Onwards…

a few words of a kind…

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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.

irish-snowman-2

to be continued….


Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas


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Carnival Cop

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


Convoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I beg your pardon?”

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

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

“Really?”

“Really.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Certainly.”

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

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

“Address?”

“No fixed abode.”

“No fixed abode?”

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

“Where are you residing now?”

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

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

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

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

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.



Click title for Kindle Edition Download: Quare Hawks. This Kindle edition can be read on Mac, PC, iPad etc using free Kindle app

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Electric Picnic 7.30 Sat

Great set from Iarla O’Lionard + Afro Celt Sound System….kinda like Moving Hearts jamming in Mali. Threatening rain here…more people beginning to stagger and do strange shit… Red Cross lady told me their work is mostly young people who have ‘over indulged in drugs or and alcohol…it’s party time here and the vibe is raising by the notch as is the volume…still cool…

forgot to add earlier that Brian Deedy (?) did a great opening gig on Main Stage this morning. Great energy, sound etc. Also, last night Duke Special was great…

Wandering about here, it’s hard to believe that Ireland is in dire straits…and harder to fathom why we have the kinda government that we have, when you see all the alternative minded heads who are here…off now to catch Aindrias de Staic on the Love Letter stage…

more info http://www.bodyandsoulive.ie

Electric Picnic Sat, 5.30pm

Electric Picnic Sat, 5.30pm.

there’s a fashion thing going on here….a mix of anything goes, ‘look at me’, rave gear, outrageous naff…and costumes. Any sort of costumes…I’ve met at least six Charlie Chaplins…dozens of white faced people tickling others with feathers. And lots of wellie wearing now…even though for the most part, the rain has held off…but if you got a pair of designer wellies, this is the place to sport them…a cheer has gone up because the sun has broken through the clouds.

Thought this is interesting — long queues at the tarot reading stalls and longest of all outside a fortune telling gaff…mostly anxious looking young women. Maybe it’s the recession..maybe it’s love…only the fortune tellers knows.

Tucan are on Body and Soul stage now…loads of the Charlie Chaplin People dancing and grooving to them…happy out and it’s not six o’clock yet…

more later…maybe

more later

Irish Blog Awards: Best Arts and Culture Blog Nomination

Thanks to all who nominated Onwards for an Irish Blog Award in the Best Arts and Culture Blog section. It’s a great honour and surprise to see Onwards…in the list.

beir búa,

eddie stack

Revolution: Stories from Ireland Podcast

This story returns to a time when the Revolution was just around the corner. It’s from The West and was recorded in San Francisco. Music is by Martin Hayes + Dennis Cahill and the tune is MacAllistrom’s March.

CLICK FOR PODCAST FEED

A friend who had a radio show on ClareFm discovered that Revolution upset the Ennis taxi drivers for some unfathomable reason. So he’d play it and they’d call the station and scream at him to can the track…it’s 11 minutes approx. He’d let it go for a few weeks and then drop it on them like a bomb, some wet night when they’d all be ranked around the monument in town. One night they drove out to the station and honked until the cops came…I never take a taxi around Ennis…


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Mr. Jones: part 1

(This is fiction + I’ve split it into 2 parts for ease of reading online. I’ll post the 2nd. part later)

mr. jonesHe’ll never stop drinking now. Do you think he will? I don’t, he’s too old to stop, he’s 72. I’m 69. I probably should have left him years ago, when I was younger. But women didn’t do that then, now they’re gone at the drop of a hat. It’s true for me. You read about them every day in the papers. Would you like a cigarette? You don’t smoke? Sorry. I like the odd one myself. He smokes all the time, smoking and drinking.

Of course he tried to give it up…the drinking, not the fags. He was away, you know. St. John of Gods. And St. Pats too. And of course the local place as well. He was there several times. Other institutions too, but they couldn’t cure him. He didn’t want to be cured, you see. My brother brought him to a special hospital in England once, very posh place. All the hobnobs went there, famous people too, but he only stayed three days. He went out a window. They called here in a panic and told me. There was nothing I could do. Eventually the police found him drinking with winos in Nottingham.

He’s a disgrace. I shouldn’t have married him but I knew no better then. My father thought he was a great match for me. It was my father who introduced us, you know. At the Listowel Races. I’ll never forget it. You see, my father knew him from the rugby. He was a very good rugby player when he was young and they expected great things of him. Thought he’d play for Ireland. Of course he didn’t. Couldn’t even make the Connaught team. The drink.

winning the race

After we married he said we’d build a house outside the town. I was looking forward to that. We were going to have a family then. But none of that ever happened. We were living here with his mother, you see. She adored him and she didn’t like me. She was always sighing around me. Terrible. She was a right old battle-axe. He couldn’t stand her either. And of course that was a great excuse to be away drinking. Instead of building our own house up in the land. You know? I was looking after the business and looking after her. It wasn’t easy, for God sake, who ever saw a woman butcher? I was a nurse one minute and the next I was selling sausages.

But I had to do it. He wasn’t here. That time he had a contract to supply meat to the girls’ boarding school, St Ita’s up the road. Many’s the time the nuns had to come down here and ask where was their meat. He’d have forgotten to deliver it. Might not even have prepared their order. I used be mortified. I used go to all the pubs around town looking for him. If I found him, he often wouldn’t leave and even told me to eff off a few times. Terrible. I should have left him then. But instead I tried to keep the show on the road. The nuns went elsewhere for their meat for a finish. You couldn’t blame them. Can you imagine, two hundred students waiting for their dinner and the butcher refusing to give them meat? It was terrible.
cow

Of course it got worse when his mother died. An excuse, that’s all it was. He didn’t love her. I knew that, he told me often. He never loved anybody, but the drink, and the fags. And he was a fine looking fellow, you know. Rugged and handsome. A lot of rugby players are, aren’t they? And he was very strong, only for that, the drink would have killed him. I don’t know how he isn’t dead. You know he has a plate in his skull? A steel plate. The result of a car crash. He went over the wall one night coming home from Galway and the car tumbled into a quarry. They found him in the morning. He was brought to Dublin. He was anointed that time. They thought he was going to die, but he surprised them. I thought that would stop the drinking but it didn’t. He was back on it a few months afterwards. He’s incurable.

Another time he drove into a lorry in broad daylight up the street. The fire brigade had to cut him out and he broke a leg and an arm. But he still didn’t learn. I don’t know why because he’s an intelligent man, isn’t he? Do you think so? I do. And he had a great education, Rockwell College. He was a few years at university studying medicine, but he didn’t mind the books and spent his time playing rugby. That’s how my father new him, the rugby. My father was chairman of St. Finbar’s rugby club. My father could see no wrong in him, but my mother could, and was wary of him. She was right. I didn’t see it her way, you don’t when you’re young, sure you don’t?

rugbyHe’ll outlive me. I know that. He’s strong. One night he came back and I was in bed. I didn’t hear him coming in. He went to the bathroom and fell into the bath, on his back. And I had clothes steeping in the bath in bleach. And he fell asleep with water up to his ears. Never woke up until I found him in the morning. I screamed when I saw him. I though he was dead. You would, wouldn’t you, when you’d see someone like that lying in the bath of water like a corpse. He effed me out of it. That’s what he did. And the bleach had whitened the hair at the back of his head. But out of spite, I didn’t tell him. And he was going around like a fool for days…like a Frisian bull, black and white. It was good enough for him.

He’s proud, you know. That’s the breeding. The father’s side. Big shots in a small town. Often he’d look at the name over the shop and walk around the front of the place like it was a castle. That was when he did a bit of butchering. But I think he felt it was beneath him somehow and he spent less and less time here. Always had other things to do, and there was always drinking to be done. You know, racing and rugby and the Spring Show in Dublin. And of course the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis, that was a big one. Lots of big talk and loads of brandy, slipping and slobbering in hotels until daylight. Fairs, he couldn’t miss any sort of a fair either, Spancil Hill, Ballinasloe, the Puck Fair, horse fairs, antique fairs. Anything. All dressed up like a lord. He was always gone. Wherever there was a racket, he was there.

For a finish he didn’t butcher any meat. Didn’t cut anything, just ordered it in from some place in Galway. It came in brown cardboard boxes, you know — chickens and sausages, chops, puddings, bacon and that sort of thing. He’d just put it out on trays and leave me to sell it. Of course I was more of the fool to do it. You can be a fool in marriage, can’t you? It took me years to find that out. Are you married? No? And have you a girlfriend. You do? That’s good. I’d say you’re good to her, you’ve that look about you.

Part 2 of this story will be posted later



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Irish man painting: anonymus
Winning the Race: Jack B. Yeats
Butcher Diagram Painting: Tonky
Rugby Tackle Painting: Allan Storer


Finito

Note: This is fiction, inspired by a lot of talk I’ve heard about therapy and therapists over the last few days…
therapy

Dr. Horace Steiner’s therapy room was warm and smelled musty, with a faint whiff of heating oil. His patient, Larry Ryan, lay on the couch sobbing and Dr. Horace let him be, inhaled deeply and gazed out the window that overlooked High Street. He frowned blankly at the head shop on the opposite side and wondered what fantasies and troubles his next patient, Mary Kelly, would bring. After Mary he’d have lunch in the Cuckoo’s Nest on the quays. Today was Friday and they’d have crab cakes on the menu. He’d have crab cakes, French fries, tossed salad and a glass of wine. Maybe two glasses of wine.

Horace was retiring age, but reluctant to give up his practice. There were a number of reasons for this. First, he didn’t know what he would do with his spare time, he hadn’t any hobbies or interests: once he did — stamp collecting, bird watching, a spot of polo when he was younger, golf every so often. But he’s lost interest in all of that stuff now. Second, he dreaded being at home all day with his wife, his third wife, Mary Lou. He sighed and wondered if he needed therapy himself: three wives in thirty years, not a record by a long shot. Larry King had eight, or was it nine?Could he manage a fourth wife? Mary Kelly flickered through his mind and he flexed his shoulders. No, not Mary Kelly, not another Mary.

Larry moaned and stammered an incoherent sentence. Horace turned his head away from the window, exhaled quietly and said,
“That’s the saddest story I’ve ever heard in my entire career. She took you for 200k, shot your dog and ran off with your mother’s hairdresser. That’s awful, really awful.”
Larry wailed and curled into the fetal position.
“Horrible,” Horace said, “really horrible, no wonder you’re in such a state.”
He left his chair and went to the cluttered desk in the corner and searched for something. Pills. He took up this bottle and that, read labels, cast them aside. Picked up another, discarded it, then another. Finally he found the correct container, Zibrax. He poured a glass of water from the cooler and shuffled to the couch.
“Here,” he said quietly to Larry, “this pill will help you.”

Larry took the medicine and Horace advised him to lay still, inhale deeply and watch his breath. Horace put a tape into his boom box and played new age flute music, then lit a stick of incense.

Back in his chair, Horace glanced around the therapy room. It was in a mess but he hadn’t the interest to tidy it. If he were charging top dollar for consultations he’d have a cleaner in. But the Irish wouldn’t pay top dollar for therapy. The Irish didn’t understand they had to pay someone to listen to them and try and unravel their messes and tangles. They confused him and he could never figure if they were really telling him how things actually were with them or if they were making it all up. Like Mary Kelly for instance. Was she really having an affair with a priest? And did they really go to Amsterdam every month to S&M parties? He didn’t know what to believe. The Irish had very fertile imaginations.

Larry was moaning again, the pill wasn’t doing the job. Horace glanced at him, pathetic clothes hanger in a crumpled suit. Larry was an engineer, worked in an office across town. Sad story, if one could believe him. Now he was bawling and stammering nonsensically.
“Take it easy,” Horace said quietly, “take it easy Larry.”

The phone on the desk rang and Larry quietened. The answering machine clicked in: Horace’s wife Mary Lou cried ‘Don’t forget to get milk’.
Larry sobbed again and Horace moved near him.
“Ok Larry, ok…now, here’s what I want you to do…I want you to raise your left leg high as you can off the couch and with a much force as you can muster up, slam it on the couch and shout ‘I’m angry and upset but I’m ok.’ Do that five times with the left leg and then do it with the right leg.”

Larry did what he was told and Horace returned to his chair and stared out the window. He wondered if Larry’s girlfriend really shot the dog. Shot the critter with Larry’s duck hunting gun. Freud would say she was shooting Larry by proxy. Of course Freud also said the Irish were the only race in the world that couldn’t be psychoanalyzed. Admittedly Freud was wrong about a number of things, but maybe he was on target about the Irish. And then it struck Horace that if he retired, he might write a book about his years giving therapy to the Irish. There was plenty of material. Subversive ballerinas, Buddhist butchers, film star typists, lesbian nuns and gay jockeys. If he had known Ireland was so weird, he’d never have left America. He should have researched the move more thoroughly. The countryside enchanted him and he was in love with Mary Lou back then and everything looked rosy, even the grey Burren hills. They came over for a tryst weekend from New York and fell in love with the place. His mind rambled back to that weekend, arriving in Shannon, driving up the coast, smoked salmon in Lisdoonvarna and an afternoon shag on the deserted beach at Bishop’s Quarter.

He forgot about his patient until Larry kicked the wall with a thunderous bang that jolted Horace. Larry was in a frenzy, legs and arms flaying and thumping. Horace was taken aback. Larry jumped off the couch and attacked a filing cabinet.
“Whoa!!” Horace shouted, “Whoa, Larry…take it easy man…calm down…”
But Larry was ‘out there’ tearing around the room, battering furniture, shouting ‘I’m angry and fed up and fucked up and nobody gives a shit and you just take my fuckin’ money and buy milk for your fuckin’ wife…”
“It’s ok Larry…it’s ok…”
“It’s not fuckin’ ok!!”
Larry lifted the couch with the ease of a circus strongman and flung it at Horace. The analyst fell on the floor with a scream. The phone rang again and Larry picked it up. It was Mary Lou with another reminder about the milk.
“There will be no milk today,” Larry panted, “’cause the cow jumped over the moon and I’m damned if I’m goin’ to run after her…I’ve done enough running in my life…I’ve had it…finito.“
“Finito,” moaned Horace, as the door banged and Larry rattled down the stairs, “I’ve had it too. I’ve had it with the Irish…Freud was right…they’re too much for us…too much…they’ll kill us before we cure them…”

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The Kilfenora Ceili Band — a century of great Irish music

Some of my earliest musical memories are of Kilfenora musicians playing in my father’s pub in Ennistymon in the 1950’s. Kilfenora was the home of my paternal grandmothers people, the Murphys, and so our ‘house’ was a natural ‘stand’ or calling house for people from that parish when they came to town. The first time I saw or heard a tape recorder, was when my cousin Tim Murphy came to our place with a huge Grundig and played a recording he’d made of the Kilfenora Ceili Band. To us youngsters, the Kilfenora had the aura, energy and spell of U2. They made us feel good on the dark nights and the rainy days. They were friends of the family and as their then leader Kitty Linnane used whisper to me ‘We’re all the one, we’re all connected.” And so we were through bloodlines and through music.

This year the Kilfenora are 100 years on the go…that’s a lot of Clare music, a lot of Clare sets. Here’s a brief History of the band from their website:

“Kilfenora boasted a fine fife and drum band founded in 1870, which later gave way to an accomplished brass and reed band in 1910. It appears the fife & drum was regarded as a boy’s pursuit. The move to the brass & reed was in order to hold onto the musicians into adulthood. The trumpet player was Jim Mulqueeney
who was a founder member of the céilí band and became a seminal
influence on the fiddlers of the area. The Brass & Reed band proved to be a
solid foundation for the céilí band that started in 1909.

Kilfenora Brass & Reed Band, 1908

Kilfenora Brass & Reed Band, 1908

“In 1908, the parish of Kilfenora was in debt. The new priest, Canon Cassidy from Moughana set to clearing the debt and refurbishing the church. At the fundraising dances he held in the schoolhouse, members of the old Brass & Reed band like John Joe Lynch, (fiddler and drummer) and Jim Mulqueeney (fiddler) were involved, though were deferential in the presence of the senior players such as fiddle master Michael Slattery.

“The ’20s core group consisted of Jim Mulqueeney, Jim McCormack, John Joe Lynch, Austin Tierney and Lynch’s sister, Mrs. Brigid McGrath, on concertina. Tom Ward – (fiddle) Lil McCormack, (piano), Paddy “Pepper” Linnane, Tommy Mulqueeney, Pat Madigan (banjo, clarinet, bass), Jimmy Leyden (drums), brother and sister Paddy and Nora “Marshall” McMahon (flute and fiddle respectively) and Maureen Kelly (piano).

By the thirties, there were already a couple of radios in Kilfenora village. The first broadcast by the band was in 1932 from Athlone. The radios were taken out in the open, as the crowd of listeners was as big as when Eamon de Valera came to the village for the Clare election in 1917. There was another broadcast in June 1935 relayed from the town hall in Ennis. They were half-hour programmes and entailed lengthy rehearsal beforehand. On June 30th 1940, the Kilfenora broadcast from the Convent of Mercy, Ennis on Radio Éireann, a prize for winning the Céilí Band Competition at the Ennis Carnival.

They had a three-year standing contract to play for the céilithe in the Queen’s Hotel, Ennis, during the winters of ’35, ’36 and ’37. The regular lineup during the ’30s was: John Joe Lynch, Jim Mulqueeney, Tom Ward, Nora McMahon (violins), Paddy McMahon, Jim McCormack (flutes), Jim Ward (piccolo), Paddy Byrt (concertina), Pat Madigan (Sax & Clarinet), Jimmy Leyden (drums).

During the ’40’s some of the Kilfenora stalwarts played under a different banner. The Corcomroe band was organised in 1942 by, Barry Ward from Northern Ireland, who came as an engineer to the phosphate mines in Doolin, which were opened in that year. According to Jim Ward, this Barry Ward (no relation) played the piano accordion and was “music mad but apparently didn’t know much about traditional music”. It was his good fortune though, to gather around him some of the finest traditional musicians in North Clare.

Kilfenora-Corcomroe Ceili Band, 1946

Kilfenora-Corcomroe Ceili Band, 1946

The Byrt family featured very much in this band and the photo shows four of them. Paddy Byrt, a founder member of the Kilfenora in 1909 was a gifted musician with an unmatched knowledge of music and traditional lore, which he passed on to his sons, one of whom, John in particular was regarded as one of the foremost fiddle players of his time and according to some of his peers, he possessed more tunes than any other of his contemporaries.

As a young adult, P.J. Lynch liked to go off for a few days playing music with his friends and he smelled an opportunity for enjoyment when he heard of the All-Ireland fleádh to be held in Athlone in ’53. He was excited by the concept of a céilí band competition and took part there with a hastily assembled ad-hoc band of musicians he met at the festival.

During the autumn after his return, he assembled a group of musicians from within a five-mile radius of the village. They rehearsed and started playing for céilís every Sunday. They enlisted the assistance of Molly Conole, daughter of Michael Slattery, the 1909 founder, as coach. They duly travelled to the ’54 fleádh in Cavan and a vigorous performance brought them victory.

Kilfenora CB, 1956

The Kilfenora obviously had devised a winning formula. Much to the delight of their supporters, they triumphed at the next two fleádhanna, completing the celebrated three-in-a row on home ground in Ennis in ’56, The lineup that year was: Gerry Lynch, Kitty Linnane, Frank O’Mahony, PJ Lynch, Gerald O Loughlin, Shamus McCormack, Gus Tierney, Noreen Lynch, Jim Ward and Ita Mulqueeney. (

The 1958 album The Kilfenora Céilí Band was the only commercial recording by most of that line-up. After that, there were substantial changes in personnel and it was a very different band that won at the fleádh in Swinford in 1961. .

P.J. Lynch stepped aside and the steady hand of Kitty Linnane steered them through the next three and a half decades. The band was extremely busy on the céilí circuit. They played every county in the Republic. They went on a series of trips to Britain during Lent when demand was quiet at home. It is surprising that caution prevailed in preventing them from accepting the numerous invitations to the U.S.

From the mid-’70s onwards, their work as a full-blown céilí band was greatly diminished. During the early ’70s, the band did produce two more albums, Clare Céilí (E.M.I.) and The Kilfenora Céilí Band (Transatlantic). By the ’80s, their activities were limited to special occasions of nostalgia. The fact was that set dancing was at that time becoming pub-based and céilí bands weren’t getting many bookings till the resurgence of the ’90s.

The band members who appeared on the Clare Céilí album were: Kitty Linnane, Paddy (Organ) Mullins, Tommy Peoples, Gus Tierney, Jim Ward, Michael Sexton, Jimmy Leyden and singer P.J. Murrihy.

During the ’70s and ’80s, the aforementioned fiddler Gus Tierney was passing the music on to the next generation during his classes all over North Clare. Many of his pupils went on to turn professional and several formed the basis of the present Kilfenora band.

With Kitty in failing health, John Lynch, son of P.J. stepped into the breech in ’91. He assembled a young lineup to carry the torch. The group (with the help of mentors Phil McMahon and Gerry Lynch) achieved three titles in a row from ’93 to ’95, forty years after the original achievement.

The band in the past decade has been commercially very active. This is the third album by the current personnel (sixth in all by the Kilfenora). They gig the length and breadth of Ireland and travel regularly to Britain, Europe and the United States. Their performances are no longer confined to playing for céilí dancers and they regularly entertain at the larger U.S. festivals for audiences of thousands.
KCB, 2002

Lynch has been very careful to preserve authenticity by keeping innovation to a discreet minimum and staying true to traditional instrumentation and repertoire. To date, the band has continued in the style of its predecessors.

(for more info: http://www.kilfenoraceiliband.com)

PROGRAM OF CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

23-26 April 2009, KILFENORA, CO. CLARE

Thursday, 23 April 2009
9 pm Céilí with Four Courts Céilí Band – Vaughans Barn
10 pm Singing Night – Linnanes Pub, Session – Nagles Pub

Friday, 24 April 2009
9.30 pm – 12.00 am Céilí with Kilfenora Céilí Band – Community Hall

Saturday, 25 April 2009
10 am – 12.00 pm Childrens’ Sean Nós & Step Dancing Workshop
1 – 3 pm Recital by local musical families – Community Hall
4 – 5.30 pm Lecture on History of Kilfenora Céilí Band by Garry Shannon and Photography Exhibition (from 3.00 pm) – Community Hall
8 – 10.30 pm Gala Celebration Concert with Kilfenora Céilí Band and special guests – Community Hall
10.30-1.30 pm Old Time Céilí with PJ Murrihy and Michael Sexton Vaughns Bar

Sunday, April 26th 2009
11 am Aifreann Traidisiúnta for deceased members of Kilfenora Céilí Band
– St. Fachnans Church
12 pm Unveiling of plaque commemorating 100 years of the Kilfenora Céilí Band – Burren Centre
1.30 pm Traditional music and entertainment by local musicians and school children – The Square, Kilfenora*
3.30 pm Launch of “Century” CD by Kilfenora Céilí Band – The Square, Kilfenora*
4.15 pm Tulla Céilí Band – The Square, Kilfenora*
5 pm Final concert including presentation to past members of Kilfenora Céilí Band – The Square, Kilfenora*
9 pm Céilí with Four Courts Céilí Band – Vaughans Barn
*Please note: Programme subject to change. In the event of rain, open air sessions will take place in the Community Hall
TRADITIONAL MUSIC SESSIONS IN ALL PUBS NIGHTLY

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