Tag: Poverty

O’Donovan’s Castle

A Tale of Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh is one of the largest and most beautiful bodies of water in the British Isles and lies in the centre of Ireland’s northernmost Province, Ulster. The waters of the lake are transparently blue in many places allowing you to see even small pebbles on the bottom, at a considerable depth. Near the southern end, a survey of the Lough bottom revealed cut stones that appear to have been laid in order, and careful observations have traced the remnants of the regular walls of a considerable sized structure.  The Tradition of those who live on the shoreline tells us that this structure was once a castle, surrounded by a village, both of which succumbed to the expansion of the lake many generations past. In ancient times, it is said that the castle was owned by an Irish chieftain called Shane O’Donovan, who was noted for his bad character traits, such as being merciless in war, a tyrant in peace, feared by his neighbours, hated by his own family, and reviled by all for his inhospitality and lack of charity.

Lough Neagh
Lough Neagh, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

In those far off days, his castle stood by the bank of the lake, on an elevated promontory. It was almost an island, being joined to the mainland only by a narrow isthmus that stood at a small height above the level of the lake water. It is said that at one time an angel chanced to come into that part of Ireland, who had been sent from heaven to observe the people and to note their piety. Disguising himself in the clothes and body of a man, who was weary and footsore with travelling the country, the angel observed the castle from the hills above the lough and came down to boldly request a night’s lodging there. But his request was bluntly refused and, what’s more, the nasty and uncivil Shane O’Donovan set his dogs to bite the weary man. The angel immediately turned away from the castle, but he had no sooner passed through the castle gate than the villagers gathered around him and a contest began between them as to who should have the honour of entertaining the traveller.

Lough Neagh 2The Angel made his choice and decided he would go to the house of a cobbler who was so poor that he had only one potato, and when he wanted another, he cut the one in two. Gratefully the heavenly visitor shared the cobbler’s potato and he slept on the cobbler’s floor, putting his feet onto the hearth to keep them warm. But as daylight dawned he rose, and called all the villagers together, led them out, across the isthmus to a nearby hill, and bid them look back. As they did so, they saw the castle and promontory separate from the mainland and begin to sink into the blue waters of the lough. Very slowly, almost imperceptibly, the castle sank, while the waters rose around it. But the waters stood like a wall on every side of the castle and did not wet a single stone from the highest turret to its foundation. After some time, the entire wall of water had risen higher than the battlements and, as the angel waved his hand, the waves suddenly rushed over the castle and its sleeping inmates, punishing the O’Donovan for his lack of hospitality. When all was done, the angel pointed to a spot close by, telling the villagers that they were to build and prosper there. Then, as the awe-stricken villagers knelt before him, the traveller’s clothing became pure white and shining wings appeared upon his shoulders, and he rose into the air to vanish from their sight.

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The Hag with the Bag

A Traditional Irish Tale

In our town, many years ago, there lived a widow woman and her three daughters. When her husband had passed away, the woman was certain that they would not want for anything, because he had left them a long leather bag that was filled with gold and silver. The husband was not long dead, however, when an old woman came to the house begging. While the mother’s attention was distracted for a moment, the beggar woman stole the long leather bag that contained the gold and silver, and she immediately left for Dublin. Once in the city the beggar woman booked passage on a ship and left the country, and no person knew where she had gone.
From the day that he long leather bag was stolen, the widow woman and her three daughters were forced to live in poverty, It was a hard struggle to live any kind of life without much money, and was made even harder by the responsibility of raising her three daughters. But when they had grown into adulthood, the eldest of the three girls approached her mother and said, “Mother, I’m a young woman now, and I am embarrassed to be living in this house and contributing nothing to our upkeep. Bake me a ring of bread and cut me some cold meat, and I’ll go away from her to seek my own fortune.”
The young girl set out on her adventure and left the country, to finally settle in a strange new land. In her search for a roof over her head and a job of work, she approached house after house. Then, going up to a little house on a tree-lined street, she knocked at the door. It was an old woman who opened the door to her and asked her what business she was about, to which the girl answered that she was seeking work, so she could begin making her fortune.
“Sure, how would you like to stay here with me, for I am in need of a maid?” asked the old woman
“What will I have to do?”
“Not too much,” said the old woman, “You will have to wash me and dress me and sweep the hearth clean. But I warn you that you should never look up the chimney, or it will be the worse for you!”
“That sounds great,” said the young girl and she entered the little house.
The next day, when the old woman arose from her bed, the young girl washed her and dressed her and, and when the old woman left the house, she swept the hearth clean. But, when this was done, she thought it would do no harm to have one quick look up the chimney. As she looked up the chimney her eyes were immediately transfixed by the sight of her mother’s long leather bag that had been filled with gold and silver. She immediately pulled the bag down from the chimney and getting it on her back she started out for home just as fast as she could run.
The girl had not gotten far on her road home when she met a horse grazing in a field. The horse saw the young lady hurrying his way and called out to her, “Rub me! Ah, give me a wee rub! I haven’t been rubbed in seven years or more .” But she was in a hurry and had no time for rubbing down horses, so she took a stick and struck the horse with it, driving him out of her way.
As she hurried onward, she soon met a sheep, who called out to her, “Oh, sweet girl, shear me! Please shear me! For I haven’t had my fleece shorn these seven years.” But just as she had done with the horse, she struck the sheep with her stick and sent it scurrying out of her way as she hurried on.
She had not gone much further, however, when she came across a tethered goat, who called out to her, “O, change my tether! Please change my tether! for it has not been changed in seven years and has become painful to me.” Ignoring him, the girl lifted a stone and flung it at the goat as she pressed on with her journey.
Next, she came to a lime-kiln, which begged her, “Clean me! Please clean me! for I haven’t been cleaned these past seven years.” But she only scowled at the kiln angrily and went on her way.
After another short distance, she met a cow, who pleaded with her, “Milk me! Milk me! for I haven’t been milked these past seven years.” She struck out at the cow and chased it out of her way and went on.
Then she next came to a mill, which asked her, “O, turn me! Turn me! for I haven’t been turned these seven years.” But she ignored all that the mill said and went into the building. It was growing dark and she lay down among some dry straw behind the mill door. Placing the leather bag under her head, the girl settled down for the night and closed her eyes to sleep.
Meanwhile, when the old woman returned home and found that the girl had gone, she immediately ran to the chimney to discover that the girl had carried off the long, leather bag. She immediately flew into a rage and immediately began to run after the girl just as fast as she could. But she had not gone far when she came across the horse and asked, “Horse, horse of mine, did you see my maid of mine, carrying my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” replied the horse, “the wicked child passed by here not so long ago.”
The old woman continued her pursuit and soon came upon the sheep, “O, sheep! sheep of mine, did you see my maid pass by here, carrying my long leather bag that contains all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” said the sheep, “and it’s not long since she went past here.”
Onward the old lady ran, and it was only a short distance until she met the goat, and asked, “Goat, goat of mine, did you see my maid pass by with my long, leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” replied the goat, “and it’s not that long since she went past here.”
The old woman ran on and soon came upon the lime-kiln. She asked, “Lime-kiln, lime-kiln of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” the lime-kiln said, “it is only a short time since she went past me with a scowl on her face.”
Going onward it wasn’t long before she met the cow, and asked, “O, Cow, cow of mine, have you seen my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” said the cow, “it is not long since she passed here.”
The old woman ran on and soon came to the mill, and she asked, “Mill, mill of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
Quietly, the mill told the old woman, “Yes, she is sleeping behind the door.” Without another word the old hag shipped into the mill and struck her with a white rod, turning her into solid stone. She then grabbed the bag of gold and silver, put it on her back, and went back to her home.
A year and a day had now passed since the eldest daughter of the family had left home and had not returned. The second daughter now approached her mother, and said, “My sister must be doing very well for herself and making her fortune. It is shameful for me to be sitting here, at home, doing nothing to help you or to help myself. So, bake me a ring of soda bread and cut me some cold meat, and I will go away to seek my fortune.”
The mother did what she was bid and asked her daughter would she have half the bread with her blessing or the whole ring of bread without. The daughter chose to take the whole ring of bread without, and she set off on her journey with all her bags. Just before she left, she told her mother, “If I am not back here in a year and a day, you may be sure that I am doing well and making my fortune.” Then the girl closed the door behind her and set off on her journey of adventure.
She travelled by road and sea until she came to a strange land. Unknown to her she had landed in the same place as her elder sister, and, like her, she went up to a little house that stood in a tree-lined street and knocked on the door. It was an old woman who opened the door and asked what her business was, to which the girl answered that she was seeking her fortune. “How would you like to stay here with me, for I need a maid?” the old woman asked.
“What will I have to do?” the girl asked.
“You’ll have to wash me and dress me and sweep the hearth clean. But, never look up the chimney, or else it will be bad for you,” the old woman warned.
“That sounds perfect,” the girl replied with a smile.
The next day, when the old woman got up out of her bed, the girl washed and dressed her. Then, when the old woman went out the girl swept the hearth and was tempted to have a quick look up the chimney. Believing she was doing no harm, the girl glanced up and saw her mother’s long leather bag of gold and silver. She grabbed it immediately and took it down. Ensuring that she placed the bag securely on her back she began to run for home as fast as she could.
The girl had not gotten far on her road home when she met a horse grazing in a field. The horse saw the young lady hurrying his way and called out to her, “Rub me! Ah, give me a wee rub! I haven’t been rubbed in seven years or more .” But she was in a hurry and had no time for rubbing down horses, so she took a stick and struck the horse with it, driving him out of her way.
As she hurried onward, she soon met a sheep, who called out to her, “Oh, sweet girl, shear me! Please shear me! For I haven’t had my fleece shorn these seven years.” But just as she had done with the horse, she struck the sheep with her stick and sent it scurrying out of her way as she hurried on.
She had not gone much further, however, when she came across a tethered goat, who called out to her, “O, change my tether! Please change my tether! for it has not been changed in seven years and has become painful to me.” Ignoring him, the girl lifted a stone and flung it at the goat as she pressed on with her journey.
Next, she came to a lime-kiln, which begged her, “Clean me! Please clean me! for I haven’t been cleaned these past seven years.” But she only scowled at the kiln angrily and went on her way.
After another short distance, she met a cow, who pleaded with her, “Milk me! Milk me! for I haven’t been milked these past seven years.” She struck out at the cow and chased it out of her way and went on.
Then she next came to a mill, which asked her, “O, turn me! Turn me! for I haven’t been turned these seven years.” But she ignored all that the mill said and went into the building. It was growing dark and she lay down among some dry straw behind the mill door. Placing the leather bag under her head, the girl settled down for the night and closed her eyes to sleep.
Meanwhile, when the old woman returned home and found that the girl had gone, she immediately ran to the chimney to discover that the girl had carried off the long, leather bag. She immediately flew into a rage and immediately began to run after the girl just as fast as she could. But she had not gone far when she came across the horse and asked, “Horse, horse of mine, did you see my maid of mine, carrying my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” replied the horse, “the wicked child passed by here not so long ago.”
The old woman continued her pursuit and soon came upon the sheep, “O, sheep! sheep of mine, did you see my maid pass by here, carrying my long leather bag that contains all the gold and silver that I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” said the sheep, “and it’s not long since she went past here.”
Onward the old lady ran, and it was only a short distance until she met the goat, and asked, “Goat, goat of mine, did you see my maid pass by with my long, leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye, I did,” replied the goat, “and it’s not that long since she went past here.”
The old woman ran on, and soon came upon the lime-kiln. She asked, “Lime-kiln, lime-kiln of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” the lime-kiln said, “it is only a short time since she went past me with a scowl on her face.”
Going onward it wasn’t long before she met the cow, and asked, “O, Cow, cow of mine, have you seen my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Aye,” said the cow, “it is not long since she passed here.”
The old woman ran on and soon came to the mill, and she asked, “Mill, mill of mine, did you see my maid carrying my long leather bag, containing all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
Quietly, the mill told the old woman, “Yes, she is sleeping behind the door.” Without another word the old hag shipped into the mill and struck her with a white rod, turning her into solid stone. She then grabbed the bag of gold and silver, put it on her back, and went back to her home.
When the second daughter had been gone a year and a day and she hadn’t come back, the youngest daughter said: “Mammy, my two sisters must be doing very well indeed, and making great fortunes when they are not coming back home. But I am ashamed to be just sitting here doing nothing, either to help you, mammy, or myself. Will you bake me some bread and cut me some cold meats, and I will set out and make my fortune.”
The mother baked the bread fresh and asked her if she would have half of the bread or the whole bread without her blessing. The youngest daughter smiled sweetly and said, “I will take half of the bread with your blessing, mammy.”
With her mother’s blessing, the girl travelled far and wide until she came to the same strange country where her sisters had landed. She too found the same little house they had and met the old woman living there. When the old woman asked her what she was looking for, the young girl told her that she was seeking her fortune. The old woman then asked her, “How would you like to stay here with me, for I need a maid?”
“What will I have to do?” asked the girl.
“You’ll have to wash me and dress me and sweep the hearth clean, and on the peril of your life never look up the chimney,” the old women told her.
“That all sounds fine,” said the girl.
The next day when the old woman got up from her bed, the young girl washed her and dressed her, and when the old woman went out she swept the hearth, and she thought it would be no harm to have one wee look up the chimney. There she saw her mother’s long leather bag of gold and silver, which she immediately took it down and, getting it on her back, she began to hurry home as quick as her feet would carry her.
As she ran, she met a horse, who called to her, “Rub me! Rub me! for I haven’t been rubbed these seven years.”
“You poor horse,” replied the young girl, “Sure, I’ll rub you.” And she put down her bag and gave the horse a fine rub. After doing this, the girl hurried on and it wasn’t long before she met the sheep
“Oh, shear me, shear me! for I haven’t been shorn these seven years,” cried the sheep.
“You poor sheep,” she said, “I’ll do that for you.” And she put down her bag and proceeded to shear the sheep. Then, when she had finished, she went until she met the tethered goat.
“O, change my tether! Change my tether! for it hasn’t been changed these seven years,” the goat called out to her.
“O, poor goat, poor goat,” she said, “I can do that for you.” She laid down her bag and changed the goat’s tether before on to meet the lime-kiln.
“O, clean me! clean me! for I haven’t been cleaned these seven years,” begged the lime-kiln.
“O, you poor lime-kiln,” she said, “I will clean you.” And laying down her bag she set about cleaning the lime-kiln. When this was done the girl moved on again until she came across the cow.
The cow asked her, “O, milk me! Milk me! for I haven’t been milked these seven years.”
“You poor cow,” sympathised the young girl. “I can milk you now,” and she laid down her bag, milked the cow, and moved on again quickly.
At last, she had reached the mill, which called to her, “Turn me! turn me! for I haven’t been turned these seven years.”
“Poor mill, you poor mill, I’ll surely do that for you,” said the young girl and she turned the mill. But, as night was coming down quickly, she went into the mill-house, lay down behind the door and fell asleep.
Now, when the old woman came back to her home, she found the girl had gone. She ran to the chimney to see if she had carried off the bag. She became very angry and ran after her as quickly as she could. Very soon she came to the horse and asked, “O, horse! horse of mine! did you see this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
In reply, the horse told her, “Do you think I have nothing better to do than watch your maids for you? Go and look somewhere else.”
Then the old woman came upon the sheep and asked, “Sheep, sheep of mine, have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
The sheep replied, “Do you think I have nothing to do all day except watch your maids for you? I think you should go somewhere else and look for information.”
Angrily she moved further on and came to the tethered goat and asked, “O, goat, goat of mine, have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“Do you think I have nothing better to do with my time than watch over your maids for you? Go somewhere else and ask your questions,” the goat told her.
The old woman went on until she came to the lime-kiln. “O, lime-kiln, lime-kiln of mine, did you see this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a girl, working as a maid?”
“What is it with you?” replied the lime-kiln. “Do you think that I have nothing better to do with my days than stand watch over your maids? You need to go somewhere else for your answers”
Her anger had grown greatly by the time she met the cow. “Cow! Cow of mine! have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a young girl, working as a maid?”
The cow told her, “What makes you think that I have nothing better to do with my time than watch out for your maids? I suggest you go somewhere to get your answers.”
Finally, the old woman reached the mill and weakly asked, “O, mill! mill of mine! Please tell me, have you seen this maid of mine, with my long leather bag, and all the gold and silver I have earned since I was a young girl, working as a maid?”
The mill said, “Sssh! Come nearer to me and whisper.” The old woman went closer to the mill, and the mill dragged her under the wheels and ground her up. The old woman had also dropped her white rod out of her hand, and the mill told the young girl to take it and strike the two stones behind the mill door. The girl did what she was told, and her two sisters stood up. She lifted the long leather bag on her back, and all three of them travelled all the long way home. The mother had been heart-broken since they had left home, but her tears now disappeared quickly as she saw her three daughters return to her healthy, rich and happy.

The Bargain

Everyone loves to get a bargain, but we tend to forget that there are always two parties in the case of any bargain being made, namely the winner and the loser. While the ‘Winner’ is always delighted with the advantage that he has gained over another, he never considers for one moment the reasons as to why the ‘Loser’ has been forced by certain circumstances to accept the highest possible offer that they can get. Yes, we all love a good bargain, but few of us think or care about the person from whom we won the bargain.
Mrs McCourt and her husband lived only a few doors down the street from us. As far as Mr. McCourt was concerned no one could ever have considered him to be a spendthrift. Even my father, who would have walked a mile to save a halfpenny, said that on the rare occasion when McCourt opened his purse the moths would fly out of it in swarms. There was one morning, I recall, when I saw him standing on the street outside the front door of his house loudly giving instructions to two large men who had just carried a large piece of furniture from their vehicle to the pavement. In the middle of the negotiations with the furniture movers Mrs McCourt opened the front door and stared out at the work that was going on. In a loud voice, speaking as ‘posh’ as was possible, so as not to embarrass herself in front of the neighbours, she called out her husband, “In the name of God, Desmond, what have you got there?” Everyone else in the street called him Dessie and it was obvious that he had not told her to expect anything to be parked upon the pavement in front of her house for everyone to see. It was covered in a mysterious dust-sheet and this caused her to become very curious about just what her husband had brought home this time.
“Just hold on a wee minute, woman,” replied Dessie, gruffly. “Have a bit of patience and you’ll discover all.”
Dessie now turned to the workmen who were carrying the object and loudly told them, “Here, John! Henry! bring it in through the front door here.” At this instruction the two men lifted the large heavy object again and breathlessly brought it into the McCourt home. Removing the dust-sheet they revealed a beautifully upholstered sofa that looked as if it was almost brand new.
SofaAs the beautiful sofa was revealed Mrs McCourt’s eyes opened wide with delight and with moans of delight she began to gently touch this ‘new’ piece of furniture as it sat in the middle of the living-room floor. “Oh my God, Desmond, that is a beautiful ‘cheese-lang’ (meaning to say chaise-long). You have made me so happy,” she smiled.
“It’s a second-hand sofa, you know? But there is hardly a mark or a broken stitch on it,” explained Dessie, but didn’t notice his wife wince with every word he spoke. “Sure, you could hardly tell it wasn’t a new one,” he assured her.
“For Jaysus sake, Dessie,” she hissed at him, “You don’t have to tell the whole world that we have had to buy a second-hand sofa!”
“But it is as good as new, Mary!”
“Aye! Sure, a blind man could see that it’s just as good as a new sofa. So, you don’t have to tell them it’s not! How much did you give for it?” Mary asked.
“Mary Darling, that’s the best part of it!” Dessie chuckled to himself. “It was a splendid bargain. It didn’t me a penny over fifty pounds. Now, what do you think I got it for?”
“Thirty quid?”
“Not at all, woman! Have another guess.”
“Twenty-five?”
“Have another try!”
“Twenty?”
“No! Do you want another go?”
Mary was getting a little annoyed with the game and sternly told him, “No! Just tell me what you gave for it, for Christ’s sake?”
“Only fifteen pounds! What do you think of that?”
“Well, now, that is a bargain,” she told him.
“Too true! Sure, aren’t I the man that can get things on the cheap,” bragged the prudent Dessie McCourt as he chuckled with great delight.
“But, why, in the name of God, was it so cheap?” asked Mary.
“It is all a matter of skill, my love. It’s not everyone who has the talent to wheel and deal like me. Sure, I’m the dog’s bollocks at that stuff!”
“You’re a buck eejit! Now, just tell me how you managed to get it so cheap, Dessie? I would like to know.”
“Well, Mary, my darling, there were a great many other things there for sale, and among those things were some dirty carpets. Then, before the sale began, I pulled these carpets toward the sofa and threw them over it. Now, my sweet, a good deal of dust fell from those carpets, and made the sofa look a lot worse than it really was. So, when the sale began, there were only a very few people there, and I approached the auctioneer to ask him to sell the sofa first. I told him that I couldn’t stay long and that I would bid for the sofa if he were to sell it immediately. Now, it’s a well-known fact that few people bid freely at the beginning of an auction. Well he began with ‘What’s bid for this splendid sofa?’”
‘I’ll give you fifteen pounds for it,’ said I, ‘Sure, it’s not worth a penny more than that, for it’s in an awful state.’
‘Fifteen pounds! fifteen pounds! only fifteen pounds for this beautiful sofa!’ he went on. Then some clown next to me decided to bid seventeen pounds. So, I let the auctioneer shout the last bid for a few minutes, until I saw he was likely to knock it down. I jumped in and bid Twenty pounds and told him, ‘and that’s as high as I’ll go for it.’
My offer seemed to have confused the other bidder as to the real value of the sofa. He took a closer look at it and, it looked so badly deteriorated by the dust and dirt from the carpets, that he withdrew his bid and the sofa was knocked down to me.”
As Dessie chuckled satisfyingly to himself, his good, lady wife developed a very satisfied smile on her face. “That was well done, wee man!” said Mary well pleased at having obtained such an elegant piece of furniture at so cheap a rate. “Do you know, Dessie. It’s so near a match for the sofa in our front parlour, don’t you think?”
– *** –
This scene that we have just read occurred at the home of smart, street-wise dealer in the city who could count his money in bunches of tens of thousands. But, from the way he dressed you would have thought he didn’t have two pennies to rub together. He didn’t know the story behind the sofa being auctioned and, if he did, would it have made any difference to him? Let us look at what happened….

Mother and daughter
On the day prior to the sale, a widowed lady with one daughter, a beautiful and interesting girl about seventeen, were seated on the sofa in a neatly furnished parlour of house in an affluent part of the city. In her hand, the mother held a small piece of paper and she stared at it so intently that her consciousness was closed to all else around her. But, although she looked upon that piece paper so intently, she could no longer see the characters that were written upon it.
“Mother, what are we going to do?” the young daughter asked after a prolonged period of silence.
“Oh, my poor girl, I haven’t a clue. The bill is fifty pounds, and it has been due, you know, for several days now. I haven’t even got five pounds in my purse, and your bill for teaching the two Leonard children cannot be presented for payment for another two weeks. Even then it will not come anywhere near this amount.”
“But, can’t we sell something else, mother?” the daughter suggested timidly.
“We have sold all the silver-plate and jewellery, and now I don’t know what we have left that we can afford to get rid of. Everything we have is something that we really need.”
“Well, mother, what would you say to selling the sofa?”
“Really Florence, I don’t know what I would say. It doesn’t seem right to part with it. But, I suppose we could do without it.”
“The sofa is so good that it will certainly bring us the fifty pounds that we need,” said Florence more in hope than in certainty.
“It should do, for it is made from the best wood and its workmanship is second-to-none. Your dear father bought just before he passed away and it cost him one hundred and forty pounds, and that is less than two years past.”
“Well, I think it should bring us at least a hundred pounds,” said Florence, but who knew nothing of auctions and prices that could be expected there. “That would easily give us enough, besides paying this quarter’s rent, to keep us in some comfort until some of my bills come due for payment.”
That same afternoon the sofa was sent to the auction rooms, and on the next afternoon Florence went to the auctioneer’s office to receive the money it had fetched. “Have you sold that sofa yet, sir?” she asked him in a low, hesitating voice.
“What sofa would that be, miss?” the clerk asked as he looked steadily in her face with a bold stare.
“The sofa sent by my mother, Mrs. Benson, sir.”
“When was it to have been sold?”
“Yesterday, sir.”
“Oh, we haven’t got the bill made out yet. You can call the day after to-morrow, and we’ll settle it for you then.”
“Can’t you settle it to-day, sir? We would need the money as soon as possible.”
Without replying to the timid girl’s request, the clerk commenced throwing over the leaves of a large account-book, and in a few minutes had taken off the bill of the sofa. “Here it is, young lady. Eighteen pounds and twelve shillings. Just check that to see if it’s right, and then please sign this receipt.”
“You must be mistaken, sir? It was a beautiful sofa, and it cost one hundred and forty pounds to buy.”
“Well miss, that’s all it brought, I assure you. Furniture is selling very badly at the moment.”
Florence rolled up the notes that the clerk had given her, and with a very heavy heart she returned home to break the news to her mother. “The sofa only brought eighteen pounds and twelve shillings, mother,” she said quietly, and throwing the notes into her mother’s lap, Florence burst into tears.
“Dear God in Heaven,” sighed the widow, clasping her hands together tightly, and looking skyward, “Only you know what we shall do now. Come to our assistance, Lord!” said the widow, clasping her hands together, and looking upwards with tears in her eyes.

Bisto and the Priest Part I

The small town in which I have lived most of my long life is not much different from any other small rural town in Ireland. There are some towns that may be larger than others, and some that are smaller, but in each of these towns lives at least one character whose reputation is known both far wide. Sadly, almost every town contains some people who are known for their anti-social activities, which attract the anger of their fellow residents. Their actions within the community gain for them disparaging names, such as ‘Wastrels’, ‘Spongers’ and ‘Jam Trampers’, among their neighbours. While the offenders might be worthy of such names, in many cases, the community is inclined to rush to judge others, based on the antics of one person. Far too often people are too quick to “tar” a troublemaker’s entire family with the same “brush”. They fail to accept that each person is an unique individual in their own right and they fail to measure each on their own individual merits. In my own town, most of the anti-social behavior that we experience can be traced to the age-old human weakness for alcohol, which seems to be an ever-present problem for some within Irish society.

As a proud Irishman I confess that I am not teetotal. I enjoy the occasional drink or two, and I can see no reason why any hard-working man or woman should not be allowed to enjoy one or two glasses of their favourite alcoholic beverage. The choice, after all, is theirs and so long as they can afford to buy the drink, who has the right to stop them. My tolerance, however, does start to wear a bit thin when a man or a woman drinks excessively, spending all that they have without giving a thought to the welfare of their spouse or children at home.

In my hometown the majority of those who take a drink are, thanks be to God, very mature people who enjoy moderation in all things. They are not the type of people, from my experience, who would ever consider leaving their families short of money and food just for the sake of alcohol. But, as is the case in most things, there are exceptions to any rule. There are always those who have no sense of responsibility or feel accountable for any of the actions they take. We have all seen men and women, both young and old, who seem to always spend their government welfare benefits on beer, lager or spirits without much thought being given to the family at home. Even worse are those who work all week and, after getting their wages, they spend it all on alcohol even before they reach home. When they eventually stagger home all they bring with them are empty pockets and a foul mouth for those left hungry and bedraggled. Sadly, in my opinion, the spouses would be much better off as single parents to enjoy life without fearing the mental and physical abuse that an alcohol dependent man or woman can bring to a family.

Now, I am only too aware that such things are not confined to Ireland or the Irish people in general. Yet, I can tell you that in our small town one of the most sober, considerate and compassionate men is the Parish Curate, Fr. Lennon. He stands over six feet tall in his socks, and he has been graced with a physique like a main battle tank. The man’s hands are just massive lumps of flesh and bone, resembling great sledge hammers that are ready to deal out punishment to any potential opponent.

Within our small town and the county Father Lennon had built a big reputation for himself as a tough centre full-back for the County Football Team. Although he wears the garments of a man of God there are very few members of the opposing teams who could get past him with the ball in their hands without first suffering some sort of injury, minor or otherwise. Then, at the lectern, every Sunday morning the same man preaches proudly about sin, violence, fair play, sex and the evils of alcohol.

Every Sunday, since he retired from playing football, there was no activity that Fr. Lennon liked to do more than to take a leisurely walk through the town. His usual route took him past “River View”, which was one area of the town that was one of the most socially challenged areas of the town, because it mostly low-income families that resided there. Consequently, it was an area that Father Lennon frequently visited in his Parish pastoral visits and, in its two hundred feet length, there were six very small, old, two-bedroom cottages without central heating or indoor plumbing. The families that lived in this small street were obliged to draw fresh water from a pump at the foot of the lane. They were also obliged to share the discomfort of a communal toilet area, with a chemical toilet, at the back of the cottages. It was, for the want of a better description, a slum area that was long-past its time for redevelopment. For a long time, Fr. Lennon had been urging the local authorities to demolish the cottages and rehouse the residents in more modern accomodation. His appeals, however, had been falling on deaf ears.

One Sunday morning, as he turned into “River View” he was almost knocked over by a small, scruffy boy who looked to be about eight years old. The boy had been running so fast, and with his head down, that he had not noticed the priest walking on the footpath. Father Lennon managed to stop the boy from crashing into him by grabbing his shoulders and, steadying him. He asked the boy, “Where in the name of God are you going to?”

Breathlessly the boy replied, “Oh Jesus, Father! My Da is murdering my Ma!” Through the grubbiness of the boy’s face, and the long, tatty hair that flowed almost to his shoulders, the priest could see a great fear in the boy’s eyes. “I need to get away from him before he starts into me!” he stammered.

Dublin Slum ChildrenFr. Lennon immediately recognised the boy as being Sean Mackey, and one of fourteen children that belonged to Mary and “Bisto” Mackey. Sean bore such a resemblance to his father that anyone who knew “Bisto” could easily identify the son, and “Bisto” was, by no means, unknown in the small town. He was, without doubt, a troubled man and was known to regularly beat his wife, which Fr. Lennon thought was a disgusting act to be perpetrated by any man. It was time, he thought to himself, to take some action and try to get “Bisto” to desist from acts of violence against his wife and family. Bracing himself to face down an angry “Bisto” Mackey, Father Lennon moved down the row of houses until he came to the Mackey’s bright blue, front door. It was already slightly opened, probably caused by young Sean’s hasty escape, and he could hear raised voices coming from within, swearing and damning each other. Without knocking on the front door, or even announcing himself, the priest walked on into the house, to the living room. Here he saw Mary sitting on an old, battered armchair in a very bedraggled condition, tears in her eyes and her mouth was bleeding slightly. As he came closer to the woman, Fr. Lennon noticed that one of her eyes was very badly swollen and several bruises were beginning to rise on her face. “Bisto”, was standing over his wife, shaking his clenched fist at her, and he was shouting all sorts of obscenities at the poor woman.

“Ah, just shut your big gob, Bisto!” and angry Father Lennon demanded. “If you put that fist of yours near her again I will personally lay you out flat on your back!” the priest warned.

“Bisto” immediately stopped his threatening manner and stared sullenly at the priest. “This is none of your business,” Bisto told Father Lennon angrily. “Do you think that dog-collar you wear will save you from a thumping?”

“I don’t need a dog-collar to protect me,” replied the priest confidently and drew himself up to his full height, showing his muscularity to its best. Bisto took a second glance at the clergyman and began to regret his antagonism toward him.

“Now, just you sit yourself down there, Bisto,” Father Lennon said calmly, pointing toward an empty armchair. “Let us try and get this nonsense sorted out.” As “Bisto” moved toward the chair Father Lennon scanned the room and noticed several young girls huddled in a corner and seeking protection beneath a heavy table.

“You,” he called out to one of the girls who appeared to be the eldest. “Will you please get me a clean cloth and some clean water, so we can get your mother cleaned up.” The young girl said nothing in reply, but she crawled from under the table and nervously moved into the kitchen.

“This is all that bitch’s fault, Father,” Bisto said. “No matter what I say or do she just continually nags me. She drives me mad, the ungrateful trollop!”

“Bitch, Trollop, these are not words a man uses to describe his wife, the mother of his children, and a woman as good as Mary,” Fr. Lennon told him. With this said he spoke no more but lifted the bowl of clean water from the young girl. Using the clean cloth that had been brought he began to gently dab at the cuts and bruises with the cool, clear water. “Tell me, Bisto,” he said after a few minutes, “what kind of a thrill does it give you to beat a defenceless woman? The mother of your children.”

“It is not enjoyment, Father,” Bisto told him angrily. “She drives me to it. Mary’s always nagging me about having a few drinks, and about spending time with my friends”.

“Because you are never out of the pub,” snapped Mary with a fire in her eyes and wincing under the attention Fr. Lennon was giving her eye and nose. “You spend every penny you have on your friends and drink. We have no food on our table and our children run around in rags. I don’t see too many of your so-called friends giving us anything. Yet you still buy them drinks.”

Bisto jumped to his feet once again and moved toward Mary. “Do you see what I mean Father?” he asked.

Mary visibly trembled with fear as Bisto came closer. “I don’t have to open my mouth for him to give me a dig in it. He comes home drunk and lashes out at me for no reason. If there’s no food on the table he beats me,” Mary declared.

Bisto shook his fist threateningly at Mary and told her, “Just keep your mouth shut and do what I tell you!”

“Will the two of you be quiet?” demanded an exasperated Fr. Lennon as he continued to clean up the cuts on Mary’s face. “The two of you are concerned about little victories over each other and don’t seem to care about what your fighting is doing to those poor children,” he pointed out to them. “I think it is time that I talked some sense into you both.”

The Priest finished cleaning up Mary’s cuts and bruises. Handing the bowl back to the oldest girl in the family he turned to face Bisto, who appeared to be still quite inebriated. He looked up at the husband, who was now standing above him and asked, “Where did you get the drink so early on a Sunday morning?”

“’Wee Minnie’s’ Pub, Father,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     ”Bisto replied. “All you do is rap the back door and you can get whatever you want, Father.” He was smiling very slyly at the priest and winking his eye conspiratorially. “It’s all done on the quiet, Father. You know what I mean?”

Angrily Father Lennon snapped at him, him “No! I don’t know what you mean, because it is illegal!”

“Ah, but sure everyone does it,” Bisto laughed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

“That doesn’t make it right,” replied the priest. “But I would know how you paid for it.”

Bisto shied away a little and muttered, “I had a few pounds.”

“I understand that, but where did those few pounds come from?”

“Tell him,” interrupted Mary. “Tell him what you did!”

“Be quiet, woman,” snarled Bisto.

Father Lennon looked sternly at the man and urged him, “Come on Bisto, man up and tell the truth.”

“With the last of the Family Allowance,” he confessed.

“The last bit of money we had,” cried Mary.

“Do you want another slap woman?” Bisto asked angrily and lifted his hand to Mary threateningly.                  

The priest now stood up, towering above Bisto, and asked, “Would you like me to give you one?” He then moved closer to the drunken man and told him, “I will lay you out flat if you ever touch her in my presence, you gobshite!” He sat                                                                                                                                        down on a chair for he was not about to take any chances with this bulk of a man, man of God or not.

“Father,” Mary interjected. “There is no food for the children and he has left me with no money to buy any. What am I to do? I can’t let them starve.” She was crying, and her tears ran down her cheeks. Mary’s eyes, red and swollen from the battering she had received at Bisto’s hands were beginning to darken as bruises formed. The right eye, particularly, was almost a purple-black colour already.

She nodded her head in agreement saying, “Yes, Father.”

“You’re far too kind Father,” said Mary, lifting the corner of her cardigan to wipe the tears in her eyes. Fr. Lennon replaced the wallet into his pocket before turning to both Mary and Bisto, telling them, “Listen, both of you. Someone has to look after this precious family for you two are not doing it.” He had succeeded in calming down both parties to the dispute and now began the task of negotiating a settlement and some sort of reconciliation. He looked kindly at the children and said to them, “Why don’t you go outside and play in the Lane for a while? Don’t come back in until I call you. Ok?”

“Yes Father,” they replied, almost in unison.

Over the following two hours the priest tried everything he knew to get the warring parties to agree to a cessation of their hostilities and set up a peace plan of sorts. By the end of the first hour Bisto had regained at least some sobriety and he began to weep as he answered the priest’s questions. He was encouraged, thereafter, to talk about his feelings and particularly his feelings for his wife. Bisto talked about the difficulty in finding work, his depressed condition at the lack of money the concern he had for his children living in a totally unsuitable house. He also professed his deep sorrow at having hit his wife and he vowed that he would never raise his hand to her again. At the same time Fr. Lennon succeeded in persuading Mary to accept her faults in the relationship. She was still weeping, and she got down on her knees, swearing she would never say another nagging word to Bisto. He now got down on his knees in front of his wife and they embraced each other comfortingly.

“I swear no more squandering money on drink, Mary!” Bisto told his wife tearfully.

“We will work our way through all these difficulties,” Mary told him, still sobbing. “There is absolutely no problem that we cannot overcome if we work together.”

Putting his hand on top of his wife’s head, Bisto stroked her hair softly. It is something he used to do when they were a courting couple and Mary enjoyed these special moments. “We will overcome these difficulties, Mary. You take the next family allowance payment and get yourself a new pair of shoes, or a skirt, or something.”

It was a special moment and Mary was happy to hear Bisto being so concerned for her welfare. But, Mary believed there were more important things that they needed to do. “We should see to the Kids first,” she urged

They were now hugging each other and kissing as Fr. Lennon turned and moved toward the front door. His job was done, and he decided he could now leave them to their own devices. It was time for him to now hurry home to the presbytery, hoping that he would not be too late for lunch. Father Lennon had been obliged by circumstance to forego his usual Sunday walk and yet, in his opinion, the time had been well spent and he was satisfied.

Poor Man’s Bridge Part II

He was washed and stretched, and waked, with all the honours, rites, and ceremonies belonging to a genuine Irish wake. On the third day following, being the Sabbath, he was followed to the grave by crowds of the village peasantry, who remained in the churchyard until they saw his remains deposited, as they thought forever, in the rank soil of the cemetery.

There were many rumours that arose with respect to the Boccough’s money. Everyone but Terry believed that the fortune was now in the hands of Terry himself. But Terry, who knew better, believed and affirmed that “what was got under the devil’s belly, always goes over his back.” In other words, that the “old boy” had taken the spoils, and that he had concealed them in some crevice along the bank of the river.

The night following the burial of the old sailor was passed in a very disturbed and agitated manner by Terry O’Shea. He did not sleep a wink, when he finally fell into a slumber, he jumped and moaned in his bed, appearing to be frightened and annoyed. “What’s wrong with you?” his old mother demanded affectionately. She was sleeping in the same room as Terry, and was kept awake by her son’s restless and disturbed manner.

I don’t know, mother,” replied Terry; “I am so frightened and tormented with dreaming of the Boccough Ruadh, that I am almost out of my natural senses. Even at this moment I think I see him in front of me, walking about the room.”

Holy Mary, protect us!” screamed the old woman. “And it is no wonder that his unfortunate soul would be star-gazing about, for he died without the priest, and a curse and a lie in his mouth!”

Terry groaned agitatedly at her words, and then the old woman asked him, “And how does he appear in your dreams?”

As he always was,” replied Terry. “But I think I see him pointing to his red nightcap, and endeavouring to pull it off with his old withered hand.”

Umph!” said the old woman, in a knowing tone. “Ha! ha! I have it now. Are you sure that the strings of his night-cap were loosened before he was nailed up in the coffin?”

I don’t know,” was the reply.

I’ll go bail they weren’t,” said the old woman, “and you know, or at any rate you ought to know, that a corpse can never rest in the grave when there is a knot or a tie upon any thing belonging to its grave-dress.”

Terry emitted another deep groan.

Well, dear boy,” said the old mother, “go tomorrow, taking a neighbour with you, and open the grave to see if any thing is astray. If you find the nightcap or any thing else not as it should be, set it to rights, and close the grave again decently, and he will trouble you no more.”

Please God,” replied Terry briefly but emphatically.

Early the next morning Terry was at the Boccough’s grave, accompanied by a local man. The coffin was opened, the corpse examined, and, according to the mother’s prediction, the red nightcap was found knotted tightly under the dead man’s chin. Terry immediately began to unloosen it, and in the act of doing so, a corner of the nightcap gave way, and out slipped a shining golden guinea.

Ah ha!” mentally exclaimed Terry, “that’s no bent penny, for sure. There is a lot more where that was hid, but I had better keep a straight face about this!” So, without seeming to appear any way affected, he opened the knot, closed the coffin, shut up the grave, and left to go home, without once letting his companion aware of what he had seen.

The moment Terry entered door of his house, he told his mother about the golden guinea, and his determination to go back to the grave that very night, and fetch the red nightcap home with him. Excitedly, he told her, “Body and bones and all, for that guinea has its friends about it, and I’ll bet you a bucketful of money that is where the old devil has hidden his fortune. That is why he insisted on me burying the red cap with him in the grave.”

Wait a minute, sweetheart,” said his mother, with a note of worry in her voice. “Won’t you be afraid?”

Afraid!” asked Terry, “Devil a bit of it! Afraid, me? And my fortune perhaps in that red nightcap.”

The mother consented to his adventure, but she made him promise not to tell anyone about the matter, in case it turned out to be a disappointment. Terry vowed that he would say nothing, and immediately set about his usual tasks in the garden.

At last the night came, and Terry set about preparing for his strange adventure. All the folk arts and prayers and charms of old Kathleen were put in place to ensure his preservation from danger. Just as the clock struck the witching hour of twelve o’clock, with his spade on his shoulder, and his clay pipe in his mouth, the bold-hearted Terry set forward all alone to the grave-yard. He walked along the winding banks of the dark river that glittered in the moonlight. He whistled as he strode on, but not to keep his mind busy, for never was man’s mind more busily occupied than was Terry’s, in deciding how he would spend the money which he expected to find in the ‘Boccough Ruadh’s’ nightcap.

After a short walk, Terry arrived at the churchyard. It was a lovely summer’s night, the full moon shining gloriously, and myriads of pretty stars blinking and twinkling in the blue expanse, but all their native lustre was drowned in the borrowed splendour of the brightly shining planet of Venus. Terry paused for a moment to investigate his surroundings, and, resting on his spade, he looked about him with an anxious gaze. There was nothing out of place. All was silent as the departed beneath his feet, except for the murmuring of the river’s waters flowing past, or the barking of some village dog in the far distance. Terry moved on to the grave of the Boccough, and in a few minutes the ghostly moonbeams shone upon the pale, grim features of the dead. He snatched the nightcap quickly from the bald head of the corpse, put it in his pocket, and, despite his fears and the great terror that he felt, Terry chuckled to himself as he quietly commented on the “dead weight” of the Boccough’s head-gear. He then closed the coffin, and as he proceeded to cover it, the clay and stones fell on it with an appalling and unearthly sound. Then, with the grave covered up again, Terry again shouldered his spade, and sought the river’s edge, striding hurriedly along its banks in the direction of his home. In the quiet of the night, he could clearly hear the splash of an otter and the diving of a water-hen, both of which momentarily disturbed the thread of his lonely thoughts.

Terry was soon at his mother’s side, who since his departure had been on her knees, praying for his safe return. The nightcap was ripped up, and from it flowed three hundred golden guineas as his reward for his churchyard adventure! Stitched carefully in every part of the huge nightcap, the gold lay secure, so as not to attract the notice of any one, or cause the least suspicion of its nearness to the old man’s scalp.

Terry and his mother were ecstatic. Farms were already purchased in minds, cattle bought, houses built, and Terry even began in his mind to make preparations for his wedding with Annie Kinsella. She was a rich farmer’s daughter of the neighbourhood, for whom he had breathed many a hopeless sigh, and who, in addition to her beauty, was possessed of fifty pounds in hard gold, a couple of good yearlings, and a feather-bed as broad as the “nine acres.”

The mother and son retired to bed, as happy as the certain possession of wealth, and the almost as certain expectations of honour and distinction, could make them. After a long time spent in constructing and condemning schemes for the future, Terry fell asleep. He had not slept long, however, when he started up with a loud scream, crying out, “The Boccough! The Boccough!”

Och, Jaysus he is seeing the Boccough again!” exclaimed the mother. “Is he coming for the nightcap and the gold?”

Oh, no,” said Terry, calmly. “But I was dreaming of him again, and I was frightened.”

What did you dream to-night?” asked the old woman.

I was dreaming that I was going over the ford by moonlight, and that I saw the Boccough walking on the water towards me. Then he stopped at a certain big stone, and began to examine under it with his hands. I came up to him and asked him what he was searching for, when he looked up with a frightful look on his face, and he cried out in a monstrous voice, ‘For my red nightcap!’”

God Almighty never opened one door but he opened two,” exclaimed old Kathleen. “Examine under that stone to-morrow, and as sure as there’s an eye in a goat, you’ll find another fortune of money in it.”

Maybe so,” replied Terry, “sure, there’s no harm in saying ‘God willing,’ and that He may make a thief of you before a liar.”

Amen, to that,” replied Kathleen.

Next morning at daybreak, Terry got up, and proceeded to the exact same stone where he had dreamed that he had seen the spirit of the Boccough. He examined it closely, and after a thorough search, discovered in the sand beneath the rock a leather pouch full of money. He cheerfully seized it, and on counting its contents, found it amounted to almost a hundred pounds, in silver and copper coins. “What a lucky born man you are, Terry O’Shea!” cried the overjoyed treasure hunter, “and what a bright day it was for your family that the Boccough Ruadh crossed over the waters of the Nore.”

It was not a bright day at all, but a wild, gloomy, stormy night,” said the old woman, who, unknown to Terry, had followed her son to watch the success of his treasure hunt.

Who cares about that?” said Terry, “There never was so bright a day in your seven generations as that dark night. I am now a rich man, and I would not salute the Lord Lieutenant at this time.”

That joyful day was passed by the happy mother and son counting and examining the gold, and again proposing plans, and considering the best purposes to which it could be applied. They passed the hours until the summer sun had long sunk behind the crimson west, and Terry again went to bed. He jumped from his sleep with a wild shriek, “Mother of mercy!” He then frantically screamed aloud, “Here is the Boccough Ruadh! I hear the tramp of his wooden leg on the floor.”

The Lord save us!” said the old woman in a trembling voice, “what can be the trouble with him now? Maybe it’s more money he has hid somewhere else.”

Oh, do you hear how he rattles about the place! Devil a thing in the cabin but he will destroy it,” exclaimed poor Terry. “It’s a black day for us whenever we caught sight of himself, or his dirty trash of money. And, if God saves me till morning, I’ll go back and leave every bit of it where I got it.”

Sure, wouldn’t that be a terrible crime to leave so much fine money simply moulding in the clay, while there are so many in want of it. Well, you shall do no such thing,” said the mother.

I don’t care a jot for that,” said Terry. “I would not have that old sinner, God rest his soul, rummaging every other night about my honest decent cabin for all the gold in the Queen’s County.”

Well, then,” says the old woman, “go to the priest in the morning, and leave him the money, and let him dispose of it as he likes for the good of the old vagabond’s unfortunate soul.”

This plan was agreed to, and the conversation dropped, although the ghost of the Boccough still rattled and clanked about the house. He never ceased stumping about, from the kitchen to the room, and from the room to the kitchen. Pots and pans, plates and pitchers, were tossed here and there. The dog was kicked, the cat was mauled, and even the raked-up fire was lashed out of the grate. In fact, Terry declared that if the Devil himself was about the place, there couldn’t have been more noise than there was that night with the Boccough’s ghost, and this continued without a pause until the bell of Abbeyleix castle clock tolled the midnight hour.

Terry got up out of his bed the next morning at sunrise, and he packed up the money, which he believed was the cause of all his trouble, in his mother’s check apron. Then, with a heavy heart, he proceeded to the parochial house, which was about two miles from the present Poor-man’s Bridge, to see the priest. The priest, however, had not yet risen when Terry arrived, but being well known to the domestics, the young man was admitted into the priest’s bedroom.

You have started early,” said the priest; “what troubles you now, Terry?”

In response, Terry gave a full and true account of his troubles, and concluded by telling the priest that he had brought him the money to dispose of it as he thought best. “I won’t have any thing to do with it,” said the Father. “It is not mine, so you may take it back again the same road.”

Not a piece of it will ever go my road again,” said Terry. “Can’t you give it for his unfortunate old soul?”

I’ll have no hand in it,” said the priest.

Well, neither will I,” said Terry. “I wouldn’t have the old miser thumping about my quiet floor another night for a king’s ransom.”

Well, take it to your landlord. Sure, he is a magistrate, and he will have it put to some public works connected with the county,” said the priest.

Bad luck to the lord or lady that I will ever take it to,” said Terry, turning on his heels, and running down the stairs, leaving the money, apron and all, on the floor at the priest’s bedside.

Come back, come back!” shouted the Father urgently and with increasing anger.

Good morning to your reverence,” said Terry, as he sprang and bound across the priests’ garden like a mountain deer. “Ay, go you back! You have the money now, and you may make a bog or a road with it, whichever pleases you more.”

An hour later, the priest’s servant man was on the road to Maryborough, mounted on the priest’s own black horse. Strapped in a large bag behind the servant was a sealed parcel containing the Boccough’s money, and a letter addressed to the treasurer of the Queen’s County grand jury. This letter detailed the curious circumstances by which the money came into the priest’s possession, and recommending him to use it for whatever purpose the gentlemen of the county should consider the most urgent.

The summer assizes came on in a few days, and the matter was brought before the grand jury, who agreed to use the money to build a stone bridge over the ford where it was collected.

Within a year from that day, the ford had disappeared, and a magnificent bridge of seven arches spanned the sparkling waters of the River Nore, which pretty broad at this point and of considerable depth. From that day to this it has been called the “Poor-man’s Bridge,” and I never cross it without thinking of the strange circumstances which led to its erection.

The spirit of the Boccough Ruadh never troubled Terry O’Shea after that day, but often, as people say, amid the gloom of a winter’s night, or the grey haze of a summer’s evening, the figure of a wan and decrepid old man with his head enveloped in a red nightcap, was seen wandering about Poor-man’s Bridge, or walking quite “natural” over the glassy waters of the River Nore.

Poor Man’s Bridge Pt I

When ghosts, as cottage maids believe,

Their pebbled beds permitted leave,

And goblins haunt, from fire or fen,

Or mine or flood, the walks of men.”—— Collins.

This is a story adapted from an original tale written by John Keegan, an Irish writer, and storyteller, who was born in the townland of Killeaney, near the village of Shanahoe in County Laois (formerly Queen’s County). John was born in 1816, in the house of his uncle, Thomas Maloney, who was a local hedge-school teacher, with whom John’s parents lived. He was educated by his uncle, who had established a school in the sacristy of Shanahoe chapel, about 1822, prior to the erection of a school in the village in 1830.This particular story was published in 1846 and is an excellent example of Irish storytelling in the eighteenth century, before, during and after the great Famine.

It happened one evening last winter. It was a Christmas holiday evening, and the western wind was sweeping wildly from the grey hills of Tipperary, across the rich and level plains of County Laois. When a blast of wind blast roared down the chimney, and the huge rain-drops pattered saucily against the four tiny glass panes which constituted the little kitchen window, I was sitting in the cottage of a neighbouring peasant. I was in the middle of a small but happy group of village rustics, and enjoying with them that enlivening mirth and sinless delight, which I have never found anywhere else but at the fireside of an Irish peasant.

The earthen floor was well scrubbed over, while the various bits and pieces of furniture that existed were arranged with more than the usual tidiness. Even the crockery on the well-scoured dresser reflected the ruddy glare from the red fire with redoubled brilliancy, glittering and glistening as merrily as if they felt conscious of the calm and tranquillity of that happy scene. And happy indeed was that scene, and happy was that time, and happier still the hearts of the laughing people by whom I was, on that occasion, surrounded. It has been among people such as these that I have spent the lightest and happiest hours of my existence.

It was, as I said, a wild night. But even the violence of the weather outside gave an additional relish to the enjoyments within that building. The wind’s blast whistled fiercely in the cracks of the old and weather beaten wall, but the huge fire blazed brightly on the hearth-stone. The rain fell in torrents, but, as one of the company laughingly remarked, “the wrong side of the house was out,” and I myself mentally exclaimed with Tam O’Shanter,

“The storm without may roar and rustle,

We do not mind the storm a whustle.”

Meanwhile, to help wind up the climax of our happiness, a bit of a boy who had been dispatched for a large tankard full of ‘poteen,’ now returned. Within a few minutes a huge jug of half ‘poteen’ and half boiling water steamed on the table, and was circulated around the smiling and expectant ring of people. It was passed with a speed, the likes of which the peasantry of Ireland will in a very short time, from certain existing causes, have not even the remotest idea.

Well, such an evening as we had, I shall never forget! It would be virtually impossible to even attempt a description of the festivities. Those who have witnessed similar scenes require none, and to those who have not, any attempt at one would be useless. All, therefore, I shall say, is, that such a scene of fun and frolic and harmless foolishness could not be found anywhere outside that ring which encircles the Emerald Isle. Even within that bright zone, nowhere but in the cabin of an Irish “peasant”

The songs of our fathers, sung with all that melancholy softness and pathetic sweetness for which the voices of our wild Irish girls are renowned. The wild legend recited with that rich brogue and self-deprecating humour that is peculiar alone to the Irish peasant. The romantic and absurd fairy tale, that is told with all the reverential awe and caution, which the solemnity of the subject required, long amused and excited the captivated listeners. But at length, more is the pity, the vocalist could sing no more, having “a mighty great cold on him entirely.” The storyteller was “as dry as a chip with all his talking,” and even the sides of most of the company “were ready to split with all the laughing that was done.” Meanwhile, as if to afford us another illustration of the truth of the old proverb, “one trouble never comes alone,” even the old crone who had astonished us with the richness and the extent of her fairy lore, had also finished, having exhausted her huge reservoir of earthly spirits to entertain us.

Well, what could we do? The night was still young, and, better than that, a good drop still remained in the large tankard. Not surprisingly, as we all had contributed to procure the drink, everyone declared that none should leave until the very last drop was drained. But what were we to do to occupy ourselves? The singer was silenced, the storyteller was exhausted, and the volleys of wit and foolishness had exploded until everyone was exhausted from the laughter, and yet to remain silent was considered by all as the most uncomfortable way to spend such an evening as this.

Puzzled by this dilemma the man of the house scratched his scalp, and, in an sudden impulsive act, he stood up and handed me an old book that was covered in soot. “Maybe you’ll entertain us all by reading a story or two for the education of the company here, until it would be time for us all to go home?

Without hesitation I agreed to do as he asked, and on opening the dusty and smoke-begrimed book discovered that it was, in fact, “Sir Charles Coote’s Statistical Survey of the Queen’s County,” printed in Dublin by Graisberry and Campbell, and published by direction of the Dublin Society in the year 1801. I was, of course, well aware that the dry details of a work that was exclusively statistical, were not designed to amuse, or even interest, an audience such as this. But, sadly the library of an Irish peasant is always, unfortunately, scanty. In this particular instance, with the exception of a few mediocre works on religious subjects, there was only this ‘Statistical Survey.’ Nevertheless, I was determined to make it as interesting to my audience as was possible. For that reason I opened it at Sir Charles’s description of the immediate district in which we were situated, namely, the barony of Maryborough West, and townland of Killeany.

I began to read, “On Sir Allen Johnson’s estate stand the ruins of Killeany Castle, the walls of which are injudiciously built of very bad stones, although an excellent quarry is nearby. … ‘Poor-man’s Bridge’ over the River Nore was lately widened, and is very safe, but I cannot learn the tradition why it was so called.”

Read that again, sir,” said a fine grey-headed, patriarchal old man, who was present. “Read that again,” said he emphatically, and I did so.

He cannot learn the tradition of ‘Poor-man’s Bridge,’ the eejit!” the old man said with a sneer. “Sure, I can’t believe it. Normally, with a man of his education, I’d take his word as gospel. But, if he had come to me when he was travelling the country making up his statistics, I could have opened his eyes on that subject, and many others too.”

Some of those present laughed outright at the manner in which the old man made this confident boast. “You needn’t laugh! You can all just shut your potato-traps,” said the old man indignantly. “He might have thought he was a great man, with his gold and silver, his coach and horses, and his servants with gold and scarlet livery. But, I could tell him a thing or two about the ancient history and traditions of our country. In fact, a lot more history and tradition than all those landlords and landowners whom he visited, could have given him on his tour through the Queen’s County.”

Such boasting only served to increase the storm of ridicule which was beginning to gather around the old man’s head. So, in order to put a stop to any potential bad feelings, which the occasion might cause, I asked him to simply tell us the tradition surrounding “The Boccough Ruadh.”

After some coaxing and some flattery he agreed, and he began to tell us a curious story, the substance of which follows:-

The River Nore flows through a district of the Queen’s County that is famous for its fertility and romantic beauty. From its source among the blue hills of Slievebloom to where the river’s bright ripples mix with the briny waves of the Irish Sea, at New Ross, many excellent and even some beautiful bridges span its stream. Until the beginning of the last century, however, except in the vicinity of the towns, there were only a few permanent bridges across this river. In the country districts access, for the most part, was gained over the river by means of causeways, or, as they are often called “fords.” These were usually constructed of stones and huge blocks of timber that were fixed firmly in the bed of the river, and extended in irregular succession from bank to bank. Over this pathway foot passengers crossed easily enough, but cattle and wheeled carriages were obliged to struggle through the water as well as they could. But, in time of flooding, and in the winter season when the waters were swollen, all communication was cut off except to pedestrians alone.

One of those “fords,” in former times, crossed the Nore at Shanahoe, a very pretty neighbourhood, about three miles northwards of the beautiful and rising town of Abbeyleix, in the Queen’s County.Here, the river winds its course through a silent glen, and several snug cottages and farm-houses arise above its banks at either side. The country in this neighbourhood is remarkably beautiful. Several great homes are scattered along the banks of the river in this vicinity, all elegant and of modern erection. Meanwhile, swelling hills, sloping dales, gloomy groves, and the ruins of churches, towers, and grey castles, ornament and beautify the scene.

About a hundred years ago, on a gentle piece of rising ground, along the eastern bank of the river, stood the cabin of a man named Neale O’Shea. At that time there was not another dwelling within a mile or two of the ford, and on many occasions Neale was summoned from his midnight slumbers to guide the traveller as he made his way over the lonely and dangerous river pathway.

One wild and stormy December night, when the angry foaming water of the agitated river beat against the huge limestone rocks that formed the stepping-stones of the ford, Neale O’Shea’s wife thought she heard, between the pauses of the wind, the cry of someone in distress. She immediately awakened her husband, who was stretched out and asleep on a large oak stool in the chimney corner, and told him to look outside. Neale, who was always willing to assist a fellow-creature, got up from his resting place. Flinging his grey cloak over his wide shoulders, and grabbing hold of a long iron-tipped pole, which he constantly took with him on his nightly excursions, hurriedly made his way down to the river’s edge. He stood for a moment at the verge of the ford, and tried to see through the intense gloom of the night, to try and identify a human form, but he could see nothing. “Is there any one there?” he shouted out in a loud voice, which rose high above the whistling of the wind, and the rushing of the angry and swift-flowing river.

A voice sounded at the other end of the ford, and with steady step great determination, crossed over the wet and slippery stepping-stones. “Who the devil are you?” Neale called out to the figure of a man who was stretched out on the brink of the river, very near to the entrance of the ford. “Whoever I am,” the stranger faintly replied, “you are my guardian angel, and it was surely my good fortune which caused you to come and rescue me from a watery grave.”

Whoever you are,” said Neale, “come along with me, and Kathleen and the children will make you welcome in my cabin until morning.” Having given the invitation, he seized the bent form of the travel weary stranger, and using all his strength to fling him on his back, Neale trudged over the stepping-stones, chuckling with delight, and happily whistling a tune as he went.

The dangerous path was soon crossed, and arriving at the door, Neale pushed it open before him, and with a smile he laid his trembling burden down on the warm hearth. A fine fire blazed merrily, and its flickering flames fell brightly on the pale face of the stranger. He was a tall, portly figure of a man, stooped as if from extreme suffering rather than from age, and he had a wooden leg. His features, which had evidently been handsome in his youth, were worn, pale, and extremely thin, and looked as though he might be about fifty years of age. His clothes were faded and ragged, and he was entirely without shoes or stockings. The man’s head was covered by a broad-brimmed leather hat, under which he wore an enormous red nightcap of coarse woollen cloth.

Neale’s good wife, Kathleen, now set about preparing supper, and while she was doing this, the stranger gave them both a brief account of his life. He told them that he was a native of the north of Ireland, and that he had spent several years of his youth at sea. He admitted that he had been wounded in a fight with smugglers on the coast of France, and after losing his leg, he had been discharged from his employment, and sent out into the world, without having one friend on earth, or a penny in his pocket. In this emergency he had no alternative but to beg for assistance from his fellow-men, and had thus for the last twenty years wandered up and down the land, entirely dependent on the bounty and charity of the public.

Supper was now ready, and having taken a share of a comfortable meal, the wanderer went to rest in a comfortable “shake-down” bed, which the good woman had prepared for him in the chimney corner. The storm died away during the night, and next morning the watery beams of the winter’s sun shone faintly yet cheerfully on the smooth surface of the silvery Nore. The stranger was up at sunrise, and was preparing to leave, but his kind host and hostess would not allow him to go. They told him to stop a few days to rest, and in the interim, that he could do no better than take his post at the ford, and ask alms of those who passed that way. There were always a great many people that passed there and, he was told, as nothing was ever begged from them in that place, they would cheerfully extend their charity to a person worthy of help.

Acting on their suggestions, the old sailor was soon sitting on a stone at the western end of the ford. With his old beret in his hand, and his head enveloped in the gigantic red nightcap, he begged for alms, in the name of God and the Virgin, from all those who passed that way. Before the faint beams of the December sun had sunk behind the distant hills, the old sailor could show that had earned more money than ever he did before, or since his limb was swept off by the shot of the smugglers.

The next morning, and every morning after, the sailor was to be found at his post at the ford. He soon became so well known to all the villagers, and from the circumstance of his always appearing with no other head-gear than the red nightcap, they nicknamed him the “Boccough Ruadh.” This was the name by which he was known for ever after until his death.

The days and weeks passed by as usual, and the one-legged old sailor still conducted his lucrative employment at the river’s ford. Neale O’Shea’s cabin still continued to supply him with shelter every night, and all his days, from cock-crow until the final evening song of the wood-thrush, were spent at the ford, seated on that large block of limestone that is called to this day the “Clough-na-Boccough.”

The old sailor’s hand was stretched out to every stranger for alms, claiming it was “for the good of their souls,” and very few passed without giving something to the Boccough Ruadh.In this way he acquired considerable sums of money, but constantly denied having even a penny to his name. Whenever he was tormented by any of the neighbouring children about the size of his purse, he would get into a great rage. Angrily he swore, by the cross made by his crutch, that between buying a wee bit of tobacco and paying for other things he wanted, he hadn’t as much as would jingle on a tomb-stone, or as much that would buy a farthing candle to show a light on his poor corpse at the last day. He described the food that he ate as being the very worst, and unless it was supplied by the kind-hearted Kathleen O’Shea, he would sooner go to bed without supper than lay out one penny to buy bread. He allowed his clothes to go degrade into rags, unless any person in the area gave him old clothes for charity, and he would not pay for soap to even wash his shirt. Despite their best efforts, however, no one could find out what he did with his money. The man did not spend a half-crown in a year, and most people believed that he was piling it all up to give for masses that would benefit his soul on his dying day.

The years rolled by, and Neale O’Shea having reached old age, died, and was buried with his own people in the adjacent green churchyard of Shannikill, that lay on the banks of the winding Nore. The Boccough followed the remains of his kind benefactor to his last earthly resting-place, and poured his sorrows over his grave in loud and long-continued lamentations. But though Neale was gone, Kathleen remained, and she promised that while she lived, neither son nor daughter should ever turn out the Boccough Ruadh.

It was now forty years since the Boccough first crossed the waters of the Nore, and still he was constantly to be found from morning until night on his favourite stone at the river’s side. In the mean time, all the O’Shea children were married, and spread out through various parts of the country, with the exception of Terry, the youngest son. He was a fine stout fellow, now about thirty-five years of age, who still remained in a state of batchelorhood, and said he would continue to be single, “until he would lay the last sod on his poor old mother.”He had great strength, and he inherited all his father’s kindness of heart and undaunted bravery. Terry was particularly attentive to the Boccough, whom he regarded with the same affection as a child would a parent.

One morning in summer, the Boccough remained in his bed longer than was his usual custom, and thinking that he might be unwell, Terry went to his bedside, and asked him why he was not up as usual. “Ah, Terry,” said the old man sorrowfully, “I will never get up again until I get the wooden box. Sure, my days are spent, and I know it, for there is something over me that I cannot describe, and I won’t be alive this time tomorrow.” and as he said these words, he heaved a deep groan, and Terry, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his coat began to weep bitterly.

Will I go for the priest?” asked Terry, sobbing as if his heart would break.

No,” replied the old man sorrowfully, “I do not want him. It is a long time since I complied with my religious duties, and now I feel it is useless.”

There is mercy still,” replied Terry; “you know the old saying,‘Mercy craved and mercy found

Between the saddle

and the ground.’”

The old man did not reply, but shook his head, indicating his determination to die without the consolations that religion might provide, while Terry trembled for his hopeless situation. “Well, since you won’t have the priest, will you give me some money till I bring you the doctor?” said Terry.

The old man’s eyes literally flashed fire, his form heaved with rage, and his face showed an almost demoniac indignation.

What’s that you say?” he demanded in a ferocious tone, and Terry repeated the question. “Send for a doctor? Give you money?” echoed the old man. “Where the devil would I get money to pay a doctor?”

You have it, and ten times as much,” said Terry, “and you cannot deny it.”

If I have as much money as would buy me a coffin,” said the Boccough, “may my soul never rest quiet in the grave.”

Terry crossed his brow with terror. He knew the unhappy wretch was dying with a lie on his tongue, but he resolved not to press the matter further. “You are dying as fast as you can, remarked Terry; “have you anything that you want to say before you go?”

Nothing,” he replied faintly. “But let me be buried with my red nightcap on me.”

Your wish must be granted,” said Terry, and he went to awake his old mother, who still lay asleep. When he returned, he found the old man breathing his last. He uttered a convulsive groan, and expired.