FATEFUL MEETING – Cailleach Part iv

The members’ lounge in the club had been nicknamed “The Snug” by its devotees who, during the week, were mostly men, oddly enough. It stood away from the main bar of the club, and its social hall in which dances, concerts, parties and other community events were held. The place was like a sanctuary from the noisy music and chitter-chatter that is so much a part of a club’s atmosphere, especially on week-end evenings. It was, however, far removed from the ‘Snugs’ that were an integral part of life in the public houses many years ago, which were a refuge for those ladies who liked to imbibe. That was a time when it was frowned upon for ladies to be seen entering a public bar, many years ago. Prohibited from drinking in the main bar area, ladies were obliged to take their drinks in the ‘snug’.

Secreted in the ‘snug’, ladies would have their drinks served to them through a sliding hatch that further ensured their privacy. This screened off area was the sole reserve of the female sex, but the more frequent visitors were almost always known by the male customers and bar staff. The idea behind the ‘snug’ has long disappeared and it is common these days for a man and a woman to go to the public bar and enjoy a drink together. The so-called ‘snug’ in the football club was much more a refuge for both male and female customers, who preferred conversation rather than having their ears assaulted with the sounds of modern music. In such a place Johnny was happy to sit with his drink in his hand, secure in the knowledge that he would catch up with all the local gossip and have some craic arguing about football.

Each evening there were at least three of Johnny’s pals in the club, but it was standard practice among them to each buy their own drink This is the way it had been for many years between them, ensuring that such a practice would prevent those with little money from being embarrassed. It also allowed each of them to drink as much or as little as they wanted without pressure. Furthermore, the practice helped them put a limit on their spending, depending on what they could afford, and not feel any sense of inferiority among friends. But, most of all, the practice suited Johnny who, though not miserly, could not have been regarded as the most open-handed person when it came to treating anyone to a drink. “A fool and his money are easily parted,” he would say, and he would go on to insist that he was no fool.

It was on a late summer’s evening, when he went to the club for his nightly drink with friends, that he first met Luig, “The Cailleach of Ballygan.” Although this first meeting did not make a great impression upon him, it was an encounter that would bring Johnny a new outlook on life, and radically change both his character and personality. Yet, at first, this initial encounter between the two showed no sign of the disaster, ruin and heartbreak it would bring upon a, heretofore, happy and loving family.

In nature there is a type of spider that is called ‘A Black Widow’, which reminds me of the attitude that Luig had towards men. The Black Widow spider entices the male of the species into her arms for a loving embrace. Then, after mating, she sinks her poisonous fangs into him, filling his body with poison, which allows her to suck out her mate’s life-force much easier.

At this time Luig was a woman in her early to mid-forties and not particularly attractive. She had recently tired of her most recent lover and rid herself of him, for there was nothing more that he could offer her. That particular evening she had gone to the club in the company of a girl friend, and she went with the intention of scouting out the local male population for a likely target into whom she could bury her fangs.

The football club was not exactly the sort of place that Luig would frequent under normal circumstances. But, she had not long moved into the area and had been invited out for a drink b this neighbour woman, who had befriended her. This new friend, however, was the type of woman who loved to know everything she could about a person. When she began talking she appeared to be speaking an almost incessant rant of rubbish. Sitting at a small table, Luig closed her ears to the voce of her companion, but her eyes had focussed on a man standing at the bar. This was Johnny Magowan and he had just received a pint glass filled with Guinness from the young barman. Standing there, with a pint glass in his hand, Johnny was smiling and joking with the barman, who appeared to be enjoying the conversation.

Luig turned to her friend and, indicating for her to be quiet for a moment, asked her, “Who is that man at the bar, carrying a pint of Guinness.”

Ah, sure that’s Johnny Magowan,” the friend began to explain. “He has worked in the Civil Service all his life and he has just retired.

He has a bit of money then?” Luig enquired.

I would say he has, why? Do you fancy him or something?

He’s a good looking man, so who wouldn’t fancy him?” answered Luig.

Ah, for Jesus’ sake you’re not the first, you know. But, he’s a married man with three grown up children,” laughed Luig’s friend.

Sure, why would that matter?” giggled Luig with a glint n her eye that certainly signalled of the mischievousness to come.

You should never mess with married men,” warned Luig’s friend in a very serious tone of voice. “Such actions can lead to a lot of heartbreak and trouble.”

Sure it’s no trouble to a determined and careful woman who knows what she wants,” Luig smiled conspiratorially and took another drink from her Vodka and lemon. Then, putting down her glass, she continued, “When I like something that I see, I usually get it. Now, that is a handsome man over there. I want him for myself and believe me when I say that I will have him all to myself!

Shame on you, Luig.”

For God’s sake, just look at him. He is tall, he’s handsome, and he’s not an old man. He’s certainly not short of a penny or two, and he’s just right for me,” laughed Luig.

The ‘Cailleach Luig’ had a very keen eye, like all witches, and her estimation of Johnny Magowan was not far off the mark. As she raised the glass once more to her lips, Luig stared at him with penetrating eyes, and she now began to review the strategy that she might employ to entrap her new target. In her eyes all she could see was a man of average height, who dressed well, and looked as though he was financially comfortable. He was far from being an old man, which was an added bonus in her eyes, and he seemed to light up when he was the apparent centre of attraction. Although, in truth could never, and would never, consider himself to be a rich man, he was happy with his lot in life. Taking early retirement left him with a high rate of pension from his last position, and he had been given a substantial ‘golden handshake’ because he accepted their offer of early retirement. What was amazing, though, was the manner in which Luig had picked him out from the rest of the men in the club. It was a mysterious talent, but one that appears to be common among all Irish witches throughout the generations.

The first stage of Luig’s strategy called for her to discover everything she possibly could about Johnny Magowan, and she wasted no time in setting quietly about her task. She used the ‘Cailleach’s” undoubted talent for making friends with others to achieve her aims. Then, by asking apparently innocent questions of those friends she made in the club, Luig quickly found the answers to all her questions about Johnny Magowan.

Luig discovered where Johnny lived, the location of his favourite ‘watering holes’, and who is closest companions were. One piece of good fortune for her came when she learned that the house she had recently rented was only doors away from the home in which Johnny and his family. More importantly, the knowledge that she had gained now gave Luig ample opportunity to observe both the man and his family. More importantly, the knowledge gave Luig more, apparently innocent, excuses to “accidentally” ingratiate herself with Johnny on more regular occasions, and thereby get to know him more intimately. Step by steady step, Luig managed to worm her way into the confidence of Johnny’s drinking buddies in the club, and could often be seen in their company.

Among all of his friends it could be said that both Bernie and Seamus were Johnny’s closest confidantes. These two men were confirmed, old-style batchelors and interested only in many pursuits. It wasn’t that either Bernie or Seamus did not enjoy the company of women, it was just that they did not want any ties to females that might hinder their carefree masculine lifestyle. They need not have worried about being overrun with needy females. As one woman member of the club put it, “Sure those two blackguards are as ugly as sin, and much too fond of their gargle, for any decent woman to be interested in them.” This was just what Luig wanted to hear, and both Bernie and Seamus were very much flattered when she began to make friends with them.

Being seen in the company of Bernie, Seamus and Johnny soon became a regular event for Luig. She would be seen chatting with them, laughing at their jokes, and even buying a drink or two for herself. In a very short period of time Luig had achieved her goal of becoming close confidante of Johnny Magowan. As week followed week, and months began to pass the friendship between Luig and Johnny grew more intimate. Seamus and Bernie, however, soon began to notice how bright the eyes of their new friend shone on each occasion that she was in Johnny’s company. This had been helped, in no small way, by the number of times when, after the football club closed for the night, Luig persuaded Johnny to see her home safely. Using the ploy of being a weak and vulnerable woman, Luig expressed her ‘fears’ of walking home, on her own in the darkness of the night. Johnny, always the gentleman, did not hesitate to offer himself as her escort and assured her that she would reach her front door safely. It was only a matter of time before Luig invited her escort into her house for quiet ‘night-cap’ before he went home. His first acceptance of the offer was innocent enough, but the invite became a regular event, and each one lasted a little bit longer than the previous event. One small ‘night-cap’ was stretched to two or three.

Despite what some people may believe, neighbours and friends are not always blind to such dalliances between men and women. It is gossip about such things, whether true or not, is the life-force that keeps the leisure time of friends and neighbours filled. Not surprisingly, there were rumours that suggested an affair between Johnny and Luig had begun. There were those who were disgusted at Johnny carrying on a sordid affair behind his wife’s back. There were also those people who doubted the credibility of such rumours because they had known Johnny and his family for many years, and had a very great respect for them. Some who heard the rumours had, not unexpectedly, an instant sympathy for Johnny’s wife, Maura, but there were none among these who felt they had the courage to make Maura aware of her husband’s possible infidelity. There were, however, close friends of Johnny who, on hearing the rumours, wasted no time in approaching him and ask if he was indeed conducting an affair with Luig. He, of course, denied the rumours and would laughingly tell them, “I’m a married man for God’s sake, with three children. Do you not think I have enough trouble without getting involved with another woman? But, deep inside his own heart, Johnny knew that things in his life were changing, and that it would not now be long before the truth was out.

In recent months Johnny’s wife, Maura, had become quite ill and had only been persuaded by the pleadings of her eldest daughter to consult the doctor. Maura had never been a stout, or physically strong, woman and so, when she began to rapidly lose weight her entire family became concerned, including Johnny. She had always been a woman who kept herself busy at work and in the house, so when she began to become lethargic and complain about her tiredness it aused those who knew her well to become very concerned for her own health. Friends and family persuaded Maura to go and see a doctor, who told her that the symptoms were not uncommon among women of her age and that she was not to be worried. The ill woman was given a course of vitamins and tonics, and she was also advised to begin a much healthier diet than that which she had become used to. Yet, despite these precautions being taken, Maura’s symptoms persisted and worsened. Friends began to urge her to seek further medical advice, and suggested that it might be better if she went to a medical consultant privately. But, Maura would laugh away their concerns and tell them that, “It is only old age and, sure, there is no cure for that.” She, however, was only in her mid-fifties and old age’s problems were a long way off yet.

Elsewhere, the rumours about Johnny Magowan and Luigseach McGirr were persistent, and were growing among neighbours. “Have you heard what people are saying about us?” Luig asked Johnny, one evening as they walked home together from the ‘Club’.

What about us? Have they stopped saying that we are secret lovers?” Johnny laughed.

That’s just what they’re saying,” Luig told him. “This is not good for your reputation, Johnny, or mine. Do you think that we should, perhaps, stop being seen in each other’s company so often?

What?” Johnny asked her, “You want us to submit to a bunch of frustrated old women who have nothing better to do with their lives but to gossip about us? We have nothing to be ashamed of here, because we have done nothing wrong. Why should we stop being good friends?

But, that does not stop any of them from saying nasty things about you and me. Maybe we should just stop being seen together so often?

Do you?

No! I’m just concerned for you,” said Luig.

To hell with them! The nosey bastards! Why should we stop our friendship because of what some nasty person is spreading among gullible people?” replied Johnny.

Are you sure?

You just listen to me for a minute,” he told her, “I like you, I like your company, so let them talk and spread their lies.”

As Johnny spoke these words Luig smiled, satisfied that her plan was now working very smoothly. She looked into his handsome face, put her arms around his neck, and they began to kiss each other quite passionately. Within a few moments she took his hand into hers, and holding it firmly Luig led him inside the house, and up the stairs to her bedroom.

As previously pointed out to you, the reader,Luig was not blessed with ravishing good looks. Instead, if the truth be told, when she wore her reading glasses she would remind you of that ill-famed murderess, “Rose West”, in her appearance. In short, Luig was as far from being a hot ‘pin-up’ as a woman could possibly be. Any person who can recall this relationship between Johnny and Luig are at a loss as to understand what there was about her that would have attracted him. The answer, of course, might easily have been because she was fifteen years younger than he was. He may have been simply flattered by her attention and the sex being offered to him, apparently without cost. Whatever the reason, this sexual encounter, though short, may have been exceptionally gratifying. But, Johnny was also a man of conscience and, immediately after having had sexual intercourse with Luig, a great sense of remorse began to overcome him. He sat on the edge of the bed in his nakedness and wondered just how he had come to this stage in his life.

You’re feeling guilty, now. Aren’t you?” Luig asked Johnny as she continued to lie in the big double bed, her naked, portly body covered only by a white cotton sheet.

I am,” admitted Johnny. “I am ashamed of myself, because this is something that I have never done before. I have always been a happily married man, and what we have done is wrong.”

Sure, it’s doing harm to anyone, Johnny. It’s only a wee bit of fun,” Luig tried to quietly comfort him. “It’s sex. There is nothing serious and there are no strings. It is simply something that happens when a man and a woman are suddenly attracted to each other.”

Johnny, unsurprisingly, was unsure about the logc behind what Luig was telling him. He knew that he liked this woman, and he did enjoy being in her company because she made him laugh. And yet, despite all this, he had never considered the possibility of being attracted to her in a sexual way. Naturally, as an older man, he felt very flattered that a younger woman, like Luig, would show such an active interest in him. But, now, after the event he began to feel a terrible guilt about having had sexual intercourse with a woman who was not his wife. There was a sudden realisation that a moment of lust had risked his marriage to Maura, his relationship with his children, and the respect he had among his wider family circle.

Above all, Johnny felt himself to be a hypocrite who had abandoned his own moral standards for lust. He had shunned the marriages of nieces and nephews because they had been pregnant, or caused pregnancy before their marriage. He had also been deeply embarrassed by his youngest daughter’s decision to live with her partner without getting married. He now felt a deep sense of shame, and he could not excuse his actions by saying that he was ‘making love’ to Luig. Johnny did not love Luig. He knew that it was all done through pure lust on the part of both of them. He knew that in the excitement of the moment his hormones had seized control of all his senses, and he seized the opportunity to copulate, as any healthy male animal would, when the female of the species presents herself to him. At this moment in his life he thought deeply about his love for his wife and children, which caused him to weep with the guilt he felt for betraying them. Feeling somewhat depressed, Johnny left Luig’s house after midnight and quickly walked the one hundred yards or so to his own house, which was in complete darkness. He discovered tat everyone in the house had gone to bed, and he took the opportunity to undress in silence in the bedroom, slip into his bed, and slept a very restless sleep that night.

Despite his deep feelings of guilt, however, Johnny and Luig would regularly repeat their lustful encounters, and not just on those occasions when he had left her home from the ‘Club’. In later years, when their affair finally came out into the open, people wondered just what had convinced Johnny Magowan to indulge in an affair with this woman. Some people suggested that Luig had, perhaps, told him that she was pregnant and then lost the baby. Others considered that both Johnny’s eyesight and mental capacity had been at fault. Seamus, one of Johnny’s closest friends, once confronted him by asking, “Just what the hell are you playing at, Johnny? Prince Charles is a dick-head for giving up Diana for that ugly Camilla. But, you are doing this on Maura for the like of Luig McGirr is even worse!”

Johnny could not defend himself, or his actions, to his friend. Sadly, observers can only assume that in Johnny’s case it was the tale of ‘forbidden fruit’ being made readily available, and man’s insatiable greed attracted Johnny to experience it. Like taking a drug, the more a man partakes in ‘forbidden fruit’ the more he becomes addicted, and he begins to feel the pain of guilt in his mind less often. It is said that among addicts, their consciences become quickly immune to any feelings of guilt, or remorse for any wrongdoing on their part. As a result, those things that once were unconfirmed rumours suddenly became fact, and they continued to spread throughout the town. Always in such cases, however, it is said, “The wife is always the last to know about her husband’s infidelity.” As far as Johnny and Luig were concerned, this was to remain the situation for a considerable period of time.

In that intervening period Maura’s ailments became worse and she began to worry about her own health. Being the devoted wife that she was, Maura had no wish to concern her husband about things that men would consider ‘Women’s Problems.’ But, Fiona, her eldest daughter, seeing the pain and difficulty that her mother was suffering urged her to consult the doctor and to get some tests done to find out what was wrong.

Cailleach of Ballygran III

Johnny

Derryard

The man who inadvertently walked into Luig McGarr’s life at this stage was a fine, well-educated man in his mid-fifties. Johnny Magowan was still a very handsome man, despite his age, and he was happily married to Maura, who had borne him three fine, healthy children. But, of all the men that had passed through Luig’s hands, it was to be Johnny, who would allow her time to play her tricks and to gain almost total influence over his every action.

Johnny was well situated in a top Civil Service job, after a career that stretched over thirty years, and he enjoyed a salary that reflected his high pay grade. But, that does not mean that Johnny Magowan was a wealthy man, who consorted with the upper class in society. He was, in fact, far from being the type of person who considered himself wealthy, living a simple lifestyle and preferring the company of those men with whom he had grown up in the town. A pint of Guinness was his usual tipple, he enjoyed having a bet on the horse-racing, and took a great interest in the local Gaelic Football team. In fact, when he was a young man, Johnny played for the local team and gave up much of his time to coach the schoolboy teams. Such physical activities were now a thing of the past when Johnny reached the age of fifty-five years and chose early retirement from his post.

Taking retirement at the early age of fifty-five years old was entirely his own decision and, as was his way, it was made without any consultation involving his long wife, Maura. Nevertheless, in taking voluntary retirement, Johnny did receive a considerable cash sum to go alongside the ample pension due to him, through the grades he had achieved by means of the promotions he had secured.

There were some who said that Johnny was not the easiest of people to live with, but Maura had been in love with him since she had been a teenager. In fact throughout their courtship she had worked hard to earn enough to help with Johnny’s finances, while he studied through university. She didn’t pay anything toward tuition, but she did finance much of the leisure time that they enjoyed together. It came as no surprise then, that within a few months of his graduating  from university and the securing of a permanent post, Johnny proposed to Maura. Of course there are always envious people in this world who speak cruelly about other, and some of these cruel minded people suggested that Johnny had felt obliged to marry Maura because of the money that she had spent on him while he was still at university. It was easy to tell that Maura was in love with the man, but they did not appreciate the fact that Johnny was the sort of man who would not do anything because he felt obliged to. He married Maura because he was in love with her, though it was not the sort of thing that he would have admitted.

 To those who knew the young couple in those days, their marriage did not come as a surprise, for Johnny was one of the most handsome, well-dressed and well-mannered young men in the town. As an added bonus for any young woman he also came from a well-respected family, whose father had his own business. Maura, for her part was a tall, thin, raven-haired, beauty whose sharp features reminded some of the film stars of the period, or the models in glossy magazines. There were many men who lost their hearts to Maura, but she only ever had eyes for Johnny.

Maura did not live far from Johnny’s family’s front door and had attracted the young man with her long, black hair, glided over her shoulders with a sheen on it like silk, and it always brushed to perfection. She was a dark-eyed beauty whose face was pale, but in a beautiful porcelain-like manner that was unblemished. On her lips, Maura always spread a red lipstick, which undoubtedly increased the seductiveness of her appearance and, when she walked past you, it was like one of those magazine super-models had just floated by.

Handsome Johnny, however, was often not so well thought of. There were those who thought he was both vain and conceited, but his friends would deny any such accusations. They would tell you that, even as a young boy, Johnny took care about his personal appearance and hygiene. Girls admired him for his ‘Tony Curtis’ good looks, his taste in clothes, and for his perfectly groomed hair. He, for his part enjoyed being admired by the young ladies in town, but his heart had been given to a girl called Maura McConnell and it her that he married.

Married life for the young couple was not easy, however, because Johnny was selfish in some ways. He was a man who considered his earnings his own, and it was he who took control of the household finances. But, he was much more concerned with maintaining appearances than he was about purchasing the home and the lifestyle that matched his station in life. Strangely, he never took Maura on holidays, but managed to travel the world himself with his friends. While he was away, Maura would stayed at home raising a family of three children and maintaining a house in which almost every item had been chosen by her, with his agreement. With the birth of their first child, even Johnny’s social life did not have much room for his devoted wife, because he preferred golf, horse racing, football and a few pints with his friends rather than taking Maura out for a drink, or a meal. There were many, of course, who thought it was a strange relationship and couldn’t understand it. But, nevertheless, Johnny and Maura appeared happy and raised their three children in a home that was filled with welcome and warmth.

It is unfortunate that Maura never appeared to be among Johnny’s first choice as a travelling companion on any of his journeys. In their entire married life there were only a few occasions when he made a point of takng Maura, and any of the children with him. These trips were usually short holiday excursions to his sister’s house in England. There were certain advantages that Johnny saw in these trips among which were keeping Maura and the children happy, they were not far from home and there was no accommodation to pay for. On other occasions his itchy feet took him further afield and he would be away for several weeks at a time. Just for the adventure of it all he woud take summer jobs in the Channel Islands, France, Canada, and the U.S.A. It was not until a few years before his retirement that he stopped taking these holidays, but a few years after he was retired Johnny was back on the road and shaking the dust off his shoes. There were, furthermore, at that time other changes made to his life that he took, which eventually led to a terrible revelation.

Several years before retiring, Johnny took up playing golf in his leisure time, encouraged by several colleagues at work. He became very proficient in the game for an amateur player and there was a period of time when his photograph never seemed to be out of the sports’ pages of the local newspaper, winning some golfing trophy or other. This was not unusual when it came to Johnny because, whatever he took up, he always strived to be the best he could be at it, especially if it was a sport. When he announced that he was taking early retirement, his friends teased him that he now would have plenty of time for playing golf. Within two years of retiring, however, he stopped playing golf completely, much to the surprise of friends and golfing partners alike. At this time in Johnny’s life many things were changing, and he was changing in himself.

Throughout his life, for example, Johnny had used public transport to travel from one place to another, including his workplace. Rain, hail, snow, or shine but Johnny could be seen on the bus for over the thirty years he had worked in one place. Some days, when he was working late, he would manage to get one of his colleagues to take him home in their car, even if the journey would take them miles out of their way. When I say they would take him home, they really dropped him off at his local club where, religiously, every evening he would have two pints of Guinnes with friends. It was a habit that Johnny had enjoyed almost all of his adult life, and it was about the only thing about him that did not change after early retirement. Every evening at about eight o’clock he would arrive in the club, sin in the members’ bar and have a sociable drink with friends. Just two drinks only, before he returned home at about ten o’clock to watch the news on television before going on to bed.

Maura was quite pleased that her husband was taking early retirement. She looked forward to spending more time with each other as a couple, which had not been the case since their early married days when they had moved into an apartment in a recently built block of flats. It was a comfortable first home, but as one child followed another it soon became time for the couple to find somewhere a little more commodious. Maura found a house next door to her mother’s, where they lived for quite a few years before moving into the home in which they resided at the time of this tale.

Maura was concerned about what way he would use all the spare time that he would soon have. She knew that Johnny was not the sort of man who did hobbies, and she had been surprised when he decided to try golf. Maura was just as surprised when he stopped golfing, just at the time when he had more time on his hands to devote to it. She was surprised even further when he started to work in the garden, because she was fully aware of the fact that, when it came to growing things, Johnny was not ‘Alan Tichmarsh’.

Hunting, was yet another hobby that Maura thought her husband might take up again, though he had not hunted for many years. With his brothers, Johnny had actively hunted through the hills and bogs for many years. But as his brothers passed away, Johnny lost all liking for the sport. The idea was plausible, of course, but she thought that after so many years away from it he would be reluctant to start again. Who could he persuade to go parading across heather covered mountains with a gun in their hand, or sit for hours among reed beds awaiting the arrival of ducks back on some lake? There was yet another possible problem, which bothered Maura. She wondered, after all that walking and stalking of the birds, “could Johnny still hit the target?” The question, of course, was never answered because Jimmy no longer had any love for a sport he had once shared with his dead brothers.

In Johnny’s mind, the major problem with retiring early was that all of his friends, and even his wife, were still in full-time work. It was unfortunate, but Johnny always appeared to be at a loose end, and he began spending more time watching horse-racing on the television, or playing snooker at the club. Then, one day, completely out of the blue He visited a local garage and purchased a small car for himself. Without telling anyone, Johnny had applied for his driver’s licence, learned to drive, and passed his test first time.

All through his youth and years of working in the Civil Service Johnny had never shown any inclination to drive a car, being happy with public transport, or getting lifts in other people’s cars. Now, however, he found himself with much more leisure time on his hands, and he began to feel that he would like to travel a little more. This he felt would give him much more independence but, as is always the case, he did not travel very far, mostly into town and out again.

It seemed odd to some people that Johnny would buy a car, but other strange things also began to occur. Maura noticed that the hours he would spend in the club, especially at weekends, had also changed. There were days, also, when he would drive of in the car somewhere, telling nobody where he was going, and not returning home until late at night. At this time too, his family began to notice strange behaviour and could not quite explain it to themselves. While Johnny had always taken a pride in his appearance, he now began to take extra time every morning in the shower, moisturising his body, shaving and oiling his face, and spraying all sorts of expensive male scents about himself. More surprisingly, Johnny began not to wear smart long-sleeve shirts, ties and flannel trousers, exchanging them for bright-coloured short-sleeved shirts denims, or chinos. To match these, Johnny’s hairstyle received a more modern cut, and the parts that were turning grey suddenly appeared to return to their former dark colour. With all these things happening, it is not surprising that some neighbours became suspicious that there were hidden reason for these changes. But, these people were only in a small minority, and most chose to disregard the ugly rumours as being unthinkable when it came to a man of his standing in the community.

Nevertheless, the changes in Johnny Magowan’s lifestyle continued. He was a man who, as we have said, could appreciate a good pint of Guinness and usually imbibed his pint in the Club. But, after retiring he began to explore other oases during the day. He began frequent some of the more popular public houses in the town. In those hostelries he was certain of being able to buy a decent pint of stout, and could also be sure of a decent lunch at a reasonable price. He was often seen entering the “Railway Tavern”, or “The Olde Oak”, where he regularly spent an hour or two eating and drinking, while watching the horse-racing on the television behind the bar. Both public houses were sited on the same street in town, and situated ideally half-way between them was the “Turf Accountants” where he could place his bets. This street now became the destination for his daily trips into town.

Johnny’s evening trips still took him to Ballygan Football Club, and he still met up with the friends whose company he enjoyed. The club was little more than a quarter of a mile from the house, the walk to which he often described as his nightly exercise. You could be sure that every evening he would be in that club, standing at the bar and ordering his first drink. He was so prompt in fact that the barmaid could have set the clock for him coming in. Johnny would lift his glass at the bar and take his first drink of the stout to ensure none of the precious liquid would spell as he took it to the members’ lounge, where he would join his friends.

Cailleach of Ballygran II

Luigsheach (pron: Luck-Shack)

The time has come, at last, to relate the story of the woman who is known to many of us as the “Cailleach of Ballygran”. Many of the ancient traditions of the Celtic nations, as we have seen, contain a rich source of myths about the famed ‘Cailleach’. They pre-date christianity and make it clear that the ‘Cailleach’ did not represent any one thing in particular, but she proved herself to be a complicated spirit. In more ways than one she was associated with death, deviousness, and a range of catastrophes that can be inflicted upon others. In the same way the subject of this story was a woman, who wanted to be seen by her neighbours and ‘friends’ as a saintly person, living a good life and doing only good for others. In reality, however, she was a selfish individual seeking only her own aggrandisement at the expense of others, and was far from being anything approaching saintly.

She would deny being anything like that ancient Celtic spirit, but this was only to be expected from a devious person.

Her face was blue-black of the lustre of coal

And her bone-tufted tooth was like red rust.

In her head was one pool-like eye,

Swifter than a star in a winter sky.”

This modern ‘Cailleach’ could not be described in this manner, because it was her heart that was blue-black like coal with the evil it contained. She did not have one large eye in her head, but she had two eyes that saw everything that went on around her, and ears that missed nothing. It was her natural appearance, however, that fooled quite a few people into believing that she was a caring person, who only had their best interests at heart. their blindness was eventually removed. But, the ‘Cailleach’ is a shape-shifter who can hide in any form she chooses until she succeeds in getting from them all that she needs. Only then do these poor people see her real identity and, instead of being a self-sacrificing person who hadn’t a bad bone in her body, they suddenly discovered her to be a cold, treacherous and conniving witch.

Regarded in ancient myth as “the daughter of the little sun,” the ‘Cailleach’ was, and remains, an elemental power of winter, bringing upon us all the cold, wind, and tempests of that season. But, it is not with such direct action that our ‘Cailleach’ strikes. Like the ‘Cailleach’ of old she has a sharp tongue that brings little joy or happiness to others, and leaves them feeling very cold after their encounter. In fact. she detests seeing others happy and comfortable with their lives and always seeks ways in which to bring them down. Like the ancient Roman God, Janus, this devil shows two faces to those with whom she comes into contact. One of those faces shows her to be both caring and sharing, while the other face is not normally seen by those she meets. Instead, this face is discretely displayed behind the backs of those people so they might not see just how vile and self-serving she is.

The ‘Cailleach’ of old came into her full power as the days shorten and the sun sits low in the skies.  The darkness appears to empower these creatures and so it is with the ‘Cailleach’ of our story. In ancient times the people were often adequately prepared for the actions of the witch. They would observe and watched for the definite meterological changes that would signal the days of the ‘Cailleach’s’ power, when she would bring snowfall and winter storms over the hills and fields. Our ‘Cailleach’ is a different creature, in that she does not give any definite signs of what she is going to do. Those who truly know her are certain that instead of the generous, caring person she portrays herself to be she will be as selfish, conspiratorial, and very destructive as she can. She will lie, flatter, slander and use every possible evil trick that she possibly can to attain her objectives, and she will care very little about the feelings of others.

This witch of a hag uses modern day tricks such as creating gossip, spreading lies, using the goodness of others and even stealing from those who think she is their friend. She is a woman of no conscience and wears a ready smile for everyone. Perhaps it a means by which she can keep her mind active and retain a standard of youthfulness. Throughout her life she has used her age and appearance to entrap victims in her web. When she was younger she used her youthful spirit to gain the attention of men, whom she would discard in a way that would affect them most, both emotionally and mentally. But this was one of her great powers, her ability to almost enchant men into her arms where she could take advantage of them in every way possible. You might wonder if she had learned her trade from the old ‘Cailleach Bhéarra,’  who was also called ‘Sentainne’ (“Old Woman.”). It was said by the Celts that “she passed into seven periods of youth, so that every husband used to pass to death from her of old age ….

In those ancient days the ‘Cailleach Bhéarra’ was said to reside within a deep cave that lay beneath a hilltop megalith near Slieve Gullion, in County Armagh. Traditionally, Slieve Gullion is called ‘Calliagh Birra’s House’, and the megalithic site ‘Carrownamaddoo’ is also called ‘Calliagh A Vera’s House’. In many places throughout the north of Ireland there are many standing stones, which are said to be people and animals she transformed.  One of these stands near Antrim and is a búllan (rock basin) that is known as the ‘Witch’s Stone’. The legend of this place is that when the ‘Cailleach’ finished building the Round Tower, she leaped off the top and landed on this stone, leaving marks from her elbow and her knee.

Unlike the untamed ‘Cailleach’ of old, who tossed boulders and leaped hilltops, roamed through the mountains with forest animals or, took their shape, the modern form is somewhat different. Now she is seen as the average woman, powerless, unhappy with their lot in life, apparently vulnerable and crying,

banshee

 

“I am the veiled Old Woman,

  I used to be ever-renewed.

  Today my standing has been lowered,

 But my powers are undiminished,”

 This anonymous poem about the Cailleach was written sometime in the 11th century, and it betrays to us the work of Christianity on local traditions. The priests recast the ‘Cailleach’ in the minds of the people by stripping down ancient myths and reinterpretating them in line with Christian norms. Under these terms, female position in society takes a secondary role. Tales and poems still included references to death, winter, and decay. Though there remains mention of ‘Cailleach’ and its links to winter and the season of little sun. But their odes and stories are also filled with female bitterness and intense loss. Age is no longer something powerful that should be venerated, rather it is seen as contemptible and weak. With her beauty gone, the ‘Cailleach’ sits at the fringes of society, seeking revenge.

Our ‘Cailleach’ is just this kind of creature. She sits on the fringes of society, being neither rich nor poor. She was never a beautiful person, inside or out, and this may have helped in keeping her at the lower end of the social scale, but she was able to hide her weaknesses well, keeping herself immune from attack. The modern ‘Cailleach’ sits like the lioness and waits for her prey to come along, using every one of the senses she has.

There is a wise old saying that tells us a Leopard cannot change its spots, which is a damning judgement on the ‘Cailleach.’In the minds of those who think in this way, the ‘Cailleach’ is born as an evil entity and will remain so throughout her long life. She constantly tries to climb the social ladder and attempts to get ahead in this world at the expense of others that she meets. These are the characteristics that best describe the witch that is known to us as ‘The Cailleach of Balligran.

Luigseach McGarr (pron: Luck-Shack) preferred to be known by the shorter version of her first name, namely ‘Luig’. As a child until adulthood Luig was always possessed a small, squashed stature. She kept her dirty blond hair quite short, but never followed the modern styles of hair fashion. Luig’s thick rimmed glasses dominated her plump, round and pale face, about which there was nothing notable that would help her stand out from the crowd. In height she stood only a few inches over five feet tall, in her stocking soles, and she spoke with an oddly pitched and uncultured voice that could sometimes grate on one’s mind. There was, therefore, nothing that reflected the fact that Luig was a woman of intelligence. Although there was really no question about this, she much preferred to make an effort to hide it from others. This was one reason why she consistently portrayed herself as just a simple woman with very simple tastes.

Throughout history it appears that witches, in all their forms, represented a very impressive obstacle to conquest in the minds of all warriors. Their chief weapon in the battle was the cultural influence that they possessed among the people. This influence among the people of her society was strong enough for the ‘Cailleach’ use it as a breakwater to combat the incoming tide of patriarchy that automatically assigned all authority and all privilege to the male, the husband, the warlord, and  the priest.

Just as her predecessors had, the one blessing that Luig missed, was that of being given the beauty that would entrap all men. Everyone who knows Luig would agree that she could never have been described as being a pretty, or petite lady. Everyone would also agree that this failure did not appear to lessen her relationships with a variety of men in any way. As a man, speaking for men, it makes me so sad to admit that many men are easily fooled by the female sex. They will always forgive a woman for her lack of handsome features, especially when they are able to benefit from the comforts that she freely gives to them.

Even before she was married, Luig had a reputation for ‘playing the field’ and for enjoying herself while doing so. She used all her well-honed wiles to get her claws into the man who would be her future husband. Apparently, this young man was fortunate enough to have his eyes quickly opened, and he planned to call their relationship off. Unfortunately, in those days, society’s norms called for a man to marry a woman whom he caused to get pregnant. This is how the young man became her husband, and they married before she was even twenty years old. His problem lay in the fact that he could not be sure that he was the father of Luig’s baby.

Like the honourable man he was, Luig’s husband stayed with her for several years and she had several more children in that time. Rumours, and advice about the truth of those rumours, finally caused the poor man to eventually abandoned her and the children for his own survival. Some might condemn him for abandoning the children, but there are those within the community who will tell you that the husband could not be sure that he was the father of those children. In fact the same people would also confirm that the possibility of there being separate fathers for each of Luig’s children is quite high. Her days of ‘playing the field’ did not, apparently, end on the day she took her matrimonial vows.

Luig’s former husband, it appears, was a very handsome and popular young man in the town, and yet none of Luig’s children can be said to have inherited his handsome looks or features. By this time, Luig had reached her late thirties had become a more portly woman. Heavy with make-up and with thinning blonde hair she tried, without much success to maintain her youth. Her failed efforts, however, did not appear to have a detrimental effect in striking up new relationships with men. Luig seemed to have in her possession some special power that caused some men to actively seek her company. The string of affairs, which were said to be a major problem for her husband, continued and Luig’s reputation among the women in her home town declined. Because Luig did not distinguish between married and single men, but had affairs with both, continuing to reside in her home town was considered untenable and she decided to move away.

Once she had secured a move to a house in a nearby town, Luig began to make herself known to the local male population in various bars and clubs, but affairs were few and far between. Maybe it was her age, or perhaps these men were intelligent enough to take what she was offering and to leave before there was any further involvement with her. But, as seems the case in all these type of stories, there is always one man who is foolish enough to fall for her tricks and destroy the love of both his immediate and extended family.

Part Three of this story will appear soon. I hope you like it so far. There is a form to contact me with your constructive comments and I look forward to hearing them…

Cailleach of Ballygran I

INTRODUCTION


The “Cailleach” (pronounced “kye-luhkh”) is said to be an ancient spirit, and is described as being one of the most fascinating, powerful, and most terrifying of the Celtic underworld. By Celtic Bards she s described …

She crouched like a wild beast ready to spring,
She of the long nails, she of the long teeth,
She ran through the hills like thunder
.”

The ‘Cailleach’ is a mystery, whose memory and presence has survived many centuries after tribal worship to her died out among the Celts. She is, however, known in Celtic tradition as a very ancient spirit. In fact her tradition is so old that we know almost nothing of her origins, or the myths and rituals that surround her. The ‘Cailleach’, however, is found in the ancient traditions of Ireland, Scotland, and England, traceable through the folklore of those countries, the names of ancient monuments, natural wonders, and through the ancient verses and stories handed downfrom generation to generation.

We know that the Celts came to these lands over two millenia ago, bringing with them their own pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. But, when they arrived here the tradition of the ‘Cailleach’ was already ancient. It is almost impossible for us to know, or understand, what this particular spirit meant to those who worshipped her, but she must have been very important because, unlike countless deities and demons, she did not disappear. In fact, there are many who insist that the ‘Cailleach’ is still alive, and still a power in these lands and we must know something about her if we are to understand the story that follows.

In Celtic folklore the “Cailleach” is known by many titles, but chiefly as the ‘Old Woman of Winter’. She shows herself in late autumn as the days grow shorter and the weather turns wintry. It is said that the cold winds of winter, which scour the land is the breath of ‘Cailleach Bheaur‘ , or the Blue Hag of Winter. It is she who is responsible for bringing cold, snow and the treacherous weather that steals life from the land. She is the Goddess of Winter, Mother of Mountains, Ageless Lady of Dark Places, and the Ancient Crone of Wisdom.

When the winter came to an end, it is said that the ‘Cailleach’ used a magic rod, which she carried in her right hand, to strike the grass into blades of ice. The end of Winter, of course, brings with it the Spring, and she could not bear the grass and sun. On first sight of the season of renewal she would fly into a temper, throwing down her wand beneath a holly tree, before disappearing in a whirling cloud of angry passion. Some accounts say that the ‘Cailleach’ turned herself into a grey boulder to await the end of the warm days, when she would be renewed. The boulder, it was said, would always be moist to the touch, because it contained slumbering substance of the spirit.

There are other tales that tell us the ‘Cailleach’ changes herself into a beautiful young woman at this time, for the other face of the Cailleach is Briege, once goddess, who has been amalgamated into Christian saint, whose feast day, February 1st is said to mark the return of the light. Tales tell us that on the eve of this feast day the ‘Cailleach’ journeys to a magical island in whose forests lies the miraculous ‘Well of Youth’. At the first glimmer of dawn, she drinks the water that bubbles in a crevice of a rock, and is transformed into Briege, the beautiful spirit whose magical, white wand turns the bare earth green once more.

The name, “Cailleach”, in simple language means, “Older wise woman”, but the title is very much connected to the tradition of witches and the dark arts. At a cultural level, this Dark Goddess appears in a number of forms, and her role was to facilitate tribal elders at important times in Celtic society, such as declaring war and the choosing of kings. The ‘Cailleach’ was described as being of fierce and terrifying in her appearance. She was described as having only one eye, but it was an eye of exceptional sight, and sat in the middle of her blue-black face. Another outstanding feature of the ‘Cailleach’ was her red teeth and her white hair, that was like a snow covered mountain top. Over her head she wore a kerchief of sorts, and over her dull grey clothing she wore a faded plaid shawl. But, it is important to remember that this old woman can take on many disguises and, in many parts of Ireland, is said to be responsible for the placing of cairns and barrow mounds on the hills and mountains. It is her association with such things that reveals her intimate connection to the underworld and the ancestral realms of death.

This Celtic spirit not only controls the seasons, the ‘Cailleach’ is considered to be a goddess of the earth and sky, the sun and moon. In the guise of an earth goddess she can create life and nurture it, but she is also a destroyer that brings only death in all its forms. The ‘Cailleach’ can also form, alongside other spirits, the group known as ‘The Storm Hags’, who can control the winds and the weather for their own means. In Ireland, alongside, ‘Babh’ (Crow), and Macha she is part of a group who unleash their magical powers to bring mists, clouds of darkness, and showers of fire and blood over their enemies. Their howls of menace can cause blood to freeze, bringing a paralysis to soldiers on the battlefield. Any aspect of this goddess might appear among opposing armies as crows or ravens, all of which are considered to be sinister black carrion birds of death.

In times of battle the warriors might just see a lean, nimble hag, hovering above the fighting, hopping about on the spears and shields of the army who were to be victorious. Another of her guises is the ‘Washer at the Ford’, which takes the form of an old woman who can be seen washing the clothing of a soldier who is about to die in battle. When the warrior saw her at this task, he knew that he would soon be crossing the river that separates life and death, and he embraced the dark side of life. They, the Celts, took to war like a lover, plunging into battle naked, while singing gloriously boastful songs. They were fearless in the face of death, which their belief in reincarnation taught them was “…but the center of a long life.” It was their belief that the blood and carnage on the battlefield fertilized and replenished the earth. War and death gave way to life and a flourishing land. In fact, it was not an uncommon thing for a man to lend money to another and agree on repayment in a future lifetime. Darkness, then, within Celtic tradition, was closely associated with new beginnings, such as the potential of the seed below the ground.

In some ancient tales, the ‘Cailleach’ does not turn to stone at the end of winter, but appears at a house where there was a young man lying. At this house she begs that she might be allowed to warm herself by the side of the fire, which is granted. But, later she would creep into the young man’s bed, and through her wily, magical spells the young man did not throw her out. Instead, he only put a fold in the blanket between them. But, after a while, the young man awoke with a start, for this old crone had changed into the most beautiful of women that man had ever seen. Such tales in Celtic folklore reinforce the tradition that says the ‘Cailleach’ endlessly chases youth, using magic means to seduce the young men. It is, therefore, right that the ‘Cailleach’, in her many disguises, is deeply feared because of her authority in the land of the dead. It is said that she outlives many husbands and lovers, while she remains youthful and mothers many children.

“The Cailleach sees with an all knowing eye,

A dark spirit with two faces,

One of which is bluish-black and

is filled with the knowledge of the ancients.

She is a withered old crone,

and older than time,

who watching over the land,

and guiding victims back to her.

With a quick and terrifying strike,

She is eager to unleash her power,

Causing mayhem and destruction in the world,

To bring about her renewal of life.”

The ‘Cailleach’. then, is known to all as ‘The Keeper of the Mysteries” promising all a new life, after the long sleep she brings to the world. But, as with any witch, the ‘Cailleach’ is interested only in her own aggrandisement. And so we meet the ‘Cailleach’ of Balligran…

The Christening

A Tale written after an old story idea by Wesley G Lyttle (1844-96)

There was a large turf fire blazing upon the broad, pleasant hearth of Matty Carr’s cottage, filling the entire house with its sweet, fragrant scents. In those days the turf was plentiful on the “Selkie Moss” and it was likely that the supply would last for a few hundred years yet. Bella, as Matt’s wife was called, was very much a house-proud woman, who was convinced that nothing makes a home more cheerful than a bright, warm, and welcoming fire in the hearth. Although she was usually a thrifty and frugal type of woman, Bella would build up the bricks of peat into a glowing pile with unsparing hands until the kitchen felt as hot as a kiln. The floor was so clean that you could have almost eaten your meal off it, and every pot and pan was washed and cleaned to such an extent that they looked like mirrors hanging from their hooks. The wooden dresser that stood against the wall was looking fresh in its white gloss finish, and everything in the house had the definite appearance of absolute cleanliness.
In the corner of the kitchen, near to the fireplace, there was a clumsy-looking, home-made cradle, in which slept the newest and most precious addition to the Carr family. Every now and again, Bella would stop in the middle of her household chores to take a look in at the sleeping child, and she would whisper sweet blessings over her newborn infant.
Hey, Bella!” Matt shouted. “Was there anybody touching my razor?” He was calling to his wife from the next door room, where he was getting himself dressed for the very important ceremony that was soon to begin.
For Jaysus sake, man dear,” she called back to him in a loud whisper, “could you not speak just a bit softer, ye eejit, or you’ll waken the child!” At the same time, one her tip-toes, she hurried to the door of the adjoining room.
Matt was in a bit of a temper with himself about something, or other, which was not uncommon and Bella could see his mood quite clearly. He was standing in the room and facing Bella when she came to the door of the room, and he held the cut-throat razor in one of his hands. His face was plentifully lathered with shaving soap, but from one side of his chin she saw that there was a cut from which blood flowed quite freely. Matt held the razor out toward her, ensuring that she had a clear view of the condition in which he had found the edge of the blade.
Aah, wee man! Have you cut your wee self?” she asked him with a false tone of pity, although she was concerned that he would be alright.
Cut myself?” he replied impatiently, being none to pleased with his wife’s tone. “Well, I think I have, or maybe I’m sweating blood! With all your blatherin’ maybe I will even bleed to death just for you. Now, just get me a plaster will you?
Returning to the kitchen, Bella fumbled in the dresser drawers and found a box of plasters, from which she took one and gave it to her angry husband. She knew that Matt was a good man, but he was also the type of man that occasionally lacked patience, and he did not suffer fools lightly. He had absolutely no doubts that some of the children had been using his razor to sharpen their pencils or other items. Matt’s mistake was simply that he had failed to check the edge of the razor before he began to shave with it. “Would you get the leather strap for me, Bella?” he asked her.
You know, maybe the strap will not be good enough to put an edge on the blade. I might have to take the bloody thing to the anvil and use a sledge hammer to put a proper edge on it. Then, if that works, I could polish it up by rubbing it along the big sharpening stone that I use for the scythe,” he told Bella in a half-joking tone of voice.
While Matt was talking to her, Bella returned to the dresser and fetched a huge glass jar, filled with a golden coloured liquid. Matt had a bright twinkle in his eyes when he caught sight of that jar in his wife’s hands. The corners of his mouth began twitching with anticipation as he came to understand her intentions. Nevertheless, he kept complaining and moaning until, finally, gave him a large tumbler filled with whisky that had been drawn from the jar.
And what’s that?” asked Matt, who was still not in the best of humour.
Aah, sure take a wee drink, darlin’. It’ll calm you down and steady your hand. It might even help stop your bleeding,” said Bella with a comforting smile.
Matt, being the sort of man that he was, did not need a second invitation to have a drink of whisky. He put the razor down by the washing bowl on the dressing table and gently took the tumbler of whisky from his wife’s hand. “Here’s to you, Bella,” he laughed as he emptied the glass in one drink.
Jaysus, Matt, you’ll have to take your time with the rest,” Bella insisted.
By God, Bella, sure you never spoke a truer word,” Matt replied. “There was a time that I could’ve drunk a river of that stuff, dry.
Indeed, you could have, wee man,” smiled Bella. “These days I would rather see you bringing in a bag of “Inglis'” flour than a jar of whisky. We can have more fun making things with the flour.
Don’t be daft, woman!” sneered Matt. “There’s more fun in that jar of whisky than there could ever be in “Inglis'” flour, even a cart load of it!
That may well be the case, my dear,” Bella replied to him. “But, like everything else, darlin’, whisky is very good as long as you keep it in its right place, and you do not abuse it.
Aye, and aren’t I just the man who knows where that right place is, and able to put it into it?” Matt laughed heartily, but Bella was not amused. He held the tumbler toward Bella again, saying, “Bella, just give me another wee measure and then I’ll quit.
But, the jar was closed and Bella had placed it back on the dresser, totally unwilling to replenish her husbands glass. “You have had enough for the time being,” she told him and began to walk away.
Och, Bella, just one more wee glass,” he pleaded with his wife. “Just to keep the first one company. You know, a bird cannot fly with only one wing.
Bella, of course, gave way to Matts pleas, as every dutiful wife would do. Matt now quickly forgot the bleeding cut on his face and, with a few strokes on the leather honing strap, the razor soon became as sharp as it had been previously. His face was soon shaven cleanly and he dressed in his best ‘Sunday Suit’. In less than half-an-hour he was standing at the front door of his cottage, waiting to welcome his invited guests. Matt had a quick eye and was able to distinguish objects at a distance from him. With that keen eyesight he scanned the various roads that led away from the house, and as soon as he saw certain people coming into his view he would call out to his wife, “They’re coming Bella! Here they are! Are those glasses ready? And the boiling water and the whisky? Is there something a little softer for the lasses, such as lemonade or cider? By Jaysus, woman, but this will be a well-remembered day and night! Sure this well may be the last christening we’ll ever have, so to hell with the expense!
It was absolutely amazing the number of people that Matt Carr was able to squeeze into that small house of his. There was both young and old, but it was mostly adults who were in attendance. They were put into the kitchen and the bedroom, and in every vacant space that was available inside the house. The first of the guests had begun arriving in the afternoon, but they were mainly the older women who came to give Bella a hand in making the needful preparations, and attend to the wants and needs of the children.
Matt was now in his glory. If you could have heard him talking to the guests you would have heard him talking to the guests, you would have thought him to be the ‘Lord of the Manor’, instead of the hardworking, hardfisted mechanic of Ballyfoss. But, Matts heart was bursting with happiness and he would not have changed places with the proudest man in Ireland.
In a comfortable chair close to the blazing fire sat Biddy Brown, who acted both as a nurse and a midwife for almost the entire district. On her head she wore a white hat and she was dressed in a spotlessly clean, blue and white checked uniform. As she sat there near the turf fire there was a look of quiet contentment and grave responsibility on her face, which is so common among the nursing profession. On her knee slept the Carr baby, dressed in a snow-white gown, which was neatly embroidered and adorned for its imminent baptismal ceremony.
Matt, of course, attended to the duty that he saw as being his main responsibility. He was distributing the whisky around his guests. Each had a glass tumbler in heir hand or near at hand, which Matt filled from a small jug that he replenished from the large glass jar mentioned earlier. As he moved around, serving each guest, he talked to them in a warm and friendly fashion. “Now, Mrs. McCall,” he said to one guest, “Not one drop have you taken from your glass since I put that first drop in your glass.
Ah, sure, dear God, Matt,” she answered him, “this is two or three times you have filled my glass. And, honest to God, my boy, I couldn’t take any more.”
Jaysus sake, Matty,” said another lady. “Please don’t offer me any more, for that must be one of the jugs that never empties and my head’s spinning circles already!
Thus it continued. Some protested and yet, as they did so, they still held out their glasses for a fresh supply. Others, however, really meant what they had said and refused to take any more of Matt’s whisky.
Aah, Biddy, we almost forgot you,” said Matt as he approached the nurse and replenished her glass. “What do you think of the new baby, Biddy?
No nicer baby has ever come into this world!” Biddy told him as she softly kissed the baby’s head. “And may it be a blessing to its mother and father, as well as a credit to the old country.
Amen to that,” came the response from most of those around them.
Well, Biddy, there could be no better judge than yourself,” exclaimed Bella and Matt. “Because you have put a good number of them through your hands this last fifty years, and now I’ll tell you one and all what I’m going to make of that child you see there –” Matt ended his speech abruptly at this point as the latch on the door lifted and into the house walked the priest, who was to christen the child.
As the priest entered the house everyone rose in respectful silence as the priest came into the cottage. Father Toner was a man with a fine physique and a commanding presence. He had gained a wide reputation for his blood and thunder homilies, in which the assembled congregation could almost smell the sulphur of hell. But, outside of the pulpit, he was much admired for his genialmanner and his great kindness toward others. “A good evening to you all,” he said as he stepped forward to shake Bella’s hand, and then he had a warm handshake with a kindly word for everyone else in the house.
At least a half-an-hour was filled with conversation among all those who had gathered in the house and, by the end of those preliminaries, it was time to make preparations for the christening. But, by this time also, Matt was in a condition that was far from suitable for the occasion. His frequent journeys to the big glass jar were now beginning to tell on both his speech and his equilibrium. There was a definite glitter in his eye and an unsteadiness in his gait that he tried to hide from others, because it was not appropriate to the occasion and those duties that he would be called upon to discharge.
Father Toner began the ritual with a heartfelt prayer and then he asked that the child be brought forward to him. There were a lot of nudges among those in the crowd, and quite a few of them had great difficulty in restraining their laughter as they watched the tremendous efforts made by Matt to appear both sober and solemn. Matt’s condition, however, did not escape the keen, observant eyes of Father Toner, and there was the faintest sign of twitching at the corners of his mouth as he lifted the child up, placing it into Matt’s arms and asked, “Are you able to hold up the child, Matthew?
Am I what?” asked Matt in inebriated surprise, “Able to hand it up! Indeed, I am Father, aye, even if it was the weight of a two year old bullock!
This remark was more than the assembled crowd could stand. At first there was a titter of laughter, but this quickly burst out into unrestrained hilarity. Even Father Toner could not hold back a smile as he demonstrated the difficulty he had in maintaining the solemnity befitting the occasion. But, nevertheless, things were going very well until the priest poured some drops of cold water upon the sleeping baby’s head. The effect was quick and immediate. The child awoke instantly and gave an ear piercing wail. In response, Matt turned angrily toward old Biddy, the nurse, and upset the gravity of the occasion once again by hissing at her, “For Christ’s sake Biddy, why didn’t you take the dead cold off the water?
Finally, it was all over and Father Toner handed the child back to its parents with a final solemn prayer. He apologised to them both that he could not stay for the celebrations that had been arranged and made ready to leave. As he bid them all farewell, the priest began walking toward Betty Gray’s house, nearby.
God go with you, father!” cried Matt as soon as the priest was beyond earshot. “Aye, God go with you, for I never feel right in myself when there is a clergyman around the house. Come on, Bella, get those tray things together and let us all have something to eat!
Bella, of course, did as she was asked, drawing a large table into the centre of the kitchen and quickly loaded it up with home-baked bread of various kinds. There were oat-cakes, potato-cakes, pancakes, soda-farls, wheaten bread, and may other products. Cheese, butter, eggs and jams were in plentiful supply, and those who could grab themselves a chair were soon at work on this feast. As it was impossible to accomodate all their company at the table, so many of them were obliged to hold their teacups and sideplates in their hands, or on their laps.
There was much discussion among the gathered crowd and many subjects were touched upon by them, from the condition in which the country found itself, to the possibility of a neighbour girl being married soon. “Did you hear about Jenny Early being three months gone?” asked Bella.
Get away with ye!” exclaimed several of the female guests. “Tell us what you know.
Well, you know Jenny’s not just the full shilling,” said Bella and several of the ladies nodded their heads in agreement. “Someone has made friends with her, but she wouldn’t tell anyone who he was. But, this man asked her to come and see his lambs and then took advantage of her in the hay shed. He told her that it was the sort of things that friends do and she, knowing nothing better, allowed him to have his way.”
“The dirty old ba….”
“Wheesht!” said Bella. “Hold your tongues for here comes Betty Gray and she has a mouth as big as Belfast Lough!”

End

Potheen

A poem by “Barney Maglone” aka Robert Arthur Wilson (1820-75)

Of all the navygations
That ever left the shore
I tell this mortal nation
‘Tis potheen I adore.
I have the tender crathur
All in her punchy dhress
And when she’s mother-naked
I love her none the less.
If she had but a night-dhress
Of Shugar on her skin,
I’m not the boy that would refuse
To take the swate one in.
Well I mind the lively night
Her mother, Sall, lay in;
How did I press the babe
Between my nose and chin.
An’ if she was ould as
Methoosalem’s first hat,
I’d love her as the crame’s loved by
That sleekit bastem, the cat.
If mighty Dutheronomy
That hayro of renown,
Likewise July-us Saizer
That won the British Crown –
If Hector an’ bowld Vaynus,
With Lusy-an the ass,
Also Neb-you-codnazzur,
So mighty at the grass –
Were all with Martin Luther,
With Gladstone, and with Lowe,
I’d box them left and right afore
I’d let my charmer go.
It’s thrue she has been thricky,
As Irish maids do be;
An’ I must own that sometimes
She’s played a prank on me.
She rowled me in the soft mud
One night she got me down,
When I was just meanderin’
About a mile from town.
She gave my eyes a paintin’
And gave my nose a swell,
Another winther’s evenin’
When huggin’ her too well.
But all these lovin’ capers
I aisily forgive
An’ if she knocks my branes out,
I’ll love her while I live.
I’d face the French and Prooshans’
An’ the Permissive Bill,
Afore, I’d lose my darlin’
The daughter of the still!

End

The Fairy Thorn

A Poem written in Ireland by Samuel Ferguson (1810-1886)

Get up, our Anna dear, from the weary spinning wheel;

For your father’s on the hill, and your mother is asleep:

Come up above the crags, and we’ll dance a highland-reel

Around the fairy thorn on the steep.

At Anna Grace’ door ’twas thus the maidens cried,
Three merry maiden fair in kirtles of the green,
And Anna laid the rock and the weary wheel aside,
The fairest of the four, I ween.
They’re glancing through the glimmer of the quiet eve,
Away in milky wavings of neck and ancle bare;
The heavy-sliding stream in its sleepy song they leave,
And the craigs in the ghostly air.
And linking hand in hand, and swinging as they go,
The maids along the hill-side have ta’en their fearless way,
Till they come to where the rowan trees in lonely beauty grow
Beside the Fairy Hawthorn grey.
The Hawthorn stand between the ashes tall and slim,
Like matron with her twin grand-daughters at her knee;
The Rowan berries cluster o’er low head grey and dim
In ruddy kisses sweet to see.
The merry maidens four have ranged them in a row,
Between each lovely couple a stately rowan stem,
And away in maze’s wavy, like skimming birds they go,
Oh, never caroll’d bird like them!
But solemn in the silence of the silvery haze
That drinks away their voices in echoless repose
And dreamily the evening has still’d the haunted braes,
And dreamier the gloaming grows.
And sinking one by one, like lark-notes from the sky
When the falcon’s shadow saileth across the open shaw,
Are hush’d the maidens’ voices, as cowering down they lie
In the flutter of their sudden awe.
Far, from the air above, and the grassy ground beneath,
And from the mountain-ashes and the old Whitethorn between,
A power of faint enchantment doth through their beings breathe,
And they sink down together on the green.
They sink together silent, and stealing side by side,
They fling their lovely arms o’er their drooping necks so fair,
Then vainly arrive again their naked arms to hide,
For their shrinking necks again are bare.
Thus clasp’d and prostrate all with their heads together bow’d,
Soft o’er their bosoms beating – the only human sound –
They hear the silky footsteps of the silent fairy crowd.
Like a river in the air, gliding round.
No scream can any raise, no prayer can any say,
But wild, wild, the terror of the speechless three –
For they feel fair Anna Grace drown silently away,
By whom they dare not look to see.
They fed their tresses twine with her parting locks of gold,
And the curls elastic falling as her head withdraws;
They feel her sliding arms from their tranced arms unfold.
But they may not look to see the cause:
For heavy on their senses the faint enchantment lies
Through all that night of anguish and perilous amaze;
And neither fear nor wonder can open their quivering eyes
Or their limbs from the cold ground raise.
Till out of night the earth has roll’d her dewy side,
With every haunted mountain and streamy vale below;
When, as the mist dissolves in the yellow morning tide,
The maiden’s trance dissolveth so.
Then fly the ghastly three as swiftly as they may,
And tell their tale of sorrow to anxious friends in vain –
They pined away and died within the year and day,
And ne’er was Anna Grace seen again.

End