There are, in many parts of Ireland, certain bushes which are looked upon by the local people as being sacred to that most well-known species of inhabitants of the mystic world, the Sidhe, the Sheeogs (Fairies). There is no Irishman or Irishwoman who would do harm, or destroy, or interfere with, such bushes for any reason. There is one in Cillmartin that stands in the centre of a ploughed field, and many years ago I asked the question why it had not been removed to aid cultivation. I was quickly told that the farmer, who was English, could not get any man in the district to dig it up, out of the ground. At one time he sent for a nearby farm labourer, called Pat Cairn, whom he often employed at harvest time. Pat was instructed by the farmer to go immediately and clear out the old thorn tree that stood in the middle of ‘Big Field’.
“Ah, now, man dear,” said Pat, “You know I’d rather not have anything to do with the likes of that”
“Oh ! Stuff of nonsense, man, nonsense! Don’t be a silly clown! Really, what harm is there in cutting down an old thorn bush ? You’ll be well paid for your work and the entire job won’t take you more than ten minutes.”
“Well, now, I might as well tell you the truth, I wouldn’t cut that bush down even if you were to give me a hundred thousand pounds,” Pat told him emphatically.
“Get away out of this! You stupid superstitious idiot of a man!” the farmer exclaimed angrily, stamping his foot heavily on the ground. “I’ll just the bloody tree down by myself to-morrow.”
As planned, the farmer made his way to the ‘Big Field’ the very next morning, where several men who had already refused to undertake the job had gathered. “You men haven’t found the courage yet to uproot that old bush for me,” he said loudly to the gathered men.
Harry McFarland, who taught in the local village school, shook his head and told the Englishman, “Not yet, sir! Sure, only an eejit would dare to upset the ‘Good People’ and I’m no eejit!”
“By God! Even an intelligent man like yourself believes in such silly tales and would have the audacity to call me an idiot! Well we will soon see the truth of it,”
“Well, really sir, everyone here to whom you have spoken has assured you that it would not be ‘lucky’ for you to cut it! I would urge you, at this time, do not do this thing.”
” I’m surprised at you, who should know better, should allow such silly superstitions to enter into your head. Have you a hatchet about, that I can borrow ? ”
“Indeed ? Bring the hatchet to me and I’ll make sure the tree is cut down, damn quick. Then, you will see just how little I care about your fairy-folk and their devilish spells.”Harry managed to retrieve the hatchet and gave it to the farmer, who, accompanied by several of his farm labourers, immediately entered the field and approached the hawthorn bush, that stood about four feet high. The villagers were totally amazed at the foolish and daring deed that this English farmer was about to perform, and they kept a good distance back, terrified by the evil that they expected to fall upon him. ” Now then,” said the farmer, as he balanced the hatchet in his right hand, ” let me see what’s the best way to go about this.”
He walked around the bush twice, and then he walked back a few feet to a spot from where he could critically survey it. He cleared his throat loudly first, then took a good luck around him at the faces that were watching his every action. Then he spoke, “It is pretty after all! You know, I never even considered it before. But, by God, it’s quite an attractive addition to the field.” Turning to Harry McFarland he smiled warmly and spoke in a loud voice, “It’s really very pretty, Harry, and now that I have seen it in a new light, I think it would be a pity to cut it down. Instead, I’ll send down a gardener to-morrow, who will clip it and trim it nicely. Aye! yes, indeed, it would be a pity to dig it all up.” There was a huge sigh of relief from those that were standing around the scene, and then a hint of suppressed giggles as they turned away to hide the expression on their faces. They knew the truth of it. The farmer had “thought better of it,” and that he had suddenly realised that “caution was the better part of valour.” You have probably already concluded that the farmer’s idea of creating and ornament of the bush was nothing more than a pretence. I can assure you that the bush has never been trimmed, and there it remains, practically the same as it was over fifty years ago in its size and appearance.
In my sixty-five years of life I have been blessed to see many similar bushes in various parts of the country. One very particularly memorable specimen exists along the south shore of Lough Neagh where, many years ago, a substantial stone wall had to be built a narrow country road near the shore. But, in the line along which the wall had to be built, there grew a “fairy bush,” which the workmen refused to remove from the spot where it stood. Every request and promise of increased payment, and threats of job loss failed to move them. The men, point blank, would not touch the fairy bush. The result of all this was that the bush was left undisturbed in the centre of the wall and arched over it. This unusual position in the stonework has proved to be something of a local attraction, which has also frequently attracted the attention of visitors who pass that way.
Just while we are considering the subject of things that are sacred to the “wee folk”, we should look at “cairns,” or heaps of stones. I can recall one very remarkable incident that goes a long way toward supporting the belief among many rural Irish people that it is not right to take away, or utilise for building purposes, any of the stones in those “cairns.” Cathal Hughes was building himself a new house on the outskirts of the town. While making his plans, Cathal remembered that he had seen a beautifully suitable keystone in the “fairy cairn.” The same man had been told that it was not sensible or right to interfere with any of the stones in that heap. However, there was one stone that he had set his eyes upon, which was so well suited for his purposes that he tempted to take a chance. Cathal, therefore, took the stone from the cairn and inserted it in the wall of his new house. But, the first night that he slept in the house, or rather lay down to sleep, he was disturbed by a most mournful crying coming from the very corner in which he had placed the stone. All through that night, until dawn broke, that bitter and plaintive wail continued. Cathal decided he would remove the stone after breakfast, but some of his neighbours suggested that it would be a waste to take the wall away. In the faulty belief that he would not be annoyed any further, Cathal decided that he would postpone his decision to remove the stone until he was sure that the weird cries were at an end. Unfortunately, he had not long to wait, for on the second night of his stay in the new home, the crying, lower but more sorrowful, continued again until morning. This disturbance settled the matter as far as he was concerned. The stone was taken out and replaced on the cairn, while another less attractive stone was selected to fill the space that was left in the wall. With this the crying ceased, and Cathal swore loudly that he would never, ever, again meddle with the stones of the “fairy cairn”.
Big Tom Harte was his adopted mother’s jack-of-all-trades. In fact, I do not know how she could ever have managed the farm without having his clear head and sound judgment to guide her. Everyone in the parish knew Tom as a man well-trained in getting a bargain and, probably, the best judge of a ‘beast’ in this part of the county. Although I knew the man well, I truly believe he deserves all such compliments because I can never remember mother ever losing money on her cattle dealings, and at various shows and fairs our animals were highly regarded for their appearance. Tom did not regard himself as being wholly an Ulster-man and took a lot of pride in the fact that through his mother he could claim Scottish descent, and some said that much of Tom’s cautiousness with money and shrewdness in dealing with others was a result of this Scottish blood.
We, children were always rather in awe of him. He ruled over us and our lives on the farm with a rod of iron, and woe betide anyone who dared to enter the garden before the house had been supplied with ample fruit for preserving! Our lives would not be worth living if we decided to launch an assault upon his beloved fruit trees or damaged his trim flower-beds! Yet, it was very good for us that someone had been set in authority over the garden and farm-yard, for we were a rambunctious lot of fatherless ‘gorsoons’. But the years passed quickly as, one-by-one, we grew into adulthood. I, being the eldest, left home first and was the first to return, more alone after being so happy for a very short period of time. When I returned home, a young widow, the younger children had all flown the nest, and my mother now had no one left but me, and she was growing old. I decided immediately that I should put my future, and that of my son’s, into her hands, and soon we became thoroughly acquainted with Tom Harte. In his mind I was ‘the young mistress’ or ‘Miss Ellen’ and I can honestly state that I often felt at a disadvantage when I was in his presence. He had a widespread knowledge of subjects in which I was totally ignorant, he could calmly reject my farming theories without belittling me, he was always successful in all ventures that he undertook, and he completely overawed me to such an extent that, after a struggle or two, I would give in.
Although Tom must have been at least forty at this time, he looked quite a few years younger, was handsome, tall and well-built, and most importantly a bachelor. He had a bright twinkle in his grey eyes, which almost contradicted his firm-set mouth with its long upper lip and massive square chin. From his mother he had inherited a close calculating mind, which was hard to convince and slow to take on-board new impressions but would strongly retain these new thoughts once he had accepted them. From his father, roving Pat Harte from Donegal, he inherited an Irishman’s ready wit and nimble tongue, and under all an Irishman’s fickle heart, but not his warm affections, which went so far towards mitigating such fickleness.
Tom was unusual among men of his own class, for he was well to do. He had successfully speculated in cattle on his own account and he had money in the bank and a snug cottage of his own. Nevertheless, year after year, Shrove-tide after Shrove-tide, which was the marrying season throughout Roman Catholic Ireland, Tom could be found rejoicing in the blessings of being single. Yet, the man could not have had a comfortable home, for his old mother was a confirmed invalid and, as Tom was known to be very careful with money, he only provided her with the services of a little girl who was scarcely in her teens. I can recall that, on more than one occasion, mother had spoken to him about matrimony. But, on each occasion Tom would answer her with the argument, “Is it as easy to work for two as for one, ma’am?” Hearing this type of answer from him, she ceased bothering him about it.
On one bright frosty November day I sent Tom to the Ballygarr on very important business. Then, to assure myself that this business had reached a favourable outcome, I walked along the road to meet him as he returned home. But, I waited and waited for his return until the expected time of his arrival home had passed. The delay caused me to feel rather uneasy and I, therefore, quickened my steps along that winding sea-side road. Then, as I came around a bend in the road the reason for Tom’s delay was revealed to me. Ahead, I could see him walking beside a very pretty country girl, while another, not so young or nearly so pretty, lagged a little behind them.
“Well, Master Tom!” I thought to myself, “Are we to hear news of you this Shrove-tide?’
As I came forward, the two girls fell back, and Tom hurried forward to meet me. He looked shy and rather sheepish as he came toward me. I immediately recognised the pretty girl as being Mary Docherty, who was considered to be the most beautiful girl in the district, and she hung her shapely head, trying to hide her blushing face as she passed me by.
Tom was calm and very business-like as soon as the girls were out of sight. He had lodged money for me in the county bank, settled my own and my mother’s accounts with butcher, baker, and grocer, and transacted all our various businesses with care and correctness. Having given me a full account of what he had been doing, Tom hurried on, while I continued with my evening walk. Twilight was quickly falling when I returned home and, although more than an hour had elapsed since Tom had went ahead of me on the road, he was just entering the gate as I turned from the sea-road and on to the small path leading to the same gate. In the house, later that evening, I caused my mother to smile very brightly as I told her about what I had seen on the road. “But,” said she, “poor little Mary has no fortune behind her, and Tom will be looking for one with any girl he decides marry.”
A few days after this encounter, Tom quietly took me into his confidence. We were making our winter preparations in the green-house, putting away the summer plants whose flowering days were done, and filling up gaps in our shelves with bright chrysanthemums and other winter-blooming plants. Mother was exhausted after an hour of this work, and so Tim and I were left alone among the flowers. For a lengthy period of time he worked away at the task in silence, but I could see that he was longing to speak. Just as I was about give him the opportunity to speak, however, he forestalled me.
”It was a fine day that day I was in Ballygarr, Mrs Greene” he said, as he passed me carrying a huge flowering bush from one end of the greenhouse to the other.
“It was indeed, Tom. Had you many people about that day?” I replied.
“No, ma’am, there weren’t very many. Some of them soldier boys from the barracks.”
“Were there many people from around these parts?” I asked him.
“Hugh Docherty and his sister, and Susie O’Connor, were there ma’am.”
“Ah, sure you walked home with the girls. What became of Hugh that time?”
“Sure, you know what it’s like, ma’am, he just got overtaken with a drop of drink. I simply thought it would be a friendly gesture for to see the girls home safely.”
“I am sorry to hear Hugh was so bad as that, Tom.”
“Well, it was all his own fault, Miss Ellen, for he did not want to leave ‘Mrs Gallagher’s Pub’ no matter what we said, and so we just left him there. But! Miss Ellen, I’ve had some thought about a change to my life.”
“I am very glad to hear it, Tom.”
“Yes, Miss! Yes, indeed, miss. Sure, it is lonely work growing old with nobody to take care of you.”
“God bless us, Tom, that’s a selfish way of looking at things,” I told him.
“But, miss, why else would a man marry, but to have himself taken care of?”
“I suppose liking the girl he married would also be a reason too,” I responded.
“Oh aye! I’d still like to have a woman that I’d fancy, but she must be handy.”
“And who would you be thinking of?” I asked, as Tom bent over a box of geranium cuttings. “Whoever she may be, I hope she is nice and good, and that she will be kind to your poor old mother, as well as a good manager?”
“You can be sure that I wouldn’t take one that wasn’t that, Miss Ellen,” he replied, without raising his head. “But, sure it’s awful hard to tell how these young ones will turn out.”
“She is young then?”
“Young enough, and settled enough,” he told me. “There’s two that I’m thinking of.”
“Two!” I exclaimed. “Well that’s not the right to do, Tom. A man of your years is surely old enough to know what kind of wife would suit him best. Besides, it’s not very fair to the girls. They are related to each other, I believe. Those two young women you were walking home with on Saturday?”
“They are,” replied Tom, utterly unembarrassed by what he had said. “Mary Docherty and Susie O’Connor. Mary’s the prettiest, though,” he added in a sort of heartfelt sigh.
“Aye, I have always heard that she was as good as she looked,” I told him. “She has been such a dutiful daughter and a good sister to those wild boys, that she cannot fail to make a good wife for someone.”
“Maybe,” Tom replied. “But the Docherty family hasn’t got much money about them these days.”
“I know they are not very rich, Tim, but they are comfortable.”
“Aye, they aren’t begging, miss, begging your pardon. But, even you will admit that there is little comfort about the house.”
“Well, I suppose she has known what it is to want, and she will know better how to take care of plenty, when she gets it.”
“I don’t know about that! Maybe when she’d get her two hands full she’d be throwing it all away, for them that has been reared in poverty seldom know how to handle plenty when it comes.”
“Well, I have always heard Mary praised for being the prettiest and the best girl in the entire county, and I am sure you would think yourself a happy man if you could get her for your wife,” I said sharply.
“There’s not a word of a lie in what you say, Miss Ellen,” replied Tom, as he placed the last young geranium in its pot. “She’s a good girl, and as pretty a girl as you’d see in an entire summer’s day. But, I have a wish to step up and see all contenders before I speak to her.”
“Why, Tom, have things gone as far as that?”
“Well, I may say I have her courted up to the asking, miss.”
“And the other, Tom?” I asked him and tried desperately to hide my amusement.
“Truthfully, I don’t know, but I have her on hand too.”
“Now, is that fair to either of those wee girls?” I asked rather indignantly.
“Sure, I don’t know. All I do know is that a man has to look sharply before he jumps.”
“And who is the other girl? Mary’s cousin?”
“Yes, miss! ‘Long Tom O’Connor’s’ daughter, from Drumshesk. She’s up with Mary since Hollowe’en. Hughie’s looking after her.”
“She’s no beauty, Tom”’
“No, miss! But she’s settled. They tell me that her temper is a little rough, but she has the finest two-year-old heifer that I ever set my eyes on. A pure beauty, Miss Ellen.”
“Sure, what good would the cow be to you, Tom, if you had a sour cross-grained wife at home?”
“Aye, but maybe she wouldn’t be so sour or cross when she’d have a good house over her head and plenty in her hand. She’s getting old, Miss Ellen, and she sees the young ones coming on, and leaving her on the shelf. I tell you, there would be a ‘quare’ change in her if she had her own way.”
“By God, Tom, you seem to think much more of the cow than the girl!’ I retorted.
“Truthfully, it’s the prettiest of the two. But miss, I’m asking, what would you advise me to do?”
“You should marry the girl you like best, Tom, and never mind the cow. A young sweet-tempered girl like Mary, who has been so good to her sickly parents, so gentle and loving to those wild brothers of hers, cannot fail to make you a good wife. You will never be sorry, if you marry the girl you like best.”
“That would be right, ma’am. She is a good girl, and I’m in no doubt that I like her beyond any other woman in the world. But, Miss Ellen, I’d wish she had the cow!”
Next day I left home, and I did not return until the daffodils were glittering in the spring meadows around our home, and the rooks were cawing over their fledglings in the trees that stood behind our garden. Tom was married, for I had heard the news from my mother early in the year. But, I still did not know which fair maid he had decided to choose, and I was eager to find out. It was late at night when I returned home from my travels, and my mother had far too much to tell me about other than the termination of Tom’s courtship.
In the morning, I made my way into the garden, the farm-yard, the fields lying close by, and still I could not find Tom. I didn’t meet up with him until late in the afternoon, when I found him busily trenching up some early cabbages in the back-garden. He seemed rather shy of me, but I put out my hand and greeted him warmly.
“You’re welcome home, Mrs Greene, ma’am,” he said. He struck his spade into the fresh-turned earth and shook the hand that I offered him with more than ordinary warmth. “We’ve been waiting a very long time to have you back among us.”
“Thank you, Tom. So, I have to wish you every future happiness.”
Tim looked sheepish, but speedily recovered himself. “Yes, ma’am, if happiness it is to be.”
“Oh, there can be little doubt on that score, Tom. I hope Mary is well?”
“Mary? You mean Mary Docherty? Why, she’s spoken for with ‘Lanky’ Muldoon that owns the hotel in Ballygarr.”
“Well, Tom, I thought you were going to marry Mary?”
“No, Miss Ellen, I chose not to. I believe her and ‘Lanky’ were married last Saturday.”
“And what made you change your mind, Tom?”
“Well, I just took Susie. For you see, Miss Ellen, I decided that a cow would make the difference between any two women in the world”
“So, it was the cow that won the day for Susie, after all!”
In Ireland, even today, there are so many superstitions, rituals and traditions in the day to day life of its people. This is especially true when it comes to the passing of dear friends and relatives, their funeral arrangements, and their final interment. These superstitions and traditions might vary slightly from family to family, but each holds strongly to their own. In fact they hold so faithfully to their own family rituals that on occasions they can lead to anger and physical violence when different families come together to mourn in different ways.
When I was a young man my favourite way of spending my leisure time was to take long walks through the countryside and sketch many of the interesting sites that I would come across. Over the years I had filled my artist’s sketch book with pictures of beautifully sited thatched cottages, old barns, ruins, and old churches. On one particular sunny day, I was sitting alone on a grassy embankment at the edge of the desolate graveyard and church in Drumm. In that beautifully quiet place I became almost totally lost in my efforts to capture, on paper, that special scene that lay before me. Occasionally I would lift up my eyes from my sketchbook to look directly at the detail that was present in this interesting ruin which I was attempting to paint. It was also an opportunity wipe the perspiration from my brow, that was caused by the heat of the sun radiating down upon my head.
The quiet stillness that had prevailed all that particular day was suddenly broken by a faint and wild sound that was quite unlike anything I had ever heard before in my life. Admittedly, the strange sound startled me and caused me to stop my sketching for a moment or two. Alone in that graveyard I began to listen nervously, waiting for that strange sound to repeat itself. I didn’t have to wait very long for this weird, unearthly sound to once again vibrate through the still air of the evening. It was now even more loud than it had been at first and, as I listened to its strange vibration and tone, I decided that it could be likened to the sound made by many glasses, ringing and tinkling as they are crowded in together.
I stood up, rising from the place where I had been seated, and I began to search around for the possible source of this strange noise. There was not another body in my vicinity when, once again, this heart-chilling sound suddenly filled the air about me with its wild and wailing intonation. At first the sound reminded me somewhat of a tune being played upon an aged harp. When another burst of the sound came forth, it became quite obvious to me that it was the sound of many human voices that were being raised in lamentation somewhere close by. It was a loud, heart-chilling, wail of sorrow about which, before this occasion, I had only ever heard only rumours. Now, for the first time in my life I heard that wild and terrifying sound and shivered with cold fear. Those who read this tale, and who have already heard the same sound, will surely understand just how anxious I was when I heard it in the silence of that day in Drumm.
As my eyes scanned the area outside of the graveyard I could clearly see, in the light of that day, a crowd of local people, both male and female. In an orderly line they wound their way along a low path that led them toward the churchyard where I was standing, and among them the strong men carried the coffin of someone who was a dear departed friend or relative. As they came closer toward me, occasion I heard a loud and pitiful wail of sorrow that arose from the mourners in that crowd. The voices rang loudly, in a wild and startling unison, as they moved up the hill, until the sound gradually descended in its volume, finally becoming little more than a subdued wail. Diligently, these local people continued to carry their loved one’s body onward, but not in the same measured and solemn step as before. Now, they were moving in a much more rapid and irregular manner, almost as if the pain of their grief was hurrying them on to the graveside, which was the much hoped for culmination of all their efforts.
The overall effect of this large local rural funeral was, I must admit, certainly more impressive than any of the other funerals I had ever seen in my short life. There was very little of the pomp and circumstance of other funerals I had observed, such as a hearse, or large commemorative wreaths. But, the equal of the pallbearers could never have been found as they steadily bore along the body of their dear departed friend on their shoulders in the stillness of evening until they reached the cemetery. The male friends and relatives of the deceased person carried the coffin into the interior of the ruin. There the women had gathered to continue their mourning for the dead, and half-a-dozen athletic young men immediately began to prepare a grave. I can honestly say that I have seldom seen men more full of activity. But, scarcely had the spade upturned the green sod of the burial-ground, than the loud peal of the pipes was heard at some distance. The young men paused in their work, and they turned their heads, as did all the bystanders, towards the point from where the sound appeared to originate.
As I looked up I clearly observed that another funeral procession was winding its way slowly around the foot of the hill. Immediately the young men at the graveside returned to their work with greater effort than before. As the spades dug into the black soil anxious shouts from onlookers constantly encouraged them to complete their work as quickly as possible. Some of the more polite followers shouted, “For Jaysus sake, hurry boys, hurry.”
“Shift your big arse, Paddy!” others called.
Friends of some of the men shouted out to them, “Put your back into it, Mike! ”
“If you could shift the sod as quick as you shift the ‘Guinness’, it would suit you better,” others laughed aloud.
By this time the second funeral party, that was approaching, could see ahead of them that the churchyard to which they were going was already filled with people. Almost immediately this second funeral party quickened their pace, and their sounds of mourning rose more loudly in the morning air as they came nearer to the churchyard. Quite unexpectedly, a small detachment of men, carrying a variety of picks and spades, came forward out of the main party. Then, without warning, this group of armed men rushed headlong up the hill toward the churchyard, accompanied by loud shouting. At the same time an elderly woman, her eyes streaming with tears and her hair dishevelled, rushed wildly from the ruin where the first party had taken their coffin. Arms raised, she ran towards the young men who were digging at the ground with all their might and, passionately, she begged them to do their work more quickly. “Ahh Boys! Sure you wouldn’t let them beat you to the job and have my sweet boy wandering about, alone on these long, dark nights. Please dig hard boys. Lay into it with all your power and gain, for yourselves, a sorrowful mother’s blessing for ensuring my wee Paddy will have rest.”
Standing among those men in her bedraggled appearance, and the intensity of her manner as she pleaded with them, I thought the poor woman was crazy. In fact, such was her condition, that I could barely make out what she was saying to the young men, and I was obliged to inquire off one of the bystanders if they could fill in the blank spaces.
“Are you asking me because you believe she is going crazy? ” said the person that I had asked, as he looked at me in a very puzzling manner. “Sure, I thought everyone knew the answer to that. Especially someone who looks as well learned as you. The poor woman doesn’t want her dead son to be walking about in the night, as he must, unless those boys are smart.”
“What do you mean, walking about in the night?” I asked him. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“Whisht! whisht!” he urged me to be quiet. “Here they come now and, in the name of God, they have Joe Gallagher at their head,” he said to me as he anxiously looked towards the advanced-guard of the second funeral, which had now gained the summit of the hill. They quickly leaped over the boundary-ditch of the cemetery and advanced towards the group that surrounded the newly excavated grave, with rapid strides and a resolute air.
“Stop what you are doing there, I tell you!” shouted Joe Gallagher to those men who were working at opening the ground and were still using their implements with great energy.
“Stop it now, or it’ll be worse for you! Did you not hear me, Rooney?” said Gallagher again, as he laid his muscular hand on the arm of one of the young men who were digging, suddenly stopping him from continuing his work.
“Of course I heard you, Gallagher,” said Rooney; “but I just chose not to listen to you.”
“Just you keep a civil tongue in your head, wee man” Gallagher warned him.
“By God, Gallagher, but you’re a brave man and very fond of giving people advice that you should listen to yourself,” Rooney retorted and, once again, plunged his spade into the earth.
“Didn’t I tell you to stop, you Gobshite?” Gallagher roared, “or, I’ll put my boot so far up your arse, Rooney, that you’ll be chewing leather for six months!”
“Get away out of this, Gallagher! What brings you here at all?” interrupted another of the men by the graveside. “Just looking for trouble is it?”
“Sure what else would bring the likes of him here, but to cause mischief?” said a grey-haired man, who was standing just a couple of yards away from the graveside. “Sure, don’t you know by now that there’s always a quarrel whenever there’s a Gallagher about?”
“You may thank your grey hair, you old goat, that I don’t make you take those words back with some pain,” Gallagher told the old man as he glared at him.
“There was a time,” warned the old man, “when I had something more than just these grey hairs to make such as you respect me.” As he spoke the old man drew himself up with an air of great dignity. He wanted everyone to see that he was still a tall man and had retained a broad chest, which would bear the truth of the statement that he had made. There was a bright, but briefly lived flame, that was kindled in his eyes as he spoke, and his expression of pride and defiance quickly gave way to an expression of coldness and contempt toward Gallagher.
“Listen to me, old man, I’d have beaten you more stupid than you already are, even on the best day you ever had,” sneered Gallagher, with an impudent swagger.
“Don’t you believe it, Gallagher!” said a contemporary of the old man, who had known him in his younger days. “You have plenty of conceit, and a big mouth that you use to bully those weaker than you!”
“Isn’t that the truth,” said Rooney. “He’s a great man in his own mind. By God I could be a rich man if I could buy Gallagher at what I thought he was worth, and sell him at what he thinks he’s worth.”
A loud, mocking laughter rose up among those gathered at the graveside, causing Gallagher’s agitation to increase tenfold. There was a deep darkness that came across the big man’s features, and Gallagher immediately took up a posture so threatening that a man standing close to me turned to his companion and told him, “By God, Eddie there’s going to be ‘wigs on the green’ before too long!”
The man was to be proved quite right in his prediction. Scarcely had the words been uttered by him, than I began to see many of the men around me taking off their heavy coats and jackets, and rolling up the sleeves of their jumpers and shirts. The entire scenario turned much more menacing when the men began looking around them for anything that they might use as a weapon. With their weapons in hand there was a general closing-in of the bystanders around this group, which made it perfectly clear to me that a huge and bloody conflict would soon begin between the opposing groups.
It did not take long before the entire world seemed to come crashing in around me. There was a general melée that began in the centre of the gathering, with the main antagonists passing through the whole group until, finally a mass battle began. Such was the speed of events that within very few minutes the belligerents had dispersed themselves throughout the ruined churchyard in various battling groups. As a spectator, I stood back from the topmost step of a style that led into the burial-ground. It was obvious to me that it was better, for my continued good health, not to stand too closely to where the action was happening. As I stood watching the battle my attention was attracted by the sudden appearance of a man, who was exclaiming at the top of his voice: “Oh, you evil people! Stop this, I tell you, you heathen people! Are you even Christians at all?”
This loud intruder was a tall, thin, pale man, who was wearing a hat which, from exposure to bad weather, had its broad, slouching brim crimped into many fantastic shapes. The crown of the hat was depressed in the middle, and the edges showed the paleness of wear, that was very far removed from its original black. He wore no collared shirt and had a narrow white scarf drawn tightly around his neck. A single-breasted overcoat of rusty black, with standing collar, was tightly buttoned nearly up to his chin, and hung over his frame to the knees of his black trousers, beneath which peeped well polished black leather shoes. He pushed his way through the fighting men and quickly climbed the stile upon which I was standing, politely saying, “Excuse me, sir,” as he pushed by.
From the top of the stile he jumped to the ground, and he proceeded with long and rapid strides, towards the groups of combatants. In his hand the man brandished a heavy bullwhip with which he began to lay about each and every one of the brawlers. In equal measure and with total impartiality, he began dealing out a heavy-handed justice. I was also greatly impressed by the fact that all these blows inflicted on them by this newcomer were not at all resented by those whom he assaulted. It almost appeared as if they had decided resistance against this man was futile, choosing instead to begin fleeing quickly before his blows. They looked like so many frightened school-boys before an angry teacher and they gathered together in one large group, which immediately became pacified by his presence.
As I watched these events happening I stepped down from my perch at the top of the stile and ran, towards the place the man was admonishing the crowd. There I found this tall, thin man delivering a severe reproof to the crowd he had quietened down. The more he reproved them for their “unchristian acts” the more evident it became that he was a religious leader of this group of troubled people. But his reproval of them was short, sharp and certainly impressive. His speech was well delivered in simple terms for the audience to whom it was directed. It was simple in the language it used and solemn in the way his deep, gritty voice spoke the words. “And now,” added the clergyman, “let me ask you why you are all fighting like so many wild savages? Your conduct makes me think that you are more likely to be savage animals rather than intelligent human beings who have been raised within the hearing of God’s word.”
There were a few moments of silence following his question until someone among the crowd mustered enough courage to answer the cleric. He told him that the entire fracas was, “due to the burying.”
“There is no more solemn a sight,” replied the priest, “But, is the burial of the departed not enough to keep the evil passions of your hearts in check?”
“The truth of the matter, if it pleases your reverence, is that there was nothing ill-natured in it. It was only a good-natured turn we were doing for poor Paddy Mooney that’s departed this life. You know it’s to yourself that we will be going for masses to be said for the poor boy’s soul.”
“Now!” answered the priest. He was anxious to nip this appeal to his own interest in the bud. “Don’t you dare talk to me about doing a good-natured turn for any person.” He stared at them all sternly, telling them, “Prayers for the souls of the faithful departed are taken up by the whole Church. But, what has such a good act have to do with your scandalous and lawless actions that I have just witnessed you all committing.”
He now turned to the last speaker, “You were one of the busiest with your weapon and you are the most riotous of the group, Rooney. You had better take care that I don’t speak out against you from the altar.”
“Oh, God forbid that your reverence would have to do the like of that!” cried out the mother of the deceased, imploring him as big teardrops chased each other down her cheeks. “Sure it was only that they wanted to put my poor son in the ground first. It’s just, as your reverence knows, that they did not want to have my poor Paddy-”
“Tut, tut! woman!” interrupted the priest, waving his hand rather impatiently, “don’t you let me hear any nonsense.”
“I ask your reverence’s pardon for I am not the type of woman who would knowingly offend my very own clergy — may God’s blessing be upon them night and day! But I was only going to put in a good word for Mick Rooney. He and everyone else of us wish for nothing but peace, but it is Joe Gallagher, who just would not leave us to do our peaceful duty.”
“Gallagher!” said the priest, in a deeply reproachful tone. “Where is he?”
Gallagher did not come forward when called, but the crowd drew back, and left him revealed to the priest. On his face he wore and expression of sullen indifference, and he also seemed to be the only person in the crowd who was totally unfazed by the presence of the cleric. The priest now moved towards him and, extending his hand in the attitude of denunciation towards Gallagher, he spoke very solemnly, “I have already spoken to you in the chapel and now, once again, I find myself having to warn you to be careful. Wherever you go trouble and strife seems to always follow you. You are a disgrace and if you do not quickly reform your life I will have no choice but to seek your expulsion from the Church. Make no mistake, Gallagher, I shall pronounce a sentence of excommunication upon you from the altar, if I feel it is necessary.”
Everyone within hearing distance was overcome by the solemnity and severity of the priest’s words. When the word “excommunication” was uttered by the cleric, a thrill of horror seemed to run through the assembled crowd. It appeared to me that even Gallagher betrayed some emotion when he heard that terrible word. Yet, for a moment he managed to show no emotion and, turning on his heel, he retired from the scene with some of the swagger with which he had entered it. The crowd opened to let him pass, giving him a wide space, as if they sought to avoid contact with one who had been so fearfully denounced.
Calling upon the entire crowd to hear him the priest told them, “You have two coffins here. Now you will immediately begin to dig two graves, and allow both bodies to be interred at the same time, and I will read the service for the dead over them.” With these instructions ringing in their ears the crowd wasted very little time in carrying them out. The narrow graves were quickly dug and the bodies of the dead were consigned to their last long sleep, as the deep, solemn voice of the priest was raised in the “De Profundis”. When he had concluded this short and beautiful psalm, the friends of the deceased closed the graves, and covered them neatly with fresh cut sods.
“You know things have been done right,” said Rooney, “when you see that the ‘Daisy Quilt’ is finally put over them.”
The priest, now that his job was done, retired from the churchyard and I followed him with the sole purpose of introducing myself to him. I was seeking from him a clear and simple explanation of what was still a most intriguing mystery to me, namely, the actual cause of the quarrel with Gallagher. From certain passages in his address to the crowd I could grasp that he understood the cause and could, perhaps explain it to me. I quickly caught up with the cleric and introduced myself to him. Thankfully, he received me with a great deal of courtesy and politeness, which was to be expected from a man with such a good heart. Now, having gained his attention, I tried to assure him that my curiosity was simply because I wished to understand the reasons for the fight that had taken place, and to which he had put a stop. I was hoping that he would not think that I was overbearing when I asked him for an explanation.
“It is no intrusion, sir,” answered the priest very frankly. He spoke with a rich, soft brogue, whose intonation expressed his inbuilt good nature. The brogue, with which he spoke, reminded me of someone from an upper middle-class and well educated family. There was no trace of the more vulgar expressions that is usually found in the manner in which the ordinary working class speak. There are those, of course, who try to sound more genteel than they really are by grafting a posh English accent to their brogue. But they often trip themselves up because the accents of the two countries can never be truly blended together. Far from making a pleasing accent, it conveys to the listener that the speaker is trying very hard to escape from his own accent, which they consider to be inferior. It is a vain attempt to demonstrate some finesse, which fails because their vulgarity is so deeply inbred.
This was not the case with the way in which Father Donnachadh Ryan spoke to me. His voice was both deep and rich in tone, a true manly voice that had boomed when he had admonished the crowd for their violent attitude. Even when he was engaged in a less formal conversation his voice lost little of its richness or depth. Still, I listened intently while the priest proceeded to enlighten me on the subject of the funerals’ etiquette, and the reason behind the quarrel that had arisen between the two groups. “The truth of the matter is, sir, that these poor people are possessed of many foolish superstitions. We might, as men, pardon their errors and simply look upon them as fictional tales that take hold in fertile imaginations. Just because we can understand how such suspicions take hold in the minds of the less educated and more susceptible, we cannot, as their spiritual leaders allow ourselves to admit openly to them that such superstitions are in error.”
His explanation, however, quite surprised me. I did not think I would find a clergyman, especially a Catholic priest, say such a thing. “The superstition that I speak of,” he continued to explain, “is just one of the many that these warm hearted people indulge in, and it is not a particularly evil one.” Then he suddenly ended his discourse and pulled out a richly cased, antique gold watch of great workmanship. “Now, sir, I must ask your pardon; I have an engagement to keep at my home, which obliges me to immediately make my way there as quickly as I possibly can. But, if you have enough time to spare, you can walk with me to the end of this little road and I shall be able to make you well acquainted with the nature of the superstition in question.”
I was happy to agree with his proposal and we set off together. As we wound our way down the little stony path that led to the main road, Father Ryan began to give me an account of the cause behind all the previous trouble. “There is a belief among the local people here that the ghost of the last person interred in the churchyard is obliged to travel, unceasingly, the road between this earth and purgatory, carrying water to slake the burning thirst of those who are confined in that terrible place. The ghost is, therefore, obliged to walk through the wasteland during the middle of the night, until some fresh body is placed in the grave and supplies a fresh ghost to relieve the guard. In this way the supply of water to the sufferers in purgatory is kept up unceasingly.”
This was the reason why the violent encounter had come about, and why the old mother had called out that her, “darling boy should not be left to wander about the churchyard dark and alone in the long nights.” In his explanation, furthermore, Father Ryan gave me some curious illustrations of the different ways in which this superstition influenced his “poor people,” as he constantly called them. But I suppose you have already had quite enough. I shall, therefore, say no more of these other cases and I am happy that I have at least provided you with this one example. Sadly, even in these more modern times such wild superstitions still exist in our land and undoubtedly owe their continued existence to the goodness of the Irish heart and the poetic imagination of our people.
Over the decades there have been many admirable tales that attempt to give us some understanding of the Irish character, including the details of the effects that a weak resistance to the fascinations of strong drink bring. These tales always seem to carry with them a moral, which the writers have intended for us Irishmen and women to take on board in the hope they could change what they see as a flaw. On this occasion, however, the tale of the events that I am about to relate will bring with it no moral. It is a simple and very true record of a terrible calamity that befell the people who form the principal characters of my story, and includes all the sadness, unaccountability and fatality of madness. There is no person who would try to warn another against the dangers of unexpected and sudden lunacy. It makes sense, then, that narrating an event at which I was only a spectator should have no moral to convey.
It has been my experience of human character among the native Irish that there are, in fact, two classes of drunkards in the country. One class of drunkard is composed of those persons, who, at first are very much in favour of being moderate in all things, and subsequently, allow themselves to be foolishly led on by the charm of good fellowship to create for themselves an artificial need. It is this artificial need, which in the end leaves them the helpless victims of a miserable disease. They begin by taking a little, continuing by taking just a little more and deceive themselves by saying “Sure, it’s only a drop”. From this point it is an easy step for them to fall into excess drinking, losing all sense of decorum, and becoming mean and unapologetic in their craving after alcohol. They are subsequently unfit them for an upright and honourable course of thought and action in any of the details of their daily life. A slow disappearance of their mental functions quickly accompanies their oppressive tiredness, while their hand trembles, their brain wanders, and they finally fall into the tragedy of ‘delirium tremens’. This stage is a rapid onset of confusion, which is usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol, and is better known to some as “The Horrors.”
But there is another class of drunkards, and this group could well be designated as one for those who are ‘drunkards by necessity’. But, when it comes to this category we must consider their domestic situation, economic condition, education, or other causes that may modify the result in individual cases. Of course, there is the argument that no person is born into this world with an inordinate desire for drinking alcohol of any kind. These unfortunate victims of alcohol do not begin with a thimble filled with drink, and progress into taking glasses filled with liquor. It comes upon a person, suddenly, like a thief in the night. It can happen when a person reaches their prime in adult, while others may experience in the flush of youth. In these modern times we have, unfortunately, seen its increase in the thoughtlessness that often accompanies boyhood and girlhood.
With these ‘drunkards of necessity’, abuse of alcohol becomes a passion with them, almost a type of madness. You can, occasionally, recognise one of these unhappy drunkards, especially those who might be very young. They usually enter the public house in the early morning, looking sullen and pale, and they sit down silently and alone over a measured double-shot of undiluted Scotch whisky. In fact Scotch whisky is, probably, the only drink suitable for one of these people, since the worst and most fierce tasting stuff that can be made is generally the most acceptable to him. This drunkard’s palate is too long subject to abuse to be able to distinguish between tastes and flavours, and its only ‘liquid fire’ or ‘rocket fuel’ that he wants. You can recognise this person by his pitiable imbecility, which drives him in his awful craving for more alcohol by reaching his tumbler to his lips with both hands. With the taste upon his lips he drinks until the glass is emptied, and does so with all eagerness of having a terrible thirst. This type can also be recognised by deep and frightful sleep, that begins, continues, and closes in horrific dreams! While the wife and family of the occasional and progressive drunkard can be said to be wretched, worse still must be the constant misery suffered by the wife and children of a madman like this.
In the spring of 1968 I was living in a relatively middle-class neighbourhood of a small country town, that stood in one of the most fertile and prosperous counties in Ireland. The population of this town was almost all industrious working and middle class people who were almost entirely free from the abject and squalid poverty that could be seen in some of the larger towns in this land. This particular town had many small and very productive factories that made a wide range of merchandise that was exported to many places in the world. It could also be said that the area around this town had a large proportion of respectable, gentlemen farmers who, in Ireland, at one time would have been called ‘squireens’.
To this group of ‘gentlemen farmers’ belonged the heads of two branches of the same family, Peter and James Caniffe. Both men resided in the environs of the town, and were brothers. Peter Caniffe was the elder of the two brothers by quite a number of years, and he had a family that consisted of three grown-up sons and one daughter. He had married early in his life, but his wife sadly died when giving birth to their fifth child. Unfortunately, the child only survived its mother’s death by a few weeks before it too passed away. James, the younger of the two Caniffe brothers, had a large family of young children. In fact, Peter’s only daughter, Alice, was being brought up within her uncle’s household. Her father thought that she might receive the education and care which a girl of her tender age, which she might have otherwise obtained from her deceased mother. It was believed she might just benefit from the kindness and affection that might be shown by her nearest female relatives.
In practical terms, then, Peter Caniffe’s family consisted of himself, his three sons, and an old widow woman who was employed as a housekeeper. She was a woman of at least seventy years and she was habitually lazy, her only aim in life being to avoid as much activity and exertion as was possible. But, the household of a widower from a middle class background is rarely ordered with any regularity and decorum, and Peter’s household was no exception to this general rule. Every room in the family home had a certain untidy and discomforting look about it. The floor-boards, or the staircase were seldom washed or swept. In fact the housekeeper rarely cleaned the windows, or the fireplace swept, the tables rubbed, or the chairs dusted. Things that had been soiled were never cleaned, while things that were broken were never mended, and things that had been lost were never replaced. As each member of the family felt, at one time or another, the inconvenience of things were in the home, but each reacted by throwing the blame upon the other, which meant nothing positive could be achieved to remedy the situation. Everyone who knew Peter Caniffe thought considered him to be a good practical farmer, and a shrewd man-of-the-world. They were extremely surprised, then, that Peter should appear to care so very little about the comforts or conveniences of life.
Peter, however, thought that he had one special household virtue that he could be proud of. Very early in life Peter had narrowly escaped disgrace and ruin by dropping any association he had with a group of youths who were widely known for their overindulgence in sensual pleasures. It was they who had led him, step by step, into all the dark recesses of debauchery. But, he got out of the group before it was too late, and the memories of what he had seen, done, and suffered was more than enough to make him resolve that his sons should never be tempted in a similar manner.
The eldest of his sons, Richard, was now twenty-one, the second eldest, Matthew, was nineteen, and the youngest son, Gerald, was only fifteen years of age. None of them had ever taken any alcohol, though their father was not as abstemious as he had compelled his sons to be. Every day, since they had first learned the taste of whisky, they had all been tantalised with the sight of the “materials” that made up their father’s favourite beverage. But, although Peter Caniffe was a temperate man, could never have been described as being a generous man. He was not one of those type of parents who will continue to fulfil their appetite, with every delicacy, while their children are looking on with eyes filled only with hope, and their stomachs are hurting with hunger. Peter, however, did get his reward when, one day, his two eldest boys, Dick and Matt, were carried home from a neighbouring fair. Both young men were falling-down drunk and this was the first occasion that they had ever been so intoxicated. Their condition, however, was due inexperience of alcohol rather than the trifling quantity they had taken. Nevertheless, from that moment onward, their father was more watchful than ever in an effort to prevent them from repeating the exercise.
As was usual, when it came to punishing his sons for any wrongdoing, Peter Caniffe was not particularly harsh, but you would have thought that neglecting his strict commands with regard to alcoholic drink would be sure to be met with great severity. Peter Caniffe’s method of handling such misdemeanours were wretchedly inconsistent. Other wrongdoings of a greater degree of immorality were winked at, even encouraged, by Peter. These young men, however, could never have been considered naturally vicious, but when they discovered that they could curse and swear in their father’s hearing, they quickly found that even some of the graver offences against society could be committed without fear of their father’s punishment. It was no wonder then, as they grew older they should also grow in their wickedreprehension, was it any wonder that they should also grow in wickedness?
Matthew and Richard dressed in a manner that showed them to be accomplished village scamps. They wore battered caps that were set, jauntily on one side of the head rough, deep-green corduroy trousers, and heavy brown brogue boots with nails like the rivets of a steam-boiler. These two young men were, undoubtedly, the hardiest men in a fight, the first men to sit at a card table, and the deadliest shots at a mark in the county. They always appeared to have plenty of money in their possession and there no one who dared to ask them how they came by it? Their father always had lots of cash lying about the house, and as selfish and alert as he was, there was many a large handful of cash that he was relieved of by his dutiful sons.
As the two boys grew up, they cared less and less for their father’s anger, as his vicious habits appeared to become more settled and systematic with them. They drank to great excess whenever they had the slightest opportunity to do so. It was a fact that no one ever saw them, for twenty minutes at a time, without having full proof that they were slaves to the ‘gargle’. It ruled over them like a tyrant making the almost slaves to the odious and disgusting tastes that anyone ever created for another. Beside the ‘drink’, no one ever saw them for any period of time without a cigarette or pipe between their teeth, and surrounded by the fouls smelling smoke, spitting on the street, and coughing their foul germs all over the place without regard for bystanders.
Despite all their many faults there many who would agree that the entire county had finer looking men than Richard and Matt Caniffe when they were dressed for Mass. It was a duty, to which they still attended with a punctuality that would have been much more praiseworthy if it had sprung from any other motive than vanity and pride. In a different culture, the two young men might very well have become excellent and valued members of society. They had still some faint pretensions to generosity and spirit, and there were many pretty young ladies in the district who believed, wholeheartedly, that they were capable of persuading these young men to return to their more innocent ways.
The youngest son, Gerald Caniffe, was a youth of fifteen years, and he was a lad of a much different type than his elder brothers. He was both an open-featured and an open-hearted youth, who was never seen with a cigarette, or pipe in his mouth, nor had he ever a tattered “racing calendar” sticking out of his pocket. Furthermore, while his brothers were out on their sporting adventures, or amusing themselves in a less innocent way, Gerald would journey across the fields to his uncle James’s garden, where he would walk, talk, read, or play with his pretty little sister Alley, or enjoy games with his pretty little cousins Bill and Bess, and Peter and Dick, after school had finished.
Alley and Gerald were as fond of each other as they could be, and not least because they did not live entirely together. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” is as true a phrase as ever was spoken, whether we apply it to the lover and his mistress, or the brother and his distant sister. There are many of us, with our sighs and tears, can testify to the truth of this. It was lovely to see a loving brother and his sister sauntering along the country lanes in the wild-strawberry season, with their arms around each other as they picked their fruit. Eventually, they had to bid each other good-bye for another day, returning home with slow, lingering steps.
This was the way the three young men were when Peter Caniffe passed away, after a short illness. In his well he left what was left of his property to be equally divided between his children. Richard and Matt, however, did not appear to be sorry for the loss of their father. On the night of their father’s wake, they collected all of their idle and profligate friends to come to the house and, as might be expected, the entire event became one dreadful feast of drunkenness. The more respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood saw how things would be now that Peter Caniffe had passed on. Everyone agreed that the previous restraint, overseen by their father, would now rapidly disappear, and shook their heads, as they considered what they believed would be the coming calamity.
Earlier, that same night, little Alley began to feel that all was not right with her brother, Gerald. She had seen Richard constantly giving him liquor, which he had, at first refused, but afterwards accepted. He had taken the drink in a stealthy manner, with his face blushing with embarrassment as he saw the first reproachful glance from Alice. Gradually Gerald gave in to the temptation, and again and again a glass followed another with less hesitation, while his brothers seemed to be happy with the idea of making this innocent boy just as guilty as themselves. The devil surely leads those who take great joy in encouraging others to abandon a positive way of life for the same sinful pleasures, for which others have sold their own souls. Eventually, she became frightened at the idea that Gerald seemed to change and boasted of his feat. When Gerald had asked for more whisky, and had been given it by Richard, who, half drunk himself already, was determined to make Gerald drunk for once in his life. The boy was now as drunk as his brother had wished for by his brother, and he had slipped behind Matt’s chair. Alice could see her brother’s head hanging upon one shoulder, while his eyes began to close in a drunken stupor of intoxication, and he was about to fall to the ground. Quietly she moved to his side, and leaning her head upon his shoulder she whispered, “Gerald, I didn’t think you would drink so much. Why did you?”
“Don’t tell uncle James, Alley, if he hasn’t seen me this way, and I promise I will never drink so much again.”
“Hold up your head for another bucket, you eejit,” said Matt, as he heard the boy speaking behind his chair. At the same time, with several drunken hiccoughs, he offered his brother another glass. “Come on, Gerald, another will do you no harm. They say that sorrow makes you dry, and the good Lord knows that you’ve wept enough all day for a little fellow.”
“Please Matt, please don’t ask him to drink more,” pleaded Alice.
Matt, however, was not the type to take objections lightly and, with a brutal cuff, he struck his little sister, who fell to the ground. Turning his attention back to Gerald, Matt tried to force the liquor on him. But, in the drunken effort, the glass fell from his hand, and Alice got up and quietly took her brother from the room.
After Peter Caniffe’s funeral took place there was another drunken party, more disgraceful than the first. This was followed by another, and another, and another, until the week was out. When Gerald’s uncle saw how completely dependent on alcohol that his nephews had become, he took Gerald to live with him. But, by this time, it had become too painfully evident that Gerald had acquired a taste for the liquor, which had already turned his two brothers into drunken beasts. Poor little Alice wept over the change that had overcome her brother. There was no more reading, or playing, or wandering through the country together. Instead, he would sit sulky and silent in the house all day, more like a poor relation living on charity rather than the joint-heir of the largest farm in the parish. This state of affairs, however, was soon to come to an end!
It had been a month since the death of Peter Caniffe, and with great zeal the eldest of his heirs had by this time drunk up his entire stock of “Poteen”. Quite by surprise, however, in an out-of-the-way nook they accidentally discovered five gallons of malt whisky, which had , probably, lain there for many years. It was on a Saturday morning that this hidden ‘treasure’ was found, and one of the Caniffe boys was heard making a vow that he would never quit drinking the whisky until the last drop was drained. This was intended to be the last party before they set off for Australia, where they intended to emigrate that very spring. They had, with their uncle’s consent on behalf of the two youngest Caniffe children, converted their land into money to finance their new life on the opposite side of the world. One or two of their friends had been invited to join them, but these begged to be excused since, like so many others, they had also become appalled at the dreadful excesses of their one-time companions. Towards evening it was noticed that Gerald had been missing from his uncle’s house for some time. James Caniffe guessed where he was and, with little Alice in his hand, he went to his late brother’s home. The door to the house was locked on the inside, and on asking for Gerald the uncle was told that he safe in there he was told that, “there wasn’t any admission for any damned teetotaller.” Shocked and angry, James Caniffe went away from the house with his dejected niece in tow.
The next day was Easter Sunday and the feast day had occurred much later in spring than is usual and, as a result, there was already a foretaste of summer in the air. It was a lovely fore-noon when James Caniffe, his wife, Alice, and the children, walked out in their Sunday-best outfits to the parish chapel. The sky was dotted with light silver clouds, and the fields were already green with the new growth of the grass. The hawthorn bushes in the hedgerows were visibly bursting their buds, while the furze bushes were exploding in a blaze of golden beauty, and the birds, especially the red-breast, were chirping away with great intensity. As they walked onward the bells of the neighbouring church stuck their celebration of Easter with such sweetness that they filled the air with Joy. They walked on past the church, where groups of laughing children were playing hide-and-seek in the graveyard. There, among the graves, towered five or six large chestnut trees that reached the height of the ancient steeple, among whose branches was a rookery that was now in full song. Surprisingly, the voices of the children and the cawing of the rooks, though disturbed by the sudden peal of the bells, mingled with their chimes without causing any discord to the ear. Alice’s eyes glistened for a moment when she recognised her youthful playmates, because her heart was heavy and felt that she could not laugh with them. At last they came to the door Peter Caniffe’s house. The house, however, showed no signs of life, and they thought maybe all were still asleep.
“Let us go in, uncle, and tell them all to get up,” little Alice urged.
“Let the scoundrels sleep it off!” was the indignant reply from Uncle James, and they passed on to the church.
After about an hour and a half, this same group were on their way home, with their hearts filled with joy by the imposing church service which they had just witnessed. But there was a gloomy expression on the faces of both James Caniffe and his little niece, as they walked along the street with their very happy and smiling neighbours. Questions were also being asked, since none of Peter Caniffe’s three sons had ever before been known to have missed Sunday mass. Their absence from Church on that most holy of holy days was of course a subject of wonder among all the neighbours. “I would not have thought it possible,” said James Caniffe in a grave tone of voice, “that they could suddenly become so uncaring so quickly wicked all at once—God forgive them! God help them!”
“Oh, uncle!” cried Alice, as the house came into view once again, “those boys are not up yet! See, the shutters are still closed!”
Then, as they moved in front of the house, Alice begged him, “Dear uncle, please go into them and bring out poor Gerald, so that he can eat his Easter dinner with us.”
A thought suddenly struck James as he knocked loudly at the door. There was no answer. Then, after another loud knock, and a long pause, there was still no sound coming from within the house. Alice’s little heart echoed each pound of that last unsuccessful knock. It was almost as if said, “Waken, Gerald, Can you not hear us knocking.”
But, Alice could not endure the suspense any longer, and, running to the gavel verge at the side of the road, she lifted up a heavy stone, which she used to batter the panels of the hall-door for as long as her strength allowed her. When she was obliged to stop battering, her screams could be heard widely, and yet there was no sound from the house. James Caniffe, meanwhile, had dispatched one of his little boys to a neighbouring cottage to borrow a crow-bar. The boy quickly returned to his father with the crowbar, and James, assisted by the crowd who gathered by this time, was not long in forcing the door open. “Wait now friends,” said James to the anxious company that had gathered, “don’t any come in until I tell you, for there’s no use in bringing further shame of my brother’s house.”
He and Alice, accompanied by one or two chosen people, entered the hall of the house with faltering steps, and then closed the front door behind them. The first object that they saw was Peggy, the old housekeeper, who was lying on the mat at the foot of the staircase in a drunken sleep. From what they saw it appeared the old woman had fallen down the stairs in an effort to reach the door, and there she lain insensible for several hours. Alice jumped over her, and darted up the stairs with the speed of lightning. James and his companions, had made a vain attempt to arouse the old housekeeper, before they followed her.
At the top of the stairs they entered the room immediately in front of them, on the landing. The thick stench of tobacco-smoke, mingled with the fumes of ale and whisky, almost overpowered them. The room itself would have been quite dark had it not been for a small lamp with two dim bulbs, which sat like a large old-fashioned branch candlestick on a small side-table. James went to the window, opened the curtains, and let down the sash. The glorious sunshine streamed into the reeking apartment, with the refreshing fresh air that was so badly needed. How strange the room appeared with the glow of daylight. The three young men were lying on the floor, at some distance from each other, around the legs of a crazily shaped table that stood in the centre of the room. On the table were huddled together the fragments of salted fish, cheese, bread, broken glasses, half-emptied decanters, and the other usual detritus of a bachelor party. James immediately recognised what had been going on in this room the moment he had drawn the curtains on the window. He stooped over one of the prostrate bodies, and saw it was Richard. Then, as he turned up his face, he exclaimed, “Dear God!” What he saw was the face of a corpse! He smothered another groan as he rushed towards the next body. It was Matt Caniffe, who was also deceased and his corpse was quite stiff! James and his friends now looked at each other solemnly, and in silence. Simultaneously, they turned their glance toward the place where Gerald was lying and they hesitantly moved to the spot. There, on the floor, lay Gerald, with Alice by his side where she had fainted. The boy’s eyes were glazed, the skin of his face tightened over his nose and cheek-bones, and his lips covered with viscid froth. Gerald’s beautiful brown hair was tossed backwards from his damp forehead, and was glistening in a streak of sunshine that fell upon it through the open window.
“He is alive still!” all three exclaimed, “he might recover!” At the same time one of them ran to the window and signalled to the neighbours that they should come in. The room was soon full of horrified spectators, who helped part Alice from her dying brother, and bring both of them out into the open air as quickly as possible.
In the middle of the loud cries and lamentations of the bystanders Alice recovered from her faint. She sat for a while upon the grass and tried to recall her scattered senses. The sight of Gerald lying near her, as the crowd opened to allow the fresh air to his face without obstruction, soon brought the whole terrible truth back to her mind. She stood up with difficulty, but, gathering her strength from her recollection, she succeeded in breaking away from the woman who was taking care of her, and in a moment the head of Gerald was pillowed upon her bosom. The soft cooling breeze had restored the unfortunate boy to a moment of consciousness, but he was barely able to turn his head towards Alice to acknowledge that she was there. Then, as he began to recognise his sister, a sign of pleasure was expressed through his glassy eyes.
“Won’t you speak to me, Gerald? Won’t you speak to your own wee Alley?” The boy shook with a convulsive shudder, but could not utter a word in answer.
“Don’t die, Gerald! Please don’t leave poor Alley all alone in the world!” pleaded she in the her agony of childish despair, “he’ll never be the same again! He’ll never speak to me again!”
The boy now made an effort to bring Alice’s ear to his clammy lips, and she tried very hard to hear the almost inaudible whisper which passed between them. “Is — uncle James — here?” gasped the dying boy in a stammering manner. “Tell him — I — couldn’t — help it! Oh! Alley! oh!” With this groan he gradually died away, and with it the spirit of poor Gerald Caniffe. Alice realised what had happened as soon as any of the bystanders, but her high and shrill scream soared above the wailing which now arose from the others. Once again the girl sank down in a faint that her great anguish had so mercifully caused.
A coroner’s inquest was held on the bodies of the three sons of Peter Caniffe, not far distant from the scene of the fatal party. A rumour had been doing the rounds saying that poison had somehow or other been the cause of their death. There was a thorough post-mortem examination carried out, which resulted in a verdict that said the three Caniffes had died “from the excessive use of alcohol.”
I began this tale by saying that I would not be pointing to a moral. But, there is a moral. It is a moral to selfish and ill-judging parents, and also to ill-judging societies, who believe that coercion will have a better effect than a fair and consistent example. So it is with the Irish father who would exorcise the demon of alcohol out of his children by pledges of abstinence, or threats of punishment, while, he continues to believe that he can still enjoy the luxury of alcoholic drink.
Many years ago at Irish country weddings, the priest who celebrated Mass and conducted the marriage ceremony was paid through voluntary contributions made by the wedding guests. The marriage, in those days, was generally celebrated in the evening, and they were followed, especially among the farming community, by a grand feast, to which the priest was always invited. After the supper, when the stomachs of the company are filled with fine meats and vegetables, roast goose, ham, and whisky-punch, the collection box goes around.
Annie Malone was the prettiest girl in the entire parish, and the bridegroom was a lucky boy on his marriage day. On the day of the wedding, it must be said, the lucky young man looked very ill at ease in his stiff, shiny, brand-new, tight-fitting wedding suit. Nevertheless, in addition to her good looks, the bride brought with her a marriage dowry of money, and three fine cows. Their married life would have an excellent start to it.
Annie looked very pretty and modest as she sat beside the priest, the blushing bride wincing often at the priest’s jokes, which were normally not to be heard in the company of women. She looked very handsome in the white frock she was wearing, which was a many-skirted garment, adorned with bows and trimmings made from white satin ribbons. It had belonged to one of the daughters from the big house, and had been sold to Annie as ‘nearly new’. The maid who had sold the dress assured her that it had been created by the grandest French dressmaker in London, and it had only been worn at a couple of country balls. The daughters of the ‘big house’ were very particular about their garments and could not abide a crease, crush or even slight soiling of the cloth. Furthermore, wearing a dress twice at any social function was not to be tolerated among the upper classes.
It is common knowledge that a priest always has his eyes on future dues from his parishioners, and there is nowhere a priest is as good-humoured as he is at a wedding. This priest, Father Murphy, was in the middle of his humorous remarks, while apparently absorbed in paying attention to the pretty bride. Annie’s health had just been drunk in a steaming tumbler of whisky punch, and the priest was keeping his business on the assembly as preparations were being made for sending around them the plate for contributions to pay him. The stir of preparations began at the end of the table where the big and wealthy farmers were thickly gathered. They were a proud set of people, stood in their large, heavy dress-coats, all of which were well tailored. All dressed in beautiful white shirts, well pressed trousers, and shoes that shone bright in the light. At their side stood their beautifully attired wives and daughters in bright coloured silken clothes.
In the middle of this group stood Jim Ryan, who was a sworn friend and follower of Father Murphy. He would have gone through fire and water to serve the priest, and kept a close watch on the parish on his behalf. Ryan was a rather small man in the parish, possessing very little as far as worldly goods were concerned. But, though he had no land or farm, Jim Ryan was a highly popular man who was thought to have a dry sense of humour, which made him very good company. When the collection plate reached Ryan his actions brought great surprise to the eye of the priest, causing him to hesitate in the middle of a pretty compliment he was making to the bride.
Jim Ryan first took hold of the collecting plate, and it appeared as if he had chosen to carry it around the crowd. Then, as if suddenly surprised by some thought or other, he stopped himself, and slammed the plate down on the table with a loud clatter, and a crash that made Mrs Malone wince, for it was a plate from one of her best china sets. The next thing that Jim did was to search all of his pockets. His fingers dived into his waistcoat, his trousers, and his fancy overcoat pockets, searching one after another, but not seeming to find what he wanted. Finally, after much hunting and shaking, and many facial expressions of disappointment, Jim took hold of the object he had been searching for. From some unseen place he carefully pulled a large and tattered leather wallet. By this time, as was his intention, everyone in the room had fixed their attention upon him. At this point he deliberately opened the wallet, and, after taking a sneaky look to ensure that those assembled were watching him, he took out from it a well folded bank-note. This note, when unfolded, was spread out and ostentatiously smoothed on the table, so that all who looked could see that had ‘’Ten Pounds’ inscribed upon it!
There were gasps of astonishment that spread through the wedding guests, and some expressions of dismay among the more wealthy of them. Fat pocket-books filled with notes, that a few moments previously were being pompously produced by their owners, were now very stealthily put back into pockets again. A sudden pause was followed by a great whispering and consulting among the farmers. At this point there were anxious and meaningful looks given by the wives of the wealthier men-folk, along with expressive nudges, and digs into their ribs where practicable. There was, therefore, a good deal of rivalry between the wealthy couples as they bid for their position in the local social hierarchy. Mister Hennessy, who drove his family to mass every Sunday in his own pony and trap, would not be seen to give less than Mister Welsh, although he too was a decent man and always got the best price for his butter at local market. And now, the shame of being outdone by Jim Ryan had to be faced! To offer the priest five pounds, when the likes of Ryan was giving ten pounds! Such an eventuality could not be allowed to happen! Therefore, after Jim had put his ten-pound note on the plate with a bit of a flourish, and had gone his rounds with the plate, it turned out to be the largest collection that had ever gladdened the heart, or filled the pockets. of Father Murphy.
As the priest was leaving the house, Jim came up to him and put his arm on the priest’s shoulder. “I certainly did you a good turn this day, your Reverence, didn’t I? Such a collection of notes, silver coins, and coppers I have never laid eyes on before this! I thought the plate would be broken in two halves with the weight of it all. And now you can give my ten pound note back to me?” he whispered, while looking around to ensure no one could hear him.
“Your ten pound note, Jim! What do you mean? Is it that you want me to return to you a part of my dues?”
“Ah, now, my dear Father Murphy, surely you’re not so innocent a man as to think that note was mine! Where, would the likes of a poor man such as I am get such an amount of money as that? Ten pounds! Sure, didn’t I borrow it, your Reverence, for a scheme I had in mind. And, I tell you that my scheme has turned out to be a mighty good and profitable one. Sure, I knew that the sight of that ten pound note would cause them to bring the money out of all their wallets. And by God, so it did!”
This was something that the priest could not deny. With a large grin on his face he refunded Jim’s “bait” and added to it a few pounds worth of thanks. Needless to say, both men left the wedding very satisfied by the day’s events.
But, all of that was in the hands of Fate, and he would have to wait on its fulfilment. In the meantime, however, he was sure that he had the castle and the “crock of gold”, and under the good omens given by his dream he had decided to take that affair immediately in hand. To help him in the work of digging, and pulling the thick walls of the castle to pieces, he selected Una. She was known to be a brave, two-handed worker, who was as great a believer in dreams and omens as Danny himself. Furthermore, Una promised him total secrecy, and she agreed to take a small share of the treasure for her reward in assisting him to find it.
For about two months Danny and Una laboured in vain until, at last, something came of their exertions. In the course of their work, when they got tired, they would both sit down to rest themselves and talk over their past disappointments and future hopes. Now it was during one of these intervals of repose that Danny, as he was resting himself on one of the large, dressed corner-stones of the ruin, suddenly realised that he had fallen in love with Una. At the same time, Una had begun to think much in the same way about Danny, and when the work was done he and Una were married the first available Sunday.
Any calculating men among you will ask if he found the treasure before be married the girl? But, Danny was an unsophisticated type of boy, and such boys never calculate on these occasions. The story goes that Una Lennon was the only treasure Darby discovered in that old castle. Danny’s acquaintances were over the moon on the occasion of his marriage, and they swore that he had got a great woman. Others felt such comments to be quite humorous, for Una, was a woman who was on the large side of the scale. Some people would, indeed, be unkind enough to say that she was “the full of a door,” and the joyous news spread like wildfire all over the country.
” Hey there, did you hear the news?”
“The news about Danny Kelly.”
“What about him?”
“Sure, didn’t he find finally find himself a fairy.”
“Get away out of this!”
“It’s the truth I’m tellin’ you. He’s married to Una Lennon.”
“Ha! ha! ha! by all that’s holy, she is some kind of fairy! But, more power to you, Danny, you’ve definitely caught one now!”
But the fairy he had caught did not satisfy Danny enough to persuade him to give up his life-long pursuit of a wealthy future. He still kept constantly on the look-out for a Leprechaun, and one morning as he was going to his work, he was stopped suddenly on the path, which lay through a field of standing corn. Danny’s eyes caught sight of something ahead of him, and his gaze became riveted upon the object as he planned his approach. He crouched and crawled, and was making his way with great caution towards the object of his riveted gaze, when he was, quite unexpectedly, hit on the back of the head with a thump that considerably. Such was the blow that Danny’s eyesight suddenly became fuzzy, he swore he heard the voice of his mother, a vigorous, malicious old hag, in his ear at the same time with a hearty, “Get up out of that, you lazy bollix. What are you sneaking around here for, when you should be minding your work, you blackguard?”
“Weesht! weesht! Ma,” urged Danny as he held his hand to his lips signalling her to be quiet.
“What do you mean, you gobshite?”
“Mother, will you be quiet, for God’s sake! Weesht! I can see it.”
“What do you see?”
“Stoop down here for a moment and look straight ahead of you. Don’t you see it as plain as day?”
“That little red thing, over there,” Danny pointed.
“Well, what of it?”
“See, there its starting to move. Oh, Christ! The bloody thing is going to be gone before I can get my hands on it. Jaysus Ma! Why did you come here at all, making a racket and frightening it away?”
“Ah! To the devil with you! You big, useless clown! Is it that red thing over there you mean?”
“Yes! That’s it! Now keep your voice low, like I tell you.”
“Why, you damned eejit, you fool, it’s nothing but a poppy dancing in the breeze,” the old woman told him with a sneer, she went over to the spot where it grew. Plucking the plant up by the roots, she threw it at Danny, along with a great deal of verbal abuse. “Get up to hell from there and get to your work, instead of being the sneaking, lazy tramp that you are.”
It was some time after this event that Danny Kelly had a meeting with Doctor Dermot McFlynn. It has to be said at this stage that this medical man would become very famous throughout the countryside, because of the great events that occurred from this meeting. But, before we hear about this it is necessary that you learn something of the doctor himself. His father, Paddy McFlynn, had been a popular and very prosperous veterinarian with the local cattle farmers. Such was the regard in which his father was held that his son, Dermot, became determined to qualify as a physician and make human beings, instead of animals, the object of his care. He was assisted in his endeavours by his father, who had scraped some money together to help his son set up his surgery in the neighbouring village. Here Dermot soon earned himself the reputation of being a “great bone-setter”, and mender of cracked skulls, which were the result of fair fighting and whisky over-indulgence. But Dermot’s father eventually passed away and, as he was the only son, Dermot inherited all the old man’s money. The amount of money left to him was considerable, and he decided to better his qualifications. For this purpose, Dermot gave up his small surgery and went abroad.
He remained abroad for some years before he returned to Ireland, declaring himself to be a Professor of medicine, gained from one of Europe’s most noted universities. Dr. McFlynn became known to his neighbours, one and all, as Dr. McFun, which better described his activities in the community. The little money that he once possessed was now spent in his pursuit of professional honours, and he returned to his home with a full title, but an empty wallet. Unfortunately, McFlynn’s small, rural practice did not provide enough funds to replenish his empty coffers. This state of affairs, eventually effected his efforts to maintain his personal and professional appearance in the community. His clothes became ragged and his mode of transport was of so much a lesser standard than what was expected of a man in his position.
He was glad to accept an invitation to a meal whenever he had the luck to get one, and the offer of an overnight stay was always certain to be accepted, because that assured him of breakfast the next morning. He was, however, often asked to dinner from a mix of motives, such as out of kindness, and for fun. Although a good dinner was always a welcome novelty to the McFlynn, his efforts to maintain the pretence of his status and the manner in which communicated with others made him a subject of fun to those invited him. He had managed to gain an invite from all of the wealthier farmers and country gentlemen in the district, but he finally was honoured to receive an invitation from the largest landowner in the area. On the appointed day Doctor McFlynn dressed himself in the manner of a faculty member of the university from which he graduated. Dressed in this manner he made his way the few miles to the ‘Lodge’, where he presented himself.
When the doctor appeared in the drawing-room of the large house, dressed as he was, it caused considerable amusement among those gathered there. But, their attention was redirected from him by the announcement that dinner was served. Such an announcement always attracts the immediate attention of a group dinner, because free food always supersedes every other consideration. The ‘Lodge’ was always famed for providing excellent dinners, and the doctor took great advantage of it by ensuring that no opportunity of filling his glass with the choice wines that were provided. In fact he took advantage so many opportunities, that the poor little man was very intoxicated by the time that the guests were about to separate.
At the doctor’s request his vehicle was brought to the front door, just as the last remaining guests were about to make their way home separate. Every one of the guests had left the ‘Lodge’, and still there was no sign of the vehicle being at the door. Finally, a servant made his appearance, and he told Dermot that it was not possible for him to drive home.
“What do you mean by ‘not possible’?” said the owner of the house. “Is the car not in the garage area?”
“Yes, sir,” said the servant, “but the doctor is not capable…” At this point a, sometimes heated, discussion took place. The host asked the doctor if he was certain of his ability to make his way home. The doctor, of course, insisted that he was and immediately began to stagger his way to where his vehicle was parked. The servant and the host made every attempt to dissuade him from taking such action, but all were in vain. Every manoeuvre that they made to prevent the doctor met with a counter, sometimes resorting to on squealing and flinging up his arms, to break through the barrier put up against him.
This was the manner in which the doctor hoped to secure the offer of a bed for a night. He may even have been successful if it was not for an old yardman who had heard the loud discussion outside the ‘Lodge.’ He was doubled over with arthritis, using a walking stick and had a severe shake in his hand. “Don’t you worry doctor, just let me at the car, and I’ll drive you to your home, where I could stay until morning.”
“Oh, Jaysus,” said the doctor, “Don’t trouble yourself, I’ll be able to drive alright.” He went to the place where his car was parked and got himself into the driver’s seat.
“I don’t think you should be doing this,” said the host.
“There’s no trouble. Sure, it’s only a few miles to home and it won’t take much time,” slurred the doctor, and proceeded to turn the key in the ignition.
With several turns of the steering-wheel, and much crunching of gears, the doctor managed to get the car pointed in the right direction and slowly drove off, in low gears and with a jumping motion. It was not, however, his destiny to sleep at home that night. Dermot was filled with the choicest and most potent of wines, overpowering his senses that he was unable to accurately steer his vehicle homeward. He could not remember seeing the open gate, or even driving through into a meadow, and finally into a shallow ditch. At the side of an upturned car, a hundred yards from the road, spent the rest of the night, unhurt and snoring peacefully. He was awakened the next morning by the golden light of a rising sun and the lowing of the cows as they gathered around the vehicle. At the same time Danny Kelly was walking along the track that ran alongside the ditch where the doctor was beginning to awaken, and on seeing the doctor’s car, Danny went to help.
Wherever you travel in Ireland there is a phrase you may often hear, namely – “Finding a fortune”. When a man dreams of wealth he will often say that he is “dreaming of finding a fortune. Likewise, if any poor man eventually becomes a man of wealth, this progress is scarcely ever thought of as being the result of hard work, intelligence, or even perseverance. Generally, the people around him will say that he either “found a fortune”, or fell into one. Some would even suggest that he had become wealthy by secretly digging up “a crock of gold” in the ruins of an old abbey, or by catching hold of a Leprechaun and forcing him to give a crock of gold as his ransom. How, when and where the man came into the wealth is totally immaterial, because most people will be satisfied with the simple suggestion that, “He found a fortune”. Many Irishmen would suggest that going into the particulars would only destroy the romance, and their love of wonder is much more fulfilled by the thought that the change from poverty to wealth was the result of superhuman aid. The very idea that the journey to wealth can be attributed to the merely mortal efforts of hardwork and prudence is so very boring.
There is always some old gossip in every community who has a plentiful supply of stories to make her listeners marvel at the wonderful and extraordinary short cuts that some have used to gain their fortunes. There is an old Irish saying that states, “That there never was a fool who had not a greater fool to admire him.” In the same manner there never was an old woman who told such stories, who did not have plenty of listeners to her. One listener to such stories was Danny Kelly, and he enjoyed listening to a certain ‘Cailleach’ who had an extensive library of stories for every possible occasion. Danny was a true devotee to the old hag and would often give her small gifts to encourage her to relate her tales. In most cases these gifts were packets of cigarettes, to which she had a particular craving.
Another regular attendant at the feet of the Cailleach was Una Lennon, who was as much mesmerised by the stories as was Danny Kelly. In fact, the two of them were as idle as each other when it came to work. A day never passed that Danny and Una did not pay a visit to the old woman, because she was always ay home, seated in a huge armchair, because she was too old and decrepit to move far. In fact, the furthest that the old woman could walk was from her armchair to the large seat outside the cottage door. In the warm summer days she could be found seated here enjoying the warming rays of the sun and ready to tell her stories. There she would sit and rock herself to and fro in the sunny days of July and August, dressed in her old creased clothes that appeared not to have been washed in a very long time. With her long, untidy grey hair not brushed the casual observer may have asked if she was made for the dilapidated cottage, or had they simply grown into a likeness of one another. The tattered thatch on the roof resembled the old woman’s straggling hair, and the spots of old age on her face were like the grey lichens that covered the cottage walls. The sallow colour of those walls bore a very strong likeness to the tint of the old woman’s shrivelled skin. At the top of the roof there was a rudely built chimney that out of which flowed clouds of grey-blue smoke. In fact, the chimney and the old woman could be seen smoking away from morning until night, and both were poorly dressed, lonely, and were fast falling into decay.
It was at this cottage that Danny Kelly and Una Lennon were sure to meet every day. Danny would usually saunter up to the cottage and call out, “Good morning, Granny!”
“The same to you, dear boy,” the old woman would mumble in her usual way.
“Here are some cigarettes for you, granny.”
“Ah, sure you’re a real wee darling, Danny. Many thanks, but I hadn’t expected to see you today.”
“No, Granny, you wouldn’t have, for I was only passing this way, while I ran an errand for the Boss and I thought that I might as well step over and find out how you were doing.”
“You’re a good boy, Danny.”
“Thanks, but it’s a hot day, by God, and it’s not going to get any cooler soon. I’m totally out of breath and the sweat is running down the sheugh of my arse, for I’m not fit for all this running. But, this is an important errand, and the Boss man told me to hurry up. That is why I was running, and I took a short cut across the fields and past the old castle. When I was passing by there I suddenly remembered what you told me a wee while ago. You know, about the crock of gold that is hid there for certain, and waiting for anyone that could, to come upon it.”
“Aye, and that’s the truth, Danny, wee darling. I have never heard about any other hidden crock of gold, that I can remember.”
“Well, well! think of that! Then, it will be me that will be the lucky man that finds it.”
“Good luck to you, Danny. But, that will not be until it is laid out for someone to pick it up.”
“Sure, isn’t that what I have often said to myself, and why would it not be my chance to be the man that the treasure was laid out for.”
“Well, there’s no one who knows that,” mumbled the old woman mysteriously, as she put out the butt of her cigarette and lit a new one from the fresh stock Danny had brought her.
“That’s true enough. Oh, but you have a great deal of knowledge, granny! There is no knowing what the future holds for anyone, but they say there’s great virtue in dreams.”
“Sure, there is no one that can deny that, Danny,” said the Cailleach, “and by the way maybe you would step into the house and bring me out a bit of live turf from the fire to light my cigarette.”
“Of course I will, granny;” and away Danny went to do what he had been asked.
While Danny was raking from amongst the embers on the hearth for a piece of still live turf, Una made her appearance outside the old woman’s cottage, giving her the usual cordial greeting. Just as she had given her greeting, Danny emerged from the cottage, holding a bit of glowing turf between two sticks that acted as a pair of makeshift tongs. “Surprise, surprise, is that you Danny?” Una asked.
“Sure, who else would it be?” said Danny.
“Well, you told me over an hour ago, down there in the big field, that you were in a hurry and hadn’t got time to talk.”
“True. I am in a hurry, and I wouldn’t be her at all only I just stepped in to say ‘Good day!’ to the old one, and to light a cigarette for her, the poor dear.”
“Well, don’t be standing there and allowing the coal to go black, Danny,” said the old woman; “but let me light my cigarette immediately.”
“Of course, granny,” said Danny, as he applied the lit piece of turf to the end of her cigarette until it began to glow read with inhale. “And now, Una, darling, if you’re so sharp when it comes to other peoples’ business, what the devil brings you here, when you should be taking care of the geese up in the yard. It is there you should be, and not here. I wonder what would the Boss woman would say if she knew?”
“Oh, sure I left them safe, and they should be able to take care of themselves for a wee bit longer, and I wanted to ask granny about a dream I had.’
“But, so do I,” said Darby, “and you know the rule is first come first served. And so, granny, you have always said that there’s a great amount of truth in dreams.”
She took a long-drawn drag of her cigarette and said nothing at all about dreams. “By Jaysus, but that’s a good bit of tobacco in them cigarettes! Aye, it’s fine and strong, and almost takes the breath from you, it’s so good. Well done to you Danny, darling boy!”
“You’re very kind, granny. But, as I was saying about the dreams–you said that there was a great amount of truth in them.”
“Who says there is not?” said the old woman in an authoritative tone, and gave Danny a dark and disapproving look.
“Sure, it isn’t me you would suspect of saying such a thing? I was only going to tell you that I had a very clear dream last night, and sure, I came here to ask you about what it meant.”
“Well, my dear, tell us your dream,” said the old woman as she took an increasing number of long drags from her cigarette.
“Well, you see,” said Danny,
“That’s very true, my darling boy! Now go on.”
“Well, as I was saying, I came to the cross-roads, and soon after I saw four walls. Now, I think those four walls means the old castle to me.”
“That’s likely enough, dear boy.”
“Oh,” said Una, who was listening with her mouth as wide open as Carlingford Lough, “sure, you know the old castle has only three walls, and how could that be it?”
“That doesn’t matter at all,” said the old woman, “It ought to have four walls, and that’s the same thing!”
“Well, well! I never thought of that,” said Una, as she lifted her hands above her head in wonder. “Sure enough, so it ought!”
“Go on, Danny,” said the old woman .
“Well, I thought the greatest number of crows that I have ever seen flew out of the castle, and I think that must mean that the gold is there!”
“Did you count how many there was?” asked the Cailleach, solemnly.
“No! Sorry, but I never thought of that,” said Danny, deeply vexed by his apparent omission
“Well, could you tell me if there was an odd or even number of them, dear boy?”
“No, sure I could not say for certain.”
“Well, that’s it!” said the old woman, shaking her head in disappointment. “How can I tell the meaning of your dream, if you don’t know how it came out exactly?”
“Well, granny, but don’t you think the crows were a sign of gold?”
“Yes–if they flew low down.”
“By God then, now I remember, they did fly low down in the sky, and I said to myself there would be rain soon, because the crows were flying so low.”
“I wish you didn’t dream of rain, Danny.”
“Why not, granny? What harm is there in it?”
“Oh, nothing, only it comes in an awkward place in your dream.”
“But it doesn’t spoil the dream, I hope?”
“Oh no, not at all. Go on.”
“Well, with that, I thought I was passing by Dolan’s grain store, and he asked me, ‘Will you carry home this sack of meal for me?’ Now, you know, meal is a sign of money. Sure, every fool knows that.”
“You’re right, dear boy.”
“And so I took the sack of meal on my shoulder, and I thought the weight of it was killing me, just as if it was a sack of gold.”
“Go on Danny.”
“And with that I thought I met with a cat, and that, as you know, means an ill-natured woman.”
“That’s right, Danny.”
“And says she to me: ‘Danny Kelly,’ says she, ‘you’re mighty yellow about the face. God bless you! Is it the jandies (jaundice) you have?’ says she. Now wasn’t that mighty sharp of her? I think the jandies means gold?”
“Yes. If it was the yellow jandies you dreamed about, but not the black jandies.”
“Well, it was the yellow jandies.”
“Very good, dear boy, that’s making a fair job of it.”
“I thought so myself,” said Danny, “even more so when there was a dog in my dream next, and that’s another sign, you know.”
“Right, dear boy.”
“And he had a silver collar on him.”
“Oh, that silver collar is not so good, Danny. What made you dream of silver, anyway?”
“Why, what harm is there in that?”
“Oh, I thought you knew better than to dream of silver. Why, my young friend, sure, silver is a sign of disappointment, everywhere.”
“Oh, damnation!” said Danny, in horror, “and is my dream spoilt by that bloody collar?”
“It is almost spoilt. But, it isn’t yet. It would be spoilt only for the dog. Now, the dog is a good sign, and so it will be only a small disappointment, maybe a falling out with some acquaintance.”
“Oh, what does that matter,” said Danny. “Sure, the dream is still good, isn’t it?”
“Aye, the dream is still good. But, tell me if you also dreamed of three sprigs of spearmint at the end of it?”
“Well, I could not say for certain, because I was just about to awaken at that time, and the dream was not so clear to me.”
“I wish you could be more certain of that.”
“You know, I have it my mind that there was spearmint in it, because I thought there was a garden in part of it, and the spearmint was likely to be there.”
“It is, sure enough, and so you did dream of the three sprigs of spearmint.”
“Indeed, I could almost swear on the good book that I dreamt of it. I’m nearly certain, if not completely sure.”
“Well, that’s reasonable. It’s a good dream, Danny.”
“Is it, really?”
“Indeed it is, Danny. Now wait until the next quarter of the new moon, and dream again then, and you’ll see what’ll come of it.”
“Be sure that I will, granny. Oh, but it’s you have taken the meaning out of it beyond everything, and rest assured that, if I find the crock, it will be yourself who will also profit from it. But, I must be going now, granny. The Boss man told me to hurry with my errand, or else I would stay longer with you. Good morning’ to you, good morning! Una! I’ll see you to-morrow sometime, granny.” And Danny went off with a new spring in his step.
From the foregoing story you can see just how gullible poor Danny was, but it was not in his belief of the “truth in dreams” alone that his weakness lay. He had a very deep belief in fairy folk of all sorts and sizes when discussions came around to them, and he was always on the look-out for a Leprechaun. Now, a Leprechaun is a fairy of peculiar tastes, properties and powers, which it is necessary to acquaint you, the reader, with. His taste as to occupying his time is humbly working at making shoes, and he loves to hide himself away in shady nooks where he can sit alone and pursue his vocation undisturbed. In fact, he is quite a hermit in this respect, for there is no instance of anyone seeing two Leprechauns together.
But, the Leprechaun is quite handsome in his outfit, which usually includes a red square-cut coat, that is richly laced with gold, a waistcoat and trousers of the same style, a cocked hat, shoes and buckles. He has the habit of deceiving, in a great degree, those who chance to discover him. To date none has ever been known to outplay a Leprechaun in the “keen encounter of wits,” which his meeting with mortals always produces. This is brought about by him possessing the power of bestowing unbounded wealth on whoever can keep him within sight until he is so weary of being observed that he gives in to the ransom demanded. This is the final objective of any mortal who is fortunate to surprise and seize the Leprechaun. He must never look away from him, until the threat of his destruction forces the Leprechaun to produce the hidden treasure. This fairy being is, however, usually much too clever for us clumsy mortals and almost always sure to devise some trick that will make us avert our eyes, which will allow him to vanish from our grasp.
It was this ‘Enchanted Cobbler’ of the meadows that Danny Kelly was always seeking. Although he was constantly on the look-out for a Leprechaun, he had never even gotten within sight of one, and he had been given the name of the ‘Fairy Finder’ as a sign of the derision he was held in by others. There was also many a trick that was played upon him. On some occasions a twig stuck in the long grass, with a red rag hanging from it, has fooled Danny into cautious observance. He would carefully approach the decoy for a closer inspection, and a laugh from behind a bush or hedge would then have shown that he was the tool of some trickster. Yet, although this happened quite often, it did not cure him from his folly. There wasn’t a turkey- cock that had a quicker eye for a bit of red, or flew at it with greater eagerness, than Danny Kelly, and he continued to believe that one day or other he would reap the reward of his watching, by finding a real Leprechaun.