Onwards…

a few words of a kind…

Another Leaving…

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My bags aren’t packed and I’m not ready to go. It’s my last few days in Ireland and autumn is slipping in. It’s my favourite time here, the country feels settled, tourists have mostly flown and Ireland has come back to her own —— the home boys and girls. We seem to be more Irish, more ourselves. There’s talk in Gerry O’Donoghue’s butcher shop about hurling and greyhounds. In Paddy Burke’s farmer’s store down the street, conversation is about how Arab stallions have destroyed the true breed of the Irish draft mare and the Connemara pony. A Saudi sheik is mentioned as the culprit.

“Longer bones and taller horses make anxious prima donas,” Mr. Burke sighs.

In Keane’s hardware shop the talk is about how the scarcity of mackerel this year.           
“They’ll be in with the next full moon,” Brenda the shop assistant predicts.

Friends are texting about meeting up. I’ve just done an interview for the Limerick Leader newspaper and my mate Gerry is coming over to record me doing a voice over/intro to Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ for his radio show…maybe put down some spoken word. Time is tight. But it’s a beautiful evening and I go outside and sit in the sun, make another to-do list. JP pulls up in his black BMW and hops over the wall, no gates or gaps for this boy. He’s on the way to a gig and gasping for a cup of coffee. We drink java in the sun and catch-up on music and love. Then he’s off to a ceili in Kerry.

When JP leaves, I tidy up the living room to get ready for the recording. To set the atmosphere, I light a fire. Cool as a breeze, a robin flits into the room and I wonder if it’s a sign that I’ll win the Lotto. The Christmas bird perches on the back of a súgan chair and looks at me for a few seconds, then takes flight and collides with a cluster of metallic wind chimes. Poor bird does a panicked few loops around the room and flies out the door to Ireland. One of Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’?

Gerry arrives and we get the work done and chat. There’s a text about doing something at the Electric Picnic next weekend. Sorry, I’ll be gone. That’s life. Things always rev up when I’m preparing to leave. I wonder how many more times I’ll make these transatlantic trips. I’m an emigrant whose soul never leaves Ireland. But the body has to travel for work.

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One night before I left, I had dinner at home with my daughter Róisin. Afterwards, we sat by the fire and chatted about many things. Then she said,

“Dad, does it get harder to go back as the years roll on?”

I had never thought about that before and after a few seconds, I nodded and looked at the fire. There were no words for the pain that followed the realisation. She hugged me and said she’ll miss me loads. I nodded but couldn’t stem my tears.

There’s a text from Aindrias. He can go to the studio on Monday afternoon and lay a few tracks for the spoken word experiment. Time is tight. The bags aren’t packed and time is tight. We settle on just having dinner instead. After that I won’t see him until next summer. It’s time to bite the bullet, get back to packing and find that passport with the golden harp.

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Bonzo

This is the opening of Bonzo, one of the stories in my recent collection, Borderlines.


Bonzo stood out. His face looked a cross between WoodyIMG_0008 Allen and Harry Potter, but he was much plumper than Woody, and taller too. There was a reserved, almost studious air about him and no matter what the circumstances or situation, Bonzo never seemed out of place. He blended in at parish weddings and opera galas, local funerals and rugby matches. He was a man for all capers.

Nobody was sure what he did for a living, or if he did anything. He grew up in the parish, the only child of a small farmer and his wife. A gifted student, Bonzo won a scholarship to some prestigious college when he was twelve and left the village. The next time they saw him, he was a young man with a bookish look. His mother said he had a big job in Berlin, but someone else said he was working in Boston.

When his father passed away, he returned to Ireland and got a job in Dublin. Every weekend he came to visit his mother and when she died suddenly, he took to the booze for a few weeks and announced that he might become a hippy. From then on, he lived in the home thatched cottage and let twenty acres of land go wild around him. He came and went a few times a week in a yellow VW camper van with a surfboard-rack on the roof.

Some nights he walked down to Cleary’s pub in the village to listen to the music and have a few pints. Once in a while he got drunk and danced alone to jigs and reels, to the glee of the drinkers. Crumpled and cockeyed, he would shake hands with everyone and whisper that they were always welcome in his house.
“I mean it,” he’d say, squeezing their hands.

Sometimes after the pub closed, a small crowd went back to Bonzo’s cottage with packs of beer and bottles of spirits. When musicians came, there was a rollicking session. The parties took place in the old country living room, decorated with pictures of saints and a red Sacred Heart lamp. Books overflowed from shelves to the floor and people built them into seats and sat on them. There was an open fire, a couch and a few sugán armchairs, which were given over to the musicians. He was a welcoming host and cooked up plates of charred sausages and sardines on toast. On those nights, Bonzo got really spaced and was often first to hit the floor.

His land stretched down along the sea road, from the edge of the village to a ruined castle once occupied by his ancestors. It was prime development land and Bonzo let it be. Every few months a hippy named Guy came with horses and grazed the place for him, but other than that the land was idle, left to itself. When he was drunk one night in Cleary’s pub, Bonzo said he was going to ‘plant it, plant it with trees. Broadleaves, native trees.’ It was good for the planet, he said and a few drinkers cheered, “Good man Bonzo!”

Backpackers knocked on his door once and a while asking if they could camp in his fields and he gave them permission. One Dutch girl stayed for two weeks and slept with him a few times. An American woman with a lemon Citron van pitched there every May and again in late summer. She was a photographer and took the picture of Bonzo and the cat that hung in Cleary’s Bar.

The first time Kiki McFadden met Bonzo, he was backing the camper van out to the road, being directed by Guy the hippie. She stopped her silver jeep, got out and approached him.

“Hitting away for the weekend,” she smiled, noticing sleeping bags and backpacks in the van.

Bonzo nodded and Guy hopped in beside him and began rolling a smoke.

“Are you going to the Electric Picnic?” she asked, smiling broader.

“You got it,” nodded Bonzo and Guy chuckled.
“You lucky things, you,” she sighed, “God, but it’s well for ye and some of us slaving away to try and make a living.”

“You’re keeping us all going,” smiled Bonzo.

“Listen,” she said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Will you give me a call when you get back, I’d really appreciate it. God, I should introduce myself, I’m Kiki McFadden from Round Tower Real Estate in Ballygale.”

They shook hands and he said,

“Hi, I’m James, James Callahan.”

She gave him her business card and said,“God that’s gas, you have the same name as a cousin of mine in Mayo. I know you to see as Bonzo.”

He put her card on the dashboard and said,“Nice meeting you, Kiwi.”

“Kiki,” she corrected.

“Of course,” he smiled, “Kiki”

The VW pulled away slowly and Bonzo scoped her out in the wing mirror as she went back to her jeep, taking a call on her mobile. She had a full figure, tight power suit and sexy swagger.

“She’s a smooth operator,” he said.

“They’re on to you, man,” warned Guy.

He didn’t call Kiki McFadden when he got back from the Electric Picnic. The outing lasted longer than he had planned. On the way home he made a detour to West Cork with two English women and stayed with them for three days. Then Kiki’s business card disappeared from the dashboard and he forgot all about her.

Autumn arrived and he was away a lot. There was no VW parked beside the cottage when Kiki passed and after a few weeks, she slid a note under his door.
“I heard the Picnic was great. Hope you enjoyed it. Give me a call for lunch sometime when you’re free — All the Best, Kiki.”

Bonzo put the note beside the phone and it got covered with piles of mail. Guy came over with horses and they went to a Christy Moore gig in Lisdoonvarna. Then Bonzo disappeared and nobody saw him for weeks.
Kiki’s head turned when she noticed the camper van tucked behind the cottage. She parked the jeep and knocked on Bonzo’s front door. It was Sunday and he was having a snooze by the fire, a weekend radio talk show chattering away unheeded. Her knock woke him. Dang! Bet they have heard the radio, I’d better see who it is, he thought.

“Hello Bonzo,” Kiki, greeted and he was startled. For a second he didn’t recognize her, she was dressed for heavy weather in an Australian outback raincoat and broad brimmed hat.

“It’s Kiki, remember?”

“Of course, of course, Kiki.”

“Is this a good time to call on you? I know it’s the weekend, but I can never seem to get you at home during the week. How’re things anyway?”

“Fine, fine, great. Yeah, come in. Please, you’re welcome. The place is a bit of a mess.”

“Arrah it’s fine, what are you talking about. You should see my place! God this is grand, Bonzo, lovely and cosy.”

“Thanks. Would you like coffee.”

“God I’d love a cup, d’you know that? This is a lovely spot, and you have the open fire and all. God but I’d love a place like this…”

“Milk and sugar?”

“No sugar thanks. I s’pose you don’t have soy milk?”

“I’m afraid not. Sorry.”

“Arrah, it’s grand…just black is fine.”

They made small talk about the weather and she asked about the Electric Picnic.

“I’d love to go there next year. You’ll have to remind me when tickets come on sale. God but you have a very interesting life Bonzo. And d’you mind me asking, what do you do for a living?”

“Nothing very exciting, pen and paper work,” he said vaguely.

“I bet you’re a writer,” she smiled, “you have that look. Do you write poetry?”

“On occasion,” he replied, “but I wouldn’t consider myself a poet.”

“I would,” she said, “and I bet you’re very good. A lot of great artists didn’t consider themselves as good as they were. D’you know what I mean? Like Van Gogh, like.”

“Poor Vincent,” sighed Bonzo.
“Yeah, he cut off his ear, didn’t he? But listen,” she said, slowing her voice a gear, “we have a client who is very interested in buying some land from you.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I can’t say who it is at the moment, but it’s a serious player. They’d be interested in buying as much as you’d sell them along the road.”

“For development, I presume. It’s not somebody who wants it to farm.”

“Yes, for development. As I said, they’re serious. And they would make a sizable offer.”

Bonzo looked into the fire and Kiki bantered on about the holy pictures, chipped statues of Jesus and family photos that stared at her from every wall. She said she envied his lifestyle and longed to give up the rat race and retreat to an island and write poetry. Or just meditate. Kiki sipped her coffee and silence seeped around them.

“Well,” she said, “will you think about it anyway. The offer would be in the region of 300K an acre. Say, 5 to 6 million for the whole place.”

“Jesus, that’s a lot.”

“Of course it would be conditional on planning but the client is well connected and thinks that wouldn’t be a problem…”

Bonzo’s head swirled and he felt dizzy….


Borderlines is 3 long stories by Eddie Stack — Carnival Cop; Bonzo; One for the Rover. The stories are set in the West of Ireland. Kindle edition costs $0.99. Download here


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Carnival Cop

This is an extract from Carnival Cop, the opening story of Borderlines…new book I’ve just published on Kindle


Convoy

The carnival came to town in mid-August, just as the days began to shorten and school was set to reopen. They pitched in Arthur’s Field at the top of Church Street and in two days, they had merry-go rounds ready to spin. And dodgems, swinging boats and chair-o-planes too, all set to rock in a splash of gay colors. Over the entrance to the field, a big arched sign read ‘O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival.’ At night it would light in red, white and blue neon.

On opening day Todd O’Driscoll fixed a loudspeaker to the roof of his jeep with bungee cords and rigged an amplifier to the onboard cassette player. He pushed a tape in the player and crept up the volume as the jeep crawled down the town. Helter-skelter céili music woke the streets and people came outside. The recorded voice of Todd announced,

Céad Míle Fáilte, fair people of this beautiful land. It is with joy and pleasure that O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival has come to town again. We have thrills and rides to tickle your fancy and swing seats that go so high you can catch a glimpse of heaven. And dear friends, our bumper and dodgem cars are the latest in Chicago gangasta style, and this year we have the spectacular Jules Verne chair-o-planes, direct from Peking’s Tong Hing Park. And if that is not enough, we have a shooting gallery with nightly prizes of great value and The Gold Coast Pongo Tent where you can win jackpots of enormous size. For your entertainment we have sword swallowers and knife throwers, fortunetellers and board players. And while you’re at the carnival, enjoy Todd’s delicious popcorn and organic ice cream. So come early and avoid disappointment. The Carnival opens at 6.30 this evening and the fun just goes on and on till late.”

The music played again and Todd tweaked the volume. Children began to follow the slow jeep, echoing his announcement in gibberish. He watched them in the rearview mirror and notched up the volume again. An urchin stood on the tow bar and Todd speeded up, then braked. The urchin thumped the back window and hopped off. A few kids ran beside the vehicle, but scattered when he did a mean ‘S’ swerve.

To his surprise, a police constable stood at the bottom of Church Street, hand raised, indicating that he stop. “Shit,” he muttered, coming to a halt. He rolled down the window and was taken aback: he had never seen a policewoman here before. She was short, skinny and officious and he read her badge as she approached: Constable Stella Blute.

“Beautiful day, how can I help you?” Todd smiled.

“Turn off that sound. Did you ever hear of noise pollution?”

“I beg your pardon?”

She didn’t respond, and he stopped the racket, watching her examine the tax, insurance and other official certificates on the jeep windscreen.

“I don’t see a Public Announcement certificate displayed,” she said, “and your tax is out of date.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

The jeep was heating up and he began to sweat. An urchin urged the cop to arrest him and she ordered the kid to leave the road and go home.

“I thought everything was in order,” Todd told her, “I mean…I don’t understand it.”

“Your tax expired last December. May I have your name please?”

“Well…Thaddeus O’Driscoll. Better known as Todd.”

He smiled but she was writing and made no eye contact. She said, “Your driver’s license please.”

“Certainly.”

He took a wallet from his trousers pocket and flicked through the contents, humming as he scanned business cards, credit cards, debit cards, prayer cards, nude cards, medical cards and memorial cards, marihuana club cards.

“Gosh, constable, I don’t seem to have it with me and I could have sworn that I saw it recently.”

“Address?”

“No fixed abode.”

“No fixed abode?”

“None. I travel from place to place. Week here, week there.”

“Where are you residing now?”

“Mr. Arthur’s field at the top of Church Street. I’m the owner of O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival and I’d be delighted if you could come along…all the rides are on me…you can ride all night for free…we’re opening tonight…that’s why I’m…you know, announcing.”

“Announcing without a permit. You need to put your house in order, sir. Please produce a current driver’s license, insurance and public address permits at the barracks within the next 72 hours. Failure to do so will result in prosecution and court appearance.”

Todd winced and looked at her with hurt eyes. “Thank you officer,” he groveled, “and please do come to the carnival…the fun is on me.”

He turned the jeep in the Square and drove back up Church Street in silence. Outside doors, people gathered in knots, speculating on what had gone down between Todd and Constable Stella Blute. She was still writing in her black notebook, standing in the middle of the road.

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The carnival people lived in caravans at the back of the field, near a happy stream of fresh water. Some of the caravans were modest, others looked run-down, and a few were big and old fashioned. Todd’s was sleek: powder blue with a red lightening bolt screaming from back to front. What a fuckin’ disaster, he muttered, opening the door. His sleeping partner Izzy Swartz was making coffee. She wore a black robe with a golden dragon printed on the back.

“Hi sweetie,” she greeted, “wanna cuppa?”

“I want a drink,” he said striding to the cupboard beside the fridge.

“What’s up honey? You look upset.”

“I am upset. A cop pulled me for tax, insurance, certs, the works…”

“Oh honey! That’s horrible.”

“A lady cop if you don’t mind…a tiny little midge.”

“What’re you gonna do honey?”

Todd shook his head, poured a tumbler of cheap whiskey and drank it neat.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Yet. She wants me to produce everything at the barracks within 3 days. She really glammed on to me, like a fucking terrier. Stopped me from announcing. A cop like her could fuck up my whole life.”

“She didn’t ask about the Hagerstown affair? Did she?”

“Don’t mention the Hagerstown business. Please. And don’t mention the shit in Dundalk either. I’ve enough on my plate.”

“What can I do to make it better for you? A little massage?”

Todd drained his glass and filled it again.


Borderlines is 3 long stories by Eddie Stack — Carnival Cop; Bonzo; One for the Rover. The stories are set in the West of Ireland. Kindle edition costs $0.99. Download here


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Arthur’s Day: Letter to Arthur Diageo

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Hey Arthur, can I have a word with you? There a few things I’d like to get outta my mind, things that have been troubling me for a while.

You’re a grabber Arthur, you never have enough, and now you want us to celebrate a special day in your honour. You’d like us all to get pissed, puke, fight, crash, hurt our loved ones and abuse those who care for us — just so you can fill your till. It’s bad enough that St. Patrick’s Day is a global piss-up. Fuck you Arthur, we’re not gonna do that shit any more, you’re king of the gombeens and you’ve taken us on a drunken ride for way too long.

flagAnd while I have your ear, Arthur, I’d like to say a few words about the Harp. That was your first grab, you took our national symbol…people marched behind that harp, people died for that harp. And you put it on your brew, giving the impression that porter was our national drink and that it was part and parcel of our make up, our psyche. We fell for that one, fell on the floor, down the stairs to the gates of hell.

You got a lot of nerve, Arthur and you gotta lot to answer for. Like, you’ve made fools of us for centuries, made advertising goons of us in the process. And fuck you Arthur, you hijacked our culture and took our brightest and our best. You made a show of Behan, Kavanagh and Myles. Put your pint in the middle of our music, with The Dubliners and The Chieftains too. ‘Fine girl you are!’ and all that carry-on. You said Guinness was good for us, but that wasn’t true, Arthur, though you didn’t care.

You’re a savvy one, you were way ahead of Don Draper, I’ll give you that. After using the music, you moved on to the GAA. Choice of champions? Have you any shame, Arthur? Didn’t think so. And I hear you’re sponsoring an Arts show on the radio. Time to change the station on that one…

So Arthur, before I go, let me tell you the Irish have moved on. Many of us won’t be celebrating your Arthur’s Day this year. It’s a scam to fill your coffers, and you don’t care about the damage done. We’re sick and tired of you hi-jacking our culture, making slaves and fools of us. Sorry Arthur, we don’t love you anymore. We’ve discovered that a pint of rain is your only man.

Eddie Stack



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Lisdoonvarna via The Hand

The leaves are beginning to curl at the edges, there’s a nip in the air and crows are cawing like supporters at a sad All Ireland final. Here, there, everywhere, lonely hearts and bouncing hearts are stocking up on perfume and aftershave, condoms and Viagra, praying to Jude and Josephine, rehearsing chat lines and touching up hairlines. Love is in the air, it’s Spa Time…to us locals, that is. To the outside world it’s Lisdoonvarna Match Making Season.
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Big business nowadays, Lisdoonvarna became famous some hundred and fifty years ago when a Doctor named Foster discovered therapeutic springs there. The doctor swore the waters could cure anything from arthritis to zoomorphism, and soon people began to flock to the town in late summer and early autumn, to get tuned up for the winter chills. ‘The Spaw’, as it became known locally, was the perfect place to unwind after the summer slog: mineral baths, sulphur tonics and the likes worked wonders on tired bones and weary souls.

drinkers2To cater for the Victorian masses, hotels were built that made so much money in six weeks, they could afford to close down for the other forty-six. The Spa became Ireland’s first health resort and saints and scholars smiled at the new consciousness dawning on the land. But the waters worked other wonders, and the tonics soon had people looking for bedmates to help keep the winter chills away. Lisdoon became a place where you could waltz all night, drink till dawn and get the bus home in the morning. The Spa season became two months of madness, when the town danced from dusk to dawn, keeping three shoemakers on the go full-time, mending heels and worn soles. Marriages were made, marriages were lost, hearts were shattered, new ground was broken.

Even in today’s hi-tech world of the Internet, lusty chatrooms and dating sites are buzzing about the Spa at this time of the year. My friend Jay Spelman accidentally discovered this virtual world of Spalovers when he was trawling for a soul mate on a wet Sunday afternoon. Jay is recovering from a messy divorce and only dipping his toe in the water again. It astounded him that in all corners of the globe, people knew about Lisdoonvarna. Surfing the chatrooms became his nightly kick, logging on at half-ten, the same time he used go down to the pub in the last century. He took the moniker Spaman and threw in comments about the town and environs, making it known he was local. And just like he had drinking buddies in the pub long ’go, he now had friends online like ‘Brown Eyes’, ‘Sore Toe’, ‘Sexy Sixty’, ‘Miss Dickie’. He became known as a Spa expert, taking hours to explain the difference between the Lisdoonvarna Music Festival and the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. In chatrooms, if anyone wants to know anything about Lisdoonvarna they ask Spaman. He gives recommendations to those intending to visit the town: Where to eat, drink, stay, avoid…and what to do, say and hope for. Then he got into a jam and called me: he had ‘met’ an American lady online and she was coming to Lisdoonvarna the following week.

“Tell me more,” I encouraged.

“Well like, I can’t meet her in the Spa,” he said, “Everyone would know my business…they’d know that I was ‘on the pull’, so I’m meeting her in Ennis on Tuesday.”

“Next Tuesday? The day after tomorrow?”

“Yes,” he muttered quietly, “and I was wondering if you’d sorta come along with me…”

“You want me to be the ‘gooseberry’?”

“Not really…just to lend a bit of moral support…I haven’t had a date since I split up with Stella…”

I agreed because I didn’t want to hear another monologue about Stella.

On Tuesday morning, Jay called for me and we drove to Ennis in his van. He was spruced up in sports jacket, white shirt, blue tie and Dunne’s Stores slacks. He chain-smoked all the way to town and I could get little out of him regarding the lady, except that she was fifty-five and five foot-six. That made her both older and taller than Jay and when I pointed this out he sighed and lit another cigarette. He was heavily doused with cologne, and seemed to be wilting as we approached town.

We got to the hotel fifteen minutes before the date and sat in the bar from where we had a good view of the lobby. I ordered a pot of coffee because Jay was in the jitters and pretty much speechless. All my efforts to find out about Internet dating met with sighs and shrugs. So what’s her name, I asked eventually.

“Kelly O’Shea,” he said in a half-whisper, “she’s Irish-American.”

“Well that’s good, at least she’s hardly a whacko then.”

He whimpered into panicked rabbit mode. We waited and watched people coming and going through the hotel lobby. The Cathedral bell pealed time and Jay shivered. Stay cool, I advised and he nodded and went outside for a smoke. No woman like the one he described came, but a heavy-set lady with a coiffured white head and studded denim jacket appeared at the front door. I pointed her to Jay when he returned and he shook his head. Ten more minutes passed and the lady still stood at the door. Jay got edgy and muttered that he had been stood up. Again. Happens every time, he sighed, shaking his head. Then, over the intercom we heard the sweet tones of a receptionist say,
“Will Mr. Jay Tobin please come to the lobby…Mr. Jay Tobin, your party is here to meet you.”

We stared at the lobby, empty apart from the white-haired woman in denim.

“Oh fuck,” whined Jay.

“You have to meet her,” I pressed, “she came all the way from America…”

He closed his eyes and sweat pressed through his forehead. The receptionist paged him again and the lady looked around with an anxious face.
“Go on Jay, ” I encouraged, “she might be a millionaire…”

“I can’t…” he stuttered, “I fucking can’t…”

Then he looked at me with those sad rabbit eyes of his and said,
“Would…would you go and meet her…say I’m sick or something…please…”

“You’re a horrible libe,” I hissed, “and a terrible bad ad for Clare tourism…she could complain you to The Gathering authorities and have you exported.”

“Please…please…I have to go to the jax…I’ll be back in a while…just hang with her til I get back.”

I left the seat and went to the lobby. As I approached, the lady smiled and came towards me.

“Jay,” she drawled, “so good to meet you…”

We shook hands, she looked me up and down and I lost my ability to speak. On every finger there was a ring or two and she gripped my hand like a frisky sixteen year-old, though she was a good sixty if she was a day. I looked around to see if any neighbours happened to be in sight and noticed that Jay had disappeared.

“You never told me about the beard,” she chuckled, “and you look just like Van Gogh with that long coat and black hat…”

“Welcome to Ennis, Kelly…” I said.

“Like a drink or some tea?” Kelly asked, beaming up at me.

“Sure,” I replied and we walked to a discreet table in the bar.

“I’m really glad you came,” she said with a smile. I nodded and forced a smile. “Well, as I told you in my last e-mail, I’m searching for my roots, and I’d like to retire to Ireland and meet someone I could have a relationship with…”

All I could do was nod. A waitress came to the table and I ordered a brandy for myself, and tea for Kelly. After a sip, words came to me.
“So how have you been?”

Fine, she said and told me her life story: widowed twice, no children, just a sister in a retirement home in Florida. She’d like to give it one last try, grow old gracefully with an Irishman. A North Clare matchmaker had arranged for several men to meet her, she said with a glint.

“But I haven’t made any commitments…I thought I’d meet you first…your e-mails were so sweet…and thanks for all your information about Lisdoonvarna.”

I shrugged and wondered where in Hell was Jay. Then she asked me about ‘my farm’ and I told her about Jay’s spread, adding sixteen horses and forty head of cattle to the mix. She moved in the chair and said she liked to ride horses and told me about the lovely western saddle her first husband had. After that I ordered another brandy and told her about the lake in the middle of the farm and how we used swim there in the long hot summer nights. The acreage grew until I was the second biggest landowner in West Clare and said that my grandfather had sold the Cliffs of Doneen to the Council for a song. There was no going back after the fourth brandy and Kelly took my hand gently and said,

“You’re such a nice man…I should tell you though…I was very skeptical about this Internet dating business…I mean Jay, one never knows.”

I nodded and agreed, “You’re right, one never knows…”

“So before I came to meet you, I went to the police station and said, ‘look, I’m meeting a man called Jay Tobin from Tobarwiska in the hotel…here’s his telephone number…so if I don’t come back and say I’m OK, you know who he is…’ I hope you don’t mind, Jay…”

It took a few minutes for it to sink in and then I had flashes of the Guards tapping pens on desks, recalling all they knew about Jay. It was a horrific vision, because they knew a lot. Kelly gave me a kiss on the cheek and whispered,

“So I’m going back to the police station to tell them I’ve met the nicest gentleman in the world…and when I return maybe we can learn more about each other…”

When she returned I was gone, but later I heard from Jay that she found the note I left on the table beside her tea-cup. He said I dropped him in the shit and he hasn’t spoken to me since.

“Darling Kelly,

Sorry I had to rush away, I just got a call saying cattle broke out. I would love you to come to dinner tonight at my house, I’m cooking roast duck with all the trimmings. We can crack open a bottle of champagne in the hot tub and watch the stars. Maybe take a ride up Mount Callan if you’re up to it. Below is a map how to get to my place. Be careful making the right turn at The Hand. I look forward to seeing you and call if you get lost.

all the best,

Jay”



photos copyright of Clare County Library



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Blowin’ in the Wind…

Bob_Dylan_-_Bob_DylanBob Dylan came into my life when I was fourteen. He was welcome, I was learning the guitar and doing bad at school. The Christian Brothers were not clicking with me, I didn’t like their style and they didn’t like mine. They had beaten religion into me and out again. I refused to get with their program and Brother Mahon called me “a scholarship brat.” But I’d heard Dylan’s ‘The Times They are a Changin’ and I knew his road was my road.

Bad school reports beget a hard home life and my father confined me to the kitchen so he could supervise my study and homework. He reckoned that if I was upstairs, I’d be playing the guitar and messing his head with songs about revolution and untasted love. One night while I wrestled with algebra at the kitchen table, there was a knock on the back door. Dad answered it and returned a few seconds later. He whispered,

“Roderick Burke and Pius Boyle want to talk to you.”

I thought I’d done something wrong. Roderick and Pius were pillars of the church and on a fast-track to heaven. In the dark they looked like mediaeval monks with their long dark coats, one tall and the other small. Pius muttered,

“God bless you, Edward. We are inviting you to join the junior branch of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.”

Roderick handed me a devotional card and said in a low voice,
“Say this prayer for guidance and come to the church sacristy after Benediction on Friday night. And don’t tell any of your friends.”

“God bless you,” they bade and vanished into the night.

They left me feeling all creeped out, and I was light-headed when I came back to the kitchen. My father asked what they wanted and I said,

“They invited to join the Vincent de Paul.”

He looked confused and went to the bar and filled himself a pint.

At school, I didn’t mention to any of my pals about being door-stepped by the V de P, though I wondered had any of them been approached as well. On Friday evening, I went to Benediction and stayed at the bottom quarter of the church. Benny the Bang sat a few pews ahead of me, as did Stab Lucas and John Coughlan. Before the priest came to the altar, Pius and Roderick walked up the aisle and scoped out the attendance.

I spent most of Benediction in an existentialist crisis. Why was I here? Was I being lured into a secret society? Were the Christian Brothers in on this? Why me? Like the other worshipers, I rose and knelt, mumbled and bowed. When it was over, I knelt with my head in my hands as the congregation left the church. Then all was quiet. Squinting through my fingers I spotted Benny the Bang, Stab, Milo Courtney, Bernard Linnane and a few other heads were still present. Pius Boyle appeared at the altar rails and beckoned us towards the sacristy.

SaintVincentdePaulI tensed up on seeing Liam Goodblood and Harry Lahiff, two goody-goodies a few years older than me, flanking the doors of the room. They had sanctimonious faces and an air of righteousness about them as we filed past. When I saw who else had been invited to join the V de P, I figured that Pius and Roderick had either got it very wrong or they were enlisted to save us from the gates of hell. After all, Brother Mahon had accused me of being a ‘closet pagan’, and Stab, Benny and Milo were champion swearers who even boasted about their sinning capabilities.

Roderick closed the door, motioned us to sit on assembled chairs and welcomed us. He said he was happy that we had responded to Christ’s call to follow Vincent de Paul, in helping the poor, the sick, the oppressed and those in need. He got a bit carried away and I saw his eyes roll towards heaven. It was freaky and I switched attention to a large glass case in the corner which contained the brass mechanism of the church clock. I got lost in time and came too when my name was called by Goodblood.

“You’ll deliver the papers to Church Street, Creamery Road and Circular Road. Here’s a list of who gets the Catholic Standard and The Irish Catholic.”

I was a bit pissed off. I hadn’t asked for a job. Roderick said,

“The papers will be at the curate’s house on Saturday morning. Collect the price from all parties, and I mean all parties and bring the money back to Father Tom. You start tomorrow.”

Stab got the Main Street and Boland’s Lane run. Bang got Lahinch Road and Church Hill and Milo got New Road, Parliament Street and Monastery Lane. Linnane was given Clare Street, the Square and Bow Lane. We were advised to say the prayer for guidance every night before bed and then dismissed after a prayer by Goodblood.

Us new soldiers hurried from the church and didn’t say much until we crossed the bridge into town.

“Fuck this,” said Stab, “I wouldn’t have come if I knew Goodblood and Lahiff were involved.”

“They’re the president and vice-president,” Milo added, “we’re all fucking doomed. They’re complete dodos.”

“They’re two fuckin’ idiots,” Linnane said.

“I’m not going to be a paper boy for Jesus,” Bang said, “they press ganged us into this racket.”

It was a tough gig. It’s not easy to deliver papers and collect money from religious freaks. Mrs. Hunt told me about her visions. Hino Dolan showed me his altar to Saint Jeremiah, which took up the entire back wall of his livingroom. James Ring gave me a copybook of prayers he had composed himself and Annie Larkin let me see her wooden box of sacred relics. When I went back to the parochial house with the money, Father Tom counted it twice.

“You’re six pence short,” he said, “who didn’t pay?”

I didn’t know.

“Well, be on the ball next week. Nobody gets a free ride to heaven.”

I hurried home and got my guitar, went up to the attic and played Dylan’s ‘House of the Risin’ Sun’ until my fingers hurt.

The next week I was a shilling short and Father Tom was disgusted. He intimated that I was pocketing Christ’s pennies and that was a sure trip to hell.

“I can’t save you,” he sighed. “It’s out of my hands, Jesus knows who’s who.”

But bad and all as I was, others were worse. Bang strayed into the chipper during his round and dropped a few sixpences into the jukebox. Then he went home, leaving the bundle of papers behind, and Chrissy Hynes used them to wrap orders of fish and chips. Milo dipped into his take to buy a few cigarettes and told Father Tom there was a hole in his pocket. Stab didn’t deliver any papers, just brought them back to Father Tom and told him none of the readers were at home. Bernard Linnane didn’t even collect his papers.

An emergency meeting was called at the sacristy. Goodblood and Lahiff were very, very angry with us acolytes. Pius was disappointed and Roderick snorted in disgust.

“This is a travesty,” he said, “the church depends on foot soldiers like ye and doing Christ’s work in a sloppy way, only reflects badly on St. Vincent…reflects badly on all the saints, as a matter of fact.”

There was a strained silence and I stared at the clock mechanism in the corner.

“Excuse me,” said Linnane, “why can’t people just buy the Catholic Standard and Irish Catholic at the newspaper shop…kinda like when they’re there to get the Clare Champion?”

There were sighs of hopelessness from our holy elders. Their expressions had us poor paper-boys already consigned to the ‘House of the Risin’ Sun’. Maybe we’d meet Dylan there. I could tell him about Mrs. Hunt’s visions and Annie Larkin’s box of relics, Hino’s altar to Saint Jeramiah and James Ring’s prayerbook. He’d be interested in that sort of stuff, I thought. He might even fit it into a song.

2009set



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Irish Diaspora: The Scattering & The Gathering

51skBtRrXBL._SS500_Back in the late 1990s, Dermot McMahon, a Clare businessman had an idea to put together a book about the county’s emigrants. Called The Scattering, the book tracked 78 emigrants and sent a team of photographers around the globe to snap them in their adopted environment. In 2000, the late President Hillary launched The Scattering at Shannon Airport. It was a fitting and poignant venue, as most had left home from there.
A few of those featured in the book were back for the launch, including Martin Hayes and myself. There was much hand shaking and curious looks from well wishers. There was music, tea and sandwiches and the proceedings were broadcast live on ClareFM. I remember having quiet chat with Martin and we recalled the first time we left SNN and wondered how many more times we would walk under the departures sign. I figured we were the last generation that would leave, emigration was at a standstill and Ireland was doing well…

I was wrong, very wrong. Fast-forward a decade and Ireland had boomed, burst, was on the ropes, reeling from shocking changes. The country was in crisis — financially, politically, spiritually and culturally. The Irish were emigrating again and everyone was broke.

To help the country out of the fix, in July 2009 the government convened The Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh House in Dublin and invited the brightest Irish minds and others who had a Midas touch. It was the brainchild of David McWilliams, enfant terrible of economists and author of a few books on Ireland’s rise to fall. One of the elements that came to the fore most strongly in Farmleigh was the ‘potential for leveraging our cultural identity in support of economic regeneration‘. With this in mind, on March 2, 2010, Taoiseach Brian Cowan appointed Gabriel Byrne as the first Cultural Ambassador for Ireland. Probably Cowan’s most enlightened decision, this was a pro bono job, with expenses and would be for three years.

gabeByrne was a popular choice at home and abroad, and he set to work immediately. He played a central role in Imagine Ireland, a year of Irish arts in America sponsored by Culture Ireland. He organised several events that explored Irish identity, including a retrospective of Irish films at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and a series of documentaries about Ireland at the Lincoln Center. The Irish government invested €4 million in Imagine Ireland. Byrne did background work as well — he spoke with studios and filmmakers about making films in Ireland, and with Liam Neeson he produced ‘James X’, a play by Mannix Flynn about clerical sexual abuse in Ireland. By this time, Ireland had a change of government and when the new Taoiseach, Enda Kenny had harsh words for the Vatican, Mr. Byrne praised him for his courageous stance.

government1In June 2011, while Imagine Ireland was making waves in the US, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs announced that Certificate of Irishness would be available to applicants in the autumn. It was estimated that there were 70 million people of Irish heritage scattered all over the globe and the certificate would be a moneymaker. It would be aimed at those whose Irish ancestry went back beyond their grandparents, those Irish who are not eligible for an Irish passport. The new identification would grant them special tourist and travel deals as well as being a concrete acknowledgment of their Irish heritage. FEXCO, a Kerry-based company would provide the certs in association with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

While we were digesting this news, wondering would the idea fly or flop, a bigger announcement was made. At the Global Irish Economic Forum in July 2011, Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar unveiled The Gathering and told us that: “The Gathering will be a year-long program of events, festivals and fun designed to bring record numbers of visitors…an invitation to the world to come and join in Ireland’s renewal.” (Renewal, Leo? Remember what happened to the last New Ireland?)

The Gathering was predicted to generate an extra $399 million for the Irish economy and would cost $5 million. With an 80 to 1 payback, the government was home and dry. Every town and village in Ireland would be asked to participate in the events, aimed primarily at the Irish Diaspora, as well as people with an interest in the country. Fáilte Ireland CEO Shaun Quinn said, “There are a lot of people with Irish connections or a fondness for Ireland who have a vague plan to get here some time — we want to light a fire under them and get them here in 2013.” (Right Shaun, you mean burn them…even before they arrive?)

TradFest And so the show was on the road. The Irish Diaspora was the market and Irish-America was the main target. It’s not known if the mandarins in Dublin had any contact with the Irish Cultural Ambassador, Mr. Byrne about the project. As the year wore on, we heard that: ‘The Gathering is the people’s party. It will kick off in spectacular style at the New Year’s Eve Festival in Dublin and will be celebrated through gatherings of the people and Ireland’s major festivals during 2013.’ (WTF? The people’s party? And the country up to its nose in debt? Was this some sort of ‘pack up your troubles and smile, smile, smile’ routine?)

Gabriel Byrne’s resignation as Ireland’s Cultural Ambassador was a surprise. In an interview with The Irish Times on December 11, 2011, he announced that he was stepping down at Christmas. He had been almost two years in the job and said,
“I just don’t have the time between my career and that.”

The Minister for Arts, Jimmy Deenihan said Byrne made “an outstanding contribution to the country” in his role. “His inspirational leadership of Imagine Ireland is helping to restore Ireland’s reputation at a critical time, breaking new ground for the next generation of Irish artists and helping them to find new audiences for their work in the US…The doors he has helped to open for Ireland and Irish artists in America this year offer huge opportunities for the years to come.”
That was the last we heard about Gabriel for a while.

The Gathering preparations went full steam ahead in 2012. Jim Miley, former general secretary of Fine Gael, was appointed as Program Director on a €168,000 salary. An ad agency was commissioned to spread the word and ads began to appear like spring snowdrops in newspapers and magazines that might be picked up by The Diaspora. On the ground, communities were encouraged and cajoled to create events, invite long-lost cousins home from Texas. 2013 would be The Year of The Irish. We were told that the world was coming to Ireland and urged to be a ‘part of it.’ Discover Ireland crooned: “Irish roots. Tall tales. A love of everything about the Emerald Isle, from Molly Malone to fields of green. Whatever the reason, come to our fair land for The Gathering 2013 and you’ll be part of something special.” (Something special? A heat wave?)

The first time I saw The Gathering logo I was reminded of a light show at a Mr. Floppy rave in San Francisco, late 1980’s. I thought the thing was alive and quickly looked away. But it became ubiquitous. The online edition of The Irish Times had several on its home page, same with other publications. Using this retro-techno version of our sacred triple spiral as a branding tool is distasteful at the very least…it may not bode well for The Gathering. Bad vibes from the ancients…
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The Gathering campaign was officially launched in the US on September 22, 2012. Táiniste Eamonn Gilmore and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Leo Varadkar came to New York to do the honours and to give out a few Certificates of Irishness. Irish-America was invited back to Ireland for a big hooley. You could come anytime of the year, it didn’t matter because the Irish were up for the craic 24/7. There was no sign of the former Cultural Ambassador at the event. And the bad news about the Certificate of Irishness was kept under wraps. In one year, just over 1,000 of the potential 70 million clients had forked out €40 to have a framed computer generated page on their wall. Did the government get it wrong about the Diaspora? Is the Diaspora smarter than the government thinks?

During the run up to the American Presidential election, TodayFM was broadcasting The Last Word with Matt Cooper live from New York. On November 5th, Gabriel Byrne was a guest on the show and dropped a few bombs. He said The Gathering was ‘a scam’, a ‘shakedown’ of the Irish Diaspora. Talking about his work as Cultural Ambassador, Byrne went on to say the he was “really disappointed the way all those contacts, all that hard work was just dropped and it really made me disillusioned and disappointed with this Government who go on about their love for culture, for arts and actually really don’t give a toss about it.”
The former Cultural Ambassador had gone rogue.

The Government and The Gathering heads and the tourist handlers went nuts. Project director Jim Miley denied the plan was a shakedown, and said while Byrne was “a man we all know and love, and he has his opinions — they are one man’s opinions”. Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar said: “the response to the Gathering has been really great in America” and then described Byrne as “popular with women of a certain age group” (WTF, Leo?) TD Michael Ring called Byrne ‘unpatriotic’. The only politician who came to Gabriel’s defense was President Michael D Higgins. He said Byrne was a “magnificent Irish person” who merely wants the Government’s flagship tourism initiative – which he branded a ‘scam’ – to have a deeper connection to the diaspora. Then somebody leaked Byrne’s expenses to The Irish Times. During his term, Gabe chalked up €15,845 for hotels, flights and chauffeurs. So what? He was doing the digging for free. I know a former county councillor who ran up twice that amount in a year and all he did was go to cattle marts and funerals. The expenses ‘leak’ overshadowed news that the government was pumping another $5 million into the The Gathering.

Byrne’s comments about The Gathering were widely reported. They struck a chord, both with the Irish at home and abroad and people began to wonder about this yearlong celebration. They frowned at the ads. The campaign seemed on the sick side of slick. The photos looked odd. We were being branded. Mad men showing the world what we were not like. This was the ‘Renewal’ that Leo mentioned. Discover Ireland horsing out crap such as “Gather ’round everyone – time to talk about The Gathering. C’mere and we’ll let you in on something. We’re planning something big. BIG big.” (oh Sweet Jesus…)

The Gathering organisers are active in social media and recently a picture of a Gathering ‘trad music session’ went viral among Irish musicians. It was a cheese-smile photo, clearly staged by models and day runners. There was not a genuine musician among them. How they held the instruments showed they were from Central Casting. Although The Gathering has given funding to the Willie Clancy School and other worthwhile events, it has already riled musicians and artists.

A recent thread on Twitter about the year-long celebration brought mostly negative comments —
“Gathering feels like a grubby moneymaking racket. We’re citizens, not commodities.”
“it seems like we’re pimping out our heritage and pimping off the emigrants.” “I don’t like how the politicians are promoting it.”
“the campaign is embarrassing and outdated. This event has no connection to either Ireland or the diaspora.”
“Anybody returning for the gathering is an idiot as it shows they support the morons running this country.”
Hmmmm…

Being still part of The Scattering, I came home to Ireland for Christmas. The Delta flight from JFK to Dublin was full and almost all were ex-pats. These were part of The Scattering, a much different tribe from those expected to attend the Gathering. Entering the arrivals hall in Dublin I felt a gush of welcome. Hundreds of smiling faces, everyone there to welcome Paddy and Biddy home. A boombox played Fairytale in New York, some sang along and a guy waved a sign that read GODOT. Screams of joy and hugs and kisses, nobody has a welcome for their own like the Irish. If only The Gathering could bottle that, the Yanks would never leave.

When I got home, junk mail about the Gathering was there before me. Every house in Ireland received the same. The photos were frightening — models with horse teeth smiles and the mind altering logo spattered everywhere like bird shit. One piece included two postcards invitations which we were encouraged to mail ‘to a friend or loved one overseas to come and visit Ireland in 2013′. All one had to do was affix a stamp and drop in the mail. The mailer said ‘It’s up to you.’ so I hung it on the wall to bulk up the Christmas cards.
Taoiseach---Tanaiste-launch-The-Gathering-Ireland-

Last night a few of the lads came to my place for a session. It was stormy and wet and I had a good fire blazing. We sat around and played tunes for a while, then drank tea and chatted about gigs and stuff like that. Sneezer frowned at The Gathering card over the hearth and said,
“Every house I’ve been to over the Christmas has these shagging cards on the wall like fugging Post-it Notes.”
“I’ve them on the wall too,” admitted Murphy, “I got no Christmas cards this year. Email has fucked all that up.”
“I can’t think of anyone to send them to,” I said.
“Me neither,” sighed Murphy, “I was half-thinkin’ of sending one to the ex, but she might take it up wrong…”
We were silent for a while and then Sneezer took flight.
“It’s a pity that poor ol’ Hunter Thompson passed away,” he said. “If he were alive, I’d arrange that hundreds of invites were sent to him. Hundreds. You know, do a lil’ fundraiser for the postage. I mean, it’s up to us…and the government want the world to come to Ireland, why not invite Hunter? He loved a good party and was always up for the craic. He’d stay for the whole year,so he would. Hunter’d light plenty fires, drink whiskey, back horses, buy drugs, make loud noises, shoot his AK47 at stop signs, lop a few grenades here and there and frighten the crap out of politicians and civil servants. They’d probably deport him, you know…but he would make The Gathering a memorable one.”
Murphy nodded and said,
“Maybe Hunter would be the only one that showed up. I’m getting worried that nobody is posting these fuckin’ cards to anyone.”
Me too.



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When Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters

This is an extract from When ‘Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters’, a very long short story. It’s from my recent book Quare Hawks, available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0098TKAAE . Quare Hawks can be read on Mac/PC with the free Kindle app from Amazon. American writer Willy Vlautin had this to say about the book:

“Quare Hawks is a collision between old and new Ireland. Both heartbreaking and hilarious, and hopeful and despairing. Eddie Stack has a way of making you laugh and cry at the same time. A brilliant collection from a great Irish storyteller.”

Willy Vlautin, author of Lean on Pete, Motel Life and Northline


The road from Mulla to Ballyjames is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, and miles of it weave along the northern face of the Killgory Mountains, through pine forest and high bog. The region is remote, sparsely populated by small farmers and a few reclusive artists who live in the hills.

About halfway between Mulla and Ballyjames, the pine forest falls away like stage curtains and Logra Lake appears unexpectedly. From the mountain behind, a waterfall pours into the lake, and the view is so spectacular, that the county council created a roadside vista area with two picnic tables and a litterbin. There is a small country store across the road from the vista area. Petty’s of Logra has been there for generations, catering to basic needs of the locals. A sleepy, two-story building with white walls, green windows and shop front, it doubles as a post office. Apart from Wednesday, business is very slow and sometimes the shop is shut for hours. Occasionally it might not open at all for a day or two.

Wednesday is doleday, and in the morning, recipients come to collect their allowance at the post office and buy a few provisions in the shop. A police car is always there with two officers, who bring the money and the departmental documentation. With a dozen or so local recipients, mostly small farmers, everyone knows everybody else and it’s as much a social gathering as an official roll call.

It’s a busy day for Paddy Petty – busy in the post office and busy in the shop. Dole day provides his week’s wages and he juggles hats as postmaster, shopkeeper and government paymaster. Medium height, eternally dressed in old blue suit, shirt and tie, Paddy uses Brylcreem to sculpt his dark wavy hair and tame his bushy eyebrows. Nearly fifty and fighting against it, he was once married, but his wife left a decade ago. She told him she was going to visit her sister in London and he drove her to the airport but never saw her again. She blew away like an autumn leaf, writing him a goodbye card from Southhampton. When people asked where she was, Paddy said she’d gone and joined the nuns and eventually they stopped asking. Nowadays he received comfort from Goldi, a hippie from the other side of the Killgory Mountains. Goldi swapped him free-range eggs and organic carrots for tobacco and chocolate. She was easy on his head and stayed with him once a month, often for three or four nights.

In late May, a few strangers turned up to collect dole at the post office. Scruffy young men and women, dressed in leather, they had odd hairstyles, tattoos and facial rings. When they got their money, they bought cartons of milk, bread, cheese and crisps from Paddy and went across the road to the picnic tables.

Paddy watched them from his shop. Two were jabbering on mobile phones, others admiring the view. He thought them mediaeval in their look and manner; even their speech was from another age and place, wherever that may be. A couple of mongrel dogs sniffed around the table and they threw them crusts. Three men and two women. Paddy looked at the new names on his register: Cloud Maggs; Sixtop Reeves; Birdie Cole; Zag Homa; Ork Toms. He noted they were all of ‘no fixed abode’ and pursed his lips, trying to match names with faces. When he peered through the window to jog his memory, they were gone.

He saw them again the following doleday. They came in a battered white van with foreign registration plates, and along with the original five, came four others of similar dress and appearance. Two of the new ones had blue woad on their foreheads, another had a raven on his shoulder. Paddy looked at the new names: Yorrel Hix; Midnight Lyke; Tatan Brown; Filly Downs. They were mannerly and pleasant, pocketed their money and bought bread, sardines, milk, rolling papers, pouches of tobacco, and cans of beans. Then they gathered around the outside tables, talked on phones and had a picnic. Paddy glanced out the window at them, checked the register: his ‘family’ was growing, twelve regulars and nine irregulars.

George West, a so-so English potter who had settled in the area, came to the shop around midday. He noticed the picnickers and whispered to Paddy, “I yam an ol’ hippie, but I never did see the likes of these in my travels. They’re like something from a bad trip, man.” Paddy added up his bill, glanced out the window.
“It takes all types to make a world, George, and their like have to be in it too.”
“They’re campin’ down by the lake at Collock’s Shore.”
“Easily known they’re not locals.”

The strangers came to the shop every few days. Paddy thought they didn’t wash and smelled of musty hay. He couldn’t place their accents or the language they spoke amongst themselves:
“Hey Zag, banda suko Tatan hagur zonka.”
“Ah no man, nishin suko zonka.”
“Why not? Burka lato sut?”
“Nah. Ishto.”
“Hi, two packs a Golden Virginia and four pints a milk.”

They all had a similarity in their leather jerkins, muddied jeans and badly-cut hair. It was difficult to tell one from the other and Paddy felt their numbers had grown. George the potter confirmed this when he came to do the Lotto at the weekend.
“Jesus man, there’s three vans down at the lake now and a horse-drawn wagon. There must be a couple a dozen of ‘em there. There’s kids an’ all runnin’ naked around the place, man.”

On dole day Paddy had thirty-eight strangers on the register, an all-time record when he added his regulars. They swarmed outside the shop and blocked the light coming through the door and window. When they moved to the picnic tables, Paddy sprayed the space with air freshener. He was annoyed at the amount of extra work they generated: all the counting and doling of piles of money, the watching in case they shoplifted. But they also bought a good deal and for this he was pleased.

Before leaving for HQ, the policemen came to see him and buy cigarettes.
“An odd bunch,” Sergeant McGee said.
“There’s no harm in them though,” Paddy suggested, wringing his hands.
“No, no. We believe they’re part of some pagan outfit or cult or something.”
“Is that so?”
“Earth magic and that sort of thing,” Constable Collins said.
“They’d learn plenty about it, if they went cutting hay or footing turf for a few days,” Paddy muttered.
“And there’s more of them on the way,” the sergeant told him.
“I s’pose it can’t be helped.”
“We’re expecting about forty more next week.”
“Jesus, that’ll be nearly eighty of them so,” Paddy winced.
“It’s a changing country,” Constable Collins sighed.
“There’s six helicopters in Ballyjames,” the sergeant said. “Every builder has one, and those who don’t, have race horses. Solve that one.”
“Everyone has a helicopter now.” Collins said. “On Sunday they come to Mass in them and land in the football field.”
“Terrible fucking noise,” McGee said, “you’re lucky there’s no helicopters around here, Paddy.”
“Tis something to be grateful for,” agreed Paddy.

Later that evening, a convoy of five vehicles came through Logra. An old school bus painted purple led, followed by a pickup truck with a makeshift cabin in the back. An ambulance towed a grey station wagon and they were tailed by a black Ford cargo van. Paddy watched from the doorway as they passed slowly, laden down with people and gear.

Next morning three horse-drawn wagons with green canvas barrel tops were stopped outside when he opened the shop and he was reminded of a scene from a cowboy film. A woman approached, followed by a toddler. They were scrawny and wild looking. Forest people, thought Paddy, smelling the moss and the leaves from them. She bought two pints of milk and two cans of sardines and paid in small coins.

After she left, two young men arrived, one of them leading a large blonde cat-like animal on a leash. It’s a fucking lion, thought Paddy in alarm, stepping back from the counter. The men rattled away in their own lingo:
“Hanz, serto von puka?”
“Ishna zee, sunto zog.”
“Cool. Albu onxa.”
Paddy heard the animal snarl and curled his toes. The man tightened the leash and spoke firmly to the creature.
“Smells another cat,” he said to Paddy, “two cans of beans and a pack of Golden Virginia, please.”
He was ten pence short, but Paddy nodded and suffered the loss, relieved to see them leave.



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“No,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve Never Had That Experience.”

This is Kitty, the first chapter of the novella  “No,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve Never Had That Experience.”. This Kindle edition can be read on Mac, PC, iPad etc using free Kindle app


My mother used say ‘Kitty’s on the steers again,’ when she’d see the petite woman rushing down the street, a gray pack on her back. The town knew that the only time Kitty was in a hurry was when a relationship of hers broke up. It seemed she was compensating for time wasted with this man or that, and went about her business in a determined manner, intensity creasing her forehead. By degrees, she rekindled friendships with old friends, smiling broadly and telling them how happy she was to be liberated, and relieved to be on her own again. She went jogging with Mrs. Lynch, and rejoined the Sunday morning yoga class at the town hall. Every second evening she went to the gym in the Leisure Center and lifted weights, ran on the treadmill, swam ten laps of the pool and went home exhausted.

Kitty was a teacher at the Community Secondary School. She came there as a young woman and some thirty years later, she still looked much the same as the day she arrived, apart from the wrinkles on her face. When she taught me I had a crush on her, but we didn’t get along that great. It annoyed her that I was good at English but hopeless at French.

In her heyday, Kitty was an attractive woman with short brown hair and the smile of an angel. She had a soft Northwest accent and blue eyes, and an elegance that befitted a lady. For work she dressed better than all other teachers, in quality clothes with a professional accent. She went casual on weekends in jeans and purple fleece, and had a tomboy look with a swagger that said she was fun. She could knock back a pint as good as any man, but rarely drank more than two.

Since the day she moved to our town, Kitty lived in the same apartment, the top floor of an old Edwardian house across The Square from our pub. Whether she was aware of it or not, but my mother knew when she came and went, who called to her, how long they stayed and so on. Sometimes over a few drinks after the bar closed, Mother would look out the window, see the apartment ablaze with 100-watt bulbs and say, “Kitty’s in The Lighthouse tonight.”

This could lead to gossip or theories about Kitty, which I found painful because I still had a crush on her. Mother would wait for me to comment, but I never did. She’d finish her drink and sigh, “Poor Kitty is a weird fish.”

Because our pub was the nearest to Kitty’s place, her men friends often dropped in for a drink while waiting for her to come back from work, or maybe just to raise some courage before meeting her. Mother could name all the suitors who came there since Kitty had joined us.

Top of the list was Mr. Rogan, an engineer from Ennis, a red-haired man who smoked a pipe and wore a green corduroy jacket. A nice man, my mother thought, a bit on the quiet side, but very well travelled and a great conversationalist when he got going. He was seeing Kitty for over two years, and a rumor went around that they were looking at sites on the High Road and thinking of building a house. Kitty looked very happy with Mr. Rogan, and linked him tightly when they went for walks down the Glen or did shopping around town. They looked like they were in love, but something snapped and suddenly Kitty gave Mr. Rogan the boot. The poor man was distraught and would drive from Ennis every evening, have a few pints in our place and watch for signs of life in Kitty’s apartment. Then he crossed The Square and rang her bell, but there was never a response. After a month he gave up, and we never saw him again.

Kitty went on the steers after that, a summer of self-improvement she called it, but it lasted a couple of years. She had occasional boyfriends, but they never stayed long and she went back on the steers for another while.

Then she met Mr. Hillman, a reporter with The Clare Clarion. We knew Mr. Hillman, because he reported on court cases, dog races and funerals in town; he often wrote his stories in our pub. There was always a notebook peeping out of his pocket and the seat by the window became his perch while he waited for Kitty. He was the first writer that I ever met and from talking to him, I decided to write a book.

Publicly they were not as close as she and Mr. Rogan, but Hillman stayed at her place a few nights every week. I found it hard to see them kiss goodbye in the morning, when I went to get the papers. They were together for a a year or more and seemed to be getting on well.

And then one night they had a row. We could hear the muffled shouts across The Square and my mother peered through the window. It was well after closing time and we were having a few drinks in the dark. Next we saw that Mr. Hillman was outside Kitty’s place, trying to talk calmly to her. She was wearing a nightdress and shouted, “Shut to fuck up! I’ve had it with you!”

Then the door banged and Mr. Hillman shouted, “And I’ve had it with you too, you fucking adolescent!”

Unlike Mr. Rogan, Mr. Hillman didn’t come ringing Kitty’s doorbell again, but whenever he came to town reporting on a story, he parked outside her place and always dropped in to our pub for a few pints. One day my mother asked him how Kitty was and he shook his head.

“Ah Kitty, poor Kitty. She has a lot of baggage.”

“God help us,” my mother said, and left it at that.

That night I began the book with a speculative piece about Kitty’s baggage. I wrote in an old leather bound shop ledger, which was the size of serving tray and at least four inches thick. The edging was marbled and the tome weighed a half-stone at least. It was slow going, writing in longhand most days with my father’s old fountain pen. I didn’t know what the book was going to be about, or if it was going to be fiction or a mishmash of poetry and prose. It would be a reflection of whatever was on my mind. Therapy maybe. With the book on the counter, I toiled away like the monks of old, while I waited for drinkers to arrive. When they did, I carefully dried the ink with blotting paper, closed the book and put it under the till.


Click title for Kindle Edition Download: “No,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve Never Had That Experience” This Kindle edition can be read on Mac, PC, iPad etc using free Kindle app

Books by Eddie Stack

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Return Journey

It always warms me at how easily I slip into Irish mode, a jigsaw piece slotting back into the puzzle, just like I never had left. A day or two back home and my friends begin to drop by. Some call during the day, others at all hours of the night. Some text beforehand: ‘welcome back. R u up 4 a visit?’; ‘passing Fitz’s cross. Put on the kettle’; ‘heard you home. Will drop in for quick chat’. Others just arrive at the door, bearing smiles and gifts. Artists, sound engineers, boatmen, relatives, ladies in waiting. All good friends, the fabric of my life.

Our cottage was built in 1798, The Year of the French. It has been re-roofed and revamped a few times since, and there’s a lot of history and a feeling of good vibes between its 3-foot thick walls. Antoine Ó Raifteiri the poet spent many nights here on his rambles around Kiltartan. A century later, Yeats cast his eyes on the ground as he passed the door on his daily walk from Toor Ballylee. The first ever outside broadcast of Irish traditional music was made here, when Ciarán MacMathúna recorded Joe Cooley, Joe Leary, Milo Mullins, Mike Fada Fahy, Dolly Furey (his future wife), and others. The ‘new’ flagstone floor in the living room came from Russell’s quarry in Doolin and was quarried out by my sons Aindrias and Éamon, under Gussie Russell’s tutelage. When I had very little going for me in America and other parts of the world, thoughts of my little flag-floored cottage kept me keeping on.

Inside the décor is boho San Francisco cum traditional Irish. An adventurous son painted one of the doors in Rasta colours. Another door came from an old Protestant church and has two stained glass panels. The pews in the kitchen came from the same church. The living room is cluttered with books, shelves of cds and bric-a-brac from thrift stores in San Francisco’s Mission. From the stairway hang laminates from festivals and memorable gigs, a fiddle bow and a fishing rod. We have a stove in the stone hearth and the tiled wall behind it was inspired by a cafe wall in Barcelona. On the walls there’s art by Phillip Morrison, Ted Turton, Mick O’Dea and my son Jamie. There’s a 1950’s kitsch couch and armchair that I bought from a farmer in Tulla, and an old sugán chair that came from Doolin. When there’s a half-set being danced, most of the furniture is put outside in a hurry.

Here, the light wakes me early in the morning. There are no human sounds, just birdsong. Finches, blackbirds, thrushes and more I can’t identify. There’s the cooing of wood pigeons, chattering magpies and caws from the rookery down the road. After breakfast I go for a walk. This is the land of lush meadows, verdant trees of every variety, rabbits, hares and foxes. I’m the only human about and stroll the boreens, halting now and then to look at the dew on the fields, the bees and the blackberry blossoms, the swallows and swifts dancing overhead. Nature in its element, timeless and perfect.

At a certain part of my walk, I can see the Burren in the distance. The grey sleeping mountains are worth their weight in gold. The Burren is calming, an anchor to the long ago. It gives out protection and a feeling of connection. When the weather is warm and water is scarce, the wild goats come down from there and head this way. There are little streams and small ponds around here, and the herds drink from them in the early morning. When I meet them they stare at me as if to say ‘WTF are you doing here?’

Joe Cooley

We have an old half-door— the bottom half used be closed to keep the hens out, and the top left open to let in light and fresh air. From the door we can see the hills of East Clare and Mahera Mountain: Martin Hayes country. We probably can see each other’s houses with binoculars. East Clare music flows all the way over to here. In the meadow beside the cottage, Seán Reid of the Tulla Ceili Band once asked Joe Cooley if he’d play with the team that night. Cooley was making hay with Mike Fada Fahy and had a pitchfork in his hand.
“Why wouldn’t I?” Joe said and plunged the fork into the ground. He walked away from the meadow with Reid and went home to get his accordion.
“That was the end of Joe and the farmin,” Mike Fada used say.
A turning point in a man’s journey that breathed new life and vibrancy into Irish traditional music. In this place, tunes and stories, poems and songs surround me. This is home, back to the roots, ar ais don draíocht.


Joe Cooley photo courtesy of Cooley-Keegan CCE, San Francisco


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