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Tales of a Book Fair Virgin

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I hadn’t done one before – a book fair. There’s a lot of that lately; things I haven’t done before – written a book, published a book, guested on an online co-operative celebration, read at …

Source: Tales of a Book Fair Virgin

A toast to good friends.

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September is an odd month. Children return to school, and the sun shines as though it smirks at those greaybeards of long ago who decided May, June and July are the summer months. Fly hatches in the rivers dwindle. Trout, so active these past months, settle in quieter water till spawning season comes around.

Whats that got to do with friends? Absolutely nothing.

Father Brennan is pissed, and pissed off – the page for Friends of the Father is sparse, and as colourful as a fake salmon or trout.  “Otter,” he said. “Get it sorted ya furry gobshite.”

Why me?

On a positive note, the first donation from In the Shadow of the Judas Tree has found its way to the charity One in Four.

I best get to work.

 

Otter Sept 2016

 

 

Connolly’s hard station and other stories

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A great read.

endastories

croker Lee Keegan of Mayo is the filling as he is sandwiched by Dublin’s Brian Fenton and Diarmuid Connolly. Tom Parsons of Mayo waits to pick up the crumbs.

“Garda probe as teen’s leg is broken in ‘sickening GAA match attack’ ’’. 

“Garda investigation after hurler (13) hospitalised in ‘assault by adult male who ran onto pitch’ ”. 

Two headline newspaper stories in just the last week.

Then there were the pre-match busts ups and assorted off-the-ball bumps, thumps and jersey shreddings in last Sunday’s All-Ireland football final. 

No connection? I believe there is.

Gaelic games, particularly football, have been infected for some time by a particularly virulent strain of the man-made virus, Agent Machismo. The symptoms are many and varied. Players infected usually display a reckless regard for authority and safety — their own and others — as they go about harassing, haranguing, intimidating and generally trying to stop an opponent from…

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First and Last – the poetry of Judith Williamson (1947-2015)

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Today on my blog I am really pleased to be able to share the poetry of a woman I knew nothing about, until I was contacted by fellow writer David Venner who, in writing this post, drew my attention…

Source: First and Last – the poetry of Judith Williamson (1947-2015)

Brennan’s Bread.

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From In the Shadow of the Judas Tree.

Somewhere in the distance, a whistle blew. The carriage door closed, sealed him from the hubbub in the station. Outside, Summer was downcast, her arms folded, a shield against the knot in her stomach he knew would match his. Click-clack. The wheels turned and gathered momentum. She ran along the length of the platform waving. Then she was gone, leaving only her image captured in his mind.

James looked up as the door between the carriages slid open. Hung on square shoulders, a tweed jacket measured to within an inch of perfection announced its owner as a man of means. Beneath a dense mop of fair hair, a youthful face smiled as he stumbled up the swaying aisle. The man, drawing nearer, James realised the boyish looks were a facade, hiding a man of at least fifty. James nodded as the stranger slid onto the seat opposite.

‘Drumcreevan,’ he said, proffering his hand, and held James’ in a firm handshake. ‘Charles Drumcreevan. And you are?’

‘James Brennan.’

‘Father, I presume. Any relation to Brennan’s Bread?’

‘No relation. My family are farmers.’ James would have preferred a solitary journey home, and time to reflect on unexpected happiness.

‘That’s a shame.’ Lying back against the seat, Charles brushed grime from the knee of his slacks, a casual, practised flick of his hand. ‘My baker declines any further custom from me. A trifling sum I assured him would be paid in due course. The short memory of people is a tad annoying. My grandfather funded his forebears business, and now, he insults me over a debt of three thousand.’

‘Ungrateful.’ James nodded, stifling a grin. That is a lot of bread.

‘Quite. Tell me, James. May I call you, James?’

‘Certainly, Charles,’ James said, gobsmacked at his unintended aristocratic mimicry.

‘Excellent. What is the main difference between Protestants and Catholics? Answer me, my learned priest.’

Reluctant to discuss religion, James replied as best he could without being rude. ‘Apart from obvious religious differences, I suspect you have your own observations to share.’

‘Quite perceptive. Money. Catholic people have a little. Protestants still pretend they have vaults full of the bloody stuff. Old money, James, is long gone and with it, the alliances, inbreeding and civilised society.’

‘Inbreeding?’

‘Forgive my coarseness, but let me recount a tale from my youth. My mother insisted I marry my cousin, Winifred. “Family tradition,” she said, standing beneath a portrait of The Drumcreevan, my great-great-great and a load more greats, grandfather. Bugger if I could argue, not with him glaring down at me. Six years old and I was engaged to a baby.’

‘Six!’ James laughed, and then held his hand over his mouth. ‘Sorry, but that’s funny. Getting engaged so young is unusual.’

‘Not as strange as my wedding night,’ he replied. His grin suggested he wished to tease James with subjects not usually discussed with priests. ‘Just about to saddle up, I looked down at Wimpy’s eager face, as she readied to ooh and agh. Protestant ladies of breeding practiced such things, you know.’

‘I didn’t know.’ James reached up and opened the sliding window. The rush of cool air calmed his desire to kill any further conversation.

‘I saw my grandfather Cecil’s eyes staring up at me. The same mischievous glint, the same narrow, upturned nose, and the same-shaped lips that used to curl around the bugger’s cigar. My shotgun was primed and ready to fire. Otherwise, I’d have leapt from the four-poster bed and hurled myself out the window. By God, she’s a true Drumcreevan; kept me saddled up till the bloody cock crowed at dawn.’

James pulled the Bible from his rucksack and slid it across the table toward Charles. ‘Protestants have a reputation for being honest. Swear on this Bible that your tale is true.’

Drumcreevan leaned forward. ‘Ha!’ His laugh turned heads at the far end of the carriage, and the thud with which his left hand landed on the good book drew a gasp from the ladies in the adjacent seats. ‘I swear it all to be true, so help me God, Jesus, the Saints and all that malarkey.’ He pushed the Bible back to James and folded his arms.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Bah, bloody priests.’ With his right hand on the Holy Book, he whispered. ‘All true, except for the bit about dawn.’

‘I’m sure your wife doesn’t look like a man.’

A smile curled Charles’ lips. ‘My wife, even in the autumn of her life, is one of the most beautiful women on these islands.’

‘Are the rest of your family barmy?’ James said.

Charles chuckled. ‘Grandfather Cecil was the first lamb in a long line of black sheep. Truth be told, his four elder sisters were manlier. On the birth of Cecil, his father, Harold, filled the wine cellar with the finest of French wines. It is said, the party lasted a month. Do you like wine, James?’

‘I don’t drink.’

‘Good God, are you dead?’

‘I may be by the time the history lesson ends.’

‘Cecil, or Cecily, as our family called him, liked playing with his sisters’ dolls. When Harold tried to teach him to shoot, he dropped the gun, darted inside, and hid under the bloody bed. A Drumcreevan poof. Harold castigated his wife’s bloodline, and she blamed the wet nurse. Between bouts of gout, Harold took up residence in the wine cellar, convinced he would never hold a grandchild bearing the Drumcreevan name.’

‘See, you shouldn’t drink,’ James said. Despite his reluctance, he’d succumbed to the charm of the stranger.

‘Ha! Cecily turned out to be more Cecil than many of my shadier ancestors. Thinking their virtue safe, enchanted by his poetry, ladies and wenches were lured to his bed. It seems all those years of undressing dolls paid dividends, the randy bugger. I’ve numerous uncles and aunts who do not exist on the official family tree. Paying them off nearly bankrupted the family. Records of them have been kept.’

‘Really?’ Surprised at this, James posed the question more in disbelief than curiosity.

‘Damn right, we kept records. Drumcreevan started the practice hundreds of years ago. He insisted his offspring spread their lust, and paid the families of any progeny handsomely. “Every clan needs an army.” That is our family motto, generally not mentioned in public, of course.’

‘Have you many children?’ The moment he asked, he knew the question carried unintentional daggers.

Charles stared out the window. ‘Not Wimpy’s fault. It seems the Drumcreevan line stops with me.’

‘Sorry.’ James wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. ‘I can now answer your first question. Protestants talk more than Catholics.’

‘Touché,’ Charles said. He swivelled as the carriage door opened. ‘Refreshments arrive.’ He stood and stuck his hands in his trouser pockets, searched through his jacket and slumped onto the seat, seeming quite perplexed.

‘Charles, will you dine with me?’ James pulled a five-pound note from his wallet and dropped it on the table. ‘Coffee and cake as a down payment for amusing stories, well told.’

‘Even in these troubled economic times one can always depend on the charity of Rome. Thank you.’

Charles placed the order, handed over the fiver and graciously accepted the change which he slipped into his shirt pocket. He pulled a battered silver hip flask from his jacket and screwed off the lid. ‘It’s the last of the family silver, old boy. A nip of brandy in your coffee?’

‘No thank you, Charles.’

‘Tickets please.’ The uniformed ticket collector shut the door with a thud.

Faster than a seasoned Guinness drinker, Charles downed the coffee, stripped off his jacket, folded it neatly, and laid it against the corner of his seat. With his head lying against the jacket, he crossed his arms, winked at James, and closed his eyes.

Glad to accept a moment of silence, James stared out the window, watching the countryside whiz by to the clicketty-clack of the wheels beneath. So much adventure in a single day, the day he had planned to die. Perhaps destiny had sent Charles to distract him during the journey home. A colourful character, from a once wealthy background, relying on his wits to survive. I too must grasp opportunities, seize them, and live life as it is meant to be lived.

‘Hi,’ James said.

‘Sleeping beauty,’ the ticket collector said, taking James’ ticket and punching a hole in it. ‘Sir!’ A gentle nudge. ‘Ticket please,’ he shouted, shaking Charles.

‘What? What?’ Charles slowly opened his eyes and delivered the grand finale. ‘Blast it, man. Must you be so rude?’

‘Only doing me job,’ he said, extending his hand. ‘Ticket please.’

Out came the hip flask, a half smoked cigar and a handful of business cards, all dropped onto the table. ‘Here we are,’ Charles said, jubilantly, sliding a gold card across to the ticket collector. ‘Father Brennan, you take this one.’

Lord Charles Drumcreevan. Drumcreevan Manor, nestled under an embossed coat-of- arms. The card impressed James, but he wondered how the railway employee would react.

The ticket collector pushed up his peaked cap, scratched his head with the ticket-punch, and tossed the card back on the table. ‘I’d only ruin your card if I punched a hole in it. Twenty-eight years’ service, only two more till I retire, and my unblemished record will remain that way. Ticket, please.’

‘My good man, if you don’t accept my card, I’ll be doing the punching.’

‘Shirr, either you have a proper ticket or ya buy one.’

‘Lord Charles, permit me,’ James said, pulling out his wallet. ‘Ouch!’ He reached down and rubbed his throbbing ankle that Charles had kicked.

‘My dear ticket collector, rest your overworked legs for a minute,’ ordered Charles, smoothing the faux-velvet seat beside him.

‘Ticket, please, me Lordship, Shirr.’ Clack, clack sang the punch.

‘Which railway line is this?’ said Charles.

‘Dublin-Sligo, Shirr, as, your Lordship, well knows.’

Sipping his coffee, James observed the master craftsmen at work, the determined twinkle in the ticket-collector’s eyes. Charles probed in a casual, assured manner. This railway employee had likely seen every trick possible, and stood stoically, resolved to deflect any suggestion other than the purchase of a ticket.

The Drumcreevan Line is its original and more romantic name. Designed and built by my great, great-grandfather. Good God, he would turn in his grave, if he knew one of his kin was expected to carry cash about their person.’

‘I am due a break, about . . . now,’ the ticket collector said. He dropped onto the seat beside Charles. ‘I’m Dan Flynn, a student of history during my free time.’ To emphasise this sudden, unexpected civilian status, he removed the cap and laid it on the table. ‘Now, Charles Hector Harold Drumcreevan, you were saying?’

‘Ahem, my bloody throat is a little dry,’ Charles rasped, reaching for his flask. ‘Bugger, what was I saying?’

‘Sir, your great, great-grandfather built, as you would say, bugger all. His coffin contains empty wine bottles. The good Father should take your confession.’

‘Rubbish,’ Charles said.

Flynn lifted his cap and wiped the railway badge with the sleeve of his shirt. ‘His body was never recovered after he fell overboard whilst bound for South Africa.’

‘You seem to know more than you should. Where are you from, Flynn?’

‘Boyle, County Roscommon. I’ll disembark there, as did my father and his father.’

‘As you are a history student, I should imagine you can trace your family back a long way.’

‘I can, Sir. Back as far as….’

‘To Drumcreevan,’ Charles said. Taking one sip, he handed the flask to Dan, who repeated the toast.

Dan lifted the gold card, punched a hole and stuck it in his shirt pocket. ‘Take care, Father. Don’t believe anything that comes out my distant cousin’s mouth.’ Locking eyes with Charles, they shook hands. Sticking his cap back on his head, Flynn left, calling, ‘Tickets, please.’

Charles looked at James, and they both burst out laughing. With his aristocratic nose inches away from James’ ear, he whispered. ‘Brennan’s Bread. Bring two loaves with you when you and your gorgeous girlfriend come and visit Druncreevan Manor. My castle is at your disposal, a refuge from those who would gaze down their snouts at you. Bring extra clothes. The bloody place is artic even in the summer.’

‘I don’t…’

‘You do, and she is very pretty. Good God, what you do or don’t do is no concern of mine. I’ve an empty, decaying bloody mansion in dire need of many things, above all, the sound of young people laughing. Do you fish?’

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Does your, ahem, sister drink wine?’

‘I think she might.’

‘It’s decided then. Call me in the next week or two,’ ordered Charles, as he pulled on his jacket. ‘Agreed?’

He nodded.

‘Boyle is the next station. Au revoir, Padre Brennan.’

He stood and turned to the elderly women in the adjacent seats. ‘I can’t sit with a homosexual priest for a moment longer. Buggering buggers, the lot of them. Good afternoon, ladies.’

Feckin Commas

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Waiting for that small window of opportunity when the breeze would cease, he tensed with anticipation, Staring intently at ripples on the surface and feeling the caress of the breeze on his weathered face, he silently prayed for a positive outcome. It was a magical moment. The river transformed, as though the hand of God had decreed calm. Just as he prepared to cast, the phone announced the arrival of a text. ‘Ouch!’, his head struck a branch as he shot upwards.

‘Sorry, Father, a lot of commas missing, will fix ASAP. Otter’

Every trout for five hundred yards scuttled for safety as Father Brennan exploded into a tirade of abusive language, his blood pressure at a record high. Commas, bloody missing, misplaced commas. Otter wouldn’t recognise a comma even if one jumped up and bit him on the arse. He furiously typed a return text and shoved the phone back into his pocket.

‘Go back to school comma learn some grammar comma eat commas comma drink commas comma or I will shove my boot up where the sun does not shine FULL STOP’

Walking back upstream, he contemplated the boundaries of his universe, shocked at the realisation that it was an insignificant corner of an insignificant island on the edge of Europe. Their story wasn’t receiving worldwide acclamation at the pace he expected. Clearly, his myopic view of how it would be received beyond his world had been ill conceived. That his central position in his own parish held little sway elsewhere shook the foundations of all he held dear. Dropping to his knees, tears freely flowing down his cheeks, Father Brennan actually prayed, well, almost. Staring up at the darkened sky, ‘Lord, please guide this old fool. You were a fisherman, one of the first. You must have had a few tales to tell. Shine your light upon your servant and guide our book to the printing press. Amen.’

Light, glorious beams of sunlight, streamed from the heavens and shone down on this humble priest. A loud booming voice behind startled him such, he almost shat himself.

‘Father, you dropped your fags.’

He leapt to his feet, wiped away the tears and turned. ‘Jimmy, you nearly gave me a heart attack. I was searching for them, thanks.’

From Father McGargles.

The art of Investigative Journalism

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A bundle of tissues lay on the front seat of Gus’s car. Eating apple tart was a messy affair. A full one devoured whilst sitting in a vehicle, was the work of a glutton. He removed the last streak of apple from both chins and tossed the tissue on the growing mound. A glance at the mirror confirmed that he’d cleaned the crease between them, and licking his lips he thought, that was nice. I’ll give the second one to mother. He hopped out of the car, brushed away the stray crumbs from his clothes and strode towards Lavelle’s pub.

The outside facade suggested that it was a traditional man’s pub, untouched by the Celtic Tiger and Bacardi Breezers, his type of establishment. He walked in and immediately grinned as he surveyed the dimly lit and sparsely furnished interior. A single customer at the counter slouched on one elbow over a glass, his other hand to his rear, scratching his behind. He looked up at Gus, grunted, then took a sip of air from the glass and banged it on the counter. Gus smiled, a ripe mark ensconced at the counter with a thirst and an empty glass, this would be too easy. He walked past him and pulled out the adjacent stool, its cast iron legs grating on the stone floor. The mark looked up through his glazed alcoholic eyes and spat on the floor in front of Gus.

‘That’s Gerry’s stool.’

‘Oh, sorry, is he gone out?’

The mark’s was the only glass on the counter.

‘Nope, he won’t be in today. His dole money has run dry. No mon, no fun!’

Gus leaned on the stool, ‘Dole day was only yesterday, wasn’t it?’

The mark gagged and spat again, ‘That’s the truth, try telling the government fuckers. You couldn’t get half a hangover on what they pay us. Shower of lazy bolloxes.’

‘You’re right about that, I lost my job three months ago and I haven’t got a cent out of them. Can I rent Gerry’s stool? It looks well-worn and experienced. Would a pint and a half one cover the expense for an hour or two?’

The mark opened his mouth and grinned through his single tar stained tooth, ‘A temporary arrangement while you keep the stool warm for Gerry.’ He banged his glass on the counter and shouted, ‘Marietta, a pint and a Paddy, and whatever my friend, GT, requires. I’m Mouse, Mick the Mouse, what name will I put on the rent book?’

Before he could reply, a stern looking Marites arrived. With elbows sticking out defiantly, she glared at them. ‘Mouse, if you ever shout like that again, I’ll tie your tail to the back of the bread van and see how good you’re at shouting then.’

Mouse doffed his imaginary hat. ‘Begging your pardon, Marietta, but the taxman here has a rebate for me and insists on me buying him a drink with it.’

Gus struggled to keep the apple pie below deck. Laughing, he ordered two pints and two Paddy’s.

Marites looked at Gus suspiciously, shook her head in resignation, poured the drinks, took payment and glanced back over her shoulder before returning upstairs.

‘Cheers, GT,’ said Mouse, as he did a Houdini with the whiskey before Gus had placed the change into his pocket.

Gus sipped, weighing up how best to proceed. He decided to play it by ear and seize an opening when it came. Mouse was a strange fish for sure, but Gus had detected a sharpness and underlying intelligence that suggested that he would not be a pushover. This diagnosis was quickly confirmed.

‘Have you lived in Castlebridge all your life?’

Mouse replied, a steel resonance to his squeak, ‘Who says I live here?

‘Do you?’

‘I might, depends who is asking.’

Gus inwardly groaned. It was going to be a long afternoon and his stomach did not feel in the best of order. ‘Only making conversation with my landlord’s drinking partner, where is the harm in that?’

‘Are you from the dole office?’

‘No’

‘Prove it!’

‘How can I prove it?’

Mouse scratched his tooth as he seemed to consider GT’s identity crisis. ‘Show me your hands.’

‘Feck off, what would that prove? Go away and eat some cheese.’

Mouse stood and raised his fists, ‘Fucking dole man, show me your hands or I’ll beat the bejesus out of you.’

Gus could have knocked him over with half a feather, but acquiesced for the sake of peace. Mouse carefully examined Gus’s hands before making his judgement, ‘No biro marks, but your hands are soft. Are you a priest?’

Gus pounced on the Mouse. ‘Lord, no, if you want me to prove it, we can go up to the church and ask the local priest.’

‘Can’t.’

‘Can’t what? Would you spit it out, Mouse?’

Mouse spat on the floor and grinned, ‘Can’t, Father Brennan isn’t around.’

‘How do you know? Were you at mass this morning?’ not bloody likely.

Mouse rasped, coughed for at least a minute and spoke as though laryngitis had set in, ‘I need a packet of fags and a pint to wash it down. Any chance of some rent in advance?’

Marites was summoned, cigarettes and drink purchased and while Mouse was outside polluting the street, Gus loosened his tie and hung his jacket on the back of the stool. He’d finally met his match.

‘You were saying something about Father Bacon,’ said Gus when Mouse returned.

‘Was I?’ double spit, ‘Father Brennan you mean, are you half deaf or something?’ a third of a pint sunk, ‘What about him?’

Gus took off the tie, stuffed it in his jacket pocket and opened the top button of his shirt.

‘What are you doing? Marietta doesn’t allow strippers in this joint. You’re not going to get frisky or something, I’m no queer.’

‘Who said you were? What about Brennan?’

Mouse looked long and hard at Gus, opened his mouth, rolled his tongue over his tooth and looked as though a lengthy speech was imminent. Gus leaned a little closer, ready to receive data, be it intelligent or otherwise.

‘Back in a minute, I need a fag’

For fucks sake!

Mouse returned reeking of cigarettes, which happily concealed the numerous other odours that emanated from this particular rodent. ‘GT you ask more questions than a priest, are ya a bishop?’

‘Mouse, if you want any further rent, then tell me about Brennan or I’ll move to the stool the other side of you.’

‘You can’t do that! That’s Larry’s stool and a much more valuable property as it has a cushion, rent is double on that one.’

Unable to take any more, Gus rose and went to the toilet. Urinate he did, relieve himself of frustration he could not. Enough, I’ll try another pub! Returning to the bar, he lifted his jacket and put it on. He grasped his glass, and staring straight ahead, he sunk the last drop.

‘See ya Mouse, find a new tenant this one has to go.’

Mouse grabbed him by the sleeve, ‘Brennan has done a runner. Every morning after mass, he usually has a few pints in the backroom, but not these past few days.’

Gus settled back onto the stool. Using his practiced state secret whisper,

‘Why has he vamoosed?’

Mouse spat regular before replying. ‘The priest has fathered a child with a married woman, and he old enough to be her father. I knew he would come to no good when he stayed…’

‘Stayed?’

Lips were closed and permanency stitched across Mouse’s face. Gus called Marites, another two pints secured, he changed tact. ‘Is he a womaniser?’

Like the parting of the red sea, Mouse’s barriers came down and his tooth vibrated as each charge was levelled at Father Brennan.

‘He is, and a bad bastard as well. Some clever-shite is even writing a book about him, full of sex and dirty pictures.’

For the tenant and his thirsts benefit, Mouse blessed himself with his cigarette lighter. ‘That poor woman, Maggie, feeling sorry for him after all the gossip that travelled the parish, she has let him into her knickers.’

‘That’s terrible! Who is Maggie?’

‘Sure, she is his housekeeper. The two of them packed their dirty bags and left a few days ago. Even the sheep aren’t safe with a randy priest like him around.’

‘He likes sheep?’

‘Aye, and goats; hates cats and mice. Fish as well. He spends that much time at the river, I expect he gets a blow job from any willing old trout. He is a tranny as well, a feckin weirdo.’

‘A radio?’

‘No, ya clown, a tranny likes wearing women’s clothes.’

Gus called Marites. Mouse’s glass needed fuel. They had moved onto gay orgies when Sean arrived at the counter.

‘Good afternoon, gents. What are ya blathering about, Mouse?’

‘Nothing at all, this fella here, GT, was asking about Father Brennan and I was just telling him what a fine priest he is.’

‘GT?’ enquired Sean.

Gus stuck out his hand as he rose, ‘Gus O’Louglin, I am doing a piece about village priests, for the paper. Shame he is not around, no matter, I’ll try the priest over in Elmwood.’