These are new stories brought to you by the team at ‘Ireland’s Lore and Tales’
My sabbatical is over and it’s time to get writing once again. The difference in these stories and recollections are that they are for the most part factual, taken from records with only names changed to protect the innocent. We hope to take things from the way life was in the past, the not so long ago, and the last fifty years, and relay them to you because they have, in all probability, never been read or heard by you before.
We shall take you on a journey in which you will occasionally find that truth is often stranger than fiction. And so, we will begin the Chronicles in August 2021.
The summer of 2021 has come and it is time for all of us storytellers to take a rest and recharge our batteries. There are 206 stories of various kinds placed within this blog and if you have read them all then we thank you. But you might consider going over your favourites once again and leaving some comments with regard to why you like it, or not. This would help us all greatly.
Don’t forget that for those people who have sight or reading difficulties we have set up some of the stories as POdcasts, and this will continue over the summer. Tell your friends and family as well.
We will be back again at the end of August/ beginning of September. I’m moving house deeper into the countryside, so there will be plenty of stories, Poetry, songs and photos to gather for you. The format might change, but we would like your input into this. So, have a good summer, keep safe in this Pandemic and may you God always watch over you. You all will be in our thoughts this summer.
At Dromahaire Abbey, in County Leitrim, many years ago there was a man saying his prayers in a part of the sacred enclosure. It is said that, when he rose from his knees, he took an iron spoon that lay under a slab covering a grave and put his hand into a hole up to the shoulder and drew up a spoonful of the clay. This he wrapped up in paper and told people it was for a sick person who subsequently mixed it in water, and he drank it for a remedy. he declared that this was the grave of Father Peter and that he had been a very holy man.
There are many legends and superstitions that surround these beautiful ruins of Ardmore Abbey and its round tower. It was said to be Saint Declan who founded the original abbey and its tower, building the base course in one night, while on the second night he built it up to its second level, carrying it to the third level on the third night. But an angry old woman scolded the saint and asked, “Will you never be done?” Saint Declan immediately completed the final part of the structure finishing it off with a conical cap.
It was also said that Declan went on a pilgrimage to Rome, and on his return, as his ship approached Ardmore some gigantic pagans tried to prevent his landing and ran out to sea threatening him. But Declan transformed them into rocks, and they stand there to this day, forming a reef. At this time also, it is reported, that a large glacial boulder floated behind Declan’s ship all the way from Rome. It followed in the ship’s wake and lodged itself safely on a ridge near the ship and cried out, “The clerk forgot the bell,” whereupon they found the bell and his vestments on the rock although they had been left behind in Rome. The stone lies there until this day, resting upon an outcrop of local rocks on the shore, and it is said to work miraculous cures to those who rub their backs against it, or creep under it in the hollow between two supporting rocks. There is a warning, also, that anyone attempting to gain a cure with a stolen garment or having unabsolved sins on their soul will have the stone press down upon them and prevents their passage through.
At Ardmore, County Waterford, in the churchyard of the ancient and most interesting ruined abbey, they show the spot where it was said Saint Declan, the founder, was buried. It is walled around, but inside the soil has been excavated to a considerable depth in past times and the custodian of the place was selling the earth as a cure for sick people.
Also, in the graveyard the practice of creeping beneath stones is seen when a childless woman creeps under a tombstone in their quest to become mothers. (from ‘Notes on Irish Folklore’, Folklore vol.27, No.4, 1916, pp419-426: JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/ 1255596)
For many years the idea of fairies and the little people brought a laugh and a disbelieving shake of the head from me. In later years I was to learn better and it is to be hoped that those doubters who shall read these stories will experience the same change in their thinking. It is only to be expected that not every reader of these stories will believe in Leprechaun’s, banshees and other Irish spirits. But I am here to tell you that all these things do exist in the Irish countryside. You may consider that disbelief in such things will ensure that such spirits have less power over you. Do not be fooled by such comforting thoughts. Constantly remind yourself that you should never ignore the possibility that such spirits can and do exist. Do not give voice to your disbelief and never mock the fact that others do believe. All those things are insults to “The Good People” and the most foolish actions that any man, woman, or child can commit. Testing the fairy folk of Ireland can and will bring a response in ways that are totally unexpected.
When I was a child my parents raised me to always be polite and civil to everyone that I met, irrespective of race, colour, creed and physical appearance. My mother, may she rest in peace, always taught me that, “Good manners are a burden to no person.” She was often shocked by the way people treated each other and would warn me to always be civil because, “Civility costs you nothing.” Such moral codes were bred into my being by both my parents. “If you cannot speak well of another person then it is best to say nothing about them,” my father would tell me. He would also insist that, “if you cannot do something nice for another person, then do nothing.” My parents were very firm believers that every action a person undertakes has certain consequences for which they must accept total responsibility. “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” was a scriptural adage of which I was constantly reminded. Those who decide to ignore such words of wisdom soon discover that they would have been better to take on board the advice of those older than they are.
As an example, I recall the story of Eddie Daly, a muscular young man who was full of bravado. His muscular frame was maintained by his hard work in the fields around Knocknashee. As a worker, Eddie was well thought of by local farmers while, as an attractive young man, he was admired by many of the ladies in the area. Eddie Daly, tall but muscular, was a common sight on the many roads that criss-crossed the area around Knocknashee. He would walk from farm to farm undertaking whatever work he could find, and he appeared to be almost always in demand. Perhaps much of his demand was due to Eddie’s pleasant personality, and his ability to make people laugh. There was always a bounce in the young man’s step, a lightness in his tread, and as He walked along it was as if his heels were spring-loaded. Hence, Eddie’s friends called him “Spring Heels.”
It was not uncommon for Eddie to be seen at any hour of the day and night walking the highways and by-ways that surrounded the hill of Knocknashee. He seemed to have no fear of the darkness and the spirits that made the night their own. Because he did not believe in such things Eddie was comfortable walking through graveyards at night or settling to snooze below the branches of a fairy thorn tree. He laughed at those who gave credibility to superstitions and “old wives’ tales” that were common throughout the district. He would scoff those who would attempt to protect themselves from evil spirits with the sign of the Cross, or who would greet the fairies with a pleasant, “May goodness and peace be with you.”
It is well known that almost every county and townland contains lonely places that have become noted for the fairy activity that goes on there. However, Knocknashee was famous throughout the entire country because of the strange things that had been seen or heard in that place. On every crag and in every depression, there seemed to be a “Leprechaun Mound”, fairy trees and fairy caverns. In other places throughout the district stood dark green woodland and long abandoned grave sites. People told of instances when they had heard the Banshee wails from those places, seen strange lights reflecting in the darkness, and observed dark creatures stalking the souls of the unwary. Eddie, however, did not believe in such things and wandered, carefree, wherever he wished.
Late one evening, as he walked home from farmer McCann’s property, Eddie noticed that there was someone else on the road. Occasionally Eddie would meet people he knew walking along the Kilcoo Road, and he would chat with them to pass the time. On this occasion, however, Eddie could not recognise who his fellow traveller was, but he was sure that he was not a local resident. The man a short distance ahead of him was only an inch or two shorter than Eddie, but much better dressed. From the professional hiking gear on his back Eddie could discern that the person was just another sightseeing hiker dressed in a high-class range of outdoor clothing to protect him from the elements. It would not take Eddie too long to catch up with him.
The night was passing on, getting darker as the black, rain laden clouds gathering in the sky, threatening to soak the land with a downpour. As expected, it didn’t take Eddie much time before he caught up with the stranger and began to walk at his side. “Good evening, sir,” Eddie greeted him in his most friendly voice. “I am Eddie Daly and maybe I can walk a while with you along the road.”
“Good evening to you,” replied the stranger, “my name is Joe Crawford from Dublin and I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“You’ll stay in the village tonight, Joe?” Inquired Eddie. “It could be a bad night for there a powerful lot of rain on the way.”
The stranger looked skyward as he continued to walk and, turning to Eddie, told him, “sure don’t I have my own accommodation with me.”
“And where would you be planning to put up your tent, if I might ask?”
“On top of Knocknashee Hill,” came the reply, which took Eddie completely by surprise.
“That’s right. The summit of Knocknashee Hill, so we will not have much farther to travel together.”
The stranger had now aroused Eddie’s inquisitiveness. “So, you will take the track that runs from this road up to the top of the hill?” Eddie asked and then continued, “But why would a man of your standing wish to go to that lonely, exposed and windswept place”
“You have been there?”
“I have and there is nothing there,” answered Eddie. “Even with your tent you will get little protection from the weather this night, especially up there.”
Mr. Crawford smiled at the concern his new companion was showing for his welfare. “The tent will suffice, and I intend to be settled upon the top of that hill by midnight.”
“But what in the name of all that is good, is bringing you to the top of that bleak hill? What are you looking for?” Eddie asked.
“The Good People,” said Joe, irritated by the questions. “I am going to the top of the hill to see the “Good People”.”
“Fairies!” Exclaimed Eddie in total disbelief and he sniggered at the very idea. That sort of attitude did not endear him to Joe, and he marched on in silence for a moment. “Fairies”, Eddie sniggered again.
This time Joe stopped and looked at his companion with growing anger displayed in his face. “For goodness sake, keep you voice low!” he told Eddie. “Better still keep it shut! Do you know nothing?” Eddie was taken aback by the angry tone exhibited by his companion, but Joe was not finished. “You never call “The Good People” fairies because it is a disrespectful term to them. Furthermore, to laugh at them is an unwise thing to do, because they look upon that as a grave insult. Just keep your ideas and your careless words to yourself, or you might just end up being very sorry!”
Eddie was somewhat dumbfounded by Joe’s dramatic change in attitude toward him. But he decided he would not react at this time. It all seemed a bit pointless anyway because they were approaching the track that led up to the summit of Knocknashee. Only a minute or two later they came upon the entrance to the narrow dirt path, which swept across several fields before going up the steep side of the hill to its summit. At the entrance Joe stopped and immediately offered his hand in friendship to Eddie. “Thank you for your company,” the man said. “Even though it was only for a brief period of time.”
Eddie took his hand, shook it warmly and simply replied, “Thank you, Joe.”
With their farewells said, Eddie watched as Joe climbed over a wooden stile that assisted his crossing of a barbed wire fence. On the other side he stepped on to the dirt track and began to follow it as it wound its way to the base of Knocknashee Hill. He was just about to re-start his own journey home to Kilmore, about three miles distant, when a sudden thought crossed his mind and caused him to pause again. “That man is a bit of an odd fellow, but he is definitely no fool,” he said to himself. He continued to ponder for a while as he watched Joe walk further away along the path. “I don’t believe he’s here for the fairies,” he said aloud to himself. “That man is up to something on that hill and he doesn’t want anyone else to see him. Maybe I should just follow him at a distance and find out for myself just what he is up to.” He stood for a few moments longer, watching the stranger move along the track and come closer to the base of the hill. “Fairies,” he exclaimed loudly with a certain distaste in his voice. “Mark my words, there is something more than fairies, or the “good people as he calls them, that is bringing him up that hill on a night like this.” He could not take his eyes off the man in the distance, even though what light there was left now began to fade quickly.
He muttered several curses to himself, “That man knows as much about fairies as I do about deep-sea diving.” Shaking his head in disbelief at the stranger’s declared intentions he told himself, “Fairies don’t exist and he expects a grown man like me to believe that he is going to seek them out. He tells me I should be wary about what I say concerning fairy folk, but if they don’t exist why should I be afraid?” Eddie looked down the path again, now illuminated by a shimmering full moon that had arisen from behind the hills. In that silver moonlight he could see Joe Crawford still pacing his way toward the base of the hill.
“Why would he try to frighten me off?” Eddie asked himself. “There must be something special up there that he doesn’t want another person to see.” He now strained his eyes in the lessening light to attempt to gauge just how far ahead of him Joe was. Eddie decided that it wasn’t too far and made up his mind to follow the stranger and attempt to catch him up. He was determined that he would find out the truth of the man’s decision to climb Knocknashee Hill. The more he had thought about it, Eddie became increasingly convinced that whatever the man was seeking it was most likely to be very valuable. His mind now became filled with ideas of gold, buried treasure, or jewels and he wanted to have a share in the fortune. In that instant he began to clamber over the wooden stile and begin his own journey to the summit. “Alright, big man,” he said aloud, “the game has begun.” He pulled up his trousers and closed over his jacket before setting off along the dirt path in his effort to catch the stranger.
Eddie had travelled along the track many times and despite it being illuminated only by moonlight he surefootedly pressed ahead. After a short time, he had reached the foot of the hill, just where the track turned and began to ascend windingly to the summit. At this point stood an old, gnarled, but sturdy thorn tree that local superstition had declared was a fairy tree. Eddie, of course, was not a believer in such superstitions, nonetheless something in his subconscious told him to give this tree a wide berth. He did give the tree a wide-berth and began to ascend the hill in the increasing darkness that was beginning to make the narrow path even more treacherous than was normal. With every step he took Eddie moved upward and occasionally, as the full moon peeped out from behind a dark cloud, he caught a glimpse of Joe approaching the summit of the hill.
Onward Eddie pressed, realising that he would never catch his former companion before he reached the top of the hill. Three full hours of toiling up that rugged path finally brought Eddie almost to the end of his journey. The path had taken him over broken ground, loose rocks and even areas of swampy ground. On several occasions during his journey he had almost lost his footing and fallen to the ground. It was with some relief that Eddie finally reached the end of the path and could sit down to rest his weary body. He found a dry, level, grassy spot on which he could comfortably relax and take in his surroundings. But, no matter how hard his eyes scanned the area around him, he saw no sign of his former companion.
Eddie couldn’t understand what had happened to Joe, but he was determined to seek him out. After a short rest he began to move carefully across the ground seeking the whereabouts of Joe. As he searched the area Eddie came across a large opening in the ground that sat close to a large, wind-formed thorn tree. It was the entrance to a deep shaft, the bottom of which he could not see. The hole itself was wide and deep enough to swallow up any person who might carelessly fall into it. This, he decided, may have been the fate that befell Joe Crawford and that was the reason why Eddie could not see any sign of him.
It came into Eddie’s mind that this dark shaft was none other than “The Black Hole of Knocknashee” that he had heard so much about since he was a child. Although Eddie had scaled Knocknashee Hill on many occasions he had never come across this place. Old tales suggested that “The Black Hole”, was indeed the entrance to an underworld kingdom where the fairies ruled from a magnificent, magical castle. He recalled the tales of people who were said to have gone to the top of Knocknashee and never returned. It was said that the fairies had lured them to “the Black Hole”, which simply swallowed them up. There was a famous legend that a local policeman who had set out to search for a person who was missing on the hill also never returned. He was supposed to have been a skilled climber and was well equipped for his rescue mission. Rumour suggested that even he had fallen for the wiles of the fairy folk and disappeared, never to be seen again.
These were stories that Eddie shrugged off as being nothing but old wives’ tales. Nevertheless, Eddie did realise that any person could have fallen down this hole and maybe he should check it out in case this is what happened to Joe. Lying on the ground he tried to peer into the dark depths of the shaft, but he could see nothing. “Maybe, if I throw in a stone, I might hit the gate of the magical castle,” he laughed. “At least I might get to find out if there is anyone at home.” Eddie moved away from the shaft entrance to search for a large stone and eventually came across a big, granite rock. He lifted it with both hands and bringing it to the opening of the shaft he flung it down with all his might. As he listened, he could hear the echo of the rock as it bounded downward, tumbling from one wall of the pit to another.
The large granite rock made a terrible confusion of noise and Eddie leaned his head over the hole to hear the stone reach the bottom. But, as Eddie leaned over the hole, he could still hear the rumbling of the tumbling rock and he was surprised to hear that it did not appear to be going away from him. The sound, instead, seemed to be coming louder and quite suddenly the stone shot out of the hole with as much force as it first entered the shaft. The large rock flew at Eddie, catching him totally by surprise, and hit him with great force full in his face. He was flung backward quite a distance where he lay motionless for a moment.
Eddie was still very dazed as he raised himself up from the ground and his eyes were a little out of focus. Perhaps it was concussion, but Eddie’s head was spinning violently, causing him to lose his balance. He lost his footing on the grass and soon found himself rolling down the side of Knocknashee Hill. He was now faking head over heels from one crag to another and descending faster with every roll of his body. Eddie finally came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, unconscious and unmoving. There he lay until early next morning when he was discovered by a local farmer.
At first sight the farmer was convinced he had come across a dead body, but there was a loud groan when the body was turned over. Even in the shadows of the branches of a white-thorn tree the farmer could see that the person was badly injured. The bridge of Eddie’s nose was broken quite seriously, which caused disfigurement to his entire face. There was blood dried on his face and upon the grass on which he had come to a rest after his fall. The blood came from the cuts that covered his head and hands, enhanced by a multitude of purple-black coloured bruises. Eddie’s eyes were swollen shut, blackened by deep blue and black colouring.
Although Eddie was nursed to full recovery, he was changed man. He no longer demonstrated the same bravado as he once had. He began to avoid those places associated with the fairies, especially after the sun began to set. On those few occasions when he found himself alone in lonely places, he would press hard to get home before it became too late. Even as Eddie hurried home he could not be diverted from his path, nor could he allow himself to be delayed by any person he met on the road. Never again did he seek out “The Good People” or ask questions about them. In fact, Eddie became quite introverted and avoided the company of others. Those who knew him had no knowledge of what had changed him, but some insisted that he had been touched by the fairies.
There was nothing nice or polite about Neil Kelly. He simply told his wife that he was going to the forge to get a ‘doctoring instrument’ and off he went without another word being said. When he arrived at the forge he mumbled a greeting to the blacksmith, who asked him “Where are you heading to today?“
” I have come here, for to ask you to make me an instrument for some doctoring I intend to do.”
“Aye, well what type of instrument is it that you want?”
“Make me a ‘crooked knife’ and a ‘white knife’,” replied Neil.
The Smith made these instruments for him in a short period of time and Neil then returned home.
When the next day dawned, Neil Kelly rose up from his bed and prepared himself to be going out as a doctor and went out of the house. As he walked along the road, Neil met a red-haired lad on the side of the high road. The lad politely saluted Neil Kelly and Neil did likewise in reply. “Where would you be going?” asked the red man.
“I am going as far as I can to get me a doctoring job.”
“It’s a good trade,” says the red man, “It would be best for you to hire me.”
“What wages would be you be looking for?” inquired Neil.
“I suppose half of what we shall earn until we come back to this place again would be right.“
“I’ll give you that,” said Neil without hesitation, and with this agreed the two men walked on their way together.
“There’s a king’s daughter,” said the red man, “who is close to death. We should go as far as the place in which she rests, and we shall see if we can heal her.“
The two men walked on as far as the gate of a strong well-guarded castle, and the porter came to answer their call. He asked them where they were going to, and they said that they had come to look at the king’s daughter they were, to see if they could do her any good. The king, hearing this gave the visitors permission to enter the castle, and they were taken to the place where the girl was lying. The red man went to her and took hold of her wrist to check her pulse, and said that if his master should get the price of his labour he would heal her. The king replied by saying that he would give his master whatever he should award himself. In response, the red man said, “If I could have the room to myself and my master, then he could work better,” and without hesitation, the king said he should have it.
He wanted a little pot of water brought down to him, which he immediately put on the fire to boil. He asked Neil Kelly, “Where is the doctoring instrument?“
“Here they are,” said Neil, “a crooked knife and a white knife.”
He put the crooked knife on the girl’s neck, and he took her head off her body. Then, he took a green herb out of his pocket and rubbed it into her neck. Not one drop of blood came out of the wound as he took the head and threw it into the pot of water starting to boil on the fire. He boiled it for a while, seized hold of the two ears, and taking it out of the skillet, he struck it down on the neck. The head stuck on the girl’s body as well as it ever was. “How do you feel now,” he asked the girl.
“I am as well as ever I was,” said the king’s daughter.
The big man shouted for her father and the king came down to the room. When he saw his daughter, he was totally joyous, and he would not let the visitors go away again for three days. When they were eventually leaving the castle, the king brought down a bag of money and poured it out on the table. He asked Neil Kelly if there was enough there for him. Neil said that there was more than enough and that they would only take half of the amount. But the king wanted them to take the entire amount, and the two men replied, “There is a daughter of another king who is waiting for us to go and look at her.” With that, they bid farewell to the king and went on their way.
They went to look at their new patient and went to the place where she was lying ill. After looking at her in her bed she was healed in the same manner as the previous princess was healed. The king was grateful, and he said that he did not mind how much money Neil should take from him, giving him three-hundred pounds cash, and then they left to go home.
“There’s a king’s son in such and such a place,” said the red man, “but we won’t go to him. We will go home with what we have.” They were heading home, with ten heifers that the king had given them, and as they walked homeward, they came upon the place where Neil Kelly had hired the red man.
“I think,” said the red man, “that this is the place where I met you the first time.”
“I think it is,” replied Neil Kelly, “Friend, how shall we divide the money?“
“Two halves,” said the red man, “that’s what we agreed.”
“I think it is too much to give you half,” said Neil Kelly, “a third is enough for you. It was I who had the ‘crooked knife’ and a ‘white knife’, and you had nothing.”
“I won’t take anything,” said the red man, “unless I get half the money.” The two men fell out over the money, and the red man left him.
Neil Kelly was coming closer to his home, driving his share of the cattle. The day became hotter and the cattle began to scamper backwards and forwards in the heat, with Neil Kelly trying his best to control them. When he caught one or two, the rest would be off when he used to bring them back. The horse, which he used to catch the cattle, was tied to the stump of a tree while he continued to try to catch the cattle. But they all got away and he hadn’t a clue as to where they went. Then, when he returned back to the place where he had left his horse and his money, neither the horse nor the money was to be found and he did not know what he should do.
He thought that he should go to the house of the king whose son was ill, and he went head until he came to the king’s castle. He went to look at the boy in the room where he was lying, and he took his pulse. Neil said that he thought he could heal the boy, and the king told him, “If you heal him, I will give you three hundred pounds.”
“If I were to get the room to myself, for a little while,” said Neil and the king said that he would have it. He now called down for a small pot of water, which he put on the fire to boil. Then, he took his ‘crooked knife’ and went to take the head off the boy, just as he had seen the red man doing previously. He was sawing at the head, but it did not come away easily, allowing him to cut it off at the neck. The blood was pouring out as he finally took the head off the boy and threw it into the boiling water. He boiled it for a while until he considered that the head had been boiled enough. Neil then tried to get the head out of the pot and managed to get a hold of its two ears. The head fell, in a gurgling mass of flesh, and the two ears came with him. By now the blood was pouring out in great amounts, flowing down the room and seeping out from under the door.
When the king saw that the blood was flowing out from under the door of the room, he knew that his son was dead. He wanted the door opened, but Neil Kelly refused to comply with the king’s orders, and soldiers broke down the door. The young man was dead, and the floor was covered with blood. They seized Neil Kelly, whom they told would hang the next day, and they gathered a company of guards to take him to the place where he was to be executed. They went with him the next day and were walking toward the tree where he should be hanged, and he stopped his screaming. Ahead they saw man stripped and running quickly toward them with a type of mist around him. When he came up to them, the running man cried aloud, “What are you doing to my master? “
“If this man is your master, you had better deny him, or you’ll get the same treatment,” they warned him.
“But it is me who should be suffering, for it me who caused the delay. He sent me for medicine, and I did not come in time. If you free my master, perhaps we can still heal the king’s son.”
They freed Neil and the two men were taken to the king’s house. The red man went to the place where the dead man was, and he quickly began to gather up the bones that were in the small pot. He gathered them all except for the two ears. “What did you do with the ears ?” he asked Neil.
“I don’t know,” said Kelly, “I was so frightened.”
The red man finally got the ears and he put them all together. From out of his pocket he took a green herb, which he rubbed around the head. The skin soon covered it again and the hair grew as fine as it had been previously. He put the head in the skillet again and allowed it to boil a while. The red man put the head back on the neck, where it stuck as well as it ever had done, and the king’s son rose up in the bed. “How are you now?” asked the red man.
“I am well,” said the king’s son, “but I feel terribly weak.”
The red man shouted again for the king and the king was overjoyed to see his son alive again. They spent that night celebrating and, the next day, when they were going away, the king counted out three hundred pounds. He gave the money to Neil Kelly and told him that, if he had not enough, he would give him more. But Neil said that he had been given enough and that he would not take a penny more. He bade farewell and left his blessing, and struck out, heading straight for home. When they saw that they had reached the place where they had fallen out with one another the red man pointed out, “I think that this is the place where we had our difference.“
“It is,” said Neil, and they sat down to divide the money. He gave half to the red man, and he kept another half for himself.
The red man said farewell, and he went. He was walking away for a while, and then went back. ” I am here again,” said the red man, “I had another thought to myself that I would leave all the money with yourself, for you yourself were open-handed. Do you mind the day you were going by past the churchyard, and there were four people there with the body in a coffin? Two of the people were seeking to bury the body, but the dead person owed some debts. The two men who were owed the debts by the dead man were not going to allow the body to be buried. They were arguing, and you were listening to them. Then, you went in and asked how much they were owed by the dead man. The two men said that they each were owed a pound by the body and that they would not let it be buried until the people, who were carrying the coffin, promised to pay at least part of the debts.You said, ‘I have ten shillings, and I’ll give it to you, and let the body be buried.’ You gave them ten shillings, and the corpse was buried. Well, it was I who was in the coffin that day. When I saw you going doctoring, I knew that you would not do the business, and when I saw you in deep trouble, I came to save you. I give you all the money, and you shall not see me again until the last day. Go home now, and don’t do a single day’s doctoring so long as you live. It’s only a short walk now until you get your share of cattle and your horse.” Neil went on towards home, and he didn’t walk far until he came across his share of cattle and his horse, as the red man had said. He took them all home with him. There is not a single day since, that he and his wife do not thrive on their fortune.
“Saved by a Pipe! Yes, by God,” said Charlie Hannon one night as we sat at a wake. “Let me tell you, there’s a powerful lot of strange things to be seen and felt, and don’t let anyone tell me that there’s not!”
“I wouldn’t doubt it, Charlie,” said I.
Without even recognising that I had answered him, Charlie continued, “The night my father died I went to Dungannon for to get pipes and tobacco for the wake, and to tell my sister that lived there about the death of our da. Well, I left the house about eight o’clock, or thereabouts, for as you know I had a long road to travel – aye, fifteen miles if it’s an inch. I went by the Rock, for I had a fine lump of a mare with me that I had bought at the time. Her name was Sally, and sure there wasn’t another horse the likes of her to be had in all the parish. Now, it was pretty late when I left Dungannon, between midnight and one o’clock at least, but I didn’t hear or see a thing until I came as far as the wood on this side of Rock. We must have been just in the middle of it when the mare suddenly stopped, and she gave three snorts out of her nostrils. Well, as you know, I never was one to be afraid of anything, but I thought to myself that if maybe there’s something unnatural roaming around here now? You see, I never have known Sally to be afraid of anything dead or alive before that night.”
“’ Go on Sally,’ says I and patted her gently on the neck with my hand. But, the devil a bit would the poor mare stir. She just kept snorting, and snorting, and going back and back. ‘ Be you devil or sent by him!’ cries I, ‘man or beast, or whatever you are, get out of the mare’s way and let me get home to me father’s wake with the pipes and tobacco for the neighbours who are waiting for them.’ But, devil the answer did I get. Things were not looking good, I thought to myself, and what am I going to do now? It was then that I remembered that it was the right thing to do, to put a pipe in the lining of your hat whenever you come across anything unnatural. Sure, I had a couple of the pipes in the pocket of my coat that I couldn’t fit in the box and I put down my hand and took one up and put it inside the lining of my hat. Well, by all that’s holy! I had no sooner done that than up came a man on horseback.
“It was a clear night, and I swear that he must have come up out of the road itself, for there neither one thing or another that moved there before that. Sally kept on snorting and the man rode on past on my left. But just as he was passing, he stretched out one hand to me and pulled up his horse with the other, without speaking a word. ‘Here,’ says I, reaching him a pipe, ‘take it, if that’s what you want, and for God’s sake leave me alone.’ Well, he took the pipe, but as soon as he heard God’s name, he and his horse rose up into one big lump of fire, and the noise that was made as the fire struck against the wall along the roadside, was the fiercest thing I ever heard. And I hope that I never will hear the like of it again. The rattle of the stones falling, and the whizzing of the fire through the trees, is still in my ears yet.
“Sally went on, then, happy enough, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m all right now.’
“But I was mistaken. I hadn’t moved but a foot or two until I felt something jumping up behind me on the mare, and I felt two hands around my back, and a cold breath on my neck behind. As I told you I never used to be afraid, but the fear of God was put in to my heart that night. The poor mare’s back was bending with the dreadful weight of the thing behind me. I tried to shake off the hold it had of me, but not a budge I was able to do at all, one way or another. I didn’t know, what in heaven, I was going to do. I wasn’t able to speak, and the mare wasn’t able to move. But praise be to God ! I wasn’t long that way until who should I see standing beside me on the road but the man on horseback that I had given the pipe to. He had no horse with him this time, but he had a whip in his hand. ‘Get off, immediately ‘ says he to the thing behind me.
“The Devil an answer did he get. ‘I tell you again,’ says he, getting very cross, and raising the whip above his head, ‘get off.’
“No answer. ‘For the third, and last, time,’ says he, in a terrible rage now, entirely, ‘I tell ye to get off.’
“Not a word did the thing behind me speak, nor a budge did it put out of itself. When the man seen that it wouldn’t come off, he began slashing, and slashing at it, and every slash he gave, I saw the fire rising above my head until at last I felt the weight go off the mare, and I knew I was rid of it. ‘Go home now,’ said the man, crying, ‘you won’t be troubled any more, but take my advice and don’t be out so late at night again by yourself.’”
On a certain day, a fair and a gathering were held at Benn Eader (Hill of Howth), by the seven ordinary and seven extraordinary battalions of the Fianna of Erin. In the course of the day, on casting a look over the broad expanse of the sea, they beheld a large, smooth-sided, and proud-looking ship ploughing the waves from the east and approaching them under full sail. When the capacious vessel touched the shore and lowered her sails, the Fianna of Erin counted upon seeing a host of men disembark from her; and great was their surprise when one warrior, and no more, came out of the ship and landed on the beach. He was a hero of the largest make of body, the strongest of champions, and the finest of the human race; and in this wise was the kingly warrior equipped:— an impenetrable helmet of polished steel encased his ample and beautiful head; a deep-furrowed, thick-backed, sharp-edged sword hung at his left side; and a purple bossed shield was slung over his shoulder. Such were his chief accouterments, and armed in this fashion and manner did the stranger come into the presence of Finn Mac Cool and the Fianna of Erin.
It was then that Finn, the King of the Fianna, addressed the heroic champion, and questioned him, saying, “From what part of the world hast thou come unto us, O goodly youth? or from which of the noble or ignoble races of the universe art thou sprung? Who art thou?”
“I am,” answered the stranger, “’Ironbones’, the son of the King of Thessaly; and so far as I have travelled on this globe, since the day that I left my own land, I have laid every country, peninsula, and island, under contribution to my sword and my arm: this I have done even to the present hour; and my desire is to obtain the crown and tribute of this country in like manner: for if I obtain them not, I purpose to bring slaughter of men and deficiency of heroes and youthful warriors on the seven ordinary and seven extraordinary battalions of the Fianna host. Such, O king, is the object of my visit to this country, and such is my design in landing here.”
Thereupon rose up Conán the Bald, and said, “Of a truth, my friend, it seems to me that you have come upon a foolish enterprise, and that to the end of your life, and the close of your days, you will not be able to accomplish your purpose; because from the beginning of ages until now, no man ever heard of a hero or ever saw a champion coming with any such mighty design to Ireland, who did not find his match in that same country.”
But ‘Ironbones’ replied: “I make but very little account of your speech, Conán,” said he: “for if all the Fianna heroes who have died within the last seven years were now in the world, and were joined by those who are now living, I would visit all of them with the sorrow of death and show all of them the shortness of life in one day; nevertheless I will make your warriors a more peaceable proposal. I challenge you then, O warriors, to find me a man among you who can vanquish me in running, infighting, or in wrestling; if you can do this, I shall give you no further trouble, but return to my own country without loitering here any longer.”
“And pray,” inquired Finn, “which of those three manly exercises that you have named will it please you to select for the first trial of prowess?”
To this ‘Ironbones’ answered, “If you can find for me any one champion of your number who can run faster than I can, I will give you no further annoyance, but depart at once to my own country.”
“It so happens,” said Finn, “that our Man of Swiftness, Keelte Mac Ronan, is not here at present to try his powers of running with you; and as he is not, it was better, O hero, that you should sojourn here a season with the Fianna, that you and they may mutually make and appreciate each other’s acquaintance by means of conversation and amusements, as is our wont. In the meanwhile, I will repair to Tara of the Kings in quest of Keelte Mac Ronan; and if I have not the good fortune to find him there, I shall certainly meet with him at Ceis-Corann of the Fenii (Kesh Corann, Sligo.) from whence I shall without delay bring him hither to meet you.”
To this ‘Ironbones’ agreed, saying that he was well satisfied with what Finn proposed; and thereupon Finn proceeded on his way towards Tara of the Kings, in search of Keelte. Now, it fell out that, as he journeyed along, he missed his way, so that he came to a dense, wide, and gloomy wood, divided in the midst by a broad and miry road or pathway. Before he had advanced more than a very little distance on this road, he perceived coming directly towards him an ugly, detestable looking giant, who wore a grey frieze coat, the skirts of which reached down to the calves of his legs, and were bespattered with yellow mud to the depth of a hero’s hand; so that every step he made, the lower part of that coat struck with such violence against his legs as to produce a sound that could be distinctly heard a full mile of ground off. Each of the two legs that sustained the unwieldy carcass of this horrible hideous monster was like the mast of a great ship, and each of the two shoes that were under his shapeless, horny, long-nailed hoofs, resembled a roomy long-sided boat; and every time that he lifted his foot, and at every step that he walked, he splashed up from each shoe a good barrelful of mire and water on the lower part of his body. Finn gazed in amazement at the colossal man, for he had never seen anyone so big and bulky; yet he would have passed onward and continued his route, but the giant stopped and accosted him, and Finn was under the necessity of stopping also, and exchanging a few words with the giant.
The giant began in this manner:—“What, ho! Finn Mac Coole,” said he, “what desire for travelling is this that has seized on you, and how far do you mean to go upon this journey?”
“Oh,” said Finn, “as to that, my trouble and anxiety are so great that I cannot describe them to you now, and indeed small is the use,” added he, “it would be of to me to attempt doing so; and I think it would be better for you to let me go on my way without asking any more questions of me.”
But the giant was not so easily put off. “O Finn,” said he, “you may keep your secret if you like, but all the loss and the misfortune attending your silence will be your own; and when you think well upon that, maybe you would not boggle any longer about disclosing to me the nature of your errand.”
So, Finn, seeing the huge size of the giant, and thinking it advisable not to provoke him, began to tell him all that had taken place among the Fianna of Erin so short a time before. “You must know,” said he, “that at the meridian hour of this very day the great ‘Ironbones’, the son of the King of Thessaly, landed at the harbor of Benn Eader, with the view of taking the crown and sovereignty of Ireland into his own hands; and if he does not obtain them with the free and good will of the Irish, he threatens to distribute death and destruction impartially among the young and old of our heroes; howbeit he has challenged us to find a man able to surpass him in running, fighting, or wrestling, and if we can find such a man, then he agrees to forego his pretensions and to return to his own country without giving us further trouble; and that,” said Finn, “is the history that I have for you.”
“And how do you intend to oppose the royal warrior?” asked the giant; “I know him well, and I know he has the vigour in his hand and the strength in his arm to carry every threat he makes into effect.”
“Why, then,” said Finn, in answer to this, “I intend to go to Tara of the Kings for Keelte Mac Ronan, and if I do not find him there, I will go to look for him at Ceis-Corann of the Fenii; and it is he,” said he, “whom I mean to bring with me for the purpose of vanquishing this hero in running.”
“Alas!” said the giant, “weak is your dependence and feeble your champion for propping and preserving the monarchy of Ireland; and if Keelte Mac Ronan be your ‘Tree of Defiance’, you are already a man without a country.”
“It is I, then,” said Finn, “who am sorry you should say so, and what to do in this extremity I cannot tell.”
“I will show you,” replied the gigantic man: “just do you say nothing at all but accept of me as the opponent of this champion, and it may happen that I shall be able to get you out of your difficulty.”
“O,” said Finn, “for the matter of that, it is my own notion that you have enough to do if you can carry your big coat and drag your shoes with you one half mile of ground in a day, without trying to rival such a hero as ‘Ironbones’ in valour or agility.”
“You may have what notions you like,” returned the giant, “but I tell you that if I am not able to give battle to this fighting hero, there never has been and there is not now a man in Ireland able to cope with him. But never mind, Finn Mac Cool, let not your spirits be cast down, for I will take it on myself to deliver you from the danger that presses on you.”
“What is your name?” demanded Finn.
“Bodach-an-Chota-Lachtna (the Churl with the Grey Coat) is my name,” the giant answered.
“Well, then,” said Finn, “you will do well to come along with me.” So, Finn turned back, and the Bodach went with him; but we have no account of their travels till they reached Benn Eader. There, when the Fianna beheld the Bodach attired in such a fashion and trim, they were all very much surprised, for they had never seen the like of him; and they were greatly overjoyed that he should make his appearance among them at such a critical moment.
As for ‘Ironbones’, he came before Finn, and asked him if he had got the man who was to contend with him in running. Finn made answer that he had, and that he was present among them; and thereupon he pointed out the Bodach to him. But as soon as ‘Ironbones’ saw the Bodach, he was seized with astonishment, and his courage was damped at the sight of the gigantic proportions of the mighty man, but he pretended to be only very indignant, and exclaimed, “What! do you expect me to demean myself by engaging in a contest with such an ugly, greasy, hateful-looking Bodach as that? I tell you that will do no such thing!” said he; and he stepped back and would not go near the Bodach.
When the Bodach saw and heard this, he burst into a loud, hoarse, thunderous laugh, and said, “Come, ‘Ironbones’, this will not do; I am not the sort of person you affect to think me; and it is you that shall have proof of my assertion before to-morrow evening; so now, let me know,” said he, “what is to be the length of the course you propose to run over, for over the same course it is my own intention to run along with you; and if I do not succeed in running that distance with you, it is a fair conclusion that you win the race, and in like manner if I do succeed in outstripping you, then it stands to reason that you lose the race.”
“There is sense and rationality in your language,” replied ‘Ironbones’, for he saw that he must submit, “and I agree to what you say, but it is my wish not to have the course shorter or longer than three score miles.”
“Well,” said the Bodach, “that will answer me too, for it is just three score miles from Mount Loocra in Munster to Benn Eeader; and it will be a pleasant run for the pair of us; but if you find that I am not able to finish it before you, of course, the victory is yours.”
‘Ironbones’ replied that he would not contradict so evident a proposition, whereupon the Bodach resumed: “What it is proper for you to do now,” said he, “is to come along with me southward to Mount Loocra this evening, in order that we may make ourselves acquainted with the ground we are to go over to-morrow on our return; and we can stop for the night on the Mount, so that we may be able to start with the break of day.” To this also ‘Ironbones’ acceded, saying it was a judicious speech, and that he had nothing to object to it.
Upon this, the two competitors commenced their journey, and little was the delay they made until they arrived at Mount Loocra in Munster. As soon as they had got thither, the Bodach again addressed ‘Ironbones’, and told him that he thought their best plan would be to build a hut in the adjoining wood, that so they might be protected from the inclemency of the night: “for it seems to me, O son of the King of Thessaly,” said he, “that if we do not, we are likely to have a hard couch and cold quarters on this exposed hill.”
To this ‘Ironbones’ made reply as thus: “You may do so, if you please, O Bodach of the Big Coat, but as for me, I am ‘Ironbones’ and care not for dainty lodging; and I am mightily disinclined to give myself the trouble of building a house hereabouts only to sleep in it one night and never see it again; howbeit, if you are desirous of employing your hands there is nobody to cross you; you may build, and I shall stay here until you have finished.”
“Very good,” said the Bodach, “and build I will; but I shall take good care that a certain person who refuses to assist me shall have no share in my sleeping-room, should I succeed in making it as comfortable as I hope to do;” and with this he betook himself into the wood, and began cutting down and shaping pieces of timber with the greatest expedition, never ceasing until he had got together six pair of stakes and as many of rafters, which with a sufficient quantity of brushwood and green rushes for thatch, he carried, bound in one load, to a convenient spot, and there set them up at once in regular order; and this part of his work being finished, he again entered the wood, and carried from thence a good load of dry green sticks, which he kindled into a fire that reached from the back of the hut to the door.
While the fire was blazing merrily, he left the hut, and again addressing his companion, said to him, “O son of the King of Thessaly, called by men ‘Ironbones’, are you provided with provisions for the night, and have you eatables and drinkables to keep you from hunger and thirst?”
“No, I have not,” said ‘Ironbones’ proudly; “it is myself that used never to be without people to provide victuals for me when I wanted them,” said he.
“Well, but,” said the Bodach, “you have not your people near you now, and so the best thing you can do is to come and hunt with me in the wood, and my hand to you, we shall soon have enough of victuals for both of us.”
“I never practiced pedestrian hunting,” said ‘Ironbones’; “and with the like of you I never hunted at all; and I don’t think I shall begin now,” said he, in a very dignified sort of way.
“Then I must try my luck by myself,” said the Bodach; and off again he bounded into the wood, and after he had gone a little way he roused a herd of wild swine and pursued them into the recesses of the wood, and there he succeeded in separating from the rest the biggest and fattest hog of the herd, which he soon ran down and carried to his hut, where he slaughtered it, and cut it into two halves, one of which he placed at each side of the fire on a self-moving holly-spit. He then darted out once more and stopped not until he reached the mansion of the Baron of Inchiquin, which was thirty miles distant, from whence he carried off a table and a chair, two barrels of wine, and all the bread fit for eating he could lay his hands on, all of which he brought to Mount Loocra in one load. When he again entered his hut, he found his hog entirely roasted and in nice order for mastication; so he laid half the meat and bread on the table, and sitting down, disposed of them with wonderful celerity, drinking at the same time precisely one barrel of the wine, and no more, for he reserved the other, as well as the rest of the solids, for his breakfast in the morning. Having thus finished his supper, he shook a large bundle of green rushes over the floor and laying himself down, soon fell into a comfortable sleep, which lasted until the rising of the sun next morning.
As soon as the morning came, ‘Ironbones’, who had got neither food nor sleep the whole night, came down from the mountain’s side and awoke the Bodach, telling him that it was time to commence their contest. The Bodach raised his head, rubbed his eyes, and replied, “I have another hour to sleep yet, and when I get up I have to eat half a hog and drink a barrel of wine; but as you seem to be in a hurry, you have my consent to proceed on your way before me: and you may be sure I will follow you.” So, saying, he laid his head down and fell again a-snoring; and upon seeing this, ‘Ironbones’ began the race by himself, but he moved along heavily and dispiritedly, for he began to have great dread and many misgivings, by reason of the indifference with which the Bodach appeared to regard the issue of the contest.
When the Bodach had slept his fill he got up, washed his hands and face, and having placed his bread and meat on the table, he proceeded to devour them with great expedition, and then washed them down with his barrel of wine; after which he collected together all the bones of the hog and put them into a pocket in the skirt of his coat. Then setting out on his race in company with a pure and cool breeze of wind, he trotted on and on, nor did he ever halt on his rapid course until he had overtaken ‘Ironbones’, who with a dejected air and drooping head was wending his way before him. The Bodach threw down the bare bones of the hog in his path, and told him he was quite welcome to them, and that if he could find any pickings on them, he might eat them, “for,” said he, “you must surely be hungry by this time, and I can wait until you finish your breakfast.”
But ‘Ironbones’ got into a great passion on hearing this, and he cried, “You ugly Bodach with the Big Coat, you greasy, lubberly, uncouth tub of a man, I would see you hanged, so I would, before you should catch me picking such dirty common bones as these—hogs’ bones, that have no meat on them at all, and have moreover been gnawed by your own long, ugly, boarish tusks.”
“O, very well,” replied the Bodach, “then we will not have any more words about them for bones; but let me recommend to you to adopt some more rapid mode of locomotion, if you desire to gain the crown, sovereignty, and tributes of the kingdom of Ireland this turn, for if you go on at your present rate, it is second best that you will be after coming off, I’m thinking.” And having so spoken, off he darted as swift as a swallow, or a roebuck, or a blast of wind rushing down a mountain declivity on a March day, ‘Ironbones’ in the meantime is about as much able to keep pace with him as he was to scale the firmament; nor did he check his own speed until he had proceeded thirty miles on the course. He then stopped for a while to eat of the blackberries which grew in great abundance on the way, and while he was thus employed, ‘Ironbones’ came up with him and spoke to him. “Bodach,” said he, “ten miles behind us I saw one skirt of your grey coat, and ten miles farther back again I saw another skirt; and it is my persuasion, and I am clearly of the opinion, that you ought to return for these two skirts without more to do and pick them up.”
“Is it the skirts of this big coat that I have on me you mean?” asked the Bodach, looking down at his legs.
“Why, to be sure it is them that I mean,” answered ‘Ironbones’.
“Well,” said the Bodach, “I certainly must get my coat skirts again; and so, I will run back for them if you consent to stop here eating blackberries until I return.”
“What nonsense you talk!” cried ‘Ironbones’. “I tell you I am decidedly resolved not to loiter on the race, and my fixed determination is not to eat any blackberries.”
“Then move on before me,” said the Bodach, upon which ‘Ironbones’ pushed onward, while the Bodach retraced his steps to the different spots where the skirts of his coat were lying, and having found them and tacked them to the body of the coat, he resumed his route and again overtook ‘Ironbones’, whom he thus addressed: “It is needful and necessary that I should acquaint you of one thing, O ‘Ironbones’, and that is, that you must run at a faster rate than you have hitherto used, and keep pace with me on the rest of the course, or else there is much likelihood and considerable probability that the victory will go against you, because I will not again have to go back either for my coat-skirts or anything else;” and having given his companion this warning, he set off once more in his usual manner, nor did he stop until he reached the side of a hill, within ten miles of Benn Eader, where he again fell a-plucking blackberries and ate an extraordinary number of them. When he could eat no more, his jaws being tired and his stomach stuffed, he took off his great coat, and handling his needle and thread, he sewed it into the form of a capacious sack, which he filled with blackberries; this he slung over his shoulders, and then off he scampered for Benn Eader, greatly refreshed, and with the speed of a young buck.
In the meantime Finn and his troops were waiting in great doubt and dread the result of the race, though, without knowing who the Bodach was, they had a certain degree of confidence in him; and there was a champion of the Fianna on the top of the Hill of Howth, who had been sent thither by Finn, and had been there from an early hour of the morning to see which of the competitors would make his appearance first in view. When this man saw the Bodach coming over the nearest eminence, with his heavy burden on his back, he thought that to a certainty it was ‘Ironbones’ whom he beheld and fled back quite terrified to Finn and the troops, telling them ‘Ironbones’ was coming up, carrying the Bodach dead over his shoulders. This news at first depressed Finn and the troops; but Finn by and bye exclaimed, “I will give a suit of armor and arms to the man who brings me better news than that!” whereupon one of the heroes went forth, and he had not proceeded far when he espied the Bodach advancing towards the outposts of the troops, and knowing him at a glance, he flew back to Finn and announced to him the glad tidings.
Finn thereupon went joyfully out to meet the Bodach, who speedily came up and threw down his burden, crying out aloud, “I have good and famous news for all of you; but,” added he, “my hunger is great, and my desire for food pressing; and I cannot tell you what has occurred until I have eaten a very large quantity of oatmeal and blackberries. Now, as for the latter, that is, the blackberries, I have got them myself in this big sack, but the oatmeal I expect to be provided for me by you; and I hope that you will lose no time in getting it, and laying it before me, for I am weak for the want of nutriment, and my corporeal powers are beginning to be exhausted.” Upon hearing this Finn replied that his request should be at once attended to, and in a little space of time, accordingly, there was spread under the Bodach a cloth of great length and breadth, with a vast heap of oatmeal in the middle of it, into which the Bodach emptied out all the blackberries in his bag; and having stirred the entire mess about for some time with a long pole, he commenced eating and swallowing with much vigour and determination.
He had not been long occupied in this way before he sighted ‘Ironbones’ coming towards the troops with his hand on the hilt of his sword, his eyes flaming like red coals in his head, and ready to commence slaughtering all before him because he had been vanquished in the contest. But he was not fated to put his designs into execution, for when the Bodach saw what wickedness he had in his mind, he took up a handful of the oatmeal and blackberries, and dashing it towards ‘Ironbones’ with an unerring aim, it struck him so violently on the face that it sent his head spinning through the air half a mile from his body, which fell to the ground and there remained writhing in all the agonies of its recent separation, until the Bodach had concluded his meal. The Bodach then rose up and went in quest of the head, which after a little searching about he found, and casting it from his hands with an unerring aim, he sent it bowling along the ground all the half mile back again, until coming to the body it stopped and fastened itself on as well as ever, the only difference being that the face was now turned completely round to the back of the neck, while the back of the head was in front.
The Bodach having accomplished this feat much to his satisfaction, now grasped ‘Ironbones’ firmly by the middle, threw him to the ground, tied him hand and foot so that he could not stir, and addressed him in these words: “O Ironbones, justice has overtaken you: the sentence your own vain mind had passed on others is about to be pronounced against yourself, and all the liberty that I feel disposed to leave you is the liberty of choosing what kind of death you think it most agreeable to die of. What a silly notion you did get into your noddle, surely, when you fancied that you, single-handed, could make yourself master of the crown, sovereignty, and tributes of Ireland, even though there had been nobody to thwart your arrogant designs but myself! But take comfort and be consoled, for it shall never be said of the Fianna of Ireland that they took mortal vengeance on a single foe without any warriors to back him; and if you be a person to whom life is a desirable possession, I am willing to allow you to live, on condition that you will solemnly swear by the sun and moon that you will send the chief tributes of Thessaly every year to Finn Mac Cool here in Ireland.”
With many wry faces did ‘Ironbones’ at length agree to take this oath; upon which the Bodach loosed his shackles and gave him liberty to stand up; then having conducted him towards the sea-shore, he made him go into the ship, to which, after turning its prow from the shore, he administered a kick in the stern, which sent it seven miles over the waters at once. And such was the manner in which ‘Ironbones’ executed his vain-glorious project, and in this way it was that he was sent off from the shores of Ireland, without victory, honour, or glory, and deprived of the power of ever again boasting himself to be the first man on the earth in battle or combat.
But on the return of the Bodach to the troops, the sun and the wind lighted up one side of his face and his head in such a way that Finn and the Fianna at once recognised him as Manannan Mac Lir, the Tutelary Fairy of Cruachan, who had come to afford them his assistance in their exigency. They welcomed him accordingly with all the honour that was due to him and feasted him sumptuously for a year and a day. And these are the adventures of the Bodach an Chota-Lachtna (The Clown with the Grey Coat).
( Adapted from the “Irish Penny Journal of 24th October 1840” … sourced through JSTOR)
There have been volumes upon volumes written about the terrible events that blighted and tore apart Northern Ireland in the thirty years, from 1965 until the ‘Good Friday Agreement’. There is hardly a family in the Province that did not suffer in some way from the terrors, pain, heartache and devastation of the ‘The Troubles’. But, despite all the words that have been written there are none that can truly describe the horrors of those days, except those that have been expressed by people who lived through those dark days. The ‘peace’ that has now existed for the past twenty years is tenuous, to say the least, and has done little, if anything, to remove the bitterness and hatred caused by those years of strife. Among the many stories of those days is a sad tale, which involved a man of faith who was forced to come face-to-face with his own devils.
There was nothing special about the Murphy family. They were simply a group of average individuals living a quiet life in a medium-sized mid-Ulster town. The parents had always been determined to have their children well educated, and all four sons had very much focused their attention on this. Two of the eldest sons had attended university and qualified as Chartered Accountants prior to moving to Australia to make their fortunes. The second youngest son, Martin, had chosen to join the priesthood and, after his ordination, he was assigned a Parish close to home, much to the joy of his pious mother and father. Frank, however, was the youngest son and, although as academically gifted as any of his brothers, but he wanted to enjoy his youth for a while after finishing college, rather than throwing himself into a career immediately.
After the death of their father, the two youngest brothers had spent more of their time with their mother, Annie. She missed her husband dearly but, like a typical Irish mother, she had her sons around her to keep herself active and busy taking care of them. She was a pious and loving woman, adored by all her sons and, in return, she spoiled them terribly. But, the youngest son had always been her favourite, for he was her last child and she would always look upon him as her baby boy. Although she had always shown a little more affection toward him, Annie had never allowed him to become a spoiled, weak and capricious boy. At the same time, however, she did not give her other sons any reason to feel left out, because she made a point of sharing her deep store of maternal love equally between all four boys. Naturally, with the two oldest boys being so far from home, it was Martin and Frank who benefitted most from their Annie’s care and attention.
Martin had been aware, all of his life, that his mother had a special place in her heart for Frank, but he never had any feelings of jealousy toward him. Frank, after all, was the only son who still lived in the home-place with Annie, and Martin was happy that his youngest brother got all that extra attention and love that he undoubtedly obtained from her.
Frank was a gentle, quiet-natured young man who had a great mind and a wonderful imagination. He was greatly admired by his brother, the priest and his mother called him her ‘Little Lamb’. They both expected that Frank would, eventually, achieve a degree of greatness in whatever he chose to do with his life. Annie was not overly concerned about the amount of time that Frank spent with his friends because they knew that he was the type of person who would always maintain the highest standard of personal behaviour when in public. Although Frank had always enjoyed a drink, he was never known to drink to excess. Furthermore, like his many friends, Frank liked to party but always made a point of coming home no later than midnight and completely sober.
The lives of the Murphy family, however, changed abruptly one night in the Spring of 1967. That night, Annie watched the hands on the large mantlepiece clock turn very slowly as the ‘tick, tock’ of the second hand sounded loudly in the quietness of the living-room. The clock struck one o’clock, and the anxiety that had been building up inside Annie that evening had brought a sense of panic to the mother. Frank, in all the time he had gone out with his friends, had never returned later than one o’clock, and he had never brought any trouble to the door.
It was now past one o’clock and, yet, there was no sign of Frank, and no word of excuse received from him. Fortunately, Martin was in the house that night, sitting with his mother. Rather than return the Parochial House after supper Martin decided that he would stay with Annie. He was now well settled on a comfortable armchair, which stood beside the glowing coal-fire to await Frank’s return home. But, as the minutes continued to tick by slowly, he watched his mother’s already well-frayed nerves begin to come apart. With tears forming in her eyes she quietly muttered, “I just wish Frank would come home.”
“He’ll be alright, Ma! He’ll soon be coming through that front door as if there’s nothing wrong, kiss you on the cheek, as he always does, and go on to his bed,” Martin told her in a soft, comforting tone of voice.
But, Annie was not comforted by Martin’s soft words. “I don’t know, Martin,” she told him. “He has never been this late and I am really worried that something might have happened to him.”
“Please stop fretting, Ma,” Martin urged her as tenderly as he could. “He has just been delayed, ma, and he might not be home for an hour or so yet.”
But, Annie just could not relax, because her worries over Frank’s whereabouts filled every corner of her mind. She fidgeted nervously in her chair, then she made tea for her and Martin, and then she would go to the front door to see if there was any sign that Frank was nearing home. The hours, however, continued to pass slowly and still there was no sign of her youngest son. Then, as darkness gave way to the light of early morning, Annie’s concerns had grown to a point where she began to cry silently to herself, afraid that she might not see her son again. Martin could only sit and watch silently as those bitter tears fell from his mother’s eyes. He was becoming increasingly angry with his brother’s tardiness, and he promised himself that when his younger brother did arrive he would get a piece of his mind regarding his irresponsibility. At that present moment, he could not show any sign of his anger to his already upset mother. He believed it would be more beneficial to maintain his efforts to keep the old woman calm about his brother’s absence.
Martin managed to settle his mother in the chair beside the fire and began telling her humorous anecdotes about some of his parishioners, in the hope that they would keep her mind occupied with lighter thoughts. Quite suddenly, Annie’s body went rigid and her head turned quickly toward the living room window. “It’s him! It’s Frank!” she cried out. “I can hear his footsteps on the path.” She rose from her seat quickly and, loudly sighing “Thank God!”, she went to open the front door to him.
But, Martin heard the voice of a man, which he knew was not the voice of his brother, Frank. He then heard his mother give a loud and painful groan, and this caused Martin to rush to her assistance. Annie had fainted in the hallway and Martin noticed that it was a uniformed policeman that was giving her assistance.
“What in God’s name has happened?” asked Martin anxiously.
The policeman rose up from his knees and helped to bring Annie into the living room, laying her comfortably on the sofa, with a cushion at her head. “I am sorry to be the one that brought such terrible news to you,” said the constable.
“We have found your brother’s abandoned motorbike this morning, lying in a hedge.”
“Is he badly hurt, or …?”
“We have not located your brother yet, Father. But, we did find traces of blood on the seat and are concerned for his welfare,” said the policeman, interrupting Martin.
You can imagine the great shock and fear that Martin felt when he received this grave news. Calling a neighbour over to stay with Annie, he asked the policeman to take him to the scene of this apparent accident. He was driven, in a police car, to a narrow lane that turned off the main road and led through a bog, and he eventually came to the scene, which was marked by another police car and several uniformed officers. Some of the police officers were diligently searching the hedgerows on each side of the narrow, bog lane and Martin quickly joined in with their efforts. Even as Martin searched, there was a definite feeling of unease that began to fill his entire body, and he knew in his mind that this lane held some terrible secret for him. Martin had been up all night and was very tired, and yet he knew that this was not the reason behind his feelings of unease. There was a smell of death in the air about him, but Martin continued to search every possible nook and cranny on each side of the lane, thoroughly, for almost a mile.
They could find nothing in their searches. There was not a trace of Frank anywhere. All that was left to be found was the motorbike and its bloodstained seat. As he took a final look around the area where the motorbike was found, Martin was suddenly brought to an abrupt standstill and he called out to the others to join him quickly. The grass in that place was very much trampled down, and Martin could not be sure if this was a sign that a struggle had taken place, or if the police had trampled the grass during their search. When the police searchers came up to Martin’s position, he was able to discover from them that they had not trampled the grass in that area. They insisted that they had found the area in that condition. Martin now got down on his knees and began to take a closer look at the grass around him and, after a little time, discovered a quantity of fresh blood. Beside this patch of blood, Martin found a thin leather wallet that he knew belonged to his brother, and he picked it up to show the policemen. It all seemed to confirm his worst fears, that his brother Frank was indeed dead. Confirmation of this belief appeared to be supplied by the condition in which the motorbike had been found. From the way it lay in the hedgerow, it was apparent to Martin that this had not been caused by any road accident and indicated, instead, that Frank may have been murdered.
It is almost impossible to describe the pain and agony that tore through Martin’s body at this terrible moment of realisation that his brother was probably dead. There was a terrible rage that filled his heart, which was matched only by the deep sorrow that he felt for the loss. He didn’t want to believe that this tragedy had happened and that there was still hope that Frank would suddenly appear in front of Martin, alive and well. With renewed vigour and his head filled with contradictory thoughts, Martin continued in his frantic search for a body that would give the family closure on what had happened to Frank. Although the search lasted for many hours, stretching well into the evening, Martin had to return home without success. But, Martin found it was a much different home from the one that he had left earlier that day. In those long hours, the stress had aged greatly Annie and Martin now found her in a state of stupor, which had taken hold of her after a wild frenzy of screaming and crying, all brought about by the news she had been given concerning the fate of her youngest son. It was almost as if the light of life had gone out of her, and her heart had been smashed to pieces, rather than broken. Martin was at a complete loss as to what he should do and watched over his mother as she lingered for a few weeks, steadily going downhill and calling out for her dead child.
Sadly, Annie finally passed away one evening as she slept in her bed. As Martin stared down upon her small, pale face he noticed that there was a peaceful expression upon it. There was no longer any trace of the torture and agony she had been feeling since she had first gotten the news of Frank. Although there had not, even yet, been any definite confirmation from the police about Frank’s fate, Martin now felt certain that his youngest brother was dead. He could not, however, comprehend who would have wanted to kill Frank, or why? If it was an accident then why was there no body found? Surely, he thought to himself, no one could hold a grievance, but Martin could not understand who would have had a grievance against such a friendly, harmless man like Frank Murphy.
With so much sectarian hatred prevalent in Northern Ireland at this time, Martin’s first suspicions fell upon ‘loyalist’ paramilitaries. He believed that these dark, evil men murdered young Frank, believing it would be seen as a great victory to kill the innocent brother of a Roman Catholic priest. Yet, he had no proof. Despite the widespread horror that was felt at young Frank’s disappearance and probable murder, there was not a single clue as to who might have perpetrated such a crime. Using every possible contact that he had, both Catholic and Protestant, Martin tried to discover what had happened and who may have done the evil deed. But, all his efforts were in vain, and as the months passed public interest in the event seemed to fade.
The first anniversary of Frank’s disappearance had passed, and the anniversary of his mother’s death was quickly approaching. Since their deaths the young priest had chosen to throw himself completely into his Parish duties as a means of helping him to come to terms with the tragedies that had so changed his life. One Saturday evening, as was usual, he sat in the confessional box in the chapel and made himself available to those who wished to confess their sins and show penance for the wrongs they had done. One of the penitents was known to Martin but appeared to be completely unaware of the form of the religious ritual. He was not a regular church-goer and Martin was, to say the least, very surprised to see this young man enter his confessional. He knelt and began to confess the many misdeeds of his ill-spent life. It appeared that this young man simply wanted to unburden his entire conscience in one go, and he spoke of sins that were filled with unbounded selfishness, oppression, revenge and unlimited passions. There was no sin that this young man had not committed in his short life, everything from theft to betrayal, and from mild sexual thoughts to wild encounters actions were included. Martin had heard many of these same sins during his short tenure as a curate, but the confession of this young man thoroughly shocked him.
Martin would later admit that he was both nauseated and disgusted by this young man and the sins he had confessed. Even the young man himself began to falter as he revealed to the priest each immoral action and thought he had committed. At one point it seemed to Martin that the young man was equally sickened by his faults and had never realised just how extensive and appalling they were. Martin saw both surprise and confusion on the man’s face as he laid out his sins. Then, as Martin began the rite of absolution the young man called on him to stop. “Please Father,” he spoke nervously, “I am not yet finished my confession.”
“I’m sorry,” Martin replied, “please continue.”
But he could hear the penitent moving uneasily as he knelt in the confessional. Martin felt as if the penitent was fighting with his conscience about whether, or not, he should admit some particularly grievous sin. The man had already confessed to so many unsavoury sins already, and the priest could not quite understand why he was so reluctant now. “You have done so well this far. If there is more that you wish to confess you should continue. Free yourself of your sins and you will feel so much better. God already knows your sins and by you confessing them you are showing that you are aware of how hurtful they have been to him. Return to his love. He wants to forgive you all your sins and break those chains which bind your soul to evil. So, speak freely,” Martin urged the penitent in a gentle voice.
The priest listened to the man sobbing for a minute or two, stopping only to dry his tears and blow his nose. Then, very quietly and hesitantly at first, the young man began to mutter, nervously, that he had killed someone in cold-blood. Martin shuddered at the revelation and, from what he had heard the man say so far, he found it difficult to believe. Clearing his voice, he asked in the calmest tone that he could muster, “Please tell me, how and where did you commit an act of cruel murder? And whatever possessed you to take the life of another human being?”
The young man had kept his head bowed during his confession, but he raised his head until he could see the face of the priest behind the confessional screen that separated them. It was also the first time that Martin had seen the penitent. Despite the veil between them, the priest could see clearly the young man’s tear-soaked and reddened eyes. He noticed that they were glazed over and appeared to be ready to pop out from their sockets with terror. The blood seemed to almost drain from the man’s complexion and there was a tremor in his body. Martin now watched in total surprise as the young man slowly raised his clasped hands toward him. It was as if the penitent was praying to him, begging him to that would ease the pain in his entire being. Was this young man seeking mercy from him Martin wondered, as the penitent moved closer? With quivering lips and in a low sobbing voice the man declared, “I am the man who killed your brother, Father Martin!”
Martin’s body suddenly went numb. Then, as if hit by a Taser gun, his entire body shook violently, and he was wracked with terrible pain. The priest’s entire mind went into a ‘brain-melt’ as his thoughts were scrambled together and began to spin around in his head, and his heart began to pound so fast that he became sure that it would burst. Maybe it was God, or maybe it was his own instinct for survival that caused Martin to breathe normally once again, and he began to slowly feel his blood run begin to run normally once more through the many tingling vessels in his body. The young priest’s hands were clasped to his breast, but just as his body returned to something like normality, he slumped back in his seat and began to laugh hysterically. It was not the reaction that the penitent had expected and fearing for the priest he went to assist him. Several minutes passed before Martin began to recover his equilibrium and his face was soaked in a cold sweat, and his eyes were filled with bitter, bitter tears. As Martin became aware of his surroundings again he saw the penitent holding him close, his face wracked with the terrible thought that he had caused the priest to suffer some sort of emotional breakdown. Holding Martin close to him the priest he was pleading for his mercy and not to hand him over to the law. Martin could hardly believe that it was him that was telling the young man, “Don’t be afraid. You don’t have to worry about me or the police. Your sins have been shared under the seal of confession, and because of that, I cannot reveal one item to another living soul. You are safe, but I beg you to get away from me now. Just get out of my sight and stayaway from me until I feel able to see you and speak to you again.” With he heard these words the young man released his hold on Martin, moved away from the confessional, and exited the church building.
Martin told me that, after this encounter, he knelt alone in the church and prayed to God for the strength to get him through this. He had, more by accident than by design, met the man who had murdered his youngest brother and, through this crime, had caused the subsequent death of his mother. Although an ordained priest, Martin also considered that he was nothing more than a simple man, would find forgiveness a difficult proposition to grant under such circumstances. Moreover, that he was a priest meant he needed God’s help to hold fast to that sacred calling to which he had dedicated his life. He prayed intensely for God’s blessing to give him the strength to fulfil the words of the Gospel as he professed them – “Love and Forgiveness.” But, God appeared to hold back his blessing for a time and it was only after much prayer and meditation that he felt able to meet the young man again. On this occasion Martin had decided to deal with him with him in the same manner as any other priest, and give him absolution for his sins, setting him a penance that he had to complete.
You often hear people repeat the adage that tells us, “Time can heal all hurts.” But, Martin found that this was not so true when it came to the hurt that filled his heart. Although years had passed by and the pain began to hurt less, it was never totally healed. The ‘Killer’ had confessed his crime to him unbidden, and he had appeared to have changed his previous lifestyle dramatically. He had begun to attend Church services and the holy sacraments almost daily. There were none other than Martin who knew of his crime, and many remarked about just how much he had quietened down since he had begun to attend the Church regularly.
There were some, however, who did not trust that young man, and Father Martin admitted that he was far from being a reformed man. The only difference between the old and the new, Martin said, was that he had become better at hiding his transgressions from public view. In fact, Martin was becoming increasingly suspicious about the young man’s true motives for apparently changing his lifestyle, and for spending so much time in his company. He was sure that all of this was simply to avoid suspicion of being directed at him and, by telling the priest his terrible secret under the seal of the confession, he ensured that his admission of guilt would not reach the ears of the law. By using the Confessional with the priestly brother of his victim he had ensured that Martin would not try to avenge his brother’s death murder.
After confessing his darkest secret to Martin, he had also made the priest aware of why he had committed such a terrible act. that the motive behind the terrible act had been jealousy. He said that Frank, being a handsome and easy-going young fellow had attracted the attention of a certain young lady from a good family. Unfortunately, Frank didn’t know that he had placed himself in competition with this young man, whose attention had been spurned by the same young lady. It was Frank who won through and was walking out with the young lady, and he had even been seen exchanging kisses with her. All these things helped stoke this young man’s jealousy and he sought vengeance. The ‘last straw’ that convinced him to get rid of Frank once and for all was when he personally witnessed them kissing.
He admitted to Martin that he armed himself with a long, sharp knife and hid in the hedgerow along the bog road, which he knew Frank would use to motorcycle home after meeting the young lady. He lay in wait until he heard Frank’s approach and saw the light from the motorbike as it shone on the road. Just as Frank was passing the hiding place his assassin sprang out from his lair, totally surprising Frank and forcing him to stop suddenly. Then, before Frank could recover his composure the assassin drove his knife into Frank’s back, killing him almost instantly. But, the young killer did not tell Martin what he had done with the body, and yet Martin was confident that he would say where he had disposed of the remains and give him the final closure he needed.
One evening, in the middle of Lent, Martin was walking along the very same road where his brother’s life had been so savagely taken. As he walked in the growing darkness, Martin heard the approach of a car behind him and he stopped so that he could allow the car to pass safely by. But, the car did not pass him and chose to stop on the road adjacent to where Martin was standing. The car’s window was wound down and the smiling face of the guilty man appeared, much to the priest’s loathing. Martin did not know why the man was on the same road as he, or why he had stopped to talk. “Good evening, Father,” he said with that sickening smile that Martin hated so much.
“Good evening,” replied Martin in a dry and unwelcoming tone.
The young man got out of the car and pointed to a lone tree, standing not far into the nearby bog. “Do you see that tree?” he asked.
“Yes,” replied Martin.
“It is close to that tree that your brother is buried,” he said with absolutely no emotion in his voice.
Totally astonished by this sudden revelation, Martin’s mind was not quite thinking straight, and he replied, “What brother?”
“Your brother Frank, of course,” said the villain. “It was there that I buried the poor man after I had killed him.”
“Sweet Jesus! Merciful God!” screamed the priest. Then raising his eyes to heaven, he angrily added, “Thy will be done!”
Rushing at the villain Martin seized him by the lapels of his jacket and growled into his face, “You damned wretch of a man!You have admitted to shedding the blood of an innocent man who has been crying out to heaven for justice these last ten years or more. I am turning you into the police, now!”
He turned ashy pale as he faltered out a few words to say that, as a priest, Martin had promised not to betray him. ” That was under the seal of confession and under that seal, I can never speak of that deadly secret you admitted to. But, God is good, and you now admit your crime in the open, where the seal of confession does not hold me back. At last, I, the brother of your victim, will be able to avenge the innocent blood that you shed.”
The blood drained from the assassin’s face as Martin tightened his grip and pushed him into the car’s passenger seat. Martin climbed into the driver’s seat and re-started the engine. Totally overcome by events the captive killer did not try to resist while he was driven into the police station, where he was charged with murder and committed for trial.
Reports of Martin’s capture of his brother’s murderer spread far and wide. The Bishop of the Diocese summoned the young priest into his presence and arranged for a dispensation to be given to Martin with regard to the man’s confession. But, Martin did not need to use his dispensation.
Frank’s body was found in the place indicated by his murderer, and forensic science did the rest. The proof provided by the investigators was such that the jury was able to quickly find the killer guilty. The judge complimented Martin on his brave action and heroically observing the obligation of secrecy that bound him. Speaking to the press, the judge declared, “You have witnessed just how the Church of Rome believes that Confession is a sacred trust that cannot be broken. Even when the cause is the avenging of a brother’s murder, it is still an insufficient excuse for breaking that trust.”
Adoption of a child is not a new creation in Ireland, for the Irish peasant was known for the care that they would take of others in difficulty, even if not in their community. Considering all that happened to the Irish peasantry, this comment may come as a great surprise to you. Nevertheless, there is no feature of human nature that was surrounded in so much mystery, or less understood, than the very strong bond of affection that existed between the humble Irish peasant and his adopted brother, especially if that adopted brother is from a family that had social-rank or respect for the community. This peculiar relationship, though it may to a certain extent have been mutually felt, it was not normally regarded as being equal in its strength between the two parties. While there may have been instances of equality of feeling experience teaches us that such equality is to be found in the humbler of the two parties. We should stop there since we are getting into areas of psychology and philosophy in which I have absolutely no experience. Perhaps we can just simply agree that what I have stated is fact. In the history and tradition of our country we have enough material from which we can obtain clear and distinct proofs that the attachment of habit and closeness in these instances far transcends that of natural affection itself. Even today there are very few instances of one brother laying down his life for the other, and yet examples of such high and heroic sacrifices have occurred in the case of the foster-brothers. It is certainly impossible to attribute this wild but indomitable attachment to the force of domestic feeling. While we Irish insist that family affections among our people are stronger than those held in any other country, there are occasions when this almost inexplicable devotion have occurred in those persons we know that have very feeble domestic ties.
It is fact that the human heart has many moral peculiarities associated with it and we are not yet totally acquainted or comfortable with any of them. They constantly come at us in a great variety of wayward and irregular combinations, none of which operates in a manner that employs any of the known principles of action. It is more likely than unlikely that we shall ever completely understand them. There is another peculiarity in Irish feeling, which, as it is similar to this, we cannot neglect to mention it. It is said that when the ‘Dublin Foundling Hospital’ was in existence, the poor infants who were consigned to that gloomy and soul destroying place were often sent to different parts of the country, where they would be taken care of by the wives of those peasants who were employed as day-labourers, cottiers, and small farmers, who also cultivated from three to six or eight acres of land. These children were either abandoned or were orphaned and were usually supported by a tax upon the parish in which they were born. To the local peasants they were known as ‘Parisheens’ and were accompanied by an upkeep grant paid to the foster parents.
You might think that such deserted and orphaned children might have been sent to people who may have seen them as servants and slaves, to be neglected, ill-treated and given little comfort. There were, undoubtedly, some of the foster parents who did such things, but there were as many more who showed themselves to be more honourable, generous and affectionate toward those placed in their care. In many cases they received the same care, affection, and tenderness that these foster parents showed to their own children. Even when they reached an age at which they were free to leave their foster home many of these stayed with the foster families, preferring the love and affection they had been shown in their lives this far to anything else that life might offer them. This, of course, is a natural reaction by anyone to someone that feeds, clothes and shows affection towards him. Over the years of being treated as a member of the family it would not be unusual for foster-brothers to form a very strong emotional attachment. As by way of an example of these attachments I will relate to you a story that I have recently heard and believe to be true, which took place over two hundred years ago during the 1798 rebellion.
Andrew Moore was a gentleman of some note in the district and he had a young daughter, who was renowned for her beauty and her accomplishments. In fact, such was the fame of this young lady that men often drank to her health as if she was the pride of her native county. A woman so beautiful had many suitors, of course, but among these there were two men who were particularly noteworthy for the thorough attentions they showed her, and their intense efforts to secure her affections. Henry Corbin was a man of means and held strong loyalist views, as did the young lady’s own father. To him the father had given his consent to win over the affections of his daughter with a view to marriage. The other suitor, unfortunately for Henry, had already gained the young lady’s affections but was considered totally unsuitable by the father. This young man was leader and, therefore, deeply involved on the side of the insurgents, known as ‘United Irishmen.’ These facts had become known to Andrew Moore some time before the breaking out of the rebellion and, because of his republican views, the man was forbidden to come to Moore’s house, and he was told not to communicate with any member of the Moore family. But, before this banishment, the young man had succeeded getting Miss Moore’s assistance to ensure that his foster-brother, Frank Finnegan, was employed as butler to the Moore family. The young lady was fully aware of the young man’s republican principles and knew that such an arrangement would never have been permitted if her father had known of the peculiar bond of affection that existed between the young men. Mr. Moore, fortunately for Frank, had no idea of the bond between him and his foster-brother. He was totally unaware that by allowing Finnegan into his family home he gave the forbidden suitor an advantage to forward his affections for the girl.
Andrew’s interference in the affair had, in fact, come too late to prevent the growth of a relationship between the young lovers. Before he issued his prohibition to Thomas Houston, the young man and his daughter had exchanged vows of mutual affection with each other. The rebellion that broke out forced Hewson to assume his place as a local leader of the rebellion. Naturally, by assuming such a role, it appeared that he had placed an insurmountable barrier between himself and the object of his affections. In the meantime, Andrew Moore, who was the local magistrate and a captain of yeomanry, took a very active part in putting down this rebellion, and in hunting down and securing all those who had chosen to rise-up against the government. Henry Corbin showed his zealousness in following the footsteps of Mr. Moore in hunting down the rebels, because he wanted to prove himself as the best choice for a future son-in-law. The two men acted in unison against the rebellion and, on occasion, the measures employed by eager Mr. Corbin were such that Andrew felt it necessary to rein-in the young loyalist’s exuberance. Such efforts to control the worst of Corbin’s impulses were, however, kept hidden from the younger man. But, since Corbin always seemed to be acting under the orders of his friend Moore it was, naturally, believed that every harsh and malicious act that was committed, was either sanctioned or suggested by Andrew Moore. It was as a consequence of these beliefs that Moore was considered to be even more vile and odious than Corbin. While the younger man became considered only as a rash and hot-headed loyalist zealot, the older man was thought to be a cool and wily old fox, who had ten times the cunning and cruelty of the senseless puppet whose strings he was pulling. In holding such views, however, they were terribly mistaken.
In the meantime, the rebellion went ahead and there were many acts of cruelty and atrocity were committed by both sides of the conflict. Moore’s house and family would have been attacked and most probably the house ransacked and its occupants murdered if it were it not for the influence that Thomas Houston held with the rebels. On at least two occasions Houston succeeded, and with great difficulty, in preventing Andrew Moore and his entire household from falling victim to the vengeance of the insurgents. Although Moore was a man of great personal courage, he would often underrate the character and bravery of those who opposed him. His caution, it must be said was not equal with his bravery or zeal, for he had been known to rush out at the head of a party of men to seek out the enemy, and by doing so left his own home, and the lives of those who were in it, exposed and defenceless.
On one of these expeditions he happened to capture a small group of rebels who were under the leadership of a close friend and distant relative of Thomas Houston. As the law in those terrible days was quick to punish the wrongdoers, the rebels who had been taken openly armed against the King and the Government were summarily tried and executed by a court-martial. As a result of this action, the rebel forces swore to reap a deep and bloody vengeance against Andrew Moore and his family. For a considerable period of time thereafter the rebels, lay in ambush for their target, to ensure that Moore got his just reward for his atrocious actions.
Houston’s attachment to Moore’s daughter, however, had been known for many months, and his previous interference on behalf of the old man had been successful because of that fact. Now, however, the group’s plan of attack was agreed without his knowledge, and they all swore solemnly that none of them would repeat the plan to any man who was not already familiar with it, which included Houston. They were convinced that if he should learn of their plan he would once more make earnest efforts to prevent them taking their bloody revenge. But, with this plan made and agreed, the group reduced their activities in the county to try and put Moore off his guard, because since his execution of the captured rebels he had felt it necessary to ensure his house was strongly and resolutely defended against rebel attack. The attack against Moore was postponed for quite a while until the concerns created by his recent activities would finally disappear, and his enemies could proceed with their plans to inflict bloodshed and destruction.
Eventually the night for taking action was decided upon and preparations were made. Each person’s role in the assault was explained to them in detail and the necessary weapons were made ready. A secret, however, when communicated to a great number of people, even under the most solemn promise not to reveal it, is more likely to be revealed. This is especially true during a civil war, where so many interests of friendship, blood, and marriage, bind the opposing parties together despite those principles which they publicly profess and under which they were to act. In this case it was Miss Moore’s personal maid whose brother, together with several of his friends and relatives, had been selected to assist in the planned attack. Naturally, he felt anxious that she should not be present on the night of the assault in case her relationship with the assailants might prove to be dangerous to them. He, therefore, sought an opportunity to see his sister and earnestly plead with her to stay away from the Moore house on the night that had been chosen for the attack. The girl was not at all surprised by any of his hints to her because she was completely aware of the current state the countryside was in, and the enmity that most of the people felt for Moore and Corbin, and all those who were acting on behalf of the government. She replied to him that she would follow his advice and she spoke in such a manner that he decided there no longer any need maintain the secrets to which he was privy. The plot was, therefore disclosed, and the girl warned to get out of the house, both for her own sake and for that of those people who were about to wreak their vengeance on Andrew Moore and his family.
The poor girl, wanted Andrew and his family to escape the danger that was coming and she revealed the plan to Miss Moore, who immediately informed her father. Andrew Moore, however, did not make plans to escape, but took measures to gather around his home a large and well-armed force from the closest military garrison. The maid, who was known as Peggy Baxter, had developed a close relationship with Hewson’s foster-brother Finnegan, and the two had become lovers in every sense of the word. Peggy knew that the love she felt for Finnegan would be worth nothing if he was to be overcome by the danger that was approaching. Immediately after her revelation to Miss Moore, Peggy went to her sweetheart to confide the secret to him, giving him several hours to escape. Finnegan was totally surprised by this revelation, especially when Peggy told him that her brother had said that Houston had been kept oblivious to the plan because of his feelings toward the young Miss Moore. There was now obvious means of stopping the plan from going ahead, unless contact could be made with Houston. Finnegan knew that such a task would be dangerous but, being a ‘United Irishman’ himself, he knew that he could get to Houston without any real danger. As quickly as he could, Finnegan left the house to seek out his foster-brother and soon crossed his path. When Houston heard what his foster-brother had to say he was stunned and angry that this action was about to go ahead without him being told by his comrades. His task completed, Finnegan left to return to his post, but before he reached the house the darkness had already set in. On his arrival Finnegan sought out the kitchen and the many comforts it contained. All this time he was ignorant, as were most of the servants, that the upper rooms and out-houses were already crammed with fierce and well-armed soldiers.
Matters were now reaching the crisis point. Houston was aware now that there was little time to be lost and collected a small party of his own immediate and personal friends. Not one of these men, because they were his friends, had been privilege to the plan for the attack upon Moore’s home. Determined to be ahead of the attackers, he and his friends met at an appointed place and from there they went quickly to Moore’s house with as much secrecy as possible. It was his plan to let Moore know about what was about to happen to him and his family and then to escort them all to a place of safety. Not expecting to find the house defended by armed men, Houston’s party were unprepared for an attack or sally from that direction. In a few minutes two of Houston’s group were shot, and most of the rest, including Houston himself, were taken prisoners on the spot. Those who managed to escape the scene told the other insurgents about the strength of troops which were defending Moore’s house and the planned attack was postponed rather quickly.
Thomas Houston maintained a dignified silence, but when he saw his friends being escorted under guard from the hall to a large barn he asked that he should be put with them. “No!” Moore shouted at him, “Even if you are a rebel ten times over, you are still a gentleman and should not be herded in a barn with them. Furthermore, Mr Houston, with the greatest of respect to you, we shall put you in a much safer place. The highest room in the highest part of the house is where we will put you, and if you escape from there then we shall say that you are an innocent man. Frank Finnegan, show Mr. Houston and those two soldiers up to the observatory. Get them some refreshments and leave him in the soldiers’ charge. You men will guard his door well because you will be held responsible for his appearance in the morning.”
In obedience to Moore’s orders the two soldiers escorted Thomas to the door, outside of which was their guard station for the night. When Frank and Thomas entered the observatory, the former gently shut the door, and, turning to his foster-brother he spoke hurriedly but in a low voice saying, “There is not a moment to lose, you must escape.”
“That is impossible,” replied Houston, “unless I had wings and could use them.”
“We must try,” urged Frank; “we can only fail in our efforts. The most they do is to take your life and, mark my words, they’ll do that.”
“I know that,” said Houston, “and I am prepared for the worst.”
“Listen to me, for God’s sake,” said the other; “I will come up a little later with refreshments, say in about half an hour. You ensure that you are stripped when I come, because we are both the same size. Those guards at the door don’t know either of us very well and it would be possible for you to go out in my clothes. Say nothing,” he added, seeing Houston about to speak; “I have been here too long already, and these fellows might begin to suspect something. So, be prepared when I come. Good bye, Mr Houston,” he said aloud, as he opened the door; “It’s sorry I am to see you here, but that’s the consequence of deciding to rebel against King George, and all glory to him — soon and sudden,” he added in an undertone. “In about half an hour I’ll bring you up some supper, sir. Keep a sharp eye on him,” he whispered to the two soldiers, giving them at the same time a knowing and confidential wink. “These same rebels are as slippery as eels, and they will slide easily through your fingers given a chance. And the devil knows you have a good in there;” and as he spoke, he pointed over his shoulder with his inverted thumb to the door of the observatory.
Just about the time he had promised to return, a crash was heard upon the stairs, and Finnegan’s voice in a high key exclaimed, “Damn you for a set of stairs, and to hell with every rebel in Europe, I pray to God this night! My bloody nose is broken because of you having me running about like an eejit!” He then stooped down, and in a torrent of bitter swear words he collected all the materials for Houston’s supper and placed them again upon the tray. He then continued up the stairs, and on presenting himself at the prisoner’s door, the blood was streaming from his nose. The soldiers on seeing him, could not avoid laughing at his sorrowful appearance and this angered him quite a bit. “You may laugh!” he said to them, “but I’d bet that I’ve shed more blood for his majesty this night than either of you ever did in your lives!” This only increased their laughter as he entered Houston’s room. Once inside the two men exchanged clothes very quickly, before the laughter of the soldiers died down.
“Now,” said Frank, “go. Behind the garden Miss Moore is waiting for you, for she knows all. Take the bridle-road through the broad bog and get into Captain Corry’s estate. Take my advice too, and both of you get yourselves of to America, if you can. But, easy. God forgive me for pulling you by the nose instead of shaking you by the hand, and I may never see you again.” The poor fellow’s voice became unsteady with emotion, although there was a smile on his face at his own humour. “As I came in here with a bloody nose,” he proceeded, giving Houston’s nose a fresh pull, “you know you must go out with one. And now God’s blessing be with you! Think of one who loved you as none else did.”
The next morning there was uproar, tumult, and confusion in the house of the old loyalist magistrate, when it was discovered that his daughter and the butler were missing. But when they examined the observatory, they soon discovered that Finnegan was safe and Houston was gone. There are no words to adequately describe the rage and the fury of Moore, Irwin, and the military. You might already have some idea as to what happened next. Frank was brought in front of a hastily formed court-martial and sentenced to be shot where he stood. But, before the sentence was executed, Moore spoke to him. “Now, Finnegan,” said he, “I will get you out of this, if you tell us where Houston and my daughter are. I swear on my honour and in public that I will save your life, and get you a free pardon, if you help us to trace and recover them.”
“I don’t know where they are,” Finnegan replied, “but even if I did, I would not betray them to you.”
“Think of what has been said to you,” added Irwin. “I give you my word also to the same effect.”
“Mr Irwin,” he replied, “I have but one word to say. When I did what I did, I knew very well that my life would pay for his, and I know that if he had thought so, he would be standing now in my place. Carry out your sentence. I’m ready”
“Take five minutes,” said Moore. “Give him up and live.”
“Mr Moore,” said he, with a decision and energy which startled them, “I am his Foster-Brother!” He felt now that he had said enough and he silently stood at the place appointed for him. He was calm and showed no fear, and at the first volley of shots he fell dead instantaneously. In this way he passed from this life.
Houston, finally realised that the insurgent cause was becoming increasingly hopeless. Being urged by his young wife he escaped, after two or three other unsuccessful engagements, to America. Old Moore died a few years later, having survived all the resentment he had earned. He also succeeded in reconciling the then government to his son-in-law, who returned to Ireland, and it was found by his will, much to the anger and disappointment of many of his relatives, that he had left the bulk of his property to Mrs Houston, who had always been his favourite child, and whose attachment to Houston he had originally encouraged.
In an old, lonely churchyard there is to be found a handsome monument, which has the following passage inscribed upon it, i.e. “Sacred to the memory of Francis Finnegan, whose death presented an instance of the noblest virtue of which human nature is capable, that of laying down his life for his friend. This monument is erected to his memory by Thomas Houston, his friend and foster-brother, for whom he died.”
“Ah, would you be quiet!” cried an old man with whom I was discussing such topics, “Would you believe this?“
“Would I believe what?” I asked him.
“It’s as true as I’m living,” he insisted. “I heard it from the man’s own lips, may God be merciful to him! And Lord forbid that I should tell a lie on him!“
“What was it?” I asked again impatiently.
“Did you ever know Brian Douglas that lived over there in Ballymacnab?” the old man replied, and, like the proverbial Irishman, I shook my head.
“Oh no, you wouldn’t have known him” he went on, “he died before you came here. Well, he was coming home one night from town. It was after twelve o’clock or maybe coming near to one. He had his horse and cart with him, and he was walking along at the horse’s head, smoking away at his pipe as content as you like, and it was a fine moonlit night, Glory be to God! Then, what should he see before him in the middle of the road but three men carrying a coffin. Well, it wasn’t long, sir, until they put down the coffin. Sure, the hair was standing on Brian’s head with fear, but he made the sign o’ the cross on himself, and he walked on until he came up to where the three men had been standing beside the coffin. ‘The blessing of God on you,’ said Bryan in Irish, ‘and what’s wrong with you all, at all?’
“’The same to yourself,’ spoke up one of the three men, ‘ but come and take a fourth man’s place under this and ask us no more questions.’ Well, sir, he was going to ask, ‘What will I do with my horse and cart?’ but he thought better of it, and he didn’t, for you see he was told to ask no more questions, and it wouldn’t have been right for him to go against them. But sure he didn’t need to ask, for they knew well enough what was going through his mind, and another of the men said to him, ‘ your horse and cart will be here when you come back.’
“Well, he went with them and helped them to carry the coffin, and never was there a heavier corpse, the Lord be good to us, ever buried he told us. They went on until they left the coffin in the graveyard, and then they told him he might go back to his horse and cart. ‘Oh,’ says Brian, ‘I’ll help you to dig the grave now that I’m here.’
“’Do what you’re told,’ said the third of the men, who hadn’t spoken before this, ‘or maybe it would be al the worse for you.’
“Well, sir, Brian was reluctant to say anything more, so he went back to his horse and cart, and sure enough they were waiting for him at the very spot where he had left them.“
“Did Brian know the men?” I asked the old man when he had finished.
“Did he know them? Indeed, he did, for they were his own three first cousins who died long before this event.”
“And who was in the coffin?“
“It was Brian’s own brother, who had died in California that same night. But he only heard this afterwards, when he received a letter that came from his uncle in America.”
The old man assured me that Brian had never told a lie in his life and that he was dead now, may God be merciful to him!
You, who are reading this now, I ask that you should not scoff the story. You may never be called upon to assist the dead to carry the dead at a mysterious midnight funeral, but do not ridicule the story of Brian Dougan’s experience that has been brought to you by an honourable man.