in a gentle voice.
The priest listened to the man sobbing for a minute or two, stopping only to dry his tears and blow his nose. Then, very quietly and hesitantly at first, the young man began to mutter, nervously, that he had killed someone in cold-blood. Martin shuddered at the revelation and, from what he had heard the man say so far, he found it difficult to believe. Clearing his voice, he asked in the calmest tone that he could muster, “Please tell me, how and where did you commit an act of cruel murder? And whatever possessed you to take the life of another human being?”
The young man had kept his head bowed during his confession, but he raised his head until he could see the face of the priest behind the confessional screen that separated them. It was also the first time that Martin had seen the penitent. Despite the veil between them, the priest could see clearly the young man’s tear-soaked and reddened eyes. He noticed that they were glazed over and appeared to be ready to pop out from their sockets with terror. The blood seemed to almost drain from the man’s complexion and there was a tremor in his body. Martin now watched in total surprise as the young man slowly raised his clasped hands toward him. It was as if the penitent was praying to him, begging him to that would ease the pain in his entire being. Was this young man seeking mercy from him Martin wondered, as the penitent moved closer? With quivering lips and in a low sobbing voice the man declared, “I am the man who killed your brother, Father Martin!”
Martin’s body suddenly went numb. Then, as if hit by a Taser gun, his entire body shook violently, and he was wracked with terrible pain. The priest’s entire mind went into a ‘brain-melt’ as his thoughts were scrambled together and began to spin around in his head, and his heart began to pound so fast that he became sure that it would burst. Maybe it was God, or maybe it was his own instinct for survival that caused Martin to breathe normally once again, and he began to slowly feel his blood run begin to run normally once more through the many tingling vessels in his body. The young priest’s hands were clasped to his breast, but just as his body returned to something like normality, he slumped back in his seat and began to laugh hysterically. It was not the reaction that the penitent had expected and fearing for the priest he went to assist him. Several minutes passed before Martin began to recover his equilibrium and his face was soaked in a cold sweat, and his eyes were filled with bitter, bitter tears. As Martin became aware of his surroundings again he saw the penitent holding him close, his face wracked with the terrible thought that he had caused the priest to suffer some sort of emotional breakdown. Holding Martin close to him the priest he was pleading for his mercy and not to hand him over to the law. Martin could hardly believe that it was him that was telling the young man, “Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to worry about me or the police. Your sins have been shared under the seal of confession, and because of that, I cannot reveal one item to another living soul. You are safe, but I beg you to get away from me now. Just get out of my sight and stayaway from me until I feel able to see you and speak to you again.” With he heard these words the young man released his hold on Martin, moved away from the confessional, and exited the church building.
Martin told me that, after this encounter, he knelt alone in the church and prayed to God for the strength to get him through this. He had, more by accident than by design, met the man who had murdered his youngest brother and, through this crime, had caused the subsequent death of his mother. Although an ordained priest, Martin also considered that he was nothing more than a simple man, would find forgiveness a difficult proposition to grant under such circumstances. Moreover, that he was a priest meant he needed God’s help to hold fast to that sacred calling to which he had dedicated his life. He prayed intensely for God’s blessing to give him the strength to fulfil the words of the Gospel as he professed them – “Love and Forgiveness.” But, God appeared to hold back his blessing for a time and it was only after much prayer and meditation that he felt able to meet the young man again. On this occasion Martin had decided to deal with him with him in the same manner as any other priest, and give him absolution for his sins, setting him a penance that he had to complete.
You often hear people repeat the adage that tells us, “Time can heal all hurts.” But, Martin found that this was not so true when it came to the hurt that filled his heart. Although years had passed by and the pain began to hurt less, it was never totally healed. The ‘Killer’ had confessed his crime to him unbidden, and he had appeared to have changed his previous lifestyle dramatically. He had begun to attend Church services and the holy sacraments almost daily. There were none other than Martin who knew of his crime, and many remarked about just how much he had quietened down since he had begun to attend the Church regularly.
There were some, however, who did not trust that young man, and Father Martin admitted that he was far from being a reformed man. The only difference between the old and the new, Martin said, was that he had become better at hiding his transgressions from public view. In fact, Martin was becoming increasingly suspicious about the young man’s true motives for apparently changing his lifestyle, and for spending so much time in his company. He was sure that all of this was simply to avoid suspicion of being directed at him and, by telling the priest his terrible secret under the seal of the confession, he ensured that his admission of guilt would not reach the ears of the law. By using the Confessional with the priestly brother of his victim he had ensured that Martin would not try to avenge his brother’s death murder.
After confessing his darkest secret to Martin, he had also made the priest aware of why he had committed such a terrible act. that the motive behind the terrible act had been jealousy. He said that Frank, being a handsome and easy-going young fellow had attracted the attention of a certain young lady from a good family. Unfortunately, Frank didn’t know that he had placed himself in competition with this young man, whose attention had been spurned by the same young lady. It was Frank who won through and was walking out with the young lady, and he had even been seen exchanging kisses with her. All these things helped stoke this young man’s jealousy and he sought vengeance. The ‘last straw’ that convinced him to get rid of Frank once and for all was when he personally witnessed them kissing.
He admitted to Martin that he armed himself with a long, sharp knife and hid in the hedgerow along the bog road, which he knew Frank would use to motorcycle home after meeting the young lady. He lay in wait until he heard Frank’s approach and saw the light from the motorbike as it shone on the road. Just as Frank was passing the hiding place his assassin sprang out from his lair, totally surprising Frank and forcing him to stop suddenly. Then, before Frank could recover his composure the assassin drove his knife into Frank’s back, killing him almost instantly. But, the young killer did not tell Martin what he had done with the body, and yet Martin was confident that he would say where he had disposed of the remains and give him the final closure he needed.
One evening, in the middle of Lent, Martin was walking along the very same road where his brother’s life had been so savagely taken. As he walked in the growing darkness, Martin heard the approach of a car behind him and he stopped so that he could allow the car to pass safely by. But, the car did not pass him and chose to stop on the road adjacent to where Martin was standing. The car’s window was wound down and the smiling face of the guilty man appeared, much to the priest’s loathing. Martin did not know why the man was on the same road as he, or why he had stopped to talk. “Good evening, Father,” he said with that sickening smile that Martin hated so much.
“Good evening,” replied Martin in a dry and unwelcoming tone.
The young man got out of the car and pointed to a lone tree, standing not far into the nearby bog. “Do you see that tree?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Martin.
“It is close to that tree that your brother is buried,” he said with absolutely no emotion in his voice.
Totally astonished by this sudden revelation, Martin’s mind was not quite thinking straight, and he replied, “What brother?”
“Your brother Frank, of course,” said the villain. “It was there that I buried the poor man after I had killed him.”
“Sweet Jesus! Merciful God!” screamed the priest. Then raising his eyes to heaven, he angrily added, “Thy will be done!”
Rushing at the villain Martin seized him by the lapels of his jacket and growled into his face, “You damned wretch of a man!You have admitted to shedding the blood of an innocent man who has been crying out to heaven for justice these last ten years or more. I am turning you into the police, now!”
He turned ashy pale as he faltered out a few words to say that, as a priest, Martin had promised not to betray him. ” That was under the seal of confession and under that seal, I can never speak of that deadly secret you admitted to. But, God is good, and you now admit your crime in the open, where the seal of confession does not hold me back. At last, I, the brother of your victim, will be able to avenge the innocent blood that you shed.”
The blood drained from the assassin’s face as Martin tightened his grip and pushed him into the car’s passenger seat. Martin climbed into the driver’s seat and re-started the engine. Totally overcome by events the captive killer did not try to resist while he was driven into the police station, where he was charged with murder and committed for trial.
Reports of Martin’s capture of his brother’s murderer spread far and wide. The Bishop of the Diocese summoned the young priest into his presence and arranged for a dispensation to be given to Martin with regard to the man’s confession. But, Martin did not need to use his dispensation.
Frank’s body was found in the place indicated by his murderer, and forensic science did the rest. The proof provided by the investigators was such that the jury was able to quickly find the killer guilty. The judge complimented Martin on his brave action and heroically observing the obligation of secrecy that bound him. Speaking to the press, the judge declared, “You have witnessed just how the Church of Rome believes that Confession is a sacred trust that cannot be broken. Even when the cause is the avenging of a brother’s murder, it is still an insufficient excuse for breaking that trust.”
I will admit that the following story is a very strange tale, but I can assure you that it is not a fiction, which has been dreamed up in my own imagination just amuse you. Most of my stories are, in fact, told to me by various people throughout this land, and I give you my oath that none of these stories differ in even the slightest way from the way in which they are given to me. Although the following story, which I am about to present to you is, perhaps, one of the most remarkable, it is also one of the best authenticated stories that I have ever heard.
The person who told this tale to me was my maternal grandfather and he never doubted, even for one moment, that it was not an accurate description of facts. However, I do recall my grandfather telling the story to me in a whispering tone, almost as if the tale was too solemn a story to be spoken about in the loudness of an ordinary conversation, and too mysterious to be told in a light or flippant way. When he told me this story, almost fifty years ago, my grandfather also told me that he did not want it spread far and wide. He thought it was better not to say too much about it, but those involved in the story are now long gone, bless their souls. But, I still feel that I cannot disclose the names of those who are involved in the story, and it is not necessary to do so to relate the story accurately since the facts of the story lose nothing by the omission of names.
One fine spring morning, not too many years ago, there were two young men who lived along the shores of Lough Neagh, and they took a boat and steered it to a fair being held on the opposite shore of the great lough. As is often the case with young men, however, they took a little bit too much whisky and Guinness at the fair, in addition to the amount that they had taken with them on the boat. These two young, intoxicated men set sail before a fair wind as they began on their return journey later that same evening. Their journey back would cause them to travel just over twelve miles across the waters of the lough. Meanwhile, in the small village that they called home the two men had left behind a close friend and associate, who had been unable to go to the fair with them. Instead, this young friend had gone to the bog for turf on that fair evening, just about half an hour after his two friends had set sail for home. With great industry the young friend soon filled his creel, and got it comfortably on his back, before he started for home.
As he followed the country track towards home he had an inexplicable impulse to look around. As he did so, the young turf collector saw, sitting on a small, heather-covered mound, his two young friends who had gone to the fair. But, unknown to the turf collector, the friends had left the fair twelve miles away only half an hour before. He could clearly see that the two young men had a bottle of whisky between them and were apparently enjoying themselves. As they had made merry and laughed loudly they had spotted their friend on his way home, and they signalled for him to come and join them.
Without any hesitation he made his way over to the mound, where he sat down to get the creel more easily off his back. But, as soon as he had removed the creel, his two friends had gone, and they were nowhere to be seen! There was no doubt in his mind that he had seen them plainly. Although he had not expected them to return so early, he was certain he had seen them and could not have been mistaken. He began to believe that they were trying to play a trick on him and he looked all round in the long heather bushes that stood behind the little clumps of turf, everywhere. But, his two friends could not be found no matter how hard he looked for them!
The entire event had astonished him at first, but he then became very frightened. Taking up his creel once again he hurried home and told everyone he met about what he had seen in the bog. Worried about his friends, the young turf collector anxiously gathered a few of his neighbours, and they all made their way to the lough shore to find out if the boat had returned, or not. It was not there. In fact, the boat was not discovered until the next morning, broken into hundreds of pieces of timber, floating in a little inlet almost ten miles further away! It was not until nine days afterwards, sadly, that the bodies of the two unfortunate young men who had travelled in the boat were finally washed ashore and retrieved.
“It is sinful and painful to take a pin, No matter how thick, No matter how thin,“
So, sang little Andy Smyth, in his loud and shrill voice.
“Jaysus, Andy. It’s bad enough listening to your singing without hearing your efforts at poetry,” laughed Harry Crowe as he patted little Andy’s flaxen-haired head in a friendly, mocking manner.
“Just talking of stealing,” said Charlie Brennan, dropping the pumpkin that he was carving into a Halloween lantern, “did I ever tell you boys about the day that I went down to old Pop Robinson’s orchard to steal apples, and came back past the black barn where the horse-thief is said to have hung himself years and years ago? The man knew that the ‘Peelers’ were after him, and that he’d be spending a long time in jail when he was caught. Even if the ‘Peelers’ didn’t get him the local farmers might, and they would string him up. Well, if I haven’t told you already, here’s a ghost story for you all, and I hope that it will prove to be a warning that you should never take anything that doesn’t belong to you, especially apples.
“Young Benny Evans and I were staying with our families at the hotel in Ardtermon that summer, and Pop Robinson’s farm was only about two miles away. He used to bring eggs and chickens and vegetables and fruit to the hotel. But, by God, he was one tight-arsed bollix of a man. Stingy is too mild a description for that fellow! He wouldn’t even give a child the bite of a rotten apple, and he made sure he took the last penny off you for anything you received. Benny grabbed a punnet of strawberries from off Pop’s wagon and the old devil trembled all over with anger, and he caught young Benny and dragged him to his parents and demanded the money from them. Oh, he was a regular old miser, with lots of money in his pocket and a halfpenny to spare. But, Pop had one of the largest and best apple orchards in the district, which was ripe for the taking. After the old man had embarrassed Benny over the strawberries and caused him to be punished for his efforts at petty thievery, the boy wanted revenge.
‘Let’s go down to Pop’s orchard some night and help ourselves,’ said Benny, with a mischievous smile on his face.
‘Dogs,’ said I warily.
‘There’s only the one,’ says Benny, ‘I know him, and so do you. Its old ‘Snapper’! I gave him almost all the meat we took for bait that day we went fishing and didn’t catch any thing, but a foundering.’
‘All right,’ says I.
“Then, on the night for the raid came about, Benny was unavailable. His cousins, two girls, had come down from Belfast to visit, and Benny had to stay home and to entertain them. Now, in those days, I didn’t have much time for girls and, afraid that I might be roped-in to help entertain them, I made myself scarce. I decided that I would go alone to Pop Robinson’s orchard and carry out the planned raid. It was a great night for the adventure and I remember that the moon shone so bright that it was almost as light as day. Almost without care, I strolled down the country road, whistling a merry tune, until I got within a half-mile of the famed orchard. It was then that I stopped making noise and walked as softly as possible, until I came to the first apple-tree. It didn’t take me but a minute to shin up that tree, where I filled my bag with fine, ripe ‘Beauty of the Bath’ apples, before I slid silently down the tree again. All the while that I was in that tree old ‘Snapper’ didn’t make an appearance. But, my first real difficulty came when I reached the ground and tried to lift the bag upon my shoulder, only to find that it was far too heavy for me to carry all the way back to the hotel. I was going to remedy the situation by dumping some of the apples out of the bag, until I suddenly remembered that if I made my way across the meadow to the boreen (country lane), I could make my way back to the hotel in half the time it would take me to go the way I had come.
“Comforted by this plan, I shouldered my load of apples, and was nearly across the meadow before I even thought about the haunted barn standing at the end of it. Now, it wasn’t exactly nice thought to recall for a young boy like me, but I wasn’t going to turn back now; ghost or no ghost. To encourage me, I tried to whistle again, when into my mind came that bloody song that Andy Smyth was trying to sing. Says I to myself, ‘That’s it, Charlie Brennan, you and your mates might think it’s great craic to help yourselves to other people’s apples, pears, and such things, but it’s just as much stealing as if you had gone into a man’s house and stole his coat.’ It doesn’t seem as bad when you’re going to raid an orchard, but when you’re returning, up a lonely road, all alone, at ten o’clock at night, with a lot of stolen apples on your back, and a haunted barn not far off, it seems to be a much worse situation.
“‘There it is,’ says Barney!”
“I kept a tight hold of the bag of apples and, when I faced the barn, I was determined I would whistle even if I was to die in the effort. But, wait until I tell you, boys, I don’t think any person could have told you what tune I whistled. I couldn’t tell you myself, because I was so terrified. But, I can tell you, my heart jumped in my chest when I passed that tumbled-down old building. Then, it appeared to come to a stop when, as I marched up the boreen, I heard a step behind me. In an instant I wheeled myself around, but there was nothing at all to be seen, although the moon still shone as bright as ever. Says I to myself, ‘Jaysus, Charlie, you must have imagined it,’ and I walked on at a slightly quicker pace. All the while I listened as intently as I possibly could and, sure enough, I could hear pat, pat, pat, as the step came after me. Once again I wheeled round, but I still saw nothing. Onward I continued to walk, feeling the weight of apples growing heavier and heavier with each step. Pat, pat, pat, came the step. I began to think that it did not sound like the step of a human being, and this made it all the more frightening.
‘It must be the ghost,’ I began to think to myself, and I don’t mind telling you, boys, I never was so frightened in all of my life. Even that time that I fell overboard was nothing compared to the terror I felt that night. In fact, I had made up my mind, when I reached the bridge that crossed the little river near our hotel that I would sprint the rest of the way home. For some reason, or other, before I got to that bridge, I said to myself, ‘Perhaps he wants the apples.’ I must have said the words out loud, though I didn’t mean to, because a hoarse voice, with a horrific laugh, answered ‘Apples!’
“I can tell you, boys, you never saw a bag of apples fly so quick and so far, and I wasted no time in making myself scarce. Over the bridge I went with the speed of lightning, and ran right into Barney Reagan, one of the hotel staff, who was coming to look for me. ‘There’s something following me,’ I gasped, ‘from the haunted barn! A ghost!’
‘Did you see it?’ says he to me.
‘No,’ says I, ‘though I turned around a dozen times to look for it. But I heard its footsteps going pat, pat, pat, behind me all the way.’
‘And it’s behind you now,’ says Barney, ‘there!’ he shouted loudly as he burst into laughter. I jumped about six feet off the ground with fright when Barney, roared again, and was pointing toward Pop Robinson’s tame raven! That sly old bird looked up at me, nodding its shining black head, and croaked ‘Apples!’ as it walked off. That damned bird had followed me all the way from the barn. Every time I that wheeled around quickly, it hopped just as quickly behind me, and so, of course, I saw only the long, dark road and the moonlight reflected on it. Let me tell you all that never again do I want to be so scared as I was that night. And, if ever any of you boys go for looking to take anything that belongs to another person, make sure that you don’t count me in.”
“What became of the apples?” asked Terry O’Neil.
“Now, Terry, if you had been there I could have told you,” said Charlie.
There was a time, and not too long ago, that the people were immersed in fairy-lore and superstitions. In our twenty-first century such things are laughed at, being considered simple superstition and old fashioned. Today, it is not considered ‘cool’ to talk about fairies and, in some circles, the word has a quite different and denigrating meaning. But, there are Irish people who believe in the ‘Fairy-World’ and the great things they are alleged to be able to do, and its on our knowledge of this world and its folk that others depend.
Evening time, as every Irish man and woman knows, is usually the period of the day when the fairy-folk choose to move from their raths and dells to new places of habitation. Furthermore, evening is the time usually selected by the fairies to indulge in their past-times and celebrations. There are many first-hand records from people who have seen the fairy-folk and witnessed the various frolics in which they indulge. From such records and witnesses has come the poetic and popular imagery that unites all to give us the depictions we have today.
The earliest records suggest that the most ancient and earliest settlers in Ireland were known as the ‘Tuatha de Danaan’. It is these ancient people who are thought to have been the first practitioners of druidism that brought natural and spiritual magic together. Tales tell us that these ‘Tuatha de Danaan’ were transformed into the fairy-folk at some remote time in the history of this island. It was at that time, too, that they were forced to live in underground places, within green hill-sides, raths and cairns. They were spread out in such numbers that even our most remote romantic dells and woodlands have become their most favoured haunts and are called by we mortals as ‘Gentle Places’. Moreover, it is known that these ‘Gentle Folk’ are also fond of living on the banks and little green hillsides that often lie beside gently flowing streams.
There must have been an enormous number of raths covering Ireland in those far-off times. This is evident from the large number of raths that remain, but the case is made stronger by the fact that the compound word Rath, Raw, Rah, Ray, or Ra is constantly connected to the names of over a thousand various localities within Ireland. It is known that the fairy-folk enjoy getting together in these places, but it has proved difficult to gather accurate information concerning the social life of such folk, including what amuses them most and what their leisure pursuits are.
Music, it appears, is one of their most favourite amusements and their music can be heard beside the raths on most fine evenings. But, the beauty of this music has a type of ‘syren’ effect upon mortals, which causes them to linger and listen to these delightful melodies. While danger may be very close at hand, the mysterious, magical music makes them oblivious to anything other than its entrancing strains. Occasionally, the mortals may find themselves benefitting from their encounter with the fairy-folk, who may heap gifts upon mortal beings. Such gifts may cure both men and women of their infirmities and diseases, while removing any deformities they may have, and ensuring that they do not encounter any disagreeable accidents or misfortunes. The fairies are also known to pass on their supernatural power to both men and women, and invisibly assist them in many aspects of their lives.
At the same time, it has not been unknown for fairies to have a malevolent and mischievous disposition. They have been known to abduct mortals on a frequent basis, so that they can serve some selfish and degrading service for their captors. It has been known for fairies to bring a sudden stillness to the energies of mortals and ruin any of their prospects for worldly happiness. Occasionally, it is believed, they chose to leave people with their life-long illnesses, inflicting sorrow and pain on individuals and families alike. ‘Fairy Doctors’ would often prescribe an offering of ‘Cow’s Beestheens’ (some of the thick new milk given by a cow after calving) to be poured on a rath, which is supposed to appease the anger of the offended sprites. There were, indeed, many similar practices that were considered by the ‘Fairy Doctors’ to be no less potent when they are correctly used.
Sig, or Síghe (Pron: Shee) is an Irish word that is used as the generic title that is applied to the fairy, or fairy-folk. They are spread throughout the entire island, and the nearby nations of Scotland, Wales and England, where they more commonly known as fairies, elves, or pixies. The male fairy is known as the ‘Fear Shee’, while almost every person recognises the ‘Banshee’ as being the woman fairy. There have been occasions when the term ‘Mna Shee’, or women fairies, has been used in certain circumstances to describe certain of the ‘Little People’.
It must be made clear, however, that the ‘Fear Sighes’ are chiefly alluded to in the lore of ancient and legendary times. The ‘Ban-Shighes’ are commonly recognised to be supernatural beings that can often be heard wailing for deaths that are about to occur.
Traditionally it is the males only that appear in the ranks of fairy soldier troops. Fine dressed fairy lords and ladies mingle indiscriminately with other fairy-folk who sing and dance at fairy places in the moonlight. They are, it appears, social beings whose halls are often filled with song and the strains of beautiful, rhythmic music. It is these songs and music that can entrap and transport the souls of mortals, filled with a delicious enthusiasm for the journey. The sounds cause the ear to tingle with excitement as the human listeners to those magical and melodious cadences, which haunt the memory and imagination for a long time afterwards.
In the silver beams of night, we mortals are often granted sight of shadowy troop of fairies as they flit between our eyes and the wildly shining orb that is the moon. He will see, as others have done, that these ‘gentle folk’ are especially fond of singing and dancing at the midnight hour. The wild almost mesmeric strains of their unearthly music can be heard coming from every recess in the ground, within every green hill-side, or tangled wood.
Because of the lengthened daylight hours in summer and autumn the fairy-folk choose not to undertake their usual revels. They seem to feel it is inappropriate on those bright nights to gather and conduct their dancing parties in the secluded vales, or on the lush green banks of streams where the gurgling water trickles along the sheltered courses. On occasion they choose to gather near the ivied walls of old castles, beside a lake or river, or quite often in the gloomy environment of a graveyard, under the walls of its ruined church, or over the cold, lonely tombs of the dead.
Generally, it is harvest time that appear to be the best time of the year to give us frequent glimpses of our Irish fairy-folk. But, at these times, it is also important that we remember our Irish fairy-folk are very jealous of their privacy and they take great exception to any mortal intrusion into their lives. It I not unknown for them in fact, to wreak vengeance on all those people who dare intrude into their gatherings without permission.
Tradition informs us that the wild harmonies that we hear carried on soft, gentle breezes are truly the murmuring musical voices of the fairy-folk as they travel from place to place. Their contests and celebrations may continue through the dark hours of the night, but the first glow of the morning sun provides them with a signal for all their festivities to cease. It is then that the fairy-folk return to their shady raths, deep caverns, rocky crevices, or old grass covered barrows, where their fabled dwellings are concealed from prying human eyes. When they arrive at, or depart from, any particular spot their quick movements through the air create a noise that resembles the loud humming of bees as they swarm to and from a hive. Sometimes we can see a whirlwind that lifts soil and loose leaves into the air, but these are also known to be raised by the passing of a fairy clan.
Some fairy-folk are heard and seen while they are out hunting, blowing their horns, cracking their whips, shouting their “Tally-Ho!”, while their horses’ hooves thunder in the air, and their dogs cry out as they chase their quarry over the land. These fairy-folk are better known as ‘Cluricaunes’ and they turn the rushes and the ‘boliauns’ (Ragwort) into fine horses. When the fairies sit astride these mounts they gallop in the hunt, or transport them in a body, or troop, from one place to another. Over hedges and ditches, walls and fences, brakes and briars, hills and valleys, lakes and rivers, they sweep with incredible speed and an airy lightness.
The strange sounds that are caused by crackling furze blossoms are often attributed to a fairy presence. They like to shelter beneath clumps of gorse thickets, because they love the scent that comes from their flowers, and they create trackways that will make passage much easier through the wiry grass that grows around the roots of these bushes. From out of the yellow cup-leaved blossoms they sip the sweet dew collected there. At the same time, the fairy-folk refresh themselves by sucking the dew drops from other leaves and flowers. They are so light-footed when they are dancing, in fact, that these de drops are scarcely shaken off, even during their wildest exertions.
Filled with a great passion and eagerness for music and dancing, the fair-folk will spend the entire night, without even stopping to take a breath, at their favourite jigs and reels. They will glide around the space in lines and in circles, dancing with each other using a great variety of steps and postures. Usually they are dressed in green clothes of various shades and hues, or sometimes they are dressed in white and silver-spangled clothing and wearing high-peaked or wide-brimmed scarlet caps on their heads. In the light of the moon they can be seen under the shade of thick, ancient oak trees, dancing on or around large globular toadstools, or umbrella-shaped mushrooms.
Interestingly, we rarely find our Irish fairy-folk regularly employed in any industrial pursuits, except for those that can be chiefly conducted indoors and do not take much exertion on their part. Their efforts are used in creating items pleasing to young Irish girls, or thrifty housewives, but their scarcity is evidence of the amount of effort put into creating them. For the fairy-folk, however, it is pleasure and social enjoyment that are the delights that chiefly occupy their time, much as it does with various elements in our society. Yet, there is no need to be envious of these folks for it is only at a distance that the fairies appear to be graceful or handsome, although there clothing is always made from rich material of a fine texture.
It appears to be the habit of the Irish fairy-folk to frequently change shape, which allows them to suddenly appear and, just as suddenly vanish. Surprisingly, these elven-folk when you look closely at them, are generally found to be aged looking, withered, bent, and to having very ugly features. This is especially true of the men, while the female of the species are endowed with characteristics that give them a rare beauty in many areas and to these the little men always pay the greatest attention. But, because of their appearance, ordinary Irish people believe that they are a mix of human and spiritual natures. It is said also that their bodies are not solid but are made from some substance that we mortals are unable to feel when we touch.
It is generally agreed that these gentle-folk are filled with benevolent feelings or great resentment, depending on the circumstances of the moment. Although, during the day, these folk are invisible to humans they continue to see and hear all that takes place among men, especially when it concerns those matters in which they have a special interest. Cautious people are always anxious to ensure that they have a good reputation among the fairies and do all in their power to maintain a friendly relationship with them. It is a deeply held belief that the only means of averting the anger of the fairy-folk is always to be mannerly and open minded. This means taking care in all the actions you undertake, for example you should not strain potatoes, or spill hot water on, or over the threshold of a door because thousands of spirits are said to congregate invisibly at such a place, and to suffer from such careless actions. It was once common for a drinking person to spill a small portion of draught on the ground as an offering to the ‘good-people’.
The ordinary Irish folk have formed an ill-defined belief that the fairy-folk are like the fallen angels, in that they were driven from a place of bliss and condemned to wander this earth until the final day of judgement. The fairies themselves are believed to have doubts about their own future condition, although they do have high hopes of one day being restored to happiness. A mixture of good and evil balances their actions and motives, making them as vindictive in their passions as they are frequently humane and good in what they do. It is not unknown, for example, that desperate battles do take place between opposing bands that are hostile to each other. They meet, like the knights of old, armed from head to foot for combat. The air, witnesses have said, bristles with their spears and their flashing swords, while their shining helmets and bright red coats gleam in the bright sunshine.
Superstition is, and will probably remain, one of the major characteristics of the Irish people. One of the greatest sources of superstition, however, and one which has been the most productive of what are styled “well-founded and authenticated stories of supernatural occurrences,” is that ever changing ‘monster’ that is known in all its forms by the title of “Remarkable or Curious Coincidences.”
When events, which are precisely similar in detail, occur, they are considered coincidental. Some may consider them to be remarkable, given that these events are usually simple and ordinary. But, if these precisely similar events were repeated then they were considered to be a wonder. Quite recently, I was given an excellent example of this when I heard mention of a particularly curious coincidence having occurred not far from my home. It was the story of three men having been found drowned at various times during one winter season. Each body was found in the same river, at virtually the same place, and each wore two shirts. From that time it became a very strong belief among the locals that wearing two shirts was very unlucky.
Some people would suggest, however, that those people who would allow themselves to be guided by such beliefs would find their lives very burdensome. To be guided in their actions by these observations would require them to be in a state of constant alertness for the rest of their lives. The following story will, for instance, demonstrate the necessity of a person getting to know the names of fellow travellers, in case anyone with the name of Paddy Murphy be among them.
There was a time when the children in a large inland town rarely if ever saw the sea, unless they went on a day excursion organised by a local church group. In many of these seaside resorts enterprising persons often organise boat trips for fishing, sight-seeing, or simply for the experience of being on the open water. This was such in a resort that was, at one time, reachable by train from our home town. On one September morning a small pleasure boat with forty-one persons on board set out to travel down the Lough to the sea. It was a windy day, but not stormy enough to give any concern. When the boat reached the middle of the Lough the boat was overturned and only one man was saved. This fortunate man was called Paddy Murphy, a passenger on an excursion from m home town. Less than ten years after this incident a similar fate befell the twenty-five passengers aboard a small excursion craft. Again, only one man survived the incident, and he was called Paddy Murphy.
There are people who put a lot of credence in such coincidences, while others have belief in such things at all. Some people who have heard this story actually fear to trust their lives on any kind of boat with any man called Paddy Murphy. A little local knowledge and calm reflection, however, would go quite a way to removing such apprehensions. There are very few, if any, events in this life that cannot be traced back to natural causes.
The name of Murphy is very common in my home town, and Patrick, shortened to Paddy, is of course a favourite Christian name throughout all Ireland. There is every possibility, therefore, that persons with the name of Murphy, and very possibly even Paddy Murphy, were lost amongst the passengers on each of those occasions. But, the fact that people from the same town were on the excursions on each of those days appears to have been overlooked, while the coincidence of the individual saved on each occasion being of the same name was recorded. The events could have been simply accounted for by the ordinary rules of calculating odds or chances. Where the name of Paddy Murphy was common, there was certainly a greater chance of a person of that name being saved than one of any other, and, as has been remarked previously, no notice was taken of just how many Paddy Murphys had perished in these events.
Many years ago, when we were holidaying in a quiet seaside resort in the south of the country, we discovered that time went very slowly and hung heavy on our hands. There were few young people of our own age to converse with, no suitable books to read, and nothing of any particular interest in the locality to excite our curiosity. What was worse, before leaving home we had promised to write to an old invalid lady and her two daughters and tell them about anything that occurred during our stay at this seaside retreat, but there was nothing that we could write about. After some time, something turned up and we greedily seized upon it. This became the subject of a letter, which long after being forgotten, has come into our possession once again through the hands of the elder of the two daughters, to whom it was addressed. When returning it she added a note that the letter had been the one thing that kept her mother throughout her life, which had now come to an end. Naturally, we were saddened by the news but the note she had written consoled us, especially because we had thought the letter, we had sent, to be anything but a brilliant. But you can judge for yourself.
“Dear Mrs. M —
“Since we arrived at this place, I have noticed that there are two ladies with wooden legs. These ladies have to be described separately, however, because the legs differ considerably in their character and, I am certain, in their price. Perhaps, it would be better to speak of them legs Number 1 and 2, with leg 1 consisting of a rounded black pin, similar to that of the old genuine wooden-leg type, which is less common than it used to be. The leg itself is very well made and it does not pretend to be anything but what it is, a simple, nondescript wooden leg as that anyone would recognize. But it must be said, it does not form an entire leg, and it goes only as high as the lady’s knee. I suppose we should correctly call it a wooden half-leg. Anyway, this wooden half-leg belongs to a smart, well-dressed young lady, who stumps about the place with a certain degree of graceful beauty, although she must expend considerable exertion.The lady’s knee appears to rest on a form of a cushion, causing the lower part of the limb to project rearward a little, but not in a too obvious manner. Thanks to her long dress, the real leg and foot are to a certain extent hidden from view. But an observer can see a kind of jerking out of the foot, every time her red petticoat and tucked-up dress behind moved.
‘While feeling some sympathy that a person so young and so beautiful is afflicted by what appears to be a terrible misfortune, it is quietly encouraging to see how she smartly goes about her daily tasks while wearing that wooden leg. She is always brightly dressed, usually wearing a stylish hat with a delicate feather, and with her dress tucked-up, she walks at a good pace, laughing, chatting, and as full of high spirits as if nothing was the matter with her. Alongside two young-lady companions, she walks daily on the coastal promenade that overlooks the shingly beach of the resort. Naturally, it is not good manners for anyone to openly notice another person’s infirmity, and because nobody pays any attention to it her life-affirming sprightliness is unhindered. From the bay window of our apartment, which gives a commanding view of the promenade from one end to the other. This has given me an excellent opportunity to observe how cleverly she manages her wooden limb. But before continuing, it might be best to say something about the other artificial leg.
“The best thing that can be said about ‘leg two’, as I have called it, is that it is an ‘ambitious’ leg. It is a false leg that makes a not very successful attempt to appear to be real. The person who owns this leg is a somewhat unfashionable lady. She is a very dull sort of person who has a permanently sad expression on her face. I’ve heard the remark that she has a face that looks like a smacked arse. But undoubtedly, this lady’s leg had been amputated above the knee, as a result of being seriously injured in some terrible accident. Watching her as she walks along with a halt in her step, I can almost feel the pain that this lady has experienced, her sufferings, of her unfulfilled hopes in life, and her constant discomfort. I can also imagine the trouble that this woman had in finding a good manufacturer of artificial legs and, when she found one, how she looked over an assortment to find one that might be suitable. Can you imagine how she felt when she had chosen a suitable pattern of leg and had to be measured for a leg of the same type? Imagine, also, the lady’s servant coming into the parlour, and announcing, “Excuse me, ma’am, but the man has come with the new leg you ordered.” Next, think of her taking the leg upstairs to her room and trying it on for size! How awkward did she feel when she first heard that stump, stump, as she walked across the floor. It must have taken weeks before the leg became familiar to her and she could wear it for prolonged periods every day.
“Now, I know that I said this artificial leg is to a certain extent a failure, but I have to say that it is more fit for purpose than if it had been an unyielding wooden pin. The opinion I formed, therefore, is that there is a deficiency in the way she walks. While the heel goes down, the forepart of the foot does not fall or take the ground neatly. I am informed that this all depends on the arrangement and easy working of the springs and other machinery of the false leg. You could have a five-pound leg or a ten-pound leg, or even a twenty or thirty-pound leg, according to the nature of the springs, pulleys, straps, and wheel-work it has. For all that I can tell, the leg in question was a five-pound leg, for it does not appear to be heavier.
“One thing is for certain in this matter, however, and that is that trying to get it all done on the cheap is not good. If you want an artificial leg that will look and act as much as is possible like a real leg, my advice would be to not go for the cheapest product and buy yourself the best article available. My father told me the story of a man who had lost his leg in battle. He bought an artificial leg, which appeared to be so real and worked perfectly through the placement and quality of springs, etc. That man was able to ride horses, dance, and do all the things he could do before he lost the leg.
“When you consider the two cases of these ladies with artificial legs that it must strike you, as it did me, that it is all very odd. Not so long ago it would have been no rare spectacle to see old soldiers and sailors with wooden or false legs, but seldom any other person. It was very rare for a civilian to get their leg so badly shattered that they needed amputation, but women in such difficulty almost never occurred. Except on rare occasions, civilians did not get their legs shattered, ladies almost never. The progress of transportation these days appears to have changed all that. Accidents, blunders and sheer carelessness have caused the number of people who need artificial legs, of one kind or another, to grow considerably. Travellers are now in the same bracket as military men when it comes to the likelihood of losing a limb, and it is fortunate that mechanical science continues to keep pace with these disasters. Lately, great improvements have been made in the design and construction not only of artificial legs, but of hands and arms and, with good care and a suitable expenditure, the horrors of mutilation are greatly reduced.
“The modern artificial leg-makers should be thought of as being public benefactors since such titles will not make us less inclined to sympathize with those young ladies who suddenly suffer some sort of calamity that necessitates amputation of the leg and its replacement with an artificial leg. All fashionable ladies take pride in the neatness of their and feet because these are usually the main areas to be criticized. Unfortunately, the acquisition of an artificial leg of any description ends all that. It’s sad to think that there will be no more dancing or flirting, or hooking up with parties of young gentlemen, or hopes of marriage. There is also the personal inconvenience to be thought about, the unbuckling of the leg at night when going to bed and having to hop about or use a crutch when the leg is off. Putting on the leg in the morning and, when you sit down, you always must consider how the leg is to be adjusted. Going up and down stairs, the real leg first at every step, and the artificial leg is brought up behind it. The unpleasantness of ordering boots and shoes, and the still greater unpleasantness of being generally pitied by people.
“These were just some of the thoughts that passed through my mind. But, the one thing that puzzled me was, how did it happen that the young lady with leg number one was always so happy-looking? All my preconceived notions about losing a leg were turned upside down. I began to think how you and your sister would think it an utter calamity if you and your sister were left stumping down the street to church with an artificial leg, even a good ten-pound leg full of springs. But here, to my amazement, there is a sweet, happy young lady going about with a wooden leg of the simplest structure, and she appears not to be affected in any with her misfortune. So, I began to think, that this lady’s conduct is a fine example of philosophy and faithful resignation. She knows full well that she is destined to be lame all her life, and yet she submits to her fate with good grace, putting a pleasant face on the matter. Although deprived of certain hopes of happiness that most girls her age and position have, she has instead learned to overcome her misfortune by simply saying, “Thy will be done.”
“This is the conclusion that I have come to, regarding the young lady, and I will admit that the cheerful manner with which she endures her infirmity does my own spirit good. This poor young girl is a practical example of resignation. It appears that she is saying to me and others, “You pretend to have troubles and tribulations, but look at me! You have been spared all the discomfort of having a wooden leg.” That makes me feel happier than I might otherwise be. So, we learn that Providence, while sending us misfortunes, beneficently sends consolations, and in all the circumstances we find ourselves we are not without reasons to be thankful.”