This is the story of an extraordinary trial that took place in Ireland just before the turn of the 20th Century and was revealed to me through the records of a provincial newspaper, printed in 1899. I think for many of my readers this will be their first introduction to the story.
The case in question began in the northern province of Ireland and is being reported here for the first time since its original publication, over one hundred and eighteen years ago. It was at a time of political upheaval and much talk about ‘Home Rule’, supporters and opponents of which marched regularly through the streets. It is my intention that the story of this trial is told exactly the way it happened and the manner it was reported. The report of the trial states the evidence that was given at the time, and I am writing it down exactly according to what was deposed at the trial.
In the criminal court it was said that Joan O’Rourke, wife of Andy O’Rourke, had been murdered, but the only question left to answer was, “How did Joan come by her death?” From the evidence of the coroner’s inquest on the body, and from the depositions made by Mary O’Rourke, John Croke and his wife, Agnes, it appeared that Joan O’Rourke had committed suicide. Witnesses stated that they had found the unfortunate woman lying dead in her bed, with the knife sticking in the floor, and her throat cut from ear to ear. They also stated that the night before they found her body Joan had went to bed with her child, and her husband was not in the house. They swore that no other person came into the house at any time after Joan had gone to bed. The witnesses said that the truth of their statements lay in the fact that they had been lying in the outer room, and they would have undoubtedly seen or heard any strangers who might have tried to enter the house.
With this evidence established in the court, the jury finally submitted their verdict that in their opinion Joan O’Rourke had indeed committed suicide. This verdict, however, came under some pressure afterwards, when rumour arose within the neighbourhood that suicide was not the cause of Joan’s death. Further investigation and discovery of some diverse circumstances began to suggest that Joan did not, nor, according to those circumstances, could she possibly have murdered herself. The jury, whose verdict had not yet been made official by the coroner’s office, was summoned again and requested that the coroner’s office exhume the body. The request to remove the body from the grave, in which she had already been buried, was granted. Thus, almost thirty days after she had died, Joan’s corpse was taken up in the presence of the jury members, and a substantial number of other witnesses, and the sight that greeted them caused the jury to change their verdict.
Those persons who had been brought before the court to be tried were all acquitted. But, there was now so much the evidence, against the previous verdict, that the trial Judge was of the opinion that an appeal should be made, rather than allow such a gruesome murder to go unpunished by the law. As a result, the four most likely suspects were brought to trial on an appeal, which was brought by the young child, against his father, grandmother, and aunt, and her husband John Croke. The evidence that was now brought against them was so strange, that one would need to read through it very carefully to ensure a good understanding of it. The paper recorded the evidence as follows –
At the subsequent trial the prosecution called forward a person of unimpeachable character to give evidence. The Parish Priest of the town where the act was committed was deposed and began to speak. He confirmed that the body, which had been taken up out of the grave, had lain there for thirty days after the woman’s death. The priest stated that the corpse was laid out on the grass in her cheap pine coffin, and the four defendants in the dock were also present at the exhumation. Each of the defendants where then requested to place a hand upon the Joan’s long dead body. Agnes Croke, the priest said, immediately fell upon her knees, and she prayed aloud to God that he would do something to show that she was innocent of doing any harm to Joan. She mumbled out some other words in her grief, but the priest was unsure about what she said.
“None of those who were standing trial refused to touch Joan’s dead body. But, after they had done this, the dead woman’s brow which, beforehand had been a dark bluish grey in colour, like that of carrion, began to have a dew or gentle sweat come out upon it. This perspiration now began to increase so much that the sweat began to run down in droplets over the face. Almost like magic the brow began to turn, and it quickly changed to a more lively and fresh colour. Unbelievably, as we watched, the dead woman opened one of her eyes and shut it again. This action of opening the eye and then closing it was carried out by the corpse three times. In addition to this, the dead woman thrust out her marriage finger three times, and swiftly pulled it in again, and, as she did so, drops of blood dripped from the finger down onto the grass,” explained the priest.
The Judge who was hearing the case, not surprisingly, had some doubts about the evidence that was being given and he asked the Parish Priest, “Who else saw these things besides yourself?”
The priest felt that his veracity was being questioned and was quite annoyed by the question that had been posed. But, he chose not to react angrily and simply answered, “Your Honour, I could not swear to what others may have seen or not. But, your Honour, I firmly believe that the entire company saw these things for themselves. In fact, if any of my testimony had been considered to be in doubt, some proof of that doubt would have been presented and many would have spoke out against this statement.”
As he stood in the witness stand, the priest was able to observe that many of those listening to him were showing some admiration for him, and he was encouraged to speak further. “Your Honour,” he began, “I am Priest of the parish, and I have known all the parties involved for a very long time. I have never had any occasion to be displeased with any of them, nor have I ever had much to do with any of them, or they with me, outside of my pastoral duties as a minister of the Church. The things that happened amazed me and filled my mind with wonder. However, the only interest that I have in these matters is to do what I have been asked to do and that is to testify to the truth. This, I assure you, I have done.”
This witness was aged about seventy years and highly respected in the district. When he spoke his testimony, he did so in a clear voice, slowly and elegantly, which won the admiration of all who heard him. Clearing his throat, he again began to speak to the Judge in the case, saying, “May I point out, at this time, your Honour, that my brother priest, who is present in the court, is the minister of the parish adjacent to my own, and I am assured that he saw everything to which I have testified.”
This other priest, who was just a little younger than the first, was invited into the witness box, where he was sworn in and invited to give his evidence. His testimony supported every point that had been previously made. He confirmed the sweating of the brow, the changing of its colour, the mystical opening of the eye, and the three times that the corpse’s finger thrust itself out and drew in again. The only area in which he differed from the first witness was in declaring that he had, himself, dipped his finger into the blood which had exuded from the dead body. He said that he had examined it and was certain in his own mind that it was blood.
I can understand the difficulty of believing such testimony. Modern ideas on the paranormal often leave us doubting our own eyes and senses. But, there were others who had observed these things and agreed with the testimony given by the priests. There is no reason to doubt the testimony of the clerics, for why would they be persuaded to lie about such things. At the same time, allow me to assure you that the reports from the trial have been recorded here accurately. Evidence was also given against the prisoners in the dock, namely, the grandmother of the plaintiff, and against Croke and his wife, Agnes. It was stated that all four confessed that they had lain in the next room to the dead person that entire night, and that no other person had entered the house until they found her dead the next morning. The only conclusion to be drawn, therefore, was that if this woman did not murder herself, then they must be the murderers.
To prove such a charge, however, further evidence was needed and to this end the medical examiner was called forward. Looking at his notes on the examination he had made of the crime scene and the body of the dead woman. Then, point by point he explained his findings to the court. Firstly, he described the scene that he had found when he arrived at the house, and told the jury, “I found the dead woman lying in her bed, in a quite composed way. The bed clothes and other things in the room had not been disturbed in any way, and her child lay by her side in the bed. Immediately, I could see that the deceased woman’s throat was cut from ear to ear, and her neck was broken. It is completely impossible for the deceased person to first cut her throat, and then break her own neck in the bed; or vice-versa.”
The examiner continued to explain that he had found no blood in the bed, except for a small spot of blood on the pillow where she had laid her head. “But, there was no evidence of major blood loss on the bed, which there should have been if the death had occurred in the place that she was found. On further investigation, however, we found a stream of blood on the floor of the bedroom, which ran along the wooden floorboards until it found obstructions that caused it to spread in pools. There was, at the same time, another stream of blood found on the floor at the bed’s feet. This stream had caused small ponds of blood to form, but there was no sign of both blood streams being connected. This suggests that the woman bled severely in two places. Furthermore, when I turned up the mattress of the bed, I found clots of congealed blood in the underneath of the straw-filled mattress.”
The court was informed that the blood-stained knife was found that morning after the murder, sticking in the wooden floor a good distance from the bed. “The point of the knife, as it stuck in the floor was pointing towards the bed, while the handle pointed away from the bed,” he explained. “On the knife itself I discovered the print of the thumb and four fingers of the left hand.”
At this point the judge interrupted the testimony of the Examiner and asked him, “But, how can you know the print of a left hand from the print of a right hand in such a case as this?”
“Your Honour,” he began to reply, “it is hard to describe, but easier to demonstrate. If it would please your Honour, could you put your clerk’s left hand upon your left hand. You will see that it is impossible to place your right hand in the same posture.”
The Judge did as he was asked and was satisfied by the demonstration. The defendants, however, were given an opportunity to put forward a defence against all these claims. But, they decided to maintain their silence and gave no evidence at any stage of the trial. The Jury, therefore, was directed to retire and deliberate their verdict. It took them only an hour to return to the court and announce their findings. John Croke was acquitted of all charges, but the other three defendants were found guilty as charged. The judge turned to the three guilty persons and asked if they had anything to say about why judgement should not be produced. Their reply was simply, “I have nothing to say except that I am not guilty. I did not do this.”
Judgement was passed upon all three. The grandmother and the husband were executed by hanging, while the aunt was spared execution because she was pregnant. None of them confessed anything before their execution and the aunt never spoke as to any possible motivation for the murder. In fact, the aunt never spoke about the incident ever again. She moved away from the district with her husband, where she died some fifteen years after her niece had been brutally killed.
For many years before Ireland became free of the British Crown and its oppressive offices, the vast majority of the population held a particular revulsion of men in uniform. Though these groups included soldiers, sailors and policemen, the most severe treatment was reserved the members of the Royal Customs and Excise. Even in these modern times, in certain places the men of the Customs and Excise, whether Royal or not, continue to be reviled by a wide variety of social classes on this island. Although these men do not raise their hands against all men, it can be truly said that almost every man’s hand is raised against them. Most will smile cordially at the ‘Revenue Man’, but those officers are very much aware of the unmitigated hostility that those same people hold against them throughout their career. Those people look upon the smuggler as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure who supplies untaxed goods such as alcohol, tobacco, and luxury items. The ‘Revenue Men’ are seen as the evil forces of the law who try to stop them.
Known to the old-time Irish smugglers as ‘Guagers’, the ‘Revenue Man’ has often wrongly been depicted as being a ludicrous figure of a man. Those many occasions on which the ‘Revenue Man’ showed generosity, a sense of justice, and a certain abandonment of the strict rules have, for the most part, been entirely forgotten by writers. In this story we will see reasons as the why ‘Gaugers’ should not be the butt of ridicule, and that their virtues should not be ignored.
Our story begins one foggy November evening many years ago as two men made their weary way along a muddy road that wound its way through the wild mountains that stood guard over a remote area of Ireland’s far west. Now, as then, it was a wild, savage, and lonely scene that surrounded these two men. Ahead of them, in the far distance, they could just see the wild, heaving waters of the broad Atlantic Ocean, upon which the lowering clouds appeared to be settling themselves. Scattered over the surrounding moorlands arose a variety of misshapen rock formations, like large fingers of stones that have been carved by the winds and rains into a vast range of picturesque shapes. Around their bases and within their niches grew thick holly bushes and hardy mountain greenery. On the highest peaks of the nearby hills roamed herds of sheep and goats, scampering from place to place as they took full advantage of their freedom.
These two men, each of whom was leading a small pony that bore an empty sack along that difficult road, were widely different from each other in both form and appearance. One of the men was a small thickset man whose broad shoulders and muscular limbs showed that he possessed a degree of strength. But he was a man who also possessed soft, blue eyes and a kind, good, humoured face that would convince any observer that this man’s strength and muscular arms had never been involved in any act of violence. He was dressed in a heavy brown jacket and corduroy trousers, while on his head he wore a broad brimmed, tightly woven straw hat that made him look like an outcast from the American ‘Wild West’.
This man’s companion, however, made a much stranger and unseemly figure of a man, being taller than his friend. In fact, he would be considered to be taller than the great majority of local men. His arms hung loosely together and seemed to accompany his extremely thin body with some reluctance, being literally nothing more than skin and bone. His head was a conical shape, thinly covered with rusty coloured hairs than were so thin they waved about his face in the light evening breeze. The tall man’s complexion was a greasy, deathly yellow colour, and highlighted by his rheumy sunken eyes, his highly prominent nose, the thin livid lips, half showing a few of his rotten, well-spread teeth. In fact, he could have been held up as an excellent example of how disease and misery can affect the human body. He moved like a human skeleton and the pony that he led was hardly able to keep pace with the swinging unequal stride of that gaunt man, whose fleshless limbs did not fill the clothes that flapped and fluttered around him as he strode along that chilly moorland path.
As the two men and their ponies proceeded along the road, they were able to walk side-by-side and enjoy a good conversation with each other. The smaller of the two men pushed forward and renewed a conversation that had been interrupted some yards earlier as the path had narrowed to only allow passage in single file.
“You were saying, Shane,” said the small fellow, as he came up alongside of his lean, taller companion. “You were saying about that face of yours being the means by which we can keep the ‘Guagers’ from our wee bit of baccy (tobacco).”
“Aye, not one of those ‘gaugers’ will ever get a smell, never mind a squint, at even one bit of that baccy,” Shane promised, “as long as I am with you. In all the twelve months that I travelled with Tim Casey there was not one ‘gauger’ who even suspected the man. If that ‘buck eejit’ of a man had taken me with him that day, his load of best Brandy would still be his and he wouldn’t be sitting in a cold jail cell. If I had been with him, he would now be sitting at his own table, in front of a blazing fire, tucking into a good steak!“
Paddy Corr laughed heartily at his companion’s comment and then roguishly told the taller man, “The worry on my part is that it wasn’t much of Tim Casey’s profits that came your way, more like the cheap change, and that was what caused the poor man’s fate to change.“
“It’s you that could be laughing heartily on the other side of your mouth, Paddy Corr, should a ‘gauger’ got a sniff at your taste of ‘baccy’,” Shane replied. “There’s no doubt that he would take all that you have if I was not there to frighten him off, just like I have done, so often before.”
“But could we not just put our ‘baccy’ in a couple of panniers on the backs of our ponies, put a few fish and oysters on top, and pretend that we have just been out fishing?”
“I know what I am talking about, mark my words, Paddy Corr. I was taught the trade by an old man whom the devil could not out do when it came to committing a bit of roguery. So, Paddy, put your goods in the pony cart and spread an old sheet over them. Then I will lie down on that and you can tell any ‘gauger’ that we meet that I was on my way to the fair in Ballintree when I came down with a bad fever. You tell them that, as an act of mercy for my poor mother, you are taking me home. Say that it was Father Brady who had seen to me, and that he had said it was the worst case of the spotted fever that he had seen in the country for almost ten years. By Jaysus if that doesn’t frighten the nosey bastard, then you can be sure that someone has sold you out, and me alongside you“
By this time, they had reached a deep ravine, through which a narrow stream pursued its slow, murmuring course. At this point they stopped, left the horses, and, gathering up some empty sacks, they walked on until they reached the edge of a steep cliff. In the dark void below, them could be heard the great, hollow roar of the heaving ocean, as its waves smashed against this towering granite barrier. All along the dark outline at the foot of the cliffs great mounds of foam were created, as the snowy-white crests of never ending wave formations angrily vented the last vestiges of their strength in constant flashes of phosphoric light, that sparkled and danced splendidly to the wild and sullen music of the crashing sea.
“Jaysus, Paddy,” said Shane loudly, “watch where you’re putting those feet of yours. Better take it easy friend, for one little mistake might just send you, arse over tit, two hundred feet down to where you could become supper for the sharks. There are very few that would dare venture down here, wee man, except for the odd wild fox and the honest smuggler. God help them, for they are both poor persecuted creatures, but the ‘Big Man’ has given them good helpings of gumption that allow us to find a place of shelter, where we can enjoy the rewards of our good work. Glory be to his holy name!”
Shane knew this place well and was not far short with his estimate of the sheer cliff’s height. The fearful cliff overhung the deep Atlantic Ocean, and a narrow pathway wound its way, snake-like, round, and beneath so many terrifying precipices. It was likely, that if Paddy Corr had realised his predicament in the clear light of day, he may have been so frightened that he may have slipped in his fear and became a cold meal for sharks, just as Shane had intimated. Being ignorant of his frightening situation was the thing that saved Paddy’s life. Shane, meanwhile, had an inherent knowledge of this secret pathway, and a limberness of muscle unknown to most men. It was his ability to move so assuredly and smoothly that allowed him to swiftly follow every twist and turn of that treacherous path as it wound its way downward.
As the two men moved down the path the wild sea birds were disturbed from their sleep and swept past them from their nests, screeching cries of alarm that aroused others that were resting farther down the path. As they moved around the foot of the cliff, where the projecting crags formed the sides of a little cove, a harsh and threatening voice demanded “Who goes there?”
The voice echoed along the receding wall of rocks and sounded like the challenge from a huge guardian that was conducting its nightly patrol of the area. Those loud words blended with the sound of beating wings, and the frightened cries of sea birds. The horrid sounds of these cries were multiplied a thousand-fold, almost as if all the demons of Hell had chosen to gather in that lonely place at that hour and add their shrieks of terror to the wind.
“Who goes there?” demanded the guardian of this wild place and once again brought about a cacophony of terrifying noises.
“A friend, my old pal,” Shane answered. “Peadar, big man, what powerful lungs you have! But keep your voice a little bit lower, my friend, or you might awaken the Guagers and they could grab you when you least expect it.”
“Shane Fee! You, old thief!” the guardian replied. “Is it yourself?” Both men laughed and big Peadar turned his attention to Paddy, saying “You, wee man, take care of that tall, pasty-faced schemer doesn’t take advantage of you. But I will shake your hand in the knowledge that Shane will yet come to a nasty end. Not another creature, except maybe a fox, could creep down that cliff in the full dark of night. But I know what saved your arses. Fate says the man that’s born to be hanged will not be drowned!“
“By Jaysus, Peadar,” said Shane, who was rather annoyed by the manner in which the big guard had made fun of him, “do you carry that big gun over your shoulder to convince people that you are not the wee woman that you truly are? Aye, just like a woman you wave the gun about and scare every bird on the cliff with your bull-roar of a voice! Now, make way there, you big gobshite, or I’ll stick that gun’s barrel up your arse and pull the trigger!”
“Away to the boss, bucket mouth,” replied the big guard. “I swear that, as sure as there is an eye in a goat, after you have danced on the gallows, you blackguard, I will buy your corps from the hangman and use it as a scarecrow!”
After they had moved on a few paces along the narrow ledge that lay between the steep cliff and the sea, Shane and Paddy entered a large cave excavated from the rock, which seemed to have been formed some kind of volcanic activity when the world was young. The path running through the cavern was covered with fine sand that had been hardened by frequent pressure, and it caused the sounds of their feet to reverberate in the gloominess. Ahead of the two men a strong light gleamed, piercing the darkness, and partially revealing the walls of the cavern. The far space beneath the lofty cavern roof, was impervious to the powerful light and extended onward, dark, and undefined. From this darkness came the sound of human voices shouting and laughing uproariously. As Paddy and Shane moved onward a strange scene burst into view.
Before a huge, blazing fire which illuminated all the deep recesses of the high over-arching rock that rose to form the lofty roof of this Gothic cathedral, sat five strange and unkempt men. They were wild-looking men who were dressed in a variety of seamen’s clothing. Between the men was a large sea-chest, upon which was placed a large earthenware flagon, from which one of the men, probably their leader, poured sparkling amber liquid into a single glass that was quickly passed around each of them. As they drank, the men joked, laughed, and sang loudly echoing throughout the expansive cavern.
“Well men!” said Shane loudly as they approached the group of men. “Ah! Mister Cronin, it looks like you and the boys are having great fun. Let’s all have another glass of Brandy and we can all laugh and sing together. How is it with that big hound of a dog, that knows how to bark so well at those dirty, plundering thieves of Guagers?”
“Ah! sure you’re very welcome, Shane,” replied Cronin with a large smile across his face. “The customer you’ve brought us may be depended upon for his discretion, I hope. Sit down, boys.”
“We thank you,” Shane answered. “As for being dependable, there is no more decent man in this land than Paddy Corr, that stands here.”
“Come on boys and get yourselves a wee drink of our best Brandy, while I help you to some ham,” the smuggler offered. “I know you Shane Fee, you have the stomach of a shark, the digestion of an ostrich, and the good taste of the connoisseur.”
“By God, that’s a compliment when it comes from your mouth, Mister Cronin,” replied the much-flattered Shane. “Gentlemen, here’s a toast to free trade among honest men, and hang all informers from the highest trees! By all that’s good!” he said, smacking his lips, “But that’s the quare stuff! It brings a powerful warmth to the stomach!”
“You are welcome to our home, Paddy Corr,” the leader of the group spoke loudly, “there’s a roof over our head, the rent is paid, and the barrels of best Brandy have not been watered down. So, eat, drink, and be merry. When the moon reaches its highest point, we can proceed to business.”
Paddy, being the gentleman that he was, made ready to thank his host until Shane Fee again interrupted. “I have never saw a man, himself and his friends. Drinking and womanising on land and spreading the sails of that boat of yours ‘The Black Widow’ over the sea. By the Devil, if I had Donald the Piper beside me, and that barrel of Brandy, sure I’d drink and dance until morning. But here’s to God’s blessing on us all, and success to our trip, Paddy, my friend.” And with those words he drained his glass.
Then, after many successive rounds passed by the emaciated looking Shane Fee became totally intoxicated, and he called out at the top of his voice, “Silence now, boys, until I give you a song.” In a squeaking, non-melodic, and out of tune voice he began to sing:
“Ah, will you come to the bower,
O’er the deep and thunderous ocean,
Where stupendous waves roll,
In deep and thunderous motion.
Where the mermaids are seen,
and the fierce tempest gathers,
To Ireland the Green,
Dear home of our fathers.
Will you come?
Will you? Will you?
Will you come to the bower?”
It was early on a clear sunny morning, soon after this, that a man with a pony and cart was seen entering the town of Kilferns from the west. He walked slowly in front of the animal, which appeared to be very reluctant to allow himself to be dragged along at the full length of his halter. On the small cart was laid a quantity of straw, upon which lay a human form. It was a long body of a grown man being, whose feet extended over the rear of the cart, and was covered with old flannel quilt. The man’s face, as it appeared above the tattered hem of the quilt, looked to very ill and malnourished, which seemed to be causing him some pain. His distorted features showed the terrible pain he was enduring, and as the small cart jolted along that rugged path, he groaned hideously. This miserable human being was, indeed, Shane Fee, and he who was leading the pony was none other than Paddy Corr. By this manner, Paddy was trying to smuggle his “bit of baccy,” which he had concealed in well-packed bales beneath the sick bed upon which Shane lay, simulating his grievous illness.
As they continued along the road, Shane uttered a loud groan, and with such a sound of real agony that it startled Paddy. He was so sure that Shane’s cry of pain was real, that he rushed to the back of the cart to see for himself if his companion was still alive. Shane, however, was very much alive and none too pleased that Paddy had left his post. “For God’s sake, Paddy,” he growled in a deep voice, “it’s not that far now until we come across that thieving and scheming Guagers. Back to your post now and make ready to carry out our plan. Don’t forget now, that it is the spotted fever I have.”
As Shane had said, a short time later, they came upon the ‘Excise Man’ on the street. Nervous about being able to act out his role caused Paddy to avoid looking at the man. This aroused the suspicions of the Guagers, who brought the traveller and his cart to a halt. “Well, wee man,” he greeted Paddy, “where are you from, and just where would you be heading?“
“Oh, sir, may the good Lord bless you, for you must be one of the good ones, asking after the health of a poor shore fisherman like me. But, sir, it isn’t so much where I come from as where the body in the cart will die on me.”
“How far are you taking him?” asked the ‘Excise Man’.
“Sure, wouldn’t I like to know that myself. I would get down on my two bended knees and pray for your soul, sir, if you could give the answer to that question. Didn’t I forget to ask the poor creature where he should be buried when we came away, and now he can’t string two words together.”
The Guagers listened intently to what Paddy told him, but he was becoming very suspicious of the way he was delaying in answering his questions. “Come on now, where is it that you live?”
“Ah, Jaysus, sure it’s your way of talking that has me entirely confused. But if you want to know where my woman and children are, it is that way. To the west in Ballintee, Surely you have heard of Ballintee, Sir?”
“No,” came the reply.
“Well, no matter, sir, for if you had been there you might have got the sickness, God forbid. Stay away from that place, for it would be better if you talked to the man there and ask him to offer up a rosary for you. It would be cheaper than having to send for Doctor Crummy.”
“Perhaps I should just search the cart. Maybe you have some soft goods concealed under that sick man,” said the Guagers, as he came closer to the cart. “It wouldn’t be the first time that I caught a smuggler and his wares in such a situation.”
“There’s not even the smell or taste of any goods under that man, but your welcome to look if you wish to disturb him. As for catching a smuggler, I would say the only thing you’ll catch under him is the spotted fever.”
“Fever!” repeated the startled Guagers, taking a step or two backwards.
“Aye, the fever, sir! Didn’t Father Brody prepare him and tell us that he had the spotted. He said he had never seen worse, and that it could destroy a thousand men! Come on, sir, take a wee look in the poor man’s face, and then lift the dying creature out of his resting place. He that came that came all the way from the hill country to fulfil a dream of his, to sort out a Mass for the soul of his wife at Ballintee. Aye, sure just you go ahead and throw him out of the cart and on to the road, and let his blood, a stranger’s blood be on your conscience, and his fever in your body.”
Paddy Corr had played his role very well and had brought out the Guagers fear of the dreaded fever, which saved his load of ‘baccy’ from being discovered and confiscated. Nevertheless, both men decided it was too dangerous to search for a buyer in Kilferns and directed their path toward the nearby coastal town of Carnbay, that lay further east.
It was late in the evening as the small party entered the town. Fortunately, Shane could read quite well, and it was he who noticed a sign for a guesthouse with adjacent stable for the pony. He told Paddy that they would spend the night there, and then told Paddy to visit the only tobacconist in town. But Paddy felt it strange that Shane chose not to accompany him.
The shop owner, Mister Parsons, had just finished dealing with several customers, as Paddy entered. He waited until the customers had exited the store before greeting the owner, “Well, big man, how’s business?” Mister Parsons was startled by such a rude greeting from some person unknown to him, when a more formal greeting would have been appropriate. The shopkeeper looked at the new visitor with an expression that showed his distaste for those he considered to be of a lower class. At first, he ignored the small man’s presence in the shop, but, after a moment he acknowledged Paddy and asked, “What can I do for you?“
Paddy Corr said nothing but stood there with his mouth gaping widely. Mister Parsons immediately added, “I believe you have come from the west?“
Paddy now came to his senses again and replied, “Sure enough, from the westernmost part of the west. By the grace of God, I have made it this far on honest business and would like to speak to you.”
Mr. Parsons now showed a great deal of interest in what this strange, short visitor and asked him, “I have no doubt that you have brought something in my line of business with you?”
“Indeed, I have,” replied Paddy. “I have the best bit of tobacco that you have ever seen, or smoked, and that’s no idle brag. The man from whom I received it that a sweeter taste had never left the hold of his ship. Now, I will give it to you dog cheap, only because it has travelled such a long way.”
“I don’t think you have been very long in this business,” said Mister Parsons.
“That’s true. This is not something I have done before, in all my life, short though it has been,” Paddy told him.
Mister Parsons smiled inwardly to himself, because if the man before him was inexperienced in running smuggled goods, there might just be a profitable deal to be made. He told Paddy that he should bring the goods privately to the back door of his premises. Paddy, with his fear of the Guagers still very much on his mind, wasted no time in carrying out the instructions. But, when Mr Parsons examined the packages brought by Paddy, the shopkeeper had a deeply disappointed expression upon his face, and exclaimed, “This stuff is no good, young man! It is entirely damaged by sea water and will never do.”
“Sea water? I don’t think so!” replied Paddy. “Not one drop of water, salt or fresh, did ever touch my ‘baccy’. The boat, ‘The Black Widow’ that brought it could skim along the waves like a seagull, and I can assure you that there are two things she never yet let in, namely water or ‘water-guards’. Water drips off her as it does a duck’s back, and the great wolfhound on her deck keeps the at a good distance.” This was information that Paddy had simply gleaned from talking to Shane as they journeyed along the road, and in the smugglers’ cave.
“Ah, don’t you be trying to hoodwink me with your knowledge of the sea, for you cannot teach me anything about my own business. So, take it away, for no man in this trade would take it on. But I’ll tell you this, I will do you a favour rather than let a poor, ignorant man fall into the hands of the Guagers. I shall give you five pounds for the lot.”
Paddy was in shock at the man’s meagre offer. He had hoped to at least double his investment, but he now saw a huge loss being the only results of his dealings. “Oh, my darling Jenny!” Paddy began to cry, swinging his body from side to side in his grief, “My sweet Jenny! What will you say to your man, after him throwing away a half year’s rent that should have been given to the agent? O! what will you say, sweetheart, but that I made one stupid eejit of myself, for listening to Shane Fee, that lousy schemer! And what shall our wee Sheila say when I when I won’t be able to give her a dowry and when Tim Murphy won’t take her without the cows that I won’t have to give her? O, Mister Parsons will you not show me some mercy and don’t short-change or cheat me for God’s sake? Give me the ten pounds that it cost me, and I’ll pray for your soul, always. O! Jenny, Jenny, I’ll never be able to face you, or Sheila, or any of our neighbours again. At least not without the ten-pound note.“
“Well, if you don’t give me your tobacco for less than that, you can call on Mr. Burton, at the other side of the bridge. He deals in such goods too. Although I cannot do more for you, you could go farther but you might also fare worse,” warned Mister Parsons and directed Paddy to Mr. Burton, who was, in fact, the excise officer.
Feeling very deflated by his experience with Mister Parsons, Paddy cautiously proceeded across the bridge until he reached a house with a big green door and a brass knocker. Paddy hesitated when he saw that the building was not a shop or advertised any business enterprise. When assured that this was indeed the house of Mr. Burton, he went up to the door, and gave the door three loud knocks with the butt end of his Blackthorn stick. The knocks were so loud they could have awakened the dead, but it had the desired effect of rousing Mister Burton, who was angered at the loudness of the rapping and went to see just who had created it. “In the name of God, man, are you wanting to break my door down with that brass knocker, or what?”
“Ah sure, I’m sorry for being so noisy,” said Paddy as he removed his broad-brimmed hat and tried to hurriedly shine his shoes on the backs of his trouser legs. “I’ve never seen such a large knocker on a door before this night, and sure I wouldn’t have troubled you at all, only I have some fine goods that I have been told would suit you. You can have it for next to nothing because I don’t have the heart to go on any farther. My pony is almost done and I’m shite scared of being caught by the Guagers.”
“May I just ask you, who sent you here to sell smuggled tobacco?” asked the astonished Guagers.
“An honest man, but a bad buyer, who trades the other side of the bridge. He would only give me five pounds for what cost me ten pounds. I wish I had never started all of this! I put a half year’s rent into this! My thirteen female children and my poor wife, God help them, will be soon be out on the roads. I’ll never go home without the ten pounds in my pocket. Damn to you, Shane Fee, you sickly faced blackguard, that brought me into smuggling. O! Jenny, I will have to go soldiering with a gun on my shoulder.”
“Shane Fee!” exclaimed the excise man. “Do you know Shane Fee? I’d give ten pounds just to see that villain.”
“I do sir, and it is myself who could put your finger on him, if I had you in Ballintree. But just I was leaving the place, he was lying under an old quilt, and I heard him telling someone that the priest said he had spotted fever enough for a thousand men.”
“That villain will never die of the spotted fever, in my humble opinion,” said the Guagers.
“You’re a good judge, sir. Sure, didn’t I hear the rogue himself say, ‘Bad luck to that thief of a priest, and him telling me that I would die of a stoppage of breath!’ But won’t you just allow me to turn in the wee bit of tobacco?”
The excise man was now extremely angry at the underhand way that Mister Parsons would attempt to bring ruin to this wee man, just because he didn’t get his way. Mr. Burton was now determined to punish that crook’s treachery. “Listen to me, wee man,” he said to Paddy, “I am the exciseman that you dread so much, and I am sworn to do my duty, and confiscate that bit of tobacco. But it is common justice that the treacherous blackguard that sent you here should be punished. Go back to him now, quickly, and tell him that he can have the lot at his at his own terms. I will be close behind you and give him the proper reward for his treachery. Do this job right, and I promise, on my word, that I shall give you ten pounds more, and you will make the profit you need.” Paddy threw himself to his knees, and lifted his hands in prayer, but he could not speak. The terror and delight of this moment, however, made him unable to utter a sound.
“Get up, I say,” exclaimed the excise man, “up now and get going. Go now and earn your ten pounds, while getting a sweet revenge on the thief that betrayed you.”
Paddy rapidly made his way back to Mr. Parson’s shop, muttering a prayer of thanksgiving beneath his breath, “What a real gentleman, and may the Lord make his soul a comfortable bed in Heaven.” Then he turned his mind to Mr. Parsons, muttering, “Now, that cheating villain of a man. He thought he was sending the fox to mind the hens sure enough. May he be hung high, the blackguard and informer. He’ll suffer for his sins this day.”
When they met again Mister Parsons asked Paddy, “Have you seen that gentleman I sent you to?”
“Ah, sir, when I came to the bridge an looked about me, I began to suspect everyone I met was a thief or a Guagers. Then, after I stood there a while, quite distracted with fear and nerves, and I forgot the man’s name. So, I came back again to ask you, if you would please …”
“You had better take the five pounds I offered if you don’t want any more bother. There’s a Guagers in town, and your situation, therefore, is very dangerous.”
“Oh my God, a Guager’s in town!” cried Paddy. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what’ll I do now? I’m done, surely to God. Take it for what you like, and should you ever have trouble like this, you be comforted in that you had a poor man’s blessing. I give that to you on my knees and may it help you along the road of life.“
With the deal done the tobacco was brought inside the premises and placed it among Mr. Parson’s other contraband goods. Paddy placed the five pounds in his pocket, and, in that moment, Mr. Burton burst into the room. The Tobacconist’s business and reputation was destroyed. Parson’s was subjected to a heavy fine, and the community would have nothing to do with him because of his treachery, causing him die in extreme poverty. The man’s family and descendants were destined to become homeless wanderers. There was to be no forgiveness for the family of the only informer that ever disgraced the district.