The Piper’s Tale

Many long years ago there was a man living in the village of Derrytrask, whom many considered to be a bit of an ‘eejit’. To prove their view of the man, they would point to the way he was demonstratively fond of music but had never been able to learn to play more than one tune on his pipes, namely the “Black Rogue”. In the various bars and at the local festivities he used to make a few shillings from those who would make fun of him as he played his tune. The money helped both the man and his widow mother to pay the rent on their small holding and occasionally buy some luxuries, like snuff and a bottle of stout or two.

One night the Piper was walking home from a local house, where there had been a bit of a dance, and he was somewhat the worse for wear because of the whisky he had imbibed. As he walked along the the narrow cart track road he came up to a little bridge that was close by his mother’s house. He stopped for a moment, breathed into his pipe bag and squeezed it to begin playing that one tune that he knew so well, the “Black Rogue.” From behind him, in the darkness a ‘Puca’ came upon him, grabbed him and flung him on his own back. The ‘Puca’ is a spirit creature which takes on many forms and shapes. On this particular spirit creature there were long horns and the Piper had to take a good, strong grip of these. As he grabbed the horns he cried out at the creature, saying, “Damn you to hell, you evil creature. Let me go on my way home for I have a silver sixpence in my pocket for my mother, and she wants some snuff.

Never you mind your mother, or even what she wants” said the ‘Puca’, “but concentrate your mind on keeping your hold on those horns. If you should fall from my back you will surely break your neck and those pipes you carry.” Then, more softly, the ‘Puca’ asked him, “Why don’t you play for me the ‘The Blackbird?‘”

But, I don’t know that tune,” replied the Piper.

Irish Piper

Do not concern yourself about whether you do or you don’t know the tune,” Puca snapped at him. “Just you begin playing those pipes and I’ll make certain you know the tune.”

Frightened, the Piper put wind in his bag and he began to play such fine music that it made him wonder how such a thing could happen. “Upon my word but you’re a fine music teacher,” says the Piper, adding, “now tell me where you are taking me with such speed.”

Tonight there is a great feast being held in the house of the Banshee, which stands on the top of Croagh Patrick,” said the Puca. “I am now bringing you to the feast where you will play your music and have no doubt that you will be well rewarded for your trouble.

Sure isn’t that a great thing, for you’ll save me a journey, ” replied the Piper, “Father Tom has told me that I should make the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick as a penance, because it was me who stole the big white goose from the Martins’ farmhouse yard.

The Puca paid him no mind, put down his head and rushed the piper across hills, bogs and rough places, until he finally brought him to the top of Croagh Patrick. As they came to a halt the Puca struck three blows on the ground with his foot, and a great door opened before them. Unhesitatingly they both passed through the door and found themselves in a large, finely adorned room.

In the middle of the room the Piper saw a large golden table, around which sat hundreds of old women, and all were staring toward him. One of the old women stood up from her seat and greeted him, “A hundred thousand welcomes to you, Puca of November. Who is this mortal being that you have brought with you?

This mortal is the very best Piper in all of Ireland,” said the Puca, proudly.

One of the old women now struck a blow on the ground, which caused a door to open in the side wall of the fine room. Then, very much to the Piper’s surprise he noticed, coming out of the door, the big white goose, which he had stolen from Martins’ farmyard. “It’s a miracle to me,” says the Piper, “myself and my mother ate every last morsel of that goose, except for one wing. It was that one wing that I gave to old Red Mary, and it was her that told the priest I had stolen the goose..”

The goose now marched over to clean the table before carrying it away. The Puca now turned to the piper and urged him to, “Play your music for the enjoyment of these ladies.” The Piper put air into the bag and began to play. He played so well that all the old women took to the floor and began to dance, dancing so lively until they were too tired to dance any more. It was then that the Puca came forward to demand that they pay the Piper. Without complaint each and every old woman took out a gold piece from their pockets and gave it to him.

By the staff of Patrick,” says the Piper, “sure I’m as rich as the son of any great lord.

Now come with me,” asked the Puca, “and I will bring you back to your home.”

They went out of the room and, just as the Piper was about to mount the back of the Puca, the goose waddled over to him and presented him with a new set of pipes. With the same speed as before the Puca set off and it did not take him long until he brought the Piper back to Derrytrask. They came at last to the little bridge again and the Piper dismounted the Puca, who quietly told him that he should go home. Before the Piper left the Puca told him, “You now have two things that you have never had before. You now have sense and music.

Feeling on top of the world the Piper hurried home, and he knocked loudly at his mother’s door, calling out to her, “Mother, let me in. Your son is as rich as any lord, and I have become the very best Piper in the whole of Ireland.

“You’re drunk again,” replied his mother in disgust.

No,Mother, indeed I’m not,” insisted the Piper, “Not a single drop of liquor has passed my lips.

The mother opened the door to him, and he gave her the gold pieces he had received from the old women. “Wait, now,” says he, “until you hear the wonderful music that I can play now.” He quickly buckled on the pipes and began to play, but instead of sweet music there now came a sound as if all the geese and ganders in Ireland were screeching together. The terrible noise that he made wakened all the neighbours, and they were all mocking him. Their mocking continued until the Piper put on his old pipes and, from that moment, he played the most melodious music for them. Now that they had heard his music the Piper told them all the great adventure that he had gone through that night and they listened to his story in disbelief.

The next morning, when Piper’s mother went to look at the gold pieces her son had given her, there was nothing there but the leaves of a plant. Shocked by this the Piper went to see the priest and related to him the adventure he had undertaken. But the priest would not believe a word that he uttered and the Piper decided to play the pipes for him. As he did so the screeching of the ganders and the geese began once again. “Leave my sight, you thief,” the angry priest roared at him. But the Piper would not move an inch until he put the old pipes on him to demonstrate to the priest that his story was indeed true. He buckled on his old pipes, and he began to played the most wonderful and melodious music. Such became his fame that it is said from that day until the day of he died there was never his equal as a Piper in all the west of Ireland.

Evil Omen

A Tale from the West of Ireland

Jack Flannery was a humble, hard-working shoemaker who lived quietly with his wife and their grown-up son, in a little cottage that stood by the roadside, at the edge of the village of Derryard. Trained by his father, Jack’s son had built a good reputation in the county. With such a reputation both Father and son always had plenty of work to do and were often obliged to sit up until late at night in their workshop to ensure that all the orders entrusted to them were completed.

One calm winter’s night, in early December, at about midnight, both men were, as usual, busy. They were sewing the leather at a brisk rate in one corner of the cottage’s narrow kitchen, where a turf fire was burning brightly on the hearth. Jack’s wife had grown tired earlier in the evening and had gone to bed. Everything in the house was quiet, except for the crickets, which chirped monotonously in the crevices all around chimney breast. Even the old sow and her litter of young ones, who were kept in a small corner of the cottage had stopped grunting and were asleep. The hens that were roosting on the broad beam at the further end of the cottage, near the door, had long given-up their usual cackling, and the entire house was at peace.

Jack and his son continued to sew leather in silence, which was broken only by the occasional whispered request made by one or other of the men for some article they required

I don’t know, son, but I’ll go to the door and ask,” the father replied.

Who in God’s name is there?” called the old man, on-going toward the door. When there was no reply, he asked once again, “Is there anyone there?” Again, there was no answer. “Well,” he whispered to his son as he returned to the bench and stood beside him.

There was someone there, or something, whether it was good or bad, and wherever they’ve gone to.” The two men listened in silence for a few moments in case the knocking would return, but they couldn’t hear anything that would indicate the presence of a visitor outside. But they were not disturbed again that night.

The next night, however, at the same time they were very alarmed when they heard the footsteps again. The latch was lifted as it had been on the previous night and then allowed to fall with an exactly similar click. “God preserve us!” exclaimed the old man, who immediately arose from his seat, while his son was far too frightened either to speak or move.

As he had before, Jack went to the door and demanded, “In God’s name, who’s there?” When no answer was given, he called out again, “For God’s sake,” said the poor old man in a trembling voice, “is there anyone there?

For a few moments he waited for a reply, but his wait was in vain. “Son,” said he, “we’ll get ourselves to bed now. But, don’t be afraid.” He could see that the young man was trembling in terror from head to foot, “Maybe it’s just someone playing games, and trying to scare us. But, let me tell you that, if it is and they try it again they’ll be sorry.” There was not another word spoken between them, and both men immediately went to bed and were soon fast asleep.

The third night, at the very same hour, the footsteps again came to the door. On this occasion, however, the latch was not lifted. Instead, there were three quick, sharp knocks as if the knuckles of someone’s hand were struck against the door. The old man, swearing an oath, immediately jumped to his feet, and going to the door opened it quickly, and went out into the night. He ran around the house and searched everywhere, but he could not find even a trace of anyone. Angry and frustrated, father and son went off to bed that night more frightened than they had been on either of the preceding nights. The father’s suspicion that there was someone who was trying to terrify them had given him a little more courage than the son, but now even he began to feel ill at ease. He had now begun to realize that his suspicions were incorrect, for he was firmly convinced that their tormentor could not have escaped so quickly if it was mortal. With this thought in mind, therefore, the father became very alarmed, for he felt that they had been given a warning that something bad was about to happen. But, if it was a warning, it would not be repeated, because such dire warnings are only given on three occasions.

As expected, those dread footsteps were heard no more, but this only increased his concerns, which he discussed with his wife and his son. A fortnight passed, and nothing unusual had occurred, which caused the dread that Jack Flannery, his wife, and son were feeling to considerably diminish. Then, on a Sunday night, at the of the fortnight, when old Ned McClean paid a neighbourly visit and found the Flannery family to be quite cheerful. Ned found them sitting beside a comfortable fire burning on the hearth, enjoying the pleasant glow of the blazing turf, and the pleasant experience of a quiet smoke at the end of the day.

God save all here,” said Ned as he entered the house.

And the same to you Ned,” replied Jack and his wife in unison, adding, “Sure, you’re very welcome, especially since you don’t go out much at all in the evenings.

Ned and the Flannerys were long-time friends, and although Jack and his wife had always a kindly welcome anyone who entered their little cottage, the welcome for Ned was always that little bit warmer than any given to others. Jack’s son was, as they informed their friend, “out galavanting” and that they had the pleasure of the fire all to themselves. Inviting Ned to sit, they were all soon absorbed in discussing ‘old times’, which was a great favourite with them. They became thoroughly involved in the conversation and the time passed both quickly and pleasantly. But, unfortunately, they were interrupted, which caused a cold chain of silence to drop over the company and revived a dread of approaching evil once again in the hearts of the Flannerys.

The shoemaker was in the middle of telling his favourite story about the ‘bad times,’ when the cock on the beam flapped his wings and crew once, twice, thrice. “Ned,” said the shoemaker, “you will hear some bad news before long, mind what I’m telling you.

Ned shook his head and replied, “I don’t like it at all, Jack, Lord preserve us!

Mrs. Flannery blessed herself and uttered some inaudible prayers. Nevertheless, the interruption left them all in no humour for more storytelling about the past, and that one frightening incident that had just occurred was too unnatural to think about any further. Ned, therefore, departed the cottage with a fervent “God speed” from Jack and his wife.

Ned only a short distance to go home. Then, having said the rosary, he went to bed and was just beginning to close his eyes when he heard a loud rapping at the door. He listened and soon recognized that it was Jack Flannery’s son calling. “Ned, are you asleep?

No,” the old man replied. “What’s wrong?

Oh, get up quick, my father’s dead.”

Dear God, boy, what are ye saying?” exclaimed Nicholas in amazement.

My father’s just after dying. Hurry over, for God’s sake.

It was the truth! Just about the hour of twelve midnight poor Jack Flannery’s soul had taken its leave from this earthly world. His wife had noticed that he was breathing heavily and was getting no response to her inquiries as to what was wrong with him. At that point, she called out to her son to get up at once and bring a light to the bedroom. The light finally revealed the lifeless body of a man who had been both a loving husband and a kind father.

The Priest’s Ghost

An Old Irish Tale

It is often said that a sad tale is best told in winter, and one winter’s evening as I sat by the hearth of a blazing turf fire, I heard the following ghostly tale. But there was certain credibility about this story because of the way it was told to us with an air of reverence from the creaking voice of a withered old woman. Earlier there had been some talk about the need for Masses to be said for the souls of the dead and the importance that this held within the Roman Catholic faith in Ireland. In fact, the tale was told as a means of proving how sacred a duty it was for a Mass for the soul of the faithful departed to be said as they stood before the judgment seat in Heaven.

Saint John’s Eve starts at sunset on 23rd June and is the eve of celebration before the feast day of Saint John the Baptist.  It was on a recent Saint John’s Eve that the old woman said the following supernatural event occurred –

“Wasn’t it Mary Molloy, a great friend of my mother’s, God rest her soul, that told me the entire story?  She happened to be in the chapel at the evening service for ‘Eve of Saint John’ at the time.  Now, whether she was tired and feeling drowsy after a hard day’s work gathering and tying up the new-cut grass, or whether it was something caused by the glory of the good Lord for the happy repose of a troubled soul, I don’t know. But somehow Mary fell asleep in the chapel, and she slept so soundly that she never opened an eye until every man, woman, and child had left the chapel, and the doors were locked. Well, when she awoke, poor Mary Molloy was frightened and trembled from head to foot as if she would die right there on the spot. Mind you, it’s no wonder she was so frightened when you consider that she was locked in a chapel all alone, and in the dark, and no one to help her.

“Well, being a hardy sort of woman, she recovered after a little while and concluded that there was no use in her making a whole fuss, trying to make herself heard, for she knew well enough that there was no living soul was within hearing. After a little consideration, now that she had gotten over the first fright at being left alone, some better thoughts came into her head and comforted her. Sure, she knew she was in God’s own house, and that there was no bad spirit that would ever dare come there. Comforted, Mary knelt again, and repeated her ‘Lord’s Prayer’, ‘Creed’ and ‘Hail Marys’, over and over, until she felt quite safe in Heaven’s protection. Wrapping herself up in her cloak, Mary thought that she would lie down and try to sleep until the morning. But she now called out loudly “May the good Lord keep us!” Then, the old woman, devoutly crossed herself when a sudden, very bright light shone into the chapel as bright as the sun, and with that poor Mary, looking up, saw the light shining out of the door to the Sacristy. At that very same moment, from out of the Sacristy walked a priest, dressed in black vestments, and making his way slowly up to the altar. He turned and asked, “Is there anyone here to answer this mass?”

“Well, when she heard the apparition speaking these words Mary’s heart began to race and she thought it ready to explode inside her breast, for she certain that the priest was some form of a ghostly spirit. When the priestly figure asked three times if there was no one there to answer the mass, and received no reply, he walked slowly back to the sacristy, the door closed, and all became dark again. But before he went into the sacristy, Mary was sure that he looked towards her, and she said that she would never forget the melancholy light that was in his eyes. He gave her such a pitiful look as he passed, and she said that she had never heard before or since such a wonderfully deep voice.

“Well, the minute that the spirit was gone, the poor woman dropped in a dead faint, and she could recall nothing more about the entire event until she regained consciousness in her mother’s cabin, and her senses returned. When the sacristan had opened the chapel the next morning for mass, he found Mary unconscious and calling for help brought her home to her mother’s cabin. But she had been so badly frightened by the event that it took a week before she could leave her bed. When Mary told all that she had seen and heard to her priest, his reverence then came to understand the meaning of the whole experience. On hearing about the priest appearing in black vestments he realized that it was to say a mass for the dead that he comes to the chapel. He concluded that the ‘Spirit Priest’ had, during his lifetime, forgotten to say a mass for the dead that he was bound to say, and that his poor soul wouldn’t have any rest until that mass was said. In the meantime, however, the ghostly priest must walk the earth until his duty was done.

“The Parish priest told Mary that, because all of this was made known through her, she had been chosen by the priestly spirit. He asked her if she would return once again to the chapel and keep another vigil there for the happy repose of a soul. Mary had always been a brave woman, kindly, and always ready to do what she thought was her duty in the eyes of God. She immediately replied that she would watch another night, but she hoped that she wouldn’t be asked to stay in the chapel by herself for any length of time. The Parish priest told her that it would do if she stayed there until shortly after twelve o’clock at night, knowing that spirits do not appear until after twelve, and from then until cockcrow. As requested, Mary went on her vigil, and before twelve she knelt to pray in the chapel. She began to count her beads on the rosary, and the poor woman felt that every minute was like an hour until she would be able to leave. Thankfully, Mary wasn’t kept very long before the dazzling light burst from out of the sacristy door, and the same ghostly priest came out that had appeared to her before. He walked slowly to the altar and once there he asked, in the same melancholy voice, ‘Is there anyone here to answer this mass?’

“Poor Mary tried to answer, but she felt as if her heart was up in her mouth, and she could not utter a single word. Once again, the question came from the altar, and she still couldn’t say a word in answer. But the sweat ran down her forehead as thick as drops of rain, and she suddenly felt less anxious. There was no longer any pressure on her heart, and so, when for the apparition asked for the third and last time, ‘Is there no one here to answer this mass?’ poor Mary muttered ’Yes’ as clearly as she could.

“She told me on many occasions afterward that it was a truly beautiful sight to see the lovely smile upon the spirit priest’s face as he turned around and looked kindly upon her. In a gentle voice he told her, ‘It’s twenty years that I have been ‘asking that question, and no one answered until this blessed night. A blessing be on her that answered, and now my business here on earth is finished,’ and with those words, he vanished in an instant. So, I tell you, never say that it’s no good praying for the dead, for you have heard that even the soul of a priest couldn’t have peace after forgetting to perform such a holy a thing as a mass for the soul of the faithful departed.” 

The Witches of Islandmagee

A Story of County Antrim

The story of the ‘The Witches of Islandmagee’ is a strange tale, which has become very famous in the history and folklore of Ireland. It’s a story is located on the small Islandmagee peninsula, that lies along the east coast of County Antrim, and it is famed for being the last recorded witch trial held in Ireland. Although a witchcraft statute had been passed in Ireland in 1586, the record shows that not too many actual witch trials were conducted in any areas of the land. In fact, the record shows that only three witch trials were held, in which eleven individuals were accused of the crime of witchcraft. It is, however, the Islandmagee witch trial that stands out among them all because of the intensity of feeling it caused in a small, tightly knit community that numbered some three-hundred people of Scots-Presbyterian descent.

During the time of the ‘Tudor Plantation’ in Ireland Scottish Protestants, mostly from the Scottish Lowlands were encouraged to take up land that the crown had confiscated from Irish lords that had risen in rebellion. Among these new Scots-Presbyterian settlers there was a widely held belief in the existence of witchcraft, and they brought their superstitious ideas with them to Ireland. In Scotland, the hunting and destruction of witches was far more widespread than that carried out in England. In fact, Scotland was widely recognised as being one of the most vicious anti-witch countries in Europe. There was a total of approximately 3,800 people prosecuted in the Scottish courts, and more than three-quarters of these were put to death by strangling and/or burning. In England, and so by extension in Ireland, however, there was ‘Common Law’, which meant that those convicted in those courts of witchcraft could only be hanged. In Ireland, such trials were few in number, but there is an account of a trial that was held among the English ‘Planter’ community that lived in the Youghal area of County Cork, during 1661. Fifty years later, in March 1711, eight women were taken into custody and brought before the court at Carrickfergus, Co.Antrim. The subsequent trial was a major sensation at the time, shocking everyone when all eight women were found guilty of the demonic possession of the body, mind, and spirit of a local teenage girl. The judgment levied on them was that they were put in the stocks, where the public could throw stones and rotten fruit at them, prior to them being taken to serve a year in jail.

Witches and witchcraft had always been an integral part of Irish folklore, but the image portrayed by the folklore tales was that of a witch that was non-threatening to ordinary mortals. We have all heard the stories that tell us about witches stealing the ability for churning milk into butter, or other tales saying that they had the power to turn themselves into hares and steal the butter that had already been made. It was, however, the Scottish ‘Planters’ who brought their beliefs about witches to Ireland, introducing the witch as a malicious, expert in magic that was extremely dangerous to ordinary mortals. Thankfully, the ‘Trial of the Islandmagee Witches’ was well recorded by the authorities and the media of the day, which has provided modern researchers with ample primary historical resources to aid their studies. These include statements from the trial of the main characters, copies of newspaper articles at the time, pamphlets that were produced, letters, correspondence and legal depositions from witnesses. From all these documents it has been discovered that the origins of the case can be traced back to the previous year, 1710.

We are told that it was in 1710, that a young 18-year-old girl called Mary Dunbar arrived in Islandmagee from her home in Castlereagh, which lay at the edge of Belfast. It is suggested that the young girl had come to stay and help in the home of her cousin, Mrs. James Haltridge, whose mother-in-law had recently died. At the time of the woman’s death, it was alleged that her passing had been brought about through the black arts of witchcraft. Witnesses further alleged that Mary soon began to show signs that she, herself, had been possessed by an evil demon. These signs included Mary issuing threats to people, shouting, swearing, blaspheming, and throwing Bibles everywhere. On those occasions when a clergyman approached her to help, Mary would suddenly be overcome by violent fits, accompanied by vomiting various household articles, such as pins, buttons, nails, glass, and wool. In her statement to the court, Mary Dunbar claimed to have seen eight women appearing to her in spectral form, and this evidence alone would prove to very important at the trial. ‘Spectral evidence’ was a tactic used by the prosecution lawyers in cases, where the possessed person claims to have seen and been attacked by the witches, which then caused his or her possession in spectral form.  This sort of evidence had been common in England in earlier trials but, by the time of the Islandmagee case, this type of evidence was rarely used because it had become less and less convincing in witch trials. ‘Spectral Evidence’ would, nevertheless, become one of the main proofs of guilt that were brought against the eight women in the trial of 1711. The main problem about such proof was that Mary would have been the only person to have seen this spectral possession occur. But Mary Dunbar was a relative stranger to this area, and she would never have seen any of these women before. However, this evidence was sworn to be true by her, and the trial jury in Carrickfergus chose to believe her. There were other types of ‘proof’ offered by the prosecution, of course, including their apparent inability to say, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. And the authorities went even further to prove their case against the women by setting up a form of the identity parade, in which Mary Dunbar was blindfolded while a line of women came in to touch her. It was believed that the demoniac would go into terrible fits if he or she was touched by a witch, and Dunbar apparently succeeded in picking out the eight women that she had claimed to have bewitched and attacked her in spectral form.

Alongside the witness testimony, the character of the accused women themselves was also important in them being convicted. These women were all from the margins of society in the small community and were suffering from an impoverished life. It is said that some of them claimed to possess some form of witches’ craft. But, in Irish folklore, there was the character of “The Wise Woman”, who knew about love potions, healing plants, and various natural remedies that the people of their community sought. They were not witches in the true sense of the word but would have been readily accused of witchcraft by some. This was especially true in an age when the widespread belief was that a witch looked like a wizened old crone, much like the image we have of witches today, and these eight women apparently fitted that description.

In small villages and towns, the reputation of a person, or a family, is always well known. If a person had a less than perfect reputation and some act of misfortune happened within the community, then that person and his family would be suspected and even accused of being the guilty party. In this case, the misfortune that had occurred was the bewitching of Mary Dunbar, and some of these women already had the reputation of using witchcraft. Moreover, these women appeared to fall short of the ideals of womanhood espoused by others, which helped to fuel the suspicions of them being witches. Several of the women, for instance, were accused of drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and swearing, none of which met the expected requirements for being considered a lady. On the other hand, Mary Dunbar was an intelligent, attractive young lady from a good family.

There is no record of what happened to Mary Dunbar or the eight women after the trial in Carrickfergus. Unfortunately, the public records office that held many Church of Ireland records was burned down during the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). According to the Act of 1586, the eight women would have been put in prison for a year and pilloried four times on market days for a first offense. However, we have no knowledge what happened to any of them after their sentence was served, for they simply disappeared from the historical records. As for Mary Dunbar, it is widely considered that she had made the entire thing up, for some reason or another. After all, she was not the first demoniac in England and Scotland to do such a thing and, being an intelligent young woman, such precedents would have provided her with an excellent example to follow.

Prime examples of misleading evidence were seen during the witch hunts and trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, and in Scotland in 1697, where an eleven-year-old girl called Christian Shaw, who was the daughter of the Laird of Bargarran, complained that she was being tormented by a group of local witches. She said that these witches included one of her family’s servants, Catherine Campbell, whom she had reported to her mother after witnessing her steal a drink of milk. As a result of Christian’s statements Seven people (Margaret Lang, John Lindsay, James Lindsay, John Reid, Catherine Campbell, Margaret Fulton, and Agnes Naismith) were found guilty of having bewitched the child and were subsequently condemned to death. One of this group went on to hang himself in his prison cell. It is also believed that Agnes Naismith may also have died while she was imprisoned. The remaining five accused were hanged, and their bodies burned on the ‘Gallow Green’ in Paisley on 10th June 1697. This proved to be the last mass execution of ‘witches’ in western Europe.

It is very likely that Mary Dunbar had learned the part of a demoniac from accounts she had heard or read about events in Salem or, more likely, Scotland, from where people were pouring into the ‘Ulster Plantation’ at this time. Maybe she sought fame or was simply doing the same thing that she is accusing others of doing. But, because it would not be considered her fault, there would be no moral responsibility attached to her actions. And, because she claims that it is someone else who is doing these things to her, she can comfortably break the type of behavioural constraints that were placed upon her as a female at the time.

As far as seeking fame is concerned, Mary Dunbar was a stranger in that community and may have felt that she was invisible and undervalued. She may have seen her accusations as being an opportunity to make herself visible in that community and her cousin’s family, as well as being able to act in ways that would normally be socially unacceptable. Whatever Dunbar’s reasons, it seems incredible to modern society that she should have succeeded. While it is easy to dismiss the people of that time as being blatantly ignorant, or disastrously superstitious, we must understand how things were in those days. Dunbar’s accusations made complete sense to the people, especially when they are supported by members of the clergy and the medical professions. In fact, doctors were called in to examine Mary Dunbar’s condition and concluded that her condition did not have physical causes but was due to supernatural influences.

Although the ‘Islandmagee Case’ was the last witch trial to be held in Ireland, there continues to be a belief in witches and witchcraft. There may have been no further prosecutions in Ireland for witchcraft since 1711, the Act of 1586 continued to be on the statute books until 1821, when it was finally repealed. There is little doubt that some cases did make it to the court, but the judges of the day would reject them because they were better educated and did not believe in such superstitions. There remains some belief in such things, with ‘Fairy Doctors’ and ‘Wise Women’ being asked to cure ‘fairy attacks’, and to perform traditional rites to remove curses and bewitchments. Such people are very small in number, compared to many years ago, but they are a sign that belief in witchcraft is not yet dead in Ireland.

The Lough Swilly Tragedy

A few years ago, I happened to be spending a long weekend in Donegal when I heard the story of ‘HMS Saldanha’. She was a 36-gun ‘Apollo-class’ frigate of the British Royal Navy, which was launched in 1809 and was commissioned in April 1810 and placed under the command of Captain John Stuart, who remained in command until his death on 19th March 1811. Captain Reuben Mangin took temporary command of the ship during the Spring of 1811. Finally, the ship was assigned to Captain William Pakenham’s and its short career came to an end when it was wrecked on the rocky west coast of Ireland in 1811.
Earlier, on 11th October 1811, ‘HMS Saldanha’ and ‘HMS Fortune’ combined to take the French privateer ‘Vice-Amiral Martin’. The French ship carried 18 guns and a crew of 140 men, and it was on its fourth day out of Bayonne and was yet to encounter a British merchantman. It was reported that the French privateer had superior sailing abilities to most ships of her size, which had in the past helped her to escape pursuing British cruisers. In a subsequent report it was stated that though each of the British ships was doing at least 11 knots (20 km/h; 13 mph), the enemy privateer would have escaped only for the fact that there were two British vessels involved.

Along the North-western coast of Ireland lies Lough Swilly, a glacial fjord that cuts into the Donegal coastline between the western side of the Inishowen Peninsula and the Fanad Peninsula. It is considered a safe harbour for ships and is famed far and wide for the beauty of its scenery. However, although once inside the lough itself, the anchorage is safe, the entrance to the Lough is considered by many to be a very difficult and dangerous passage. The coast being here is known as being “iron-bound”, with several treacherous reefs of rocks lying near the shore, or partially covered by the sea. The present-day entrance to Lough Swilly has two lighthouses to protect it, with one on Fanad Point, and the other on Dunree Head. The various reefs and shoals in the entrance are well-marked by buoys, which today make the entrance to the Lough a much safer passage than it had been during the days when ‘HMS Saldanha’ was moored there.

Lough Swilly

In the latter part of 1811, ‘HMS Saldanha’ under the command of Captain Packenham, was stationed in Lough Swilly as a naval guardship, alongside the sloop-of-war, ‘HMS Talbot’. Their usual anchorage was off the little village of Buncrana, and occasionally the ships would weigh anchor to undertake a short cruise around the coast of the County Donegal for a few days. Their crews had been stationed in the Lough for such a long time that several officers had brought their wives to reside in the village of Buncrana. There were, of course, one or two of the officers and several of the men who had married local ladies, and all of them had gained the friendship and regard of the local gentry and may of the inhabitants of the surrounding area.

Early on the morning of the 30th of November the ‘Saldanha’ and the ‘Talbot’ left their moorings off Buncrana for a three days’ cruise around the coast. However, although the morning was fine and bright, just afternoon the weather became dark and threatening. Before that short November day closed, a great storm had rolled in from the Atlantic Ocean spilling its anger over both sea and land. Local folklore still recalls that terrible storm as the ‘Saldanha Storm,’ and there are many sad stories recounted of hearts that raced with anxiety and strained eyes that tried to peer through blinding spray and rain for the lights of the returning ships.

It was nearer to the mouth of Lough Swilly, on the shore opposite Buncrana, close to Ballymastocker Bay that those lights were seen at last. Along that shoreline the Fanad people gathered in great numbers, knowing that the bay hid a very dangerous reef of rocks, and upon them, the ‘Saldanha’ was Shipwrecked on the night of 4th December 1811. There are no reports any effort was made to save the doomed vessel and, officially there were no survivors out of the estimated 253 crew aboard the ship, with approximately 200 bodies being subsequently washed up on the shoreline at Ballymastocker Bay.

There are stories saying that one of the crew did make it to the shore alive, but the stories also tell of the ‘wild people’ (local wreckers) placing him across a horse, after giving him a draught of whiskey. The stories are unclear as to whether this was done in ignorance or in order to ensure he would die. Many bodies came continued to come ashore from time to time and were buried with great reverence in the old churchyard of Rathmullan, where the grave and a monument can still be seen.

Initial reports on the events in Lough Swilly that stormy night suggested that ‘HMS Talbot’ had also been wrecked, but it transpired that these reports were mistaken. The winter storms that swept through the Lough caused parts of the sunken wreck of the ‘Saldanha’ to come to the surface and be forced on to the yellow sands of Ballymastocker Bay. In the August of the following year, it was said that a servant in a big house some twenty miles from the wreck site shot a bird, which turned out to be a parrot with a collar, on which was engraved “Captain Packenham of His Majesty’s Ship Saldanha.” Then, as the years passed by, further storms would leave fragments of the ship’s planks and various personal items belonging to the crew strewn across the shoreline. On the night of the 6th-7th January 1839, there was another fierce and destructive storm, similar to that which the locals had called ‘The Saldanha Storm.’ On the morning of the 7th January, when the coastguards conducted their patrols of the bay’s shoreline, they recorded that the entire bay was strewn from end to end broken beams, timbers, and chests; All that remained of that doomed ship.

One interesting story from that time tells us that one of the coastguards searching the shore found a small worked case that ladies called a ‘thread-paper’, and he brought it to the wife of his commanding officer. The little case was beautifully made and still contained some loosely coiled and knotted lengths of silken yarn and a few rusty needles. On the back of the ‘thread-paper’ were embroidered three initials, lovingly created by the hand of the woman who had presented it to a member of the ‘Saldanha’ crew.

Over twenty years after the case had been found the lady to whom it had been given, now a widow returned to live in Scotland. While taking a few days holiday in the country-house of some friends in the south of the country, the lady began to converse with a young man who was also a guest at the same house. The lady and young man began to talk about Ireland, Donegal, and the wonderful scenery to be found there. At one stage of the conversation Lough Swilly was mentioned and this sparked the young man’s interest. He asked some questions about the area and then disclosed that his mother had lost a brother in the Lough many years before, having gone down with the wreck of the ‘Saldanha.’ The widow told all that she knew concerning the ‘Saldanha’ incident and revealed to the young man that she had a relic of the ship in her workbox. She took out the ‘thread-paper’ and, asking the name of the young man’s uncle, found that the name agreed with the three initials embroidered on the little case.

When the young gentleman told her that his uncle had been a midshipman on board the ill-fated ‘Saldanha’, and that he was his mother’s favourite brother, the widow woman put the small thread case into his hand. As she did this, the lady explained how she had come into possession of the case and told him, “Take that home to your mother, show it to her, and ask her if she had ever seen it before. If she should recognise it, she is very welcome to keep it. But if it did not belong to her brother you can return it to me.” The young man left the house the next morning and went home. A few days later, however, he wrote to the widowed lady and told her that his mother had immediately recognised the case as being her own work, which she had given to her beloved brother when he had last left home. It was a relic of a person loved and lost and he thanked the lady for restoring it to his mother after fifty long years. Although small and of no intrinsic value, this little case had been kept and returned to its original owner as though it had been some precious family jewel.

Running Water

Fairy Folklore

Sure, I’ll leave you past the stream,” said an old man to a friend of mine who was leaving my house one night.

Oh, don’t annoy yourself, Eddie,” my friend replied, laughing; “the night’s a clear one, and I won’t be afraid.

Sure, he’s not afraid of ghosts, Eddie? ” said I, when my friend had left.

Och, God bless you! He isn’t afraid?” smiled Eddie, “well, I don’t think you know him very long or you wouldn’t be saying that.

Do you tell me he is afraid of ghosts!” I exclaimed.

I do,” replied Ned emphatically, “that is unless he has changed greatly this last while.”

And what good would it do him if you escorted him over the stream?” I asked.

Ah! For goodness sake, do you know nothing at all?

I can assure you, Eddie, I, for one, am not well versed in those things. But I am very willing to learn.

And did you never hear that nothing bad can follow you past running water?” asked Eddie, astonished by my admission of ignorance.

Honestly, no,” I  replied. “Is that the truth?

Indeed, it is,” answered Eddie. ” Sure, I thought everybody knew that.”

Well, no, Eddie! In that part of the country where I come from, the people believe in ghosts alright, but I don’t think any ever heard of that.

Well, now, isn’t that a quare thing,” said Eddie, looking down at the floor thoughtfully.

And what would you do,” he asked, “if you were walking about at night, and, without hearing or seeing anything anywhere around you, you were to get a blow, very suddenly, on the back of your head?

By God! I suppose I’d turn around and strike back,” I answered and laughed.

Ha ha! Well, that is where you’d be entirely wrong. Indeed, that would be a move that would do you little good. Damn the bit harm your fists would be doing, for you’d only be beating the air. And, at the same time, you’d be getting such a thrashing yourself that if you ever survived it, you’d be a lucky man, and be thankful for some good person’s prayers.”

Well, tell me, what should I be doing then?” I inquired with great interest.

What should you be doing? Is that what you’re asking me?

Yes.”

You should be walking on you should, until you cross a stream of running water, and whatever it is that would be trying to do you harm couldn’t follow you past it.

“Oh, I see!” I replied, rather deflated by the answer he gave me, but to keep him encouraged I said, “That’s why you spoke about the stream a few  moments ago.

Aye, that’s the very way son,

Then there must be some magic charm in running water?

To be sure there is, and why wouldn’t there be?” he exclaimed earnestly as if I doubted his word.

Krumm’s Riot 1920

The RIC and the Black &Tans

This last while I have been looking at various books concerning the ‘Irish War of Independence’ and have read many curious stories about participants and various incidents in what was a bloody and often cruel conflict. One story particularly caught my interest and concerns the mysterious shooting and murder of a member of the ‘Black and Tan’ auxiliaries to the Royal Irish Constabulary. This incident took place in Galway City during the night of 8th/9th September 1920, and the victim was a constable of the force called Edward Krumm. Perhaps the information gleaned here will help solve what mystery there was about the incident, with contradicting reports and propaganda campaigns created by each side to place the full blame on their opponents.

Edward Krumm was only one of thousands of British ex-servicemen who were sent to Ireland to reinforce the ranks of the ‘Royal Irish Constabulary’ (RIC), which had come under serious pressure in the bloody conflict known as the ‘Irish War of Independence (1920-21). Krumm, aged 26, volunteered for service with the RIC auxiliary force, ‘The Black and Tans’, on 10th August 1920 and was registered as Constable 72372. He was quite a tall man, standing five feet eleven inches tall, and although he came from Middlesex, he did have family in Surrey, and was a confirmed bachelor and active member of the Church of England. When enlisting for the auxiliary force, Edward had given his occupation as an electrical engineer.

Though Krumm, like many ‘Black and Tans’ had seen service in the armed forces he was given very little police training before being sent to Ireland on 18th August 1920 and stationed in the west of County Galway. Being former soldiers, the British Government were interested only in ability to employ their military skills and mentality as ‘Black and Tans’ to subdue the Irish terrorists with a greater terror, and so despised did this force of men become that each member became a walking target for any Irish patriot with a gun. It is not surprising then to learn that only three weeks after arriving in Galway, on the night of 8th September 1920, he was shot by persons unknown in Galway City.[1]

There were many shootings of ‘Black and Tans’ throughout Ireland, but what made this particular incident stand out was that Krumm lost his life under what can only be described as mysterious circumstances. News reports at the time and the testimony of eyewitnesses to the incident confirm that Constable Krumm was gunned down in a shooting confrontation with local volunteers belonging to the ‘Irish Republican Army (IRA). There are some accounts suggesting that the volunteers confronted Krumm with the aim of taking his revolver, and he had opened fire in self-defence. There are other reports that the constable pulled his gun from its holster and ran amok, forcing the volunteers to intervene in order to stop him killing or injuring nearby civilians. In the record there is one witness report that suggested Krumm had intentionally opened fire on civilians, which would cause an incident that would give the ‘Black and Tans’ a pretext for bloody reprisals on the Irish population of the city.[2]

After so many years it is incredibly difficult to attempt to discover the truth, but if the evidence available is believed to be factual then Constable Krumm was murdered in an IRA hold-up to relieve him of his weapon. In this case we must also accept that Krumm did fire his gun in self-defence when he was confronted by the armed IRA volunteers, who prevailed in shooting and killing the Constable. This conclusion is made all the stronger when a military court of inquiry investigated the circumstances of Krumm’s death and agreed with the evidential conclusion. It was also how IRA veterans remembered the events when they were interviewed years later. Their statements corroborated the findings of the military court of inquiry and contradict the story told by the Irish Republican movement at the time. The case of Constable Krumm, therefore, might help throw a different light on ‘police violence’ during the Irish War of Independence and the way such actions were perceived and represented by both sides of the conflict, not only in Ireland, but in Great Britain and Irish America.

In November 1920 an unofficial ‘American Commission on Conditions in Ireland’ (ACCI) was established, at which several Irish and American witnesses gave testimony. One witness, John Joseph Caddan, was a former constable in the RIC and gave testimony concerning events in Galway City and the West. He was a nineteen-year-old Irishman and a son of a sergeant in the RIC. But the shortage of work in Ireland caused him and many Irishmen to leave and seek employment in England. John’s fortunes did not improve, however, and so he joined the RIC in London during February 1920. After receiving his training, he was posted to the western reaches of County Galway in May and stationed in Galway City’s Eglinton Street station alongside almost thirty other policemen, the largest barracks in the district.[3] He testified to the ACCI that while Galway City itself was quiet until the end of August, the rugged countryside to the west of the City was in a constant state of tension. In fact, revolutionary activity had grown to a point that the RIC had abandoned ordinary patrols in the area, concentrating forces in fewer and fewer police stations.

In the first six months of 1920, the ‘Irish Republican Army’ (IRA) had attacked three of these reinforced police barracks and, although none of these were captured, they were all so badly damaged that they had to be abandoned afterward. The IRA volunteers had also set fire to several abandoned police stations at Easter, in commemoration of the 1916 Rebellion. Elsewhere in the County the republicans had established land arbitration courts and volunteers were acting a republican police, all of which brought instability to many in the countryside. The duties of these ‘Republican Police’ included guarding the polling booths during local government elections held at the beginning of June 1920. Sinn Féin romped home to win the elections and the new councils that were formed pledged their allegiance to the republican ‘Dail Eireann’ rather than the British authorities. Furthermore, in Galway City, the first meeting of the new Galway County Council passed a motion rescinding a previous motion condemning the 1916 Rebellion and struck it from the minutes.

At the end of June 1920, County Inspector Rutledge reported to the RIC Inspector General … “Sinn Fein courts have set aside Petty Sessions courts to a great extent. The Irish Volunteers are in control everywhere and the police are set aside. The Police cannot go on patrol except in considerable force and on the slightest opportunity they are held up. It is difficult for them to get provisions and fuel & light in many places. Their condition of life in barracks with light and air shut out by sandbags, shell boxes and steel shutters is very irksome and disagreeable. At night they cannot sleep during the dark hours apprehending an attack at any time. No one speaks to them in a friendly way. No one will give them any information … The old form of police control is practically beaten to the ropes, and it is as well to recognise the situation.”[4]

The tension that had been building up in the County finally exploded into violence on 19th July, when the summer assizes were held in Galway City with the assistance of heavy police and military presence. The IRA in the county had organised a boycott of these legal proceedings and the local people had little choice but to obey, whether they were supporters or not. The boycott proved to be successful since most of the cases listed to be heard were adjourned until the next session because many of the jurors failed to attend. Then, that evening, while driving back from the city to their barracks at Dunmore, the IRA ambushed a Royal Irish Constabulary sergeant and three constables on the road just outside Tuam. In this action two of the constables were killed and although the two survivors were captured by the attackers, they were subsequently released unharmed. But news of the ambush and the police casualties raised the alarm in Galway City, causing police reinforcements to be sent to the scene. They spent several hours searching the countryside without result and, in their anger and frustration, decided to take revenge on the town of Tuam by rioting in the streets, threatening to shoot innocent people as suspects, and setting several buildings on fire. The ‘American Commission’ heard eyewitness testimony that when the police returned to barracks, they bragged about burning public houses and the town hall, as well as making a complete wreck of the town.[5]

Not surprisingly the events in Tuam on 19th July intensified the deep sense of bitterness on both sides of the conflict in Galway. As had happened with the summer assizes, the coroner’s inquest on the two dead constables was adjourned after members of the jury failed to show. The local newspaper reported the response of the police to this adjournment – “Head Constable Bowles, who represented the authorities, said from their action in absenting themselves as jurors it might be accepted that the people of Tuam took it to be the right course to murder the police. We must take it that that is the general feeling in the town. It looks as if they had no more regard for a policeman’s life than a dog’s.” [6] The local newspaper, however, blamed the government for the violence that had erupted in the county, saying – “At the beginning of the present campaign the Irish police were plainly told that so long as they performed ordinary police duties no one would interfere with them, but if they took up arms against those who were fighting for Irish freedom they would have to abide by the consequences. Since then, the government has with callous and reckless indifference to the lives of its Irish police, proceeded with the task of militarising’ the force.

This policy, many believed, was leading the entire country to disaster. The same newspaper declared, “Those who can no longer govern will provoke and wreck,” and predicted, “extremists will resort to physical force and reprisals will follow, until a widespread vendetta of revenge must lay the country waste, and drive men of good will to despair.” The prediction rapidly appeared to be turning into reality in the weeks that followed, which saw more police barracks abandoned and burned. Then, on 21st August, five policemen were ambushed as they cycled from Oranmore to Galway City. One constable was killed by the attackers, while another constable and a sergeant were wounded. A police team left the city that same night to seek out a suspected attacker, Joseph Howley, in Oranmore, but they were unable to find him. In their anger, the police took revenge by setting fire to the family home, and so the violence escalated until at the end of the County Inspector sent in his monthly report and made it clear how the violence was affecting him and his men – “are shunned and hated and rejoicing takes place when they are shot. They have to take the necessaries of life by force. Their wives are miserable, and their children suffer in the schools and nobody cares.

Meanwhile, on 19th August Edward Krumm had been posted to County Galway. One RIC constable who met Constable Krumm recalled that he was one of the ‘Black and Tans’ and “was a motor driver stationed in Dunmore, about ten miles outside of Galway. He was in town about two weeks getting his motor repaired”. But even with such a short encounter the Constable had developed a very low opinion of Krumm, calling him “He was a generally reckless fellow and drank a lot.” On the night of 8th September, however, Krumm went to a nearby hotel to meet a civilian driver whom he had come to know. It was about midnight when the two men decided to go Galway railway station to meet the mail train that was bringing the evening papers from Dublin.

Soon after Krumm and his companion arrived at the station platform a fierce gun battle erupted in which Constable Krumm and an IRA volunteer called John Mulvoy were killed. Although details about the incident are sketchy, there was a report said to have come a Father Griffin that suggested that the young ‘Black and Tan’ (Krumm) was drunk. Moreover, he was described as a chauffeur who had only been in Ireland for two weeks and was surprised that there was not as much violence as he was led to believe. Krumm was on the platform when the newspapers arrived and there was a great rush of people to get them. The big news of the day was the condition of Lord Mayor McSwiney, and the sudden rush and noise appears to have overwhelmed the young constable, causing him to open fire. This version was corroborated by a Roman Catholic priest, Re. Dr. James Cotter, reporting that he was an eyewitness to the events in the station. He said he was talking to an Irish priest when he heard shots being fired and, “then very quickly a Black-and-Tan went out on the platform that leads to the back door of the ‘Railway Hotel’, and when the people were coming to get the papers off the train at midnight, he used his revolver in any way, shooting in any direction. He shot a young fellow named Mulvoy.” The priest stated that a civilian tackled Krumm and tried to disarm him, but the Black and Tan kept firing, wounding a couple of bystanders until, finally, another civilian shot him dead.

To many the report of a young ‘Black and Tan’ losing his nerve and opening fire on civilians in his panic appeared to be quite plausible. There were many instances in which the ‘Black and Tans’ had done stupid and very violent things when they were drunk. On one occasion, in December 1920, six ‘Black and Tans’ from County Longford chose to rob a bank in Strokestown, County Roscommon. The local police, however, caught three of these men drinking in a local public house after the robbery, with the stolen banknotes falling out of their pockets. In his petition to the court for clemency of these bank robbers it is reported that one of the bank robbers admitted that he had been “very drunk” that day, stating, “if I had been sober, this would not have happened.

Another incident occurred in Maryborough, County Laois in January 1921 when two soldiers and two ‘Black and Tans’ went from door to door seeking a billet after spending the evening drinking. A family refused to open the door to them and one of the ‘Black and Tans’, William Wilton, fired his revolver at the front door and killing the man on the other side. Wilton was tried and convicted of manslaughter, but in his petition for clemency he claimed that the shooting had been accidental, saying “The door was not opened, and someone shouted ‘We have no room or something to that effect. I imagining that we were going to be attacked took my revolver from my holster and the shot was accidentally discharged into the street.

Although Wilton’s version of events appear to be doubtful, Constable Krumm may well have imagined a similar attack was to be made on him. An American lady said that she was on the platform, waiting with the crowd, and saw everything that occurred. She stated, “There was a man on the platform to whom I paid little attention and could not give a description of him in a satisfactory way. He wore what I think was a loose cap. He did not appear to me to be a regular soldier, nor did he seem to me to be the customary Black-and-Tan. There was a woman on the platform at the station with three or four children. There was an English officer on the platform, and there were many civilians. I turned my head in this direction (indicating aside), and the man in this peculiar uniform whipped out a revolver. He was standing with another man in ordinary attire. And he slashed the revolver around and began shooting.” Mrs. King further testified that while the Army officer tried to protect the woman and her children, Krumm shot a young man in the leg. It was at this time that Mulvoy stepped up to help the wounded man, but Krumm shot him as well. She further stated, “Then, another boy jumped from the back and caught the soldier in this way (indicating across the body) so that he had only one hand free. And then a harsh shot rang out and this soldier fell to the ground.”[7]

Despite previous testimony from other ‘witnesses’, Mrs King said that Krumm had not opened fire after the crowd rushed forward. “There was perfect peace, and we were all waiting for the papers, and he whipped out the revolver and began to fire.” Furthermore, she poured doubt on the testimony of a priest witness by stating, “I do not think Father Cotter was on the platform, I happened to be there at the time. I think he was in the hotel.” It was obvious that Mrs. King believed that Krumm had opened fire without provocation, with the idea of provoking the people into rebellion.

Meanwhile, back at Eglinton Street Barracks, many of the men were already in bed. Then, one of the constables came rushing into the building shouting the alarm, telling the entire barracks that one of their own had been shot. There were about fifty men in the Barracks, and they all rose from their beds and got dressed, and immediately armed themselves before going on the streets of the city to take revenge. Rampaging through those streets they fired their rifles and attacked the homes of known Irish Volunteers, beating the occupants and setting the houses on fire. One Volunteer that they captured, Seamus Quirke, was taken down to the railways station and shot dead, where Krumm had fallen. The rioting was said to have lasted about ninety minutes with guns firing, women and children screaming, and the flames of burning buildings lighting up the night sky. Mrs. King and other witnesses to events took refuge in the hotel and British officers assured them they would be safe and only those townspeople who deserved to be shot were being shot.

During the riot the police attacked the offices of a republican newspaper, ‘The Galway Express’, and smashed up the printing machinery. In the morning Mrs. King saw the damage that had occurred to the newspaper building and others, with people trying to salvage what they could from the ruins. But despite the damage done to the ‘Galway Express’ by the police it managed to publish a special edition that day, giving a brief account of the deaths of Krumm and Mulvoy in line with the testimony of Mrs. King. The paper reported, “The public are aware that an English member of the R.I.C. foully murdered J. Mulvoy, a citizen of Galway, who had called to the station to secure an evening paper from the midnight mail. Not satisfied, this policeman attempted to murder another peaceful citizen when he himself was killed in self-defence.” The newspaper further reported, “an English officer, who witnessed the occurrence at the Railway Station, offered to give evidence, and said that the policeman was the aggressor and that no course was open to prevent further bloodshed but to shoot him.[8]

Black & Tan Revenge

‘The Galway Express’ and ‘the Irish Bulletin’, the official gazette of the revolutionary shadow government of the Irish Republic, were not the only papers to report these events. The shootout at the railway station, and the violent reprisals that followed, were described in both the local Irish weekly, ‘The Connacht Tribune’ and in national dailies like the Irish Independent and the Freeman’s Journal. These reports, however, included some interesting errors about the identity of the dead police constable, including the suggestion that Krumm had been serving in the Royal Irish Constabulary for a year, and was on detective duty at the railway station that night.

The report in ‘The Freeman’s Journal’ read, “When the train pulled in at the platform the waiting crowd rushed toward the newsboys who were taking out papers, as since the beginning of the hunger-strike of the Lord Mayor of Cork there are not enough papers to meet the demand. It appears that when Krumm saw the people pressing in on the platform he whipped out his automatic pistol.

“It does not appear that he actually fired at this moment, but when the crowd saw his actions they formed into a knot. He then fired two or three shots in the air, and afterwards putting his pistol under his left arm he fired back at Mulvoy, hitting him in the right forehead. The crowd then rushed toward Krumm, who was knocked down, and while on the ground he was, it is alleged, aiming his pistol at the crowd again when a revolver shot was fired, hitting him in the breast.”

The terrible violence in Galway was also reported in the British press and ‘The Times’ even mentioned reports of a civilian being taken out of his house and shot in the street. A very different version of events in Galway appeared in the ‘Manchester Guardian’, liberal newspaper that had been very critical of the Government’s Irish policy and gave extensive coverage of the Galway police reprisal. “The facts of the trouble were briefly these,” their report began. Krumm and Yorke were part of a crowd on the station platform, waiting for some race results, and for news about the Lord Mayor of Cork. Some Irish Volunteers were in the crowd that night as well. “Krumm was in plain clothes,” says the report, “but was known to carry a revolver, and it seems likely that the Volunteers wished to disarm him.” The Volunteers shouted, “hands up” and pointed their guns at Yorke and Krumm. Yorke put up his hands, but the Black and Tan drew his revolver. In the battle that followed, both Constable Krumm and Volunteer Mulvoy were shot through the head and killed.

The British authorities, naturally, favoured such a ‘hold-up’ narrative and the death of a ‘Black and Tan’ was mentioned in a press release from Dublin Castle. “Constable Krumm of the Royal Irish Constabulary, an ex-soldier, who recently joined the force, was shot dead at Galway railway station at midnight on Wednesday,” it said. “Three of the assailants were shot dead by the police, and two more are believed to have been wounded.” Brief as it was, this notice included all the information then available from official sources. The report received by Dublin Castle said only that: “At midnight on 8.9.20. Constable Krumm, R.I.C. was shot dead at Galway Railway Station. Three assailants were shot dead, and one or two believed wounded.” The next day, the Castle was told only that, “number of assailants shot dead should read TWO and not three as stated. Three assailants were wounded.”[9]

A military court of inquiry was convened to investigate the deaths of Constable Krumm and the two Volunteers. Coroner’s inquests had been suspended after the U.K. Parliament passed emergency legislation, the ‘Restoration of Order in Ireland Act, in August, but this court of inquiry was the first to be held since the suspension, and its proceedings were covered fully by the Irish press. It opened on 10th September at Renmore Barracks, Galway and several witnesses were called to give evidence. It was then adjourned after issuing a warrant for Christopher Yorke, the civilian who had accompanied Constable Krumm to the railway station on the night of 8th September 8. The court then re-opened on September 15, took additional evidence from Yorke and other witnesses, and returned its verdict. They gave scant attention to the deaths of Quirke and Mulvoy. But one witness, Eileen Baker, testified that both Krumm and Yorke had been at Bakers Hotel that night, and that Krumm had suggested to Yorke “that they should go to the station to get a paper as Mr. Krumm was interested in Spion Kop which was running in the St. Leger that day and wanted to see the results of the race.” In her opinion, both men were quite sober when they left the hotel and went down to the station at 11:45. Then, at twenty minutes past midnight, Yorke returned to the hotel, and told her that both men had been held up at the station, and that Krumm had been killed.

When Yorke appeared before the court on September 15, he corroborated Baker s account of leaving the hotel in company with Constable Krumm, and the two men went down to the railway station. He testified, “As soon as the papers were taken off the train, the crowd gathered in to get the papers, and Krumm was amongst them. Krumm got three papers and gave me one.” Yorke further testified that as they were leaving the platform, he heard a shot fired, then he was held up at gunpoint by one man and searched by another. “While I was held up,” he continued, “I heard a man shouting “Help,” and I heard Constable Krumm say, “If you do not let me go, I will fire.” It was not Constable Krumm who shouted for help. The man who had searched me then went away. After the cry for help five or six shots rang out. When I looked around, I saw two men lying on the ground.” Yorke was then told to “go on,” and returned to Bakers Hotel.[10]

In its verdict, the court of inquiry found that Krumm had died from bullet wounds, “and that these wounds were wilfully inflicted by some person or persons unknown.” Interestingly, the police pressed the court for a verdict of murder, but the court refused. Even more interestingly, the court refused to pass judgement on what had precipitated the shooting at the railway station that night. “There is no actual proof of what occurred regarding the shooting,” said the president of the court.

In this account there remains one group of witnesses from whom we have heard no testimony, namely those men who had shot Constable Krumm. As we can expect these IRA Volunteers were unwilling to give their side of the story to any newspapers, or to military courts of inquiry. In fact, it was only thirty years later that they were prepared to talk to investigators from the ‘Bureau of Military History’ established by the Irish Government. This collection, which is available to the public, includes two ‘Witness Statements’ by those IRA Volunteers who were present at Galway railway station on the night that Constable Krumm was killed, These Men were Sean Broderick and Mícheál Ó Droighneáin, their statements provide added proof to the belief that the incident was a “hold-up”.

Sean Broderick was not just any ordinary IRA Volunteer, for he was the commanding officer of the 4th Battalion of the IRA’s ‘Galway Brigade’. In his statement of events he included details of how he was arrested, taken back to the railway station, and almost shot to death during the police riot that occurred later that night. “My father’s house was raided,” he said. “I heard them coming, but, as I slept at the top of the house, I had no means of escape. They pulled me down the stairs in my shirt and trousers, without boots, and brought me towards the station, poking me with their rifles and revolvers and accompanied by choice language. I saw several patrols of military on our way and, when we got to the station, I shouted to the British Army officer that as an officer of the I.R.A. I demanded a fair trial. The reply from several of his men was: “You bloody bastard””

Broderick said that the police put him up against a wooden railway door and assembled a firing squad to execute him, and all he could do was to close his eyes and pray. The police fired and Broderick fell, but miraculously, he survived. He stated, “I realised I was not seriously wounded and commenced to moan and kick my legs and then lay still. To my complete amazement, they then cleared off hurriedly without firing any further shots at me.” Furthermore, Broderick described what he had seen and done earlier that night, stating that there were several IRA Volunteers at Galway station that night. He said, “We went up to the railway station to meet Michael Thornton of Connemara, who was coming from Dublin on the 11 p.m. train, as we expected he would have some stuff for our planned attack on Spiddal R.I.C. barracks. We were told by Volunteers that there were a few armed Tans swaggering about after leaving Baker s Hotel in Eyre St., which was a resort for the R.I.C. and Tans. I had already told Captain Sean Turk to meet us at the station with a few armed men. I met him and we decided to hold up the Tans and disarm them. I was just walking into the station when I heard shots. I found one Tan shot and his pals gone.”

This testimony, however, was not conclusive, because Broderick was reminiscing years after the event, and had not seen everything that had happened and. as a result, in his account, Constable Krumm and a civilian motor driver had become “a few armed Tans swaggering about.” In addition, both John Caddan and Mícheál Ó Droighneáin agree that it was another Volunteer who was stood up against the door at the Galway railway station, instead of Sean Broderick. The testimony of the latter is important, because he was, in fact, the ‘Michael Thornton to whom Broderick had referred. Ó Droighneáin was the one arriving at Galway station that night, on the train from Dublin with some revolvers and improvised explosives in a box under his seat, which were to be used in an attack on the constabulary station at Spiddal. According to Ó Droighneáins Witness Statement, a group of “six or eight” Galway Volunteers under the command of Captain Seán Türke met him at the station and loaded the box of munitions onto a wagon. “No sooner had the horse begun to move out of the station,” he said, “than shots rang out around us. We galloped off with our load.”

What happened was this,” Ó Droighneáin said. “A Black and Tan named Krumm [sic], was moving around the station, swinging a heavy revolver, and blowing about it, and making himself a nuisance to everybody. Just at the point that we had our box on the sidecar, Seán Türke jumped on Krumm’s back, and brought him to the ground. Krumm blazed away immediately, and one of his bullets hit Mulvoy, from the effects of which he died during the night. One of our boys had a .32 revolver, and with it he shot Krumm dead. Some say it was Frank Dowd who did it, but I remember Tommy Fahy, the youngest of the lot, saying it was he who fr one more fact. Reprisals, like the Galway police riot that followed the shooting of Constable Krumm, are usually blamed on the ‘Black and Tans’ and Auxiliaries. Edward Krumm, however, was the only ‘Black and Tan’ at Eglinton Street Barracks in the city, and he was dead before the reprisals began. The police who rioted after Krumm was shot dead were all Irishmen, the same as those Irishmen who had rioted in Tuam in the previous July. Moreover, these police were led by a Catholic Irish officer. In his testimony to the ‘American Commission’, John Caddan mentioned a “District Inspector Crewe,” who had taken part in the riot along with his men, and who was promoted “about a week after.” In fact, this police officer’s name was Richard Cruise, who had been appointed the district inspector for Galway in mid- June and became the county inspector in charge of County Galway’s West Riding in mid-October. In his monthly report, the new county inspector noted, with evident sense of satisfaction, that “The chief item of interest in Galway during the month was the reprisal scare and the dread of the gun-men lest the forces of law and order should catch any of them in the act of any of their evil doings.

In addition, the Irish government’s Police Adviser, Major General Henry Hugh Tudor, was in Galway the night that Constable Krumm was killed. As a guest at Bakers Hotel, Major General Tudor was one of the British Army officers who assured Mrs. King that the rioting police were merely “shooting some of the townspeople that deserve shooting.” In his testimony to the ‘American Commission’, John Caddan described how the Police Adviser came to Eglinton Street RIC Barracks on the morning of September 9 and spoke to the assembled police. He told the assembly, “This country is ruled by gunmen, and they must be put down.” He talked about giving home rule to Ireland, and he said home rule could not be given until all gunmen were put down, and he called upon the RIC to put them down. Tudor also asked them what they required in the barracks, and that whatever they wanted he would give them, and that they were also going to get a raise in pay. He said they needed machine guns, and he said they would get them, and also tanks and more men; men who had been in the army during the war and who knew how to shoot to kill, who would the right men in the right place.

By this time, the RIC was already being reinforced with Black and Tans and Auxiliaries. In fact, an entire Auxiliary Company – ‘D Company’ – would soon be stationed in Galway, where it would take the lead in the British counteroffensive against the Republicans in their war for independence. More importantly, there is no record of any policeman being punished for taking part in the Galway police riot and, in fact, far from being punished, District Inspector Cruise was promoted, and promoted again. In November 1920, just a month after he became county inspector for Galway’s West Riding, Cruise became the commissioner for the Connaught No. 2 Division, and as a divisional commissioner, Cruise authorized reprisals, including the burning of homes despite having no legal authority to do so. In Galway, then, it seems the police interpreted General Tudor’s encouraging words and indulgent attitude as carte blanche to crush the insurgency, by due process if possible, but by reprisals if necessary. For the rest of the ‘War of Independence’, County Galway’s West Riding would become notorious as being the most violent district in the province of Connaught.

[1] Constable 72372, RIC General Register, The National Archives of the United Kingdom (henceforward TNA), HO 184/37

[2] David Leeson, “The ‘Scum of London’s Underworld’; British Recruits for the Royal Irish Constabulary, 1920-21,” Contemporary British History 17, no. 1 (2003): 6-7.

[3] RIC Returns by County, 1920-21, TNA, HO 184/61-62. One of the very few Black and Tans to leave behind a memoir of his experiences in Ireland, Douglas Duff, was also stationed at Eglinton Street barracks in Galway. See Douglas Duff, Sword for Hire: The Saga of a Modern Free Companion (London: John Murray, 1934).

[4] RIC County Inspector’s Monthly Report, West Galway, June 1920, TNA: PRO CO 904/112.

[5] Report from “A Dawn of Terror,” Connacht Tribune July 24, 1920, 5, 8.

[6] Report from Morning Post, July 22, 1920, 7

[7] The testimony of Agnes King, in Coyle, Evidence on Conditions in Ireland to the American Commission, 130.

[8] “The Murder of Innocent Men,” Galway Express” , September 8, 1920, quoted in “Murder and Crime in Galway City,” Irish Bulletin , September 14, 1920, 2. After this edition of the Galway Express appeared, the police came back and smashed what remained of the paper’s printing machines.

[9] Summary of Police Reports received on 10: 9: 1920, TNA, CO 904/142.

[10] “Galway Tragedies,” Connacht Tribuney September 18, 1920, 5

Dark Clouds

I suppose I take after my mother in being forthright in giving my opinion and in not suffering fools lightly. Unfortunately, the world is full of fools and, unfortunately, there have been times when I have kept my thought and opinions to myself, but later regretted doing so. On those occasions, for the most part, I was persuaded to remain quiet by someone in the false belief that silence was the best way to maintain peace. Let me give you an example.

One evening several friends had joined my wife and I in enjoying a meal at a local restaurant. It was a busy Saturday night, and the small restaurant was packed with diners. At a table beside ours sat two couples who became engaged in quite a loud exchange of views. They were probably the “worst for wear” after a night’s drinking at a nearby hostelry, but this was no excuse for the language being used or the views being expressed. Although I had my back to them it was impossible for me to avoid hearing what they said and the resentment it caused me.

“I went to the doctors this morning,” one of the men began and then continued. “The damn place was full of foreigners. There were “Pakis”, “Poles”. Portuguese, “Chinks”, Blacks and God only knows who else. It’s not any wonder that it takes so long for us to get an appointment when all these foreigners come here to get free medical treatment!”

“I agree”, replied the other man. “They come here take our jobs and now take our National Health Service that we pay for. Every week in the papers you see how many of them are involved in various crimes in the area. It’s a bloody disgrace! Just what the hell is the government doing?”

Meanwhile, the anger within me grew. My wife, always very perceptive, knew what was happening. The conversation at the next table had completely distracted me from our own company and the more warming discussion they were having about their families. Touching my hand softly with hers, she gently whispered advice to me. “Just ignore them. They are not worth you troubling yourself.”

There are several things that I dislike, and loud, disagreeable people are high on the list. Racism and Sectarianism are at about the same level. In a nation where racism was virtually unknown it as grown quickly in the last decade or so since the European Union opened its borders to free travel between citizens of the member states. Twenty years ago, in Northern Ireland, one would have hardly ever seen a black person. In my own hometown the only persons of colour one would have seen at that time were the family that ran the local Chinese restaurant. Moreover, outside of these Chinese people, whenever one would hear someone speaking in a foreign language, they could be almost sure that they were tourists. All of this has now changed, and the country has become more cosmopolitan with people from every land and culture now residing here among us. But not all of my countrymen appreciate the presence of these “outsiders”. With the rise of racism and right-wing extremism crimes of hate have become ever more frequent in our society, much to our shame.

In normal circumstances I would have assumed that racism, like sectarianism, was a past-time of those with a very low I.Q. I have, however, discovered that this is not necessarily and accurate assumption on my part. Yet I sat at my table with my wife and friends, smiling and being sociable while those at the table behind me continued their loud and vile discussion. Still, I “bit my tongue” and kept my own counsel.  “If I don’t know them, then why should I interfere?” I asked myself.  Some might say that I should not have been listening to their conversation, and yet how could I avoid listening when they spoke so loudly. It was as if they wanted to share their vile opinions with the whole restaurant. Even as I sat there my conscience seemed to recall the words, “Evil men prosper when good men do and say nothing.”

Finally, we finished our meal and we prepared to leave the restaurant after paying our bill. As I stood up from my chair, I decided to glance at those sitting behind us. To say that I was shocked by what I saw there is actually putting it quite mildly. The two “gentlemen” sitting at that table were both known to me. They were both teachers at a local school and one of them was a lay minister in the Church. The red-headed man spoke to me, saying – “Hi Jim! How are things?”

I gave him a look of disgust and then replied to his question – “Do I know you? I do not normally recognise people who speak as you do!” My retort appeared to have the desired affect and I said it just loud enough so that all the diners would hear me. My wife and I immediately walked away with our friends to pay our bill and leave. Since that time, I have always found myself warmly received by the staff at “The Golden Dragon” Chinese restaurant.

O’Carroll’s Banshee

A Story of the Shannon

The Banshee or ‘The White Woman’, famed in Irish folklore is sometimes called the ‘Shee Frogh’, ‘House-Fairy’. She is usually represented as a small, shriveled, old woman. Occasionally, however, she is pictured as being a young, beautiful woman with long, flaxen hair, and it is this long hair that she is often depicted as combing, while she freezes the observer’s blood with her wild and startling wail that sounds every bit a soul-piercing melody.

A Banshee is reputed to herald the immediate death of members of a particular ‘Old Irish’ family. But, she is always to be seen alone at these times, in a melancholy mood, when she is found near the home-place of the doomed person, which may be familiar to her. Some folklorists will inform us that the Banshee is most likely to be the spirit of some person who had suffered a violent death at the hands of an ancestor of the doomed family. Frighteningly unrelenting, the Banshee repeats her vengeful wails from a single place, fulfilling her designated role as the herald announcing the imminent death of at least one of the guilty ancestor’s descendants. In many cases, her cry appears to be coming from a water source, a spring, a river, or a lake, with which the Banshee’s name is connected. In most stories that concern her visitation, it appears to matter little if she is a friendly spirit or an enemy of the people to whom her wails are directed.

The famed, but now ruined, castle of Terryglass and its four circular bastions, which stood proud on the four corners of its once massive walls, overlooks the upper waters of Lough Derg that lies along the course of the River Shannon. The remnants of those walls are still immensely thick, although they are not even one-third of their original height. On a fine and breezy autumn day, the rough waters of the Lough roll along with every sweep of the cool winds, and the wavelets that are created break upon the shore, a short distance from the stout foundations of this once massive fort.

The people who live in this area call the runs ‘Old Court’. The gateway to the castle opens toward the wide Shannon and, near it, one of the corner bastions is open to all who wish to enter. Inside, a broken and winding, but quite wide, circular stone stairway leads the visitor to the upper level of the Terryglass Castle’s walls. Those adventurous visitors who have strong nerves could, possibly, walk above the remaining grass covered tops, especially if no strong winds are blowing. Then, from this height, the visitor can look down upon the ground-plan of the ruined building and see that it is almost quadrangular. They will also see that a thick dividing wall separates the interior of the castle into two almost equal parts. Then, as the visitor makes their way, they will reach each angle of the fortress and may see, in the ruin’s interior, the circular bastions beneath him. These remain ina tolerable condition even after all these years, with old elder or thorny shrubs growing in the lower soil, while the narrow, looped windows on the outside are splayed inward, dimly lighting various compartments.

The entire structure rests upon a limestone rock foundation, around which rich meadow pastures, corn-fields, and tangled thorn fences stretch, or slope gently down to the bright waters of the lough. Around the castle, the lower walls spread near the foundations, and incline inwardly to a certain height, which helps to strengthen their superstructure in what, at one time, must have been an accepted military structural technique. Weather-beaten and worn are these old ruins, and they are choked with briars and shrubs. But traces of their former grandeur and vastness remain, leaving the visitor with enough evidence to show that this was once a lordly fortress in former times, with its parapets raised high in the air and proudly looming over the lough and its surroundings.

In those remote, historical days the halls of the ‘Old Court’ were inhabited by an Irish Chieftain called O’Carroll and his armed retainers. Within those, many centuries before, an evening’s entertainment ended with singing and dancing. But, when the old Harper drew his last tones from the strings of his ‘Clairseach’ (Harp), everyone retired to their beds and the guards went to take up their posts on the highest tower, where they kept watch through the night.

O’Carroll had ordered his men to make his private lake-boat ready for the next morning, along with his forester, Huntsman, and two strong soldiers. After breakfast, he had proposed to have his men row the boat over to the lower shore of Thomond, where he could visit one of the O’Briens. That morning the sun rose bright over the lough and the day was perfectly calm as the boat and its passengers sliced gracefully through the glistening surface of the wide lake. Very quickly the boat became just a speck to those who were watching its departure from the castle, and with the strong, regular strokes of the oarsmen, the boat eventually landed on a distant foreland.

The chieftain was not expected to return until the evening of the next day. But, while the night-watch prepared for their duty on the tower, and before the people in the ‘Old Court’ had gone to bed, a loud, piercing and unearthly wail was heard, and it sounded as if it was coming from the nearby lough. The hearts of those who heard it felt their hearts stop in terror, while the castle’s servants rushed to every loop-hole window in the upper storey and even onto the roof, to determine who was making this frightful lamentation and from where was it coming. In the night sky, the moon had just appeared, spreading its mellow light over the surrounding landscape and illuminated every object of any significance. It did not take the look-outs long to see a beautiful female figure, clad in white, with long flowing locks streaming over her shoulders. She glided slowly over the clear surface of the lake, while the piercing mournful dirge became momentarily more feint until, at last, it died away in the distance.

The shimmering figure finally dissolved as if it too was just one of the passing shadows of the night. These people, who had heard and watched the strange apparition for some time, now looked at one another in silent astonishment or made exclamations of wonder and foreboding. “There is no doubt, it’s O’Carroll’s Banshee,” cried out one of the watchers, “and I am afraid that some sad accident will soon bring an end to our chieftain!

The next morning everyone’s eyes were anxiously directed across the lake toward the far-off shores of Thomond. A boat had already been sent toward Thomond earlier that morning with news of the strange warning to be taken to the chieftain. Since just before midnight the previous evening an unfortunate misunderstanding had arisen between O’Carroll and men from the O’Brien clan. An insult was alleged to have been directed toward the O’Briens and nothing would satisfy them but to settle the matter by force of arms. Although mutual friends made every effort to persuade the two sides of the argument to put down their arms, it was in vain. Both combatants insisted that their difference could only be decided on the lawn at the front of O’Brien’s castle before the morning dawned. For quite a while the talented and gallant swordsmen wielded their sharp, trusty swords against each other with great vigour. The duel went constantly back and forward, defence and attacks, cut and thrust, with neither man giving any quarter. But, the wary O’Brien seized upon an unguarded moment by his opponent and, without hesitation, he ran his sword through the heart of his adversary. O’Carroll, the Lord of Terryglass Castle fell dead upon the ground which was dampened by the morning dew.

With sorrowful tears in their eyes, O’Carroll’s men carried their chieftain’s remains towards the boat and with deep sadness, in their hearts, they pulled on their oars and rowed back across the lake to their home. Almost as soon as the boat was seen upon the lake many people rushed to line the Terryglass shore and welcome home their chieftain, but they did not know then that he was dead. Their grief and lamentation were loudly and angrily wailed when they saw the lifeless body of O’Carroll and heard the cause of his untimely fate.

The body was taken into the castle, where mourners and the funeral ceremonies were arranged. Finally, the chieftain’s remains were taken with all honours to the neighbouring churchyard of St. Columba MacCruinthannan, where they were consigned to the earth with all honours that were due to him. All the while, an immense crowd of weeping relatives and servants surrounded the grave as the final rites were completed.

Trio in the Park

It was a beautiful autumn morning and Maria was determined that she would get out into the park to enjoy the sunshine. She brushed her grey hair before she put her knitting needle, wool and half-finished red sweater into her “Bag-for-Life” shopping bag. Maria was almost ready and only needed to put on her brown jacket, which was hanging in the hall, before she left the house on her short excursion. She was glad that she had put the jacket on because although the sun was bright there was still freshness about the morning air, a remnant of the rain that had fallen over the last two days.

It was an absolute joy just to get out of the house and she was looking forward to sitting on her favourite park bench for an hour or two. In peace and quiet, Maria planned to sit, knit and watch the world go by. There was something therapeutic in knitting and Maria took special pleasure from the fact that the items she produced were donated to those who most needed them. The charity that she donated to was one that brought aid to seriously underfunded orphanages in Romania. Even as she knitted each stitch of this little red sweater she could almost visualise it being worn by some unfortunate child in that far-off country.

It wasn’t far to the bench in the park that Maria preferred to sit on. You could get a good all around view of the park from this bench, which sat in the shade of a large, spreading chestnut tree. At this time of the year the leaves on the tree, like so many other trees in the park, were changing colour; Beautiful autumn colours of brownish red, golden yellow, and orange. As Maria sat down on the bench, and took out her half completed sweater, several of the colourful leaves fluttered down from the branches to the ground.

Earlier that morning Lucy was in her own house alone and in a state of confusion. “This is a miracle,” she told herself. Of course she had hoped and prayed that one day she would become pregnant and hold a child of her own in her arms. But she had become used to the probability that this would not happen and was anxious about how Michael would react to the news. He was due back home at any moment and she knew she would have to “bite-the-bullet” and tell him what she had known for the last two days.

Lucy didn’t know why she hadn’t told Michael that she was pregnant. He wanted children and they had planned a family before their marriage, but that was ten years ago. They had tried and tried without success. The doctor had told them that there was no medical reason why Lucy couldn’t become pregnant but, much to her disappointment, she hadn’t. All talk of family had almost disappeared as had their hopes of having a child. “Would Michael accept the news?” she wondered. “How would he act?” she asked herself.

The front door opened and Michael walked directly into the kitchen, placing two cartons of milk on the table. “It’s a beautiful day outside”, he smiled at Lucy.

“Hopefully it will get better,” she replied.

“You think so?” asked Michael as he began removing his jacket. For the first time since returning home he looked at his wife and noticed the anxiety in her face and the nervous way she biting her lower lip. “What’s wrong?” he questioned and the concern was evident in his voice.

Lucy took a deep breath and told him, “We’re pregnant.”

At first Michael couldn’t quite take in what Lucy was telling him. He was in shock at the news and his mind paralysed with excitement. But, as his senses returned, his eyes opened wide and he cheered, “Hallelujah, I’m going to be a father!” The tears began to flow from his eyes as he held out his arms and took hold of his wife.

Together the happy couple embraced, each crying on the shoulder of the other. The happiness of the moment filled their body with a sort of electricity and they tingled. They laughed as they cried and the tears were those warm tears of joy felt when we receive an unexpected and beautiful surprise. Michael now swung his wife around and around, proclaiming his total love for her and he promised that neither Lucy nor their child would need for anything. The tears began to dry and the excitement subsided just enough to bring the overjoyed couple back to reality. “You know what we have to do now, of course?” Michael asked.

“Tell your Mother”, laughed Lucy, wiping another tear from her eye.

“Come on darling. Get your coat on and we will head over there now to tell her,” he told her.

Michael and Lucy walked through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. Michael began to cry – “Mam, your going to be  a granny,” he announced and the old woman looked up from her knitting and smiled.