In 2014, I clawed my way through an ocean of cobwebs and drew back the rusted bolts fettering my imagination. I expected bright lights to illuminate the world beyond, revealing a kaleidoscope of colourful adventures for me to write. I didn’t anticipate lying prostrate after being bashed by the door swinging open. Had I an opportunity to relive that moment, I would have crawled between the legs of my assailant and stolen a single glimpse of what lay beyond. A study in greys is how an artist would describe the creature looming over me. Wild, penetrating eyes of palest blue peered at me from above his grizzled beard. I thought I must have cracked my skull. I closed my eyes and counted to ten — ten being a solid, reliable number. If I continued on to twenty, maybe the priest’s collar wrapping his neck would have transformed into a clowns bow-tie and the greys to vibrant primaries.
‘Come,’ he said.
Not that choice was mine to make — not then, not now. All had irrevocably changed. I’m a puppet with a pen and a keyboard, dangling beneath the strings he pulls.
Father James P Brennan yanked me to my feet and dragged me through the door into a pub.
‘Lavelle! Where the feck are ya hiding?’ The world shook when his fist slammed down on the counter. ‘Pull a pint for me, and one for my literary friend.’
Interview with Father Brennan. Summer 2015
Certain of only one thing, my nerves, I sat on a bar stool at the right hand of the Father. Not in deference to religious connotations, or suggesting that I was his ally, I chose that one to avoid the cloying cloud of cigarette smoke to his left.
‘Sean, a pint for my furry friend, Otter,’ he said.
I sighed; wishing anglers could resist the need for nicknames. Believing anonymity a clever choice, I’d offered it when we first met.
Sean, rarely perceptive, yet in recognising this fellow hapless prisoner of fate, nodded to me, his eyes offering a virtual hug whose embrace eased my anxiety as he said, ‘There’s a feckin celebrity in the house, someone with brains. That will make a change, won’t it, Father know-all?’
The twinkle in Father Brennan’s eyes and the grunt that followed Sean’s remark, were part of a veil that for all its transparency hid a man an artist’s brush could never capture. This I knew, and wondered how I, a simple man untrained in the dark arts of a reporter, could delve beneath the granite layers.
‘Fire away,’ he said. ‘Ask and ye may find. In me, as in my Father’s house, there are many rooms. Tread carefully.’
With consummate skill a marker had been laid down; devious in every regard. My first step required such careful consideration; I downed the pint, called for another, and could hear the gears of my rattling brain grind out a solution. Part genius, I suggest in hindsight, plucking a single thought from the void, I played my opening and only gambit.
‘Well, Father James Brennan, who do you think you are?’
‘You open with a knight rather than a pawn,’ he said.
His chuckled response disarmed me. Given the hilarity of his actions and my belly laughs as I wrote Father McGargles, how could I now keep the straight face of an inquisitor?
I squirmed as his staring eyes settled somewhere behind me, far beyond the walls, beyond time and space itself. Not wishing to intrude on his deliberations, I sipped my pint and awaited his return.
‘I am a priest of this parish, the son of … a servant of God, an angler, a sinner without compare. Loved by some, loathed by others… Do you love me, Otter?’
Bastard, one move and he has me in check.
‘Do you love yourself?’ Ha! I surprised both of us with that response.
Sean, normally a master of confusion, stopped drying a glass and poured me a large brandy. Expecting an expletive, followed by a riposte that would slice me into cutlets of bloodied Otter, I fortified myself with drink.
With the slightest of smiles the priest reached for his lighter, lit it and, as he moved the flame towards my hand, whispered, ‘You would open Pandora’s box? Hell is an inferno, Otter. Pain the only reward and laughter the only escape.’
I dared to open that box. Compelled to share all that he revealed, I wrote a prequel to Father McGargles. Much I already knew but never understood. Who he is, does not exist in a bulleted list but in detailed exposition. It hides between the lines of these stories. Therein is the portrait of Father Brennan. His life and mine forever entwined until our destinies are fulfilled and the story ends.
If I appear melancholic, it is the burden of knowledge that weighs me down. Yet my heart soars at the possibility that in this man, this antithesis of priestly propriety, an ancient prophesy will be fulfilled. This unruly priest has but the smallest inkling of who he is, but accepts his destiny and loves the hand that guides it.
Who is he? Let me not delay you any further. The answers will live in three books, beginning with In the Shadow of the Judas Tree, Father McGargles, and ending with The Last Ring of Skellig Michael.
A vatican press release is not expected. As usual, they deny any knowledge he exists – you know different?