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Granda and Me

For the year and the month that’s in it, I thought this deserves another outing…

Granda and Me

Granda had a ‘thing’ about the church — he was excommunicated during the Irish War of Independence for carrying a gun and that turned his head. Even though Bishop Harty took him back to the fold afterwards and blessed him and everything, Granda never went back spiritually. He just went through the motions.

At Mass, I used watch his Einstein head from the choir gallery, his mind in another world, rising, kneeling and sitting with the flow of congregation. He came without prayer book or beads and sometimes fell asleep, even snored, during fire and brimstone sermons.

Granda seldom mentioned religion, which was kind of taboo in our house. If it did come up in conversation, he’d point to the picture of St. Patrick which hung above the radio in the kitchen and calmly say,
“D’you see that man up there who’s staring down at you? Your own patron saint? Well it’s that man’s followers who dug Ireland’s grave and put the stake in her heart to make sure she was dead and would never rise again.”
I saw grown men and women flee from our house in horror after hearing Granda’s revisionist theories on our patron saint and the men in black who came in his wake.

The picture of Saint Patrick was ever-present and I think it hung on the wall as a prop for Granda’s theories, sort of like a wanted poster. Sitting, eating or doing homework at the table, you couldn’t escape the Saint’s gaze as he stood on the sea-shore in bad weather, rage in his eyes, crosier raised and vestments flapping. At his feet were scores of wriggling snakes, squirming from Erin with their lives. It was a nightmarish sight.
“But what about the snakes?” I asked Granda one day.
“There were no snakes. All that snakes stuff is pure propaganda.”
Proper gander to my young ears, a polite way of saying total bullshit.

Saint Patrick came to the fore at school some months later when Brother Liston announced it was time to practise our Irish hymns, the National Holiday was coming round the bend. There was a big cheer in class, because we loved to sing. It was an easy way to pass the time and the noise we generated blocked the wind and rain and raised our tender young hearts. We could build up great steam with a hymn, belting out Latin words that meant nothing to us. When we got really cooking Brother Liston would light a few candles, put them in front of the statue of Our Lady, close his eyes and conduct the choir with a pencil. Sometimes we sang for hours, candles would expire and the smell of burning wax would bring Brother Liston back from Heaven. Then we’d finish with a rousing march that went—We stand for God, And for his Glory.

We had hymns for all season — requiems, High Mass, Benediction, Novenas, Rosaries, plain chant, hymns for the conversion of Russia, Easter specials, Christmas carols, but Saint Patrick’s melodies were the oddest. Unlike the others, they were mostly in Irish and so we understood the words. But that in turn opened another can of maggots when I deduced that one of the hymns was a plea to Saint Patrick to give us hope. I didn’t realize we were hopeless until then. It seemed something was going on that I knew nothing about. There was no point in discussing my anxiety with Brother Liston so I mentioned it to Granda one Lenten evening over a supper of kippered herrings and brown bread. He asked me to sing a snatch of the hymn, which I did:
Give us hope, Glorious Saint Patrick,
Great Liberator of Ireland,
Soul of brightness and joy,
You who vanquished the druids,
Dark hearted pagans of no good.

The song freaked Granda. He reeled from the table like he was shot. It was all wrong, he flared, it was propaganda. And what’s all this tripe about the druids, he asked, the druids were fine people, very learned and wise. And what was all this about the liberation of Ireland, he cried, sure it’s the Church that oppressed us. Jesus Christ, he moaned that’s the worst piece of propaganda I’ve heard in years. And worser still, it’s being drummed into the heads of children. My mother told him to shut up. His eyes glazed and he shook his wild head of wild white hair and muttered,
“That song is heresy. Pure unadulterated heresy. If the druids were around today, we’d be a lot better off.”
I didn’t know what heresy was, but I knew it was serious and after that I held back on the song at choir practice. Brother Liston twigged my reluctance to sing and stood beside me, his ear a foot from my mouth. Louder, he muttered. I obliged. Louder, he growled giving me a pinch on the ear. I skidded out of key and he hit me a fierce clatter across the head and knocked me out of my desk.

That year, a new curate called Father Malachy organized the first ever Saint Patrick’s Day parade in our parish. It was a small affair that started outside the church after last Mass and trailed through the street, ending at the Protestant Church on the other end of town. The parade was led by a fife and drum band from a place called Bunwanny, a bedraggled lot in kilts and black tunics, they were famous for the amount they drank and they made an awful sound. Behind them marched a company of soldiers without guns, followed by our civil defence corp—the men from the firebrigade, then Bogie Molloy leading a pack of greyhounds. Next came a couple of floats—coal and sand trucks decked with green ribbons, carrying dancers, footballers and local characters.

We had no experience with parades and wondered what to do as it passed. Should we cheer like they did in America? Heckle like we did politicians? Or join in behind Willie Daly’s pony troupe? We joined in. The whole street joined in: shouting and cheering like a crowd of jail breakers, we marched behind Daly’s team of ponies. The town hadn’t seen so much jubilation since the night Bogie’s greyhound won a big race in Shelbourne Park.

Afterwards, Brother Liston corralled us into the parochial hall to sing hymns for the annual old folks party. We sang well, got sweets and green jelly for our efforts and were allowed to stay for the sing-song. Granda was there, a big sprig of shamrock in his cap. He had drink taken and no sooner were we finished with our hymns than he stood up, dragged Murt Hynes, (who sat beside him) to his feet and announced that they were going to sing.
They sang a rebel song, Down By The Glenside. They were old soldiers and never missed a chance to put things in perspective. Brother Liston smiled but didn’t join in the chorus like everyone else. I sang like a lark,
“Glory-oh, glory-oh, to the bold Fenian men.”
After that performance, when the clapping died down, Aggie Marrinan began to croon in a soft voice,
“The night was dark and the fight was over,
The moon shone down on O’Connell Street.”

Everyone sang and the mood had shifted from a religious one to a patriotic one. I was beginning to notice there were different layers to Saint Patrick’s Day. Some had nothing to do with the saint, as far as I could see. It was an occasion to open the valve and let it all out. You could be as Irish as you liked and feel good about it. You could put away the Halloween costume for a day.
Granda was asked to sing again and he obliged with an emigration song which began “On the dock the ship is anchored…” and had a line in the chorus that went — “Three leaf Shamrock I adore thee.”
That started a spate of shamrock songs and then Brother Liston took the limelight and sang a quasi-religious ballad called “Dear Little Shamrock.”
He had a quivering tenor voice, a trained voice, as Aggie Marrinan would say, and his performance was unsettling. Old timers shuffled their feet under the tables, cutlery fell on the floor, chairs creaked. He finished on a high tension note that lasted for half a minute or more, but before anyone could applaud, Granda thumped the table, staggered to his feet and shouted,
“Propaganda! Propaganda!” at the startled Christian Brother.
Cronies pulled at Granda and whispered,
“Sit down Ned. Take it easy.”
John Gallery muttered to me,
“Jesus, your grandfather will be arrested.”
Granda wagged his finger at the monk and shouted,
“Don’t hijack the shamrock, ye did it once but ye won’t do it again!”
The party delved into confusion. People shouted, staggered, chairs overturned, Father Malachy appealed for calm. Aggie Marrinan seized the moment and thumped out “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” on the piano. But they weren’t, they were just cockeyed with drink and anarchy.

Granda was taken home by Coyne the butcher and later that night Father Malachy came to the house to see how he was. In bed, my mother said, opening the door three inches. He didn’t rise for two days and when he did, mother ignored him.
Back at school Brother Liston looked at me strangely and didn’t ask me anything for days, kept out of my space. My mother’s intuition told her he was planning to give me a trouncing for Granda’s indiscretions. She suggested that Granda write an apology to the monk and when he made no attempt to, she wrote one herself. I brought the note to school with me and planned to give it to Liston at the eleven o’clock break, as discreetly as possible.
The note gave me a sense of security, like a holy medal or a drop of Lourdes water is said to give. But then when I wasn’t expecting it, Brother Liston pounced. It was Catechism class and he asked me to prove the existence of God. My proof didn’t even convince me. It was curtains.
“Come up here you pagan,” squalled Brother Liston, beckoning me up to the front of the class for public execution.
“Put out your hand and take it like a man,” he ordered.
I did, and with every blow wanted to scream ‘propaganda’ at the panting monk. He belted me until I cried, not with hurt but with rage. Then he gave me two clips across the face for good measure and said,
“You better learn the Proof of the Existence of God by tomorrow or you’ll get twice the hiding. Pagans aren’t welcome in my class.”

Back at the desk I sat on my hands to ease the searing pain. My cheeks blazed as if they’d been branded with a red-hot cattle iron and I hung my head in shame as the Christian Brother ridiculed me and my family in front of the class. I think that was the day I became totally disillusioned with God, St. Patrick, Rome, vocations, teachers and men in dark clothes.
Mid-morning break came, time to slip Liston the note. As I walked towards him, something older than me muttered inside my head, “don’t bother”. I hurried past the sneering holy man and went straight to the toilet, locked myself into a stall, tore the note into tiny pieces and scattered them into the bowl. I pulled the chain and rang out the bells of hell again and again until a torrent of monastery water washed away my poor mother’s plea in a hundred pieces. No apology, no surrender. That’s the way Granda would have done it.


Books by Eddie Stack

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When Angels go Home for Christmas (part II)

here’s part II, read first part here Enjoy + share…


When Angels go Home for Christmas

mummersThe mummers next stop was Dawltawl, a lonesome village that was cold as a mortuary slab even in the finest day of summer. There were few houses here and no children to welcome them. But their antics and music cheered the people to recklessness and they pressed mugs of whiskey on them, in the hope that they might stay longer. Drink went to the Healer’s head and he sang a rousing ballad called The Wild Rover, to the beat of the kettle drum. The Missing Postman had no letters to deliver, but loosened by whiskey he related all the news and lies he could think of. When he got stuck for words, the white haired lady sang an emigration dirge that brought the villagers to tears. Weeping faces bade them farewell and blessings and prayers echoed after them for miles.

Several of the batch were merry from drink, including young Hawkins, who broke into song when he saw the sea in the distance. He gave a fine rendition of The Boys of Barr na Sráide, a classic song about mummers and his compatriots joined in the last line ‘when the Boys of Barr na Sráide went hunting for the wran.’ After that Bachus sang ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and everyone sang the chorus:

‘Her eyes they shone like diamonds,
You’d think she was queen of the land,
With her hair flung over her shoulder,
Tied up with a black velvet band.’

The mummers called at a few more house on their way to the coast and they were well treated with drink and coin. The collection box was heavy and several of them were drunk by the time they reached the sea. It was snowing now and the sky darkened. Two of the Softwood brothers were bickering and Uaigneas Gallagher had a fit of swearing.

“Will ye all shut up to Hell’s blue blazes!” cried the white haired lady, “We have miles to go before we’re finished. Miles to go!”

She stared at the troublemakers and then snuggled against G’way Bawn on the pony. He turned right on the sea road and led the troupe along The Flaggy Shore.

rosslare

The snow was falling fast and heavy when they came to the Neither Lands, a large apron of coast broken into twenty or more small islands by centuries of floods and tides. Steppingstones and humpbacked bridges connected islands to each other. Some were inhabited, others were deserted and more were said to be haunted. The mummers crossed the causeway to the Near Island and called to the house of Brewdor, an old man with a young wife. Apart from a huge bed, the room was empty and hushed as a seashell. A blazing fire and several Christmas candles lit the space. The Brewdor clapped his hands and shouted,

“Music! Music!”

He stood in the middle of the floor, bowed graciously and waited for the tune. Running on whiskey, the mummers played fast and reckless and the little man soon wilted. His eyes rolled, his feet tangled and he collapsed in a heap. His wife rushed to his aid and screamed,

“Open the door and let in the fresh air!”

The musicians retreated from the casualty and The Healer went outside for two handfuls of snow and laid the mush on the old man’s face. His eyelids fluttered to life for a minute or two, and he asked to be put to bed. The wife cradled his body in her arms and laid him under a quilt. She turned to the mummers and said,

“Ye nearly killed him, ye’re a proper disgrace, playin’ music like that. If anything happens to him, I’m gettin’ the magistrates after ye.”

“Don’t bother with no magistrates!” G’way Bawn cried, “The Healer will cure Mr. Brewdor. He’ll stay with ye ’till the good man is right as rain. We’ll call for him on our way back to the mainland.”

The mummers slipped outside, the woman mounted the pony behind G’way Bawn and he led the batch to the next island. Bacchus Tobin and Ocras Burke rode in the cart with Dado and progress was slow. Noses dripping, they journeyed across three deserted islands without seeing a house or any sign of life. It was like Napoleon’s retreat from Russia: slow rattle of the kettle drum against the blizzard, cart wheels and pony hooves skidding on ice glazed stones, freezing troops protecting instruments beneath their inside-out-coats. In blind faith they followed G’way Bawn until he shouted,

“Whoa!!”

The troop halted at a cul-de-sac in Illawara, an island of crumbling cottages, emptied a century earlier by a mysterious sadness.

“Back! Back! Back!” ordered G’way Bawn, tension in his voice.

The white haired lady tightened her grip around his waist and pressed her bosom against his bony shoulders.

“Christ,” muttered Dado, “I’m thinkin’ that we’re gone astray.”

On the Near Island, Brewdor thanked Hawkins for not poaching his wife.

“But you have to leave now,” he said, “because we’re goin’ to sleep.”

“And thanks for your help,” she said. “Only for you I’d be a widdaw. And don’t mind the rest of ’em, ’cause you’re the best of ’em.”

wren20With prayers and charms they sent the Healer on his way, and promised to relate his powers to whoever they met. Reeling from praise, he hurried through the snowy night in search of the mummers. He heard the shrill sound of a whistle and it drew him like a mating call. Hawkins followed the notes across three islands before finding a small child blowing a toy do-da outside a thatched cottage. When the child saw him he shrieked,

“The mummers! The mummers!”

The child’s mother appeared and asked,

“Where’s the rest o’ ye?”

“I’m lookin’ for ’em.”

“Well they didn’t call here yet,” she said, “and G’way Bawn’s mummers always call. Come in and wait for them.”

Inside she warmed a pot of fish stew over a driftwood fire and stole glances of him when he took off the Chaplin mask. She inquired who he was and shook her head and smiled when he told her.

“Well it’s a small world,” she said, “tell your grandmother that you met Rince Lynn. She brought me into this life twenty-five years ago, when my mother was a servant girl for the Downwaves in Bearnagweithe. Your grandmother was a very lucky midwife and a great healer.”

“She’s teachin’ me to be a healer.”

“’Tis in you,” she told him, serving the stew.

Rince Lynn listened to how he revived the man on the Near Island, and when she casually mentioned that her little son had eye trouble, he sat the child on his lap and tested his sight by making animal shadows on the whitewashed walls. He concluded the youngster had a lazy left eye and treated it by covering the good eye with one of his Mummer’s ribbons.

“You can change the cover every few days,” he said, “feed him plenty carrots and bathe the eyes in water from Tubbarmacdara if you can get it.”
Rince pressed two silver doubloons on him for his service.

“What are these?”

“Old money from the sailin’ ships. And isn’t this a strange thing, it was the man you cured on the Near Island that gave me a bag of ’em one time. I make brooches and rings out of ’em for the man with the traveling shop. That’s how I get by.”

“It’s time for the mummers to be calling,” the Healer said after she had put the child to bed. He opened the cottage door and stepped outside, listening for their racket. The snow had stopped and all he heard was the whirrey-whirrey of sea birds and the faint lapping of the tide on the winter shore.

“They’ll be here yet,” Rince said. “They’d never leave the Neither Lands without calling. G’way Bawn always calls here.”

hollyShe poured two jugs of brandy, lit a candle and prayed the mummers would leave them in peace. Not since the man with the traveling shop visited in November had she any company from the mainland. And this visitor was streets ahead of the man with the traveling shop.

“What other news have you,” she asked, feeding the fire, “tell me about the world abroad.”

“I was in Bearnagweithe just before the Christmas and I saw d’electric light. They have it in a lot of the shops and pubs.”

“What’s d’electric light?” Rince asked.

Without thinking too much, he gave a long explanation that brought a frown to her face and she wondered if she had given him too much drink. He rambled through the world of science, alchemy and magic and predicted advances in civilisation that made her shiver. She thought him too young to know such things and she stared at the fire, her mind wandering back to the last time she was in the company of a drunken man. That was the day herself and the man with the traveling shop got drunk on a cask of rum she’d found on the shore.

She slept with him that same night and when he called again, she was with child. A pious and honest man, he was smitten with guilt and became impotent. He lost his power, and she could never arouse him again. But he still called to see her and their son, leaving them provisions and buying homemade jewellery for his wife. The man with the traveling shop had left a puzzle in Rince’s mind: she didn’t know if she had fooled him, or if he had fooled her.

Soft snores brought her back to the night. The fire was dying and it was time to bed down. She wondered about the young man who was collapsed in a drunken sleep on the sugan chair. Should she put a blanket over him and pile up the fire to keep him warm ’till morning? Or take him to bed with her, just for the company, just for the warmth. She leaned over him and whispered,

“You’ll be more comfortable in my room.”

Rince led him by the arm to room behind the fireplace. She unlaced his boots and helped him out of the fur coat and woman’s dress. He looked at her in the cold blue night and gently touched her head.

“You can go in the inside,” she whispered, pulling back the covers.

The Healer climbed into bed and slid towards the wall. He lay on his back, listening to her clothes fall on the floor, smelling the heat from her body. She cuddled into him and whispered,

“Put your arms around me, this bed is freezing.”

Shy and innocent, he wrapped himself around her and wondered what to do next. The angels were all gone home for Christmas, so anything could happen. There was just Rince Lynn and himself, on a small island in the Neither Lands. Peace on earth and clumsy passion on a goose feathered bed. Lost lovers finding their way home on Saint Stephen’s Night.

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Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas

Doolin: people, place & culture — Amazon Bestseller by Eddie Stack


When Angels go Home for Christmas

long time no blog…here’s a Christmas story in 2 parts…enjoy!!


When Angels go Home for Christmas

The blizzard stopped late on Christmas night and St. Stephen’s Day woke under two feet of snow. There was peace on earth: Hawkins felt it from the gentle white rolling hills and the black skeletal bushes, he smelled it in the cold thin air coming through the crack in his bedroom window. In all his seventeen years this was his first white Christmas.

Up stairs in the same cottage, the Missing Postman stared at the same scenery but it made no impression on him. He had a savage hangover, his stomach was cramping and his head hurt. On top of everything, his brain was addled and he wasn’t sure what day it was.  But knew he had been here since the day before Christmas Eve, when he came to deliver a parcel from America. Snowed in and drunk ever since, he was miles away from base with a sack of undelivered mail.  The snow hurt his eyes and he moved from the window and sat on the bed. Voices sounded below and he put on his cap, straightened his tie and descended the ladder from the loft to the kitchen.

”God Bless ye!” he announced.

“And God bless you, M.P.” Nan and Dado said in unison.

They appeared busy and he wasn’t sure if they were ignoring him or not. He didn’t give it any more thought, and stood in front of the fire. Dado was getting dressed for the Mummers and wore an overcoat turned inside out, polka dot lining exposed. He was the postman’s age, sixty-two or three, but twice his size. Nan was as big as her husband and fussed around him, crisscrossing ribbons of green and gold over his shoulders and around his waist.

Hawkins came from the room behind the fireplace. He was responsible for dragging the postman eight miles or more into the back of beyond with a Christmas parcel from America. An innocent-eyed lanky fellow with wild dark hair, he was the couple’s grandson. Known as The Healer, he could cure certain disorders and took after Nan in that way. He was wearing a woman’s dress and a tattered black coat.

”Good morning M.P.” he mumbled.

“God bless you,” hailed the postman.

Hawkins blew notes on a penny whistle while Nan wrapped green and gold ribbons around him. Dado took up a two-row melodeon and vamped a couple of chords that segued into a reel. When the music built up steam, the Missing Postman’s feet tapped and he swirled like a clockwork ballerina and danced sparks from the flagstones. The little man with the snipe legs, bloodshot face and elfin ears, hopped high as popcorn, and stopped in mid-air when the music ended. The old couple and their grandson clapped.

“Come with us,” encouraged Dado, “you’ve great steps.”

”And you might be able to get rid of a few letters on the way,” said The Healer,

“And the fresh air will do you good,” Nan added.

He felt they were psyching him out of the house. Tiny silver stars danced and zinged around his head. He sighed and turned his coat inside out like Dado, an assurance against going astray.

“And maybe I could wear your cap,” suggested the Healer.

“God knows but I don’t know.” he muttered, staring at the head gear Dado offered him: a soldier’s helmet from the revolution.

The Healer pulled a Charlie Chaplin mask over his head and gave an Al Capone one to his grandfather. These were in the parcel that came from America, the youth told the postman. Nan fixed a goose quill to the Missing Postman’s helmet and stepped back to look at them.

“No wan will know ye!” she declared.

Muttering a prayer in Irish, she sprinkled blessed water on them, and sent them on their way to rhyme and roam.

IMG the handThey set off by pony and cart for the Hand, a flat slab of rock where the five roads of the parish met. It was a brisk ride, the pony trotting through the snow to keep warm and the three charioteers sharing a bottle of poitín to shorten the journey. Barren bog land was white and snow capped stonewalls looked like iced scones. The sky was a happy blue and The Healer declared that the world was different today. Dado said you’d know well that all the angels were gone home to heaven for Christmas because the fairies were everywhere.

When they reached The Hand, several musicians were already there. A kettle drummer and a cymbal player beat the daylights from their percussion to welcome them. Bacchus Tobin, robed as a woman with red petticoat and black shawl, waved a holly bush and a money-box.  Nylon stockings pulled over their faces, like terrorists with fiddles, the Softwood brothers and Úaigneas Gallagher tuned their instruments and sounded like a swarm of bees.  Under rouged faces and British bowler hats, Ocras Burke and a hunchback called Awful Sound, danced sean nós on the road. The Hand hummed like a Tibetan temple and young Hawkins’s mind took flight and he burst into an uncontrollable fit of yelling and yahooing.   

The racket stopped when G’way Bawn arrived. Tiny and wizened, he was a piper and rode a small grey pony. Dark and dour as Napoleon, he wore no disguise and looked like a bird crow, with his beaked nose and backcombed hair. G’way Bawn circled them without a word. For a few minutes there was silence and the winter sounds were heard again—cold crow caws, the curlew’s cry and the lonesome lowing of faraway cattle. G’way Bawn raised his right arm and led the troupe west towards the sea.

After a mile or so the mummers came to their first stop—a cluster of thatched cottages at the butt of the Knocknashee hills. To the sound of the kettledrum, G’way Bawn called out:

“They killed the Wran to carry the can,

Up with the kettle and down with the pan,

Give us a penny to bury the Wran.”

Before he had finished, children rushed from houses shouting,

“Mummers! Mummers! The mummers are here!”

The batch trooped through the street in single file— fiddles, flutes, pipes, whistles and melodeons pumping notes, drums and cymbals lashing, holly bush dancing. It was a kaleidoscope of colour, music and mayhem. Children marched behind them and adults clapped and shouted encouragement.  Ocras Burke and Awful Sound danced with wives and daughters, sometimes wheeling them from one house to another. The postman trailed behind, delivering letters and Christmas blessings, consuming whatever he was offered.

The mummers were hailed with drink and thanked with copper and silver coins.  Before they departed, G’way Bawn enticed a tall white haired woman with singing eyes to accompany them. She bundled together a few possessions, shut the door of her cottage and mounted his pony to a rowdy cheer.

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to be continued….


Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas


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.

images

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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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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The Reflections: doing our bit for Ireland

The Reflections were not a tourists’ band; we didn’t have a broad repertoire of waltzes, ballads, come-all-yahs and the other stuff that tourists can clap hands to. So we were a bit apprehensive when Aughty Taw announced that he had such a gig for us. It was a default gig: the original band had a double booking and a panicked hotel manager got in touch with Aughty. He said it was a lucrative job and there would be a free bar at the event. That clinched it.

It was in a venerable hotel in Ennis on a July Saturday afternoon, and we had nothing else to do that day, apart from an unplugged gig at Johnny Burke’s in Spanish Point later in the night. Johnny’s was a ‘trad and beyond gig,’ low pay, hi-jinks and free porter. We had fans down that side of the country and the plan was to camp out afterwards near the beach, have a bonfire and whoop it up until maidin geal. I was looking forward to that more than the tourist reception.

Tires the Roadie got the loan of a pick-up truck and brought drums, keyboards and other gear to Ennis; the rest of the outfit traveled with Aughty in a little green mini which was used to running on empty. On the way, I began writing out a set list. ‘Lovely Leitrim’, ‘Rambling Rose’, ‘Goodbye Johnny Dear’ and so on. I knew the melodies and would ad-lib the words as per normal. Aughty suggested instrumentals he could do on sax or clarinet — ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’, ‘Moonlight in Mayo’, ‘Christmas in Killarney’ and the likes. If worse came to the worst, he volunteered to croon old chestnuts like ‘Gentle Mother,’ ‘The Mountains of Mourne,’ and other vintage numbers. On whistle and fiddle he would play jigs and reels to give them a bit of diddly-eye candy. We had it all sorted by the time we passed through Inagh. Though we had never played these numbers before, we would ensure the tourists were happy campers.

Aughty said, “Jaysus lads, it’ll be a piece of cake. Money for shag-all and free drink for the boys. Sheo! It’ll set us up nicely for Johnny Burke’s — where, if we play our cards right, we’ll get more drink agus go leor ladies. Sheo!”

We echoed a chorus of “Sheo! Sheo! Sheo!” and Drummer Hill rattled on an empty petrol can with two coins.

We got to the hotel on time and Aughty met the manager, who brought us upstairs to the function room. I was taken aback by the size of it. The bandstand was in the corner opposite the bar and there were dozens and dozens of tables around the room. At the back, a team of chefs were setting up a banquet and I wondered if we had bitten off more than we could chew.

As Aughty had sourced the gig, he was the de-facto bandleader for the show. He called the shots. Tires set up the gear with Killoran and Drummer, and Aughty and myself massaged the set-list at a table. A waiter appeared and asked if we’d like a drink. I ordered a pint and Aughty said he’d have a brandy and port, with a pint of Harp. I gave him a sharp glance, indicating that it was a bit early to be hitting the hard stuff. He just muttered ‘Sheo!’ and jingled coins in his pocket. Shortly, we were joined at the table by the rest of the lads and we went over the set-list.

I don’t know how much we had drunk by the time the tourists arrived into the room, but it was a lot even for a Saturday afternoon. I remember the invasion of oddly dressed people, baseball caps, cameras, perfume, blue perms and ill-fitting toupees. They were mostly middle-aged and older, American, German, Asian, British. Hundreds of them. Ten busses, a waiter said. Reality shifted. We were in a Fellini movie. Killoran, now verging on speechless, leaned towards me and muttered best he could,

“I don’t…I…I don’t think we’ll get away with this one.”

The manager had requested that we play while the visitors dined and we took to the stage when a gong rang. Sax hanging from his neck, Aughty frowned at the set list and said, “Achtung! ‘When Irish Eyes are Smiling’. 3-4 time, two sharps. Over and out.”

We had a wobbly start but got it together after the first verse. I looked around and Drummer nodded, so did Killoran, we were in the groove and it was mellow. Aughty was playing fluid as a river and all that was missing was Bing Crosby. I was next up with ‘Lovely Leitrim,’ followed by ‘The Boys from the County Armagh.’ The visitors clapped cautiously and we ploughed along with ‘Katie Daly’, ‘The Butcher Boy’ and god knows what else. The clapping got louder and people came closer to have a look at us.

An American woman asked if we knew ‘Danny Boy,’ and Aughty said,

“Yes indeed, madam, and it is one of our all time favourites.”

He gave the usual commands, then blew a funky version of the song on the sax. It was a stand-out performance, totally out-there stuff, blues on the green, pure magic. Killoran took a solo on the ivories and Aughty gave a back-beat on a tambourine. He nodded to me to take a solo, and I went to the mic and spoke the words, like I imagined Van Morrison would do — “Oh Danny, Danny-Danny Boy…the pipes, the pipes, yeah man the pipes are calling…” I made up most of the rest of the words but the crowd didn’t mind, and clapped enthusiastically when I finished my piece. Then Aughty topped off the number on the clarinet and we got a huge applause.

The Asians were the first to twig that Aughty was a star and they gathered around the stage and took pictures of him. The attention sent him further out there and he took up the fiddle and blasted out a set of rocky reels. It was a Reflection’s gig like no other and we morphed into a Clare version of Horslips cum Fairport Convention. The tourists loved it and danced and pranced like Deadheads. We just couldn’t go wrong and Aughty controlled the show with commands like:

“Five-four on the two-eighty. Engines ready. Check, check. ‘Thank God We’re Surrounded by Water.’ Visibility good, prepare for takeoff.”

And away we’d go. Everything we did was a hit and so I asked Aughty if we might chance ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. I figured it would be awesome to have all the Yanks and the Germans, the Asians and everybody else sing ‘How does it feel? How does it feeeel..’ Aughty was horrified and said,

“Jesus, H Christ…is it daft you are? There will be no fucking Bob Dylan played at this engagement. I’m in the fucking cockpit!”

I was sorry for asking and drained a pint in two slugs. Then he had me sing ‘I’ll Tell My Ma,’ and as a peace-offering he funked it up a bit and that was as near as we got to Bob.

The evening flew and we hadn’t time to drink all that we got. After the show, we spent a good half-hour having our photos taken with giggling tourists. We smiled for Ireland and everyone was happy. Aughty was really spaced out and spoke to the foreigners in his own lingo. They were all enthralled, apart from the Germans. He did dodgy tricks for them with a pint glass, and tried to do somersaults and cartwheels on the dance floor. It was a comic attempt, money spilling out of his pockets before he crumbled into a laughing heap. The visitors clapped and laughed and photographed him. He could do no wrong, no matter how he tried. Up the Republic.

We dismantled the gear and packed away the instruments. Tires helped Aughty down the stairs from the function room, but he got wedged into the corner of a landing and became stuck. How we got from Ennis to Spanish Point, I don’t know.

Talty the Roadie was there before us and frowned when he saw Aughty stagger into the pub. We were late, we were banjaxed but the show had to go on: Johnny was a cousin of mine and family pride was at stake. I switched to lemonade to sober up a bit. Seeing our state, Johnny produced a huge plate of grilled sausages and said, “Ate up lads.”

Somehow or other we rose to the occasion, Aughty got a second wind and though all he could say was ‘Sheo!’ he played whistle and fiddle as good as the best. Killoran tinkled on a piano; Drummer beat bongos and bodhran, I rattled away on the mandolin and gave a few songs with the guitar. When our fans gathered, the bar revved up to ninety and we played anything that came into our heads. We were blasting out ‘Hey Jude’ — the long version — when the cops came, cleared the pub and told us to go home. Nah-nah-nah-nanan-an-nah…

Miltown Girl and a few of her mates pitched the tent for us. Fellas brought driftwood up from the shore and made a bonfire. Killoran and Talty came with crates of drink; Tires rolled joints and a few of the local heads gave him a hand. I lay on my back and looked at the stars, listened to the the surf lapping on the shore below. It was a beautiful night, surrounded by friends and happy ghosts, a salty freedom in the air. It had been a long day, but we did Ireland proud. Aughty played ‘The West Clare Reel’ on the whistle, and Miltown Girl sat beside me and rubbed my head.

“Hey you,” she said, “how did the Ennis gig go?”

“It was a bit of a detour,” I replied, “but they’re always the most interesting ones.”

“How about taking another detour?” she asked, pulling me to my feet.

We linked each other down to the beach and walked between the sea and the starry sky. From the bonfire came whoops and screams of merriment. Aughty blew a few notes on the whistle, Killoran strummed the guitar and the revelers sang Dylan’s ‘Mighty Quinn’. Then Drummer sang ‘Lay Lady, Lay’ and Miltown Girl and myself danced close and slow under the West Clare sky; danced until long after the music had stopped.


Books by Eddie Stack

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St Patrick’s Day Story: Granda and me

couldn’t let the day pass by without posting something…dig the graphix…have a great 17th everyone

Granda and Me

Granda had a ‘thing’ about the church — he was excommunicated during the Irish War of Independence for carrying a gun and that turned his head. Even though Bishop Harty took him back to the fold afterwards and blessed him and everything, Granda never went back spiritually. He just went through the motions.

At Mass, I used watch his Einstein head from the choir gallery, his mind in another world, rising, kneeling and sitting with the flow of congregation. He came without prayer book or beads and sometimes fell asleep, even snored, during fire and brimstone sermons.

Granda seldom mentioned religion, which was kind of taboo in our house. If it did come up in conversation, he’d point to the picture of St. Patrick which hung above the radio in the kitchen and calmly say,
“D’you see that man up there who’s staring down at you? Your own patron saint? Well it’s that man’s followers who dug Ireland’s grave and put the stake in her heart to make sure she was dead and would never rise again.”
I saw grown men and women flee from our house in horror after hearing Granda’s revisionist theories on our patron saint and the men in black who came in his wake.

The picture of Saint Patrick was ever-present and I think it hung on the wall as a prop for Granda’s theories, sort of like a wanted poster. Sitting, eating or doing homework at the table, you couldn’t escape the Saint’s gaze as he stood on the sea-shore in bad weather, rage in his eyes, crosier raised and vestments flapping. At his feet were scores of wriggling snakes, squirming from Erin with their lives. It was a nightmarish sight.
“But what about the snakes?” I asked Granda one day.
“There were no snakes. All that snakes stuff is pure propaganda.”
Proper gander to my young ears, a polite way of saying total bullshit.

Saint Patrick came to the fore at school some months later when Brother Liston announced it was time to practise our Irish hymns, the National Holiday was coming round the bend. There was a big cheer in class, because we loved to sing. It was an easy way to pass the time and the noise we generated blocked the wind and rain and raised our tender young hearts. We could build up great steam with a hymn, belting out Latin words that meant nothing to us. When we got really cooking Brother Liston would light a few candles, put them in front of the statue of Our Lady, close his eyes and conduct the choir with a pencil. Sometimes we sang for hours, candles would expire and the smell of burning wax would bring Brother Liston back from Heaven. Then we’d finish with a rousing march that went—We stand for God, And for his Glory.

We had hymns for all season — requiems, High Mass, Benediction, Novenas, Rosaries, plain chant, hymns for the conversion of Russia, Easter specials, Christmas carols, but Saint Patrick’s melodies were the oddest. Unlike the others, they were mostly in Irish and so we understood the words. But that in turn opened another can of maggots when I deduced that one of the hymns was a plea to Saint Patrick to give us hope. I didn’t realize we were hopeless until then. It seemed something was going on that I knew nothing about. There was no point in discussing my anxiety with Brother Liston so I mentioned it to Granda one Lenten evening over a supper of kippered herrings and brown bread. He asked me to sing a snatch of the hymn, which I did:
Give us hope, Glorious Saint Patrick,
Great Liberator of Ireland,
Soul of brightness and joy,
You who vanquished the druids,
Dark hearted pagans of no good.

The song freaked Granda. He reeled from the table like he was shot. It was all wrong, he flared, it was propaganda. And what’s all this tripe about the druids, he asked, the druids were fine people, very learned and wise. And what was all this about the liberation of Ireland, he cried, sure it’s the Church that oppressed us. Jesus Christ, he moaned that’s the worst piece of propaganda I’ve heard in years. And worser still, it’s being drummed into the heads of children. My mother told him to shut up. His eyes glazed and he shook his wild head of wild white hair and muttered,
“That song is heresy. Pure unadulterated heresy. If the druids were around today, we’d be a lot better off.”
I didn’t know what heresy was, but I knew it was serious and after that I held back on the song at choir practice. Brother Liston twigged my reluctance to sing and stood beside me, his ear a foot from my mouth. Louder, he muttered. I obliged. Louder, he growled giving me a pinch on the ear. I skidded out of key and he hit me a fierce clatter across the head and knocked me out of my desk.

That year, a new curate called Father Malachy organized the first ever Saint Patrick’s Day parade in our parish. It was a small affair that started outside the church after last Mass and trailed through the street, ending at the Protestant Church on the other end of town. The parade was led by a fife and drum band from a place called Bunwanny, a bedraggled lot in kilts and black tunics, they were famous for the amount they drank and they made an awful sound. Behind them marched a company of soldiers without guns, followed by our civil defence corp—the men from the firebrigade, then Bogie Molloy leading a pack of greyhounds. Next came a couple of floats—coal and sand trucks decked with green ribbons, carrying dancers, footballers and local characters.

We had no experience with parades and wondered what to do as it passed. Should we cheer like they did in America? Heckle like we did politicians? Or join in behind Willie Daly’s pony troupe? We joined in. The whole street joined in: shouting and cheering like a crowd of jail breakers, we marched behind Daly’s team of ponies. The town hadn’t seen so much jubilation since the night Bogie’s greyhound won a big race in Shelbourne Park.

Afterwards, Brother Liston corralled us into the parochial hall to sing hymns for the annual old folks party. We sang well, got sweets and green jelly for our efforts and were allowed to stay for the sing-song. Granda was there, a big sprig of shamrock in his cap. He had drink taken and no sooner were we finished with our hymns than he stood up, dragged Murt Hynes, (who sat beside him) to his feet and announced that they were going to sing.
They sang a rebel song, Down By The Glenside. They were old soldiers and never missed a chance to put things in perspective. Brother Liston smiled but didn’t join in the chorus like everyone else. I sang like a lark,
“Glory-oh, glory-oh, to the bold Fenian men.”
After that performance, when the clapping died down, Aggie Marrinan began to croon in a soft voice,
“The night was dark and the fight was over,
The moon shone down on O’Connell Street.”

Everyone sang and the mood had shifted from a religious one to a patriotic one. I was beginning to notice there were different layers to Saint Patrick’s Day. Some had nothing to do with the saint, as far as I could see. It was an occasion to open the valve and let it all out. You could be as Irish as you liked and feel good about it. You could put away the Halloween costume for a day.
Granda was asked to sing again and he obliged with an emigration song which began “On the dock the ship is anchored…” and had a line in the chorus that went — “Three leaf Shamrock I adore thee.”
That started a spate of shamrock songs and then Brother Liston took the limelight and sang a quasi-religious ballad called “Dear Little Shamrock.”
He had a quivering tenor voice, a trained voice, as Aggie Marrinan would say, and his performance was unsettling. Old timers shuffled their feet under the tables, cutlery fell on the floor, chairs creaked. He finished on a high tension note that lasted for half a minute or more, but before anyone could applaud, Granda thumped the table, staggered to his feet and shouted,
“Propaganda! Propaganda!” at the startled Christian Brother.
Cronies pulled at Granda and whispered,
“Sit down Ned. Take it easy.”
John Gallery muttered to me,
“Jesus, your grandfather will be arrested.”
Granda wagged his finger at the monk and shouted,
“Don’t hijack the shamrock, ye did it once but ye won’t do it again!”
The party delved into confusion. People shouted, staggered, chairs overturned, Father Malachy appealed for calm. Aggie Marrinan seized the moment and thumped out “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” on the piano. But they weren’t, they were just cockeyed with drink and anarchy.

Granda was taken home by Coyne the butcher and later that night Father Malachy came to the house to see how he was. In bed, my mother said, opening the door three inches. He didn’t rise for two days and when he did, mother ignored him.
Back at school Brother Liston looked at me strangely and didn’t ask me anything for days, kept out of my space. My mother’s intuition told her he was planning to give me a trouncing for Granda’s indiscretions. She suggested that Granda write an apology to the monk and when he made no attempt to, she wrote one herself. I brought the note to school with me and planned to give it to Liston at the eleven o’clock break, as discreetly as possible.
The note gave me a sense of security, like a holy medal or a drop of Lourdes water is said to give. But then when I wasn’t expecting it, Brother Liston pounced. It was Catechism class and he asked me to prove the existence of God. My proof didn’t even convince me. It was curtains.
“Come up here you pagan,” squalled Brother Liston, beckoning me up to the front of the class for public execution.
“Put out your hand and take it like a man,” he ordered.
I did, and with every blow wanted to scream ‘propaganda’ at the panting monk. He belted me until I cried, not with hurt but with rage. Then he gave me two clips across the face for good measure and said,
“You better learn the Proof of the Existence of God by tomorrow or you’ll get twice the hiding. Pagans aren’t welcome in my class.”

Back at the desk I sat on my hands to ease the searing pain. My cheeks blazed as if they’d been branded with a red-hot cattle iron and I hung my head in shame as the Christian Brother ridiculed me and my family in front of the class. I think that was the day I became totally disillusioned with God, St. Patrick, Rome, vocations, teachers and men in dark clothes.
Mid-morning break came, time to slip Liston the note. As I walked towards him, something older than me muttered inside my head, “don’t bother”. I hurried past the sneering holy man and went straight to the toilet, locked myself into a stall, tore the note into tiny pieces and scattered them into the bowl. I pulled the chain and rang out the bells of hell again and again until a torrent of monastery water washed away my poor mother’s plea in a hundred pieces. No apology, no surrender. That’s the way Granda would have done it.


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THE WEST


The Warrior Carty: an Irish Christmas Story


I grew up in a small pub in the west of Ireland, where every market and fair day, a cadre of old IRA men held fort at the corner of the counter. Known as ‘The Boys’, they were our local heros, the men who fought the British at Rineen, Monreel, 81 Cross and other hotspots. I once saw a picture of them taken in 1919 and was struck by how young they seemed back then, they looked like boys who’d just left school.

After ‘The Boys’ had a few drinks, conversation turned to the ‘campaign’ and who did what and who didn’t do that. Sometimes it seemed there was unfinished business from the revolution being settled in the pub. One man, Murt Hynes, used thump the counter and my father would have to tell him to take it easy. In the late afternoon, Murt often challenged his mates to take up the cause again and ‘finish the job for once and for all.’ They stared at the floor in silence, finished their drinks and went home. Alone, Murt would sing a few rebel songs and then my mother made a plate of ham sandwiches to fortify him for the journey home.

The Warrior Carty is set on the day of a fair around Christmas time. The character is not directly based on any of ‘The Boys’, but I have always felt he was one of them.


The Warrior had enough of the Christmas fair and took cover in Looney’s bar. It was empty, dark and cold, still waiting to be strobed by the solstice sun.

“A harmless aul fair,” sniffled Bridgey, totting up his bill on a brown paper bag. “Four shillins for the Powers an’ three an’ sixpence for the bottle a porter…what’s that altogether?”

“Seven an’ six Bridgey,” said the Warrior, leaving three half crowns on the red formica counter. He settled them into a small pile. “Thanks Bridgey, and good luck to you.”

“The same to yourself…ahh, they have the country ruined…and everythin’ is so dear sure…”

“They have this poor country shagged, Bridgey. That’s about the size of it now.”

“‘Tis true for you…”

“And what’s more, the crowd that’s doin’ it never fired a shaggin’ shot in their life.”

“‘Tis true for you.”

“Anyways,” sighed the Warrior, flopping his arms in resignation, “give us another small whiskey.”

“Powers, wasn’t it? ”

“‘Twas…that’s the way now Bridgey. What kind of a Christmas are ye havin’ so far?”

“Yarrah…’tis quiet. Don’t you know yourself now. An’ sure today is the big day an’ can’t you see the way it is. Quiet, sure. You might rise a stir in it yourself above in the Square later on.”

“Not today, Bridgey.”

“No?”

“Not today, Bridgey,” the Warrior repeated, shaking his head, “but anyways, this is the overcoat I was tellin’ you about, the last day I here.”

She admired the dark crombie coat and listened to how he came upon it. And he was wearing the good blue suit, clean shirt, collar and tie. These he bought from the Pakistani hawker who came to Ennis every Saturday. That was another story, better left for another day, he said.

“Is there anyone dead belongin’ to you?” she asked.

“No, not that I know of, Bridgey,” he answered. “And I didn’t hear anything up the town. But there was a funeral this morn beyond in Maheramore, I s’pose you heard that. That poor Mrs. Canney was buried. Her son is married to a daughter of Paraffin Hogan’s.”

“Is that the boy that drives Blake’s lorry.”

“Now you have it.”

“That’s where Doran’s hearse must have been. It passed up the road a while ago.”

“I got a lift to town with them. ‘Twas my first time in a hearse and it won’t be my last, Bridgey.”

“‘Tis true for you.”

She smoked one of his cigarettes and put the pieces together. The Warrior was wearing his good clothes because of the funeral. He had a few drinks after filling the grave with Doran. That’s why he wasn’t going up to the Square, he had drink taken. He never drinks before going to the Square.
“Are you alright now for a while? I have to put down the dinner.”
“Sound as a bell Bridgey — but give us another half wan an’ a packet of plain cigarettes so I wont be botherin’ you.”

Bridgey peeled potatoes into a bowl by the kitchen fire.”That bar out there is freezin’,” she sniffled. If it got any colder she would have to get an oil heater. She could hear him stamp his feet to keep the blood running to his toes.

“Are you alright, Warrior?” she called, tapping on the bar window.

“Sound as a bell, Bridgey. The circulation.”

“I hope he don’t throw a turn,” she mumbled. It would be the talk of the country — The Warrior Carty to die in the only pub he was served in. The six other publicans in the town would not let his toe inside their doors but Bridgey saw no harm in him. He was persecuted by his own after he fought for them in the War of Independence and the Civil War. Later he went abroad and the misfortunate wretch got shell-shocked in some foreign war. That’s where the strange behavior comes from, like the exhibition above in the Square. “God help us,” she sighed and added an extra potato to the pot.

The usual crowd gathered in the Square before midday and waited for the Warrior Carty. This was the highpoint of their fair — to see and cheer this robust man lift a cart-wheel, which was as big and as heavy as himself, and balance it on the hub of his chin while the Angelus bells rang out. It was an extraordinary feat and he performed it at every fair, hail, rain or snow. He did it to distract the fair from prayer and succeeded for the most part. The Warrior’s act could be the making or the breaking of the day.

When the church bells called for prayer in Looney’s bar the Warrior blew a smoke ring for every peal. It was as defiant as he wanted to be that midwinter’s day. He knew the followers in the Square would be disappointed, but that was life — nothing lasts for ever. He had retired. The decision had been made in his sleep and he was obeying. Orders from the management. Not God, just the Management.

The crowd felt like fools. Cheated of their entertainment and their prayers, they dispersed sullenly and griped about the Warrior. Where was he? Had he not walked the town earlier in the day, showering everyone with Christmas greetings? It was not his form to ignore the call of duty, especially today, The Small Fair of Christmas.

A long lean farmer said he must have lost his nerves. His neighbour disagreed. “The Warrior was born without nerves,” he claimed. It was his age. “He must be sixty-five or seventy years old if he’s a day,” he insisted, sliding into Peter Egan’s bar. Inside, they joined a couple of cattle jobbers who were already discussing the Warrior.

“Well sure, he started out first in Boland’s Mill in 1916…then he led the Faha column of the boys in 1920,” declared a barrel-shaped jobber in a once-white coat. “I know it. And he never surrendered after the Civil War. I know that, too. Carty never handed over the gun.”

“Tha’s right sure. ‘Don’t give up the fight.’ I often heard him say that,” drawled his companion. “An’ he went off to Spain with the Brigade too. Maybe that was to get another wallop at the Blueshirts

“Maybe, but I don’t think so.”

“An’ sure if they hadn’t locked him up in the Curragh Camp durin’ the last war he’d have been soldierin’ somewhere.”

some of the Clare IRA who ambushed + vanquished the Black & Tans at Rineen, 1921

Bridgey left a plate with a piece of haddock and a potato on the counter.
“Ate this,” she said. “It’ll do you good.”

“The Blessin’s a God on you Bridgey,” he said and picked at the meal. He felt like confiding in her. He wanted to explain why he didn’t go to the Square and what he was doing in Sunday clothes. But it was a delicate matter and she might pick it up wrong.

“Bridgey…” he asked, motioning for another whiskey and stout. “Do we soften with age?”

“‘Tis hard to say,” she said slowly and pondered at her reflection in the mirror behind the whiskey bottles. “The aul fair’ll be over early,” she muttered, putting his drinks on the cold red-topped counter. He would be her only customer today.

The money-box was getting heavier and he was getting drunker, but in a quiet sort of a way. For a short while, a beam of evening sun warmed the bar and they traced about things of long ago like rekindled lovers. He reminisced about the great fairs, when you could walk on the backs of beasts from one end of the town to the other without stepping on the ground. Bridgey reminded him of the great dances that used be held before the Christmas years ago.”All that’s gone now,” she sighed.

They recalled the big crowds arriving home from England and wondered where they all were now.”A sad day for Ireland, Bridgey,” Warrior sighed and a cloud of silence darkened the bar. Bridgey fumbled under the counter and a string of Christmas lights blazed a trail around whiskey bottles. Tiny beads of yellow, green, red and blue blinked at the Warrior.

“Jaysus, Bridgey,” he said slowly, “but I love Christmas, even though Christmas is not the same as it used to be.”

“Nothing stays the same sure,” she said, almost in a whisper.

Sipping a cup of tea, she peered at him from the dark kitchen. He was talking to himself and counting his money, cursing her blinking Christmas lights. The Warrior had enough drank for one day but she hated to ask him to leave. He tapped the counter with the heel of his glass and called her.

“The same again, Bridgey…is that clock right?”

“No…’tis slow…hurry up an’ finish this like a good boy. Tonight’s the night of the carol singin’ above at the church an’ I must get ready.”

“Sound Bridgey. An’ Bridgey, before I forget it…give us a naggon of whiskey and a packet of Players for the morn.”

“Here,” she said, wrapping the small bottle and cigarettes in a brown paper bag, “this is from me for Christmas.”

He pressed his chest against the counter and lowered his head as if to kiss her. But he clasped her cold hands instead and whispered, “You never forget the Warrior. The blessin’s of God on you. Bridgey, you’re the only wan in this town who has any breedin’.”

“You can’t bate breedin’ Warrior.” she said, “How’re you goin’ home?”
“Walkin’.”

She came outside the counter with a broom and peered out the front door.
“There’s no wind out. Take it aisey an’ you’ll be sound.”

“I’ll be sound anyway…But Bridgey as the song goes — ‘Oh what matters when for Erin dear we fall.’ I don’t mind in the least fallin’ for Erin…many’s the good man an’ woman have done so in the past. But Bridgey, what I do mind, is fallin’ for some of the shaggers that live here.”

“Our Lord fell three times,” she said quietly, sweeping his crushed cigarette butts into a heap.

“And he rose again Bridgey. We’re martyrs for punishment.”

The Warrior drained his glass slowly and put Bridgey’s Christmas present into his overcoat pocket. He wondered if he should try for another half one, but decided not to, it would be bad form.

“Bridgey… I’ll hit away,” he said. “Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you astore.”

“The same to yourself and be as good as you can, Warrior. Happy Christmas to you now. Mind the step as you g’ out.”

She bolted the door behind him and unplugged the Christmas lights.

Main Street smelled like a farmyard in the wake of the fair. It was quiet apart from a few children who played in the light streaming from Callaghan’s sweet shop. The town was winding down for the carol service and the Warrior numbed when he discovered the pubs were blacked out. He tried them all — Tracy’s, Egan’s, Hogan’s, Vaughan’s, The Widow’s and Dinn Joe’s.

“Shag ’em,” he snorted. “An’ shag ’em again.”

He had hoped to breeze into the enemy camp in the quiet of the evening, just when the day’s takings were counted and the publicans were happy. He would extend the olive branch and ask to be served again. He would keep the peace. There would be no more trouble, no more defiance. No more would he lure the Christians away from the Angelus prayer by balancing the cart-wheel. He was retiring from all that.

But his plan was foiled because he had tarried too long with Bridgey. And the church didn’t help. The pubs would be closed until after the carol singing. Muttering about goodwill and room at the inn he plodded back down the street to wait in the shadows until God relented.

Passing Peter Egan’s he had a sudden urge to lash his boot through the glass paneled door but was distracted when the new curate, Father Hannon, suddenly appeared like a host. “Hardy weather,” the pale priest hailed, side-stepping him.

“Say wan for me Fader,” grunted the Warrior and wandered in the opposite direction.

He slipped into Hogan’s Alley to relieve himself in the darkness, but Gretta Greene saw him. The mad woman from Frohaul who had once done him a turn behind the town hall peered into the laneway and jeered, “The frost ‘ll kill et. The frost’ll kill et an’ make a small boy a you Warrior Carty you dirty scut you. I’ll say a prayer that you’ll go ta hell.”

With his back to the church he plodded on. Two women, pious as nuns, scurried past, arm in arm.

“Peggy, is that the Warrior Carty?”

“Tis. He’s an awful nuisance.”

“He’s in town since early today. I saw him when I was gettin’ the paper. Was there a girl in that family?”

“No. An only child that fella, an’ spoiled an’ young. He lives on his own. The mother died in the workhouse. Sure that fella couldn’t take care of himself.”

“Never married?”

“No. And he let a great farm of land go to wrack and ruin. Drank it.”

The Warrior felt the cold in his bones. Frost glistened the black tar road that separated the lines of shops. Stars above and stars below. He stood at the Square and gazed at the sky. A great black dome dotted with peep holes to heaven. Shocked by the thought, his head reeled. “Jaysus…I’m half drunk,” he mumbled to the night. “I’d better sit down before I keel over.”

Outside Hogan’s pub he flopped on an empty porter barrel. Hogan would be his first port of call with the olive branch, the whiskey would keep him warm till then. He uncorked the naggon and listened to the Christmas carols escaping from the church. Some he knew from long ago and crooned along between sips of whiskey. Memories paraded before him and he felt the town growing strange. It reminded him of a desolate railway station he saw from a train, one winter evening in war-torn Spain. “I’m only just passing through,” he muttered.

After the carol singing, the faithful passed the Warrior slouched over the empty barrels outside Hogan’s.

“He’s in town all day,” a man from the Vincent de Paul whispered to his wife.

“Thank God you don’t drink,” she whispered back. “It’s a terrible curse.”

Father Hannon shook his head and crossed to the other side of the street. “An awful disgrace,” he muttered to Coyle the butcher.

Nobody bothered the Warrior and hard frost crept over his crombie coat in a white fur. At closing time Frank Hogan tried to move him on, not out of sympathy or concern — but out of fear that the old soldier might erupt during the night and cry him out. But the old soldier was dead. Twisted like a vine, white as ice. The Warrior was gone and only his burly body remained.

His remains were brought to the church in a plain coffin paid for by Bridgey Looney and Ned Duffy. Laid out in his good blue suit he looked like a saint in death. After Mass on Christmas morning only a few mourners followed the tricolor-draped coffin through the streets. The Christmas morning cap guns were silent, the children called a truce for the funeral.

It was bitter cold in the graveyard above the town and Father Hannon rushed through the prayers. Ned Duffy fired four shots from an old revolver and children in the town below replied with a thousand rounds or more.

“Home is the hero,” Bridgey whispered. “May God be good to you, Warrior Carty.”

The Warrior Carty is published in The West: Stories from Ireland. A spoken word version of the story with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill is available for download here.


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Morning Tea

here’s short story about a woman and her man…roles can be reversed to suit…

She woke earlier than usual, suddenly alert, like she’d parachuted into the dawn from a dreamless sleep. It was 6.51 on the digital radio clock,  and grey slivers of light crept through the sides of the curtains.  She’d snooze  for another hour, until Jack brought  her morning cup of tea. And then it struck her that she’d talk to him today. She’d break the ice and say,

“Thanks, Jack.”

Maybe she’d ask, “What kind of a day is it?”  The freeze had gone on too long— two months, maybe more. She’d relent and speak to him today.

Mona turned towards the wall and pulled the duvet over her head and shoulders like a hood. The bedroom was cold, and she made a mental note to ask Jack to reset the boiler for quickening winter. She’d say it in a soft voice, maybe at teatime. They should be cautiously talking by then. She’d prepare something nice for him — one of his favourite dishes, something from their early years.  Toad in the Hole, Cornish Pasties, Welsh rarebit.

And lunch too. When he’d come at 1pm from his job in Carney’s Medical Hall, she’d have a hearty plate on the table instead of a sliced loaf  and a hard lump of  orange cheddar. Of course, if right was right, he should be having his lunch in Carney’s.  If right was right, Carney’s should be theirs: she was Carney, it had been her father’s business. The thought made her restless and she turned on her back and felt colder. It was Jack’s fault. Her father didn’t like him, thought him a wimp. And rather than pass on the business to them, he sold it instead. She didn’t even get the money, her father left it all to the Vincent de Paul. That caused the first major row between her and Jack. That row lasted nearly a year and finished when she fell down the stairs and broke her ankle.

As she recovered, Jack began talking about starting a family. She’d postponed having a child  while her father was alive, because the old man was adamant he’d prefer the line to be extinct  than have it tainted with Jack’s blood.  She didn’t tell this to Jack, but filed it away as ammunition for a vicious row, when she really wanted to stab him in the heart. Now  talk of starting a family was unnerving. She wasn’t ready. The thought of coupling with Jack  paled and lined her face. It slowed her recovery. One evening at tea, as he served up spicy chicken wings and French fries, he said,

“I can’t wait until we’re setting this table for three.”

“Who’s moving in?” she asked wearily.

“Well…our child…I mean not immediately…but you know what I mean…in the future.”

“Oh,” she sighed, paused to push away her untouched plate and said, “If you don’t mind Jack, I’d prefer not to think of that right now. I need all my energy to get on my feet again, so I don’t have to depend on you.”

“It’s no bother to me.”

“Well it bothers me Jack. And for the last month at least, it’s nothing from you but having a baby, preferring a girl if it made me happier. What the hell is all this about? It’s all your decision. What about me? What about me, Jack? Hmm? You lost the Medical Hall on me and now you want a baby.  You’re pathetic Jack.”

He took his meal into the sitting room and they didn’t speak again until she had to go to the hospital to have the cast removed from her leg. But he never stopped bringing her a cup of tea in the morning. That was the one constant in their marriage, Jack always brought her a cuppa in bed, and he was always waving the flag of truce. And though she despised the gesture, she always welcomed the tea.

She turned on the left shoulder and glanced at the clock: 7.40. Times goes slowly when you wake early. She’d often stayed awake right through the night, only dropping off when she heard children going to school. Many movies had run in her head in the darkness, reels of film were scattered on the floor of her mind. In some films, she was married to other men— Gabriel Byrne and Bill Clinton were husbands in a few dramas. In another feature, Jack dies, gets killed or just disappears, and she marries Robert de Niro,  who’s the local doctor.

The floor upstairs creaked and she perked her ears like a hound. Jack was up. More rummaging than usual. The wardrobe door creaks open, clothes hangers rattle, the rumble of shoes. A sneeze. Then solid footsteps across the landing and down the stairs to her floor. Right turn into the bathroom, bolts the door and water fills the hand-basin.  Washing. Gurgle of wastewater. Toilet flush. Door unbolts and Jack exits the bathroom, turns left and goes down the stairs.

She waited for the snapping sound of kindling wood, waited for the scent of burning pine to weave upstairs through the thin morning air. Hearing no fire making, she wondered what he was at. That bloody kitchen will be freezing when I get up, she thought, if he doesn’t put down a fire soon. From below came the shrill whistle of the kettle on the gas burner as it boiled.  At least he’s making the tea, she sighed and relaxed.

Footsteps came up the stairs and she pretended to be asleep, heart pacing as she waited for Jack to twist the brass doorknob. But Jack turned right instead, and climbed the steps to the next floor. Mona opens her eyes. What’s he at? Rummaging. Footsteps on the landing and down the stairs again, slowly, like he’s taking one step at a time. He passes her room and descends to the kitchen. That’s odd, she thought and turned on her back and looked at the ceiling.

They never had a family. After she broke the ankle, they weren’t intimate again. They slept together for the warmth and security of the company, but there was no talk of  babies coming into the house. She was the boss, it was her house, inherited from her grandmother. He’d made a good catch and he should be happy to have such a sturdy roof over his head. In fairness, he wasn’t demanding and was always there when she needed him. When they went out to dine with friends or to functions at the golf club or the hotel, he was the perfect partner and great company. He blossomed when they socialized with Doctor Logan and his wife, the Carters, the Faheys, or other town gentry. After Jack had a few gins, she could almost love him. It was then she saw the man she married. The vision never lasted long and the more she drank, the more he morphed into a toad. If it wasn’t her house, she’d have left him years ago. She tried to throw him out several times, but he refused to go. Ignored her and went about his life as normal.

A few years after her father died, they attended a marriage counselor in Limerick. It was expensive and they went twice a month on Thursday afternoons, when the Medical Hall closed for the half-day. She remembered the journeys were long and grey, she drove her father’s old Morris Oxford, because Jack never learned to drive. But he paid for the session and bought the petrol. On the way home, they stopped at the West County Grill and he was always chatty and ordered the best courses on the menu. He always said they were making progress and urged her to do the communication exercises that the counselor suggested. She promised to do them the following day,  but that day never came.  And then, as they were about to attend their first session of the New Year, something snapped and Mona said,

“This is going nowhere, Jack. I’m not wasting anymore time. This therapy thing isn’t working for me.”

“Just give it a few more tries, we’re making progress Mona, we really are. We had the best Christmas we’ve ever had.”

She shook her head and said, “If you want, go by yourself, you can have my car.”

He called the counselor and apologized that they wouldn’t be making the appointment. Then wrote a check for the fees and put it in the mail.

She heard the toaster pop and then got the whiff of charred bread. Soon he’ll bring  the tea, she thought, maybe he was making toast for her. Maybe he’d go the extra mile and  bring a glass of orange juice as well, like he used do when they were first married. Sometimes he brought her grapefruit, sprinkled with brown sugar and caramelized under the grill.

The sun came over the houses and weakly lit the room with a slice of light through the window drapes. A magpie chattered somewhere outside, and a few cars passed on their way to Ennis. The garbage truck trundled down Main Street, and a school bus pulled up in the square and unloaded students. She glanced at the clock: 8.50. Christ! Where was her tea? Here he comes — the  solid footstep climbing steadily, balancing the cup. A rush of thoughts scrambled through her head. What would she say to him? Thanks? Eyes open, she lay on her back, staring at the ceiling as the doorknob turned and he entered.

“You’re awake,” he said softly as he bent down to leave the cup and saucer on the bedside locker, “here’s your tea.”

She got a whiff of cologne, but said nothing, thinking he never wears cologne going to work.  She decided to ignore him.

“No word today either,” he said.

Jack stood beside the bed and Mona stared blankly at the ceiling. He turned away after a short while, left the room and quietly closed the door. His cologne hung in the  room and she sat up in annoyance. She heard him sob quietly as he descended to the kitchen. The old softy, she spat, what a bloody weeping willow. It’s me who has cause to weep, not him. She sipped the tea: it was too strong and she angrily left it back on the locker. He couldn’t even make a proper cup of tea anymore.

The cathedral bells pealed for morning Mass, as a car pulled up outside and someone got out. Gentle knock on the door. That’s odd, she thought and  wondered who it was.  She felt tempted to peep out the window. The door opened and she heard the mumble of voices. A woman talking to Jack? She heard the front door close with a firm bang, car doors shut and the vehicle moved away. What was that about? Who was that woman? Did Jack go off in the car with her? Was she giving him a ride to work? Why?

Peeved, she bounded from the bed, donned dressing gown and slippers and hurried downstairs. A growing sense of emptiness met her step by step, and by the time she reached the ground floor, her heart was alarmed.  She flashed her eyes around the kitchen, trying to understand what was different, what was wrong. Nothing was out of place, except the bunch of keys on the bare table. Jack’s keys. The key of her house, the keys of Carney’s Medical Hall, the key of his bicycle lock. She picked them up and hurried back upstairs, wondering where to hide them.

“What a fool,” she mulled, “to leave the house without his keys.”

She put them at the bottom of her underwear drawer and got back into bed to wait for his  knock on the door or his call on the phone. Of course she wouldn’t answer either. Rain pattered against the  window and cold crept around her. Mona wondered why he hadn’t put down the fire.

“What about me, Jack?” She asked the empty house, “What about me?”


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After Hours, After Nama: The Resurrection

This is the 3rd and final part of After Hours, After Nama. It’s fiction… See Part 1 and Part 2 for previous pieces.

2.50AM Henry calls for two pints, and the anticipation of free porter puts The Geek on a roll. Egan begins filling the order and listens to him telling Henry, “We’d be in a different Ireland now, if the proletariat had taken to the streets when the shit first hit the fan. We took it lying down. Are we destined to be always picking up the tab for an elite?”

“My point exactly,” muttered Henry, looking at the floor. Egan topped the two pints and left them on the counter. Henry put a fistful of money beside them and said, “That’s the bank.”

The Geek's View of Ireland

“Sláinte, Henry.” saluted the Geek. He took a drink, smacked his lips and said, “We have a weak gene, which we indulge, rather than taking responsibility for it. We’re suckers for fairytales, deep down we believe the crock of gold and the rainbow crap…we’re weaned and reared on it. So at any given time, a certain percentage of the population are away with the fairies, whether they be the politicians or their followers or both. How else could the same clots be voted into government, election after election? We fall for the bait every time. We have a societal rot.”

Egan exhaled loudly and lit a cigarette. He knew The Geek would like a smoke, but didn’t offer him one.

“What do you mean by societal rot?” Henry asked politely.

“A suspension of critical faculties. ” The Geek said. “We are no longer independent thinkers, we do our masters bidding. We might as well be on a Roman slave galley. We’re all paddling, so guys can have chauffeurs and yachts and stuff…”

“All I know,” Egan sighed, “is that I’m being screwed.” And nodding to The Geek, he said, “I’ll need you to give me a hand with the books for the race.”

“Absolutely…no problem, Peter,” the nerd said, straightening his tie.

3.00AM
A harmonica played a few lonesome notes that segued into Dirty Old Town. Right on cue, Lulu Hoppal warbled, “I met my lo-ho-ho-hove by the gasworks wall…Dreamed a dreee-ee-eeaaam…” The bar howled and Egan picked up the remote control gizmo and zapped on the television.

Without warning, Lance Piggott of CNN loudly announced to the pub that killer bees were on the rampage in Zagrastan. The singing faltered, and everyone looked at the buzzing plague on the maxi screen above the fireplace. Enough of that, Egan clicked the remote and surfed his drinkers to Al Jazeera…BBC…a Korean cooking show, a jewelry auction in Boston. A roar erupted from the pub when he clicked to Telemundo Mexacali 12, broadcasting the Mexican Open Greyhound Grand Prix live from Ortega Stadium in Cancun.

3:06AM
Flickering television light and spatters of Spanish enter Monty’s brain and he regains consciousness slowly. To determine his whereabouts, he lifts an eyelid with caution. He sees the pub staring at the screen, where tall women parade dogs. The pub’s eyes search for Ballygale Bandit, the local greyhound, owned by John Joe Mac, trained by Murty Kerins and sponsored by NAMA.
“Which wan is he?” asked Dodo Malley.

“Number four, the brindle dog with the lady in the tricolour.” pointed Egan.

“I hope she comes home with them,” Henry said, “she’d warm me up on a winter’s night.”

“Jaysus, but that’s very like Miko Kelly there in the front with the red shirt,” Egan said, as shots of the spectators appear.

“Fuck me, it is!” cried Mary White, “and that’s Maggie Kane and Dolores beside him.”

Betting Odds Flashed on the screen:

La Bamba 3/1
El Greco Grande 5/2
Senor Castro 2/1
Ballygale Bandit 3/2
Coca Dolce 1/1
Chi Yung 3/2

Egan lowered the volume and announced, “I’m openin’ a book now if anyone’s interested in having an interest in the race.”

“I’ll put five on the Chinese dog,” Bart Hogan said, tossing 5 fedros on the counter.

“I’ll do ten on the Bandit,” Pakie Lamb said.

“Fuck the begrudgers,” Laya Lohan said, “I’ll do the same.”

“Me too,” a woman agreed.

A crush formed at the bar as Egan took the punters’ money. He wrote in his black book and called out numbers to The Geek, who scribbled dockets for the bets.

3:10AM
The hum of betting and clamour of drinking invades Monty’s head and his body heats up. The frada warms accordingly and clicks into life, quiet as a late night fridge. His mind begins to speed as thoughts hurtled through like meteors. His fingers tap on the instrument’s track pad. Dog, dog, he mutters, dog, dog. Suddenly the frada emits a bark that startles the pub.
“What the fuck was that?” Egan asked.

“Sounded like a dog,” Henry muttered.

“Must be outside,” Duddy Nixon said, placing two fedros on Senor Castro because his brother lived in a place named like that in San Francisco.

“Dogs can pick up the fever,” Olive Collins said, “you know…the vibe like…dogs always want to get in on the action…they’re like bankers and lawyers and the rest of them…”

3:25AM
Egan closes the book and makes a phone call to lay off his bets. The Geek has the remote control gizmo and turns up the volume. On the screen, the women lead the dogs to their traps, to a fanfare of trumpets. The pub is tense and silent, all eyes on the race.

A bell clangs, and an electric hare zooms down the track. Dogs yelp and traps shoot open as the ball of fur darts by. In the background, the race commentator, Diego Avilia, rattles in Spanish. Monty stands to get a better view of the screen and meanders to the counter. He picks up Henry Connoly’s pint and has a slug. Nobody sees him, the race has their full attention.

In front from the break, Senor Castro soon had a length on El Greco, who was followed closely by Chi Yung and Ballygale Bandit. Behind them came La Bamba and Cosa Dolce. The pub cheered on Ballygale, but he pulled back after the first bend and fell to last place. He slowed to a canter, then a dance. A split screen showed dogs racing in one screen and the Bandit waltzing in the other. The commentator rattled faster.
“Fuckin’ hell!” exclaimed Egan.

“He’s doped,” Geek said.

“This is…this is fuckin’ crazy!” cried Egan.

Ballygale Bandit was dancing in front of millions of viewers on satellite tv. The pub erupted in shouting and swearing and firing threats at the greyhound.

Monty was tapping the frada. There was something he should be doing…something concerning the dog on the television. Something to do with the microchip he implanted in the dog’s ear last week. Something to do with the frada. Something to do with NAMA.
“Oh no!” he shrieked and suddenly pecked at keys on the frada.

The television screen turned black. Green strings of computer code flashed on it, barks and static farted from the speakers. The Geek fiddled with the remote, but it made no difference. Egan grabbed the controls and clicked impatiently. More of the same. Then someone noticed Monty frantically toggling switches and knobs on the frada. They screamed at him to stop.

Henry grabbed Monty as he hit a power chord with full reverb. Suddenly, the screen filled with the head of a greyhound: Ballygale Bandit, tongue pumping and the pub forgot about Monty. They watched the Bandit clocking eighty miles an hour and leading Chi Yung by a shoulder coming into the last bend. They cheered for the homedog and wild as Hendrix, Monty worked up steam, pushing the frada to the max. He was drowned out by the roar that went up as Ballygale Bandit pulled away on the home stretch and finished almost two lengths ahead of the field.

While everyone cheered and hugged and laughed in the pub, Monty powered down the frada, wiped his brow on the sleeve of the fur coat. He lifted a pint from the counter and had a good slug out of it.
“Jesus,” he whispered to Henry, “I almost fucked that up, man, the Bandit was supposed to do the dance at the end…you know…at the presentation…I can’t even remember the fuckin code for the dance now…but fuck it, who gives a shit, right? We won, right?”

Henry nodded and prised the pint from his hand.

“That dog was carrying a lot of cash,” Monty whispered, “NAMA would have hung my ass if I fucked up…but I didn’t, see? I didn’t fuck-up and we won, right? Monty might be fucked-up but he doesn’t fuck-up. Right? I’m not like the developers, right?”

He tapped the frada and two horrendous barks froze the jubilant pub. In the silent vacuum Monty politely asked, “May I please have a pint, Mr. Egan, to toast our local greyhound’s victory.”

Exhaling a cone of smoke, Egan shook his head and said, “Sorry Monty, you’ve had enough. Yourself and your frada nearly fucked up everything here tonight…not just once or twice, but several times.”

“But we won, didn’t we?” pleaded Monty, “only for the frada this fucking country would be bankrupt again tomorrow. And that fucking dog would be in a taco. What have you against my frada? Where’s your vision, man? Where’s your vision?”

Monty's Mantra for the NAMA Blues


Books by Eddie Stack
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