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“ACROSS THE SHEUGH”
“Meanwhile, in Ballydunn, there was a growing sense of excitement as flags were hung from every available lamp post and window in the town’s centre. Red, white, and blue bunting was strung from one side of the road to the other, for the whole length of Main Street and on several evenings, bands played music as they marched beneath all the adornment. One evening I ran to the top of the street, which adjoined Market Street and the whole town centre, just to see the bands. On each side of the town’s mains streets there was a great throng of people clapping, cheering, and whistling along with the music that the bands were playing. Bandsmen were dressed in all kinds of uniforms, in every possible colour and trimmed with silver or gold braid. Some bands played flutes, some played brass instruments, and others played accordions, or bagpipes and drums.
The early summer evening air was filled with music and I happily stood among the crowd, clapping, and cheering as the bands passed by. When the parade was over, I returned to “Granny Bessie’s” house, skipping, and hopping and trying hard to whistle one of the tunes that I had heard being played.
Another evening, as I prepared to go and see the bands again, Mick stopped me and sternly told me, “We do not go to see those bands.”
“It’s great fun,” I answered. “Why not go and see them?”
“Only the Orangemen watch them, not us,” he replied.
Not wanting to appear stupid in front of my new friends I said nothing, despite the fact that I didn’t know what an “Orangeman” was. Instead I accepted what they had said and stayed with them to play, but I could still hear that music blaring out from the centre of town. But the idea of an “Orangeman” continued to puzzle me because I had not seen one person in the crowd or among the bandsmen who was orange in colour. In fact, the vast majority of those people who had watched the bands, or played instruments were as white as I was.
Having lived in England I was not a stranger to people of colour, but I had never seen an orange person. My thoughts settled the dispute by convincing me that, just like Leprechauns, “Orangemen” could only be seen in Ireland and I was determined to see one. My mother, I was certain, had seen many of these “Orangemen” and she was the one who I should ask to show me where I could find one.
My mother was a small, heavily set woman, who had a big heart and a very warm smile. She never grew any taller than five feet and, in later life, actually shrank by at least two inches. One of her many personable assets were that she always saw the funny side of any situation and she had what some people would describe as a dry sense of humour. At the same time, I must admit that she could get angry very quickly. She had the temper of a rat and the tongue of an adder, and she was not shy about using both when it was necessary. She described herself best by saying, “Bad tempered I may be, but Bad hearted I am not!”
You can imagine how nervous I felt when she became stuck for words and began to stutter as I asked her, “Mam, What’s an Orangeman?”
I could see that she was struggling for an explanation and I asked, “Are they like the Black people we see in England?”
She almost choked on her words, but after a minute or two of anxious waiting I finally saw a warm smile on my mother’s face as she took me aside to talk in private. “An Orangeman is not a man of colour,” she said, softly, and began to explain that an “Orangeman” was a member of a group describing itself as “The Orange Order.”
“What do they do?” I pressed her and she demonstrated no impatience with me. “They organise big parades in July, like the one in town tonight,” she replied and the continued to explain. “That is why all the flags are flying and the bands are playing as they march around the town centre.””
“SHORT STORIES AND TALL TALES”
“The stark ghoulish looking trees grew up beside the bridge on both banks of the stream. To a more nervous person approaching the bridge on such a cold, dark night a certain sense of fear may have given them cause to hesitate. Tommy, however, was not the nervous type. He did not believe, as many others did, the tales of ghosts and other superstitious nonsense. Seeing the bridge just ahead lifted Tommy’s spirits considerably, and he felt a little warmer, but reaching this bridge always encouraged Tommy to keep trudging onward.
The dark country road had no footpath on either side of it and for safety sake Tommy always walked in the middle of the narrow road, especially in the evening darkness. By staying more to the centre of the road Tommy could avoid the larger potholes and the broken edges of the asphalt where it met the grass verges. In the dark a pedestrian could quite easily step into one of those potholes trap their foot and cause a severe injury or fall. Furthermore, by keeping to the centre of the road the pedestrian could avoid stumbling into the puddles of ice-cold water that these potholes often contained.
As Tommy’s footsteps brought him closer to the little, granite-stone bridge across the stream he began to notice a strange white-blue mist that was spiralling about it. The strange, thickening mist appeared to originate from the stream below the bridge, and it wound its way through the trees to the bridge itself. This was a mist that Tommy had never seen before, and it brought upon him a strange sense of fear. As the mist spiralled upward it thickened in its density, but it did not spread further outward from the bridge. Tommy tried hard to put any nervousness he felt to the back of his mind, but he could not help linking this strange mist to scenes from an old black and white movie. In those old films the grey-white mists appeared to float and drift around mysterious buildings, graveyards, and various scary backdrops. Despite his best efforts, Tommy could not put his sense of nervousness to the back of his mind, and he could feel his throat beginning to dry rapidly.
Tommy’s pace slowed as the beginning of the bridge got closer. There was a definite sense of fear that had begun to creep up on the man, but he could not quite put his finger on what was the cause of his fear. He did not believe in the superstitious nonsense that he had heard others speak about. Nevertheless, he could feel his heart begin to beat faster and his body begin to tremble ever so slightly. Tommy began to question himself and wondered why he should suddenly feel scared of the dark. “For God’s sake this is only a fog of some kind,” Tommy told himself and walked on.
He laughed quietly at his silly fears and took a deep breath before proceeding onward. As he exhaled his warm breath condensed in the cold of the night air as steam. He could feel the drops of moisture that had gathered on his moustache and he wiped it with the back of his hand. It was definitely getting colder now, and he just wanted to get himself home as quickly as he could to warm himself at the blazing fire that Biddy would undoubtedly have set in the hearth. Tommy was at the bridge and only a mile away from home. In the distance he could see several dim, yellow lights that managed to shine through the darkness, reinforcing his comforting thoughts of home, Biddy, and a filling meal. But as he stepped on to the bridge the puzzling mist appeared to be gathering around him. Step by careful step Tommy moved forward, and he could feel the road rise as he approached the centre of the hump-back bridge.”
“QUARE OLD TIMES”
There are all sorts of men who become legends in their own time. Some for good reasons and some for not so good reasons, but all are remembered. In the small country, market town of Ballycraig, not so many years ago, there lived a man called Tommy Larkin who was better known in the town by the name, “Bull Larkin.” Tommy was given his name because of his huge, muscular frame, which many likened to that of a large bull. His frame, however, was not the only thing that could be compared to a bull, for Tommy was well known for his quick and often violent temper. His very presence in a room could cause some anxiety among any other men who might be present, because this man had not one ounce of fat on his body. There were only well-toned muscles all over his large frame, bulging through every piece of clothing he wore and making those clothes appear to be ill-fitting. Though his physique was impressive enough for many, Bull Larkin was also well known for his more than adequate skills as a fighter, bare-knuckle boxing or otherwise.
‘Bull Larkin’ was therefore, a most formidable figure of a man and he knew the fear that he could instill in others. In the small town of Ballycraig it was ‘Bull’ who definitely ‘ruled the roost’ and there was none who appeared to be courageous enough to dare confront him. Sadly, such men naturally gather around them a circle of “cronies” who follow them, flatter them, and willingly carry out their every instruction.
Even the local police sergeant and his constables, who were supposed to provide law and order in Ballycraig, failed in their responsibilities when it came to bringing ‘Bull’ to order. On every occasion they were confronted by an angry Bull Larkin they gave way to him. Such inaction on their part served only to make this “mountain of a man” even more secure from being held accountable for his actions. Conscious that he was indeed immune from ordinary justice, Bull enjoyed oppressing those who didn’t ‘kowtow’ to him, or those he considered much weaker than himself. In such a brutal and cowardly manner, Bull Larkin dominated the world around him.
Tales of Ballykillian
“The very woman for Joe,” replied Mick. “Do you recall that, over in ‘Derryvore’ townland, there is a well matured lady by the name of Sara, who lives with her brother, John?”
“Aye! You mean Sara McCree?” smiled Kathy.
“That’s the girl!” said Mick. “Only last week I was having a pint with him in the ‘Pheasant Pub’ and John was telling me that he has took a notion for a woman and would like to marry her and have her move in. But Joe told me that his sister Sara had not the least notion of moving out of the house, and her just over forty. It’s his sister and he can’t just throw her out. Yet, I’ve heard it said that Sara McCree is not a woman who would turn her back on a man who could put a roof over her head and provide her with some degree of comfort.”
“Well matured is the right description, but that Sara has a bit of a history behind her some people say,” Kathy remarked. “It seems that a few years back she went off to England quite suddenly and left a little bundle with the ‘Good Shepherd Sisters’ in a convent. But the woman never married and that’s for certain.”
“Well, I bet you that Bud doesn’t know that and if they marry it won’t matter. Anyway, Bud never married, for he has never left the district except once or twice to go to Dublin for an All-Ireland final. He could hardly have gotten himself hitched in one night and, besides, have you ever seen another face as bad looking as ‘Bud’s’? He has hardly a bar in his grate and any teeth that have survived are as black as your boot,” laughed Mick.
“Aye,” laughed Kathy, “and the hair on his head, what’s left of it, standing up like the quills of a porcupine!“