O’Hara The Fairy Man Part III

Fairy ManSo,” he said, without any introduction, “you’ve lost your butter.”

“Yes,” I replied, “it is certainly gone.”

Well, if you want me to, I will get it back for you,” he said in a matter of fact way. “My name is O’Hara, and I live at the ‘White Glen’, where I am known to the people as ‘The Fairy Man.’ I am able to find things that have been stolen, for I carry the ‘garvally’.” (This was an implement like a Shepherd’s Crook which was carried by magicians and holy men, and was said to have mystical powers)

“Is that right?” I remarked with a disbelieving tone of voice, “Sure, you must be a very clever man, but can you get my butter?”

“Have no doubt of it,” said O’Hara, “if it is in the country at all, then I will get it back for you.”

Naturally, being a native of the area I had heard about the ‘garvally’ on previous occasions, when it was described to me as “a crooked thing like the handle of an umbrella, covered with green baize.” It was used in bygone years for swearing upon and, it was said to be, “ a terrible thing, for if you swore falsely and it was around your neck, your mouth would turn to the back of your head, or you’d get choked in such a way as you’d never fully recover.” In recent times it had, however, lost much of its virtue and fame, through so many wastrels putting it around their necks and swearing to a deliberate lie, without suffering any visible harm.

As for O’Hara, he made no strange demands. He simply requested that he be given a deep plate, some water and salt, with a little of the cow’s milk. When these were provided, he began by asking my wife and I to come forward a little. He then asked our names, if I was the owner of the cow, how long I had had her, if that woman was my wife, when we had lost our butter, and if we suspected any person who might have taken it. To all these questions I gave the necessary answers, but to the last of these I told him that I did not believe in witchcraft.

“Don’t you believe in fairies?” he asked.

“Not Much,” said I.

“No matter,” said O’Hara, “maybe before I’m done you will begin to believe in them.”

Turning back to the plate he proceeded, in a very solemn manner, to pour some water into the plate on three individual occasions, following this procedure: He would say “In the name of the Father,” and add a drop; then, “in the name of the Son,” and another drop; finally, “in the name of the Holy Ghost,” and the third drop would be poured. He then proceeded to add the milk in the same manner, and finally sprinkled in the salt, using the same formula. O’Hara now stirred the mixture three times with his finger, repeating the words as before, and asked us both to do the same. I hesitated to do this, because I did not want him to think that I had any faith in the process, by taking an active part in it. But, O’Hara convinced me to act against my scruples by asking me if what he was doing is not being done for a very honourable reason. I could do nothing else but agree that, so far, I saw nothing very objectionable in what he was doing. My wife, of course, had no such scruples and eagerly joined with O’Hara to persuade me to do what I had been asked.

His next step was to make the sign of the cross over the plate with his hands, and then, waving them over his head, he made several curious figures in the air while muttering some kind of language that I could not fully understand. From the odd sound and syllable that I could catch, it sounded as if he was talking some kind of vulgar Latin. Gradually, the man became very excited, raving like a demon, stamping with his feet, and shadow-punched with his fists. As he spoke, it was if he was pleading rather than opposing or issuing commands. All the while his eyes appeared to be fixed upon and following the motions of some being he was talking to, but we could not see. Suddenly he gave out an unearthly scream, as if in an agony of terror and pain. At the same time, he held up his hands as if he was warding off some kind of threat, retreating backwards around the room as if being by some kind of implacable enemy. Gradually, he returned to the place that he had left and, turning himself to the four cardinal points, he made the sign of the cross at each turn after dipping his fingers in the mixture. He blessed himself devoutly by anointing his forehead, shoulders, and breast. As he regained his self-possession, O’Hara raised his hands and eyes toward heaven in an attitude of fervent thankfulness, and wiped the perspiration which streamed profusely from his brow with the cuff of his coat. As he gradually recovered his breath, he moved from a state of the greatest possible excitement, and became calm and collected once again.

In my mind, all of this was an act, albeit was done extremely well. I must confess, however, even though I was convinced that it was all false, the entire show made a very powerful impression upon me. In truth I did not feel at all comfortable with this play acting. I did not like the idea of being in the same room with the evil one, who to all appearances was chasing my friend, the magician, around it. I began to feel a sudden and indescribable sensation of dread creeping over me, and there were more than a few drops of perspiration that formed on my brow. My hair, of which I do not have very much, mysteriously began to stiffen and to become wiry. My wife clung closely to my side seeking protection, and the great agitation in her mind could be felt through the heavy pumping of her heart, which in that moment matched the beating of my own.

Having taken a short pause, the magician asked for a ribbon, which he immediately passed over his forehead and around his head. Bringing the ends to the front, he knotted it over his nose before twining it round his fingers in the manner that children call a cat’s cradle. O’Hara knelt down and peered through the ‘cradle’ attentively into the mixture, which I imagined at the moment fermented and sent up a blue vapour.

After gazing a few seconds in this manner he cried out “Aha! She that has your butter is not far off! Bring me a lighted candle.

We hurried to do as he asked and, when it was brought to him, he placed the candle in the plate. “Now,” he said, “both of you kneel down here. Do as I do, and say as I say, and we’ll have her brought here directly.”

“No!” I exclaimed loudly, “we will not.” By this time, I thought we had gone far enough. I was convinced that if what we were engaged in was not an unholy act, it was at least a piece of gross deception, and I did not want to continue with the charade, or give it any authority through my further participation.

“Why?” O’Hara exclaimed in surprise, “do you not want to get your butter back?”

Yes,” I told him, “I would like to have my butter returned, but I don’t want it done through a charm or other black art.”

“What is being done here is undoubtedly a charm,” he said, “but it is done with the best of intentions, and I have done the same for others who are as every bit as good as you ever were.”

“So much the worse for them,” I replied, “that they would allow such profane things to be done, and I am sorry that any person would be so wicked, or so foolish, as to encourage you in your tricks. Allow me to tell you that I neither like you, nor your trickery, and the sooner you get about your own business the better.”

The conjuror jumped to his feet angrily, blew out the candle, grabbed hold of the plate, and attempted to throw the contents into the fireplace. My wife, however, was in no mood to have her hearth wet, and she took the plate from him, putting it in a place of safety. He was very angry and began to shout, accusing me of allowing him to take a great deal of trouble on my account, and he insisted on getting on with his task. But, I was determined not to give in to him, and, being considerably upset and annoyed by what had transpired between us, I insisted that he get off my property, and I left him to what was asked of him.

A few moments after I left O‘Hara I heard the noise of a violent altercation and scuffle, and I was loudly called on for help. Rushing to the scene of altercation, I found my wife holding O’Hara tightly by the neck, and preventing him from leaving.

“What is going on now, for God’s sake?” I shouted.

“Your man, here” said she, “when he leaving us, decided to take a glowing coal out of the grate, and then he told me to take care of my children.”

Of course, O’Hara strongly denied all this, until he was confronted by the young girl, whom my wife employed as a servant. I immediately threatened to call the police and to have him charged as an impostor. But, he began to stammer, and finally acknowledged that he had said those things to my wife. He quickly added that he had meant no harm by it. “And sure,” said O’Hara, “there’s absolutely no harm in advising you to mind them well. For, just as easily as one of your cows could get injured, so maybe your children can be just as easily injured.”

“You’re not treating me well,” he continued; “I came here at the request of a friend to try to do you a good turn, and I asked for nothing in return, yet now you’re putting me out of your house. But, I’ll tell you that you will be happy to see me yet. Just take my advice and never throw out your Sunday’s ashes until Tuesday morning, and always sweep your floor in from the door to the hearth.” And, with those final words, away he went.

My heart now began beating a lot easier, because I thought that we had finally got rid of the ‘Fairy Man’. This, however, was not to be the end, for I was to be mystified even further. When I looked at the plate over which he had performed his incantations, I discovered that the contents were thick, yellow, and slimy, with a sediment that looked like globules of blood at the bottom. This was something extraordinary, because I had watched the man very closely, and I did not see him put anything into the plate but the milk, water, and salt.

The end of the month now drew near, and our bread still had no butter to spread upon it. This was the reason why almost every morsel of bread seemed to stick in my poor dear wife’s throat. She, of course, did not possess the same scruples of conscience as I had, and she was of the opinion that the cow had been bewitched. She would remind me of my faults by complaining, “Here we are day after day, losing our income when all our problems could have been solved but for your squeamishness, in not allowing the ‘Fairy Man’ to finish his task.”

She would harangue me almost every day in this way, and did not hesitate to call me a fool, an eejit, and a complete ass. I must admit that nearly every one of my neighbours were much of the same opinion as she was. One of my neighbours, a respectable farmer’s wife, was particularly tenacious about her opinion. One evening, while visiting, she said, “My Robin was down in Sligo, and he heard that if you got the coulter of a plough (a vertically mounted component of many plows that cuts an edge about 7 inches (18 cm) deep ahead of a plowshare), and made it red-hot in the fire while you were churning, the butter would come back. Or, if you chose to churn on Sunday morning before the lark begins to sing, you will surely get the butter back.”

“Don’t you tempt me anymore, more with your spells, for I will not stand for it,” said I, impatiently. “I will never swop my peace of mind for a pound of butter, if I should never eat another morsel.” But, in all honesty, my peace of mind was already gone. The continual urging and yammering, that I was being subjected to, had made me heartily sick. Inwardly, I had made mind up to sell the cow at the first opportunity I had, and thereby end the matter completely.

In the afternoon of May eve, I had reason to leave home for a very short time, and, when I returned, I was rather surprised to find all the windows in the house closed, as well as the door locked against me. I knocked on the door and called out for someone to let me in, but I received no answer. I could, however, hear the noise of churning going on inside, and the truth of what was happening flashed across my mind. Annoyed by my wife’s belief in such superstitious nonsense, I went to the garden to await the result of her ritual. In a very short period of time she came running out of the house like a demented person, clapping her hands and screaming, “Oh! we’ve got the butter, we’ve got the butter!”

As I went into the house I found a coulter of a plough fizzing and sparkling at a white heat in the fire, an ass’s shoe under the churn, my worthy neighbour standing over it, panting and blowing from the exertions she had made on my behalf, and wiping the dew-drops from her really lovely face. Meanwhile, in the churn, floating like lumps of gold in a sea of silver, as fine a churning of butter as ever we had been blessed with. Well, I will admit that I was gobsmacked by the entire episode, and when I was asked, “Now, is there no witchcraft or magic in a red-hot coulter?” I could scarcely muster up courage to utter “No.

I tried, in vain, to protest that the butter came back to us because “Brownie” had got back to her pasture. It was all, I argued, because of the change in her feeding, from dry fodder to the mellow and genial production of spring grass. The loss, I said, was the result of changing her feed from grass to hay. In the face of what had happened in the house, however, it was futile to argue such a case. Everyone was convinced that it was all due to O’Hare’s incantations, or the magic of the red-hot coulter, the influence of the ass’s shoe, or the tremendous pommelling the milk had been subjected to.

A few days after the event, I had the opportunity to talk to a knowledgeable man who was a herdsman in charge of a large stock farm. He patiently listened to my story and when I had finished he burst into hearty laughter. “Dear God,” said he, “I took you for a sensible man, and never thought for one minute that you would believe in such nonsense.”

“Some time ago I would sooner have believed that black was white,” I told him. “But how can I ignore the chain of circumstantial evidence that I have witnessed? Firstly, ‘The Hawk’ coming to me with her high priced geese, then the gypsies and the piper, and finally losing my butter just at that moment.”

“It is very easy to account for it,” he said. “In the first place, you took your cow from grass and fed her on hay.”

“Yes, we did. But, we made sure that she had plenty of winter cabbages, and we gave her boiled potatoes.”

“Just the thing. Cabbage is good for helping to provide plenty of milk, but not for butter. I bet you that you gave her the potatoes warm.”

“Yes.”

“And she got a scour?”

“Indeed she did, and her hair fell off.”

“So I thought. And afterwards she got in good condition?”

“Yes.”

“Oh! aye, she put her butter on her ribs. Did you kill a pig at Christmas?”

“I did.”

“Where did you put your bacon?”

“Why, under the shelf in the dairy.”

“Now the truth is out! Never as long as you live put meat, either fresh or salted, near your milk-vessels. If you do, you will surely spoil your milk and lose your butter.”

“This may account for my loss, but what have you to say to its coming back?”

“Why, what’s to stop it, when your bacon is in the chimney and your cow at grass?”

“But the red blobs in the plate, and O’Hare fighting the devil for me, what do you say to that?”

It was at this point that the man burst into such a violent fit of laughter that I really thought he would actually snap the waistband of his trousers. “O’Hare! ha! ha!— O’Hare! ha! ha! ha!— sure he’s the greatest villain that ever breathed fresh air. He came to me one time when I had a cow sick, and said she was enchanted by the fairies, and that he would cure her for me. He began with his tricks with the milk and water, just the same as he did with you. But, I watched him very closely, and when I saw the smoke rising out of the plate, I got him by the neck, shook a little bottle of vitriol out of the cuff of his coat, and took a paper of red earthy powder out of his waistcoat pocket.”

I was both shocked and confounded by what he told me. Could I have been made a complete fool of by the ‘Fairy Man’? Even the thought of this made me feel humiliated, and I began to wish that I had remained in complete ignorance. On reflection, however, I had every reason to congratulate myself that it had been only a temporary lapse in my beliefs. I had been right in my original opinion, that, except the witchery of a pair of blue languishers, or the fairy spell of a silver-tongued siren, there is now no evil of the kind to be believed in.

O’Hara – The Fairy Man Part II

Corpse HandThere are, however, exceptions. In several districts in Ireland, especially in the west of the country there are those who still believe that evil-disposed persons can deprive their neighbours of their milk or butter. This is said to be done in various ways, the most usual of these being the use of a corpse hand, which is kept shrivelled and dried to stir the milk and to gather the butter. Another method that is adopted is to follow the cows on a May morning, and gather the soil which drops from between their cloots (the two halves of a cloven hoof). Yet another strategy is said to be by collecting the froth, which forms on a stream running through their pasture, and milking your own cow on it. While some insist that these means are so simple that their absurdity is enough to refute any belief in them.

Yet, such things are still firmly believed in. Allow me to demonstrate that this is indeed the case, and also, at the same time, expose the trickery and sleight of hand by which some criminal types succeed in throwing dust into the eyes of the native population. I will relate to you an event in which I was personally concerned, and to disclose the matter fully in all of its ramifications, twists and turns. I must confess that I was, for a short time, almost inclined to believe myself to be the dupe of a fairy man.

It has been quite a number of years since I lived in the area known as the “Vale of the Blackwater”. It is still well known to be good pasture land, and I owned a good cow who provided me with a plentiful supply of milk and butter, which were of excellent quality, and helped greatly in contributing to the material comforts of my family. That cow was a beautiful and a gentle creature, which, I was certain, would be the beginning of a large herd of similar cattle that would help me build a profitable and extensive dairy.

Around the ‘Blackwater’ there was a very strong belief that an evilly-disposed person possessed the power to deprive a dairy farmer of his milk and butter, and I heard many complaints about such things happening. The majority of these complaints named the main culprit to be a woman who lived in the vicinity, and who was known locally as “The Hawk,” She was a handsome, middle-aged woman who lived in reasonably comfortable circumstances, but there was a fire in her eye and a terrible sharpness in her tongue that justified the name locals had given her. Her husband was a small farmer, but there were many who suspected him of being concerned in a murder some years before this. She, however, was a reputed to be a witch, and the entire family were disliked and avoided by the people who lived in the area.

One cold January morning, while working outside, I was informed that a woman had come into the kitchen of the house. She had simply sat herself down at the kitchen table and began to watch the motions of the family, without stating the purpose for which she had come. When I went down to the house, I found her sitting at the table, neatly dressed, but with a very sinister expression on her face that made me feel uncomfortable from the beginning. On asking her the purpose of her business with me, she told me that she had heard I was in the market for some geese, and that she had a few birds to dispose of.

How many?” I asked.

A goose and a gander,” she replied tersely.

“How much do you want for them?”

When she told me the price she was asking I was taken aback and exclaimed, “How Much?“ Her price was almost three times the usual market price and that was why I was so shocked. Then, I thought that I had, perhaps, made a mistake in the number, and I asked her again, “Why, how many have you?”

“A goose and a gander,” said she.

“And what kind of an eejit do you suppose me to be, that I would agree to give you such a price as that?” I said abruptly.

“Oh!” said she, “they are good geese, and only I wish to help you out I would not offer them to you at all.”

“Indeed! I am much obliged by your good wishes,” said I, “but as I think you want to make a fool of me, you should take your geese to another market. Rest assured I will not take them at any price, and the sooner you take yourself off with them the better.”

The woman appeared to be highly offended by what I said and, as she got up from the table to leave, I heard her mutter something about my being sorry for refusing her offer. The woman left the house angrily and it was only after she had left, that I discovered it had been “The Hawk” who had favoured me with the visit.

On that same morning, a gang of ‘travellers’, consisting of tinkers, chimney-sweeps, a couple of beggars, and a piper, had pitched their tent on the road side, a short distance from my home. The members of this group had spread themselves out, over the surrounding district in pursuit of some work they could do. All of this coincided with it also being churning-day, and my wife had set up everything in their proper order, and she was proceeding well with her work. The milk had cracked, the butter was expected, and suddenly the sound of music could be heard throughout the farm. The piper, who was a member of the party of ‘travellers’ had come to the farm to give us a sample of his musical skill. He played for us all a few planxties and hornpipes, was duly rewarded for his efforts, and he left. Shortly after he was gone, two buxom beggars, both brown and bare-legged, with cans in their hands, kerchiefs on their heads, and huge massive rings on their fingers, came and demanded alms. They were told that there was nothing then ready, and one of them immediately asked a drink.

I have absolutely nothing to offer you but water,” said my wife, “until the churning’s done.”

It’s Well water,” said my wife proudly and went to get some. On getting the water the beggar-woman took a sup or two, put the remainder in her can, and then went off. Strange as it may seem, my butter went off too. From that day in January until the following May eve, not a morsel did we get from our beautiful ‘Brownie’.

Because I did not put any faith in tales of witchcraft, I was willing to attribute this difficulty to some natural cause affecting the cow. But, in all this time the milk did not show any perceptible change in either its quantity or quality. At the same time, the cow did not exhibit any symptoms of being sick or out of sorts, except that she began to cast her hair. We made sure that she was well supplied with good fodder, comfortably lodged, well attended to, and every possible care was taken of the milk. But all these precautions served no purpose, because the butter was not forthcoming and, because I did not believe in witchcraft, I was laughed at by my neighbours.

Your cow is bewitched,” they cried, “and you may as well throw spit against the wind, if you think you will get your butter back without first getting the charm.”

Some said “The Hawk” had it, while others said that the gipsy took it away in her can, and some others suggested that it had followed the piper. None of these things seemed to matter, because I still had to eat my bread without butter, and brood over my loss, and not one word of sympathy did I get. There were, however, various counter-charms recommended for me to employ. “Send for Andy, the Scotsman from the other side of the Lough,” said one, “he fears neither man nor beast, and he will surely get it for you.”

“Send for ‘The Hawk,’ and clip a bit off her ear,” said another neighbour.

“Let them keep their mouths full of water, and never speak while they are churning,” said a third.

The one thing that I did learn at this time was that there were as many ways of getting it back, as there were of losing it, and all of them equally simple, and probably just as efficient. In this way matters continued until the early part of April when, one morning, a man called to the house wanting to see me. He was a bright, active, and handsome fellow, who was small in stature and not richly dressed. He was a sinewy man, well built and strong looking, with that tanned wrinkled skin of a man who is used to being outdoors. He was well clothed in tweed jacket, well worn cord trousers, and a pair of black working boots. His cloth cap sat at an angle on his head and he had a good pair of boots on his feet. There was certainly no shyness in demeanour and he possessed a certain look about himself, which seemed to say, “I’d have you know that I am actually a clever man.”

O’Hara – The Fairy Man

Part 1

Spirit CouncilIf we were we to believe the stories and old wives’ tales handed down to us by our grandmothers we would not be faulted for thinking that, at one time, Ireland was a land controlled by spirits and demons. Ireland is filled with tales concerning witches, warlocks, white ladies, fairies, and leprechauns. It seems that the earth, the air, and the sky, were peopled by these mysterious beings at one time. In every crumbling and desolate cottage on the uninhabited moorland or woodland lived a witch or warlock. Elsewhere, the margins of our beautiful loughs, the hearts of our silent and isolated glens, the recesses of our romantic mountain valleys, the mould covered walls of every ancient ruin, and the mystic circle of each hill-fort, were said to be the chosen to all sorts of strange, unearthly beings.

These beliefs were not just held to by the ignorant and uneducated peasantry. In fact, many who were well educated and moved in more enlightened circles within society were equally infected by such beliefs. There were very sensible and well-informed people in the land who turned a deaf ear to any voice of reason and the dictates of common sense. In fact, such people would more easily doubt the truth of the Holy Bible than the existence of supernatural beings influencing life. The stories of such beings had become so interwoven in the superstition of the entire people, and social system, that no event could happen to a person during their lifetime in which the ‘Good People’ were not implicated, either for good or evil.

If the head, or a member, of a leading family died, the wail of the banshee was sure to be heard in the twilight calling for the ‘Death Coach’ to come. Should a favourite child in a family be brought down by disease, it was believed that the beautiful, beloved child had been changed for a squalling, ravenous, and decrepit starveling. If a farmer’s cattle ailed, or his milk cows were not productive, it was likely that the cattle had been touched by the fairies or bewitched. Should your much beloved wife be suddenly taken away from you, it was alleged that the fairies were the culprits. They took her in her most kind, loving, and the most interesting persona, and left you a bland, unattractive, wooden person in her stead.

I can recollect clearly the thrill of fear, mingled with a certain amount of pleasure, with which I listened to the tales of a great aunt. It is over fifty years since that time, when my great aunt would visit and warm herself at my mother’s fireside. She would chat idly over a cup of sweet tea and speak to me about all the spiritual beings that she had knowledge of. She was an educated woman, and very pious, but she would sooner doubt herself than the existence of witches and fairies. Her mind and memory was a fountain of knowledge and a store-room of memories of those occasions when they had played a role in the life of her family. These stories I then began to believe in most implicitly, particularly because in many instances the people involved were also members of my own family. For instance, she told me the story of how her grandfather, one autumn morning, detected a large hare, which was in the act of milking one of his cows. He fired his gun at thief, wounding it, and when he tracked the blood trail left behind, he discovered that it was flowing from the thigh of an old woman who lived in a nearby ruin of a cabin.

This knowledgeable woman could also relate how an elder brother had surprised a leprechaun as he was in the middle of making a pair of shoes for his people. Her brother could describe his clothing down to the smallest detail, and how the leprechaun had escaped captivity by pretending to strike at my uncle’s eye with his awl. This tactic caused my uncle to wink just at that moment when he was in the act of seizing the creature, and thereby prevented him from gaining his fortune. She also told the story of a child which was taken from its mother’s arms one night while she slept. Luckily, the child was missed before he could be carried out of the house, through the key-hole, and on hearing the cries of the heartbroken parent the child was dropped to the floor without suffering any injury. It had never occurred to my great aunt that the child might have rolled out of the bed accidentally.

There was another tale that she would often tell me, and it would have been worse than heresy to doubt the truth of it, because she knew the parties involved very well. There was an honest, hardworking man called John M’Kinney, who lived in a nearby village. One night, reluctantly, he was obliged to leave his warm bed during “the witching hour”. He had almost forgotten something of importance that was needed the next day and he went immediately to fetch it. While he was on his way back home the silence of the night was disturbed by the strokes of an axe reverberating through a neighbouring area of woodland. As he stopped to listen, John heard some voices in conversation with each other. His curiosity caused him to draw up and listen to what was being said. It was then, when he distinctly heard the question asked, “What are you doing to-night?” and to his dismay the response was, “I’m making a wife for John M’Kinney.”

“Devil the bit of it!” said Jack, “you’ll make no wife for me, for I have enough trouble already. I think I’ll do very well with the one I have.” With these words John turned on his heels and rushed home, hardly drawing his breath until he had his wife held tightly in his arms. He gripped her so tightly it was almost a death-grip he had on her, and we would not loosen his hold until the crisis was over, and in this way he had foiled the plans of the fairies,

In years gone by the entire social system within Ireland was deeply pervaded by the idea of supernatural influence. As a consequence of this there was an indefinable aura of dread and fear, which hung like the ‘Sword of Damocles’ over the heads of all, and embittered their very lives. It is true that the evil was only imaginary, but not on that account any the less hurtful. Superstition is a mental malady is, therefore, very difficult to counteract or eradicate, and often led to a sense of real anxiety and distress among people. Just as the case of M’Kinstrey, whose ideas were filled with witchcraft and fairy freaks, never even thought that the noise and voices he had heard might be a practical joke played by some of his neighbours. As a consequence, therefore, he suffered all the feelings of suspense and trouble that warned that there was real danger nearby.

The spread of useful knowledge and the dissemination of sound education among all classes in our society have lately effected a great change in the intellectual powers of the people. Such encounters with the supernatural, like those described herein, are still sometimes used to “adorn a tale,” are now unheeded. In fact, there are few of my countrymen who would hold, even for a single moment, any belief in the absurd idea of evil creatures. Nevertheless, there are always some exceptions. These exceptions might include a few old women, who may be still haunted by the sprites of their younger days. In some remote districts of the country a belief in witchcraft certainly prevails among the local folk. But, most of these beliefs and fears have been ingrained by prejudices from youth, and they have been fostered and kept alive by the practices of con-men and others who say they can prevent the effects of these beings with counter-charms. These low-lives exist and continue to prosper because of the credulity of the public. In general, throughout Ireland, belief in witches, fairies, and the like is virtually defunct now.

King Billy – Part III

Station

Every day Mrs. Farquahar, was leaner, fiercer, paler, and more resolute in ignoring the stationmaster’s presence, as she continued to flaunt her principles up and down the station platform. Every day Jim hurried the departure of the trains and swept the customers out of the buffet. In fact, never in its history had there been such punctuality known at Maryborough. Being situated upon an easy-going line it was not unusual for the train guard not to worry about tardiness. When an indignant customer decided to point out that the express train was already some twenty minutes’ late, it was not unknown for the guard or the stationmaster to agree, saying, “By God, you’re right. That’s a good timekeeping watch you have there, you should keep a hold of it.

One day, however, Mrs. Farquahar did not appear on the platform when the trains stopped. She had come out to greet the arrival of the first train, but she was walking with a little difficulty, and her usual strong, clear voice quavered as she tried to raise her normal war cry. Then, to everyone’s surprise, when the next train came, there was no Mrs. Farquahar to greet it.

Even Jim O’Brien himself was concerned, and a little upset that she had not shown herself. He had grown used to the daily battle between them, and he missed the excitement of retaliating against his long-time foe. “Maybe she has tired of it all,” he thought to himself. “Finally given up, now that she knows she won’t have things all her own way anymore. Serves her right, for she’s too domineering by half.

What’s wrong with the old one, sir?” Joe Kelly asked Jim when they met on the platform

She never made a move to get out when she heard the train arriving.”

I don’t know what she’s up to,” said Jim. “She’s probably hatching more disturbances, I’ll bet. Sure, she has more twists than a bag full of weasels, and she’s never content unless she’s doing some sort of mischief, Joe,” he replied, “maybe you should look in and see if there is anything wrong with the old one.”

A moment later the stationmaster could hear Joe shouting, “Mister O’Brien, Mister O’Brien!

Jim ran toward the sound of the shouting and there, in a tumbled heap, lay Mrs. Farquahar. She no longer was the defiant, bad-tempered woman, that he had known, but was a weak, sickly, elderly woman, partly supported on Joe Kelly’s knee. The poor woman’s face was a ghostly pale, and her arms were hanging limp.

Ah, good Jaysus, I think the poor old soul is dying,” Kelly cried. “She only had the strength to raise her head when she saw me, and then she went off in a faint.”

Lay her down flat, Joe. Gently lay her flat,” Jim told him and the porter eased her down off his knee. “Now, Joe, leave her to me, and you run and tell my missus to come here at once. Maybe Mary will know what to do for the best.”

When Mary arrived, she came in to the buffet she found her husband gazing at the prostrate old woman in bewilderment, and immediately took command of the situation in such a way that she excited her husband’s admiration. “Here,” she said, “give me a hand to move her on to the seat. Jim, darling, you run home and get Biddy to fill two or three jars with boiling water, and bring them along with a blanket. The poor old woman is as cold as death. Joe, get off with you as quick as you can and fetch the doctor.

“What doctor will I go for, ma’am?”

The first one you can get the hold of,” said Mary, as she immediately began rubbing the unmoving woman’s hands and loosened her clothes.

When the doctor finally arrived, he found Mrs. Farquahar laid out on an improvised couch that was made up of two of the buffet’s cushioned benches placed side by side. She was wrapped warmly in blankets, and had hot bottles to her feet and sides, as well as a mustard plaster over her heart. “Bravo! Mrs. O’Brien,” said the doctor, “I couldn’t have done better myself. I believe you have saved her life by being so quick, saved it for the moment at least, for I think she has been struck down by a severe illness. The poor woman will need careful nursing to pull her through.

“She looks really bad,” agreed Mary.

“What are we to do with her?” asked the doctor. “Is there no place where they would take her in?”

Mary took a quick glance at Jim, but he did not speak. “Sure, there’s a room in our house that she could use,” she offered, after an awkward pause.

“The very thing,” said the relieved doctor, “if you don’t mind the trouble, and if Mr. O’Brien does not object.”

Jim chose not to answer, and silently walked out. “He doesn’t object, doctur,” said Mary. “Sure, that man has the real good heart. I’ll just run off now, and get the bed ready for her.” As she passed Jim, who was standing sulkily at the door, she took hold of his hand for a moment and squeezed it softly. “God bless you, my darling man. You’ll be none the worse for your kindness. Sure, this is no time for bearing people ill will, and our Blessed Lady will pray for you this day.”

Jim said nothing. But, when Mary had disappeared from view he muttered quietly to himself, “It’s a terrible thing that the care of that old devil should fall on us.” This, however, was the only form of resistance he offered to his wife’s decision.

Under the directions of the doctor Jim, Joe and Finnerty created a a makeshift stretcher, upon which all four men carried Mrs. Farquahar to the stationmaster’s house. Mary gently undressed the old woman, and put her to bed in a spotlessly clean, whitewashed upper room. Although the cold and shivering she had been experiencing had passed, Mrs. Farquahar was burning with what the doctor said was, Nervous fever. In her fever she began to rave about her dog, about Jim, about the passengers, her rent, and a large number of things that made it clear that her circumstances had preyed upon her mind. The ravings frightened Mary at times, but there were no trained nurses in Maryborough at this time. Guided by the directions of Doctor Dorrity, Mary did the best she could for the patient and managed things very well.

There was not a person who could have doubted that Jim did not like having the invalided old woman in his house. At the same time, however, he began to feel very concerned about the activity around him. He now became very anxious that Mrs. Farquahar should not die in his wife’s care. Mary as surprised and astonished when Jim brought home a selection of jellies and meat extracts, that he was convinced would be good for the patient. Surprisingly, Jim did this act of kindness with a shy and hang-dog air, which was by no means natural to him, for he always made some ungracious speech as to the trouble he had gone to. It was a disguise he used to prevent Mary thinking that he was feeling some sorrow for the part he had played in causing Mrs. Farquahar’s injury. Meanwhile, with a downcast expression, Jim ignored all enquiries from outsiders as to Mrs. Farquahar’s health. He did, nevertheless, bring in the old woman’s dog into the house and fed it well. “Not for her sake, God knows,” he explained, “but because the poor beast was fretting and I couldn’t see him alone, with no one to look to him.” At this time, however, Jim absolutely refused to call the dog, ‘King William.’ Instead, he chose to call it “Billy”, a name to which it soon learned to answer.

One evening, when the whitewashed room was all aglow with the crimson light of sunset that flooded through the western window, Mrs. Farquahar regained her consciousness. Mary was sitting by the bedside, sewing, having sent the children outside to ensure there was quiet in the house. For a long time, and unobserved by her nurse, the sick woman lay feebly trying to understand what as happening. Suddenly she spoke — “What is the matter?”

Surprised by her voice, Mary jumped, but quickly regained her senses. She laid her sewing down on the bed and leaned over the sickly patient. “Sure, you were very bad ma’am. But, thanks be to God, you’re better now.”

“Where am I?” Mrs. Farquahar asked weakly, after a considerable pause.

“You’re in the station house, ma’am. Sure, don’t you know me? I’m Mary O’Brien.”

“Mary O’Brien, O’Brien?”

“Yes, you know! The wife of Jim O’Brien.”

“And this is Jim O’Brien’s house?”

“Whose else would it be? But there now, don’t talk any more. Sure, we’ll tell, ye all about it when you’re better. For now, the doctor says, you’re to be kept quiet.”

“But who brought me here?”

“You were carried in, and you were in a bad state. Now, just hush up, and rest will you? Take a drop of this, and try to go to sleep.”

When Jim came into the house for his supper, Mary said to him, “That woman upstairs is in a hurry to get away from us. She thinks we begrudge her the bit of comfort we have provided.”

Jim was silent for a moment and then told his wife, “Sure, anything that’s bad she’ll believe of us.”

“But you have never even been up to see her. Slip into the room now, and ask her how she’s getting on. Just let bygones be bygones, in the name of God.”

“I will not,” said Jim.

“Oh, yes, you will. Sure, after all, although you didn’t mean it, you’re the cause of her trouble. Go to her now.”

“I don’t like to.”

“Ah, go. It is your place, and you have more sense than she has. Now, go and tell her to stay until she’s well again. Do you know, I think that under all that attitude of hers she’s a lot softer than she appears to be. I tell you, Jim, I have seen her crying over that dog, because she thought it was the only thing that truly loved her.” Now, half pushed by Mary, Jim made his way up the steep stairway, and knocked at the door of Mrs. Farquahar’s attic room.

“Come in,” said a feeble voice, and Jim sort of half-stumbled into the room.

When Mrs. Farquahar saw who it was coming into the room, there was a flame that appeared to come to life in her hollow eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a grim politeness, “that you find me here, Mister O’Brien, but it isn’t my fault. I wanted to go a while ago, and your wife wouldn’t let me.”

“And very right she was! Sure, you’re not fit for leaving, and don’t be talking about going until you’re better, ma’am,” Jim told her, awkwardly. “You’re heartily welcome here, as far as I am concerned. I just came up to say, well to say, I hope you will be in no hurry to move.”

You’re very kind, but I don’t think I could find myself resting easy under this roof, where, I can assure you, I would never have come of my own free will. I apologise to you, Mister O’Brien, for giving so much trouble, not that I could help myself.”

“Sure, It is myself that should apologise to you,” Jim blurted out to her, “and I am really sorry, though, maybe, you won’t believe me, that I ever drove out your customers.”

For a long time Mrs. Macfarlane did not speak. “I could forgive that easier than your rooting up my lilies,” she said, at last.

“But I never did that. God knows the truth of it, and He knows that I never laid a finger on those lilies. I came out, and found the dog there in the flower beds, scratching at them, and if this was my last dying word, It is the truth.”

And it was really the wee dog?”

“It was! Although I admit I did wrong in laughing at him, and cheering him on. But, you didn’t pay any attention to me when I told you that he was at my roses, and I thought it served you right, and that you had only called him ‘King William’ to spite me.”

“So I did,” said Mrs. Farquahar, and, she added, more gently, “But, I’m sorry now.”

“Are you, really?” asked Jim, his face brightening. “Well, I’m glad to hear you say it. We were both in the wrong, you see, and if you don’t bear any malice, I don’t.”

“You have been very good to me, Mr. O’Brien, especially after how badly I misjudged you,” said Mrs. Farquahar.

“Not a bit of it, and anyway it was the wife who has been good, for, by God, I was very much against you, so I was.”

“An’ you’ve spent your money on me, and I ——”

“Sure, don’t say another word about it. I owed it to you, so I did. But, by God, you won’t have to complain of needing customers once you’re well again.”

A warm smile broke across Mrs. Farquahar’s pale face at these words. “There’s no chance of that happening, I’m afraid. What with my illness and all that went before it, the business is gone. Look at the place. It has been shut up this three weeks and more.”

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Sure, since you’ve been sick I put our little Kitty, the slip of a girl, in charge of the place, and she’s made a pile of money for you. It has come as a big surprise for she is only coming sixteen, and she has been helping her mother at the same time. She’s a clever wee girl, so she is, even though I say it myself, and she increased the prices all round. She couldn’t manage with the cakes, because she didn’t know how to bake them like you did. But, sure, I bought her plenty of biscuits at ‘Connolly’s Store’, and her mother cut her sandwiches, and made tea, and the drinks weres all there as you left them. Kitty kept a close account of all that she should.”

Mrs. Farquahar looked at Jim in an odd fashion for a moment, then she drew the sheet over her face, and began to sob. Jim didn’t know what to do and, feeling uncomfortable, he crept downstairs. “Go up to that poor woman, Mary,” he said. “Sure, she’s crying very bitterly. We’ve made it up, and I don’t want her to want for nothing.”

Mary now ran upstairs, took the grim Mrs. Farquahar in her arms, and actually kissed her comfortingly. Quickly Mrs. Farquahar’s grimness began melting away, and the two women cried happily together.

*******

Now, as the trains come into Maryborough station, Jim goes from carriage to carriage making himself a perfect nuisance to those passengers with well-filled luncheon baskets. “Won’t ye have a cup of tea, my lady? There’s plenty of time, and sure, everyone says we have the finest tea here that you’ll get anywhere on the line. There’s nothing like it this side of Dublin. Will you have a wee glass of whiskey, sir? It is only the best, ‘John Jameson’, that’s kept. Or, perhaps, you prefer sherry wine? You won’t be stopping again anywhere that you’ll like it as well. Sure, if you don’t feel you want to get out, don’t concern yourself, there’s plenty of time for me to give in your order and have it sent over to you. There are cakes, ma’am, for the little ladies. It is a long journey, and maybe they’ll be hungry? Maybe they prefer apples? Sure, apples are mighty good for children. She keeps fine apples if ye like them.”

As for Mrs. Farquahar, she has grown quite fat, is at peace with the world. She takes a great interest in the O’Brien family, and she now calls her dog “Billy.”

King Billy – Part II

King Billy DogLet her come ahead,” O’Brien chuckled, “I’m ready for her.”

He had hardly gotten the words out of his mouth when, with a loud bang, the office door violently burst open. Into the office strode Mrs. Farquahar like an avenging angel, dressed in her best Sunday costume of a bonnet, black gloves, and umbrella. Underneath that bonnet she glowered down at O’Brien. He face was very pale, except for her cheek bones, where two bright pink spots burned with a seething anger. “Mister O’Brien,” she snarled at him in a high, stilted voice that was trembling with rage, “will you please to tell me what is the meaning of this dastardly outrage that has been carried out upon my flower beds?”

Outrage? In the name of God, woman, what outrage are you talking about?” asked O’Brien, innocently. “I can see, by the looks of you, that something terrible has upset you. Indeed, you’re looking as angry as a weasel caught in a trap. Is it that you’re vexed about something?”

Oh, of course, wee man. Why would I have cause to be so vexed? You know rightly what that cause is!” interrupted Mrs Farquahar with angry sneer. “But, you’re not deceiving me, Mr. O’Brien. You are not fooling me by pretending you are the innocent one. Let me assure you that if there’s any law in this land, or justice, I’ll have it of you!”

Hold on a wee minute,” said O’Brien calmly. He was so delighted at what had happened that he was feeling much calmer than this angry woman standing before him. “Would ye mind, ma’am, stating in your best, plain English, just what you are talking about, because I don’t have a clue as to what is causing all this grief?”

Judas! You snake in the grass! Oh, you are a deceiving old devil of a man! Sitting there as calm as you like, as if it wasn’t you that is just after destroying my flower-beds!”

Ah, I see now! It is your old flower-beds that’s causing you to make all this row? Those dirty orange lilies. Well, I told you long ago that they should have been cleared out of the place altogether, just as you would to any weed. I will tell you no lie, Mrs. Farquahar. As for myself, I am glad they’re gone. But, as for me destroying them, I can tell you that I never laid a finger on them; I wouldn’t lower myself to do so.

And, Mister O’Brien, if you didn’t do the deed” Mrs. Farquahar said politely, but with anger still in her voice, “will you kindly tell me who did this awful thing?

She was surprised by the loudness of the laugh that came from the stationmaster. “Sure, isn’t that where the joke comes in,” said O’Brien, after he managed to settle himself a little. “It was that very same beast of a dog that ruined my lovely rose bushes, your wee pet ‘King Billy”, may bad luck follow him!

Oh! You’re blaming it all on the wee dog, are you? You’re a traitorous Fenian, O’Brien, blaming it on a poor wee dog that never harmed you? Sure, it is only a Papist who would think of a mean trick like that to shift the blame from himself!”

The angry woman had stepped over the line as far as O’Brien was concerned and his face began to flush with colour as his own anger built.

Mrs. Farquahar,” Jim addressed her in a manner that showed how far his civility was being stretched, “if you will permit me, I suggest we leave my religion out of all this. Because, I warn you, that if you say much more it might just be the cause of me losing my temper with you.”

Does it look like I mind what you lose,” cried Mrs. Farquahar. “The likes of you should be jailed for life, for you are all a group of robbing, murdering, destructive traitors.

Now, you had better have a care how you speak to your betters, madam. You call me and my friends robbing, deceiving, murdering, destructive traitors, indeed! By Jaysus,I like that! What brought over your lot to Ireland? Williamites and Cromwellians, English and Scottish came to rob us, deceive us,  destroy our homes, murder us, steal our land from us, and tell us to go to hell or to Connaught, while you all grew fat on what was ours before you people ever came; and then you give us the worst word in our mouth for being poor. Traitors! Traitor yourself, for that’s exactly what the whole lot of you are. Tell me, who wants you here at all?

Mrs. Farquahar could stand no more. She began to lose control of herself and lashed out at the stationmaster with her neat black umbrella. Her quick action had given Jim a nasty cut across his brow. Attracted by the noise coming from the office, Kelly rushed in, with Finnerty and Mrs. O’Brien in tow. Together they interfered with the combatants, holding them away from each other. O’Brien, however, continued to come under a shower of blows from the umbrella, even as the angry woman hustled outside. Once on the platform, Mrs. Farquahar immediately retreated to her own quarters, still muttering oaths and threats as she moved.

Jim, darling man, you’re bleeding!” shrieked a very anxious Mary, as she wildly threw her arms into the air. “Oh, dear God, why would you event think of antagonising that old devil? Sure, didn’t I tell you what would happen? As sure as there’s an eye in a goat, that one will get you lifted by the police, and she has the backing of all the ‘big-knobs’ in the district to help her.

Ah, sure, let her do her worst,” said Jim, “she’ll not get much good out of it. She was making me out to be a liar, after I had told her that I had not touched her bloody old orange lilies. If she tries to get me arrested, sure, I’ll sue her for assaulting and battering me. You all saw her, and I didn’t even raise a finger against her, the old ‘calliagh’!

By Jesus, isn’t that the damn truth he’s telling? That old witch,” insisted Kelly, shaking his head. “Sure, she beat the living crap out of him with her bloody umbrella, and she never missed a blow until I pulled her away. I swear that if I hadn’t jumped into the middle of it all, grabbing both arms, she would have had his life, and maybe mine too.”

Not even for one instant did Mrs. Farquahar forget the reason why she acted in the manner she did, nor did she believe O’Brien’s story that it was the dog that had destroyed her orange lilies. Then, after some consideration on the matter, she hit on an ingenious device that would satisfy her as being supremely annoying to Jim O’Brien while, at the same time, remaining well within the law. Mrs. Farquahar’s lilies were the emblems of her very deeply held religious and political faith, and now they were gone. But, the woman still had the means to let her beliefs be widely known, and the ability to protest against O’Brien and all that he represented to her mind.

The next day, when the midday train had just steamed into the station, Jim was startled when he heard a wild cheer — “Hi, ‘King William’! Hi, ‘King William’! Come back, ‘King William’! ‘King William’ my darling, ‘King William’!

The morning air was filled with this shrill party cry, and when Jim rushed out of his office he discovered that Mrs. Farquahar had allowed her dog to run down the platform, just as the passengers were alighting from the train. She was now pretending to be in pursuit of the dog and she was calling him back at the top of her voice. There was, however, nothing that he could do to stop the repulsive din. The dog’s name certainly was “King William,” and Mrs. Farquahar was quite at liberty to call out his name in an effort to recover him if he strayed.

Jim simply stood for a moment, as if he had been transfixed. “You know?” he suddenly exclaimed to himself, “I’ll swear that old bitch is the devil’s grandmother!

Mrs. Farquahar passed by him and deliberately ignored the fact that he was standing there. If he had been the gate-post, she couldn’t have taken any less notice of his presence. She just made her way to the extreme end of the station platform, cheering her “King William,” where she picked up her dog, and strode proudly back in triumph. But, very quickly, it became apparent that Mrs. Farquahar was definitely pursuing a regular plan of campaign against the stationmaster. As every train arrived at the station that particular day Mrs. Farquahar went through exactly the same performance of letting her dog loose and then pursuing him down the platform, waving her arms in the air and yelling for “King William” at the top of her voice.

By the third occasion when Mrs. Farquahar chased her dog down the platform, Jim O’Brien rose to the challenge and had formed a counterplot in his head. The stationmaster watched and heard the old woman without saying a word, apparently as indifferent to her tactics as she was to his presence. But, Jim was only biding his time and awaiting his opportunity. No sooner had the passengers alighted from the train and entered the refreshment room, when he made his move. Giving the passengers just enough time to get themselves comfortably seated, O’Brien threw open the doors of the buffet room, rushed in and began to loudly call out. “Take your places immediately, ladies and gentlemen. The train’s just about ready to move. So, hurry yourselves before she’s gone. Come on, all of you!”

The hungry and very upset passengers left their seat all at once and hurried out, leaving Mrs. Farquahar speechless with anger. “I bet I’ve got the whip hand over her this time,” chuckled Jim, as he gave the signal to start to the engine driver. Mrs. Farquahar’s spirit, however, was not broken by the action of the stationmaster. From morning until night, whether the day was wet or fine, she greeted the arrival of each train with loud cries for “King William”. And, on every one of those occasions, Jim O’Brien responded by hurrying out all her customers before they could touch bite or sip at a drink. In this manner the bitter feud continued.

“King Billy” – Part I

 

Orange Lilies
Orange Lilies

This a story that happened in the decade prior to Ireland’s War of Independence and the division of the country. It was a time when Britain still ruled and the aristocracy stood at the head of society –

 

Mrs Farquahar was quite a tall, thin, and very respectable lady who had just turned fifty years old, and she was possessed of many rigid virtues. This is not surprising, since she was a native of the northern counties of Ireland and a staunch Protestant. She had come originally to ‘Maryborough’ as a personal maid to the Dowager Lady Dundas and seved her well for many years. Then, when her mistress died, Mrs. Farquahar’s faithfulness was well rewarded by Lord Dundas, who offered to establish her in a business of her own. At the time of our story, Mrs Farquahar had been owner of the station buffet for almost two years, and she made a decent living for herself through the business. This was to be expected since ‘Maryborough’ itself is situated on one of the main Railway lines in Ireland and there is always a fair amount of traffic that passes through it.

In command of the station was the stationmaster, who was familiarly known as “Jim” O’Brien. He had been born in Maryborough and had worked his way up the ladder of promotions from being a lowly porter on that same railway line. He was a very intelligent, easy-going man, who could become very bad-tempered, very quickly. He could have been described as being a typical Irishman with his round, good-natured face, humorous mouth, shrewd, twinkling eyes, and immensely loud voice.

As you can well imagine, between Jim and Mrs. Farquahar there appeared to be a deadly battle of wits that seemed to be never ending. She was a cold hearted woman, who had a sense of her own superiority, and constantly felt that she was in the right even when she was in the wrong. She had an unpleasant habit of pointing out Jim’s deficiencies whenever she saw them and, unfortunately for him, she saw them all too often for his taste. All day long, every day, she would sit in her refreshment room, with her spectacles resting on her nose, and her Bible open before her. While she read she would knit, and rise from her seat only when a customer entered the buffet room. Jim tried to go about his business in a calm manner, but he could not but help being conscious of the fact that nothing escaped that woman’s ever vigilant eyes. Her presence made him feel tense and uneasy, and her critical remarks were always reported to him.

“She’s a bitter old biddy!” he often told his wife. “Why, the very look of her would turn a whole can of fresh cream sour. There are more twists and turns in her than you’d find in a bag of weasels.”

Jim was Catholic, and he had deeply held Nationalist aspirations. He belonged to the local group of “The Irish League,” and often spoke at various public meetings when his duties as stationmaster allowed him. Not surprising then that he deeply objected to being referred to as a “Papish” and a “Rebel,” by Mrs. Farquahar.

Papish, indeed!” he would complain. “Rebel, indeed! You had better keep a more civil tongue in your head, or it will be the worse for you, madam!

On several occasions he would turn on her and bitterly ask, “How did the likes of you ever get a husband?” Then he would state, “Seeing and hearing you, sure it is no wonder the poor man died young.”

But, Mrs. Farquahar was a good match for Jim. She, like him, was full of fight and courage. It was her proudest boast that she was the granddaughter, daughter, sister, and widow of proud ‘Orangemen’. While living in Maryborough, which was predominantly Catholic, she considered herself to be a child of Israel abandoned among the Babylonians, and she felt that it was entirely up to her to uphold the standard of her faith. As part of this she would sing out the praises of the ‘Battle of the Boyne’ in such a triumphal manner that it deeply aggravated O’Brien almost to madness.

Ah, God Almighty, will you not help this daft woman! Is she Irish at all, or what? It’s terrible heartbreaking to see her making so merry because of a bunch of bloody Dutchmen——! Sure, does she not know that it was Irish blood that they spilled that day at the Boyne? And now, to see her taking such pride in that bloodshed makes me sick to my heart, so it does. Now, if she was an English woman, I could maybe understand it, but she’s forever calling herself an Irishwoman! She’s full of poison, so she is, if she is so happy to be celebrating her country’s misfortunes.”

Jim O’Brien’s anger was made all the worse because Mrs. Farquahar, whatever she said, spoke to him very rarely if ever. She would pass by him with a lofty scorn and an indifference pretending not to see him. At the same time, it must be said, that while she did many things that O’Brien found extremely annoying, they were things that were strictly within her rights.

Despite all their bitter feuding, it has to be said that their differences had not reached such a point all at one time. Their feud had begun in earnest when Mrs. Farquahar decided to adopt a small, black, mongrel dog, on which she lavished all of her affection. The problem arose, between her and the stationmaster, when she decided that the most endearing name that she could give her little pet was “King William.” This was, of course, nobody’s business except hers. In any other environment, but Ireland, Mrs. Farquahar would have been allowed to amuse herself unheeded. But, she was in Ireland and Jim O’Brien was not the type of Irishman to allow her to play fun and games with patriots.

Jim O’Brien was a different type of Irishman in many ways. The man had a great love for growing flowers, and he worked hard to keep his garden in beautiful condition. In fact, O’Brien was prouder of his roses than of anything on earth, except for his eldest daughter, Kitty, who was almost sixteen-years-old. The reader can only imagine his anger and frustration when, one day Jim found his rose-beds scratched into holes and his prized roses were uprooted by “King William”. The spoiled little dog had developed a destructive habit for hiding away his bones in the soil that created Jim’s flower-beds. O’Brien, irritated and frustrated by the destruction created by the dog, made loud and angry complaints to the Mrs Farquahar, who received them with a degree of disdain and disbelief.

Oh please, Mr. O’Brien!” she said, with a tone of superiority in her voice, “don’t attempt to put the blame upon my innocent wee dog. Even if you dislike the name that I gave him, that is no reason at all for accusing him of being in your garden. He knows better, so he does. He won’t go to where he’s not wanted.” After such words the relationship between O’Brien and Mrs. Farquahar became open war.

Under the windows of the refreshment room stretched two narrow flower-beds, which Jim took care never to touch. It was his opinion that these flower beds were the exclusive property of Mrs. Macfarlane, and that it was up to her to look after them. They were, however, left uncultivated for a long period of time and became an eyesore in the mind of the stationmaster. Then, one day the station porter, Kelly, approached Jim with a certain air of mystery. “The old one,” he said quietly, “has begun to set something in those old flower beds over there”. The term, “The old one”, had become one that indicated Mrs. Farquahar and anything to do with her was of interest to the stationmaster.

Without hesitation Jim came out of his office and began to walk up and down the station platform, pretending that he was examining the station’s condition and being seen to apparently neglect the flower beds. But, just as Kelly had told him, Mrs. Farquahar was at the beds and attempting to do some gardening. She had put some old gloves on her hands and was wearing a clean checked apron to help protect her clothes. In one hand she held a trowel, with which she was breaking up the caked earth as a means, it would seem, of preparing the ground to set some plants. “In the name of God, what is that damn villain of a woman doing now?” Jim asked, when he got back to his office.

Devil the bit of me knows what she’s at,” replied Kelly. “The old fool has been grubbing in that soil since nine o’clock this morning.

From this day onward Mrs. Farquahar was committed to the care of her two flower-beds. Every day she could be seen weeding or watering, and although Jim steadily avoided showing interest in her activity, he was almost eaten up with curiosity about what the probable results of her would be. He was totally puzzled about what she wanted to grow in the flower beds. As the weeks passed by, the tiny green seedlings finally began to push their way through the soil. As they began to grow the type of plants that Mrs. Farquahar had set in the flower beds quickly became recognisable, and a highly excited stationmaster rushed home to tell his wife.

By God, but that woman is an old devil, Mary,” he said almost breathlessly. “Would you believe that it is lilies that she has planted there, in those flower beds. And, as sure as there is an eye in a goat, I am sure they are damned orange lilies. I swear, if that’s what they are, I’ll pull every one of them out by the root. Every one of them, I tell you, even if it kills me!

For Jaysus sake, Jim, be quiet, for you don’t know who will hear you,” said Mary. “Anyway, how do you know that they are lilies at all? Now, for the love of God keep her tongue still. Say nothing and keep yourself out of that woman’s way.”

Ah Wheesht, woman! Do you think I’m an eejit? Those are lilies that old devil has planted, for sure. Only time will tell if they’re orange or not. But, be you certain that if they are orange lillies, I won’t stand it! I will complain to the Railway Board.”

And what good will that serve? Sure the Board will be on her side, man. Don’t you know the backing she has? They will just ask you why she shouldn’t be able to grow orange lilies if she wants to?

Ah, Mary, you are always the sensible one. But, woman dear, Have you no spirit left in you? Dear God, woman, why would you let her ride rough-shod over us in such a way? If you make a mouse out of yourself, then the cat will snap you up. Well I tell you I won’t be snapped up. Sure, Saint Peter himself wouldn’t stand for it, and as sure as a pig’s arse is pork, I won’t either!

You’re a ignorant man, Jim! You should not be bringing down any misfortune on your head, for you have children to care for. You have better things to do than troubling yourself over what the likes of her does. She is over the moon every time she sees that she can annoy and make you mad. So, man dear, take no notice of her and, perhaps she’ll stop her nonsense.”

Ah, to the devil with her for being a bitter old serpent. Sure, the venom’s flowing thick in her. But, why should I put up with her, I’d like to know?

Would you keep your tongue still, Jim? You show absolutely no prudence when ou open that big gob of yours. Don’t you know that not a word you say is not brought back to her ears by someone or other. Would you have just a wee bit of sense, ou buck-eejit. You’ll be saying things like that to Joe Kelly, and he’ll have it spread throughout the town in no time, and ther will be someone who will carry it to her.”

And do ye think I care a damn for the likes of that old serpent? Not at all! But, Mary, if you had your way you would have me hung, like the man that was hung for saying nothing. Sure, did I ever do a hand’s turn of harm against her? No! And it is a low, mean trick she had done by setting orange lilies in those flower beds, to bloom before my eyes, and her knowing my opinions.

Well, I’ll not say it wasn’t, Jim, if they are orange lilies. But sure, you don’t know for certain what they are, and all I ask is in God’s name please keep quiet until you do.”

The days went by slowly, but the lilies grew taller and taller in the flower beds outside the station buffet. They budded, they bloomed, and, sure enough, they were orange in colour, just as Jim had predicted they would be. “They are beautiful and they will make a fine show for the twelfth of July, I’m thinking,” said Mrs. Macfarlane to herself with a huge smile, as she walked past her flower beds, swinging a dripping watering-can.

At the time when the orange lilies blossomed, Jim O’Brien was not at home. He had been sent about twenty miles down the line to conduct some official business for the Railway Company. The flowers that he detested so much appeared to take advantage of the stationmaster’s absence to put on a bright, colourful show. When Jim returned home, however, he discovered that Mrs. Farquahar was away. She had shut up the station’s refreshment room, though she had not locked it. It was a time in Maryborough when few if any people locked their doors, unless they were going to be away a considerable period of time. She had left “King William” behind her, and she had told Joe Kelly to look after the dog, in case he should get lonely. Joe was told that she had been invited to the wedding of a friend she had met when she was a maid to her ladyship. The man who had been butler to the house at the time was to be married that very day to the steward’s daughter, who was a lovely woman.

When Jim returned to work in the station, Joe Kelly had told him all the news about Mrs. Farquahar, but he did not say a single word about the orange lilies. Joe was just a little afraid that the stationmaster would explode into a rage, and he thought it was better if he did not mention anything about the lillies, but just to allow him find it out himself. For quite a bit of time, however, Jim found himself engrossed in a lot of paperwork that he needed to attend to. Finally, Jim’s paperwork was finished, just as his attention was being distracted b the almost incessant howling, barking and yelping of a dog. “Would you let that beast out, for God’s sake?” he shouted out to Joe Kelly. “I can’t listen to that racket much longer. It is doing my head in!”

Ah, sure I was afraid that the bloody thing would be run over before the old woman came back and I decided to shut him in,” explained Kelly.

Well there’s no danger of that happening any way soon,” said Jim, ”There won’t be a train in for the next two hours. Anyway, if that cur was run over, God knows he’d be no big loss. I tell you that I for one will not be grieving for that ill-named excuse for a dog!

Kelly did not say another thing, but went to release “King William”. Meanwhile, having finished his task, O’Brien stood for a time near the office door. His hands were crossed behind him, as he warmed his backside against the pot-belly stove, and he fixed his eyes abstractedly on the sky. After a few minutes Jim made ready to begin his usual walk, up and down the platform, when his eye were suddenly attracted to the flare of the rows of orange lilies, standing as if at attention.

By the Sacred Heart of Jesus!” exclaimed O’Brien. “But I was right. It is orange they are, sure enough. What will Mary say now? By God isn’t it all lies they do be telling us, when they say there are no reptiles in Ireland. That old woman is the biggest reptile I have ever seen and she could even poison the life of the devil, himself.”

As he walked along the platform, Jim stopped in front of the flowers as they danced merrily in the breeze. “Christ, isn’t it an awful pity that there’s nothing I can plant to annoy her. No, she has the definitely got one over me entirely. Shamerocks are something that don’t make a great show at all, and you would pass by without giving them a sideways glance. Now, orange lilies, that’s a flower that you can see a mile off. That old serpent, who, but her, would be up to the likes of planting such flowers there?

Then, just at that moment, Jim became aware of an extraordinary commotion occurring among the lilies. When he looked closer at the flowers he saw “King William” in the middle of them. There he was scratching madly at the soil, scattering mould, leaves, and bulbs in every possible direction. With every stroke of his hind legs, “King William” dealt absolute destruction to the flowers that his owner had so carefully-tended.

The sight of all this carnage filled Jim’s heart with great gladness. “More power to the dog!” he cried out, accompanied with loud laughter. “Aye! More power to him! Sure, hasn’t he more bloody sense than his mistress. ‘King William,’ she named him, and him now digging up her orange lilies by the roots! Ho, ho! By all that’s holy, isn’t it the biggest joke that I ever seen or hear in all my life. More power to you, dog! Good on you!

Rubbing his hands together in an ecstasy of delight, O’Brien watched as “King William” indulged in his frantic and devastating work. Whenever the dog paused he was urged on to even more destruction by Jim’s constant cries of “Rats!” With each cry, “King William” would scamper wildly here and there, running from end to end of the flower beds, snapping the delicate lily stems, and scattering the blossoms to the four winds.

By Jaysus, but this is great fun! Would you just look at him now? Bad luck to any man who would say he has seen better fun than this in his life. Go to it, ‘King William!’ Smash them, my wee man! Good dog! Out with them all!” Jim roared, as tears of laughter streamed down his cheeks. “Oh, my God! But that old Biddy will be as mad as hell. I would give a sixpence just to be able to see her face when she returns. O Lord! Lord! Sure, it’s the biggest joke that there ever was.”

But, as with all good things, they have to come to an end. An exhausted “King William” could do no more and lay down in the flower bed, but only when every lily had been laid low. As Jim O’Brien looked upon the devastation, Mrs. Farquahar’s carefully tended flower beds were a scene of chaos, with broken flower stalks and trampled blossoms. O’Brien, could not wait to share the news with others at the station and, with a great smile on his face, he explained what had happened to Mary and Finnerty. Then, in a very good humour, he returned to the office and began working on the account books.

After what seemed a short period of time, Kelly came entered the office. “She’s back,” he whispered, “and she’s fit to be tied. I was watching out for her, and when she did arrive she almost fainted in a heap on the platform when she saw what had happened to those lilies. I swear to God that she’s going to come here any minute, for her eyes are burning with rage and she is spitting fire. I don’t think I have ever seen such a frightening sight, Jim!

AN INTERESTING TRIAL

This is the story of an extraordinary trial that took place in Ireland just before the turn of the 20th Century and was revealed to me through the records of a provincial newspaper, printed in 1899. I think for many of my readers this will be their first introduction to the story..

The case in question began in the northern province of Ireland and is being reported here for the first time since its original publication, over one hundred and eighteen years ago. It was at a time of political upheaval and much talk about ‘Home Rule’, supporters and opponents of which marched regularly through the streets. It is my intention that the story of this trial is told exactly the way it happened and the manner it was reported. The report of the trial states the evidence that was given at the time, and I am writing it down exactly according to what was deposed at the trial.

In the criminal court it was said that Joan O’Rourke, wife of Andy O’Rourke, had been murdered, but the only question left to answer was, “How did Joan come by her death?” From the evidence of the coroner’s inquest on the body, and from the depositions made by Mary O’Rourke, John Croke and his wife, Agnes, it appeared that Joan O’Rourke had committed suicide. Witnesses stated that they had found the unfortunate woman lying dead in her bed, with the knife sticking in the floor, and her throat cut from ear to ear. They also stated that the night before they found her body Joan had went to bed with her child, and her husband was not in the house. They swore that no other person came into the house at any time after Joan had gone to bed. The witnesses said that the truth of their statements lay in the fact that they had been lying in the outer room, and they would have undoubtedly seen or heard any strangers who might have tried to enter the house.

With this evidence established in the court, the jury finally submitted their verdict that in their opinion Joan O’Rourke had indeed committed suicide. This verdict, however, came under some pressure afterwards, when rumour arose within the neighbourhood that suicide was not the cause of Joan’s death. Further investigation and discovery of some diverse circumstances began to suggest that Joan did not, nor, according to those circumstances, could she possibly have murdered herself. The jury, whose verdict had not yet been made official by the coroner’s office, was summoned again and requested that the coroner’s office exhume the body. The request to remove the body from the grave, in which she had already been buried, was granted. Thus, almost thirty days after she had died, Joan’s corpse was taken up in the presence of the jury members, and a great number of other witnesses, and the sight that greeted them caused the jury to change their verdict.

Those persons who had been brought before the court to be tried were all acquitted. But, there was now so much the evidence, against the previous verdict, that the trial Judge was of the opinion that an appeal should be made, rather than allow such a gruesome murder to go unpunished by the law.  As a result the four most likely suspects were brought to trial on an appeal, which was brought by the young child, against his father, grandmother, and aunt, and her husband John Croke. The evidence that was now brought against them was so strange, that one would need to read through it very carefully to ensure a good understanding of it. The paper recorded the evidence as follows –

At the subsequent trial the prosecution called forward a person of unimpeachable character to give evidence. The Parish Priest of the town where the act was committed was deposed and began to speak. He confirmed that the body, which had been taken up out of the grave, had lain there for thirty days after the woman’s death. The priest stated that the corpse was laid out on the grass in her cheap pine coffin, and the four defendants in the dock were also present at the exhumation. Each of the defendants where then requested to place a hand upon the Joan’s long dead body. Agnes Croke, the priest said, immediately fell upon her knees, and she prayed aloud to God that he would do something to show that she was innocent of doing any harm to Joan. She mumbled out some other words in her grief, but the priest was unsure about what she said.

None of those who were standing trial refused to touch Joan’s dead body. But, after they had done this, the dead woman’s brow which, beforehand had been a dark bluish grey in colour, like that of carrion, began to have a dew or gentle sweat come out upon it. This perspiration now began to increase so much that the sweat began to run down in droplets over the face. Almost like magic the brow began to turn, and it quickly changed to a more lively and fresh colour. Unbelievably, as we watched, the dead woman opened one of her eyes and shut it again. This action of opening the eye and then closing it was carried out by the corpse three times. In addition to this, the dead woman thrust out her marriage finger three times, and swiftly pulled it in again, and, as she did so, drops of blood dripped from the finger down onto the grass,” explained the priest.

The Judge who was hearing the case, not surprisingly, had some doubts about the evidence that was being given and he asked the Parish Priest, “Who else saw these things besides yourself?”

The priest felt that his veracity was being questioned and was quite annoyed by the question that had been posed. But, he chose not to react angrily and simply answered, “Your Honour, I could not swear to what others may have seen or not. But, your Honour, I firmly believe that the entire company saw these things for themselves. In fact, if any of my testimony had been considered to be in doubt, some proof of that doubt would have been presented and many would have spoke out against this statement.

As he stood in the witness stand, the priest was able to observe that many of those listening to him were showing some admiration for him, and he was encouraged to speak further. “Your Honour,” he began, “I am Priest of the parish, and I have known all the parties involved for a very long time. I have never had any occasion to be displeased with any of them, nor have I ever had much to do with any of them, or they with me, outside of my pastoral duties as a minister of the Church. The things that happened amazed me and filled my mind with wonder. However, the only interest that I have in these matters is to do what I have been asked to do and that is to testify to the truth. This, I assure you, I have done.”

This witness was aged about seventy years and highly respected in the district. When he spoke his testimony he did so in a clear voice, slowly and elegantly, which won the admiration of all who heard him. Clearing his throat he again began to speak to the Judge in the case, saying, “May I point out, at this time, your Honour, that my brother priest, who is present in the court, is the minister of the parish adjacent to my own, and I am assured that he saw everything to which I have testified.”

This other priest, who was just a little younger than the first, was invited into the witness box, where he was sworn in and invited to give his evidence. His testimony supported every point that had been previously made. He confirmed the sweating of the brow, the changing of its colour, the mystical opening of the eye, and the three times that the corpse’s finger thrust itself out, and drew in again. The only area in which he differed from the first witness was in declaring that he had, himself, dipped his finger into the blood which had exuded from the dead body. He said that he had examined it and was certain in his own mind that it was blood.

I can understand the difficulty of believing such testimony. Modern ideas on the paranormal often leave us doubting our own eyes and senses. But, there were others who had observed these things and agreed with the testimony given by the priests. There is no reason to doubt the testimony of the clerics, for why would they be persuaded to lie about such things. At the same time, allow me to assure you that the reports from the trial have been recorded here accurately. Evidence was also given against the prisoners in the dock, namely, the grandmother of the plaintiff, and against Croke and his wife, Agnes. It was stated that all four confessed that they had lain in the next room to the dead person that entire night, and that no other person had entered the house until they found her dead the next morning. The only conclusion to be drawn, therefore, was that if this woman did not murder herself, then they must be the murderers.

To prove such a charge, however, further evidence was needed and to this end the medical examiner was called forward. Looking at his notes on the examination he had made of the crime scene and the body of the dead woman. Then, point by point he explained his findings to the court. Firstly, he described the scene that he had found when he arrived at the house, and told the jury, “I found the dead woman lying in her bed, in a quite composed way. The bed clothes and other things in the room had not been disturbed in any way, and her child lay by her side in the bed. Immediately, I could see that the deceased woman’s throat was cut from ear to ear, and her neck was broken. It is completely impossible for the deceased person to first cut her throat, and then break her own neck in the bed; or vice-versa.

The examiner continued to explain that he had found no blood in the bed, except for a small spot of blood on the pillow where she had laid her head. “But, there was no evidence of major blood loss on the bed, which there should have been if the death had occurred in the place that she was found. On further investigation, however, we found a stream of blood on the floor of the bedroom, which ran along the wooden floorboards until it found obstructions that caused it to spread in pools. There was, at the same time, another stream of blood found on the floor at the bed’s feet. This stream had caused caused small ponds of blood to form, but there was no sign of both blood streams being connected. This suggests that the woman bled severely in two places. Furthermore, when I turned up the mattress of the bed, I found clots of congealed blood in the underneath of the straw-filled mattress.

The court was informed that the blood-stained knife was found that morning after the murder, sticking in the wooden floor a good distance from the bed. “The point of the knife, as it stuck in the floor was pointing towards the bed, while the handle pointed away from the bed,” he explained. “On the knife itself I discovered the print of the thumb and four fingers of the left hand.

At this point the judge interrupted the testimony of the Examiner and asked him, “But, how can you know the print of a left hand from the print of a right hand in such a case as this?

Your Honour,” he began to reply, “it is hard to describe, but easier to demonstrate. If it would please your Honour, could you put your clerk’s left hand upon your left hand. You will see that it is impossible to place your right hand in the same posture.

The Judge did as he was asked and was satisfied by the demonstration. The defendants, however, were given an opportunity to put forward a defence against all these claims. But, they decided to maintain their silence and gave no evidence at any stage of the trial. The Jury, therefore, was directed to retire and deliberate their verdict. It took them only an hour to return to the court and announce their findings. John Croke was acquitted of all charges, but the other three defendants were found guilty as charged. The judge turned to the three guilty persons and asked if they had anything to say about why judgement should not be produced. Their reply was simply, “I have nothing to say except that I am not guilty. I did not do this.

Judgement was passed upon all three. The grandmother and the husband were executed by hanging, while the aunt was spared execution because she was pregnant. None of them confessed anything before their execution and the aunt never spoke as to any possible motivation for the murder. In fact, the aunt never spoke about the incident ever again. She moved away from the district with her husband, where she died some fifteen years after her niece had been brutally killed.

 

©Jim Woods 2017