O’Hara – The Fairy Man

Part 1

Spirit CouncilIf we were we to believe the stories and old wives’ tales handed down to us by our grandmothers we would not be faulted for thinking that, at one time, Ireland was a land controlled by spirits and demons. Ireland is filled with tales concerning witches, warlocks, white ladies, fairies, and leprechauns. It seems that the earth, the air, and the sky, were peopled by these mysterious beings at one time. In every crumbling and desolate cottage on the uninhabited moorland or woodland lived a witch or warlock. Elsewhere, the margins of our beautiful loughs, the hearts of our silent and isolated glens, the recesses of our romantic mountain valleys, the mould covered walls of every ancient ruin, and the mystic circle of each hill-fort, were said to be the chosen to all sorts of strange, unearthly beings.

These beliefs were not just held to by the ignorant and uneducated peasantry. In fact, many who were well educated and moved in more enlightened circles within society were equally infected by such beliefs. There were very sensible and well-informed people in the land who turned a deaf ear to any voice of reason and the dictates of common sense. In fact, such people would more easily doubt the truth of the Holy Bible than the existence of supernatural beings influencing life. The stories of such beings had become so interwoven in the superstition of the entire people, and social system, that no event could happen to a person during their lifetime in which the ‘Good People’ were not implicated, either for good or evil.

If the head, or a member, of a leading family died, the wail of the banshee was sure to be heard in the twilight calling for the ‘Death Coach’ to come. Should a favourite child in a family be brought down by disease, it was believed that the beautiful, beloved child had been changed for a squalling, ravenous, and decrepit starveling. If a farmer’s cattle ailed, or his milk cows were not productive, it was likely that the cattle had been touched by the fairies or bewitched. Should your much beloved wife be suddenly taken away from you, it was alleged that the fairies were the culprits. They took her in her most kind, loving, and the most interesting persona, and left you a bland, unattractive, wooden person in her stead.

I can recollect clearly the thrill of fear, mingled with a certain amount of pleasure, with which I listened to the tales of a great aunt. It is over fifty years since that time, when my great aunt would visit and warm herself at my mother’s fireside. She would chat idly over a cup of sweet tea and speak to me about all the spiritual beings that she had knowledge of. She was an educated woman, and very pious, but she would sooner doubt herself than the existence of witches and fairies. Her mind and memory was a fountain of knowledge and a store-room of memories of those occasions when they had played a role in the life of her family. These stories I then began to believe in most implicitly, particularly because in many instances the people involved were also members of my own family. For instance, she told me the story of how her grandfather, one autumn morning, detected a large hare, which was in the act of milking one of his cows. He fired his gun at thief, wounding it, and when he tracked the blood trail left behind, he discovered that it was flowing from the thigh of an old woman who lived in a nearby ruin of a cabin.

This knowledgeable woman could also relate how an elder brother had surprised a leprechaun as he was in the middle of making a pair of shoes for his people. Her brother could describe his clothing down to the smallest detail, and how the leprechaun had escaped captivity by pretending to strike at my uncle’s eye with his awl. This tactic caused my uncle to wink just at that moment when he was in the act of seizing the creature, and thereby prevented him from gaining his fortune. She also told the story of a child which was taken from its mother’s arms one night while she slept. Luckily, the child was missed before he could be carried out of the house, through the key-hole, and on hearing the cries of the heartbroken parent the child was dropped to the floor without suffering any injury. It had never occurred to my great aunt that the child might have rolled out of the bed accidentally.

There was another tale that she would often tell me, and it would have been worse than heresy to doubt the truth of it, because she knew the parties involved very well. There was an honest, hardworking man called John M’Kinney, who lived in a nearby village. One night, reluctantly, he was obliged to leave his warm bed during “the witching hour”. He had almost forgotten something of importance that was needed the next day and he went immediately to fetch it. While he was on his way back home the silence of the night was disturbed by the strokes of an axe reverberating through a neighbouring area of woodland. As he stopped to listen, John heard some voices in conversation with each other. His curiosity caused him to draw up and listen to what was being said. It was then, when he distinctly heard the question asked, “What are you doing to-night?” and to his dismay the response was, “I’m making a wife for John M’Kinney.”

“Devil the bit of it!” said Jack, “you’ll make no wife for me, for I have enough trouble already. I think I’ll do very well with the one I have.” With these words John turned on his heels and rushed home, hardly drawing his breath until he had his wife held tightly in his arms. He gripped her so tightly it was almost a death-grip he had on her, and we would not loosen his hold until the crisis was over, and in this way he had foiled the plans of the fairies,

In years gone by the entire social system within Ireland was deeply pervaded by the idea of supernatural influence. As a consequence of this there was an indefinable aura of dread and fear, which hung like the ‘Sword of Damocles’ over the heads of all, and embittered their very lives. It is true that the evil was only imaginary, but not on that account any the less hurtful. Superstition is a mental malady is, therefore, very difficult to counteract or eradicate, and often led to a sense of real anxiety and distress among people. Just as the case of M’Kinstrey, whose ideas were filled with witchcraft and fairy freaks, never even thought that the noise and voices he had heard might be a practical joke played by some of his neighbours. As a consequence, therefore, he suffered all the feelings of suspense and trouble that warned that there was real danger nearby.

The spread of useful knowledge and the dissemination of sound education among all classes in our society have lately effected a great change in the intellectual powers of the people. Such encounters with the supernatural, like those described herein, are still sometimes used to “adorn a tale,” are now unheeded. In fact, there are few of my countrymen who would hold, even for a single moment, any belief in the absurd idea of evil creatures. Nevertheless, there are always some exceptions. These exceptions might include a few old women, who may be still haunted by the sprites of their younger days. In some remote districts of the country a belief in witchcraft certainly prevails among the local folk. But, most of these beliefs and fears have been ingrained by prejudices from youth, and they have been fostered and kept alive by the practices of con-men and others who say they can prevent the effects of these beings with counter-charms. These low-lives exist and continue to prosper because of the credulity of the public. In general, throughout Ireland, belief in witches, fairies, and the like is virtually defunct now.

King Billy – Part III

Station

Every day Mrs. Farquahar, was leaner, fiercer, paler, and more resolute in ignoring the stationmaster’s presence, as she continued to flaunt her principles up and down the station platform. Every day Jim hurried the departure of the trains and swept the customers out of the buffet. In fact, never in its history had there been such punctuality known at Maryborough. Being situated upon an easy-going line it was not unusual for the train guard not to worry about tardiness. When an indignant customer decided to point out that the express train was already some twenty minutes’ late, it was not unknown for the guard or the stationmaster to agree, saying, “By God, you’re right. That’s a good timekeeping watch you have there, you should keep a hold of it.

One day, however, Mrs. Farquahar did not appear on the platform when the trains stopped. She had come out to greet the arrival of the first train, but she was walking with a little difficulty, and her usual strong, clear voice quavered as she tried to raise her normal war cry. Then, to everyone’s surprise, when the next train came, there was no Mrs. Farquahar to greet it.

Even Jim O’Brien himself was concerned, and a little upset that she had not shown herself. He had grown used to the daily battle between them, and he missed the excitement of retaliating against his long-time foe. “Maybe she has tired of it all,” he thought to himself. “Finally given up, now that she knows she won’t have things all her own way anymore. Serves her right, for she’s too domineering by half.

What’s wrong with the old one, sir?” Joe Kelly asked Jim when they met on the platform

She never made a move to get out when she heard the train arriving.”

I don’t know what she’s up to,” said Jim. “She’s probably hatching more disturbances, I’ll bet. Sure, she has more twists than a bag full of weasels, and she’s never content unless she’s doing some sort of mischief, Joe,” he replied, “maybe you should look in and see if there is anything wrong with the old one.”

A moment later the stationmaster could hear Joe shouting, “Mister O’Brien, Mister O’Brien!

Jim ran toward the sound of the shouting and there, in a tumbled heap, lay Mrs. Farquahar. She no longer was the defiant, bad-tempered woman, that he had known, but was a weak, sickly, elderly woman, partly supported on Joe Kelly’s knee. The poor woman’s face was a ghostly pale, and her arms were hanging limp.

Ah, good Jaysus, I think the poor old soul is dying,” Kelly cried. “She only had the strength to raise her head when she saw me, and then she went off in a faint.”

Lay her down flat, Joe. Gently lay her flat,” Jim told him and the porter eased her down off his knee. “Now, Joe, leave her to me, and you run and tell my missus to come here at once. Maybe Mary will know what to do for the best.”

When Mary arrived, she came in to the buffet she found her husband gazing at the prostrate old woman in bewilderment, and immediately took command of the situation in such a way that she excited her husband’s admiration. “Here,” she said, “give me a hand to move her on to the seat. Jim, darling, you run home and get Biddy to fill two or three jars with boiling water, and bring them along with a blanket. The poor old woman is as cold as death. Joe, get off with you as quick as you can and fetch the doctor.

“What doctor will I go for, ma’am?”

The first one you can get the hold of,” said Mary, as she immediately began rubbing the unmoving woman’s hands and loosened her clothes.

When the doctor finally arrived, he found Mrs. Farquahar laid out on an improvised couch that was made up of two of the buffet’s cushioned benches placed side by side. She was wrapped warmly in blankets, and had hot bottles to her feet and sides, as well as a mustard plaster over her heart. “Bravo! Mrs. O’Brien,” said the doctor, “I couldn’t have done better myself. I believe you have saved her life by being so quick, saved it for the moment at least, for I think she has been struck down by a severe illness. The poor woman will need careful nursing to pull her through.

“She looks really bad,” agreed Mary.

“What are we to do with her?” asked the doctor. “Is there no place where they would take her in?”

Mary took a quick glance at Jim, but he did not speak. “Sure, there’s a room in our house that she could use,” she offered, after an awkward pause.

“The very thing,” said the relieved doctor, “if you don’t mind the trouble, and if Mr. O’Brien does not object.”

Jim chose not to answer, and silently walked out. “He doesn’t object, doctur,” said Mary. “Sure, that man has the real good heart. I’ll just run off now, and get the bed ready for her.” As she passed Jim, who was standing sulkily at the door, she took hold of his hand for a moment and squeezed it softly. “God bless you, my darling man. You’ll be none the worse for your kindness. Sure, this is no time for bearing people ill will, and our Blessed Lady will pray for you this day.”

Jim said nothing. But, when Mary had disappeared from view he muttered quietly to himself, “It’s a terrible thing that the care of that old devil should fall on us.” This, however, was the only form of resistance he offered to his wife’s decision.

Under the directions of the doctor Jim, Joe and Finnerty created a a makeshift stretcher, upon which all four men carried Mrs. Farquahar to the stationmaster’s house. Mary gently undressed the old woman, and put her to bed in a spotlessly clean, whitewashed upper room. Although the cold and shivering she had been experiencing had passed, Mrs. Farquahar was burning with what the doctor said was, Nervous fever. In her fever she began to rave about her dog, about Jim, about the passengers, her rent, and a large number of things that made it clear that her circumstances had preyed upon her mind. The ravings frightened Mary at times, but there were no trained nurses in Maryborough at this time. Guided by the directions of Doctor Dorrity, Mary did the best she could for the patient and managed things very well.

There was not a person who could have doubted that Jim did not like having the invalided old woman in his house. At the same time, however, he began to feel very concerned about the activity around him. He now became very anxious that Mrs. Farquahar should not die in his wife’s care. Mary as surprised and astonished when Jim brought home a selection of jellies and meat extracts, that he was convinced would be good for the patient. Surprisingly, Jim did this act of kindness with a shy and hang-dog air, which was by no means natural to him, for he always made some ungracious speech as to the trouble he had gone to. It was a disguise he used to prevent Mary thinking that he was feeling some sorrow for the part he had played in causing Mrs. Farquahar’s injury. Meanwhile, with a downcast expression, Jim ignored all enquiries from outsiders as to Mrs. Farquahar’s health. He did, nevertheless, bring in the old woman’s dog into the house and fed it well. “Not for her sake, God knows,” he explained, “but because the poor beast was fretting and I couldn’t see him alone, with no one to look to him.” At this time, however, Jim absolutely refused to call the dog, ‘King William.’ Instead, he chose to call it “Billy”, a name to which it soon learned to answer.

One evening, when the whitewashed room was all aglow with the crimson light of sunset that flooded through the western window, Mrs. Farquahar regained her consciousness. Mary was sitting by the bedside, sewing, having sent the children outside to ensure there was quiet in the house. For a long time, and unobserved by her nurse, the sick woman lay feebly trying to understand what as happening. Suddenly she spoke — “What is the matter?”

Surprised by her voice, Mary jumped, but quickly regained her senses. She laid her sewing down on the bed and leaned over the sickly patient. “Sure, you were very bad ma’am. But, thanks be to God, you’re better now.”

“Where am I?” Mrs. Farquahar asked weakly, after a considerable pause.

“You’re in the station house, ma’am. Sure, don’t you know me? I’m Mary O’Brien.”

“Mary O’Brien, O’Brien?”

“Yes, you know! The wife of Jim O’Brien.”

“And this is Jim O’Brien’s house?”

“Whose else would it be? But there now, don’t talk any more. Sure, we’ll tell, ye all about it when you’re better. For now, the doctor says, you’re to be kept quiet.”

“But who brought me here?”

“You were carried in, and you were in a bad state. Now, just hush up, and rest will you? Take a drop of this, and try to go to sleep.”

When Jim came into the house for his supper, Mary said to him, “That woman upstairs is in a hurry to get away from us. She thinks we begrudge her the bit of comfort we have provided.”

Jim was silent for a moment and then told his wife, “Sure, anything that’s bad she’ll believe of us.”

“But you have never even been up to see her. Slip into the room now, and ask her how she’s getting on. Just let bygones be bygones, in the name of God.”

“I will not,” said Jim.

“Oh, yes, you will. Sure, after all, although you didn’t mean it, you’re the cause of her trouble. Go to her now.”

“I don’t like to.”

“Ah, go. It is your place, and you have more sense than she has. Now, go and tell her to stay until she’s well again. Do you know, I think that under all that attitude of hers she’s a lot softer than she appears to be. I tell you, Jim, I have seen her crying over that dog, because she thought it was the only thing that truly loved her.” Now, half pushed by Mary, Jim made his way up the steep stairway, and knocked at the door of Mrs. Farquahar’s attic room.

“Come in,” said a feeble voice, and Jim sort of half-stumbled into the room.

When Mrs. Farquahar saw who it was coming into the room, there was a flame that appeared to come to life in her hollow eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a grim politeness, “that you find me here, Mister O’Brien, but it isn’t my fault. I wanted to go a while ago, and your wife wouldn’t let me.”

“And very right she was! Sure, you’re not fit for leaving, and don’t be talking about going until you’re better, ma’am,” Jim told her, awkwardly. “You’re heartily welcome here, as far as I am concerned. I just came up to say, well to say, I hope you will be in no hurry to move.”

You’re very kind, but I don’t think I could find myself resting easy under this roof, where, I can assure you, I would never have come of my own free will. I apologise to you, Mister O’Brien, for giving so much trouble, not that I could help myself.”

“Sure, It is myself that should apologise to you,” Jim blurted out to her, “and I am really sorry, though, maybe, you won’t believe me, that I ever drove out your customers.”

For a long time Mrs. Macfarlane did not speak. “I could forgive that easier than your rooting up my lilies,” she said, at last.

“But I never did that. God knows the truth of it, and He knows that I never laid a finger on those lilies. I came out, and found the dog there in the flower beds, scratching at them, and if this was my last dying word, It is the truth.”

And it was really the wee dog?”

“It was! Although I admit I did wrong in laughing at him, and cheering him on. But, you didn’t pay any attention to me when I told you that he was at my roses, and I thought it served you right, and that you had only called him ‘King William’ to spite me.”

“So I did,” said Mrs. Farquahar, and, she added, more gently, “But, I’m sorry now.”

“Are you, really?” asked Jim, his face brightening. “Well, I’m glad to hear you say it. We were both in the wrong, you see, and if you don’t bear any malice, I don’t.”

“You have been very good to me, Mr. O’Brien, especially after how badly I misjudged you,” said Mrs. Farquahar.

“Not a bit of it, and anyway it was the wife who has been good, for, by God, I was very much against you, so I was.”

“An’ you’ve spent your money on me, and I ——”

“Sure, don’t say another word about it. I owed it to you, so I did. But, by God, you won’t have to complain of needing customers once you’re well again.”

A warm smile broke across Mrs. Farquahar’s pale face at these words. “There’s no chance of that happening, I’m afraid. What with my illness and all that went before it, the business is gone. Look at the place. It has been shut up this three weeks and more.”

“Not at all,” said Jim. “Sure, since you’ve been sick I put our little Kitty, the slip of a girl, in charge of the place, and she’s made a pile of money for you. It has come as a big surprise for she is only coming sixteen, and she has been helping her mother at the same time. She’s a clever wee girl, so she is, even though I say it myself, and she increased the prices all round. She couldn’t manage with the cakes, because she didn’t know how to bake them like you did. But, sure, I bought her plenty of biscuits at ‘Connolly’s Store’, and her mother cut her sandwiches, and made tea, and the drinks weres all there as you left them. Kitty kept a close account of all that she should.”

Mrs. Farquahar looked at Jim in an odd fashion for a moment, then she drew the sheet over her face, and began to sob. Jim didn’t know what to do and, feeling uncomfortable, he crept downstairs. “Go up to that poor woman, Mary,” he said. “Sure, she’s crying very bitterly. We’ve made it up, and I don’t want her to want for nothing.”

Mary now ran upstairs, took the grim Mrs. Farquahar in her arms, and actually kissed her comfortingly. Quickly Mrs. Farquahar’s grimness began melting away, and the two women cried happily together.

*******

Now, as the trains come into Maryborough station, Jim goes from carriage to carriage making himself a perfect nuisance to those passengers with well-filled luncheon baskets. “Won’t ye have a cup of tea, my lady? There’s plenty of time, and sure, everyone says we have the finest tea here that you’ll get anywhere on the line. There’s nothing like it this side of Dublin. Will you have a wee glass of whiskey, sir? It is only the best, ‘John Jameson’, that’s kept. Or, perhaps, you prefer sherry wine? You won’t be stopping again anywhere that you’ll like it as well. Sure, if you don’t feel you want to get out, don’t concern yourself, there’s plenty of time for me to give in your order and have it sent over to you. There are cakes, ma’am, for the little ladies. It is a long journey, and maybe they’ll be hungry? Maybe they prefer apples? Sure, apples are mighty good for children. She keeps fine apples if ye like them.”

As for Mrs. Farquahar, she has grown quite fat, is at peace with the world. She takes a great interest in the O’Brien family, and she now calls her dog “Billy.”

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.

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.