The Aulí Man
Rathhamilton, 17th October, 1922.
I hope you and yours are well. I am well as mine are.
Uncle Thomas died last week. He was 79 years old. He had a grand send-off.
Hugh and Biddy are both gone. God rest their souls. Mammy
died in the spring of 1915 and Hugh died before Christmas of 1918. I am
married and have two sons Gerard and Graham. They work on the farm with me.
I have only cattle now and no sheep or potatoes. I thank you for all your
letters to Thomas in the past. The priest read them for Thomas and me.
Willie Donaghue, the lawyer spoke to me after the funeral
and told me that Thomas had left the house and workshop to your son Mack. It
is in good condition. Thomas had not worked for many years but he kept the
house well. There is also a sum of 43 pounds and twelve shillings in
banknotes and coins which are his too. The lawyer drew up a will for him
some years ago. It is all legal. The lawyer is William Donaghue, Castle
Write and let the lawyer know what Mack will do with the
x (his mark)
Dictated to Rev. F. McGinty, (Parish Priest, St. Brendanís
Cormac was home late. The flu was doing the rounds. Two
book-keepers were sick. He mashed the last of his potatoes into the gravy,
forked it into his mouth and put down his knife and fork. Beth was busy at the
"That was grand. I enjoyed that."
"That you finished? You want a cup of tea? Thereís still
one warm in the pot. Oh, thereís a letter on the dresser for you."
He picked it up, slit it open with his thumb and read it.
"Cormac. Mother of God. Whatís wrong?"
"My mammy and daddy are dead." Cormacís shoulders heaved
and bucked under his sobs. "So is uncle Thomas." He rose from
the chair and went into the garden where he stood alone in the dark.
John stood up to follow him.
"Leave him alone, son," Beth held him back. "Let him be
just now. Donít shame him in his grief."
Beth picked up the letter from the floor, where it had
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Holy mother of God." She laid the
letter on the table.
"Mother, now whatís wrong?" John made to lift it.
"No. Please donít touch it. Itís private. I shouldnít have
read it. Your father will tell you in good time."
"If itís more bad news, I want to know. Donít leave me
wondering." John reached again for the letter.
"Itís not bad news. Itís just something your father will
want to tell you himself. And donít say that I know anything. Itís all right
son. If it was bad, I would tell you. I wouldnít hurt you like that. Donít say
anything to anybody. Now, promise me. Youíll hear soon enough"
"Aye, all right, but youíve fair got me worried."
"No need. I promise you." She smiled at him, though she
did not feel like smiling. This meant a parting. Beth hated partings,
especially from her children.
"All right, Aulí-man? Come and sit down." Cormac had come
back in from the garden. "Iím awful sorry about gran and granda Sleanagh.
And uncle Thomas. Here, Iíve poured you a wee dram. Drink that down. Itíll
Cormac sat down at the table. "Thanks, son." He sipped at
the whisky. "No. Take it away. Iíve no taste for it just now."
Beth came over from the sink where she had been standing.
Bending over, she kissed him on the forehead.
"Iím awful sorry Cormac. Iíll make a fresh cup of tea."
"Iíd like a cup of tea, Beth. Thanks." He took his handkerchief from his
pocket and gave a blow into it. He took a deep breath, held it, and let it
Picking up the letter, he said, "Whereís Mack tonight?" He put
the letter in his pocket.
John looked at his watch. "Itís past seven oíclock. He was
closing the shop up tonight. He was going straight to the house after
closing up. He should be there by now."
"Howís that tea getting on, Beth? When weíve had it, weíll
walk down to Mackís. I want to talk to him. Thatís if heíll stop long enough
to talk to us."
"I know. Heís really making a nice job of the house. Him
and Jimmy McKellar are putting in the new fireplace tonight. Annís a
lucky lassie, moving straight into such a great house when she gets married."
"Youíre right there John. I wish your mammy and I could
have had something like that. Remember the Rieds Beth? Is there any
of that cake left? That nice cherry-cake we had last night? Cut me a slice
of it there. Thanks."
"You all right now Aulí-man?" This was a familiarity
seldom used. Among themselves, the boys referred to Cormac as the
"Aulí-man," but seldom. if ever, did they address him by it.
"Aye, son. Iím fine. It just came as a shock. Suddenly
there it was. Theyíre dead. I knew they had to be dead. Theyíve been dead Ė
what - five or six years already. They must have been eighty-odd, the both
of them; a good age. And Thomas as well. I wrote to Thomas every year since
I came to Scotland. Never had the scrape of a pen back from any of them over
there; till today.
Ah, Beth, thatís grand."
He took the cup from her.
"Why did he leave it to me? Why not to uncle Harryís boys.
Why not to you, or divide it between all the nephews and nieces?"
"Well, Mack, weíll never know for sure, but I think youíll
find that he had a soft spot for me. He wanted me to stay there, learn the
trade and take over from him, while I was staying with him after I left the
farm. He probably thought, that I was well settled, and wouldnít be needing
it. Youíre young and starting out, so heíll have thought youíre next in line
to inherit the farm, so to speak. Itís still the way their minds work. The
oldest son gets the farm. I suppose, in a way, when I think about it, Iím
surprised he never left it to me, as Iím the real next-in-line. Weíll never
"What am I going to do with an old house in the back of
beyond in Ireland? Iíve never been there. Iíve never seen the place. Whatís
it like, Carlingford?"
"Well, remember, itís been more than thirty years since I
saw the place, but itís a beautiful part of the world. The Lough is amazing
with the hills all round it; and the Carlingford mountains at the back are
glorious. You should see them in the autumn when the brackenís turning
colour. You could live in worse places."
"Who said anything about living there? Iíve no intention
of going to live there. Iíll probably just sell it and stay here in the shop
"Now, I didnít mean it like that. It was just a manner of
speaking. But youíre quite a wealthy young man now. Youíve a house, and
forty-odd pounds in your pocket. Why donít you and Ann go over for a few
days? Iím sure, if you wrote to your uncle Harry, he could find you a bed
for a few nights. Iíve a notion heíd like that fine. And you could look
around the place and see what the possibilities are. You never know. You
might fall in love with the place and never come back."
"Aye. Why donít I do that? Iíll talk to Ann tonight. Weíll
go after weíre married. Weíll make the honeymoon of it. She would like it,
and so would I. And like you said, I can afford it, canít I? Why not? John
can do without me in the shop for a week or so.
"Afternoon Eric. Is it too late to wish you a Happy New
"I donít think so, Cormac. They say itís all right before
the end of January. Itís only the seventh."
"In that case, Happy New Year." They shook hands.
"Anything special, or just routine?"
"New Year visit. We do it every year." The sales rep.
produced a bottle of whisky from a bag. "Compliments of AGL. Thanks for the
good co-operation in 1922, and hereís to more of the same in 1923."
"Thatís very generous of you. Thank you." Cormac put the
bottle in a drawer. "Did you have a good New Year?"
"I did. Our family always has a big party at the bells.
Weíve been doing it for years. Quite a tradition. It goes on all night. We
always hold it at my mother and fatherís. Thereíll be forty of us there."
"Sounds a bit like us at Christmas. We always have good
"I suppose you didnít hear about Greg Barclay?"
"No. What happened?"
"What? How did that happen? Heís just a young man. Was he
ill or something?"
"Drowned coming home from the New Year party at the Orange
hall on New Yearís morning. He left the hall at about four oíclock, and they
found him in the river on the Thursday afternoon. They think he fell in.
They say he was pretty well-on when he left the hall."
"Thatís terrible." Cormac sat down. "Iíll write a wee note
to Marge. Iíve met her quite a few times at the bowls. Thatís terrible."
"They found out he was on the fiddle."
"He was sending out false invoices for small amounts. He
was getting them paid into the petty-cash account. He was in charge of that,
so he could draw out the payments as cash for the petty-cash box, and was
putting it into his own pocket. He had stolen forty or fifty pounds in a
year. Did you not notice anything?"
Cormac hesitated. Christ, now what do I say? They might
find out about the blackmail. And theyíre sure to see the invoices he sent
me when they check it all out. Are they setting a trap for me here? This
could be a pack of lies to make me admit something. Jesus, what am I going
to say? Heís dead. Nothing can happen to me now. I can tell them about my letter. They
might even have found it.
"I did. I noticed that a couple of invoices for breakages
looked like duplicates and sent him a wee note querying them. He sent me a
note back saying just to ignore them. I assumed he just tore them up. I
never heard anything more about them."
"Have you still got the note he sent back?"
"No. I threw it away. Should I have kept it?"
"It might have helped us find out exactly what he was up
to. No, donít worry. Itís not that important. Wish to God the others had
been as careful. You seem to be the only one that noticed anything. Could I
look at the invoices in your files?"
"Iíd have to ask Mr. Hutchinson about that."
"Ah, just leave it then. Itís not that important. I wish
youíd mentioned it to me at the time. We could have caught him at it. It
wasnít a lot, but still Ö"
That night after tea, Cormac took the dogís lead from the
"Fancy taking the dog out John?"
"Aye, why not? Itís dry enough now."
They walked out along the Kilwinning Road to where the
street lamps stopped.
"Greg Barclayís dead."
"Oh aye. What happened to him?"
"Drowned on New Yearís morning on his way home from a
party in the Orange hall. Fell in the river."
"Thatís a shame. Well, thatís the end of your problem
"Did you have anything to do with this?"
"Me? How the hell would I have anything to do with it?"
"I donít know John, and I donít think I want to know.
Youíre a deep bugger at times. Itís funny that it happened after I told you
"Do you think I went over there and threw him in? I was
down at Larry and Ireneís till the wee hours. I didnít get home till nearly
seven oíclock. I had a good drink in me. I couldnít have thrown myself in
the river, never mind anybody else. No Aulí-man, itís just a coincidence. A
happy one. Weíre well rid of him."
They turned and went home. John was thoughtful. I wonder
if theyíll be back looking for a return favour.
"Cormac. Give me your hankie."
Beth blew her nose as quietly as she could, so as not to
draw attention to herself. She dabbed the tears from her eyes and put the
handkerchief into her handbag. She hung onto Cormacís arm with both hands.
There was a terrible draught in the church which made the candles flicker
and jump. It was an unseasonably cold, rainy Saturday in May. Beth shivered.
"Dearly beloved. We are gathered here together today, in
the presence of God, to join in Holy Matrimony, Cormac Anthony Sleanagh, and
Ann Philomena Lawler." Monsignor Friel led the couple through their vows to
the accompaniment of floods of tears from Beth. She used up handkerchiefs
from Cormac, John and Dan besides her own tiny thing.
After the Nuptial Mass, they had the wedding-breakfast in
number 37 which turned into a party that continued till four in the morning.
The new couple left the following day, in beautiful
sunshine, to catch the boat to Belfast, to spend a weekís honeymoon in
Carlingford with uncle Harry.
It had been a great wedding; everybody agreed.
The train hissed and clanked into Carlingford station. It
was spring, the year after the letter with the news of uncle Thomas had
arrived in Kerlaw. From the window, Mack recognised Harry at once. They
stepped down onto the platform. Mack lifted the suitcase down.
"Mack, Ann. Itís grand to see you both." Harry had just as
little trouble recognising Mack. "Give me that case, Mack. The trapís
just outside. Itís a five minute ride out to Rathhamilton."
Ann held onto her bonnet as the shiny, black trap bowled
down a well-made road along the north side of the Lough, behind a sleek,
black pony called Tip.
"Daddy Sleanagh said it was beautiful here, but we never
realised he meant it was this beautiful."
"Sure enough; Carlingfordís a lovely part of Ireland.
Weíll get you settled in when we get home. Itís just round the bend there.
Youíll see the roof showing through the trees over there just in a minute.
There it is now look."
Harry turned the trap into the farm road. It was a couple
of hundred yards up the little hill to the farm-yard in front of the house.
Harryís wife, Bridie, came out to meet them as Tip pulled up.
"Oh look at the pair of you. Mack, Iíd have known you for
a Sleanagh anywhere. And Ann, youíre so pretty. Youíre lovely. You
must be exhausted , both of you. Come away in, Iíve got the kettle on. The
teaíll take but a minute to set. Gerry and Graham are up on the hill behind.
Theyíll be down before long and youíll meet them too."
"Bridie, will you give the pair of them peace. Theyíve not
stepped down from the trap yet, and already theyíve had our life-history."
"Oh go away with you Harry Sleanagh. Sure, Iím only making
them welcome to Ireland. Itís not every day I get to meet new relations. Is
it? Youíre both very welcome to Rathhamilton. Come in. Come in and sit down
while I get the tea ready."
Harry looked on in exasperation. Mack caught his eye. The
look they exchanged was enough. The womenfolk went into the house.
"Iíll put the horse away. Iíll be there in five minutes."
"Iíll come and give you a hand," said Mack.
"No need, no need. Go on in and sit down. Iíll be but a
couple of minutes."
"Iíll come and give you a hand," said Mack firmly with a
"Ah, right. A nodís as good as a wink. Come on over to the
"Sheís a beauty."
"She is that. Bred her myself. Iíve a small herd out the
back. Iíve eight of them now. Itís a bit of a hobby. I breed them and show
them. Itís the only diversion I get."
"Aye. I can imagine. A place this big must take a lot of
your time. The Aulí-man never let on it was as big as this."
"Well it wasnít when he was here. I bought the farm next
to the old place. Itís nearly four times bigger than when your father knew
Harry had Tip out of the harness and rubbed down, before
Mack could take his hands out of his pockets.
"Go over to the box in the corner there, and bring her an
apple. She deserves a sweet bite. Sheís been a good lass. Havenít you, my
Mack came back with an apple in the palm of his hand. Tip
picked it off delicately with her lips and crunched it. Harry turned her
into the paddock beside the others.
"Letís get into the house and suffer these cackling women.
Is Ann as bad as Bridie? If Iíd known what Bridie was like before, I
swear Iíd never have married her. Iíve had blisters on my ears ever since.
God help me."
"Get away with you. Sheís lovely, and youíd be lost
"Sure, I suppose youíre right, but sheís still a penance
at times." They both laughed.
Between meeting all the relations, being shown around the
area, looking over their new property and generally being holiday-makers,
seven days passed and they found themselves on the boat back to Winton. They
had no chance to discuss their experiences in Rathhamilton. They sat in the
saloon, looking out over the North Channel.
"You know this is one of the most dangerous bits of sea in
"Who told you that?"
"The Aulí-man. He was a fisherman for a year or so before
he settled in Ayrshire."
"I never knew that. Well youíd never think it was so dangerous today. Itís
a lovely day for a sail. Itís been a wonderful week. Iíve
fair enjoyed myself."
"Aye, so did I. What did you think of Carlingford?"
"I liked it. You?"
"I liked it as well. Iím surprised how much I liked it. I
had no idea that the house was so big. With the big workshop, itís huge.
John would be jealous of such a big shop."
"Maybe we could open a shop there. You know all about
running a shop."
"Aye, Iíd thought about that myself when I saw how big it
was. But thereís only three or four hundred folk living in Carlingford.
Youíd need a lot more than that to make a shop profitable."
"I suppose youíre right. Now if it was a pub, that would
be enough folk to make it worthwhile. The way they drink there. Itís like
nothing Iíve ever seen." Ann laughed.
"I know. Thereís nothing else for them to do. There was
only one dirty, wee shebeen in the place, and it was always full. They
were going in there at nine oíclock in the morning. And as far as I could
make out, it never closed. I wonder when the owners ever got to their beds."
Mack gave Ann the impression he was making idle
conversation, but she had set him thinking
The brothers took it in turns to open the shop in the
morning. They would brush the place out and put the kettle on for the first
cup of tea. Mack walked down the hill. It was a Wednesday morning in March,
mild and cloudy.
What the devil, he thought, noticing the big, front
"Fuck them," he exclaimed angrily, biting his tongue at
the expletive he abhorred.
Both windows were daubed with whitewashed slogans: Ďfuck
the pope; God bless King Billy; papish bastards.í
He opened the shop and cleaned the windows with soap and
water. Thinking it was just the work of a drunk on his way home
from the pub, he did not mention it to the others.
The following week, John found the same thing.
"I had it last week. I thought it was just some drunken
prod having a bit of fun at our expense. Never really thought any more about
it. Itís likely the same eejit," said Mack, when John let his anger get the
better of him.
"I wouldnít get steamed up about it. Thereís probably
somebody further up the street whoís been whitewashing the house and them
eejits have stolen the bucket and did this to the shop."
"Youíre probably right, but if I get my hands on him, Iíll
wring his neck."
Over the next four weeks, the shop was whitewashed with
Orange slogans six more times.
"Iím going to stay in the shop at night, till I catch
them." John was in fighting mood.
"Whatíll you do? Go out and fight them? For you can be
sure thereíll be more than one of them. This isnít just a drunk coming home
from the pub. If it was, heíd be bored with it by now. No, this is something
"Paddy, I donít care. Iím fed up with it, and Iím going to
break some heads."
"John, if anybodyís headís going to get broke, itís likely
going to be yours."
"So what am I supposed to do; wash the shite off every
morning for the next ten years?"
"Iíd rather see you do that than visit you in the
"Or worse," said Mack. "Look, just ignore it. I bet you it
stops within a couple of weeks."
"Aye, I suppose youíre right. But what happens if it
"Weíll worry about that when it happens. I bet you Iím
right. If itís still there in a month, Iíll buy you a bottle of Bellísí."
A week later, both windows were smashed."
"I shouldnít have listened to the pair of you," John
"Fair enough. You were right. But, me and Paddy are still
right about you not staying in the shop at night. This is serious. Theyíre
out to get us."
The damage was reported to the police, who did nothing
except make up a report. John, who did not believe in insurance, paid Eamon
Slavin, the local Catholic builder handsomely to replace the windows. Two
weeks later, to the day, they were broken again. Written on the pavement
were the words, Ďpapists fuck off.í
Again, the police made a report. At Johnís request for
increased patrols in the street, the police promised to do so. John and Mack
stayed in the shop each night for a week. They saw neither hooligans nor
police. Thereafter, the three boys and Cormac, took it in turns, in twos, to
guard the shop each night. No-one saw any trouble-makers or extra police
patrols. After a month of peace and quiet, while the four became more and
more tired, the night-vigil was stopped.
"Aye, peritonitis; a burst appendix. She was rushed into
Stobhill in Glasgow on Thursday night."
"Mother of God. Is she all right?"
"Not really. Sheís awful ill. The doctor said it was touch
and go. Iím just going up to see her now. Iím getting the ten-past train.
If Iím going to catch it, Iíll have to get my skates on. Itís a quarter to,
"You wait there. Iíll get my coat and handbag. Iím coming
with you." Beth hurried back into the house.
"Cath, Cath. Where are you?" Cath came up from the garden.
"Dorrie Banksí sister Elsieís in the hospital in Glasgow.
Iíve just heard. Dorrie and me are going up to see her. Sheís very sick. You
stay in the house till I get back. Iíll be back before tea-time. Make
sandwiches instead of your dinner. Iíll make the dinner at night when I get
back. Tell the rest of them where I am. Your daddyís away to the football. Will you be all right?"
"Of course Iíll be all right. Whatís wrong with Mrs Bankís
"Burst appendix. Now, donít leave the house empty." Beth
shrugged into her coat, lifted her handbag, and went out.
Visiting time was from two till half-past. Elsie was
semi-delirious. Dorrie was very upset.
"Beth, Iím going to stay with her. Iíll get a train back
tonight. You donít mind, do you?"
"Donít be silly. Itís your own sister. You stay here. Iíll
get back to Kerlaw all right on my own. Do you want me to do anything for
"No, Craig knows where I am. Heís taking care of the
weans. Everythingís arranged in the house. If you see him, tell him Elsieís
not too good. Right, away you go. It was awful good of you to come up with
me. Away and get your family fed. If theyíre like my lot, theyíll starve if
Iím not there." Dorrie gave a wee smile. Beth squeezed her hand.
"Iíll look in on Craig and the children to see if they
need anything. Iíll see you at Mass in the morning. Donít you worry about
anything. Iíll make sure they get fed."
Beth caught the tram back to the city centre. She got off
outside Masonís department store in Argyle Street. As Iím here, Iíll get
some underwear, she thought. It wonít take ten minutes. Inside, she walked
up to the ladies department on the first floor. Forty-five minutes later
with several sets of underwear, a jumper and several pairs of stockings,
Beth walked back down the stairway to street-level.
"My God, thatís awful like Cormac," she muttered to
herself. She stopped on the landing halfway down, where she could look out
over the ground-floor sales area. A couple with two children were in the
childrenís shoe department. The girl admired her feet in a mirror. The boy
It is Cormac. Thatís his coat and cap. What is he doing
here? She stood and watched. The four moved nearer to the stairway. Mother
of God, thatís our Maggie. The girl was in her mid-teens. She watched as
shoes were bought for both children. The girl reached up and kissed Cormac
as she was given her parcel.
She followed the four and saw Cormac embracing the woman
as they went through the barrier for the Helensburgh train at Central
station. She remembered the Helensburgh train-ticket in his pocket from
several years previously. At a distance she followed him out into Gordon
Street where he crossed the road and went into the Corn Exchange bar.
Beth turned the key in the door at Hillhead Street at
quarter past six. Cath met her in the hall.
"Hello Mammy, howís Elsie?"
"Sheís awful sick. The doctors think she might die. Dorrie
stayed with her."
"Mammy, are you all right. You look terrible."
"No, I feel terrible. Iím going to my bed. Whereís Maggie?
You and her can make the dinner. Tell Maggie to go round to Mr. Banksí
and see if theyíre all right. I promised Dorrie that Iíd look in on them, but Iím
not up to it."
Beth went to bed. She stayed there for three days. She
refused to have the doctor. On Wednesday morning, she resumed her normal
"What the devil is wrong with my mother?" The boys were in
the White Hart.
"I have no idea. Sheís hardly said a word to the Aulí-man
since the weekend. Have they had a falling-out?"
"Not that I know of. You heard or saw anything John?"
"Iím no wiser than youse."
At half past eight, the three oldest boys were sitting in
the back corner in the White Hart. Mack got a round in. He had his beer as
did Paddy. Johnís preference was Bellís whisky. They nodded to acquaintances
as they came and went. It was obvious, the Sleanaghs did not want company.
"Well how much do you think it will take?" John, as ever,
got to the heart of the matter.
"Thatís just it. I havenít a clue. If it were here, I
could go to half a dozen folk that we know, and they would be able to give
me an idea. But nobody here knows what things cost over there. It could be
half, it could be double."
"Youíre sure the buildingís in good condition? You donít
want to start on something and then find out that the bloody place is ready
to fall down." Paddy was the practical one.
"Iím pretty certain of that. The place is very well built.
I did look at it carefully, inside and out. Iím no surveyor, but there were
no cracks in any of the walls, and I got my hands on a screwdriver, and
poked at all the floors, ceilings and beams I could reach. Everything was
like iron. I couldnít stick it in a bit, anywhere. No, Iím pretty certain
the buildingís as sound as anything."
"Exactly how big is it?" Paddy again.
"I made a sketch. Ann went out with Auntie Bridie one day,
and I walked down to the workshop, just myself. Iíve got it here. Now, itís
just a rough sketch. and the measurements are paces, big ones. So you can
easily count them as a yard." Mack showed them a page from a notebook. John
"Jesus. Is this true? The workshopís 18 paces by 12? That
means itís 54 feet by 36. Thatís a wee town hall. And the house built onto
it is 36 by 36 feet? And the whole thing is two stories? Itís huge." He did
some quick, rough arithmetic.
"Thatís about six and a half thousand square feet of
floor-space. And youíve got," he paused again to do his sums, "almost twenty
five hundred square feet of land next to it. Jesus Christ. I wish to hell I
had that kind of property here in Kerlaw. Iíd be a bloody rich man."
"Donít forget, the upstairs floors have got sloping roofs.
Theyíre lofts. You canít stand upright at the sides. The roof has got a
steep pitch though, so you can stand up in most of it."
"Itís bounded on three sides by the street. Itís perfect
for a pub. I suppose, theyíll not be making too many difficulties about
things like building permits and stuff like that." Paddy returned to the
"There is just one thing, though. What the hell do you
know about running a pub?"
"You should see them over there. At the rate theyíre
sinking the stuff, the pubs run themselves. No, Iím not worried about being
able to run a pub. Iíve been in the shop long enough to know how to run a
business. And Iíll not be long learning to pull a pint."
"What will you do about the wee shebeen thatís there.
Heíll likely be selling the stuff at half the price youíll be charging?"
"Aye. Itís something to think about. I might buy him out.
There again, maybe Iíll just leave him there. He might take away the rough
trade and leave me with the more respectable folk. Thereís probably room in
the town for two pubs anyway."
"Anyhow. Hereís what I think you want to do. You need to
get back over to Carlingford, get an architect to make you a plan and a
builder to give you a price. Only when youíve got that, you can start to
make some kind of decisions. Right now, youíre just wasting your time."
"Johnís right. It hurts me to say it, but heís right."
Paddy laughed and went to get another round.
"Youíve still got that money Thomas left you. Use that to
see whether youíve got a workable plan. If itís not, then that propertyís
still worth a lot of money. Sell it and use the proceeds for something else.
You canít lose."
"What about the shop? Iíll need to be taking a lot of time
"Bugger the shop. Iíll not be paying you for the time
youíre not there anyway." John punched him on the shoulder. "Weíll manage
without you. If you do decide to go to Carlingford, weíll have to anyway,
"Iíll go back next week. Iíll book my ticket tomorrow."
"Now hold your horses. Just wait a minute. If you go
charging off next week, youíll only spend your time trying to find an
architect and builder. Get uncle Harry to do that before you go. Then, when
you get there, you can start doing the business right away." John tapped his
temple knowingly. "Listen to your wee brother. He knows what heís talking
"Youíre right. Iíll write to him tonight."
"Youíre keen on this, arenít you?"
"I am, and I canít believe it myself. If youíd told me Iíd
be like this, three months ago, Iíd have laughed at you."
Paddy came back with the round.
"Here get that down you."
The three brothers discussed a range of plans and
possibilities. John enjoyed the buzz of new ideas with the accompanying
element of risk. Mack was wound up with the excitement of a possible new
life. Paddy was bored. Mack would either do it or he would not. Endless
debate about the relative merits of one plan against another made him
"Whose round is it? Iím empty."
"Aye, just a minute. Now, if you were to borrow the money in Ireland, I bet
you the interest thereís not as high as here in Scotland. That could save
you twenty or even twenty-five quid a year right there. Here. Thereís ten
shillings. Away up and get a round in."
Paddy took the bank-note John proffered and went up to the
"Iím all right. I donít need another yet. Just get
yourself and Mack a pint."
Paddy looked at the few drops left in Johnís glass
thinking, the tight buggeríll make that last till itís Mackís round again. No
wonder heís got money in his pockets. He never spends any. They stayed
talking till Mrs. Martin rang the bell.
"Thereís last orders. Itís my round. Whatíll you have?"
"Sit down John. Youíve done it again. Thatís ten oíclock,
and drinking-up time. As usual, you managed to miss last-orders."
"I never heard the first bell. Are you sure?"
"Aye John, weíre sure. Iíve had enough anyhow. I didnít
want any more tonight. Drink up and letís get up the road. Mother will have
the kettle on. Iím hungry."
Where is that thing? Why canít a body find anything in
this house? Beth rummaged through the pile of old magazines. The Scots
Magazine was a family favourite every month. April was flicked through and
discarded. March went the same way. January too. Where is February? There
you are. On page 24 there was an article on Helensburgh. As a regular
advertiser, Clyde View Guest House was featured in it, with a picture of the
proprietor and her two children.
I knew Iíd seen that girl before. I remember thinking at
the time that she was awful like Maggie. Wilson, 35, West Clyde Street; Beth
wrote it down and put the paper in her purse.
The following Saturday, Cormac was at Rugby Park in
Kilmarnock for the game against Queen of the South. Beth caught a train to
Glasgow, and then to Helensburgh. She walked up the three steps and pressed
the brass bell-push. Ellen opened the door.
"Is your mother in?"
"Would you like to come in and Iíll go and get her."
Beth stepped into the hall. Ellen disappeared.
"Good afternoon. Can I help you Ö.." Maisieís throat
closed. She tried to generate some saliva with which to say something..
Eventually, "Come into the sitting room." Maisie led the
way through and gestured to an easy-chair. Beth sat down. Maisie sat
opposite her. The fire in the hearth seemed to shrink in the chilly
"How did you find us?"
"That article in the magazine was against my better
judgement, but the reporter was very persuasive. Ah well. Whatís doneís
done. What happens now?"
"The two children are Cormacís? The girl is the image of
our Maggie when she was that age."
"Yes, theyíre Cormacís. And there was another one. You saw
Phillip and Ellen. Corrie died."
"You mean there were three?"
"We made Corrie in Girvan before he met you. She died when
she was twelve. She would have been thirty-one this year." Beth was still.
"Were the pair of you married?"
Maisie smiled. "No, I took advantage of a sweet, young,
innocent lad, straight off the boat from Ireland. He ran away the next day
and never knew anything about the child. We met by accident in Paisley when
she was 12. She died the same year, just weeks after Cormac saw her for the
"After Corrie died, I fell on bad times and Cormac wanted
to help me. He wanted to make up for not being there for the child. He
felt very guilty. At first I told him to go to hell. I was that angry at him
for running away and leaving me. But he kept coming back and he helped me
get back on my feet. And then we just fell in love again. Heís a wonderful
man. Youíre a very lucky woman."
The two women were quiet for several minutes.
"Iím going to put the kettle on. Díyou want a cup?"
"I came here with murder in my heart to scratch your eyes
"I know. We can go out into the garden if itíll make you
feel any better."
"Why are you not the brazen hussy I wanted to find? I
should have known that he wouldnít have had anything to do with anybody like
that. Damn the man. I can never stay angry at him. Aye, dammit, give me a
cup of tea."
"What are we going to do?" The tea was too strong for
Beth. "If we force him to choose, one of us is going to be heartbroken. And
so will he be. And think about the scandal. Could you face that? Heíd
probably lose his job as well. Everybody will end up losing, especially the
children, the younger ones at least. Iíve been sharing him for all these
years. Itís not that difficult. I loved him first, and you married him
first. So we both have a claim on him. And we both love him, and he loves
the pair of us. I can live like this if you can. Truth be told, youíve been
living like this all these years as well. You just didnít know about it. If
we donít tell him we know about each other, we can just go on as we did
before. I have a good life, and so do you. Weíd be mad to throw it away."
"Iíll have to think about it." Beth was wondering what she
was going to tell Father Boyle the next time she went to confession.
Neither Father Boyle nor Cormac ever found out about the
mutual deception pact. Beth was wracked with Catholic guilt over her lack of
candour in the confessional. She went to a church in Glasgow where she was
not known, but the priest there gave her no absolution.
"You are condoning the sin of adultery, and are therefore
also guilty of the same sin."
Beth came to realise that the Sacrament of forgiveness was
a very unforgiving one. Having to choose between God and man, she chose her
man; half of him.
They never shared a marital bed again.
"What in the name of God is that?" Cormac sat straight up
in bed. Beth grasped at his arm in the dark. It was a week after the vigils
Bang, bang, bang, bang, on the front door. Cormac swung
his legs over the edge of the bed. He heard footsteps running down the
stairs from the attic. By the time he had his trousers on, he heard Paddy
opening the front door.
"Paddy, the shopís on fire. John sent me up to tell you."
It was half past three.
"You stay there," Cormac told Beth. "Me and Paddyíll go
down and see what can be done. You keep the young ones here. I donít want
them out at this time of night"
In the meantime, Paddy was a stumbling about above in the
attic, as he fought his way into his clothes in the darkness.
The display in the shop-window was badly damaged. A brick
had been thrown through the right-hand window, followed by a bottle of
paraffin. The bottle had landed a good distance into the shop, and had not
broken. The burning, paraffin-soaked rag, meant to ignite the paraffin from
the bottle, landed on the crepe-paper of the window-display. It made a good
blaze but did not get far enough into the shop to ignite what paraffin had
spilled from the bottle.
There was a lot of damage from smoke and the water from
the fire-hoses. Structural damage was restricted to the window area. A lot
of stock was made unsaleable, but, in the meantime, John had discovered the
benefits of insurance.