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The Banshee’s Wail

He had not expected to experience the freezing sensation that moved so quickly up his spine. His complexion turned as pale as that of a corpse, and his body began to tremble excessively.This is the post excerpt.

Throughout Ireland’s history, and even in the present day, many have professed to have seen the Banshee as she goes wailing and clapping her hands in grief. On those rare occasions when more than one Banshee has been present they have wailed and sang their haunting songs in chorus for the death of some great leader or holy man. There is, also, among the records of those who have seen the Banshee, reports that on some occasions she is accompanied by a large, black coach, upon which is mounted a coffin. This so-called “Death Coach” is drawn by huge, black, headless horses that are driven on by a headless coachman. From out of the darkening sky the coach will rumble its way to the door of your house, seeking to transport the souls of those who are dead to their final resting place. It said that if you open your door to the “Death Coach” a basin of blood is thrown into your face as a sign of purifying the house and dead person by removing evil spirits.

bansheeIt is the way of the Banshee that not every Irish family can claim the honour of having one attend to them. According to custom the family must be respectably descended from a long and ancient line if it is to have a warning spirit of their own. At the same time the Banshee does not appear to be influenced by any difference of creed. Providing there is no other impediment even Protestant families of Norman and Anglo-Saxon origin are able to boast of having their own Banshee. It is with some pride that even in our modern times several noble and distinguished families in Ireland can claim that this mysterious being continues to watch over them. Furthermore, it appears, she is not influenced by the circumstances of rank or fortune. In fact, the Banshee is more often found frequenting the homes of the lower classes than the homes of the rich and influential. It will interest you, therefore, to read that the following tale is one told by a member of a humble family that has claimed the honour of an attendant banshee for many years.

This story, then, is only one of many witness reports.

Not so many years ago there was a farmer, who lived in the vicinity of the beautifully scenic Glens of Antrim. At this stage of the story it is not necessary to disclose this man’s name, but we can tell the reader that he never saw the need to get married. In the same house lived the only child of his deceased sister, a son, and his elderly mother who acted as housekeeper in the home over which she was once mistress. The old woman and her grandson were both followers of the Roman Catholic Church, into which the farmer himself was baptised. For reasons best known to himself the man’s faith lapsed and he was like a man in search of faith. As he grew older, however, the farmer’s search for a loving God to believe in appeared to waver and he became more a theistic in his outlook. He had no time for church going people, or the idea of sin, preferring to enjoy the fruits of life and not have to worry about accountability. He developed a rather dark, unattractive personality and kept himself aloof from others. He appeared sullen most of the time and showed himself to be a man of gloomy temperament. All of these personality imperfections, aligned with his well-known distaste of anything religious, only helped make him somewhat unpopular amongst his neighbours.

He may not have been well liked by his neighbours but he was generally respected by them. In his dealings with them he never insulted or antagonised them, and was considered by most to be an honest, inoffensive man. More importantly he was a large and muscular man who, even when he was younger, had a reputation for toughness and being able to handle himself in a scrap. It comes as no surprise then that there were very few of his neighbours and acquaintances who desired to disturb him, even if they felt they had they cause to do so.

It was not only toward religion that this farmer’s hostility was directed. Having been well educated in modern science he was very much hostile to every kind of superstition, and he was constantly berating his old mother about all the superstitions she held to. The old woman was an extremely superstitious person, and she allowed others to believe that she was entirely conversant with everything concerning witchcraft, the spirits and the fairy world which she was certain surrounded them.

Although his farm bordered the lands of several neighbours he rarely set foot across the door of any of these. Moreover, he seldom asked any of his neighbours to enter his home and preferred to spend his leisure time reading books from a wide variety of genres. He also spent time in refurbishing his farm tools and equipment, which he viewed as vital to his livelihood. Occasionally he would spend time listening to and laughing at the wild, often blood thirsty stories told by his old mother, Mary. She was an endless repository of such stories and she enjoyed relating them to both her son and grandson.

This farmer had reached the age of forty years by the time our story takes place and old Mary had become extremely feeble with age. Her body was greatly stooped over and wracked with arthritis, while her face was made ugly by her dry and wrinkled skin. One cold November morning the farmer got out of bed before the first rays of daylight had broken through the darkness of the night. As he came out of his bedroom he was somewhat surprised to find his aged mother in the kitchen, sitting over a fire she had raked-up in the hearth. She sat there in a very serious and meditative mood, smoking an untipped cigarette. “Good morning, Ma,” he greeted her. “What are you doing up out of your warm bed so early in the day?

Ah sure I don’t rightly know what’s wrong with me,” she answered him. “I have had such a bad night, altogether. Sure I never slept a wink and thought I would get up for a cup of tea and a smoke to see if it would help.

And what ails you, Ma? Are you sick, or what has come over you?”

No, son. Thanks be to God I am not sick, but my heart seems that it is ready to burst, and there’s a such a heavy weight on my body that it makes me feel so weak.”

Maybe it’s just a bad dream, Ma, or maybe a wee bug of some kind,” he said to her, in a tone that showed that he did not take her complaints too seriously. He was sure, from previous experience, that the old woman’s complaints could be put down to her simply feeling her age and not willing to admit it.

A bad dream!” repeated old Mary, with a bitter sneer. “You think I’m imagining it; I wish to God that it was only my imagination, son. But, unfortunately, I am very much afraid that it is a lot worse than that. I have a notion that there is great trouble and misfortune hanging over lives at this moment.”

And what makes you think such things, Ma?” he asked her with a half-suppressed smile on his face that demonstrated doubts. Mary, however, was well aware of his strong hostility toward every mention of superstitious beliefs and signs. She, therefore, chose to remain silent, but she bit her lower lip and shook her grey head despairingly.

Why don’t you answer me, Ma?” the farmer again asked the old lady.

Pay me no mind,” said Mary, “Sure I am just an old woman and don’t really want to tell you, because you will only laugh at me and think that I am going crazy. Nevertheless, you can mock and laugh at me, but, I will tell you there is something bad hanging over this place. The banshee was about this house all through the night, and she has almost frightened me out of my wits with her shouting and bawling.”

Naturally, Mary’s son was fully aware of the banshee having been long supposed to haunt his family. In the past the man had sought the truth of the tale and was frustrated in his efforts. But, although he doubted the creature’s existence, and had not heard of her visiting the place in many years, he was totally unprepared for Mary’s announcement. He had not expected to experience the freezing sensation that moved so quickly up his spine. His complexion turned as pale as that of a corpse, and his body began to tremble excessively. It took several moments for him to gather himself together and with a forced smile he asked his mother, “And how do you know it was the banshee, Ma?”

She looked up at her son in disbelief that he would ask such a question. “How do I know?” Mary questioned him with a taunting sneer. “Sure didn’t I see and hear her several times during the night? And more than that, didn’t I hear the cursed dead-coach rattling round the house, and through the yard, every night at midnight this last week. I was afraid that the house would be shaken so bad it would crumble around us!”

That forced smile was not yet gone from the man’s face. He was frightened by the prospect of the banshee’s presence, yet he was ashamed to show any fear to his mother. He asked her, “And did you ever see the banshee before, Ma?”

Of course I have,” Mary insisted. “I have seen her on many occasions. Didn’t I see her when your father died? Didn’t I see her when your sister and her man passed away? In fact, there is not one member of this family that has passed away in these last sixty years that I did not both see and hear the banshee.”

Tonight, where did you see her? How did she look?” he questioned further.

There was a sort of reddish light that lit up the entire house and caused me to waken,” she began. “It was then that I saw her at the little window over my bed. I could clearly distinguish her old, pale face and glassy eyes staring in at me, and she was rocking herself to and fro, clapping her tiny, withered hands, and crying out as if her heart was about to break in two.”

Nonsense!” he told her. “It’s all in your imagination; go, now, and get the breakfast ready. I need to go into Ballymena to-day to get a few things. If I can get into town early enough, then I can ensure I will be home early.”

A sudden feeling of cold caused the old woman to tremble. She looked at him with a tear forming in her eye and implored him, “For Heaven’s sake, John, don’t go to-day. Please stay and go to Ballymena another day. I am afraid for you, son, I have a terrible feeling that should you go to town to-day there will be something bad happen to you on the road.

Nonsense, woman!” said John. “Don’t worry your head over such stupid things and get me my breakfast, please.

Mary, with tears now flowing from her eyes, rose from her sea and began to get John’s breakfast ready for him. While she made his breakfast John washed, shaved and began to dress for the journey to town. Finally, having completed his preparations in the bedroom, John returned to the Kitchen and sat down to a breakfast of porridge, followed with tea and toast. John enjoyed his food and quickly ate all that was set before. With breakfast concluded in silence John got up from the kitchen table and moved to put on his overcoat before leaving the house.

At this point Mary moved as quickly as she could toward the door. Flinging herself to her knees she cried out to him loudly, “John, John, please listen to me. Don’t go to-day! Please take heed of my warning. Although an old woman, I know more of the world than you do, and I can plainly see that if you go from here today you will never enter alive through this door again.”

John would not allow himself to be influenced by the drivel of wild superstitions from an old, doting woman. He gently pushed her out of his way with his hand, and, proceeding to the farmyard, mounted his Yamaha motorbike and departed. With great sadness Mary watched him as he rode out of the yard, the tears still flowing from her eyes. When he went outside her range of vision she turned back through the kitchen door, sat down by the fireside, removed her handkerchief from her apron, and she wept bitterly for her son.

The day was a bitterly cold one and John went about his business in town quickly. Then, as soon as his business was finished, and feeling the chill of the day, he decided to visit a local public-house. On entering the bar John immediately ordered a glass of hot whisky to help him remove the chill on his body. As he drank at the bar an old friend entered and greeted him warmly, insisting that John have another glass with him before he left. The friend had not seen John for over a year and he was keen to catch up on any gossip and other things that John might know. As is always the case in such circumstances, one glass brought another, and it was late afternoon before John decided that he needed to get home. It was already getting dark outside and, having nearly ten miles to travel, it would be night time before he would reach home again.

John’s friend, however, was not prepared to allow him to leave the bar when the craic was so good. The order for more hot whisky and Guinness was called and it was not until well into the night that the friends finally parted in a much inebriated state. Of course John was fully aware that he should not ride his motorbike while he was drunk. But, good sense had long departed and, having mounted his bike, John switched on the engine, turned the accelerator and roared off from the space in which he had parked earlier. Somehow he did not have any problems moving down the streets of the town and once outside its boundaries he dashed along at a rapid pace through the gloom and silence of the winter’s night. John had driven almost five miles from the town when, on arriving at a very desolate part of the road, a gunshot was fired from behind the bushes along the roadside. In that instant John was knocked of his bike, which crashed into a large oak tree. He was dead before he touched the ground, the victim of a stray shot fired by one of two poachers in nearby woodland. The two poachers rushed to John’s body, lying at the side of the road and searched him for identity. They found and took his wallet full of money and, afraid of the consequences of their actions, the two men disappeared into the night before any other person came on the scene.

In the house Mary did not go to bed that night, but sat at the fireside impatiently waiting for her son to return home. In the silence of the kitchen she listened for even the slightest sound that might indicate the arrival of his motorcycle. But all Mary’s listening and waiting was in vain. No sound met her ear except the sad wail of the night wind, which moaned fitfully through the tall bushes that surrounded the old house. Standing at the kitchen door Mary could hear the sullen roar of the narrow, dark river, which wound its way through the fields a short distance away. Overcome with tiredness; watching and listening for such a long period of time Mary finally fell asleep in the armchair that stood by the hearth. But the old lady’s sleep was not a restful one. She was constantly disturbed and awoken by frightful and appalling dreams that incessantly haunted her imagination.

At long last the greyness of early morning appeared, struggling through the wintry clouds, and Mary again opened the door to look out. She was dismayed to find no sign of her son’s motorbike, but her hopes were raised by the sound of a car engine as it entered the yard. Her hopes were quickly shattered, however, when she noticed two policemen get out of the vehicle. At that moment she knew that they were not bringing her good news and she expelled a great scream of grief as she fell to her knees. The two policemen rushed to her aid and several neighbours quickly gathered to see what was amiss. Working together they raised Mary to her feet and returned her to the comfort of her armchair in the kitchen. It was then that the policemen explained that her son had been shot and was dead. Mary was told that a few hours previously a police patrol had found his body lying at the side of the road, about five miles from town. John’s body had been found stretched on his back at the side of the road, immersed in a pool of blood that appeared to have its origin in a bullet hole to his head. The police further explained that when his body was examined at the scene no wallet or money was found on his person. The body was subsequently taken for a post-mortem and the enquiry declared John’s death to be unlawful killing by a person, or persons, unknown. After the inquest John’s body was returned home to be waked, as was traditional, before being committed to the family grave in the small rural graveyard next to the local church.

Having no legitimate children, the nearest heir to his property was his nephew. But he was too young to inherit and the old woman was considered too old to look after him properly. There was a nephew of Mary’s living in England who would be the ideal guardian and Mary immediately wrote a letter to him explaining what had happened. He was asked to help the family out and while they waited on him two young men from a neighbour’s family were appointed to take care of the place.

This is not a new thing in rural Ireland. Traditionally rural people help each other out at times of harvest and times of difficulty, and the two youths delegated to act as guardians had been well known and respected by John. Jack Donnelly was, like Mary, also a Roman Catholic and was a stoutly-built, handsome fellow, who always had a pleasant word for everyone he met. He was full of life, energy and the bravado that is so typical of all young men and not just those who live in Ireland. Jack was considerably younger than John and was an active member of the local Parish, but very republican in his political outlook. He was a young man with the courage of a lion and was never afraid to stand up to any man. He was, however, extremely superstitious and would walk miles out of his road to avoid a “Fairy Tree”, or an ancient “Rath.”

Jack’s best friend, Harry Baker, on the other hand, came from a staunch, Loyalist and Protestant background. He was a tall, genteel-looking man with a proud and imperious manner, full of reserve and haughtiness. There were not many who could tolerate Harry, but Jack saw his friend’s manner as being a natural consequence of his political consciousness, religious background, and his superior intelligence and education. Just like his friend Jack, Harry also enjoyed a glass or two of good whisky and stout. Unlike Jack, however, he was of a more peaceful disposition and was utterly opposed to any superstitious beliefs. Considering himself to be better educated and more intelligent than most, Harry scornfully laughed at the very idea that such things as ghosts, goblins, and fairies existed.

It makes you wonder how Jack and Harry could be such good friends when they were diametrically opposed to each other in every point except their love of the gargle (Alcohol), and yet both men never failed to seize every opportunity of being together. There were occasions that they would physically fight each other, often blackening each other’s eyes when discussing their political and religious disputes. Despite this, their quarrels were always settled in an amicable way because they were never happy unless they were in each other’s company.

Both Jack and Harry had been staying in Mary’s house for about seven nights and they had been doing everything they could for her on the farm. As was usual the two men would sit in the kitchen at night, where they would share a few drinks before getting some sleep. The nights were getting colder and a large turf fire blazed brightly on the kitchen hearth, keeping them warm. Meanwhile, in her small adjacent bedroom old Mary was in a deep sleep, stretched out upon her good sized bed and wrapped in warm blankets. Between the two friends, stood a small oak table, upon which was placed a large bottle of whisky, a kettle of boiled water, and a bowl of sugar. Knowing there was still a chance that cattle and sheep thieves might target the farm. But, to give them an added sense of security and comfort Harry had brought his shotgun and placed it on one end of the table. As they sat and talked both men constantly recharged their glasses from the bottle of whisky, laughing and chatting as they recounted stories of their youth. Although they tried to be as quiet as possible the house was filled with a sense of mirth that had not been seen for many a long day. It was during one conversation that Jack mentioned the story Mary had told about the Banshee’s appearance, and he expressed a sincere hope that she would not come that night to disturb their comfort.

Banshee? Not that bloody nonsense again?” Harry shouted. “You papists are an awfully superstitious lot! I would like to see the face of any man, dead or alive, who would dare to make an appearance in this place to-night.” He reached over and put his hand on the double-barrel shotgun and with a wicked smile he told Jack, “By all that’s holy, Jack, I will let them have both barrels in one go if they annoy us tonight.”

It will not help you to shoot your gun at a banshee,” laughed Jack.

Rubbish!” said Harry and he gave Jack a contemptuous look across the table.

Anyone that comes here tonight will be no spirit but a being of flesh and blood. I wouldn’t think twice about pulling the triggers on them, you can be sure of that.” As if to seal his oath Harry drained another tumbler of whisky-punch.

But, forget all that, Jack,” said Harry unexpectedly. “Now that we are in such good humour, give us one of your songs.”

No problem,” replied Jack. “What song would you like to hear?”

Anything you please; you choose the song but don’t sing it too loud and awaken old Mary,” answered Harry.

Jack put his hand to his mouth and, after coughing and clearing his throat, he began to sing softly. In quick succession he sang “The Orange Cat” and a prolonged version of the “Lakes of Killarney.” Both songs were not exactly poetic ballads but Jack sung them because they expressed sentiments that were hostile to the British. They were songs that were popular among the more republican minded people of the North but antagonistic toward the Protestant, unionist population. Harry, however, just laughed at his friend’s foolish efforts to annoy him and quietly applauded when Jack had concluded his little concert. “Well done, Jack,” said Harry with a smile as soon as the singing ended, “You have a great singing voice but not much taste in songs.”

Then you give us a wee song then,” said Jack.

Harry, without hesitation cleared his throat and began to run through his scales. Jack noticed a wicked smile on his friend’s face, but sat back in his chair to listen to Harry’s song. With his deep, soft, and sonorous voice, Harry began to sing:

It is old, but it is beautiful,

And its colours they are fine.

It was worn in Derry, Aughrim,

Enniskillen and the Boyne.

Sure my father wore it in his youth,

In those by gone days of yore,

And on the twelfth I love to wear,

The sash my Father wore.”

Jack, from the beginning of Harry’s song, facially exhibited his aversion to the sentiments it expressed. But, when Harry began to repeat the song as a chorus, Jack lost all of his patience. He jumped up from his seat and bent over the table toward his friend. He swore vehemently at him and threatened to “break his gob” if he didn’t stop singing his song immediately.

Cool the jets, Mate,” said Harry laughing. “I didn’t take the bait when you sang your songs just a while ago. Besides, sure it is only a bit of craic and nothing to get irritated about.”

Jack was quickly pacified, and Harry continued with a new song.

Of all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company.

And of all the harm that ere I’ve done, alas was done to none but me.

And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I cannot recall.

So fill me to the parting glass.

Goodnight and joy be with you all.”

“Of all the comrades that ere I had, they’re sorry for my going away, And of all the sweethearts that ere I had, they wish me one more day to stay,

But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise while you should not,

I will gently rise and I’ll softly call,

Goodnight and joy be with you all!”

“Oh, if I had money enough to spend and leisure time to sit awhile

There is a fair maid in this town that sorely has my heart beguiled

Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips, she alone has my heart in thrall.

So fill me to the parting glass.

Goodnight and joy be with you all

Jack was so pleased with the surprise of Harry singing his favourite song that he joyfully stretched out his hand, and even joined in chorus to the concluding stanza.

It was getting really late by this time and the fire had now almost died away on the hearth. More importantly, the whisky-bottle was almost emptied and the two friends were getting very drowsy. Jack turned off the lamp and laid his head down on the sofa to sleep. Harry, in the meantime, settled himself down in the big armchair at the side of the hearth. The singing and the laughter were now hushed, and no sound was to be heard in the house but the incessant “tick, tick,” of the clock on the wooden dresser that stood in the kitchen. Jack and Harry did not know how long they had slept when, suddenly, the old woman awakened with a wild shriek that swept through the entire house. In a panic Mary jumped out of bed, ran into the kitchen and on  to the sofa beside Jack. While Harry fell out of the armchair in a state of shock, Jack struggled to remove Mary’s terrified grip from around his neck. “What the hell has happened?” he shouted from beneath the sprawled figure of the old woman.

It’s her!” she screamed in answer. “The banshee, the banshee! Lord have mercy on us! she has come again, and I have never heard her wail so wildly.”

Jack, of course, immediately believed old Mary’s explanation. Harry, however, was not so easily convinced and thought it might be some person who was trying to play a not too funny joke on the old woman. Both men listened attentively, but they could hear absolutely nothing. They opened the kitchen door, but all outside the house was still in that fine, calm night, under deep, blue-black sky filled with myriads of twinkling stars. As they went around the hay-sheds, all was calm and lonely, and the only sound that greeted their ears was the shrill barking of some neighbouring dog in the distance. It was so quiet, indeed, that the sluggish murmuring of the little tortuous river could be clearly heard nearby. Finally satisfied that everything was alright, the two men decided to return to the kitchen of the house, where they would replenish the still glowing embers of the fire. Now that they had been awakened again both agreed that it was a good opportunity to finish whatever still remained in the whisky-bottle that was left on the table. But, they had not been sitting at the kitchen for many minutes when a wild, unearthly cry, originating from outside the house, broke the calm.

“It’s the banshee again,” Mary said in a faint voice. Jack’s blood drained from his body and with it much of his courage. Harry jumped up and grabbed hold of his shotgun.

When Jack saw what his friend was doing he caught hold of his arm. “No, no, Harry, you can’t do this,” he said firmly but in a shaking voice. “Just sit down quietly, for there is nothing to fear. Nothing is going to happen us.

Without a single word of protest Harry sat down again, but he still maintained a strong grip on the shotgun. Jack took a cigarette from a packet left on the table, lit it with a match, and took a long slow drag from it. Meanwhile, old Mary had gone down to the floor on her knees, striking her breast, and repeating a litany of prayers with great determination.

The sad wailing cry was again heard, though much louder and fiercer than before.

One moment it seemed to originate from the window, and the next moment it appeared to be coming from somewhere near the door. The men could see nothing, but could hear everything. At times the wailing seemed as if it was in the distance, then again it would appear as if it was coming down the chimney, or springing up from the ground beneath their feet. Sometimes the wailing resembled the low, plaintive cry of a woman in great distress. Then, a moment later, it was more like a prolonged yell, loud and furious, and as if it being issued by a thousand throats. There were times when the sound resembled a low, melancholy chant, and then there were other times when it quickly changed to a loud, broken, and demoniacal laugh. This was how the noise continued, almost without a break, for about a quarter of an hour or more. The sound then died away to be succeeded by a heavy, creaking sound, as if from some large wagon that was approaching and, in the middle of this, the loud tramp of horses’ footsteps might be distinguished, which were accompanied by a strong, rushing wind. To their ears this new, strange noise appeared to travel around and around the house two or three times. Then, very suddenly, the sound seemed to make its way down the lane that led from the house to the road, and was heard no more. Jack stood dumbfounded by the experience, while Harry, despite all his philosophy and scepticism, was completely astonished and frightened by what he had heard.

This has been one hell of a night, Mary,” said Jack, at last.

Indeed,” she replied. “That was the death-coach. I have often heard it before and have seen it once or twice.

Did you say that you had seen it?” asked Harry. “What was it like?”

Old Mary thought for a moment or two before telling Harry, “It’s just like any other horse drawn coach, but it is twice as big and is drawn by headless black horses. It is all hung over with black cloth, and there is a black coffin on the top of it.”

God protect us!” exclaimed a frightened Jack.

It is very strange phenomenon,” remarked Harry.

But,” continued Mary, “the coach always comes before the death of a person, and I wonder what brought it now, unless it came with the banshee.”

Maybe it’s coming for you,” said Harry.

No, no,” she said; “I am not one of the select.”

For a few minutes all three persons stayed silent awaiting for the sounds to return. They even began to believe that the banshee had now vanished, until once again the dreadful cry sounded loudly in their ears.

Quick Jack, open the door and we will send out ‘Butch’,” said Harry, urgently.

Butch’ was a large and very ferocious Rottweiler that belonged to Jack, and always accompanied him wherever he went. Hurriedly Jack opened the door and attempted to coax the dog to go out, but the poor animal refused to go. When Jack attempted to grab him and force him out through the door, ‘Butch’ curled up and howled in a loud and mournful tone.

Go get him!” urged Harry as he helped get hold of the dog and wrestle it out of the door. Almost immediately the dog was lifted up into the air by some invisible power and within seconds he fell again to the ground lifeless, and the door step was covered with his entrails and blood.

It was the final straw for Harry. He had lost all patience and he once again made a grab for his shotgun and called to Jack, “Come on, Big Lad, grab something heavy and follow me. This damn thing has really pissed me off now and I have to get a crack at it. By God it will rue the day it annoyed me.”

I’ll follow you anywhere Harry,” said Jack, “but I would not tackle any banshee for a million pounds.

Mary took a strong hold of Harry by the trousers and screamed at him, “Don’t you go out there! Just leave her alone while she leaves you alone! You can have no luck in this world or the next if you make any attempt to attack a banshee.”

Hush, woman!” Harry snapped at her and he pushed her away contemptuously.

Jack now “bit the bullet” and followed Harry out of the door. The wild crying continued, and it seemed to come from somewhere near the big hay barn behind the house. The two men went around to the rear of the house and paused for a moment. Again they heard the fearful cry and, in response, Harry raised his shotgun.

Don’t fire,” pleaded Jack.

Harry did not reply and gave Jack a scornful look as he placed his finger on the trigger and squeezed it. “BANG!” the gun exploded with a great thundering sound. An extraordinary scream now filled the night air, which was ten times louder and more terrifying than they heard before. Their hair stood erect on the two men and huge, round drops of sweat ran down their faces in quick succession. There was a glare of reddish-blue light that illuminated the entire hay shed and, at the same time, the rumbling of the death-coach could again be heard coming toward them.

 The coach drove right up to the house, drawn by six headless black horses and the figure of a withered old woman encircled with blue flame was seen running floating across the yard. This spectral image entered that ominous carriage and they drove away with a horrible sound following. In an instant the coach swept through the tall bushes which surrounded the house and, as it disappeared, the old spectre let loose one last scream at the two men, while she waved her fleshless arms at them angrily. In moments it was lost to sight, but the unearthly creaking of the wheels, the tramping of the horses, and the appalling cries of the banshee continued to fill the night for quite a considerable time afterwards.

Their bravery tested, the two men quickly returned to the safety of the house, making sure that the door was once again made fast. They need not have worried because there was nothing that came to disturb them the rest of that night. In fact, they were not disturbed for the rest of the time they stayed there, which was only a couple of days more until the arrival of Old Mary’s nephew. Old Mary, however did not live long after these events, for her health declined after that terrible night. She received all the sacraments of her faith and her remains were decently interred in the churchyard where her beloved family had all been buried.

The banshee has never returned since that night, although several members of that same family have since come to the end of their mortal existence. That fearful, warning cry was never heard again and, it is said that the spirit will never visit again until every one of the existing generation shall have gone to their eternal rest. Both Jack and his friend Harry lived on for many years after the events, their friendship undiminished by the years. Often, over the odd bottle of whisky, the two men would laugh as they recounted their strange adventure with the banshee. Sadly, however, its all over with them too and their tombstones stand tall in that lonely churchyard.

The Little Grey Gossip

Soon after my Cousin Sarah’s marriage, we were invited to stay with the newly-married couple, for a few weeks during the festive Christmas season. Away we set off with merry hearts, in the clear frosty winter’s air, and with the pleasant prospect ahead of us invigorating our spirits. We took our seats inside the first class coach on the early morning train, which passed through the town of Ballyshee, where Cousin Sarah lived. I can say without fear of contradiction that there was never a kinder or more genial soul than Cousin Sarah, and David Daniels, her ‘Good Man’, as she laughingly called him. If it is at all possible, David was even kinder and more genial still. Their home was filled with kinds of comforts, and they were always delighted to see friends in a sociable, easy way. They believed in making visitors snug and cosy, though our arrival was only the first of what was to be a succession of such arranged visits.

These evenings were both very amusing and enjoyable, for Con’s presence would always shed radiant sunshine upon a gathering, while David’s broad and honest face beamed upon her with a loving pride. At our house, during those days of their courtship, for sober middle-aged lovers, they had perhaps indulged in sweet talk and pecking each other a little too freely when they were in the company of others. This would leave them open to criticisms from the prim and proper brigade, who wondered why Miss Constance and Mr Danvers would make so ridiculous. But now, with marriage, all of this nonsense had calmed down, and nothing like that could be seen, except for the odd sly glance, or an occasional squeeze of the hand. When we talked about those bygone days, we would joke and declare that engaged couples pairs were usually a pain, and that you could always spot such a couple in a big crowd!

“’I’ll bet you anything you like,” cried Cousin Con, with a good-humoured laugh, “that among our guests coming this evening, you’ll not be able to point out the engaged couple among them. There will be only one such couple, although there are plenty of lads and lasses that would like to be so happily situated! But, the couple I allude to are real little love birds, and yet I defy you to find them!’

“That’s a bet, Cousin Con!” we exclaimed, “and what shall we bet?”

“Gloves! Those fancy French gloves!” cried David. “You Ladies always use gloves to bet. But, I warn you that my Con is on a safe bet now.” David rubbed his hands excitedly, delighted with his joke, which he thought would be at our expense. We, however, were already thinking about our existing collections of fine French gloves, and looking forward to expanding the collections with half-a-dozen pair of particularly expensive samples from Con’s large collection. As a result we watched, with extra interest, the arrival and movements of all strangers to the house that evening, in the hope of detecting the lovers who were engaged.

There were mothers and fathers that came in, both old and middle-aged ladies and gentlemen, until all the drawing rooms were filled with some thirty people. We closely watched all the young people, particularly the manner in which they interacted and we discovered several innocent flirtations. But, we saw nothing that gave us the appearance of a loving and engaged couple. After a while, however, we established ourselves in the corner of a room to closely observe a tall, beautiful girl, who never seemed to take her eyes from the door leading into the room. Each time it opened to admit someone this beautiful girl would sigh and look disappointed if the person entering was not the person she wanted to see. We spent some time enjoying ourselves by making up a romantic scenario in which this girl was the heroine. It was during this game that a little woman, dressed in grey, and aged about sixty years, took a seat beside us and began a conversation. She asked us if we were admiring the pretty Anna McKenna, as she worked out who we were looking at so intently. We had to admit that we were, and the old lady told us, “Ah, she’s a good, affectionate girl. A great favourite of mine is sweet Anna McKenna.”

“She’s waiting for her lover, no doubt?” we suggested to her in the hope of getting some information about engagement. “She is an engaged young lady, of course?”

“Engaged! engaged!” laughed the little lady in grey, “not at all, God forbid! Anna McKenna is not engaged.” The expression on the little lady’s face after we made our suggestion, demonstrated how ludicrous our supposition had been in her eyes. We immediately admitted that we had no knowledge whatsoever in this matter and suggested that our mistake was made through our own ignorance. The encounter had, however, given us both the time to examine our new acquaintance more critically. As stated, this old lady was dressed in grey, which blended in beautifully with her grey hairs, braided in a peculiarly                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     obsolete fashion, and uncovered. She wore grey gloves, grey shoes, and, above all, gray eyes, soft, large, and peculiarly sad in their expression. And yet, they were beautiful eyes, which redeemed her grey, monotonous appearance from being absolutely plain. It is said that Mary Queen of Scots, also had gray eyes. But, even she, the poor lady, did not have the same knowledge of others, past and present, as did this little unknown gossip in gray. But our attention was soon diverted, by the entrance of another person into the room, to whom Anna McKenna darted forward with a cry of delight and welcome. This new arrival was a slender, elderly gentleman, whose white hairs, pale face, and benignant expression presented nothing remarkable in their aspect, beyond a certain air of elegance and refinement, which characterised the whole outward appearance of the man.

“That is a charming-looking old gentleman,” we said to the grey lady, “is he Anna’s father?’

“Anna’s father? O dear, no! That gentleman is a bachelor! He is Anna’s guardian, and has taken the place of a father to her, for poor Anna is an orphan.”

“Oh!” we exclaimed, and there was a great variety of meaning in our “oh!” We had, of course, read and heard of youthful wards falling in love with their guardians? Might not the fair Anna’s taste incline this way? The little gray lady had immediately understood our thoughts. She smiled knowingly, but she said nothing. Then, while we were absorbed with Anna and her supposed antiquated lover, the old lady moved into the circle, and presently we saw Anna’s guardian, with Anna leaning on his arm, exchange a few words with her in a whispering tone, as she brought them to an inner room.

“Who is that pleasing-looking old gentleman?” we asked our hostess, “and what is the name of that lady in grey, who went away just as you came up? That is Anna McKenna we know, and we know also that she isn’t engaged!”

Cousin Con laughed heartily as she replied, “That nice old gentleman is Mr Worthington, our poor curate, and a poor curate he is likely ever to continue, so far as we can see. The lady in grey we call, fondly, our ‘little gray gossip,’ and she is a darling! As to Anna, you seem to know all about her. I suppose little Bessie has been praising her up to the skies.”

“Who is little Bessie?” we asked her.

“Little Bessie is your little grey gossip. We never call her anything but Bessie to her face and she really is a harmless little old maid. But come this way, for Bessie is going to sing. They won’t let her rest till she complies, and let me tell you that Bessie singing, and Bessie talking, are widely different creatures.”

Widely different indeed! There was this little grey lady seated at the piano, and making it speak, while her thrilling tones, as she sang of  ‘days gone by,’ went straight to each listener’s heart. As for the lady herself, she was looking ten years younger! When the song was over, I saw Mr Worthington, with Anna still resting on his arm, in a corner of the apartment, shaded by a projecting piece of furniture. At the same time, I also noted the tear on his furrowed cheek, which he hastily brushed away. He stooped to answer some remark of Anna’s, who, with fond affection, had evidently seen it also, and was trying to dispel the painful illusion which memories of days gone by brought about.

At the end of the evening, we found the company was separating, and our bet was still unredeemed. The last to leave was Mr Worthington, escorting Anna McKenna and little Bessie, whom he tenderly helped with her shawl, no doubt because she was a poor lonely little old maid, and she sang so sweetly.

The next morning over breakfast, Cousin Con launched herself at us with the support of Mr Danvers. They both demanded that we should give them the answer to the task we were given, or else hand over our fine French gloves! After a great amount of laughter, talking, and discussion, we had to finally confess that the question had defeated us, for there had been an engaged couple present on the previous evening, and we had failed to discover who they were. It was not Anna McKenna for she had no lover. Neither was it the Misses Halls , or the young Barton boys. We had seen them flirt and dance, and dance and flirt indiscriminately during the evening, but they were not interested in any serious engagements.

Who would have thought that romance, that was now divulged, was actually true? We wondered how we could have been so stupid as to not have seen the answer immediately. These questions are very common when a riddle has been unfolded to provide a solution that you did not expect. It is so easy to be wise when one has the answer in their hand. Yet we cheerfully lost our wager and would have lost a hundred similar ones just for the sake of hearing the following tale, which is so far removed from what is expected that it proves enduring faith and affection are not so fabulous as philosophers would have you believe they are.

Bessie Prunty was nearly related to David Danvers, and she had been the only child of a talented but improvident father, who, after a short, brilliant career as a public singer, suddenly sank into obscurity and neglect. The poor man had suffered a total loss of his vocal powers, which had been brought on by a violent rheumatic cold and extreme physical and emotional exhaustion. When this misfortune occurred, Bessie had almost reached her twentieth year, and she was still in mourning for an excellent mother, by whom she had been tenderly and carefully brought up. The descent from luxury and indulgence to poverty and privation was very swift. Although Bessie had inherited a very small income from the will of her deceased mother, which was sufficient for her own needs, and even a few comforts, it was totally inadequate to meet the numerous demands, whims, and fancies of her ailing and exacting father. For five years, however, she battled bravely with adversity, stretching out their meagre income by her great efforts, although, because of her father’s helpless condition, and the constant and unremitting attention he required, she was prevented in many ways from employing her efforts to more advantage. That poor, dying man, when he had been in excellent health, had contributed to the enjoyment of the more affluent in society, and in turn had been courted by them. But now, feeling that he had been forgotten and was despised, he bitterly reviled this heartless world, which he had once unceasingly attempted fill with cheering and applause. To his bitter and disordered mind the possession of wealth became the goal of life and he attached inordinate value to gaining wealth, while he felt very bitter about his own comparative poverty. He loved his only child better than anything else in this world, except for himself. Naturally, he wanted to guard the child from the dreaded evil of a life of poverty. In his misguided efforts, during his latter days, he gained from her a solemn promise that she would never become the wife of any man who could not settle upon her a sum of at least one thousand pounds, without any strings being attached.

Bessie, was a happy and lively girl who had no intentions of suffering all the slights and privations that poverty brings to a person. She, therefore, saw no reason as to why she should not bind herself to this solemn promise to her father. Even after her father breathed his last, she said that she had made his worries about her vanish quite easily. Little Bessie half smiled, even in the middle of her mourning and natural sorrow, to think how small and easy a promise her poor father had gained from her, especially when her own opinions and views so perfectly coincided with his. The poor orphan girl was taken in by the mother of David Danvers, and she continued to live with that worthy lady until the latter died. It was beneath Mrs. Danvers’ roof that Bessie first became acquainted with Mr Worthington, and that acquaintance quickly ripened into a mutual and sincere attachment. He was poor and had no one to sponsor him, and he had not progressed much in the years since. There was absolutely no likelihood of ever having a thousand pounds that belonged to him alone, never mind a thousand pounds that he could settle on a wife. Of course, it is possible, that with all the chances and changes that come our way during our lifetime, Paul Worthington might eventually succeed to some wealth. There were, however, many twists and turns, as well as ups and downs between him and the opportunity of becoming rich. Paul, was not the type to push himself forward, or to gain at the expense of others, and little Bessie was like-minded.

Paul Worthington was very rich in something that money could not buy, and which cold not be quantified. He had a pure and devoted heart that held great love for one woman, but he bravely endured a life of loneliness and because of the circumstances in which he and his loved one found themselves. Such was Paul’s love that he did not see Bessie grow old and grey, because in his eyes, she never changed. She was, in his eyes, still a beautiful, graceful, and enchanting girl, who was his betrothed. On occasion he would leave his books, and his arduous clerical and parochial duties, just to gaze at into her soft eyes. Then he would press her tiny hand, whisper a fond word to her, and then he would return to his lonely home, where he would bury his sorrows in long bouts of study.

Anna McKenna had been sent to him as a ministering angel. She was the orphan and penniless daughter of Mr Worthington’s dearest friend and former college friend, and she had come to find a shelter beneath the humble roof of the pious guardian, to whose earthly care she had been solemnly left. Paul’s curacy was not far from the town where Bessie had fixed her resting-place. Most of those personal friends, who knew the secret of little Bessie’s history, also knew that she regarded Anna McKenna with special favour and affection, from the fact, that Anna enjoyed the privilege of comforting and cheering Paul Worthington’s declining years. Each of them spoke of her as a dear adopted daughter, and Anna equally returned the affection of both.

Those poor lonely people! They had known long and anxious years, separated by circumstance, and yet united in their bonds of enduring love! In my mind I pictured them at festive winter seasons, it their humble solitary homes; and in the height of summer, when song-birds and bright perfumed flowers call lovers out into the sunshine. They had not dared to rejoice during their long engagement and yet Bessie was a sociable creature, who did not mope or shut herself up, but chose to lead a life of active usefulness, and was a general favourite amongst everyone. They had never even thought about the possibility of them evading Bessie’s solemn promise to her dying father. To their minds, that fatal promise was as binding and stringent.

When we first met the little grey gossip, we had humoured ourselves at her expense. Now, however, we looked upon her as an object of interest, surrounded by a halo of romance, fully shared in by her charming and venerable lover. And this was good Cousin Con’s explanation of the riddle, which she told with many digressions, and with animated smiles, to conceal tears of sympathy. Paul Worthington and little Bessie did not like their history to be discussed by the younger generation, who scorned such things. For Paul and Bessie their sacrifice was so unworldly and very sacred, but they looked forward with a humble hope that soon they would be united for ever in a better place. It simply pained them terribly and distressed them to be made a topic of conversation.

If we had been telling fiction, it would have been easy for us to bring this elderly pair together, even at the eleventh hour. Love and constancy can make up for the absence of the one sweet ingredient that fades but is so beautiful, namely youth. But as this is a romance made in reality, we are compelled by circumstances to divulge facts as they actually occurred, and as we heard them from authentic sources. Paul and Bessie divided in their lives, are now laid side by side in the old church-yard. He went first, and Bessie changed her usual grey for more sombre clothing of a darker colour. But, that loving little soul did not remain long behind him. She left her property to Anna McKenna, and warned her against long engagements.

The last time that we heard about of Anna, she was the happy wife of an excellent man, who, fully complied with the opinion of the little gray gossip by protesting strenuously against a courtship lasting more than six weeks, and he carried his point triumphantly.

The Pishogue

Wait ’til I tell you, Mickey Brennan, it’s not that I don’t have a great regard for you as a man. Indeed, it’s true that you are a decent sort of boy, and that you come from a decent family. But, I have to say that, the long and short of it is,  I just don’t want you to be running about after my wee girl any more.” Such was the concluding portion of a very long and unfriendly speech that had been undertaken by old Brian Moran of Loughcroy. Old Brian’s sole purpose for giving such a speech was, simply, to persuade his daughter’s sweetheart to cease paying her any further attention. It is a difficult task that parents occasionally need to take upon themselves and it is a task that is never very easy to carry out. Indeed, the entire affair become even more difficult when the couple in question are unceremoniously separated from each other, having very much believed that they had been born for each other.

Everyone who knew Michael Brennan, knew him to be a quiet, unassuming young man who was always respectful to his elders. On this occasion, however, he was not very successful in holding either his patience, or his temper, on this occasion. “Why? Dear God, Brian Moran!” he exclaimed angrily, “I beg, in the name of all that is holy, just give me one good reason why I should be separated from her? Whether the reason be good, bad, or indifferent, and I’ll be satisfied!

Och, what am I to say to you, you unfortunate eejit of a boy. Now don’t be questioning me on this bloody decision anymore,” responded Brian in a way that suggested to Michael that he wasn’t entirely happy with the decision himself.

And why shouldn’t I?” asked Michael. “Do you think that I should just give up so easily, and we playing together since she could walk. Has that girl not been the very light of my eyes and the pulse of my heart, these six long years since we reached a proper age to know how things were between us. Now, you tell me when, in all of that time, did either you or your good wife ever say, or even hint, until this damned minute that I was to cease from courting her?  Will you just tell me that.

Would you give my head a bit of peace, Michael!” Brian groaned at the young man. He put his hands to his ears to keep himself from hearing the questions, especially when he did not have the ability to give the boy a straight answer to them.

That’s true enough,” he finally conceded. “This whole mess is all down to Peggy,God forgive her, and I wish she she had told you herself. I knew how you would be when you were told this, and don’t blame you in any way for being angry. When she hears it all, it will kill young Mary completely.

“Has this all come about because you feel that I am not wealthy enough to be keeping her in a proper manner?” Michael asked him with all the impatience of a teenager.

Not at all, Michael,” Brian replied, “it’s nothing like that at all. But, if you want to be sure, can’t you wait an’ ask Peggy, herself?”

Michael chose to totally ignore any mention of Peggy’s name and asked ‘Old Brian”, Is it because there’s something against me?”.

When Brian didn’t answer immediately, Michael asked him again, “Is it because there is something against me, I asked you? Is there a warrant, or a summons, or has somebody spoken against me?

“Jaysus Christ! Did I not just say, no more questions?” sighed Brian, feeling overwhelmed by the young man’s questions. “Just wait a wee while and you can ask all you want to know off Peggy, Michael!

Claddagh GirlBrian Moran really liked young Michael Brennan, and had encouraged the young man’s close relationship with his darling daughter, Mary. He could not ease the grief and uneasiness that he felt because of Michael’s constant questions. Mickey could see just how uneasy the old man was and the way he had tried to evade his “I’m being lied to, Brian. I know I am, and I know it all now,” he shouted as he began to lose control of himself. “Come on now, Brian, there is no longer any need or any time to be playing silly buggers anymore. I am not a child, you know, so you can tell me immediately who it was who spoke out against me. Just you tell me who it is and I will ram the damned lie down his, or her, throat, and I don’t care what it costs me!

No, Michael!” insisted Brian, “There was never a word said against you. My God, sure you have never done anything wrong that would cause a person to speak out against you. In all honesty, my lad, it is that which is breaking my heart. Total damnation to that bloody woman of mine, but this is all Peggy’s fault.

What?” exclaimed Mickey in disbelief. “I bet you that Peggy has had a bad dream about Mary and I. Come on, Brian! Out with it! Tell us what Peggy the Pishogue (Prophetess) has to say for herself. Come on, out with it, man dear!. My whole life is being tossed upside down for something your Peggy has dreamed up!

Oh Michael, for Jaysus’, be at peace, and don’t be talking that way about Peggy,” Brian told him. Mickey had offended him by talking in such a manner about his wife, whose previous visions had always come to pass. “Whatever she says, doesn’t it always come true?” Brian reminded him. “Didn’t it rain on last Saturday, even though the day looked fine at first? Sure didn’t Tommy Higgins’s cow die on him? Wasn’t Annie Creaney married to Jimmy Knox after all? And wait ’til I tell you, that as sure as your name is Mickey Brennan, what she says about you will also come to pass. In fact, God forbid that it should happen to anyone else of your decent family!

In the name of God, Brian, tell me what’s going to happen to me?” Mickey asked in a trembling voice, despite his efforts to adopt an uncaring attitude, especially after he had commented quite contemptuously upon Peggy’s reputation of  being the wisest of women. In fact, Peggy’s reputation stood very high among the people of the district, and Mickey should not have tried to sound too unconcerned about being seen in unfavourable circumstances in any of her visions of the future.

Ah Jaysus, Michael, don’t ask me such things. Please don’t ask me,” was Brian’s pitiful answer, “Maybe you should just get all your things together now, as quickly as you can, and go straight to Father Corry. The priest might be able to give you some sort of blessing that will give you a chance to escape all the bad luck that’s in front of you.

It’s all crap! Total bullshit! And, by the way, Brian Moran, you should be ashamed of yourself for spreading such rubbish.”

There’s not one word of a lie in it, I’m telling ye,” Brian insisted. “Peggy seen it all last night, and, in all honesty, the poor woman is as troubled about it, almost as if you were her own flesh and blood. Look, sure isn’t that a mole you have there under your ear?”

Well, and what if it is?” Michael replied in a quite uncaring tone. But, in reality, he was very disturbed by the concern that his future was causing both Brian and Peggy. “What if I have a mole? Sure there are many men who have a mole in the same place as myself!

That’s very true,” Brian replied. “But, Mickey, my friend, didn’t they have the same bad luck come to them as well. Now listen to me, you poor, ignorant  wee crature, you would not want me to give my blessing to have my poor wee darlin’ girl marry a man who will sooner or later end his days swinging at the end of a rope on the gallows!

The gallows!” screamed Mickey Brennan,slowly, “Jaysus Christ and his Holy Mother! Is that what Peggy says is going to happen to me?” He tried desperately to laugh derisively and defiantly at what he thought was preposterous idea. But, Mickey could not do it. Deep down he was truly shocked by what Brian had told him. He knew that this was not a matter to be laughed at, and he had to finally give in to those fears he had tried so hard to resist. Almost as a sign of his surrender to the inevitable, Mickey buried his face in his hands as he threw himself violently to the ground.

Meanwhile, Brian was equally, deeply moved by the revelation he had made to Michael. Though it was his wife’s, Peggy, vision that he had revealed he sat down beside young Brennan and tried to console him as best as he could. Before all this talk of visions had gotten in his way, Old Brian had nothing but a good deal of admiration for young Michael. He was among the more well-to-do people of the district, and had gathered a small amount of wealth about him. Mickey owned a good, fertile piece of land and his farm produced a good harvest of crops, pigs, cows and sheep. The fact that he owned all these things in his own name made him the most eligible bachelor among all the young men of the district. Mary Moran, however, was more interested in Mickey’s handsome good looks and muscular physique.

Mickey’s family were all very well off and highly respected in the area, but both his mother and his father were dead and his only sister had gotten herself married just before Lent had began. Naturally, having all the advantages of wealth and freedom, you would think that Mickey could have selected any girl in the parish to be his bride. But, Mickey had made his choice of a wife many years ago. His eye had fallen upon Mary Moran and they had both given each other their hearts. Both Brian and Peggy were happy with their daughter’s choice and had never thought about disputing it. Brian didn’t even have second thoughts after he came to the decision that he would could give his daughter a money gift, which, at the time, amounted to double what Michael Brennan was worth. There was not, perhaps, the same certainty about the money gift when it came to Peggy. A mother always worries about her daughter and, being such careful creatures, they always want to see that any future son-in-law is financially independent. This is always true when it comes to an Irish mother who has a daughter of marriageable age.

Peggy Moran was as good an Irish mother as any other and she was somewhat concerned about the amount of money that Brian was about to shower on Mary. She argued strongly with Brian about the agreement he had made and she tried everything possible to change his mind. But, Peggy’s efforts were all in vain, however,  because as much as Brian usually submitted to her advice, he loved his pretty daughter Mary. This great love that he held for his daughter strengthened his resolve in this matter. Every time Mary cried at her mother’s insinuations,, Brian always words to comfort her.  On those occasions when Brian’s words of comfort were not enough, he always got Mickey and Mary together, and left them to settle the matter in their own way.

Peggy was not the type of woman who gave up easily, and she was determined that she would have her way in this matter. Such was her reputation as a seer, after all, that one word from her could break up any match that had been made in the district, and that included her very own daughter’s match whether Brian liked it or not. To this end Peggy now applied all her tricks, and every ounce of her cunning to the task. Firstly, she could not allow Brian to shower the young couple with all that money. And so, Peggy talked about the dreams that she had been given about the match between Michael and Mary. She read the tea leaves and consulted the burning embers of the fire in which she saw all sorts of strange signs concerning her daughter’s relationship with Michael Brennan. Calling upon her entire knowledge of magic and the world of spirits, she was rewarded with a vision that revealed Michael Brennan was destined to end his days on the gallows.

There were some parishioners, who thought themselves older and wiser than most, that considered the very idea of Peggy Moran being something of a prophetess as an ugly sort of joke. There were many more in the Parish who believed she had become so devoted to the dark spirits that her knowledge and skill in supernatural matters was very strong. They called her ‘The Pishogue‘, a name that implied she had a knowledge of more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamed about. It was a title that was certainly not misplaced in Peggy’s case. There was not a university professor more deeply read in science and medicine than was Peggy when it came to all the signs and omens whereby the affairs of this world are foretold.

There seemed to be nothing too great or too small for Peggy to not get involved. She was expert in every form of fortune telling, from reading tea-leaves to magic. She could read a person’s future in the mystical dregs from a tea-cup, which assumed a variety of shapes that would puzzle any learned person. By just taking a glance at some symbol, or other, she could immediately detect its true meaning, and foretell deaths, births, and marriages, with the same infallibility as a newspaper. Even those dreams that would mystify the wisest of men would be quickly unravelled by Peggy. At the same time, there was not a ghost, or other spirit, in the entire country with whose haunts and habits she was not familiar with, almost as if she one of their number. There wasn’t a single fairy that could put its nose outside without being detected by Peggy. Meanwhile, there were many property owners in the district that employed Peggy to use her skills and charms against all manner of theft and loss. When news of these ‘Spirit Blessings’ became known the properties concerned increased a great deal in their value.

We could spend an entire lifetime describing every mystical talent that Peggy possessed, and to relate every one of the successes she had. But, it would a certainty that there would still be those among you who would still not believe in all the things that Peggy had said and done. Yet, the people of the parish were very much aware of Peggy’s achievements and had great confidence in all she said and did neighbours. Not only her friends and neighbours had trust and confidence in her, but also her closest family, Brian and Mary. With such a status within the community around her, it is no wonder why so many people believed her when she foretold the coming disaster that would befall Mickey Brennan.

It should come as no surprise to  you then that Peggy’s revelation  created a great sensation, especially  after several old gossips, to whom  she had imparted her discovery,  were put on oath not to say one  word about it. Instead they were  told that they should hush up the  entire matter for the young fool’s  peace of mind. Those people who  had a close friendship with Michael  also worried about his fate, because  not even the most sceptical among them would dare to question the truth and certainty of Peggy Moran revelation. Rather than scrutinising the sources of her information they preferred to view the entire matter as being one that required their sympathy for their friend. Everyone viewed Peggy’s warnings as being certain, and some of Michael’s friends even declared, “that since the thing cannot be avoided, and Mickey, poor fellow, must be hanged, we can only hope it is for something worthwhile, decent, and not thieving, or cheating, or anything like that.

You can appreciate that in all of this the hardest task in this story is to describe the feelings that poor Michael Brennan, himself, felt about the situation. He did everything he possibly could to make Peggy’s revelations appear to be the foolish superstions of a very weird woman. Unfortunately, Michael had grown to believe in the apparitions just as much as any other person in the district. Though he tried very hard to ignore the revelations made about him, his efforts were fruitless and a dark sense of despair quickly overcame him.

Now it’s all very well and good for you to preach long and hard about the advantages of education, and its ability to overcome old superstitions. But, take my word for it, that it will take a very long period of time to root out the centuries held superstitions from the hearts of the Irish people. Be assured that, until that bright day dawns, Ireland’s many country villages will still have their ‘Wise Women’, and what they say will be regarded as gospel truth by the vast majority of their neighbours. Of course, there will always be a number of people who will pour scorn on such things, but there will be many more who will very respectfully beg leave to doubt them. There will always be, however, those who believe wholeheartedly in the words and visions of the ‘Wise Women’. If truth be told, in the more remote inland villages that dot the hillsides and mountains of Ireland, there are events occurring almost every day that are far more strange than anything that you are being told in this story.

Michael Brennan found it increasingly difficult to keep calm in the face of the denunciation that had been made. Sadly, only comfort that he could get from those people around him was, “The gallows is a good death for an Irishman.” In those days the majority of Irishmen who were sent to the gallows were considered martyrs for the cause of Ireland’s freedom from the British Crown and they were, therefore, considered by most to be good men and women. This, of course, was the last thing on Michael’s mind. Peggy’s revelation had caused him to begin losing any hope he had of becoming a husband to his beloved Mary. No longer having this hope filling his heart with joy, Michael began to wish that death, instant and immediate, would come quickly and carry him off. As his anxiety and depression grew, death, it seemed to him, would be a great relief and it would also show that Peggy’s prophecies could not always be relied upon to come true.

It will, therefore, come as no surprise to you to learn that, in the depth of the depression brought about by his mental suffering and fear for the future, Mickey made a failed attempt upon his own life. When he was sure, in his own mind, that there was no one close enough to stop him, Mickey plunged himself into a nearby lake. He quickly discovered, however, that he was not alone at that moment. A local man, who was looking after sheep, saw Michael plunge into the lake and went to rescue him. The shepherd, however, was quite a distance away and, by the time he had reached the lake, Mickey’s body was to all appearances lifeless. His discovery was quickly spread about the parish, causing shock to all who heard the news. It was like the game of ‘Chinese Whispers’ that went the rounds and finally declared Mickey’s death, but the description of that death was different each time it was described. Some said that Mickey Brennan had lain in the cold, dark water for at least ten minutes, while others said a half an hour, half the day, and even since the previous  night. There was only one point that was consistent in each story told, and that was the agreement saying that Mickey Brennan was as dead as a door-nail.

Only Peggy Moran didn’t believe the news that she was given. “Would you all stop your bleetin’,for God’s sake, sure the man’s not dead,” she told the crowd that had gathered.

If you would all be quiet for a few minutes, the man might just come to! When have you ever known a man who is born to be hanged was drowned. So, just wait a wee while and hold your tongues, for this is all nonsense, I tell you. Mickey Brennan will live long enough to spoil somebody’s day, and more’s the pity.”

Her words seemed to fall on deaf ears, however, Many began to shake their heads, some even suggesting that Peggy had mistaken rope for water in her dream about Brennan. All their doubts soon vanished, nonetheless. Slowly and quite mysteriously, Mickey began to recover from his rash effort at suicide. By recovering, unfortunately, he fulfilled much of the destiny that Peggy had for him. At the same time, Mickey raised Peggy Moran’s reputation to an even higher point beyond than it had been previously.

During the days that followed Peggy’s fame rose even higher. She discovered six cases of stolen goods, twice discovered that the fairies had interfered with the milk churns on nearby farms belonging to their neighbours, and she was invited by a large number of people to tell them their fortunes. In the meantime, poor Mickey Brennan finally realised that his destiny could not be avoided so easily, and he resigned himself to what his fate would be. But, if he was to die on the gallows, he decided that he would seek out the best possible opportunity to face the gallows without any disgrace to his people, or family name. Mary Moran, however, was deeply heartbroken with grief at her beloved’s declared fate and she just could not imagine anything that could be worse for her to bear, though she would soon discover that there was .

In a very short period of time there began a new whisper that began to creep through the parish. This new whisper promised death and disaster on some very unlucky unknown person. Rumours said, “Peggy Moran has something on her mind,” and this alone made the people impatiently wonder as to what that ‘something’ could be. When anyone gathered enough courage to question her on the mystery, Peggy remained silent and slipped into a mysterious with a shake of her head. Constantly in her mouth was a lit ‘Sweet Afton’ cigarette, which she never removed unless she lay on her bed to sleep, or sat down at the table to her meals. The more people that now asked her questions, the angrier Peggy became, which was not usual for the woman. She began to avoid all sorts of conversation, which was very definitely not her way either. These actions, naturally, served to arouse interest and curiosity of her neighbours to an agonising pitch. Peggy now had every one trembling that the result of the new prophecy would be some terrible revelation that might affect any single one of them.

For every person in the district the question of who was the subject of Peggy’s new prophecy became the first question asked each morning, and the last question at night. Every word that Peggy spoke became a matter of the greatest speculation to every person who heard her. Such was the tension among the people of the district that there was a danger that the people themselves would go absolutely mad with fright if they were kept in the dark much longer. Eventually the secret was discovered, but at some cost the the discoverer.

One night Brian and Peggy were sitting together in front of the fire for a while before they went to bed. As he sat there with his wife, Brian head that he should try and discover the source of Peggy’s sorrow. After asking her many questions, and getting no straight answers, Peggy told him, “Brian darlin’ it is very good of you to ask and to show your concern. But, my darlin’ old man, there is no use in hiding it anymore. It is all about you.

Jaysus, Peggy, Lord bless us and keep us.”

Indeed, Brian,” replied Peggy gently as she exhaled a large cloud of tobacco smoke from her mouth and nostrils. “ These last couple of days I’ve noticed that you just have not been at yourself.”

Christ, Peggy! You could be right and maybe I am not at myself,” said Brian anxiously.

“Do you not feel something different about yourself, Brian. Maybe your heart darlin‘?”

By God, I do. You’re right enough, Peggy. I do feel something different,” Brian told her, willing to believe almost anything she said about him.

“ It’s something like a pleurisy, isn’t it?” she suggested in a mournful tone of voice.

“Ay, right enough, Peggy. It’s just like a pleurisy and may the good God keep me safe from harm!”moaned Brian.

And I’m sure you feel the cold these night, Brian?” continued Peggy.

“Oh! Holy God, Peggy! Sure I’m foundered! My body is as cold as ice,”answered Brian, and his teeth suddenly began to chatter as if he had fallen into an icy cold pond.

“And your appetite must be completely gone, darlin’?” Peggy continued with her questions.

“Isn’t that the truth of it?” he answered.  Brain now believed completely that he had been struck down by some great illness. He had totally forgotten that less than an hour previously he had finished off a pot of potatoes, cabbage and bacon, washed down with a pint of buttermilk.

“Just look at that old black cat, taking a good look at you now, after it has  licked her paw,” said Peggy.

“As sure as there’s an eye in a goat, there’s a divil in that cat! I wouldn’t put it past her that she is waiting for me to breathe my last,” said Brian sadly.

Peggy moved a little closer to her husband. “Let me feel your pulse, darlin’,” she said and Brian weakly submitted his trembling wrist for her inspection. As she checked for a pulse, Brian anxiously stared at her face  to see if there was any indication as to what his fate would be. At length, a long, deep sigh broke from her lips, accompanied by another huge cloud of cigarette smoke, and she let go of Brian’s arm. Then, to Brian’s surprise, Peggy began to rock herself to and fro, muttering some words or other in a low, moaning voice. Brian was certain that this was an ominous sign of what his fate would be.

“Ah, Jaysus, Peggy, surely to God  I am not going to die am I?” he asked his wife anxiously.

“Dear, Oh dear, my darlin’ man!” roared Peggy in anguish, “Never did I ever think that when I married you, Brian my love, that I would ever see the sorrowful day when I would cry the widow’s wail over you. God knows, Brian, but you were the best of a man to me, young and old!”

“Oh Peggy!” Brian sighed loudly as his wife continued her lamentations.

“Ah don’t talk, my darlin’ man, don’t talk to me. Sure I’ll never be able to hold my head up again in this district, so I won’t!” Peggy continued to lament loudly and her wailing quickly brought everyone in the house around her, and finally all the neighbours gathered.

As all these people gathered together there was a great uproar, with people giving mixed ideas with noisy explanations about the cause for Peggy’s lamenting. But, despite their best efforts, there were none who could provide consolation to either Brian or Peggy. Young Mary clung to her father in total despair and grief, while Old Brian mouthed over his prayers as fast and as correctly as his dismay would allow him.

As the morning dawned of the next day, Brian could just not gather the will-power to get up and out of his bed. He refused all that was offered him to eat, and he demanded that the priest should be sent for without delay. Every hour that passed seemed to be worse than the previous hour, as Brian moved from one period of unconsciousness to another. Those at his bedside received a running commentary on the symptoms he was feeling, which seemed to encompass every complaint that ever troubled mankind. He complained bitterly that he was crippled by pain in every part of his body, from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. The doctor who attended him could make neither head nor tail of the illness, which had struck down Old Brian Moran. Totally mystified, this man of science declared that the complaint was the greatest oddity complication that he had ever heard of. In fact, he was so annoyed that he believed Brian was making the entire illness up and needed a good kick in the arse to pull himself out of his self pity. At the same time, the Doctor suggested that the best treatment for Peggy was to throw her into the nearest river to help calm her down.

When he arrived on the scene the Parish Priest was equally puzzled by what was happening. “ Brian, what in the name of God, Brian is wrong with you, man dear?” he asked.

“My body is being killed all-over the place with some sort of illness or other,“ replied Brian pitifully. The priest looked at the old man and had to admit to himself that he was bothered by the fact that a man like Brian could not rise from his bed.

Despite every urging of the priest to rise, Old Brian remained where he was and moaned, “What use is there in a man getting up from his bed, and him going to die anyway? Is it not far easier and more decent for me just to die in bed like a good Christian?”

“Ah now, Brian, sure God’s good and maybe this is not yet your time to die,” said the priest.

“Now, don’t be talking your old nonsense, Father. Sure doesn’t my Peggy know best?” Brian told him and with this he closed his ears to all words of consolation that people spoke to him. Even the tearful words spoken by his heart-broken daughter, Mary. Referring to traditional remedies the doctor decided he would try and apply a herbal poultice to the man. He made up a poultice, much stronger than was normal and assured everyone that it would have Brian up from his bed and walking by the next morning.

By this time there were a good many people gathered into the small cottage, hoping to witness Old Brian being cured. The doctor, however, was so distracted by their presence that he felt they could have all been done without. But, these people were a godsend for Peggy, and she turned to them moaning and weeping, and declaring her total lack of faith in any of these modern remedies. She kept on insisting that she had no other expectation than that she would be a sad widow by Sunday. Then, quite unexpectedly, Old Brian was roused a little by the application of the poultice and, with a weak voice, asked be heard.

“Peggy, my darlin’,” said Brian, “there’s no denying that you’re a wonderful woman and, since I’m going from you, it would be a great kindness if you would tell us all how you found out that I was do sick, even before I knew it myself. I’m only curious, darlin’ woman. I just don’t want to die and not know why, or for what reason. Wouldn’t I look the quare fool if someone above was to ask me what I died of, and I couldn’t tell them.”

Peggy looked sorrowfully at her husband, while she told him that she was willing to do him this last favour. In a sobbing voice, Peggy began to explain, “It was Thursday night week,” she began, “sure it’s a night I’ll never forget, Brian, should I live to be a hundred years old. It was just after my first sleep that I began to dream, and I dreamed that I went down to Danny Kelly’s butcher shop to buy a bit of beef. Surely, you remember, it was that day that he had slaughtered a young bull for the butcher’s block. I was sure that when I would go into his house I would see a fine carcase hanging of beef hanging but, all that I saw hanging up was an ugly looking carcase that did not smell too fresh. Says Danny Kelly to me, with a mighty grim look on his face, “Well, woman, what do you want? Is it some of this meat you’re wanting?” ‘Yes, says I, but none of that old rubbish! That’s not the type of meat we’re used to.’ “Ah sure, who cares?” says he to me, “I’ll cut you out a rib.” ‘Oh, no thank you all the same,’ says I and put out my hand to stop him, and what do you think he did? He raised the hatchet and brought it down upon my hand, cutting the ring on my finger into two.”

There were murmurs heard among the gathered crowd as her story came to its end. The meaning of the dream had suddenly been revealed to Old Brian and he unmoved for a while. Everyone in the room looked to Brian to see how he had taken the explanation as to his imminent death when, suddenly, he sat bolt upright in the bed, with his mouth and eyes wide open. “In the name of God, Peggy,” Brian slowly exclaimed, when he had recovered a little from the surprise, “do you mean to tell me that’s all that’s wrong with me?”

Startled by Old Brian’s extraordinary question, Peggy and her crowd of supporters stared at him. For a moment it appeared to them that he was about to leap out of the bed, and forcibly display his indignation to his wife. Although he was known as a quiet man, his temper was just well known. His bodily strength, however, failed him as he attempted to get out of the bed and, roaring with pain, he returned to is lying down position on the bed. Nonetheless, Peggy’s infallibility among the local people was now at an end. The doctor’s poultice had done the trick and in a few short days Brian was able to stump about as usual, threatening everyone with extreme violence if they dared to laugh at him. Laughter, however, is something that is not so easily controlled, and Brian’s foul temper was worsened to such a degree by the ridicule he had encountered, that he now became determined to seek a reconciliation with young Mickey Brennan. He decided that all of Peggy’s gloomy prophesies could go to the devil, and he would give the Parish Priest a job to do for the young couple. Mary and Mickey, as a result, were married and, thanks be to God, Mickey did not end his days on the gallows as Peggy had prophesied.

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.

Sniper’s Moon Part II

Final

At six o’clock in the morning the sun was already shining brightly and the night shift of prison guards went about their final inspection of the cells, awakening the inmates. On this occasion the guards were escorted by a small squad of armed soldiers, who were sent to bring Sean Cullen to the Court Martial in chains. Loudly, the heavy army boots of the men echoed off the stone floor of the narrow corridor. Step by loud step the marched until they came before the door to Sean’s cell. “Get up, Cullen!” the leader of the military escort barked out an order as the guard turned his key in the lock of the door. With a creak the heavy metal door opened to reveal that the cell was empty. The escort leader rushed into the cell, with army pistol drawn, and confirmed that there was no prisoner there. “Alarm!” he cried out and began to rush back down the corridor with his men.

Alarm!”; “Prisoner Escape!”; The alarm spread rapidly throughout the jail block that had been incorporated into the old castle building. In just a matter of minutes the entire building was filled with soldiers and auxiliaries running here and there, seeking the whereabouts of Sean Cullen. In the main office telephones and telegraphs were busy spreading the news of Cullen’s escape throughout the entire countryside. Police patrols, flying columns of Black and Tans, and squadrons of soldiers scoured the land searching every possible place that Cullen might seek refuge. Cottages, whether full or empty, were ransacked. Barns, hedgerows and known caves were all searched with great thoroughness, but the fugitive remained at large.

By afternoon the warm sunshine of the early morning had given way to dark clouds and heavy downpours of rain. By early evening “Wanted Posters” had begun to appear throughout the district. Even in the small fishing village of Kilcurragh, which lay on the coast some five miles from Derryard, the local policemen were busy pasting posters in ever available prominent position. Each poster proclaimed that a reward was available to any person giving information to the authorities, which would lead to the arrest of the fugitive, Sean Cullen. The head of the local constabulary, Sergeant Thompson, was being assisted by Constables O’Neill and Kelly in the task of posting the town and district. By the time they actually got into the narrow streets of the small fishing town darkness was beginning to settle. Thankfully the heavy rain showers had ceased, but a mist was beginning to settle on the town as the three officials hurried to finish their thankless task and return to their homes.

The taller of two constables, Kelly, addressed the sergeant, “Sergeant, that big door over there looks a great spot to put up one of these posters.”

He doesn’t hear you, Kelly,” said O’Neill. “Try him again.”

Pointing to the huge door of a nearby store Kelly called to the sergeant in a voice that was a little louder. “Will this door be a good place for one of these posters, sergeant?

But sergeant Thompson’s attention was attracted elsewhere and was  not hearing anything his subordinates had to say. “For God’s sake, sergeant will we put one of these posters on this door over here?” O’Neill shouted.

Rather distractedly the sergeant answered, “Look over here! There are steps that lead all the way down to the water.

It’s a fishing harbor,” Kelly informed him. “Fishing boats dock here all the time!

The sergeant appeared unmoved by Kelly’s sarcastic tone of voice and continued with his own discussion. “You know boys, this is the sort of place that would need to be carefully watched. If this Cullen fellow managed to make his way down those steps some of his friends might get a boat to meet him. In fact, those same boys could very well steal a local boat for the job.

Kelly just looked at his superior with quite some disbelief and repeated, “The door? It’s a good place for a poster!

Aye!” replied the sergeant. “Stick one of them up there.”

As O’Neill and Kelly pasted the poster on the large wooden door the sergeant began to read aloud the writing that the poster contained, “Wanted for Murder and Absconding Jail; Sean Cullen; Dark Hair, Dark Eyes; Smooth Faced and Five Feet Five Inches in height. Last seen with bandaged hand and bandaged right forearm.”

That’s a good description to be going by,” commented Kelly.

It would have been much better if I had seen the man with my own eyes,” said Thompson, “but they didn’t hold on to him long enough. How in the name of Jesus did a wounded man get out of that jail. He must have had friends on the inside, or the help of the Holy Spirit!

You might not be too far from the truth there, sergeant,” said Kelly. But look at that! A hundred guineas is a tempting amount for any man and any policeman nabbing him will take a good leap up the ranks.

You’re right, Kelly!” Thompson told him. “I tell you what, I will take care of this area. It wouldn’t surprise me that Cullen has already scoped this place. If Cullen and his pals do come this way then he will be mine, and someone who needs the reward will get it!

Constable O’Neill regarded his sergeant with disbelief at what he had heard. “Are you a mad man?” he asked Thompson. “If any of us catch Cullen we will be signing our own death warrants. The people around here, and maybe even our own relations, will spit in our eye. None of us would know the minute or the hour when we would get a bullet or a knife in the back one dark night when we are on our own.

Sergeant Thompson gave the constable a look of complete disgust. “We are the police and we have a duty to uphold the law. If we fail to do our job then the entire country will fall into chaos.

Sure isn’t the entire country already in a complete state of chaos?” said O’Neill.

You know what I mean, you smart arse. Just finish putting up those posters both of you and get yourselves back here as soon as possible. Don’t be too long, for I am not too fussy about standing around this place for too long!” Sergeant Thompson told him.

As the two constables left him alone on the dockside Sergeant Thompson perused the poster once again and began to think about what he could do with one hundred guineas. If only he could be the man to capture Sean Cullen he would get a well-deserved promotion as well as a decent reward. “Wouldn’t I be on the pig’s back,” he muttered to himself quietly and smiled. It was then that he heard a slight noise coming from behind him, and he turned to see a poorly dressed man who had been trying to slip past him unnoticed.

Where do you think you are going, little man?” Thompson growled at the stranger.

Sure, I did not want to disturb you sergeant,” the man replied.

And who are you?

Ah sergeant, sure I am just a poor travelling man who is fond of the gargle and sleeps among the old netting down there. Some of the fishermen and the harbor workers give me a few pennies now and again to put some meat on my bones, thanks be to God.”

As the stranger went to walk on, sergeant Thompson took a step toward him. “Did I not tell you to stop? Are you deaf, or do you not know what “Stop” means?” the sergeant asked. “These days, you just cannot go wherever you like, you know.”

God bless you sergeant, but it is a hard fate for a man to be poor and wanting a rest from a hard day trying to keep yourself alive.”

Just who in the name of God are you?” asked the sergeant impatiently. “I don’t recognise you as someone from around these parts.”

My name, sergeant, is Tommy Carney, and I live anywhere I can lay my head, and make a few pennies tinkering.”

Never heard of you, Tommy Carney,” Sergeant Thompson told him.

I am thankful for that,” Tommy smiled. “If you knew me already it might not be in the best light. But, I am harmless tramp who is not known too well anywhere.

And so what brings you here?

I came here to earn myself a few shillings when the fishing boats get in after daylight breaks. I’ll do a bit of lifting and carrying from the boats and that will allow me to survive another day or two,” Tommy told the policeman.

Get out of here, you gobshite!” Thompson told him. “Move on out of this!

The ill-dressed little man simply smiled at the sergeant an said, “Sure I will just make myself comfortable among those boxes and nets at the dock steps.

Indeed you will not,” insisted Thompson. “No person will be allowed near those dock steps this night.

Can I not just sit over there at the steps themselves? Those boxes will give me shelter from the chilly sea breeze and I can use the nets as a blanket to cover me,” said Carney, rather forlornly.

Thompson shook his head and asked Carney, “What part of the word “No” do you not understand, little man?

I’ll go,” Carney told him. “Could you just give a few pennies to get myself something to drink that might keep me warm?

Tea, I suppose?” replied Thompson sarcastically. “Do you think I’m a fool? Get away out of this!

But Carney opened his coat and took out a half-bottle of poteen, which he offered to the policeman. “Would you like a wee mouthful, yourself?

By Jaysus, Carney, will you get out of my way before I put my big size twelve hobnail boots up your arse!

Carney replace the bottle and buttoned his coat before he began to moving off toward the steps of the dock. Sergeant Thompson could not quite believe it and angrily asked, “Where the hell are you going now?

You told me to move on sergeant and I am obeying your order, like any law abiding citizen,” replied Carney.

Are you really looking trouble, or are you really just a complete eejit?” Thompson asked angrily and shouted at him, “I pointed for you to go back where you came from!

To the town?” asked Carney.

Let me show you the way, Sir!” said Thompson as he took hold of Carney by the shoulders and pushing him in the direction that he wanted him to go. “Now, get out of here!

harbour escapeCarney took two steps forward and came to an abrupt halt. It was the ‘last straw’ for the sergeant. “What the hell are you stopping for now? You must be looking for trouble!”

Carney pointed to the ‘wanted poster’ on the large wooden door saying, “I bet that’s the fella you’re waiting for, sergeant.

And what if it is?”

Sure it’s just that I know that man, Sean Cullen, well. But, I’ll just get on my way like you asked, sergeant.

Just hold on a minute!” said Thompson. “What sort of man is this Cullen? There’s no pictures of him, and we don’t know what he looks like!

I can tell you nothing,” Carney told him. “Just speaking to a policeman could get me killed in a very short time.

Why would that be? Sure aren’t we only talking?

But Carney just shook his head and replied, “If you don’t know by now then God be with you. But let me tell you that I would not want to be in your shoes if you catch Cullen. I wouldn’t get involved in this matter even if the reward was three times as much.”

In a flash, Sergeant Thompson rushed forward and took hold of Carney with both hands. “Alright, smart arse,” he shouted, “What kind of man is this Sean Cullen and where do you know him from? Are you one of his friends?

Friends?” questioned Carney nervously. “I hardly know the man well enough to call him a friend. I only met the man about four months ago in a pub, but I can tell you that he is a man to strike fear in others. You wouldn’t want to be left alone facing him, for there is not a weapon that man doesn’t know how to use. But he doesn’t need a weapon for that boy has muscles as hard as oak, and could do some real damage.

Thompson looked into Carney’s eyes and was convinced that the tramp was exaggerating. “I don’t think that he is that bad.

But Carney’s expression did not change and he insisted, “He is!”

The sergeant released his grip on Carney as he asked him, “Tell me more.”

Carney pulled himself together and began to speak quietly, making sure no person was around to hear him. “There was a man on the other side Kinvarra, another policeman, and Cullen killed him with a sledge hammer.

When was this?” asked Thompson with a definite tone of suspicion. I never heard a word about that one.”

Of course you wouldn’t have heard about it,” insisted Carney. “He was an undercover policeman and his battered body was dumped in a rubbish pit.

Jaysus, but this has become one hell of a terrible country to live in!” said Thompson as he removed his helmet and rubbed his brow with the back of his hand.

Isn’t it the truth?” said Carney. “One minute you could be standing giving your full attention to something, and comes up quietly behind you and does the job.

The job?

Cut your throat,” said Carney.

The sergeant took a very deep breath and told Carney, “It will take a whole troop of police and auxiliaries to catch this murdering rebel and not the few boys we have here.”

I could stay with you,” Carney offered. “You keep watch the one way and I will watch your back.

Thompson thought for a moment and put his helmet back on his head. “That just might work, since you actually know the man.”

Ah, that Sean Cullen! Sure I would know that man a mile away, Sergeant.”

Aye, but you would want a share of my reward money!”

Are you crazy, Sergeant? I don’t want the name of being an informer,” Carney insisted. “A ‘tout ‘ (Informer)does not live very long these days, and I wouldn’t have much time to spend what I would get. No, you can keep it all yourself and I will make myself scarce!

Just you stay where you are!” Thompson ordered him.

Together the two men stood in silence, looking out across the small, darkening harbor and the policeman gave a great yawn. “You’re a tired man, sergeant. All this walking up and down here, keeping your eyes open has exhausted you,” Carney told him.

I’m well used to it,” replied Thompson.

Aye, but you just might need all your strength, should you come up against Cullen in the dark,” Carney warned him and pointed to some large, wooden fish barrels standing close the large wooden door of the store. “Look, let’s get up on those barrels, where we can rest ourselves and still have a good view of things.

Sergeant Thompson nodded his head in approval and the two men clambered on the fish barrels. “We will sit back to back,” suggested Thompson, “ so we have the best view all around. To be honest, the way you described Cullen to me has made me awful uneasy.”

Just give me a light of my pipe, sergeant,” said Carney and Thompson obliged him with a match to light his pipe. “Maybe you would like a smoke yourself, sergeant. It would ease your nerves and make you feel a little more comfortable. Just you keep your eyes peeled ahead of you and I will reach my pipe around to you.”

Thompson didn’t move, but kept staring straight ahead of himself. “Don’t you worry wee man, I won’t look away. But, I will light my own pipe and we can have a smoke together.” Thompson struck a match, lit his pipe and the two men sat back to back on the barrels smoking in the pleasant night air.

Do you know Carney that being a policeman is not all it’s cracked up to be,” complained Thompson. “You are out to all hours, in all types of weather, and never a word of thanks is heard for the dangerous situations we find ourselves in. We only ever get dog’s abuse from all sides, and yet they expect us to carry out our duty. There’s not one would ask or even care if you are a married man with family before they send you into the most dangerous situations.

Carney took another drag from his pipe and with a sweet voice he quietly began to sing, “They say that the Lakes of Killarney are fair, but none with the Liffey will ever compare! If it’s water you want you will get plenty of it there! Thank God, we’re surrounded by water!

For Jaysus’ sake Carney, don’t be singing those songs around here. You know these are dangerous days and those Black and Tans are trigger happy. They would shoot you just for being Irish, never mind the song,” Thompson warned him.

But, sergeant, a little bit of a song helps keep my heart light, especially when my thoughts are turned to Cullen and his friends. I can’t help thinking that he is lurking about here just waiting for his chance to jump both of us.

Well stop singing and keep a good look out,” the policeman urged.

Carney shrugged his shoulders and assured the sergeant, “Isn’t that just what I am doing, sergeant Thompson, sir. And sure aren’t I doing it for free? What kind of a fool am I?” He took yet another puff from his pipe and blew a large cloud of fragrant tobacco smoke into the air. “But, sure I could never stand by and just watch another man in trouble.”

Don’t worry Carney, you will get your reward in heaven.”

Don’t I know that, sergeant. But, I would like to enjoy life on earth first.

Thompson smiled at the tramp’s comment and told him, “Sing your song then, if it gives you comfort.

Carney cleared his throat and began his song where he left off, “The sea, the sea, the geal grá mo chroí, long may it reign between England and me. It’s a sure guarantee that some hour we’ll be free …

Wheesht! For Christ’s sake! If you sing that type of song I will have to arrest you, you eejit” said Thompson. “If you want to sing, sing something like “the Galway Shawl.””

Carney turned his head slightly around, “That’s a good song sergeant. Imagine a man of the law knowing such a song?

There’s many a thing that I know,” replied Thompson. “I wasn’t always a policeman.”

I bet you were some boy in your youth, sergeant. Sitting up with your friends drinking the ‘porter’ and singing all the old songs of freedom,” Carney laughed.

I did, to be sure!” smiled Thompson as he recalled those days of his youth.

May be Cullen also enjoyed a glass of ‘porter’ and singing freedom songs when he was a young boy. Maybe singing the same songs as yourself,” Carney commented. “It’s a small world filled with queer coincidences, sergeant. You took one road and

“Quiet!” urged the Sergeant. “I think there is someone coming this way,” he declared nervously and shuffled himself slightly to try and obtain a better view. “Ah! Sure it’s only an old dog!”

“Do you not think this is a queer world, sergeant?” asked Carney as he resumed from where he was before being interrupted. “With you, being a policeman ,could even be faced with arresting one of those friends you sang those songs with, and putting him before a judge.”

“True enough! It could all happen,” the sergeant responded

“You know, in those days, after a few drinks and a few songs those boys may have talked a little treason. Maybe you joined in. If they talked about ways in which to free this country you may have also joined in those discussions.”

“I couldn’t say that I didn’t, for I was a wee bit wild in my younger days,” smiled Thompson.

Carney laughed a little and told him, “It’s a queer world, Sergeant, sure enough. No mother knows what might happen her child as that child goes through life, and how may it end up.”

“You couldn’t speak a truer word,” Thompson told him. “if it wasn’t for the sense beaten into me by my parents, and the fact that I am a father and a husband, I could have gotten into trouble. Only for joining the police force I could well be a fugitive from justice, hiding in the darkness and seeking refuge in whatever hovel I could find that would take me in. It could have even been the case that Cullen would be sitting here instead of me. Him keeping the law and me breaking it, and trying to escape justice. Me waiting to put a bullet in his head, or even beat his brains out with a brick. What the ..?” the sergeant gasped and turned his attention to the water.

“I didn’t hear anything,” said Carney.

“It sounded like the splash of an oar. I had thought maybe friends of Cullen will try and free him, by sailing him out of here,” said Thompson.

Not at all,” sneered Carney eager to get his attention back to their conversation. “You are and will always be a man of the people and not just a slavish servant of the law.”

Aye, I was foolish in my young days, but those days have long gone,” Thompson declared.

Carney looked at Thompson for a minute before saying, “I bet those feelings are still in there somewhere, despite the uniform and badge.

You would be wrong, then,” snapped Thompson.

I think you will be on his side very soon,” Carney told him.

The sergeant’s expression darkened, “Keep your thoughts to yourself, you gobshite!” he snarled. “How dare you talk to me like that, a policeman. I have my duty to do and my orders to obey.” There was another splashing sound and Thompson turned his attention to the dockside again. He jumped down from the fish barrel, telling Carney, “That is a boat, for I can hear the splash of oars in the water.”

As Thompson moved closer to the edge of the dock Carney again broke into song, “Thank God we’re surrounded by water?

Didn’t I tell you to be quiet?” the sergeant turned back toward Carney with a very angry look on his face.

“The Sea, the sea, the ….” Carney began to sing louder.

Stop now, Carney, or you will go to jail!” said the sergeant as a soft whistling noise came from the area of the dock steps.

Now that is a signal to somebody,” declared Thompson, causing Carney to get down of the fish barrel and move toward the dockside.

Keep back there, Carney,” Thompson urged him. “You cannot pass this way.

But, Carney did not stop and kept coming forward. “Just who, in God’s name, are you?”

You know me by the name on that poster,” Carney declared.

Cullen? You are Cullen?” said a shocked police sergeant.

Carney removed his hat and the wig he had been using to disguise the bandage on his head and threw them at the sergeant’s feet. “I am Sean Cullen and there are a hundred guineas on my head. Furthermore, there is a boat at the bottom of these stone steps that contains some very close comrades of mine who are ready to take me to safety,” he said.

Well, Cullen. You certainly tricked me this night, but it will do you no good!” Thompson angrily assured him.

Look, Sergeant. I have one hundred guineas on my head because I fight for our freedom.”

I heard about the reward, Cullen and I have heard something of what you have done. I have a certain sympathy but I have my duty to do,” replied Thompson.

There’s no more time to waste on idle talk now. Will you let me pass or will I have to force my way past?” Cullen warned in a cold tone of voice.

Good God, man, I am an officer of the law and I cannot knowingly allow a criminal to escape. In fact I actually hoped I might convince you in a friendly manner to … What’s that?” said the sergeant as he placed his right hand into the breast of his jacket.

There were voices talking as they approached the dockside from another street. “This where we left the sergeant,” said one of the voices that Thompson recognised as Constable Kelly.

Those are my constables returning from patrol,” said the sergeant as he looked into Cullen’s face.

You will not betray me to them, Sergeant. Not a true Irishman like you,” Cullen told him as he returned to his hiding place behind the barrels, just in the nick of time.

That was the last of the posters, thanks be to God,” said Constable O’Neill.

Well, if that boyo makes good his escape it will be no fault of ours. All the posters we have put up will ensure he is well known in this area, now,” pointed out Kelly.

In the meantime, as his comrades came closer, Thompson kicked the fugitive’s wig and hat, behind some barrels.

Did you see anyone since we left?” asked O’Neill.

Not a one,” replied Thompson nervously, for it was the first occasion that he had deliberately lied.

Nobody?

Not a single soul,” the sergeant replied more confidently.

Since we have no orders to go back to the police station we thought we would come and keep you company, Sergeant,” said O’Neill.

Thompson looked at the two constables for a moment and bluntly told them, “There is nothing here for you to do!”

You told us that we should come back to this place as quickly as we could,” Constable Kelly reminded him. “You wanted us to keep watch with you.”

I would rather be on my own, boys. Sure why would any escaped convict come this way with all the noise and racket the two of you make with all your chatter? It might be better if I was here on my own..”

Right then, sergeant. But we will leave you this torch,” said Constable O’Neill.

Just bring it with you, I don’t need it,” The sergeant told them.

“It is still dark, sergeant and there are rain clouds gathering that will make it even darker,” O’Neill pointed out. “I will just put it over here on the barrels so it will be handy for you.

Just take the damn thing with you, for God’s sake, and go” snapped Thompson angrily.

The two constables were taken aback by this change in the sergeant’s tone. “We only thought it would help you. It’s a big torch and gives plenty of light, but you could also use it as a weapon if someone creeps up on you. That torch would give some eejit a quare dig in the head,” said constable Kelly.

I will give you two a quare dig on the head if you don’t get out of here and take that damn torch with you.”

Jaysus, sergeant, we were only trying to help,” said O’Neill as the two constables stormed off toward the police station.

As the two policemen marched away, Cullen stuck his head up from behind the fish barrels. Sergeant Thompson went closer to him and asked, “What are you waiting for now?

I need my hat and wig! It’s cold and it might even rain,” said Cullen.

Sergeant Thompson handed the items to Cullen and he put them back on his head as he walked toward the dock steps. “Good night, my friend,” he said. “You have helped save my life this night and I will never forget it. Maybe the day will come when I will be able to do something for you that will be just as important, when freedom comes. I would shake your hand on it but you know that I can’t because of my wound. I will, however, give you my word of honour.” He nodded his head in respect to the police sergeant and began to walk down the stone steps.

Thompson just watched as Cullen descended the steps and sighed sadly to himself, “Am I as big a buck eejit as I feel?” He turned on his heels and followed the same path as his constables back to the police barracks.

Sniper’s Moon Part I

A story of the Irish War for Independence

Sniper 2June is a month of short nights and long, warm days. But, for some, the long June nights proved to be no advantage, when it came to fulfilling their assigned tasks. It was not until midnight that darkness first began to really envelop the town of Derryard, with the full moon shedding its bright silvery light over the streets and houses. If there were clouds or rain in the night sky then darkness would come sooner and gave extra cover to those who used the blackness to hide them from observation. But, in the quietness that night-time brought there could be heard the occasional growl of a lorry engine, or the heavy clip of military boots upon the cobbled roads and paved footpaths. In the ill lit streets there were shadows of small squads of armed men making through their way through the town. Here and there the sound of automobile engines could be heard as lorries filled with troops and armoured cars are moved, spreading out in their search for those who were prepared to spread treason. This was the terrible, dark days of war with Black and Tan auxiliaries, as Ireland sought its independence from Britain.

A slow moving river wound its way through the centre of town and an ornate iron bridge carried traffic across from one bank to the other. On a high rooftop overlooking the bridge there lay a young man with a rifle by his side. He had skilfully established a hidden sniper’s nest for himself high above the road that ran across the iron bridge. From this vantage point he scanned the area with a pair of binoculars, seeking an easy target for his bullets. Making the minimum of movement the young man studied the scene before him with eyes that were both bright and cold. He had a lot of spare time to himself, in which to consider the fate that would most likely befall him if he was ever captured by the enemy. The young man, filled with the courage of youth, preferred, however, to put such negative thoughts to one side and concentrate on the next target that unwarily moved into his rifle’s sights.

There was an uneasy quiet over the entire town as the Church clock struck the half-hour, and the sniper felt his stomach rumble with the winds of hunger. There, lying at his side, next to the rifle, sat a small satchel that he had brought with him from home. He put his hand into the small satchel and took out a roughly cut sandwich that had been prepared that morning and began to eat it very hungrily. The young man had eaten nothing since the previous morning, an hour or so prior to entering the building below and making his way up to the roof, where he had immediately proceeded to settle himself down. Then, as he chewed on the bread he muttered satisfyingly to himself, “By Jaysus, that is one hell of a good sandwich Ma has made.”

He felt that the sandwich had been well worth the wait and, when he had finished it, he reached into the satchel for a small flask of whisky that he had also brought with him. He took a swift drink and enjoyed the feeling of comfort that immediately began to spread through his stiff body before he replaced the flask. Then, just for a moment, he thought about lighting a cigarette to enjoy a soothing smoke after his snack. It was an idea, however, that he quickly discarded because it was much too risky. The lighting of a cigarette might easily be seen in the growing darkness, and he did not wish to give the enemy any kind of signal as to where he was hiding.

As the sniper raised his head cautiously above the roof’s parapet, he noticed the shadows of four soldiers as they crossed beneath a street lamp on the bridge below him. In the light of that street lamp he could just discern that the four figures crossing the bridge were members of the hated British auxiliaries, the Black and Tans. So, pointing the barrel through the parapet’s ornamentation, the sniper took careful aim along the barrel of the rifle, picked out his target, and gently squeezed the trigger. There was a flask as the built exploded out of the gun’s barrel, spinning its way down toward the target that had been chosen. It only took a fraction of a second for the bullet to reach its destination, but it missed the chosen target and smashed into the concrete casement of the bridge, just above the soldier’s head. “Jaysus, steady yourself man,”the sniper muttered to himself.

Just as he finished reloading the rifle, with the bolt action, there was another explosion from a rifle shot, and a bullet flattened itself against the ornate parapet that was camouflaging the sniper’s nest. Down below, on the bridge, three of the four auxiliary soldiers immediately sought cover, while the fourth soldier prepared to defend his comrades. He had seen the flash from the muzzle of the sniper’s rifle and had hurriedly fired a shot in reply. “Return fire!” he instructed his comrades and bullet after bullet whizzed over Sean’s head, crashing into the parapet and chimney pots and causing him to keep his head down. While the sniper was thus engaged two of the auxiliary soldiers broke cover, and ran across to the building in which the sniper was hiding.

Sean, the sniper, realised that it was time to move his position and he  crawled about ten yards to his left. While the enemy was continuing to lay down suppressing fire on his previous position, Sean felt he was now secure enough to raise his head carefully above the parapet. On this occasion, however, only two of the soldiers on the bridge were visible to him, one of whom was creeping closer to the gas street lamp. Sean raised his rifle and sighted it upon his new target, who was illuminated by the gas light. He squeezed the trigger of the rifle and let loose another bullet, which flew perfectly toward the enemy. The bullet struck home, exploding in the man’s head, killing him instantly, and causing his body to convulse with the impact.

From the roof, the sniper could clearly hear the shouts of men calling out to each other as he reloaded and sought yet another target. Just at that moment an armoured car rattled down the cobbled main street of the town, and slowly advanced across the bridge until it reached the remaining soldier. Sean felt it was time to move his position again and, on this occasion, he crawled over to a chimney stack, raising himself up behind it. Hidden from view of the pursuing soldiers, Sean felt free to sneak a peek over the parapet to identify a new target for himself. Although he had wanted to open fire on the armoured car he did not want to give his new position away on a fruitless task. Both Sean and the troops in the armoured car knew that the bullets would never pierce the armoured steel that covered that vehicle.

From the street below Sean could hear the crash of a door being forced open. He had not a doubt that the door that he heard being broken belonged to the building on whose roof he was hiding. It was obvious that the Black and Tans had now gained entry to the building and that they would soon be on the roof seeking him out. But, Sean did not allow himself to be distracted from the armoured car on the bridge and he caught sight of the remaining soldier there breaking cover. Creeping his body bent and low to the ground, the man quickly made his way to the side of the car, and he began to talk to another soldier who had made an appearance in the vehicle’s turret. The soldier standing at the side of the armoured car began to point in Sean’s direction, causing the man in the turret to raise his head and shoulders above the turret protection. Sean exhaled calmly as he gently squeezed the rifle’s trigger. Within a fraction of a second the bullet hit the soldier in the turret, causing his head to be jarred backward and his body to fall heavily, as it folded over the turret. “Two,” Sean said to himself, quietly pleased with his efforts so far.

The auxiliary who had been standing at the side of the armoured car was stunned by the swiftness of his comrade’s demise. One moment he had been talking to a friend and the next moment he was covered in the blood of that friend. Unfortunately, the shock of the incident had caused him to stand motionless for a few seconds as he took in the total horror of it all. Sean, did not take his eyes from the scene, pushed another bullet into the chamber and, as the auxiliary began to run for cover, he fired the rifle again. In an instant the bullet smashed into the fleeing soldier’s body, causing a fountain of blood to spurt high in the air as the man’s torso twisted, and he fell with a great shriek to the road. “Three,” Sean smiled, pleased with himself.

Then, suddenly, and without any warning, an access door to the roof burst open causing Sean to turn quickly and loose off a shot towards the origin of the sound. The bullet found its mark in the body of another soldier, but he had managed fire a shot from his own gun. There was a sudden and excruciating pain that shot through Sean’s arm, which caused him to drop his rifle. “The game’s up,” said Sean to himself as the rifle fell onto the roof with a loud clattering sound that Sean was certain the other soldiers would have heard. With his forearm virtually immobile, Sean immediately flung his body flat against the roof, and painfully crawled away to protective cover.

The soldier that remained at the door was in no mind to be reckless with his life after seeing how his comrades had been so efficiently killed by the sniper. He had heard the armoured car pulling up outside the building and thought it would be a much better tactic to await reinforcements. While he waited the nervous soldier kept a watch on the roof, hoping to get a clear shot at the sniper and be declared the hero of the hour by his comrades.

Sean reached a suitable place of cover and with his left hand examined the injury to his right forearm. There was still sufficient light in the sky to see the blood that was oozing through his jacket sleeve, and he was quite surprised that there was no real pain. But, there was a numbness in his forearm that made him start to think that his arm had been cut off. Since this was clearly not the case, however, Sean took a large knife from his jacket pocket, opened it with his teeth and began to cut the sleeve of his jacket.

At the site of the wound there was only a small hole that indicated where the bullet had entered, while on the other side of the arm there was no sign of where the bullet had exited. Sean knew enough, however, to realise that the soldier’s bullet had lodged in the bone of the arm and must have caused it to fracture. He gritted his teeth and bent his arm below the wound. His arm bent back quite easily causing him great pain, and he had wanted to scream out aloud. But, Sean didn’t dare make a sound that might expose him to any danger.

From another pocket in his jacket Sean took out his field dressing and ripped open the packaging with his knife. Breaking the neck of a bottle of iodine, Sean allowed the bitter fluid to drip on the wound and sterilize it. There was a tremendous burning sensation that wracked his entire body with great pain, and he quickly placed the cotton padding over the wound. With a good deal of difficulty he wrapped the dressing over his fore-arm and tied the end with the help of his teeth. He was exhausted by the effort and he lay still against the chimney stack, closing his eyes in a vain attempt to shut out the pain that was sweeping through his body. Sean could not, however, permit himself to sleep though his eyes were very heavy and his mind sought some means of relief.

Below Sean’s hiding place, in the street, there was almost complete quiet. The armoured car’s engine was no longer turning over and the body of the dead soldier still hung lifelessly over the turret. The other members of the crew had disembarked the car and were quickly making their way through the building. All this while, Sean was still lying motionless against the chimney stack, nursing his wounded arm and making frantic plans for his escape. The enemy, he now knew, were at the door that led on to the roof and that they would be very reluctant to expose themselves to any danger, without knowledge of his exact location. Sean would have to kill whatever number of soldiers were there and, not being able to use his rifle, he only had his revolver with six bullets to help him achieve success in his escape attempt. This called for Sean to devise a new exit plan from the roof .

Sean removed his cap and pulled his rifle closer to him. Placing the cap over the muzzle of his rifle he slowly pushed the rifle out from the side of the chimney stack until the cap was visible to the black and tans hiding in the doorway. Almost immediately there was the crack of a rifle shot and a bullet pierced the centre of the cap. Gradually, Sean slanted the rifle forward until the hat fell down on to the roof. A few seconds later he allowed the rifle to drop on to the roof with a clatter and immediately rose to his feet with the revolver ready in his left hand.

I got him!” declared an excited English voice from the open doorway. “That sneaky bastard’s dead! Let’s go get him!” The doorway opened a little wider and the light from a gas light caused the auxiliary soldiers to be exposed to Sean. His plan appeared to be starting out successfully and he smiled, knowing that his enemies had made a serious error of judgement. He lifted his revolver and braced himself against the brickwork of the chimney stack as he took aim at the figures only about thirty feet distant. It was a hard shot in the dim light, despite the short distance to the targets, and the pain in his right arm was like someone sticking a dozen knives into him. Though his hand trembled, he took as steady an aim as he possibly could. Pressing his lips tightly together he breathed heavily through his nose and squeezed the trigger once, twice, and three times. The sound of the revolver being fired was ear shattering and the recoil of each shot shook his arm violently. But, when the smoke had cleared, Sean saw the lifeless bodies of two men lying on the roof just outside the door. The others had escaped back into the sanctuary of that doorway. It was now time for Sean to quickly execute his own escape. He began to move further to his left, to a place on the parapet where a steel ladder had been fixed that ran down the side of the building to the narrow dark street below. The death of two more comrades might just cause the other auxiliaries to delay a further assault and, therefore, give Sean enough time to descend to the street.

A chill now descended over Sean’s body and he trembled a little. The anger and blood-lust that had filled him only minutes before was now gone. A sense of great remorse for the lives he had taken that night now filled him. But, despite the chills he was experiencing there were beads of sweat that stood out on his forehead. He was very much weakened by the wound he had received and by the loss of blood that he had been forced to endure. In fact, if he had had anything substantial in his stomach he would have, most likely, been physically sick at the sight of two slain men lying in a pool of their own blood. The chills began to worsen, perhaps it was shock, but his teeth began to chatter and his mind began to wander. In his pain and confusion he began to mutter quietly to himself and curse this damned, bloody war. He had not, however, heard the silent approach of an enemy soldier, who had scrambled over the parapet after climbing the escape ladder at the side of the building. There was moment’s pain, followed by deep unconsciousness. “Got the rat!” an English voice cried in triumph.

When he awakened Sean’s head was throbbing very badly and he was lying on a cold stone bed with a rough army blanket spread over him. If the blanket was there to give him some warmth, Sean thought, it had failed very badly. The pain in his head was almost overpowering, and he reached up his hands to find that a thick bandage had been wrapped around it. When he pulled the blanket off he saw that he was only dressed in a light cotton shirt and his trousers, from which the belt had been removed. With pain coming from every quarter of his body Sean sat up on the makeshift bed to examine his new surroundings, though there was not much to see. He was in an eight by four feet cell with four walls that had been painted a grey colour. Above his head daylight shone through a small, iron-barred window and in the opposite wall stood a grey metal door with a sliding panel about two-thirds the way up the door. Sean looked down at his forearm and saw that his wound had been freshly dressed by someone who knew what they were doing. Then he lay back on the cold stone bed, with no pillow for his head and resigned himself to the fact that he was now a prisoner of his enemies.

The panel in the door quietly slid open and allowed Sean to see a red, bespectacled face staring in at him. “You’re awake the?” the red-faced man asked.

I am,” replied Sean disinterestedly.

Aren’t you the big man, Cullen?” asked the guard sarcastically. “Caught today, Court Martial tomorrow, and a courtyard firing squad tomorrow or the next day.

It will be quick then,” said Sean as he spat at the door of the cell. Sean knew the danger that he was in and was resigned to whatever fate befell him.

As quick as any of your comrades did,” the guard smiled. “But be careful, Cullen, for there are all sorts of strange things happen here. So, sleep tight if you can,” he ended the conversation and slid the panel back in place.

The hours passed peacefully and the prison guards changed their shifts on a regular basis, rarely looking into Sean’s cell. He could clearly hear the Black and Tan auxiliaries talking as they smoked cigarettes and played cards. There was also the clink of glass, suggesting that the men were also enjoying a few bottles of beer, or something stronger. They were enjoying the fact that they had captured the man who had been considered the scourge of the crown’s forces in this area for several months. This was the man who had been nicknamed, “Hawkeye” and had caused the death of at least eighteen members of the British forces. It was time for the soldiers to celebrate that they would soon have the pleasure of seeing “Hawkeye” executed by firing squad.

The Blarney Part II

Final Part

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

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

“I robbed Lord Mansfield,

I do declare,

And Lady Somebody in Grosvenor

Square,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why? Would she not listen to you?”

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

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

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

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

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

On the top of whose wall,

But take care you don’t fall,

There’s a stone that contains all the

Blarney!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kissed what?”

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

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

The Blarney Part I

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

“Oh, did you ne’er hear of the

Blarney,

‘Tis found near the banks of

Killarney,

Believe it from me, no girl’s heart is

free,

Once she hears the sweet sound of

the Blarney.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ve seen them hundreds of times.”

“Maybe that isn’t an eye?”

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

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

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

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

“Fair Play, Eddie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you catch it?”

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

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

“I was completely cured.”

“How did that happen?”

“I got married.”

“Oh God, let’s just go to work.”

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

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

“What?” said Mick.

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

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

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

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

blarneystone“All you sporting young heroes, with

hearts so light and free,

Take care how you come near

the town of Tralee;

For the witch of all witches that

ever wove a spell

In the town of Tralee, at this moment

does dwell.

 

“Oh, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For the devil all out is the Rose of

Tralee.

 

“She’s as soft and as bright as a

young summer morn,

Her breath’s like the breeze

from the fresh blossomed thorn,

Her cheek has the sea shell’s pale

delicate hue,

And her lips are like rose leaves just

bathed in the dew;

 

“So, then, don’t venture near her, be

warned by me,

For she’s mighty destructive, this

Rose of Tralee.

 

“Oh! her eyes of dark blue, they so

heavenly are

Like the night sky of summer,

and each holds a star;

Were her tongue mute as silence,

man’s life they’d control;

But eyes and tongue both are too

much for one’s soul.

 

“Young men, stay at home, then,

and leave her to me,

For I’d die with delight for the Rose

of Tralee.”