Beautiful Sally

A Tale of Lough Neagh

 

gig racing 3In the pretty lough-side village of Montaigh, which looks out over the waters of Lough Neagh, there lived an old man called Paddy Sullivan, who was a boat-builder of many years’ experience. Around the shores of the lough, Paddy’s reputation for building boats was unrivalled and the village was only renowned for being the place where he built his boats. But, because of the fame he became convinced of his own importance and often declared that if there were any man who could beat him in the design, construction and finishing of a racing dinghy, he would give up his trade. Other than designing and building boats, Paddy’s pride was centred upon the only other thing that he loved, and that was his daughter, Sally. He had every right to be proud of her, for she was a beauty, and many thought her to be the epitome of an ‘Irish Colleen. She was a true ‘Irish Rose’ with a pair of roguish black eyes, blooming cheeks, and rose-coloured lips that did not quite hide her two rows of the prettiest, whitest teeth that ever a man had seen.

In his small boat-building yard, Paddy employed a young apprentice upon whom he placed some of his most important boat building secrets. Paddy was very fond of this young man and planned, at some distant date, to place with him all the knowledge that he had gathered over a lifetime. He was called Danny Cullen, a fine-looking young man who stood just about five-feet and ten-inches tall, quietly spoken and polite to all whom he met. Danny was also an active young man, who enjoyed sports of all kind and had a very athletic body, which was admired by many young ladies in the district, including Paddy’s daughter. Sally Scullion, in fact, thought that he was a very handsome man and confided in her girlfriends that she thought Danny had the brightest pair of eyes she had ever seen, and loveliest head of brown, curly hair that any man had ever possessed. Danny, however, was quite speechless every time he encountered Sally, finding it almost impossible to fully praise all her good qualities, including her calm temperament and her warm, sweet, and merry laugh. Even the most neutral of observers could see that these two young, warm-hearted, and amiable people were very much in love with each other. Old Paddy, however, did not dream that the two most important young people in his life had such deep feelings for each other.

gig racingThere can be no doubt that Paddy was very knowledgeable when it came to boats and had great skill in building them. But when it came to affairs of the heart he was as blind and ignorant as most Irishmen of his age. For instance, Paddy could not even imagine that his daughter’s frequent visits to the boat yard were due to anything other than a natural and genetic interest in the art of boat-building. Moreover, Paddy had a habit of not wearing his spectacles in the workshop and, probably, failed to notice the reddening of Sally’s cheeks, or the added sparkle in her dark eyes, when she spoke about Danny’s abilities and artistry in boat building.

It was at the beginning of May that a well-dressed gentleman came to the work-yard and ordered a racing-gig from old Paddy. At least once every week subsequent to the order being placed the buyer sent his agent, who was called Duggan, to report on what progress was being made on the boat. Duggan, however, was no ordinary man from the area, but had a great reputation as the best oarsmen on the Lough that he had earned from many races that the fishermen held during the summer. But anyone who had ever come to have contact with him was immediately struck by his prideful and conceited manner. He wasn’t a tall man, but he had strong arms and features. Furthermore, people recall that his most distasteful features were his peculiarly cunning expression around the eyes, and the strange sneer that was always on his lips.

Duggan had, of course, already heard of Sally Sullivan’s reputation as a famed local beauty and was convinced that he would make a good match for the girl. Undaunted by the age difference between them, Duggan was determined that he would win the girl over to him and, with her, the fortune that old Paddy would undoubtedly bestow on her. In the meantime, Paddy and Danny had laid the moulds down and very soon after the proposed race-gig began to take graceful form in the boat-yard. “How are you, curly?” called a voice from outside the yard, giving warning that Mr. Duggan was approaching.

He had come that day to give his opinion on the work that had been completed, and to give his input into what still needed to be completed. But, as he entered the yard, he immediately noticed Sally, sitting on a chair completely involved in some task or other. The one thing that ‘Curly’ knew for certain, however, was that this beautiful girl was not looking at him. She was fixed upon every move that young Danny Cullen was making as he busied himself on the building of this new and wonderful boat. Sally had, of course, seen ‘Curly’ Duggan enter the yard but did not want to suffer the stare of his wickedly leering eyes and decided to leave. Quietly excusing herself she gathered up her things and retired to her father’s neatly painted cottage. Even as she left, Sally could feel that heat on her back from Duggan’s lustful gaze. As for young Danny Cullen, he looked up from his work with a bitter feeling of jealousy filling his body as he watched the way that ‘Curly’ Duggan was looking at his love. From that moment on, Danny formed a long-lasting dislike for this self-opinionated oarsman.

By the holy God!” exclaimed Duggan, “Sure, isn’t that the neatest and tidiest looking wee boat ever you saw? Now, my boy, what would your name be? For I see you looking closely at that pretty thing, the old man’s wee girl.

Yes, she is,” growled Danny,” and here we call her Miss Sullivan!

She’s a natural beauty, sure enough,” Curly sighed. “I suppose she has a heap of men chasing after her, boy?

How the hell would I know anything? I’ve enough trouble minding my own business, never mind someone else’s!” replied Danny angrily.

Ah, now!” said Duggan. “Sure, I only asked a civil question and a civil reply would be nice.”

Well, that’s the only answer I can give you,” Danny told him.

Curly never replied, but he began walking studiously around the half-built boat making snide remarks that demonstrated his complete contempt for Paddy Sullivan’s design and the way in which the work was progressing. “Would you ever look at that?” he smirked as he pointed toward the boat’s keel, “That’s a bloody disgrace! Sure, a barge could be turned quicker in the water than that.!

Deeply annoyed by Duggan’s comments about the boat, Danny gritted his teeth and continued to concentrate on his work. After a moment or two he felt calm enough to respond to the man’s disparaging remarks. “Well, this is no barge, that’s for sure. So far as that keel is concerned, it will give her a sure grip of the water and make her hold her line.

Aye? And who would be able to judge that among tour lot?” Curly sneered.

Some of the finest judges in any harbor on the lough!” insisted Danny Cullen. “Joe McGrath, Eddie O’Hagan, and Marty O’Brien, among others. Everyone of them will tell you there are no better men at handling an oar to be found in day’s journey!

Get away out of that with you!” scorned Duggan, “Sure I wouldn’t believe a word any of those boys would tell me. Your man McGrath is just a ‘gobshite’! Sure, I know more about deep-sea diving than he does gig-racing. McGrath couldn’t pull a bell rope, never mind an oar.

Well, I know little about deep-sea diving or pulling bell ropes, myself,” snapped Danny, “but I’ll tell you one thing for nothing; the four of us will beat your shambles of a boat in the race for the ‘Lough Cup’.”

You’ve a bit of a mouth on yourself, wee man, but I’ll take the bet and you can’t go back on it,” laughed Duggan confidently, sure that he and his crew would win the prize.

Don’t you be worrying about that,” Danny told him firmly. “I have never broken my word yet, and I can tell you that I am not about to start now.”

Curly now turned his attention back to the criticism of the boat and he said that he was totally dissatisfied with the project in Sullivan’s yard. His behavior was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back, but rather than cause a customer to walk out of Paddy’s yard he decided to get control of his growing anger. But Duggan had not long left the work-yard when Danny suddenly heard a loud shriek coming from the Sullivan cottage. Without even a second thought, Danny threw down the wood-plane that he was using and rushed to the cottage to see what was causing the disturbance. As he entered the building, he was shocked to see Sally struggling, with all her might, to free herself from Duggan’s arms as he tried vainly to snatch a kiss from the beautiful lips. “You dirty blackguard!” Danny screamed as he hurled himself at Duggan, gripping him by the throat and flinging him head-first to the floor.

Duggan was momentarily stunned, but when he recovered after a moment, or two, he raised himself to his feet again. He looked at both Danny and Sally with a certain menace in his eyes as the ‘red-mist’ of revenge filled him. “Take my word for it, Cullen, I’ll get even with you for this or the devil take me if I don’t! So, boy, make sure you keep your eyes open and your wits about you. As for you Sally Sullivan, I will just say good morning. Oh, by the way, Cullen don’t forget the race unless you are too scared to enter!” With these words Duggan stormed out of the cottage and left the work-yard. Sally, who had been very frightened, broke down into floods of tears. She had been terrified by Duggan’s brutality towards her and, after a while, she allowed herself to be consoled by Danny, who used all he knew about her to calm her down and dry her tears.

gig racing 2Not unexpectedly, advised by Duggan, the client rejected the new racing-gig and it was left with Old Paddy, who had no prospect of a customer for it. Naturally, Sullivan was upset at what had happened to his daughter. But he also regretted that he had been painfully struck down with gout, which he blamed for preventing himself from supervising the work and making the boat a model of perfection. Danny, stood by his work, and manfully faced all the negative remarks of neighbours. To comfort old Paddy, Danny also prophesied that, two days after the upcoming regatta, the gig would be sold at a large profit. So, when she was finished, launched, and christened ‘The Beautiful Sally’, after Paddy’s daughter, Danny helped the young woman fit a flag to the boat’s bow, which she had made from a remnant of white silk.

Now summer had arrived, and the sun shone in all its glory on the calm waters of the Lough. It was glorious July and the entire lough was busy with fishermen and boating tourists. The local regatta had been a great success so far and this was the last day of the festival. On the water a fleet of fairy-like yachts powered by a light breeze that swept over the lough’s surface forming tiny waves, through which the boats dashed, skimming like gulls over the water and creating a silver surf with their bows. The water’s surface blazed with light and the green hills nearby encircled the small cove, and the cloudless skies promised ideal weather to come. Larger boats rode at anchor with various flags and streamers fluttering from stern to bow. Several sand dredgers were also there and decked with a great number of fluttering flags and banners. Dotted over the lough were hundreds of leisure boats of all sizes and shapes, from the one oared punt to the family-sized whaler, or well-manned race-gig gliding from one place to another, giving great animation to the entire scene.

On the regatta quay by the lakeside there were crowds of people all dressed in the most elegant of clothes. Sailor outfits appeared to be the choice of most females but some of them did nothing to improve the look. Local notables of all sorts were also ambling about the quayside chatting to each other and smiling with those made up smiles that people use when they meet someone they would rather not. There was even a local brass band sat atop of a platform, which kept their playing of fine music and popular airs such that they blended beautifully with the hum of human voices, mixing with the soft murmurs of the Lough’s waters lapping the shore.

A little further back there were tents of every variety erected. In some of these beer and stout were sold along with numerous glasses of whisky. In other tents traditional music played and dancers skipped and clipped to their hearts’ content, competing in the local ‘Feis’ (Irish Dancing Competition). There were tents in which people could play hoops, throw darts, or try to hook various wooden animals to win a prize. Children sat before a ‘Punch and Judy’ show calling out when it was expected and laughing at all the correct moments. There were, of course, your usual mix of tricksters, encouraging the men and boys to part with their cash in a gambling game called ‘Finding the Queen’ or ‘Find the Pea’. But there was a lot of fun and frolic enjoyed by those who were in attendance, especially with it being the last day of the regatta. Everyone waited for the final rounds and the giving of prizes.

A warning shot was fired, and a fleet of small yachts drew up in a line close to the starting buoys. For a moment their mainsails flapped idly in the breeze until another shot was fired. With this second shot the jibs went up with other sails, causing these ‘Queens of the Lough’ to move forward in a cluster of snow-white canvas. In the beginning they seemed to be scarcely moving at all, but as the breeze caught their sails, they began to get underway and the waves on the lough were broken into foam. Meanwhile, Sally was sitting in the well-cushioned stern of her father’s four oared racing-gig, which old Paddy himself was steering.

gig racing4Sally was wearing her best summer bonnet, sitting next to her broad-shouldered, honest old father. She looked as pretty as a pink summer rose that was blooming in the sunshine. But Sally was also becoming increasingly nervous as the time for Danny’s big race approached. She could see Curly Duggan’s boat and crew already out on the water and, from what she could see of the boat gliding through the waves, and the strong pulling of the crew, Curly’s boat appeared to be a certain winner. ‘White Falcon’ was the name that was boldly and decoratively painted on the outside of the boat’s prow. At her tiller stood one of the best oarsmen on the lough and he was proud of the muscular chests displayed by his oarsmen, and their powerful limbs with which they pulled the oars so swiftly. As the blades of the oars rose and dipped into the water, springing ‘White Falcon’ forward, his heart swelled in his chest as he imagined the great victory that they would all win together. “Sally darling,” said Old Paddy, “would you take the ropes for a minute, and watch what you’re doing, girl.”

Paddy stood up in the boat to see how the preparations for the race were going, but he had hardly done this when the bow of the gig came up against the side of a larger boat and the jolt left the old man sprawled in the bottom of the gig suffering from concussion. Sally began to scream loudly at seeing her father’s condition, although it was her who caused the boats to come together. She had taken the tiller ropes as directed by her father, but her mind was not concentrating on what she was doing. “Back water, old fool! Are you trying to sink us all? Open your damned eyes, eejit!” came cries from the other boat as old Paddy struggled to gain his feet again.

Get away from this, you pile of gobshites!” Paddy shouted back. “just look out for yourselves, damn you all!” After this one word followed another. Both sides heaped the choicest of insulting words and phrases on each other until the boats pulled away, with both sides believing they had gained a victory.

Come on now, boys,” Paddy urged his crew. “Heave ahead! Let us see if they are all getting ready for the start of the race.” A few moments later they reached the area where Danny Cullen and his companions were busily preparing the bottom of the new gig.

Well, Danny, my boy, how’s it going? What do you think of her now? Isn’t she a beauty?

Aye, Mister Sullivan, she looks beautiful,” answered Danny, who was admiring Sally.

Is the paint hardened, Danny?” asked Paddy.

Paint? Paint her?” exclaimed Danny in disbelief and still looking at Sally.

What the hell is wrong with you, Danny? I asked is the paint dry?

It’s alright, Mister Sullivan. Sure, it’s as hard as a rock.”

That’s great, boy. Now see that the stretchers are at the regular length and well lashed down.” Although old Paddy received a positive response to this instruction, he was not totally satisfied until he had personally ensured that everything had been attended to by Danny. “Sure, it’s great now, Danny! I hope she’ll do the job!

Don’t you worry about that. If we don’t come in first, it won’t be our fault. By the way, did you not hear the good news, Mister Sullivan? A gentleman called into the yard on Friday looking at the boat and he has just come up to me and said if we won the race, he would give you the price you were looking!

Jaysus!” exclaimed Paddy. “That would be great news if we stood any sort of chance of winning the race! But we can’t do anything about that now, more’s the pity.

Well, Mister Sullivan, we will just have to do our best, won’t we boys?” smiled Danny confidently as he turned to his crew.

We’ll try, anyhow,” the crew replied in unison as they lifted the racing-gig carefully from its resting place and gently floated her on the water.

Danny, here’s the flag,” said Sally. “Oh! There’s the gun!”

It’s the gun, sure enough, Sally. I’ll bring you home the cup! Come on, lads!” urged Danny, “Take your places, men. McGrath, be careful and watch the way you are standing on the ribs!

Run down a bit,” said old Paddy, “let me see your trim. Give the long steady stroke, for the breeze is freshening. Now, get underway and, Danny, my boy, make sure you win!

They pulled away from the shore and, as they moved out quickly, Paddy could not help exclaiming with delight, as he noticed just how evenly the gig went under the stroke, and how regular was the time kept with the oars. But Paddy’s former concerns returned to him and he remarked to himself the problem the boat had when being brought around. Meanwhile, Duggan was dashing about on the lough, attracting every observer’s gaze toward the ‘White Falcon’.

Clear the course! Course! Clear the course, pull out of the way!” bawled the racing steward, as bit by bit he succeeded in clearing sufficient space for the rival boats to line-up. “Take your places!” he shouted again through the megaphone.

Sally’s heart beat loudly as she saw the racing-gigs line up opposite the quay where the local dignitaries had assembled. She leaned against her father for support, as she observed the crews gently ‘backing water’ to keep on a line until the signal was given. “What side will you take?” asked the coxswain of the ‘White Falcon.’

They’re all the same, boy! Just stay as you are,” Duggan answered in confident voice.

Ready!” the starter shouted, and all oars were thrown forward, as the oarsmen bent, ready for that initial dash. “Fire!

Almost at the same instant a gun shot boomed and the blades of the oars were dipped into the water together. “Pull, boys, pull!” the coxswain of the ‘White Falcon’ roared loudly.

Heave away, lads, heave! Now for the start!” cried the others eagerly.

gig racing5After about five strokes the ‘Falcon’ took the lead by a boat’s length from the ‘Sally’. A bitter sneer of triumph broke across Duggan’s lips as he took the lead. But, a few moments later, the powerful and steady pull of ‘Sally’s’ crew gained water until they came alongside their main competitor. For a very short distance the two boats were travelling neck and neck, exchanging stroke for stroke, as they made for a large buoy, around which they had to turn. The coxswains urged their crews to greater efforts as their oars caused waves to foam under their rapid strokes. Duggan’s crew pulled with a desperate vigour in order to gain the turn first, but Danny’s crew continued their same regular, even pull that kept them close.

Look now, father! Is the white flag in the lead? Is Danny in front, daddy,” asked Sally excitedly.

No, child. The ‘Falcon’ is leading – Wait now! – no she isn’t – Bravo, Danny! They’re pulling away from the ‘Falcon’!” It was true, for Paddy saw the ‘Sally’ pull almost six lengths ahead of the ‘Falcon’ and she was making more distance with every stroke. It was when they reached the buoy that the real difficulty began.

Backwater, starboard, pull-pull on the starboard!” roared the coxswain.

Heave, McGrath! That’s the way, O’Brien,” shouted Danny at the top of his voice, as he backed with all of his might.

We’re catching them now! Pull, boys, Pull! Hammer into them!” bawled the ‘Falcon’s’ helmsman, his voice hoarse from his exertions.

Before ‘Beautiful Sally’ could get underway correctly after the turn, while the ‘White Falcon’ darted around the buoy and was quickly three lengths in the lead. “Dear God, they’re beat!” sighed Paddy as he sank back on to the cushions in despair.

Don’t say that, daddy! Take another look!” Sally begged him.

There!” cried the old man, as he took another look. “She’s clear ahead again! Well done, Danny! Stick to her, my boy! Aye, there she moves, the beauty! I always said there wasn’t your equal except for myself at building a gig! Now boys,” he continued, addressing his own crew. “Pull over a wee bit, boys, and we’ll give them such a cheer! Heave, my lads – that’s it; bend your lazy backs!”

The course itself was about two or three miles in length, from the buoy to the old sand dredger. It was around this dredger that the boats would have to pull before they made for the quay from which they had started, and which was also the winning line. The struggle between the boats was now a sight to behold as, from time to time, the positions varied from boat to boat. The crews, although tired, appeared to gain renewed strength from the cheers that came from the numerous boats which met them on the course. The increased long stroke employed by her crew helped ‘Sally’ to stretch her lead ahead of the ‘Falcon’ once again. She was speeding toward the old dredger when misfortune struck, and the bow-man’s oar snapped. There was now utter confusion. The ‘Falcon’ came on. But, at that moment, Paddy Sullivan arrived, and seeing the trouble that the ‘Sally’ was in he reached down for an oar and threw it within reach of the bow-man. “You have it now, my boys! Now Danny, pull ahead!” Paddy shouted, and the crew cheered him as their oars dipped into the water and charged after the ‘Falcon’.

Within thirty strokes the two boats were neck and neck again. They drove on at speed and the struggle was now to round the dredger first. ‘Sally’ continued with their quick stroke while the ‘Falcon’ continued to keep. The stern of the dredger was neared, with the ‘Sally’ five boat lengths ahead and the ‘Falcon’ pressing on gallantly in her wake. Both captains urged their crews to greater effort and then shouted out the orders to turn the boats.

‘Sally’ did not round the dredger very well and allowed ‘Falcon’ to catch up and, once again, the two boats were neck and neck. It was now time for the capabilities of the two captains and their boats to decide the result, as a breeze had sprung up from the west and was blowing against both. Loud shouts now greeted the gigs as they came to the end of their final leg, and the winning line. Old Paddy had once again caught up with the race and he began to loudly urge on Danny and his crew. Meanwhile, Curly Duggan began to foam at the mouth as he worked his oar in great desperation, because he could hear young Danny loudly shouting encouragement to his crew to pull. The men responded well to Danny’s calls and, despite all of Duggan’s urges, the ‘Falcon’ began to drop back as the ‘Sally’ swept on to the finish. Curly cursed and raved as the ‘Sally’ powered forward, but he knew it was in vain, for the high-pointed bow of his gig had caught the wind and no longer had the same power as his competition.

Stand-by the final gun!” shouted the race steward. “Here they come with the ‘Sally’ well ahead! Fire!

There was a loud bang and a flash of light and smoke as the finishing gun fired. In that same instant the crew of the ‘Sally’ tossed their oars high in the air as the boat itself proceeded gracefully ahead. Great shouts, cheers and applause rang out across the lough as the winning crew dropped their blades into the water and they rode the boat into the landing place to receive their trophy. Paddy stood with tears of pride and joy in his eyes, while standing at her father’s side in sheer delight at the victory. The race steward took the large silver cup in his hands and presented it to Danny, who was still breathless and excited from his exertions and eventual triumph.

The gig ‘Beautiful Sally’ was immediately purchased for its asking price, plus ten-percent, and old Paddy received orders to build two more identical boats. Meanwhile, Duggan quietly disappeared in the crowds, never again to race the course or approach Sally Sullivan or make good his threats against Danny. It is said that old Paddy was somewhat taken aback when he heard the true feelings that Danny and Sally held for each other, but he gave his blessing to them both, and they married.

Niamh’s Folk (Final Part)

Dermot did not offer to take the fodder from her, though he thought he was in love with Niamh and had every intention of asking her to marry him. He believed that the women of this county were used to carrying heavy burdens and left her to it. But Ruari McFee, saying nothing to the girl, began to untie the rope at her waist, and he swiftly swung the mass lightly over his own shoulders.

“Sure, there’s no need to do that!” Dermot said, while he thought to himself, “You are a ‘buck eejit!” (stupid idiot!)

“It is too heavy for a lass,” replied Ruairi, but his eyes did not meet Niamh’s eyes and they walked home together in silence through the creeping dusk.

Inside the cottage and by the red glow from the turf fire Niamh looked lovelier to him than ever she had. McFee, meanwhile, ate little and his mind appeared to be was in another place. Catriona’s remarks, and Dermot’s slow efforts at conversation seemed to fall on strangely deaf ears. He was a shy man, quietly spoken and found it difficult to socialise with people who were virtual strangers to him. Ruairi appreciated all these personality faults and yet could not quite understand what had come over him that evening. He asked himself the question all the next day, because, even as he threw himself into inspecting his new byres and out-houses, there was only one image in his mind and that was a picture of slim girl in a short faded green skirt, who was lying against a grassy bank, with her small head crushed against a background of faded ferns, and her shy lovely eyes looking into his face. It was Niamh, but she was said to be a changeling. “Nonetheless,” he told himself, “changeling or not, I have fallen in love with her!”

-***-

“It is no use at all to go against the girl. I have said so before now. And there are many girls in the district who are as good a prospect as she is, and maybe they’ll have a cow or two, or even a few pounds to bring with them. There’s wee Sheila O’Donnell and she could have as much as three hundred pounds to bring to the marriage!”

“As if I would look at a woman with a squint,” snapped Dermot as he furiously threw down the fishing-rod he was holding, “I will have none but Niamh, and if she will not have me, I will do someone an injury!”

In the meantime, Dermot’s mother deliberately continued peeling potatoes. “Ruairi McFee is stronger and bigger than you are,” she remarked. “And he has the eyes of a hawk, fists like jack-hammers. You’ll never take Niamh away from him by force. But perhaps, now, there might be a little plan; just a little plan, mind you.”

Dermot picked up the fishing-rod again and his cunning eyes grew intent. Catriona resumed, in her high-pitched voice, speaking without a pause as she peeled the potatoes. “The best thing would be that they would have a quarrel, and I’ll tell you a way this could happen. He doesn’t like to hear that they are all saying she is a changeling, and he doesn’t like her to talk about the good folk. When she told him the story of the kelpie that followed Robbie McVey over the moss, and finally drowned him in the ‘Black Pool’, he was angry, and called it all nonsense, and said that she should never again talk about such things. Niamh, of course, was not happy about that. She was asking me about the ‘Cave of Gold’ only yesterday, and when it was that anyone might see the fairies dancing, and if the tides would allow us to go. So, I told her it was on Midsummer’s Night at twelve o’clock, and she is just mad to go! Clean mad! But Ruairi was there, too, and I was listening at the door, after, and I heard him say that it was all just silly talk and nonsense, and that he would prefer that she did not go. He told her that it was too late at night, and that nasty squalls would spring up, and our boat was not exactly seaworthy. She begged and prayed that he would take her, and he said, ‘No’! Every time she pleaded he simply told her, ‘No’!”

“Very well, then,” Dermot cried out impatiently, as she paused in her story, “I suppose she is so mad with love that she gave the entire idea up.”

“She is pretty much in love,” his mother agreed, “and so she gave in to his wishes. ‘And I am going over to Ballygarvey, Niamh,’ I heard him say, ‘to see what Mr. Campbell, the land-agent, is wanting to tell me, and you will promise not to go when I am away because it is not safe for a girl like you to be out so late. Will you promise me?’ And she promised him. He told her that he would bring her a new brooch made of silver and marble stones, and they kissed each other before he left.”

“Very well, what then?” Dermot cried angrily. “I hear they are to be married when he comes back. So, what else is there for me, mother?”

Catriona had dropped her potatoes into the pot, and she swung it over the open turf fire, which was glowing redly in the dark little cottage. “Well, if I were you, Dermot, I would get out the boat, and I would offer to take her to the cave. And I will be telling her more stories to-night, when we are spinning. That girl is a changeling, sure enough, and she will go. When Ruairi comes back, he will hear the story, and he will be mad with her, and they will quarrel. You can go over to Liscorr that day, to be out of his way. They will have an almighty row, and will break off their relationship, and she will turn to you, in time.”

Dermot slowly considered the plan and agreed that it suited him perfectly well. He didn’t want a noisy quarrel, and no measuring of strength. He, too, remembered Ruairi’s muscles at the hurling match. But this secretly conspiring in the dark, while McFee was away, was much to his taste. He made up his mind now that his mother was a woman of great wisdom. He told her he approved of her plan, and that he would get her a little present the next time that he went to Ballygarvey. After this, her stories to Niamh about the cave were many and very enticing!

-***-

“Dermot, Dermot, but I’ve promised!” It was the next night, and Niamh stood before the cottage in her dark wincey skirt and green cotton jacket, her face turned up to her cousin’s. All last night, all through the day, old Catriona’s stories had haunted her every thought. The old woman had gone about her task in a cunning fashion and began as soon as they were both seated at the spinning-wheel and, in a rambling manner said that the next day would be Midsummer’s Night, when the fairies would be holding their dancing in the Cave of Gold. She said that only she was old, and frail, and feeble, she would have gladly gone to watch the festivities! Catriona had the second sight and could perhaps see what no other person could see and, she appeared to confident that the journey would hold no danger! How she would love to see the little folk dancing! At this point her voice fell quiet, and she looked around her into all the dark shadows of the kitchen, and up by the oak bench that stood near the window. She pricked up her ears in the hope of hearing the faint and far-off tune of Old Dingus Murray’s fiddle, for they said that the legendary sound could still be heard.

Feeling a little uneasy, Niamh rose from her seat, saying she would go and see if there were enough oat-cakes for supper, or see if that was someone outside. But, Catriona spoke sharply to her and told her to sit down again. She was determined that the girl would not escape her and then she asked if Niamh had ever been told the story of Old Dingus Murray and the Cave of Gold. Niamh admitted she had never heard the story and she sat down again, the spinning wheel idle and the soft grey carded wool lying in her lap. Catriona, spinning fast, and with the low vibrations of the wheel acting as a sort of accompaniment to her voice, began to tell the story. She was an Irish speaker, which makes it difficult to express in the English language the creeping, insidious fear and mystery of the tale. A tale about how the fiddler, Dingus Murray, fell in love with an O’Neill from Dargan, whose father would not allow him to woo his daughter until he overcame several foolish and impossible tasks.

CaveOne task required him to enter the Cave of Gold at midnight, on Midsummer’s Night, and play “The O’Neill of Dargan” as he passed through the little dancing folk and penetrated far into the mystery of the cave’s depths to where no man had ever been. Dingus, of course, took up the challenge, and with his long hair waving wildly in the breeze and his fiddle in his hands, he was seen standing at the shingly edge of the cave with his teeth gritted for the task ahead. The men who had rowed Dingus up to the cave saw him standing there, and they heard the first wild pealing notes from his fiddle drift in the wind. Thus, playing proudly and happily, he entered the cave with his dog at his heels, while they waited, watched, and listened. At last they heard one terrifyingly awful cry, after which there was silence except for the sound of the wind. Dingus had passed through the fairies, but “He never came home!”

Then, changing her tone, Catriona told the story of the only woman who had ever caught sight of the ‘wee folk’, and how, forever after, riches and wealth were hers, and she had never a wish that had gone unsatisfied! It was the going on into the inner caves that had undone the piper! The lass who had seen the fairies was a certain Eileen Curran, and “she married a chieftain, and went to live far away in another part of the country, and all her days she was clad in green silk. Yes, all her days!”

“How did she leave?” asked Niamh.

In a boat, with a man. It is easy, if the man is strong. Finally, Eileen Brid’s great stone cross at Craigmore, and they granted her even that! There she lies near the saintly Brid, and all because she had seen the ‘wee folk’ in the Cave of Gold!”

“Grandmother, would you lend me the magical rowan branch if I were to go?” Niamh whispered. “Would you, grandmother?” Her own voice frightened her for a moment and she imagined she could see Ruairi’s face appear before her. But, the old woman got up without a word, and, going to her linen cupboard took something, rolled in a fine kerchief, from it, which had the sweet smell of bog-myrtle in its folds, and she laid the brown faded leaves and the red, dry berries on Niamh’s lap.

“There it is! But you will give it back to me safely? or else bad things might happen to us all!”

“I will return it to you safely,” Niamh assured her. In her pocket she had the rowan, but Dermot was tampering with her conscience and her promise now.

“It was a very foolish thing to promise,” he said craftily. “Besides, Ruairi was afraid of the squalls, that is all, and there will be no squalls at all! You can come with me, and see if there is anything, and if my mother’s stories are true. If not, there is no harm done. It is a lovely cave to see.”

Niamh gave in, just as Catriona knew she would give in. Would she see anything? Would the ‘wee folk’ be there?  Before she could fully explore these thoughts, Niamh found herself in the little boat, and rowing towards the cave. Strangely, the night seemed to be only a paler day and they rowed close into the shore, until they discovered a place where the rock-face was split and showed a pale light within. There was just enough space for the boat to float in, passing through a low, overhanging archway. Niamh drew in her breath sharply and clasped her hands, as Dermot paused, watching her face, once they were through it. They were in a deep circular basin, where the water was a lovely pale green that darkened in the shadows. The rocky sides were cut, here and there, into long narrow openings, into one of which Catriona’s fiddler must have wandered. Here Niamh saw the water lying dark and mysterious, shadow-haunted. Bending over the edge of the boat, she could see the yellow sand far below and in bright sunshine her own fair face would have been reflected. Tiny jelly-fish edged with lilac spots, and with long white fringe, floated beside the seaweed, like strange jewels, and far above them they could see the pale yellow-redness of the summer evening sky, soft, and exquisite. Fringing the opening were ferns and heather, and tall fox-gloves, but the fairy bells did not stir in the breathless air. Were the ‘wee folk’, the ‘good folk’, lurking within she wondered? If she watched, would she see a tiny face peep out at her? She waited, watched, and waited some more and the time passed. “Dermot, I don’t see anything!” Niamh spoke at last, breathlessly, eagerly. She had forgotten Ruairi, she had forgotten everything but her desire. “Row me further in, Dermot.

He pushed the boat forward, and Niamh sat with her dark blue eyes, which seemed black in the shadow, and strained eagerly forward, listening, waiting. But, nothing moved, except that now and then little waves would break with a plashing ripple against the boat. Far up on the rocks, a passing breath of wind now and then swayed the flowers and the grasses, but no fairy face peeped out from anywhere, there was no tap of dancing feet, nor any note of fairy music.

Dermot, Dermot, there is nothing, nothing at all!”

The note of bitter disappointment in her voice upset Dermot. Once or twice he had attempted to speak, because he did not want to make this trip in silence, but Niamh had raised her little brown hand sharply. She thought that his manly voice might disturb the fairies. But, at last the silence had started to affect even her. In her mind she began to think that it was all of no use, for she could see and hear nothing.

We will just be going home then, Niamh” Dermot said in a quiet, practical tone of voice, unconcerned for the disappointment that Niamh was feeling because, in his opinion, the entire thing was just simple “foolishness.” “Maybe they are not dancing to-night and we would be better just go home.

“She said I would be sure to see them,” Niamh sighed with a sob in her voice. As Dermot pushed the boat out, Niamh crushed the rowans bitterly in her lap, and they fell into the bottom of the boat. She remembered Ruairi suddenly, as, once outside, she noticed that the weather had changed during her stay in that dark cavern. The light seemed obscured; there were white horses leaping in the distance; and the wind swept sharply into their faces as they looked seaward. It would, Dermot realised, now be dangerous to keep so close to the rocks, for a heavy groundswell had risen. He glanced around and voiced some strong oaths as he grabbed the oars. In the growing swell Dermot knew he would need all the strength he possessed in his muscles to row the clumsy boat to safety, and he would have to keep the boat out to sea to avoid the jagged rocks.

During the long row home, through the now angry waters, Niamh sat silently in the boat. When Dermot asked her to “Bale!” almost angrily she did so almost mechanically, realising the danger of an ugly leak that had suddenly appeared. There was no emotion, for nothing seemed to matter. There were no fairies and she would have to tell Ruairi that she had broken her word. Finally, they found a sandy, sheltered bay where they could land safely. Only Dermot knew how hard he had struggled against the wind and the tide in that clumsy and leaking craft. Niamh, however, did not see the tall figure that was waiting on the shore until she was preparing to leap from the boat. Then a strong hand took hers, and with a startled cry she saw it was Ruairi himself, standing there, grim, grave, silent, with a new expression on his face, which chilled her through and through. She wondered just how it was that he was there?

He helped Dermot to pull the boat up on to the shore, with a look of disdain on his face as he saw the boat when it was finally lying out of the water. “It is a pretty boat,” he said a little scornfully, “a pretty boat to take a lass out in, I’ll give you that, Dermot McCann.”

Dermot did not reply but called to Niamh sharply and all three walked up to the cottage in total silence. The night, which had grown gusty and wet, seemed to have changed as suddenly and mysteriously as Niamh’s life. At the door she paused for a moment and faced her lover, whose annoyed her terribly. “Well?” she said, “well?”

If she had pleaded with him. If she had been penitent, sorrowful! But, unfortunately, it was no penitent face which met his, and jealousy and wrath erupted within him, driving love aside. “Are you asking what I am thinking, Niamh?” he cried, “of the girl who promised me, and who broke her word, and went out with Dermot McCann? Well, I am thinking just nothing at all of her! I have warned her that the boat was not safe, and of the squalls, and that it was not the thing for a girl like her to go so late. She had promised, and yet she went! And this was the Tara brooch made of Connemara marble stones I have bought for you. But, it can go there!” He stormed as he flung the little packet remorselessly into the nearby bushes. “And as for yourself, I think nothing of you at all, everything between us is over. I am now leaving for a new life in Australia tomorrow along with John Campbell. He asked me some time ago, and I said ‘No,’ but I will go now, and will go to Derry this very night! Good-bye.

He turned away from her then, in his fury. All of this passed as suddenly, swept up as unexpectedly as had the squall outside the Cave of Gold. Niamh stood as if dazed, staring straight before her. An Irishman’s anger is like a great storm against which one must bend, and this is what Niamh did now.

Ruairi did not look back. Dermot, in the doorway, saw him stride on to the road, through the little patch of potatoes growing in front of the door. He set his face towards the high road for Derry and a very short time the sound of his footsteps had died away and the darkness of the night had swallowed him. That was all right, Dermot thought to himself, “Australia! Sure, isn’t that the best place for him?

There follows a mist, and a weeping rain,

And life is never the same again!

Niamh might have thought about these words, if she had known them, over the many days that followed. For Ruairi McFee was not the man sort of man to change his mind, nor speak it. He sailed from Derry to Liverpool and within the week he was believed to have boarded a ship for Australia. Many had gone before him and his many friends in Ireland believed he would vanish there. These were the days of sailing ships and slow communication, and Ruairi had never been the kind to write.

But Niamh did not marry her cousin, as everyone expected, including McCann. She told him “No,” gently, but quite doggedly, and nothing that he could say, or that Catriona could cause her to change her mind. Once the old woman muttered vengefully that she would never see the fairies, for she had lost her luck, and Niamh turned on her in a fierce temper. “It is all false,” she cried aloud so all would hear her, “for there are no green folk at all, and I do not care!”

away with the fairiesThe mystery and the charm of life had left her, for she no longer dreamed on the green grass circle, or wonder at the night-song of the burn. She no longer kept watch for the kelpies under the boulders, in the burns, or in the Rowan Pool. Her belief in the fairies had faded on the same night that Ruairi had left her, and only in that little white kirk on the hill-side, would you hear Niamh raise her voice in song. The joys that song can bring dies quickly on one’s lips when care and sorrow lie heavy on one’s heart. Years had passed since that fatal visit was paid to the Cave of Gold, Niamh never mentioned it, and she was returning, in the soft, golden haze of a September evening, from the castle. Catriona was growing feeble, and Niamh did everything she could for her, while the old woman only spun a little, and wandered out to gather sticks and twigs for the fire. The girl had been taking up carded wool to the castle and giving the great London ladies there a spinning lesson. But, before the cottage came into her view, with its surrounding field of poor and thinly growing oats and potatoes, she paused to look up the fairy knoll. There, on the top was the fairy ring and something suddenly made Niamh turn and mount the little hill.

The loch below her vantage point was tinged with red and the sky was a wonder and a glory. But, Niamh was not looking at the sky, or at the loch. She was thinking just how strange it was that she should go on living, and living much as usual, when all that was best and fairest in life was now gone. She sighed, looking down at the stream, splashing and leaping over the grey boulders. There was that story about the kelpies, but her grandmother rarely spoke of them now. Were there really no kelpies? No Fairies? And yet, …

A step behind her had made her stop quickly, and she gave a sharp cry. A man’s tall figure was there, not ten yards off, and the thought came to Niamh that perhaps, after all, it was all true, for this was a ghost! And if there were ghosts, why not wee folk and kelpies? “I believe it is Niamh, herself. Do you not know me, Niamh?

He spoke in a clear voice. There was no hint of a brogue, only the politest English. He spoke easily, with a strange accent. And yet, she knew him at once! It was Ruairi! Ruairi, well-dressed, handsome, upright, with a different and more independent carriage, but Ruairi all the same! Niamh stood quietly for a moment before speaking, “You are a great stranger,” she said. “It is a very long time, I believe, since you have been in Ireland.

He almost smiled. He was looking down at her intently. He wondered how it could be possible that she had changed so little, or had those five years been simply a dream? There, just as he remembered her, was Niamh, with the pale, clear, skin, the deep sloe-eyes, the ruddy crisp hair, and that characteristic little drop of her head! It was the girl that he had turned his back on, and been furious with, and had quite forgotten. Yes, he had quite forgotten her, though he had come back to this place, supposedly just to see how all the old folks were doing. “It is five years,” he said to her, “five years! Are you, are you married, Niamh?

The girl raised her eyes and looked at him. It was getting dark, and the stream was beginning its night-song. Niamh had suddenly noticed that, and she began to remember just how the water used to sing. The lovely, indescribably fragrant breath of the nearby moor swept into their faces by the breeze. It was a sweet and enchanting smell that complemented the velvety depths of her eyes and that beautifully familiar mouth. He wanted to know if she was married and even repeated the question, but with a new and eager ring in his voice, and Niamh shook her head.

Though there have been a good many marriages since you left. There was Marie McLean and Donald McNamee, and there was Colin – ” she began to tell him.

What about McCann, your cousin?

He is to be married this year,” she said, “to an English girl, believe it or not.”

So, you did not marry him, after all, Niamh?

Who said that I would?” she cried, as if she had been slapped. “You knew better than that! Who said that I would?

He did! And he said that you would go with him that night, if he asked you. And you did, Niamh! It was very cruel, but –” Ruairi paused for a moment before saying then, “But I am beginning to think that I was cruel, too. Was I?” He waited and watched her reaction.

Niamh nodded gently and spoke softly to him. “Yes, you were cruel, Ruairi, and you were very hasty. It is true that I was a foolish girl, but you might have given me another chance. I believed in my grandmother’s stories. I wanted to see the good folk.” She looked away, and sadness and disillusion crept over her face. “But I do not believe in them anymore. No, not anymore.”

Poor little Niamh. Poor wee girl!” He began to believe that it could not be five years. It could not, and they had only parted yesterday.

But it does not matter,” said Niamh, “and now perhaps you will call and see my grandmother? Are you on your way now?

Ruairi did not answer that. “Niamh,” he said, “I was very cruel, and I was just as angry as a man could be, and for five years I have been mad and sore. But, deep down, deep down, I never forgot you. I hated him, but I loved you. I will come and see your grandmother, but first, first, will you give me a kiss, Niamh, for the sake of the old days?”

Would she? he wondered. Perhaps, after all, he did not need to wait for her consent. He had her in his arms, and they closed round her, and Niamh’s head fell on his shoulder with a little sob that was a summary of all the five years of sorrow and heartache. “My darling,” Ruairi whispered, “I love you, and when I leave here, you will come too, or I will be staying on here with you. You shall choose Niamh, you shall choose, and to-morrow I will buy you something better than the Tara brooch that I was cruel enough to throw away!”

Together, hand-in-hand, they walked down to the cottage, and Catriona, who was never surprised at anything, shook hands sourly with him. She heard his story in silence, and nodded consent when he told her that he and Niamh were to be married, after all. He could look after the place, she said, or he could buy Con McGill’s farm, just above, if he had the money. Would he have money enough? For Dermot kept her very close now. With a bright smile Ruairi laid a packet in her lap, and said he thought he had money enough.

The next morning, Catriona saw him coming up the road. Niamh ran to meet him, and together they wandered off to the side of the stream. They came back by-and-by, and Niamh stood smiling in the cottage door, her arms full of rowan branches and Ruari had a spray in his coat, and the red berries nestled under her chin. “I have brought you back luck,” the girl cried happily. “We found the rowans down by the pool. And Ruairi says that there are maybe good folk in the world, after all! Who knows, grandmother?”

Catriona’s peat-brown old face was bent over her wheel. She allowed there might be one or two, with a half-grunt of satisfaction.