If ever you were expecting to visit the county of Armagh in the early decades of the nineteenth century, you may have been advised, beforehand, to keep watch for a tall, stout, lazy-looking man, with sleepy eyes and a huge cocked nose. He dragged his feet along as if they were heavy wooden clogs that had been forced upon him by nature. They deliberately restrained his movement rather than helping him move forward as he dawdled along the highways and byways of the county. More often than not, however, he could be caught lounging about a public-house, with a green bag under his arm. That man was Tim Callaghan and you would have been advised to be wary of him and his ways. The following account by a fellow traveller who met with Callaghan will, perhaps, shed more light on the subject –
“When first I met Tim Callaghan, he assured me that he had served seven long years with, as he said himself, ‘as fine a piper as ever put chanter under an arm.’ He said that at the end of that well-spent period he began to enchant the gentry of the county on his own account, being the owner of a splendid set of pipes, and three whole tunes that earned him a good living. This puzzled me for a time and as we chatted quietly I asked him, quite innocently – ‘Isn’t it a pity Tim, that with your fine taste in music and possession of top-class set of pipes you didn’t try to learn a half dozen tunes at least?’
“Immediately, I knew that had annoyed the man by the sulky expression that crossed his face. ‘Oh now, friend,’ he answered me, ‘that very same question has been put to me by dozens of people, before you and I hate to hear it! It was only yesterday that a lady asked me that same question.‘Dear madam,’ said I, ‘did you ever play a tune on the pipes in your life?’ ‘Never, indeed,’ said she, looking a bit ashamed by her ignorance, as she should have been. ‘Because if you did,’ said I again to her, ‘you would soon say, “great job, Tim Callaghan, to get over the three tunes so well, without asking people to do what’s impossible.” And now I appeal to you, Sir, what use is there in complicating people’s brains with six or seven tunes when three does my business just as well?’ After I told him that I could not fault his argument we became very good friends. Being grateful for my patience and forbearance, he eternally murders those three unfortunate tunes for my pleasure. In all honesty I doubt now if I could truly enjoy those tunes being played well, because I have grown so accustomed to Tim’s efforts.
“Tim Callaghan, it must be said, was a politically astute character, and his three tunes were expressly chosen and learnt so as to win over the ears and the acclamation of all denominations of Christian men. Thus, the “Boyne water” is the tune played to please the Protestant audience, while “Patrick’s Day” was just the tune to satisfy an audience of Roman Catholics, and when Tim’s not sure of the creed of the audience he wishes to please, to suit Quakers, Methodists, and other non-conformists, “God save the Queen” is the third tune. For many years he was perfectly content to give these favourite tunes in their original musical purity, but some wicked gobshite, probably another piper, persuaded him that his melodies would be totally irresistible to the audience if he would add some ornamental variations to them of his own choosing. Tim was a man who was unaccustomed to flattery, and so naïve that he would never suspect someone having a joke at his expense. Not surprisingly, then, he jumped at this bright idea, overcame his natural and acquired laziness, and made an effort to add variety in his tunes. When Callaghan thought he had mastered the difficulties of the task, he decided to do me the honour of appointing me as the person to pronounce judgement on his melodious additions. All I shall say about those variations is, let the dumbest eejit that ever looked dreamily down an empty well, listen to Tim Callaghan’s variations, and watch his face while he performs those variations. I promise you the man will require heavy drugs if he would ever get time to sleep for laughing!
“When Tim arrives at the door to a gentleman’s residence, he usually begins to entertain with a suitable serenade, and he will drone away at that until the few pence he receives for piping permits him to leave contented. But if he is kept waiting too long, and he sees that there is no real chance of a reward he becomes furious, and in his anger he will begin to play that one of the three tunes which he believes is the most disagreeable and opposite to the politics of the offender. If the party is a Roman Catholic, he will be unpleasantly shocked, and all his prejudices aroused, by “the Boyne water,” performed with unusual vigour. If the offender is a church-goer, he will never recover from the trauma of “Patrick’s Day,” that is given with an energy that would shatter any goodwill between the parties. Should Tim be asked to play a person’s favourite, or a popular tune, it would be like asking him to stand up and repeat a passage from Homer in the original Greek. If you are lucky he might even give you a civil reply along the lines of, ‘I haven’t got that, but I’ll play one that is as good,’ and one of his trio of tunes would follow. If the customer is keen on something new being played he could find himself cut short with, ‘Who do you think you are to telling me what to play. Anyone else, better even than you, would be content with what I gave you and reward me handsomely’.
“The first occasion that I had the pleasure to see and hear Tim Callaghan, was in the middle of the dark and dreary winter, and in a quiet country home of a local minister. It was so quiet, in fact, that even the vile screeching of a tin whistle would have been welcomed until we had something better. You can imagine the joy we felt when the inspiring drone of the bagpipe caused our ears to prick to attention and expectation! The Minister’s servants were excited, noisily expressing their absolute delight, and in asking the minister to permit the piper be brought into the house and play the pipes. Their request was granted, the minstrel was allowed in, and seated in the hall. Well, Tim’s first tune in the minister’s house was, of course, ‘the Boyne’, which he played with a great spirit. Moreover, he played very accurately on the whole, with the exception of a few rather essential notes that he omitted as being unnecessary and troublesome, or, some servants believed, because his fingers were so cold. Finally, Tim was led into the kitchen, where they seated him opposite a blazing fire. ‘Now he’ll play in earnest!’ they cried out with one voice, and they all gathered around him in expectation of more music.
“Tim was now in the house of someone he considered to be in the lower levels of the gentry, but he was willing to please all requests and conditions. Hesistation came when he began to wonder whether he shall repeat the ‘Boyne,’ or begin to play all-enlivening ‘Patrick’s Day.’ In an attempt to gain an answer he turned to a little boy who was gaping with wonder at the grand pipes that Tim was holding. ‘What religion are the servants?’ he asked the boy
‘They are of all sorts, sir,’ whispered the little boy, Tommy in reply, blushing all over because the piper had taken notice of him.
‘Of all sorts!’ muttered Tim and instantly decided, with much solemnity of face to play ‘God save the King.’
“The butler listened awhile with his expert’s ear. ‘You’re a great performer on the pipes!’ he told Tim at length, and with a hand on each hip. ‘and that’s a fine piece of Hannibal’s composition! But it’s not suitable for all occasions, and a livelier air would agree with our temperament much better. Change it to something new.’ Then, tucking his apron aside, the butler gallantly took the rosy tips of the housemaid’s fingers and led her out, while the gardener politely did likewise with the cook. The piper looked a little sullen, and he still continued the national anthem as if he knew what he was doing, and was determined to play out his tune. But, the butler did not like being ignored and his temper began to bristle.
“‘Really,’ he observed with a snobbish smile, ‘we are very loyal people around here, but at this particular moment we don’t want to join in a prayer for our sovereign’s welfare! Stop that melancholic thing, man! give us one of Jackson’s jigs.’
“’Out of fashion?’ asked Tim sullenly, ‘but I’ll give you all one as good,’ and ‘Patrick’s Day’ set them all in motion for a quarter of an hour.
“’Oh, we’re all quite tired of that!’ the housemaid said at length, ‘do, piper, give us a waltz or quadrillel. Do you play ‘The Haymaker’s Jig?’ for Jem Sidebottom and I used to dance it beautifully when I lived at Mr Andrew’ s!’
“’What do you call it?’ asked Tim rather sneeringly.
“’The Haymaker’s Jig,’ replied the young lady, drawing herself up with an air enough to kill a piper.
“’Phew!’ replied Tim contemptuously, ‘that’s out of fashion too. But, I’ll give you one as good.” and the “Boyne” followed, played neither faster nor slower than he had been taught it, which was in right time, and nowhere near dancing time, much to the annoyance of the dancers. Another and another jig and reel was demanded, and to all and each Tim Callaghan replied, ‘I haven’t got that, but I’ll give you one as good,” and the “King,” the “Boyne,” and the “Day,” followed each other in due succession.
“Was there anything more provoking! There stood four active, zealous dancers, with toes pointed and heads erect, anxiously awaiting a further top class exhibition of Tim Callaghan’s powers! There stood the dancers, looking beseechingly at the piper. There sat the piper staring at the dancers, wondering what in the name of God they were waiting for, quite satisfied that they had got all that could be reasonably expected from him. ‘And have you nothing else in your chanter?’ the butler angrily demanded at last.
“’E— ah,’ Stammered Tim Callaghan, as if he did not understand the question. But, the question was put to him again, slower and a little louder. ‘Jaysus, you are powerful for asking questions of a man!’ Callaghan retorted impatiently, ‘your master would be content with what I played for you, and he would be grateful for it!’
“’By all that’s holy!’ exclaimed the butler, ‘this beats everything I ever heard of about entertaining! Tell me, did you ever attend a concert for the nobility? — Ha! ha! ha!’
“‘As sure as God,’ laughed the housemaid, ‘I am certain that this boy is going to get a great many more kicks than pennies! — Ha! ha! Ha!’
“’And that’s good enough for him!” added the gardener, ‘for a man that has only three half tunes in the world, and none of them right! Jaysus, what is your name, friend?’
“’What’s that to you?’ growled the Callaghan.
“’Absolutely nothing, friend! Only I thought that you might be the piper that played before Moses — Ha! ha! ha!’
“’Oh! This eejit wouldn’t even know who Moses was,’ said the cook, as she returned to her kitchen. The butler, meanwhile, had had enough and showed his disappointment and displeasure in Callaghan by taking hold of the piper and throwing him out from the comforts of the fire and the house.
“It was after this that I once again had the delight of hearing Tim Callaghan play. It was in another part of the county, where he was not so well known. A lady had gathered a number of young people to a sea-side dance one evening. But, just before the dance was to begin, she had heard that the fiddler she had employed had become ill, and could not possibly play that night. There was, as far as she could see, nothing that could be done. So, when the guests arrived, and the terrible news communicated to them, the gentlemen in spite of themselves looked very disappointed, as if they anticipated a dull evening ahead. The lovely bright faces of the ladies were overcast, though as usual, they tried to hide their disappointment and continued to act as if nothing was wrong. In this middle of this dilemma one of the young men suddenly remembered that he had seen a piper coming into the village that evening. He told the organisers that he thought it was probable the piper would stop for the night at one of the public-houses nearby. There was now a fresh sense of hope that instantly illuminated all faces, and a messenger was immediately sent for the piper. For my part, whenever I heard mention of a piper, I knew who was going to appear before me.
“’What sort of person is your piper?’ I asked the gentleman that had introduced the subject.
“‘A tall, stout, rather drowsy-looking fellow,’ he told me.
“’Oh!’ cried I, ‘it is the unique Mr. Tim Callaghan!’
“I was eagerly asked if Callaghan was a good piper. But, as I was reluctant to give an answer, another person, who knew honest Tim and his ways, answered, ‘Now, anyone in their right mind will not attempt to trumpet the praises of any other person, because one person’s opinion may not match another’s opinion. For this reason, then, we leave Tim Callaghan’s musical merit to speak for itself.’
“At this time I can relate another anecdote that occurred while the messenger had gone to retrieve Callaghan. Another servant, called John, was once sent on a similar errand. John’s master had friends spending the evening with him, and he wanted his servant to procure a musician for the young folks for whatever price he could get. After half an hour John returned home to report that his search had proved fruitless. But, instead of simply saying that ‘he could not find one,’ he flung open the main living-room door, and announced his failure in the following way —
“’I searched the city’s cir-cum-fe-rence round,
And not a musician is there to be
I fear for music you’ll be at a loss,
For the fiddler has taken the road
John then made his bow and retired.
“Tim now made his appearance, and was seated in place at the top of the room, with the attention and respect that was due to his abilities. For my part, the very sight of Tim, and the thought of his consummate assurance, or stupidity, in attempting to play for dancing, amused me beyond any expectations. But, I suppressed all urges to laugh, and kept my eyes and ears on the alert, wondering what was going to come next.
“A bowl of his favourite punch was prepared for him, and while he was sipping it, I thought he cast a scrutinizing and anxious glance at the company that was assembled. I am quite certain that Tim was probably thinking how he should adjust his politics to suit those ready to listen to him. But, poor Tim had little time to settle, for a quadrille set was immediately formed, and he was called on to play! The eager ladies and their young men never once thought that a modern piper might not play quadrilles. In truth, I found it extremely difficult to stop myself from bursting into laughter! There stood the eight elegantly dressed and refined dancers ready to begin, and there sat Tim Callaghan in all his surly stupidity, with a dreadfully puzzled look on his face. He hummed and hawed, tuned and droned much longer than was really necessary, completely unaware of the demand that was about to be made on him and his pipes. He was much more interested in wracking his brains as to which of his three tunes he should play first.
“’A quadrille, piper, when you are ready!’ one of the gentlemen called out.
“’E— ah!’ stammered Tim Callaghan as he opened his sleepy eyes wide with surprise and began to fiddle some more with the pipes.
“’ A quadrille!’ repeated the young gentleman.
“Ogh, sure all of that is out of fashion, but I’ll give you one just as good,” and because the company was a mixed one, of whose political opinions he could not be sure, the dancers were suddenly astounded with the most unpleasant rendition of “God save the King” that they had ever heard!
“All stared at him in disbelief, and most laughed heartily, but what was more hurtful to poor Tim was that his arm was grabbed roughly, and he was forced to stop in the middle of his tune. Then there was an angry demand that if he could not play any quadrilles he could play such and such a waltz, and the names of a dozen popular waltzes were called out to him. Unfortunately, Tim had never heard of any of them in his life! In his confusion and panic Tim began to play “the Boyne,” and some person angrily called the lady of the house. The name called seemed to Tim to be a Catholic one, and a sudden ray of joy shot through his body to his ends of his fingers, and from there to his pipes, and “Patrick’s Day” was the result. A kind of jigging quadrille was then danced by those people who were not so fussy and wanted just to have fun. But, one fussy couple, which included a finely dressed and perfume soaked lady and an aristocratic looking man with his nose permanently stuck in the air, returned to their seats with looks and gestures of horror and disgust. Tim was too busy to notice any of this as he threw himself wholeheartedly into his piping, excited that the ‘quality’ was actually dancing to his music!
“Well! As there seemed nothing better to be had, “Patrick’s Day” was played continuously, as a quadrille, then as a country-dance, much enjoyed by all who preferred dancing to sitting. He played it before and after supper until, at last, everyone was weary of it, and the general view was that Tim should drop the “Day” and take up the “Boyne,” and try to make it move as best he could. By that time, too, Tim had become very tired of the patron saint’s tune, and now that he had drunk his fourth full-flowing tankard of punch he was more inclined to have a sleep rather than play more tunes. But he was soon roused by our worthy host, who was a man who enjoyed fun and was the very soul of the party. ‘For pity’s sake, piper,’ he said, ‘try to give us something that we can put bit of a step to! I wasn’t in the right mood for dancing to-night until now. If you are an Irishman at all, just take a look at the pretty girl that is to be my partner for the next dance, and perhaps those lovely eyes might inspire even you, you sleepy sot, with a bit of movement to perform some sort of a miracle on those pipes!’
“Short as this address was, and lightly as it was uttered, it had no effect on Tim other than making him even more ready to sleep. While the elderly host was speaking, the drowsiness was descending upon Tim faster and faster. He dozed and was shaken awake again. ‘What do you want?’ he growled loudly. ‘What the devil do you all want?’ Looking down at the assembled crowd as he was, I expected him to say, poetically, ‘Now my weary lips I close; Leave me, leave me to repose.”
“‘Play more music! More music!’ said our host, laughing loudly. ‘Any sort of music, any sort of noise,’ and he left the piper and took his place amongst the dancers. Tim mechanically fumbled at his pipes, while the gentlemen busied themselves in procuring partners. There was silence for some seconds until our host called out to him. ‘Begin, piper.’
“‘Out of fashion,’ muttered Tim in broken half-finished sentences, ‘but— I’ll— give— you one— as— good,’ and a long, a loud reverberating snore at that instant almost made good his promise of music as harmonious as the sounds obtained from his pipes!
“You can just imagine the scene that followed. The smelling salts and perfumed handkerchief of the ladies were immediately required as they began to feel that they were about to faint! Those who were nervous jumped at the sound, as if a gun had been fired, while others simply joined in a chorus of laughter. This laughter quickly changed to a degree of regret when it was realised that the Inimitable, and undisturbed, continued to sleep prolonged his sleep, and his nasal performance was his grand finale to the evening. ‘Now’, said the friend who had quietened my attempt to praise the piper, ‘hasn’t Tim Callaghan made his own speech of praise? Hasn’t his talent spoken for itself? What a figure our famous piper would have cut, had we ushered him in here with great words of praise!’
When the storm of laughter had subsided, and when all considered that their unrivalled musician had had enough sleep, he was once more aroused, to receive his well-earned reward, when the following discussion began:
“’Tell me, piper, what is your name?’ asked our host with all the gravity of a judge, as he took out a notebook and pen
“’E— ah? Why, Tim Callaghan.’
“’Ha! Tim Callaghan,’ said the host as he wrote down the answer, ‘I shall certainly remember Tim Callaghan! I suppose, Tim, you are quite famous?’
“’I suppose you are very well known?’
“Why, those that know me the once, will know me again’ said Tim Callaghan.
“’I do believe so! I think I shall know you at all events. Who taught you to play the pipes?’
“’A man called Tom Harte, of the county Derry.’
“’Had he much trouble in teaching you?’
“’Him! Trouble! I know nothing about his trouble, but I can well remember my own trouble! There are lumps on my head to this very day, from the unmerciful cracks he used to give it when I went astray.’
‘“Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh, poor fellow! Well, farewell, Tim Callaghan! I hope your path through life will be pleasant, and may your fame spread through the thirty-two counties of green Erin, until you’re rewarded by playing the pipes in heaven!’
‘”Sure, I’d rather be rewarded with a good dinner!’ said Tim Callaghan, and made his exit.
“For a couple of years afterward I quite lost contact with Tim, and I began to fear that he had vanished from the earth altogether, without leaving a trace. But, this very summer, that particular bright star appeared again, with a strapping big wife, and a young boy called Timothy at his heels. The child being a perfect copy of his father, his nose, sleepy eyes, shovel feet and all, and all the family apparently surviving very well on Tim’s repertoire of three basic tunes, and their variations.”
Ghosts? Sure, I know you don’t believe in them and neither did I at one time. I had read the books and heard the stories, but I would laugh at the very mention of a spectre, headless horseman, or a weeping woman in white. The Ghost of Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas to come did nothing to change my mind and I would often make fun of those who believed in such fantasies. That was until one evening, about twenty-years ago when I had my first encounter with a ghost. We lived in one of those old Georgian-type terrace houses where every room seemed to have stairs leading into or leading out it. On the evening in question I was downstairs in the kitchen area, sorting out some dishes, when I was suddenly distracted by the appearance of a strange woman who walked down the stairs leading into the room. I didn’t know it then, but I was to see her many times after this first appearance. I had heard the footsteps echo on the stairs a few moments before I turned, but it did not worry me because I knew there were other people in the house. Then, when I turned to where I had heard the footsteps, I found myself looking at al tall, stout, elderly woman, who was wearing an old-fashioned bonnet on her head and a shawl over her shoulders. From under her bonnet her glittering, silver-grey hair was clearly visible, framing a face that had a warm, kind and welcoming expression. I could only just stand and gaze at her for what seemed to be five minutes but was probably more like twenty seconds. In the beginning there was not any feeling of fear but, gradually, as I stood looking at her in silence a feeling of discomfort touched me and increased until my body was filled with terror. Slowly, I stepped back and continued to retreat from the apparition until I could feel the cold, brick wall at my back. Then, as suddenly as she appeared, the apparition faded away. This terrible feeling of terror always overcame me on all the subsequent occasions that she visited me. I am sure the feeling was brought on by the sudden unexpectedness of her appearances, which numbered at least fifteen occasions. She appeared to me over the years in every room in the house, and at every hour of the day or night. The last occasion on which I was visited by that old woman was just over ten years ago and, on that particular evening, my husband and I had just returned from a concert of Irish Traditional music. As was normal for us, on such occasions, we sat in the living-room and talked about the music we had heard and the musicians who had performed for us. After a while, for some reason I am still not sure of, I got up from my chair and went to the living-room door, opened it and found the old lady standing before me. She was bent over slightly towards the door as if she had been listening to what we were talking about. Startled by her sudden appearance I called out loudly and, almost immediately, my husband was at my side. She had gone, and that was the last time I was to see her. I can recall that almost every time that the old woman appeared to me she expressed her strong dissatisfaction with any disorder or untidiness in the home. She also had a strong objection to anything that led to a change in the general routine of the household, particularly if guests were to spend the night in the house. Guests who spent the night in the house were shown the old lady’s disapproval by turning the chairs in their room downward to face the floor. I remember one occasion when my brother-in-law stayed with us that he had to return to his room to collect something he had forgotten. When he was coming downstairs again we could hear him muttering to himself angrily, “Jaysus! You people! What in the name of God have you been doing with the furniture? Sure, I’ve almost broken my bloody big toe stumbling over one of those chairs lying down on the floor!” Twice during that same day my husband and I had turned the chairs to their proper place and, therefore, his remarks about the chaos in his bedroom did not surprise either of us. We decided, however, that it would be better if we did not enlighten him about the cause of the disruption. At some time during the years the old lad visited our home everyone in the family had been disturbed by peculiar knocking sounds, which they heard in various rooms in the house. Most frequently the sound could be heard on the walls or doors, but occasionally they could be heard on the furniture, close to where we were sitting. Sometimes the knocking was loud enough that it could be heard in the house next door and, on one occasion, our neighbour asked my husband what he could be hammering at such strange hours of the day. But, I can also recall another strange and fairly frequent occurrence happening, which involved some fur coats that I kept in my wardrobe. I hardly ever wore the coats and occasionally I was conscious of an odour emanating from them. My husband told me many times that it was just my imagination but, nevertheless, I would take them out and lay them across two chairs in an adjacent room to air them. I am always particular about my clothes but, the first time that I laid the coats out, I found, to my surprise, one of the coats lying in one corner and the other in another corner. Neither of these fur coats had been handled with any care, but I did not suspect that some supernatural being was at work in this. Mary, a young girl that I employed to help me keep the house in order, was suspected and I asked her about it. She, however, assured me that she had not been in the room at all that particular day. Although I accepted what Mary had told me, I was determined to investigate the matter for myself. So, late one night I removed the furs and laid them out as usual before taking care to lock the door to the room as I left. Furthermore, as part of my investigation, I ensured that I was the first to enter the room the following morning. Once again, I discovered the furs had been disturbed and thrown across the room. It was a few years after the apparitions and activity stopped in the house that I heard about the strange history that this house hid. About a century beforehand a young bank manager in London was assigned to a new post in Ireland, and he arranged for a house to be made ready for himself and his family. As he had to remain in London a few days to tidy up some domestic and business issues he sent his wife and two young children, along with their nurse, ahead. When the new tenants arrived at the house they found an old cleaning woman in the house, but she left very soon after their arrival. As the mother and nurse settled in to the new house that day they discovered that several things were needed, and the nurse was sent to purchase them from a local shop. When she returned to the house she went to the mother and asked her if the children were alright. The mother told her that she believed they were fine and was puzzled as to why the nurse would ask such a question. When the nurse explained that she had seen two ghostly forms pass her on the door-step! The two women rushed up to the nursery and discovered that both of the children were still in their cots, but their throats were cut, and blood had poured from the wounds, soaking all the bedclothes. Despite an intense investigation by the police, the murderer was never brought to justice, and there was no motive ever discovered. Sadly, the unfortunate mother of those children went insane with grief and never recovered. I wondered if this was the cause of the strange and eerie feeling that lingered in the house many months after the old lady ceased to appear to me. Was there more than the spirit of that old woman still clinging to the house, including the two little children who had been so brutally murdered. Not unexpectedly, we decided not to stretch our luck any further, sold the house to a local developer and moved many miles from the area.
This is a story that was related to me by a very old grand-aunt who lived in the heart of Connemara. As we sat by a blazing turf fire she told me that these things happened to a person who was very well-known to her, and so I have absolutely no reason to doubt a word of her tale. She lived all alone in a small, thatched and white-washed cottage , which stood on a lonely, narrow mountain road. Two fields to the rear was the two-storey farmhouse that belonged to the affluent and influential Meehan family. Tom Meehan was the head of that prosperous family, widely known and very much respected in the district. He was, moreover, recognised and famed as one of the finest hurlers that the County had ever produced.
Tom was very friendly to my old grand-aunt and many evenings he would stop by her cottage to see if she was keeping well. She had been a very good friend to Tom’s mother all her life, and Tom was going to make sure that she wouldn’t be too lonely in her old age. On those evenings when he called around to her cottage, he would tell her how the farm was progressing and keep her up to date about events among the neighbours. During the darker nights of autumn and winter, Tom would always ensure that the old woman had plenty of coal by the fire and a wee glass of whisky on her night stand as she would watch television.
The old woman would often share local folk tales and myths with Tom, constantly warning him about fraternising with the ‘Good People’, Leprechauns, and the various spirits that lurked about the mountain roads and forests. Tom, of course, was not the superstitious kind and would often laugh at her warnings, causing her some annoyance. Then, one bright, moonlit, autumn evening he was walking home, as usual, after spending the entire day in the fields. Following a well-travelled track Tom found himself walking through a small copse of trees and, in the distance he could hear excited voices. He followed the sound, which appeared to him to be coming from a field that sloped gently down from the edge of the trees. As he emerged silently from the shadows of the trees, Tom was surprised to see before him two teams of small men. They were dressed in different colours and playing a game of Hurling in the field, which was now brightly illuminated by the light from a full moon.
Tom stood among the tall trees and silently watched the game. As he watched he could not help but admire their prowess with their ‘Hurling sticks’ (Caman – pronounced ‘Cum-mon’), and he quickly came to the conclusion that these players were not ordinary men. From what he could see in that field, Tom was certain that these men were none other than ‘Good People’, who had often been described to him by my old grand-aunt. The quick and talented manner in which these men played the game totally captured Tom’s admiration, and he stood for a very long time just to see how the game progressed. Then, as the end of the match approached, Tom saw one of the men on the field trap the ball (Sliotar – Slit tar) in the air with his ‘caman’ and, as it dropped down, he stroked it so gracefully over the bar from the half way line. This was, without doubt, one of the best Hurling strokes that Tom had ever seen in his life. In his appreciation of the player’s move, Tom roared out a great shout of delight, causing the game to be stopped and all the players quickly turned toward the area from where the shout came.
There was silence for a moment until one of the players called out to om from the centre of the field. “Would you like to join in our game?” he asked. It was a surprising question because the player must have recognised that Tom was actually a mortal being.
Tom had often been warned about mixing with ‘Good People’ but the thought of playing hurling with such beings was too exciting to ignore. “I would,” he replied shyly, “but is there a place for me among you all? And if there is would I be good enough to join one of your teams?”
“There is room for one more player, which you can fill if you have a mind to,” came the reply as some of the other players laughed loudly at the prospect of a mortal being playing alongside them.
Tom became really excited at the prospect of playing hurling with ‘The Good People’, but he had no ‘caman’ of his own to play with, and he asked, “Would you have a hurley with which I can play a game?”
To his surprise, one of the little men reached to the ground for a spare ‘caman’ and handed it over to Tom. “Here,” he said, “This caman is made from the finest Ash and is one of the finest made, but we will allow you to use it.”
Taking the hurling stick n his hand, Tom admired the comfortable grip of it in his hand and its balance in the swing. Never had he seen a hurling stick of its kind or finish, and he could hardly wait to join in the game with the others. Rolling up his shirt sleeves Tom took up his position in midfield just as the whistle blew shrilly in the evening air. Almost immediately the new caman appeared to help Tom play in a manner that he had never before experienced, and with his assistance the team that he had joined in the field won the game by a small margin. As they walked off the field the leader of the team came to him and told him, “You are a good player for a mortal!I suppose that now would be a good time to tell you who we are.” Tom nodded in agreement and he listened attentively as the small man explained, “We are called the ‘Good People’ in these lands and our home lies in that churchyard over yonder.” Tom watched as the team leader pointed toward an old church steeple in the distance. Then in an exceptionally friendly, almost secretive, manner he quietly continued, “But, let me tell you that we that we find ourselves to be in a great fix!”
“What sort of fix would that be?” Tom asked his new found companion.
“Well, the truth is that we have to play an important match against our greatest rivals in the next clan, and it all takes place a week from tonight. That is why we have been practising so hard lately. But, we have discovered recently that they have recruited the assistance of a mortal called ‘Red Mick Shea’.”
“Red Mick?” exclaimed Tom when he heard the name.
“Aye, and he is said to be the finest hurler in three counties. Do you think that you might be able to help us?”
“’Red Mick’ is one of the best alright,” Tom replied. “But, if I can have the same hurling stick then I will help you the best that I can.”
“You can have that caman, by all means,” the leader of the ‘good people’ agreed with delight and he immediately began to announce the arrival of their newest recruit to the team. “I think, boys, that we are now ready for all comers,” he called out and there were loud cheers from all those gathered on the field.
For the next seven days Tom could hardly contain his excitement at the prospects of playing in such a match. But, he could not tell anyone about the forthcoming match and made plans to get to the field without anyone knowing. A week from that very same night, boots in hand, Tom quietly crept out of the house without disturbing anyone. He had kept the secret of his great adventure, and his entire body shook with excitement as he headed out to play the game that he had promised the leader of the ‘good people’.
When Tom reached the same field, that he had played on the week before, he discovered that the two teams of ‘good people’ were already lined up and ready for the throw in. ‘Red Mick’ was at the ready on the half-back line and Tom saw him as he came on to the field of play and was handed the hurling stick. Tom took up his position within the team and the whistle sounded for the game to begin, followed by a great cheer from the spectators.
The sliotar was thrown into the centre and a great frenzy of players came together to try and take control of the game. Up and down the field the game swayed as first one team and then the other team gained superiority over the other. Hurling sticks clashed against each other, mixing their noise with the clap of leather balls being hit by the camans. The spectators watched closely as one moment Tom’s team dominated the play and, in the next moment, it was the rival team that appeared to be supreme. Score followed score, with very little between the two teams until, finally, the whistle blew loud to end the game. It was Tom’s team who had gained victory in the well-matched contest and there was great cheering and whoops of joy among the home crowd, whose team had because of the victory.
The small man who had led ‘The Good People’ now came up to Tom, shook his hand warmly and told him, “We would like to thank you for all your efforts this day. If you would just tell me what you would like to have for yourself as a memento and, if it is in my power, you shall have it. Tell me then, is there anything?”
“To tell you all the truth,” smiled Tom and his eyes twinkled with joy. “I’ have taken a great fancy to that hurling stick that you loaned to me for the match, and that is all that I wish to have. That is, without doubt, the finest hurling stick I have ever played a game with. High Balls, Low Balls, and Fast Balls all came my way this night and I never missed one the entire game with that stick in my hand.”
“Now isn’t that the truth of it, Tom,” the leader replied. “You never missed even one ball during the entire match. But now, sadly, you have asked us for the one thing that is not within our power to grant you. The hurling stick, in our tradition, is the sole property of the fairy clan and no single one of us can just give one away to someone outside the clan. Especially to a mortal.”
The great disappointment that he felt at these words was immediately visible on Tom’s face. He believed that, after all, he had played a very significant role in the clan’s victory over their greatest rivals and now, despite his contribution to their victory, they had refused him the one simple prize that he felt he deserved. Still, he insisted, “But I must have it!”
“We are sorry, friend, but the hurling stick can never be yours,” Tom was told in no uncertain terms and it seemed that the discussion was at an end, as far as the ‘good people’ were concerned.
“I must,” insisted Tom, obstinately raising his voice and a tear rising in his eye with frustration. But this obstinacy only caused offence to some and an angry murmur began to arise among the good people. There was division and a war of words now began, which developed into an almost muddle of loud, angry voices. Finally, still feeling that it was his due to have the hurling stick given to him, Tom slowly and silently walked off the field of play and grimly took the hurling stick with him.
Although it was not very far to his own home from the field, Tom almost immediately began to feel rather ill and nauseous as he walked off with the ‘caman’ in his hand. By the time that Tom had gotten to his own front door he was in a state of near collapse, and his family sent an emergency call for a doctor to attend to him. There was, however, nothing that any doctor could do for the unfortunate man. He lay motionless in his bed, weakening further day after day, and his wife cried as she solemnly asked him, “Is there anything at all that you need me to do for you, Tom?”
“Yes, my dear,” he answered her weakly. “There is a hurling stick that is lying in the loft. Would you ever bring it down here for me and place it at the foot of the bed, where I can see it?”
“Of course I will, my dear,” Tom’s wife told him and she immediately set about fulfilling the task he had set her. From that very moment, every hour of every day that followed, Tom’s sickly condition appeared to worsen until everyone could finally see that there was little hope of his recovery. As things became critical Tom’s wife came to his bedside and, holding his hand tenderly, she asked him, “Is there any last wishes that you would like us to carry out for you?”
By this time, the dying man could barely open his eyes to see his family, but he managed to turn to them and, in a very weak voice, Tom told them,”I want you to promise me just one thing.”
“Anything!” they answered.
“Will you all simply promise me that you will place that hurling stick by my side as I lie in my coffin, so that it will be buried with me?” he asked them.
They sadly agreed to do what they were asked and, when the time came, the family carried out Tom Meehan’s last wishes. The much prized hurling stick was subsequently buried with him in the Parish graveyard. But, even today, there are still some who say that Tom Meehan is still playing a great game of hurling, with that stick, in heaven and is still leaving his opponents completely astounded by his artistry.
This is an old tale that relates to the famine days in Ireland, when ideas of liberty and justice were refreshed among the ordinary people. But, this story is also a warning about what liberty means to some people, and how it affects the lives of others.
This was a time when paid work for any man was a bonus. So it was that, with some gratitude, a stone-mason was busily employed in the building of a stout wall to protect a garden. At the side of the mason there was a heap of stones that had been piled up. One by one he picked up each stone in succession, examined it, and then decided the best place in which to set it. The stones, for their part, quietly accepted what was their lot in this world, allowing themselves to be handled by the mason and to be introduced into those places that he thought was most appropriate. There was no need for the stones to be difficult, for they were fully aware that the mason’s object was simply to erect a strong wall. They were also very much aware of the fact that this wall would not be built if they decided to oppose the mason’s efforts.
Isn’t it ‘Murphy’s Law’ that states – “If something can go wrong at the most inopportune moment, then it will.” To the amusement of this stone-mason, after he had completed a considerable portion of the wall, one particularly cantankerous rock became very argumentative the moment the mason laid a hand upon it. The rock began to vehemently argue about the rights of stones, and the terrible tyranny of mankind in forcing stones to do their will. He told the mason, in no uncertain terms, that whether placed in the wall or out of it he was determined to enjoy the liberty he believed was the right of every stone upon this earth. This stone also swore that he would sooner be broken down into dust than surrender its liberty.
“Let me speak plain and honestly to you, Master Mason,” said the stone. “I will never allow myself to be restrained by anyone. I must have room to do what I want to do. To be able to look about me and decide for myself where I want to go, and to be able to roll freely as I think proper.”
Totally taken aback by this outburst, the mason could not help but laugh aloud. “By the good God,” says he, “haven’t I found an odd, mouthy specimen of the ‘Rock People’? And it tells me that it wants to have enough room to roll freely about, is that the way of it?”
“Aye, that’s the way of it,” says the rock.
“Tell me, Mr. Stone, did you ever hear of the old saying that, ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss?’”
“I did of course,” sneered the stone, “and I don’t like it one little bit! Moss you see is a sign of old age, and in my world old age is an absurdity. So, I tell you, I hope to God that I will be kept from ever gathering any moss!”
“What?” the mason gasped with complete surprise and disbelief. Then, contemptuously he asked, “Just what the hell do you think you are?”
“What am I!” the rock angrily replied. “I, sir, am just a plain and simple stone, nothing more and nothing less.”
“Well, now that we have that sorted can I ask if you are happy that I should give you a place in this wall I am building?”
“Well, of course I am,” confirmed the stone.
“Hold on!” said the mason, “You have just told me that you will never allow yourself to be forcibly restrained by anyone or anything. You said that you must have room to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted to! Your inconsistency is really most ridiculous, and you should really make up your mind as to exactly what you want. So, for the last time, will you go into the wall where I place you, or shall I simply leave you lying there on the ground?”
“Inconsistent? What inconsistency? I have already told you that I will allow you to place me into the wall,” replied the Stone, patronisingly, “but I will not allow you to ever deprive me of my natural rights! Liberty is the first of these rights, and I must insist that I have liberty, even in the wall.”
“And so you shall!” said the mason. “Your liberty will be that of obtaining your proper place in the wall, and of maintaining that place without being disturbed by anyone or anything.”
“You certainly have some funny ideas about liberty. I will tell you again, you gobshite, that I need to have room in which I can expand and move about in. What, in the name of God, makes you even think that I would lower myself to fill a place in the wall as just another mere wedge?”
“You are now beginning to stretch my patience, friend,” the mason warned. “You know, of course, that there is very little to be gained by continuing to argue the matter any further. If there is no hope of getting you to take up a particular place in the wall, then there is nothing left to me but to throw you back on the ground.”
“If that’s the way you feel about it, then go ahead and do your worst,” replied the Stone, stubbornly. “But I must still insist on liberty before all things! So, just throw me away, but at a respectable distance from these other stones. In this way I might just feel myself to be free and independent. When all is said and done I have exactly the same right to be a free-stone, as much as you have to be a free-mason.”
“That’s it then, there you go!” said the mason as he raised his hand and threw the stone away from himself with all of his might. It landed with a loud clatter in the middle of narrow road that passed nearby.
The Stone was now in a place where could fully enjoy every minute of the liberty he had longed for. This, he counted as a victory and he congratulated himself on winning through stubborn defiance. For a time everything went well for the stone in his new found liberty. It was the summer time and the weather was mild, the skies were bright, and the road was busy with various people making their way from one place to another. As the vehicles and people passed over the stone it was being continually transferred from one place to another, daily opening it up to more and more of the world’s ways. But, unfortunately, all good things come to an end eventually and the summer could not last forever. The autumn came, bringing with it clouds of dust and great showers of golden yellow leaves. When the gusts of wind had subsided they were followed by heavy torrents of rain, covering the narrow the road in a mire of mud, which also covered the entire stone and made it almost indiscernible from the land on which it rested. In this condition it lay there, fallen from the heights it had once considered itself to have reached, completely unrecognisable to the passing eye and treated in the same manner that the vilest of rubbish would be.
Unfortunately for the stone this was not the worst that it was to endure. Over the following few weeks the rains continued to fall quite regularly and the ground became a virtual sea of mud. The earth beneath the stone softened and the stone, under its own weight, sank slowly deeper in the mire until less than a quarter of its surface remained above ground. To add to the stone’s misfortunes there was no longer any possibility of retracing its steps, because the mason had now completed his wall and had moved on to other profitable work elsewhere. There was nothing left for the stone but to sink deeper and deeper into the earth, until none of its surface remained visible.
The stone’s fate was sealed. The ideals of Liberty and Independence had been very much desired by the stone, and he was determined that he would achieve these things in his life. But< In The manner in which he tried to achieve these ideals, the stone learned a very valuable life lesson. He had seen that those who seek such ideals at the expense of the social order do absolutely nothing but make a senseless and irremediable blunder.
In the spring of the following year the mason was once again gainfully employed in building another wall, which he hoped would be completed without the interruption he had suffered the previous year. He was, however, to become greatly disenchanted very quickly when, just like the year before, one of the stones began to grumble, and loudly protest against the treatment to which it was about to be subjected. The stone-mason, recalling the hassle he had endured on the previous occasion was just on the point of throwing the stone away, but hesitated. He had second thoughts about casting the stone away without at least trying to reason with it.
“Since no two stones are alike,” he said loudly, “it may be just that I met a stone that stood up against my arguments. It does not mean that another stone might to be prove to be less intractable after I have talked to it.”
“It was spoken truly! You are definitely a gobshite!” shouted the stone angrily. “You think that no two stones are alike! And this ignorance on your part is definitely your biggest and most foolish mistake. I can tell you here and now, eejit, that there is no difference between one stone and another. I am just as good as any of those stones in the wall, and I demand my rights.”
“Aren’t you the one with the big mouth?” exclaimed the mason, “But, I admit you are a sturdy lump of rock! Would you like to briefly inform me as to what you consider your rights to be? Don’t take all day about it, but simply tell me how you would like me to dispose of you.”
“I want to be a corner-stone,” the rebel stone demanded, “and I will be nothing other than a corner-stone. It is my destiny and I demand that this be done. Be quick now, mason, and place me in the wall as a corner-stone!”
“That I cannot do for you, my friend,” replied the mason. “Can you not see quite clearly that I have already chosen and placed all the corner-stones in their proper places?”
“Do you think that I’m blind?” asked the stone impatiently. “I can see well enough what has been done, but a man of your talents can easily take one of them out of the corner and put in its place. I have just as much of a right to be there as any of those stones, after all we are all equal. Each of us originated from a common quarry and, therefore, we are all alike. Just take one of them out, now, and put me in its place.”
“Now, can you not see just how grossly inconsistent you are?” The mason asked. “One moment you insist that all stones are equal, and have the same rights as each other. And yet you insist that I just rudely remove one of the corner-stones, just for your pleasure, despite your own acknowledgement that you are no better than they are! Christ, stone, I have to say that you have a very peculiarly odd idea of what equality actually entails. There is absolutely no way that I can continue to stand here and question what actually constitutes equality, because my time, unlike yours, is precious. I ask you, therefore, to decide if you want to be placed in this wall or not.”
“Of course, I want to be part of the wall,” said the stone, “but only as a corner stone. How can you be so blind as not to see that each of us stones is alike, and all, therefore, equal?”
“You are all stones alike,” replied the mason, “and are equal, but only in a certain sense. Your equality with each other exists in the fact that you are all equally able to be used as wall-stones, and not all of you being equally qualified to be used as corner-stones.”
The stone now cried out aloud, “To the devil with your ideas and doctrines! Either you make me a corner-stone, or you can build your wall without me.”
“Is that your final decision?” asked the mason. “Let me warn you not to try and make an eejit out of me, for I have not the patience or the time for such nonsense. This wall needs built and I cannot wait on your decision any longer.”
“I have decided! That’s it!” said the Stone. “Let me tell you that I would prefer to see your wall toppled and crushed into dust, along with everything else, before I would give up any of my principles in life. So, mason, just do whatever pleases you.”
“You are just one crazy, mixed-up, rock,” exclaimed the mason, “You are a complete gobshite, stone, so go and enjoy your ideas on equality where no one is likely to dispute it!” Saying this, he raised his hand and threw the stone as far away as he could from him. The stone-mason had thrown the stone with such force that, after it had travelled through the air, the stone fell down to the ground and sank several feet into the soft bottom of a deep and slimy pool.
To all intents and purposes this terminated the existence of that rebellious stone, for whatever became of it in that pool is impossible to know. It is almost two hundred years since the events in this tale took place and, since it became a total unknown because of its attitude, it is highly probable that is has eroded away. If this has not been the case, the stone has at least been eaten away by its foolishness in confronting the mason. We could conclude also that its predecessor from the year before suffered a similar fate. In this way, when seeking equality and liberty, it is important to know exactly what these two terms mean and how best you can achieve them. Knowing your role and keeping true to its ideals will encourage others to join with you in the cause. Being too demanding and having no support for your ideas may cause you to be cast out and perish in total anonymity. Equality and freedom is every person’s ideal, but you cannot hope to achieve it if demands and recklessness cause you to die in the course of achieving them.
Everyone loves to get a bargain, but we tend to forget that there are always two parties in the case of any bargain being made, namely the winner and the loser. While the ‘Winner’ is always delighted with the advantage that he has gained over another, he never considers for one moment the reasons as to why the ‘Loser’ has been forced by certain circumstances to accept the highest possible offer that they can get. Yes, we all love a good bargain, but few of us think or care about the person from whom we won the bargain. Mrs McCourt and her husband lived only a few doors down the street from us. As far as Mr. McCourt was concerned no one could ever have considered him to be a spendthrift. Even my father, who would have walked a mile to save a halfpenny, said that on the rare occasion when McCourt opened his purse the moths would fly out of it in swarms. There was one morning, I recall, when I saw him standing on the street outside the front door of his house loudly giving instructions to two large men who had just carried a large piece of furniture from their vehicle to the pavement. In the middle of the negotiations with the furniture movers Mrs McCourt opened the front door and stared out at the work that was going on. In a loud voice, speaking as ‘posh’ as was possible, so as not to embarrass herself in front of the neighbours, she called out her husband, “In the name of God, Desmond, what have you got there?” Everyone else in the street called him Dessie and it was obvious that he had not told her to expect anything to be parked upon the pavement in front of her house for everyone to see. It was covered in a mysterious dust-sheet and this caused her to become very curious about just what her husband had brought home this time. “Just hold on a wee minute, woman,” replied Dessie, gruffly. “Have a bit of patience and you’ll discover all.” Dessie now turned to the workmen who were carrying the object and loudly told them, “Here, John! Henry! bring it in through the front door here.” At this instruction the two men lifted the large heavy object again and breathlessly brought it into the McCourt home. Removing the dust-sheet they revealed a beautifully upholstered sofa that looked as if it was almost brand new.
As the beautiful sofa was revealed Mrs McCourt’s eyes opened wide with delight and with moans of delight she began to gently touch this ‘new’ piece of furniture as it sat in the middle of the living-room floor. “Oh my God, Desmond, that is a beautiful ‘cheese-lang’ (meaning to say chaise-long). You have made me so happy,” she smiled. “It’s a second-hand sofa, you know? But there is hardly a mark or a broken stitch on it,” explained Dessie, but didn’t notice his wife wince with every word he spoke. “Sure, you could hardly tell it wasn’t a new one,” he assured her. “For Jaysus sake, Dessie,” she hissed at him, “You don’t have to tell the whole world that we have had to buy a second-hand sofa!” “But it is as good as new, Mary!” “Aye! Sure, a blind man could see that it’s just as good as a new sofa. So, you don’t have to tell them it’s not! How much did you give for it?” Mary asked. “Mary Darling, that’s the best part of it!” Dessie chuckled to himself. “It was a splendid bargain. It didn’t me a penny over fifty pounds. Now, what do you think I got it for?” “Thirty quid?” “Not at all, woman! Have another guess.” “Twenty-five?” “Have another try!” “Twenty?” “No! Do you want another go?” Mary was getting a little annoyed with the game and sternly told him, “No! Just tell me what you gave for it, for Christ’s sake?” “Only fifteen pounds! What do you think of that?” “Well, now, that is a bargain,” she told him. “Too true! Sure, aren’t I the man that can get things on the cheap,” bragged the prudent Dessie McCourt as he chuckled with great delight. “But, why, in the name of God, was it so cheap?” asked Mary. “It is all a matter of skill, my love. It’s not everyone who has the talent to wheel and deal like me. Sure, I’m the dog’s bollocks at that stuff!” “You’re a buck eejit! Now, just tell me how you managed to get it so cheap, Dessie? I would like to know.” “Well, Mary, my darling, there were a great many other things there for sale, and among those things were some dirty carpets. Then, before the sale began, I pulled these carpets toward the sofa and threw them over it. Now, my sweet, a good deal of dust fell from those carpets, and made the sofa look a lot worse than it really was. So, when the sale began, there were only a very few people there, and I approached the auctioneer to ask him to sell the sofa first. I told him that I couldn’t stay long and that I would bid for the sofa if he were to sell it immediately. Now, it’s a well-known fact that few people bid freely at the beginning of an auction. Well he began with ‘What’s bid for this splendid sofa?’” ‘I’ll give you fifteen pounds for it,’ said I, ‘Sure, it’s not worth a penny more than that, for it’s in an awful state.’ ‘Fifteen pounds! fifteen pounds! only fifteen pounds for this beautiful sofa!’ he went on. Then some clown next to me decided to bid seventeen pounds. So, I let the auctioneer shout the last bid for a few minutes, until I saw he was likely to knock it down. I jumped in and bid Twenty pounds and told him, ‘and that’s as high as I’ll go for it.’ My offer seemed to have confused the other bidder as to the real value of the sofa. He took a closer look at it and, it looked so badly deteriorated by the dust and dirt from the carpets, that he withdrew his bid and the sofa was knocked down to me.” As Dessie chuckled satisfyingly to himself, his good, lady wife developed a very satisfied smile on her face. “That was well done, wee man!” said Mary well pleased at having obtained such an elegant piece of furniture at so cheap a rate. “Do you know, Dessie. It’s so near a match for the sofa in our front parlour, don’t you think?”
This scene that we have just read occurred at the home of smart, street-wise dealer in the city who could count his money in bunches of tens of thousands. But, from the way he dressed you would have thought he didn’t have two pennies to rub together. He didn’t know the story behind the sofa being auctioned and, if he did, would it have made any difference to him? Let us look at what happened….
On the day prior to the sale, a widowed lady with one daughter, a beautiful and interesting girl about seventeen, were seated on the sofa in a neatly furnished parlour of house in an affluent part of the city. In her hand, the mother held a small piece of paper and she stared at it so intently that her consciousness was closed to all else around her. But, although she looked upon that piece paper so intently, she could no longer see the characters that were written upon it. “Mother, what are we going to do?” the young daughter asked after a prolonged period of silence. “Oh, my poor girl, I haven’t a clue. The bill is fifty pounds, and it has been due, you know, for several days now. I haven’t even got five pounds in my purse, and your bill for teaching the two Leonard children cannot be presented for payment for another two weeks. Even then it will not come anywhere near this amount.” “But, can’t we sell something else, mother?” the daughter suggested timidly. “We have sold all the silver-plate and jewellery, and now I don’t know what we have left that we can afford to get rid of. Everything we have is something that we really need.” “Well, mother, what would you say to selling the sofa?” “Really Florence, I don’t know what I would say. It doesn’t seem right to part with it. But, I suppose we could do without it.” “The sofa is so good that it will certainly bring us the fifty pounds that we need,” said Florence more in hope than in certainty. “It should do, for it is made from the best wood and its workmanship is second-to-none. Your dear father bought just before he passed away and it cost him one hundred and forty pounds, and that is less than two years past.” “Well, I think it should bring us at least a hundred pounds,” said Florence, but who knew nothing of auctions and prices that could be expected there. “That would easily give us enough, besides paying this quarter’s rent, to keep us in some comfort until some of my bills come due for payment.” That same afternoon the sofa was sent to the auction rooms, and on the next afternoon Florence went to the auctioneer’s office to receive the money it had fetched. “Have you sold that sofa yet, sir?” she asked him in a low, hesitating voice. “What sofa would that be, miss?” the clerk asked as he looked steadily in her face with a bold stare. “The sofa sent by my mother, Mrs. Benson, sir.” “When was it to have been sold?” “Yesterday, sir.” “Oh, we haven’t got the bill made out yet. You can call the day after to-morrow, and we’ll settle it for you then.” “Can’t you settle it to-day, sir? We would need the money as soon as possible.” Without replying to the timid girl’s request, the clerk commenced throwing over the leaves of a large account-book, and in a few minutes had taken off the bill of the sofa. “Here it is, young lady. Eighteen pounds and twelve shillings. Just check that to see if it’s right, and then please sign this receipt.” “You must be mistaken, sir? It was a beautiful sofa, and it cost one hundred and forty pounds to buy.” “Well miss, that’s all it brought, I assure you. Furniture is selling very badly at the moment.” Florence rolled up the notes that the clerk had given her, and with a very heavy heart she returned home to break the news to her mother. “The sofa only brought eighteen pounds and twelve shillings, mother,” she said quietly, and throwing the notes into her mother’s lap, Florence burst into tears. “Dear God in Heaven,” sighed the widow, clasping her hands together tightly, and looking skyward, “Only you know what we shall do now. Come to our assistance, Lord!” said the widow, clasping her hands together, and looking upwards with tears in her eyes.
This is a story of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century and tells about Terry Toner, an honest young man from a very well-to-do farming family, who rented the biggest farm on this side of the Black Mountains. Because Terry was enthusiastic about farming, worked hard on his father’s farm, and was open-minded toward the new farming methods that were being advanced. His industriousness, unsurprisingly, was quickly rewarded and brought great profits with every harvest he reaped. Terry was, however, greatly blessed by having a large family of healthy daughters, and this was a time when it was expected that a father would have a dowry for each of his daughters. Striving to be an honest and hardworking man, Terry was exhausted by the constant efforts he made to gather up the dowries that all his daughters needed to possess if they were to marry well. There was not a trick or a crafty method for making money out of a farm that Terry did not know and would not employ to its full capacity.
Among all the different methods that Terry had used to raise himself up in the world, he always enjoyed breeding and raising turkeys and many other types of poultry. From all the poultry breeds available, Terry was particularly partial to raising geese. From his own experiences Terry had many reasons for his preference. Twice every year the poultry farmer can pluck the geese to the bare skin and get a fine price for their feathers. At the same time his geese can provide the farmer with plenty of very sizeable eggs for eating and selling. Then, when the geese become too old to lay any more eggs, they can be killed, and can be sold on to the public for eating. The goose, Terry had recognised, was among the most valuable of all poultry and could provide him with a steady income, even when the land itself is not very fertile.
Thanks to the tender care and feeding that Terry gave his geese the flock expanded quickly. But, there was one old crafty gander that took a great liking to Terry, and he took to the farmer so well that there was nowhere that Terry could go about the farm without the gander following him. Whether it was to work himself or to direct the work of the farm labourers the gander would be at Terry’s heels, rubbing itself against his legs, and looking up into his face just like any other pet would do. There was no one in the district who had ever seen the likes of this activity before, and they continued to wonder as Terry Toner and the gander became closer companions. In fact, Terry was so taken by this particular bird that he would not allow his workers to pluck its feathers at all. Henceforward, the gander became Terry’s very special pet and he showered it with so much love and affection that one would have thought it was just another one of his children. Unfortunately, love and affection are not always perfect gifts and they seldom last very long. Terry’s neighbours very quickly began to suspect and question what the true nature and intentions of the gander could be. Some of the more superstitious among his neighbours even began to suggest that the gander was the devil himself, while many others were convinced that the gander was a fairy.
Being a conscientious and community minded man, Terry could not ignore all the things his neighbours were saying. But, because he was a man who had little belief in fairy creatures, or demons, you can imagine just how uncomfortable he was about those things being said by his neighbours and how difficult it was for him not to react. But, as the days passed into weeks, Terry began to become more and more uncomfortable with what was being said and, finally, he told everyone who wanted to know that he would send for Jerry Girvan, the fairy doctor in Ballydun. Jerry Girvan was, of course, a man who was well-known in the entire district for his dealings with spirits and the ‘Good People’. It was said that there wasn’t a spirit that would say a cross word to him, nor would any priest in the diocese question him. Moreover, Jerry Girvan had been a very good friend to old Terence Toner, who was Terry’s late father. It was this fact alone that caused Terry to send for the fairy doctor to come as quickly as he possibly could. Sure enough, when Girvan got the message from Terry he made immediate preparations and returned that very same evening along with the boy that had been Terry’s messenger. As soon as he arrived at the farm, Terry greeted his friend and ensured that Girvan was given a good supper after his tiresome journey. They chatted for a while but, as soon as they were finished talking, Jerry immediately began to investigate the question of the crafty old gander. He took a hold of the gander, turning it this way and that way, to the right and to the left, horizontal and upside down, until he was tired of handling the bird. Then he turned to Terry Toner and said, “Terry, you must take the gander into the next room and put a scarf, or any other convenient item around his head.”
“And why would you want me to do that?” asked Terry curiously.
“Because,” replied Girvan.
“Because what?” asked Terry.
“Because,” began Girvan, “if you don’t do as I ask, then you will never feel easy again. You will still be fearful in your mind. So, I say that you should ask me no more questions, but simply do what I bid you to do.”
“Well,” replied Terry, “have it your own way.”
With that he took the gander and gave it to one of his children standing close by.
“And you take care,” said Girvan to the child. Then, as soon as the bird was gone from the room, he turned to Terry and asked, “Do you know what that old gander is, Terence Toner?”
“I haven’t a clue,” replied Terry.
“Well, then,” laughed Girvan, “let me tell you that the gander is your own father!”
“Get away out of that, surely you must be joking with me,” gasped Terry, completely shocked by what he had been told and as the digested the revelation his face turned very pale. “How can that old gander be my father?” he asked Girvan, nervously.
“I am not joking with you about this, Terry,” Girvan told him. “What I tell you is the truth. It is your father’s wandering soul that has taken possession of this old gander’s body. Now, I knew your da in many ways, and I have to wonder why you didn’t notice that well-known way he would cock his eye.”
“Oh! In the name of God,” sighed Terry, “what will happen to me now! I must be cursed for eternity because I plucked that old gander bald at least twelve times. Bald, I tell you! What will I do now?”
“Well, in all honesty, Terry, there’s absolutely nothing that you can do about that now,” replied Girvan. “It was a terrible thing to do to your da, but sure it’s too late to lament about it now,” says he, “the only way to prevent what’s done, is to put a stop to it before it begins.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” said Terry, “but, tell me, how did you realise that it was my father’s soul that was in the old gander?”
“Sure, If I was to tell you that, you wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, at least not without a bit of book-learning and cookery knowledge,” said Girvan “So it’s better that you ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies. You will just have to believe me when I tell you that it’s your father that’s in that gander, and if I don’t make him speak tomorrow morning, then I’ll allow you to call me a fool.”
“Say no more,” Terry told him, “that settles the business. But, isn’t it a quare thing for a decent, respectable man like my da to be walking about the country in the body of an old gander? And, oh, God forgive me! Didn’t I pluck him clean all those times and not know he was there. Sure, it’s a wonder that I didn’t stuff the damn bird, roast him and eat him for Christmas or Easter.” Then, after saying all of this, Terry fell into a cold sweat as he began to realise what could have happened, and he was on the point of fainting when images of what could have happened flashed through his mind.
When Terry finally came to his senses again, Jerry Girvan leaned over and spoke quietly and calmly to him. “Take it easy now, Terry,” says he, “don’t you be aggravating yourself, for I have a plan in mind that will make him speak out and tell us just what it is that he’s wanting.” Taking a deep breath, Jerry continued, “Now just you remember not to allow your mouth to run off and repeat anything that I tell you. Just pretend, as soon as the bird is brought back, how we’ve decided to send him to the market early tomorrow morning. Then, if he doesn’t speak tonight, or make his escape out of the place, put him into the hamper early, and send him in the cart straight to town, to be sold for eating. Put two of your labourers in the cart with him, and my name is not Jerry Girvan if the goose doesn’t speak out before he’s half way there.” Then with a sense of urgency in his voice Jerry told him, “But, just you remember that as soon as he ever says the first word, you must immediately grab a tight hold of him and quickly bring him off to Father Carty. If his Reverence doesn’t make him retire into the flames of Purgatory then there is no power in my charms.” Then, when all this was said, the old gander was let back into the room again and they all began to talk about sending him off, early the next morning, to be sold for roasting in the county town. It was all discussed in a matter-of-fact way, just as if all the details had already been discussed and settled. The gander, however, appeared to be taking absolutely no notice of the two men, at least no more notice than if they had been discussing someone who was a stranger to them. Terry wanted one of his men to prepare the cage for transporting the gander, by ensuring it was both there was plenty of hay to the journey soft and snug. He told the man, “This will be the last trip that poor old gander would be getting in this life.”
As the night fell and the hours dragged by, Terry became restless and unable to sleep. He began to grow very despondent and sorrowful as the night passed and his mind became entirely filled with images of what was going to happen the next day. So, as soon as his wife and the farm animals were bedded down for the night, he brought out some of his best poteen, and sat down with Jerry Girvan to have a few drinks. But, the more uneasy that Terry began to feel, the more he drank, and both he and Jerry Girvan finished almost two pints of the smooth clear spirit between them. It was to prove to be more than enough for the two men and, indeed, would have been enough for a few more if they had been invited. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every drop of the poteen and were very happy that they had not been foolish enough to follow Father Matt, who took the pledge against alcohol, which is a terrible and blasphemous thing for any Irishman to do.
Sure, there was a time when my own lady wife persuaded me, as only a woman can do, to take up the ‘pioneer medal’ and when that fine woman is with me I will stand proudly and loudly boasting that abstention from the demon drink is a fine thing for any man. But, quietly, I will admit to you that giving up the gargle leaves a man very dry. There are times, therefore, when I have reason to travel far from home and wife that I can get quite befuddled and lose my pioneer medal in my pocket. But, there is no harm done and anyone can be a little forgetful. Sure, there would be no need for forgiveness if a man didn’t give in to temptation now and again.
Terry Toner, however, was no pioneer and when he had finished his pint, he thought he might as well stop. “Enough is as good as a feast,” he told Jerry, “and I pity the unhappy man that is not able to control his liquor, and to keep constantly inside of a pint measure.” Then Terry got up from his seat and wished Jerry a good night, as he walked out of the room. But, he went out by the wrong door, being a trifle worse for wear, and not able to know whether he was standing on his head or his heels, or even both at the same time. As a result, instead of him getting into bed that night, he threw himself into the poultry hamper that the boys had prepared for transporting the gander in the morning. In that well-prepared hamper, sure enough, Terry sunk down to the bottom of the snug, warm and comfortable hay that had been piled there. With his turning and rolling about in the night, there was not a bit of him that was left uncovered as he lay up as snug as a lumper spud in a potato furrow before morning.
As the first light of day broke through the early morning cloud cover, the two boys that were to take the gander got up from their beds and made themselves ready for the journey to the county town. They set about catching the old gander and putting him in the hamper, before throwing a good lump of hay on the top of him, and finally tying him down strongly with a bit of baling twine. Once they had done this, they made the sign of the cross over him, to protect themselves from any harm, and then lifted the poultry hamper up on to the car. But, as they did this they were wondering all the while what in the world was making this old gander so very heavy. With the hamper finally aboard, they went along on the road towards the county town, wishing every minute as they travelled that some of the neighbours might be going the same way and would join them. Though they were fully grown men they didn’t quite like the idea of having no other company on their journey but the bewitched gander, and who could blame them for being worried. They were already trembling with an overwhelming fear that the old gander would begin, at any minute, speaking to them. Although each could see the concern of the other, they continued singing and whistling as loud as they could to try and keep the fear out of their hearts. Well, after they had continued along the road for more than half an hour, the two labourers came to the bad bit that was close by Father Crotty’s house, where there was one rut which was at least three feet deep. As the cart went over this rut it got such a terrible jolt that it wakened Terry, who was still lying snugly within the basket. “Oh!” says he, “my backside is broken with all this jumping and jolting! What the devil are ye doing with me?”
“Did ye hear anything a bit queer, Paddy?” asked the boy that was next to the car, as his face began to turn as white as the top of a mushroom. “I mean, did ye hear anything queer that might be coming out of that poultry hamper?” the boy asked.
“No, I heard nothing” replied Paddy, but he was turning just as pale as his companion, “it’s just the old gander that’s grunting with all the shaking about he’s getting.”
“What have ye put me into?” Terry cried out, from inside the hamper. “Let me out,” he shouted aloud, “or I’ll be dying of suffocation this minute.”
“There’s no use in you pretending,” says the boy to Paddy, “the gander’s speaking, glory be to God!”
“Let me out of here, you murderers,” screamed Terry.
“In the name of all the holy saints,” replied Paddy, “hold yer tongue, you black-hearted creature.”
“Who is it, that dares to call me such names?” asked Terry from inside the hamper. Then roaring at them both angrily he demanded, “let me out of here, you blasphemous heathens, or by this cross, I’ll give you a mighty beating.”
“Who are ye?” asked Paddy.
“Sure, who would I be but Terry Toner, ye eejits,” says he. “It’s myself that’s in here, you unmerciful blackguards,” says he, “now let me out, or I’ll get out of here despite ye both, and I’ll give the two of you a kicking you’ll never forget.”
“Sure, it is old Terry, sure enough,” said Paddy, “isn’t it great that the fairy doctor found him out?”
“I’m on the point of suffocation,” said Terry, “now let me out, I tell ye, and wait until I get at ye, for there will not be a bone in your body that I will not break and pound into powder!” With that said Terry began kicking and flinging himself about the hamper, and driving his legs against the sides of it, so that it was a miracle that the hamper was not knocked to pieces.
Well, as soon as the two labourers saw this, they began to beat the old horse into a gallop as hard as he could towards the priest’s house, through the ruts in the road, and over the stones. All the while the hamper could be seen flying three feet in the air with the jolting. It was small wonder, therefore, that by the time they got to the priest’s door, the breath was fairly knocked out of poor Terry, and he was lying totally unable to speak in the bottom of the hamper. Well, when his Reverence came down, they immediately began to tell him about all that happened, and how they had put the gander into the hamper. They told about how the gander began to speak, and how he confessed that he was old Terence Toner. Excitedly, they asked his reverence to advise them how they might get rid of the spirit for good and all.
The priest now turned to the boys and told them quietly, “I’ll take my book and I’ll read some really strong holy bits out of it. In the meantime, go you and get a rope and put it round the hamper. Then let it swing over the running water at the bridge and it will not matter if I don’t make the spirit come out of it.” Well, with all now said, the priest got his horse, and tucked his book in under his arm, and the boys followed his Reverence, leading the horse, and Terry holding keeping quiet, for he had seen that it was no use in him speaking. Besides, he was afraid that if he did make any noise they might treat him to another gallop and finish him off entirely. Well, as soon as they all came to the bridge the boys took the rope they had with them and made it fast to the top of the hamper, and swung it over the bridge, letting it hang in the air about twelve feet above the water. The priest rode down to the bank of the river, close by, and began to read from the book in a very loud and bold voice. When he had been speaking for about five minutes, all at once the bottom of the hamper dropped out, and down went Terry, falling with a splash into the cold river-water, and the old gander on top of him. Down they both went to the bottom with a splash you could have heard from half-a-mile away. Then, before they had time to rise again, his Reverence, in complete astonishment, gave his horse one dig of his spurs and, before he knew where he was, in he went, horse and all, on top of them, and down to the bottom they went. Within a moment or two, up they all came again together, gasping and puffing, and off with the current they went like shot. On they went, under the arch of the bridge until they came to the shallow water, where the old gander was the first to get out. The priest and Terry came out next, panting and blowing and more than half-drowned. The priest was so shocked by the experience he had underwent, especially seeing an unnatural spirit, as he believed, that he wasn’t the better of it for a month. As for Terry, as soon as he could speak he made it clear that he would have the life of those two eejit boys. But Father Matt would not allow him to harm the two boys and, as soon as Terry got had calmed down, they all tried their best to explain what had happened. Terry, however, believed that he had went to his own bed the night before. Father Matt concluded that it was all a mystery and he swore that if he caught anyone laughing at the accident he would lay a horsewhip across their shoulders. The years passed by quickly and Terry grew more and more fond of the old gander every day until, at last, he died at a wonderful old age. He left the gander after him and a large family of children, and to this very day the farm is being rented by one of Terry Toner’s legitimate successors.
Sniper’s Moon – A story of the Irish War for Independence
June is a month of short nights and long, warm days. But, for some, the long June nights proved to be no advantage, when it came to fulfilling their assigned tasks. It was not until midnight that darkness first began to really envelop the town of Derryard, with the full moon shedding its bright silvery light over the streets and houses. If there were clouds or rain in the night sky then darkness would come sooner and gave extra cover to those who used the blackness to hide them from observation. But, in the quietness that night-time brought there could be heard the occasional growl of a lorry engine, or the heavy clip of military boots upon the cobbled roads and paved footpaths. In the ill lit streets there were shadows of small squads of armed men making through their way through the town. Here and there the sound of automobile engines could be heard as lorries filled with troops and armoured cars are moved, spreading out in their search for those who were prepared to spread treason. This was the terrible, dark days of war with Black and Tan auxiliaries, as Ireland sought its independence from Britain.
A slow moving river wound its way through the centre of town and an ornate iron bridge carried traffic across from one bank to the other. On a high rooftop overlooking the bridge there lay a young man with a rifle by his side. He had skilfully established a hidden sniper’s nest for himself high above the road that ran across the iron bridge. From this vantage point he scanned the area with a pair of binoculars, seeking an easy target for his bullets. Making the minimum of movement the young man studied the scene before him with eyes that were both bright and cold. He had a lot of spare time to himself, in which to consider the fate that would most likely befall him if he was ever captured by the enemy. The young man, filled with the courage of youth, preferred, however, to put such negative thoughts to one side and concentrate on the next target that unwarily moved into his rifle’s sights.
There was an uneasy quiet over the entire town as the Church clock struck the half-hour, and the sniper felt his stomach rumble with the winds of hunger. There, lying at his side, next to the rifle, sat a small satchel that he had brought with him from home. He put his hand into the small satchel and took out a roughly cut sandwich that had been prepared that morning and began to eat it very hungrily. The young man had eaten nothing since the previous morning, an hour or so prior to entering the building below and making his way up to the roof, where he had immediately proceeded to settle himself down. Then, as he chewed on the bread he muttered satisfyingly to himself, “By Jaysus, that is one hell of a good sandwich Ma has made.”
He felt that the sandwich had been well worth the wait and, when he had finished it, he reached into the satchel for a small flask of whisky that he had also brought with him. He took a swift drink and enjoyed the feeling of comfort that immediately began to spread through his stiff body before he replaced the flask. Then, just for a moment, he thought about lighting a cigarette to enjoy a soothing smoke after his snack. It was an idea, however, that he quickly discarded because it was much too risky. The lighting of a cigarette might easily be seen in the growing darkness, and he did not wish to give the enemy any kind of signal as to where he was hiding.
As the sniper raised his head cautiously above the roof’s parapet, he noticed the shadows of four soldiers as they crossed beneath a street lamp on the bridge below him. In the light of that street lamp he could just discern that the four figures crossing the bridge were members of the hated British auxiliaries, the Black and Tans. So, pointing the barrel through the parapet’s ornamentation, the sniper took careful aim along the barrel of the rifle, picked out his target, and gently squeezed the trigger. There was a flask as the built exploded out of the gun’s barrel, spinning its way down toward the target that had been chosen. It only took a fraction of a second for the bullet to reach its destination, but it missed the chosen target and smashed into the concrete casement of the bridge, just above the soldier’s head. “Jaysus, steady yourself man,”the sniper muttered to himself.
Just as he finished reloading the rifle, with the bolt action, there was another explosion from a rifle shot, and a bullet flattened itself against the ornate parapet that was camouflaging the sniper’s nest. Down below, on the bridge, three of the four auxiliary soldiers immediately sought cover, while the fourth soldier prepared to defend his comrades. He had seen the flash from the muzzle of the sniper’s rifle and had hurriedly fired a shot in reply. “Return fire!” he instructed his comrades and bullet after bullet whizzed over Sean’s head, crashing into the parapet and chimney pots and causing him to keep his head down. While the sniper was thus engaged two of the auxiliary soldiers broke cover, and ran across to the building in which the sniper was hiding.
Sean, the sniper, realised that it was time to move his position and he crawled about ten yards to his left. While the enemy was continuing to lay down suppressing fire on his previous position, Sean felt he was now secure enough to raise his head carefully above the parapet. On this occasion, however, only two of the soldiers on the bridge were visible to him, one of whom was creeping closer to the gas street lamp. Sean raised his rifle and sighted it upon his new target, who was illuminated by the gas light. He squeezed the trigger of the rifle and let loose another bullet, which flew perfectly toward the enemy. The bullet struck home, exploding in the man’s head, killing him instantly, and causing his body to convulse with the impact.
From the roof, the sniper could clearly hear the shouts of men calling out to each other as he reloaded and sought yet another target. Just at that moment an armoured car rattled down the cobbled main street of the town, and slowly advanced across the bridge until it reached the remaining soldier. Sean felt it was time to move his position again and, on this occasion, he crawled over to a chimney stack, raising himself up behind it. Hidden from view of the pursuing soldiers, Sean felt free to sneak a peek over the parapet to identify a new target for himself. Although he had wanted to open fire on the armoured car he did not want to give his new position away on a fruitless task. Both Sean and the troops in the armoured car knew that the bullets would never pierce the armoured steel that covered that vehicle.
From the street below Sean could hear the crash of a door being forced open. He had not a doubt that the door that he heard being broken belonged to the building on whose roof he was hiding. It was obvious that the Black and Tans had now gained entry to the building and that they would soon be on the roof seeking him out. But, Sean did not allow himself to be distracted from the armoured car on the bridge and he caught sight of the remaining soldier there breaking cover. Creeping his body bent and low to the ground, the man quickly made his way to the side of the car, and he began to talk to another soldier who had made an appearance in the vehicle’s turret. The soldier standing at the side of the armoured car began to point in Sean’s direction, causing the man in the turret to raise his head and shoulders above the turret protection. Sean exhaled calmly as he gently squeezed the rifle’s trigger. Within a fraction of a second the bullet hit the soldier in the turret, causing his head to be jarred backward and his body to fall heavily, as it folded over the turret. “Two,” Sean said to himself, quietly pleased with his efforts so far.
The auxiliary who had been standing at the side of the armoured car was stunned by the swiftness of his comrade’s demise. One moment he had been talking to a friend and the next moment he was covered in the blood of that friend. Unfortunately, the shock of the incident had caused him to stand motionless for a few seconds as he took in the total horror of it all. Sean, did not take his eyes from the scene, pushed another bullet into the chamber and, as the auxiliary began to run for cover, he fired the rifle again. In an instant the bullet smashed into the fleeing soldier’s body, causing a fountain of blood to spurt high in the air as the man’s torso twisted, and he fell with a great shriek to the road. “Three,” Sean smiled, pleased with himself.
Then, suddenly, and without any warning, an access door to the roof burst open causing Sean to turn quickly and loose off a shot towards the origin of the sound. The bullet found its mark in the body of another soldier, but he had managed fire a shot from his own gun. There was a sudden and excruciating pain that shot through Sean’s arm, which caused him to drop his rifle. “The game’s up,” said Sean to himself as the rifle fell onto the roof with a loud clattering sound that Sean was certain the other soldiers would have heard. With his forearm virtually immobile, Sean immediately flung his body flat against the roof, and painfully crawled away to protective cover.
The soldier that remained at the door was in no mind to be reckless with his life after seeing how his comrades had been so efficiently killed by the sniper. He had heard the armoured car pulling up outside the building and thought it would be a much better tactic to await reinforcements. While he waited the nervous soldier kept a watch on the roof, hoping to get a clear shot at the sniper and be declared the hero of the hour by his comrades.
Sean reached a suitable place of cover and with his left hand examined the injury to his right forearm. There was still sufficient light in the sky to see the blood that was oozing through his jacket sleeve, and he was quite surprised that there was no real pain. But, there was a numbness in his forearm that made him start to think that his arm had been cut off. Since this was clearly not the case, however, Sean took a large knife from his jacket pocket, opened it with his teeth and began to cut the sleeve of his jacket.
At the site of the wound there was only a small hole that indicated where the bullet had entered, while on the other side of the arm there was no sign of where the bullet had exited. Sean knew enough, however, to realise that the soldier’s bullet had lodged in the bone of the arm and must have caused it to fracture. He gritted his teeth and bent his arm below the wound. His arm bent back quite easily causing him great pain, and he had wanted to scream out aloud. But, Sean didn’t dare make a sound that might expose him to any danger.
From another pocket in his jacket Sean took out his field dressing and ripped open the packaging with his knife. Breaking the neck of a bottle of iodine, Sean allowed the bitter fluid to drip on the wound and sterilize it. There was a tremendous burning sensation that wracked his entire body with great pain, and he quickly placed the cotton padding over the wound. With a good deal of difficulty he wrapped the dressing over his fore-arm and tied the end with the help of his teeth. He was exhausted by the effort and he lay still against the chimney stack, closing his eyes in a vain attempt to shut out the pain that was sweeping through his body. Sean could not, however, permit himself to sleep though his eyes were very heavy and his mind sought some means of relief.
Below Sean’s hiding place, in the street, there was almost complete quiet. The armoured car’s engine was no longer turning over and the body of the dead soldier still hung lifelessly over the turret. The other members of the crew had disembarked the car and were quickly making their way through the building. All this while, Sean was still lying motionless against the chimney stack, nursing his wounded arm and making frantic plans for his escape. The enemy, he now knew, were at the door that led on to the roof and that they would be very reluctant to expose themselves to any danger, without knowledge of his exact location. Sean would have to kill whatever number of soldiers were there and, not being able to use his rifle, he only had his revolver with six bullets to help him achieve success in his escape attempt. This called for Sean to devise a new exit plan from the roof .
Sean removed his cap and pulled his rifle closer to him. Placing the cap over the muzzle of his rifle he slowly pushed the rifle out from the side of the chimney stack until the cap was visible to the black and tans hiding in the doorway. Almost immediately there was the crack of a rifle shot and a bullet pierced the centre of the cap. Gradually, Sean slanted the rifle forward until the hat fell down on to the roof. A few seconds later he allowed the rifle to drop on to the roof with a clatter and immediately rose to his feet with the revolver ready in his left hand.
“I got him!” declared an excited English voice from the open doorway. “That sneaky bastard’s dead! Let’s go get him!” The doorway opened a little wider and the light from a gas light caused the auxiliary soldiers to be exposed to Sean. His plan appeared to be starting out successfully and he smiled, knowing that his enemies had made a serious error of judgement. He lifted his revolver and braced himself against the brickwork of the chimney stack as he took aim at the figures only about thirty feet distant. It was a hard shot in the dim light, despite the short distance to the targets, and the pain in his right arm was like someone sticking a dozen knives into him. Though his hand trembled, he took as steady an aim as he possibly could. Pressing his lips tightly together he breathed heavily through his nose and squeezed the trigger once, twice, and three times. The sound of the revolver being fired was ear shattering and the recoil of each shot shook his arm violently. But, when the smoke had cleared, Sean saw the lifeless bodies of two men lying on the roof just outside the door. The others had escaped back into the sanctuary of that doorway. It was now time for Sean to quickly execute his own escape. He began to move further to his left, to a place on the parapet where a steel ladder had been fixed that ran down the side of the building to the narrow dark street below. The death of two more comrades might just cause the other auxiliaries to delay a further assault and, therefore, give Sean enough time to descend to the street.
A chill now descended over Sean’s body and he trembled a little. The anger and blood-lust that had filled him only minutes before was now gone. A sense of great remorse for the lives he had taken that night now filled him. But, despite the chills he was experiencing there were beads of sweat that stood out on his forehead. He was very much weakened by the wound he had received and by the loss of blood that he had been forced to endure. In fact, if he had had anything substantial in his stomach he would have, most likely, been physically sick at the sight of two slain men lying in a pool of their own blood. The chills began to worsen, perhaps it was shock, but his teeth began to chatter and his mind began to wander. In his pain and confusion he began to mutter quietly to himself and curse this damned, bloody war. He had not, however, heard the silent approach of an enemy soldier, who had scrambled over the parapet after climbing the escape ladder at the side of the building. There was moment’s pain, followed by deep unconsciousness. “Got the rat!” an English voice cried in triumph.
When he awakened Sean’s head was throbbing very badly and he was lying on a cold stone bed with a rough army blanket spread over him. If the blanket was there to give him some warmth, Sean thought, it had failed very badly. The pain in his head was almost overpowering, and he reached up his hands to find that a thick bandage had been wrapped around it. When he pulled the blanket off he saw that he was only dressed in a light cotton shirt and his trousers, from which the belt had been removed. With pain coming from every quarter of his body Sean sat up on the makeshift bed to examine his new surroundings, though there was not much to see. He was in an eight by four feet cell with four walls that had been painted a grey colour. Above his head daylight shone through a small, iron-barred window and in the opposite wall stood a grey metal door with a sliding panel about two-thirds the way up the door. Sean looked down at his forearm and saw that his wound had been freshly dressed by someone who knew what they were doing. Then he lay back on the cold stone bed, with no pillow for his head and resigned himself to the fact that he was now a prisoner of his enemies.
The panel in the door quietly slid open and allowed Sean to see a red, bespectacled face staring in at him. “You’re awake the?” the red-faced man asked.
“I am,” replied Sean disinterestedly.
“Aren’t you the big man, Cullen?” asked the guard sarcastically. “Caught today, Court Martial tomorrow, and a courtyard firing squad tomorrow or the next day.”
“It will be quick then,” said Sean as he spat at the door of the cell. Sean knew the danger that he was in and was resigned to whatever fate befell him.
“As quick as any of your comrades did,” the guard smiled. “But be careful, Cullen, for there are all sorts of strange things happen here. So, sleep tight if you can,” he ended the conversation and slid the panel back in place.
The hours passed peacefully and the prison guards changed their shifts on a regular basis, rarely looking into Sean’s cell. He could clearly hear the Black and Tan auxiliaries talking as they smoked cigarettes and played cards. There was also the clink of glass, suggesting that the men were also enjoying a few bottles of beer, or something stronger. They were enjoying the fact that they had captured the man who had been considered the scourge of the crown’s forces in this area for several months. This was the man who had been nicknamed, “Hawkeye” and had caused the death of at least eighteen members of the British forces. It was time for the soldiers to celebrate that they would soon have the pleasure of seeing “Hawkeye” executed by firing squad.
At six o’clock in the morning the sun was already shining brightly and the night shift of prison guards went about their final inspection of the cells, awakening the inmates. On this occasion the guards were escorted by a small squad of armed soldiers, who were sent to bring Sean Cullen to the Court Martial in chains. Loudly, the heavy army boots of the men echoed off the stone floor of the narrow corridor. Step by loud step the marched until they came before the door to Sean’s cell. “Get up, Cullen!” the leader of the military escort barked out an order as the guard turned his key in the lock of the door. With a creak the heavy metal door opened to reveal that the cell was empty. The escort leader rushed into the cell, with army pistol drawn, and confirmed that there was no prisoner there. “Alarm!” he cried out and began to rush back down the corridor with his men.
“Alarm!”; “Prisoner Escape!”; The alarm spread rapidly throughout the jail block that had been incorporated into the old castle building. In just a matter of minutes the entire building was filled with soldiers and auxiliaries running here and there, seeking the whereabouts of Sean Cullen. In the main office telephones and telegraphs were busy spreading the news of Cullen’s escape throughout the entire countryside. Police patrols, flying columns of Black and Tans, and squadrons of soldiers scoured the land searching every possible place that Cullen might seek refuge. Cottages, whether full or empty, were ransacked. Barns, hedgerows and known caves were all searched with great thoroughness, but the fugitive remained at large.
By afternoon the warm sunshine of the early morning had given way to dark clouds and heavy downpours of rain. By early evening “Wanted Posters” had begun to appear throughout the district. Even in the small fishing village of Kilcurragh, which lay on the coast some five miles from Derryard, the local policemen were busy pasting posters in ever available prominent position. Each poster proclaimed that a reward was available to any person giving information to the authorities, which would lead to the arrest of the fugitive, Sean Cullen. The head of the local constabulary, Sergeant Thompson, was being assisted by Constables O’Neill and Kelly in the task of posting the town and district. By the time they actually got into the narrow streets of the small fishing town darkness was beginning to settle. Thankfully the heavy rain showers had ceased, but a mist was beginning to settle on the town as the three officials hurried to finish their thankless task and return to their homes.
The taller of two constables, Kelly, addressed the sergeant, “Sergeant, that big door over there looks a great spot to put up one of these posters.”
“He doesn’t hear you, Kelly,” said O’Neill. “Try him again.”
Pointing to the huge door of a nearby store Kelly called to the sergeant in a voice that was a little louder. “Will this door be a good place for one of these posters, sergeant?”
But sergeant Thompson’s attention was attracted elsewhere and was not hearing anything his subordinates had to say. “For God’s sake, sergeant will we put one of these posters on this door over here?” O’Neill shouted.
Rather distractedly the sergeant answered, “Look over here! There are steps that lead all the way down to the water.”
“It’s a fishing harbor,” Kelly informed him. “Fishing boats dock here all the time!”
The sergeant appeared unmoved by Kelly’s sarcastic tone of voice and continued with his own discussion. “You know boys, this is the sort of place that would need to be carefully watched. If this Cullen fellow managed to make his way down those steps some of his friends might get a boat to meet him. In fact, those same boys could very well steal a local boat for the job.”
Kelly just looked at his superior with quite some disbelief and repeated, “The door? It’s a good place for a poster!”
“Aye!” replied the sergeant. “Stick one of them up there.”
As O’Neill and Kelly pasted the poster on the large wooden door the sergeant began to read aloud the writing that the poster contained, “Wanted for Murder and Absconding Jail; Sean Cullen; Dark Hair, Dark Eyes; Smooth Faced and Five Feet Five Inches in height. Last seen with bandaged hand and bandaged right forearm.”
“That’s a good description to be going by,” commented Kelly.
“It would have been much better if I had seen the man with my own eyes,” said Thompson, “but they didn’t hold on to him long enough. How in the name of Jesus did a wounded man get out of that jail. He must have had friends on the inside, or the help of the Holy Spirit!”
“You might not be too far from the truth there, sergeant,” said Kelly. “But look at that! A hundred guineas is a tempting amount for any man and any policeman nabbing him will take a good leap up the ranks.”
“You’re right, Kelly!” Thompson told him. “I tell you what, I will take care of this area. It wouldn’t surprise me that Cullen has already scoped this place. If Cullen and his pals do come this way then he will be mine, and someone who needs the reward will get it!”
Constable O’Neill regarded his sergeant with disbelief at what he had heard. “Are you a mad man?” he asked Thompson. “If any of us catch Cullen we will be signing our own death warrants. The people around here, and maybe even our own relations, will spit in our eye. None of us would know the minute or the hour when we would get a bullet or a knife in the back one dark night when we are on our own.”
Sergeant Thompson gave the constable a look of complete disgust. “We are the police and we have a duty to uphold the law. If we fail to do our job then the entire country will fall into chaos.”
“Sure isn’t the entire country already in a complete state of chaos?” said O’Neill.
“You know what I mean, you smart arse. Just finish putting up those posters both of you and get yourselves back here as soon as possible. Don’t be too long, for I am not too fussy about standing around this place for too long!” Sergeant Thompson told him.
As the two constables left him alone on the dockside Sergeant Thompson perused the poster once again and began to think about what he could do with one hundred guineas. If only he could be the man to capture Sean Cullen he would get a well-deserved promotion as well as a decent reward. “Wouldn’t I be on the pig’s back,” he muttered to himself quietly and smiled. It was then that he heard a slight noise coming from behind him, and he turned to see a poorly dressed man who had been trying to slip past him unnoticed.
“Where do you think you are going, little man?” Thompson growled at the stranger.
“Sure, I did not want to disturb you sergeant,” the man replied.
“And who are you?”
“Ah sergeant, sure I am just a poor travelling man who is fond of the gargle and sleeps among the old netting down there. Some of the fishermen and the harbor workers give me a few pennies now and again to put some meat on my bones, thanks be to God.”
As the stranger went to walk on, sergeant Thompson took a step toward him. “Did I not tell you to stop? Are you deaf, or do you not know what “Stop” means?” the sergeant asked. “These days, you just cannot go wherever you like, you know.”
“God bless you sergeant, but it is a hard fate for a man to be poor and wanting a rest from a hard day trying to keep yourself alive.”
“Just who in the name of God are you?” asked the sergeant impatiently. “I don’t recognise you as someone from around these parts.”
“My name, sergeant, is Tommy Carney, and I live anywhere I can lay my head, and make a few pennies tinkering.”
“Never heard of you, Tommy Carney,” Sergeant Thompson told him.
“I am thankful for that,” Tommy smiled. “If you knew me already it might not be in the best light. But, I am harmless tramp who is not known too well anywhere.”
“And so what brings you here?”
“I came here to earn myself a few shillings when the fishing boats get in after daylight breaks. I’ll do a bit of lifting and carrying from the boats and that will allow me to survive another day or two,” Tommy told the policeman.
“Get out of here, you gobshite!” Thompson told him. “Move on out of this!”
The ill-dressed little man simply smiled at the sergeant an said, “Sure I will just make myself comfortable among those boxes and nets at the dock steps.”
“Indeed you will not,” insisted Thompson. “No person will be allowed near those dock steps this night.”
“Can I not just sit over there at the steps themselves? Those boxeswill give me shelter from the chilly sea breeze and I can use the nets as a blanket to cover me,” said Carney, rather forlornly.
Thompson shook his head and asked Carney, “What part of the word “No” do you not understand, little man?”
“I’ll go,” Carney told him. “Could you just give a few pennies to get myself something to drink that might keep me warm?”
“Tea, I suppose?” replied Thompson sarcastically. “Do you think I’m a fool? Get away out of this!”
But Carney opened his coat and took out a half-bottle of poteen, which he offered to the policeman. “Would you like a wee mouthful, yourself?”
“By Jaysus, Carney, will you get out of my way before I put my big size twelve hobnail boots up your arse!”
Carney replace the bottle and buttoned his coat before he began to moving off toward the steps of the dock. Sergeant Thompson could not quite believe it and angrily asked, “Where the hell are you going now?”
“You told me to move on sergeant and I am obeying your order, like any law abiding citizen,” replied Carney.
“Are you really looking trouble, or are you really just a complete eejit?” Thompson asked angrily and shouted at him, “I pointed for you to go back where you came from!”
“To the town?” asked Carney.
“Let me show you the way, Sir!” said Thompson as he took hold of Carney by the shoulders and pushing him in the direction that he wanted him to go. “Now, get out of here!”
Carney took two steps forward and came to an abrupt halt. It was the ‘last straw’ for the sergeant. “What the hell are you stopping for now? You must be looking for trouble!”
Carney pointed to the ‘wanted poster’ on the large wooden door saying, “I bet that’s the fella you’re waiting for, sergeant.”
“And what if it is?”
“Sure it’s just that I know that man, Sean Cullen, well. But, I’ll just get on my way like you asked, sergeant.”
“Just hold on a minute!” said Thompson. “What sort of man is this Cullen? There’s no pictures of him, and we don’t know what he looks like!”
“I can tell you nothing,” Carney told him. “Just speaking to a policeman could get me killed in a very short time.”
“Why would that be? Sure aren’t we only talking?”
But Carney just shook his head and replied, “If you don’t know by now then God be with you. But let me tell you that I would not want to be in your shoes if you catch Cullen. I wouldn’t get involved in this matter even if the reward was three times as much.”
In a flash, Sergeant Thompson rushed forward and took hold of Carney with both hands. “Alright, smart arse,” he shouted, “What kind of man is this Sean Cullen and where do you know him from? Are you one of his friends?”
“Friends?” questioned Carney nervously. “I hardly know the man well enough to call him a friend. I only met the man about four months ago in a pub, but I can tell you that he is a man to strike fear in others. You wouldn’t want to be left alone facing him, for there is not a weapon that man doesn’t know how to use. But he doesn’t need a weapon for that boy has muscles as hard as oak, and could do some real damage.”
Thompson looked into Carney’s eyes and was convinced that the tramp was exaggerating. “I don’t think that he is that bad.”
But Carney’s expression did not change and he insisted, “He is!”
The sergeant released his grip on Carney as he asked him, “Tell me more.”
Carney pulled himself together and began to speak quietly, making sure no person was around to hear him. “There was a man on the other side Kinvarra, another policeman, and Cullen killed him with a sledge hammer.”
“When was this?” asked Thompson with a definite tone of suspicion. “I never heard a word about that one.”
“Of course you wouldn’t have heard about it,” insisted Carney. “He was an undercover policeman and his battered body was dumped in a rubbish pit.”
“Jaysus, but this has become one hell of a terrible country to live in!” said Thompson as he removed his helmet and rubbed his brow with the back of his hand.
“Isn’t it the truth?” said Carney. “One minute you could be standing giving your full attention to something, and comes up quietly behind you and does the job.”
“Cut your throat,” said Carney.
The sergeant took a very deep breath and told Carney, “It will take a whole troop of police and auxiliaries to catch this murdering rebel and not the few boys we have here.”
“I could stay with you,” Carney offered. “You keep watch the one way and I will watch your back.”
Thompson thought for a moment and put his helmet back on his head. “That just might work, since you actually know the man.”
“Ah, that Sean Cullen! Sure I would know that man a mile away, Sergeant.”
“Aye, but you would want a share of my reward money!”
“Are you crazy, Sergeant? I don’t want the name of being an informer,” Carney insisted. “A ‘tout ‘ (Informer)does not live very long these days, and I wouldn’t have much time to spend what I would get. No, you can keep it all yourself and I will make myself scarce!”
“Just you stay where you are!” Thompson ordered him.
Together the two men stood in silence, looking out across the small, darkening harbor and the policeman gave a great yawn. “You’re a tired man, sergeant. All this walking up and down here, keeping your eyes open has exhausted you,” Carney told him.
“I’m well used to it,” replied Thompson.
“Aye, but you just might need all your strength, should you come up against Cullen in the dark,” Carney warned him and pointed to some large, wooden fish barrels standing close the large wooden door of the store. “Look, let’s get up on those barrels, where we can rest ourselves and still have a good view of things.”
Sergeant Thompson nodded his head in approval and the two men clambered on the fish barrels. “We will sit back to back,” suggested Thompson, “ so we have the best view all around. To be honest, the way you described Cullen to me has made me awful uneasy.”
“Just give me a light of my pipe, sergeant,” said Carney and Thompson obliged him with a match to light his pipe. “Maybe you would like a smoke yourself, sergeant. It would ease your nerves and make you feel a little more comfortable. Just you keep your eyes peeled ahead of you and I will reach my pipe around to you.”
Thompson didn’t move, but kept staring straight ahead of himself. “Don’t you worry wee man, I won’t look away. But, I will light my own pipe and we can have a smoke together.” Thompson struck a match, lit his pipe and the two men sat back to back on the barrels smoking in the pleasant night air.
“Do you know Carney that being a policeman is not all it’s cracked up to be,” complained Thompson. “You are out to all hours, in all types of weather, and never a word of thanks is heard for the dangerous situations we find ourselves in. We only ever get dog’s abuse from all sides, and yet they expect us to carry out our duty. There’s not one would ask or even care if you are a married man with family before they send you into the most dangerous situations.”
Carney took another drag from his pipe and with a sweet voice he quietly began to sing, “They say that the Lakes of Killarney are fair, but none with the Liffey will ever compare! If it’s water you want you will get plenty of it there! Thank God, we’re surrounded by water!”
“For Jaysus’ sake Carney, don’t be singing those songs around here. You know these are dangerous days and those Black and Tans are trigger happy. They would shoot you just for being Irish, never mind thesong,” Thompson warned him.
“But, sergeant, a little bit of a song helps keep my heart light, especially when my thoughts are turned to Cullen and his friends. I can’t help thinking that he is lurking about here just waiting for his chance to jump both of us.”
“Well stop singing and keep a good look out,” the policeman urged.
Carney shrugged his shoulders and assured the sergeant, “Isn’t that just what I am doing, sergeant Thompson, sir. And sure aren’t I doing it for free? What kind of a fool am I?” He took yet another puff from his pipe and blew a large cloud of fragrant tobacco smoke into the air. “But, sure I could never stand by and just watch another man in trouble.”
“Don’t worry Carney, you will get your reward in heaven.”
“Don’t I know that, sergeant. But, I would like to enjoy life on earth first.”
Thompson smiled at the tramp’s comment and told him, “Sing your song then, if it gives you comfort.”
Carney cleared his throat and began his song where he left off, “The sea, the sea, the geal grá mo chroí, long may it reign between England and me. It’s a sure guarantee that some hour we’ll be free …”
“Wheesht! For Christ’s sake! If you sing that type of song I will have to arrest you, you eejit” said Thompson. “If you want to sing, sing something like “the Galway Shawl.””
Carney turned his head slightly around, “That’s a good song sergeant. Imagine a man of the law knowing such a song?”
“There’s many a thing that I know,” replied Thompson. “I wasn’t always a policeman.”
“I bet you were some boy in your youth, sergeant. Sitting up with your friends drinking the ‘porter’ and singing all the old songs of freedom,” Carney laughed.
“I did, to be sure!” smiled Thompson as he recalled those days of his youth.
“May be Cullen also enjoyed a glass of ‘porter’ and singing freedom songs when he was a young boy. Maybe singing the same songs as yourself,” Carney commented. “It’s a small world filled with queer coincidences, sergeant. You took one road and
“Quiet!” urged the Sergeant. “I think there is someone coming this way,” he declared nervously and shuffled himself slightly to try and obtain a better view. “Ah! Sure it’s only an old dog!”
“Do you not think this is a queer world, sergeant?” asked Carney as he resumed from where he was before being interrupted. “With you, being a policeman ,could even be faced with arresting one of those friends you sang those songs with, and putting him before a judge.”
“True enough! It could all happen,” the sergeant responded
“You know, in those days, after a few drinks and a few songs those boys may have talked a little treason. Maybe you joined in. If they talked about ways in which to free this country you may have also joined in those discussions.”
“I couldn’t say that I didn’t, for I was a wee bit wild in my younger days,” smiled Thompson.
Carney laughed a little and told him, “It’s a queer world, Sergeant, sure enough. No mother knows what might happen her child as that child goes through life, and how may it end up.”
“You couldn’t speak a truer word,” Thompson told him. “if it wasn’t for the sense beaten into me by my parents, and the fact that I am a father and a husband, I could have gotten into trouble. Only for joining the police force I could well be a fugitive from justice, hiding in the darkness and seeking refuge in whatever hovel I could find that would take me in. It could have even been the case that Cullen would be sitting here instead of me. Him keeping the law and me breaking it, and trying to escape justice. Me waiting to put a bullet in his head, or even beat his brains out with a brick. What the ..?” the sergeant gasped and turned his attention to the water.
“I didn’t hear anything,” said Carney.
“It sounded like the splash of an oar. I had thought maybe friends of Cullen will try and free him, by sailing him out of here,” said Thompson.
“Not at all,” sneered Carney eager to get his attention back to their conversation. “You are and will always be a man of the people and not just a slavish servant of the law.”
“Aye, I was foolish in my young days, but those days have long gone,” Thompson declared.
Carney looked at Thompson for a minute before saying, “I bet those feelings are still in there somewhere, despite the uniform and badge.”
“You would be wrong, then,” snapped Thompson.
“I think you will be on his side very soon,” Carney told him.
The sergeant’s expression darkened, “Keep your thoughts to yourself, you gobshite!” he snarled. “How dare you talk to me like that, a policeman. I have my duty to do and my orders to obey.” There was another splashing sound and Thompson turned his attention to the dockside again. He jumped down from the fish barrel, telling Carney, “That is a boat, for I can hear the splash of oars in the water.”
As Thompson moved closer to the edge of the dock Carney again broke into song, “Thank God we’re surrounded by water?”
“Didn’t I tell you to be quiet?” the sergeant turned back toward Carney with a very angry look on his face.
“The Sea, the sea, the ….” Carney began to sing louder.
“Stop now, Carney, or you will go to jail!” said the sergeant as a soft whistling noise came from the area of the dock steps.
“Now that is a signal to somebody,” declared Thompson, causing Carney to get down of the fish barrel and move toward the dockside.
“Keep back there, Carney,” Thompson urged him. “You cannot pass this way.”
But, Carney did not stop and kept coming forward. “Just who, in God’s name, are you?”
“You know me by the name on that poster,” Carney declared.
“Cullen? You are Cullen?” said a shocked police sergeant.
Carney removed his hat and the wig he had been using to disguise the bandage on his head and threw them at the sergeant’s feet. “I am Sean Cullen and there are a hundred guineas on my head. Furthermore, there is a boat at the bottom of these stone steps that contains some very close comrades of mine who are ready to take me to safety,” he said.
“Well, Cullen. You certainly tricked me this night, but it will do you no good!” Thompson angrily assured him.
“Look, Sergeant. I have one hundred guineas on my head because I fight for our freedom.”
“I heard about the reward, Cullen and I have heard something of what you have done. I have a certain sympathy but I have my duty to do,” replied Thompson.
“There’s no more time to waste on idle talk now. Will you let me pass or will I have to force my way past?” Cullen warned in a cold tone of voice.
“Good God, man, I am an officer of the law and I cannot knowingly allow a criminal to escape. In fact I actually hoped I might convince you in a friendly manner to … What’s that?” said the sergeant as he placed his right hand into the breast of his jacket.
There were voices talking as they approached the dockside from another street. “This where we left the sergeant,” said one of the voices that Thompson recognised as Constable Kelly.
“Those are my constables returning from patrol,” said the sergeant as he looked into Cullen’s face.
“You will not betray me to them, Sergeant. Not a true Irishman like you,” Cullen told him as he returned to his hiding place behind the barrels, just in the nick of time.
“That was the last of the posters, thanks be to God,” said Constable O’Neill.
“Well, if that boyo makes good his escape it will be no fault of ours. All the posters we have put up will ensure he is well known in this area, now,” pointed out Kelly.
In the meantime, as his comrades came closer, Thompson kicked the fugitive’s wig and hat, behind some barrels.
“Did you see anyone since we left?” asked O’Neill.
“Not a one,” replied Thompson nervously, for it was the first occasion that he had deliberately lied.
“Not a single soul,” the sergeant replied more confidently.
“Since we have no orders to go back to the police station we thought we would come and keep you company, Sergeant,” said O’Neill.
Thompson looked at the two constables for a moment and bluntly told them, “There is nothing here for you to do!”
“You told us that we should come back to this place as quickly as we could,” Constable Kelly reminded him. “You wanted us to keep watch with you.”
“I would rather be on my own, boys. Sure why would any escaped convict come this way with all the noise and racket the two of you make with all your chatter? It might be better if I was here on my own..”
“Right then, sergeant. But we will leave you this torch,” said Constable O’Neill.
“Just bring it with you, I don’t need it,” The sergeant told them.
“It is still dark, sergeant and there are rain clouds gathering that will make it even darker,” O’Neill pointed out. “I will just put it over here on the barrels so it will be handy for you.”
“Just take the damn thing with you, for God’s sake, and go” snapped Thompson angrily.
The two constables were taken aback by this change in the sergeant’s tone. “We only thought it would help you. It’s a big torch and gives plenty of light, but you could also use it as a weapon if someone creeps up on you. That torch would give some eejit a quare dig in the head,” said constable Kelly.
“I will give you two a quare dig on the head if you don’t get out of here and take that damn torch with you.”
“Jaysus, sergeant, we were only trying to help,” said O’Neill as the two constables stormed off toward the police station.
As the two policemen marched away, Cullen stuck his head up from behind the fish barrels. Sergeant Thompson went closer to him and asked, “What are you waiting for now?”
“I need my hat and wig! It’s cold and it might even rain,” said Cullen.
Sergeant Thompson handed the items to Cullen and he put them back on his head as he walked toward the dock steps. “Good night, my friend,” he said. “You have helped save my life this night and I will never forget it. Maybe the day will come when I will be able to do something for you that will be just as important, when freedom comes. I would shake your hand on it but you know that I can’t because of my wound. I will, however, give you my word of honour.” He nodded his head in respect to the police sergeant and began to walk down the stone steps.
Thompson just watched as Cullen descended the steps and sighed sadly to himself, “Am I as big a buck eejit as I feel?” He turned on his heels and followed the same path as his constables back to the police barracks.
In some parts of Ireland, when a cow becomes dull, refuses to take food, moans, and gives other indications of suffering peculiar pain, the farmers will almost immediately conclude that “she’s shot,” or, as is expressed in Irish Gaelic, “id sidithte.” The phrase suggests the involvement of the ‘sidheoga’ or fairies, and the belief is that they have shot the cow, and there are certain symptoms that appear to be peculiar to this condition. These symptoms point unmistakably to the observer that the cow has been shot, the chief symptom is a swelling of the body and painful moaning.
When such a condition arose, however, only the village’s ‘cow-doctor’ could tell for definite if the beast had been shot by the fairy folk. My great grandfather spoke one time of these ‘cow doctors’, whom he had often seen diagnosing such things. He told how he had even helped these men to perform the curing ceremony which is one of the strangest I have ever heard described.
The ‘doctor’ stood to one side of the cow, while his assistant stood at the other. The assistant takes hold of a pair of tongs to grab a glowing ember of turf and slightly burns the “the Sign of the Cross” on the hair of the cow’s side. When this is complete, he hands the tongs across, under the cow’s body, to the ‘doctor,’ who burns the “Sign of the Cross” on the other side and afterwards passes the tongs over the cow’s back to his assistant again. This ritual is repeated three times, and the first and principal part of the ceremony is concluded by making the “Sign of the Cross” with the ember on the cow’s nostrils.
The second part of the ceremony appears to be more a ‘test’ than a ‘cure.’ The doctor ‘measures’ the cow with his arm from ‘elbow’ to the ‘point’ of his fingers, beginning at the cow’s tail and going towards the horns. The ‘measurement’ is also repeated three times, and if the cow is to get better, the second measurement should be shorter than the first, and the third measurement shorter than the second, &c. Should the attempted ‘cure’ fail, which will not happen if the cow suffers from ‘shot’ and the doctor is called in time, the owner is asked that, in order to prevent the beast’s death, to ‘Tabhair do Mairtain,’ meaning ” Give her to Martin,” namely St. Martin. The owner usually agrees to this measure, and then a “nick” is cut in the animal’s ear. Blood flows from the wound and the death of the cow is averted. In most areas of Ireland, the animal can never be sold after this, but must be killed and eaten as a feast on St. Martin’s Eve, though not necessarily for many years afterwards.
In the north of Ireland, where I live, the practice was somewhat different. The owner is not barred from selling the animal, and instead of giving it to “Martin,” some member of the family, who is thought to be “lucky”, was presented with it. It was no uncommon thing to see several animals, particularly cows and sheep, at fairs with nicks cut in their ears, or a piece cut out. If there were many nicks it is regarded as a sign that the animal was of a delicate constitution, which naturally resulted in there being a reduction in the price. The number of incisions showed to all the number of times that an animal was in danger of death.
I have recently had a message from a gentleman called Michael Hegarty with reference to this bit of folklore. He informs me that he once” saw a cow cured of ‘Red Water’ in similar circumstances without the need of getting a vet.” When asked to expand, Mr. Hegarty told me, “I was a kid at the time and the cure was to stick a pin in effected manure and say a prayer to St. Martin … It worked right away.”
Thanks to Michael for this piece of folklore. If anyone has similar experiences or stories please let me know by commenting on the Blog.
The breeze of that cold March day blew harshly as I walked steadfastly across the wide windswept fields towards the old burial-ground that rested in the townland of Killygann. On reaching the remains of the ancient church, I sat down for a moment upon the grassy bank that enclosed the cemetery. Taking a moment or two I contemplated the ground that lay before me and my mind wandered, thinking upon the generations of men that had taken the road to this place over the many years of its existence. In this place they had been buried to spend an eternity waiting upon the judgement of God, for whom an altar had been raised on this spot so many long years previously.
If you didn’t know what was inside this grassy enclosure, you would never have guessed that it was indeed a place of burial. There were, however, little hillocks here and there on the surface, which were about two or feet long, and defined by a stone. They were tombstones, marking the little graves that were the last resting-places of unfortunate babies that died in the act of being born, or who been born and fated to live but a short time before uttering a brief cry of pain, and going to sleep for eternity. These innocent, but unbaptized, children were never permitted to mingle with the baptised Christians and were always placed in these long disused cemeteries. In this old churchyard had not received the body of a baptised person in many decades, and its presence was almost untraceable beneath the long, rich green grass that flourished there.
It was said that the grandfather of the present landowner had decided to plant the entire area with fir-trees, which flourished in the rich soil formed by the decomposed bodies that lay many feet below. The trees, themselves, had grown to a very unusual size, and demonstrating to all that no man is totally useless, even in death. When his time is finished, and his labours are ended, a dead man’s body may still enrich the ground that is so often impoverished by his greed. In the meantime, among these tall, sheltering trees, a colony of rooks had established their airy city. And, while the young settlers to the place busily built their new nests, the older residents of the grove were engaged in repairing the damage their homes had received from the storms of winter. The air itself was busy with the shrill discordant voices of the black horde as they seemed to be mock those that sought sleep in the lower branches.
As I sat upon that grassy bank, reflecting upon the old graveyard before me, I noticed a man walking along the same path that I had followed. He appeared to be very advanced in years, but he a tall figure of a man, who supported himself with a long wooden staff. Against the chill of the March wind the old man was wrapped in a blue-grey coat that folded close under a belt of string, and a woollen hat that was drawn over his face, as if to screen it from the sharp blast of a cold-wind that rushed toward him. He suddenly stopped, then fixed his eyes on a spot in the burial ground where a wind-blasted and branchless whitethorn stood. This ‘fairy tree’ looked as if it had become part of the fabric of this ancient, lingering as it did over its grass-grown foundation. The old man then raised his eyes heavenward and sank to his knees, while his lips moved as if speaking some silent prayer. His actions at that place fuelled my imagination as to why this old man’s deep devotion, at such a place and time. I was confident that it was not from some ordinary motive that the old man had felt the need to pray. There must have been some reason, or some tradition connected with this ancient place, that had caused the old man to pray with such enthusiasm. So, as the old man rose from his knees, I approached him and said, “My friend, I hope you will pardon me for intruding, for your sudden and impassioned prayer has awakened my inquisitiveness.”
To my surprise the old man answered me in Irish and explained, “I was only begging mercy and pardon for the souls who in the close darkness of their graves cannot help themselves and I begged the good Lord to cease placing the guilt of their fathers upon the children. This spot caused me to remember a terrible act of sacrilege that my forefathers had committed. For this great sin their descendants continue to suffer, and I did not think for one moment that someone other than God had seen me.”
“Perhaps,” he continued, “as you seem to be a stranger in these parts, you have never heard of the Bald Berrys, and the blessed Whitethorn of Killygann. It is a very old tradition, and you might even say it is just a superstitious legend. But there is the whitethorn, blasted and decayed from the contact of my ancestors’ unholy hands. And here, before you, stands the last of their name. I am a homeless wanderer, with no other inheritance than this mark of the curse and crime of his race.” Removing his woollen hat as he said this, revealing a perfectly smooth head, upon which there was not one single hair.
“That old heads should become bald, is not a rare thing,” I told him, “and I have seen younger men whose heads are as hairless as yours.”
“My head,” he replied, “from my birth to this moment, never had a single hair upon it. Sadly, my father and grandfather endured the same fate, while my great-grandfather was deprived of his long, thick hair in one tearful moment. I shall tell you the whole story as we walk along together, if you are going in the direction of this path.”
As we walked together, he told me the following story. The old man spoke in such a poetic and energetic way that I wish I was able to infuse these qualities into my translation. But, for a wider audience I have had to write in English, which is a much colder language than Irish and fails to do justice to the wonderfully poetical language of the story.
“Many a biting March wind has passed over the heads of men since Colonel Berry lived at Lisnarick, whose veins had the true blood of one of old Strongbow’s chiefs, who became a sovereign prince in the land. His forebears had formed strong alliances with the ancient owners of the land, eventually renouncing any Anglo-Saxon connection and name. This noble family subsequently gloried in the title of McCoille and the colonel did nothing in his life that would bring shame on his forebears. He kept open house for all comers, and every day an ox was killed and consumed at Lisnarick. All the influential men of note in the province came there to hunt, fish and hawk. To feast and lodge there and enjoy the hall, which was always crowded with harpers and pipers, rich men and beggars, and jesters and story-tellers, who came and went as they pleased, in constant succession.” Then the old man let out a long sigh, “I can recall some of these good old times, but now they are vanished and gone for ever. The great hospitality that was so much a part of the chieftain’s hall has gone now and the hall has become a hovel on the moor. The wanderer now turns from the great towers of a Lord’ home, seeks the shelter of the peasant’s shed!
Davey Berry and his seven brothers lived with McCoille and held his name and family. Whether McCoille went hunting on horseback, or took the opportunity to shoot, or moved among the high and titled families of the land, they always went with him. They acted like a sort of body-guard, share in his sports or helping him assert his will in any quarrels. At that time, on the banks of the Bann, near the ruined tower of Shanlieve, lived a man named Edward Berry. On his farm there was a thick and thorny thicket that, for many years had been the hiding place for a fox. This, however, was no normal fox. This fox was famous throughout the Province and was celebrated for the extraordinary speed and prowess that he had shown to those many men who had tried so hard to hunt him down. There had, indeed, been many gallant and noble huntsmen sought the honour of bearing that fox’s tail as a trophy. But all efforts had been in vain and after exhausting both hounds and horses in the arduous pursuit the fox invariably returned every night to his favourite sanctuary. To outsiders it seems that a treaty of peace existed between Edward Berry and the fox. Edward’s poultry for several years, whether they sought the banks of the Bann or the barn door, never suffered because the fox was nearby. It would mix with Barry’s dogs and spend an hour or two playing with them, almost as if he belonged to the same species. Mr. Berry gave his wild crafty friend the same protection and freedom that he permitted his own domestic animals. The fame of this strange union of interests was widespread and even to this day the memory of Berry’s fox survives in the traditions of the country.
One evening as McCoille and his followers returned from a long and unsuccessful chase of Edward Berry’s fox, their route lay by the ruins of the ancient church of Killygann. Near this sacred spot a whitethorn tree had stood, and its beauty and bloom were talked about by every man, woman, and child. The simple prayerful folk who poured their petitions to God beneath its holy shade believed that the hands of guardian angels pruned its luxuriance and developed its form of beauty. They believed also that dewfall from heaven was sprinkled by angel hands to produce its rich and beautiful blossoms, which filled the cold winds of December with many tokens of holy fragrance that welcomed the heavenly coming Him who left his Father’s throne to restore to the sons of Adam the lost inheritance of heaven. McCoille was so enamoured by the beauty of the tree and caring little for its sanctity or the superstitious awe that was attached to it, he was firmly resolved to move it to his home at Lisnarick. He wanted his lawn to have that rare species of thorn which blooms in beauty when all other trees in the field are bare and barren.
Next day, when McCoille made known his intention to remove the sacred whitethorn of Kilygann, his people were astonished at his blatant lack of respect for tradition. In response they all declared that they would resist until death any attempt to commit such an audacious act of sacrilege. Now, McCoille was not a man who would permit resistance to his will and had always been accustomed to his commands being obeyed immediately and without question. When he found that his men were now refusing to obey him he exploded with uncontrollable anger. He cursed and damned all those who were standing around him, shouting, “Traitors! You have all eaten at my table and enjoyed the hospitality of McCoille, and you have all sought and been given my protection. Yet, there are none you who are grateful enough to abandon your superstitious nonsense and carry out my commands!”
“Here, my Lord, are seven of your own name and Clan,” cried Davey Berry, “men who are sworn to stand or fall together, who obey no commands but yours, and acknowledge no law but your will. The whitethorn of Killygann shall leave its sacred place, if their strong hands and brave hearts can manage its removal. If it be a sacrilege to disturb the tree, which generations have revered, the curse for this sacrilege does not rest on us. Even should McCoille command us to tear the blessed gold from the shrine of a saint, we would not hesitate to obey him. We are just carrying out the will of our legal chieftain.”
They sang McCoille’s praises as they marched to where the tree had stood for many centuries, and they immediately proceeded to desecrate the spot that was made holy by those who had revered it over the ages. Such was the reverence shown to this holy whitethorn that a mystic circle surrounded it, within which no mortal foot may go. But, men have committed many wrongs and salved their consciences by convincing themselves that they acted in obedience to the commands of their leaders, and that a prayer of contrition will purify their souls.
That same evening McCoille saw the beautiful whitethorn planted in his garden and many were thanked for bringing it to him. Gold and rank were his rewards to those faithful men who had risen to the challenge and overcome the terrors of superstition to carry out his commands. But, McCoille was very much surprised when Davey Berry interrupted his morning sleep and announced that the tree had disappeared during the night. Confusion when he told his chieftain that the tree was again planted where it had stood for ages before, in the ancient cemetery of Killygann. McCoille was convinced that the tree venerated by the people had been secretly taken by them during the night to where it formerly stood. He immediately sent his most trusted men bring it back and stand guard until morning.
The Berry brothers obeyed the call of their chief and brought the whitethorn back. They replanted the tree, carefully covering its roots with rich mould, and made ready to watch over it all night. It proved to be a long and dark night, and they were wide awake. The night-breeze had stilled and all of nature appeared to have been mysteriously silenced. In this strange quietness a deep and undefinable feeling of dread crept into the hearts of the guards. These were men who had been tried and tested in the heat of battle but were now frightened by this fearful calmness. Their normal steadfast obedience to the commands of McCoille could not still their hearts against the remorse they began to feel, and there was talk amongst them against the sacrilege he had committed. As the night advanced their fear increased and they spread out their watchful circle around the mysterious tree. Davey, the eldest and bravest of the brothers, finally fell asleep. But, his short and fitful dozes were disturbed by wild and indistinct dreams. Then, as his sleep settled down and those vague images disappeared, the following vision came into his mind –
He began to dream that as he was keeping watch by the sacred whitethorn of Killygann, there stood before him a saintly man. This man’s radiant features and shining ancient clothing illuminated the entire area around him, piercing far into the darkness that surrounded him. In his hand he held a crosier, and upon his head sat a towering mitre. His long, white beard descended to the belt that encircled his rich bishop’s clothes, and he looked every inch the mitred abbot of some ancient monastery, which the rage of the English reformation had levelled to dust. The face of this saintly man, however, bore a fearfully severe expression, and the sleeping man fell to the ground, prostrate before the piercing eye that searched his inner-most soul.
“Wretched man,” said the shining apparition, in a thunderous voice, “ lift your head and listen carefully to your fate, and the fate that shall befall your sacrilegious brothers.”
Berry lifted his head in obedience to the instruction he received, though his soul sank within him, as stood before this dreadful voice and eye of terror. “Because you have violated the sanctity of this place” the holy man continued, “which has been consecrated to God, you and your family shall wander homeless ever more as beggars, and your heads, as a sign and a warning to future generations, shall suffer the pelting of every storm, and the severity of every changing season, unprotected by the defence that nature has bestowed upon all other men. This curse will last until your name and family be erased from memory.”
After hearing this angry denunciation against him the terrified man fell to the ground prostrate pleading for mercy, and he awakened with a cry of terror which alarmed the other guards. As he began to tell them about the terrible vision he had seen in his sleep, there was a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning, and the sweep of a whirlwind, which enveloped them all. As the new day dawned, the guards were to be found senseless, and at a considerable distance from the spot where they had lain the preceding night to guard the sacred tree. The thorn had also disappeared and, most strangely of all, the long black hair that shone like a raven’s wing, and was their pride, no longer adorned their heads. The fierce whirlwind, that had tossed them about, like the stubble of the field, had brought reality the dream, and removed their thick, long hair in its vengefulness.”
This was the story of the of the ‘Bald Berrys’ as it was told to me and I hand it on to you, the reader. I will make no further comment or note on this story, but I leave it to you to decide the truth of it. Some will question how an apparently cultured people can attribute the downfall of families, or the entailment of hereditary disease, to be caused by supernatural intervention. Others will remind you of an old saying –
Many years ago, I am told, there was a man by the name of Paddy Kelly, who lived quite near to the market town of Lurgan in the beautiful, ‘Orchard County’ of Armagh. One bright morning, as was his custom, he rose up from his bed when the sun was not much above the horizon. He had no watch on his arm and he was unsure about what time of day it was. A confusion not at all helped by the fact that the fine light coming through his window originated from a watery early morning sun. But, Paddy did know what day of the week it was, and that he had wanted to rise early so that he could go to the fair in town. There he had high hopes of being able to sell his young, healthy donkey, which he had raised from birth.
Paddy washed and dressed before taking his breakfast of porridge and toast, Then, as he finished his white enamel mug filled with strong tea, Paddy gathered his coat before he set out on his journey to the fair. He had not gone more than three miles along the road from his home that morning when a great dark cloud dimmed the light of the early morning sun, and a heavy shower of rain began to fall. Paddy looked about him and, about five hundred yards from the road, slightly obscured by some trees, he caught sight of a large house. Without a second thought he decided that he would make his way, as quickly as possible, to the house and shelter there until the rain came to an end. In his rush he was a little out of breath when he finally reached the house, and he was very surprised to see that the door before him was already opened wide. Thinking that maybe the owner had seen him rushing to the house in the rain, and opened the door for him, Paddy went into the house unannounced. As he entered he saw a large room to his left, with a grand, welcoming fire already burning in the grate. Paddy decided to sit himself down upon a small stool that stood beside the wall to await the house owner’s arrival. But, the warmth from the fire soon filled the room and rapidly began to make Paddy sleepy.
Then, just as his eyes started closing in sleep, he noticed a big weasel coming to the fire place and it had something very bright and yellow in its mouth, which it dropped on the hearth-stone before hurrying away again. Within a few moments the weasel returned with a similar object held tightly in her mouth, dropping it on the hearthstone before again disappearing. The weasel soon came back again with the same object in her mouth, and Paddy realised that it was a bright gold sovereign that she had. Once again, the weasel dropped the coin on the hearth-stone and scampered from his sight. But, she kept coming and going until, at last, she had piled a great heap of shining sovereigns on the hearth. When Paddy was sure that she was finally gone from the room he quickly rose up from the stool and walked over to the fireplace. Then, using both hands he rapidly bundled all the gold coins, that the weasel had piled up on the hearth, into his jacket pockets and, as quietly as possible, he hurried out of the house.
Despite his best efforts, Paddy was not as fast on his feet as the weasel, and he had not gotten very far before he heard the noise of the angry animal coming after him. The irate weasel was screeching and screaming loudly at Paddy, like a set of Uileann-pipes that were being played very badly. Filled with wrath the weasel quickly overtook Paddy on the road, where she jumped and twisted herself in the air, making every possible effort to get a hold of his throat, so she could tear it out. But, Paddy carried a good thick stick of oak and he used it to keep the snapping weasel from him. Then two men, who were travelling along the same road as Paddy, and in the same direction, came up to him. With one of these men was a large, sturdy dog that began snarling at the angry weasel and chased it into a hole in the wall.
Paddy continued along the road to the fair in the company of the two men and arrived there without any more interruption. Earlier that morning Paddy had headed off to the fair with the sole aim of selling his donkey and returning home immediately with the money he earned from the sale. By the afternoon things had changed and instead of coming straight home with the money he got for the donkey, Paddy went to a trader and bought himself a horse with some of the money he had taken from the weasel. He felt like a wealthy man and he wanted to come home just as a wealthy man should, proudly riding a horse. As they trotted along Paddy reached the place where the dog had chased the weasel away from him. Suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, the angry weasel came scrambling of a narrow hole in the wall. With great athleticism the weasel leaped up from the ground, catching Paddy’s horse by the throat and causing the terrified animal to bolt.
Tormented by the pain of the weasel’s bite the horse rushed off and Paddy could only keep his tight grip on the animal’s mane with the greatest of difficulty. Finally, blinded with agony, the poor horse took a huge leap that brought his rider and he into a big, wide drain that was filled with brackish water and black mud. Both horse and rider were out of their depth, choking and drowning very rapidly, until a small group of men, coming along the road from Portadown, saw the difficulty they were in and they managed to chase the weasel away from the scene. They also helped Paddy and his mount to exit the drain and put them back on their way along the road. Paddy, now in a very dishevelled condition, finally brought the horse home with him and put him into the byre, while he went to his bed and fell fast asleep.
It was very early, the next morning, when Paddy rose up from his bed and prepared himself to go out to the byre and give his new horse some fresh hay and oats. But, when he finally reached the byre door, Paddy saw the weasel scampering out of the byre with her fur completely soaked with a large patch of thick red blood. “Christ almighty! A thousand curses on you and may each one be worse than the one before,” screamed Paddy, “Satan’s polecat and killer of the innocent, what have you done now?”
Paddy hurried into the byre wondering what he would find. There, lying on the hay covered floor, he found the horse, two of his dairy cows, and two newly born calves lying dead in pools of blood. Shocked, upset and angry, Paddy came out of the byre cursing and swearing loudly, and he went immediately to his large farm dog, which was already fighting in its chains, barking and snarling at the weasel as it glared menacingly at Paddy. He now took hold of the chains, loosened them and set the massive dog at the evil killer. The dog snapped at the weasel, taking a tight grip of the struggling creature which, at the same time, took a strong hold of the huge mastiff. Although Paddy’s dog was an excellent farm guard-dog, and despite his size, he was quickly forced to loosen his hold of the weasel before Paddy could reach the battle site.
As the vicious weasel scampered off to make good her escape, Paddy kept his eyes on her movements. He followed her every twist and turn, through grass and bush, until he saw her slink into a small, disused and badly dilapidated cottage that stood at the edge of a shallow lake. Paddy, with the dog at his side, now ran rapidly to catch up with their fleeing enemy. When, at last, he reached the front of the small cottage Paddy took a tight hold of the dog, shook it violently to make the animal very angry and prepare him for the vicious fight ahead.
With his hound well prepared, Paddy sent him into the cottage before he would enter it himself. As the dog moved into the hovel it began to bark loudly and growl threateningly, which encouraged Paddy to go into the building after him. But, as his eyes became accustomed to the dark of the building, he noticed an old hag of a woman lurking in a corner of one room. Taken completely by surprise with the presence of the old woman, Paddy nervously asked her if she had seen a weasel running through the building.
“I saw nothing,” said she quietly. “Sure, isn’t it myself that is all destroyed with a terrible sickness that’s upon me. You must get out of this place as quickly as you can before you catch it and are destroyed yourself.“
As Paddy and the old woman were talking, the large dog quietly kept
creeping up closer to them. Unnoticed by Paddy the dog came to a point from which it suddenly gave a big leap upward and caught the old woman by the throat. With a piercing and terrified scream of pain the old woman cried out, “Paddy Kelly get your dog off me, and I’ll make you a very rich man.”
Paddy taking a tight hold of his dog once again, forced it to loosen its hold on the old woman. He shouted at her, “Tell me who you are, you old witch, and tell me why did you kill my horse and my cows?“
“First tell mewhy you stole away my gold that I had been gathering, throughout the hills and hollows of the world, for five hundred years or more?“
“I thought you were a weasel,” Paddy said, “or I wouldn’t have touched your gold.”
“And, another thing,” said Paddy, “if you have been living in this world for five hundred years already, is it not about time that you went to your eternal rest now.“
“I would if it were not for the fact that I committed a great sin when I was very young,” explained the old woman, “and now I can only be released from my terrible sufferings if you can pay the cost of one hundred and fifty masses for my soul’s salvation.”
“Where would I get all the money to pay for them? ” asked Paddy.
“If you would go and dig under a bush that stands over a little well in the corner of that field over there,” she pointed, “you’ll find a pot filled with gold. Just you pay the money for the masses, and you can keep whatever is left of the gold to yourself. But, I will tell you that there is a great stone that covers the pot and, when you lift the stone off, you will find a big black dog rushing out. This hound might look fierce to you, but don’t be afraid of him, because he is a son of mine. As soon as you retrieve the gold from the pot, buy the house in which you saw me for the first time. There is no doubt that you will get it at a cheap price, for it is well known that the house has a ghost haunting it. Then, look and you will discover my son down in the cellar of the house. He will not do you any harm, but he shall be a good friend to you. Then, in a month from this day, I will be dead and, when I am dead, I want you to put a fire under this little hut and burn it down so there is nothing left. Be assured that if you never tell any living soul a thing about me, you will have a great amount of good luck in your life.”
“Just tell me one thing before I leave, old woman; What is your name? ” asked Paddy.
“Maura Keown,” she told him.
Silently, turning away from the old woman, Paddy left her standing alone in the hut and went home. But, when the first dark shadows of night fell across the country, Paddy grabbed hold of a spade and took it with him as he went to seek the bush that was in the corner of the field, which the old woman had indicated to him. As soon as he had come upon the bush, Paddy immediately began digging with the spade, and it did not take him very long to uncover the pot. As he had been told, when he removed the large stone off the pot, a big black dog sprang out of the hole and ran off, with Paddy’s dog in close pursuit. Meanwhile, Paddy worked quickly to collect up the gold and brought it back to his home, where he hid it in the cow-house.
It was about a month after this episode that Paddy went up to the fair at Dromore. While he was there he bought a pair of cows, a horse, and a dozen sheep for his farm, much to the surprise of his neighbours. These people were very taken aback at Paddy’s new spending power and they wondered and discussed among themselves the source of the man’s new-found wealth. Of course, there were rumours circulating that Paddy had been granted a wish from the fairy folk, while others speculated that he had captured a Leprechaun and received his crock of gold as the ransom. Paddy, however, paid little attention to the rumours and speculations of his neighbours. Then, one day, Paddy dressed himself in his best clothes and set off toward town. He had decided to pay a call on the man who owned the large house where he had first seen the weasel, and he asked the owner if he could buy the house from him, as well as all the land that was round about it.
“You can have the house without paying any rent at all” said the owner, “but there is a ghost in it, and I wouldn’t like you to go to live in it without my telling you. However, if you wish to purchase it I must tell you that I cannot part with the land unless I can get at least a thousand pounds more than you have offered me.“
“Perhaps I have as much money as you require,” replied Paddy. “I can be here to-morrow with the money, but only if you are ready to give me immediate possession.“
“I’ll be ready,” the gentleman assured Paddy, who immediately went home to tell his wife that he had just bought a large house and a considerable holding of land.
“Where did you get the money?” asked the wife anxiously.
” Never you mind,” Paddy told her. “It isn’t any of your business where I got it?“
The very next day Paddy went to meet the gentleman again, gave him the money, and got possession of the house and land. Alongside this, the gentleman left him the furniture and everything that was in the house, as part of the bargain. Then, to confirm his possession, Paddy stayed in the house that night. After darkness fell he made his way carefully down to the cellar, as he had been instructed to by the old woman. In the cellar, to his surprise, he saw a little man with his two legs spread out upon a barrel. “God be good to you for an honest man,” said the wee man to Paddy.
“May God be good to you to,” replied Paddy, nervously.
“Don’t be afraid of me at all,” says the little man. “I will be a constant friend to you, if you are able to keep a secret.“
” I can be assured that I am able to do that. Sure, didn’t I keep your mother’s secret, and be confident that I’ll keep yours as well.“
“Maybe you’re thirsty?” asked the little man.
“I am indeed,” said Paddy, “just a little.”
The small man put his hand into the pocket of the coat he was wearing and took out a finely made goblet of gold material. He gave the goblet to Paddy, and told him, ”Draw some wine out of that barrel under me.“
Paddy took the goblet and filled it wine from the barrel, and he handed it to the little man. “You have the first drink,” the man said.
Paddy drank the wine and then drew another full goblet from the barrel, which he handed to the little man, who drank it.
“Fill up and have another drink,” said the little man. “I feel like having a good session tonight.”
The pair of them sat there drinking until they were both half drunk. Then the little man leaped down to the floor, and asked Paddy, “Do you like music?’
“Of course I do, ” said Paddy, “and I’m a good dancer, too.”
” Lift up the big flag-stone over there in the corner, and you’ll get my pipes under it.“
Paddy lifted the flag-stone, got the pipes, and gave them to the little man. He squeezed the pipes on the bag and began playing a fine melody. Paddy began dancing in time to the music until he had tired himself out. Then they had another drink together, and the little man spoke to him softly, “Do as my mother told you, and I’ll show you great riches. You can bring your wife in here, if you wish, but don’t tell her that I’m there, and she won’t see me. If you need a drink of ale or wine at any time, feel free to come here and help yourself. Goodbye for now. Go to your bed and sleep, then come again to me to-morrow night.“
Paddy went to his bed, and it wasn’t long before he fell fast asleep. Early the next morning Paddy went home, and he brought his wife and children to the big house, where they made themselves comfortable. That night Paddy made his way down to the cellar, where the little man welcomed him and asked him if he wanted to dance.
“Not until I get a drink,” said Paddy.
“Drink your fill,” said the little man, “that barrel will never be empty as long as you live.“
Paddy drank the full of the goblet, and then gave a drink to the little man. The small companion accepted the drink from him and told him, “I am going to the fairy castle tonight, to play music for the good-people, and if you come along with me you’ll see some great fun. I’ll give you a horse, for the journey, the likes of which you have never seen before.“
” I’ll go with you, of course,” replied Paddy, ” but what sort of excuse will I make to my wife. “
“There is no need for you to worry about that. I will bring you away from her side without her knowing it, when you are both asleep together, and then I will bring you back to her in the same manner,” explained the little man.
“That sounds like a good plan,” smiled Paddy, “but we will have another drink before I leave you.” Paddy drank goblet after goblet until he was half drunk, and then he went to bed with his wife. When Paddy awoke, however, he found himself riding on a huge horse near to the legendary fairy castle, and the little man was riding on another horse by his side. When they came as far as the green hill of the castle, the little man said a couple of words that Paddy did not understand. At that moment the green hill opened, and the two men went rode into what was a fine chamber.
Paddy had never saw such a gathering of people like of that which was in the castle. The entire place was filled with little people, men and women, young and old, and they all welcomed the little man they knew as ‘Donal the Piper’, into their midst with Paddy Kelly. From among the crowd the king and queen of the fairies stepped forward and said to them, “We are all going on a visit to-night to Knockmore, to the high king and queen of our people.”
At the king’s signal they all got up from where they were seated and went out of the chamber. There were horses ready for each one of them and a coach prepared for the king and the queen to travel in. The king and queen got into their coach, while each man leaped on his own horse, and Paddy followed close behind them. The wee piper had gone ahead of them all and began to play music for them as they rapidly rode off into the night. With the magic of the good people it did not take them long until they came, at last to the hill of Knockmore. As they arrived at the hill it opened, and the king passed in with the rest of his followers.
Awaiting them all were Finvara and Nuala, the High-king and Queen of the fairy host of Uladh, surrounded by thousands of their little people. Finvara came up to them and told them, “We are going to play a hurling match tonight against the fairy host of Munster, and unless we beat them our fame and magic will be gone forever. Our match is to be fought out on the ‘field of gold’ that lies beneath Slieve Gullion”.
The host of Uladh cried out in unison, “We are all ready for the fight, and we know that we shall beat them all.”
“Let us all get out there then,” cried the high king, “or the men from the hills of Munster will be on the ground before us.”
They all went out of the hill, with little Donal and twelve more pipers moving ahead of them, playing music they could march to. When they came to ‘The Field of Gold’ the fairy host of Munster had gathered in great numbers before them. For those who don’t know fairy lore, it is a requirement at such events, whether they are for fighting or playing hurling, that the fairy host have two live men beside them. This was the reason that little Donal took Paddy Kelly with him and, meanwhile, there was a man they called the “Rory Geary”, from Cork, who stood with the fairy host of Munster.
In moments the two fairy hosts had lined up their teams and the ball was thrown up between them. From that moment the real fun began in earnest. They were hurling away, and the pipers playing music, until Paddy Kelly saw the host of Munster was starting to get the upper-hand, and he began to help the fairy host of Uladh. The man ‘Geary’ came up and he made a move toward Paddy Kelly, but Paddy was the quicker of the two and turned him head over heels. It didn’t take long for the two opposing groups of fairies to abandon hurling and begin fighting. But, in a very short period of time the host of Uladh had gained victory by beating those from Munster. Defeated and deflated, the host of Munster turned themselves into flying beetles and, in revenge, began to eat every green thing that they came across. They were destroying the entire country before them until they came as far as the place where the Bann River flows into Lough Neagh. At that place there rose up thousands of doves from out of the trees, and they began to swallow down the beetles and, since that time, this place has been known to all folklorists as ‘The Sanctuary of the Doves’.
When the fairy host of Uladh had won their battle, they came back to the hill of Knockmore filled with a great joy. Finvara, the High King of the fairies, gave Paddy Kelly a purse of gold and, after the presentation, the little piper brought him back home, putting him into the bed beside his wife, and leaving him sleeping there.
Another month passed by, but without much happening. Until, one evening, Paddy went down to the cellar. When he reached the cellar the little man, Donal, said to him sadly, “My mother is dead, and it is time to burn the house over her.”
“I should have remembered,” said Paddy. “She told me that she had only a month of life left in this world, and that month was up yesterday.“
The next morning Paddy went to the hut and he found that the old woman was indeed dead. Just as he had promised, Paddy put a lighted coal under the hut and set it on fire. When he returned home, Paddy visited the little man and told him that the hut was burned according to his mother’s request. In return, the little man gave him a leather purse and said to him, “This purse will never be empty as long as you are alive. From now, you will never see me again, but in your heart always hold a loving remembrance of the weasel, because it was she who was the beginning and the prime cause of your prosperity.” Then Donal went away from view and Paddy never saw him again.
Thereafter, Paddy Kelly and his wife lived for many years in the large house and, when he died, he left a great wealth behind him, and a large family to enjoy it.