Niamh’s Folk (Final Part)

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

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

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

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

-***-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-***-

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

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

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

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

“How did she leave?” asked Niamh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There follows a mist, and a weeping rain,

And life is never the same again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about McCann, your cousin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niamh’s Folk – PART I

If you ever chance to go to the County of Armagh in the Northern portion of Ireland, you would be reasonably safe in addressing a man as “Mr. McCann!” If that should fail to gain his attention then you could try Murphy, or Quinn. And if this does not give you a positive result, then there is still the surname of Wilson to fall back upon. But, I would certain that failure in using all these surnames is next to impossible! Niamh, however, did not have any of these names, although she lived with her maternal grandfather, who was called Hughes.

Niamh was one of those beings that the people call a changeling, and any of those people residing in the Parish of Derryhusk would tell you so.  There were one or two people in the area who would smile when they told you this. Her grandmother, Catriona Hughes stated it as fact, and Catriona had been given the second sight, which allowed her to see more than most other people. Nevertheless, she was held in high regard within Derryhusk Parish because of her ability to see beyond that misty veil which mercifully hides the future from ordinary beings. The old woman had long said, almost from the day the child was born, that the girl was a changeling. Her daughter, poor Anna had died when Niamh was born, and her father Robbie O’Neill had been tragically drowned. It was, you can see, that the baby had been surrounded by great tragedy and sorrow from birth, and the ‘good people’ had stolen her away, leaving Isabelle in her stead. At least this was the story that was common among all in Derryhusk.

When growing up, Niamh had always been something of an odd child, Catriona had insisted to her friends and neighbours. She would tell all that Niamh, with her ruddy, tawny locks, and sloe-eyes, elfish and silent, would do the oddest, uncanny, unaccountable things, as her moods swung between bouts of sadness and bouts of happiness. As for Niamh, she grew up in the confines of Derryhusk, and had never displayed any wish to leave, though she had been given opportunities to do so. Instead, she lived with Catriona until she was nineteen, and helped her with her spinning and knitting. It was her duty to milk the cows, and to maintain the home for her grandmother. But, the young girl’s head was filled with her grandmother’s teaching, convincing her to believe in the existence of the fairy folk, although she rarely ever spoke about them. Often, her cousin Dermot would find her seated in the middle of the fairy-ring on the small hillock, that stood above the cottage, picking the green grass absently, and gazing blankly into the distance.

One day, she told herself. she would hear the tapping of fairy feet as they danced upon the stone path, or a tiny voice which would call on her to enter into a magical world that would be so very different from lovely Derryhusk. On several occasions she thought that she was on the brink of meeting the little folk, only for someone to come and interrupted the moment. There was one night as she came home over the moss from Ardee that all was quiet and the only sound she could hear was that of her own footfall. Nearby the narrow stream ran, richly brown with the peat over which it gurgled, and the air was filled with honeyed scents, while distant hills faded into the lovely purple of the night’s embrace. Niamh was sure she heard a voice calling her then, and she had wandered up amongst the furze bushes, her face eager and filled with expectancy. And there above her on the small grassy hillock, appearing to flit between the grey lichen-covered boulders, she was certain that there were tiny white figures, waving her to come forward. In her eagerness she began to run towards the top of the small hillock, but, just as she approached that place, Dermot’s voice called to her from the high road. “What are you doing there?” he asked. “Is it the way home?” Niamh almost burst into tears as she descended the hill once more. For she could see nothing near the boulders at that moment but the waving cotton-grass and furzes amongst the peat bog.

Niamh's ArgumentIt was a lovely September, and the hill-sides were a splendour of tawny colouring, the fading furze and bracken, golden and brown, and orange, and gold, and dusky indescribable grey. The sunset came early, and tingeing and stained the nearby tarn, while the cragged rock known as “The Hound’s Tooth” stood out sharply against a rose gold background caused by a descending sun.  Niamh had gone to fetch fodder for the cows, and the fodder was a great pile of pale yellow bracken, which she bound together and fastened on her back. Carrying this load, she moved along the road, pausing now and then to lean her load on one of the rough trackside banks that bordered the ‘moss’. It was nearing evening, and shadows were creeping over the moss, while the small stream became a dark and sullen-brown now as it began the hoarse song that it sings only in the dark. The deer in a nearby woodland hear and love this river-song and they creep down cautiously, light-footedly, turning startled graceful heads from side to side, and they pause a moment, poised with listening ear, before they bury thirsty soft noses into the cool rushing water. The deer paid no attention to Niamh’s presence for they seemed to know that she posed no danger to them, though it was scarcely dark enough for the deer to make an appearance. There was still light enough in the sky to see a passing tourist from Liscorr, coming from popular Corrig on his way home. Niamh paused to rest and laid the heavy load of bracken on the grassy bank, where the yellow fern made a lovely background for her tawny-coloured hair and dark ebony-coloured eyes. Along the track she suddenly spied two men approaching, and she waited for their arrival with some apprehension until she realised one of the men was Dermot McCann. He was her cousin, short, swarthy, black-browed, with a twinkle of cunning in his grey eyes, and a jolly lilt in his voice. The other person Niamh had difficulty naming, although she had seen him playing hurling in Liscorr. Yes, yes, she knew him and had admired his steady ‘puck fada’ on the field of play, and his name was Ruairi McFee. Oh yes, Niamh remembered Ruairi very well, and a little smile melted over her red lips, and lurked in the depths of her lovely eyes as Dermot made himself known to her. Ruairi had recently rented the small farm next to Catriona’s, and he had been invited by her to supper. It was time, Niamh decided, that she was at home.

Absence makes…..

She was just a little girl, slender and insignificant. It was only her love that made her heroic. Meanwhile, the man was big, broad, a man to be noticed in a crowd, but his love made him as helpless as a little child. They were standing opposite each other in the poor, shabbily furnished little room. His eyes scanned her face wildly, incredulously, but her eyes were, all the time, fixed upon a great hole in the faded carpet on the floor. Her mind seemed to be in a state of chaos, for with his eagerly spoken words of love came others that totally bewildered her. Alongside the man’s passionate words of love for her, his yearning to have her for himself and the promise to live and work only for her happiness, the man added other words. He spoke of his ambition and great hopes, of his intention to travel the world far and wide, of his hardships and discomforts that he would have to bear for the sake of a book that was yet to be written. It would be a book, he was certain, that would bring fame and great satisfaction to its author. As he spoke, his words held a deep note of earnestness and strength, which overpowered those eager, pleasant tones that had been pleading to her so wildly.

“I called you ‘Kathleen My Darling’ last night. Do you remember? You smiled and blushed as I spoke!” he protested to her. “Why did you do it, Kathleen? I know you love me, you do! Why don’t you speak to me? I tell you, I have seen it in your eyes. So, why do you deny it now?”

The girl shook her head, and in an agonising tone of voice she pleaded with him to tell her, “How long? How long?”

The man held out his arms to her despairingly and in a humble, quiet voice that was unnatural to him he asked, “Won’t you try, then? For Kitty, little Kitty, I cannot live without you!”

Calmly and quietly she told him, “I have a singing lesson to give at one o’clock,” and in response the man’s arms fell limply to his sides.

The sun was streaming through the window and on to the pretty, pale, face of the girl, as well as on to the white, haggard face of the man who stood opposite her. There were no shadows in that little room, for it was all glare and shabbiness. “I will leave,” the man said curtly, and then his eyes began to fill with an angry fire. “But, you are a flirt! Do you hear me, a pitiable and heartless flirt! You have led me on and played with my feelings for you. You have softened your eyes, made your lips sweet and tempting, and amuse yourself at my expense! How can you do such a thing?” He gave a little cynical laugh and then continued, “You have been very clever in your own way – you know——” and he moved towards the door. As he reached the door, he stopped and turned toward the girl, saying icily, “I beg your pardon, I should not have spoken so to a woman. Good-bye.”

“You will begin travelling now?” she asked.

He laughed and said, “Why keep up the pretence? It’s rather late now to pretend you have any interest in my life.” For her part, she was silent and watched as he paused at the door. This was a proud man, and he had an iron will. But his love for this woman had made him helpless and weak as a little child. “Kathleen,” he breathed, “you are sure?” As he awaited her reply for a moment, she stood still and rigid as a statue. “Oh, little one, I love you so much,” He sighed, his voice soft and caressing. Her love, however, made her heroic and strong. She raised her head and steadily told him, “I am certain,” she said steadily.

*** Couple 2

The young girl sat in a corner of the warm, well-furnished drawing-room, and she wished that people would not nod and stare at her so energetically as they passed by. She was used to it by now, but she had grown very tired of it. In fact, she had never liked it, but accepted that fame brings notoriety with it, and notoriety, unfortunately, brings nods, whispers and stares. She was dressed beautifully. It was not a major surprise, for she had always liked pretty things, and now she could have as many as she wanted. But, a man standing in a doorway across the road was watching her with contempt in his eyes. He had not seen her for five years, and as he stood there another man approached him and spoke. “Looking at our wee star, are you?” the passer-by asked. “That wee girl is the best thing that ever happened to this place, you know. Have you ever heard her sing? No? Well, maybe you’re just back from your travels and sure you can go to the Town Hall tomorrow evening. She’s going to sing there, and her voice is something wonderful to hear. Now, I never go to hear the girl myself for it makes me so sad, like a miserable sinner somehow. But, I’ve heard her twice, and then I stopped, because I didn’t like feeling so bad.”

The man slowly walked away again, and the watcher with contempt in his eyes continued to stare at her. The girl’s head was turned away from him, allowing him only a view of her soft, fair cheek and little ear nestling in a soft mass of hair, a white throat, and a lot of pale chiffon and silk. And suddenly the cheek and even the neck were flooded with a red blush, and then they looked whiter than before. He wondered at the cause for a moment, and he smiled bitterly as he did so. The girl’s eyes, however, remained firmly fixed, eager, and fascinated on the long looking-glass before her. But, she was not looking at herself. Afterwards he sought her out. “You were wise,” he spoke mockingly, and her normally soft, sweet eyes grew dark with pain. Meanwhile, he took the vacant seat beside her and played with the costly fan he had picked up from a dressing table. “I must congratulate you,” he said indifferently and with a wave towards her dress and the diamonds around her throat he added, “This is much better than the old days.”

“Yes,” she replied softly “But, perhaps you have forgotten since it has been, how long? Is it ten, no, five years ago?”

“No.” For a moment she furled and unfurled the fan in silence, admiring her beauty and wondering who had given her the Parma violets blooms for her hair. “Your book?” she asked timidly. But, as he stared back at her blankly she could feel herself begin to slowly redden. “You were going to travel and write about your adventures in strange places …” she continued falteringly.

“Oh, yes, I believe I was, some five years ago,” he replied and her face returned to its normal colour.

“Have you travelled far?” she asked.

“Oh, yes! I’ve done nothing else for five years. I’ve shot tigers in India and bears in the Himalayas. I’ve lived with Chinamen and African tribesmen, even making friends with cannibals on one occasion. Oh! I’ve had a fine time!” he declared with a laugh. Her eyes were filled with yearning as her hostess brought up a man to be introduced. Then, when she turned again to the other man she saw that the chair was empty again and she did not see him again for two weeks.

In those days there was an added sadness in her beautiful voice as she sang. But, although she brought tears to many thousands of eyes, her own were dry and restless. It was now beginning to dawn on her that she had made a mistake five years ago.

“Have you seen Hugh Hagan?” she heard one man say to another. “Never have I been so disappointed in a man in all of my life. Several years past he had the promise of being able to achieve some fame. Those articles that he wrote about ‘Foreign Ways and Customs’ made quite a sensation, you know. There was also some talk of wild travels and a book that was going to be a ‘Best Seller”. Well, he has had the travels alright, but where’s the book?”

“It’s down to the usual thing. A woman,” the other man replied. “Didn’t you know? Some pretty young thing. The usual scenario, but the cost to him was heavier than he could handle. It knocked the life out of him, you know. I don’t think I have ever saw a fellow so hard hit. That all happened five years ago, and he’s never written a line since. Poor fellow!”

The knowledge that she had made a mistake five years ago was becoming much clearer in her mind now and, at the end of the fortnight, she met with him and asked him to come and see her. Although he smiled pleasantly he chose not to visit and this upset her very much, causing her eyes to swell in her small, sad face. Then, she met him again, and when she asked him why he had not come, he looked down into her soft, sweet eyes and immediately began to feel love for her weakening his will once again. Once more he promised that he would come to visit her. But, when he came, he only stayed with her for five minutes. As she opened the door to him, he looked at her sternly and greeted her tersely. “Why do you want me?” he asked her, and watched the colour come and go in her cheeks with his pitiless eyes.

“We used to be friends,” she replied in a quiet and halting voice. He stood before her and laughed.

“Never! I never felt friendship for you,” he said mockingly, “nor you for me. You forget. Five years is a long time, but I have a retentive memory. I forget nothing.”

“Nor I,” she murmured.

“No? Then why did you ask me to come and see you?” When she gave him no answer, he looked round the pretty shaded room for a moment and he laughed again. “There is a difference in you too,” he told her.

She looked up at him quickly and confidently said, “I am the same.”

“Are you?” he asked and there was anger in his eyes.

“Listen,” he said, in a low, tense voice, “I am five years wiser than I was, then and I will never be anyone’s plaything again. You have ruined my life; doesn’t that make you happy? I would have staked my life on your goodness and your purity in those days. But, I can’t allow myself to believe in the goodness of any woman since you, with your angel’s eyes, proved to be so false. I used to be full of ambition and hope, but you killed both in me. I even tried to write my book after we had split, and I found that I couldn’t. Now, I shall never do anything and never be anything. I despise myself, and it’s not a nice feeling for any man to live with. It makes men desperate. But, still I love you. Do you understand? I have loved you all the time, and I hate myself for it.” His voice changed. “You may triumph,” he said, “but now that you understand, I will not come again.”

She stretched out her arms after him, but he was gone. And in that one moment she knew quite clearly that she had made a terrible mistake five years ago. She did not see him again for three and a half weeks. Then she saw him, one day when he thought he was alone. From a distance she studied his face and her eyes ached at what they saw, bringing her almost to tears. Then she decided to go to where he was sitting, and she touched him gently on his arm. “Well?” he asked, feeling the softness of her touch.

“Will you come,” she said in a soft voice, “to see me——”

“Thanks, but no thank you,” he told her as his eyes rested bitterly on her rich gown. Nevertheless, it came across his mind again just how wise she had been. Being tied to him, he was convinced, she could not have been as she was now.

“I have something I must say to you,” she said nervously, “will you please come, just this once?” He looked down into those soft, warm eyes with the beautiful light in them.

“I would rather not,” he said gently, but firmly.

The weariness that was in his eyes brought a sob to her throat and she pleaded with him, “Ah, do! I won’t ask you again.”

He looked at her, not really believing she meant what she said, and then he turned away. She had looked the same way that she had looked five years ago. Then she laid a small, despairing hand on his, and the iciness of her touch went to his heart. “I will come,” he said gently, and went away. On this occasion, when he came, he wondered at the apparent agitation in her small white face. Her eyes were red with the tears she had cried, and he waited silently and watched her twist her hands restlessly together. He noticed that she was trembling, and he drew a chair forward. “Please, will you sit down?” he said.

She sat down in a nest of softest cushions. “I, I,” she began to speak hesitatingly, and put up her hand up to her throat, “I want to, to, to explain.” His face darkened as she rose from her seat restlessly and faced him. His thoughts turned to that time when they had faced each other before, in the shabby, glaring little room, and his face hardened toward her. “When you,” she began, “I thought it was for you. I had heard you say.”

“Are you going back five years?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then please don’t,” he said. “There can be no good come from it, and to me at least it is not a pleasant subject.”

“I must!” she burst into tears. “Oh! Can’t you help me? It is so hard!”

As she held out her hands pathetically toward him, a darkness came over his tanned face, and he stood still, looking at her with a strange expression. “I think I will go,” he said; “there is no use in prolonging this.”

“Do you love me still?” she cried suddenly.

He turned on her in a white passion of anger. “You’re not content yet?” he breathed. “What are you made of? Do you want me to show you all my degradation? Why? Oh, Kitty, Kitty, be merciful! Be true to those eyes of yours.” He abruptly stopped speaking and moved over to the door.

“Hugh, I love you!” She said in the quietest of whispers, but it forced him to stop, and it brought a great light of happiness leaping into his eyes. Just as quickly that light died down again.

“It is too late!” he said wearily and turned away from her again.

“Hugh, please listen! I have always loved you, even five years ago. It was for your sake …”

“Kitty?” he said uncertainly, as he turned back to her.

She went on bravely, encouraged by the deep love she felt for him. “I was a poor and insignificant person, while you were ambitious and clever. I had heard all your dreams for fame and greatness. Hugh, how could you travel into those wild countries with me? I knew you would give up your dreams, and how could I bear that? To be a drag, a hindrance to you! And in the coming years I thought you would resent me. Hugh, you were poor, too, though not so poor as me. I did it for you and it nearly killed me, Hugh. I was ill after we parted, but it was for you!”

As her voice died away into silence, Hugh stood very still, and his face turned was white, as if it all the blood had drained from it. But within his eyes there was a new reverence for the woman before him. “Forgive me!” he said urgently.

She smiled softly at him and said, “Oh, yes.” The cynicism had gone from his face, as well as the hardness and bitterness he had felt.

“Oh, can’t you help me? It is so hard!” He pleaded and, as she looked at him wistfully, he turned his head away from her eyes and hid his face in his hands. “It was a mistake,” he said, slowly, and dully.

“Yes,” she replied softly, and she waited to see his face. When he finally looked up she tried to read his face but failed. It was sad, and set, and yet there was also a new light there.

Hugh now gently took her hands in his, and told her, “Kathleen, God knows what I think of you, and I can work now. So, Good-bye to you my dear.” She was mystified by his response and she raised her eyes anxiously to his. He answered the silent question in those eyes, very gently, but with a firmness that would ensure there was no mistake. “You are famous,” he said, “when I have made a name for myself in the world I will come to you. Will you wait for me, Kitty?”

“For ever, Hugh,” she answered, knowing that this answer was enough for him.

He now bent forward and tenderly kissed her hands.

****

Kitty knelt at the side of Hugh’s bed. She paid no attention to the nurse at the other side of the room, and her warm, soft tears flowed from her eyes, wetting his hand. His right hand and arm were swathed in bandages, and he smiled sadly as he looked up at her. “I am a failure,” he said.

“Ah, no, no! All of Ireland is filled with praise for your name, Hugh,” she said, her face all alight with pride and joy. “You are famous now!”

A little flush rose to his white face as she spoke. “Nonsense,” he replied, “rescuing a woman and a few children from being burnt to death. Sure, anyone would have done the same.”

“Ah, no, Hugh! Not just anyone! Brave men shrank back from that storm-tossed sea and burning ship!”

He lifted his bandaged hand and after looking at it for a few moments he said, “I must learn to write with my left hand.”

Kitty bent closer to him and whispered, “Let me write for you. Let me finish your book, Hugh, while you dictate it to me. I do not sing now in public, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” he said and drew her closer to him, resting cheek against her soft hair. “I said I would not come to you again until I had made a name for myself in the world. I am a wreck now! I shall be a wreck for a long while …”

“But, you are famous, my darling!” she interrupted him lovingly.

“I cannot do without you any longer, Kitty,” he sighed, “I am a beaten man at last. Will you take a wreck?”

“I will take you, Hugh, a famous …”

“A famous wreck,” he finished with a smile.

Letter from America

Wake up there, Jenny!” shouted Bridie Ferguson as she ran up to her neighbour’s door.

What in the name of Jaysus is wrong with ye?” replied Jenny Dunn.

Did you not hear the news?

What news? What’s it about?

Bridie shouted at the top of her voice, “Sure there’s a letter from Amerikay in the post-office.

“Wheesht, now! Don’t be daft!” answered Jenny

I’m telling you the truth, woman,” insisted Bridie Ferguson. “No word of lie! Micky Dunn brought word from the town this morning. He says that the letter is from Dessie McDowell to his old mother.

Oh, is that right? Well, now I know you’re telling lies! That dirty blackguard never had that much good in him from the day and hour he was born. He was always an idle, worthless ruffian, that was the ruination of every one he came in contact with. The dirty old——

Jaysus, Jenny, don’t be holding yourself back! But, let me tell you that you’re wrong this time,” Bridie told her. “The letter is from Dessie McDowell to his old mother, and it contains money, believe it or not!” Her friend Jenny looked at her in disbelief and listened to the rest of what Bridie had to say. She told how the postmistress had sent word that old Mrs. McDowell should bring some responsible person that might guarantee her identity. The old woman was a widow and the postmistress did not want to give the letter into the keeping of a frail old woman, especially when she did not know what might be inside the envelope. For the two greatest gossips in the area  the outstanding question was to discover how that well known reprobate of a son had managed even to get the price of writing paper.

Jenny told her friend that she had seen old Sharon McDowell borrow a clean coat from her neighbour, and that she had sent for Conn King and his car. Mr. King was the local solicitor, who was known to everyone in the town, both rich and poor. Conn was going with the old woman to verify that she was Sharon McDowell of  Tullybann, and the addressee of the letter from America. Bridie laughed at the idea, saying “That old crone is so well know that she could get every man, woman and child in the area to verify her identity. She didn’t need Conn King.

Dessie McDowell was the old woman’s only son, born to her when she was still freshly widowed. Sadly, Sharon’s husband had been killed by a falling tree before they had been married six months. All that was left to Sharon was her beautiful, curly-headed son and she lavished all her love upon him. She spoiled him terribly and as he grew up he became the greatest young hooligan in the parish. As a young boy he developed a knack for throwing stones, the results of which were gathered and reported back to his mother. There was not one day in his young life that passed without him earning the blame for a list of damages and disasters. There were complaints about the chickens and other birds he had maimed and killed with his stones, windows broken into smithereens, and children that had been cut or badly bruised. Dessie was simply a one boy disaster zone and all his poor mother could say was, “For Christ’s sake, what do you want me to do with him, for there is really no harm in my son, for it would do me no good?

village folk 1

The neighbours and townsfolk held their patience with young Dessie for quite a number of years, but finally decided that something would have to be done. Not wanting him to be sent to any delinquent centre, for Sharon’s sake, they came upon another way to resolve the problem. Although not a permanent solution, the tactic that they had agreed upon had the potential to keep him out of their way for the greater part of every day. The opportunity to enjoy that much of their lives in peace was a chance they could not turn down, and even the clergy were glad to agree since the solution might just converting Dessie from being the parish nuisance into a useful member of the community.

Each house in the parish agreed to give a small subscription every month, which would be used to send Dessie to the Christian Brothers’ School in the next town. The brothers were noted for their rigidness and for their teaching ability, as well as for their sports skills. Accordingly, Dessie left home and was sent to this new school for the next five or six years. There was peace in the Parish for these years and Dessie studied hard at all the subjects he was given. But, Dessie was not an academic and preferred to make things out of wood and metal, becoming so proficient that his poor mother was able to boast of his success. Even the neighbours began to think better of him and his teachers spoke highly of Dessie’s abilities. In fact many of the teachers suggested that if Dessie could keep his head down to work then he would be a man fit for the company of any lady in the district. Encouraged by such compliments, Dessie attempted to keep his head down and work hard, putting his talent for metal and woodwork to good use. But in doing all these things Dessie came to ruination.

It was the end of his school days and Dessie knew that the time had finally come for him to make his way in the world. His mother, in an effort to help him get a good steady job, obtained a position for her son as a labourer on the large tract of land owned by a prominent businessman from the town. But, when he heard about the job, and what it entailed, Dessie was not in the least bit pleased. Sharon thought she had gained for him a good start in life, but Dessie was speechless, at first, when she told him. He asked her, “For why, then, did I go to school mother? Is this the sort of job that you want for me, and me qualified for better?

Despite Sharon’s pleadings that he should not reject the offer out of hand, Dessie felt himself to be above such lowly work. He boldly told his mother that nothing but being a carpenter would satisfy his ambitions. People began to look at Dessie as a man who had  ideas above his station in life. But, Dessie didn’t really care what anyone thought of him, and there was one other person who agreed with such thoughts. In fact, is it not a strange phenomena that the most mischievous boys in town always seem to attract the prettiest girls. This is exactly what happened to Dessie McDowell. Unfortunately, for this young couple the young lady, Nancy Doran, had friends and family who were not prepared to quietly allow their relationship to continue unopposed. Undaunted, however, Dessie and Nancy were driven to carry on their relationship in secrecy.

 Driven by his great love for Nancy, Dessie urged Nancy her to elope with him. He believed that her family would, when they realised there was nothing else they could do, give Nancy enough money to set matters right with her. Nancy had not yet gathered enough courage or daring to elope with her man. She also, unfortunately, had not the courage to end the relationship with Dessie, or the increasing secrecy required for the relationship to continue. The affair was becoming increasingly more hopeless in her eyes and, as a result, she began to feel increasing sorrow and shame. Nancy’s bright eyes, that were once like a magnet to all the young men in the district, had now began to grow dim. Her once rosy cheeks, that had caused more than one suitor to write poems to her beauty, had now began to grow pale and sallow. Then, true to his old ways, Dessie had been less than a gentleman towards her and he was forced to flee the country to avoid the righteous and murderous anger of her family. He fled to America and safety, though it remains very much a mystery as to how had obtained the necessary finance. Now, after a period of almost a year and a half, a letter from him had arrived and there were many who hoped it would answer all their questions.

This story, as you must have realised, happened quite a number of years ago when travel to foreign parts was not the everyday event it is today for people. In those days America to be almost like a different planet, and there would be little chance of someone who went there ever returning home. You can imagine, therefore, the fuss and bother that a letter from America could  cause when it arrived in any small Irish village. The news that such a letter had arrived quickly became a matter of public interest to everyone in the village, and it was looked after almost as if it was valuable joint property. Country people generally regarded such a letter as being a general communication from neighbours abroad to all the neighbours at home, and hearing what such a letter contained was a matter of intense interest to all those who have seen a family member joining the numerous emigrants from this land. So it was with the letter Sharon received from America.

When she arrived back home, after retrieving her letter from the post office, the old widow found herself pursued by a cavalcade of her neighbours. Every inch of the cottage interior was full to capacity and the crowd overflowed on to the entire area outside the front of the house. The door and the windows of the cottage were were almost completely blocked up with various heads that strained in a vain effort to hear even a little of what was being read to Sharon. In a low voice the was read out, but many couldn’t hear because of the squabbles between individuals, as they tried to get a better place to listen from.

Damn you, Tom Burns, what the hell are you pushing me away for, sure I want to hear what’s happened with Dessie!

Ah, shut your beak, you eejit! Why wouldn’t I try to get in there to hear a letter about Sharon, sure isn’t she my sister-in-law?

Here boys! Does any of ye hear a word about my poor Paddy?” Biddy Casey called out from the back of the crowd.

For the past three years not a letter had come from America that Biddy had not gone to the addressee in the hope of getting some news about her husband,Paddy. He had been through some financially troubling times, which had caused him to become part of a trio of men who were rustling cattle and sheep. With the forces of law breathing down his neck, Paddy had gone to America to prepare a new life for his family. Regularly every market-day in town, Biddy went to the post-office and inquired if there was a letter from America addressed to her. But, week after week she received a negative answer, and her heart sank with despair. Biddy still attended the post office each market day, but could no longer ask the question, and only presented herself at the counter to receive the usual negative answer from the post-mistress. On some occasions she would turn her eyes to Heaven and pray, “God in heaven help me!”, as the tears flowed down her cheeks. From the day he left until the day Mrs. McDowell’s letter arrived, Biddy had never heard one word one word about her husband, or what had happened to him. The news contained in Sharon’s letter from America would give Biddy some closure on the labours and anxieties she had suffered since Paddy had left. Biddy learned that he was attracted to the city of New Orleans by the promise of high wages, but he met his end in the the deadly swamps that surround the city.

But, Dessie McDowell’s letter contained news for others. One such person was a red-cheeked lady called Peggy Dillon and, after getting her news, she elbowed her way out of the cottage and into the fresh air. She had tears in her eyes but, from the expression on her face, these were undoubtedly tears of joy.

Well, Peggy? Is there any news of your Bridie?” came the questions from the crowd that was gathered outside the cottage. “From the smile on your face, Peggy, it must be good news.

Oh, sure its great news!” Peggy answered delightedly. “Bridie has a wonderful fine place for herself in America and another for me. She even has my passage paid and in five weeks I’ll be away myself. Woo! Woo!  I’m so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself!”

It was, indeed, good news for Peggy Dillon, but others sought news for themselves from the letter. “Peggy darlin’, was there any news about our Mick?” asked someone from the crowd.

Or our Sally? Our Johnny? Or our wee George,” came other questions with which she was inundated.

Oh, I don’t know, I just don’t know. I couldn’t listen with the joy I felt in getting news of Bridie,” replied Peggy

Then, one more spoke out to her to ask he a very pertinent question, “But, Peggy darling, what will Tom Feeny think of all this? Do you just ignore all those vows and promises that you and he made to each other when you were coming home from the dance the other night?

Peggy did not worry about such questions, for she knew exactly what was going to happen. With the very first money that she earned in America, Peggy would send it to the care of the Parish Priest to pay Tom’s passage out to her. She was sure that the Parish Priest would help if she assured him that she and Tom would be married as soon as he set foot on American soil.

 As Peggy walked away with a huge smile across her face another happy face emerged from McDowell’s cottage. It was old Malachy Tighe and he was clasping his hands, together as he looked up toward heaven, silently thanking God for the good news he had received. His son, his pride and joy, was going to be home with him before harvest time, with as much money as would buy another bit of land. His son’s wife threw her arms around her father-in-law when she heard the news from him, and his grandchildren jumped around, screaming with delight. “It’s good news Malachy, Johnny is coming home!” the neighbours celebrated and wished him well.

As usual in these things not everyone would be destined to hear good news. There was a message from Mick Finn to his sweetheart, Susie, telling her that he would soon have her fare gathered and would be sending it on to her. Unfortunately, Susie was not going to hear the message, for she took very ill a couple of months earlier and died. It was six weeks since the poor girl passed away and the family had brought her to her last resting place in the cemetery at St. John’s Church. There in her grave Susie lay, and the daisies had already taken root, blooming there in the fresh air as beautiful as she had once been. Mick Finn’s words, however, had brought back the heartache and tears the family had shed in the days and weeks that had passed since her untimely demise.

Johnny Gallagher has got himself married to a girl from Cork, who has a bucketful of money behind her,” they read from the letter and Big Nancy Mulroy burst out laughing. Everyone had thought, before Johnny went to America, that he and Nancy would have wed, or at the least engaged. She was a tall well-built girl that no man in the district would dare to cross and this laughter was simply her attempt to deny how she truly felt. Although she wished him good luck, Nancy just wanted to get her hands on the eejit. There had been talk that Johnny had only gone to America in the first place to get away from Nancy, and she now wondered if these rumours were true. This letter  had been Johnny’s first convenient opportunity to break her heart.

While the letter was being read out there were quite a few listeners, who had become increasingly curious about the absence of Nancy Doran. She, after all, should have been the one most interested in the fate of Dessie McDowell, and yet she was nowhere to be seen. Nancy, however, was not far away and was sitting in the dilapidated cottage into which she had been forced to move when her family threw her out of the house. She had been pregnant to Dessie before he left and her father was incensed by the shame he believed she had brought to the family. As Dessie’s letter was being read, Nancy was sitting at  her kitchen table with a pile of sewing, which provided the income she needed to support her and her baby. Every now and again she gave a sob, which would almost waken the baby asleep in the box beside her, though she tried to hide it. Nancy’s mother had quietly visited her daughter without the knowledge of her husband, and was seated on the hearth, angrily berating Nancy for feeling sorry for herself.

Will you stop your weeping,” the mother told her daughter, “Get a bit of back bone, girl. It’s something that you have never had, because if you did have it you wouldn’t have gotten yourself  into trouble with the likes of Dessie McDowell.”

Mother, please,” Nancy answered the sufferer, “don’t always be condemning me. Is it not bad enough that I must sit here quietly, while his letter is being read out only a few doors away?

Well then, go to McDowell’s cottage and beg them to let you read it,” her mother told her angrily. “Go there, darling girl and find out for yourself how little thought he has for you, or the trouble he left behind him.”

It’s not for me, mother, no, not just for myself,” Nancy sobbed. “I can live without his thoughts or favours, but I would just like to know what he has said about the baby.

“Ah, be quiet!” exclaimed the mother. “You are always trying to get me to think about the whole bad situation. Wait ’til I tell you Nancy that I have never felt hatred for someone so badly as I do now. Please be quiet, I tell you.

You just have a very hard heart, mother,” Nancy told her.

You have no place to talk dear,” replied the mother. “If your own heart had been a little bit harder, darling, your family wouldn’t have to walk away with their heads down every time that your name is spoken.

A fresh burst of tears was all the answer that Nancy could give to this. It was an answer, however, that only caused an increase in Mrs. Doran’s wrath and lower the tone of her words. She had heard about the letter and had visited Nancy to persuade he to assume an air of quiet nonchalance, to demonstrate to neighbours that she had a “back-bone” in her character. It was obvious that Nancy had failed in her objective, and now Mrs. Doran directed her anger and frustration towards Nancy. In response, Nancy’s sorrow became louder, and, between crying and the shouting, the child was awakened from its sleep and began to add its bit to the general clamour. The noise did not lessen one little bit until a crowd unexpectedly gathered at the door Nancy’s dilapidated cottage and the voice of Sharon McDowell could be heard shouting joyfully over the din.

Well, if the girl won’t come to us, ”Sharon called out to the crowd, “then we must go to her. After all, this news, is worth hearing!” Then, before another word was spoken Sharon, and a crowd of people, had made their way through the door without knocking, or asking permission to enter.

God save all here,” old Sharon greeted them, “including yourself, Mrs. Doran. After all we must now forgive and forget all that has kept us divided.”

And if I forgive and forget, what do I get in exchange?” asked  an angry Mrs. Doran.

It’s good news and much to be thankful for,” said old Sharon as she revealed the letter. But, for her part, Mrs. Doran was in no mood to listen to any news from the letter, be it good or bad. She rose up from where she was seated, gathered her belongings and haughtily pushed her way through the growing crowd. There was no word of goodbye to Nancy or the baby as she stormed out of the cottage.

Cheerio, then, may the sun shine on your back,” said Sharon as she recovered from the undisguised contempt Mrs. Doran had shown toward her. “Away on with, and if you never come back, it’ll be no great loss, for there’s not one word about you in the letter, you old serpent,” Sharon called out to her and then she turned to Nancy and the baby.

Now, Nancy, you and I should spend the whole of the day down upon our knees giving thanks, even though you thought the letter not worth your time,” said Sharon, and Nancy went down  down on her knees clasping the baby close to her bosom. She raised her eyes to heaven and, oblivious to the crowd and commotion, with every nerve in her body trembling with excitement and joy, Nancy waited for old Sharon to ready a seat for the letter reader near to the window. As the reader settled himself into the seat, the old widow called out for silence and gave the letter over for it to be read out to the crowd for about the sixth time.

Dessie had grown to realise that survival in America was very much dependent upon his character, and he became very wary of not doing anything that might affect his character badly, even by the slightest degree. He was a changed man now; no longer an utter idiot, but a man of honour and integrity. All the while he never forgot Nancy Doran, nor his old mother, whom he had left behind him in Ireland. Images and thoughts of Nancy filled his dreams with such intensity that Dessie immediately began to put aside a little money every week so that he could send it to her, but he was ashamed to write to her until he had the total amount gathered. Unfortunately for Dessie his efforts were cut short and the money he had accumulated  was used for his own subsistence. The event which had brought about this misfortune was the sudden death of the owner of the grocery business for which he worked. The unexpected death of the man who managed the entire concern caused the entire business to break up, and Dessie was once again unemployed. He found it very difficult to get another job and his small amount of savings was soon exhausted. Dessie decided it would be better to get out of the bulging city of New York and move westward, where labour was more plentiful and there were less people chasing each job.

Dessie travelled widely getting casual work as he went until, at length, he met a friend who had been one of the partners in the grocery business that had first given him a job. This man had money, but, he did not have the education or business acumen to put it to profitable use. He had no knowledge of reading, writing, or arithmetic. Now, these happened to be a specific talent that Dessie had cultivated when at school. One day, while talking to Dessie, he bemoaned his lack of a sound education which prevented him from using his capital to good effect, and Dessie very modestly suggested one way in which he could put his money to profitable use. After a little consideration of Dessie’s idea he invested his money and in a very few days a grand new store appeared in the town in which they now lived. Dessie became the book-keeper for the business, and was rewarded with a junior partnership in the business.

In the latter half of the letter he gave thanks for the education he had been given and the faith that his mother had handed on to him. Dessie then told her to take hold of the large amount of money that he had sent with the letter. He told his old mother to keep half for herself to make her  old days comfortable, or to use it to pay her passage out to him in America. The remainder, he told her, was to be given to Nancy, the girl of his dreams who had suffered so much because of him, and he wanted to assure her that he would spend the rest of his life making it up to her and their child. H said that he would expect her in New York by the end of the month, and that Nancy was to immediately purchase a gold wedding ring, which she should place on her finger at once, without waiting for the priest. “I’m her sworn husband already,” he wrote, “and I will bring her straight to the priest the minute she puts her foot on American soil.” He added that they should write to him giving the date and means of travel, and named the place where they should meet. As a final surprise he told his mother, “When you write to me, address the letter to Desmond McDowell Esq. for that is what I am now, and I’m not kidding you.” The letter finally closed with Dessie wishing his mother and all the neighbours, “good luck.”

There was a loud cheer from the crowd as the reader finished the letter and they all rushed forward to congratulate Nancy and her infant. Old Sharon whispered in her ear, “It’s very hard to spoil an Irishman entirely, if there is any good at all in him.

The Blarney Part II

Final Part

With the reader now having been shown the state of Eddie’s feelings for Nelly, we can leave these two companions as they once again resume their work. It is time I think that the reader should better know Miss Nelly Malone, for love of whom poor Eddie had tasted the wonders of the ancient Greek Muses.

In a neat little room that totally reflected the unmistakable evidence of a tidy woman’s care, sat the young lady in question. She busied herself, with her delicate, little fingers working with speed as she knitted a very small cardigan for herself. In that humble place there was no trace of wealth to be seen in this humble abode, but there was more than a suggestion of comfort there. At the open window blossoms of the honey-suckle and the sweet-pea peeped in, filling the air with a perfume, more beautiful than any parfumier could ever devise. On the walls hung small artless prints, and here and there a ballad was framed, which spoke of some heart-breaking subject. One ballad was the infamous ‘Highwayman’s End”, which began adventurously with:

“I robbed Lord Mansfield,

I do declare,

And Lady Somebody in Grosvenor

Square,”

Elsewhere shelves and small tables were decorated with festoons of ribbons and cloth of the most colourful and dazzling variety. In a small open cage of was perched a fine, plump, contented lark, in an open cage, which he entertained the girl with its wild, sweet song. Dozing quietly upon the window-sill lay a beautiful sleek cat, whose furry coat shone like satin in the sun’s rays, purring softly and indicating that it was a very happy pussy. That house echoed with the innocence and beauty, that was Nelly Malone.

What thoughts, you wonder, were passing through that pretty Nelly’s head?  Perhaps a There may have been some anxiety, or even some doubts, but there was no evidence of sorrow to dull the brightness of her lovely face. She speaks quietly to her cat, which is her most discreet confidante, as well as her most loved pet. “It’s foolishness, so it is. Don’t you agree puss?”

The cat didn’t show any sign of having heard or understood Nelly’s remark. “Now, Minnie, I ask you, isn’t it a terrible mistake? The most terrible mistake of all to be thinking about someone who gives absolutely no thought for me? I will not allow myself to do this anymore. Definitely not! Though I do wonder if holds any love for me? I somehow fancy he does, and yet again if he does, why can he not just say? There is one thing that is certain, which is, that I don’t love him! I mean to say, I won’t love him. Sure, what kind of an eejit would I be if I gave my heart to someone who wouldn’t give me his heart in return? That would be a really bad bargain, wouldn’t it, Minnie?”

The Pussycat remained quiet and Nelly took this as a sign that Minnie agreed with her.”But, oh!” Nelly continued, “if I thought that he did love me, silly me I’ve dropped a stitch. What in the name of all that’s holy am I thinking’ of? I mustn’t give way to such girlish foolishness. The little is done with her singing, and Minnie is giving me an angry stare out of her big eyes. Don’t be jealous, Minnie, you shall always have your saucer of milk, whatever happens, and — listen now! That’s his step, and he’s coming! I wonder how do I look,” and running to her little hand mirror, Nelly, with very understandable vanity, thought that there could be no improvement on her features. Nelly was not being narcissistic about her beauty because, curiously she was entirely right.

“He’s taking long time coming in,” she thought as she stole a quick glance through the white window-curtain. She saw Eddie approaching the garden gate slowly. Nelly, of course, just wanted to rush out to the gate to meet him, but such a thing would have appeared unseemly to her neighbours and she waited. For a moment she saw Eddie hesitate, but it was only to allow him to gulp in a few lungs-full of breath. He began to walk again, and he came closer to the house with every approaching step. Nelly could feel her pulse beat at a much higher rate, and she began to think that it might look better if he was to see her at work. With this thought in her mind she hastily took up her work, which was twisted and ravelled into almost inextricable confusion. Trying to maintain a calm face she mechanically employed her needles, and her heart gave a slight shiver as Eddie gave the door a short, nervous rap. Nelly opened it with a most deceitful, “Ah! Ned, is that you? Who would have thought it! Come in, sure.”

Inside Nelly, her feelings were at fever pitch, and yet she forced herself to remain cold and unattached, saying, “Take a chair, Eddie, won’t you?”

And there, sitting opposite each other, were two people, whose hearts yearned for each other. They looked at each other coldly, gazed at the wall, the floor, cat, or the lark. Eddie quite suddenly discovered something that needed some of his attention in the band of his hat. At the same time, Nelly suddenly began to show an extraordinary degree of affection toward the cat. In truth, it was evident to even the most casual observer that they were both very far from comfortable.

Eddie had thoroughly made up his mind to speak to Nelly this time, irrespective of the outcome, and had even gone so far as to have rehearsed his opening speech. But Nelly’s cold and indifferent attitude had frightened every word out of his head, and now it was essential that he should recover his senses. Eddie, however, seemed to think that twisting his hat into every possible shape, and tugging at the band, were the only possible means by which this could be accomplished. Once again all was arranged in his head, and he had just cleared his throat to begin talking, when the rascally cat turned sharply round and stared him straight in the face. In all his life, Eddie thought, he had never seen a dumb creature express such thorough contempt in its face.

“It well becomes me,” he thought, “to be demeaning myself before the cat,” and once again his thoughts away flew out of his head. Of course, all this was very perplexing to Nelly, who, in the expectation of hearing something interesting, remained patiently silent. There was another considerable pause until, at last, remembering his friend Mick’s advice, and cheered by a most encouraging smile from the rapidly-thawing Nelly, Eddie wound up all his feelings for one desperate effort, and blurted out, “Isn’t it fine today, Miss Malone?”

Breaking the silence so suddenly he caused Nelly to jump in her chair, while the lark fluttered in the little cage, and the pussycat made one leap back into the garden. Amazed and terrified by the results of his first effort, Eddie’s mouth went dry and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He saw little hope of discovering an easy way of overcoming his embarrassment, and the more he stuttered and stammered the deeper he got himself into a sticky situation. Finally, gathering himself together, Eddie made a dash through the door, and was off as fast as his legs would carry him. Nelly sighed with disappointment as she sat down to resume her knitting, and this time she felt very sad.

“Well, what happened?” asked Mick, as, nearly out of breath from running, Eddie joined up with him again in the meadow. “Have you broken the ice?”

“I have, certainly,” said Eddie, “and, better than that, I fell into the water through the hole.”

“Why? Would she not listen to you?”

“Yes, she would, but sure I didn’t give her a chance. My usual complaint returned to me very strongly. Christ’s sake! What’s the use in having a tongue in your head at all, if it won’t speak the words that a man needs to say. Aren’t I the great fool; a right eejit? She was sitting there, Mick, looking out at me from those big beautiful eyes. It was if she was asking me to speak out like a man, and her smiling softly, spreading over her lovely face, and playing among her beautiful dimples, like a merry moonbeam dancing on a lake. Oh, dear God! Mick, what am I going to do? I can’t live without her, and I haven’t the heart to tell her that.”

“Well, it is a terrible thing to see,” replied Mick, “a good-looking man such as yourself, strong and healthy, flinching from a pretty girl. Do you not think that it might do you a bit of good to go and kiss the Blarney Stone.”?

“That’s it!” exclaimed Eddie, joyously clapping his hands together. Clicking his fingers together loudly he declared, “Isn’t it a wonder that I never thought of it before? Sure, I’ll walk every inch of the way to it, though my legs should drop off before I got halfway there. Do you think it would do me good to kiss it?”

“I’d be certain of it! Sure, it was never known to fail yet,” said Mick, excitedly.

“Why, then, may I never eat another meal, if there is any truth in that stone, and if I don’t have the magic out of it.” And that very night, so eager was Eddie to get cured of his shyness that he set out for Blarney Castle immediately. It was a long and tedious journey, but the thought of being able to speak to Nelly when he returned, was sufficient to drive away his tiredness and gave him the determination to reach that far-famed castle, of which it is said,

On the top of whose wall,

But take care you don’t fall,

There’s a stone that contains all the

Blarney!”

 

Eddie climbed with caution, discovered the exact spot, and believing implicitly that his troubles were now over, he knelt, and with a whole-hearted prayer for his absent Nelly, he reverently kissed ‘The Blarney Stone.’ A true and devoted sense of love had given him the strength to overcome the difficulties of access to the stone, while his imagination did the rest. It was with a degree of humility and diffidence that he had approached the object of his pilgrimage. With the task achieved, Eddie descended from the stone’s location with his head erect and with a joyful expression on his face. He could feel confident now to tell his deepest feelings in Nelly’s ear. He was now very much a changed man and, as he left the castle, he encountered a very pretty girl, who officiated as guide. It was said that upon her pouting lips many men checked out how well the charm had worked. Not surprisingly, when she met Eddie at the archway of the castle, he took the opportunity to give her a hearty kiss. He astonished himself as much as he had the girl, and standing aback for a moment he watched the effect his kiss had., much more to his own astonishment than to hers, gave her a hearty kiss, starting back to watch the effect. There was no frown on her face, and there wasn’t even a sign of a blush in her cheeks. Eddie was utterly delighted that his wish had come true. “He could kiss whoever he pleased with his gift of the Blarney,” and feeling supremely happy, he did not lose another moment retracing his steps back home.

In the meantime, Nelly had been missing her shy sweetheart, whose absence had only served to strengthen the feeling of affection which she held for him. Day followed day as she waited for him and he did not come to her. Every long hour of watching and waiting for him tightened even more closely the chains of love that held her heart. Now, for the first time, she admitted to herself that he was essential to her future happiness, and she prayed fervently that the next day might see him return to her side. But, as each day passed, and his absence continued, Nelly quickly grew anxious until that anxiety turned into alarm.

The dark cloud of jealousy soon began to cover her heart and she became wretched in her impatience. Although she tried to convince herself that all her dark thoughts were unnecessary, the light that had once illuminated her life was almost extinguished and there appeared to be only gloom surrounding her. The once lively Lark in its cage appeared to share the young woman’s mood, its wing drooped, and its once happy song was silent. Her entire environment appeared to be greatly influenced by the spirit of the hour, and her once homely room began to feel cold, comfortless and solitary. Nelly’s love for Eddie was all consuming, filled with devotion and intensity. She believed that if she were to lose him it would be, effectively, the loss of everything that rendered life worth living for.

Every day she gazed out of her window in the faint hope of seeing something of her beloved, and one day her heart suddenly jumped in her breast with a new-found joy. She thought that she saw him approach, and her heart filled to bursting with joy that Eddie had finally returned to her. But, as she watched, she noticed that there was something very different about this man. At first, Nelly thought that her eyes had deceived, but her heart told her that it was indeed Eddie who was approaching.

What had confused Nelly was that the man who was approaching had not the downcast look and hesitating step that was common with Eddie. Instead, there was a joy in his face, a great smile on his mouth, and he walked with a new easy, lively, and careless gait. As he came nearer to her, Nelly thought that she heard him sing. When she realised that he was singing, Nelly was completely taken aback. She wondered if Eddie had finally broken out of his shell of reserve, and what this would mean for her. She had loved Eddie’s shyness and she was not sure if she wanted him to lose that, and yet there was something very impressive about the man coming toward her. It was now Nelly’s turn to be tongue-tied and stricken dumb. Despite her best efforts she could not utter a syllable, but trembling to her very core, Nelly sat silently in her room awaiting the moment she feared would prove to be the end of her happiness.

Whistling a merry tune, Eddie easily jumped over the little paling fence, and in a moment found himself in face to face with Nelly. She still could not speak, or move and his first greeting to her did not make Nelly feel any easier. “Nelly,” said he, “you drove me to it, but it’s done now! It’s done!”

“What’s done? What can he mean?” thought a greatly agitated Nelly.

“It’s all over now,” he continued, “for I’ve kissed it. Don’t you hear me, Nelly? I say I’ve kissed it.”

“In heaven’s name,” cried the pale, trembling girl, “what do you mean, Eddie. Who have you kissed?”

“It’s not a who!” said Eddie, laughing loudly, “but an it! I’ve kissed it!”

“Kissed what?”

“The Blarney Stone, of course,” Eddie screamed at her, throwing his cap at the cat and danced a few light steps in delight. It was something that Nelly would never have thought she would see from Eddie. Anyone else who saw him conducting himself in this manner would have sworn that the man had gone insane. “Sure, I did it all for you, Nelly, my darling! Just for you! It has loosened my tongue, and now I can tell you how deeply my love for you burns within my very heart of hearts. I love you so much, my bright-eyed, beautiful darling!”

There is really no need for me to relate anything more that was said between the two. The world famous ‘Blarney Stone’ had lost none of its magic on this particular occasion, and continues to transfer that magic even today. Nelly, of course, went on to inform Eddie that, “You needn’t have gone so far!” The fact is that by perseverance the path of true love can run very smoothly. Three weeks after his return from ‘The Blarney Stone’ the chapel bells rang out across the parish to announce the wedding of Eddie and Nelly. The course of true love sometimes does run smooth, a great authority to the contrary, nevertheless, for in about three weeks’ time, the chapel bells rang merrily for the wedding of Edward and Nelly. It was a great day, enjoyed by all, and what’s more, neither of them had cause to regret Eddie’s visit to ‘The Blarney Stone’.

The Blarney Part I

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

“Oh, did you ne’er hear of the

Blarney,

‘Tis found near the banks of

Killarney,

Believe it from me, no girl’s heart is

free,

Once she hears the sweet sound of

the Blarney.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve seen them hundreds of times.”

“Maybe that isn’t an eye?”

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

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

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

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

“Fair Play, Eddie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you catch it?”

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

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

“I was completely cured.”

“How did that happen?”

“I got married.”

“Oh God, let’s just go to work.”

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

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

“What?” said Mick.

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

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

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

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

blarneystone“All you sporting young heroes, with

hearts so light and free,

Take care how you come near

the town of Tralee;

For the witch of all witches that

ever wove a spell

In the town of Tralee, at this moment

does dwell.

 

“Oh, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For the devil all out is the Rose of

Tralee.

 

“She’s as soft and as bright as a

young summer morn,

Her breath’s like the breeze

from the fresh blossomed thorn,

Her cheek has the sea shell’s pale

delicate hue,

And her lips are like rose leaves just

bathed in the dew;

 

“So, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For she’s mighty destructive, this

Rose of Tralee.

 

“Oh! her eyes of dark blue, they so

heavenly are

Like the night sky of summer,

and each holds a star;

Were her tongue mute as silence,

man’s life they’d control;

But eyes and tongue both are too

much for one’s soul.

 

“Young men, stay at home, then,

and leave her to me,

For I’d die with delight for the Rose

of Tralee.”