As long as it lasts

A short story by Ciaran Parker.

Patrick O’Reilly had lived alone in his small, two-roomed cottage near Bailieborough since the death of his wife a decade earlier. They didn’t have any family, and so any visitors were welcome; indeed, he considered they had been sent by God (with a little bit of nagging from his wife) to keep his company.

He heard footsteps coming up the lane. His 76 years of hardship had impaired neither his sight not his hearing. His mind was as sharp as a pin, so he recognised the footsteps as those of his two nephews; Michael, aged 29 and his brother Jimmy, 17. He watched them approach through the half door but rather than wait for them to knock, he ran out to greet them.

“Michael ... Jimmy ... it’s great to see ye after so long!”

“Ah now uncle Paddy, its barely a month since we were here last.”
Michael’s face tried to match the happiness of his uncle’s but it couldn’t and Patrick sensed that something troubled him. As he led him towards the porch he asked:
“Michael, what’s up?”

Michael held out the sheets of crumpled newspaper and replied gravely:
“Here, there’s about Cousin Mary and Sean in it, and how their place was took off them.” His hands shook as he spoke.

“We’re royalty now, uncle, our cousins are in the news,” quipped Seamus, lightheartedly.
“This is no laughin matter, Seamus, as well you know,” snapped Michael aggressively.
“Come on in Michael and read it to me, won’t you.”

It is with sadness and anger that this newspaper records the distressing scenes which attended the eviction of Mr Sean Brady, his wife, family, and aged mother from their dwelling at Lattagloohan, Crosskeys last week. The bailiff, with a large contingent of constabulary, gave ample warning of their arrival by their ostentatious swagger along the route from Cavan town. On arrival at Mr Brady’s dwelling, the bailiff announced his intention of taking possession of the farm for the non-payment of a year’s rent. He remained unmoved, as if deaf, to the entreaties of the family, and the wailing of their six children, none older than nine years of age. Mr Brady’s gray-haired mother was removed by two constables with a degree of brusqueness hardly appropriate for a frail woman in her eighties. We are informed by our correspondent that the unfortunate family have received shelter and sustenance from their neighbours. There are those of us who had believed that such examples of heartless tyranny were in the past, and while we hope and pray that the Brady family may be the last to suffer such barbarous treatment, it is not a hope upon which we can affix much certainty.

‘It’s bad ... it’s bad,’ repeated Uncle Patrick, his head bowed. ‘And who has the farm now, the stock, their little sticks of furniture?’

“That Terry Smith”

“Don’t let me that ... (he nearly uttered a fearful oath of denunciation, but checked himself just in time) ... scoundrel’s back. I thought we’d ran him out of the county for good. And his poor wife, black and blue he made her before she died. It’s true what they say: Put the devil on horseback and he’ll ride to hell!

“That fella will need to have eyes in the back of his head to stay safe.”
Michael muttered, and then his face became as red with anger as his beard. “But how dare any of them do this. Expecting a man to part with money for his own land, his own land, and then putting him and his family on the roadside when they won’t ...”

“ ... Or can’t,” replied Patrick. “Do you think this northern fella, biggar will do anything?”
“I’d be a bigger eegit if I did,” laughed Jimmy. His brother pretended to ignore him.
“To be honest, uncle, I’ve heard too many of them, promising us Paradise on Earth, but the only ones who get anything are themselves. Joe Biggar may be a good man, but he’s not one of us. He’s never seen his brother thrown out of his house on a winter’s night. None of his relations ever died of the hunger or the fever.”

His uncle sat back against the wall. “Things only seem to get worse instead of better. I used to think life would improve but when Maisy died I asked Frank O’Connor “Will it never get better?” and he put his big bear’s paw of a hand on my shoulder and said: ‘Don’t despair, Patrick. This will only last for as long as you live on this earth ...”

Both Michael and young Jimmy were sorry they had brought unhappiness to their uncle, and were anxious to lighten the atmosphere, but it fell to the irascible Jimmy to effect a change in mood.
“Did ye hear, uncle, about Peter McMahon, and what happened to him?” he smirked.
Something no good, like Peter McMahon himself,” replied Patrick, shrugging his shoulders as if he were cold.

“What happened then?” Michael inquired, as if he hadn’t heard the story before.
“Ah well, he was drinking in Bailieborough a few weeks ago an’ he was throwing it down him and anyone else who came near him ...”
“...and you no doubt went near him?” asked Michael.
“Sure isn’t he practically a neighbour?”
“His farm and yours are over a mile from one another,” asserted Patrick.
“Go on anyhow,” Michael commanded.

“Well when he left on the oul’ road for Kingscourt didn’t we follow him out. Well he was singing and shouting and roaring and when he came near Labanlea he saw this lone thorn bush in the moonlight. He gets it into his head that it’s one of the Macauley girls from over ‘round Killann and runs towards the bush shouting ‘A Rose, mo ghra, mo ghra,’ and he jumps up on the bush and puts his arms around it.”

“Are ye joking, Jimmy?”
“I’m not, I’m serious ..”
“Well the thundering eegit”
“And what happened to him?” inquired his uncle
“He was having a great time, patting the bush, kissing it, telling it how beautiful it was. And we weren’t too far off, and we couldn’t stop laughing.”

“Did yez just leave him there?” asked his uncle.

“What else could we do? Me and Tommy Joe Reilly went up to him after a while and tried to pull him off, but he was stuck there, and the more we pulled, the more we ripped his trousers, and that made us laugh even more, so we just left him there.”

Patrick darted his eyes over his two guests, up to the rafters of the roof and back to the floor, all the time shuffling his feet, as he did whenever he was displeased.

“Ah now, couldn’t ye have thrown a coat ‘round him or something. Have ye seen him since?”
“Aw we did. Last Sunday we kicked football in Muldoon’s meadow. Me and Tommy Joe were there, and Peter acted like he didn’t know us at all ...”

“Little wonder,” muttered Michael.
“We went up to him, and his face was all scratched. ‘Well Peter, did you have much luck with Rose Macauley last week on the mountain?’ I asked him. “She must have horrid nails on her!’ God, he gave us a horrid dirty look.”
“Who was playing?” asked Patrick.
“A crowd of us from Nolagh in one team, and Peter McMahon was with a load from Muff.”
“Did yez have a good game?”

“Ah it was good all right until one of them peelers from Bailieborough arrived. There he was in his uniform. He must have thought he was Napoleon Bonaparte. Some of the boys saw him coming and hopped over the stream, but the rest of us felt we had every right to kick football in our free time. He squawks: ‘It is against the law of the land to play games on the Lord’s Sabbath.’ Out with his book and he goes ‘round each one taking names and addresses, but all of the lads gave wrong ones. When he came to us Tonny Joe he says: “Charles Stewart Parnell, Avondale” and I say, “William Stewart Gladstone, London, England.”

Patrick shook his head sternly, though Michael found the whole story hilarious.
“The peeler looks at us, and says that he’d have us for contempt, and that we are in enough trouble already, so Tommy Joe says his name is John Thompson and I say I’m Thomas Johnson of Orangefield.”

Patrick slapped his hands off his knees and started laughing. “Thomas Johnson of Orangefield, that’s a good one. He must have though what were two good Protestant bosy like yourselves doing with a crowd of ruffians like that.”

“But sure he didn’t know any of us from the dogs. Anyhow there’s Protestants who kick football too. There’s them two from Lear, Sammy and Robby, and you wouldn’t want to be playing against them - they’d go through ye.”

“Do ye not kick anymore Michael?” enquired his uncle.
“Not as much as I used to. Anyway I preferred the hurling and that’s got too rough. But I remember one match over near Moybolgue, and ...” he stopped to have a little laugh, in anticipation of what he was going to relate “- well we were kicking hard, so hard that the ball burst.”

“It’s always serious when your ball bursts,” laughed Seamus.
Michael’s countenance momentarily changed from warm recollection to stern admonition.
“Hold your tongue James O’Reilly, or I’ll rip it out with me fingers.”
‘I said nothing,” pleaded Jimmy, like an angel caught red-handed pilfering apples from the Garden of Eden.

“Well if ye said less it would be better. Where was I? Aye, the ball burst and didn’t we have to set it back together again but before we could, we had to get big John McEnroe to blow into it. We were slagging him off, telling him that we never had him down for a blow. When we had it finished though, we hadn’t been playing a few minutes when we saw the owner of the field charging like a bull up the lane. So, as they might say in the Houses of Parliament, we were compelled to adjourn to another field, but when we were crossing the ditch didn’t the needle of a brier go into the ball and”

“ an it burst again”

“Aye, it burst again.”

“Aren’t they trying to get the football organised properly Michael?”
‘That’s true, uncle. There’s a fellow called Leneghan in Bailieborough setting up a team - but I don’t trust him. He’s from somewhere in the west, and I just know he’s no good.”
“But would he not ask you and your brother to play?”

“Little chance of that. I’ve heard he’s only interested in tip-toppers. Anyhow, I don’t think either of us will be sticking around for long.”

“Please don’t say that,” moaned their uncle
“What’s here for us? If I were to go to America I might find a wife and this boyo here might get a bit of sense through his skull.”

“Jimmy ... Michael, what would I do? ... What about the farm?” The old man was shaking in tears.
Jimmy got up and went over to Patrick. He took his forearm and said soothingly, “Come on now uncle, we won’t be going anywhere for a while yet ... not for a good while yet.”

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 1999