Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Doctors, Robbers and Wakes

This isn't a story but a wacky bit of history. I just found out today the reason funeral wakes came into being.

I just thought that the Irish loved a good party and any reason would do just fine. The beginnings of the Funeral Wake had a much more serous start. Medical science was in its infancy and they were mad for bodies to work on, expanding their knowledge. Annoyingly people were not so keen to co-operate. The number of people willing to be cut up in the name of science was tiny. Enter the greatest evil, cash.

The doctors began paying good money for a body. Enter the second great evil, people. Supply and demand did the rest. It was not long before freshly planted loved ones were just getting up and vanishing. That was when the wake was born,

Relatives would have to wait with the body while it was prepared for burial and stay awake, watch it while it was placed in the grave yard staying awake all the time. Lastly they had to stay with the body for several days afterwards particularly at night to make sure it was not dug up again while still usable.

Today a wake is a way to say good bye to a loved one but once it was a way to make sure you didn't loose them for good.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

King Rat

Have you noticed how determined everyone seems to be to leave a mark on the world? It must be a natural reaction to our mortality. Fame comes in many shapes and sizes. Some people are destined to be known throughout the ages, immortal through the annals of history, Achilles for instance. The rest of us have to accept that our own little glimmer of notoriety will dwindle slightly more quickly. Sadly, we don't often get to pick how we are remembered, that duty falls to the ones we encounter on our way.

In the eighties there was a man called Mr O'Gorman living in my town, he was a crooked old fella with withered features and a wicked scowl. He was determined to see the worst in everyone and everything. Nothing seemed to bring joy into his life. Hardly surprising really, he rattled around in a huge old store all by himself. What was once a thriving Grain and Feed business now was just a shell, falling into decay around the old man. Weeds sprouted through a massive yard, unused in years. The painted sign that stretched the length of the building had once announced, "O'Gorman and Son," proudly to the world in gold and black, now it was fading and flaked, a symbol of hope forever lost. It looked like a building abandoned to the mice and spiders. Mr O'Gorman was not a verbal man, he let his emotions crawl over his face like storm clouds racing over a sunny valley. Bumping into this shuffling figure could never be described as a pleasure, which Billy Nugent found out to his cost.

A small town is a microcosm, and one that can easily be thrown into uproar. One sunny Sunday, the morning the mass bell was still pealing when Mr O'Gorman was swept away from the steps of the church by a vision of evil. That was how the scene was retold later, at any rate. What had actually happened was Billy Nugent, recently returned from New York City, came careering down the pavement on something called a skateboard.

Clickity-clack, clickity-clack, clickity-clack, went the wheels as they pumped over cracks in the concrete. Along with the skateboard, Billy had returned from America with a whole collection of hoodies, an equally deadly addition to his arsenal of mayhem.  The sad truth of the matter was that, Billy, had no control of the board, and nearly no view of what lay ahead of him. The first time he saw Mr O'Gorman was when they became a flying ball of limbs. At first, some of the women thought it was the Grim Reaper, come to take the grumpy old sod down below. When they eventually untangled the mess, it was a major disappointment to see a spotty teenager emerge from the cowl.

"You guttersnipe, you should be arrested," growled Mr O'Gorman as he was helped to his feet.

"It wasn't my fault. You jumped right out in front of me," stammered Billy.

"Rubbish, you moron! This is a footpath, not a whatever-the-hell that is, path," roared the old man, waving his blackthorn stick at the upended skateboard.

"I have as much right to be on here as you, and it’s a skateboard, you old goat," said Billy, as bold as brass retrieving his board. The name calling was a step to far for Mr O'Gorman, who lashed out with his knobbly walking stick. Billy deftly avoided the blows and raced for safety.

"I'll get the Sargent after you…you PUP!" yelled the old man at the disappearing teenager.

Mr O'Gorman was nothing if not a man of his word. After several heated telephone calls to the Garda station, the Sargent finally agreed to call on the Nugent's, but refused to arrest the teenager for attempted murder, as the old man wanted. Now, whatever the Sargent was expecting to encounter it wasn’t the disinterested, disrespectful, irreverent young man he found Billy Nugent to be. Every attempt he made to explain the gravity of the situation, to the spotty teenager, was greeted with rebuttal. Most annoyingly, the kid's points were difficult to refute. In the end the Sargent could take no more, he blew his top, telling the sheepish parents that, "Billy would end up seeing the inside of a cell before long," then stormed out of the house.

The following few days saw several more angry calls from Mr O'Gorman, wanting to know, "Why that hooligan was still roaming the streets terrorising law abiding people?" Being told that there was nothing illegal about skateboarding did nothing to ease the situation.

"What do you mean nothing illegal? Didn't he nearly clean kill me?"

"I understand, Mr O'Gorman, but it was only an accident and I've had a stern word with him, and his parents."

"Feck all good your words are! Didn't I have to run him out of my yard only yesterday, with that devil board of his, and he gave me the finger, did you hear? The finger!"

The Sargent sighed heavily into the phone and said, "I’ll have another word." You could nearly hear his back creak under the weight of defeat.

"You do that, Sargent, and I'll start selling chocolate tea pots; they’ll be about as much use."

"I have to act within the law," said the Sargent, having nearly enough of being hectored by this old codger.

"Well, the law is an ass!" roared the old man.

"Are you calling me an ass," said the Sargent, not believing what he was hearing.

"If the cap fits, wear it," snapped Mr O 'Gorman, slamming down the handset.


The Sargent wasn’t the only one to feel the sharp side of Mr O'Gorman's tongue. Having given up on the law, he turned his attention on the head of the County Council, for whom he held little regard anyway. That phone conversation went even worse, as the Town Planning Officer was a jobsworth, with a lazy streak a mile wide. After listening disinterestedly to Mr O'Groman's rant, the Planning Officers reply was, "And what do you want me to do about it?" Mr O'Gorman's blood pressure went stratospheric.

"What do I want you to do? I want you to get off that huge, lazy, backside of yours and make this town a safe place to live. I want to know what you lot do in that brand new, state of the art, tower block, besides ripping off pensioners like me."

"We certainly do not rip off pensioners! I resent you're tone, Mr O'Gorman," said the Planning Officer hoitily. "We take no revenue from the retired of this community I will have you know."

"Why then, are you charging rates on my home?"

"Technically, it is a business premises, Mr O'Gorman."

"Technically, I haven't sold anything ten years, but the rates bill comes regardless."

"That is a different matter entirely," said the Planner, hastily.

"Different matter my arse, you mark my words, you little shit, if you don't do something about these kids, you’ll be sorry," ranted Mr O'Gorman, before driving the handset into its cradle with a crash. Another dead end but he was a dogged old man and once he got the bit between his teeth, little would distract him. He contacted the, National Roads Authority, the local TD, the Parish Priest, as well as every member of the tidy town committee. It seemed no one could do anything.

The Sargent had his own axe to grind with Billy Nugent. He was not used to being belittled, or ignored, making Billy a marked man. Whenever the opportunity arose the Sargent gave him a grilling, or a clip around the ear. He even hauled Billy into the station in the back of the squad car. This only made Billy’s reputation grow until it reached legendary proportions among the youth of the town. Soon, the number of hoody-wearing skateboarders began to grow, Billy's rein of anarchy was gathering an unwitting army to itself.

Billy was far from a criminal mastermind; he wasn't even a bad kid. He just let his mouth lead the way long before his brain knew what was happening. He never intended to knock over the old fella outside the church, or even get the Sargent so mad. It just seemed to happen. People said he was moody but most of the time he just had nothing to say. Billy didn’t really fit in anywhere. When other kids began to copy the way he dressed, and wanted to hang out with him, he thought it was wired…creepy even. In the end, the lure of company was too much, and he begrudgingly accepted his new role as the town bad boy.

Mostly, Billy loved to skateboard. He and his new friends made little ramps and tried to perfect tricks, using the steps of the church or the school playground when nobody was around. Once, he even skated in O'Gormans yard, thinking the old man was out. That had been a mistake. As the number of skaters in town grew, so did the number of voices raised in protest at their existence. Billy couldn't understand it, after all, what the hell were they doing that was so wrong? It wasn't like they were selling drugs or mugging the wrinklies. It just made no sense. When the council tried to get a bye law passed, banning the use of skateboards on public pavements, Billy knew something had to be done.

About then, the rats began appearing. Not real rats, ones even more insipid. Small graffiti rat's, on public buildings. They seemed to spring up overnight, like magic. People thought the first one was cute, as it depicted an old rat walking on its back legs with a little walking stick. The next one had the same little rat but this time he held a bunch of flowers. When the third one appeared, holding a severed head, the public outcry began. Guess who was first on the list for questioning? It was Billy with a bullet.  

Of course, he said he had nothing to do with it. The night after Billy was questioned a whole family of rats appeared on the county council building with the slogan, "Freedom for the People," blazoned in bold letters above them. Billy's feet hardly touched the ground as he was hauled back in for further questioning. This time, he did see the inside of a cell, a whole night’s worth. At a minute to five in the morning, he was released, with a boot in the arse to help him on his way home.

Billy trudged the sidewalks of town, his trademark hoody pulled low over his head. He’d told the Sargent a dozen times, he had nothing to do with rats, but he may as well have been taking to the wall. If the Sargent wanted proof he should just talk to any of his teachers. They would have been delighted to tell him that Billy hadn't an artistic bone in his body. He was beginning to wonder if his new found popularity was worth all the hassle. The town was eerie at this time of the morning, it was so quiet. He walked along rows of houses, fuming, when he saw something move in the darkness. He froze. If it was the Sargent, he’d probably nick him for loitering or something.

In the distance, he made out a hunched figure near the Water Works Office. Billy decided to get a better look and tip-toed. He was just about to stop when his foot landed on a patch of gravel, causing the figure to spin round. You could have knocked him over with a feather when a smiling Mr O'Gorman regarded him with twinkling eyes. Where he had been kneeling, there was a still wet drawing of a rat, shaking the last few coppers from a coin purse into the begging bowl of huge suited figure, with the slogan, Power Corrupts - Completely. Billy heard Mr O'Gorman chuckle for the very first time and in a wink, he was gone.

The very next day, Billy was back in the clutches of the Sargent. He never mentioned a word about what he had seen, but continued to protest his innocence. What would be the point in saying? Nobody was going to believe what he saw. One or two more rats appeared after that, but no one ever identified the artist. Billy continued to skateboard up and down the pavements of the town, and Mr O'Gorman continued to rail against the world.

A few years after that, Mr O'Gorman passed away. His funeral was attended by only a handful of elderly towns folk, and distant relatives. It amazed everyone when Billy Nugent turned up at the graveside and remained for the full service. It was even more baffling when Mr O'Gormans will was read. Hadn't he donated his yard to the community, under the stipulation that it be concreted over, and used only as a free skate park for the young people. He also added that the council could whistle for the rates owed on the land.

The day after the newly concreted skate park opened, the mysterious artist struck again. A giant rat, with a crown on his head, appeared on the largest jump. The Sargent didn’t come looking for Billy about this one, which was just as well, because he couldn’t get the paint to budge from under his fingernails.

Billy and his friends continued to skate there for many a year, under the happy observation of the smiling rat. In the end, the boy, and the man, neither of whom fitted well with the world, existed in harmony. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Eamon's Monument

Sometimes I think the romance has been sucked from life by the technology we surround ourselves with. It is hard to describe the feeling, computers, cars and such devices leave with me. Detachment is close.

I often think of the days when we were connected to our surroundings in a more basic way. When a man plunged his hands into the heavy loam of the earth, working it with skill and passion, to bring forth a bountiful harvest. Perhaps it is because I'm an island dweller that I feel this way. So many men in the past have faced death just to put a meal on the table. I think that accepting ones own mortality paints the world in wondrous colours. I love the ocean and respect it. It has shaped the very land I stand on, given birth to the all life. The vast expanse of water, that has made us what we are, is the greatest thing I have ever seen. I am drawn to it like so many that have gone before me.

Today, the waves are gentle and inviting. They lap against the limestone cliff as it plunges into the sea, diving deep, where light has never shone. The wind is sharp with just a taste of winter. Gulls hang in the air, effortlessly riding the currents with skill. A watery sun sinks slowly into the west as I wander the contours of Kerry Head. I know this land well; it has a feeling of history. The walls, built by hands long vanished from the earth. Coves, worn into the rock by eons of erosion. All this existed before I was born and will continue to exist long after I am gone.

I visit the old grave yard, remembering those who went before me. I wander among the stones, some new, some older than time. The ones that fascinate me most are the ones so weathered that all trace of inscription has vanished. These blank tablets of rock ignite my imagination with possibilities. As chance would have it, I stumbled on the final resting place of Sheila Lennihan. Her headstone inscription reads;

Sheila Lennihan (ni Brennan)
1905 - 1978
Beloved wife to Eamon, on whom she still waits. 

The story of Eamon and Sheila Lennihan is well know in these parts, and sadly, their story is not uncommon. You could search for a year and a day amoung the headstones in this grave yard but you will find no monument to the late Eamon Lennihan. He left a more personal reminder of his passing. This is his story.

Eamon Lennihan farmed a small holding, clinging to the very edge of the land where it gave way to the Atlantic Ocean. Like so many others, he had to turn to the sea to make ends meet. Early each day, he would take his battered old bike and ride the short distance to Kelly's Cove, and his Currach. For those that don't know, a Currach is a traditional Irish boat, made from pitch and hide. The hide in modern days had been replaced by canvas, but the intention remained the same. In these simple craft, Irish men have challenged the might of the sea for hundreds of years, gathering what little they needed to survive. Sometimes the saddest facts are also the simple ones. Not every man that left in a Currach came back.

On a morning like any other, Eamon waved goodbye to Sheila and set off on his rickety old bike. Before the sun was high in the sky, he’d pushed the boat into the waves forcing the Currach away from the land with powerful strokes of his narrow oars. The little boat creaked and groaned as it rode the swell, laden with a cargo of lobster pots. Before long Eamon and his Currach were out of sight. The day was a bright one with a gay breeze, the ocean rose and fell gently. 

In Lennihan's cottage, Sheila prepared a pot of stew, tended the chickens and looked after the few cattle they possessed. When the sun began to dip towards the west, the pot of stew remained untouched and cold on the kitchen table. Shelia had worn a trench of worry, from door to window, as she waited for Eamon to return. He had never been this late before. In the end she could wait no longer and hurried toward Kelly's Cove. As she raced past men toiling in the fields she asked if they had seen her Eamon? None had. Soon, the news spread and concerned friends began to gather. 

When Sheila reached the end of the path, she saw Eamon's bike leaning against the dry-stone wall bordering the sheltered inlet but his Currach was not on the shingle beach. Sheila searched the ocean for her husband as people rallied round. Men ran to boats, launching them into the evening sun and stroking for known fishing spots. Women gathered around Sheila but she wouldn’t be moved from the edge of the cliff. She searched the horizon and cried with joy when she spotted a boat, only to sob with anguish when she realised it was a search boat returning empty handed. 

The last boat returned just as the sun touched the western edge of the ocean. Sheila refused leave. The women built a fire on the edge of the cliff to keep her warm and to guide the lost Eamon home. The beacon burned all night, and in the morning, everyone except Sheila accepted the tragic loss.

Sheila never would, or could, accept that her Eamon was not coming home. Every evening before the sun would set, she made her way to Kelly's Cove and watch the horizon until dark, waiting for her man to return. Having no body to bury there was never a grave stone erected in memory of Eamon Lennihan, that is not to say he was forgotten. 

I give Mrs Lennihan's headstone a touch for luck before walking down the path that took me to Kelly's Cove, to stand on the headland, as she had done every night to watch the sun go down over the wild Atlantic Ocean. As I rounded the last corner, I caught a glimpse of Eamon's Monument, still lying against the wall where he'd left it, all those years ago. An old bike waiting to carry its owner home. 

Perhaps I was a bit harsh about technology at the start of this piece, when used right, there is majesty in just about anything.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Work In Progress

I was delighted to find the fantastic Teagan Kearney had nominated me for this blog challenge, it is just the kick in the arse I needed. If the truth be known, the work in progress over the last few weeks was a demanding repaint of the house and laying timber floors, which has muted most of my efforts on my blog of late. All that is about to change.

Here are the rules:
Provide the link back to the post by the person who nominated you.
Write a little about your work-in-progress.
Give the first sentences of the first three chapters of your current WIP.
Nominate four other writers for the challenge.

Teagan Kearney, where do you start with a personage as deep and complex as Teagan. The simple fact of the matter is you just have to dive right in, that is just what she does with each and every post. They say that every writer has a voice, or should have a voice. Teagan's voice rings out crystal clear, filled to the brim with honesty, passion and courage. She helps without asking anything in return while laying bare her very soul for all of us to wonder at. As for her talents, they seem boundless. A taker of pictures, a blogger of sanity and fountain of wondrous fiction, where to start with Ms Kearney is not the problem, its the ability to drag yourself away from her posts is always an issue I have. I am proud to count her among my friends. 


Now onward with the challenge. 

So what have I started but not yet finished? The answer is loads but the biggest thing is a monster called Honeysuckle Lane. 80,000 words and counting ( not saying many of them are good) with a hazy image of a finish line on the horizon. I have no idea what to do with this when it is done except to say that it's finished. I think I over extended myself when starting this by choosing four intertwining story lines with a cast of characters Ben Hur would be proud of.

Here are the first couple of sentences of the first three chapters ( I feel I should apologise in advance here).

Intro Honeysuckle Lane
 Frank's palms slipped on the steering wheel. This was a full on panic attack now. Was the car following or not? His eyes flicked constantly to the rear view mirror. Hunched up over the wheel, his body hummed with tension.“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” he said. He hit the brakes hard when a red Micra pulled out in front of him

Chapter One
“Is that you Frank?” called Barbra from upstairs.
“Hi Bar,” he called back with just the hint of exasperation.
Who did she think it was? Every night the same thoughtless question. Frank yearned for the woman Barbra used to be. That woman wouldn't call such banal rubbish at the sound of an opening door, far from it, that woman would have playfully called “Bill you know you shouldn’t be here, Frank will be home soon,” knowing full well it was her husband who listened.

Chapter Two
Mary Sweeney stood inside her sitting room window watching the grey haired man outside the O’Shea’s house. She was on the verge of phoning them when Frank come out. It was hard to be sure but he did not seem overjoyed with his visitor. A few minutes later they both got into Franks fancy new car.

I am not expecting anyone out there to swoon at these opening lines, far from Joyce they are, at least they are mine.  

This is the bit that I have been wanting to get to. The four fantastic people who light up my days when I read their words. Sadly I cannot re nominate Teagean as she surely deserves it, I would have also nominated Gendon Perkins but he has withdrawn from blogging of late. Considering these notable exceptions, here are my picks for the challenge.

A Long. AJ is one of my oldest friends on G+, a poet of extreme talent and a hell of a nice guy. 

I love Ali's blog posts, her craft is beyond question. She fills each and every post with information, intrigue and joy. She what a real writer is all about.

Erica Gore displays all the polish you would expect from a professional writer and journalist without any of the distance. She is the possessor of the biggest heart with the sharpest mind around.

Rob Tobor is one of the zaniest bloggers out there, every post leaves me amazed at the world his brain occupies. Always amazing always way way out there.

That is my work in progress blog post, I hope my four nominated people don't mind too much and will take part. Thanks everyone and keep tuned for the next story.