Niamh’s Folk (Final Part)

Dermot did not offer to take the fodder from her, though he thought he was in love with Niamh and had every intention of asking her to marry him. He believed that the women of this county were used to carrying heavy burdens and left her to it. But Ruari McFee, saying nothing to the girl, began to untie the rope at her waist, and he swiftly swung the mass lightly over his own shoulders.

“Sure, there’s no need to do that!” Dermot said, while he thought to himself, “You are a ‘buck eejit!” (stupid idiot!)

“It is too heavy for a lass,” replied Ruairi, but his eyes did not meet Niamh’s eyes and they walked home together in silence through the creeping dusk.

Inside the cottage and by the red glow from the turf fire Niamh looked lovelier to him than ever she had. McFee, meanwhile, ate little and his mind appeared to be was in another place. Catriona’s remarks, and Dermot’s slow efforts at conversation seemed to fall on strangely deaf ears. He was a shy man, quietly spoken and found it difficult to socialise with people who were virtual strangers to him. Ruairi appreciated all these personality faults and yet could not quite understand what had come over him that evening. He asked himself the question all the next day, because, even as he threw himself into inspecting his new byres and out-houses, there was only one image in his mind and that was a picture of slim girl in a short faded green skirt, who was lying against a grassy bank, with her small head crushed against a background of faded ferns, and her shy lovely eyes looking into his face. It was Niamh, but she was said to be a changeling. “Nonetheless,” he told himself, “changeling or not, I have fallen in love with her!”

-***-

“It is no use at all to go against the girl. I have said so before now. And there are many girls in the district who are as good a prospect as she is, and maybe they’ll have a cow or two, or even a few pounds to bring with them. There’s wee Sheila O’Donnell and she could have as much as three hundred pounds to bring to the marriage!”

“As if I would look at a woman with a squint,” snapped Dermot as he furiously threw down the fishing-rod he was holding, “I will have none but Niamh, and if she will not have me, I will do someone an injury!”

In the meantime, Dermot’s mother deliberately continued peeling potatoes. “Ruairi McFee is stronger and bigger than you are,” she remarked. “And he has the eyes of a hawk, fists like jack-hammers. You’ll never take Niamh away from him by force. But perhaps, now, there might be a little plan; just a little plan, mind you.”

Dermot picked up the fishing-rod again and his cunning eyes grew intent. Catriona resumed, in her high-pitched voice, speaking without a pause as she peeled the potatoes. “The best thing would be that they would have a quarrel, and I’ll tell you a way this could happen. He doesn’t like to hear that they are all saying she is a changeling, and he doesn’t like her to talk about the good folk. When she told him the story of the kelpie that followed Robbie McVey over the moss, and finally drowned him in the ‘Black Pool’, he was angry, and called it all nonsense, and said that she should never again talk about such things. Niamh, of course, was not happy about that. She was asking me about the ‘Cave of Gold’ only yesterday, and when it was that anyone might see the fairies dancing, and if the tides would allow us to go. So, I told her it was on Midsummer’s Night at twelve o’clock, and she is just mad to go! Clean mad! But Ruairi was there, too, and I was listening at the door, after, and I heard him say that it was all just silly talk and nonsense, and that he would prefer that she did not go. He told her that it was too late at night, and that nasty squalls would spring up, and our boat was not exactly seaworthy. She begged and prayed that he would take her, and he said, ‘No’! Every time she pleaded he simply told her, ‘No’!”

“Very well, then,” Dermot cried out impatiently, as she paused in her story, “I suppose she is so mad with love that she gave the entire idea up.”

“She is pretty much in love,” his mother agreed, “and so she gave in to his wishes. ‘And I am going over to Ballygarvey, Niamh,’ I heard him say, ‘to see what Mr. Campbell, the land-agent, is wanting to tell me, and you will promise not to go when I am away because it is not safe for a girl like you to be out so late. Will you promise me?’ And she promised him. He told her that he would bring her a new brooch made of silver and marble stones, and they kissed each other before he left.”

“Very well, what then?” Dermot cried angrily. “I hear they are to be married when he comes back. So, what else is there for me, mother?”

Catriona had dropped her potatoes into the pot, and she swung it over the open turf fire, which was glowing redly in the dark little cottage. “Well, if I were you, Dermot, I would get out the boat, and I would offer to take her to the cave. And I will be telling her more stories to-night, when we are spinning. That girl is a changeling, sure enough, and she will go. When Ruairi comes back, he will hear the story, and he will be mad with her, and they will quarrel. You can go over to Liscorr that day, to be out of his way. They will have an almighty row, and will break off their relationship, and she will turn to you, in time.”

Dermot slowly considered the plan and agreed that it suited him perfectly well. He didn’t want a noisy quarrel, and no measuring of strength. He, too, remembered Ruairi’s muscles at the hurling match. But this secretly conspiring in the dark, while McFee was away, was much to his taste. He made up his mind now that his mother was a woman of great wisdom. He told her he approved of her plan, and that he would get her a little present the next time that he went to Ballygarvey. After this, her stories to Niamh about the cave were many and very enticing!

-***-

“Dermot, Dermot, but I’ve promised!” It was the next night, and Niamh stood before the cottage in her dark wincey skirt and green cotton jacket, her face turned up to her cousin’s. All last night, all through the day, old Catriona’s stories had haunted her every thought. The old woman had gone about her task in a cunning fashion and began as soon as they were both seated at the spinning-wheel and, in a rambling manner said that the next day would be Midsummer’s Night, when the fairies would be holding their dancing in the Cave of Gold. She said that only she was old, and frail, and feeble, she would have gladly gone to watch the festivities! Catriona had the second sight and could perhaps see what no other person could see and, she appeared to confident that the journey would hold no danger! How she would love to see the little folk dancing! At this point her voice fell quiet, and she looked around her into all the dark shadows of the kitchen, and up by the oak bench that stood near the window. She pricked up her ears in the hope of hearing the faint and far-off tune of Old Dingus Murray’s fiddle, for they said that the legendary sound could still be heard.

Feeling a little uneasy, Niamh rose from her seat, saying she would go and see if there were enough oat-cakes for supper, or see if that was someone outside. But, Catriona spoke sharply to her and told her to sit down again. She was determined that the girl would not escape her and then she asked if Niamh had ever been told the story of Old Dingus Murray and the Cave of Gold. Niamh admitted she had never heard the story and she sat down again, the spinning wheel idle and the soft grey carded wool lying in her lap. Catriona, spinning fast, and with the low vibrations of the wheel acting as a sort of accompaniment to her voice, began to tell the story. She was an Irish speaker, which makes it difficult to express in the English language the creeping, insidious fear and mystery of the tale. A tale about how the fiddler, Dingus Murray, fell in love with an O’Neill from Dargan, whose father would not allow him to woo his daughter until he overcame several foolish and impossible tasks.

CaveOne task required him to enter the Cave of Gold at midnight, on Midsummer’s Night, and play “The O’Neill of Dargan” as he passed through the little dancing folk and penetrated far into the mystery of the cave’s depths to where no man had ever been. Dingus, of course, took up the challenge, and with his long hair waving wildly in the breeze and his fiddle in his hands, he was seen standing at the shingly edge of the cave with his teeth gritted for the task ahead. The men who had rowed Dingus up to the cave saw him standing there, and they heard the first wild pealing notes from his fiddle drift in the wind. Thus, playing proudly and happily, he entered the cave with his dog at his heels, while they waited, watched, and listened. At last they heard one terrifyingly awful cry, after which there was silence except for the sound of the wind. Dingus had passed through the fairies, but “He never came home!”

Then, changing her tone, Catriona told the story of the only woman who had ever caught sight of the ‘wee folk’, and how, forever after, riches and wealth were hers, and she had never a wish that had gone unsatisfied! It was the going on into the inner caves that had undone the piper! The lass who had seen the fairies was a certain Eileen Curran, and “she married a chieftain, and went to live far away in another part of the country, and all her days she was clad in green silk. Yes, all her days!”

“How did she leave?” asked Niamh.

In a boat, with a man. It is easy, if the man is strong. Finally, Eileen Brid’s great stone cross at Craigmore, and they granted her even that! There she lies near the saintly Brid, and all because she had seen the ‘wee folk’ in the Cave of Gold!”

“Grandmother, would you lend me the magical rowan branch if I were to go?” Niamh whispered. “Would you, grandmother?” Her own voice frightened her for a moment and she imagined she could see Ruairi’s face appear before her. But, the old woman got up without a word, and, going to her linen cupboard took something, rolled in a fine kerchief, from it, which had the sweet smell of bog-myrtle in its folds, and she laid the brown faded leaves and the red, dry berries on Niamh’s lap.

“There it is! But you will give it back to me safely? or else bad things might happen to us all!”

“I will return it to you safely,” Niamh assured her. In her pocket she had the rowan, but Dermot was tampering with her conscience and her promise now.

“It was a very foolish thing to promise,” he said craftily. “Besides, Ruairi was afraid of the squalls, that is all, and there will be no squalls at all! You can come with me, and see if there is anything, and if my mother’s stories are true. If not, there is no harm done. It is a lovely cave to see.”

Niamh gave in, just as Catriona knew she would give in. Would she see anything? Would the ‘wee folk’ be there?  Before she could fully explore these thoughts, Niamh found herself in the little boat, and rowing towards the cave. Strangely, the night seemed to be only a paler day and they rowed close into the shore, until they discovered a place where the rock-face was split and showed a pale light within. There was just enough space for the boat to float in, passing through a low, overhanging archway. Niamh drew in her breath sharply and clasped her hands, as Dermot paused, watching her face, once they were through it. They were in a deep circular basin, where the water was a lovely pale green that darkened in the shadows. The rocky sides were cut, here and there, into long narrow openings, into one of which Catriona’s fiddler must have wandered. Here Niamh saw the water lying dark and mysterious, shadow-haunted. Bending over the edge of the boat, she could see the yellow sand far below and in bright sunshine her own fair face would have been reflected. Tiny jelly-fish edged with lilac spots, and with long white fringe, floated beside the seaweed, like strange jewels, and far above them they could see the pale yellow-redness of the summer evening sky, soft, and exquisite. Fringing the opening were ferns and heather, and tall fox-gloves, but the fairy bells did not stir in the breathless air. Were the ‘wee folk’, the ‘good folk’, lurking within she wondered? If she watched, would she see a tiny face peep out at her? She waited, watched, and waited some more and the time passed. “Dermot, I don’t see anything!” Niamh spoke at last, breathlessly, eagerly. She had forgotten Ruairi, she had forgotten everything but her desire. “Row me further in, Dermot.

He pushed the boat forward, and Niamh sat with her dark blue eyes, which seemed black in the shadow, and strained eagerly forward, listening, waiting. But, nothing moved, except that now and then little waves would break with a plashing ripple against the boat. Far up on the rocks, a passing breath of wind now and then swayed the flowers and the grasses, but no fairy face peeped out from anywhere, there was no tap of dancing feet, nor any note of fairy music.

Dermot, Dermot, there is nothing, nothing at all!”

The note of bitter disappointment in her voice upset Dermot. Once or twice he had attempted to speak, because he did not want to make this trip in silence, but Niamh had raised her little brown hand sharply. She thought that his manly voice might disturb the fairies. But, at last the silence had started to affect even her. In her mind she began to think that it was all of no use, for she could see and hear nothing.

We will just be going home then, Niamh” Dermot said in a quiet, practical tone of voice, unconcerned for the disappointment that Niamh was feeling because, in his opinion, the entire thing was just simple “foolishness.” “Maybe they are not dancing to-night and we would be better just go home.

“She said I would be sure to see them,” Niamh sighed with a sob in her voice. As Dermot pushed the boat out, Niamh crushed the rowans bitterly in her lap, and they fell into the bottom of the boat. She remembered Ruairi suddenly, as, once outside, she noticed that the weather had changed during her stay in that dark cavern. The light seemed obscured; there were white horses leaping in the distance; and the wind swept sharply into their faces as they looked seaward. It would, Dermot realised, now be dangerous to keep so close to the rocks, for a heavy groundswell had risen. He glanced around and voiced some strong oaths as he grabbed the oars. In the growing swell Dermot knew he would need all the strength he possessed in his muscles to row the clumsy boat to safety, and he would have to keep the boat out to sea to avoid the jagged rocks.

During the long row home, through the now angry waters, Niamh sat silently in the boat. When Dermot asked her to “Bale!” almost angrily she did so almost mechanically, realising the danger of an ugly leak that had suddenly appeared. There was no emotion, for nothing seemed to matter. There were no fairies and she would have to tell Ruairi that she had broken her word. Finally, they found a sandy, sheltered bay where they could land safely. Only Dermot knew how hard he had struggled against the wind and the tide in that clumsy and leaking craft. Niamh, however, did not see the tall figure that was waiting on the shore until she was preparing to leap from the boat. Then a strong hand took hers, and with a startled cry she saw it was Ruairi himself, standing there, grim, grave, silent, with a new expression on his face, which chilled her through and through. She wondered just how it was that he was there?

He helped Dermot to pull the boat up on to the shore, with a look of disdain on his face as he saw the boat when it was finally lying out of the water. “It is a pretty boat,” he said a little scornfully, “a pretty boat to take a lass out in, I’ll give you that, Dermot McCann.”

Dermot did not reply but called to Niamh sharply and all three walked up to the cottage in total silence. The night, which had grown gusty and wet, seemed to have changed as suddenly and mysteriously as Niamh’s life. At the door she paused for a moment and faced her lover, whose annoyed her terribly. “Well?” she said, “well?”

If she had pleaded with him. If she had been penitent, sorrowful! But, unfortunately, it was no penitent face which met his, and jealousy and wrath erupted within him, driving love aside. “Are you asking what I am thinking, Niamh?” he cried, “of the girl who promised me, and who broke her word, and went out with Dermot McCann? Well, I am thinking just nothing at all of her! I have warned her that the boat was not safe, and of the squalls, and that it was not the thing for a girl like her to go so late. She had promised, and yet she went! And this was the Tara brooch made of Connemara marble stones I have bought for you. But, it can go there!” He stormed as he flung the little packet remorselessly into the nearby bushes. “And as for yourself, I think nothing of you at all, everything between us is over. I am now leaving for a new life in Australia tomorrow along with John Campbell. He asked me some time ago, and I said ‘No,’ but I will go now, and will go to Derry this very night! Good-bye.

He turned away from her then, in his fury. All of this passed as suddenly, swept up as unexpectedly as had the squall outside the Cave of Gold. Niamh stood as if dazed, staring straight before her. An Irishman’s anger is like a great storm against which one must bend, and this is what Niamh did now.

Ruairi did not look back. Dermot, in the doorway, saw him stride on to the road, through the little patch of potatoes growing in front of the door. He set his face towards the high road for Derry and a very short time the sound of his footsteps had died away and the darkness of the night had swallowed him. That was all right, Dermot thought to himself, “Australia! Sure, isn’t that the best place for him?

There follows a mist, and a weeping rain,

And life is never the same again!

Niamh might have thought about these words, if she had known them, over the many days that followed. For Ruairi McFee was not the man sort of man to change his mind, nor speak it. He sailed from Derry to Liverpool and within the week he was believed to have boarded a ship for Australia. Many had gone before him and his many friends in Ireland believed he would vanish there. These were the days of sailing ships and slow communication, and Ruairi had never been the kind to write.

But Niamh did not marry her cousin, as everyone expected, including McCann. She told him “No,” gently, but quite doggedly, and nothing that he could say, or that Catriona could cause her to change her mind. Once the old woman muttered vengefully that she would never see the fairies, for she had lost her luck, and Niamh turned on her in a fierce temper. “It is all false,” she cried aloud so all would hear her, “for there are no green folk at all, and I do not care!”

away with the fairiesThe mystery and the charm of life had left her, for she no longer dreamed on the green grass circle, or wonder at the night-song of the burn. She no longer kept watch for the kelpies under the boulders, in the burns, or in the Rowan Pool. Her belief in the fairies had faded on the same night that Ruairi had left her, and only in that little white kirk on the hill-side, would you hear Niamh raise her voice in song. The joys that song can bring dies quickly on one’s lips when care and sorrow lie heavy on one’s heart. Years had passed since that fatal visit was paid to the Cave of Gold, Niamh never mentioned it, and she was returning, in the soft, golden haze of a September evening, from the castle. Catriona was growing feeble, and Niamh did everything she could for her, while the old woman only spun a little, and wandered out to gather sticks and twigs for the fire. The girl had been taking up carded wool to the castle and giving the great London ladies there a spinning lesson. But, before the cottage came into her view, with its surrounding field of poor and thinly growing oats and potatoes, she paused to look up the fairy knoll. There, on the top was the fairy ring and something suddenly made Niamh turn and mount the little hill.

The loch below her vantage point was tinged with red and the sky was a wonder and a glory. But, Niamh was not looking at the sky, or at the loch. She was thinking just how strange it was that she should go on living, and living much as usual, when all that was best and fairest in life was now gone. She sighed, looking down at the stream, splashing and leaping over the grey boulders. There was that story about the kelpies, but her grandmother rarely spoke of them now. Were there really no kelpies? No Fairies? And yet, …

A step behind her had made her stop quickly, and she gave a sharp cry. A man’s tall figure was there, not ten yards off, and the thought came to Niamh that perhaps, after all, it was all true, for this was a ghost! And if there were ghosts, why not wee folk and kelpies? “I believe it is Niamh, herself. Do you not know me, Niamh?

He spoke in a clear voice. There was no hint of a brogue, only the politest English. He spoke easily, with a strange accent. And yet, she knew him at once! It was Ruairi! Ruairi, well-dressed, handsome, upright, with a different and more independent carriage, but Ruairi all the same! Niamh stood quietly for a moment before speaking, “You are a great stranger,” she said. “It is a very long time, I believe, since you have been in Ireland.

He almost smiled. He was looking down at her intently. He wondered how it could be possible that she had changed so little, or had those five years been simply a dream? There, just as he remembered her, was Niamh, with the pale, clear, skin, the deep sloe-eyes, the ruddy crisp hair, and that characteristic little drop of her head! It was the girl that he had turned his back on, and been furious with, and had quite forgotten. Yes, he had quite forgotten her, though he had come back to this place, supposedly just to see how all the old folks were doing. “It is five years,” he said to her, “five years! Are you, are you married, Niamh?

The girl raised her eyes and looked at him. It was getting dark, and the stream was beginning its night-song. Niamh had suddenly noticed that, and she began to remember just how the water used to sing. The lovely, indescribably fragrant breath of the nearby moor swept into their faces by the breeze. It was a sweet and enchanting smell that complemented the velvety depths of her eyes and that beautifully familiar mouth. He wanted to know if she was married and even repeated the question, but with a new and eager ring in his voice, and Niamh shook her head.

Though there have been a good many marriages since you left. There was Marie McLean and Donald McNamee, and there was Colin – ” she began to tell him.

What about McCann, your cousin?

He is to be married this year,” she said, “to an English girl, believe it or not.”

So, you did not marry him, after all, Niamh?

Who said that I would?” she cried, as if she had been slapped. “You knew better than that! Who said that I would?

He did! And he said that you would go with him that night, if he asked you. And you did, Niamh! It was very cruel, but –” Ruairi paused for a moment before saying then, “But I am beginning to think that I was cruel, too. Was I?” He waited and watched her reaction.

Niamh nodded gently and spoke softly to him. “Yes, you were cruel, Ruairi, and you were very hasty. It is true that I was a foolish girl, but you might have given me another chance. I believed in my grandmother’s stories. I wanted to see the good folk.” She looked away, and sadness and disillusion crept over her face. “But I do not believe in them anymore. No, not anymore.”

Poor little Niamh. Poor wee girl!” He began to believe that it could not be five years. It could not, and they had only parted yesterday.

But it does not matter,” said Niamh, “and now perhaps you will call and see my grandmother? Are you on your way now?

Ruairi did not answer that. “Niamh,” he said, “I was very cruel, and I was just as angry as a man could be, and for five years I have been mad and sore. But, deep down, deep down, I never forgot you. I hated him, but I loved you. I will come and see your grandmother, but first, first, will you give me a kiss, Niamh, for the sake of the old days?”

Would she? he wondered. Perhaps, after all, he did not need to wait for her consent. He had her in his arms, and they closed round her, and Niamh’s head fell on his shoulder with a little sob that was a summary of all the five years of sorrow and heartache. “My darling,” Ruairi whispered, “I love you, and when I leave here, you will come too, or I will be staying on here with you. You shall choose Niamh, you shall choose, and to-morrow I will buy you something better than the Tara brooch that I was cruel enough to throw away!”

Together, hand-in-hand, they walked down to the cottage, and Catriona, who was never surprised at anything, shook hands sourly with him. She heard his story in silence, and nodded consent when he told her that he and Niamh were to be married, after all. He could look after the place, she said, or he could buy Con McGill’s farm, just above, if he had the money. Would he have money enough? For Dermot kept her very close now. With a bright smile Ruairi laid a packet in her lap, and said he thought he had money enough.

The next morning, Catriona saw him coming up the road. Niamh ran to meet him, and together they wandered off to the side of the stream. They came back by-and-by, and Niamh stood smiling in the cottage door, her arms full of rowan branches and Ruari had a spray in his coat, and the red berries nestled under her chin. “I have brought you back luck,” the girl cried happily. “We found the rowans down by the pool. And Ruairi says that there are maybe good folk in the world, after all! Who knows, grandmother?”

Catriona’s peat-brown old face was bent over her wheel. She allowed there might be one or two, with a half-grunt of satisfaction.

The Quest Part II

Sorry about the delay folks, but here it is ……

 

When, after many days, Dinny reached the city he went immediately to London Bridge, without stopping for rest or food. His journey had not been easy, often being given wrong directions and, just as often, mistook  turns that led him off course. It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon, with blistered feet, bedraggled clothing, exhausted and agitated, that Dinny joined the crowd of people crossing over the bridge.

Having been born and raised in rural Ireland, everything in this huge, bustling city was so new and so alien to him. It did not take him very long to feel overwhelmed by a place that displayed a complete lack of warmth toward the poor and friendless people who came there to seek their fortune. In such a city, Dinny quickly began to feel insignificant, abandoned, and terrified. He looked at the faces in the crowd as they jostled past him, and he timidly shrank back from their stares and sneers. Dinny stumbled about among the crowd, unable to collect his thoughts and bring himself back to what had brought him there. He began to recall the long, hard journey that he had just undertaken, and where that journey had brought him. Dinny now began to wonder about the words of the vision he had and he began to lose all faith in them. He wondered how stupid he had been for believing in what was nothing more than a simple dream. In his confused state he ran out of the crowd, seeking some kind of sanctuary in the side streets of the city. Finding a quiet, sheltered doorway of an empty shop he sat down, crying himself to sleep as he thought of his poor wife back home, despairing of what the future might bring to her.

Dinny awoke the next morning, a little more rested and a little less agitated, but there was no longer any light of hope in his heart. But, being in a better frame of mind Dinny decided  that the best thing that he could do now was to go back to Ireland, as soon as he had begged, borrowed, or stolen enough money to make his passage easy. With this in mind he moved out into the public areas again and beg from those people who appeared vulnerable to his appeals. It was early in the morning, which he much preferred to the later hours of the day, when the city’s streets would be thronged. On this occasion, Dinny met very few passers-by as he walked  through the streets, and very few of those were able or willing to go give him even a half-penny to him, despite all his pleading, trembling lips and tear-filled eyes.

He wasn’t sure what streets he had taken, or in what direction he had gone. But, by some strange twist of life he found himself once again at London Bridge. This time, however, there was nothing to terrify or overwhelm him. On this occasion there were, fortunately, a lot less people about and those that were moving to and fro made little impression on Dinny. Under such changed circumstances Dinny began to regain some of his self-confidence and soon began to recall the message he had received  from the apparition. “Come on,  Dinny! Get your arse in gear,” he urged himself. “You’re on London Bridge now, so go over every square inch of it to see what good it will do you.

Dinny crossed the bridge and, as he reached the far end, he noticed that a public house was beginning to open its doors to customers. As he walked past this public house he caught sight of an elderly man with sunken eyes, red cheeks and a prominent red nose, whom he was sure he recognised. The elderly man noticed Dinny staring at him and, in return, the elderly man returned his stare, taking his time to decide whom and what he was looking at. Dinny took an immediate dislike to this publican and, uncomfortable at the way he stared at him, Dinny hurried on. “I think I will walk back over on the other side now,” he thought, after giving the elderly publican enough time to finish opening his premises and move indoors again.

But, as Dinny moved past the pub once again, the elderly man appeared. He was leaning against the door-jamb, as if waiting for Dinny’s return and, on this occasion, he took his opportunity to examine the young man much more closely. “What the Hell is wrong with him?” Dinny asked himself. “Do I have two heads and that’s why he is examining me so closely? Ah, sure let him look! Him and his ferret eyes! I’ll just walk on down the middle of the road.

Once again Dinny walked toward the public-house, keeping to the middle of the road this time. “Good morning, friend,” the old publican greeted him, as Dinny passed his door for the third time.

Nervously Dinny replied, “And good morning to you too!” respectfully touching the brow of his battered old hat he was wearing, and began walking a little faster.

Isn’t’ it a bit early for a morning walk?” asked the publican.

Without slackening his pace even a little, Dinny told him, “Aye, it is brave and early.

Sure why don’t you stop for a moment and take the weight off your feet?” the elderly publican asked and Dinny came to an abrupt halt. “I can see by your dress and hear by your voice that you are Irish and a fellow countryman of mine. Sure I would know one of my own people at a glance, even though it is many a years since I left my native home. And if you don’t mind me saying, you’re not looking very well-off on London Bridge this morning. Sit down sure and give us some of your craic.

Ah, sure I know what I look like, sir,” replied Dinny, “I’m about as badly off as a man could be. If it was raining good fortune, sure I would be standing with a fork!

Are you here looking for the work?

In all honesty, no,” Dinny told him. “I just came out here this morning, hoping to beg enough money that will get me at least some of the way.

Well, here is a shilling or two that just might help you,” said the old man. “Why don’t you sit on this bench by the door and I will bring you some bread and cheese to accompany a big mug of tea.

old london bridgeSmiling, Dinny accepted the man’s kind invitation, gratefully. He now blamed himself for having allowed his opinion of the kindly publican to be guided by his first impression of the man. Now, while he ate his bread and cheese, and drank his strong tea, Dinny and the old man talked freely with each other. In fact, Dinny felt so comfortable in the man’s company that he began to really open his heart more and more. The old publican asked the young man about his reasons for coming to London. Dinny, however, didn’t want to give the man the real reason at first, but the more they talked the more Dinny felt it was not right to hide the answer to his generous new friend. “You are probably wondering why I haven’t given you a straight answer, but my reason will sound terribly foolish to you. What brought me to London and London Bridge is an odd sort of dream that came to me in Ireland, which told me to come here and I would get my fortune.

Much to Dinny’s embarrassment, the publican burst into a loud laugh. “Good Jaysus, why would you be so stupid as to put your trust in stupid dreams like that. You know, I have had many of those dreams myself but I never bothered my head with them. In fact, in those days you were travelling and dreaming of finding a pot of gold in London, I was dreaming of finding a pot of gold in Ireland.

Surprised by this revelation, Dinny lay down his empty pint on the table and asked, “Did you?”.

I did, indeed,” the old man smiled. “Night after night an old friar with a pale face, and dressed all in white and black, and a black skull-cap on his head, came to me in a dream. He told me that I should go to Ireland, to a certain spot in a certain county that I know very well, and under the slab of his tomb, that has a cross and some old Latin lettering on it, in an old abbey that I know about, I would find a treasure that would make me a rich man all the days of my life,” he laughed.

Holy God!” Dinny exclaimed and a strange expression came over his face. “Did he tell you that the treasure had lain buried there for a very a long time under the open sky and the old walls?”

No,” replied the publican quietly, “but he did tell me that I would find the slab covered in by a shed that a poor man had lately built inside the abbey for himself and his family.”

Christ!” screamed Dinny, caught off his guard by the sudden joy that he derived from hearing such news, which was also helped by the refreshment he felt after the food he had been given. At the same time, Dinny jumped up from his seat and stared angrily at the man.

“What’s the matter with you?” the publican, frowning and with a look of fear on his face.

I’m sorry friend,” said Dinny quickly as he regained some of his former composure. “Sure there’s nothing is a matter with me, and why should there be? Isn’t what we were talking about just pure nonsense? The funny thing, though, is that you had a dream about your home country, which you haven’t seen in many years. Did you say twenty years?

Dinny, of course, had a very good reason for asking this question. But the old publican was still puzzled at the young man’s sudden change in attitude. “If I said so, I forgot,” answered the publican, “But it is about twenty years, indeed, since I left Ireland.

With manners like yours, and the kind way in which you treat strangers, I would say that you were a man of some note in that place before you left?”

You’re not far wrong, friend. Before misfortunes overcame me, I owned quite a large bit of property as well as the ground upon which that  old ruined Abbey stands. You know, the same one in my foolish dream that I mentioned.

So did that Lucifer’s child of an uncle of mine,” thought Dinny. The young man’s heart pounded heavily and his blood began to boil, but he used every ounce of will to keep calm in the man’s presence. Here before him stood that evil, treasonous man but Dinny decided to hold  his peace for a while longer.

The grounds that the ruins of the old Abbey are on, sir, and the good land that’s around it? And did you say that these lie somewhere in the county that I come from myself?”

And what county would that be, friend?” the publican enquired and Dinny noticed a studious frown return  to his face.

County Armagh,” lied Dinny, as he said the first county name that came into his head.

No, not Armagh. It was in County Louth,” the publican told him.

Was it, indeed?” screamed Dinny, springing up from his chair. He just could not control his temper any longer and blindly lashed out at his uncle, causing him to fall, stretched out, at his feet. It was time now, Dinny decided, to reveal his true identity.

Do you know to whom you are telling this story? Did you know that the sister that you caused to die left behind her a son, who one day might overhear you?” Dinny was now kneeling beside the prostrate man, keeping him down as he struggled.

It is that son, Dinny Sweeney, that is by your side now, and he has more to tell you. That shed that you were talking about, which was built over the old friar’s tombstone was built by the same hands that you now feel on your throat,” Dinny spat out viciously.

He now took a rope from under a nearby bench and began to tie his uncle tightly with it. “That tombstone you mentioned is the  hearthstone of my fire, and now while you are lying here in the cool of the morning, and with no one to help you, I’ll make a start on the journey home. When I get there I will lift that flagstone and get the treasure for myself.

The uncle struggled to free himself and Dinny gave him a very stern warning. “Now you can follow me if you dare! But, you know that you are a wanted man back home, and there is a good reward for your capture.” As the uncle continued to struggle he dislodged a heavy cash bag that he had prepared to deposit in the bank. It fell to the floor and Dinny immediately took possession of it.

Now this will help me to get home all the quicker! I am sure, uncle, you will agree that I deserve to get a little bit of my own inheritance from you. So now, uncle, I wish you a good morning, and bid you farewell!”

Dinny now dragged his bound-up uncle into a back-room of the premises and closed the door. Taking the keys to the premises he shut the front door, locked it, and threw the bunch of  keys into the river. As fast as his feet would carry him, Dinny made his escape, confident that once he was free his uncle would set out after him. He was certain that his uncle would seek revenge for the beating Dinny had given him, and for the bag of cash that he had taken with him. Above all, however,his uncle would track him down, because as an outlawed murderer he would be determined to rid himself of someone who was knew of his true identity, and was prepared to hand him over to the law. What troubled Dinny most was the fact that it would now become a race between him and his uncle as to who would recover the treasure that lay under the old tombstone. He was, therefore, determined not to waste even a minute of time in getting back to that shed he had built in the ruins of the old Abbey again. To assist him he made free use of the money he had liberated from his uncle to purchase speediest means he could to get home first.

After leaving London he went directly to Liverpool, where he would get one of the regular ferries to Ireland. But, because the departure of his ferry was delayed a few hours Dinny started to become anxious that such a delay would allow his uncle to catch up to him. As the ferry finally began to ease its way out of the dock Dinny began to breathe a lot easier at the thought that he would be back in Ireland in a matter of a few hours. He went up on deck to watch the departure and, as he did, Dinny noticed a slight commotion on the dockside. Although the ship was already a good distance from the dock, Dinny could still see the figure of a shouting angrily and pointing towards him. He could not, however, hear what was going on, but he became concerned that the angry man was his uncle. Dinny was greatly relieved as the ferry began to make good speed through the sea, though he was still worried that his uncle might only be an hour or two behind.

A worrying thought came to Dinny’s mind that his uncle just might hire a faster vessel to catch up with him, and even pass the ferry. He stayed on deck for a long while straining to see if such a vessel was pursuing him. Eventually, though, weariness and the want of sleep overpowered him, and he fell into a disturbed slumber from which he would awake covered in a cold sweat. In Dinny’s dream filled sleep he saw a fast vessel bursting through the  of the sea and pulling past the ferry that he was sailing on. But, when morning dawned and he saw the shoreline rise up before him, Dinny felt greatly relieved and went back on deck to see his ship enter the harbour. He had reached Ireland, and yet, there was still niggling feeling within him that his uncle could not be far behind him.

Disembarking his ferry, Dinny hurried home as quickly as he could and, the closer the steam train took him, the easier became his concerns. At last he reached the nearest station to home, and jumping on the platform he rushed to get a taxi that would take that last leg home. The road ahead was a level winding road and any thoughts of being pursued had seemed to have left him. As the sun rose to its highest point the road began to ascend a hillside that was surrounded by a large bog. Only when Dinny’s taxi reached the summit of the hill did he look back along the winding road to see another vehicle speeding up the road from the foot of the hill.

Get a move on, for God’s sake” urged Dinny as the taxi began to speed down the descending road and then along another level section, which continued for at least two miles. At the end of this stretch was another, not as steep as the previous but, as he reached the summit and  looked back, he saw the other vehicle breaking the summit of that previous hill. On and on the chase continued in this fashion, until the road narrowed and began to wind its way through an uncultivated and virtually uninhabited wilderness. Urging the driver onward along the road until, at last, they reached the end of the valley, through which they had been driving. In the distance Dinny could now see the sloping ground and the Abbey ruin, which encircled his poor home with its grey, destroyed walls.

The setting sun was now streaming its warming rays over the land and with the end of his journey in sight he urged his driver to speed on. They had not gone far when there was a loud sputtering noise, and the clanging of metal upon metal. A huge cloud of steam came out of the front of the vehicle and it shuddered to a stop. As he got out of the taxi Dinny could hear the sound of the pursuing car, approaching him along the road. Fear now entered his mind as the vehicle carrying his uncle came nearer and nearer out to him. Straining his ears to listen, Dinny could just hear the feint voice of his uncle crying to him, “Stay where you are!” Within moments the pursuit car screeched to a  sudden stop on the gravel road, and his uncle got out of the car brandishing a revolver. It was he, himself, that had been diving the car, Dinny noticed as his eyes sought an escape route.

The uncle stood directly in front of Dinny and spoke to him menacingly, in a low but clear voice. “I have you now, me Bucko! This bullet is not for the money that you have already taken,  and are about to take from me. No! Neither is it for the beating you gave me, before you tied me up and abandoned me. This bullet is set to close the mouth that, with one word, can get me hung. By your death, nephew, Nephew, I will have life!

Dinny had paid little attention, preferring to plead with God for his life. The fear and confusion that had once gripped him suddenly left him and, just before his uncle spoke his last words, Dinny threw himself at his assailant. In a tight clench they rolled on the ground together, struggling with each other as Dinny felt the barrel of the gun pressed against his chest. He fought now to seize the gun and wrench it from his uncle’s hands, knowing that this alone would help him master the situation. But, with the gun in his hands, and him ready to fire it, Dinny stopped himself from pulling the trigger. He stared down at his uncle, who was still on the ground, and told him, “No! You are the my mother’s and it will not be me who ends your evil filled life. But, rest assured, you wretch, that I can make sure that you never bother me or mine again.

While his taxi driver still had his head stuck under the bonnet of the taxi, and had seen nothing of what had happened. Dinny took his uncle by the scruff of the neck and led him away. Then, taking a small wad of notes from his uncle’s cash bag, that he had taken with him from London, Dinny paid his driver and waved him goodbye. “Sure you can use that car to get someplace for help. I’m sure the money will cover all.”

Aye, it will,” said the taxi driver with a huge smile.

Dinny urged his uncle forward with the hidden revolver pressed up against his back. After a short distance they came upon an old barn, inside of which Dinny found several lengths of heavy rope. With these ropes he securely tied up his uncle’s arms and legs, so that he could not escape, no matter how hard he tried. “Just you lie there,” he told his uncle. “I will send someone we both know well and he will take very good care of you in a cold, lonely cell. And, in the meantime, I will go to the old hearthstone and retrieve my pot full of gold. You, of course, get nothing!” With those words he left his uncle securely tied in the barn.

When he entered his home, Dinny found Nancy nursing her new-born baby as she sat up on the old iron-framed bed. |Annie, the old woman, was still there as he burst into the shed and threw himself on the bed, beside his wife and child, smothering the baby with kisses of joy and tears of happiness. Then he went to the fireplace, and lifting a heavy sledgehammer over his head   he brought it down with one swift movement and smashed the hearthstone.

Are you mad, Dinny?” asked a terrified Annie.

Of course I am,” he replied as he hurriedly removed the broken pieces of the hearthstone.

But, what is it you’re looking for?” the old woman asked.

Our future, Annie! Now you can go!” laughed Dinny as he took her gently by the shoulders and led her out of the shed.

Divil the bit of it!” Annie said. But, Dinny lifted some of the broken pieces of hearthstone and made to throw them at Annie, who quickly sped homeward.

Rushing back into Nancy’s presence he quietly asked, “Do you know what is making this noise?

He lifted handful after handful of gold coin and laughed loudly at the shocked, but happy expression on his wife’s face. Within a few weeks Dinny and Nancy, and their children, settled down to a new life in the house that his parents had once owned, taking over enough land and livestock to secure their future. As for Dinny’s uncle, the police rescued him from the barn and he got his day in court, which sentenced him to a whole of life prison term for murder.

The Quest Part I

It was a cold, wet evening as Dinny Sweeney returned home, a silent, plodding, and sorrowful young man who looked older than his twenty-five years.  He had watched as his old, decrepit father became ill, faded physically, and was laid to rest in his grave. The sun was setting now, warmer than it had previously been and its glorious rays broke through the gaps that were now appearing among the scarlet and grey clouds that were dispersing. From the bough of a tree a thrush sang its song, and was a sound that would often gladden the hearts of those returning from their work in the fields. But, even this joyful tune could do little to lighten Dinny’s mood.

As he looked at the fields that he passed by, noticed just how fruitful they were and the half-matured crops promised the prospect of a good harvest, as well as a prosperous future to come. But, at that moment Dinny’s heart was heavy because it was filled with a deep, dark sorrow, and there was no room for the light of joy to enter. The usual good mood that filled his life had gone from him, and no cheerful birdsong would encourage it to return. The promises being made by the softly undulating fields of light-green wheat, or the silken-surfaced patches of barley, were ignored. Dinny was simply a poor, penniless, friendless, young man, who was groaning under the responsibilities that were now left to him. He was totally worn out by the grief he had born, and was continuing to suffer. At that moment it appeared that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadly, and much to his embarrassment, the body of Dinny’s father had only received a proper burial due to the charity that had been shown by their neighbours. The country people of Ireland are known for coming together when a neighbour is in trouble, and ensure they overcome the problem. Among themselves the neighbours had collected money and made all the necessary arrangements for the burial of Dinny’s father. Such was the degree of respect that Dinny and his father were held within the local community that all their neighbours were saddened by the very low standard of living this hardworking father and son had been reduced.

Abbey RuinsThey lived in an old, almost derelict building, which they called “home.” Dinny was a married man and he had left his young wife lying on an old iron-framed bed, listening to the hungry cries of two small children. As she lay there she awaited the time when she would become the weary, weeping mother of a third child. All the while, as he walked home, Dinny’s mind was filled with a deep bitterness for the family treachery, which left both him and his father to financial destitution. All these years, he and his father, both respectable and hard working men, could have been living a comfortable life in this world only for that despicable act of treachery. Not surprisingly, therefore, Dinny held a deep bitterness and anger at what had happened, and these feelings festered within him the more he contemplated those far off events.

After all these years, Dinny could now only faintly call to mind those days of his early childhood, when he lived in a large house with his parents, and was surrounded by servants and workers of all types. He could remember eating only the best of foods, dressing in the best of clothes, and sleeping on the most comfortable of beds. But, Dinny could also faintly remember that terrible day when their lives changed for the worse. His mind went back to the very strange and very rude people who had forced their way into the house, so many years ago. For some reason, unknown and unclear to him as a boy, his father, servants, and workers were all turned out of the house, and left without anything. It was something of a blessing that Dinny’s mother had died just prior to this event and she had not been forced, as they had been, to seek warmth and shelter in a place almost unfit for human habitation. It was only when Dinny had reached the age of eighteen years, that his father had given him a full explanation of what had happened all those years before.

Dinny’s father was the youngest son of a large, wealthy farmer, who divided his lands between his two eldest children. In those far off days it was tradition among Catholic families that the youngest son joined the priesthood. It was this that was to be the fate of Dinny’s father and the family sent him abroad for his education, providing him with a liberal allowance while he studied. But, a few days before he was due to be ordained he returned home to visit his family and friends, joining with them to celebrate the beginning of his priestly ministry.

Being the first person from the district to reach the stage of ordination, Dinny’s father soon became something of a minor celebrity and was invited into the homes of many of the local dignitaries from all faiths. It was while he was a guest in the home of one wealthy local Protestant family, that he met the owner’s sister. She was a very beautiful young lady, who was quite wealthy in her own right. When this young woman talked and smiled sweetly at Dinny’s father any idea of him being a candidate for priesthood began to disappear, and he fell totally in love with her. By the end of the evening he had abandoned the entire idea of dedicating his life to the service of others. But, such a relationship between Catholic and Protestant had its opponents, and the couple were forced to run away together and get married in private. By doing this, however, they brought upon themselves the deep hostility of both families, particularly his own. It took them a considerable period of time until they were eventually accepted by her kindly and generous brother. With the help and guidance of this man the young couple regained much of their reputation among their neighbours, and they settled into the house which filled much of Dinny’s childhood memory. It was in that house that he spent a very happy childhood, at least until he reached the age of six years.

This kindly man died quite unexpectedly a few years later and, being unmarried, his only direct heir was his brother. This uncle of Dinny’s was not, however, as generous as his brother and had spent a good portion of his life as an unsuccessful lawyer in Dublin. It did not take him long to show everyone that he had inherited his brother’s wealth. But, he wasted even less time to show that he had inherited very little of his amiability and generosity of character. The one thing that he did demonstrate quite rapidly was his deeply felt enmity toward his sister and her husband. He made it absolutely clear that his actions against this couple were his revenge for her decision to marry a Roman Catholic. Such was his enmity towards them that he refused even to see them when they came to welcome him after his arrival in the district. At the same time he would not even consider accepting any invitation to visit their home.

Dinny’s mother was very sensitive woman who disliked all forms of confrontation, and she had hoped the enmity of her family was a thing of the past. But, the conduct of her brother at this time caused the poor woman great stress and put a great deal of pressure on her unborn child. In fact, such was the strain on her that the lady went into premature labour, during which she gave birth to a lifeless baby, and she unexpectedly died due to the efforts she had made.

Because they were so young neither Dinny’s father or mother had expected her to die so suddenly, and without ever making a will in Dinny’s favour. Through various legal trickery and numerous underhand dealings, the brother-in-law successfully managed to have her private marriage to Dinny declared null and void. Under such circumstances the law declared that the nominal husband did not have any rights to her property. Both Dinny’s parents had been living of his wife’s wealth and , with her death, this was now the only source of income from which Dinny’s father could maintain his family in comfort. Almost immediately the avenging brother set about gaining control of his sister’s property, and had little trouble in achieving this. As a result, with hardly a penny to their name Dinny and his father were forced to take up residence in a distant, and almost derelict cabin. By hiring himself out as a field hand  he was just about managed to feed and clothe his child, raising him up to be a fine, respectable young man. Then, as his father grew older and weaker, Dinny was able to shoulder some of the old man’s burden and work to better their lot in life. Now, after burying his father, it was to this ramshackle of a cabin that Dinny trudged home with heavy steps.

Dinny later discovered that this evil and malicious uncle did not enjoy his spoils for very long, but this certainly did not make him feel any happier. The uncle, in fact, only enjoyed his newly acquired wealth for only a very few years after he had gained possession of it. He was despised for the cruel manner in which he had treated his relatives, and for the scrooge-like meanness and vulgarity that he had displayed toward everyone. He constantly kept watch for any and all opportunities to use his wealth to gain revenge of all of his enemies. The only problem he faced, however, was that his legitimate income was totally insufficient to achieve his goal in a reasonable period of time. He had, therefore, to consider indulging in illegal means of gaining sufficient wealth to achieve his aims. Because he had lived so close to the coast he decided that his best route to obtaining a fortune was for him to engage in some large-scale smuggling operations.

Dinny’s uncle was not the businessman or criminal mastermind that he had thought he was. Despite every precaution that he took to ensure he would not be caught, the former lawyer did fall foul of the law and received some hefty fines that caused him to lose over half of his property. The ensuing bad publicity arising from his failed smuggling operations did, however, cause him to take much more desperate measures. Rashly he attempted yet another wild scheme, which he hoped would retrieve his fortunes, but was once again surprised by the forces of law and order. On this occasion he, and his gang of smugglers, were confronted by the revenue officers and, in the struggle that followed, he killed one of their number. In the confusion that followed the tragic incident the uncle had ran away from Ireland, and had not been heard of again for over twenty-years. Local people had speculated that he hid himself in London and was living somewhere in that city under an assumed name. One thing everyone was certain about was that he was financing his new life through some illegal means, that allowed him to continue to enjoy all the vices that he experienced when living as a Lawyer in Dublin.

Dinny had no idea about what his uncle’s fate had been, because all of these things had happened when he was only a child, and had no interest in the business of adults. He had learned about his uncle’s activities and his exile much later, and from the reports of others who had known his uncle well. As a matter of fact, Dinny did not even know what his uncle looked like and, in all honesty, he didn’t care to know. If Dinny had shown some pleasure at the downfall and disgrace of that man there would not have been one person who would have blamed him. But, Dinny showed not one sign of enjoying his uncle’s fate, because such thoughts could do very little, if anything, to alleviate the misery of his current situation.

Heavy footed, Dinny trudged under a large, open arch that was part of the Old Abbey ruin, and he then entered that squalid shed that he called home, which rested against the Old Abbey’s wall. Just at that moment his heart felt as if it had been completely shattered into so many pieces that he felt as dismal as those ruins that rose up around him. As he entered that cabin there no words of greeting between him and his young wife. She was sitting where he had left her, on the old iron-frame bed, mechanically rocking their youngest child in her arms. As she rocked slowly to and fro she emitted feeble and mournful noises that described her feelings of utter hopelessness.

Silently Dinny went to the makeshift hearth and set light to a fire of dry, withered twigs mixed with pieces of tree branch.  As the fire took light he took from his several potatoes that he had been had been given by a kindly neighbour an hour or two earlier, and he placed these among the glowing embers of  the fire. He watched as the potatoes were roasted to a satisfactory level before he removed them, and divided them between his wife and the crying children. The hours passed by silently until the moon rose high in the dark night sky, signalling it was time for bed. Exhausted by the day’s events, Dinny sank himself upon the couch from which his father’s mortal remains had been laid during the wake, and from which they had been lifted to be brought to the burial ground. He had not eaten that day, not even one of the potatoes that he had roasted, and yet he did not feel at all hungry.

As his beloved wife and children slept soundly in the quiet of the night, Dinny lay for hours unable to sleep or even close his eyes for any length of time. From the place where he lay, Dinny could see, through the large window at the front of the derelict cabin, and he contemplated the ruins of the old Abbey. He simply lay there, deep in his own thoughts. The silence that filled the cabin gradually brought a sense of desolation to him that felt almost like a special spiritual moment with God. The magical effect created by alternate moonshine and darkness, of objects and their various parts finally diverted Dinny’s mind but could not relieve it from its troubles. He finally came to his senses once again, remembered where he was, and he suddenly began to feel like he was an intruder among the dwellings of the dead.

Looking out of the cabin window Dinny also called to mind that this was also the time when spirits would reveal themselves in the remote, lonely and obscure place. They would flit here and there among the crumbling walls and intricate arches that had once formed the Abbey. As Dinny’s eyes fixed upon a distant stream of cold light, or of blank shadow, the movement of some bushes hanging from the walls, or the flapping of some night-bird’s wings, caused a stir of alarm as it came and went. He began to think that, perhaps, some ghost had shown itself challenged and disappeared so quickly that he had failed to see it. Dinny would, however, remember the causes of real terror even though he could not really tell if he was awake or asleep as this new circumstance caught his attention.

That night the full moon shone its light through the window of the cabin and settled upon the hearth. When Dinny turned his attention to this particular spot he saw, standing before him, the image of a man, advanced in years, though not very old. This image stood motionless with its gaze fixed upon him.  Strangely, the still, pale face of the image shone like marble in the moon’s beam, and yet Dinny could not tell if there was any solidity to that strange image or not. The forehead of the image cast long, deep shadows over its eyes, but left those normally very expressive features both vague and uncertain.

Upon the head of the image was a close-fitting black cap, and the image itself was dressed in a loose-sleeved, plaited garment of white, which flowed down to the ground. In every way it resembled the costume which Dinny had seen in a small framed and glazed print that hung in the sacristy of the humble chapel, which had been recently built not far from the ruin. Those who had built the chapel were descendants of the great religious fraternity to whom the Abbey had belonged in its hey-day. With a puzzled expression on his face, Dinny returned the fixed gaze of this midnight visitor. Then he heard a voice speaking to him and telling him, “Dinny Sweeney, get yourself to London Bridge, and you will become a very rich man.

“London Bridge? Aye, that would be right enough,” said Dinny as he rose quickly from his bed.

But, as quick as it had appeared the strange figure was gone again. With eyes still filled with tiredness, Dinny stumbled among the cold, black embers that were scattered on the hearthstone, where the image had been standing, and he fell prostrate to the ground. That fall caused Dinny to experience a change of sensation. Now he could see the objects surrounding him much more clearly, which he chose to explain to as being the transition from a sleeping to a waking state of mind.

Dinny managed to crawl back into his bed but he got very little sleep that night. His mind filled entirely with those words that the image had spoken to him, and wondered what the entire incident meant. As he thought about this encounter he felt it would be better if he said nothing about his vision to anyone, and especially his wife. In the present conditions, Dinny was worried that news of the encounter might just increase her present anxiety and her over the edge. As for the advice that the strange image had given him, Dinny decided to do nothing but wait to see if this messenger returned.  Despite his initial doubts, the messenger did return, appearing in the same place, at the same time hour of the night, and wearing the same clothes. But, on this occasion, the expression on the face of the apparition had changed, now looking more stern and determined. “Dinny Sweeney,” the vision called out to him, “why have you not gone to London Bridge, and your wife being so near the time when she will need what you are to receive by going there?  Remember that you have now been given a second warning.

“But, tell me, what am I to do on London Bridge?” asked Dinny as he rose again and moved toward the figure. Once again, however; the mysterious figure vanished as quickly as it had first appeared. Nonetheless, the apparition had once again stimulated his interest in what he might find at London Bridge, if he should go there. At the same time Dinny was somewhat surprised and annoyed at the angry attitude that had been displayed by the apparition. But, that was another day wasted on worrying about how he could undertake such a long journey to London without a penny in his pocket. There was also the added concern that it was almost time for his wife to go into labour and give birth to their child. For Dinny such a journey was neither possible or sensible, and he wondered if he could bring himself to obey any such recommendation made to him under such circumstances. However, Dinny remained unsure about the validity of the apparition’s message, because he had been told that a dream instructing him how to get rich should be experienced three times before it could be considered authentic.

Dinny lay down again on the bed and hoped that his vision might just return a third time. Still, much to his surprise, this hope was realised.  “Dinny Sweeney,” said the apparition, looking angrier than previously, “you have not yet gone to London Bridge, although I hear your wife crying out, telling you to go. This, remember, is my third warning to you.”

I know that, but just tell me….” But, before Dinny could say another word the apparition disappeared and, at the same moment, he thought he could hear the voice of his wife. It was weak and was coming from the old iron-framed bed, and it sounded as if she was about to go into labour. Dinny went immediately to her and after brief, excited conversation he left the cabin in a hurry and went to fetch a neighbouring woman who would act as midwife to the poorest women who were in the same condition as his wife, Nancy.

Please hurry over to her, Annie,” he urged the woman. “Do the best that you can do for her. Would you also tell her from me……” Dinny stopped, breathed heavily and wrung his hands nervously.

Dinny, my son! What is wrong with you, boy?” old Annie asked him. “What in the name of God is causing you to cry so bitterly this early in the morning?

Will you tell her from me,” continued Dinny, “that I ‘ll be praying, both morning and evening, that God will give her ease in her ordeal and provide us with a good, healthy child, just like the other two that He has given us. Tell her I won’t be far away and I will be ready to return as soon as I can.

Just what are talking about, Dinny?

It’s not important, Annie. May God be with you, and with her, and with the wee ones! Just tell her what I have said, and also tell her that Dinny has left her at this time of need with more love in my heart for her than on the first day that we came together. I will be back, and of that she should have no doubt. Whether I will be richer or poorer when I return, God alone only knows the answer. So, I will say goodbye, Annie, and don’t let her go hungry for the sake of a mouthful of potatoes and cabbage, while I’m away. I must leave now because my dream commands it, and I dare not look at her in case one word from her would convince me to stay.

With these final words Dinny rushed off, although he was not at all sure what roads would take him to London Bridge. He walked and begged his way along the coast to a port                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        where he hoped to embark a ferry bound for England. Hiring himself out on the docks, Dinny gathered enough money for his passage to South Wales, from where he once again walked and begged his way to the great city of London.

Bisto and the Priest Part II

Lizzie Kelly was a lady in her early sixties, a widow, and the housekeeper for the priests in the parochial house. Father Lennon always enjoyed his Sunday morning stroll and he always looked forward to the Sunday Dinner that Lizzie prepared. There was always a Steak Roast, done to perfection in the oven and accompanied with peas, carrots, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and a thick, brown, onion gravy that sat in a porcelain gravy-boat in the centre of the table. Father Lennon could smell the beautiful aromas of the Sunday meal wafting from Lizzie’s kitchen. She, however, met him at the door of her kitchen and told him rather sternly, “There is someone here who has been waiting almost an hour for you, Father.”

“Who would that be?” he asked.

Lizzie was back at her usual station, fussing around all the pots and pans that were smoking and hissing on top of the stove. But she stopped for a moment and told him, “It’s that woman from the Primary School, Father. She is sitting in the parlour.”

“Ms. Ryan the headmistress?” he asked.

“That’s right,” replied Lizzie without even looking at him. “It’s Philomena Ryan, with all her airs and graces,” she sneered, putting her nose in the air at the very mention of Philomena Ryan’s name.

Father Lennon was puzzled as to why Philomena Ryan would ask for him. “I wonder what she would want me for?” he said aloud.

Lizzie’s didn’t know and could care less about what Philomena Ryan wanted: the food was almost ready to be served and she had no time to spend answering such questions. More importantly she did not like Philomena and just wanted her to leave. “Now, that woman would not tell the likes of me what she wanted, Father,” Lizzie told the priest. He immediately realised the error of his ways, for he knew that there was not one person in the entire district who would confide in Lizzie Kelly. She knew it as well as he did.” Better you go and see to it Father, you have only ten minutes until I put the lunch on the table.”

“Better get to it,” he said as he left the kitchen and Lizzie could get on with the meal. He walked across the hallway to the parlour, where the headmistress was waiting for him.

“Hello Ms. Ryan,” Father Lennon greeted the lady, politely. She was sitting on a high back chair that sat at a huge, highly polished, rosewood table near to the window. “I am so sorry for keeping you, but the duties of a priest you know,” Fr. Lennon explained to her with a polite smile. But Philomena Ryan maintained her stern pose as if she was set in granite. She was a typical middle-aged spinster and was totally self-obsessed with her status as an important personage in the town. Usually Ms. Ryan was usually the first to be consulted by certain groups, concerning “run of the mill” problems encountered within this Parish. Only, on this occasion, it was the mighty one who was the person needing guidance on handling some difficulty or other.

“It is of no concern Father. I fully understand” she politely assured Fr. Lennon. “But, the matter I need to speak to you about is an extremely serious problem,” Philomena told him in a quiet voice that was deliberately hard to hear since she did not want to be overheard discussing such things with a priest. “This problem, Father, is so serious that it requires your immediate attention before things get out of hand.”

The priest could hear a definitive tone of concern in her voice and he was eager to discover what had caused her so much consternation, “My dear Ms. Ryan, whatever has caused you so much trouble? Please tell me what has happened?”

“It’s that old pervert, O’Dee, Father,” she told him quietly and took a quick glance around the room to make sure no one else could hear.

old-man-in-the-woods“Slinky O’Dee?” Father Lennon asked in a similarly quiet voice. He should have known that it would be about that lecherous old man. Almost every other day the priests or the police received a complaint about this troublemaker and, yet, the priest was slightly amused by this mention of one of the district’s oldest perverts.

Ms. Ryan’s face blushed red as she answered, “Yes Father. I believe that is the name he uses to describe it.” She lowered her eyes to the ground in embarrassment at the fact that she had to discuss such things with a member of the clergy.

“Calls what, Ms. Ryan?” asked Father Lennon, already knowing the answer but wanting to make things a little bit more difficult for this interfering busybody.

Again, her eyes scanned the room in search of prying ears before she answered him, very quietly, “His thing, Father.”

“His what?” asked the priest, pretending lack of understanding.

“His penis,” Philomena hissed out at him, as if spitting the words out of her mouth. She was annoyed at having been obliged to use the word, which she believed no lady should have to utter.

“Ohhh! I see” said Fr. Lennon,” His thing?”

“Yes, Father,” the embarrassed woman told him. “He has been exposing his “Slinky” to the girls on their way home from school after classes.”

“Disgusting beast,” the priest said. “And where does he expose his Slinky?”

“He lies in wait in the trees and bushes around the corner from the bus stop. When the girls least expect it, he jumps out from the trees into the middle of the girls, wiggling it about in front of these children. He is a disgusting little man and should be put away,” she demanded. Then, believing she had misspoke in the presence of the priest, she stopped and apologized, “I beg your pardon for my coarse language and anger.”

“Please Ms. Ryan,” he assured her. “There is no need for embarrassment. Your feelings are quite understandable under the circumstances.” He contemplated for a moment then, speaking directly to her, he said, “Something must be done.”

She smiled slightly at Father Lennon’s assurances and continued, “He has done the same thing with older girls and even women, but he soon found that they were fit for him and his ways.” Ms. Ryan pointed out. “Mrs. Brady grabbed him by the collar one evening and gave him a good hefty kick in his Slinky. He couldn’t walk properly for a week after it.”

Fr. Lennon laughed to himself quietly at the idea of wee Mrs. Brady assaulting Slinky O’Dee. But Father Lennon quickly realised that incident was a serious escalation in “Slinky” O’Dee’s actions and that he had to do something to stop him.

“This might mean we will have to involve the police,” Fr. Lennon suggested and noticed that Ms. Ryan flinched, almost in horror, at the prospect of involving the police.

“Dear God, Father,” she said. “I don’t know about involving the police. It would mean I would be called to give evidence against the man. We must think about the school and about the children. Whatever would people say?”

Father Lennon fully appreciated the woman’s concerns and tried to ease her anxieties. “Just you leave it to me Ms. Ryan. I will sort it out quietly,” Fr. Lennon assured her.

“Thank you, Oh, thank you, Father,” she said with great relief. Now that she had told the Priest she felt much better. Furthermore, she knew that whatever the priest eventually decided to do, it would be the right thing. Much more content, Ms. Ryan shook Fr. Lennon’s hand firmly and left the presbytery.

As he closed the front door on the departing Ms. Ryan he sighed with relief, “Now for my dinner.” It was yet another duty done but not yet fully completed Fr. Lennon said aloud to himself with a sense of relief.

The next day, Monday, at quarter-past two Father Lennon went into the hallway of the parochial house and put on his overcoat. He had decided to go to the bus stop where, it was alleged, Slinky O’Dee was causing some trouble. The children would soon be getting out of school and he wanted to get himself into position before anyone else arrived. When he reached the bus stop he chose to conceal himself in some bushes, which gave him an excellent view of the road. He heard the school bell ring loudly in the afternoon quietness, informing the children that it was time to burst out of the gates and go home. But, as the sound of the school bell ringing came to an end, Father Lennon heard a suspicious rustle among the bushes a few yards from where he was hiding. It was Slinky and he waited until several young girls had gathered at the bus stop before bursting out of the bushes. Out he jumped with his trousers around his ankles and exposed the entire lower half of his body, making lewd gestures and laughing lecherously. Swiftly the priest moved against him, grabbing Slinky by the scruff of his neck and pulling him backwards into the bushes as the girls looked on in amazement. Once he had gotten Slinky into cover of the bushes, Father Lennon lifted his big, heavy boot and planted it firmly into the old pervert’s backside. Slinky howled with the pain as the priest’s boot connected with his cocyx and, just for good measure, Father Lennon gave him two more hefty kicks in his rear end. Slinky screamed loudly with the pain and began to beg Father Lennon for mercy. The priest showed mercy by letting him go and pushing him away but, the force of Fr. Lennon’s push threw Slinky to the ground, where his bare buttocks settled into a patch of stinging nettles and thistles. Father Lennon bent over the crying man and warned him, “Now you listen to me, Slinky O’Dee! You ever do anything like this again I will give you the biggest kicking you have ever gotten in your life. Then, when I am done I will ensure you get jail as a sex pervert. Now get out of here and sin no more.” Still screeching, Slinky squirmed and shuffled to remove his red, bruised and stinging backside out of the nettles. Very little was seen of him again in the town and there were no more incidents reported. The duties of a priest in Ireland are not just to lead people in prayer.

Bisto and the Priest Part I

The small town in which I have lived most of my long life is not much different from any other small rural town in Ireland. There are some towns that may be larger than others, and some that are smaller, but in each of these towns lives at least one character whose reputation is known both far wide. Sadly, almost every town contains some people who are known for their anti-social activities, which attract the anger of their fellow residents. Their actions within the community gain for them disparaging names, such as ‘Wastrels’, ‘Spongers’ and ‘Jam Trampers’, among their neighbours. While the offenders might be worthy of such names, in many cases, the community is inclined to rush to judge others, based on the antics of one person. Far too often people are too quick to “tar” a troublemaker’s entire family with the same “brush”. They fail to accept that each person is an unique individual in their own right and they fail to measure each on their own individual merits. In my own town, most of the anti-social behavior that we experience can be traced to the age-old human weakness for alcohol, which seems to be an ever-present problem for some within Irish society.

As a proud Irishman I confess that I am not teetotal. I enjoy the occasional drink or two, and I can see no reason why any hard-working man or woman should not be allowed to enjoy one or two glasses of their favourite alcoholic beverage. The choice, after all, is theirs and so long as they can afford to buy the drink, who has the right to stop them. My tolerance, however, does start to wear a bit thin when a man or a woman drinks excessively, spending all that they have without giving a thought to the welfare of their spouse or children at home.

In my hometown the majority of those who take a drink are, thanks be to God, very mature people who enjoy moderation in all things. They are not the type of people, from my experience, who would ever consider leaving their families short of money and food just for the sake of alcohol. But, as is the case in most things, there are exceptions to any rule. There are always those who have no sense of responsibility or feel accountable for any of the actions they take. We have all seen men and women, both young and old, who seem to always spend their government welfare benefits on beer, lager or spirits without much thought being given to the family at home. Even worse are those who work all week and, after getting their wages, they spend it all on alcohol even before they reach home. When they eventually stagger home all they bring with them are empty pockets and a foul mouth for those left hungry and bedraggled. Sadly, in my opinion, the spouses would be much better off as single parents to enjoy life without fearing the mental and physical abuse that an alcohol dependent man or woman can bring to a family.

Now, I am only too aware that such things are not confined to Ireland or the Irish people in general. Yet, I can tell you that in our small town one of the most sober, considerate and compassionate men is the Parish Curate, Fr. Lennon. He stands over six feet tall in his socks, and he has been graced with a physique like a main battle tank. The man’s hands are just massive lumps of flesh and bone, resembling great sledge hammers that are ready to deal out punishment to any potential opponent.

Within our small town and the county Father Lennon had built a big reputation for himself as a tough centre full-back for the County Football Team. Although he wears the garments of a man of God there are very few members of the opposing teams who could get past him with the ball in their hands without first suffering some sort of injury, minor or otherwise. Then, at the lectern, every Sunday morning the same man preaches proudly about sin, violence, fair play, sex and the evils of alcohol.

Every Sunday, since he retired from playing football, there was no activity that Fr. Lennon liked to do more than to take a leisurely walk through the town. His usual route took him past “River View”, which was one area of the town that was one of the most socially challenged areas of the town, because it mostly low-income families that resided there. Consequently, it was an area that Father Lennon frequently visited in his Parish pastoral visits and, in its two hundred feet length, there were six very small, old, two-bedroom cottages without central heating or indoor plumbing. The families that lived in this small street were obliged to draw fresh water from a pump at the foot of the lane. They were also obliged to share the discomfort of a communal toilet area, with a chemical toilet, at the back of the cottages. It was, for the want of a better description, a slum area that was long-past its time for redevelopment. For a long time, Fr. Lennon had been urging the local authorities to demolish the cottages and rehouse the residents in more modern accomodation. His appeals, however, had been falling on deaf ears.

One Sunday morning, as he turned into “River View” he was almost knocked over by a small, scruffy boy who looked to be about eight years old. The boy had been running so fast, and with his head down, that he had not noticed the priest walking on the footpath. Father Lennon managed to stop the boy from crashing into him by grabbing his shoulders and, steadying him. He asked the boy, “Where in the name of God are you going to?”

Breathlessly the boy replied, “Oh Jesus, Father! My Da is murdering my Ma!” Through the grubbiness of the boy’s face, and the long, tatty hair that flowed almost to his shoulders, the priest could see a great fear in the boy’s eyes. “I need to get away from him before he starts into me!” he stammered.

Dublin Slum ChildrenFr. Lennon immediately recognised the boy as being Sean Mackey, and one of fourteen children that belonged to Mary and “Bisto” Mackey. Sean bore such a resemblance to his father that anyone who knew “Bisto” could easily identify the son, and “Bisto” was, by no means, unknown in the small town. He was, without doubt, a troubled man and was known to regularly beat his wife, which Fr. Lennon thought was a disgusting act to be perpetrated by any man. It was time, he thought to himself, to take some action and try to get “Bisto” to desist from acts of violence against his wife and family. Bracing himself to face down an angry “Bisto” Mackey, Father Lennon moved down the row of houses until he came to the Mackey’s bright blue, front door. It was already slightly opened, probably caused by young Sean’s hasty escape, and he could hear raised voices coming from within, swearing and damning each other. Without knocking on the front door, or even announcing himself, the priest walked on into the house, to the living room. Here he saw Mary sitting on an old, battered armchair in a very bedraggled condition, tears in her eyes and her mouth was bleeding slightly. As he came closer to the woman, Fr. Lennon noticed that one of her eyes was very badly swollen and several bruises were beginning to rise on her face. “Bisto”, was standing over his wife, shaking his clenched fist at her, and he was shouting all sorts of obscenities at the poor woman.

“Ah, just shut your big gob, Bisto!” and angry Father Lennon demanded. “If you put that fist of yours near her again I will personally lay you out flat on your back!” the priest warned.

“Bisto” immediately stopped his threatening manner and stared sullenly at the priest. “This is none of your business,” Bisto told Father Lennon angrily. “Do you think that dog-collar you wear will save you from a thumping?”

“I don’t need a dog-collar to protect me,” replied the priest confidently and drew himself up to his full height, showing his muscularity to its best. Bisto took a second glance at the clergyman and began to regret his antagonism toward him.

“Now, just you sit yourself down there, Bisto,” Father Lennon said calmly, pointing toward an empty armchair. “Let us try and get this nonsense sorted out.” As “Bisto” moved toward the chair Father Lennon scanned the room and noticed several young girls huddled in a corner and seeking protection beneath a heavy table.

“You,” he called out to one of the girls who appeared to be the eldest. “Will you please get me a clean cloth and some clean water, so we can get your mother cleaned up.” The young girl said nothing in reply, but she crawled from under the table and nervously moved into the kitchen.

“This is all that bitch’s fault, Father,” Bisto said. “No matter what I say or do she just continually nags me. She drives me mad, the ungrateful trollop!”

“Bitch, Trollop, these are not words a man uses to describe his wife, the mother of his children, and a woman as good as Mary,” Fr. Lennon told him. With this said he spoke no more but lifted the bowl of clean water from the young girl. Using the clean cloth that had been brought he began to gently dab at the cuts and bruises with the cool, clear water. “Tell me, Bisto,” he said after a few minutes, “what kind of a thrill does it give you to beat a defenceless woman? The mother of your children.”

“It is not enjoyment, Father,” Bisto told him angrily. “She drives me to it. Mary’s always nagging me about having a few drinks, and about spending time with my friends”.

“Because you are never out of the pub,” snapped Mary with a fire in her eyes and wincing under the attention Fr. Lennon was giving her eye and nose. “You spend every penny you have on your friends and drink. We have no food on our table and our children run around in rags. I don’t see too many of your so-called friends giving us anything. Yet you still buy them drinks.”

Bisto jumped to his feet once again and moved toward Mary. “Do you see what I mean Father?” he asked.

Mary visibly trembled with fear as Bisto came closer. “I don’t have to open my mouth for him to give me a dig in it. He comes home drunk and lashes out at me for no reason. If there’s no food on the table he beats me,” Mary declared.

Bisto shook his fist threateningly at Mary and told her, “Just keep your mouth shut and do what I tell you!”

“Will the two of you be quiet?” demanded an exasperated Fr. Lennon as he continued to clean up the cuts on Mary’s face. “The two of you are concerned about little victories over each other and don’t seem to care about what your fighting is doing to those poor children,” he pointed out to them. “I think it is time that I talked some sense into you both.”

The Priest finished cleaning up Mary’s cuts and bruises. Handing the bowl back to the oldest girl in the family he turned to face Bisto, who appeared to be still quite inebriated. He looked up at the husband, who was now standing above him and asked, “Where did you get the drink so early on a Sunday morning?”

“’Wee Minnie’s’ Pub, Father,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ”Bisto replied. “All you do is rap the back door and you can get whatever you want, Father.” He was smiling very slyly at the priest and winking his eye conspiratorially. “It’s all done on the quiet, Father. You know what I mean?”

Angrily Father Lennon snapped at him, him “No! I don’t know what you mean, because it is illegal!”

“Ah, but sure everyone does it,” Bisto laughed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

“That doesn’t make it right,” replied the priest. “But I would know how you paid for it.”

Bisto shied away a little and muttered, “I had a few pounds.”

“I understand that, but where did those few pounds come from?”

“Tell him,” interrupted Mary. “Tell him what you did!”

“Be quiet, woman,” snarled Bisto.

Father Lennon looked sternly at the man and urged him, “Come on Bisto, man up and tell the truth.”

“With the last of the Family Allowance,” he confessed.

“The last bit of money we had,” cried Mary.

“Do you want another slap woman?” Bisto asked angrily and lifted his hand to Mary threateningly.                  

The priest now stood up, towering above Bisto, and asked, “Would you like me to give you one?” He then moved closer to the drunken man and told him, “I will lay you out flat if you ever touch her in my presence, you gobshite!” He sat                                                                                                                                        down on a chair for he was not about to take any chances with this bulk of a man, man of God or not.

“Father,” Mary interjected. “There is no food for the children and he has left me with no money to buy any. What am I to do? I can’t let them starve.” She was crying, and her tears ran down her cheeks. Mary’s eyes, red and swollen from the battering she had received at Bisto’s hands were beginning to darken as bruises formed. The right eye, particularly, was almost a purple-black colour already.

She nodded her head in agreement saying, “Yes, Father.”

“You’re far too kind Father,” said Mary, lifting the corner of her cardigan to wipe the tears in her eyes. Fr. Lennon replaced the wallet into his pocket before turning to both Mary and Bisto, telling them, “Listen, both of you. Someone has to look after this precious family for you two are not doing it.” He had succeeded in calming down both parties to the dispute and now began the task of negotiating a settlement and some sort of reconciliation. He looked kindly at the children and said to them, “Why don’t you go outside and play in the Lane for a while? Don’t come back in until I call you. Ok?”

“Yes Father,” they replied, almost in unison.

Over the following two hours the priest tried everything he knew to get the warring parties to agree to a cessation of their hostilities and set up a peace plan of sorts. By the end of the first hour Bisto had regained at least some sobriety and he began to weep as he answered the priest’s questions. He was encouraged, thereafter, to talk about his feelings and particularly his feelings for his wife. Bisto talked about the difficulty in finding work, his depressed condition at the lack of money the concern he had for his children living in a totally unsuitable house. He also professed his deep sorrow at having hit his wife and he vowed that he would never raise his hand to her again. At the same time Fr. Lennon succeeded in persuading Mary to accept her faults in the relationship. She was still weeping, and she got down on her knees, swearing she would never say another nagging word to Bisto. He now got down on his knees in front of his wife and they embraced each other comfortingly.

“I swear no more squandering money on drink, Mary!” Bisto told his wife tearfully.

“We will work our way through all these difficulties,” Mary told him, still sobbing. “There is absolutely no problem that we cannot overcome if we work together.”

Putting his hand on top of his wife’s head, Bisto stroked her hair softly. It is something he used to do when they were a courting couple and Mary enjoyed these special moments. “We will overcome these difficulties, Mary. You take the next family allowance payment and get yourself a new pair of shoes, or a skirt, or something.”

It was a special moment and Mary was happy to hear Bisto being so concerned for her welfare. But, Mary believed there were more important things that they needed to do. “We should see to the Kids first,” she urged

They were now hugging each other and kissing as Fr. Lennon turned and moved toward the front door. His job was done, and he decided he could now leave them to their own devices. It was time for him to now hurry home to the presbytery, hoping that he would not be too late for lunch. Father Lennon had been obliged by circumstance to forego his usual Sunday walk and yet, in his opinion, the time had been well spent and he was satisfied.

Bob Harte Part II

It was over a year since the tragic death of Paddy Slane when the Curate of the Church was given a letter that was delivered to him by hand. The letter that he received was a polite request for a funeral to be conducted within the Church, and it contained a series of instructions as to how the family wished the grave to be prepared. Because it was not the responsibility of the Curate to act upon such instructions personally, and he, therefore,     sent a message to Bob Harte, asking him if he would call at the Curate’s house to be briefed on the family’s requests.

It was a heavy, early autumn night and there were large numbers of threatening thunder-clouds slowly rising from the earth, loading the sky with a dark and foreboding storm canopy. The deep, low growl of a distant thunder and could be heard echoing over many miles on the dull, still air of the night. It appeared almost as if all of nature had chosen to cower under the threatening influence of the approaching storm. The old clock in the hall had just struck nine o’clock when Bob put on his coal-black coat, and he readied himself to attend to the Curate’s message.

Listen to me now, Bobby darlin’,” said Bob’s wife quietly as she handed him his hat, after she had taken it from the hat-rack. “Will you just go straight there and come straight home again,  won’t you Bobby darlin’? You’ll not go near, the you know where?

What are you talking about, woman?” he replied rather tersely and snatched his hat from her hand.

Ah, Bobby, sure you’ll not go near the pub at all?” she asked, in a pleading tone of voice, as she moved her hand away to avoid her husband’s grasp.

Now, why would I want to be doing such a thing, woman? Just give me my hat, for God’s sake, so I can be on my way! It’s already late.

But, Bobby, will you not just promise me you won’t? Now promise me, darling!” she pleaded with him as tears filled her eyes.

Ay, ay, of course I’ll promise you. Sure, why would I not?” he replied in a way that showed his frustration with his wife’s constant pleas.

Ah now, Bobby, I hear you talking, but you’re not giving me your solemn promise,” she pressed him.

Listen, woman!” said Bob, “May the devil take me if I should take a single drop of drink until I come back home again! Now, will you give my head a bit of peace now?

It will my darlin’,” she smiled, “and may God keep you safe.

With this parting blessing from the lips of his wife, Bob Harte went out of the door, breathing a lot easier as his wife closed the door behind him. The night was, by this time, quite dark as Bob stepped out on to the street, while his wife, contented by her husband’s promise, returned to her armchair in the living room, where she resumed her knitting and would wait until he returned. These last few weeks she had been very worried that, perhaps, Bob had taken to drinking much more often. This would, of course, be inconsistent with his apparent reformation from previous indiscretions. Her deepest fear, however, was the temptations provided by at least a half-dozen public houses that he would have to pass on his way to the curate’s house, which stood at the other end of the town. Despite the lateness of the hour, these ‘pubs’ would still be open for business, and they gave off a sweet aroma of whiskey and porter, which smelled so enticing to a drinking man. But, true to his word, Bob continued on his way, passing each of them without once turning his head in their direction. Bob deliberately put his hands into his coat pockets and looked straight ahead as he walked, whistling a merry tune to himself, and thinking only of his forthcoming meeting with the curate and the fee that he would get for the work he would be asked to do. In this manner Bob made his way, safely avoiding all temptation, to the curate’s house feeling very pleased with himself.

At length, Bob reached the curate’s house and knocked on the front door, which was answered by the housekeeper. She informed Bob that the curate had been called out unexpectedly to attend to a very ill parishioner, but she told him that he could sit in the hall and await the curate’s return. There Bob sat in a large blood-leather armchair amusing himself by reading some magazines, that lay on the hall table, and biting his nails until the clergyman returned home. The minutes passes slowly into hours as he waited and waited. But, it was not until almost half-past eleven that the cleric returned home, and it was just gone midnight when Bob finally set out on his journey home. By this time, however, the storm clouds had gathered to a deep, pitch darkness and the roars of thunder could be heard above the barren rocks and hollows of the distant mountains. Pale, blue lightning flashes broke the darkness, reflecting upon the rain soaked facades of the houses. Bob was fully aware that, by this time of the night, every door in the street would be closed and securely locked. But, as he trudged his way home, Bob’s eyes strained through the gloom as he sought out the public-house which had once belonged to late friend, Paddy Slane.

XMAS 3When he came to the building, Bob noticed a faint light making its way through the slats in the window shutter, as well as the frosted-glass panes over the door-way, which created a sort of dull, foggy, and mystical halo about the front of the public houses. Now that Bob’s eyes had become very much accustomed to the darkness of the night, that faint halo of light was just enough illumination to allow him to see a strange figure of a man before him. The closer that Bob came to the strange man he began to notice that the man was wearing a type of loose overcoat, which was tightly pulled around him as he sat upon a wooden seat that was firmly fixed into the pavement below the pub’s huge main window. The seated figure was also wearing a large, broad-brimmed hat that hung very much over his eyes, and he was smoking a long, strangely shaped pipe.

On the seat, at the side of the stranger, Bob could just discern the outline of a glass and, also, a half -bottle was dimly noticeable on the pavement, just to the side of his foot. The longer that he watched this strange figure, the more certain he was that there was something extremely odd about him. This stranger had the appearance of travelling man, who had simply stopped to refresh himself on that wooden bench in a rain-soaked street. At first, Bob thought it was likely this stranger had been drinking in the pub when it closed for the night. He thought that, perhaps, this stranger had taken what remained of his drink out to the seat, where he could enjoy it as he watched the lightning flashes light up the sky. At any other time, it is likely that Bob would have given the stranger a friendly greeting as he passed him by. On this particular night, however, Bob Harte was feeling quite low in his spirits, and was certainly not in any kind of mood to be genial to any stranger. Just as he was about to pass the seated man without greeting him, the stranger lifted his half-bottle of whiskey and, without removing the pipe from his mouth, he beckoned Bob over to him. At the same time, with a slight nod of his head, and a shrug of his shoulders, the stranger indicated he wanted Bob to share his seat and his bottle.

Bob watched as the man shifted along the seat to the end, making room for Bob to sit down. There was a wonderful aroma of malt whiskey coming from the area where the man sat, and Bob was sorely tempted by it. But he recalled the promise he had made to his wife, which reinforced his will-power just as it began to weaken, and he politely told the stranger, “No. But, I thank you for your kind offer, sir, but I cannot stop for a drink this night.”

The stranger, however, was not to be so easily placated, and he beckoned to Bob even more vehemently. He pointed to the empty space on the seat beside him, as if commanding Bob to sit. This time he gave the strange man a smile as he, once again, began to excuse himself, “Thanks again for your very polite offer, but I’m very late as it is, and I don’t have any time to spare. So, I wish you a very good night.

 Jingling his glass against the neck of the whiskey bottle, the stranger was suggesting that Bob could at least swallow one mouthful of the whiskey without losing much time. He was sorely tempted, and he wondered what harm a mouthful of whiskey would him. Although his mouth watered at the prospect, he remembered the promise that he had made. Bob shook his head strongly to demonstrate that his decision was now final and, there was nothing that would move him from his resolve. But, as Bob walked on, the stranger arose from his seat with his pipe still in mouth. He had the whiskey bottle in one hand, the glass in the other, and he now began to follow close behind the sacristan. This now caused Bob some major concern, and he quickly became very suspicious of the stranger’s intentions.

Bob now began to quicken his step and listened intently as the stranger followed close behind him. The sacristan now began to feel very anxious about this pursuit and he nervously turned around to face the stranger. He was still very close behind Bob, and he was continuing to invite him to share in his liquor, with increasingly impatient gestures.

I have already told you,’ said Bob, who was both angry and frightened, ‘I don’t want a drink and that’s final! Now just go away! Take yourself and your whiskey bottle and go!” The stranger, however, continued to approach him very slowly, causing him to become irritated and angrily he shouted at him, “In God’s name, get back from me and stop tormenting me in this way!

But, even as he spoke these words Bob recognised that his words and attitude had only increased the anger building within the stranger. In response to Bob the stranger began to shake the whiskey bottle toward him with violent, menacing gestures. Bob continued hastily on his way and the distance between him and the stranger increased considerably. As they both continued along the street Bob could see the stranger following behind, because his pipe gave off such a warm, wonderful red glow, which duskily illuminated the stranger’s entire figure despite the darkness of the badly lit street. Bob stopped again and called out to the stranger in a rage, “I just wish you would go to the devil, whoever you are!

Just get away from me!” he shouted as he hurried away. But, as he walked and looked back, over his shoulder, to discover that much to his dismay, the infuriating stranger was as close as ever to him.

Damn you to hell,” cried out Bob in desperation as he began to feel himself almost overcome with fear and rage. “Just what is it you want of me?

The strange man just ignored Bob’s anger in Bob’s voice and approached him even more confidently than before. He continued nodding his head and extending both glass and bottle toward Bob as he moved ever closer. Then, out of the darkness behind the stranger , Bob noticed a large black horse following them in virtual silence.

You can keep your temptations to yourself, you devil, for there is nothing but a dark evil that surrounds you,” cried Bob Harte as he felt a real sense of terror spread rapidly through his entire body. “Will you just leave me alone?” he called out aloud as he fumbled through his confused mind for a suitable prayer to rescue him from what was, he thought, a servant of Satan. Realising that he was now very close to his own front door, Bob quickened his pace to a jog rather than a walk.

As he came to the front door of his house, Bob hammered his fist upon it and called out, “Let me in, let me in, for God’s sake! Molly, please open the door!” He was breathing heavily by this time and, weak with exhaustion, he leant his back against the heavy wooden door. From the street the strange man now confronted him and, although there was no longer a pipe in his mouth, a dusky red glow still lingered around him. From the depths of his body the stranger uttered some indescribable, cavernous sounds, which imitated closely the growls of a great wolf, or some other indescribable beast. Meanwhile, just as he uttered his strange howl, he poured some of the liquid from the bottle into the glass.

Hysterical with fear, Bob kicked at the front door with all the force he could muster and, despairingly, he tearfully screamed, ‘In the name of God Almighty, once and for all, leave me alone!

After Bob had recovered he was told that it was likely the strange figure of a man, who had sat upon the wooden seat outside Paddy Slane’s ‘pub’ was actually the spectre of Paddy’s suicide. It was suggested to Bob that this spectre had been summoned by the ‘Evil One’ to lure the church sacristan into abandoning the promise that he had solemnly sworn to his wife. The person who interpreted Bob’s encounter with this evil spectre suggested that if the apparition had succeeded in his task, it is more than likely that the ghostly, black horse that had appeared would have carried a double burden back to the underworld.

As a matter of proof that these events happened as described, the old thorn tree which overhung the front door of the house was found, in the morning, to have been blasted with the infernal stream of fire flung by the evil spectre from the glass. It looked just like a lightning-bolt had scorched the front of the house, and it was to remain in that condition for several years, because people of the town were too afraid to repair the damage they believed had been caused by the ‘fires of hell.”.

Bob Harte Part I

The following story concerns a well known character, who resided in this town over one hundred years ago, which was just before the Great War began in 1914. He was employed as a church sacristan and caretaker who worked in and about the town’s impressive Church of Ireland Church. Known to all as Bob Harte, he was a familiar figure about town, who was much respected by some, and disliked by most of the young boys in the place. He spoiled every effort they made to play truant from school in the expansive grounds that were a part of the Church. There and in the adjoining grave-yard these children would play their war-games among the many trees and tombstones. In the warmth of long summer evenings Bob would chase and chastise the local boys whom he found climbing the many bushes to seek out the nests of bats, sparrows and other birds.

There were occasions, while patrolling the grounds, that Bob would discover groups of boys peeping through a small, mysterious window that gave them a view into a dark, dusty room within the Church basement. They would gasp at the lidless coffins that gaped horribly back at them from among large, tattered wine-coloured, dust filled, velvet drapes. In the dim light that was provided by several small windows the observers could see what appeared to be various bones that lay strewn over the floor and covered with the dust of time. But, the enterprising young observers almost always were caught by the constantly alert Mr. Harte, who could often deal out his own form of punishment. These local boys considered Bob Harte to be a scourge on their enjoyment, constantly terrorising them. Even Bob’s personal appearance did not help to improve their perception of this man, because he was always dressed in black from head to toe.

Bob Harte was an imposing figure of a man; tall, thin and lanky, who seemed always to wear the same clothes, which never appeared to fit him correctly. He had a small, pointed and emotionless face covered with a sallow coloured skin that was matched by his cold, grey eyes. To add to the man’s strange appearance, his head was crowned by a mop of rust-brown hair that he usually left ungroomed. To many of the older generation Bob’s appearance was not at all startling, and they considered him to be a very devout man adhered strongly to his very strict conservative moral standards. In reality, however, just because he loudly upheld such convictions didn’t mean that he had no vices. Just as working in the Church and its grounds did not make him a saint. There were many occasions when Bob’s apparent severe sense of morality took time out and he suddenly became a genial sort of a man, who very much enjoyed some of life’s vices, particularly smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol.

The caretaker had many hidden talents that very few knew about, one of these was the great memory he had for recalling tales of all kinds, and a real talent for being able to relate those stories to others in a very entertaining manner. Being a man of almost sixty years, he was a deep well of knowledge about the history of the town and the people who lived in it, both past and present. One thing always seemed to surprise those who would listen to his tales and that was the seemingly never ending supply of local stories, which were often true and very amusing. But, at the same time, Bob was also very well known for telling dark tales of terror, which he particularly relished relating to an attentive audience.

In most people’s eyes, Bob’s job as a caretaker and a, sometime, grave digger gave some semblance of truth to the stories that he told. He appeared to know what he was talking about when he began to speak of graves, goblins, ghosts and banshees. At the same time, his involvement in church weddings, baptisms and other Church celebrations helped him in maintaining when relating stories about the fuss, the tears and the secret meetings between men and women on such occasions. Furthermore, being aged sixty-years old, Bob had the great ability to tell interesting stories concerning the history of the town, because he had personally gathered an almost inexhaustible amount of accurate and entertaining local anecdotes during his lifetime.

Common sense would tell you that working for the Church as a sacristan and caretaker was not among the most financially reading of jobs in any society. In fact, the income that Bob earned from his work in the Church could hardly provide him with what would be normally regarded as a living wage. As a result, therefore, he was often called upon to supplement his meagre wage with income from several other jobs, for which he had the necessary talents. Indeed, quite a few of these extra employment opportunities would be considered by some as being far from dignified work for a man of his standing within the community. As in many of these cases, however, it was always a case off “when needs must” that encouraged Bob to take them upon himself.

One particular, and sometimes unpopular, way that Bob had was his regular gate-crashing of parties. There was also his annoying habit of imposing himself on small drinking groups that might just contain one or two people that he knew only as a passing acquaintance. But, wherever he was and whatever group he would impose himself into, Bob would entertain the people with his amusing stories. When the occasion demanded, he would select tales of terror, or local anecdotes, from his huge reservoir of stories. His one saving grace on these occasions was his choice not belittle himself by accepting drinks of any type as payment for telling his stories. He preferred payment in coin that was given to him, or he underhandedly salted away from those careless enough to leave their change on a table, or counter-top.

There was one particular person, called Paddy Slane, who had a genuine liking for the company of Bob and, indeed, always welcomed him to enjoy his ‘craic’. Paddy Slane was owner of a popular local public bar that stood in the centre of the town, and quickly became Bob’s local public bar. But, Paddy was far from any person’s idea of a jolly, fun-loving barkeeper, because he was, probably, the most gloomy and depressing person you could have ever had the misfortune to come across. Normally, when left to his own devices, Paddy never drank excessively. It must be said, however, that being a sombre man with a melancholic personality, Paddy always found himself in need of something, or someone to raise his spirits from the depths of the despair into which he fell. Bob Harte was just the man to fill this need, and Paddy began to develop a close with him. Over the years that followed Bob became the only real bright, entertaining source of light in Paddy’s dark personal life.

When he was in Bob Harte’s company, Paddy appeared to be a different man. He seemed to be freed from all of his melancholia, smiling as he listened to the fascinating stories and marvellous tales that Bob told him. It is, sadly, a fact that their friendship did not contribute positively to the credit, or the honour, of either man with regard to their reputation, or prosperity. In this case it wasn’t a matter of Bob taking a coin as payment for telling his stories. He would much rather accept a drink. Bob’s apparent conservative moral values did not quite stretch to his enjoyment of strong alcohol, and it was not unknown for him to drink far more than was good for his health.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Bob’s drinking habits did very little to enhance his character as a functionary of the church. At the same time, Paddy Slane found himself being drawn into a very similar lifestyle because he too began to find it was increasingly difficult to resist the urgings of his gifted and genial companion to enjoy himself. Paddy, being the owner of the public house in which Bob always drank, continually felt that he, under the circumstances, was the person to pay for all the drinks they had consumed. All the other regulars of the public house could only sit and watch what was happening to Paddy. As the weeks passed into months, these customers became increasingly aware that both Paddy’s wallet and bank balance was suffering just as much as his head and liver because of this friendship with Bob Harte. The men could see exactly what was happening and began to hold Bob Harte responsible, as the man who had turned the once respectable businessman into a virtual alcoholic. As the rumours about him spread Bob’s reputation in the town slid rapidly downward with his character, in the estimation of many.

There were some in the town, however, who saw Paddy Slane as the man who had encourages Bob Harte to be an even bigger blackguard than he had been before they met. Because of his generous habit of buying all the drinks for his binges with Bob, it came as no surprise to many that, under such circumstances, the accounts of Paddy’s public house became somewhat disorganised. Very quickly his once lucrative town centre hostelry began to become overcome with financial difficulties, increasing Paddy’s depression. Finally, one bright summer’s day, when the weather was warm, heavy and humid, Paddy decided to leave the bar in the capable hands of one of his barmen. This was not unusual for him to do this and quietly retire into the quieter back room, which was his office.

The accounts books for the business were laid out untidily across a large desk, behind which was a tall dirty, dusty window that overlooked a boring, red brick wall that hid the outside world from view. Paddy turned the key in the lock and then went immediately to sit down on the office chair at the desk. The small desk drawer to Paddy’s left was nervously pulled out to reveal everything that he had expected to be in it. Reaching quite gingerly into the desk drawer, Paddy took hold of a loaded pistol that he had kept hidden there. Hesitatingly, Paddy gripped the muzzle of the gun, wrapping his fingers around it and guiding the pistol into his open mouth. Then, closing his eyes, Paddy muttered a short prayer to himself, and gently squeezed the trigger. There was a mighty explosion that echoed throughout the back area of the public house. At the same time the upper portion of his head was blown off by the force of the shot. Blood, splattered out of the large exit wound in his head, which spread widely across the ceiling above, and the dusty window behind him.

The barman and the customers in the bar heard the explosion of the bullet, and immediately rushed to the office door in the rear of the building. Finding the office door locked against them, broke the door open and saw Paddy’s body lying on the floor at the rear of his desk. As they stood over the body the witnesses saw deep red blood flowing rapidly across the linoleum floor covering to form a large pool. The news of Paddy Slane’s tragic death spread throughout the town like an uncontrollable bush fire, and there was a deep sense of loss felt by many of the residents, who had once held the man in high esteem.

Bob Harte was, himself, very shocked by the news of the horrible incident, and the manner in which Paddy took his own life. Paddy had, after all, had been both his benefactor and his friend. There were some in the town whose opinions had turned against Bob and, quite uncharitably, suggested that the grief he was feeling was due, entirely, to selfish reasons. His sorrow, they alleged, was due, for the most part, to the fact that he would now find it very difficult to find himself a new source of free hospitality on the scale that he had enjoyed from Paddy Slane. But, for a period of time after the tragedy, Bob stopped drinking alcohol in any form, and he also ceased his once frequent calls on the town’s many public houses.

During this short period of time, Bob presented himself almost as a paragon of virtue; a perfect example of temperance and sobriety for others. There were some, of course, who preferred not to believe that Bob’s new sober lifestyle was simply a pretence. They spread rumours that Bob, on several recent occasions, had been found to be rather the worse for wear a far as his alcohol intake was concerned. Some suggested that people had found Bob late at night, on several occasions, in a drunken stupor. Others said that he was, sometimes, found wandering the streets of the town in a highly intoxicated condition. Many of the rumour mongers tried very hard to convince people that Bob had been forced to change his wicked ways simply because of the threat made to him by church authorities. It was said that he was made aware of the possibility of dismissal from all his church offices if he did not curb his over indulgence in alcohol. The truth, however, was that Bob Harte was determined to observe his resolution to remain sober, much to the pleasure of his wife, and to the total surprise of his neighbours. Never again was Bob Harte found drunk in public or, for that matter, even the slightest bit tipsy. In fact, so incredible was the overall change in the man that people who, at one time, would never have given him the time-of-day on the streets of this town, now greeted him warmly as he passed them by.