The Drunkards

 

guinness pint
Irish Nectar

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.

Cailleach of Ballygran III

Johnny

Derryard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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