a few words of a kind…

Archive for the tag “Lisdoonvarna”

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.


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,


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.


Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas

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

Carnival Cop

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


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.”



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.”


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.”


“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.


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

Books by Eddie Stack on Amazon

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Lisdoonvarna via The Hand

The leaves are beginning to curl at the edges, there’s a nip in the air and crows are cawing like supporters at a sad All Ireland final. Here, there, everywhere, lonely hearts and bouncing hearts are stocking up on perfume and aftershave, condoms and Viagra, praying to Jude and Josephine, rehearsing chat lines and touching up hairlines. Love is in the air, it’s Spa Time…to us locals, that is. To the outside world it’s Lisdoonvarna Match Making Season.

Big business nowadays, Lisdoonvarna became famous some hundred and fifty years ago when a Doctor named Foster discovered therapeutic springs there. The doctor swore the waters could cure anything from arthritis to zoomorphism, and soon people began to flock to the town in late summer and early autumn, to get tuned up for the winter chills. ‘The Spaw’, as it became known locally, was the perfect place to unwind after the summer slog: mineral baths, sulphur tonics and the likes worked wonders on tired bones and weary souls.

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

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

“Tell me more,” I encouraged.

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

“Next Tuesday? The day after tomorrow?”

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

“You want me to be the ‘gooseberry’?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh fuck,” whined Jay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Welcome to Ennis, Kelly…” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Darling Kelly,

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

all the best,


photos copyright of Clare County Library

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Long nights, short days with a Clare danceband

The Springs Hotel before the deluge

The Springs Hotel before the deluge

My music career began the year I joined Mickey Moran’s Country and Oldtime Stars. I was seventeen, had long hair and played electric guitar, one of the solid red axes like Keith Richards had. Good for the image, Mickey said. There were four of us in the ‘outfit’, as he called it: himself played a piano accordion, Tats was on the drums, me on guitar and Tony Flynn covered clarinet, flute, maracas and tambourine. Mickey did the vocals and encouraged singers from the floor.

That season, we had a residency in The Springs Hotel, a ghost of a place that had been closed for about forty years, until a nephew of the owner came home from England in a knife creased blue suit and decided to put the clock back.

they're playin' our song, Paddy...

they're playin' our song, Paddy...

He brushed away the cobwebs, swept the floors and opened the doors: everything else was the same as the day it closed, maybe even the drink. The place had an eerie feeling about it, like a Frankenstein movie set. Dim chandeliers and dank carpets, huge wall mirrors, long velvet burgundy curtains, weighed down with dust. Shadows everywhere, strange people passing through, like they were searching for their youth.

The bandstand was in the lounge, a long narrow brownish room with a bar inside the door, a huge floor with chairs and tables strung along side walls under huge tarnished gold-framed mirrors. The Springs took a long time to warm up and only got going when the hot spots down town bubbled over. By then, half the band were drunk. This was my introduction to another side of life after school: steamy dancing, free whiskey, untipped cigarettes and the girls in short skirts who sat near the stage. Life became a minefield of possibilities.

The oddest things happened in The Springs. One night, just as the crowd were loosening up, a bat flew into the lounge and half the women in the place and all the men with toupees went hysterical. We played a waltz and Mickey asked for calm while the nephew, drunk as a coot, tried to catch the creature with a child’s shrimp net. Bottles broke, chairs crashed, tables overturned. But we played on, smiling that everything was ace.

The Nephew: Total control, full flight, loaded

The Nephew: Total control, full flight, loaded

Another night, an elf of a man in a pastor’s grey suit danced into the hall embracing a live-sized cardboard cutout nurse, who held an Irish Sweepstake ticket aloft in her hand: I’ll never forget the way she smiled over his shoulder as they wheeled by the bandstand. Then there was the night the cops arrived, a dozen or more, running like troopers, looking for a weightlifter from East Clare who had overturned a chip van in the town square. One of the lawmen fell out of rank and hung on at the bar. Sans hat and tunic, he lashed back gin and tonic and at four in the morning when everyone was yawning he did an Elvis Presly impersonation: “Crying in the Chapel”, “Wooden Heart”, “Blue Suede Shoes”. Eyes closed in ecstacy, while Tats did a drum solo, he danced off the stage and went to hospital with a broken leg.

where did it all go wrong?

the lads from Ballybockock

The final night we performed in The Springs, the place was totally empty. Nobody there. It was the weekend after the Listowel races and the crowd had gone to boogie elsewhere. The party was over, Winter was slicing in and all the sinners had flown. The night was brutally wet and windy and there was a cold blue light on the street. Most other places had closed, but the nephew wanted to go down with the ship. And so he did, keeping himself busy by filling drinks for the band and bringing them to the stage. Have one himself, then another round for the band. I had forsaken bottled beer by this time and was maturely supping shots of vodka with a dash of red lemonade. On we played, windows rattling, breeze whistling through the cracks.
Sometime late, a hippy lady who had a caravan outside the town traipsed into the lounge, black dog behind her. After a couple of pints she came up and sang with us: Marianne Faithful songs. Then the nephew invited her to dance and Mickey slowed down the tempo to a crawl. After another few numbers, the nephew and the hippy were kissing under a fly spattered chandelier, while Tony Flynn warbled “Stranger on the Shore “on clarinet. Vintage stuff. Tats drunkenly tapped along on and Mickey and myself vamped blue chords to fill the gaps.

bar for the band

bar for the band

Before taking his dance partner off to more private quarters, the nephew told us to help ourselves at the bar and lock the door behind us when we were going home. We played the national anthem, drum rolls and all, to an empty hall at half-past midnight, then took up positions at the bar. Mickey asked what we were having and God alone knows what we drank.

At some late hour, I remember being outside, black rain pelting down from heaven, trees groaning in the wind. Tats trying to lock the hotel door and catching the hem of his coat in it. Tony Flynn standing on the lawn, crooning “Blue Moon” towards the one lit window in the Springs. Mickey shouting at us to get into the car.

We proceeded out of town with the utmost caution, took the unapproved way home and got lost. Mickey drove around boreens and bog roads until we ran out of petrol in the middle of nowhere. There we sat in the pitch black, smoking cigarettes, drinking whiskey from a bottle Tats found in his coat pocket. Waiting for daylight, wondering where we were, freezing cold, deafened by the rain dancing on the tin car roof. Tats muttering,
“The road downhill was the easy one, and that’s the one we took.”

Bandwagon, Barrahurra Bog, October morning

Bandwagon, Barrahurra Bog, October morning

A version of this story was previously published in Out of the Blue, a collection of short stories by Eddie Stack

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car photo: kyle cooper, Flicker
all other photos: Michael John Glynne + Clare County Library

The road to Lisdoonvarna, Doolin and the Aran Islands


It’s strange how sometimes you’re thinking about somebody you haven’t seen for ages and then suddenly you meet them. It happened to me recently in Ennis. I was having a cup of coffee with my friend Seán and we were reminiscing about Doolin and the people who hung around there back in the the good ol’ days. Seán said,
“Come ‘ere, have you seen Molly Dolan at all? I wonder is she still around?”
I hadn’t laid eyes on Molly for years. She was a Cork lady, came to the Lisdoonvarna Festival the year Emmylou played and never went home. Molly did a bit of fortune telling at the Cliffs of Moher, read palms, Tarot cards and that sort of thing. She was goodlooking, long dark hair, parted in the middle, wore ankle length dresses and occasionally played the whistle.
“Molly was a great character, ” I said, “I wonder what ever became of her.”

A few hours later, just beyond the Maid of Erin roundabout, on my way to North Clare, there was Molly, standing like an apparition, in hippy dress and colorful pathwork bag. I stopped and she ran to the car. When she recognised me she cried,
“I don’t believe it! Hello stranger! How’ve you been?”
“I was only thinkin’ about you a while ago,” I said, “where you goin’?”
“Kilfenora..and where you hittin to? Doolin I s’pose.”
“That’s the plan…I was half thinkin about goin out to Aran.”
“Jesus I’d love to go with you…I haven’t been in Aran for years..and it’s a right day for it…”
“Why don’t you come?”
“I have to work tonight…”
“In Kilfenora?”
“Not exactly…I’m doin’ telephone work.”
She wagged her mobile phone and said,
“I got this great job with a psychic helpline…I get a euro a minute.”
“Yeah, I’m at it for a few months and have loads of regulars…they all want to talk to Molly!”
“You were always a popular girl…”
“Stop will you!”

I slowed down to turn off for Corofin and Molly told me how unsettled the country was, according to her callers.
“Like, there’s an awful lot of unhappy people out there. Some have huge debts and others have loads of money and tons of trouble. It’s no known to god all the marriages that are on the rocks. People are very lonely…most of them only call me to talk about their problems.”
“And where are these craturs from? Are they local?”
“They’re from all over…I have a few local clients too…I think they’re local…I don’t ask…but one woman definitely is.”
“And what’s her problem? Or is it confidential?”
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Not at all.”
Molly rolled a fag as we passed Toonagh, let down the window and lit up.
“Well, this woman is in love with a priest.”
“Jesus! You’re not serious?”
“Totally. He’s one of these trendy hip padres…champagne set type…into horse racing and all that goes with it…he’s much younger than her…she’s in her early fifties…and he keeps ignoring her and telling her to go away but she really believes that he loves her too and that he’s just playing hard to get…so she get all these face jobs done…you know, botox, stuff done to her lips…new hairdos…and of course she’s married. Married her first love…apparently he’s very abusive and he’s playing around… having it off with someone else’s wife…”
“My God..”
“There’s lots of that goin’ on…and not just in towns and cities..in the countryside too. But anyway, this woman began stalking the priest…turning up at services he’d be doin’…funerals, christenings…you name it. And d’you know what she did last week?”
“She went to confessions to him and told him.”
“Told him she was in love with him?”
“Yeah. And a lot more too. Her fantasies and stuff.”
“And what did he say?”
“He gave her two decades of the rosary and she fecked him out of it and wouldn’t leave the confession box.”
“And what happened then?”
“He left..disappeared…and hasn’t been seen since and she’s completely up the walls…she spent an hour talking to me last night.”

Molly rolled another cigarette as we crawled through Corofin and we recalled the great sessions that used be in Morgans and Cahers. I reminded her of the night we went to a party in the cottages but she had no memory of the night. Just as well…

“I’d go to Aran with you,” she said dreamily, “if I thought I’d have good reception for the mobile…I’ve a regular client calling at 9 tonight and I promised him I’d take his call. Dick. He’s a lovely.”
“Yeah, poor Dick. He’s a dwarf…he’s down south somewhere. He lives with his sisters and they treat him like shit. He’s very small…I mean tiny! Three foot something and he’s 42 or 43 years old. He loves U2 and dreams of working for them. You should hear him mimic Bono! Jesus, he’s a laugh. But anyway, the sisters are real mean to him…make him sleep in a cot and sit on a high chair at the table. Every weekend they go on the razz and then bring people back from the pub and have a party. Dick hates the weekends. The sisters get him up out of the cot and make him sing U2 songs for the drunks…terrible carry on. They make him drink whiskey and everything. One time they gave him poteen and he went demented, started biting them so they tied him up with a clothes line! And the poor guy asked me if it was wrong to think they were mean. Can you imagine! I’ve told him time and time again to call the Samaritans but he won’t. Says he prefers talking to me.”

We passed through Kilnaboy and I heard how Dick had joined an online dating site for short people but failed to find love. He also put an ad in a freak’s magazine and received several queries from carnivals and one from a circus in the Ukraine which he was very tempted to take. But he was afraid to run away, Molly said.
“He couldn’t see the cage door was open and that he could go.”
“And where’s he at now…like, how’s he doin?”
“Well apart from the sisters, he’s ok. He keeps writing to Bono but never hears back, which is sad. He actually composed a song and thought Bono and himself might do a duet. He sent him a tape of it but again, no response. But really, it wasn’t very good..terrible actually…he sang it over the phone for me. And Dick can’t sing…it was shaggin’ awful…and it was all about loving a woman he saw on the bus…Poor Dick…I had to say it was great. You know, I just couldn’t tell him it was shite.”
“Poor guy…but I s’pose it’s good for him to have some way to express his feelings…”
“Yeah, that’s what I said too and then last week he told me he’s thinking of making a CD of his songs…and I cringed. I mean what can you say? Poor Dick.”
I nodded. There wasn’t much you could say.

We passed Leminagh and the Kilfenora Mart and Molly rolled another cigarette. The sun was shining and swallows danced in the sky. I slowed down behind a convoy of green tractors barrelling off to make silage, yellow lights flashing urgently.
“Jesus,” she quietly, “the more I think of it, the more I’m inclined to go to Aran with you. Like, I’m not looking forward to listening to Dick singing his latest compositions…but I promised him.”

For the rest of the journey she was silent. I was hoping she’d change her mind and come to Aran. She sighed sadly as we entered the village and rooted in her bag. I pulled up outside Nagles and she gave me her business card — Molly Dolan, Psychic.
“Ok darling,” she said, leaning over to kiss my cheek, “just text me the next time you’re goin’ to Aran and maybe I’ll be able to go.”
“Sure,” I said, gave her a hug.

I swung the car towards Lisdoonvarna, Doolin and the Aran Islands as Molly’s business card glowed on the dashboard.


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