Latest Event Updates
Except from The Last Ring of Skellig Michael.
A dilapidated porta-cabin stood beside an entrance to a compound that held a dozen or so caravans. It bore little resemblance to the luxurious forecourt displayed on the Internet. Unsure of where to go, James sidled over to the gate. About to enter, a roar halted him in his tracks.
“Hey! Old man, where do you think you are going?”
Mobile phone in one hand, a cigar in the other, a salesman leaned against the doorjamb of the cabin. A bright red, shiny kerchief peeped from the breast pocket of his cheap suit. Above his wrinkled forehead, perched his crowning glory, the blackest, most shapeless toupee that ever carpeted a head. Eyes darting from the rusty car to James, he shook his head.
James ambled towards the cabin. “Do ya sell second-hand rugs?”
“God save me from smart-ass bogtrotters. Are ya blind as well as stupid? I sell caravans, not wheelchairs to geriatrics.”
James raced forward, grabbed the man’s arm and stood on his foot. “Move, and I’ll break your scrawny limb. Shall we begin this conversation again? Something along the lines of, good morning, sir, may I be of assistance?”
All his weight pressing down on the salesman’s foot, the reek of fear and cheap aftershave offending his better nature, he looked deep into the watery eyes of the erstwhile purveyor of luxury caravans. Stepping back, he released his grip, folded his arms and waited.
Hopping on one foot, cursing loudly, the man wiped sweat from his forehead with the kerchief and stuffed it back in his pocket. A fleeting moment of bravery crossing his brow, he clenched his fists. James’ growl confirmed the man a coward.
“Jaysus! No need to lose your bleedin temper or box the head off me. Danny Doyle, what can I do ya for?
“Your website is misleading.”
Danny groaned. “’Tis a relic of better days, before I lost the wife, the beamer, and the hair on me head. The bollocks from the revenue, as ignorant as a bag of arses he was, shut me down. That garage owner, next door, bought it from the receiver. Slogged me guts out, and that oil-monkey gets it for the price of a feckin bag of chips. Bastards! I haven’t as much as a pot to piss in.”
“Keep your hair on, Danny. Seeing as you are such a pleasant fellow, I might yet buy the best caravan you have, preferably new. By the way, I’m James Brennan.”
“C’mon, me auld flower, I’ve just the one for ya.”
Keeping a safe distance between himself and James, Danny led him into the compound and halted at the only newish caravan in his possession.
“Isn’t she a beaut? Repossessed after a chancer paid me with a rubber cheque. It’s the newest second-hand caravan on the planet. Me knuckles still hurt from the thumping I gave the dope.”
“Is that so?” James said. On examining the bodywork, he pointed to a few scratches.
“Four berth, twin axle, all mod cons included, luxury on wheels,” Danny said, as he opened the door and hurriedly ushered James inside.
James launched himself onto one of the beds. A little perturbed his feet reached beyond the end, he found it to be comfortable. He gazed about and nodded. The interior of the caravan seemed spacious and clean.
“How much? If your price offends me, I’ll replace your toupee with your scrotum. Comprende?”
Danny winced and rubbed his groin.
“A bargain at twenty-sev….” He shuffled his feet and wiped his brow. “Eighteen grand,” he whimpered.
“Sixteen and a half. Any less and I’d be better off laying in the scratcher all bleedin day.”
James pulled a wad of cash from his pocket, counted out five-grand, scribbled his mobile number and name on one of the notes, and shoved it into Danny’s outstretched hand.
“I’ll pay the balance when you deliver it to Castlebridge, Co. Kildare. Be there before three p.m. or spend the rest of your life peeing like a woman. Get directions to the old Protestant schoolhouse. Wait there for me.” Huh! Old man my arse.
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.”
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
A great read.
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…
View original post 2,447 more words
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…
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?’
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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?’
‘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?’
‘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.’
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.
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?
‘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?’
‘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 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…’
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.’
‘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.’
Country lanes and roads proved to be a conundrum. James followed the signpost to Coraclore, and a few miles further on, found another, pointing in the direction he’d just come. About to pass the same pub for the fourth time, after driving mile upon endless mile, he pulled into the small rough-stoned car park.
A few antiques adorned the walls of the sparsely furnished Broken Sickle, and in their midst a faded picture of Marilyn Monroe leaned towards a rusted reaping hook. A sole customer sat on a low stool in front of the open fire. Middle-aged with long unkempt hair, he glanced up as James entered, then returned to staring into the embers.
James sat at the counter and waited for someone to attend on him. Cold and impatient, he dragged a cough from his malcontent lungs. This achieved the desired result. More corpse than barwoman, an ancient frame of skin and bone appeared from a backroom, and shuffled towards the counter. She peered at him through glasses as thick as the base of a jam jar.
“I will have a pint of Guinness and a Paddy to warm me up, thank you.”
Too slow to prevent his blood pressure from rising, she filled the pint to three quarters, poured a shot of Paddy in a glass, and handed it to him.
“Eight euros, please.” She opened the till and stood with her hand extended. “You’re not from around here.” Her tone suggested strangers were not welcome.
Wondering whether his bright red, leather jacket contributed to her scowl, he downed the whiskey, enjoying the warming sensation. This wasn’t the first time he faced rural hostility, so he used his usual weapon. James offered her his hand across the counter, “Father James Brennan from Castlebridge.”
The scowl replaced by a warm smile, she shook hands before pouring a liberal shot of whiskey into the empty glass. She swapped this for the tenner he offered her.
“A whiskey on the house, Father. You’re welcome to The Broken Sickle. What brings you to these parts, dressed like a hippie?” Her gnarled fingers plucked a two euro coin from the cash drawer and the note he handed over disappeared into the embroidered pocket of her apron.
Knowing she’d use its influence to garner gossip, he accepted the whiskey.
“It’s bitter outside, and the heater in my crock of a car has seen better days. I’ve been driving in circles for an hour and I’m as good as lost.”
Putting the final touches to his pint, she added the impression of a sickle on the creamy head. He admired her handiwork. He’d tried the technique in Lavelle’s when the name was temporarily changed to ‘The Devil’s Door’, but he couldn’t get the knack of it. This led to Sean telling him to stick to praying and leave the pulling of pints to barmen.
“I’m looking for a fella called Tony Hennessy, would you know him?”
She laughed. “I do.”
“Could you tell me where he lives?”
“I could,” she replied, once again cackling.
He paused, waiting for a more enlightening response. Stone-faced, she stared at him.
All right, I shall play your game.
He reached into his inside pocket and took out his mother’s rosary beads. These went everywhere with him. Fiddling with the beads, he mumbled as though in prayer.
“What are you doing?”
“Jesus,” she said, blessing herself. “Why are you praying for me? Do you know something I don’t?”
“I’m praying for your soul and those of the recently departed.”
This had the desired effect. Her false teeth rattled. Confused, her confidence evaporated in obvious thoughts of meeting her maker sooner than expected.
He placed the beads back in his pocket, and downed half his pint before responding, pushing her anxiety to its limit.
“Because if you don’t tell me where I can find him, I will strangle you.”
She fell against the counter. Tears visible behind the glasses, she guffawed for a full minute.
“Father, he’s parked in his usual spot in front of the hearth. All you had to do was ask the right question.”
James glared at her.
“Be a good woman and put on another pint for me, and whatever he’s having. If it calms your wit, have one yourself.”
He strode to the fireplace and sat close to Tony.
“Tony, James Brennan is my name. May I join you?”
Without looking up, Tony grunted. “You already have. Free world, sit wherever you please.”
James stared at the man, wondering whether he’d entered the twilight zone. He surmised they both were of similar age. He’d learned Tony had been an acclaimed architect who quit aged forty. He became reclusive, surviving on his savings and sales of some paintings, another pursuit at which he excelled. A child of the Sixties who never grew up, he continued to smoke grass until the effects dimmed his hatred of modern life.
“Tony, I have a project that may interest you. Tom Mullane suggested you are the only man capable of bringing life to it.”
Tony spat into the fire, “Not interested, I don’t do churches and I don’t work. Tell him not to waste anyone else’s time by sending them down here. Do us a favour. Piss off back to whatever hole you crawled out of, bloody priest.”
Another glob of spittle landed on the hearth.
A lesser man would have retreated, not James. The greater the challenge, the more he enjoyed it. Every fortress has its weak spot. It was a matter of finding Tony’s.
“Are you interested in history?”
The next spit landed between the hearth and James.
“No! Piss off. Are you deaf? I am not interested in you, or working for you.”
Tony placed his hand on the low table and pushed himself to his feet. He wobbled to the toilet, leaving James confused, but defiant.
Returning to his stool, Tony growled, “You still here. Piss off, Priest.”
James spat at the fire.
“I see you’re a stubborn bastard like me. There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t want you to work for me. I’ve no intention of paying you. I quit priesting for the next two years, because I have a dream. You gave up city life because it robbed you of yours.” James gobbed onto the flagstone floor. “Fate is a mighty powerful thing. It forces you make your choices, me mine, and not a darn thing either of us can do to stop it. Life is a long trip of fighting destiny and with that comes pain. You smoke your weed, I drink my drink, but none of us are without purpose, without worth.”
James lifted his glass and drank before banging it down on the table.
“We can sit here drinking, spitting, farting, belching, and grunting for a fortnight if you want. Or I can tell you my dream and how you can make it yours. What say you, Tony?”
Hunched over the glass he held, he stared at the flames, lost in a distant haze. It seemed an age before he responded.
“Two minutes, Priest, you have two minutes.”
James removed a photograph from his pocket and dropped it on the table.
“That was a school once, full of smiling children. It almost fell to the bulldozers and developers, lost to man’s greed, but fate intervened.” He jerked his finger at the picture. “I want you to take that ruin, and with me, breathe life back into it, resurrect it from its dereliction. We are nearly old men, Tony. Let’s have our best years ahead of us and not behind. Wallowing in self-pity and needless regret is a fool’s pastime. A restaurant, a fly-fishing school, and a museum — a sanctuary for people to escape the crap life throws at them. That is my dream.”
James downed his pint, called for two more, and sloped off to the toilet, leaving the architect space to consider what he had said. When he returned with two fresh drinks, Tony handed back the photograph and spat into the fire. James knew there was little else he could say or do. About to crumple up the photograph and toss it into the flames, he noticed that the granite schoolhouse had a pencilled roof and a stone round tower looming over it. Mouth agape, he turned to face Tony.
For the first time since they met, the architect looked at James.
“I also believe in fate. My grandfather was the final teacher in that school. He died a broken man, losing the will to live after the school was torched. I visit Castlebridge once a year to remember him. I’ll meet you there tomorrow morning at first light. Now leave.”
James understood and nodded before departing The Broken Sickle and the broken but fixable man inside.
Fate is a mysterious beast.
Image Posted on Updated on
There is a poet in everyone, somewhere hidden, perhaps it should remain there.
From The Legacy of Father Brennan.
James had read many angling books, some old fishing diaries, but none touched him like this masterpiece. Old Monty clearly loved this river, and the simple eloquence of his writing was extraordinary. His tales of catching fine trout, the passion, the beauty of this simple pastime and the darkness of war that had followed him all his life, all carefully penned in poetry and prose.
The diary was clearly that of a passionate and courageous man. It started on the battle fields of Ypres and ended where James now sat.
Shattered limbs, tortured mind, lifeless corpse.
Young man, why lie you so still?
On the cold earth amidst the poppy’s swaying in the summer breeze.
Where is your home, your dreams, your dreams?
I cast in hope, some day to return, a gentle swirl,
upon my stream.
My stream, far from the bloodied fields of Flanders.
Return he did, and for the next thirty years he tended his flock and cast his flies. Fishing was the only solace, the only sanctuary that would dim the memories of those dreadful days during the Great War.
Echoes of smiling children, looking out from granite walls,
their carefree days, dancing in the meadow,
skimming stones upon the stream, before the flood,
that bore them away to the labyrinth of life, and death,
that took our young on a distant shore. I implore,
no more war can we endure, the needless waste
of young men’s blood for old men’s greed, no more.
In the shadows of the granite schoolhouse,
I sit, await my call.
A mayfly drifts towards the shore,
borne on a gentle breeze,
caressing my waiting soul.
It calls my name, wings unfold,
I go soon, for I’ve grown old.
Do not lament, do not despair.
Where I go, a wild river runs,
through meadows of sweet myrtle, a trout turns.
Free at last, the memories of Flanders, no more.
Rev. Montague Nelson, Resting in the shadow of the school house. 1944
From The Con-quest of Father Brennan.
There should be poetry written to describe the landing of a beautiful speckled brown trout. It should be poetry that would task the brains of Ireland’s finest, and burn the image of sparkled water, the struggle of wits between fish and angler, and the joy of success into the hearts of its readers forever. Sadly, James P. Brennan is a fisherman, not a poet.
Bloody stockie, drooping belly,
tattered fins, of little beauty.
Sterile clown, unwelcome freeloader,
in my stream how dare you swim.
Squatter trout, you took my fly,
nose to tattered tail, I’ll not bother measure.
If no more I catch, this God-given day,
a blank, my fishing diary shall display.
Squatter trout, of un-natural flesh,
I dispatch you now, so take your rest.
To Mick Casey’s pig pen next you go,
to swim in pig muck, where no rivers flow.
When Egan next on bacon dines,
I pray to God he gasps in pain.
when a squatter’s fish bone,
his tongue impales.
Stupid Egan, with your stupid bees,
by seasons end,
I’ll bring you to your knees.
Buoyed by recent decisions taken, Sean bounced around his pub with a feather duster in hand. Spiders accustomed to being lords over their manor, scuttled and wove their way to safety as their webs fell. Wearing a pink apron and waving his wand, he paused when the front door swung open, and Father Brennan strode in.
‘Hail, my godly priest. Hath thou a thirst, that quenched within my hostelry shall be? Thou art late this morn and perhaps thy temperance leaves thee forlorn?’
Without pausing, Father Brennan walked towards the back bar and shouted, ‘Good morning Mrs,’ as he rounded the corner.
Sean, with agility borne on a near twenty hours rush of adrenalin and optimism, raced through the gap and stood as Brennan arrived. ‘Thy stool, this very morn, dirt and grime dispatched. Sit, Sir, ale and whiskey I shall pour.’
‘Thank you, Sean, and may I borrow your pen?’
Sean took a pen from behind the till and held it up just out of Father Brennan’s reach. ‘Never a borrower or lender be. Yet fair fellow, your custom means much to me. Take offered pen and when thy writing spent, return, or to hell be sent.’
Father Brennan grabbed the pen and began scribbling on a beer mat. Sean, his cheesy grin unnoticed, began to fill a pint. ‘Sir, why my beer mat doth thou with given quill attack, and render fit for no purpose other than my bin?’
‘Shut thy gob, Sean. Before I came in here, I passed by Mick Casey’s son’s car. Old Mick, perched on the passenger seat, shouted after me, ‘HIJKLMNO, 5 letters.’ His howling laughter followed me all the way in the door. He challenges me with a clue to a crossword and judging by his gaiety, he does not expect me to solve it. Now leave me in peace.’
Still no comment regarding his new found poetic turn of phrase, Sean, undeterred, topped up the pint and skilfully etched a signature on the head. He placed it on the counter, filled a whiskey and set it alongside the Guinness. ‘Pray tell, hath thy, thy daily decision made? In yonder glass shall I water pour, for the quickened spirits diluted be easier to endure.’
Yelping like a rabid dog, Father Brennan, hopped up from the stool. He leaned over the counter, grabbed Sean, and planted a kiss on his head, ‘Thick maybe, and yet thy genius at unexpected times bursts forth, back anon. Water, H2O!’ He raced outside, almost knocking over a painter carrying a ladder, and shouted, ‘Mick, without it our trout could not swim.’ He returned to his seat of power, lifted his pint and stared at the head.
‘Sean, I pose a few questions. Why is a pentagram chiselled onto the head of my pint? Why is there a painter outside? Why are you talking as if you had swallowed Hamlet? And finally, why are you so bloody happy?’
‘My pub. Our new logo is on your pint. The painter is about to change the signage out front from Lavelle’s to The Devil’s Door. That’s why I am so cheerful. A new beginning! Well, what do you think?’
Father Brennan stifled a grin, took a creamy mouthful and licked his lips, ‘Grand, as long as my pint tastes the same. And Hamlet?’
On a roll, Sean replied, ‘It’s to go with the name. It will add to the intrigue. Busloads of feckin tourists will come in the front door. By the time they leave, my till will be tired from ringing. I took to reading after we started our quest to get published, and Hamlet was the only book in the house. Was I lucky or what?’
Liam stared at the new door. ‘Sean, where did the door come from?’
‘The Convent, and it cost me ten Euros.’
‘Give me a large one, Sean. Reverend Mother Concepta’s door, I thought it had been destroyed years ago,’ Liam reached back, grabbed the glass and downed the whiskey.
All eyes turned to the door. Jimmy hadn’t noticed it before now. When he spotted the ingrained shape normally associated with crucifixion, he walked over and examined it. ‘Solid Oak, but not Irish, and it’s definitely handmade. It has an unusual grain. I have never seen a grain like that before.’ He returned to his seat and posed a question to Liam, ‘Why are you scared of a lump of wood, you big sissy?’
‘Don’t mock me, Jimmy, and don’t anyone interrupt me. Pour me another whiskey, Sean.
‘In 1899, a young girl named Mary Jordan became a postulant at the convent. She being a devout girl was quickly accepted into the order. Four months before her final vows, a young man arrived and offered his services as a gardener. He was turned down. Day after day, he knocked on the front gate, until finally the Mother Concepta relented. He found favour with all the nuns, gardening, doing odd jobs. His attentions soon turned to Mary and they started to meet in secret.’
Liam paused and gathered his breath. Enthralled, the others sipped their drinks in silence.
‘Mary succumbed to temptation. No longer chaste, in her torment she told the Reverend Mother and begged for forgiveness. In her fondness for the girl and accepting that her remorse was genuine, Concepta decided that the child would be sent for adoption when it was born. Mary would then be allowed to take her vows. It was a rash decision, against the rules of her order, a bad judgement call that she would come to regret. Will I continue?’
‘Go on with the old wife’s tale and hurry up,’ Jimmy looked at his watch.
‘Sssh, Jimmy, let him finish,’ growled Sean as he sunk a very large brandy.
Lowering his voice, almost to a whisper, Liam continued the story. ‘The male child was born on the 6th of June 1900, the new millennium, and for some strange reason was kept at the convent and not handed up for adoption. Instead, Mary was sent home in disgrace and had no idea what had become of her child. The young gardener was also expelled from the convent.
On the 6th of June 1906, the 6th day of the 6th month of the 6th year of the century, the child walked into the Reverend Mothers study. Around his neck hung an upside-down crucifix and his red eyes glowed in the candlelight. She screamed in horror as he stood on his hands and moved towards her. His six inch tongue hurled obscenities, blaspheming, cursing Our Lord as hand over hand he closed in on the distraught Reverend Mother. Thinking she was doomed, she closed her eyes to the vile creature and said the Lord’s Prayer. The Holy Spirit guided her hand to the bottle of holy water on the desk. She twisted the lid and fervently prayed as she splashed the water in every direction.
It’s said, the shriek as its foul flesh burned was heard in Dublin. Agony gripped the beast and it flew into the door and was never seen again.’
Sean’s false teeth clattered and he could not take his eyes off the door. ‘Holy shit, you’re taking the piss, Liam.’
‘May the ground open and cast me into the bowels of hell. I know it to be true. So help me God, Mary Jordan was my great, great grandmother.’
‘Feck off,’ said Jimmy, ‘What book have you been reading? You have the shite scared out of Sean.’
‘I had to tell ye.’
‘Why?’ asked Father Brennan.
‘How else would Sean know that the door is hung upside-down?’ said Liam.
If you ever wondered how to train a slow greyhound, Pups O’Leary has the answer.
Father Brennan glared at Pup’s. ‘What are you doing here?’
Pups shuffled his feet, stuck his hands in his pockets, and stammered, ‘Jeh, Jeh, James, sorry to intrude on yer, yer drinking. I need a few quid for the daw, daw, daw …’
‘Spit it out for fecks sake.’
‘Soh, sorry, Faaaather, a few quid for the daw, dog.’
‘Afflicted by a terrible hangover on the day I buried your poor mother, I made a fatal mistake. When you offered me half a share in a hound, I should’ve told you to shove it up your arse. Do you see ‘BANK’ written on my forehead?’
‘No! I see a wise investor that will qua,qua,qua, quadruple his money.’
‘All right, stop squawking and give me one good reason to open my wallet again.’
Pups, at the mention of the wallet, ceased stuttering and pointed to his dishevelled head. ‘Pupsy has a plan.’
‘Pupsy always has a plan. Out with it, ya fool.’
‘Castlebridge Lad is the fastest hound that I ever bred, but he has one small problem …’
‘Yeah, his bloody trainer!’
‘He still refuses to pass the other dogs. For the past week I made him chase Old Ned around the field.’
‘Old Ned keeled over onto his back, raised his paws, and the poor divil died. I swear Castlebridge Lad looked like he was about to race past him.’
‘Jesus! A one legged, blind poodle could have beaten Old Ned. I’ve heard enough.’
‘Way, way, wait, Father. I’m getting Old Ned stuffed and mounted onto a skateboard.’
Father Brennan’s mouth opened, incredulity hampered his speech and mirth tempered his reply. ‘For Sale. Dead hound on wheels. One careful owner. Low mileage,’ was as good as Father Brennan could muster, and its delivery, wrapped in a parcel of snorts, demanded a more astute audience than Pups to denigrate his clichéd humour.
Pups rubbed his ear, grinned widely, and raised his hands in submission.
‘Funny idea, but Pupsy has a better one. I’m having a frame welded to a skateboard so that I can tow it around with my bicycle.’
Unable to take much more, Father Brennan sat on an empty keg.
‘Just so I am reading this correctly. You are going to cycle around the parish, towing a dead greyhound on a skateboard with a For Sale sign on its back.’
‘Apart from the sign, that is exactly what I’ll do. I only need two hundred.’
‘Here’s three hundred, the extra is in case you need an undertakers licence. Let me know when you are ready to go. As God is my witness, I would pay double to see a dead mutt on a skateboard, chase a gobshite on a bicycle.’
‘Ya, ya wone, won’t regret it.’ An elated Pups snatched the loot and hugged Father Brennan.