Tim Harte Goes Courting

Big Tom Harte was his adopted mother’s jack-of-all-trades. In fact, I do not know how she could ever have managed the farm without having his clear head and sound judgment to guide her. Everyone in the parish knew Tom as a man well-trained in getting a bargain and, probably, the best judge of a ‘beast’ in this part of the county. Although I knew the man well, I truly believe he deserves all such compliments because I can never remember mother ever losing money on her cattle dealings, and at various shows and fairs our animals were highly regarded for their appearance. Tom did not regard himself as being wholly an Ulster-man and took a lot of pride in the fact that through his mother he could claim Scottish descent, and some said that much of Tom’s cautiousness with money and shrewdness in dealing with others was a result of this Scottish blood.
We, children were always rather in awe of him. He ruled over us and our lives on the farm with a rod of iron, and woe betide anyone who dared to enter the garden before the house had been supplied with ample fruit for preserving! Our lives would not be worth living if we decided to launch an assault upon his beloved fruit trees or damaged his trim flower-beds! Yet, it was very good for us that someone had been set in authority over the garden and farm-yard, for we were a rambunctious lot of fatherless ‘gorsoons’. But the years passed quickly as, one-by-one, we grew into adulthood. I, being the eldest, left home first and was the first to return, more alone after being so happy for a very short period of time. When I returned home, a young widow, the younger children had all flown the nest, and my mother now had no one left but me, and she was growing old. I decided immediately that I should put my future, and that of my son’s, into her hands, and soon we became thoroughly acquainted with Tom Harte. In his mind I was ‘the young mistress’ or ‘Miss Ellen’ and I can honestly state that I often felt at a disadvantage when I was in his presence. He had a widespread knowledge of subjects in which I was totally ignorant, he could calmly reject my farming theories without belittling me, he was always successful in all ventures that he undertook, and he completely overawed me to such an extent that, after a struggle or two, I would give in.
Although Tom must have been at least forty at this time, he looked quite a few years younger, was handsome, tall and well-built, and most importantly a bachelor. He had a bright twinkle in his grey eyes, which almost contradicted his firm-set mouth with its long upper lip and massive square chin. From his mother he had inherited a close calculating mind, which was hard to convince and slow to take on-board new impressions but would strongly retain these new thoughts once he had accepted them. From his father, roving Pat Harte from Donegal, he inherited an Irishman’s ready wit and nimble tongue, and under all an Irishman’s fickle heart, but not his warm affections, which went so far towards mitigating such fickleness.
Tom was unusual among men of his own class, for he was well to do. He had successfully speculated in cattle on his own account and he had money in the bank and a snug cottage of his own. Nevertheless, year after year, Shrove-tide after Shrove-tide, which was the marrying season throughout Roman Catholic Ireland, Tom could be found rejoicing in the blessings of being single. Yet, the man could not have had a comfortable home, for his old mother was a confirmed invalid and, as Tom was known to be very careful with money, he only provided her with the services of a little girl who was scarcely in her teens. I can recall that, on more than one occasion, mother had spoken to him about matrimony. But, on each occasion Tom would answer her with the argument, “Is it as easy to work for two as for one, ma’am?” Hearing this type of answer from him, she ceased bothering him about it.
On one bright frosty November day I sent Tom to the Ballygarr on very important business. Then, to assure myself that this business had reached a favourable outcome, I walked along the road to meet him as he returned home. But, I waited and waited for his return until the expected time of his arrival home had passed. The delay caused me to feel rather uneasy and I, therefore, quickened my steps along that winding sea-side road. Then, as I came around a bend in the road the reason for Tom’s delay was revealed to me. Ahead, I could see him walking beside a very pretty country girl, while another, not so young or nearly so pretty, lagged a little behind them.
“Well, Master Tom!” I thought to myself, “Are we to hear news of you this Shrove-tide?’
As I came forward, the two girls fell back, and Tom hurried forward to meet me. He looked shy and rather sheepish as he came toward me. I immediately recognised the pretty girl as being Mary Docherty, who was considered to be the most beautiful girl in the district, and she hung her shapely head, trying to hide her blushing face as she passed me by.
Tom was calm and very business-like as soon as the girls were out of sight. He had lodged money for me in the county bank, settled my own and my mother’s accounts with butcher, baker, and grocer, and transacted all our various businesses with care and correctness. Having given me a full account of what he had been doing, Tom hurried on, while I continued with my evening walk. Twilight was quickly falling when I returned home and, although more than an hour had elapsed since Tom had went ahead of me on the road, he was just entering the gate as I turned from the sea-road and on to the small path leading to the same gate. In the house, later that evening, I caused my mother to smile very brightly as I told her about what I had seen on the road. “But,” said she, “poor little Mary has no fortune behind her, and Tom will be looking for one with any girl he decides marry.”
A few days after this encounter, Tom quietly took me into his confidence. We were making our winter preparations in the green-house, putting away the summer plants whose flowering days were done, and filling up gaps in our shelves with bright chrysanthemums and other winter-blooming plants. Mother was exhausted after an hour of this work, and so Tim and I were left alone among the flowers. For a lengthy period of time he worked away at the task in silence, but I could see that he was longing to speak. Just as I was about give him the opportunity to speak, however, he forestalled me.
”It was a fine day that day I was in Ballygarr, Mrs Greene” he said, as he passed me carrying a huge flowering bush from one end of the greenhouse to the other.
“It was indeed, Tom. Had you many people about that day?” I replied.
“No, ma’am, there weren’t very many. Some of them soldier boys from the barracks.”
“Were there many people from around these parts?” I asked him.
“Hugh Docherty and his sister, and Susie O’Connor, were there ma’am.”
“Ah, sure you walked home with the girls. What became of Hugh that time?”
“Sure, you know what it’s like, ma’am, he just got overtaken with a drop of drink. I simply thought it would be a friendly gesture for to see the girls home safely.”
“I am sorry to hear Hugh was so bad as that, Tom.”
“Well, it was all his own fault, Miss Ellen, for he did not want to leave ‘Mrs Gallagher’s Pub’ no matter what we said, and so we just left him there. But! Miss Ellen, I’ve had some thought about a change to my life.”
“I am very glad to hear it, Tom.”
“Yes, Miss! Yes, indeed, miss. Sure, it is lonely work growing old with nobody to take care of you.”
Susie“God bless us, Tom, that’s a selfish way of looking at things,” I told him.
“But, miss, why else would a man marry, but to have himself taken care of?”
“I suppose liking the girl he married would also be a reason too,” I responded.
“Oh aye! I’d still like to have a woman that I’d fancy, but she must be handy.”
“And who would you be thinking of?” I asked, as Tom bent over a box of geranium cuttings. “Whoever she may be, I hope she is nice and good, and that she will be kind to your poor old mother, as well as a good manager?”
“You can be sure that I wouldn’t take one that wasn’t that, Miss Ellen,” he replied, without raising his head. “But, sure it’s awful hard to tell how these young ones will turn out.”
“She is young then?”
“Young enough, and settled enough,” he told me. “There’s two that I’m thinking of.”
“Two!” I exclaimed. “Well that’s not the right to do, Tom. A man of your years is surely old enough to know what kind of wife would suit him best. Besides, it’s not very fair to the girls. They are related to each other, I believe. Those two young women you were walking home with on Saturday?”
“They are,” replied Tom, utterly unembarrassed by what he had said. “Mary Docherty and Susie O’Connor. Mary’s the prettiest, though,” he added in a sort of heartfelt sigh.
“Aye, I have always heard that she was as good as she looked,” I told him. “She has been such a dutiful daughter and a good sister to those wild boys, that she cannot fail to make a good wife for someone.”
“Maybe,” Tom replied. “But the Docherty family hasn’t got much money about them these days.”
“I know they are not very rich, Tim, but they are comfortable.”
“Aye, they aren’t begging, miss, begging your pardon. But, even you will admit that there is little comfort about the house.”
“Well, I suppose she has known what it is to want, and she will know better how to take care of plenty, when she gets it.”
“I don’t know about that! Maybe when she’d get her two hands full she’d be throwing it all away, for them that has been reared in poverty seldom know how to handle plenty when it comes.”
“Well, I have always heard Mary praised for being the prettiest and the best girl in the entire county, and I am sure you would think yourself a happy man if you could get her for your wife,” I said sharply.
“There’s not a word of a lie in what you say, Miss Ellen,” replied Tom, as he placed the last young geranium in its pot. “She’s a good girl, and as pretty a girl as you’d see in an entire summer’s day. But, I have a wish to step up and see all contenders before I speak to her.”
“Why, Tom, have things gone as far as that?”
“Well, I may say I have her courted up to the asking, miss.”
“And the other, Tom?” I asked him and tried desperately to hide my amusement.
“Truthfully, I don’t know, but I have her on hand too.”
“Now, is that fair to either of those wee girls?” I asked rather indignantly.
“Sure, I don’t know. All I do know is that a man has to look sharply before he jumps.”
“And who is the other girl? Mary’s cousin?”
“Yes, miss! ‘Long Tom O’Connor’s’ daughter, from Drumshesk. She’s up with Mary since Hollowe’en. Hughie’s looking after her.”
“She’s no beauty, Tom”’
“No, miss! But she’s settled. They tell me that her temper is a little rough, but she has the finest two-year-old heifer that I ever set my eyes on. A pure beauty, Miss Ellen.”
“Sure, what good would the cow be to you, Tom, if you had a sour cross-grained wife at home?”
“Aye, but maybe she wouldn’t be so sour or cross when she’d have a good house over her head and plenty in her hand. She’s getting old, Miss Ellen, and she sees the young ones coming on, and leaving her on the shelf. I tell you, there would be a ‘quare’ change in her if she had her own way.”
“By God, Tom, you seem to think much more of the cow than the girl!’ I retorted.
“Truthfully, it’s the prettiest of the two. But miss, I’m asking, what would you advise me to do?”
“You should marry the girl you like best, Tom, and never mind the cow. A young sweet-tempered girl like Mary, who has been so good to her sickly parents, so gentle and loving to those wild brothers of hers, cannot fail to make you a good wife. You will never be sorry, if you marry the girl you like best.”
“That would be right, ma’am. She is a good girl, and I’m in no doubt that I like her beyond any other woman in the world. But, Miss Ellen, I’d wish she had the cow!”
Next day I left home, and I did not return until the daffodils were glittering in the spring meadows around our home, and the rooks were cawing over their fledglings in the trees that stood behind our garden. Tom was married, for I had heard the news from my mother early in the year. But, I still did not know which fair maid he had decided to choose, and I was eager to find out. It was late at night when I returned home from my travels, and my mother had far too much to tell me about other than the termination of Tom’s courtship.
In the morning, I made my way into the garden, the farm-yard, the fields lying close by, and still I could not find Tom. I didn’t meet up with him until late in the afternoon, when I found him busily trenching up some early cabbages in the back-garden. He seemed rather shy of me, but I put out my hand and greeted him warmly.
“You’re welcome home, Mrs Greene, ma’am,” he said. He struck his spade into the fresh-turned earth and shook the hand that I offered him with more than ordinary warmth. “We’ve been waiting a very long time to have you back among us.”
“Thank you, Tom. So, I have to wish you every future happiness.”
Tim looked sheepish, but speedily recovered himself. “Yes, ma’am, if happiness it is to be.”
“Oh, there can be little doubt on that score, Tom. I hope Mary is well?”
“Mary? You mean Mary Docherty? Why, she’s spoken for with ‘Lanky’ Muldoon that owns the hotel in Ballygarr.”
“Well, Tom, I thought you were going to marry Mary?”
“No, Miss Ellen, I chose not to. I believe her and ‘Lanky’ were married last Saturday.”
“And what made you change your mind, Tom?”
“Well, I just took Susie. For you see, Miss Ellen, I decided that a cow would make the difference between any two women in the world”
“So, it was the cow that won the day for Susie, after all!”

The Christening

A tale of 19th Century Rural Ireland

There was a large turf fire blazing upon the broad, pleasant hearth of Matty Carr’s cottage, filling the entire house with its sweet, fragrant scents. In those days the turf was plentiful on the “Selkie Moss” and it was likely that the supply would last for a few hundred years yet. Bella, as Matt’s wife was called, was very much a house-proud woman, who was convinced that nothing makes a home more cheerful than a bright, warm, and welcoming fire in the hearth. Although she was usually a thrifty and frugal type of woman, Bella would build up the bricks of peat into a glowing pile with unsparing hands until the kitchen felt as hot as a kiln. The floor was so clean that you could have almost eaten your meal off it, and every pot and pan was washed and cleaned to such an extent that they looked like mirrors hanging from their hooks. The wooden dresser that stood against the wall was looking fresh in its white gloss finish, and everything in the house had the definite appearance of absolute cleanliness.

In the corner of the kitchen, near to the fireplace, there was a clumsy-looking, home-made cradle, in which slept the newest and most precious addition to the Carr family. Every now and again, Bella would stop in the middle of her household chores to take a look in at the sleeping child, and she would whisper sweet blessings over her new-born infant.

Hey, Bella!” Matt shouted. “Was there anybody touching my razor?” He was calling to his wife from the next door room, where he was getting himself dressed for the very important ceremony that was soon to begin.

For Jaysus sake, man dear,” she called back to him in a loud whisper, “could you not speak just a bit softer, ye eejit, or you’ll waken the child!” At the same time, on her tip-toes, she hurried to the door of the adjoining room.

Matt was in a bit of a temper with himself about something, or other, which was not uncommon and Bella could see his mood quite clearly.  He was standing in the room and facing Bella when she came to the door of the room, and he held the cut-throat razor in one of his hands. His face was plentifully lathered with shaving soap, but from one side of his chin she saw that there was a cut from which blood flowed quite freely. Matt held the razor out toward her, ensuring that she had a clear view of the condition in which he had found the edge of the blade.

Aah, wee man! Have you cut your wee self?” she asked him with a false tone of pity, although she was concerned that he would be alright.

Cut myself?” he replied impatiently, being none to pleased with his wife’s tone. “Well, I think I have, or maybe I’m sweating blood! With all your blatherin’ maybe I will even bleed to death just for you. Now, just get me a plaster will you?

Returning to the kitchen, Bella fumbled in the dresser drawers and found a box of plasters, from which she took one and gave it to her angry husband. She knew that Matt was a good man, but he was also the type of man that occasionally lacked patience, and he did not suffer fools lightly. He had absolutely no doubts that some of the children had been using his razor to sharpen their pencils or other items. Matt’s mistake was simply that he had failed to check the edge of the razor before he began to shave with it. “Would you get the leather strap for me, Bella?” he asked her.

You know, maybe the strap will not be good enough to put an edge on the blade. I might have to take the bloody thing to the anvil and use a sledge hammer to put a proper edge on it. Then, if that works, I could polish it up by rubbing it along the big sharpening stone that I use for the scythe,” he told Bella in a half-joking tone of voice.

While Matt was talking to her, Bella returned to the dresser and fetched a huge glass jar, filled with a golden coloured liquid. Matt had a bright twinkle in his eyes when he caught sight of that jar in his wife’s hands. The corners of his mouth began twitching with anticipation as he came to understand her intentions. Nevertheless, he kept complaining and moaning until, finally, gave him a large tumbler filled with whisky that had been drawn from the jar.

And what’s that?” asked Matt, who was still not in the best of humour.

Aah, sure take a wee drink, darlin’. It’ll calm you down and steady your hand. It might even help stop your bleeding,” said Bella with a comforting smile.

Matt, being the sort of man that he was, did not need a second invitation to have a drink of whisky. He put the razor down by the washing bowl on the dressing table and gently took the tumbler of whisky from his wife’s hand. “Here’s to you, Bella,” he laughed as he emptied the glass in one drink.

Jaysus, Matt, you’ll have to take your time with the rest,” Bella insisted.

By God, Bella, sure you never spoke a truer word,” Matt replied. “There was a time that I could’ve drunk a river of that stuff, dry.

Indeed, you could have, wee man,” smiled Bella. “These days I would rather see you bringing in a bag of “Inglis'” flour than a jar of whisky. We can have more fun making things with the flour.

Don’t be daft, woman!” sneered Matt. “There’s more fun in that jar of whisky than there could ever be in “Inglis'” flour, even a cart load of it!

That may well be the case, my dear,” Bella replied to him. “But, like everything else, darlin’, whisky is very good as long as you keep it in its right place, and you do not abuse it.

Aye, and aren’t I just the man who knows where that right place is, and able to put it into it?” Matt laughed heartily, but Bella was not amused. He held the tumbler toward Bella again, saying, “Bella, just give me another wee measure and then I’ll quit.

But, the jar was closed and Bella had placed it back on the dresser, totally unwilling to replenish her husbands glass. “You have had enough for the time being,” she told him and began to walk away.

Och, Bella, just one more wee glass,” he pleaded with his wife. “Just to keep the first one company. You know, a bird cannot fly with only one wing.

ChristeningBella, of course, gave way to Matts pleas, as every dutiful wife would do. Matt now quickly forgot the bleeding cut on his face and, with a few strokes on the leather honing strap, the razor soon became as sharp as it had been previously. His face was soon shaven cleanly and he dressed in his best ‘Sunday Suit’. In less than half-an-hour he was standing at the front door of his cottage, waiting to welcome his invited guests. Matt had a quick eye and was able to distinguish objects at a distance from him. With that keen eyesight he scanned the various roads that led away from the house, and as soon as he saw certain people coming into his view he would call out to his wife, “They’re coming Bella! Here they are! Are those glasses ready? And the boiling water and the whisky? Is there something a little softer for the lasses, such as lemonade or cider? By Jaysus, woman, but this will be a well-remembered day and night! Sure this well may be the last christening we’ll ever have, so to hell with the expense!

It was absolutely amazing the number of people that Matt Carr was able to squeeze into that small house of his. There was both young and old, but it was mostly adults who were in attendance. They were put into the kitchen and the bedroom, and in every vacant space that was available inside the house. The first of the guests had begun arriving in the afternoon, but they were mainly the older women who came to give Bella a hand in making the needful preparations, and attend to the wants and needs of the children.

Matt was now in his glory. If you could have heard him talking to the guests you would have heard him talking to the guests, you would have thought him to be the ‘Lord of the Manor’, instead of the hardworking, hard-fisted mechanic of Ballyfoss. But, Matts heart was bursting with happiness and he would not have changed places with the proudest man in Ireland.

In a comfortable chair close to the blazing fire sat Biddy Brown, who acted both as a nurse and a midwife for almost the entire district. On her head she wore a white hat and she was dressed in a spotlessly clean, blue and white checked uniform. As she sat there near the turf fire there was a look of quiet contentment and grave responsibility on her face, which is so common among the nursing profession. On her knee slept the Carr baby, dressed in a snow-white gown, which was neatly embroidered and adorned for its imminent baptismal ceremony.

Matt, of course, attended to the duty that he saw as being his main responsibility. He was distributing the whisky around his guests. Each had a glass tumbler in heir hand or near at hand, which Matt filled from a small jug that he replenished from the large glass jar mentioned earlier. As he moved around, serving each guest, he talked to them in a warm and friendly fashion. “Now, Mrs. McCall,” he said to one guest, “Not one drop have you taken from your glass since I put that first drop in your glass.

Ah, sure, dear God, Matt,” she answered him, “this is two or three times you have filled my glass. And, honest to God, my boy, I couldn’t take any more.”

Jaysus sake, Matty,” said another lady. “Please don’t offer me any more, for that must be one of the jugs that never empties and my head’s spinning circles already!

Thus it continued. Some protested and yet, as they did so, they still held out their glasses for a fresh supply. Others, however, really meant what they had said and refused to take any more of Matt’s whisky.

Aah, Biddy, we almost forgot you,” said Matt as he approached the nurse and replenished her glass. “What do you think of the new baby, Biddy?

No nicer baby has ever come into this world!” Biddy told him as she softly kissed the baby’s head. “And may it be a blessing to its mother and father, as well as a credit to the old country.

Amen to that,” came the response from most of those around them.

Well, Biddy, there could be no better judge than yourself,” exclaimed Bella and Matt. “Because you have put a good number of them through your hands this last fifty years, and now I’ll tell you one and all what I’m going to make of that child you see there –” Matt ended his speech abruptly at this point as the latch on the door lifted and into the house walked the priest, who was to christen the child.

As the priest entered the house everyone rose in respectful silence as the priest came into the cottage. Father Toner was a man with a fine physique and a commanding presence. He had gained a wide reputation for his blood and thunder homilies, in which the assembled congregation could almost smell the sulphur of hell. But, outside of the pulpit, he was much admired for his genial manner and his great kindness toward others. “A good evening to you all,” he said as he stepped forward to shake Bella’s hand, and then he had a warm handshake with a kindly word for everyone else in the house.

At least a half-an-hour was filled with conversation among all those who had gathered in the house and, by the end of those preliminaries, it was time to make preparations for the christening. But, by this time also, Matt was in a condition that was far from suitable for the occasion. His frequent journeys to the big glass jar were now beginning to tell on both his speech and his equilibrium. There was a definite glitter in his eye and an unsteadiness in his gait that he tried to hide from others, because it was not appropriate to the occasion and those duties that he would be called upon to discharge.

Father Toner began the ritual with a heartfelt prayer and then he asked that the child be brought forward to him. There were a lot of nudges among those in the crowd, and quite a few of them had great difficulty in restraining their laughter as they watched the tremendous efforts made by Matt to appear both sober and solemn. Matt’s condition, however, did not escape the keen, observant eyes of Father Toner, and there was the faintest sign of twitching at the corners of his mouth as he lifted the child up, placing it into Matt’s arms and asked, “Are you able to hold up the child, Matthew?

Am I what?” asked Matt in inebriated surprise, “Able to hand it up! Indeed, I am Father, aye, even if it was the weight of a two year old bullock!

This remark was more than the assembled crowd could stand. At first there was a titter of laughter, but this quickly burst out into unrestrained hilarity. Even Father Toner could not hold back a smile as he demonstrated the difficulty he had in maintaining the solemnity befitting the occasion. But, nevertheless, things were going very well until the priest poured some drops of cold water upon the sleeping baby’s head. The effect was quick and immediate. The child awoke instantly and gave an ear piercing wail. In response, Matt turned angrily toward old Biddy, the nurse, and upset the gravity of the occasion once again by hissing at her, “For Christ’s sake Biddy, why didn’t you take the dead cold off the water?

Finally, it was all over and Father Toner handed the child back to its parents with a final solemn prayer. He apologised to them both that he could not stay for the celebrations that had been arranged and made ready to leave. As he bid them all farewell, the priest began walking toward Betty Gray’s house, nearby.

God go with you, father!” cried Matt as soon as the priest was beyond earshot. “Aye, God go with you, for I never feel right in myself when there is a clergyman around the house. Come on, Bella, get those tray things together and let us all have something to eat!

Bella, of course, did as she was asked, drawing a large table into the centre of the kitchen and quickly loaded it up with home-baked bread of various kinds. There were oat-cakes, potato-cakes, pancakes, soda-farls, wheaten bread, and may other products. Cheese, butter, eggs and jams were in plentiful supply, and those who could grab themselves a chair were soon at work on this feast. As it was impossible to accomodate all their company at the table, so many of them were obliged to hold their teacups and sideplates in their hands, or on their laps.

There was much discussion among the gathered crowd and many subjects were touched upon by them, from the condition in which the country found itself, to the possibility of a neighbour girl being married soon. “Did you hear about Jenny Early being three months gone?” asked Bella.

Get away with ye!” exclaimed several of the female guests. “Tell us what you know.

Well, you know Jenny’s not just the full shilling,” said Bella and several of the ladies nodded their heads in agreement. “Someone has made friends with her, but she wouldn’t tell anyone who he was. But, this man asked her to come and see his lambs and then took advantage of her in the hay shed. He told her that it was the sort of things that friends do and she, knowing nothing better, allowed him to have his way.”

“The dirty old ba….”

“Wheesht!” said Bella. “Hold your tongues for here comes Betty Gray and she has a mouth as big as Belfast Lough!”

End

The Quest Part II

Sorry about the delay folks, but here it is ……

 

When, after many days, Dinny reached the city he went immediately to London Bridge, without stopping for rest or food. His journey had not been easy, often being given wrong directions and, just as often, mistook  turns that led him off course. It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon, with blistered feet, bedraggled clothing, exhausted and agitated, that Dinny joined the crowd of people crossing over the bridge.

Having been born and raised in rural Ireland, everything in this huge, bustling city was so new and so alien to him. It did not take him very long to feel overwhelmed by a place that displayed a complete lack of warmth toward the poor and friendless people who came there to seek their fortune. In such a city, Dinny quickly began to feel insignificant, abandoned, and terrified. He looked at the faces in the crowd as they jostled past him, and he timidly shrank back from their stares and sneers. Dinny stumbled about among the crowd, unable to collect his thoughts and bring himself back to what had brought him there. He began to recall the long, hard journey that he had just undertaken, and where that journey had brought him. Dinny now began to wonder about the words of the vision he had and he began to lose all faith in them. He wondered how stupid he had been for believing in what was nothing more than a simple dream. In his confused state he ran out of the crowd, seeking some kind of sanctuary in the side streets of the city. Finding a quiet, sheltered doorway of an empty shop he sat down, crying himself to sleep as he thought of his poor wife back home, despairing of what the future might bring to her.

Dinny awoke the next morning, a little more rested and a little less agitated, but there was no longer any light of hope in his heart. But, being in a better frame of mind Dinny decided  that the best thing that he could do now was to go back to Ireland, as soon as he had begged, borrowed, or stolen enough money to make his passage easy. With this in mind he moved out into the public areas again and beg from those people who appeared vulnerable to his appeals. It was early in the morning, which he much preferred to the later hours of the day, when the city’s streets would be thronged. On this occasion, Dinny met very few passers-by as he walked  through the streets, and very few of those were able or willing to go give him even a half-penny to him, despite all his pleading, trembling lips and tear-filled eyes.

He wasn’t sure what streets he had taken, or in what direction he had gone. But, by some strange twist of life he found himself once again at London Bridge. This time, however, there was nothing to terrify or overwhelm him. On this occasion there were, fortunately, a lot less people about and those that were moving to and fro made little impression on Dinny. Under such changed circumstances Dinny began to regain some of his self-confidence and soon began to recall the message he had received  from the apparition. “Come on,  Dinny! Get your arse in gear,” he urged himself. “You’re on London Bridge now, so go over every square inch of it to see what good it will do you.

Dinny crossed the bridge and, as he reached the far end, he noticed that a public house was beginning to open its doors to customers. As he walked past this public house he caught sight of an elderly man with sunken eyes, red cheeks and a prominent red nose, whom he was sure he recognised. The elderly man noticed Dinny staring at him and, in return, the elderly man returned his stare, taking his time to decide whom and what he was looking at. Dinny took an immediate dislike to this publican and, uncomfortable at the way he stared at him, Dinny hurried on. “I think I will walk back over on the other side now,” he thought, after giving the elderly publican enough time to finish opening his premises and move indoors again.

But, as Dinny moved past the pub once again, the elderly man appeared. He was leaning against the door-jamb, as if waiting for Dinny’s return and, on this occasion, he took his opportunity to examine the young man much more closely. “What the Hell is wrong with him?” Dinny asked himself. “Do I have two heads and that’s why he is examining me so closely? Ah, sure let him look! Him and his ferret eyes! I’ll just walk on down the middle of the road.

Once again Dinny walked toward the public-house, keeping to the middle of the road this time. “Good morning, friend,” the old publican greeted him, as Dinny passed his door for the third time.

Nervously Dinny replied, “And good morning to you too!” respectfully touching the brow of his battered old hat he was wearing, and began walking a little faster.

Isn’t’ it a bit early for a morning walk?” asked the publican.

Without slackening his pace even a little, Dinny told him, “Aye, it is brave and early.

Sure why don’t you stop for a moment and take the weight off your feet?” the elderly publican asked and Dinny came to an abrupt halt. “I can see by your dress and hear by your voice that you are Irish and a fellow countryman of mine. Sure I would know one of my own people at a glance, even though it is many a years since I left my native home. And if you don’t mind me saying, you’re not looking very well-off on London Bridge this morning. Sit down sure and give us some of your craic.

Ah, sure I know what I look like, sir,” replied Dinny, “I’m about as badly off as a man could be. If it was raining good fortune, sure I would be standing with a fork!

Are you here looking for the work?

In all honesty, no,” Dinny told him. “I just came out here this morning, hoping to beg enough money that will get me at least some of the way.

Well, here is a shilling or two that just might help you,” said the old man. “Why don’t you sit on this bench by the door and I will bring you some bread and cheese to accompany a big mug of tea.

old london bridgeSmiling, Dinny accepted the man’s kind invitation, gratefully. He now blamed himself for having allowed his opinion of the kindly publican to be guided by his first impression of the man. Now, while he ate his bread and cheese, and drank his strong tea, Dinny and the old man talked freely with each other. In fact, Dinny felt so comfortable in the man’s company that he began to really open his heart more and more. The old publican asked the young man about his reasons for coming to London. Dinny, however, didn’t want to give the man the real reason at first, but the more they talked the more Dinny felt it was not right to hide the answer to his generous new friend. “You are probably wondering why I haven’t given you a straight answer, but my reason will sound terribly foolish to you. What brought me to London and London Bridge is an odd sort of dream that came to me in Ireland, which told me to come here and I would get my fortune.

Much to Dinny’s embarrassment, the publican burst into a loud laugh. “Good Jaysus, why would you be so stupid as to put your trust in stupid dreams like that. You know, I have had many of those dreams myself but I never bothered my head with them. In fact, in those days you were travelling and dreaming of finding a pot of gold in London, I was dreaming of finding a pot of gold in Ireland.

Surprised by this revelation, Dinny lay down his empty pint on the table and asked, “Did you?”.

I did, indeed,” the old man smiled. “Night after night an old friar with a pale face, and dressed all in white and black, and a black skull-cap on his head, came to me in a dream. He told me that I should go to Ireland, to a certain spot in a certain county that I know very well, and under the slab of his tomb, that has a cross and some old Latin lettering on it, in an old abbey that I know about, I would find a treasure that would make me a rich man all the days of my life,” he laughed.

Holy God!” Dinny exclaimed and a strange expression came over his face. “Did he tell you that the treasure had lain buried there for a very a long time under the open sky and the old walls?”

No,” replied the publican quietly, “but he did tell me that I would find the slab covered in by a shed that a poor man had lately built inside the abbey for himself and his family.”

Christ!” screamed Dinny, caught off his guard by the sudden joy that he derived from hearing such news, which was also helped by the refreshment he felt after the food he had been given. At the same time, Dinny jumped up from his seat and stared angrily at the man.

“What’s the matter with you?” the publican, frowning and with a look of fear on his face.

I’m sorry friend,” said Dinny quickly as he regained some of his former composure. “Sure there’s nothing is a matter with me, and why should there be? Isn’t what we were talking about just pure nonsense? The funny thing, though, is that you had a dream about your home country, which you haven’t seen in many years. Did you say twenty years?

Dinny, of course, had a very good reason for asking this question. But the old publican was still puzzled at the young man’s sudden change in attitude. “If I said so, I forgot,” answered the publican, “But it is about twenty years, indeed, since I left Ireland.

With manners like yours, and the kind way in which you treat strangers, I would say that you were a man of some note in that place before you left?”

You’re not far wrong, friend. Before misfortunes overcame me, I owned quite a large bit of property as well as the ground upon which that  old ruined Abbey stands. You know, the same one in my foolish dream that I mentioned.

So did that Lucifer’s child of an uncle of mine,” thought Dinny. The young man’s heart pounded heavily and his blood began to boil, but he used every ounce of will to keep calm in the man’s presence. Here before him stood that evil, treasonous man but Dinny decided to hold  his peace for a while longer.

The grounds that the ruins of the old Abbey are on, sir, and the good land that’s around it? And did you say that these lie somewhere in the county that I come from myself?”

And what county would that be, friend?” the publican enquired and Dinny noticed a studious frown return  to his face.

County Armagh,” lied Dinny, as he said the first county name that came into his head.

No, not Armagh. It was in County Louth,” the publican told him.

Was it, indeed?” screamed Dinny, springing up from his chair. He just could not control his temper any longer and blindly lashed out at his uncle, causing him to fall, stretched out, at his feet. It was time now, Dinny decided, to reveal his true identity.

Do you know to whom you are telling this story? Did you know that the sister that you caused to die left behind her a son, who one day might overhear you?” Dinny was now kneeling beside the prostrate man, keeping him down as he struggled.

It is that son, Dinny Sweeney, that is by your side now, and he has more to tell you. That shed that you were talking about, which was built over the old friar’s tombstone was built by the same hands that you now feel on your throat,” Dinny spat out viciously.

He now took a rope from under a nearby bench and began to tie his uncle tightly with it. “That tombstone you mentioned is the  hearthstone of my fire, and now while you are lying here in the cool of the morning, and with no one to help you, I’ll make a start on the journey home. When I get there I will lift that flagstone and get the treasure for myself.

The uncle struggled to free himself and Dinny gave him a very stern warning. “Now you can follow me if you dare! But, you know that you are a wanted man back home, and there is a good reward for your capture.” As the uncle continued to struggle he dislodged a heavy cash bag that he had prepared to deposit in the bank. It fell to the floor and Dinny immediately took possession of it.

Now this will help me to get home all the quicker! I am sure, uncle, you will agree that I deserve to get a little bit of my own inheritance from you. So now, uncle, I wish you a good morning, and bid you farewell!”

Dinny now dragged his bound-up uncle into a back-room of the premises and closed the door. Taking the keys to the premises he shut the front door, locked it, and threw the bunch of  keys into the river. As fast as his feet would carry him, Dinny made his escape, confident that once he was free his uncle would set out after him. He was certain that his uncle would seek revenge for the beating Dinny had given him, and for the bag of cash that he had taken with him. Above all, however,his uncle would track him down, because as an outlawed murderer he would be determined to rid himself of someone who was knew of his true identity, and was prepared to hand him over to the law. What troubled Dinny most was the fact that it would now become a race between him and his uncle as to who would recover the treasure that lay under the old tombstone. He was, therefore, determined not to waste even a minute of time in getting back to that shed he had built in the ruins of the old Abbey again. To assist him he made free use of the money he had liberated from his uncle to purchase speediest means he could to get home first.

After leaving London he went directly to Liverpool, where he would get one of the regular ferries to Ireland. But, because the departure of his ferry was delayed a few hours Dinny started to become anxious that such a delay would allow his uncle to catch up to him. As the ferry finally began to ease its way out of the dock Dinny began to breathe a lot easier at the thought that he would be back in Ireland in a matter of a few hours. He went up on deck to watch the departure and, as he did, Dinny noticed a slight commotion on the dockside. Although the ship was already a good distance from the dock, Dinny could still see the figure of a shouting angrily and pointing towards him. He could not, however, hear what was going on, but he became concerned that the angry man was his uncle. Dinny was greatly relieved as the ferry began to make good speed through the sea, though he was still worried that his uncle might only be an hour or two behind.

A worrying thought came to Dinny’s mind that his uncle just might hire a faster vessel to catch up with him, and even pass the ferry. He stayed on deck for a long while straining to see if such a vessel was pursuing him. Eventually, though, weariness and the want of sleep overpowered him, and he fell into a disturbed slumber from which he would awake covered in a cold sweat. In Dinny’s dream filled sleep he saw a fast vessel bursting through the  of the sea and pulling past the ferry that he was sailing on. But, when morning dawned and he saw the shoreline rise up before him, Dinny felt greatly relieved and went back on deck to see his ship enter the harbour. He had reached Ireland, and yet, there was still niggling feeling within him that his uncle could not be far behind him.

Disembarking his ferry, Dinny hurried home as quickly as he could and, the closer the steam train took him, the easier became his concerns. At last he reached the nearest station to home, and jumping on the platform he rushed to get a taxi that would take that last leg home. The road ahead was a level winding road and any thoughts of being pursued had seemed to have left him. As the sun rose to its highest point the road began to ascend a hillside that was surrounded by a large bog. Only when Dinny’s taxi reached the summit of the hill did he look back along the winding road to see another vehicle speeding up the road from the foot of the hill.

Get a move on, for God’s sake” urged Dinny as the taxi began to speed down the descending road and then along another level section, which continued for at least two miles. At the end of this stretch was another, not as steep as the previous but, as he reached the summit and  looked back, he saw the other vehicle breaking the summit of that previous hill. On and on the chase continued in this fashion, until the road narrowed and began to wind its way through an uncultivated and virtually uninhabited wilderness. Urging the driver onward along the road until, at last, they reached the end of the valley, through which they had been driving. In the distance Dinny could now see the sloping ground and the Abbey ruin, which encircled his poor home with its grey, destroyed walls.

The setting sun was now streaming its warming rays over the land and with the end of his journey in sight he urged his driver to speed on. They had not gone far when there was a loud sputtering noise, and the clanging of metal upon metal. A huge cloud of steam came out of the front of the vehicle and it shuddered to a stop. As he got out of the taxi Dinny could hear the sound of the pursuing car, approaching him along the road. Fear now entered his mind as the vehicle carrying his uncle came nearer and nearer out to him. Straining his ears to listen, Dinny could just hear the feint voice of his uncle crying to him, “Stay where you are!” Within moments the pursuit car screeched to a  sudden stop on the gravel road, and his uncle got out of the car brandishing a revolver. It was he, himself, that had been diving the car, Dinny noticed as his eyes sought an escape route.

The uncle stood directly in front of Dinny and spoke to him menacingly, in a low but clear voice. “I have you now, me Bucko! This bullet is not for the money that you have already taken,  and are about to take from me. No! Neither is it for the beating you gave me, before you tied me up and abandoned me. This bullet is set to close the mouth that, with one word, can get me hung. By your death, nephew, Nephew, I will have life!

Dinny had paid little attention, preferring to plead with God for his life. The fear and confusion that had once gripped him suddenly left him and, just before his uncle spoke his last words, Dinny threw himself at his assailant. In a tight clench they rolled on the ground together, struggling with each other as Dinny felt the barrel of the gun pressed against his chest. He fought now to seize the gun and wrench it from his uncle’s hands, knowing that this alone would help him master the situation. But, with the gun in his hands, and him ready to fire it, Dinny stopped himself from pulling the trigger. He stared down at his uncle, who was still on the ground, and told him, “No! You are the my mother’s and it will not be me who ends your evil filled life. But, rest assured, you wretch, that I can make sure that you never bother me or mine again.

While his taxi driver still had his head stuck under the bonnet of the taxi, and had seen nothing of what had happened. Dinny took his uncle by the scruff of the neck and led him away. Then, taking a small wad of notes from his uncle’s cash bag, that he had taken with him from London, Dinny paid his driver and waved him goodbye. “Sure you can use that car to get someplace for help. I’m sure the money will cover all.”

Aye, it will,” said the taxi driver with a huge smile.

Dinny urged his uncle forward with the hidden revolver pressed up against his back. After a short distance they came upon an old barn, inside of which Dinny found several lengths of heavy rope. With these ropes he securely tied up his uncle’s arms and legs, so that he could not escape, no matter how hard he tried. “Just you lie there,” he told his uncle. “I will send someone we both know well and he will take very good care of you in a cold, lonely cell. And, in the meantime, I will go to the old hearthstone and retrieve my pot full of gold. You, of course, get nothing!” With those words he left his uncle securely tied in the barn.

When he entered his home, Dinny found Nancy nursing her new-born baby as she sat up on the old iron-framed bed. |Annie, the old woman, was still there as he burst into the shed and threw himself on the bed, beside his wife and child, smothering the baby with kisses of joy and tears of happiness. Then he went to the fireplace, and lifting a heavy sledgehammer over his head   he brought it down with one swift movement and smashed the hearthstone.

Are you mad, Dinny?” asked a terrified Annie.

Of course I am,” he replied as he hurriedly removed the broken pieces of the hearthstone.

But, what is it you’re looking for?” the old woman asked.

Our future, Annie! Now you can go!” laughed Dinny as he took her gently by the shoulders and led her out of the shed.

Divil the bit of it!” Annie said. But, Dinny lifted some of the broken pieces of hearthstone and made to throw them at Annie, who quickly sped homeward.

Rushing back into Nancy’s presence he quietly asked, “Do you know what is making this noise?

He lifted handful after handful of gold coin and laughed loudly at the shocked, but happy expression on his wife’s face. Within a few weeks Dinny and Nancy, and their children, settled down to a new life in the house that his parents had once owned, taking over enough land and livestock to secure their future. As for Dinny’s uncle, the police rescued him from the barn and he got his day in court, which sentenced him to a whole of life prison term for murder.

The Quest Part I

It was a cold, wet evening as Dinny Sweeney returned home, a silent, plodding, and sorrowful young man who looked older than his twenty-five years.  He had watched as his old, decrepit father became ill, faded physically, and was laid to rest in his grave. The sun was setting now, warmer than it had previously been and its glorious rays broke through the gaps that were now appearing among the scarlet and grey clouds that were dispersing. From the bough of a tree a thrush sang its song, and was a sound that would often gladden the hearts of those returning from their work in the fields. But, even this joyful tune could do little to lighten Dinny’s mood.

As he looked at the fields that he passed by, noticed just how fruitful they were and the half-matured crops promised the prospect of a good harvest, as well as a prosperous future to come. But, at that moment Dinny’s heart was heavy because it was filled with a deep, dark sorrow, and there was no room for the light of joy to enter. The usual good mood that filled his life had gone from him, and no cheerful birdsong would encourage it to return. The promises being made by the softly undulating fields of light-green wheat, or the silken-surfaced patches of barley, were ignored. Dinny was simply a poor, penniless, friendless, young man, who was groaning under the responsibilities that were now left to him. He was totally worn out by the grief he had born, and was continuing to suffer. At that moment it appeared that there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

Sadly, and much to his embarrassment, the body of Dinny’s father had only received a proper burial due to the charity that had been shown by their neighbours. The country people of Ireland are known for coming together when a neighbour is in trouble, and ensure they overcome the problem. Among themselves the neighbours had collected money and made all the necessary arrangements for the burial of Dinny’s father. Such was the degree of respect that Dinny and his father were held within the local community that all their neighbours were saddened by the very low standard of living this hardworking father and son had been reduced.

Abbey RuinsThey lived in an old, almost derelict building, which they called “home.” Dinny was a married man and he had left his young wife lying on an old iron-framed bed, listening to the hungry cries of two small children. As she lay there she awaited the time when she would become the weary, weeping mother of a third child. All the while, as he walked home, Dinny’s mind was filled with a deep bitterness for the family treachery, which left both him and his father to financial destitution. All these years, he and his father, both respectable and hard working men, could have been living a comfortable life in this world only for that despicable act of treachery. Not surprisingly, therefore, Dinny held a deep bitterness and anger at what had happened, and these feelings festered within him the more he contemplated those far off events.

After all these years, Dinny could now only faintly call to mind those days of his early childhood, when he lived in a large house with his parents, and was surrounded by servants and workers of all types. He could remember eating only the best of foods, dressing in the best of clothes, and sleeping on the most comfortable of beds. But, Dinny could also faintly remember that terrible day when their lives changed for the worse. His mind went back to the very strange and very rude people who had forced their way into the house, so many years ago. For some reason, unknown and unclear to him as a boy, his father, servants, and workers were all turned out of the house, and left without anything. It was something of a blessing that Dinny’s mother had died just prior to this event and she had not been forced, as they had been, to seek warmth and shelter in a place almost unfit for human habitation. It was only when Dinny had reached the age of eighteen years, that his father had given him a full explanation of what had happened all those years before.

Dinny’s father was the youngest son of a large, wealthy farmer, who divided his lands between his two eldest children. In those far off days it was tradition among Catholic families that the youngest son joined the priesthood. It was this that was to be the fate of Dinny’s father and the family sent him abroad for his education, providing him with a liberal allowance while he studied. But, a few days before he was due to be ordained he returned home to visit his family and friends, joining with them to celebrate the beginning of his priestly ministry.

Being the first person from the district to reach the stage of ordination, Dinny’s father soon became something of a minor celebrity and was invited into the homes of many of the local dignitaries from all faiths. It was while he was a guest in the home of one wealthy local Protestant family, that he met the owner’s sister. She was a very beautiful young lady, who was quite wealthy in her own right. When this young woman talked and smiled sweetly at Dinny’s father any idea of him being a candidate for priesthood began to disappear, and he fell totally in love with her. By the end of the evening he had abandoned the entire idea of dedicating his life to the service of others. But, such a relationship between Catholic and Protestant had its opponents, and the couple were forced to run away together and get married in private. By doing this, however, they brought upon themselves the deep hostility of both families, particularly his own. It took them a considerable period of time until they were eventually accepted by her kindly and generous brother. With the help and guidance of this man the young couple regained much of their reputation among their neighbours, and they settled into the house which filled much of Dinny’s childhood memory. It was in that house that he spent a very happy childhood, at least until he reached the age of six years.

This kindly man died quite unexpectedly a few years later and, being unmarried, his only direct heir was his brother. This uncle of Dinny’s was not, however, as generous as his brother and had spent a good portion of his life as an unsuccessful lawyer in Dublin. It did not take him long to show everyone that he had inherited his brother’s wealth. But, he wasted even less time to show that he had inherited very little of his amiability and generosity of character. The one thing that he did demonstrate quite rapidly was his deeply felt enmity toward his sister and her husband. He made it absolutely clear that his actions against this couple were his revenge for her decision to marry a Roman Catholic. Such was his enmity towards them that he refused even to see them when they came to welcome him after his arrival in the district. At the same time he would not even consider accepting any invitation to visit their home.

Dinny’s mother was very sensitive woman who disliked all forms of confrontation, and she had hoped the enmity of her family was a thing of the past. But, the conduct of her brother at this time caused the poor woman great stress and put a great deal of pressure on her unborn child. In fact, such was the strain on her that the lady went into premature labour, during which she gave birth to a lifeless baby, and she unexpectedly died due to the efforts she had made.

Because they were so young neither Dinny’s father or mother had expected her to die so suddenly, and without ever making a will in Dinny’s favour. Through various legal trickery and numerous underhand dealings, the brother-in-law successfully managed to have her private marriage to Dinny declared null and void. Under such circumstances the law declared that the nominal husband did not have any rights to her property. Both Dinny’s parents had been living of his wife’s wealth and , with her death, this was now the only source of income from which Dinny’s father could maintain his family in comfort. Almost immediately the avenging brother set about gaining control of his sister’s property, and had little trouble in achieving this. As a result, with hardly a penny to their name Dinny and his father were forced to take up residence in a distant, and almost derelict cabin. By hiring himself out as a field hand  he was just about managed to feed and clothe his child, raising him up to be a fine, respectable young man. Then, as his father grew older and weaker, Dinny was able to shoulder some of the old man’s burden and work to better their lot in life. Now, after burying his father, it was to this ramshackle of a cabin that Dinny trudged home with heavy steps.

Dinny later discovered that this evil and malicious uncle did not enjoy his spoils for very long, but this certainly did not make him feel any happier. The uncle, in fact, only enjoyed his newly acquired wealth for only a very few years after he had gained possession of it. He was despised for the cruel manner in which he had treated his relatives, and for the scrooge-like meanness and vulgarity that he had displayed toward everyone. He constantly kept watch for any and all opportunities to use his wealth to gain revenge of all of his enemies. The only problem he faced, however, was that his legitimate income was totally insufficient to achieve his goal in a reasonable period of time. He had, therefore, to consider indulging in illegal means of gaining sufficient wealth to achieve his aims. Because he had lived so close to the coast he decided that his best route to obtaining a fortune was for him to engage in some large-scale smuggling operations.

Dinny’s uncle was not the businessman or criminal mastermind that he had thought he was. Despite every precaution that he took to ensure he would not be caught, the former lawyer did fall foul of the law and received some hefty fines that caused him to lose over half of his property. The ensuing bad publicity arising from his failed smuggling operations did, however, cause him to take much more desperate measures. Rashly he attempted yet another wild scheme, which he hoped would retrieve his fortunes, but was once again surprised by the forces of law and order. On this occasion he, and his gang of smugglers, were confronted by the revenue officers and, in the struggle that followed, he killed one of their number. In the confusion that followed the tragic incident the uncle had ran away from Ireland, and had not been heard of again for over twenty-years. Local people had speculated that he hid himself in London and was living somewhere in that city under an assumed name. One thing everyone was certain about was that he was financing his new life through some illegal means, that allowed him to continue to enjoy all the vices that he experienced when living as a Lawyer in Dublin.

Dinny had no idea about what his uncle’s fate had been, because all of these things had happened when he was only a child, and had no interest in the business of adults. He had learned about his uncle’s activities and his exile much later, and from the reports of others who had known his uncle well. As a matter of fact, Dinny did not even know what his uncle looked like and, in all honesty, he didn’t care to know. If Dinny had shown some pleasure at the downfall and disgrace of that man there would not have been one person who would have blamed him. But, Dinny showed not one sign of enjoying his uncle’s fate, because such thoughts could do very little, if anything, to alleviate the misery of his current situation.

Heavy footed, Dinny trudged under a large, open arch that was part of the Old Abbey ruin, and he then entered that squalid shed that he called home, which rested against the Old Abbey’s wall. Just at that moment his heart felt as if it had been completely shattered into so many pieces that he felt as dismal as those ruins that rose up around him. As he entered that cabin there no words of greeting between him and his young wife. She was sitting where he had left her, on the old iron-frame bed, mechanically rocking their youngest child in her arms. As she rocked slowly to and fro she emitted feeble and mournful noises that described her feelings of utter hopelessness.

Silently Dinny went to the makeshift hearth and set light to a fire of dry, withered twigs mixed with pieces of tree branch.  As the fire took light he took from his several potatoes that he had been had been given by a kindly neighbour an hour or two earlier, and he placed these among the glowing embers of  the fire. He watched as the potatoes were roasted to a satisfactory level before he removed them, and divided them between his wife and the crying children. The hours passed by silently until the moon rose high in the dark night sky, signalling it was time for bed. Exhausted by the day’s events, Dinny sank himself upon the couch from which his father’s mortal remains had been laid during the wake, and from which they had been lifted to be brought to the burial ground. He had not eaten that day, not even one of the potatoes that he had roasted, and yet he did not feel at all hungry.

As his beloved wife and children slept soundly in the quiet of the night, Dinny lay for hours unable to sleep or even close his eyes for any length of time. From the place where he lay, Dinny could see, through the large window at the front of the derelict cabin, and he contemplated the ruins of the old Abbey. He simply lay there, deep in his own thoughts. The silence that filled the cabin gradually brought a sense of desolation to him that felt almost like a special spiritual moment with God. The magical effect created by alternate moonshine and darkness, of objects and their various parts finally diverted Dinny’s mind but could not relieve it from its troubles. He finally came to his senses once again, remembered where he was, and he suddenly began to feel like he was an intruder among the dwellings of the dead.

Looking out of the cabin window Dinny also called to mind that this was also the time when spirits would reveal themselves in the remote, lonely and obscure place. They would flit here and there among the crumbling walls and intricate arches that had once formed the Abbey. As Dinny’s eyes fixed upon a distant stream of cold light, or of blank shadow, the movement of some bushes hanging from the walls, or the flapping of some night-bird’s wings, caused a stir of alarm as it came and went. He began to think that, perhaps, some ghost had shown itself challenged and disappeared so quickly that he had failed to see it. Dinny would, however, remember the causes of real terror even though he could not really tell if he was awake or asleep as this new circumstance caught his attention.

That night the full moon shone its light through the window of the cabin and settled upon the hearth. When Dinny turned his attention to this particular spot he saw, standing before him, the image of a man, advanced in years, though not very old. This image stood motionless with its gaze fixed upon him.  Strangely, the still, pale face of the image shone like marble in the moon’s beam, and yet Dinny could not tell if there was any solidity to that strange image or not. The forehead of the image cast long, deep shadows over its eyes, but left those normally very expressive features both vague and uncertain.

Upon the head of the image was a close-fitting black cap, and the image itself was dressed in a loose-sleeved, plaited garment of white, which flowed down to the ground. In every way it resembled the costume which Dinny had seen in a small framed and glazed print that hung in the sacristy of the humble chapel, which had been recently built not far from the ruin. Those who had built the chapel were descendants of the great religious fraternity to whom the Abbey had belonged in its hey-day. With a puzzled expression on his face, Dinny returned the fixed gaze of this midnight visitor. Then he heard a voice speaking to him and telling him, “Dinny Sweeney, get yourself to London Bridge, and you will become a very rich man.

“London Bridge? Aye, that would be right enough,” said Dinny as he rose quickly from his bed.

But, as quick as it had appeared the strange figure was gone again. With eyes still filled with tiredness, Dinny stumbled among the cold, black embers that were scattered on the hearthstone, where the image had been standing, and he fell prostrate to the ground. That fall caused Dinny to experience a change of sensation. Now he could see the objects surrounding him much more clearly, which he chose to explain to as being the transition from a sleeping to a waking state of mind.

Dinny managed to crawl back into his bed but he got very little sleep that night. His mind filled entirely with those words that the image had spoken to him, and wondered what the entire incident meant. As he thought about this encounter he felt it would be better if he said nothing about his vision to anyone, and especially his wife. In the present conditions, Dinny was worried that news of the encounter might just increase her present anxiety and her over the edge. As for the advice that the strange image had given him, Dinny decided to do nothing but wait to see if this messenger returned.  Despite his initial doubts, the messenger did return, appearing in the same place, at the same time hour of the night, and wearing the same clothes. But, on this occasion, the expression on the face of the apparition had changed, now looking more stern and determined. “Dinny Sweeney,” the vision called out to him, “why have you not gone to London Bridge, and your wife being so near the time when she will need what you are to receive by going there?  Remember that you have now been given a second warning.

“But, tell me, what am I to do on London Bridge?” asked Dinny as he rose again and moved toward the figure. Once again, however; the mysterious figure vanished as quickly as it had first appeared. Nonetheless, the apparition had once again stimulated his interest in what he might find at London Bridge, if he should go there. At the same time Dinny was somewhat surprised and annoyed at the angry attitude that had been displayed by the apparition. But, that was another day wasted on worrying about how he could undertake such a long journey to London without a penny in his pocket. There was also the added concern that it was almost time for his wife to go into labour and give birth to their child. For Dinny such a journey was neither possible or sensible, and he wondered if he could bring himself to obey any such recommendation made to him under such circumstances. However, Dinny remained unsure about the validity of the apparition’s message, because he had been told that a dream instructing him how to get rich should be experienced three times before it could be considered authentic.

Dinny lay down again on the bed and hoped that his vision might just return a third time. Still, much to his surprise, this hope was realised.  “Dinny Sweeney,” said the apparition, looking angrier than previously, “you have not yet gone to London Bridge, although I hear your wife crying out, telling you to go. This, remember, is my third warning to you.”

I know that, but just tell me….” But, before Dinny could say another word the apparition disappeared and, at the same moment, he thought he could hear the voice of his wife. It was weak and was coming from the old iron-framed bed, and it sounded as if she was about to go into labour. Dinny went immediately to her and after brief, excited conversation he left the cabin in a hurry and went to fetch a neighbouring woman who would act as midwife to the poorest women who were in the same condition as his wife, Nancy.

Please hurry over to her, Annie,” he urged the woman. “Do the best that you can do for her. Would you also tell her from me……” Dinny stopped, breathed heavily and wrung his hands nervously.

Dinny, my son! What is wrong with you, boy?” old Annie asked him. “What in the name of God is causing you to cry so bitterly this early in the morning?

Will you tell her from me,” continued Dinny, “that I ‘ll be praying, both morning and evening, that God will give her ease in her ordeal and provide us with a good, healthy child, just like the other two that He has given us. Tell her I won’t be far away and I will be ready to return as soon as I can.

Just what are talking about, Dinny?

It’s not important, Annie. May God be with you, and with her, and with the wee ones! Just tell her what I have said, and also tell her that Dinny has left her at this time of need with more love in my heart for her than on the first day that we came together. I will be back, and of that she should have no doubt. Whether I will be richer or poorer when I return, God alone only knows the answer. So, I will say goodbye, Annie, and don’t let her go hungry for the sake of a mouthful of potatoes and cabbage, while I’m away. I must leave now because my dream commands it, and I dare not look at her in case one word from her would convince me to stay.

With these final words Dinny rushed off, although he was not at all sure what roads would take him to London Bridge. He walked and begged his way along the coast to a port                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        where he hoped to embark a ferry bound for England. Hiring himself out on the docks, Dinny gathered enough money for his passage to South Wales, from where he once again walked and begged his way to the great city of London.

Bisto and the Priest Part II

Lizzie Kelly was a lady in her early sixties, a widow, and the housekeeper for the priests in the parochial house. Father Lennon always enjoyed his Sunday morning stroll and he always looked forward to the Sunday Dinner that Lizzie prepared. There was always a Steak Roast, done to perfection in the oven and accompanied with peas, carrots, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and a thick, brown, onion gravy that sat in a porcelain gravy-boat in the centre of the table. Father Lennon could smell the beautiful aromas of the Sunday meal wafting from Lizzie’s kitchen. She, however, met him at the door of her kitchen and told him rather sternly, “There is someone here who has been waiting almost an hour for you, Father.”

“Who would that be?” he asked.

Lizzie was back at her usual station, fussing around all the pots and pans that were smoking and hissing on top of the stove. But she stopped for a moment and told him, “It’s that woman from the Primary School, Father. She is sitting in the parlour.”

“Ms. Ryan the headmistress?” he asked.

“That’s right,” replied Lizzie without even looking at him. “It’s Philomena Ryan, with all her airs and graces,” she sneered, putting her nose in the air at the very mention of Philomena Ryan’s name.

Father Lennon was puzzled as to why Philomena Ryan would ask for him. “I wonder what she would want me for?” he said aloud.

Lizzie’s didn’t know and could care less about what Philomena Ryan wanted: the food was almost ready to be served and she had no time to spend answering such questions. More importantly she did not like Philomena and just wanted her to leave. “Now, that woman would not tell the likes of me what she wanted, Father,” Lizzie told the priest. He immediately realised the error of his ways, for he knew that there was not one person in the entire district who would confide in Lizzie Kelly. She knew it as well as he did.” Better you go and see to it Father, you have only ten minutes until I put the lunch on the table.”

“Better get to it,” he said as he left the kitchen and Lizzie could get on with the meal. He walked across the hallway to the parlour, where the headmistress was waiting for him.

“Hello Ms. Ryan,” Father Lennon greeted the lady, politely. She was sitting on a high back chair that sat at a huge, highly polished, rosewood table near to the window. “I am so sorry for keeping you, but the duties of a priest you know,” Fr. Lennon explained to her with a polite smile. But Philomena Ryan maintained her stern pose as if she was set in granite. She was a typical middle-aged spinster and was totally self-obsessed with her status as an important personage in the town. Usually Ms. Ryan was usually the first to be consulted by certain groups, concerning “run of the mill” problems encountered within this Parish. Only, on this occasion, it was the mighty one who was the person needing guidance on handling some difficulty or other.

“It is of no concern Father. I fully understand” she politely assured Fr. Lennon. “But, the matter I need to speak to you about is an extremely serious problem,” Philomena told him in a quiet voice that was deliberately hard to hear since she did not want to be overheard discussing such things with a priest. “This problem, Father, is so serious that it requires your immediate attention before things get out of hand.”

The priest could hear a definitive tone of concern in her voice and he was eager to discover what had caused her so much consternation, “My dear Ms. Ryan, whatever has caused you so much trouble? Please tell me what has happened?”

“It’s that old pervert, O’Dee, Father,” she told him quietly and took a quick glance around the room to make sure no one else could hear.

old-man-in-the-woods“Slinky O’Dee?” Father Lennon asked in a similarly quiet voice. He should have known that it would be about that lecherous old man. Almost every other day the priests or the police received a complaint about this troublemaker and, yet, the priest was slightly amused by this mention of one of the district’s oldest perverts.

Ms. Ryan’s face blushed red as she answered, “Yes Father. I believe that is the name he uses to describe it.” She lowered her eyes to the ground in embarrassment at the fact that she had to discuss such things with a member of the clergy.

“Calls what, Ms. Ryan?” asked Father Lennon, already knowing the answer but wanting to make things a little bit more difficult for this interfering busybody.

Again, her eyes scanned the room in search of prying ears before she answered him, very quietly, “His thing, Father.”

“His what?” asked the priest, pretending lack of understanding.

“His penis,” Philomena hissed out at him, as if spitting the words out of her mouth. She was annoyed at having been obliged to use the word, which she believed no lady should have to utter.

“Ohhh! I see” said Fr. Lennon,” His thing?”

“Yes, Father,” the embarrassed woman told him. “He has been exposing his “Slinky” to the girls on their way home from school after classes.”

“Disgusting beast,” the priest said. “And where does he expose his Slinky?”

“He lies in wait in the trees and bushes around the corner from the bus stop. When the girls least expect it, he jumps out from the trees into the middle of the girls, wiggling it about in front of these children. He is a disgusting little man and should be put away,” she demanded. Then, believing she had misspoke in the presence of the priest, she stopped and apologized, “I beg your pardon for my coarse language and anger.”

“Please Ms. Ryan,” he assured her. “There is no need for embarrassment. Your feelings are quite understandable under the circumstances.” He contemplated for a moment then, speaking directly to her, he said, “Something must be done.”

She smiled slightly at Father Lennon’s assurances and continued, “He has done the same thing with older girls and even women, but he soon found that they were fit for him and his ways.” Ms. Ryan pointed out. “Mrs. Brady grabbed him by the collar one evening and gave him a good hefty kick in his Slinky. He couldn’t walk properly for a week after it.”

Fr. Lennon laughed to himself quietly at the idea of wee Mrs. Brady assaulting Slinky O’Dee. But Father Lennon quickly realised that incident was a serious escalation in “Slinky” O’Dee’s actions and that he had to do something to stop him.

“This might mean we will have to involve the police,” Fr. Lennon suggested and noticed that Ms. Ryan flinched, almost in horror, at the prospect of involving the police.

“Dear God, Father,” she said. “I don’t know about involving the police. It would mean I would be called to give evidence against the man. We must think about the school and about the children. Whatever would people say?”

Father Lennon fully appreciated the woman’s concerns and tried to ease her anxieties. “Just you leave it to me Ms. Ryan. I will sort it out quietly,” Fr. Lennon assured her.

“Thank you, Oh, thank you, Father,” she said with great relief. Now that she had told the Priest she felt much better. Furthermore, she knew that whatever the priest eventually decided to do, it would be the right thing. Much more content, Ms. Ryan shook Fr. Lennon’s hand firmly and left the presbytery.

As he closed the front door on the departing Ms. Ryan he sighed with relief, “Now for my dinner.” It was yet another duty done but not yet fully completed Fr. Lennon said aloud to himself with a sense of relief.

The next day, Monday, at quarter-past two Father Lennon went into the hallway of the parochial house and put on his overcoat. He had decided to go to the bus stop where, it was alleged, Slinky O’Dee was causing some trouble. The children would soon be getting out of school and he wanted to get himself into position before anyone else arrived. When he reached the bus stop he chose to conceal himself in some bushes, which gave him an excellent view of the road. He heard the school bell ring loudly in the afternoon quietness, informing the children that it was time to burst out of the gates and go home. But, as the sound of the school bell ringing came to an end, Father Lennon heard a suspicious rustle among the bushes a few yards from where he was hiding. It was Slinky and he waited until several young girls had gathered at the bus stop before bursting out of the bushes. Out he jumped with his trousers around his ankles and exposed the entire lower half of his body, making lewd gestures and laughing lecherously. Swiftly the priest moved against him, grabbing Slinky by the scruff of his neck and pulling him backwards into the bushes as the girls looked on in amazement. Once he had gotten Slinky into cover of the bushes, Father Lennon lifted his big, heavy boot and planted it firmly into the old pervert’s backside. Slinky howled with the pain as the priest’s boot connected with his cocyx and, just for good measure, Father Lennon gave him two more hefty kicks in his rear end. Slinky screamed loudly with the pain and began to beg Father Lennon for mercy. The priest showed mercy by letting him go and pushing him away but, the force of Fr. Lennon’s push threw Slinky to the ground, where his bare buttocks settled into a patch of stinging nettles and thistles. Father Lennon bent over the crying man and warned him, “Now you listen to me, Slinky O’Dee! You ever do anything like this again I will give you the biggest kicking you have ever gotten in your life. Then, when I am done I will ensure you get jail as a sex pervert. Now get out of here and sin no more.” Still screeching, Slinky squirmed and shuffled to remove his red, bruised and stinging backside out of the nettles. Very little was seen of him again in the town and there were no more incidents reported. The duties of a priest in Ireland are not just to lead people in prayer.

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.

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.

Pub Sing SongIt 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.