Stories of Seamus No. 20

Terry Toner’s Gander

This is a story of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century and tells about Terry Toner, an honest young man from a very well-to-do farming family, who rented the biggest farm on this side of the Black Mountains. Because Terry was enthusiastic about farming, worked hard on his father’s farm, and was open-minded toward the new farming methods that were being advanced.  His industriousness, unsurprisingly, was quickly rewarded and brought great profits with every harvest he reaped. Terry was, however, greatly blessed by having a large family of healthy daughters, and this was a time when it was expected that a father would have a dowry for each of his daughters. Striving to be an honest and hardworking man, Terry was exhausted by the constant efforts he made to gather up the dowries that all his daughters needed to possess if they were to marry well.  There was not a trick or a crafty method for making money out of a farm that Terry did not know and would not employ to its full capacity.

Terry and wife

Among all the different methods that Terry had used to raise himself up in the world, he always enjoyed breeding and raising turkeys and many other types of poultry. From all the poultry breeds available, Terry was particularly partial to raising geese.  From his own experiences Terry had many reasons for his preference. Twice every year the poultry farmer can pluck the geese to the bare skin and get a fine price for their feathers. At the same time his geese can provide the farmer with plenty of very sizeable eggs for eating and selling. Then, when the geese become too old to lay any more eggs, they can be killed, and can be sold on to the public for eating. The goose, Terry had recognised, was among the most valuable of all poultry and could provide him with a steady income, even when the land itself is not very fertile.

Thanks to the tender care and feeding that Terry gave his geese the flock expanded quickly. But, there was one old crafty gander that took a great liking to Terry, and he took to the farmer so well that there was nowhere that Terry could go about the farm without the gander following him. Whether it was to work himself or to direct the work of the farm labourers the gander would be at Terry’s heels, rubbing itself against his legs, and looking up into his face just like any other pet would do. There was no one in the district who had ever seen the likes of this activity before, and they continued to wonder as Terry Toner and the gander became closer companions. In fact, Terry was so taken by this particular bird that he would not allow his workers to pluck its feathers at all. Henceforward, the gander became Terry’s very special pet and he showered it with so much love and affection that one would have thought it was just another one of his children. Unfortunately, love and affection are not always perfect gifts and they seldom last very long. Terry’s neighbours very quickly began to suspect and question what the true nature and intentions of the gander could be. Some of the more superstitious among his neighbours even began to suggest that the gander was the devil himself, while many others were convinced that the gander was a fairy.

Being a conscientious and community minded man, Terry could not ignore all the things his neighbours were saying. But, because he was a man who had little belief in fairy creatures, or demons, you can imagine just how uncomfortable he was about those things being said by his neighbours and how difficult it was for him not to react. But, as the days passed into weeks, Terry began to become more and more uncomfortable with what was being said and, finally, he told everyone who wanted to know that he would send for Jerry Girvan, the fairy doctor in Ballydun.  Jerry Girvan was, of course, a man who was well-known in the entire district for his dealings with spirits and the ‘Good People’. It was said that there wasn’t a spirit that would say a cross word to him, nor would any priest in the diocese question him. Moreover, Jerry Girvan had been a very good friend to old Terence Toner, who was Terry’s late father. It was this fact alone that caused Terry to send for the fairy doctor to come as quickly as he possibly could. Sure enough, when Girvan got the message from Terry he made immediate preparations and returned that very same evening along with the boy that had been Terry’s messenger. As soon as he arrived at the farm, Terry greeted his friend and ensured that Girvan was given a good supper after his tiresome journey. They chatted for a while but, as soon as they were finished talking, Jerry immediately began to investigate the question of the crafty old gander.  He took a hold of the gander, turning it this way and that way, to the right and to the left, horizontal and upside down, until he was tired of handling the bird. Then he turned to Terry Toner and said, “Terry, you must take the gander into the next room and put a scarf, or any other convenient item around his head.”

“And why would you want me to do that?” asked Terry curiously.

“Because,” replied Girvan.

“Because what?” asked Terry.

“Because,” began Girvan, “if you don’t do as I ask, then you will never feel easy again. You will still be fearful in your mind. So, I say that you should ask me no more questions, but simply do what I bid you to do.”

“Well,” replied Terry, “have it your own way.”

With that he took the gander and gave it to one of his children standing close by.

“And you take care,” said Girvan to the child. Then, as soon as the bird was gone from the room, he turned to Terry and asked, “Do you know what that old gander is, Terence Toner?”

“I haven’t a clue,” replied Terry.

Fairy Doctor

“Well, then,” laughed Girvan, “let me tell you that the gander is your own father!”

“Get away out of that, surely you must be joking with me,” gasped Terry, completely shocked by what he had been told and as the digested the revelation his face turned very pale. “How can that old gander be my father?” he asked Girvan, nervously.

“I am not joking with you about this, Terry,” Girvan told him. “What I tell you is the truth. It is your father’s wandering soul that has taken possession of this old gander’s body. Now, I knew your da in many ways, and I have to wonder why you didn’t notice that well-known way he would cock his eye.”

“Oh! In the name of God,” sighed Terry, “what will happen to me now! I must be cursed for eternity because I plucked that old gander bald at least twelve times. Bald, I tell you! What will I do now?”

“Well, in all honesty, Terry, there’s absolutely nothing that you can do about that now,” replied Girvan. “It was a terrible thing to do to your da, but sure it’s too late to lament about it now,” says he, “the only way to prevent what’s done, is to put a stop to it before it begins.”

“Isn’t that the truth?” said Terry, “but, tell me, how did you realise that it was my father’s soul that was in the old gander?”

“Sure, If I was to tell you that, you wouldn’t understand what I was talking about, at least not without a bit of book-learning and cookery knowledge,” said Girvan “So it’s better that you ask me no questions, and I will tell you no lies. You will just have to believe me when I tell you that it’s your father that’s in that gander, and if I don’t make him speak tomorrow morning, then I’ll allow you to call me a fool.”

“Say no more,” Terry told him, “that settles the business. But, isn’t it a quare thing for a decent, respectable man like my da to be walking about the country in the body of an old gander? And, oh, God forgive me! Didn’t I pluck him clean all those times and not know he was there. Sure, it’s a wonder that I didn’t stuff the damn bird, roast him and eat him for Christmas or Easter.” Then, after saying all of this, Terry fell into a cold sweat as he began to realise what could have happened, and he was on the point of fainting when images of what could have happened flashed through his mind.

When Terry finally came to his senses again, Jerry Girvan leaned over and spoke quietly and calmly to him. “Take it easy now, Terry,” says he, “don’t you be aggravating yourself, for I have a plan in mind that will make him speak out and tell us just what it is that he’s wanting.” Taking a deep breath, Jerry continued, “Now just you remember not to allow your mouth to run off and repeat anything that I tell you. Just pretend, as soon as the bird is brought back, how we’ve decided to send him to the market early tomorrow morning.  Then, if he doesn’t speak tonight, or make his escape out of the place, put him into the hamper early, and send him in the cart straight to town, to be sold for eating. Put two of your labourers in the cart with him, and my name is not Jerry Girvan if the goose doesn’t speak out before he’s half way there.” Then with a sense of urgency in his voice Jerry told him, “But, just you remember that as soon as he ever says the first word, you must immediately grab a tight hold of him and quickly bring him off to Father Carty. If his Reverence doesn’t make him retire into the flames of Purgatory then there is no power in my charms.”  Then, when all this was said, the old gander was let back into the room again and they all began to talk about sending him off, early the next morning, to be sold for roasting in the county town. It was all discussed in a matter-of-fact way, just as if all the details had already been discussed and settled. The gander, however, appeared to be taking absolutely no notice of the two men, at least no more notice than if they had been discussing someone who was a stranger to them. Terry wanted one of his men to prepare the cage for transporting the gander, by ensuring it was both there was plenty of hay to the journey soft and snug. He told the man, “This will be the last trip that poor old gander would be getting in this life.”

As the night fell and the hours dragged by, Terry became restless and unable to sleep. He began to grow very despondent and sorrowful as the night passed and his mind became entirely filled with images of what was going to happen the next day. So, as soon as his wife and the farm animals were bedded down for the night, he brought out some of his best poteen, and sat down with Jerry Girvan to have a few drinks. But, the more uneasy that Terry began to feel, the more he drank, and both he and Jerry Girvan finished almost two pints of the smooth clear spirit between them. It was to prove to be more than enough for the two men and, indeed, would have been enough for a few more if they had been invited. Nevertheless, they enjoyed every drop of the poteen and were very happy that they had not been foolish enough to follow Father Matt, who took the pledge against alcohol, which is a terrible and blasphemous thing for any Irishman to do.

Sure, there was a time when my own lady wife persuaded me, as only a woman can do, to take up the ‘pioneer medal’ and when that fine woman is with me I will stand proudly and loudly boasting that abstention from the demon drink is a fine thing for any man. But, quietly, I will admit to you that giving up the gargle leaves a man very dry. There are times, therefore, when I have reason to travel far from home and wife that I can get quite befuddled and lose my pioneer medal in my pocket. But, there is no harm done and anyone can be a little forgetful. Sure, there would be no need for forgiveness if a man didn’t give in to temptation now and again.

Terry Toner, however, was no pioneer and when he had finished his pint, he thought he might as well stop. “Enough is as good as a feast,” he told Jerry, “and I pity the unhappy man that is not able to control his liquor, and to keep constantly inside of a pint measure.” Then Terry got up from his seat and wished Jerry a good night, as he walked out of the room. But, he went out by the wrong door, being a trifle worse for wear, and not able to know whether he was standing on his head or his heels, or even both at the same time. As a result, instead of him getting into bed that night, he threw himself into the poultry hamper that the boys had prepared for transporting the gander in the morning. In that well-prepared hamper, sure enough, Terry sunk down to the bottom of the snug, warm and comfortable hay that had been piled there. With his turning and rolling about in the night, there was not a bit of him that was left uncovered as he lay up as snug as a lumper spud in a potato furrow before morning.

As the first light of day broke through the early morning cloud cover, the two boys that were to take the gander got up from their beds and made themselves ready for the journey to the county town. They set about catching the old gander and putting him in the hamper, before throwing a good lump of hay on the top of him, and finally tying him down strongly with a bit of baling twine. Once they had done this, they made the sign of the cross over him, to protect themselves from any harm, and then lifted the poultry hamper up on to the car. But, as they did this they were wondering all the while what in the world was making this old gander so very heavy. With the hamper finally aboard, they went along on the road towards the county town, wishing every minute as they travelled that some of the neighbours might be going the same way and would join them. Though they were fully grown men they didn’t quite like the idea of having no other company on their journey but the bewitched gander, and who could blame them for being worried. They were already trembling with an overwhelming fear that the old gander would begin, at any minute, speaking to them. Although each could see the concern of the other, they continued singing and whistling as loud as they could to try and keep the fear out of their hearts. Well, after they had continued along the road for more than half an hour, the two labourers came to the bad bit that was close by Father Crotty’s house, where there was one rut which was at least three feet deep. As the cart went over this rut it got such a terrible jolt that it wakened Terry, who was still lying snugly within the basket. “Oh!” says he, “my backside is broken with all this jumping and jolting! What the devil are ye doing with me?”

“Did ye hear anything a bit queer, Paddy?” asked the boy that was next to the car, as his face began to turn as white as the top of a mushroom. “I mean, did ye hear anything queer that might be coming out of that poultry hamper?” the boy asked.

“No, I heard nothing” replied Paddy, but he was turning just as pale as his companion, “it’s just the old gander that’s grunting with all the shaking about he’s getting.”

“What have ye put me into?” Terry cried out, from inside the hamper. “Let me out,” he shouted aloud, “or I’ll be dying of suffocation this minute.”

“There’s no use in you pretending,” says the boy to Paddy, “the gander’s speaking, glory be to God!”

“Let me out of here, you murderers,” screamed Terry.

“In the name of all the holy saints,” replied Paddy, “hold yer tongue, you black-hearted creature.”

“Who is it, that dares to call me such names?” asked Terry from inside the hamper. Then roaring at them both angrily he demanded, “let me out of here, you blasphemous heathens, or by this cross, I’ll give you a mighty beating.”

“Who are ye?” asked Paddy.

“Sure, who would I be but Terry Toner, ye eejits,” says he. “It’s myself that’s in here, you unmerciful blackguards,” says he, “now let me out, or I’ll get out of here despite ye both, and I’ll give the two of you a kicking you’ll never forget.”

“Sure, it is old Terry, sure enough,” said Paddy, “isn’t it great that the fairy doctor found him out?”

“I’m on the point of suffocation,” said Terry, “now let me out, I tell ye, and wait until I get at ye, for there will not be a bone in your body that I will not break and pound into powder!” With that said Terry began kicking and flinging himself about the hamper, and driving his legs against the sides of it, so that it was a miracle that the hamper was not knocked to pieces.

Well, as soon as the two labourers saw this, they began to beat the old horse into a gallop as hard as he could towards the priest’s house, through the ruts in the road, and over the stones. All the while the hamper could be seen flying three feet in the air with the jolting. It was small wonder, therefore, that by the time they got to the priest’s door, the breath was fairly knocked out of poor Terry, and he was lying totally unable to speak in the bottom of the hamper. Well, when his Reverence came down, they immediately began to tell him about all that happened, and how they had put the gander into the hamper. They told about how the gander began to speak, and how he confessed that he was old Terence Toner. Excitedly, they asked his reverence to advise them how they might get rid of the spirit for good and all.

The priest now turned to the boys and told them quietly, “I’ll take my book and I’ll read some really strong holy bits out of it. In the meantime, go you and get a rope and put it round the hamper. Then let it swing over the running water at the bridge and it will not matter if I don’t make the spirit come out of it.” Well, with all now said, the priest got his horse, and tucked his book in under his arm, and the boys followed his Reverence, leading the horse, and Terry holding keeping quiet, for he had seen that it was no use in him speaking. Besides, he was afraid that if he did make any noise they might treat him to another gallop and finish him off entirely. Well, as soon as they all came to the bridge the boys took the rope they had with them and made it fast to the top of the hamper, and swung it over the bridge, letting it hang in the air about twelve feet above the water. The priest rode down to the bank of the river, close by, and began to read from the book in a very loud and bold voice. When he had been speaking for about five minutes, all at once the bottom of the hamper dropped out, and down went Terry, falling with a splash into the cold river-water, and the old gander on top of him. Down they both went to the bottom with a splash you could have heard from half-a-mile away. Then, before they had time to rise again, his Reverence, in complete astonishment, gave his horse one dig of his spurs and, before he knew where he was, in he went, horse and all, on top of them, and down to the bottom they went. Within a moment or two, up they all came again together, gasping and puffing, and off with the current they went like shot. On they went, under the arch of the bridge until they came to the shallow water, where the old gander was the first to get out. The priest and Terry came out next, panting and blowing and more than half-drowned. The priest was so shocked by the experience he had underwent, especially seeing an unnatural spirit, as he believed, that he wasn’t the better of it for a month. As for Terry, as soon as he could speak he made it clear that he would have the life of those two eejit boys. But Father Matt would not allow him to harm the two boys and, as soon as Terry got had calmed down, they all tried their best to explain what had happened. Terry, however, believed that he had went to his own bed the night before. Father Matt concluded that it was all a mystery and he swore that if he caught anyone laughing at the accident he would lay a horsewhip across their shoulders. The years passed by quickly and Terry grew more and more fond of the old gander every day until, at last, he died at a wonderful old age. He left the gander after him and a large family of children, and to this very day the farm is being rented by one of Terry Toner’s legitimate successors.

Stories of Seamus No10

Hugh John

Hugh John McClean was a perfect example of a rural Irish man; he was a good neighbour, a hard worker, and a man always on the look-out for an easier way to make his living. All of his life he had lived in a small country cottage, which was eventually left to him in his late father’s will. He had died quite unexpectedly when Hugh John was just a young man of eighteen years. In his father’s will, however, it had been stipulated that Hugh John’s mother would be ‘given her day’ in the cottage. In short this clause meant that the mother would be guaranteed to be able to live in the cottage for the remainder of her days. This was something, of course, which Hugh John was very happy to allow his mother to live in the cottage for the rest of her life, because he had no other person who would wash and iron his clothes, cook him hearty meals, or make his bed in the manner in which he had become used to.

It had been Hugh John’s father who had gained for him his first job in ‘Deeney’s Bacon Factory’, which stood about two miles from the family cottage and to which he could cycle his bike, both evening and morning, in just over fifteen minutes. Unlike his father, Hugh John was not exactly ‘the brightest knife in the drawer’ and he was, therefore, not suitable for many of the tasks available within the factory. His first job was simply to count the pigs that farmers had brought to the factory for slaughter. On those days when there were no pigs arriving Hugh John was given the task of keeping the yards and buildings clean, and for packing produce in preparation for delivery. Mick Deeney, the factory owner, took a particular liking to Hugh John, ignoring his lack of ability and often praising his work ethic. There was none who could deny that Hugh John worked hard from Monday to a Friday and socialised well at the weekends. On the occasional Thursday evening he would, however, gather with several local friends and fellow workmates to play a few hands of cards.

To the rear of ‘Wee Jimmy’ McGinn’s house there was a ramshackle hut that had been constructed from various bits of spare wood, packing cases, corrugated iron and many other recycled materials, all of which had been painted a deep red colour. The local men who had come together to build this ramshackle, but solidly constructed, hut decided that they would call it “The Pigeon Club” though it never covered one pigeon in all of its existence. It was supposed to be a private, members only social club although only one of its members kept a pigeon coop. The main purpose of this building was a social meeting place for the local men, where they could enjoy a game of cards and a few pints of beer. They had no license to sell alcohol but you could bring in whatever you wanted to drink on the premises quite legally. Each Friday one of the committee members would buy a hundred or more cans of various beers and a few bottles of whisky, brandy, rum and vodka. The members would then ‘ donate’ a certain amount of money each time they wanted a drink and by ‘donating’ avoided the illegal selling of alcohol.

The nearest public bar for this area of the country was four miles away and no one wanted to risk drinking and driving. Some would have called it a “Shebeen” (Illegal Drinking Den), while others referred to it as a members only club and its membership continued to grow. The local women would have avoided “The Pigeon Club” because it was seen to be mainly for the men of the district, who enjoyed the various gambling games that were played there. It was even decided to buy a television for the club so that they could watch the horse racing on television, betting on the races by telephone call from “Wee Jimmy’s” house. There were occasions, however, when the wagers placed could be quite high and the losses significant, especially on those nights when “the drink was in and the wit was out,” as people say.

One particular night Hugh John reduced his alcohol intake, drinking considerably less whisky and beer than some of the other members. It was one of those rare occasions when he came home from the club reasonably sober and with a considerable amount of winnings from playing cards. The very next day, Hugh John went into the factory and began negotiating with a colleague for the purchase of a small Honda motorbike. Several men within the factory advised Hugh John that he should avoid buying the motorbike, but he was not to be deterred and spent all his winnings on the purchase. He was determined that he would have a mode of transport much better than a bicycle to get him to and from his daily work.

The Honda motorcycle was black in colour and its chrome handles shone brightly in the afternoon sunshine as he rode it home at twenty miles-per-hour with the red crash helmet on his head that had been thrown into the deal for free. When he reached home Hugh John’s old mother was very surprised to see him on a motorcycle and marched up to him, telling him, “In the name of the good Christ Hugh John, what the hell are you doing on one of those modern contraptions.

Ah, Ma! Sure I’ll be alright once I get used to driving it,” he told her proudly and proceeded to park the vehicle at the side of the cottage.

On the first Saturday that he had the motorcycle Hugh John rode it into town, parking outside the “Bookies’ Shop”, where he always placed his bets for the week-end and had some craic with friends. Unfortunately, friends with much more experience of motorbikes chose this time to inform Hugh John’s Honda motorcycle was actually a Honda moped. When they pointed this out to Hugh John he felt a great disappointment, but this became anger when he told them the price he had paid and they laughed. In their experience they felt that the moped was worth far less than the amount of money that he had paid. Several of his friends came outside to examine the purchase and he was told that the engine on the moped was not sounding very healthy and would need to be looked at. Upset and angry, Hugh John rode home that evening and immediately rolled the cycle into the kitchen of the cottage and fetched his toolbox.

Holy Jaysus!” said his mother when she saw him bring the cycle into the kitchen, “What are you doing now Hugh?

One of the boys in town said that the engine was running a bit rough and needed looking at,” he told her. “I’m just going to fix it.

Sure what do you know about these modern machines, son?” she asked. “And the kitchen is not the place to do that dirty work.

It can’t be that hard. Sure there’s not a great difference between a motorcycle and a bicycle, mother. There’s only a small motor and sure that can’t make much of a mess.

Opening his toolbox Hugh John selected a set of spanners and began to strip the moped down to its most basic parts. This was the easy bit of the exercise and it did not take him long to complete it. But, as he looked at the many parts of his moped spread over the kitchen floor Hugh John became totally confused about what to do next. Putting everything back in place and in order was not going to be easy. Hugh John had never thought there would be so many individual parts to such a small engine and he wondered if he could return the engine to its original condition. In the beginning he was convinced that if he took the engine apart in a certain sequence then, by reversing that same sequence, he could easily reassemble the engine. Hugh John, however, did not have the talent for clear and organised thinking, falling quite easily into difficulty through ‘Murphy’s Law’.  This unwritten law is familiar to all Irishmen and is quite simple to follow, stating “If something can go wrong it will!” Try as he might, Hugh John could not recollect the sequence in which he had dismantled the engine. He simply could not recall which piece went into, beside, through, or on top of another piece.

Quite a few hours later, lunchtime the very next day in fact, the moped began to resemble the machine it was prior to Hugh John’s efforts at repair with screwdriver and spanner. Unfortunately when Hugh John tried to turn the engine over there was no kick whatsoever from the moped.

What’s wrong with that damned thing now?” his mother asked him.

I don’t know Ma,” replied Hugh. “I’ve done everything that I can.”

Then, what is all that stuff on the floor over there?” she asked him.

That’s what is left over, after I had put it all back together,” he told her. “There was no room for that stuff.

Well, just you take that load of scrap, and that bike, down to young Geordie’s and get him to fix it. At least he knows something about those modern contraptions.

More money!” sighed Hugh John.

You broke it, now you fix it,” his mother told him.

Right, Ma!” he snapped like a child in a tantrum.

A day or two later Hugh John gathered the bike and the box of leftovers and wheeled them down the narrow country road to Geordies’ house and workshop. Geordie was a well known mechanic in the area who was fully employed in repairs of cars and motorcycles. It was said that what Geordie didn’t know about cars and motorcycles wasn’t worth knowing. For this reason Hugh John left the moped and all the spare engine parts with the man, asking only that Geordie didn’t “stick the arm in up to the elbow” when it came to price.

It took Geordie a few days to strip the moped down again and to put it back together in the right way, ensuring everything ran smoothly. While he was at it he increased the power output from the small engine, making it reach speeds that it had never reached previously, and delivered it back to Hugh John. When he started the moped Hugh John was not expecting the speed at which this small machine could travel, which frightened the life out of him. “In the name of Christ, Geordie, are you trying to kill me altogether!” he complained. “I almost crapped myself going down that road!

The very next morning Hugh John rode the moped very slowly to work and offered it for sale and little Des Connolly jumped up and offered him his price immediately. “That is just the thing for me and Bernie to get about on,” he said. Bernie was his wife and, while Des was small and thin, Bernie was almost six feet tall and eighteen stone in weight. Hugh John did not choose to tell Des that the moped was incapable of carrying both of them at the same time. In fact he was concerned that the moped might not even carry Bernie alone. But, he shook hands with the man and the deal was sealed. A few days later he watched Des riding the motorcycle along the road with Bernie on the back, and the front wheel at forty-five degree angle in the air. Although Des did not confirm it, there was a rumour that the entire rear of the moped collapsed under the strain, coming home from church one Sunday morning and Hugh John never saw it again.

After the moped incident Hugh John, as is the case with most young men of his age, began to take a healthy interest in the female sex. Encouraged by his friends Hugh John began to attend the various dances that were held in the local “Calypso Ballroom”, but he did not actually dance very often. He would often be found near the soft drinks bar admiring the young ladies on the dance-floor, displaying themselves in their best dresses. Unfortunately for the young man he could never have been considered to be among the best dressed males in the area, and he would never have been considered a “Gene Kelly” on the dance-floor. The man had two left feet and the only foxtrot that he knew was the one a fox did after a farmer shot at him. At one time he spent a considerable sum in buying himself a “Teddy Boy” outfit with drainpipe trousers, long jacket and blue suede shoes with crepe soles. Rather than improve his reputation among the ladies he became known to them as “The Calypso Kid.”

Fortunately for the “Kid” not all the female attendees at the ‘Calypso Ballroom’ thought he was a fool. One night he was persuaded to ask a young lady to dance, while his friend asked her companion to dance with him. That was to be his first introduction to Winnie Lavery, who was a big girl in more ways than one.

Winnie had the build of a Russian weightlifter and the voice to match. Many people suggested that Hugh John only continued to date her because he was afraid to say that he didn’t want to see her again. When he danced with Winnie it appeared that Hugh John simply floated across the dance-floor, but it was more likely due to the fact that Winnie held him so tight the man’s feet never touched the floor. For a considerable length of time, Winnie had been seeking a man who just might make a good husband for her, and Hugh John McClean fitted the bill perfectly. He was a quiet sort of man whom, she felt she could dominate. He was a good worker, well-mannered and, best of all in her book, not too bright. Winnie had now set her sights on marrying this man and becoming Mrs. McClean and assuming control of his house irrespective of the fact that Hugh John’s mother, Mary, still lived there. Not surprisingly, with a woman so determined, within six months of their first meeting in the ‘Calypso Ballroom’ Hugh John had been persuaded to believe that he had met the woman of his dreams and, as she expected, he proposed to Winnie. She ensured that the engagement was a short one and they were eventually married in the local church and honeymooned in Dublin for a few days.

On the return of the happy couple Hugh John had little choice but to settle down into married life, while Winnie immediately gave up the job and began to make the house her own, much to the Mary’s resentment. Instead of involving the elderly woman in any of the changes she was making, Winnie began changing the furniture and fittings to a style of her own liking. By ignoring the feelings of the elderly woman, Winnie had stoked up years of animosity between the two women in Hugh John’s life and the years that followed could not have been worse for Hugh John. The happy life that he had thought he was getting when he married, suddenly became a nightmare.

The constant battle of wills between Mary and her daughter-in-law gradually wore the older woman down, causing the old lady’s health to deteriorate. When Mary eventually passed away some months later there were many of her neighbours and friends who were deeply saddened by the passing of such a generous, kind-hearted lady. Hugh John was particularly upset by his mother’s death and he never quite forgave Winnie for all the grief she had caused the old woman. From that day they continued to live as husband and wife in public, while they lived like strangers in private. Although Winnie quickly discovered that she no longer had the influence over husband that she once had, Hugh John did not prevent her from continuing to furnish the home. Perhaps it was this growing distance between them that the couple never experienced the joy of having a family of their own. Over the years that followed Hugh John spent gradually began spending less and less time at home. He preferred to spend much of his leisure time in the company of friends in “The Pigeon Club”, or in the public houses of the nearest town.

“McKeever’s” was noted in the town for quality of its draught Guinness stout and became the favourite drinking place of Hugh John, where he would spend two or three nights every week, drinking with friends and workmates. The bar was also noted for being the oldest public house in the town and attracted all types of people to it. There were, for example, quiet, easy-going types who enjoyed the occasional drink among good company. But, as is often the case, the bar also attracted the more boorish type of person who could not enjoy a few drinks without causing or encouraging trouble. One such visitor to the bar was a well-built young man called Jimmy Duggan, known to all in “McKeever’s” as ‘Mean Jimmy’ because he was the greatest bully in the town. Jimmy was so filled with well toned muscles that he always appeared to be ready to burst out of his clothes. Hugh John was a quiet peace loving man who had never given Jimmy any reason to confront him. But, one particular evening, something about Hugh John’s appearance changed everything. It was a typical Saturday evening in the bar when Hugh John walked in wearing his best suit and a brand new pair of brown leather brogues.

Where are you going?” asked the barman.

I’m going to Wilson’s wake,” Hugh John told him.

Jaysus, I heard the man was dead. When is the funeral?

Tomorrow, after twelve o’clock Mass,” replied Hugh John as he took a drink from his pint of Guinness.

Those are nice shoes, Hugh John,” commented Jimmy Duggan, interrupting the conversation between Hugh John and the barman. “I wouldn’t mind those shoes myself.

Thanks,” said Hugh John. “I bought them in the sale at Clarkes.

Good for you,” replied Jimmy in a quiet, but more threateningly. “You’ll be able to get yourself another pair easy enough, then.

Hugh John laughed, “And why would I want to buy another pair?

Because, Hugh John, I want those shoes you have on your feet,” Jimmy told him coldly. There was no sign that he meant it jokingly.

These?” laughed Hugh John. “Are you joking?

Jimmy Duggan drew closer to Hugh John and told him, “I never joke. Now take the shoes off.

And what am I supposed to do?” asked Hugh John.

Have you never been in your sock-soles? Now, just take them off before I rip them from your feet!

Not one person in the bar saw where that punch came from. They only heard the loud crack as the fist connected with chin and, as they turned to see what had happened, they saw Jimmy Duggan’s body rise into the air. Hugh John had hit Duggan so hard that he was lifted off his feet and seemed to float, airborne, for several yards before he finally crashed to the floor. Jimmy Duggan lay unconscious on the floor of McKeever’s bar and from that moment Hugh John’s reputation in the town was made. He became a man with the courage of a tiger and the strength of a bull elephant, making him a man that nobody wanted to upset or trifle with.

Hugh John’s new reputation as a ‘hard man’ with great courage could have taken a very serious knock if news had been spread, about his fear of mice. Even Winnie, for such a large woman, could not her paralysing fear of these small creatures and she did everything she could to ensure none would ever enter their home. But, there is no such a thing as complete security in anything, and there is always “Murphy’s Law” that applies to most things in life – “If something can go wrong, then it will.” One morning as Winnie cooked the breakfast she noticed a mouse, scampering across the kitchen floor and immediately squealed, in her terror, “Mouse!

That terrible squeal of anguish that echoed through the house caused Hugh John to run immediately to the aid of his terrified wife. But, when he heard the word ‘mouse’ he suddenly stopped in his tracks. “Just you hold on here, Winnie!” he called to his wife. “I will be back in a few minutes!!”

Hugh John left the house and ran the entire distance to Billy Robb’s shop and garage, which was about a quarter of a mile distant. Breathlessly he asked Billy, “Have you any mouse-traps?

I have,” answered Billy, “How many do you want?

How many have you got?

Surprised by Hugh John’s question Billy pulled out a box from under the counter and, after a moment, he told Hugh John, “A dozen.

I’ll take them all!

Jesus, Hugh John, you must have a plague of the wee devils!” said Billy.

No, thank God, just the one,” explained Hugh John as he reached into his pocket for his wallet.

Twelve traps for one mouse?” exclaimed Billy. “Do you call it Houdini?

Aye, very funny. Just give them here,” said Hugh John.

Still laughing heartily, Billy handed the box of traps to Hugh John and took the man’s money. With a box of traps in his hands, Hugh John returned home and found Winnie just where he had left her, standing on the kitchen table shaking in fear. One by one Hugh John laid out the traps across the kitchen floor and just as he set the last trap one suddenly snapped as it was released. The spring in the trap had been tripped and the trap snapped on to the fragile neck of the little creature, killing it. A dead mouse, however, did not suddenly cure Hugh John’s fear of the creature and, despite Winnie’s continued for him to remove the little corpse, he would not go anywhere near it. Instead, he went outside and retrieved a long-handled shovel with which he scooped up both the mouse and the trap. Keeping his catch in the shovel she guided it through the back door of the cottage and disposed of it in the bin. With the terrifying creature gone, Winnie came down from the table still shaking and the domestic life of the cottage continued much as it had previously.

Just after his fortieth wedding anniversary Hugh John woke one morning to find that Winnie had passed away, while sleeping beside him in the bed during the night. Although Winnie and Hugh were no longer a loving couple, it was still a shock to him and he was a little sad that she was now gone. It may not have been a marriage filled with romance and good times, and Hugh John may have found it difficult to be in her presence for any length of time, or truly communicate, but he did retain a certain affection for her and he missed her when she went from his life. Hugh John was now left all alone in that small cottage, retired from work and with plenty of time on his hands. But, housekeeping and cooking were talents that Hugh John did not possess and the house began to quickly fall into a very untidy condition. Winnie’s sister, Bernie, was the first to pick up the courage to tell him that he needed to do something about taking care of himself and the house.

You need somebody to do the cleaning and cooking for you, Hugh John,” she told him.

Can you not do it?

Certainly not,” Bernie told him bluntly. “I have my own home, husband and children to take care of. Why don’t you advertise for help in the local paper?

Sure I wouldn’t know what to say, or pay,” he told her. “You do it for me, Bernie.

After giving the matter some consideration Bernie placed the following advert in the local paper – “Young, single woman required as live-in housekeeper for an elderly gentleman. All interested parties please apply to 4 Damson Terrace.

When the newspaper came out, the following Thursday, the news of Hugh John’s search for a housekeeper  became widespread throughout the entire area. The idea of such a search caused considerable humour among the neighbours and several jokes did the rounds of the various public houses, many suggesting that Hugh John was searching for a new wife rather than a new housekeeper. There were quite a few of Hugh John’s neighbours who thought the old man should be thinking about his ‘plot’ rather than a young housekeeper, whose very presence might cause over excitement in a man who had been so deprived of female company for such a considerable time. One local, young man with a mischievous mind thought he could get some fun out of the situation if he was to dress up in female clothing and present himself for interview. He decided to put his plan into action on the Saturday morning, and encouraged several local people to observe the practical joke at first hand by secreting themselves at various observation points.

Tommy was the young man’s name and he convinced his sister, Mary, to assist him with his female disguise. She began by dressing him in a brassiere around his chest, filling the cups with tissue paper and couple of pairs of socks. Over a pair of football shorts, Tommy wore a brightly flowered skirt that stretched almost to his ankles. He borrowed a large woollen jumper and on his feet he squeezed a pair of black, patent-leather high heels. Once her brother was dressed , Mary sat him down in a chair beside her dressing table and began to apply make-up to his face. She applied foundation before applying eyelash and eye-brow make-up, and finally red lipstick. To add authenticity to this great plan of deceiving old Hugh John, Mary finally placed a wig of long, shiny, flowing black hair upon her brothers head. So complete was the disguise that, when Tommy left the house, it was virtually impossible to tell that he was a man and not a female. Those who witnessed the transformation were certain that Hugh John would not recognise the deception which was going to played upon him.

Tommy walked down the terrace of houses until he came to the entrance into Hugh John’s cottage and stopped. In his best female manner he opened the ornamental mental gate and walked up the path to the front door, which he knocked loudly. None of those watching the scene could be observed, but they could see all that was happening. Tommy was standing on the doorstep when the cottage’s front door opened and Hugh John came out of the house leaning on a walking stick. “Hello,” he greeted what he thought was a young woman standing before him.

“Hello, Mr. McClean,” Tommy greeted the old man. “I have come to apply for the housekeeper’s position.

Come on ahead in,” Hugh John invited the visitor cordially and Tommy went into the cottage. When the door closed behind Tommy, those who had been watching the action began to giggle and snicker at the thought of Hugh John being so easily fooled. But the laughter was quickly silenced when a loud scream of terror echoed from the house and all the neighbours waited to see what had happened. There was another loud scream and the sound of raised voices that seemed to originate from the rear of the cottage. Several of the neighbours now rushed to better positions that would allow them to see exactly what was happening and the sight that met their eyes was almost unbelievable. They saw Tommy, dressed as a young girl, running as fast as his feet would carry him across the field that stretched uphill from the rear of the cottages. Holding his dress up with his hands and having no shoes on his feet, Tommy was making good progress and putting good distance between himself and his pursuer. Behind him, Hugh John was limping after Tommy with his walking stick in hand and he was shouting at the top of his voice, “Come back wee darling. Let me show you just what I want you to do!”

But Tommy was not answering.

THE OLD BOREEN.

By Arthur M. Forrester. (1890)

Embroidered with shamrocks and

spangled with daisies,

Tall foxgloves like sentinels guarding the

way,

The squirrel and hare played bo-peep in its

mazes,

The green hedgerows wooed it with odorous

spray;

The thrush and the linnet piped overtures in it,

The sun’s golden rays bathed its bosom of

green.

Bright scenes, fairest skies, pall to-day on my

eyes,

For I opened them first on an Irish boreen!

It flung o’er my boyhood its beauty and

gladness,

Rich homage of perfume and color it paid;

It laughed with my joy— in my moments of

sadness

What solace I found in its pitying shade.

When Love, to my rapture, rejoiced in my

capture,

My fetters the curls of a brown-haired colleen,

What draught from his chalice, in mansion or

palace,

So sweet as I quaffed in the dear old boreen?

But green fields were blighted and fair skies

beclouded,

Stern frost and harsh rain mocked the poor

peasant’s toil,

Ere they burst into blossom the buds were

enshrouded,

The seed ere its birth crushed in merciless

soil;

Wild tempests struck blindly, the landlord, less

kindly,

Aimed straight at our hearts with a “death

sentence” keen;

The blast spared our sheeling, which he, more

unfeeling,

Left roofless and bare to affright the boreen.

A dirge of farewell through the hawthorn was

pealing,

The wind seemed to stir branch and leaf with

a sigh,

As, down on a tear-bedewed shamrock sod

kneeling,

I kissed the old boreen a weeping good-by;

And vowed that should ever my patient

endeavor

The grains of success from life’s harvest-field

glean,

Where’er fortune found me, whatever ties

bound me,

My eyes should be closed in the dear old

boreen.

Ah! Fate has been cruel, in toil’s endless duel

With sickness and want I have earned only

scars;

Life’s twilight is nearing— its day disappearing

My weary soul sighs to escape through its

bars; But ere fields elysian shall dazzle

its vision,

Grant, Heaven, that its flight may be winged

through the scene

Of streamlet and wild-wood, the home of my

childhood,

The grave of my kin, and the dear old boreen!

TURF

Ireland’s Natural Resource

Any person who lives outside of Ireland, when they hear the word ‘Turf’ think of the green grass of a football pitch, or the horse-racing course, or a golf course. But for us Irish, the word brings to our minds lapping flames in a fire on a cold winter’s night, and the distinctive sweet smell that accompanies it. More commonly known as ‘Peat’ in other countries, we prefer to call it turf except when we refer to those modern hard, compressed blocks which are sold as ‘Peat Briquettes.” In modern days of smokeless fuel, the briquettes have grown in popularity, but mostly in the urban areas. In the rural areas of Ireland, the cutting, drying, and use of turf are still widespread.

Cutting the Turf

Gathering the Turf

‘Turf’ is an early form of coal which has been providing heat to homes, cottages, and castles throughout Ireland for centuries. In fact, we Irishmen and women have been cutting turf for over 2000 years with a special type of spade instrument, and it laid out and turned several times to ensure it dries fully. For those readers who have not had the joy to travel through Ireland’s beautiful villages, towns, countryside, mountains, and lakes it has hard to describe that unique aroma which belongs to the turf fire and the peace, serenity and comforting warmth that it provides. Those of you who have been fortunate to visit our beautiful country know that the smell of turf is something you cannot forget. Thinking about the word itself can conjure up faint traces of that aroma and bring back memories of wonderful days and evenings spent in a country with a unique beauty and history.

Bringing the Turf Home

To start the story of turf, we must begin by discovering what it is. Put simply, ‘TURF’ is dried peat and has been used as a source of fuel for the Irish people for thousands of years and is harvested from the bog-lands that once covered large areas of Ireland but is now disappearing. For the uninitiated, a ‘bog’ or ‘bog-land’ is a wetland that accumulates peat, which made up from deposits of dead plant material, such as mosses like the ‘Sphagnum Moss’. There other names for bogs that are used in other areas of the world i.e. ‘Mire’, ‘ Quagmire’, ‘Muskeg’ and ‘Fen’, which are covered in plants and shrubs of the heather family and are rooted in the ‘Sphagnum Moss’ and peat. The gradual accumulation of decaying and decayed plant material in the bog functions as a ‘Carbon Sink’, which means they soak up much more carbon than they emit, making it the ideal material for fuel.

Transfer from the Bog

‘Bogs’ are found where the ground surface water is acidic and low in nutrients. The ‘Fen’ is alkaline and therefore is not a ‘Bog’ in the true sense of the word. Usually, these bogs are ‘cloud fed’, which means they receive all their water and nutrients from rainfall and other precipitation, rather than from streams or springs. You find such environments as these are isolated from the surrounding landscape, and as rain is acidic and very low in nutrients, they become home to organisms that are tolerant of acidic, low-nutrient environments. The water content in these bogs are directly related to their climate and are not dependent on flowing streams or rivers, therefore it is the temperature that dictates how quickly water evaporates from these bog-lands.

Any water flowing out of the bogs has a characteristic brown colour that is derived from the dissolved peat tannins. But because of the low fertility and cool climate, there is relatively slow plant growth in the bogs, which also means decay is slower in the saturated soil and, therefore, the turf accumulates, and large areas of the bog landscape can be covered in peat to the depth of many metres. The bog, however, is not just important for the resources that can be recovered there. They have distinct animal, fungal and plant species that are unique to those areas and are of high importance for biodiversity in such areas that would otherwise be settled and farmed.

Turf, nevertheless, is the chief resource of the bog-lands of Ireland. As has been said it is an organic fuel that is created by accumulation and partial decomposition of vegetable matter in areas where the climate is, for the most part, wet and mild, and the drainage is poor. Turf, or Peat, deposits are the first stage in the formation of coal and, if the climate was drier the turf would dry quicker and decompose more quickly. But, currently, the moisture that is retained in the ground does not allow the vegetable matter to completely decompose. Turf, then, in its natural state is ninety to ninety-five percent water, and in the summertime, it is cut into blocks with a specially created spade and set in stacks to dry. When they are dry, the blocks of turf weigh between three-quarters of a pound to two pounds each. This dried peat is brought home by the cutter and placed on the fire, where it burns with a smoky flame and a very distinct, pleasant, odour.

The turf was the primary source of heating and cooking in Ireland for many centuries and great tracts of bog-land once covered the country. Today, bog-land covers about fifteen percent of Ireland, though in Counties such as Mayo large expanses of bog can still be found. Turf brings back lovely childhood memories for me as I can recall days visiting relatives in Sluggan, outside Carrickmore. I remember, as a young boy, helping as best as I could with the back-breaking work of cutting, stacking, drying, bagging and storing the turf for winter. Each morning of my short stay, my aunt would drag me out of comfortable bed to get ready for work in the bog. Though hard work, it was like an adventure to me as a young boy as I heard the men tell stories, make jokes, and talk about country life. The hot black tea from a tin mug and the soda bread and wheaten sandwiches were a treat that you could not help looking forward to when you saw my aunt coming over the brow of the hill with everything to hand.

For the hearth and for the cooking range the turf was harvested from the bog. It was all done by hand, using a two-sided spade called a “Sleán” to slice blocks of the turf from the bog. And, by God, it was hard, time-consuming work that in years gone by required entire families to be involved in the process. The turf was cut three blocks at a time, and you could hear the squelch of the spade in the still air, as it lifted in and out of the bog. The aim of the cutter was always to leave a ‘straight-face’ in the cutting for the next cutter who followed. Each turf cutter was followed along the bank by a ‘lifter’ who lifted the sods onto the bank where they were to dry. It was an important job because the lifter had to ensure that the wet turf sods weren’t broken as they were transferred to the bank.

The sods were left to dry on the bank until the sods of turf were able to develop a ‘skin’ thick enough to stop them breaking. It took every available hand to gather enough fuel to sustain the family throughout the cold winter months, for there was not just the cutting, but also the drying of the turf to a stage when it would light when it was needed.

There was a definite art to standing the sods of turf upright and leaning them against each other in a process that was called ‘footing’ the turf. This was usually started about a fortnight after the turf was cut, weather permitting, and this was an activity that involved all the family. ‘Footing’ was a back-breaking activity that involved four sods being lifted at one time and ‘footed’ together, which meant stacking them together in a pyramid style to allow air to circulate around the sods.

Then, when thoroughly dry, the sods are ready for ‘Rickling’. This process took place about a week later, but it could only take place when the sods were sufficiently solid. ‘Rickling’ was like building a wall with eight or nine sods of turf. Three sods laid in a horizontal row East-West with approximately one sod space between them. These were then topped with a further three placed North-South, followed by another two or three placed East-West on top. Although there are a lot fewer people who cut turf these days, in some the western counties of Ireland turf stacks can still be seen in the summer months, balancing against each other to dry out in the wind and the sun. Once the turf is deemed dry enough it is gathered together and brought to a turf barn or shed for storing. Some of the turf is also bagged and sold by individuals and shops to those not fortunate to have a turf-bog of their own. Either way, the sods will probably not see a match until the cold days of winter set in.

Conclusion

One terrible story, concerning the harvesting of turf, concerns the Irish peasantry during the years of the ‘Great Potato Famine’, 1845-1850. As we have seen, even in recent times cutting turf and saving it is hard and exhausting work and a day in the bog is still a daunting prospect for any person. So many of the Irish peasantry were starving with hunger and weakened by the lack of food that they were too weak to work at any job, let alone harvesting turf. This, of course, resulted in the Irish Peasant having an inadequate supply of fuel for the winter months, particularly the of extreme and bitterly cold temperatures experienced in 1846-1847. Those who did not die of hunger and disease and were evicted by heartless landlords froze to death in their thousands at the side of country roads throughout Ireland. The lucky ones were those with energy enough to salvage cowpats, dry them and burn them to provide some heat.

Today the majority of turf cutting is carried out by large companies, such as ‘Bord na Mona’ for large energy creation plants, peat briquettes and even compost for gardens. Their work is done by huge machines in the vast bogs of that cover Ireland’s inland counties.  Nevertheless, you can still see turf stacks in many places in the West, even places along the coast. Most foreign visitors to Ireland will only experience the glory of a glowing turf fire and its pleasant aroma in the family-run country pubs these days. It is a sad fact that because it is not a smokeless fuel turf has been banned from our major population centres. If the present trend continues it will mean that finding a turf fire will be like hunting the ‘Loch Ness Monster’, for even the poteen distillers have abandoned turf for bottled butane gas. That’s what is affecting the taste …

Fingers Kelly’s Vision

Throughout Ireland, there are many hills, and all are of varying sizes. Some are covered in forest, some covered in gorse and heather, some covered in grass, and some others with rock and shale. Each and every hill has its own story in local folklore, but there are some which are particularly renowned. One particular hill stands out from the others and still haunts the people who live on or around its slopes. The hill has a peak that time has eroded into a smooth shape and, over one hundred years ago, the owner of the land built a small summerhouse there for his children. His daughters were often to be seen at the summerhouse, where they would picnic while admiring the beautiful scenery that surrounded them. But, just as Ireland changed over the subsequent years so did this small summerhouse, and it soon fell into ruin. Before the summerhouse was built, however, the hill was largely used as pasturage for cattle. In those times the herdsman would spend most of his days and nights on that peak.

The Bodact

It must be told, at this stage of the story, that the man who owned the land on and around the hill was not a popular character in the district. He was seen as one of the new, modern farmers who wanted to squeeze every last ounce of profit out of the land, neglecting any and all of the traditions of the local people. They had always considered the peak to be the home of the “Good People,” who blessed the entire district with their presence. Understandably, since the purchase of the land by the new owner, the “Good People” had grown restless and angry that their special place should be trampled over by the hooves of bulls, cows and sheep. Under normal circumstances tradition called for the “Good People” to be given both food and drink in return for their permission to work upon their special land. The new landowner had done nothing but show the “Good People” his disdain by choosing not to believe in their existence.

To the ears of the “Good People” the lowing of the cattle and the crying of the sheep were sad sounds that hurt them and made them melancholy. They turned to their queen and pleaded with her to do something to relieve their plight and the plight of the animals. The queen loved her people, of course, and listened with patience to their pleas for her assistance. At length she told her people that she would do something to drive away the animals from these places, along with those who cared for them. It was her decision to wait until the arrival of the harvest nights came, when cloudless skies would allow the moon to shine its silver light brightly upon the hill. On those peaceful nights the cattle and sheep would lie down to rest while the herdsmen also settled themselves to sleep beneath the bright, twinkling stars that filled the night sky. It was the the queen would come to them and make her appearance before them. She would dance, changing shapes from one ugly, frightening thing to another, threatening them by circling like a huge spider ready to strike with its deadly fangs.

In her first appearance the queen showed herself as a great horse, with the wings of an eagle, and the tail of a dragon. She came to them spitting fire and roaring so loudly that the ground trembled. Then she would change to a limping man with the head of a bull, over which a flame moved lightly and flickered softly in the darkness of the night. She would follow this by forming herself into a variety of hideous, monstrous shapes, that terrified those who saw her. She reared, hissed, bellowed and howled loudly, making those who saw her believe that the very doors of hell had been opened to allow all its demons into the world. Screaming in absolute terror the herdsmen pulled their great coats over their eyes, believing if they could not see the demon, then the demon could not see them. Shaking in their terror the herdsmen whimpered every prayer they could think of, to all the saints in heaven that they would come and rescue them. The Fairy Queen would blow up a strong breeze that removed the greatcoats that covered their eyes, despite the great efforts they made to keep them in place. Worse still, the saints to whom they offered such earnest pleas did not come and rescue them from the horror. They could not move in their fear and the hair on their heads stood up, turning grey because of the terror they felt. Even as they prayed their teeth chattered so much, as they shook with fear, that they were certain they would fall out of their mouths. Meanwhile, their herds were scampering here, there, and everywhere. Some animals called out loudly and bolted wildly, as if they had been driven mad by a huge swarm of biting flies. Frozen to the spot in their terror the herdsmen could do nothing for them.

The horrors of that first night only ended when the first rays of dawn’s sun shone upon the hill from the east. All around the herdsmen the cattle and sheep had been scattered everywhere. Many had fallen to the ground too exhausted to stand or graze upon the rich green grass. Others staggered about, walking into trees, bushes, and hedges. Some of the animals, because they had been so badly frightened, had stampeded into a pit, or ditch, maiming themselves beyond healing. These would have to be disposed of but, in the fast, flowing river that flowed by the base of the hill, many more were already dead. During the night they had been drawn down hill in their terror and carelessly ploughed into the fast, flowing stream.

Each and every night for the following two weeks the same events occurred until, finally there was hardly a man in the county who would dare take the job of herdsman on that hill. The stoutest and hardiest men had been recruited to the job and promised good rewards, but none stayed after they had been visited by the Fairy Queen. The once great herd of cattle and sheep had thinned rapidly and no amount of money or any other reward would convince a man to endure the horror of facing the demons that lived upon that hill. He who owned the herd was at a loss as to what he could do about the problem, while the fairies began to return to their former abode in greater numbers. Once again, the evenings were filled with fairy music and dancing, drinking and feasting, sports and challenges, all of which pleased the Fairy Queen.

The great landowner had continued to see his livestock become smaller in number and, with such losses, his income became seriously depleted. The man’s family worried about him as they watched the normal sparkle of life that he had possessed leave him. They were worried for his welfare because he had become so depressed. Moreover, they wondered what the future held for him and what would happen to them. But, in the local village of Ardee there lived a man known as “Fingers” Kelly. He would not have been anyone’s first choice as a potential saviour because he was better known for his drinking habits and for being a master of the “Uileann Pipes”. It was indeed true that Fingers enjoyed a good glass of whisky and a few glasses of porter. But it was also known that with a drink on him Fingers had the heart of a lion that feared no man or creature. He was not the type of man, drunk or sober, who would seek out trouble, but neither would he walk away from trouble if it sought him.

Fingers liked nothing more than taking a stroll into the countryside, where he could sit and play his pipes in peace. One evening as Fingers sat upon a large, black rock the landowner happened to pass by. Regularly the landowner would walk alongside the river that ran along the foot of the hill and consider what could be done. As he approached Fingers on his rocky perch the piper spoke to him. “Jimmy McCann, why do you have a face on you that would trip a train?” he asked.

“Fingers my man,” the landowner replied, “sure I find myself in a desperate way.”

“Dear God, Jimmy, what has happened?”

“It’s the fairies on the hill that have me destroyed,”

“Fairies?” asked Fingers.

Jimmy McCann sat down on the large rock with Fingers. “Aye. The fairies have took a great dislike to me and mine!” Jimmy told him. “I’m losing cattle left, right and centre, and every herdsman in the county has been scared off.”

Fingers put his pipes down on the rock, jumped down to the pathway and faced Jimmy. “Quit your worrying, Jimmy, sure I’ll help you,” he told him.

“You will?”

“Of course, I will. Sure, what sort of trouble could they give you? I can sort them out. After all they are much smaller than us,” laughed Fingers.

“Be careful what you say Fingers,” Jimmy warned him. “You don’t know who or what could be listening to you.”

Almost in unison they moved their heads to and fro trying to make sure they were alone and that no one could hear them speak. “If you will help me and take care of my cattle for one week on top of this hill, I will make sure you never want for anything,” he told Fingers quietly.

“That’s no problem, Jimmy” smiled Fingers, offering his hand to shake agreement on their deal.

Jimmy took his hand eagerly, shaking it strongly. There was a great sense of relief that came over him and he asked, “Start tonight?”

“Why not?” answered Fingers and the two men sauntered off, shoulder to shoulder, toward Jimmy’s house. In the big farmhouse Fingers was well fed, and well supplied with whisky, which would help him keep him warm in the cold air of night. After he had eaten well Fingers put on a heavy coat and, with his pipes over his shoulder, he walked to the top of the hill, just as the bright harvest moon rose into the cloudless night sky. What was left of Jimmy’s cattle and sheep were quietly grazing as he reached the summit, where he found a big stone in the hollow of a small hillock. The stone, he decided, would give him ample shelter from the cool night breezes and he began to settle down, unfurling his pipes to play a pleasant, quiet tune.

Fingers had just begun to play, completing only a couple of bars of his tune before hearing sweet voices from the shadows. He recognised them immediately as the voices of the fairy folk singing softly and comfortingly. As he strained his ears, however, he could also hear some of his visitors muttering and, occasionally, laughing. “It is another of those cattle watchers,” he heard one of them say. Go and report it to the Queen. He will be a sorry man that he ever dared set foot on this hill.” There was nothing more said, and Fingers could not see them leave with the darkness of the night. But, for some reason or other, he turned his head upward and looked at the top of the hollow in which he sat. There, above him, silhouetted against the bright, silver moon he saw the massive figure of a black cat. The back of the cat was raised as if ready to pounce, and the hairs along its spinal ridge were standing up. The creature’s huge claws looked like great spears ready to grab and pull apart its victim. As it looked down on Fingers with blood-red eyes the monster cat gave a strange, frightening noise and began to swell rapidly into yet another creature, much larger than the cat. As it made its metamorphosis the gigantic creature fell to the ground not far from where Fingers was sitting. The piper didn’t move, even as the creature rose up from the ground, and took the shape huge, savage Bear.

“Come to dance to the music of my pipes?” Fingers asked the creature calmly. There was no immediate reply to his question, but he continued, nonetheless. “Just you begin your dance and I will join in with the pipes.” The Fairy Queen remained silent while she changed her shape, taking on a variety of terrible and monstrous characters. Fingers, however, laughed loudly at her efforts to frighten him and he continued to play the pipes until the queen finally lost patience with her puzzling and stubborn opponent. If fear had no effect on this man, she thought, then she would try a different means of forcing him away from fairy lands. The queen instantly changed into a milk-white coloured calf and began to gently moo at the piper. Step by step she brought herself closer to Fingers and hoped to take him by surprise. She planned that by demonstrating a female gentility towards the man it might be enough to put him off his guard. Perhaps it would give her a much better opportunity to rid herself and her fairy folk of this human presence. Fingers, however, was no fool and could not be so easily deceived by such trickery. In her disguise as a milk-white calf the Queen came closer with a motion that showed him no sign of danger or threat. Suddenly, Fingers dropped his pipes to the ground and in one jump leaped upon the back of the calf.

It was the fairy queen who was caught completely by surprise when Fingers jumped on her back, but she reacted quickly to rid herself once of this burden. She immediately began to buck and leap in the moonlight that lit up the night sky. But no matter how hard she tried the queen could do nothing to loosen the grip that Finger’s had on her. In her frustration the Fairy Queen summoned all her strength and took a huge leap from the steepest side of the Hill. With one enormous bound her flight took her across the wide and fast flowing river that coursed by the base of the hill. Then, as she landed on the far bank of the river, she kicked up her heels once again, loosening the man’s grip and causing him to fall from her back on to the soft turf. After catching his breath Fingers lifted himself up on one elbow and he looked the queen directly in the eyes. “That was a big leap for such a small calf”, he laughed aloud.

In an instant the queen returned to her own shape and stood over the man lying on the ground. “You mean it was some leap to be made with you upon my back,” she said. “Would you like to go back the same way you came?”

Fingers was quite undisturbed by the apparent threat and replied, “Why not?” Then, as the queen returned to the shape of a calf once more, Fingers jumped upon her back. He had hardly got himself settled before she took one huge bound that brought them back to the summit of the hill.

The queen resumed her natural shape and again came to stand before Fingers. “You have shown great courage in standing to face all the horrors that I have brought upon you. You stayed upon my back as I leaped from this great hill and back again,” the queen smiled at him. “I will honour the courage you have shown, and I will tell you now that while you keep the herds on this hill you never shall be molested by me or my people!”

Fingers was happy with what he had heard and thanked the queen graciously. “Look to the east now,” she said. “The morning sun is about to rise and you should go immediately to farmer McCann and tell him of my promise to you. Be assured that if ever there should be any service that I can do for you, ask and you shall have it.” With these words the Fairy Queen disappeared from Fingers’ sight

It has been many years since the events in this story, but the fairy queen kept her word and never again visited the hill during the remainder of Fingers Kelly’s life. In like manner Kelly never troubled the queen nor her people with any requests. For many years he continued to play his pipes on the hill while he attended the cattle and never again had he to pay for a drink out of his own pocket. In fact, Fingers Kelly never wanted for anything ever again, living his life to the full and in comfort. When Fingers eventually passed away, he was buried at the foot of the hill, on the Riverbank and near the big stone on which he played his pipes. There are those who will tell you that on peaceful summer evenings, if you walk on the hill, you can still hear the melodious refrains of the “Uillean Pipes” wafted upon the breezes that blow across the summit. They also say that if you can keep your approach quiet you will have every opportunity to see the Fairy Queen and her folk dancing to the music that the spirit of Fingers Kelly plays for them.

On the hill at Ardee

They say you can see

The Dancing Queen and her Fairies.

Then comes the sunrise

and the sun shines in your eyes.You’ll see no more than the daisies.”