“King Billy” – Part I

 

Orange Lilies
Orange Lilies

This a story that happened in the decade prior to Ireland’s War of Independence and the division of the country. It was a time when Britain still ruled and the aristocracy stood at the head of society –

 

Mrs Farquahar was quite a tall, thin, and very respectable lady who had just turned fifty years old, and she was possessed of many rigid virtues. This is not surprising, since she was a native of the northern counties of Ireland and a staunch Protestant. She had come originally to ‘Maryborough’ as a personal maid to the Dowager Lady Dundas and seved her well for many years. Then, when her mistress died, Mrs. Farquahar’s faithfulness was well rewarded by Lord Dundas, who offered to establish her in a business of her own. At the time of our story, Mrs Farquahar had been owner of the station buffet for almost two years, and she made a decent living for herself through the business. This was to be expected since ‘Maryborough’ itself is situated on one of the main Railway lines in Ireland and there is always a fair amount of traffic that passes through it.

In command of the station was the stationmaster, who was familiarly known as “Jim” O’Brien. He had been born in Maryborough and had worked his way up the ladder of promotions from being a lowly porter on that same railway line. He was a very intelligent, easy-going man, who could become very bad-tempered, very quickly. He could have been described as being a typical Irishman with his round, good-natured face, humorous mouth, shrewd, twinkling eyes, and immensely loud voice.

As you can well imagine, between Jim and Mrs. Farquahar there appeared to be a deadly battle of wits that seemed to be never ending. She was a cold hearted woman, who had a sense of her own superiority, and constantly felt that she was in the right even when she was in the wrong. She had an unpleasant habit of pointing out Jim’s deficiencies whenever she saw them and, unfortunately for him, she saw them all too often for his taste. All day long, every day, she would sit in her refreshment room, with her spectacles resting on her nose, and her Bible open before her. While she read she would knit, and rise from her seat only when a customer entered the buffet room. Jim tried to go about his business in a calm manner, but he could not but help being conscious of the fact that nothing escaped that woman’s ever vigilant eyes. Her presence made him feel tense and uneasy, and her critical remarks were always reported to him.

“She’s a bitter old biddy!” he often told his wife. “Why, the very look of her would turn a whole can of fresh cream sour. There are more twists and turns in her than you’d find in a bag of weasels.”

Jim was Catholic, and he had deeply held Nationalist aspirations. He belonged to the local group of “The Irish League,” and often spoke at various public meetings when his duties as stationmaster allowed him. Not surprising then that he deeply objected to being referred to as a “Papish” and a “Rebel,” by Mrs. Farquahar.

Papish, indeed!” he would complain. “Rebel, indeed! You had better keep a more civil tongue in your head, or it will be the worse for you, madam!

On several occasions he would turn on her and bitterly ask, “How did the likes of you ever get a husband?” Then he would state, “Seeing and hearing you, sure it is no wonder the poor man died young.”

But, Mrs. Farquahar was a good match for Jim. She, like him, was full of fight and courage. It was her proudest boast that she was the granddaughter, daughter, sister, and widow of proud ‘Orangemen’. While living in Maryborough, which was predominantly Catholic, she considered herself to be a child of Israel abandoned among the Babylonians, and she felt that it was entirely up to her to uphold the standard of her faith. As part of this she would sing out the praises of the ‘Battle of the Boyne’ in such a triumphal manner that it deeply aggravated O’Brien almost to madness.

Ah, God Almighty, will you not help this daft woman! Is she Irish at all, or what? It’s terrible heartbreaking to see her making so merry because of a bunch of bloody Dutchmen——! Sure, does she not know that it was Irish blood that they spilled that day at the Boyne? And now, to see her taking such pride in that bloodshed makes me sick to my heart, so it does. Now, if she was an English woman, I could maybe understand it, but she’s forever calling herself an Irishwoman! She’s full of poison, so she is, if she is so happy to be celebrating her country’s misfortunes.”

Jim O’Brien’s anger was made all the worse because Mrs. Farquahar, whatever she said, spoke to him very rarely if ever. She would pass by him with a lofty scorn and an indifference pretending not to see him. At the same time, it must be said, that while she did many things that O’Brien found extremely annoying, they were things that were strictly within her rights.

Despite all their bitter feuding, it has to be said that their differences had not reached such a point all at one time. Their feud had begun in earnest when Mrs. Farquahar decided to adopt a small, black, mongrel dog, on which she lavished all of her affection. The problem arose, between her and the stationmaster, when she decided that the most endearing name that she could give her little pet was “King William.” This was, of course, nobody’s business except hers. In any other environment, but Ireland, Mrs. Farquahar would have been allowed to amuse herself unheeded. But, she was in Ireland and Jim O’Brien was not the type of Irishman to allow her to play fun and games with patriots.

Jim O’Brien was a different type of Irishman in many ways. The man had a great love for growing flowers, and he worked hard to keep his garden in beautiful condition. In fact, O’Brien was prouder of his roses than of anything on earth, except for his eldest daughter, Kitty, who was almost sixteen-years-old. The reader can only imagine his anger and frustration when, one day Jim found his rose-beds scratched into holes and his prized roses were uprooted by “King William”. The spoiled little dog had developed a destructive habit for hiding away his bones in the soil that created Jim’s flower-beds. O’Brien, irritated and frustrated by the destruction created by the dog, made loud and angry complaints to the Mrs Farquahar, who received them with a degree of disdain and disbelief.

Oh please, Mr. O’Brien!” she said, with a tone of superiority in her voice, “don’t attempt to put the blame upon my innocent wee dog. Even if you dislike the name that I gave him, that is no reason at all for accusing him of being in your garden. He knows better, so he does. He won’t go to where he’s not wanted.” After such words the relationship between O’Brien and Mrs. Farquahar became open war.

Under the windows of the refreshment room stretched two narrow flower-beds, which Jim took care never to touch. It was his opinion that these flower beds were the exclusive property of Mrs. Macfarlane, and that it was up to her to look after them. They were, however, left uncultivated for a long period of time and became an eyesore in the mind of the stationmaster. Then, one day the station porter, Kelly, approached Jim with a certain air of mystery. “The old one,” he said quietly, “has begun to set something in those old flower beds over there”. The term, “The old one”, had become one that indicated Mrs. Farquahar and anything to do with her was of interest to the stationmaster.

Without hesitation Jim came out of his office and began to walk up and down the station platform, pretending that he was examining the station’s condition and being seen to apparently neglect the flower beds. But, just as Kelly had told him, Mrs. Farquahar was at the beds and attempting to do some gardening. She had put some old gloves on her hands and was wearing a clean checked apron to help protect her clothes. In one hand she held a trowel, with which she was breaking up the caked earth as a means, it would seem, of preparing the ground to set some plants. “In the name of God, what is that damn villain of a woman doing now?” Jim asked, when he got back to his office.

Devil the bit of me knows what she’s at,” replied Kelly. “The old fool has been grubbing in that soil since nine o’clock this morning.

From this day onward Mrs. Farquahar was committed to the care of her two flower-beds. Every day she could be seen weeding or watering, and although Jim steadily avoided showing interest in her activity, he was almost eaten up with curiosity about what the probable results of her would be. He was totally puzzled about what she wanted to grow in the flower beds. As the weeks passed by, the tiny green seedlings finally began to push their way through the soil. As they began to grow the type of plants that Mrs. Farquahar had set in the flower beds quickly became recognisable, and a highly excited stationmaster rushed home to tell his wife.

By God, but that woman is an old devil, Mary,” he said almost breathlessly. “Would you believe that it is lilies that she has planted there, in those flower beds. And, as sure as there is an eye in a goat, I am sure they are damned orange lilies. I swear, if that’s what they are, I’ll pull every one of them out by the root. Every one of them, I tell you, even if it kills me!

For Jaysus sake, Jim, be quiet, for you don’t know who will hear you,” said Mary. “Anyway, how do you know that they are lilies at all? Now, for the love of God keep her tongue still. Say nothing and keep yourself out of that woman’s way.”

Ah Wheesht, woman! Do you think I’m an eejit? Those are lilies that old devil has planted, for sure. Only time will tell if they’re orange or not. But, be you certain that if they are orange lillies, I won’t stand it! I will complain to the Railway Board.”

And what good will that serve? Sure the Board will be on her side, man. Don’t you know the backing she has? They will just ask you why she shouldn’t be able to grow orange lilies if she wants to?

Ah, Mary, you are always the sensible one. But, woman dear, Have you no spirit left in you? Dear God, woman, why would you let her ride rough-shod over us in such a way? If you make a mouse out of yourself, then the cat will snap you up. Well I tell you I won’t be snapped up. Sure, Saint Peter himself wouldn’t stand for it, and as sure as a pig’s arse is pork, I won’t either!

You’re a ignorant man, Jim! You should not be bringing down any misfortune on your head, for you have children to care for. You have better things to do than troubling yourself over what the likes of her does. She is over the moon every time she sees that she can annoy and make you mad. So, man dear, take no notice of her and, perhaps she’ll stop her nonsense.”

Ah, to the devil with her for being a bitter old serpent. Sure, the venom’s flowing thick in her. But, why should I put up with her, I’d like to know?

Would you keep your tongue still, Jim? You show absolutely no prudence when ou open that big gob of yours. Don’t you know that not a word you say is not brought back to her ears by someone or other. Would you have just a wee bit of sense, ou buck-eejit. You’ll be saying things like that to Joe Kelly, and he’ll have it spread throughout the town in no time, and ther will be someone who will carry it to her.”

And do ye think I care a damn for the likes of that old serpent? Not at all! But, Mary, if you had your way you would have me hung, like the man that was hung for saying nothing. Sure, did I ever do a hand’s turn of harm against her? No! And it is a low, mean trick she had done by setting orange lilies in those flower beds, to bloom before my eyes, and her knowing my opinions.

Well, I’ll not say it wasn’t, Jim, if they are orange lilies. But sure, you don’t know for certain what they are, and all I ask is in God’s name please keep quiet until you do.”

The days went by slowly, but the lilies grew taller and taller in the flower beds outside the station buffet. They budded, they bloomed, and, sure enough, they were orange in colour, just as Jim had predicted they would be. “They are beautiful and they will make a fine show for the twelfth of July, I’m thinking,” said Mrs. Macfarlane to herself with a huge smile, as she walked past her flower beds, swinging a dripping watering-can.

At the time when the orange lilies blossomed, Jim O’Brien was not at home. He had been sent about twenty miles down the line to conduct some official business for the Railway Company. The flowers that he detested so much appeared to take advantage of the stationmaster’s absence to put on a bright, colourful show. When Jim returned home, however, he discovered that Mrs. Farquahar was away. She had shut up the station’s refreshment room, though she had not locked it. It was a time in Maryborough when few if any people locked their doors, unless they were going to be away a considerable period of time. She had left “King William” behind her, and she had told Joe Kelly to look after the dog, in case he should get lonely. Joe was told that she had been invited to the wedding of a friend she had met when she was a maid to her ladyship. The man who had been butler to the house at the time was to be married that very day to the steward’s daughter, who was a lovely woman.

When Jim returned to work in the station, Joe Kelly had told him all the news about Mrs. Farquahar, but he did not say a single word about the orange lilies. Joe was just a little afraid that the stationmaster would explode into a rage, and he thought it was better if he did not mention anything about the lillies, but just to allow him find it out himself. For quite a bit of time, however, Jim found himself engrossed in a lot of paperwork that he needed to attend to. Finally, Jim’s paperwork was finished, just as his attention was being distracted b the almost incessant howling, barking and yelping of a dog. “Would you let that beast out, for God’s sake?” he shouted out to Joe Kelly. “I can’t listen to that racket much longer. It is doing my head in!”

Ah, sure I was afraid that the bloody thing would be run over before the old woman came back and I decided to shut him in,” explained Kelly.

Well there’s no danger of that happening any way soon,” said Jim, ”There won’t be a train in for the next two hours. Anyway, if that cur was run over, God knows he’d be no big loss. I tell you that I for one will not be grieving for that ill-named excuse for a dog!

Kelly did not say another thing, but went to release “King William”. Meanwhile, having finished his task, O’Brien stood for a time near the office door. His hands were crossed behind him, as he warmed his backside against the pot-belly stove, and he fixed his eyes abstractedly on the sky. After a few minutes Jim made ready to begin his usual walk, up and down the platform, when his eye were suddenly attracted to the flare of the rows of orange lilies, standing as if at attention.

By the Sacred Heart of Jesus!” exclaimed O’Brien. “But I was right. It is orange they are, sure enough. What will Mary say now? By God isn’t it all lies they do be telling us, when they say there are no reptiles in Ireland. That old woman is the biggest reptile I have ever seen and she could even poison the life of the devil, himself.”

As he walked along the platform, Jim stopped in front of the flowers as they danced merrily in the breeze. “Christ, isn’t it an awful pity that there’s nothing I can plant to annoy her. No, she has the definitely got one over me entirely. Shamerocks are something that don’t make a great show at all, and you would pass by without giving them a sideways glance. Now, orange lilies, that’s a flower that you can see a mile off. That old serpent, who, but her, would be up to the likes of planting such flowers there?

Then, just at that moment, Jim became aware of an extraordinary commotion occurring among the lilies. When he looked closer at the flowers he saw “King William” in the middle of them. There he was scratching madly at the soil, scattering mould, leaves, and bulbs in every possible direction. With every stroke of his hind legs, “King William” dealt absolute destruction to the flowers that his owner had so carefully-tended.

The sight of all this carnage filled Jim’s heart with great gladness. “More power to the dog!” he cried out, accompanied with loud laughter. “Aye! More power to him! Sure, hasn’t he more bloody sense than his mistress. ‘King William,’ she named him, and him now digging up her orange lilies by the roots! Ho, ho! By all that’s holy, isn’t it the biggest joke that I ever seen or hear in all my life. More power to you, dog! Good on you!

Rubbing his hands together in an ecstasy of delight, O’Brien watched as “King William” indulged in his frantic and devastating work. Whenever the dog paused he was urged on to even more destruction by Jim’s constant cries of “Rats!” With each cry, “King William” would scamper wildly here and there, running from end to end of the flower beds, snapping the delicate lily stems, and scattering the blossoms to the four winds.

By Jaysus, but this is great fun! Would you just look at him now? Bad luck to any man who would say he has seen better fun than this in his life. Go to it, ‘King William!’ Smash them, my wee man! Good dog! Out with them all!” Jim roared, as tears of laughter streamed down his cheeks. “Oh, my God! But that old Biddy will be as mad as hell. I would give a sixpence just to be able to see her face when she returns. O Lord! Lord! Sure, it’s the biggest joke that there ever was.”

But, as with all good things, they have to come to an end. An exhausted “King William” could do no more and lay down in the flower bed, but only when every lily had been laid low. As Jim O’Brien looked upon the devastation, Mrs. Farquahar’s carefully tended flower beds were a scene of chaos, with broken flower stalks and trampled blossoms. O’Brien, could not wait to share the news with others at the station and, with a great smile on his face, he explained what had happened to Mary and Finnerty. Then, in a very good humour, he returned to the office and began working on the account books.

After what seemed a short period of time, Kelly came entered the office. “She’s back,” he whispered, “and she’s fit to be tied. I was watching out for her, and when she did arrive she almost fainted in a heap on the platform when she saw what had happened to those lilies. I swear to God that she’s going to come here any minute, for her eyes are burning with rage and she is spitting fire. I don’t think I have ever seen such a frightening sight, Jim!

AN INTERESTING TRIAL

This is the story of an extraordinary trial that took place in Ireland just before the turn of the 20th Century and was revealed to me through the records of a provincial newspaper, printed in 1899. I think for many of my readers this will be their first introduction to the story..

The case in question began in the northern province of Ireland and is being reported here for the first time since its original publication, over one hundred and eighteen years ago. It was at a time of political upheaval and much talk about ‘Home Rule’, supporters and opponents of which marched regularly through the streets. It is my intention that the story of this trial is told exactly the way it happened and the manner it was reported. The report of the trial states the evidence that was given at the time, and I am writing it down exactly according to what was deposed at the trial.

In the criminal court it was said that Joan O’Rourke, wife of Andy O’Rourke, had been murdered, but the only question left to answer was, “How did Joan come by her death?” From the evidence of the coroner’s inquest on the body, and from the depositions made by Mary O’Rourke, John Croke and his wife, Agnes, it appeared that Joan O’Rourke had committed suicide. Witnesses stated that they had found the unfortunate woman lying dead in her bed, with the knife sticking in the floor, and her throat cut from ear to ear. They also stated that the night before they found her body Joan had went to bed with her child, and her husband was not in the house. They swore that no other person came into the house at any time after Joan had gone to bed. The witnesses said that the truth of their statements lay in the fact that they had been lying in the outer room, and they would have undoubtedly seen or heard any strangers who might have tried to enter the house.

With this evidence established in the court, the jury finally submitted their verdict that in their opinion Joan O’Rourke had indeed committed suicide. This verdict, however, came under some pressure afterwards, when rumour arose within the neighbourhood that suicide was not the cause of Joan’s death. Further investigation and discovery of some diverse circumstances began to suggest that Joan did not, nor, according to those circumstances, could she possibly have murdered herself. The jury, whose verdict had not yet been made official by the coroner’s office, was summoned again and requested that the coroner’s office exhume the body. The request to remove the body from the grave, in which she had already been buried, was granted. Thus, almost thirty days after she had died, Joan’s corpse was taken up in the presence of the jury members, and a great number of other witnesses, and the sight that greeted them caused the jury to change their verdict.

Those persons who had been brought before the court to be tried were all acquitted. But, there was now so much the evidence, against the previous verdict, that the trial Judge was of the opinion that an appeal should be made, rather than allow such a gruesome murder to go unpunished by the law.  As a result the four most likely suspects were brought to trial on an appeal, which was brought by the young child, against his father, grandmother, and aunt, and her husband John Croke. The evidence that was now brought against them was so strange, that one would need to read through it very carefully to ensure a good understanding of it. The paper recorded the evidence as follows –

At the subsequent trial the prosecution called forward a person of unimpeachable character to give evidence. The Parish Priest of the town where the act was committed was deposed and began to speak. He confirmed that the body, which had been taken up out of the grave, had lain there for thirty days after the woman’s death. The priest stated that the corpse was laid out on the grass in her cheap pine coffin, and the four defendants in the dock were also present at the exhumation. Each of the defendants where then requested to place a hand upon the Joan’s long dead body. Agnes Croke, the priest said, immediately fell upon her knees, and she prayed aloud to God that he would do something to show that she was innocent of doing any harm to Joan. She mumbled out some other words in her grief, but the priest was unsure about what she said.

None of those who were standing trial refused to touch Joan’s dead body. But, after they had done this, the dead woman’s brow which, beforehand had been a dark bluish grey in colour, like that of carrion, began to have a dew or gentle sweat come out upon it. This perspiration now began to increase so much that the sweat began to run down in droplets over the face. Almost like magic the brow began to turn, and it quickly changed to a more lively and fresh colour. Unbelievably, as we watched, the dead woman opened one of her eyes and shut it again. This action of opening the eye and then closing it was carried out by the corpse three times. In addition to this, the dead woman thrust out her marriage finger three times, and swiftly pulled it in again, and, as she did so, drops of blood dripped from the finger down onto the grass,” explained the priest.

The Judge who was hearing the case, not surprisingly, had some doubts about the evidence that was being given and he asked the Parish Priest, “Who else saw these things besides yourself?”

The priest felt that his veracity was being questioned and was quite annoyed by the question that had been posed. But, he chose not to react angrily and simply answered, “Your Honour, I could not swear to what others may have seen or not. But, your Honour, I firmly believe that the entire company saw these things for themselves. In fact, if any of my testimony had been considered to be in doubt, some proof of that doubt would have been presented and many would have spoke out against this statement.

As he stood in the witness stand, the priest was able to observe that many of those listening to him were showing some admiration for him, and he was encouraged to speak further. “Your Honour,” he began, “I am Priest of the parish, and I have known all the parties involved for a very long time. I have never had any occasion to be displeased with any of them, nor have I ever had much to do with any of them, or they with me, outside of my pastoral duties as a minister of the Church. The things that happened amazed me and filled my mind with wonder. However, the only interest that I have in these matters is to do what I have been asked to do and that is to testify to the truth. This, I assure you, I have done.”

This witness was aged about seventy years and highly respected in the district. When he spoke his testimony he did so in a clear voice, slowly and elegantly, which won the admiration of all who heard him. Clearing his throat he again began to speak to the Judge in the case, saying, “May I point out, at this time, your Honour, that my brother priest, who is present in the court, is the minister of the parish adjacent to my own, and I am assured that he saw everything to which I have testified.”

This other priest, who was just a little younger than the first, was invited into the witness box, where he was sworn in and invited to give his evidence. His testimony supported every point that had been previously made. He confirmed the sweating of the brow, the changing of its colour, the mystical opening of the eye, and the three times that the corpse’s finger thrust itself out, and drew in again. The only area in which he differed from the first witness was in declaring that he had, himself, dipped his finger into the blood which had exuded from the dead body. He said that he had examined it and was certain in his own mind that it was blood.

I can understand the difficulty of believing such testimony. Modern ideas on the paranormal often leave us doubting our own eyes and senses. But, there were others who had observed these things and agreed with the testimony given by the priests. There is no reason to doubt the testimony of the clerics, for why would they be persuaded to lie about such things. At the same time, allow me to assure you that the reports from the trial have been recorded here accurately. Evidence was also given against the prisoners in the dock, namely, the grandmother of the plaintiff, and against Croke and his wife, Agnes. It was stated that all four confessed that they had lain in the next room to the dead person that entire night, and that no other person had entered the house until they found her dead the next morning. The only conclusion to be drawn, therefore, was that if this woman did not murder herself, then they must be the murderers.

To prove such a charge, however, further evidence was needed and to this end the medical examiner was called forward. Looking at his notes on the examination he had made of the crime scene and the body of the dead woman. Then, point by point he explained his findings to the court. Firstly, he described the scene that he had found when he arrived at the house, and told the jury, “I found the dead woman lying in her bed, in a quite composed way. The bed clothes and other things in the room had not been disturbed in any way, and her child lay by her side in the bed. Immediately, I could see that the deceased woman’s throat was cut from ear to ear, and her neck was broken. It is completely impossible for the deceased person to first cut her throat, and then break her own neck in the bed; or vice-versa.

The examiner continued to explain that he had found no blood in the bed, except for a small spot of blood on the pillow where she had laid her head. “But, there was no evidence of major blood loss on the bed, which there should have been if the death had occurred in the place that she was found. On further investigation, however, we found a stream of blood on the floor of the bedroom, which ran along the wooden floorboards until it found obstructions that caused it to spread in pools. There was, at the same time, another stream of blood found on the floor at the bed’s feet. This stream had caused caused small ponds of blood to form, but there was no sign of both blood streams being connected. This suggests that the woman bled severely in two places. Furthermore, when I turned up the mattress of the bed, I found clots of congealed blood in the underneath of the straw-filled mattress.

The court was informed that the blood-stained knife was found that morning after the murder, sticking in the wooden floor a good distance from the bed. “The point of the knife, as it stuck in the floor was pointing towards the bed, while the handle pointed away from the bed,” he explained. “On the knife itself I discovered the print of the thumb and four fingers of the left hand.

At this point the judge interrupted the testimony of the Examiner and asked him, “But, how can you know the print of a left hand from the print of a right hand in such a case as this?

Your Honour,” he began to reply, “it is hard to describe, but easier to demonstrate. If it would please your Honour, could you put your clerk’s left hand upon your left hand. You will see that it is impossible to place your right hand in the same posture.

The Judge did as he was asked and was satisfied by the demonstration. The defendants, however, were given an opportunity to put forward a defence against all these claims. But, they decided to maintain their silence and gave no evidence at any stage of the trial. The Jury, therefore, was directed to retire and deliberate their verdict. It took them only an hour to return to the court and announce their findings. John Croke was acquitted of all charges, but the other three defendants were found guilty as charged. The judge turned to the three guilty persons and asked if they had anything to say about why judgement should not be produced. Their reply was simply, “I have nothing to say except that I am not guilty. I did not do this.

Judgement was passed upon all three. The grandmother and the husband were executed by hanging, while the aunt was spared execution because she was pregnant. None of them confessed anything before their execution and the aunt never spoke as to any possible motivation for the murder. In fact, the aunt never spoke about the incident ever again. She moved away from the district with her husband, where she died some fifteen years after her niece had been brutally killed.

 

©Jim Woods 2017

FATEFUL MEETING – Cailleach Part iv

The members’ lounge in the club had been nicknamed “The Snug” by its devotees who, during the week, were mostly men, oddly enough. It stood away from the main bar of the club, and its social hall in which dances, concerts, parties and other community events were held. The place was like a sanctuary from the noisy music and chitter-chatter that is so much a part of a club’s atmosphere, especially on week-end evenings. It was, however, far removed from the ‘Snugs’ that were an integral part of life in the public houses many years ago, which were a refuge for those ladies who liked to imbibe. That was a time when it was frowned upon for ladies to be seen entering a public bar, many years ago. Prohibited from drinking in the main bar area, ladies were obliged to take their drinks in the ‘snug’.

Secreted in the ‘snug’, ladies would have their drinks served to them through a sliding hatch that further ensured their privacy. This screened off area was the sole reserve of the female sex, but the more frequent visitors were almost always known by the male customers and bar staff. The idea behind the ‘snug’ has long disappeared and it is common these days for a man and a woman to go to the public bar and enjoy a drink together. The so-called ‘snug’ in the football club was much more a refuge for both male and female customers, who preferred conversation rather than having their ears assaulted with the sounds of modern music. In such a place Johnny was happy to sit with his drink in his hand, secure in the knowledge that he would catch up with all the local gossip and have some craic arguing about football.

Each evening there were at least three of Johnny’s pals in the club, but it was standard practice among them to each buy their own drink This is the way it had been for many years between them, ensuring that such a practice would prevent those with little money from being embarrassed. It also allowed each of them to drink as much or as little as they wanted without pressure. Furthermore, the practice helped them put a limit on their spending, depending on what they could afford, and not feel any sense of inferiority among friends. But, most of all, the practice suited Johnny who, though not miserly, could not have been regarded as the most open-handed person when it came to treating anyone to a drink. “A fool and his money are easily parted,” he would say, and he would go on to insist that he was no fool.

It was on a late summer’s evening, when he went to the club for his nightly drink with friends, that he first met Luig, “The Cailleach of Ballygan.” Although this first meeting did not make a great impression upon him, it was an encounter that would bring Johnny a new outlook on life, and radically change both his character and personality. Yet, at first, this initial encounter between the two showed no sign of the disaster, ruin and heartbreak it would bring upon a, heretofore, happy and loving family.

In nature there is a type of spider that is called ‘A Black Widow’, which reminds me of the attitude that Luig had towards men. The Black Widow spider entices the male of the species into her arms for a loving embrace. Then, after mating, she sinks her poisonous fangs into him, filling his body with poison, which allows her to suck out her mate’s life-force much easier.

At this time Luig was a woman in her early to mid-forties and not particularly attractive. She had recently tired of her most recent lover and rid herself of him, for there was nothing more that he could offer her. That particular evening she had gone to the club in the company of a girl friend, and she went with the intention of scouting out the local male population for a likely target into whom she could bury her fangs.

The football club was not exactly the sort of place that Luig would frequent under normal circumstances. But, she had not long moved into the area and had been invited out for a drink b this neighbour woman, who had befriended her. This new friend, however, was the type of woman who loved to know everything she could about a person. When she began talking she appeared to be speaking an almost incessant rant of rubbish. Sitting at a small table, Luig closed her ears to the voce of her companion, but her eyes had focussed on a man standing at the bar. This was Johnny Magowan and he had just received a pint glass filled with Guinness from the young barman. Standing there, with a pint glass in his hand, Johnny was smiling and joking with the barman, who appeared to be enjoying the conversation.

Luig turned to her friend and, indicating for her to be quiet for a moment, asked her, “Who is that man at the bar, carrying a pint of Guinness.”

Ah, sure that’s Johnny Magowan,” the friend began to explain. “He has worked in the Civil Service all his life and he has just retired.

He has a bit of money then?” Luig enquired.

I would say he has, why? Do you fancy him or something?

He’s a good looking man, so who wouldn’t fancy him?” answered Luig.

Ah, for Jesus’ sake you’re not the first, you know. But, he’s a married man with three grown up children,” laughed Luig’s friend.

Sure, why would that matter?” giggled Luig with a glint n her eye that certainly signalled of the mischievousness to come.

You should never mess with married men,” warned Luig’s friend in a very serious tone of voice. “Such actions can lead to a lot of heartbreak and trouble.”

Sure it’s no trouble to a determined and careful woman who knows what she wants,” Luig smiled conspiratorially and took another drink from her Vodka and lemon. Then, putting down her glass, she continued, “When I like something that I see, I usually get it. Now, that is a handsome man over there. I want him for myself and believe me when I say that I will have him all to myself!

Shame on you, Luig.”

For God’s sake, just look at him. He is tall, he’s handsome, and he’s not an old man. He’s certainly not short of a penny or two, and he’s just right for me,” laughed Luig.

The ‘Cailleach Luig’ had a very keen eye, like all witches, and her estimation of Johnny Magowan was not far off the mark. As she raised the glass once more to her lips, Luig stared at him with penetrating eyes, and she now began to review the strategy that she might employ to entrap her new target. In her eyes all she could see was a man of average height, who dressed well, and looked as though he was financially comfortable. He was far from being an old man, which was an added bonus in her eyes, and he seemed to light up when he was the apparent centre of attraction. Although, in truth could never, and would never, consider himself to be a rich man, he was happy with his lot in life. Taking early retirement left him with a high rate of pension from his last position, and he had been given a substantial ‘golden handshake’ because he accepted their offer of early retirement. What was amazing, though, was the manner in which Luig had picked him out from the rest of the men in the club. It was a mysterious talent, but one that appears to be common among all Irish witches throughout the generations.

The first stage of Luig’s strategy called for her to discover everything she possibly could about Johnny Magowan, and she wasted no time in setting quietly about her task. She used the ‘Cailleach’s” undoubted talent for making friends with others to achieve her aims. Then, by asking apparently innocent questions of those friends she made in the club, Luig quickly found the answers to all her questions about Johnny Magowan.

Luig discovered where Johnny lived, the location of his favourite ‘watering holes’, and who is closest companions were. One piece of good fortune for her came when she learned that the house she had recently rented was only doors away from the home in which Johnny and his family. More importantly, the knowledge that she had gained now gave Luig ample opportunity to observe both the man and his family. More importantly, the knowledge gave Luig more, apparently innocent, excuses to “accidentally” ingratiate herself with Johnny on more regular occasions, and thereby get to know him more intimately. Step by steady step, Luig managed to worm her way into the confidence of Johnny’s drinking buddies in the club, and could often be seen in their company.

Among all of his friends it could be said that both Bernie and Seamus were Johnny’s closest confidantes. These two men were confirmed, old-style batchelors and interested only in many pursuits. It wasn’t that either Bernie or Seamus did not enjoy the company of women, it was just that they did not want any ties to females that might hinder their carefree masculine lifestyle. They need not have worried about being overrun with needy females. As one woman member of the club put it, “Sure those two blackguards are as ugly as sin, and much too fond of their gargle, for any decent woman to be interested in them.” This was just what Luig wanted to hear, and both Bernie and Seamus were very much flattered when she began to make friends with them.

Being seen in the company of Bernie, Seamus and Johnny soon became a regular event for Luig. She would be seen chatting with them, laughing at their jokes, and even buying a drink or two for herself. In a very short period of time Luig had achieved her goal of becoming close confidante of Johnny Magowan. As week followed week, and months began to pass the friendship between Luig and Johnny grew more intimate. Seamus and Bernie, however, soon began to notice how bright the eyes of their new friend shone on each occasion that she was in Johnny’s company. This had been helped, in no small way, by the number of times when, after the football club closed for the night, Luig persuaded Johnny to see her home safely. Using the ploy of being a weak and vulnerable woman, Luig expressed her ‘fears’ of walking home, on her own in the darkness of the night. Johnny, always the gentleman, did not hesitate to offer himself as her escort and assured her that she would reach her front door safely. It was only a matter of time before Luig invited her escort into her house for quiet ‘night-cap’ before he went home. His first acceptance of the offer was innocent enough, but the invite became a regular event, and each one lasted a little bit longer than the previous event. One small ‘night-cap’ was stretched to two or three.

Despite what some people may believe, neighbours and friends are not always blind to such dalliances between men and women. It is gossip about such things, whether true or not, is the life-force that keeps the leisure time of friends and neighbours filled. Not surprisingly, there were rumours that suggested an affair between Johnny and Luig had begun. There were those who were disgusted at Johnny carrying on a sordid affair behind his wife’s back. There were also those people who doubted the credibility of such rumours because they had known Johnny and his family for many years, and had a very great respect for them. Some who heard the rumours had, not unexpectedly, an instant sympathy for Johnny’s wife, Maura, but there were none among these who felt they had the courage to make Maura aware of her husband’s possible infidelity. There were, however, close friends of Johnny who, on hearing the rumours, wasted no time in approaching him and ask if he was indeed conducting an affair with Luig. He, of course, denied the rumours and would laughingly tell them, “I’m a married man for God’s sake, with three children. Do you not think I have enough trouble without getting involved with another woman? But, deep inside his own heart, Johnny knew that things in his life were changing, and that it would not now be long before the truth was out.

In recent months Johnny’s wife, Maura, had become quite ill and had only been persuaded by the pleadings of her eldest daughter to consult the doctor. Maura had never been a stout, or physically strong, woman and so, when she began to rapidly lose weight her entire family became concerned, including Johnny. She had always been a woman who kept herself busy at work and in the house, so when she began to become lethargic and complain about her tiredness it aused those who knew her well to become very concerned for her own health. Friends and family persuaded Maura to go and see a doctor, who told her that the symptoms were not uncommon among women of her age and that she was not to be worried. The ill woman was given a course of vitamins and tonics, and she was also advised to begin a much healthier diet than that which she had become used to. Yet, despite these precautions being taken, Maura’s symptoms persisted and worsened. Friends began to urge her to seek further medical advice, and suggested that it might be better if she went to a medical consultant privately. But, Maura would laugh away their concerns and tell them that, “It is only old age and, sure, there is no cure for that.” She, however, was only in her mid-fifties and old age’s problems were a long way off yet.

Elsewhere, the rumours about Johnny Magowan and Luigseach McGirr were persistent, and were growing among neighbours. “Have you heard what people are saying about us?” Luig asked Johnny, one evening as they walked home together from the ‘Club’.

What about us? Have they stopped saying that we are secret lovers?” Johnny laughed.

That’s just what they’re saying,” Luig told him. “This is not good for your reputation, Johnny, or mine. Do you think that we should, perhaps, stop being seen in each other’s company so often?

What?” Johnny asked her, “You want us to submit to a bunch of frustrated old women who have nothing better to do with their lives but to gossip about us? We have nothing to be ashamed of here, because we have done nothing wrong. Why should we stop being good friends?

But, that does not stop any of them from saying nasty things about you and me. Maybe we should just stop being seen together so often?

Do you?

No! I’m just concerned for you,” said Luig.

To hell with them! The nosey bastards! Why should we stop our friendship because of what some nasty person is spreading among gullible people?” replied Johnny.

Are you sure?

You just listen to me for a minute,” he told her, “I like you, I like your company, so let them talk and spread their lies.”

As Johnny spoke these words Luig smiled, satisfied that her plan was now working very smoothly. She looked into his handsome face, put her arms around his neck, and they began to kiss each other quite passionately. Within a few moments she took his hand into hers, and holding it firmly Luig led him inside the house, and up the stairs to her bedroom.

As previously pointed out to you, the reader,Luig was not blessed with ravishing good looks. Instead, if the truth be told, when she wore her reading glasses she would remind you of that ill-famed murderess, “Rose West”, in her appearance. In short, Luig was as far from being a hot ‘pin-up’ as a woman could possibly be. Any person who can recall this relationship between Johnny and Luig are at a loss as to understand what there was about her that would have attracted him. The answer, of course, might easily have been because she was fifteen years younger than he was. He may have been simply flattered by her attention and the sex being offered to him, apparently without cost. Whatever the reason, this sexual encounter, though short, may have been exceptionally gratifying. But, Johnny was also a man of conscience and, immediately after having had sexual intercourse with Luig, a great sense of remorse began to overcome him. He sat on the edge of the bed in his nakedness and wondered just how he had come to this stage in his life.

You’re feeling guilty, now. Aren’t you?” Luig asked Johnny as she continued to lie in the big double bed, her naked, portly body covered only by a white cotton sheet.

I am,” admitted Johnny. “I am ashamed of myself, because this is something that I have never done before. I have always been a happily married man, and what we have done is wrong.”

Sure, it’s doing harm to anyone, Johnny. It’s only a wee bit of fun,” Luig tried to quietly comfort him. “It’s sex. There is nothing serious and there are no strings. It is simply something that happens when a man and a woman are suddenly attracted to each other.”

Johnny, unsurprisingly, was unsure about the logc behind what Luig was telling him. He knew that he liked this woman, and he did enjoy being in her company because she made him laugh. And yet, despite all this, he had never considered the possibility of being attracted to her in a sexual way. Naturally, as an older man, he felt very flattered that a younger woman, like Luig, would show such an active interest in him. But, now, after the event he began to feel a terrible guilt about having had sexual intercourse with a woman who was not his wife. There was a sudden realisation that a moment of lust had risked his marriage to Maura, his relationship with his children, and the respect he had among his wider family circle.

Above all, Johnny felt himself to be a hypocrite who had abandoned his own moral standards for lust. He had shunned the marriages of nieces and nephews because they had been pregnant, or caused pregnancy before their marriage. He had also been deeply embarrassed by his youngest daughter’s decision to live with her partner without getting married. He now felt a deep sense of shame, and he could not excuse his actions by saying that he was ‘making love’ to Luig. Johnny did not love Luig. He knew that it was all done through pure lust on the part of both of them. He knew that in the excitement of the moment his hormones had seized control of all his senses, and he seized the opportunity to copulate, as any healthy male animal would, when the female of the species presents herself to him. At this moment in his life he thought deeply about his love for his wife and children, which caused him to weep with the guilt he felt for betraying them. Feeling somewhat depressed, Johnny left Luig’s house after midnight and quickly walked the one hundred yards or so to his own house, which was in complete darkness. He discovered tat everyone in the house had gone to bed, and he took the opportunity to undress in silence in the bedroom, slip into his bed, and slept a very restless sleep that night.

Despite his deep feelings of guilt, however, Johnny and Luig would regularly repeat their lustful encounters, and not just on those occasions when he had left her home from the ‘Club’. In later years, when their affair finally came out into the open, people wondered just what had convinced Johnny Magowan to indulge in an affair with this woman. Some people suggested that Luig had, perhaps, told him that she was pregnant and then lost the baby. Others considered that both Johnny’s eyesight and mental capacity had been at fault. Seamus, one of Johnny’s closest friends, once confronted him by asking, “Just what the hell are you playing at, Johnny? Prince Charles is a dick-head for giving up Diana for that ugly Camilla. But, you are doing this on Maura for the like of Luig McGirr is even worse!”

Johnny could not defend himself, or his actions, to his friend. Sadly, observers can only assume that in Johnny’s case it was the tale of ‘forbidden fruit’ being made readily available, and man’s insatiable greed attracted Johnny to experience it. Like taking a drug, the more a man partakes in ‘forbidden fruit’ the more he becomes addicted, and he begins to feel the pain of guilt in his mind less often. It is said that among addicts, their consciences become quickly immune to any feelings of guilt, or remorse for any wrongdoing on their part. As a result, those things that once were unconfirmed rumours suddenly became fact, and they continued to spread throughout the town. Always in such cases, however, it is said, “The wife is always the last to know about her husband’s infidelity.” As far as Johnny and Luig were concerned, this was to remain the situation for a considerable period of time.

In that intervening period Maura’s ailments became worse and she began to worry about her own health. Being the devoted wife that she was, Maura had no wish to concern her husband about things that men would consider ‘Women’s Problems.’ But, Fiona, her eldest daughter, seeing the pain and difficulty that her mother was suffering urged her to consult the doctor and to get some tests done to find out what was wrong.

UPDATE!!!

To all those who are following my blog I want to let you know I will be away from my computer from 14th October until 22nd October…. The next entries to my Cailleach story, and the addition of other stories will be printed here, after 22nd.

Please continue to read the blog and leave your comments and we will catch up after my wee holiday.

Thanks to the following for following this blog…. and I enjoy their work too. Look them up and I’m sure you will find it worthwhile –

Aak fictionspawn; Hagalaz; Green Dragon Artists; Pranay Nandan; jamesfitzpatrickphotography 

Jim

Cailleach of Ballygran III

Johnny

Derryard

The man who inadvertently walked into Luig McGarr’s life at this stage was a fine, well-educated man in his mid-fifties. Johnny Magowan was still a very handsome man, despite his age, and he was happily married to Maura, who had borne him three fine, healthy children. But, of all the men that had passed through Luig’s hands, it was to be Johnny, who would allow her time to play her tricks and to gain almost total influence over his every action.

Johnny was well situated in a top Civil Service job, after a career that stretched over thirty years, and he enjoyed a salary that reflected his high pay grade. But, that does not mean that Johnny Magowan was a wealthy man, who consorted with the upper class in society. He was, in fact, far from being the type of person who considered himself wealthy, living a simple lifestyle and preferring the company of those men with whom he had grown up in the town. A pint of Guinness was his usual tipple, he enjoyed having a bet on the horse-racing, and took a great interest in the local Gaelic Football team. In fact, when he was a young man, Johnny played for the local team and gave up much of his time to coach the schoolboy teams. Such physical activities were now a thing of the past when Johnny reached the age of fifty-five years and chose early retirement from his post.

Taking retirement at the early age of fifty-five years old was entirely his own decision and, as was his way, it was made without any consultation involving his long wife, Maura. Nevertheless, in taking voluntary retirement, Johnny did receive a considerable cash sum to go alongside the ample pension due to him, through the grades he had achieved by means of the promotions he had secured.

There were some who said that Johnny was not the easiest of people to live with, but Maura had been in love with him since she had been a teenager. In fact throughout their courtship she had worked hard to earn enough to help with Johnny’s finances, while he studied through university. She didn’t pay anything toward tuition, but she did finance much of the leisure time that they enjoyed together. It came as no surprise then, that within a few months of his graduating  from university and the securing of a permanent post, Johnny proposed to Maura. Of course there are always envious people in this world who speak cruelly about other, and some of these cruel minded people suggested that Johnny had felt obliged to marry Maura because of the money that she had spent on him while he was still at university. It was easy to tell that Maura was in love with the man, but they did not appreciate the fact that Johnny was the sort of man who would not do anything because he felt obliged to. He married Maura because he was in love with her, though it was not the sort of thing that he would have admitted.

 To those who knew the young couple in those days, their marriage did not come as a surprise, for Johnny was one of the most handsome, well-dressed and well-mannered young men in the town. As an added bonus for any young woman he also came from a well-respected family, whose father had his own business. Maura, for her part was a tall, thin, raven-haired, beauty whose sharp features reminded some of the film stars of the period, or the models in glossy magazines. There were many men who lost their hearts to Maura, but she only ever had eyes for Johnny.

Maura did not live far from Johnny’s family’s front door and had attracted the young man with her long, black hair, glided over her shoulders with a sheen on it like silk, and it always brushed to perfection. She was a dark-eyed beauty whose face was pale, but in a beautiful porcelain-like manner that was unblemished. On her lips, Maura always spread a red lipstick, which undoubtedly increased the seductiveness of her appearance and, when she walked past you, it was like one of those magazine super-models had just floated by.

Handsome Johnny, however, was often not so well thought of. There were those who thought he was both vain and conceited, but his friends would deny any such accusations. They would tell you that, even as a young boy, Johnny took care about his personal appearance and hygiene. Girls admired him for his ‘Tony Curtis’ good looks, his taste in clothes, and for his perfectly groomed hair. He, for his part enjoyed being admired by the young ladies in town, but his heart had been given to a girl called Maura McConnell and it her that he married.

Married life for the young couple was not easy, however, because Johnny was selfish in some ways. He was a man who considered his earnings his own, and it was he who took control of the household finances. But, he was much more concerned with maintaining appearances than he was about purchasing the home and the lifestyle that matched his station in life. Strangely, he never took Maura on holidays, but managed to travel the world himself with his friends. While he was away, Maura would stayed at home raising a family of three children and maintaining a house in which almost every item had been chosen by her, with his agreement. With the birth of their first child, even Johnny’s social life did not have much room for his devoted wife, because he preferred golf, horse racing, football and a few pints with his friends rather than taking Maura out for a drink, or a meal. There were many, of course, who thought it was a strange relationship and couldn’t understand it. But, nevertheless, Johnny and Maura appeared happy and raised their three children in a home that was filled with welcome and warmth.

It is unfortunate that Maura never appeared to be among Johnny’s first choice as a travelling companion on any of his journeys. In their entire married life there were only a few occasions when he made a point of takng Maura, and any of the children with him. These trips were usually short holiday excursions to his sister’s house in England. There were certain advantages that Johnny saw in these trips among which were keeping Maura and the children happy, they were not far from home and there was no accommodation to pay for. On other occasions his itchy feet took him further afield and he would be away for several weeks at a time. Just for the adventure of it all he woud take summer jobs in the Channel Islands, France, Canada, and the U.S.A. It was not until a few years before his retirement that he stopped taking these holidays, but a few years after he was retired Johnny was back on the road and shaking the dust off his shoes. There were, furthermore, at that time other changes made to his life that he took, which eventually led to a terrible revelation.

Several years before retiring, Johnny took up playing golf in his leisure time, encouraged by several colleagues at work. He became very proficient in the game for an amateur player and there was a period of time when his photograph never seemed to be out of the sports’ pages of the local newspaper, winning some golfing trophy or other. This was not unusual when it came to Johnny because, whatever he took up, he always strived to be the best he could be at it, especially if it was a sport. When he announced that he was taking early retirement, his friends teased him that he now would have plenty of time for playing golf. Within two years of retiring, however, he stopped playing golf completely, much to the surprise of friends and golfing partners alike. At this time in Johnny’s life many things were changing, and he was changing in himself.

Throughout his life, for example, Johnny had used public transport to travel from one place to another, including his workplace. Rain, hail, snow, or shine but Johnny could be seen on the bus for over the thirty years he had worked in one place. Some days, when he was working late, he would manage to get one of his colleagues to take him home in their car, even if the journey would take them miles out of their way. When I say they would take him home, they really dropped him off at his local club where, religiously, every evening he would have two pints of Guinnes with friends. It was a habit that Johnny had enjoyed almost all of his adult life, and it was about the only thing about him that did not change after early retirement. Every evening at about eight o’clock he would arrive in the club, sin in the members’ bar and have a sociable drink with friends. Just two drinks only, before he returned home at about ten o’clock to watch the news on television before going on to bed.

Maura was quite pleased that her husband was taking early retirement. She looked forward to spending more time with each other as a couple, which had not been the case since their early married days when they had moved into an apartment in a recently built block of flats. It was a comfortable first home, but as one child followed another it soon became time for the couple to find somewhere a little more commodious. Maura found a house next door to her mother’s, where they lived for quite a few years before moving into the home in which they resided at the time of this tale.

Maura was concerned about what way he would use all the spare time that he would soon have. She knew that Johnny was not the sort of man who did hobbies, and she had been surprised when he decided to try golf. Maura was just as surprised when he stopped golfing, just at the time when he had more time on his hands to devote to it. She was surprised even further when he started to work in the garden, because she was fully aware of the fact that, when it came to growing things, Johnny was not ‘Alan Tichmarsh’.

Hunting, was yet another hobby that Maura thought her husband might take up again, though he had not hunted for many years. With his brothers, Johnny had actively hunted through the hills and bogs for many years. But as his brothers passed away, Johnny lost all liking for the sport. The idea was plausible, of course, but she thought that after so many years away from it he would be reluctant to start again. Who could he persuade to go parading across heather covered mountains with a gun in their hand, or sit for hours among reed beds awaiting the arrival of ducks back on some lake? There was yet another possible problem, which bothered Maura. She wondered, after all that walking and stalking of the birds, “could Johnny still hit the target?” The question, of course, was never answered because Jimmy no longer had any love for a sport he had once shared with his dead brothers.

In Johnny’s mind, the major problem with retiring early was that all of his friends, and even his wife, were still in full-time work. It was unfortunate, but Johnny always appeared to be at a loose end, and he began spending more time watching horse-racing on the television, or playing snooker at the club. Then, one day, completely out of the blue He visited a local garage and purchased a small car for himself. Without telling anyone, Johnny had applied for his driver’s licence, learned to drive, and passed his test first time.

All through his youth and years of working in the Civil Service Johnny had never shown any inclination to drive a car, being happy with public transport, or getting lifts in other people’s cars. Now, however, he found himself with much more leisure time on his hands, and he began to feel that he would like to travel a little more. This he felt would give him much more independence but, as is always the case, he did not travel very far, mostly into town and out again.

It seemed odd to some people that Johnny would buy a car, but other strange things also began to occur. Maura noticed that the hours he would spend in the club, especially at weekends, had also changed. There were days, also, when he would drive of in the car somewhere, telling nobody where he was going, and not returning home until late at night. At this time too, his family began to notice strange behaviour and could not quite explain it to themselves. While Johnny had always taken a pride in his appearance, he now began to take extra time every morning in the shower, moisturising his body, shaving and oiling his face, and spraying all sorts of expensive male scents about himself. More surprisingly, Johnny began not to wear smart long-sleeve shirts, ties and flannel trousers, exchanging them for bright-coloured short-sleeved shirts denims, or chinos. To match these, Johnny’s hairstyle received a more modern cut, and the parts that were turning grey suddenly appeared to return to their former dark colour. With all these things happening, it is not surprising that some neighbours became suspicious that there were hidden reason for these changes. But, these people were only in a small minority, and most chose to disregard the ugly rumours as being unthinkable when it came to a man of his standing in the community.

Nevertheless, the changes in Johnny Magowan’s lifestyle continued. He was a man who, as we have said, could appreciate a good pint of Guinness and usually imbibed his pint in the Club. But, after retiring he began to explore other oases during the day. He began frequent some of the more popular public houses in the town. In those hostelries he was certain of being able to buy a decent pint of stout, and could also be sure of a decent lunch at a reasonable price. He was often seen entering the “Railway Tavern”, or “The Olde Oak”, where he regularly spent an hour or two eating and drinking, while watching the horse-racing on the television behind the bar. Both public houses were sited on the same street in town, and situated ideally half-way between them was the “Turf Accountants” where he could place his bets. This street now became the destination for his daily trips into town.

Johnny’s evening trips still took him to Ballygan Football Club, and he still met up with the friends whose company he enjoyed. The club was little more than a quarter of a mile from the house, the walk to which he often described as his nightly exercise. You could be sure that every evening he would be in that club, standing at the bar and ordering his first drink. He was so prompt in fact that the barmaid could have set the clock for him coming in. Johnny would lift his glass at the bar and take his first drink of the stout to ensure none of the precious liquid would spell as he took it to the members’ lounge, where he would join his friends.

Cailleach of Ballygran II

Luigsheach (pron: Luck-Shack)

The time has come, at last, to relate the story of the woman who is known to many of us as the “Cailleach of Ballygran”. Many of the ancient traditions of the Celtic nations, as we have seen, contain a rich source of myths about the famed ‘Cailleach’. They pre-date christianity and make it clear that the ‘Cailleach’ did not represent any one thing in particular, but she proved herself to be a complicated spirit. In more ways than one she was associated with death, deviousness, and a range of catastrophes that can be inflicted upon others. In the same way the subject of this story was a woman, who wanted to be seen by her neighbours and ‘friends’ as a saintly person, living a good life and doing only good for others. In reality, however, she was a selfish individual seeking only her own aggrandisement at the expense of others, and was far from being anything approaching saintly.

She would deny being anything like that ancient Celtic spirit, but this was only to be expected from a devious person.

Her face was blue-black of the lustre of coal

And her bone-tufted tooth was like red rust.

In her head was one pool-like eye,

Swifter than a star in a winter sky.”

This modern ‘Cailleach’ could not be described in this manner, because it was her heart that was blue-black like coal with the evil it contained. She did not have one large eye in her head, but she had two eyes that saw everything that went on around her, and ears that missed nothing. It was her natural appearance, however, that fooled quite a few people into believing that she was a caring person, who only had their best interests at heart. their blindness was eventually removed. But, the ‘Cailleach’ is a shape-shifter who can hide in any form she chooses until she succeeds in getting from them all that she needs. Only then do these poor people see her real identity and, instead of being a self-sacrificing person who hadn’t a bad bone in her body, they suddenly discovered her to be a cold, treacherous and conniving witch.

Regarded in ancient myth as “the daughter of the little sun,” the ‘Cailleach’ was, and remains, an elemental power of winter, bringing upon us all the cold, wind, and tempests of that season. But, it is not with such direct action that our ‘Cailleach’ strikes. Like the ‘Cailleach’ of old she has a sharp tongue that brings little joy or happiness to others, and leaves them feeling very cold after their encounter. In fact. she detests seeing others happy and comfortable with their lives and always seeks ways in which to bring them down. Like the ancient Roman God, Janus, this devil shows two faces to those with whom she comes into contact. One of those faces shows her to be both caring and sharing, while the other face is not normally seen by those she meets. Instead, this face is discretely displayed behind the backs of those people so they might not see just how vile and self-serving she is.

The ‘Cailleach’ of old came into her full power as the days shorten and the sun sits low in the skies.  The darkness appears to empower these creatures and so it is with the ‘Cailleach’ of our story. In ancient times the people were often adequately prepared for the actions of the witch. They would observe and watched for the definite meterological changes that would signal the days of the ‘Cailleach’s’ power, when she would bring snowfall and winter storms over the hills and fields. Our ‘Cailleach’ is a different creature, in that she does not give any definite signs of what she is going to do. Those who truly know her are certain that instead of the generous, caring person she portrays herself to be she will be as selfish, conspiratorial, and very destructive as she can. She will lie, flatter, slander and use every possible evil trick that she possibly can to attain her objectives, and she will care very little about the feelings of others.

This witch of a hag uses modern day tricks such as creating gossip, spreading lies, using the goodness of others and even stealing from those who think she is their friend. She is a woman of no conscience and wears a ready smile for everyone. Perhaps it a means by which she can keep her mind active and retain a standard of youthfulness. Throughout her life she has used her age and appearance to entrap victims in her web. When she was younger she used her youthful spirit to gain the attention of men, whom she would discard in a way that would affect them most, both emotionally and mentally. But this was one of her great powers, her ability to almost enchant men into her arms where she could take advantage of them in every way possible. You might wonder if she had learned her trade from the old ‘Cailleach Bhéarra,’  who was also called ‘Sentainne’ (“Old Woman.”). It was said by the Celts that “she passed into seven periods of youth, so that every husband used to pass to death from her of old age ….

In those ancient days the ‘Cailleach Bhéarra’ was said to reside within a deep cave that lay beneath a hilltop megalith near Slieve Gullion, in County Armagh. Traditionally, Slieve Gullion is called ‘Calliagh Birra’s House’, and the megalithic site ‘Carrownamaddoo’ is also called ‘Calliagh A Vera’s House’. In many places throughout the north of Ireland there are many standing stones, which are said to be people and animals she transformed.  One of these stands near Antrim and is a búllan (rock basin) that is known as the ‘Witch’s Stone’. The legend of this place is that when the ‘Cailleach’ finished building the Round Tower, she leaped off the top and landed on this stone, leaving marks from her elbow and her knee.

Unlike the untamed ‘Cailleach’ of old, who tossed boulders and leaped hilltops, roamed through the mountains with forest animals or, took their shape, the modern form is somewhat different. Now she is seen as the average woman, powerless, unhappy with their lot in life, apparently vulnerable and crying,

banshee

 

“I am the veiled Old Woman,

  I used to be ever-renewed.

  Today my standing has been lowered,

 But my powers are undiminished,”

 This anonymous poem about the Cailleach was written sometime in the 11th century, and it betrays to us the work of Christianity on local traditions. The priests recast the ‘Cailleach’ in the minds of the people by stripping down ancient myths and reinterpretating them in line with Christian norms. Under these terms, female position in society takes a secondary role. Tales and poems still included references to death, winter, and decay. Though there remains mention of ‘Cailleach’ and its links to winter and the season of little sun. But their odes and stories are also filled with female bitterness and intense loss. Age is no longer something powerful that should be venerated, rather it is seen as contemptible and weak. With her beauty gone, the ‘Cailleach’ sits at the fringes of society, seeking revenge.

Our ‘Cailleach’ is just this kind of creature. She sits on the fringes of society, being neither rich nor poor. She was never a beautiful person, inside or out, and this may have helped in keeping her at the lower end of the social scale, but she was able to hide her weaknesses well, keeping herself immune from attack. The modern ‘Cailleach’ sits like the lioness and waits for her prey to come along, using every one of the senses she has.

There is a wise old saying that tells us a Leopard cannot change its spots, which is a damning judgement on the ‘Cailleach.’In the minds of those who think in this way, the ‘Cailleach’ is born as an evil entity and will remain so throughout her long life. She constantly tries to climb the social ladder and attempts to get ahead in this world at the expense of others that she meets. These are the characteristics that best describe the witch that is known to us as ‘The Cailleach of Balligran.

Luigseach McGarr (pron: Luck-Shack) preferred to be known by the shorter version of her first name, namely ‘Luig’. As a child until adulthood Luig was always possessed a small, squashed stature. She kept her dirty blond hair quite short, but never followed the modern styles of hair fashion. Luig’s thick rimmed glasses dominated her plump, round and pale face, about which there was nothing notable that would help her stand out from the crowd. In height she stood only a few inches over five feet tall, in her stocking soles, and she spoke with an oddly pitched and uncultured voice that could sometimes grate on one’s mind. There was, therefore, nothing that reflected the fact that Luig was a woman of intelligence. Although there was really no question about this, she much preferred to make an effort to hide it from others. This was one reason why she consistently portrayed herself as just a simple woman with very simple tastes.

Throughout history it appears that witches, in all their forms, represented a very impressive obstacle to conquest in the minds of all warriors. Their chief weapon in the battle was the cultural influence that they possessed among the people. This influence among the people of her society was strong enough for the ‘Cailleach’ use it as a breakwater to combat the incoming tide of patriarchy that automatically assigned all authority and all privilege to the male, the husband, the warlord, and  the priest.

Just as her predecessors had, the one blessing that Luig missed, was that of being given the beauty that would entrap all men. Everyone who knows Luig would agree that she could never have been described as being a pretty, or petite lady. Everyone would also agree that this failure did not appear to lessen her relationships with a variety of men in any way. As a man, speaking for men, it makes me so sad to admit that many men are easily fooled by the female sex. They will always forgive a woman for her lack of handsome features, especially when they are able to benefit from the comforts that she freely gives to them.

Even before she was married, Luig had a reputation for ‘playing the field’ and for enjoying herself while doing so. She used all her well-honed wiles to get her claws into the man who would be her future husband. Apparently, this young man was fortunate enough to have his eyes quickly opened, and he planned to call their relationship off. Unfortunately, in those days, society’s norms called for a man to marry a woman whom he caused to get pregnant. This is how the young man became her husband, and they married before she was even twenty years old. His problem lay in the fact that he could not be sure that he was the father of Luig’s baby.

Like the honourable man he was, Luig’s husband stayed with her for several years and she had several more children in that time. Rumours, and advice about the truth of those rumours, finally caused the poor man to eventually abandoned her and the children for his own survival. Some might condemn him for abandoning the children, but there are those within the community who will tell you that the husband could not be sure that he was the father of those children. In fact the same people would also confirm that the possibility of there being separate fathers for each of Luig’s children is quite high. Her days of ‘playing the field’ did not, apparently, end on the day she took her matrimonial vows.

Luig’s former husband, it appears, was a very handsome and popular young man in the town, and yet none of Luig’s children can be said to have inherited his handsome looks or features. By this time, Luig had reached her late thirties had become a more portly woman. Heavy with make-up and with thinning blonde hair she tried, without much success to maintain her youth. Her failed efforts, however, did not appear to have a detrimental effect in striking up new relationships with men. Luig seemed to have in her possession some special power that caused some men to actively seek her company. The string of affairs, which were said to be a major problem for her husband, continued and Luig’s reputation among the women in her home town declined. Because Luig did not distinguish between married and single men, but had affairs with both, continuing to reside in her home town was considered untenable and she decided to move away.

Once she had secured a move to a house in a nearby town, Luig began to make herself known to the local male population in various bars and clubs, but affairs were few and far between. Maybe it was her age, or perhaps these men were intelligent enough to take what she was offering and to leave before there was any further involvement with her. But, as seems the case in all these type of stories, there is always one man who is foolish enough to fall for her tricks and destroy the love of both his immediate and extended family.

Part Three of this story will appear soon. I hope you like it so far. There is a form to contact me with your constructive comments and I look forward to hearing them…