Dark Clouds

I suppose I take after my mother in being forthright in giving my opinion and in not suffering fools lightly. Unfortunately the world is full of fools and, unfortunately, there have been times when I have kept my thought and opinions to myself, but later regretted doing so. On those occasions, for the most part, I was persuaded to remain quiet by someone in the false belief that silence was the best way to maintain peace. Let me give you an example.
One evening several friends had joined my wife and I in enjoying a meal at a local restaurant. It was a busy Saturday night and the small restaurant was packed with diners. At a table beside ours sat two couples who became engaged in quite a loud exchange of views. They were probably the “worst for wear” after a night’s drinking at a nearby hostelry, but this was no excuse for the language being used or the views being expressed. Although I had my back to them it was impossible for me to avoid hearing what they said and the resentment it caused me.
I went to the doctors this morning,” one of the men began and then continued. “The damn place was full of foreigners. There were “Pakis”, “Poles”. Portuguese, “Chinks”, Blacks and God only knows who else. It’s not any wonder that it takes so long for us to get an appointment when all these foreigners come here to get free medical treatment!”
I agree”, replied the other man. “They come here take our jobs and now take our National Health Service that we pay for. Every week in the papers you see how many of them are involved in various crimes in the area. It’s a bloody disgrace! Just what the hell is the government doing?”
Meanwhile, the anger within me grew. My wife, always very perceptive, knew what was happening. The conversation at the next table had completely distracted me from our own company and the more warming discussion they were having about their families. Touching my hand softly with hers, she gently whispered advice to me. “Just ignore them. They are not worth you troubling yourself.”
There are several things that I dislike and loud, disagreeable people are high on the list. Racism and Sectarianism are at about the same level. In a nation where racism was virtually unknown it as grown quickly in the last decade or so since the European Union opened its borders to free travel between citizens of the member states. Twenty years ago, in Northern Ireland, one would have hardly ever seen a black person. In my own hometown the only persons of colour one would have seen at that time were the family that ran the local Chinese restaurant. Moreover, outside of these Chinese people, whenever one would hear someone speaking in a foreign language they could be almost sure that they were tourists. All of this has now changed and the country has become more cosmopolitan with people from every land and culture now residing here among us. But, not all of my countrymen appreciate the presence of these “outsiders”. With the rise of racism and right-wing extremism crimes of hate have become ever more frequent in our society, much to our shame.
In normal circumstances I would have assumed that racism, like sectarianism, was a past-time of those with a very low I.Q. I have, however, discovered that this is not necessarily and accurate assumption on my part. Yet I sat at my table with my wife and friends, smiling and being sociable while those at the table behind me continued their loud and vile discussion. Still I “bit my tongue” and kept my own counsel.  “If I don’t know them why should I interfere?” I asked myself.  Some might say that I should not have been listening to their conversation, and yet how could I avoid listening when they spoke so loudly. It was as if they wanted to share their vile opinions with the whole restaurant. Even as I sat there my conscience seemed to recall the words, “Evil men prosper when good men do and say nothing.”
Finally we finished our meal and we prepared to leave the restaurant after paying our bill. As I stood up from my chair I decided to glance at those sitting behind us. To say that I was shocked by what I saw there is actually putting it quite mildly. The two “gentlemen” sitting at that table were both known to me. They were both teachers at a local school and one of them was a lay minister in the Church. The red-headed man spoke to me, saying – “Hi Jim! How are things?”
I gave him a look of disgust and then replied to his question – “Do I know you? I do not normally recognise people who speak as you do!” My retort appeared to have the desired affect, and I said it just loud enough so that all the diners would hear me. My wife and I immediately walked away with our friends to pay our bill and leave. Since that time I have always found myself warmly received by the staff at “The Golden Dragon” Chinese restaurant.

Doubting Thomas

holy-wellMother’s and grandmothers tell us that it is a goodthing not to be scared of theach fairy folk, or ‘Goodpeople’. If you show no feare toward them then the fairy folk will have less power over you an your actions. It is equally important, however, that you should not show too much familiarity with them, or to totally disregard and disbelieve in their existence. There is nothing more foolish that a man or woman can do than profess their disbelief in the existence of the fairy folk.
Yet another good, traditional piece of advice handed down from the older generation is that: “Good manners is not a burden, and civility toward others costs nothing.” Nevertheless, every day of our lives we encounter people who carelessly disregard doing the civil sort of thing. They do so thinking that they can never harm or hurt themselves,  or anyone else. In fact, these same people will actually go out of their way to cause some sort of mischief that cannot ever do them any good. There is an old Irish adage: “Long runs the fox,” which is another way of saying that such people will, sooner or later, learn their lesson and come to know better. Let us consider the story of Tommy Hall, for example, who was a fine, well built boy from Derryard and had a reputation for making mischief.
Tommy Hall was a carefree young man, who would wander from place to place, doing whatever pleased him because he feared nothing and no person. Unlike many of his peers he preferred to travel by night  because darkness hid his mischievous ways much better. Stories of ghouls, ghosts, or fairies could not deter him from entering cemeteries, fairy glens, or other places where spirits might lie in wait. Tommy simply did not believe in such things and laughed in the faces of those who did. So deep was his dislike of such superstitions that he never made the sign of the Cross, or wished a person good luck in any  new endeavour that they might undertake.
One night Tommy found himself walking home along ‘Kiln Lane’, on the outskirts of Derryard. As he passed the ‘Holy Well’ at the foot of ‘Fern Hill’ he met another man who was walking in the same direction as he was. The stranger was a well dressed man in his forties and walked at a good pace. The night was very dark and the two men walked side by side without much conversation passing between them. In fact, both men barely greeted each other when they first met upon this road. Then Tommy asked the stranger just how far he was going.
 “I am not going very far, your way,” said the man who, from his appearance, looked like a farmer. “I am just going to walk to the top of this hill,” he added.
“Why would you want to go there?” asked Tommy, “especially at this time of night.”
“Simple,” replied the man. “I am going to see the good people.”
“The fairies?” Laughed Tommy.
“Be quiet! Keep your voice down as you might just be a sorry man,” said the farmer as he turned off the main road on to a narrow pathway that led up the side of the mountain. “Good Night, young man, and a safe journey home,” he said.
As he watched the stranger start along the narrow path his suspicious mind began to work overtime. “That man is up to good,” Tommy told himself. “Fairies! Absolute nonsense! I am certain that whatever he is up to, it has nothing to do with fairies, Good People. There is something more than superstitious nonsense taking him up that mountain at this time of night.”
Tommy looked again at the stranger as he got further along the path. “Fairies, damn it!” He swore to himself. “What would make a respectable looking man like him be wanting with fairies? I know there are some who believe in such nonsense, but there are many who do not. But, whether they are real or not, they hold no fear over me, no matter how many there might be.”
As all these thoughts rushed through his mind he kept his eyes steadfastly upon the hillside, behind which a full moon was rising brightly. In that bright silver light Tommy could see the figure of a man walking briskly up the path. It was, undoubtedly, the figure of the farmer with whom he had not long parted company. Tommy now resolved to follow the stranger up the hillside. His curiosity and his sense of determination had now reached a peak and he decided to move. Muttering loudly to himself he declared, “I am going to follow you and see exactly what you are up to!”
Although the full moon gave a bright light, it was a difficult task to follow the path that the stranger had taken. Nonetheless, Tommy persevered in his task and was assisted when he occasionally looked up the hillside and saw the man still ahead of him. The time passed quickly as he toiled along that rugged and swampy path, finally coming to a grass covered area at the top of a the hill. But, Tommy was greatly puzzled that there was no sign of the stranger and, despite his best efforts, no trace of him could be found. But, as Tommy searched, he discovered an opening in the hill, which resembled the mouth of a pit. It crossed Tommy’s mind that when he was a young boy he had been told about “The Black Hole of Fern Hill.” In those days the story was told that this hole was actually the entrance to a fairy castle, which was supposed to be hidden within the mountain. The older people within the town recalled the story of a surveyor called O’Hara who had spent weeks mapping the area. It was said that he had come across the pit and tried to measure its depth with a line. They could only surmise that he had been dragged into the depths by the fairies, because he was never heard of again.
This was only one of a series of mysterious tales concerning “The Black Hole” but Tommy disregarded them. “They are just old wives’ tales,” said Tommy to himself and decided since he had taken the trouble to climb the hill he would first knock the castle door and see if the fairies were at home. Tommy took up a large stone from the ground and, using all his strength, he threw the stone down the ‘Black Hole’. He leaned his head over the hole to hear the progress of the stone down the ‘Black Hole’ as it fell down the pit. It bounded and tumbled from one rock to another with a great noise that echoed through the pit. Tommy leaned over the pit a little more to hear it reach the bottom. But, he heard nothing, for the stone was returning up the pit with as much force as Tommy had thrown it down there. Without any signal or warning this large stone hit Tommy a full blow in the face that caused him to be knocked head over heels. Down that hillside Tommy tumbled from one crag to another, much faster than he had climbed the hillside.
It was not until the following morning that Tommy Hall regained consciousness and gingerly made his way home from the foot of ‘Fern Hill’. When he arrived home and looked in the mirror he saw the damage sustained because of his fall. He had broken the bridge of his nose, his head was covered with bruises and cuts, both eyes were swollen shut and as black as a Panda’s eyes. But, Tommy Hall had learned his lesson and never again wandered near possible haunts of fairies after dark. On those rare occasions, after this incident, when he found himself alone in a dark place he would hurriedly and directly make his way home. He never asked questions of strangers and never again sought out the ‘Good People’.

The Piper’s Tale

eamonn-ceannt-uillean-pipesMany long years ago there was a man living in the village of Derrytrask, whom many considered to be a bit of an ‘eejit’. To prove their view of the man, they would point to the way he was demonstratively fond of music but had never been able to learn to play more than one tune on his pipes, namely the “Black Rogue”. In the various bars and at the local festivities he used to make a few shillings from those who would make fun of him as he played his tune. The money helped both the man and his widow mother to pay the rent on their small holding and occasionally buy some luxuries, like snuff and a bottle of stout or two.

One night the Piper was walking home from a local house, where there had been a bit of a dance, and he was somewhat the worse for wear because of the whisky he had imbibed. As he walked along the the narrow cart track road he came up to a little bridge that was close by his mother’s house. He stopped for a moment, breathed into his pipe bag and squeezed it to begin playing that one tune that he knew so well, the “Black Rogue.” From behind him, in the darkness a ‘Puca’ came upon him, grabbed him and flung him on his own back. The ‘Puca’ is a spirit creature which takes on many forms and shapes. On this particular spirit creature there were long horns and the Piper had to take a good, strong grip of these. As he grabbed the horns he cried out at the creature, saying, “Damn you to hell, you evil creature. Let me go on my way home for I have a silver sixpence in my pocket for my mother, and she wants some snuff.

Never you mind your mother, or even what she wants” said the ‘Puca’, “but concentrate your mind on keeping your hold on those horns. If you should fall from my back you will surely break your neck and those pipes you carry.” Then, more softly, the ‘Puca’ asked him, “Why don’t you play for me the ‘The Blackbird?‘”

But, I don’t know that tune,” replied the Piper.

Do not concern yourself about whether you do or you don’t know the tune,” Puca snapped at him. “Just you begin playing those pipes and I’ll make certain you know the tune.”

Frightened, the Piper put wind in his bag and he began to play such fine music that it made him wonder how such a thing could happen. “Upon my word but you’re a fine music teacher,” says the Piper, adding, “now tell me where you are taking me with such speed.”

Tonight there is a great feast being held in the house of the Banshee, which stands on the top of Croagh Patrick,” said the Puca. “I am now bringing you to the feast where you will play your music and have no doubt that you will be well rewarded for your trouble.

Sure isn’t that a great thing, for you’ll save me a journey, ” replied the Piper, “Father Tom has told me that I should make the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick as a penance, because it was me who stole the big white goose from the Martins’ farmhouse yard.

The Puca paid him no mind, put down his head and rushed the piper across hills, bogs and rough places, until he finally brought him to the top of Croagh Patrick. As they came to a halt the Puca struck three blows on the ground with his foot, and a great door opened before them. Unhesitatingly they both passed through the door and found themselves in a large, finely adorned room.

In the middle of the room the Piper saw a large golden table, around which sat hundreds of old women, and all were staring toward him. One of the old women stood up from her seat and greeted him, “A hundred thousand welcomes to you, Puca of November. Who is this mortal being that you have brought with you?

This mortal is the very best Piper in all of Ireland,” said the Puca, proudly.

One of the old women now struck a blow on the ground, which caused a door to open in the side wall of the fine room. Then, very much to the Piper’s surprise he noticed, coming out of the door, the big white goose, which he had stolen from Martins’ farmyard. “It’s a miracle to me,” says the Piper, “myself and my mother ate every last morsel of that goose, except for one wing. It was that one wing that I gave to old Red Mary, and it was her that told the priest I had stolen the goose..”

The goose now marched over to clean the table before carrying it away. The Puca now turned to the piper and urged him to, “Play your music for the enjoyment of these ladies.” The Piper put air into the bag and began to play. He played so well that all the old women took to the floor and began to dance, dancing so lively until they were too tired to dance any more. It was then that the Puca came forward to demand that they pay the Piper. Without complaint each and every old woman took out a gold piece from their pockets and gave it to him.

By the staff of Patrick,” says the Piper, “sure I’m as rich as the son of any great lord.

Now come with me,” asked the Puca, “and I will bring you back to your home.”

They went out of the room and, just as the Piper was about to mount the back of the Puca, the goose waddled over to him and presented him with a new set of pipes. With the same speed as before the Puca set off and it did not take him long until he brought the Piper back to Derrytrask. They came at last to the little bridge again and the Piper dismounted the Puca, who quietly told him that he should go home. Before the Piper left the Puca told him, “You now have two things that you have never had before. You now have sense and music.

Feeling on top of the world the Piper hurried home, and he knocked loudly at his mother’s door, calling out to her, “Mother, let me in. Your son is as rich as any lord, and I have become the very best Piper in the whole of Ireland.

You’re drunk again,” replied his mother in disgust.

No,Mother, indeed I’m not,” insisted the Piper, “Not a single drop of liquor has passed my lips.

The mother opened the door to him, and he gave her the gold pieces he had received from the old women. “Wait, now,” says he, “until you hear the wonderful music that I can play now.” He quickly buckled on the pipes and began to play, but instead of sweet music there now came a sound as if all the geese and ganders in Ireland were screeching together. The terrible noise that he made wakened all the neighbours, and they were all mocking him. Their mocking continued until the Piper put on his old pipes and, from that moment, he played the most melodious music for them. Now that they had heard his music the Piper told them all the great adventure that he had gone through that night and they listened to his story in disbelief.

The next morning, when Piper’s mother went to look at the gold pieces her son had given her, there was nothing there but the leaves of a plant. Shocked by this the Piper went to see the priest and related to him the adventure he had undertaken. But the priest would not believe a word that he uttered and the Piper decided to play the pipes for him. As he did so the screeching of the ganders and the geese began once again. “Leave my sight, you thief,” the angry priest roared at him. But the Piper would not move an inch until he put the old pipes on him to demonstrate to the priest that his story was indeed true. He buckled on his old pipes, and he began to played the most wonderful and melodious music. Such became his fame that it is said from that day until the day of he died there was never his equal as a Piper in all the west of Ireland.

The Water Carrier

irish-funeralWhen I was a young man my favourite hobby was to take long walks into the countryside and sketch many interesting sites. Pictures of beautifully situated thatched cottages, old barns, ruins, old churches filled my sketch-book. Then, one day, I found myself sitting alone in the desolate churchyard of Drumm, totally lost in my silent efforts to capture the scene that lay before me. I would lift up my eyes from my sketchbook on occasion to look directly at the interesting ruin I was attempting to sketch and felt the warmth of the sun upon my head. Then, the quiet stillness that had prevailed all day was suddenly broken by a faint and wild sound that was quite unlike anything I had ever heard before in my life. Admittedly the strange sound startled me, causing me to stop my sketching for a moment or two, and listen nervously for the strange sound to repeat itself. It didn’t take long for this seemingly unearthly sound to once again vibrate through the still air of the evening, and even more loudly than at first. As I listened to its strange vibration and tone I began to liken it to the sound many glasses, ringing as they crowded together crowded together.

I arose from the place on which I had seated myself and began to look around for the source of this strange noise. There was nobody near me and, yet again, this heart-chilling sound suddenly filled the air with its wild and wailing intonation, that reminded me of an aged harp reminding me of the Aeolian harp. Another burst of the noise came forth and became suddenly obvious to me that it was the sound coming from many voices that have been raised in lamentation. It was a loud wail of sorrow that, before this occasion, I had heard only rumours. For the first time in my life, I now heard its wild and terrible sound. Those who read this tale, and have already heard the same sound, will surely understand just how startled I was when I heard it in the silence of that day in Drumm.

In the light of that day I could clearly see a crowd of male and female locals as they were winding their way along a low path that led toward the churchyard where I was standing, and among them, they bore the coffin of their departed friend. As they came onward, on occasion, I could hear a loud and pitiful wail of sorrow arising from the mourning crowd. Their voices rang loud in a wild and startling unison as they moved up the hill, until, gradually, the sound descended in volume until it became nothing more than a subdued wail. These local people continued to bear their loved one’s body onward, but not in the measured and solemn step of before. Instead, they now moved in a more rapid and irregular manner, as if the pain of their grief was hurrying them on to the graveside; the hoped for culmination of their efforts.

The overall effect of this local country funeral was certainly more impressive than that of any other funeral I had ever seen. Though there was little of the pomp and circumstance of other funerals, such as a hearse, or large commemorative wreaths, the pallbearers could never have been equalled as they bore along the body of their dear departed friend on their shoulders in the stillness of evening until, at length, they reached the cemetery. The men carried the coffin into the interior of the ruin, where the women had gathered to continue their mourning for the dead, and half-a-dozen athletic young men immediately began to prepare a grave. I can honestly say that I have seldom seen men more full of activity. But, scarcely had the spade upturned the green sod of the burial-ground, than the loud peal of the pipes was heard at a distance. The young men paused in their work, and turned their heads, as did all the bystanders, towards the point from where the sound appeared to originate.

As I looked up I quickly saw another funeral procession wind its way around the foot of the hill. Immediately the young men at the graveside renewed their work with greater effort than before, while amid anxious shouts encouraged them to complete their work as quickly as possible. Some shouted, “For Jaysus sake, hurry boys, hurry.

Shift your arse, Paddy!” others called.

Certain friends called out, “Put your back into it, Mike!

If you could remove the sod as quick as you put on the weight, it would suit you better,” others laughed.

Meanwhile, by this time the second funeral party now saw that the churchyard to which they were going was already occupied. Instantly the second funeral party quickened its pace, and the sounds of mourning rose more loudly as it came nearer the churchyard. Suddenly, a small detachment of men, bearing picks and spades, came forward from the main party and rushed headlong up the hill. At the same time an elderly woman, with streaming eyes and dishevelled hair, rushed wildly from the ruin where the first party had taken their coffin. She ran towards the young men who were already digging with all might and she passionately implored them to do more. “Boys! Sure you wouldn’t let them beat you to the job and have my sweet boy wandering about, dark and alone in the long nights. Dig hard boys. Lay into it and gain a sorrowful mother’s blessing upon you for letting my wee Paddy have rest.

I saw her bedraggled appearance and the intensity of her manner and thought the poor woman was crazy  Such was her condition that I could hardly make out what she had said to the young men and was obliged to ask one of the bystanders about it. “Is it because she’s going crazy about it, you’re asking’? ” said the person that I had asked, looking at me in a puzzling manner. “Sure, I thought everyone knew the answer to that. Especially someone who looks as well learned as you. The poor woman doesn’t want her dead son to be walking about, as he must unless them boys are smart.

What do you mean?” I asked him. “I don’t understand you.”

“Whisht! whisht!” he urged me; “here they come and, in the name of God, Joe Gallagher’s at their head,” he called to me as he looked towards the advanced-guard of the second funeral, which had now gained the summit of the hill. They leapt over the boundary-ditch of the cemetery and advanced towards the group that surrounded the grave, with rapid strides and a resolute air.

Stop what you are doing there, I tell you,” said Joe to those men employed in opening the ground and still used their implements with great energy.

Stop it now, or it’ll be worse for you! Did you not hear me, Rooney?” said he, as he laid his muscular band on the arm of one of the young men digging, suddenly stopping him from working.

Of course I heard you, Gallagher,” said Rooney; “but I chose not to heed you.”

Just you keep a civil tongue in your head, wee man,” said the Gallagher.

By God, Gallagher, you’re brave and fond of giving advice that you want to listen to yourself,” Rooney retorted and, once again, plunged the spade into the earth.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop, Gobshite?” Gallagher roared, “or, I’ll make put my boot so far up your arse you’ll be eating leather for six months!”

“Get away out of this! What brings you here at all, Joe Gallagher?” interrupted another of the men by the graveside. “Just looking for trouble is it?”

“Sure what else would bring the likes of him here, but to cause mischief?” said a grey-haired man, who was standing just a couple of yards away from the graveside. “Don’t you know by now that there’s always a quarrel whenever there’s a Gallagher about?”

“You may thank your grey hair, you old goat, that I don’t make you take those words back painfully,” said Gallagher as he glared at the old man.

There was a time,” replied the old man, “when I had something more than just these grey hairs to make such as you respect me.” As he spoke he drew himself up with an air of great dignity so that everyone could see that he was still tall and had retained a broad chest, all of which bore truth to the statement he had made. There was brief, but bright flame, that was kindled in his eyes as he spoke, and his expression of pride and defiance gave way to an expression of coldness and contempt toward Gallagher.

Listen to me, old man, I’d have beaten you more stupid than you already are even on the best day you ever had,”  sneered Gallagher, with an impudent swagger.

Don’t you believe it, Gallagher!” said a contemporary of the old man; “You have plenty of conceit and a big mouth that you use to bully those weaker than you!

Isn’t that the the truth,” said Rooney. “He’s a great man in his own mind. By God, I could be a rich man if I could buy Gallagher at what I thought he was worth, and sell him what he thinks he’s worth.

A loud sniggering laugh rose up among those gathered at the graveside, much to Gallagher’s disdain. There was a darkness that came across the big man’s features and Gallagher now took up a posture so threatening that a man standing close to me turned to his companion and said, “By God, Eddie there’s going to be ‘wigs on the green’ before too long!

And the man was quite right in his prediction. Scarcely had the words been uttered by him, than I began to see the men about me taking off heavy coats and jackets, rolling up the sleeves of their jumpers and shirts. It turned much more menacing when the men began looking around them for anything that they could use as a weapon. With weapons in hand, there was a general closing-in of the bystanders around this group, which made it perfectly clear to me that a huge and bloody fight would soon begin.

It was not long before the entire world seemed to come crashing in around me. A general melée began in the centre of the gathering with the main antagonists passing through the whole group until a massed battle began. Within very few minutes the belligerents were dispersed into various battling groups throughout the ruined churchyard. I stood back as a spectator from the topmost step of a stile that led into the burial-ground. It seemed to me that it was better for my continued health not to stand too closely to where the action was happening. As I stood to observe the battle my attention was attracted by the sudden appearance of a man, exclaiming at the top of his voice: “Oh, you reprobates! Stop this, I tell you, you heathens! Are you even Christian people at all?

This man was a tall, thin, pale man, wearing a hat which, from exposure to bad weather, had its broad, slouching brim crimped into many fantastic shapes. The crown of the hat was depressed in the middle, and the edges showed the paleness of wear, very far removed from its original black. He wore no collared shirt and had a narrow white scarf was drawn tightly round his neck. A single-breasted overcoat of rusty black, with standing collar, was tightly buttoned nearly up to his chin, and hung to the knees of his black trousers, beneath which peeped well polished black leather shoes. This was the man who quickly climbed the stile on which I stood, politely saying, “Excuse me, sir,” as he pushed me. From the top of the stile, he jumped to the ground, from where he proceeded with long and rapid strides, towards the combatants. In his hand, the man brandished a heavy thong whip with which he began to lay about each and every one of the brawlers with equal measure and total impartiality a heavy-handed justice. I was also flabbergasted by the fact that all these blows inflicted on them by this newcomer were not at all resented by those whom he assaulted. It almost appeared as if they had decided resistance against this man was futile and they quickly began to flee before him. They looked like so many frightened schoolboys before an angry teacher and they gathered together in a group which immediately became pacified by his presence.

As I watched this happening I came down from my perch at the top of the stile and ran, towards where the man was admonishing the crowd. There I found this tall, thin man delivering a severe reproof to the crowd he had quietened down. The more he reproved them for their “unchristian acts” the more evident it became that he was a religious leader of this group of troubled beings. But his admonition to them was short and certainly impressive. His speech was well worded for the audience to whom it was delivered. It was simple in the language it used and solemn in the way his deep, gritty voice spoke the words. “And now,” added the clergyman, “let me ask you why you were all fighting like so many wild savages? Your conduct makes me think that you are more likely to be savage creatures rather than intelligent men who have been raised within the hearing of Gods word.

There were a few moments of silence following the question until, finally, someone among the crowd mustered enough courage to answer the cleric. He told him that the entire fracas was, “due to the burying.”

There is no more solemn a sight,” replied the the priest, “But, is the burial of the departed not enough to keep the evil passions of your hearts in check?

The truth of the matter, if it pleases your reverence, is that there was nothing ill-natured in it. It was only a good-natured turn we were doing for poor Paddy Mooney that’s departed this life. You know it’s to yourself that we will be going for masses to be said for the poor boy’s soul.

Now!” answered the priest. He was anxious to nip this appeal to his own interest in the bud. “Don’t you dare talk to me about doing a good-natured turn for someone.” He stared at them all sternly, telling them, “Prayers for the souls of the faithful departed are taken up by the whole Church. But, what has such a good act have to do with your scandalous and lawless actions that I have just witnessed you commit.” He now turned to the last speaker, “You were one of the busiest with your weapon and you are the most riotous of the group, Rooney. You had better take care that I don’t speak out against you from the altar.

Oh, God forbid that your reverence would have to do the like of that!” cried out the mother of the deceased, imploring him as big teardrops chased each other down her cheeks. “Sure it was only that they wanted to put my poor son in the ground first. It’s just, as your reverence knows, that they did not want to have my poor Paudeen–

Tut, tut! woman!” interrupted the priest, waving his hand rather impatiently, “don’t you let me hear any nonsense.”

I ask your reverence’s pardon, for I am not the type of woman who would knowingly offend my very own clergy– may God’s blessing be upon them night and day! But I was only going to put in a good word for Mick Rooney. He and everyone else of us wish for nothing but peace, but it is Joe Gallagher, who just would not leave us to do our peaceful duty.

Gallagher!” said the priest, in a deeply reproachful tone. “Where Is he?

Gallagher did not come forward when called, but the crowd drew back and left him revealed to the priest. On his face, he wore and expression of sullen indifference, and he also seemed to be the only person in the crowd who was totally unfazed by the presence of the cleric. The priest now moved towards him and, extending his hand in the attitude of denunciation towards Gallagher, he spoke very solemnly, “I have already spoken to you in the chapel and now, once again, I find myself having to warn you to be careful. Wherever you go trouble and strife seem to always follow you. You are a disgrace and if you do not quickly reform your life I will have no choice but to seek your expulsion from the Church. Make no mistake Gallagher, I shall pronounce a sentence of excommunication upon you from the altar, if necessary.

Everyone within hearing was overcome by the solemnity and severity of the priest’s words. When the word “excommunication” was uttered by the cleric, a thrill of horror seemed to run through the assembled crowd. It appeared to me that even Gallagher betrayed some emotion when he heard that terrible word. Yet, for a moment he managed to show no emotion and, turning on his heel, he retired from the scene with some of the swagger with which he had entered it. The crowd opened to let him pass, giving him a wide space, as if they sought to avoid contact with one who had been so fearfully denounced.

Calling upon the entire crowd to hear him the priest told them, “You have two coffins here. Now you will immediately begin to excavate two graves and allow both bodies to be interred at the same time, and I will read the service for the dead over them.” With these instructions ringing in their ears the crowd wasted very little time in carrying them out. The narrow graves were quickly dug and the bodies of the dead were consigned to their last long sleep, as the deep, solemn voice of the priest was raised in the “De Profundis “. When he had concluded this short and beautiful psalm, the friends of the deceased closed the graves and covered them neatly with fresh cut sods.

You know things have been done right,” said Rooney, “when you see the ‘Daisy Quilt’ is finally put over them.

The priest, now that his job was done, retired from the churchyard and I followed him with the sole purpose of introducing myself to him. I sought from him a clear explanation of what was still a most intriguing mystery to me, namely, the actual cause of the quarrel with Gallagher. From certain passages in his address to the crowd, I could grasp that he understood the cause and could, perhaps explain it to me. I quickly caught up with the cleric and introduced myself to him. Thankfully, he received me with a great deal of courtesy and politeness, which was to be expected from a man with such a good heart. Now, having gained his attention, I tried to assure him that my curiosity was simply because I wished to understand the reasons for the fight that had taken place and that he had put a stop to. I was hoping that he would not think that I was overbearing when I asked him for an explanation.

It is no intrusion, sir,” answered the priest very frankly. He spoke with a rich, soft brogue, whose intonation expressed his inbuilt good nature. The brogue, with which he spoke, reminded me of someone from an upper middle-class and well-educated family. There was no trace of the most vulgar expressions that are usually found in the manner in which the ordinary working class speak. There are those, of course, who try to sound more genteel than they really are by grafting a posh English accent to their brogue. But they often trip themselves up because the accents of the two countries can never be truly blended together. Far from making a pleasing accent, it conveys to the listener that the speaker is trying very hard to escape from his own accent, which they consider to be inferior. It is a vain attempt to demonstrate some fineness, which fails because their vulgarity is so deeply inbred.

This was not the case with the way in which Father Donnachadh Ryan spoke to me. His voice was both deep and rich in tone, a true manly voice that had boomed when he had admonished the crowd for their violent attitude.  Even when he was engaged in less formal conversation it lost little of its richness or depth. I listened intently while Father Ryan proceeded to enlighten me on the subject of the funerals, and the quarrel that had arisen between the two groups. “The truth of the matter is, sir, that these poor people are possessed of many foolish superstitions. We might, as men, pardon their errors and simply look upon them as fictional tales that take hold in fertile imaginations. Just because we can understand how such suspicions take hold in the minds of the less educated and more susceptible, we cannot, as their spiritual leaders allow ourselves to admit openly to them that such superstitions are in error.

This explanation surprised me. I did not think I would find a clergyman, especially a Catholic priest, say such a thing. “The superstition that I speak of,” he continued to explain, “is just one of the many that these warm-hearted people indulge in, and it is not a particularly evil one.” Then he suddenly ended his discourse and pulled out a richly chased gold watch of antique workmanship. “Now, sir, I must ask your pardon; I have an engagement to keep at my home, which obliges me to immediately make my way there as quickly as I possibly can. But, if you have enough time to spare, you can walk with me to the end of this little road and I shall be able to make you well acquainted with the nature of the superstition in question.

I was happy to agree and we set off together. As we wound our way down the little stone path that led to the main road, Father Ryan began to give me an account of the cause behind all the previous trouble. “There is a belief among the local people here that the ghost of the last person interred in the churchyard is obliged to travel, unceasingly, the road between this earth and purgatory, carrying water to slake the burning thirst of those who were confined in that terrible place. The ghost is, therefore, obliged to walk through the wasteland during the middle of the night, until some fresh body is placed in the grave and supplies a fresh ghost to relieve the guard. In this way, the supply of water to the sufferers in purgatory is kept up unceasingly.

This was the reason why the violent encounter had come about, and why the old mother had called out,  “that her darling boy should not be left to wander about the churchyard dark and alone in the long nights.”  Father Ryan gave me some curious illustrations of the different ways in which this superstition influenced his “poor people,” as he constantly called them. But I suppose you have already had quite enough. I shall, therefore, say no more of these other cases and I am happy that I have at least given you this one example. Sadly, even in these more modern times such wild superstitions still exist in our land and undoubtedly owe their continued existence to the goodness of the Irish heart and the poetic imagination of our people.

Copyright Jim Woods, 2017

Foolish Jack Carson

HAPPY NEW Year readers, 2017 has begun and with it a new story for you. Please let me know what you think…..
leprechaunJack Carson was a young man who was full of youthful spirit and fun, constantly frolicking with the young girls of the Parish. He enjoyed all kinds of diversions and he never once considered himself as being accountable to any person for anything he did. Jack’s concern for the world, in fact, matched what he thought was the world’s concern for him. He just enjoyed being in the company of the local females and, to be honest, they in their turn enjoyed the really good times that Jack showed them. For several months, however, Jack had been paying particular attention to a girl called, Margaret Henry, the daughter of a wealthy businessman. Better known to Jack as Peggy, Margaret was a young woman who had fallen deeply in love with Jack. But Jack, for his part, had fallen in love with the potential comfort that Peggy’s fortune could provide him with in the future. Her Father was only too aware of Jack’s reputation in the area and did not want his daughter to have anything to do with this penniless rake of a man. The man had already made his feelings perfectly clear to Jack and he had warned the young man that his only daughter would never become the wife any unscrupulous fortune hunter such as he.
Jack was angry that Peggy’s father held such a very low opinion of him, even though it was accurate. He was determined that he would change the mind of Peggy’s father and he set about seeking a means by which he could enrich himself. When a boy, Jack had heard splendid tales of a red-coated Leprechaun, who lived beside the river bank in the nearby parish of Derryconn. Without much thought for his work , or the employer who paid his wages, Jack arose early the next morning and immediately set out for Derryconn. Once he reached the riverbank he quickly located the red-coated Leprechaun and set about observing every movement that little creature made. As silently as possible he crept along hedgerows and sheughs to avoid being observed himself. The little Leprechaun, however, sat on his haunches and hammered away at a pair of old brogues he was repairing. Tradition had told Jack that as long as he kept a constant watch on this little cobbler, the Leprechaun could not move from his position.
As Jack crept closer to the little man, the Leprechaun turned around to face him and said, “Good morning, Jack.”
“It’s a good evening, by right,” replied Jack.
“Ah sure, morning and evening are all the same to a man me,” laughed the Leprechaun.
“A man?” questioned Jack with a laugh, as he took a firm hold of the Leprechaun in his hand.
“Now, take it easy Jack, there is no need for you to make fun of me,” the Leprechaun retorted and then, changing his expression asked Jack, “Have you seen my hammer?”
“Tell me,” he said to the little cobbler, ” is there something about me that makes you think that I am an idiot?” Jack, of course, was very well aware of the variety of tricks that the Leprechaun’s would use to regain their freedom and disappear from view.
Sure I can see from the light in your eyes, Jack, that you are not a man to be easily fooled,” replied the Leprechaun. “Now that I see you Jack, I can understand why the lovely Peggy has fallen so deeply in love with those handsome eyes. Isn’t it a pity that her father does not think so highly of you.”
“Now don’t you worry your wee head about that, for I have it all in hand,” laughed Jack. “he will soon change his low opinion of me whenever you hand over your crock of gold to me.”
“Aren’t you the quare man?” answered the Leprechaun. “Sure if you would only carry me carefully into the middle of that field over there I will show something that will be worth your while. But I beg you, Jack, to be very careful with me because I am much more fragile than I might appear to you. It wouldn’t do if I was to fall and everything was broken.”
Jack tightened his grip on the little cobbler before he took a quick glance toward the field that the Leprechaun requested he be carried to. To get to the field he would have to trudge across a deep, dirty section of bog land. Jack, however, was wearing his best Sunday clothes and was horrified to think of what would happen to them if he was to tramp across this bog. In his mind the potential far outweighed the soiling of his clothes, and he began to cross to the field. He had just reached the middle of the bog when a sudden gust of wind blew up and removed his brand new cap from his head. But, Jack knew immediately that this was just another trick played by the Leprechaun to distract his attention and he kept his eyes fixed upon the old red-coated prankster.
“Oh, I am so sorry for your loss,” laughed the Leprechaun, sarcastically.
“You suit your grief,” replied Jack. “All your sorrow and sympathy will not cause me to relax my grip on you. You can try all your tricks, wee man, for I know them all. I am sure, for instance, that if I had taken your advised route across the bog I would already be buried in it.”
“Ponder this, Jack Carson,” said the Leprechaun in a more conciliatory tone of voice, “if you had had given your work as much concentration as you have to me then you would have already enough money to do whatever you wanted, without chasing down Leprechauns. But, in the meantime, just you keep heading for that small mound there, in the middle of the field.”
Jack still did not avert his eyes from his captive to see where he was pointing. “Do you know Jack,” said the Leprechaun,“you’re like the girl who keeps one eye on her father and the other eye on her lover. You appear to see everything and yet you never have to look.”
Jack laughed loudly and told his captive, “I know all of this country so well, my friend, that I could walk through it blindfolded.”
“Now Jack, that would be a bit stupid, wouldn’t it?” replied Red Jacket. “You go running around this countryside and you would be like a rolling stone. You would gather no moss and no money, you buck eejit!”
Jack thought it was sound enough advice, though the Leprechaun was laughing quite loudly. “Now let me go Jack!”
Jack, however, was not about to do that and the Leprechaun decided upon another ploy. “Look Jack, you dig up that mound and you will find the pot of gold you seek!”
“I have a better idea,” said Jack. “You dig it up for me now, or I will wring your scrawny little neck!” he threatened.
“But I have no spade, Jack, or I would dig it up for you as fast as I could,” replied the Leprechaun.
“May be I should just wring your neck now and have it over and done with,” said Jack as he shook the Leprechaun severely.
“Oh, Jack! Jack! Save me, Jack! Save me!” came a voice from behind him, and it sounded as though it was his darling Peggy. He turned in panic and, with his attention diverted by the plea for help, he never thought about the captive Leprechaun in his hand. Red Jacket seized his chance and disappeared with a great shout of joy that made the bog tremble.
“Damn it all!” swore Jack and, in his despair, sat down upon the grass. Taking his belt from his trousers Jack tied it around the mound three times. Then, pulling a small branch from a nearby tree he planted it on top of the small mound. He said a solemn prayer over the site of the mound to protect it from harm. Jack sadly left the field and made his way home to get a good night’s rest for himself. Then, as dawn broke in the east, he hurriedly made his way back to the field where he had left the mound identified. But, before his eyes Jack saw at least a thousand similar mounds, each with a similar belt tied around it, and each with a small twig planted in the mound.
Jack could’t speak. His breath and his entire strength had left his body. In a state of shock, Jack fell down upon the grass and, as the warm beams of the early sun shone down upon him, he cried like a baby. In an instant he called to mind those words that Leprechaun had spoken to him. “If you had had given your work as much concentration as you have to me then you would have already enough money to do whatever you wanted, without chasing down Leprechauns..” In this moment Jack’s life underwent a complete change and he became a completely different man. Taking the Leprechaun’s advice to heart, Jack worked very hard and began to save his money. In five years he had more money than Peggy’s father, whose opposition to Jack as a potential son-in-law soon began to vanish. Peggy and Jack eventually married and they raised a half-dozen children together. Jack never again went hunting Leprechauns.

Honest Tom Pepper

Ireland is famous as the “Land of Saints and Scholars,” but it is also a land that contains some of the greatest liars and black guards that God had ever put breath into. Now if you were to call these people “liar” to their face, whether it is true or not, they would be very insulted and might respond violently. They would, in all likelihood, insist that they were not liars but simple story tellers who were used to stretching the truth. One infamous stretcher of the truth in this town was a pensioner called Thomas Pepper, who lived alone in his retirement cottage and held ‘court’ in “The Bodhran” public house, where his stories were all well known. Every regular customer to that pub knew that Tom’s stories were far from being factual. Nevertheless, Tom would always reassure his listeners after each tale by telling them, “It’s the God’s honest truth, honest.” It was this habit that in fact caused him to be given the nickname of ‘Honest’ Tom Pepper.
One evening I was having a quiet drink at the bar in the’Bodhran’ public house and ‘Honest Tom’ was sitting in his usual seat at the top end of the counter. “I haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks, Jim,” said the barman as he reached my drink to me.
“I have been in hospital this last three weeks,” I told him.
“Must have been serious?” said the barman.
“I had a few moles removed and had some tests done. They thought that it may have been a sign of skin cancer. But it is all clear now,” I told him.
“You’re a lucky man!” Replied the barman.
“Och, sure isn’t it only the good that die young?” I laughed.
“Aye, it’s lucky you are,” interrupted ‘Honest’ Tom. “I can remember the time when I was admitted to the cancer hospital, myself. It was to get a spot cut off my lip.”
“What happened Tom?” I asked.
“Well, in those days, there was none of the fancy drugs and equipment that they have now. I was sick, sore, and tired at being prodded and stuck with needles at all those consultations with so-called experts that I had to attend. While I was there those doctors were operating on some poor man whose stomach they had lying out on the table. They were busy scraping and scrubbing at the poor creature’s stomach when a bell rang out loudly to signal that it was dinner time. By Jaysus, didn’t those eejits just up and leave. They didn’t even close and lock the operating theatre’s door. They just left everything lying where it was and went out.”
Every night that I was in that hospital I was kept awake by crying of an old ‘Tom Cat’ who spent its entire time chasing the female cats. Isn’t it terrible, all those things that you see and hear, and you without a gun in your hands? Well, this old ‘Tom Cat’ was fond of stealing little treats for himself when he could, and didn’t he sneak into the operating theatre that same day. As sure as there is an eye in a goat, the cat began to eat that poor man’s stomach. When the doctors returned to their work, after lunch, they soon saw that the man’s stomach was gone.”
“In the name of the good Jesus, Tom, what happened then?” I asked him.
“Now if you would just hold your tongue for a moment I will tell you all,” he said tersely.
“Now, the doctors were terribly upset by all this, of course, and they sent to the ward for me to give them some advice on the situation. “What can we do now, Tommy?” says they to me. “What is your recommendation?” “Now, me buckos” says I to them. “I am no surgeon but, it seems to me that you should go the local slaughterhouse and get yourselves the stomach of young heifer or bullock, and put that into the poor man as soon as possible. If you can do this as quickly as you can I think that old stomach you all spent so much time scraping will never be missed, boys.” Now, in a flash the head doctor ran out of the building and, following my advice, managed to obtain a nice, young, tender stomach. With the rest of the team and with great dexterity they quickly grafted the new stomach into the patient, and nobody suspected a thing.”
” Did nobody catch on, at all?” I asked.
“Well, to tell you the truth, the ruse remained hidden for a while until, finally, the patient was able to take food again. In the beginning the doctors put him on milk foods, because they felt that this would be much easier on the stomach. This only lasted a while, of course, until they started giving him soup, cooked meats, and a variety of food that he had always been used to eating before he came into hospital. But, no matter how much food the man ate, the discomfort of hunger pains never seemed to leave him. When the doctors began wonder what they could do to help, didn’t they once again turn to me for advice. “Now, boys,” says I. “I might be wrong, but in my opinion the man is not getting the right sort of diet.” Then, as I looked out of the window I could see a man cutting the grass on the lawn and the answer to the problem suddenly came to me. “It would be a good thing,” says I to the doctors,”if you would go outside now and bring that poor man a few handfuls of that fresh cut grass, and see if that helps him.” Sure when they did that, didn’t the man stick his head in the middle of the cut grass and began munching away until there was not a blade of grass left!”
“That’s a tall one, Tom,” I laughed.
“Wait ’til I tell you that on the day that I left the hospital, I saw that man lying on his bed relaxing and chewing his cud. That’s the God’s honest truth I am telling you; honest”