Category Archives: Rural Ireland

This too shall pass

House windSo it begins, our worst storm in fifty years, poised and ready to unleash its fury. News stations have no problem filling their schedules, feeding our puerile interest in natural disaster. Meteorologists and Weather forecasters, typically born to bloom unseen, take centre stage today.

I brought the dog for a walk earlier amidst balmy sunshine and humid weather – a pleasant but foreboding experience.  It was like taking ones seat in a fully lit theatre whilst behind the thick curtain Ophelia’s symphony orchestra tuned up ready for the big matinee. One thing that struck me was the absence of small birds. Normally I throw something to the sparrows – yesterday they were all busy fluttering about hither and tither over and back to the makeshift feeding board I have nailed to the boundary fence. This morning all are absent – presumably they watched Sky News all night and decided to hunker down.  A quick glance around the garden to make sure I didn’t miss anything on last night’s sally to nail everything down. Flasks filled with hot water, nothing says we’ll be alright like a cup of tea.

Ophelia! Ophelia! A tragic name and warning to us not to take this storm lightly. We’ve had disaster before and survived famine and economic calamity – for the latter we would have done better had we heeded Ophelia’s fathers advice to ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be’. The best advice from the wise old Polonius relevant to today is probably to paraphrase his next line, don’t lose yourself or friend today. Stay safe everyone.

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The fog is lifting from the scene and I am forced to go… Lovely Leitrim and the call of duty

 

I set out to write this piece about a week ago but got completely side-tracked. One thing that distracted me was getting glued to the twenty four hour news coverage of the most recent terror attack on the Borough Market in London.  In horrific moments such as these we cling to any semblance of normality and hope. The pieces of shattered humanity can begin to be glued together by tales of came appearances of real heroes, ordinary people doing extraordinary acts to try to help and protect others. I’m thinking of the paramedics rushing in to tend to the injured whilst the attackers still roamed the streets. I’m also thinking of the Spanish man on Saturday evening last who took on one of the knife wielding attackers with his skateboard. What a brave man, a true hero. At moments like these you can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.

Irish people tend to remember heroes by penning songs about their feats. I intended writing today about one such hero and a song. The song isn’t about his heroism, it’s a song he wrote reminiscing about his home county in Ireland, his heroism was to come later. The song is not a complicated verse, it is quite simple in fact, typical of its age but it is very sincere. When music was put to the lyrics the verse became a waltz and when a man from Longford called Larry Cunningham sang it in the 1960’s it became a hit. By this time the author had already been dead for almost two decades. It is the nature of his death that makes the song all the more poignant today for Leitrim people everywhere.

I was in ‘Fitzpatricks’ Bar in Mohill, County Leitrim recently. This fine public house is run by Val Fitzpatrick and his wife Carmel and is also known as the Ceili House. The Fitzpatricks originally hail from the proud parish of Aughavas in the heart of South Leitrim. The family have a long musical tradition going back through the generations. As an aside the family are also related to the late BAFTA Award winning actor Patrick McGoohan, he who appeared in famous TV serials such as ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Danger Man’ in addition to Hollywood blockbusters like ‘A Time to Kill’ and ‘Braveheart’.

Phil FitzpatrickAs usual I digress. The person I most want to discuss is a man named Phil Fitzpatrick who was born in Aughavas, Co. Leitrim in 1892. Phil emigrated to New York just after independence and he joined New York’s finest as a Patrolman in 1926. He spent most of his career in the mounted section patrolling precincts around Midtown and Central Park.

It probably seemed like an ordinary day. Fitzpatrick was off-duty and having lunch with a colleague Patrolman George Dammeyer in a tavern on the Upper East Side. Suddenly two armed men rushed into the Tavern and sought to rob the staff and all the patrons. Fitzpatrick and his colleague confronted the criminals. A shootout ensued. The two criminals were killed but Fitzpatrick was badly wounded in the stomach. He was taken to nearby Beth Israel Hospital and survived for six days before finally passing away on the 26th May, 1947. A year later he was posthumously awarded the NYPD Medal of Honor. He left behind a widow and five children.

The song ‘Lovely Leitrim’ was originally only a B-Side on the record released by Larry Cunningham. Gradually though it became popular and eventually it would go all the way to number one knocking The Beatles off top spot.

Today the song is synonymous with County Leitrim and sung on all occasions happy, sad and everything in between. I recall it being sung very poorly one night by three inebriated Leitrimites (including yours truly) in a taxi in Manchester. Perhaps the best renditions were given on those long nights in the summer of 1994 when Leitrim were crowned Connacht Champions for the first time in 67 years.

leitrim-cocoLast night I had a pleasant dream, I woke up with a smile

I dreamed that I was back again in dear old Erin’s isle.

I thought I saw Lough Allen’s banks in the valleys down below

It was my lovely Leitrim where the Shannon waters flow.

As is often the way one begins to write something that is already clear in your mind, yet somehow by the time it reaches the page it has transformed into something else altogether. I’ve since discovered numerous well written articles about Phil Fitzpatrick online and referencing the 70th anniversary of his death. I’m a bit behind the crowd so to speak ……. except, what I’m looking for now is a meaning and a modern parallel to this mans life and his death.

It seems to me that time moves on and so this emigrants lament just seems to tag along with it. This despite a lot of changes. The scene of the fatal shooting on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 96th is now opposite the Islamic Cultural Center of New York. Fitzpatrick’s grand-nephew Brian is now a Republican Congressman for Pennsylvania.  Phil Fitzpatrick put his body on the line seventy years ago to tackle two armed raiders. I’ve already mentioned a man who acted the same way last Saturday night in London. His name was Ignacio Echeverría.  ISIS and all terrorist s will not succeed in their hate and terror campaigns. I know this to be true because they are faced not just by powerful nations but with the might of ordinary citizens prepared to take on their armed and bloodthirsty cadres with nothing more than a skateboard.  In the frontline are people and responders motivated not by religion or hate but the simple desire to help a stranger. I’m also thinking of another line in another poem by Fitzpatrick that resonates. It is called ‘Soldiers of Peace’ and it contains the prophetic line, “when he kisses his wife and children goodbye, there’s the chance he will see them no more”.

Helping others

 

Where the wandering water gushes

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Knocknarea, Strandhill, Co. Sligo  http://gostrandhill.com/local-information/ photo Irish Aer Corps

The morning frost heralded the low January Sun to bathe its light on the neat patchwork of fields around Coolera, County Sligo. As we climbed the ancient hill of Knocknarea, Yeats words came floating over the shrill air;

“The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea,

And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say”[i]

(W.B Yeats ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’)

It must be ten years or more since I last climbed this beautiful summit – its distinctive outline bookends the southern end of Sligo Bay with the majestic Ben Bulben to the north. The pathway has been well maintained and access is comfortable even for those of us with moderate fitness.

A few steep rocky climbs near the top are the only challenging obstacles that lie before the famous Neolithic Cairn that crowns the summit finally comes into view. The Cairn is the reputed burial place of the legendary Queen Maedbh of Connaught. Indeed the landscape stretched out below is abundant in ancient portal tombs and passage graves, making this area as important to archaeology as the better known Bru na Boinne on the east coast[ii].

 

One cannot help but feel that you are literally tracing the footsteps of our ancestors as you approach the top. The views when you get there are spectacular. The infinite expanse of the Atlantic stretches out below, becalmed today, as it laps up gently against the shore at Strandhill. Across the entrance to Sligo Bay lies Rosses Point with its famous strand, beyond that Lisadell House, home of Countess Markievicz, and Drumcliffe graveyard where Yeats now lies in eternal peace, casting a cold eye on us all. In the distance can be seen the hills of Donegal and the mighty cliffs of Sliabh League.

 

 

Inland is the aforementioned Ben Bulben, majestically carved by glacier, wind and rain into its unique undulating face.  It was in the heather atop this iconic Mountain where the mythical Diarmuid and Grainne found themsleves confronted by a wild boar. As the young warrior shielded his lover (the most beautiful woman in Ireland) he fought off the boar and after a ferocious struggle killed it with his sword. Sadly the story did not have a happy ending. The brave Diarmuid in saving his lover was alas fatally gored by the Boar and died soon after in Grainne’s arms. In the further distance lie the Dartry Hills and the peaceful glens and mountains of North Leitrim, a hill walker’s paradise.

Later we drive along the northern shore of Lough Gill and view the Lake Isle of Innisfree where Yeats intended to arise and go to:-

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;

Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,

And live alone in the bee loud glade. 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings. 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

(W.B Yeats ‘The Lake Isle of Inisfree’)

parkes-castle-sligo-irl153

Parkes Castle

We are now into  County Leitrim and our first stop is at Parkes Castle which although closed for the winter is still a worthwhile stop. The building is not really a Castle as such but a 17th Century Manor House built by the Planter Robert Parke. Its main purpose was  defensive as Parke had recently acquired lands confiscated from the local Gaelic Chieftains, the O’Rourke’s, traditional rulers of the Kingdom of Breifne.

A few miles on further along this picturesque lake side road lies the neat village of Dromahaire. The town sits on the banks of the River Bonet and was the seat of the O’Rourke’s and the Franciscan Abbey at Creevlea. We drive north towards Manorhamilton before turning left on the N16 and into the valley of Glencar. A few miles on we turn off and drive down to the lake of the same name and visit Glencar Waterfall. The Discover Ireland website states “while not the highest waterfall in the area, Glencar Waterfall is generally considered the most romantic and impressive”. The enchanting waters cascading into the leafy glen also inspired the National Poet:-

img_9926“Where the wandering water gushes

From the hills above Glencar,

In pools among the rushes

That scarce could bathe a star,

We seek for slumbering trout

And whispering in their ears

Give them unquiet dreams;

Leaning softly out

From ferns that drop their tears

Over the young streams.”

(W.B Yeats ‘The Stolen Child’)

The Waterfall is easily accessed from the lakeside car park along a well maintained pathway. Also at the entrance is a charming little coffee shop called “The Teashed”. The staff were very friendly and welcoming and as coffee shops go the food here was excellent and not too pricey.  The fare consists  of freshly baked scones and bread, various sweet goodies, a wide choice of freshly made sandwiches, wraps, paninis, salads and hearty homemade soup. There are lots of local crafts on sale. The site has a playground – useful to rid the young ones of any pent up cabin fever. This is also the perfect spot for weary limbs to recover from hiking in the hills above. The outside tables would be a lovely place to sit out in the warmer months. [iii]

 

the-tea-shed-3

“The Teashed”            photo www.ldco.ie

All along the lake are many places where one could have a nice picnic. We caught a lovely sunset on the lake as the weak winter sun surrendered itself for another day. We began our journey home with just a further quick pit-stop for ice cream for the younger travellers, notwithstanding it was now below freezing outside! Later on, safely home, unshod, night fallen and the fire taken hold we continued to relish in the glow of a day well spent, dipping into the ancient and majestic landscape of Sligo and North Leitrim. We have many similar day trips planned. You can check out what’s on offer in Leitrim at http://leitrimtourism.com/ and in neighbouring Sligo at http://www.sligotourism.ie/ . Go and find your “bee loud glade”, its out there somewhere waiting to be discovered.

img_9929

Sunset at Glencar Lake, Co. Leitrim

[i] https://allpoetry.com/The-Wanderings-Of-Oisin:-Book-I

[ii] http://www.worldheritageireland.ie/bru-na-boinne/

[iii] http://www.discoverireland.ie/Activities-Adventure/glencar-teashed/95624

Leitrim’s Lake monster – The legendary Dobhar Chu

Dobhar-ChuI was recently reading up on ancient tales on Irish Lake monsters and came across this interesting piece on the death of a woman in 1722 in Glenade Lake. Apparently the woman who was named Grace or Grainne, and married to a Turlough McLoghlin, was washing clothes in the lake when she was attacked by the Dobhar-Chu.

This is an extract from Dave Walsh’s piece on his site Blather.net

“Dobhar-chú (a.k.a. the Water Hound or Master Otter), and in particular, allegations concerning the demise of a Co. Leitrim woman in 1722, supposedly mauled by such a beast. Sligo fortean Joe Harte managed to track down her grave, in Glenade, on the north side of Ben Bulben mountain, and this writer managed to get hold of a copy of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 78, (1948), where was found, on pages 127-129, The Dobhar-chú Tombstones of Glenade, Co. Leitrim by Patrick Tohall. Later on, last September — as mentioned in an earlier Blather Joe and I visited the grave”.

The piece goes on to say –

“Our Leitrim lady, however, seems to have had a less fortunate fate. On her headstone is a raised illustration of what appears to be, for all intents and purposes, a stylised otter impaled by spear, held in a disembodied hand. The deceased name appears to have been Grace, but her surname is indecipherable – possibly McGlone. Tohall, who had 50 years less weathering to deal with, found that:

‘Line by Line the text reads: –(1) (Illegible), (2) ??ODY OF (3) GRACE CON (4) N?Y WIFE (5) TO TER MAC (6) LOGHLIN WHO (7) DYD 7BER (8) THE 24TH (9) ANN DMI (10) MDCCXXII. Points of note are: (a) The woman is still spoken of as “Grainne ” (not “Grace”) around her home; (b) The name “Ter” is obviously a contraction for “Terence”, the modern baptismal name adopted to supplant the traditional “Toirdhealbhach.” Only recently has the spoken language surrendered to the change, as down to our own time those who signed “Terence” were called “T’ruá­lach” in this locality. I have heard it so pronounced, exactly as John O’Donovan did here about 1835, when he wrote the names as “T’raolach”;(c) Adherence to contemporary classical forms: the contraction “7ber,” for September and the use of the “Possessive Dative” case; (d) the Gaelic custom of a married woman keeping her maiden name — incongruous in the English text.’

According to Tohall, there are two different main versions of on the death of a women washing clothes in Glenade Lake. A second tombstone at the south end of the lake was also connected to the tale, but has since vanished. The two accounts seem to have defaulted to the remaining stone, with ‘strong, local tradition’ preferring to connect the more interesting of the two versions.

‘A woman named Grainne, wife of a man of the McLoghlins, who lived with her husband in the townland of Creevelea at the north-west corner of Glenade Lake, took some clothes down to the lakeshore to wash them. As she did not return her husband went to look for her and found her bloody body by the lakeside with the Dobhar-chú asleep on her breast.

Returning to the house for his dagger he stole silently on the Dobhar-chú and drove the knife into its breast. Before it died, however, it whistled to call its fellow; and the old people of the place, who knew the ways of the animals, warned McLoghlin to fly for his life. He took to horse, another mounted man accompanying him. The second Dobhar-chú came swimming from the lake and pursued the pair. Realising that they could not shake it off they stopped near some old walls and drew their horses across a door ope. The Dobhar-chú rushed under the horses’ legs to attack the men, but as it emerged from beneath them one of the men stabbed and killed it.’

The second version describes the killing by a Dobhar-chú of another woman engaged in washing newly-woven cloth in Glenade lake when she was attacked. The boundary of the townland of Srath-cloichrán (Sracleighreen) and Gob-an-ghé (Gubinea) is the alleged location of this bloodshed (I emphasise the word ‘boundary’, as it denotes a place of liminal status — akin to the traditional importance of such places as crossroads). Yet another variant tells how the avenger Dobhar-chú had a single horn in the centre of its forehead, which it gored the horses with.

Tohall sees the Congbháil monument as being ‘the only tangible evidence’ for the idea of the ‘King Dobhar-chú,’ or Killer-Dobharcá.

‘Lexicographers of both districts record two meanings for Dobhar-chú (derived fromDobhar, water, and chú, hound): (a) the common otter (Lutra Lutra ) a term now superseded by Mada-uisge in Northern Ireland and Scotland; (b) ‘a mythical animal like an otter’ (Dineen). In Co. Leitrim the latter tradition survives strongly: ‘a kind of witch that ruled all the other water-animals’ (Patrick Travers, Derrinvoney); or used jocularly to a boy along Lough Allen,”Hurry back from your errand before dark, or mind would the Dobhar-choin of Glenade come out of the water and grab you.” The best summary of the idea is set out in the records of the Coimisiun le Báaloideas by Seán ó h-Eochaidh, of Teidhlinn, Co. Donegal, in a phrase which he heard in the Gaeltacht: ‘the Dobharchú is the seventh cub of the common otter’ (mada-uisge): the Dobhar-chú was thus a super otter.’

It seems to this writer that the identification of the Dobharchú with the fairly shy otter (which can be found at lengths of over 5’6″ (1.67m) including the tail) seems to be by default — no other known Irish water creature comes as close to a rational zoological explanation. Is the Dobhar-chú some hungry lake serpent manifestation which grows legs occasionally when it feels like eating? It’s a matter that Blather is having grave difficulty providing hypothetical explanations for.

Dave (daev) Walsh

21st August 1998”

Check out blather.net where Dave Walsh describes hiomself as chief bottle washer and “Writer, photographer, environmental campaigner and “known troublemaker” Dave Walsh is the founder of Blather.net, described both as “possibly the most arrogant and depraved website to be found either side of the majestic Shannon River”, and “the nicest website circulating in Ireland”. Half Irishman, half-bicycle. He lives in southern Irish city of Barcelona.”

Don’t let the fear of the Dobhar Chu stop you from visiting one of Ireland’s little gems, the beautiful Glenade Lake hidden in the North Leitrim Glens.

Glenade_Lough_-_County_Leitrim-2_Small

photo credit Eireial Creations

 

The Hind Cut

the-new-country-doctor-406

Gannon lay face down and spread-eagled on the bed, exhausted from a long day in the surgery. Just as he was settling the phone rang in the Hall, its piercing sound stabbing his brain. At least Dot will know how to field the call, divert it to another GP. ‘Hello’ that’s not Dot’s voice, its little Liam. ‘Yes he’s here ….. okay I’ll just get him for you’. Can he not just say that I’m gone out or something? Bloody hell. The six year old boy came bounding down the hallway and burst into his parent’s bedroom. ‘Dad there is some man on the phone and he wants to talk to you, said it’s very important’. Important? ‘How important son? Have the Martians landed in Longford again? He rose gingerly, muttering ‘bloody hell’ as he marched down the long hall towards the telephone, grabbing the receiver ‘Who is this?’ His curt request was met by a quietly spoken ‘Hello Doctor Gannon, it’s Michael Fanning here, I’m in the Dew Drop Inn. You better come quick as there has been an accident’ ‘What sort of an accident?’ ‘It’s Mary Kate Joyce, she sat on a pint glass and is all cut in her hinds. She’s in a bad way Doctor’. Gannon sighed, it was all he needed now, an evening call to a bloody pub. ‘When did it happen?’ ‘only ‘bout five minutes ago, she’s in the Bar wailing in pain and bleeding bad’ ‘Okay I’m on my way’. Gannon looked around but Liam was nowhere to be seen. He knew he had been short with the boy who was sensitive. ‘Liam? Liam where are you?’ No answer. Damn it he thought, he hated going out without apologising to Liam for his sarcasm but it would have to wait.

Gannon carried the tools of his trade in old black satchel which he always threw in the back seat of the SAAB. ‘The Dew Drop Inn’ was set in the heart of the rolling drumlin country, close to the border and at a remote crossroads. When he first came to the area over a decade ago it was described as being close to the borderline, just like its people. In those first few years Gannon took his time to settle. The move was intended to be only a stop gap measure in his medical career, but as the years past and the children settled into the quiet hamlet, so did he. As he became more settled he also began to gain the trust of the locals. It didn’t happen overnight and deep down he felt that it really didn’t matter how long he lived here, he would always be an outsider. He imagined himself as l’etranger. He didn’t let his different perspective on life interfere with his devotion to his profession or to his patients. There were times when he missed his previous postings in Africa and Oman but this was balanced with the knowledge that he had found a safe and secure place to bring up his children, notwithstanding the troubles just ten miles up the road.

‘The Dew Drop Inn’ was an imposing two story building with annexes at both ends and fuel pumps out front. It was set at a crossroads with neither road really leading anywhere interesting. There was no town or village in the parish of Ballybrown and so as such ‘The Dew Drop’ was the focal point of the community. Births, deaths and every significant life event in between was celebrated here. The shop sold all the necessary provisions for rural life. The post office was also part of the shop and it and the telephone Box were the links to the rest of the world and the hundreds of parishioners who now lived far away in places like Manchester, Birmingham, Coventry, New York, Boston and Philadelphia. The walls were adorned with pictures of past parish football teams who had enjoyed success on the battlefield. It was considered a social embarrassment not to be included in one of these line-ups. These were the thoughts that filled the head of Dr. Michael Gannon as he sped the five miles from his home to the infamous ‘Dew Drop Inn’, the social hub of Ballybrown by night, but by day it was inhabited by men for whom drink, and the companionship of those who drink, was their only solace in life. Most of these creatures would be there now awaiting his arrival, and there was poor Mary Kate Joyce in the middle of them, her arse torn to shreds by a pint glass.

            ‘Ah its Doctor Gannon, well this a turnaround, usually its us that travels to him but tonight he’s come to our principal POB’ It was Jack Burgess. Gannon knew him well and his incredibly large ego. Burgess held court here daily in the public bar and while he was not well-liked and considered an annoyance, to the people of Ballybrown he was there annoyance and so occupied an important part of the parish ecosystem.

‘What’s a POB?’ asked Benny Maguire the little hunched up man sat on the stool beside Burgess.

‘Benny my good friend, a POB is our principal place of business, the place where we transact ourselves, the place where, were we a body capable of registration that is, that such registered office would be located, the place where, were a stranger to seek us out and ask such directions of a person of the locality, that person would be directed to this very place, right here Benny, this is our POB’

‘Well seeing as it is such an augmentious occasion the Doctor might buy us a drink’

 ‘Christ man, don’t be talking like that in front of the Doctor, have you no fucking manners at all ………….. the Doctor will buy us a drink in his own good time’

A group were huddled in the corner beneath the television. One woman, the only other female on the premises was holding the hand of Mary Kate Joyce and appeared to be just finishing the Rosary, ‘Hail holy Queen, mother of Mercy, send in most .. Dr Gannon, come in doctor, come in quick, thank God you’re here’. Mary Kate was moaning and when she saw Gannon she started shrieking, ‘ah Doctor, Doctor, am I going to die, I’m near bled out, ah God’. Mary Kate was lying on several towels which were all now crimson. The place looked like a casualty clearing station. ‘You’re okay Mary Kate, you are going to be just fine, try not to worry, we’ll see to you now and get you cleaned up’

Tom Penrose, the proprietor came in from the side door. His complexion was the white of a ghost. No doubt despite the drama around him he would have taken time to check that his public liability insurance was up to date. Gannon grabbed his arm ‘Look I can’t operate on a woman in a public bar’. Penrose nodded, ‘I know Doctor, will we help you load her up and so you can bring her to Mullingar?’ Gannon frowned ‘No Tommy I mean bring her into the lounge!’

The wails of Mary Kate could be heard in several parishes, ‘I’m finished Doctor’. Gannon gently rolled the victim over on her side. She was very much on the plump side. As he rolled up her blood sodden skirt he revealed her ripped nylon stockings and several lacerations to both buttocks. One was quite deep but there didn’t appear to be too much damage to any underlying blood vessels or nerves. Mary must for once be grateful for the bountiful and generous extent of her posterior. Gannon was confident he could suture the main wound but first he’d give her a jab of local anaesthetic. The patient didn’t even feel the needle enter her buttocks and Gannon took this for a good sign. The amount of blood was making things look a lot worse than they were and the assembled audience were only exacerbating tension. ‘Can you stand up Mary Kate please?’ Oh Jesus no I can’t move Doctor, Oh I’m in an awful way’ ‘You will be if you don’t move now my dear’ knowing full well that neither himself nor the half dozen well inebriated men in the bar were be equipped to lift Mary Kates twenty stone frame out of the bar and into the lounge. Gradually with gentle persuasion Mary Kate stood up and with some more coaxing was persuaded to put one foot in front of the other until they slowly made their way into the dimly lit lounge. ‘This won’t do’ thought Gannon but then he eyed the pool table which had a spotlight overhead.

‘Bring her over here and place her on the table, take it gently boys’. Penrose jumped in front of them, arms outstretched ‘Not the new pool table’ he cried. ‘It’ll be destroyed, I only bought it two year ago’. ‘Well go and get some bed linen Tommy and be quick’. As Penrose ran behind the bar and into the house quarters Gannon got a glass. He pushed up the optic and filled himself a brandy. He took a swig and then threw it on his head. He pushed the glass up again for a refill before returning to where the newly commissioned medical orderlies Jack Dexter, Michael Fanning and Pipsey Rooney were having an impromptu cigarette break. Dexter was holding his cigarette to Mary Kate’s mouth and she was dragging on it as if it were her last great of nicotine.

‘Ah Jaysus lads’ cried Tommy returning with a big cardboard box and a well-worn white sheet. ‘Ye can’t smoke in the lounge, ye know that well ye bloody fools. What an evening I’m putting in’.

Dexter went over to the emergency exit and pushing down the bars opened the door letting a whoosh of cool October air in. Sucking strongly on the last remnants of the cigarette he threw the butt on the path. Rooney followed suit and they closed the door. Penrose was tearing up the cardboard box by now and spreading it flat across the pool table. Suddenly the double doors from the hall opened and in came a visibly inebriated Pat Joyce, ‘How are you now darling, you are in good hands, God bless you Doctor Gannon’ ‘How am I he says, How do I look to you with me arse shredded in bits and bared to half the men of the parish’ The wounded looking Pat slid up along the side of the pool table and held his wife’s hand ‘Ah darling don’t be like that in front of the men, the doctor will surely do his best to save you, isn’t that right Doctor, god bless ya and save ya’

Dexter and Rooney lifted Mary Kate up on to the Pool Table and Gannon rolled her gently over. The men averted their gaze but there really was no way of letting modesty take any foothold in this situation. Penrose came back with a basin of warm water and a clean tea towel. The bright light over the pool table was turned on and Gannon began by cleaning the wounds. As the blood was cleaned off he could see that many of the cuts were superficial and he picked out several small pieces of glass. ‘Do your best Doctor I’ve 9 kids at home and they wouldn’t survive without their mammy’ ‘Well they must be surviving alright tonight’  thought Gannon to himself. The blood still flowed from one of the deeper wounds and so Gannon got Pat Joyce to squeeze the two sides of the open cut together to stem the flow. He then took out his suture kit and threaded the nylon monofilament through the eye of the needle. He began to put Mary Kate Joyce’s bum back together stitch by stitch in a standard single interrupted closure of the wound. The smaller wounds were easily dealt with and bandaged. All in all the procedure took less than half an hour and at this stage Penrose was getting agitated and looking at his watch

Gannon was guiding the patient out to the car. ‘I’m just afraid Doctor you know. It won’t affect me if I was you to have another baby?’. ‘Oh no, not at all Mary. Are you pregnant?’ ‘Not that I know of Doctor’. Mary paused for a little break, ‘How many have you now?’ asked Gannon. ‘Well we had ten but nine living’. ‘Nine!’ repeated Gannon, he had thought they had six or seven at most. ‘You know there are procedures available Mrs Joyce. You can get a procedure or Pat either and then you wouldn’t have to worry about getting pregnant’. Mary Kate thought for a few moments before walking again, ‘God I think I’ve had enough procedures for one night Doctor but thanks very much’. Her husband was now out opening the passenger side door and linking her in. ‘Maybe we can talk about again when you get over this. You’ll come into me Tuesday or Wednesday so I can check how you are healing. I’ve given Pat something to help with pain and sleep’.

‘Thanks for everything Doctor …. and the other advice too but I think I will take what God gives me’. Gannon smiled but inside he was sighing ‘Has God not given her enough?’

The Doctor returned to the Lounge to gather up his satchel. Penrose had already cleared the make-shift operating table and was wiping the edges of the pool table with a damp cloth. ‘You timed that well Doctor. We’ve an ould pool competition tonight with the Courtmacsweeney lads. You are welcome to sponsor a spot prize if you like.’ Gannon shook his head ‘I’ll have another Brandy though’. Penrose finished wiping and shuffled behind the counter to get Gannon a drink. ‘Oh and send a drink up to Professor Burgess and his able assistant there’.

Gannon gathered up his instruments and put them in his satchel. He looked around the empty lounge. The Bar was filling up though. He was tired and needed sleep. He held the squat glass in his hand and savoured the aroma of the Cognac just under his nostrils before finishing it. He walked purposefully through the hallway and out to the fresh air. As he put the car in gear and turned it towards home he thought of what Mary Kate had said. He wondered had God given him too much also.

 

Sundays at Blue Bridge

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He crossed the old iron gate first and then lifted the boys over, encouraging and cajoling them across the rusting blue iron bridge with the missing planks. The boys were momentarily weak with fear of falling into the river below. The length of the gaps between what planks remained appeared colossal. But once across the bridge the boys were exhilarated by their pseudo-bravery and pluck.

The next obstacle was quick upon them, the old wall which ran along the edge of the former gardens of the crumbling Castle. They jumped down the wall to the low ground and on to the path through the thick man high growth that led to the river bank. The air was heavy with pollen and the last heat of the day.

The father took out his old fishing rod and took a hook from his box. Holding the little piece of barbed steel in his lips as he fed the fine line through the metal eyes, finally, threading the line through the eye of the hook and knotting it securely. He then repeated the process on the boys new shiny rods, his forehead lined in concentration. The corks were set at about three feet from the hook and a few lead weights attached further down the line. Then the jam jar was opened. A nice fat worm was caught between his thumb and forefinger chosen not just for his size but for the dark colour of his back and head, apparently this was the type the fish liked best. The hook was delicately forced through the thin skin and the worms fate was set, thus impaled he would end his days as fishing bait.

When all three rods were set up the father took the first casts out, watching for the low hanging bushes around them, before landing the corks mid-stream. He allowed them to bobble and settle. With the corks caught by the gentle current the rods were handed to the boys.  The corks  began  to drift lazily downriver towards the entrance to the lake. Dragon flies swooped low as the young fishermen eyed their corks for any movement that might signify the bite of a perch or roach.

Avenging Larry Fay

Manhattan Bar at night

15th January 1934

Walking across 23rd street Michael Brennan must have seemed calmness personified. The military step that he had honed in the barracks of Galway and Aldershot made him look purposeful and assured. Inside though he was a ball of nerves, his heart racing so much, he thought it might leap out of his chest at any moment. It wasn’t too late to turn back but he knew in that racing heart of his that he would go through with it. There were a myriad of excuses he could choose from, the may have been delayed on the train, and he may have just missed Moloney by seconds or just lost him in the crowded streets of midtown.

He paused at the corner of 3rd Avenue and lit a cigarette. As he placed the matchbox back in his pocket he felt the cold, hard shape of his revolver and it somehow reinforced his resolve to do just one more job. At the end of the day this was simply a business transaction but it was one that would help Mary and their little girl. Maybe he might leave this godforsaken country and go home. The letters from home had kept him informed of the goings on; land was cheap now and since the election many of his former comrades seemed to be starting to get on their feet. The Commandant had even left for Dublin and gotten a job as a Tax Inspector, his past as a mail train and bank robber hadn’t mitigated against that. The Mitchells were also doing fine. Sean was now a Sergeant in the Police and Eddie would soon be ordained. If only Mary and him could catch a break, he thought. Maybe he had been too rash to leave, maybe he should have stuck it out but he had enough by then. It wasn’t so much that he hated  his native country but perhaps he had loved it too much. He often asked himself what it was all for? Instead of having the English for their Masters the poor now had the Princes of the Church and a the Bowler hat elite. He thought of Eddie Mitchell again.  They had lain together for two nights in a soggy daring hiding from the tans. Eddie of the soft laugh and the firm handshake. He would make a great Priest?

It was time; he threw his cigarette butt into the gutter and crossed the street. Eight years in this country he thought and here he was a gun man once again.  Only this time at least he was being paid. It is just a business transaction he kept telling himself, one more job, this would be the last.

……………………………………….

apartmentSix days later and the knock on the door woke Mary Brennan. t took her a few seconds to come to. She had fallen into a deep nap; ‘Coming, just a minute, who is it?’ as she opened the door she was met by the sight of a Police Uniform pegged on a strapping man standing over six feet.

Hi Mary, is Mike home?

-No he’s not, no, but he’s due any time now, is everything okay?

– Everything is fine Mary, nothing to worry about it’s just a small matter I was to meet him about

– Well why don’t you come in Pat, he can’t be long, you know the way it is on the railroad Pat.

I have some fresh currant cake, come on in and you can tell me how Annie is doing?

Officer Leyden sloped inside, all the while his eyes circling, surveying the neat little apartment . He had to meet Brennan anyhow he thought and so he may as well wait here as out in the cold patrol car. Mary had turned her back on him momentarily as she began unwrapping the cake on the work top.

– Annie is doing well, we have just had another baby Mary, a little boy.

Mary froze for a second and Leyden realised the effect of his words and the cause of her response.

-I know you had some bad luck last year. I heard through Fr Casey. Annie has been meaning to call by. At least God has spared your little Maggie.

Mary did not respond but gathered herself and began slicing the currant cake into thick slabs. Leyden thought Mary looked well. She still had that lovely, delicate porcelain complexion and a fine figure. It can’t be easy for her living with Brennan and him in and out of work, on and off the bottle, stubborn bastard that he is. She was always too good for him. Leyden remembered the first time he saw Mary, it was at the Embassy Ballroom in Sunnyside. Brennan may have been a big dog back at home. That was where farmer’s sons like him looked down their noses at townie corner boys like Leyden. In this New World the tables could be reversed very quickly. Leyden knew that in this City there was a different game to played from back home, with very different rules. Men like Brennan thought they could change the world but they were only dreamers.  He now had Brennan where he wanted him and he was going to put him to good use.

-Is it hard to get into the Department these days Pat? I mean is there anything you could do for Mike? Please don’t tell him I asked, you know how he is, he’s proud but we could do with something regular.

Mary placed the cake on the table and a small dish with a tiny piece of butter. She began pouring Leyden a coffee into a handless cup. Her eyes barely left the floor the whole time.

-I’ll see what I can do Mary. He is not twenty one anymore and they prefer to have them at that age, I just got lucky.

Their chat was interrupted when the door opened and suddenly there stood Brennan. He was surprised to see Leyden and his expression was dour. He looked at Leyden and then at Mary before putting a brown package down on the dresser. Mary knew it was from Lombardis down the street where Luca often saved some of their off cuts for Michael.

– What are you doing here Pat? I told you I’d meet you downstairs. 

Leyden stood up, half a slice of cake still in his hand.

– Well you were late Mike and I just called up to give my regards to Mary here.

Brennan opened the door and gestured towards the landing – ‘Let’s go’

He knew now that Mary would be asking questions, awkward questions. He didn’t want her to know that he had any dependence on rats like Leyden. Pat Leyden had never been any good. He had watched him growing up and was surprised to see him sign up in the summer of ’15. He remembered Leyden going home on furlough and how he had stolen a barrel of porter from Malcolmson’s yard. It was a nonsensical crime but Leyden got a month in Sligo Jail and it prevented him leaving with the 6th Battalion for France. Leyden had the survival instinct of a sewer rat and he had avoided the big push and the German Machine Gunners. Brennan remembered talking to some of the boys at home. They said that Leyden had woken up all the men on Little Water Street to share the barrel of porter with. It only confirmed to him that Leyden had pulled a stunt.

– Why did you come to my home Leyden? I told you not to, I told you Mary wasn’t to know.

 – I didn’t tell her anything’ I was freezing my socks off out here in the patrol car and you were late. You were supposed to be here at seven. I thought I might have missed you that’s all. C’mon you can tell her I just wanted to ask you a few questions about a fight on the train. You’ll think up something. It’s not the first time you’ve told her a white lie.

It was done before he knew it. His two clenched fists rested snugly underneath Leyden’s chin, the stiff uniform collar tightly twisted in his fingers.

-Leyden, I’m warning you, don’t ever underestimate me. You might think you are a big boy over here with friends in high places, but if anybody ever comes near my family, I don’t care who it is, I’ll snuff them out.

-Jesus Christ man, you’re a fuckin crazy son of a bitch. I’m here to help you Michael’ Leyden was now shaking uncontrollably. ‘C’mon we go way back, the men of the west stand together for one another. 

– Did you stand with us in Ypres or at Ballymacowen Leyden? Where were you then Leyden when you were needed?

For a few seconds Brennan thought about apologising but he couldn’t bring himself to. He despised Leyden, he despised his type. The type of men that professed their love of Ireland in drinken song and yet couldn’t live there, the run with the hare, run with hound man, the type that scavenged on the bones of a carcass but would never kill themselves, yet here he was again, he Mike Brennan, even the width of an Ocean couldn’t quench the sense of Deja Vú, he was killing again to keep even more ungrateful Irishmen in privileged positions, positions they neither earned nor deserved, leeches, leeches all.

The Patrol Car took off across town, crossing the Bridge into the man made canyons of Manhattan before turning North and eventually stopping outside an impressive apartment building near Columbus Circle. Leyden hopped out and spoke to the Doorman whilst pointing back at Brennan still seated in the back of the patrol car. Leyden then opened the door;

– Lemmy will look after you from here and you can make your own way home Mike. We’ll forget about earlier. I’m sorry I shouldn’t have gone near your apartment. I just wasn’t thinking.

-This way sir’ and the door man ushered Brennan into the building before handing him over to another staff member, a young lad who brought him up to the 8th floor and an impressive suite. ‘Miss Slowey will see you in a few minutes Sir’. He sat down on a chaise longue admiring the luxury of his surroundings.

-Mr. Brennan I presume’ A slim blonde lady dressed in evening wear approached him from down the corridor.

-Yes Miss ….

-I’m Evie Slowey, pleased to meet you at last. Come this way….. I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for us, well for me personally. Did you know Larry?

-No mam, I heard of him and saw him once. I read about him but no, I didn’t know him

 -He would be happy that he was avenged by one of his own. My pappy always told us that we should forgive our enemies, but not before they are dead.

 –I think I heard that saying before, mam.

 –Cut out the mam stuff, I don’t do titles, I’m just a girl from Texas made it to the big lights and got lucky. Larry left me a wealthy gal ….. but I do miss him terribly. He was dashing and boy did he have a wardrobe fit for a king. There’s no one like him left about this town, there’ll never be another Larry Fay. Did you know this guy Moloney?

-I never knew of him until I got here.

-He was a no-good double crossing rat Mr. Brennan. You have done this city a great service but you have done me a great honour. I have your reward here. You received the down payment already. The Commissioner advised me that the Department have to carry out an investigation…. Don’t worry it’s a formality ….. you have nothing to worry about.

-That’s good, I have a young family, I can do without the hassle.

dollar bills Miss Slowey handed the package to Brennan. He had never held so much money in his hands before. His younger brother had written to him last month. Land prices had dropped dramatically at home. What he earned on this one job could buy a fine place. Mary would need convincing to go back. They had Maggie to think of now too and maybe her best chances were here in America. He was torn but at least now he could pay off his debts, perhaps rent a bigger apartment up in the Bronx and with what was left he could send some home, maybe buy a few acres to begin with.

 –Just one thing Mr. Brennan, Did he suffer? Did you make that bastard suffer? Did you let him know that this was because of what he did to Larry?

-Yes it was the last thing he heard before he left this mortal earth Miss Slowey, he knew he was going to die for killing Mr. Fay.

          Of course it wasn’t exactly how it happened but he had to tell his employer what she wanted to hear. She looked content now. She wanted revenge pure and simple, an eye for an eye and if he learned anything from his life, Brennan knew that soon the whole world would be blind from eye gouging every beef. The ‘job’ hadn’t played out like he told her, he didn’t want her gloating over the death of a brave man, that wasn’t part of the deal. He had already disarmed Moloney before he walked him down the alley behind the Pearl Street Warehouses. Their conversation if it could even be classed as such was brief and to the point. Moloney knew he was going to die at any moment. It struck Brennan how calm he was, even having the presence of mind to make three final requests; ‘do it quick and clean brother and say an Act of Contrition before you leave me here tonight’. He wanted to make peace with his maker and Brennan nodded that he would do that for  him. Who  can blame a man for hoping to save his soul, even at this late stage . The third and last request worried Brennan, who was conscious of leaving any clues that might link him to the killing. Moloney asked that he take the holy scapular from around his neck and post it to his mother in Tipperary. Miss Slowey was done with him now and she walked him towards the elevator.

-Thank you so much Mr. Brennan They shook hands and he noticed the size of the diamond rings she was wearing. -Who knows we might do business again. Now Schulz will see you out. The young bell hop came out from the shadows at the end of the hall. 

 –You’re welcome Miss Slowey but it’s not a business I’m intending to expand.

 –What a shame, you are very good at it!

It was a business transaction. That is all. As the elevator began its descent Brennan recalled how Moloney had called him brother, somehow that had made his task easier.

-I won’t shake hands with you in this life brother, whoever you are, but at least I know who sent you and I know why.

 –It’s a crazy country we left and a crazier one we came to’ replied Brennan.

 -I’d imagine we have both done things against God but if he does show us mercy and we meet in the hereafter, we will share a glass and toast dear old Ireland.

revolverBrennan did not reply, he squeezed the trigger. Thy will be done. Tears began to roll down his face  as he stood over the body of his fallen countryman.  He had killed a brother but wasn’t this the way it was always  destined to be. What a fool he had been to think that their noble fight back home would have changed anything. When the dust settled and the guns put away, and the men had no work, their families had no food. What difference did it make to the rich in their comfortable drawing rooms,? Not a whit. He was finished railing against the world. He opened the dead mans blood soaked collar and tag the penknife from his hip pocket he cut the scapular from around Moloney’s neck. He saw that the wound was neat passing right through the base of the neck.  Oblivion was instant. The exit hole in his throat was large but the morticians would cover it and the family, if he had one out here, could have an open casket.

         scapulaBrennan rolled up the scapula and the little medal attached to it before carefully placing it in his inside jacket pocket which it now shared with the .38. He knew that he would find out over the next few days where Moloney was from. Word would quickly pass through the bars and speak-easys about the killing.  He would find out more details about his victim, whose fate had been handed to him. He scooped out the contents of the dead man’s wallet. He would send on the contents too to the relatives anonymously. This would also make it look like a robbery saving the Cops having to invent a motive. Finally with the chorus of foghorns, steamers and an overhead train, he knelt down on the cold cobbles. Holding the still warm hand of the man he had just killed, he leaned in and whispered contritely into his ear.

 ‘O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee’