Biddy Early shadows Twitter fan, in County Clare, Ireland…
On a misty Saturday afternoon recently, a man slowly rode down from the Knockmore Hills on a white mare. He stopped at the village of Ahacoolawn, and tied the mount to a lamppost in the church parking lot. He walked along the dark side of the street and asked a kid on a tricycle where he could do the Lotto. No Lotto machine here, the youngster said, try Ballygong, and away he pedaled down the footpath. The horseman took a mobile phone from his coat pocket and twittered:
#Urgent. Is there a lotto machine in Ballygong, Clare, Ireland?
Biding his time for a reply, he scanned the village and saw Haddock’s Bar and Grocery. He squinted like Clint Eastwood at the bright red shopfront and strolled across the street to the premises.
At the grocery counter inside the door, an elderly woman chatted to the shopkeeper and his wife. They lowered their voices when he entered and watched him sit on a stool at the bar. The old woman wondered if he might be an outlaw, with the long black coat and wide-brimmed hat that shadowed his face. But his gear looked new, and he could be a millionaire too, like that what’s-his-name who lived in the manse below in Greenaquilla.
“Grand day,” Mrs. Haddock smiled, coming to the bar counter.
“Beautiful,” the man said quietly, “Could I have a hot whiskey please.”
She tried to place his accent but a whiff of horse sweat got in the way and she backed off.
“Hot whiskey,” she said, “I’ll have to boil the kettle.”
“No rush,” he said, took the phone from his pocket and looked at it. A twitter from Blupak: you won’t win the Lotto tonight! He pecked at the keypad.
Mrs. Haddock went to the kitchen and put a kettle of water on the gas stove. An odd drink to order on a fine afternoon in May, a hot whiskey. Maybe he had a cold or something. She blew her nose, returned to the shop to get the whiskey but instead rejoined her husband at the grocery counter.
“Well Gertie, if I were you,” Mr. Haddock was saying to the customer, “The Sultan would be the last man I’d ask to do that job.”
“But sure what can I do? There’s no wan else around to do that kinda thing anymore.”
“I’d be wary of The Sultan,” Mrs. Haddock said, “But the Lord have mercy on poor ol’ Mickey Conboy, but if he was alive and he’d do it, an’ do it well.”
“Now you’re talkin’,” the woman agreed, “Mickey was the last of d’aul stock, God be good to ‘im.”
“Usen’t Mona Daly do that work too?” Mrs. Haddock asked.
“She wasn’t worth a damn,” Gertie muttered in disgust, “useless…an’ d’you know what? She’d drink twice the amount of any man…”
“She’s a right terror,” JJ Haddock agreed, “sure the evenin’ of Martin Fuller’s funeral we couldn’t get her to go home. And the language outa her was desperate…”
“You need a sober person for that job,” Gertie said, “no use havin’ a lac-kay with a shake in the hand or a loose tongue.”
“No,” Mrs. JJ agreed quietly, “that kinda thing has to be low-key.”
“Anyway, as long as things wouldn’t get out of control,” Mr. Haddock muttered.
“Things are out of control already JJ,” said Gertie, “Our time is over in this country. And d’ye know what, when the hippies moved in around here, we thought the place was finished…but the hippies are streets ahead of what’s goin’ around now…”
“The hippies are grand people,” Mr. Haddock agreed.
They became silent and peeped at the stranger who was looking at his phone. He chuckled and they watched until the kettle whistled from the kitchen and Mrs. Haddock cried,
“Oh God…I forgot about the hot whiskey.”
Uaineas twittered: where the @#ck is Ballygong? Gagagin posted: nearest Lotto to Ballygong is Killamoneen. Blurp4 said: we’re all getting plastered at Nobby’s place.
He put down the phone when a steaming tumbler of hot whiskey and a bowl of sugar were put in front of him. Mrs. Haddock apologised that she had neither lemon nor cloves and he told her not to worry, it was fine. His mobile phone was flashing on the counter and she hurried back to the others and said,
“D’you know what I was just thinkin’ Gertie, would any of the hippies be able to do that job?”
Silence for a few seconds. Mr. Haddock wondered why the drinker was tapping on the phone like a woodpecker.
“Hippies wouldn’t be able to handle a job like this,” Gertie said slowly, “sure Mary Tom went to a hippie lady beyond near Gort there a few years ago with a similar situation and the whole thing went completely haywire. Haywire. It all backfired and poor Mary ended up Inside.”
“The hippies wouldn’t know much about that kinda thing,” JJ Haddock agreed.
“But to give them their due,” Gertie said, “they’d help you out if they could…some of ’em are very handy. And obligin’ too.”
“Sure there’s all different kind of hippies now,” Mrs. Haddock sighed, “and sure there’s the crustys and the…the what d’you call ’em?”
“New agents?” suggested Gertie, “A lot of them aren’t right hippies at all, at all. Right hippies ate mate, grow their own tabaccy and drink all around them. But they cause no trouble.”
“The right hippie believes in peace,” said JJ, “peace and love…you’d see it there on the television.”
The stranger laughed at his phone and they stopped talking. He looked around and asked,
“May I have another hot whiskey please?”
His eyes sparkled in the evening sun, and Gertie clutched the counter. She saw the smiling eyes of a preacher from a cowboy film she’d seen in a traveling road show. It was long ago, but the story flickered before her in patches and she heard drifts of lonesome harmonica notes and the crackling of a campfire on the prairies. And if he’s that smart on the mobile phone, she thought, he’d surely find an answer. He doffed his hat and Gertie whispered to Mr. Haddock,
“Sweet Jesus, that’s the man for the job. Give him a double whiskey and fill a small wan for myself.”
Banjax9 twittered: I’d get outa there rapid if I were u.
credit: Biddy Early Country pic by Mary Gaynor
Biddy Early: herbalist, healer, wise woman from Clare (c. 1798–1874). Renowned to be faster than Google to come up with an answer, Biddy is said to re-appear around the county when times get tough.
lac-kay: from the Irish leath-cíall =half-wit
Books by Eddie Stack