Mr. Mangin

Last week as I drove home from my work office I passed by my old primary school, which caused me to recall the days that I spent there, so many years ago. As I thought about those days, a certain image returned to me and was very clear in my mind. It was the image of one of my teachers, Mr. Mangin. Even when he had taught me, all those years ago, Mr. Mangin was a very old man who must have been near to retirement age. He had a head of silver-grey hair which, unusually for a schoolmaster in those days, reached just over the collar of his shirt. A small, knowledgeable man with thick rimmed glasses, Mr. Mangin was given a lot of respect among the people in the area where I lived. To most of those people he was known simply as “Master Mangin”, and he was considered by all to be a respectable, a decent, and a religious man. He was also believed by many to be a man of great generosity, of whom it was said that, “He would go out of his way to do another person a good turn.”

school 2Being the oldest, Mr. Mangin was also the most senior teacher in that school, which was actually a small, two-roomed, unprepossessing building situated in the countryside about four miles from the biggest town. Despite its age and outward condition the school was just about big enough for the townland population for whom it had been built so many decades before. The roof of the school was covered with ‘Bangor Blue’ slates, and the two chimney pots in the centre protruded upward to expel the smoke from two old pot-belly stoves that were the only source of heating in the classrooms. The solid stone walls of the building had been plastered over on numerous occasions and were regularly whitewashed by willing volunteers. In those far off days when it was first built there was little thought given to cavity walls and to insulation, and I still remember how bitterly cold those classrooms were in the winter months. In each of the two classrooms were two medium sized windows with squared panes of single glazing that did little to help improve the temperature in the building.

At one end of the old stone building there was a playground, which was enclosed by a high, rough-stone wall. The playground floor had been constructed of solid concrete and, at the farthest end, were two toilet buildings. On the left stood the boys’ toilet and to the right was the girls’ toilet, each made private by slatted wooden doors, which had been painted a dark olive-green colour. Adjacent to one side of the school ran a main road while, on the other side of the building stood a row of three mature trees. Some of the older boys would carve their names in the tree trunks while others stuck old pen nibs or drawing pins into the trunks in a variety of patterns. During the summer, which was our favourite time of the year, the classroom windows would be opened wide and the rustling leaves filled the air with their sounds when the breeze blew heavily. The windows on the side adjacent to the road would always be closed in a vain attempt to keep the noise of tractors, lorries and cars at a low level. At the same time, it was a gallant effort to reduce the strong natural smells of the countryside from wafting into the room on those days that muck-spreaders and the like were busy at their work. In the winter, however, the windows on both sides of the classroom were firmly closed, and through them we would watch the rain-drops on bare twigs slowly develop into icicles as the temperatures dropped. Overall then, the old school building was a cold, damp structure that was particularly uncomfortable from Autumn until Spring, a period that covered the larger part of the school year. Master Mangin, meanwhile, was a man who always complained about the cold, even in the early Autumn when the weather was quite mild. On those days he would always wear a heavy overcoat over his thick woollen jumper and rubbing his hands together roughly he would complain, “By God boys, it’s very cold today. All the ‘brass monkeys’ will stay indoors on a day like this.

In our efforts to please Mr. Mangin we would confirm his observations by saying, “It is very cold, Sir. It’s Baltic!

Outside the wind would be blowing a storm, forcing the last dead leaves from their refuge on the branches of the trees. Occasionally they would rattle off the classroom windows when the wind was particularly strong. Above us, along the edge of the school’s roof ran the guttering which channelled the rainfall to the damaged down-spouts and would regularly splash on the window pane. The very sight of a cold, wintry day outside those classroom windows had the effect of making you feel cold without any other help. Not surprisingly, therefore, we would quite often follow Mr. Mangin’s example by keeping our coats and scarves wrapped closely around us while we sat in class.

One other unforgettable habit that Mr. Mangin possessed was his almost compulsive efforts at maintaining his personal hygiene and grooming. Three or four times each day he would take his black comb from an inside pocket of his coat and use it to tidy his hair, whether it needed attention or not. He also consistently kept cleaning his hands, washing them constantly with soap in a basin of ice-cold water and drying them on a roller-towel that was fixed to the inside of a tall cupboard door. In Spring and in Summer he always hung his coat tidily on a hanger and, throughout the year, he would use a clothes brush to remove chalk dust and fluff that seemed to accumulate on his clothes every day.

I will always remember November and March as being among those months when we experienced the most rain and the heaviest winds. During those months four or more buckets would be strategically placed on top of desks throughout the classroom to catch the drips that fell from various leaks in the roof. As we studied at our desks we could hear the music caused by the drips of rainwater as they plopped into the buckets with varying amounts of water in them. They were usually accompanied by different tones of whistling as the wind blew over the multitude of holes, cracks and loose frames that were so much a part of that old building. Then, every now and again, one of us would be called upon to empty a bucket that was almost filled. On almost every occasion it was a boy who was selected to lift the bucket and carry it outside, where it would be emptied down one of the drains before being returned to its place on top of a desk. On each of these occasions Mr. Mangin would ask, “What’s happening out there now?

All the old man had to do was to look out of the classroom window for a weather update. Instead he would ask the windblown and wet boy carrying the bucket back into the classroom. Despite his frustration and discomfort the boy would always politely reply, “It’s still very wet and windy, Sir.

There was, however, one talent which Mr. Mangin possessed and that was the manner in which he could always use his time to his own best advantage. He would often write a series of mathematical problems on the blackboard, which we were expected to write down and answer in our exercise books. At the same time, he would appoint one of the older boys in the class to monitor the students while he went out to the school porch to enjoy a quiet smoke of a cigarette or two. There were other occasions when he would sit at his desk and read the racing pages of the daily newspaper, while we completed our mathematical exercises. Some days he would write down a theme for a story on the blackboard and, while we wrote, he would take his coat and disappear for periods of up to fifteen minutes. It was much later that I found out that, at these times, Mr. Mangin would walk to Billy Whyte’s house and use the phone there to place a bet or two on the horses he had picked.

During these periods of the teacher’s absence the boys would usually play mock battles, fighting with rulers like knights of the round table. Paper darts would fly from every corner of the room and, sometimes, balls of paper dipped in ink would be catapulted across the classroom using the wooden rulers. It is needless to say that we went through quite a number of those twelve-inch wooden rulers and the noise level we caused would rise to such a pitch that the lady teacher next door was forced to act. Miss O’Neill, as she was known, would storm into our classroom through the adjoining door and scream, at the top of her voice, “SILENCE!!!”. Not being a woman who was known for her gentle manners, Miss O’Neill would let loose with her “adder-like” tongue, spitting out an unending stream of poisonous invectives at her targets. “You are all low lives! Just good-for-nothing corner boys who will never amount to anything in life! Its Borstal you need and not school. Just wait until Mr. Mangin returns and I will tell him what sort of evil brats you all are!”

I can recall at least one occasion when that old witch picked me to shake her bony fist at, hissing, “And you boy! I will give a good account of your behaviour. Serving the priest at Mass like an Angel in whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt, while you act like the devil you truly are the rest of the week! I have my eyes on you, boy!” The class, however, would remain silent in the face of her verbal onslaught and we would turn our minds to the music of the drips that fell into the various buckets. Thankfully she never tarried long in our presence because her own class would begin to fidget and make a fuss while she was away from them.

Whenever Mr Mangin returned to the classroom the first question he would ask was if we had disturbed Miss O’Neill. Of course, he knew the answer even before he had asked the question. Our silence and the condition in which he would find the classroom always confirmed his opinion of our behaviour. Turning to the blackboard he would commence writing the answers to the mathematical problems he had written there and then call us up one by one to recite aloud the stories we had written. As he listened to our efforts Mr. Mangin would stare out of the classroom window and study the great beauty that nature presented. He would often say, “There can be no other county in all of Ireland that has the natural beauty that County Armagh possesses. When the songwriter wrote that, “There’s one fair County in Ireland”, he never spoke a greater truth.

One December Mr. Mangin became very ill and was told by his doctor to remain in his bed for at least two weeks before going back to work. Later he would say that these were the longest and most tedious days that he had ever spent in his entire life. When he did, finally, return to the classroom he still retained a sickly pallor about him and his physique had failed considerably. But, to ensure that he would have no relapse of his illness, Mr. Mangin immediately began to block off the ventilators in the classroom with perforated plywood. At the same time, he stuffed blotting paper into the wide gaps that existed at the door frames. On one of the windows there were several muddy marks caused by a ball that had been kicked by several of the boys. The ball had hit one pane so forcefully that a large crack in the glass had been created. When Mr. Mangin saw this crack in the window pane he smiled softly to himself and said, “Someone has created a map of the Shannon.” Every occasion after this when he taught us geography, Mr. Mangin would point to that pane of glass and simply tell us, “Take a look at the Shannon.

Another important feature of the classroom, especially in winter, was the fire, which was required to be ‘banked-up’ with coal on a regular basis. On occasion, when our ration of coal was used up, Mr. Mangin would send one of the boys down to Billy’s house to borrow a bucket or two of coal, which he would ensure was repaid. The student selected to go to Billy’s house for the coal was always given a reward by Mr. Mangin, which was usually in the form of a couple of ‘Jelly Baby’ sweets that he took from a packet that he always kept in his coat pocket. Sometimes the fire would burn out and on these occasions one of us would be called upon to get it lit again. From a corner of the room we would retrieve several old and well-used exercise books, which we would crumple up before placing them in the hearth. Bits of stick and other kindling would be placed on the top of these crumpled books, while coal was carefully placed upon this. Finally, the exercise book would be set alight and very soon thereafter a warm fire would be blazing in the small hearth. On one occasion I can recall stretching a newspaper across the fireplace, which helped in lighting the fire by causing an upward draught. But, on this occasion the newspaper caught fire and from that moment Mr. Mangin nicknamed me ‘The Arsonist.’

I can recall one time, just after the Christmas break, when the first heavy snows of winter fell across the province and the countryside was almost cut-off from the town. But, in those days, the school did not stop because of the weather. In fact, even if someone had blown up the school the students would have been expected to report to class the next morning. On the occasion to which I refer, however, some person or persons climbed over the school yard wall and stole away the school’s entire supply of coal. Mr. Mangin sent no student to Billy’s to borrow a bucket or two of coal and we had, therefore, no choice but to suffer the cold as best we could. The stone floor of the classroom was constantly wet from the shoes and boots that we all wore, and it was so cold that when we breathed upon the window panes it frosted over immediately. When the door from the classroom to the outside was opened an icy-cold wind would rush in and instantaneously remove all the air that had been warmed by our bodies and breaths.

Under our desks, and as quietly as possible, we would regularly move our feet in a fast, dancing motion, while sitting upon our hands to keep them warm. It would have put you in mind of a flock of swans upon a lake, with our upper bodies unmoving and straight while hidden from view under the desks our feet and legs worked double time in a vain effort to keep them warm. On the coldest days Mr. Mangin would make us stand at our desks and sing “McNamara’s Band”, stamping our feet on the spot as if marching. All the tricks that he did teach us helped us greatly to almost forget just how cold we were. But, most of all, on a freezing-cold day we could always look forward to Mr. Mangin’s science lesson. On a side counter there was a ‘Bunsen Burner’ attached to the gas supply of the classroom. As soon as Mr. Mangin set light to this ‘Bunsen Burner’ everyone in the class knew what was to come, namely the usual experiment that demonstrated the processes of evaporation and condensation. Although it was the same experiment on each occasion we didn’t mind because the ‘Bunsen Burner’ gave us a source of heat around which we could all gather. It was only many years later that I came to understand the true purpose of the experiment when I saw an old uncle set up similar equipment to distil poteen.

I will show you how to get pure water from even the dirtiest of waters,” he would tell us. In a large glass jar he had poured a dark-brown, almost black, liquid. The one occasion when I caught the smell from the container I recall the aromas of treacle, fruit and other sweet things. Mr Mangin would empty some of the liquid into a long glass tube and showed it to the class.

From this liquid,” he would say, “I will show you how a clear, pure, drinkable liquid can be produced.” To us innocent children, of course, there was nothing untoward happening and we would watch attentively as the experiment proceeded. First, Mr. Mangin would set the burner under the long glass tube and allow the flame to bring the dark liquid to the boil. The steam produced by the action was then trapped in a long-necked flask that was hung over a small basin, and the cold-water tap would pour water over this flask. No matter how many times we saw this experiment we were always amazed at what happened. We would see the bubbling liquid create steam and then the steam turned into drops of liquid which quickly fell to the bottom of the flask. The air in the classroom was filled with a sweet, malt smell and the only sound to be heard was the hiss of the ‘Bunsen Burner”. Finally, the burner would be turned off and he would hold up the flask, which now contained a clear liquid. To prove that the liquid was pure to drink he would pour some into a tumbler and delicately bring it to his lips. “That’s pure!” he would say.

Looking back on it now, I can understand why he did not choose any of us to test the liquid and left us to study the scum that had been left behind by the process. After the experiment, while he continued to quench his thirst, Mr. Mangin would ask us questions about what we had seen. To add an interesting item to the experiment he would tell us that if we were trapped in a jungle we could get pure water from dirty river water by doing this. There was, of course, more chance of aliens landing on earth than there was that any of us would ever find ourselves trapped in a jungle. Nevertheless, at least once a week, throughout the winter he would set up the equipment and carry out the same experiment every time.

When I see that old two-roomed school now I can see a patch of new slates on the roof, various repairs to the whitewashed walls, and an ugly iron barrier at the big metal gate, which is there to prevent the children from rushing onto the road immediately after the last bell sounds to send them home. There are no children in that old schoolhouse now, but there are those who look at such a building and wonder just how children received an effective education within its walls. As for me; I have no complaints. I gained an interest in science and, after university, I secured a job in the production department at one of Ireland’s largest whisky manufacturers.

©Copyright 2018                        Pinebank Books

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The Quest Part II

Sorry about the delay folks, but here it is ……

 

When, after many days, Dinny reached the city he went immediately to London Bridge, without stopping for rest or food. His journey had not been easy, often being given wrong directions and, just as often, mistook  turns that led him off course. It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon, with blistered feet, bedraggled clothing, exhausted and agitated, that Dinny joined the crowd of people crossing over the bridge.

Having been born and raised in rural Ireland, everything in this huge, bustling city was so new and so alien to him. It did not take him very long to feel overwhelmed by a place that displayed a complete lack of warmth toward the poor and friendless people who came there to seek their fortune. In such a city, Dinny quickly began to feel insignificant, abandoned, and terrified. He looked at the faces in the crowd as they jostled past him, and he timidly shrank back from their stares and sneers. Dinny stumbled about among the crowd, unable to collect his thoughts and bring himself back to what had brought him there. He began to recall the long, hard journey that he had just undertaken, and where that journey had brought him. Dinny now began to wonder about the words of the vision he had and he began to lose all faith in them. He wondered how stupid he had been for believing in what was nothing more than a simple dream. In his confused state he ran out of the crowd, seeking some kind of sanctuary in the side streets of the city. Finding a quiet, sheltered doorway of an empty shop he sat down, crying himself to sleep as he thought of his poor wife back home, despairing of what the future might bring to her.

Dinny awoke the next morning, a little more rested and a little less agitated, but there was no longer any light of hope in his heart. But, being in a better frame of mind Dinny decided  that the best thing that he could do now was to go back to Ireland, as soon as he had begged, borrowed, or stolen enough money to make his passage easy. With this in mind he moved out into the public areas again and beg from those people who appeared vulnerable to his appeals. It was early in the morning, which he much preferred to the later hours of the day, when the city’s streets would be thronged. On this occasion, Dinny met very few passers-by as he walked  through the streets, and very few of those were able or willing to go give him even a half-penny to him, despite all his pleading, trembling lips and tear-filled eyes.

He wasn’t sure what streets he had taken, or in what direction he had gone. But, by some strange twist of life he found himself once again at London Bridge. This time, however, there was nothing to terrify or overwhelm him. On this occasion there were, fortunately, a lot less people about and those that were moving to and fro made little impression on Dinny. Under such changed circumstances Dinny began to regain some of his self-confidence and soon began to recall the message he had received  from the apparition. “Come on,  Dinny! Get your arse in gear,” he urged himself. “You’re on London Bridge now, so go over every square inch of it to see what good it will do you.

Dinny crossed the bridge and, as he reached the far end, he noticed that a public house was beginning to open its doors to customers. As he walked past this public house he caught sight of an elderly man with sunken eyes, red cheeks and a prominent red nose, whom he was sure he recognised. The elderly man noticed Dinny staring at him and, in return, the elderly man returned his stare, taking his time to decide whom and what he was looking at. Dinny took an immediate dislike to this publican and, uncomfortable at the way he stared at him, Dinny hurried on. “I think I will walk back over on the other side now,” he thought, after giving the elderly publican enough time to finish opening his premises and move indoors again.

But, as Dinny moved past the pub once again, the elderly man appeared. He was leaning against the door-jamb, as if waiting for Dinny’s return and, on this occasion, he took his opportunity to examine the young man much more closely. “What the Hell is wrong with him?” Dinny asked himself. “Do I have two heads and that’s why he is examining me so closely? Ah, sure let him look! Him and his ferret eyes! I’ll just walk on down the middle of the road.

Once again Dinny walked toward the public-house, keeping to the middle of the road this time. “Good morning, friend,” the old publican greeted him, as Dinny passed his door for the third time.

Nervously Dinny replied, “And good morning to you too!” respectfully touching the brow of his battered old hat he was wearing, and began walking a little faster.

Isn’t’ it a bit early for a morning walk?” asked the publican.

Without slackening his pace even a little, Dinny told him, “Aye, it is brave and early.

Sure why don’t you stop for a moment and take the weight off your feet?” the elderly publican asked and Dinny came to an abrupt halt. “I can see by your dress and hear by your voice that you are Irish and a fellow countryman of mine. Sure I would know one of my own people at a glance, even though it is many a years since I left my native home. And if you don’t mind me saying, you’re not looking very well-off on London Bridge this morning. Sit down sure and give us some of your craic.

Ah, sure I know what I look like, sir,” replied Dinny, “I’m about as badly off as a man could be. If it was raining good fortune, sure I would be standing with a fork!

Are you here looking for the work?

In all honesty, no,” Dinny told him. “I just came out here this morning, hoping to beg enough money that will get me at least some of the way.

Well, here is a shilling or two that just might help you,” said the old man. “Why don’t you sit on this bench by the door and I will bring you some bread and cheese to accompany a big mug of tea.

old london bridgeSmiling, Dinny accepted the man’s kind invitation, gratefully. He now blamed himself for having allowed his opinion of the kindly publican to be guided by his first impression of the man. Now, while he ate his bread and cheese, and drank his strong tea, Dinny and the old man talked freely with each other. In fact, Dinny felt so comfortable in the man’s company that he began to really open his heart more and more. The old publican asked the young man about his reasons for coming to London. Dinny, however, didn’t want to give the man the real reason at first, but the more they talked the more Dinny felt it was not right to hide the answer to his generous new friend. “You are probably wondering why I haven’t given you a straight answer, but my reason will sound terribly foolish to you. What brought me to London and London Bridge is an odd sort of dream that came to me in Ireland, which told me to come here and I would get my fortune.

Much to Dinny’s embarrassment, the publican burst into a loud laugh. “Good Jaysus, why would you be so stupid as to put your trust in stupid dreams like that. You know, I have had many of those dreams myself but I never bothered my head with them. In fact, in those days you were travelling and dreaming of finding a pot of gold in London, I was dreaming of finding a pot of gold in Ireland.

Surprised by this revelation, Dinny lay down his empty pint on the table and asked, “Did you?”.

I did, indeed,” the old man smiled. “Night after night an old friar with a pale face, and dressed all in white and black, and a black skull-cap on his head, came to me in a dream. He told me that I should go to Ireland, to a certain spot in a certain county that I know very well, and under the slab of his tomb, that has a cross and some old Latin lettering on it, in an old abbey that I know about, I would find a treasure that would make me a rich man all the days of my life,” he laughed.

Holy God!” Dinny exclaimed and a strange expression came over his face. “Did he tell you that the treasure had lain buried there for a very a long time under the open sky and the old walls?”

No,” replied the publican quietly, “but he did tell me that I would find the slab covered in by a shed that a poor man had lately built inside the abbey for himself and his family.”

Christ!” screamed Dinny, caught off his guard by the sudden joy that he derived from hearing such news, which was also helped by the refreshment he felt after the food he had been given. At the same time, Dinny jumped up from his seat and stared angrily at the man.

“What’s the matter with you?” the publican, frowning and with a look of fear on his face.

I’m sorry friend,” said Dinny quickly as he regained some of his former composure. “Sure there’s nothing is a matter with me, and why should there be? Isn’t what we were talking about just pure nonsense? The funny thing, though, is that you had a dream about your home country, which you haven’t seen in many years. Did you say twenty years?

Dinny, of course, had a very good reason for asking this question. But the old publican was still puzzled at the young man’s sudden change in attitude. “If I said so, I forgot,” answered the publican, “But it is about twenty years, indeed, since I left Ireland.

With manners like yours, and the kind way in which you treat strangers, I would say that you were a man of some note in that place before you left?”

You’re not far wrong, friend. Before misfortunes overcame me, I owned quite a large bit of property as well as the ground upon which that  old ruined Abbey stands. You know, the same one in my foolish dream that I mentioned.

So did that Lucifer’s child of an uncle of mine,” thought Dinny. The young man’s heart pounded heavily and his blood began to boil, but he used every ounce of will to keep calm in the man’s presence. Here before him stood that evil, treasonous man but Dinny decided to hold  his peace for a while longer.

The grounds that the ruins of the old Abbey are on, sir, and the good land that’s around it? And did you say that these lie somewhere in the county that I come from myself?”

And what county would that be, friend?” the publican enquired and Dinny noticed a studious frown return  to his face.

County Armagh,” lied Dinny, as he said the first county name that came into his head.

No, not Armagh. It was in County Louth,” the publican told him.

Was it, indeed?” screamed Dinny, springing up from his chair. He just could not control his temper any longer and blindly lashed out at his uncle, causing him to fall, stretched out, at his feet. It was time now, Dinny decided, to reveal his true identity.

Do you know to whom you are telling this story? Did you know that the sister that you caused to die left behind her a son, who one day might overhear you?” Dinny was now kneeling beside the prostrate man, keeping him down as he struggled.

It is that son, Dinny Sweeney, that is by your side now, and he has more to tell you. That shed that you were talking about, which was built over the old friar’s tombstone was built by the same hands that you now feel on your throat,” Dinny spat out viciously.

He now took a rope from under a nearby bench and began to tie his uncle tightly with it. “That tombstone you mentioned is the  hearthstone of my fire, and now while you are lying here in the cool of the morning, and with no one to help you, I’ll make a start on the journey home. When I get there I will lift that flagstone and get the treasure for myself.

The uncle struggled to free himself and Dinny gave him a very stern warning. “Now you can follow me if you dare! But, you know that you are a wanted man back home, and there is a good reward for your capture.” As the uncle continued to struggle he dislodged a heavy cash bag that he had prepared to deposit in the bank. It fell to the floor and Dinny immediately took possession of it.

Now this will help me to get home all the quicker! I am sure, uncle, you will agree that I deserve to get a little bit of my own inheritance from you. So now, uncle, I wish you a good morning, and bid you farewell!”

Dinny now dragged his bound-up uncle into a back-room of the premises and closed the door. Taking the keys to the premises he shut the front door, locked it, and threw the bunch of  keys into the river. As fast as his feet would carry him, Dinny made his escape, confident that once he was free his uncle would set out after him. He was certain that his uncle would seek revenge for the beating Dinny had given him, and for the bag of cash that he had taken with him. Above all, however,his uncle would track him down, because as an outlawed murderer he would be determined to rid himself of someone who was knew of his true identity, and was prepared to hand him over to the law. What troubled Dinny most was the fact that it would now become a race between him and his uncle as to who would recover the treasure that lay under the old tombstone. He was, therefore, determined not to waste even a minute of time in getting back to that shed he had built in the ruins of the old Abbey again. To assist him he made free use of the money he had liberated from his uncle to purchase speediest means he could to get home first.

After leaving London he went directly to Liverpool, where he would get one of the regular ferries to Ireland. But, because the departure of his ferry was delayed a few hours Dinny started to become anxious that such a delay would allow his uncle to catch up to him. As the ferry finally began to ease its way out of the dock Dinny began to breathe a lot easier at the thought that he would be back in Ireland in a matter of a few hours. He went up on deck to watch the departure and, as he did, Dinny noticed a slight commotion on the dockside. Although the ship was already a good distance from the dock, Dinny could still see the figure of a shouting angrily and pointing towards him. He could not, however, hear what was going on, but he became concerned that the angry man was his uncle. Dinny was greatly relieved as the ferry began to make good speed through the sea, though he was still worried that his uncle might only be an hour or two behind.

A worrying thought came to Dinny’s mind that his uncle just might hire a faster vessel to catch up with him, and even pass the ferry. He stayed on deck for a long while straining to see if such a vessel was pursuing him. Eventually, though, weariness and the want of sleep overpowered him, and he fell into a disturbed slumber from which he would awake covered in a cold sweat. In Dinny’s dream filled sleep he saw a fast vessel bursting through the  of the sea and pulling past the ferry that he was sailing on. But, when morning dawned and he saw the shoreline rise up before him, Dinny felt greatly relieved and went back on deck to see his ship enter the harbour. He had reached Ireland, and yet, there was still niggling feeling within him that his uncle could not be far behind him.

Disembarking his ferry, Dinny hurried home as quickly as he could and, the closer the steam train took him, the easier became his concerns. At last he reached the nearest station to home, and jumping on the platform he rushed to get a taxi that would take that last leg home. The road ahead was a level winding road and any thoughts of being pursued had seemed to have left him. As the sun rose to its highest point the road began to ascend a hillside that was surrounded by a large bog. Only when Dinny’s taxi reached the summit of the hill did he look back along the winding road to see another vehicle speeding up the road from the foot of the hill.

Get a move on, for God’s sake” urged Dinny as the taxi began to speed down the descending road and then along another level section, which continued for at least two miles. At the end of this stretch was another, not as steep as the previous but, as he reached the summit and  looked back, he saw the other vehicle breaking the summit of that previous hill. On and on the chase continued in this fashion, until the road narrowed and began to wind its way through an uncultivated and virtually uninhabited wilderness. Urging the driver onward along the road until, at last, they reached the end of the valley, through which they had been driving. In the distance Dinny could now see the sloping ground and the Abbey ruin, which encircled his poor home with its grey, destroyed walls.

The setting sun was now streaming its warming rays over the land and with the end of his journey in sight he urged his driver to speed on. They had not gone far when there was a loud sputtering noise, and the clanging of metal upon metal. A huge cloud of steam came out of the front of the vehicle and it shuddered to a stop. As he got out of the taxi Dinny could hear the sound of the pursuing car, approaching him along the road. Fear now entered his mind as the vehicle carrying his uncle came nearer and nearer out to him. Straining his ears to listen, Dinny could just hear the feint voice of his uncle crying to him, “Stay where you are!” Within moments the pursuit car screeched to a  sudden stop on the gravel road, and his uncle got out of the car brandishing a revolver. It was he, himself, that had been diving the car, Dinny noticed as his eyes sought an escape route.

The uncle stood directly in front of Dinny and spoke to him menacingly, in a low but clear voice. “I have you now, me Bucko! This bullet is not for the money that you have already taken,  and are about to take from me. No! Neither is it for the beating you gave me, before you tied me up and abandoned me. This bullet is set to close the mouth that, with one word, can get me hung. By your death, nephew, Nephew, I will have life!

Dinny had paid little attention, preferring to plead with God for his life. The fear and confusion that had once gripped him suddenly left him and, just before his uncle spoke his last words, Dinny threw himself at his assailant. In a tight clench they rolled on the ground together, struggling with each other as Dinny felt the barrel of the gun pressed against his chest. He fought now to seize the gun and wrench it from his uncle’s hands, knowing that this alone would help him master the situation. But, with the gun in his hands, and him ready to fire it, Dinny stopped himself from pulling the trigger. He stared down at his uncle, who was still on the ground, and told him, “No! You are the my mother’s and it will not be me who ends your evil filled life. But, rest assured, you wretch, that I can make sure that you never bother me or mine again.

While his taxi driver still had his head stuck under the bonnet of the taxi, and had seen nothing of what had happened. Dinny took his uncle by the scruff of the neck and led him away. Then, taking a small wad of notes from his uncle’s cash bag, that he had taken with him from London, Dinny paid his driver and waved him goodbye. “Sure you can use that car to get someplace for help. I’m sure the money will cover all.”

Aye, it will,” said the taxi driver with a huge smile.

Dinny urged his uncle forward with the hidden revolver pressed up against his back. After a short distance they came upon an old barn, inside of which Dinny found several lengths of heavy rope. With these ropes he securely tied up his uncle’s arms and legs, so that he could not escape, no matter how hard he tried. “Just you lie there,” he told his uncle. “I will send someone we both know well and he will take very good care of you in a cold, lonely cell. And, in the meantime, I will go to the old hearthstone and retrieve my pot full of gold. You, of course, get nothing!” With those words he left his uncle securely tied in the barn.

When he entered his home, Dinny found Nancy nursing her new-born baby as she sat up on the old iron-framed bed. |Annie, the old woman, was still there as he burst into the shed and threw himself on the bed, beside his wife and child, smothering the baby with kisses of joy and tears of happiness. Then he went to the fireplace, and lifting a heavy sledgehammer over his head   he brought it down with one swift movement and smashed the hearthstone.

Are you mad, Dinny?” asked a terrified Annie.

Of course I am,” he replied as he hurriedly removed the broken pieces of the hearthstone.

But, what is it you’re looking for?” the old woman asked.

Our future, Annie! Now you can go!” laughed Dinny as he took her gently by the shoulders and led her out of the shed.

Divil the bit of it!” Annie said. But, Dinny lifted some of the broken pieces of hearthstone and made to throw them at Annie, who quickly sped homeward.

Rushing back into Nancy’s presence he quietly asked, “Do you know what is making this noise?

He lifted handful after handful of gold coin and laughed loudly at the shocked, but happy expression on his wife’s face. Within a few weeks Dinny and Nancy, and their children, settled down to a new life in the house that his parents had once owned, taking over enough land and livestock to secure their future. As for Dinny’s uncle, the police rescued him from the barn and he got his day in court, which sentenced him to a whole of life prison term for murder.

Sacred Tree of Killygann

The breeze of that cold March day blew harshly as I walked steadfastly across the wide windswept fields towards the old burial-ground that rested in the townland of Killygann. On reaching the remains of the ancient church, I sat down for a moment upon the grassy bank that enclosed the cemetery. Taking a moment or two I contemplated the ground that lay before me and my mind wandered, thinking upon the generations of men that had taken the road to this place over the many years of its existence. In this place they had been buried to spend an eternity waiting upon the judgement of God, for whom an altar had been raised on this spot so many long years previously.

If you didn’t know what was inside this grassy enclosure, you would never have guessed that it was indeed a place of burial. There were, however, little hillocks here and there on the surface, which were about two or feet long, and defined by a stone. They were tombstones, marking the little graves that were the last resting-places of unfortunate babies that died in the act of being born, or who been born and fated to live but a short time before uttering a brief cry of pain, and going to sleep for eternity. These innocent, but unbaptized, children were never permitted to mingle with the baptised Christians and were always placed in these long disused cemeteries. In this old churchyard had not received the body of a baptised person in many decades, and its presence was almost untraceable beneath the long, rich green grass that flourished there.

It was said that the grandfather of the present landowner had decided to plant the entire area with fir-trees, which flourished in the rich soil formed by the decomposed bodies that lay many feet below. The trees, themselves, had grown to a very unusual size, and demonstrating to all that no man is totally useless, even in death. When his time is finished, and his labours are ended, a dead man’s body may still enrich the ground that is so often impoverished by his greed. In the meantime, among these tall, sheltering trees, a colony of rooks had established their airy city. And, while the young settlers to the place busily built their new nests, the older residents of the grove were engaged in repairing the damage their homes had received from the storms of winter. The air itself was busy with the shrill discordant voices of the black horde as they seemed to be mock those that sought sleep in the lower branches.

1_fairy_treeAs I sat upon that grassy bank, reflecting upon the old graveyard before me, I noticed a man walking along the same path that I had followed. He appeared to be very advanced in years, but he a tall figure of a man, who supported himself with a long wooden staff.  Against the chill of the March wind the old man was wrapped in a blue-grey coat that folded close under a belt of string, and a woollen hat that was drawn over his face, as if to screen it from the sharp blast of a cold-wind that rushed toward him. He suddenly stopped, then fixed his eyes on a spot in the burial ground where a wind-blasted and branchless whitethorn stood. This ‘fairy tree’ looked as if it had become part of the fabric of this ancient, lingering as it did over its grass-grown foundation. The old man then raised his eyes heavenward and sank to his knees, while his lips moved as if speaking some silent prayer. His actions at that place fuelled my imagination as to why this old man’s deep devotion, at such a place and time. I was confident that it was not from some ordinary motive that the old man had felt the need to pray. There must have been some reason, or some tradition connected with this ancient place, that had caused the old man to pray with such enthusiasm. So, as the old man rose from his knees, I approached him and said, “My friend, I hope you will pardon me for intruding, for your sudden and impassioned prayer has awakened my inquisitiveness.”

To my surprise the old man answered me in Irish and explained, “I was only begging mercy and pardon for the souls who in the close darkness of their graves cannot help themselves and I begged the good Lord to cease placing the guilt of their fathers upon the children. This spot caused me to remember a terrible act of sacrilege that my forefathers had committed. For this great sin their descendants continue to suffer, and I did not think for one moment that someone other than God had seen me.”

“Perhaps,” he continued, “as you seem to be a stranger in these parts, you have never heard of the Bald Berrys, and the blessed Whitethorn of Killygann. It is a very old tradition, and you might even say it is just a superstitious legend. But there is the whitethorn, blasted and decayed from the contact of my ancestors’ unholy hands. And here, before you, stands the last of their name. I am a homeless wanderer, with no other inheritance than this mark of the curse and crime of his race.” Removing his woollen hat as he said this, revealing a perfectly smooth head, upon which there was not one single hair.

“That old heads should become bald, is not a rare thing,” I told him, “and I have seen younger men whose heads are as hairless as yours.”

“My head,” he replied, “from my birth to this moment, never had a single hair upon it. Sadly, my father and grandfather endured the same fate, while my great-grandfather was deprived of his long, thick hair in one tearful moment. I shall tell you the whole story as we walk along together, if you are going in the direction of this path.”

As we walked together, he told me the following story. The old man spoke in such a poetic and energetic way that I wish I was able to infuse these qualities into my translation. But, for a wider audience I have had to write in English, which is a much colder language than Irish and fails to do justice to the wonderfully poetical language of the story.

“Many a biting March wind has passed over the heads of men since Colonel Berry lived at Lisnarick, whose veins had the true blood of one of old Strongbow’s chiefs, who became a sovereign prince in the land. His forebears had formed strong alliances with the ancient owners of the land, eventually renouncing any Anglo-Saxon connection and name. This noble family subsequently gloried in the title of McCoille and the colonel did nothing in his life that would bring shame on his forebears. He kept open house for all comers, and every day an ox was killed and consumed at Lisnarick. All the influential men of note in the province came there to hunt, fish and hawk. To feast and lodge there and enjoy the hall, which was always crowded with harpers and pipers, rich men and beggars, and jesters and story-tellers, who came and went as they pleased, in constant succession.” Then the old man let out a long sigh, “I can recall some of these good old times, but now they are vanished and gone for ever. The great hospitality that was so much a part of the chieftain’s hall has gone now and the hall has become a hovel on the moor. The wanderer now turns from the great towers of a Lord’ home, seeks the shelter of the peasant’s shed!

Davey Berry and his seven brothers lived with McCoille and held his name and family. Whether McCoille went hunting on horseback, or took the opportunity to shoot, or moved among the high and titled families of the land, they always went with him. They acted like a sort of body-guard, share in his sports or helping him assert his will in any quarrels. At that time, on the banks of the Bann, near the ruined tower of Shanlieve, lived a man named Edward Berry. On his farm there was a thick and thorny thicket that, for many years had been the hiding place for a fox. This, however, was no normal fox. This fox was famous throughout the Province and was celebrated for the extraordinary speed and prowess that he had shown to those many men who had tried so hard to hunt him down. There had, indeed, been many gallant and noble huntsmen sought the honour of bearing that fox’s tail as a trophy. But all efforts had been in vain and after exhausting both hounds and horses in the arduous pursuit the fox invariably returned every night to his favourite sanctuary. To outsiders it seems that a treaty of peace existed between Edward Berry and the fox. Edward’s poultry for several years, whether they sought the banks of the Bann or the barn door, never suffered because the fox was nearby. It would mix with Barry’s dogs and spend an hour or two playing with them, almost as if he belonged to the same species. Mr. Berry gave his wild crafty friend the same protection and freedom that he permitted his own domestic animals. The fame of this strange union of interests was widespread and even to this day the memory of Berry’s fox survives in the traditions of the country.

One evening as McCoille and his followers returned from a long and unsuccessful chase of Edward Berry’s fox, their route lay by the ruins of the ancient church of Killygann. Near this sacred spot a whitethorn tree had stood, and its beauty and bloom were talked about by every man, woman, and child. The simple prayerful folk who poured their petitions to God beneath its holy shade believed that the hands of guardian angels pruned its luxuriance and developed its form of beauty. They believed also that dewfall from heaven was sprinkled by angel hands to produce its rich and beautiful blossoms, which filled the cold winds of December with many tokens of holy fragrance that welcomed the heavenly coming Him who left his Father’s throne to restore to the sons of Adam the lost inheritance of heaven. McCoille was so enamoured by the beauty of the tree and caring little for its sanctity or the superstitious awe that was attached to it, he was firmly resolved to move it to his home at Lisnarick. He wanted his lawn to have that rare species of thorn which blooms in beauty when all other trees in the field are bare and barren.

Next day, when McCoille made known his intention to remove the sacred whitethorn of Kilygann, his people were astonished at his blatant lack of respect for tradition. In response they all declared that they would resist until death any attempt to commit such an audacious act of sacrilege. Now, McCoille was not a man who would permit resistance to his will and had always been accustomed to his commands being obeyed immediately and without question. When he found that his men were now refusing to obey him he exploded with uncontrollable anger. He cursed and damned all those who were standing around him, shouting, “Traitors!  You have all eaten at my table and enjoyed the hospitality of McCoille, and you have all sought and been given my protection. Yet, there are none you who are grateful enough to abandon your superstitious nonsense and carry out my commands!”

“Here, my Lord, are seven of your own name and Clan,” cried Davey Berry, “men who are sworn to stand or fall together, who obey no commands but yours, and acknowledge no law but your will. The whitethorn of Killygann shall leave its sacred place, if their strong hands and brave hearts can manage its removal. If it be a sacrilege to disturb the tree, which generations have revered, the curse for this sacrilege does not rest on us. Even should McCoille command us to tear the blessed gold from the shrine of a saint, we would not hesitate to obey him. We are just carrying out the will of our legal chieftain.”

They sang McCoille’s praises as they marched to where the tree had stood for many centuries, and they immediately proceeded to desecrate the spot that was made holy by those who had revered it over the ages. Such was the reverence shown to this holy whitethorn that a mystic circle surrounded it, within which no mortal foot may go. But, men have committed many wrongs and salved their consciences by convincing themselves that they acted in obedience to the commands of their leaders, and that a prayer of contrition will purify their souls.

That same evening McCoille saw the beautiful whitethorn planted in his garden and many were thanked for bringing it to him. Gold and rank were his rewards to those faithful men who had risen to the challenge and overcome the terrors of superstition to carry out his commands. But, McCoille was very much surprised when Davey Berry interrupted his morning sleep and announced that the tree had disappeared during the night. Confusion when he told his chieftain that the tree was again planted where it had stood for ages before, in the ancient cemetery of Killygann. McCoille was convinced that the tree venerated by the people had been secretly taken by them during the night to where it formerly stood. He immediately sent his most trusted men bring it back and stand guard until morning.

The Berry brothers obeyed the call of their chief and brought the whitethorn back. They replanted the tree, carefully covering its roots with rich mould, and made ready to watch over it all night. It proved to be a long and dark night, and they were wide awake. The night-breeze had stilled and all of nature appeared to have been mysteriously silenced. In this strange quietness a deep and undefinable feeling of dread crept into the hearts of the guards. These were men who had been tried and tested in the heat of battle but were now frightened by this fearful calmness. Their normal steadfast obedience to the commands of McCoille could not still their hearts against the remorse they began to feel, and there was talk amongst them against the sacrilege he had committed. As the night advanced their fear increased and they spread out their watchful circle around the mysterious tree. Davey, the eldest and bravest of the brothers, finally fell asleep. But, his short and fitful dozes were disturbed by wild and indistinct dreams. Then, as his sleep settled down and those vague images disappeared, the following vision came into his mind –

He began to dream that as he was keeping watch by the sacred whitethorn of Killygann, there stood before him a saintly man. This man’s radiant features and shining ancient clothing illuminated the entire area around him, piercing far into the darkness that surrounded him. In his hand he held a crosier, and upon his head sat a towering mitre. His long, white beard descended to the belt that encircled his rich bishop’s clothes, and he looked every inch the mitred abbot of some ancient monastery, which the rage of the English reformation had levelled to dust. The face of this saintly man, however, bore a fearfully severe expression, and the sleeping man fell to the ground, prostrate before the piercing eye that searched his inner-most soul.

“Wretched man,” said the shining apparition, in a thunderous voice, “ lift your head and listen carefully to your fate, and the fate that shall befall your sacrilegious brothers.”

Berry lifted his head in obedience to the instruction he received, though his soul sank within him, as stood before this dreadful voice and eye of terror. “Because you have violated the sanctity of this place” the holy man continued, “which has been consecrated to God, you and your family shall wander homeless ever more as beggars, and your heads, as a sign and a warning to future generations, shall suffer the pelting of every storm, and the severity of every changing season, unprotected by the defence that nature has bestowed upon all other men. This curse will last until your name and family be erased from memory.”

After hearing this angry denunciation against him the terrified man fell to the ground prostrate pleading for mercy, and he awakened with a cry of terror which alarmed the other guards. As he began to tell them about the terrible vision he had seen in his sleep, there was a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning, and the sweep of a whirlwind, which enveloped them all. As the new day dawned, the guards were to be found senseless, and at a considerable distance from the spot where they had lain the preceding night to guard the sacred tree. The thorn had also disappeared and, most strangely of all, the long black hair that shone like a raven’s wing, and was their pride, no longer adorned their heads. The fierce whirlwind, that had tossed them about, like the stubble of the field, had brought reality the dream, and removed their thick, long hair in its vengefulness.”

This was the story of the of the ‘Bald Berrys’ as it was told to me and I hand it on to you, the reader. I will make no further comment or note on this story, but I leave it to you to decide the truth of it. Some will question how an apparently cultured people can attribute the downfall of families, or the entailment of hereditary disease, to be caused by supernatural intervention. Others will remind you of an old saying –

             “There are more things in heaven

and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your

philosophy.”

Ireland’s Last Hope

Over one hundred years ago Britain still governed the entire island of Ireland. In many major county towns throughout the country the British Army had established barrack buildings and, through a variety of methods, continually made an effort to recruit young Irish men to the regimental colours. In fact, over the many centuries since the English Crown occupied Ireland, their military leaders had always looked upon the country as a fertile ground where they could recruit Irish blood into their ranks. The men and officers, who had been born and raised in Ireland fought gallantly on many of the battle fields that became an integral part of the British Empire’s glorious martial history.  These men made up many world famous regiments, such as “The Dublin Fusiliers”, “The Connaught Rangers”, “The Munsters”, “The Inniskillings”, “The Leinsters”, and “The North Irish Horse”. Many other regiments, however, filled their ranks with brave Irish men from every strand of society, whose valour in battle could never be questioned. But bravery, heroism, fame and medals were never the main reason for such men to enter into the ranks of the British Army.

Ireland under British rule has always been a troublesome country. Over the many centuries there had been countless armed rebellions and protests that had cost many lives and divided loyalties. In general, in the two decades prior to the “Easter Rebellion” of 1916, anti-British feelings among the general population were actually confined to a small minority. It was, therefore, not uncommon to see the various British regiments organising military exercises, with marching columns of uniformed men and military bands, often accompanied by mounted cavalry in the rural towns and villages of Ireland.

It was not uniforms and pageantry that encouraged young Irishmen and  For the majority of Irish men and boys to enter the army’s ranks. The major factor that persuaded most Irish recruits was that they was that they would receive a regular wage. Such was the poverty among working class Irish people, at this time, that the fact each soldier received three good meals each and every day was a great attraction on its own. In addition soldiers each had a clean bed of their own, an excellent pair of working boots, and a complete set of new clothes. In a time when there were often families of ten and more in a single room tenement, or cottage, sharing beds, sharing clothes, and being lucky if they had one small meal during the day, the attractions of the army were obvious.

There were, however, many men who preferred to avoid service under the crown’s colours, and these men did everything possible to evade the clever ploys of the nomadic recruiting sergeants. On many occasions young men and boys were very keen to sample the adventurous life promised by service in the army of the Empire. But, these young men and boys were, more often than not, prevented from acting on their impulses by their parents and other family members. One young man who could be numbered among this latter group was a certain Mick Farrell, whose mother had been raised in a family that had absolutely no love for ‘redcoats’, their triumphant trumpets, or their pipes and drums.

It began with rumours that the army was about to undertake a series of military exercises in the area, and the news spread like wildfire among all the young men of the district. Other rumours told that a detachment of locally based soldiers were about to leave their barracks and carry out several gruelling route marches along the country roads and tracks that surrounded the village of Killyconn like a geographical spider’s web. These exercises were an excellent opportunity for the local army commander to make an impression on the local male population with his fine men marching in unison, and dressed in colourful uniforms. This spectacle, however, was one that Mick decided didn’t need his attendance. He simply wanted to avoid further heartache and he decided that he would take a nice long walk and enjoy the fresh air. There was, to be honest, very few things in life that Mick enjoyed more than a good stretch of the legs through the fields and the peat bogs of the Killyconn district. Mick was certain that, because of the lack of roads in these places, there would be virtually no chance of encountering those ranks of marching soldiers.

Unlike many young men of his age, Mick preferred to avoid quite a lot of the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the soldiers when they were on exercise. This avoidance of the pageantry was not due to any dislike of the Army on his part, or the army’s presence in the district, but he had been totally humiliated when his mother had forbidden him to ever enlist in the British Army. The other villagers, however, would spend most of the day, standing or sitting, admiring the ranks of uniformed soldiers marching and parading with their rifles and bayonets resting on their shoulders. Many of the inhabitants of Killyconn, especially the young ladies, would seek out the very best vantage points from which they could see the soldiers, while also being seen by them. Naturally, being Ireland, there were some people who were opposed to, what they saw as, the occupation of the country by the British forces, and they protested the army’s presence in their area. This small group of opponents were all members of a recently formed republican organisation that had dedicated itself to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland, and replace it with the establishment of a totally independent nation for its people.

The commanders of various military regiments in Ireland were very much aware of just how valuable route marches, band parades and other ceremonial exercises were to the recruitment of men into the ranks. In rural Ireland, especially, these ceremonials often encouraged the young men to come forward and accept ‘The King’s Shilling’. But, the recruitment sergeants had not been able to enlist any big, healthy men from Killyconn area in many months. For this reason, the powers that be had decided that they should make some kind of effort to reverse this trend, and ordered the new exercises to be staged in that particular area. In response to orders from higher authorities all types of military formations were ordered into Killyconn district to undertake a variety of ceremonials and war-game exercises.

As the soldiers marched through the village and its environs they gathered large audiences of admiring followers that travelled from many miles away. Along all the various roads that criss-crossed this area there were large numbers of followers who had assembled to watch the spectacle, which was becoming a rare event and was always unforgettable to those who saw it. The army officers, of course, hoped that when all the exercises were completed, to the satisfaction of the audiences, many of the young men witnessing the great spectacle would be convinced that they were missing out on a new,special and exciting opportunity.

IIreland's Last Hope 1.jpgn the past large numbers of young men and boys had eagerly sought to put on the uniform and experience the life of adventure imagined lay ahead of them, but found themselves to be bitterly disappointed at the reality. Even the old men, the infirm and ladies felt a certain disappointment at their fate when the spectacle ended. They were, of course, aware of their inability to join the ranks of the army, but they were also aware of missed opportunities they had when young or in much better health. Thankfully, their disappointment never lasted too long because life in the countryside meant that there were always jobs to be done, and these would soon take their minds off any disappointment they might feel. Meanwhile, young and healthy boys and men would seek out the recruiting sergeant in the local pub. There they would sign their enlistment papers, and celebrate their decision with a few pints of beer, costing the shilling that they had just been paid. Those who could write their name and those who just made their mark, returned some time later that evening to their homes to face their parents, or spouses, without a penny left from the ‘King’s Shilling’ they had been given.

Mick Farrell was a broad-shouldered, healthy young man of less than twenty years, who had never been shy of doing a hard day’s work. The man was always in demand employment with local landowners and businesses in the district, and he had no pressing need to be enlisting in the army’s ranks. He knew very well that by enlisting his family would still be better off in some ways, but he would not go against his mother’s will. It was she who held who held sway over the family and she was very determined that none of her children would become ‘cannon fodder’ to enhance the glory of the Empire. Since the unexpected death of her husband, Mrs Farrell had worked her once pretty hands to the bone to raise her two daughters and two sons. To make ends meet she had taken in washing,  and she had carried out other menial jobs at the houses of the more prosperous people in the district. Through hard back-breaking work she had managed to put sufficient food on the table and decent clothing on the backs of her children. Her eldest son, Barry, had gained a good position as a game-keeper for a rich English Lord, who had a great estate in the west of the country. The eldest daughter, Elsie, had done well to be married into a farming family and now wanted for nothing.

Mick, the younger of her two sons, was her favourite and she watched him work all the hours God sent, just to earn a wager. Being a casual labourer meant that there was no guarantee of work, of course, and regular wages often depended upon seasonal work, good weather, good harvest, and good prices for the crop. There were numerous occasions when Mick had gone, cap in hand, to seek jobs with local farmers and could find none. But, Mrs Farrell, was as stubborn as a rock and consistently barred Mick’s entry into the army with her obstinacy.  

The colourful military exercises lasted the entire week-end, which ensured good crowds of people, who had been attracted to the various venues by the noise and clamour of the activities. On Sunday morning, just after Mass, Mick met his oldest and best friend, Paddy Brannigan. This was not an unusual meeting the two young men, but on this occasion, Paddy had come to an important decision and he wanted to discuss the entire matter with his best friend. Brannigan went on to tell Mick that he had decided to enlist, next day, at the regimental barracks, which did not really come as a surprise to Mick. But, although it wasn’t a surprise, Mick was filled with envy and a little angry that his friend’s had decided to enlist. To Mick, it was as if that almost all of his closest friends had now enlisted in the army, and he was worried that with Paddy’s departure he would be left all alone. Mick was angry because, although his mother had seen all of his friends go  she still frustratingly and very stubbornly, refused every request by her son  to join them.

With Mick encouraged by Paddy’s news and the fact that his friend would be at his side, Mick was re-invigorated. He confidently marched off, determined to persuade his stubborn mother to give in to his wishes. He was more confident than ever that on this occasion he could persuade his stubborn mother to finally change her mind and, with a certainty in his step, Mick and Paddy marched off. As expected they eventually came upon Mrs. Farrell standing at the kitchen sink and washing a few shirts. As the two young men entered the kitchen by the small cottage’s back door and Mick told her. “Get your hands out of the suds, Mother.

Mrs Farrell stopped her work and turned from the sink to see her son and his best friend,Paddy, standing smartly in her kitchen. “Now, mother, salute the brave new soldier who has come this day to bid you farewell!” Mick announced with a snigger, and Paddy bowed politely, as if he was a gentleman. Mrs. Farrell, however, as she dried her hands appeared to be greatly confused by her son, Mick’s, announcement.

Paddy is away tomorrow, Mother,” said Mick. “He’s going to enlist in the local battalion. This will mean that he will be stationed near at hand for a good while yet and we will still be able to see him regularly,” Mick said comfortingly.

Sure, it’s congratulations I bid to you, Paddy Brannigan,” said Mrs Farrell. “I am sure your family will be proud of you, all dressed up in your uniform. The army is a good life for any young man, who has the inclination to be a soldier.

Thankyou, Mrs Farrell,” replied Paddy shyly.

As for Mick, he had seen his mother’s kind words as an opportunity for him to bring up his wish to enlist in the army, There should be no hesitation he decided, although he would not just approach the subject in a direct manner, but would first try to build up the life that a soldier could lead. “You know, mother, it’s a great healthy life for a young man like me, isn’t it Paddy?

Paddy knew he had to be supportive of his friend and he nodded his head in agreement, confirming, “Oh it’s a wonderful life indeed, Mick!”

Armed with this positive response, Mick pressed home his argument, “There is no other life that even comes near to that of a soldier, mother.” Once again he looked to Paddy for affirmation.

The question caught Paddy a little off-guard. He coughed, stammered and stuttered for a few moments before he could manage a reasonably intelligible response. “Seven or eight shillings, at least,” he spluttered. You could tell from the tone of his voice that he was not boasting, even though this amount of disposable income was considerable for a young man of his age to earn. “Well, it could be a little more than that,” he added, hesitatingly. “All that money and I still get the best of grub and drink each and every day. Three good meals and a whole set of new clothes I get, and I don’t have to spend one penny unless I need something for myself.

Brimming with confidence, Mick now turned to his mother and, with a large smile across his face,he said quietly,”Isn’t that great news Mother?

But Mick had interrupted Paddy in mid-flow and, realising his error, he gave way to Paddy’s next positive point. “Wee Tommy Murphy was telling the other day that a few weeks ago he had business in the Post Office and found that the place was packed with soldiers. He said that these men, had just received their pay and they were at the Post Office to get some of those ‘money order’ things that they could send home. Murphy also told me that the Post Office was so full of them that he could hardly get old Sally, the postmistress, to sell him a stamp because her hands were so full.

“Isn’t that great news to hear, Mother?” said Mick. “All these young men like us sending money home to help their families rather than spending it foolishly. And another bit of good news is that each of them only has to serve three years in the ranks before they are free to return home to their families. Now, three years is not a very long time, Mother.”

Sure, that’s no time at all, Mrs. Farrell” Paddy reinforced Mick’s statement. “Sure it will all be gone in the blink of an eye.”

Mrs Farrell stayed silent and just continued to stare at the two young men. Mick , however, could discern a minute change in her expression, which began to cause him some concern. He was awaiting the expected verbal tirade from his mother, but still it did not come. Instead, Mick’s mother quietly explained that three years can actually be a considerable period of time for some people.

When there was no tell-tale sign of emotion crossing her face, Mick chose to take this as a positive omen. He began now to press his mother to abandon her objections to his enlistment. “Don’t forget,” he said, “that there is also a great amount of leave that a soldier gets. And he gets paid for it. Isn’t that right, Paddy?

Once again Paddy had been taken by surprise with Mick’s question and did not answer at first. “Don’t forget the great amount of leave that you get in the army, Paddy!” Mick reminded him.

Aye!That’s right, Mick” Paddy answered with a slight hesitation.

Sure, isn’t it a fact that those soldiers appear to at home on leave more often than they are on active service. The army gives them all free travel and, sure you know yourself, that they are never off the trains and buses going to and from home.

Free travel passes, is that right?” She asked as she stared at Paddy.

As true as I am standing here,” he replied, hoping to God that what he was saying was indeed true. “Every one of us is entitled to a free travel passes, Mrs. Farrell, when we need to go home on leave. Sure Mick would be able to nip home and see you whenever he has a mind to.” There was a new sense of excitement in Paddy’s voice, confident that Mick and himself were breaking down Mrs Farrell’s opposition. It was herself that had asked about the free travel passes, after all, and this was the first positive sign that she had, perhaps, given up her objections. But, typical of Paddy, he had jumped to the completely wrong conclusion, and he had used both feet without testing the water first.

Mick?” demanded Mrs. Farrell with a deep scowl.

Her scowl made Paddy jump and he was taken aback so much that he had to gather himself by gathering a huge lungful of air. Now, Paddy realised that he had, perhaps, just one step too far. He now thought it  would be better to back-track a little to try save the situation for his friend, Mick. “You know, Mrs Farrell,” he began. “I have been told that the Army will even arrange a special train for a man in case he needs to get home quickly. That’s the way the army treats its men.

But, Paddy could not just leave well enough alone and went on to add, “What is even better, they will promote good, healthy fighting men from being just ordinary soldiers to corporals, sergeants and sometimes higher. Promotion would mean more money in your pocket and sure there is no limit to what a good man, like Mick, can achieve.”

He was on a roll now and Paddy decided to give his argument one final push. “Sure, it would be a special woman you would be Mrs. Farrell. In fact, I would say that any mother would be very proud to know that she stood firmly behind her son, and did nothing that would hinder his advancement in the world,” he told Mick’s mother. “And when it comes to the end of his army service, a man will receive a handsome pension that will give his family great comfort in the years that follow.

Aye, but, please God, that will not be for a very long time,” insisted Mick. “But, Mother, there is a very good living to be gained and great prospects for an ambitious man in the army.

And the food that they give out to their men is second to none,” added Paddy. “Those who have already joined the ranks have told me that the army only feeds them the best of everything, cooked and uncooked. There are joints of meat on the bone and off the bone, alongside plump chickens, juicy fresh fruit and vegetables, and all manner of fresh fish.

Both young men now took turns to point out the good life that they could live when among the army’s ranks. Mrs. Farrell still made no reply, but listened intently as the two men before her tried their utmost to convince her to give her permission to Mick. But, while she listened, Mrs. Farrell continued her task of washing shirts, rinsing them in clean water, and then wringing out the excess water before putting them out to dry in the fresh breeze. In an almost robotic fashion she continued with her work, repeating each part of her task both silently and efficiently, until all the shirts were washed clean.

By her silence, Mrs. Farrell had led both young men to believe that she was prepared to agree that Mick could enlist in the army. There was no open show of celebration between the young men. Nevertheless, they did offer congratulations to each other with a series of winks, nods and smiles. Mick and Paddy, overjoyed with their apparent success, now left the house to stretch their legs in the afternoon air. It would be an excellent opportunity for both men to talk over what the future might just hold for them now that Mick’s mother seemed to be ready to permit her son to enlist. Sensible men, however, know that assumption is not the basis of fact.

Feeling extremely happy, and with a new spring in his step, Mick returned home that evening just as the sun began to set. Outside the cottage he saw his mother feeding the flock of excited chickens from a small pile of corn feed that she carried in her apron. The cottage in which they lived was the last of a small row of white-washed and thatched cottages that were sited just on the edge of town. Each of the small homes gave their occupiers a wonderful view of the valley that swept from one hill to another. Mick stopped for a moment to study the scene that was spread out before him, and the triumphant marching tune, that he had been whistling since he parted from Paddy, fell silent. As he looked at the chickens clucking around his mother’s feet it suddenly became apparent to Mick that at least one chicken was missing from the group. He doubled the speed of his march to the cottage and, when he came before his mother, he asked, “Where is the old speckled pullet? Has it gone off wandering the countryside again?

When his mother did not reply to his questions he told her,”I will get myself ready as quickly as possible and go look for her after I get myself a drink of water. She’ll be hungry and will not be too far away.

There is no need,” his mother answered him at last.

No need?” he asked in a puzzled tone. “Why would there be no need to look for our plumpest chicken?

Mrs Farrell looked her son directly in his eye and revealed to him,”I’ve sold her!

Mick was almost speechless, so shocked was he at his mother’s revelation and he wanted an immediate explanation as to why she had sold his favourite chicken. So, as she fed the remaining chickens she began to explain,”I have too many chickens to be looking after all by myself, Mick,” she said. Totally taken aback by this explanation, Mick chose to say nothing for the moment. “I sold that old hen this morning to Mrs Dunne, who lives below, and she gave me a good price for it!

But, you loved that old speckled hen, mother. It was almost like a pet to you,” Mick said.

Well, Mrs Dunne will look after her now. She has been looking to buy that speckled hen this long and many a day, but I never had the heart to sell it until this very day.

But, why today?” he demanded to know.

She had now grown impatient at the manner in which Mick was questioning her decisions, and she curtly told him, ”The food required to feed those damned chickens gets dearer and dearer, and so I sold it.”

Shaking the remaining corn out of her apron, Mrs. Farrell turned to her son and told him, “Your supper is ready to put out. It has been ready for some time now and you had better eat it before it gets spoiled. Your sister isn’t home yet and there’s only the two of us, so come now and let’s eat.

Mick now quietly followed his mother into the cottage and the familiar aromas of smoke from the turf fire mixed with the smell of fresh bread being baked on the griddle. Mrs Farrell now lifted the griddle from the range and brought it over to the kitchen table. While they were still hot she removed the farls of bread and, cutting one, she spread fresh butter thickly on the each slice of soda bread.

Any Irishman or woman will willingly tell you that there is nothing in this whole wide world that is as nice as rich, creamy butter spread thickly upon fresh-baked, still warm, soda farls, and the way that the butter melts into white, fluffy bread. Without hesitation, Mick reached out and took two thick slices of the soda farl, beginning to hungrily eat it and wash it down with a large mug of hot, strong, sweet tea. “Take some of that sliced cold meat with your bread and tea, son” Mrs Farrell suggested.

Mick, of course, did not require a second invitation and hungrily helped himself to several slices of cold brisket that his mother had laid out on a serving dish in and placed in the centre of the table. On many occasion you must have wondered at the way that fate intervenes in our lives, and causes changes in those ideas that we may have formed, or arrangements we have made. It feels almost like fate is making fun of our decisions and the plans we have made for the future. Even as Mick sat in the kitchen of that cottage he quickly came to realise that any hope he may have had for a future in the army was dead for him. When he was asked what he thought about his supper, Mick smiled at his mother and gave high praise to her culinary skills. Then, almost without thought, the young man began to describe various proposals he had for improving the small land holding that they owned.

These are all good ideas,” Mrs Farrell said in praise of her son and they began to discuss each of his proposals while they ate their supper. She seemed to be very happy that the plate of cold meats and fresh-baked bread seemed to have helped remove all thoughts of joining the army from Mick’s mind. This, of course, was exactly what she wanted to achieve and with as little fuss as possible. Content in her own mind that her son would be staying, Mrs. Farrell sliced and buttered more bread, after which she refilled his mug with more fresh, hot tea. Her happiness began to show in her demeanour as she began chatting merrily with Mick about even the most frivolous of things. Mick, meanwhile, tried to reflect on how he would set about the problem of explaining to Paddy Brannigan why they would not be comrades-in-arms after all.

So, as soon as supper had ended, Mick got up from his chair, telling his mother that he had decided to go to hid friend’s house and tell him the bad news face-to-face. The sun had already set but there was still a bright and clear sky in which the stars had just begun to emerge, and a crescent moon was arising in the east. Outside the small terrace row of cottages children were still at play running, skipping, jumping, and laughing as they enjoyed their last moments of play before they would be sent to bed. On the outskirts of town, other children helped their parents in the fields to herd the goats, pigs, and sheep together before settling them down for the night ahead.

Mick continued on his path, down past the other cottages until, in front of the last one, he saw Fibber Morrissey sitting on a small stool and playing his violin. Now, Fibber had been blind from the moment he was born and he was a man of some fame in the area. His constant scraping and twanging on the violin strings, however, resulted in a wonderful variety of music being played every day by the blind man. Mick greeted Fibber as he walked past him and, as usual, the old man returned his cheery greeting without even skipping a beat. He had recognised Mick’s voice and raised his violin to him before resuming his playing. In the meantime, Mick continued on his way, following the path and humming to the tunes that old Fibber was. He began to notice, now that the sun was well down, the cool evening breeze had begun to blow a little stronger. There were scraps of straw and pieces of paper that were picked up by this breeze and blown down the road ahead of him and, without even realising he was doing it, Mick loosened a small stone from the edge of the road and kicked it with the toe of his boot.

He hadn’t gone more than a hundred yards from the blind fiddler when  Mick came upon an old friend of the family. Peter McGann had been a close friend of Mick’s father and here he was, driving home a flock of ducks and ducklings from a nearby water hole. Every time that he saw Peter herding his flock of ducks Mick could not help but laugh to himself at the sight. Peter McGann was a large, burly man, with great broad shoulders and it was highly amusing seeing such a man herding ducks. Armed with a long, willow rod Peter was “shoo-shooing”, in an increasingly frustrated manner, his ducks and ducklings in an effort to ensure they did not straggle and wander all over the place.

A good evening to you, young Mick Farrell,” Peter greeted Mick cheerfully as they approached each other.

Mick, for his part, was rather distracted and he didn’t quite hear Peter’s greeting. “What the hell is wrong with you, Mick Farrell?” asked Peter curtly. “Do you not return a greeting that has been given to you?

Peter’s curtness brought Mick back to his senses quick enough to answer the rebuff he had just received. “I’m sorry Peter,” he apologised. “ My mind is so full of other things at the moment.”

Peter laughed and asked, ”A wee girl, I suppose? Sure what young man, like yourself, would not be distracted by some lovely wee girl?

 It’s not a girl, Peter. I want to join the Army,” Mick began to tell him. “I want to make a life for myself but my mother is dead set against it and I cannot go. Now I have to tell my best friend that he will be enlisting on his own tomorrow.

Joining the Army?” asked Peter, almost as if he didn’t believe what his ears were hearing. “You want to join an Army that has tormented your people for centuries? You want to join an Army whose sole purpose is to ensure that the people of Ireland give up any hope of freedom and self-determination, and  do what they are told to by their English masters?

Jesus Christ, Peter?” Mick exclaimed in shock at these words. “Be quiet before someone hears you! If somebody reports it you could be looking at being charged with high treason!

Treason my arse!” Peter sneered. “Sure it is you who are plotting the treason! You who is about to betray our people, your faith, your country and your ancestors! Just who do you think you are? Do you want to die for England or to live for Ireland?. You know Mick Farrell that it only on stout, hardy young men like yourself and Paddy Brannigan who are Ireland’s only hope for freedom. In fact, it is only the likes of you who maybe our last hope! So I plead with you to keep true to your own, Mick, and don’t join the ranks of the enemy!.”

Ireland’s last hope?” Mick muttered to himself as he stared down at the ground to avoid Peter McGann’s eyes. A moment later he raised his head to thank Peter for his advice but found that Peter had vanished, the same way that any ideas of enlisting in the army had vanished.

Sniper’s Moon Part II

Final

At six o’clock in the morning the sun was already shining brightly and the night shift of prison guards went about their final inspection of the cells, awakening the inmates. On this occasion the guards were escorted by a small squad of armed soldiers, who were sent to bring Sean Cullen to the Court Martial in chains. Loudly, the heavy army boots of the men echoed off the stone floor of the narrow corridor. Step by loud step the marched until they came before the door to Sean’s cell. “Get up, Cullen!” the leader of the military escort barked out an order as the guard turned his key in the lock of the door. With a creak the heavy metal door opened to reveal that the cell was empty. The escort leader rushed into the cell, with army pistol drawn, and confirmed that there was no prisoner there. “Alarm!” he cried out and began to rush back down the corridor with his men.

Alarm!”; “Prisoner Escape!”; The alarm spread rapidly throughout the jail block that had been incorporated into the old castle building. In just a matter of minutes the entire building was filled with soldiers and auxiliaries running here and there, seeking the whereabouts of Sean Cullen. In the main office telephones and telegraphs were busy spreading the news of Cullen’s escape throughout the entire countryside. Police patrols, flying columns of Black and Tans, and squadrons of soldiers scoured the land searching every possible place that Cullen might seek refuge. Cottages, whether full or empty, were ransacked. Barns, hedgerows and known caves were all searched with great thoroughness, but the fugitive remained at large.

By afternoon the warm sunshine of the early morning had given way to dark clouds and heavy downpours of rain. By early evening “Wanted Posters” had begun to appear throughout the district. Even in the small fishing village of Kilcurragh, which lay on the coast some five miles from Derryard, the local policemen were busy pasting posters in ever available prominent position. Each poster proclaimed that a reward was available to any person giving information to the authorities, which would lead to the arrest of the fugitive, Sean Cullen. The head of the local constabulary, Sergeant Thompson, was being assisted by Constables O’Neill and Kelly in the task of posting the town and district. By the time they actually got into the narrow streets of the small fishing town darkness was beginning to settle. Thankfully the heavy rain showers had ceased, but a mist was beginning to settle on the town as the three officials hurried to finish their thankless task and return to their homes.

The taller of two constables, Kelly, addressed the sergeant, “Sergeant, that big door over there looks a great spot to put up one of these posters.”

He doesn’t hear you, Kelly,” said O’Neill. “Try him again.”

Pointing to the huge door of a nearby store Kelly called to the sergeant in a voice that was a little louder. “Will this door be a good place for one of these posters, sergeant?

But sergeant Thompson’s attention was attracted elsewhere and was  not hearing anything his subordinates had to say. “For God’s sake, sergeant will we put one of these posters on this door over here?” O’Neill shouted.

Rather distractedly the sergeant answered, “Look over here! There are steps that lead all the way down to the water.

It’s a fishing harbor,” Kelly informed him. “Fishing boats dock here all the time!

The sergeant appeared unmoved by Kelly’s sarcastic tone of voice and continued with his own discussion. “You know boys, this is the sort of place that would need to be carefully watched. If this Cullen fellow managed to make his way down those steps some of his friends might get a boat to meet him. In fact, those same boys could very well steal a local boat for the job.

Kelly just looked at his superior with quite some disbelief and repeated, “The door? It’s a good place for a poster!

Aye!” replied the sergeant. “Stick one of them up there.”

As O’Neill and Kelly pasted the poster on the large wooden door the sergeant began to read aloud the writing that the poster contained, “Wanted for Murder and Absconding Jail; Sean Cullen; Dark Hair, Dark Eyes; Smooth Faced and Five Feet Five Inches in height. Last seen with bandaged hand and bandaged right forearm.”

That’s a good description to be going by,” commented Kelly.

It would have been much better if I had seen the man with my own eyes,” said Thompson, “but they didn’t hold on to him long enough. How in the name of Jesus did a wounded man get out of that jail. He must have had friends on the inside, or the help of the Holy Spirit!

You might not be too far from the truth there, sergeant,” said Kelly. But look at that! A hundred guineas is a tempting amount for any man and any policeman nabbing him will take a good leap up the ranks.

You’re right, Kelly!” Thompson told him. “I tell you what, I will take care of this area. It wouldn’t surprise me that Cullen has already scoped this place. If Cullen and his pals do come this way then he will be mine, and someone who needs the reward will get it!

Constable O’Neill regarded his sergeant with disbelief at what he had heard. “Are you a mad man?” he asked Thompson. “If any of us catch Cullen we will be signing our own death warrants. The people around here, and maybe even our own relations, will spit in our eye. None of us would know the minute or the hour when we would get a bullet or a knife in the back one dark night when we are on our own.

Sergeant Thompson gave the constable a look of complete disgust. “We are the police and we have a duty to uphold the law. If we fail to do our job then the entire country will fall into chaos.

Sure isn’t the entire country already in a complete state of chaos?” said O’Neill.

You know what I mean, you smart arse. Just finish putting up those posters both of you and get yourselves back here as soon as possible. Don’t be too long, for I am not too fussy about standing around this place for too long!” Sergeant Thompson told him.

As the two constables left him alone on the dockside Sergeant Thompson perused the poster once again and began to think about what he could do with one hundred guineas. If only he could be the man to capture Sean Cullen he would get a well-deserved promotion as well as a decent reward. “Wouldn’t I be on the pig’s back,” he muttered to himself quietly and smiled. It was then that he heard a slight noise coming from behind him, and he turned to see a poorly dressed man who had been trying to slip past him unnoticed.

Where do you think you are going, little man?” Thompson growled at the stranger.

Sure, I did not want to disturb you sergeant,” the man replied.

And who are you?

Ah sergeant, sure I am just a poor travelling man who is fond of the gargle and sleeps among the old netting down there. Some of the fishermen and the harbor workers give me a few pennies now and again to put some meat on my bones, thanks be to God.”

As the stranger went to walk on, sergeant Thompson took a step toward him. “Did I not tell you to stop? Are you deaf, or do you not know what “Stop” means?” the sergeant asked. “These days, you just cannot go wherever you like, you know.”

God bless you sergeant, but it is a hard fate for a man to be poor and wanting a rest from a hard day trying to keep yourself alive.”

Just who in the name of God are you?” asked the sergeant impatiently. “I don’t recognise you as someone from around these parts.”

My name, sergeant, is Tommy Carney, and I live anywhere I can lay my head, and make a few pennies tinkering.”

Never heard of you, Tommy Carney,” Sergeant Thompson told him.

I am thankful for that,” Tommy smiled. “If you knew me already it might not be in the best light. But, I am harmless tramp who is not known too well anywhere.

And so what brings you here?

I came here to earn myself a few shillings when the fishing boats get in after daylight breaks. I’ll do a bit of lifting and carrying from the boats and that will allow me to survive another day or two,” Tommy told the policeman.

Get out of here, you gobshite!” Thompson told him. “Move on out of this!

The ill-dressed little man simply smiled at the sergeant an said, “Sure I will just make myself comfortable among those boxes and nets at the dock steps.

Indeed you will not,” insisted Thompson. “No person will be allowed near those dock steps this night.

Can I not just sit over there at the steps themselves? Those boxes will give me shelter from the chilly sea breeze and I can use the nets as a blanket to cover me,” said Carney, rather forlornly.

Thompson shook his head and asked Carney, “What part of the word “No” do you not understand, little man?

I’ll go,” Carney told him. “Could you just give a few pennies to get myself something to drink that might keep me warm?

Tea, I suppose?” replied Thompson sarcastically. “Do you think I’m a fool? Get away out of this!

But Carney opened his coat and took out a half-bottle of poteen, which he offered to the policeman. “Would you like a wee mouthful, yourself?

By Jaysus, Carney, will you get out of my way before I put my big size twelve hobnail boots up your arse!

Carney replace the bottle and buttoned his coat before he began to moving off toward the steps of the dock. Sergeant Thompson could not quite believe it and angrily asked, “Where the hell are you going now?

You told me to move on sergeant and I am obeying your order, like any law abiding citizen,” replied Carney.

Are you really looking trouble, or are you really just a complete eejit?” Thompson asked angrily and shouted at him, “I pointed for you to go back where you came from!

To the town?” asked Carney.

Let me show you the way, Sir!” said Thompson as he took hold of Carney by the shoulders and pushing him in the direction that he wanted him to go. “Now, get out of here!

harbour escapeCarney took two steps forward and came to an abrupt halt. It was the ‘last straw’ for the sergeant. “What the hell are you stopping for now? You must be looking for trouble!”

Carney pointed to the ‘wanted poster’ on the large wooden door saying, “I bet that’s the fella you’re waiting for, sergeant.

And what if it is?”

Sure it’s just that I know that man, Sean Cullen, well. But, I’ll just get on my way like you asked, sergeant.

Just hold on a minute!” said Thompson. “What sort of man is this Cullen? There’s no pictures of him, and we don’t know what he looks like!

I can tell you nothing,” Carney told him. “Just speaking to a policeman could get me killed in a very short time.

Why would that be? Sure aren’t we only talking?

But Carney just shook his head and replied, “If you don’t know by now then God be with you. But let me tell you that I would not want to be in your shoes if you catch Cullen. I wouldn’t get involved in this matter even if the reward was three times as much.”

In a flash, Sergeant Thompson rushed forward and took hold of Carney with both hands. “Alright, smart arse,” he shouted, “What kind of man is this Sean Cullen and where do you know him from? Are you one of his friends?

Friends?” questioned Carney nervously. “I hardly know the man well enough to call him a friend. I only met the man about four months ago in a pub, but I can tell you that he is a man to strike fear in others. You wouldn’t want to be left alone facing him, for there is not a weapon that man doesn’t know how to use. But he doesn’t need a weapon for that boy has muscles as hard as oak, and could do some real damage.

Thompson looked into Carney’s eyes and was convinced that the tramp was exaggerating. “I don’t think that he is that bad.

But Carney’s expression did not change and he insisted, “He is!”

The sergeant released his grip on Carney as he asked him, “Tell me more.”

Carney pulled himself together and began to speak quietly, making sure no person was around to hear him. “There was a man on the other side Kinvarra, another policeman, and Cullen killed him with a sledge hammer.

When was this?” asked Thompson with a definite tone of suspicion. I never heard a word about that one.”

Of course you wouldn’t have heard about it,” insisted Carney. “He was an undercover policeman and his battered body was dumped in a rubbish pit.

Jaysus, but this has become one hell of a terrible country to live in!” said Thompson as he removed his helmet and rubbed his brow with the back of his hand.

Isn’t it the truth?” said Carney. “One minute you could be standing giving your full attention to something, and comes up quietly behind you and does the job.

The job?

Cut your throat,” said Carney.

The sergeant took a very deep breath and told Carney, “It will take a whole troop of police and auxiliaries to catch this murdering rebel and not the few boys we have here.”

I could stay with you,” Carney offered. “You keep watch the one way and I will watch your back.

Thompson thought for a moment and put his helmet back on his head. “That just might work, since you actually know the man.”

Ah, that Sean Cullen! Sure I would know that man a mile away, Sergeant.”

Aye, but you would want a share of my reward money!”

Are you crazy, Sergeant? I don’t want the name of being an informer,” Carney insisted. “A ‘tout ‘ (Informer)does not live very long these days, and I wouldn’t have much time to spend what I would get. No, you can keep it all yourself and I will make myself scarce!

Just you stay where you are!” Thompson ordered him.

Together the two men stood in silence, looking out across the small, darkening harbor and the policeman gave a great yawn. “You’re a tired man, sergeant. All this walking up and down here, keeping your eyes open has exhausted you,” Carney told him.

I’m well used to it,” replied Thompson.

Aye, but you just might need all your strength, should you come up against Cullen in the dark,” Carney warned him and pointed to some large, wooden fish barrels standing close the large wooden door of the store. “Look, let’s get up on those barrels, where we can rest ourselves and still have a good view of things.

Sergeant Thompson nodded his head in approval and the two men clambered on the fish barrels. “We will sit back to back,” suggested Thompson, “ so we have the best view all around. To be honest, the way you described Cullen to me has made me awful uneasy.”

Just give me a light of my pipe, sergeant,” said Carney and Thompson obliged him with a match to light his pipe. “Maybe you would like a smoke yourself, sergeant. It would ease your nerves and make you feel a little more comfortable. Just you keep your eyes peeled ahead of you and I will reach my pipe around to you.”

Thompson didn’t move, but kept staring straight ahead of himself. “Don’t you worry wee man, I won’t look away. But, I will light my own pipe and we can have a smoke together.” Thompson struck a match, lit his pipe and the two men sat back to back on the barrels smoking in the pleasant night air.

Do you know Carney that being a policeman is not all it’s cracked up to be,” complained Thompson. “You are out to all hours, in all types of weather, and never a word of thanks is heard for the dangerous situations we find ourselves in. We only ever get dog’s abuse from all sides, and yet they expect us to carry out our duty. There’s not one would ask or even care if you are a married man with family before they send you into the most dangerous situations.

Carney took another drag from his pipe and with a sweet voice he quietly began to sing, “They say that the Lakes of Killarney are fair, but none with the Liffey will ever compare! If it’s water you want you will get plenty of it there! Thank God, we’re surrounded by water!

For Jaysus’ sake Carney, don’t be singing those songs around here. You know these are dangerous days and those Black and Tans are trigger happy. They would shoot you just for being Irish, never mind the song,” Thompson warned him.

But, sergeant, a little bit of a song helps keep my heart light, especially when my thoughts are turned to Cullen and his friends. I can’t help thinking that he is lurking about here just waiting for his chance to jump both of us.

Well stop singing and keep a good look out,” the policeman urged.

Carney shrugged his shoulders and assured the sergeant, “Isn’t that just what I am doing, sergeant Thompson, sir. And sure aren’t I doing it for free? What kind of a fool am I?” He took yet another puff from his pipe and blew a large cloud of fragrant tobacco smoke into the air. “But, sure I could never stand by and just watch another man in trouble.”

Don’t worry Carney, you will get your reward in heaven.”

Don’t I know that, sergeant. But, I would like to enjoy life on earth first.

Thompson smiled at the tramp’s comment and told him, “Sing your song then, if it gives you comfort.

Carney cleared his throat and began his song where he left off, “The sea, the sea, the geal grá mo chroí, long may it reign between England and me. It’s a sure guarantee that some hour we’ll be free …

Wheesht! For Christ’s sake! If you sing that type of song I will have to arrest you, you eejit” said Thompson. “If you want to sing, sing something like “the Galway Shawl.””

Carney turned his head slightly around, “That’s a good song sergeant. Imagine a man of the law knowing such a song?

There’s many a thing that I know,” replied Thompson. “I wasn’t always a policeman.”

I bet you were some boy in your youth, sergeant. Sitting up with your friends drinking the ‘porter’ and singing all the old songs of freedom,” Carney laughed.

I did, to be sure!” smiled Thompson as he recalled those days of his youth.

May be Cullen also enjoyed a glass of ‘porter’ and singing freedom songs when he was a young boy. Maybe singing the same songs as yourself,” Carney commented. “It’s a small world filled with queer coincidences, sergeant. You took one road and

“Quiet!” urged the Sergeant. “I think there is someone coming this way,” he declared nervously and shuffled himself slightly to try and obtain a better view. “Ah! Sure it’s only an old dog!”

“Do you not think this is a queer world, sergeant?” asked Carney as he resumed from where he was before being interrupted. “With you, being a policeman ,could even be faced with arresting one of those friends you sang those songs with, and putting him before a judge.”

“True enough! It could all happen,” the sergeant responded

“You know, in those days, after a few drinks and a few songs those boys may have talked a little treason. Maybe you joined in. If they talked about ways in which to free this country you may have also joined in those discussions.”

“I couldn’t say that I didn’t, for I was a wee bit wild in my younger days,” smiled Thompson.

Carney laughed a little and told him, “It’s a queer world, Sergeant, sure enough. No mother knows what might happen her child as that child goes through life, and how may it end up.”

“You couldn’t speak a truer word,” Thompson told him. “if it wasn’t for the sense beaten into me by my parents, and the fact that I am a father and a husband, I could have gotten into trouble. Only for joining the police force I could well be a fugitive from justice, hiding in the darkness and seeking refuge in whatever hovel I could find that would take me in. It could have even been the case that Cullen would be sitting here instead of me. Him keeping the law and me breaking it, and trying to escape justice. Me waiting to put a bullet in his head, or even beat his brains out with a brick. What the ..?” the sergeant gasped and turned his attention to the water.

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Carney.

“It sounded like the splash of an oar. I had thought maybe friends of Cullen will try and free him, by sailing him out of here,” said Thompson.

Not at all,” sneered Carney eager to get his attention back to their conversation. “You are and will always be a man of the people and not just a slavish servant of the law.”

Aye, I was foolish in my young days, but those days have long gone,” Thompson declared.

Carney looked at Thompson for a minute before saying, “I bet those feelings are still in there somewhere, despite the uniform and badge.

You would be wrong, then,” snapped Thompson.

I think you will be on his side very soon,” Carney told him.

The sergeant’s expression darkened, “Keep your thoughts to yourself, you gobshite!” he snarled. “How dare you talk to me like that, a policeman. I have my duty to do and my orders to obey.” There was another splashing sound and Thompson turned his attention to the dockside again. He jumped down from the fish barrel, telling Carney, “That is a boat, for I can hear the splash of oars in the water.”

As Thompson moved closer to the edge of the dock Carney again broke into song, “Thank God we’re surrounded by water?

Didn’t I tell you to be quiet?” the sergeant turned back toward Carney with a very angry look on his face.

“The Sea, the sea, the ….” Carney began to sing louder.

Stop now, Carney, or you will go to jail!” said the sergeant as a soft whistling noise came from the area of the dock steps.

Now that is a signal to somebody,” declared Thompson, causing Carney to get down of the fish barrel and move toward the dockside.

Keep back there, Carney,” Thompson urged him. “You cannot pass this way.

But, Carney did not stop and kept coming forward. “Just who, in God’s name, are you?”

You know me by the name on that poster,” Carney declared.

Cullen? You are Cullen?” said a shocked police sergeant.

Carney removed his hat and the wig he had been using to disguise the bandage on his head and threw them at the sergeant’s feet. “I am Sean Cullen and there are a hundred guineas on my head. Furthermore, there is a boat at the bottom of these stone steps that contains some very close comrades of mine who are ready to take me to safety,” he said.

Well, Cullen. You certainly tricked me this night, but it will do you no good!” Thompson angrily assured him.

Look, Sergeant. I have one hundred guineas on my head because I fight for our freedom.”

I heard about the reward, Cullen and I have heard something of what you have done. I have a certain sympathy but I have my duty to do,” replied Thompson.

There’s no more time to waste on idle talk now. Will you let me pass or will I have to force my way past?” Cullen warned in a cold tone of voice.

Good God, man, I am an officer of the law and I cannot knowingly allow a criminal to escape. In fact I actually hoped I might convince you in a friendly manner to … What’s that?” said the sergeant as he placed his right hand into the breast of his jacket.

There were voices talking as they approached the dockside from another street. “This where we left the sergeant,” said one of the voices that Thompson recognised as Constable Kelly.

Those are my constables returning from patrol,” said the sergeant as he looked into Cullen’s face.

You will not betray me to them, Sergeant. Not a true Irishman like you,” Cullen told him as he returned to his hiding place behind the barrels, just in the nick of time.

That was the last of the posters, thanks be to God,” said Constable O’Neill.

Well, if that boyo makes good his escape it will be no fault of ours. All the posters we have put up will ensure he is well known in this area, now,” pointed out Kelly.

In the meantime, as his comrades came closer, Thompson kicked the fugitive’s wig and hat, behind some barrels.

Did you see anyone since we left?” asked O’Neill.

Not a one,” replied Thompson nervously, for it was the first occasion that he had deliberately lied.

Nobody?

Not a single soul,” the sergeant replied more confidently.

Since we have no orders to go back to the police station we thought we would come and keep you company, Sergeant,” said O’Neill.

Thompson looked at the two constables for a moment and bluntly told them, “There is nothing here for you to do!”

You told us that we should come back to this place as quickly as we could,” Constable Kelly reminded him. “You wanted us to keep watch with you.”

I would rather be on my own, boys. Sure why would any escaped convict come this way with all the noise and racket the two of you make with all your chatter? It might be better if I was here on my own..”

Right then, sergeant. But we will leave you this torch,” said Constable O’Neill.

Just bring it with you, I don’t need it,” The sergeant told them.

“It is still dark, sergeant and there are rain clouds gathering that will make it even darker,” O’Neill pointed out. “I will just put it over here on the barrels so it will be handy for you.

Just take the damn thing with you, for God’s sake, and go” snapped Thompson angrily.

The two constables were taken aback by this change in the sergeant’s tone. “We only thought it would help you. It’s a big torch and gives plenty of light, but you could also use it as a weapon if someone creeps up on you. That torch would give some eejit a quare dig in the head,” said constable Kelly.

I will give you two a quare dig on the head if you don’t get out of here and take that damn torch with you.”

Jaysus, sergeant, we were only trying to help,” said O’Neill as the two constables stormed off toward the police station.

As the two policemen marched away, Cullen stuck his head up from behind the fish barrels. Sergeant Thompson went closer to him and asked, “What are you waiting for now?

I need my hat and wig! It’s cold and it might even rain,” said Cullen.

Sergeant Thompson handed the items to Cullen and he put them back on his head as he walked toward the dock steps. “Good night, my friend,” he said. “You have helped save my life this night and I will never forget it. Maybe the day will come when I will be able to do something for you that will be just as important, when freedom comes. I would shake your hand on it but you know that I can’t because of my wound. I will, however, give you my word of honour.” He nodded his head in respect to the police sergeant and began to walk down the stone steps.

Thompson just watched as Cullen descended the steps and sighed sadly to himself, “Am I as big a buck eejit as I feel?” He turned on his heels and followed the same path as his constables back to the police barracks.

Sniper’s Moon Part I

A story of the Irish War for Independence

Sniper 2June is a month of short nights and long, warm days. But, for some, the long June nights proved to be no advantage, when it came to fulfilling their assigned tasks. It was not until midnight that darkness first began to really envelop the town of Derryard, with the full moon shedding its bright silvery light over the streets and houses. If there were clouds or rain in the night sky then darkness would come sooner and gave extra cover to those who used the blackness to hide them from observation. But, in the quietness that night-time brought there could be heard the occasional growl of a lorry engine, or the heavy clip of military boots upon the cobbled roads and paved footpaths. In the ill lit streets there were shadows of small squads of armed men making through their way through the town. Here and there the sound of automobile engines could be heard as lorries filled with troops and armoured cars are moved, spreading out in their search for those who were prepared to spread treason. This was the terrible, dark days of war with Black and Tan auxiliaries, as Ireland sought its independence from Britain.

A slow moving river wound its way through the centre of town and an ornate iron bridge carried traffic across from one bank to the other. On a high rooftop overlooking the bridge there lay a young man with a rifle by his side. He had skilfully established a hidden sniper’s nest for himself high above the road that ran across the iron bridge. From this vantage point he scanned the area with a pair of binoculars, seeking an easy target for his bullets. Making the minimum of movement the young man studied the scene before him with eyes that were both bright and cold. He had a lot of spare time to himself, in which to consider the fate that would most likely befall him if he was ever captured by the enemy. The young man, filled with the courage of youth, preferred, however, to put such negative thoughts to one side and concentrate on the next target that unwarily moved into his rifle’s sights.

There was an uneasy quiet over the entire town as the Church clock struck the half-hour, and the sniper felt his stomach rumble with the winds of hunger. There, lying at his side, next to the rifle, sat a small satchel that he had brought with him from home. He put his hand into the small satchel and took out a roughly cut sandwich that had been prepared that morning and began to eat it very hungrily. The young man had eaten nothing since the previous morning, an hour or so prior to entering the building below and making his way up to the roof, where he had immediately proceeded to settle himself down. Then, as he chewed on the bread he muttered satisfyingly to himself, “By Jaysus, that is one hell of a good sandwich Ma has made.”

He felt that the sandwich had been well worth the wait and, when he had finished it, he reached into the satchel for a small flask of whisky that he had also brought with him. He took a swift drink and enjoyed the feeling of comfort that immediately began to spread through his stiff body before he replaced the flask. Then, just for a moment, he thought about lighting a cigarette to enjoy a soothing smoke after his snack. It was an idea, however, that he quickly discarded because it was much too risky. The lighting of a cigarette might easily be seen in the growing darkness, and he did not wish to give the enemy any kind of signal as to where he was hiding.

As the sniper raised his head cautiously above the roof’s parapet, he noticed the shadows of four soldiers as they crossed beneath a street lamp on the bridge below him. In the light of that street lamp he could just discern that the four figures crossing the bridge were members of the hated British auxiliaries, the Black and Tans. So, pointing the barrel through the parapet’s ornamentation, the sniper took careful aim along the barrel of the rifle, picked out his target, and gently squeezed the trigger. There was a flask as the built exploded out of the gun’s barrel, spinning its way down toward the target that had been chosen. It only took a fraction of a second for the bullet to reach its destination, but it missed the chosen target and smashed into the concrete casement of the bridge, just above the soldier’s head. “Jaysus, steady yourself man,”the sniper muttered to himself.

Just as he finished reloading the rifle, with the bolt action, there was another explosion from a rifle shot, and a bullet flattened itself against the ornate parapet that was camouflaging the sniper’s nest. Down below, on the bridge, three of the four auxiliary soldiers immediately sought cover, while the fourth soldier prepared to defend his comrades. He had seen the flash from the muzzle of the sniper’s rifle and had hurriedly fired a shot in reply. “Return fire!” he instructed his comrades and bullet after bullet whizzed over Sean’s head, crashing into the parapet and chimney pots and causing him to keep his head down. While the sniper was thus engaged two of the auxiliary soldiers broke cover, and ran across to the building in which the sniper was hiding.

Sean, the sniper, realised that it was time to move his position and he  crawled about ten yards to his left. While the enemy was continuing to lay down suppressing fire on his previous position, Sean felt he was now secure enough to raise his head carefully above the parapet. On this occasion, however, only two of the soldiers on the bridge were visible to him, one of whom was creeping closer to the gas street lamp. Sean raised his rifle and sighted it upon his new target, who was illuminated by the gas light. He squeezed the trigger of the rifle and let loose another bullet, which flew perfectly toward the enemy. The bullet struck home, exploding in the man’s head, killing him instantly, and causing his body to convulse with the impact.

From the roof, the sniper could clearly hear the shouts of men calling out to each other as he reloaded and sought yet another target. Just at that moment an armoured car rattled down the cobbled main street of the town, and slowly advanced across the bridge until it reached the remaining soldier. Sean felt it was time to move his position again and, on this occasion, he crawled over to a chimney stack, raising himself up behind it. Hidden from view of the pursuing soldiers, Sean felt free to sneak a peek over the parapet to identify a new target for himself. Although he had wanted to open fire on the armoured car he did not want to give his new position away on a fruitless task. Both Sean and the troops in the armoured car knew that the bullets would never pierce the armoured steel that covered that vehicle.

From the street below Sean could hear the crash of a door being forced open. He had not a doubt that the door that he heard being broken belonged to the building on whose roof he was hiding. It was obvious that the Black and Tans had now gained entry to the building and that they would soon be on the roof seeking him out. But, Sean did not allow himself to be distracted from the armoured car on the bridge and he caught sight of the remaining soldier there breaking cover. Creeping his body bent and low to the ground, the man quickly made his way to the side of the car, and he began to talk to another soldier who had made an appearance in the vehicle’s turret. The soldier standing at the side of the armoured car began to point in Sean’s direction, causing the man in the turret to raise his head and shoulders above the turret protection. Sean exhaled calmly as he gently squeezed the rifle’s trigger. Within a fraction of a second the bullet hit the soldier in the turret, causing his head to be jarred backward and his body to fall heavily, as it folded over the turret. “Two,” Sean said to himself, quietly pleased with his efforts so far.

The auxiliary who had been standing at the side of the armoured car was stunned by the swiftness of his comrade’s demise. One moment he had been talking to a friend and the next moment he was covered in the blood of that friend. Unfortunately, the shock of the incident had caused him to stand motionless for a few seconds as he took in the total horror of it all. Sean, did not take his eyes from the scene, pushed another bullet into the chamber and, as the auxiliary began to run for cover, he fired the rifle again. In an instant the bullet smashed into the fleeing soldier’s body, causing a fountain of blood to spurt high in the air as the man’s torso twisted, and he fell with a great shriek to the road. “Three,” Sean smiled, pleased with himself.

Then, suddenly, and without any warning, an access door to the roof burst open causing Sean to turn quickly and loose off a shot towards the origin of the sound. The bullet found its mark in the body of another soldier, but he had managed fire a shot from his own gun. There was a sudden and excruciating pain that shot through Sean’s arm, which caused him to drop his rifle. “The game’s up,” said Sean to himself as the rifle fell onto the roof with a loud clattering sound that Sean was certain the other soldiers would have heard. With his forearm virtually immobile, Sean immediately flung his body flat against the roof, and painfully crawled away to protective cover.

The soldier that remained at the door was in no mind to be reckless with his life after seeing how his comrades had been so efficiently killed by the sniper. He had heard the armoured car pulling up outside the building and thought it would be a much better tactic to await reinforcements. While he waited the nervous soldier kept a watch on the roof, hoping to get a clear shot at the sniper and be declared the hero of the hour by his comrades.

Sean reached a suitable place of cover and with his left hand examined the injury to his right forearm. There was still sufficient light in the sky to see the blood that was oozing through his jacket sleeve, and he was quite surprised that there was no real pain. But, there was a numbness in his forearm that made him start to think that his arm had been cut off. Since this was clearly not the case, however, Sean took a large knife from his jacket pocket, opened it with his teeth and began to cut the sleeve of his jacket.

At the site of the wound there was only a small hole that indicated where the bullet had entered, while on the other side of the arm there was no sign of where the bullet had exited. Sean knew enough, however, to realise that the soldier’s bullet had lodged in the bone of the arm and must have caused it to fracture. He gritted his teeth and bent his arm below the wound. His arm bent back quite easily causing him great pain, and he had wanted to scream out aloud. But, Sean didn’t dare make a sound that might expose him to any danger.

From another pocket in his jacket Sean took out his field dressing and ripped open the packaging with his knife. Breaking the neck of a bottle of iodine, Sean allowed the bitter fluid to drip on the wound and sterilize it. There was a tremendous burning sensation that wracked his entire body with great pain, and he quickly placed the cotton padding over the wound. With a good deal of difficulty he wrapped the dressing over his fore-arm and tied the end with the help of his teeth. He was exhausted by the effort and he lay still against the chimney stack, closing his eyes in a vain attempt to shut out the pain that was sweeping through his body. Sean could not, however, permit himself to sleep though his eyes were very heavy and his mind sought some means of relief.

Below Sean’s hiding place, in the street, there was almost complete quiet. The armoured car’s engine was no longer turning over and the body of the dead soldier still hung lifelessly over the turret. The other members of the crew had disembarked the car and were quickly making their way through the building. All this while, Sean was still lying motionless against the chimney stack, nursing his wounded arm and making frantic plans for his escape. The enemy, he now knew, were at the door that led on to the roof and that they would be very reluctant to expose themselves to any danger, without knowledge of his exact location. Sean would have to kill whatever number of soldiers were there and, not being able to use his rifle, he only had his revolver with six bullets to help him achieve success in his escape attempt. This called for Sean to devise a new exit plan from the roof .

Sean removed his cap and pulled his rifle closer to him. Placing the cap over the muzzle of his rifle he slowly pushed the rifle out from the side of the chimney stack until the cap was visible to the black and tans hiding in the doorway. Almost immediately there was the crack of a rifle shot and a bullet pierced the centre of the cap. Gradually, Sean slanted the rifle forward until the hat fell down on to the roof. A few seconds later he allowed the rifle to drop on to the roof with a clatter and immediately rose to his feet with the revolver ready in his left hand.

I got him!” declared an excited English voice from the open doorway. “That sneaky bastard’s dead! Let’s go get him!” The doorway opened a little wider and the light from a gas light caused the auxiliary soldiers to be exposed to Sean. His plan appeared to be starting out successfully and he smiled, knowing that his enemies had made a serious error of judgement. He lifted his revolver and braced himself against the brickwork of the chimney stack as he took aim at the figures only about thirty feet distant. It was a hard shot in the dim light, despite the short distance to the targets, and the pain in his right arm was like someone sticking a dozen knives into him. Though his hand trembled, he took as steady an aim as he possibly could. Pressing his lips tightly together he breathed heavily through his nose and squeezed the trigger once, twice, and three times. The sound of the revolver being fired was ear shattering and the recoil of each shot shook his arm violently. But, when the smoke had cleared, Sean saw the lifeless bodies of two men lying on the roof just outside the door. The others had escaped back into the sanctuary of that doorway. It was now time for Sean to quickly execute his own escape. He began to move further to his left, to a place on the parapet where a steel ladder had been fixed that ran down the side of the building to the narrow dark street below. The death of two more comrades might just cause the other auxiliaries to delay a further assault and, therefore, give Sean enough time to descend to the street.

A chill now descended over Sean’s body and he trembled a little. The anger and blood-lust that had filled him only minutes before was now gone. A sense of great remorse for the lives he had taken that night now filled him. But, despite the chills he was experiencing there were beads of sweat that stood out on his forehead. He was very much weakened by the wound he had received and by the loss of blood that he had been forced to endure. In fact, if he had had anything substantial in his stomach he would have, most likely, been physically sick at the sight of two slain men lying in a pool of their own blood. The chills began to worsen, perhaps it was shock, but his teeth began to chatter and his mind began to wander. In his pain and confusion he began to mutter quietly to himself and curse this damned, bloody war. He had not, however, heard the silent approach of an enemy soldier, who had scrambled over the parapet after climbing the escape ladder at the side of the building. There was moment’s pain, followed by deep unconsciousness. “Got the rat!” an English voice cried in triumph.

When he awakened Sean’s head was throbbing very badly and he was lying on a cold stone bed with a rough army blanket spread over him. If the blanket was there to give him some warmth, Sean thought, it had failed very badly. The pain in his head was almost overpowering, and he reached up his hands to find that a thick bandage had been wrapped around it. When he pulled the blanket off he saw that he was only dressed in a light cotton shirt and his trousers, from which the belt had been removed. With pain coming from every quarter of his body Sean sat up on the makeshift bed to examine his new surroundings, though there was not much to see. He was in an eight by four feet cell with four walls that had been painted a grey colour. Above his head daylight shone through a small, iron-barred window and in the opposite wall stood a grey metal door with a sliding panel about two-thirds the way up the door. Sean looked down at his forearm and saw that his wound had been freshly dressed by someone who knew what they were doing. Then he lay back on the cold stone bed, with no pillow for his head and resigned himself to the fact that he was now a prisoner of his enemies.

The panel in the door quietly slid open and allowed Sean to see a red, bespectacled face staring in at him. “You’re awake the?” the red-faced man asked.

I am,” replied Sean disinterestedly.

Aren’t you the big man, Cullen?” asked the guard sarcastically. “Caught today, Court Martial tomorrow, and a courtyard firing squad tomorrow or the next day.

It will be quick then,” said Sean as he spat at the door of the cell. Sean knew the danger that he was in and was resigned to whatever fate befell him.

As quick as any of your comrades did,” the guard smiled. “But be careful, Cullen, for there are all sorts of strange things happen here. So, sleep tight if you can,” he ended the conversation and slid the panel back in place.

The hours passed peacefully and the prison guards changed their shifts on a regular basis, rarely looking into Sean’s cell. He could clearly hear the Black and Tan auxiliaries talking as they smoked cigarettes and played cards. There was also the clink of glass, suggesting that the men were also enjoying a few bottles of beer, or something stronger. They were enjoying the fact that they had captured the man who had been considered the scourge of the crown’s forces in this area for several months. This was the man who had been nicknamed, “Hawkeye” and had caused the death of at least eighteen members of the British forces. It was time for the soldiers to celebrate that they would soon have the pleasure of seeing “Hawkeye” executed by firing squad.

The Blarney Part I

It is said by many that a sweet-talking Irishman has a “Touch of the Blarney”, a gift of speaking given to him because he has kissed the ‘Blarney Stone’. The following verse I once heard, but I cannot recall the person who wrote it, and I offer it to the readers as a basic introduction to the story that follows it.

“Oh, did you ne’er hear of the

Blarney,

‘Tis found near the banks of

Killarney,

Believe it from me, no girl’s heart is

free,

Once she hears the sweet sound of

the Blarney.”

 

“Ah! Dear God, Mick! You can talk and advise me until I’m blue in the face, but it still won’t matter for I just cannot do it. That, my friend, is just the long and the short of it.”

“Would you just listen to him, surely you are not one of these bashful types are you, Eddie?”

“It’s true Mick! I’m afraid it all true.”

“Have you gone completely mad? You know that they’ll put into a museum along with other rare creatures like mermaids and Dodo-Birds! A bashful Irish man! Sure, nothing like it has ever been heard of, never mind been seen.”

“Aye, so they say. But, friend, I have caught the complaint anyway.”

“Well! May my arse trail the ground if ever I have heard the likes of this from a friend of mine!  It makes me worry about the future of our race, for if modesty gets a hold among us Irish it will be the ruin of us altogether. I shouldn’t surprise me that some of them damned English men have inoculated us with this affliction, as they travelled through our country. Now, Eddie, tell me what does it feel like when you are blushing?”

“Ah! Mick, now don’t you be laughing at me and making fun. Sure, there is none of us can help having a weakness. Anyway, it is only when I am with her that my heart seems to melt away entirely.”

“Never mind, my friend. Sure, it’s only a good man, like you, who can feel like that anyway. And so, pretty Nelly has put the spell on you and taken over your senses?”

“You could well say that, Mick, for its not one bit of sense do I have left. Sometimes I wonder if I ever possessed even an ounce of sense in my body. Do you know, Mick, no joking, but isn’t it a mighty odd thing that I can’t get my usually big mouth to utter a single word out of my head when I see her looking at me? Did you ever see Nelly’s eye, Mick?”

“I’ve seen them hundreds of times.”

“Maybe that isn’t an eye?”

“Maybe there isn’t a pair of them, now that I think on it?”

“As sure as there is an eye in a goat, I have never seen such wicked-looking innocence in the eyes of a Christian person before.  At least there is no one that I can remember.”

“Sure, man dear, it’s only right that you should think like that, Eddie.”

“Oh! Mick, the joy that beams out of those eyes, when she’s happy, is to me as good as that wonderful warm feeling you get from the softest sun-ray that ever made the world smile. But when she’s sad, oh, Christ, Christ, Mick! When those watery jewels flutter about her silken eye-lashes, or they flow slowly down upon her downy cheek, like dew upon a rose-leaf, who in the name of God could endure it? It’s as much as I can do to stand up before those merry glances, but when her eyes take to the water, then by all the powers of heaven, it bothers my heart out an’ out and I don’t know what to do.”

“Fair Play, Eddie.”

“And then there is her mouth! Did you ever see Nelly’s mouth, Mick?”

“I’ve only seen it from a distance, Eddie.”

“Well, that’s what I call a real mouth, Mick. It’s not like all those other mouths that are only to pile food and drink into. Her mouth is a soft-talking, sweet-loving mouth, with her kisses growing in tempting clusters about it, which none dare have the cheek to pluck off. Isn’t that right, Mick?”

“Now, be quiet for a while Eddie. Hold your tongue.”

“I will tell you, Mick, that if Nelly’s heart isn’t the very bed of love, why then Cupid is a total gobshite, that’s all. And then her teeth! Did you ever take notice of those teeth? I tell you that even the best pearls are simple paving-stones compared to Nelly’s teeth. Oh, how they do gleam and flash, as her beautiful round red lips part to let out a voice that is just so soft and sweet, almost like honey. Every word she speaks slips into the soul of a man, whether he likes it or not. Oh! Mike, Mike, there is absolutely no use in talking. If that woman isn’t an angel, she ought to be, and that’s all.”

“Jaysus, you really have fallen for this girl in a big way, Eddie, and that’s a fact. It’s a wonderful thing to see the talent that a boy can develop for talking such nonsense when his soft emotions get stirring in his head. Tell me, Eddie, have you ever spoken to her?”

“What? How could I? Sure, wasn’t I too busy listening to her? But, in all honesty, and between you and me, the truth of the matter is, I just couldn’t do it. Whether it was that she had bewitched me, or that my senses had got completely drowned with drinking in all her charms, making me stammer and stutter like a child, I don’t know! But every time that I attempted to say something to her, my tongue, may the devil take it, twisted and turned itself into knots, and sure devil the word would it say for itself, bad or good.”

“Well, now, allow me to think for a moment, and let me give you a wee bit of advice, Eddie. The next time you see that girl, just take it easy. Keep your feelings in check! Put a big stone on them and simply ask her about the weather. Your problem is, you see, that you want to pour out all you have to say at once, and your throat is too small and narrow to let it all through.”

“Be patient and cool, sure that’s good advice, Mick, if I can but follow it. This love is a great and troublesome affection, isn’t it?”

“It’s tremendous, Eddie. I had it once myself.”

“How did you catch it?”

“I didn’t catch it at all. I took to it naturally.”

“And did you ever get cured, Mick? Tell me.”

“I was completely cured.”

“How did that happen?”

“I got married.”

“Oh God, let’s just go to work.”

From this conversation between two friends, Mick Riley and Eddie Flynn, it is quite clear that fabled Cupid’s arrow, “Feathered with pleasure and tipped with pain,” had firmly embedded itself in Eddie’s heart. Putting it plain and simple, Eddie Flynn was completely infatuated with Miss Nelly Malone. During a rest period at work they had indulged in this discussion and, when the conversation was ended, the two men resumed their mowing. Mick, the settled “married man” began to hum a sprightly air, which kept time to the stroke of his scythe. Meanwhile, the love-struck Eddie joined in, every now and then, with strictly orthodox sighs as an accompaniment.

It certainly was a most clear signal of just how strongly attracted Eddie was to pretty Nell. There was never a more noble heart that ever beat than the honest, manly heart that now throbbed with the first pangs of a passion that was both pure and unselfish. After an hour or two of labour, the two men rested again. Eddie was feeling rather sad and he remained silent. There is something within Irish men that makes them regard suffering as sacred and, having respect for this suffering in his friend, Mick also kept quiet. Finally, Eddie looked up. He was still a little downcast and there was a sheepish expression on his face, but there was the slight trace of a smile that crept across his lips as he said, “Mick, do you know what?”

“What?” said Mick.

“I’ve written a bit of a song about Nelly.”

You didn’t,” smiled Mick, with an ambiguity in his voice that made it obvious that he believed his friend. “Is it a song?” he asked tactfully, “Sure why shouldn’t you? Haven’t you the great heart of a poet, and the ability to write songs that are as good as anyone else’s? Give us a wee blast of it, Eddie.”

“Damn the bit of it will I sing! Sure, you’ll only laugh at me, Mick.”

“Me? Not at all, Eddie!” replied Mick in such a manner that Eddie was convinced that his friend would not make fun of his efforts to sing. After pausing for a minute or two to prepare, Eddie cleared his throat nervously and, with a fine, clear voice, he began to sing:

blarneystone“All you sporting young heroes, with

hearts so light and free,

Take care how you come near

the town of Tralee;

For the witch of all witches that

ever wove a spell

In the town of Tralee, at this moment

does dwell.

 

“Oh, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For the devil all out is the Rose of

Tralee.

 

“She’s as soft and as bright as a

young summer morn,

Her breath’s like the breeze

from the fresh blossomed thorn,

Her cheek has the sea shell’s pale

delicate hue,

And her lips are like rose leaves just

bathed in the dew;

 

“So, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For she’s mighty destructive, this

Rose of Tralee.

 

“Oh! her eyes of dark blue, they so

heavenly are

Like the night sky of summer,

and each holds a star;

Were her tongue mute as silence,

man’s life they’d control;

But eyes and tongue both are too

much for one’s soul.

 

“Young men, stay at home, then,

and leave her to me,

For I’d die with delight for the Rose

of Tralee.”