From The Archives

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By Fergus Caulfield

Catherine was worried about him. Not because of her father’s age so much, a healthy sixty-five-year-old by anyone’s standards, used to his own company; her mother ( his wife) having passed a few years before. Those years had been tough but they had pulled together and eventually pulled through together, making the most of happy memories and timely goodbyes, becoming closer and stronger without fuss or unrealistic expectation.

With forty years serving as a Garda under his belt, half a dozen Dublin marathons (some years ago now) and the timeless reminder of his amateur boxing days still visible by his old broken nose, he was a man of substance both physically and mentally.

Whether he agreed with you or not, he would always give you the courtesy of listening, and never failed to offer a solution or answer that he thought best solved the problem.

If you didn’t pick the only obvious course of action; which was usually his suggestion, there wouldn’t be any “I told you so,” anger or obvious disappointment, maybe just a quiet sigh, waiting the inevitable, but so discreet and part of his character you could never be sure.

But something was different about him and she was concerned; for both her father and herself. She couldn’t pinpoint what this difference was and Catherine thought she knew her dad like the back of her hand. Now she wasn’t so sure.

She had known, and been close to him all her life, but of course she hadn’t known her father all his life, and now, for some reason that she couldn’t put her finger on, there was something going on, and she didn’t like it. She wasn’t comfortable with the unknown in her family life. Was she imagining this? No way, regardless of a lack of any tangible evidence.

Catherine had become so worried, with more than a hint of curiosity, she had persuaded her brother Phillip to fly over from Liverpool to investigate, even though he wasn’t due his six monthly visit for a while yet.

Phillip couldn’t see what the fuss was about before he arrived home in Ireland, and when he left two days later after discreetly prodding his father as best he could over a few pints, he was still none the wiser. If anything, his father seemed happier and more content than usual. Phillip certainly couldn’t spot any signs that there was anything to worry about, none of which reassured his sibling in the slightest.

Catherine had considered all the usual possibilities; including the serious and unimaginable – that he was seriously ill, or, had a lady friend. Catherine had even convinced herself that one day she would knock on the family door to be answered by the new Mrs Hughes.

“Oh come in dear”, her step mother would surely say, “your father has told me all about you”. Catherine hadn’t yet finalised what her reply would be. It couldn’t be too rude, but the decrepit old lady would have to be clear where her place in this family was, regardless of what her new husband had sweetly told her. Not that her father shouldn’t have a wife she had to grudgingly admit. He was still a fine man and her mother had been a classic beauty, a mirror image of Catherine herself, but this wasn’t a development that Catherine was ready for, and maybe never would.

It was driving her mad. What could it be? Maybe she should just ask him outright, but she didn’t hold out much hope of a straight answer. As open as he was with advice and opinion, his emotions and personal thoughts were always private.

It would have been something if she had a husband or boyfriend to offload her frustration, but she was very single at present, and her little black cat didn’t seem to understand, no matter how much Catherine spoke to her or tried to bribe her with treats. There was only one solution left and that was to have this out in the open.

He would have to speak to her whether he liked it or not. With resolution clear in her mind a peaceful night’s sleep followed.

As soon as she had finished work the next day she called round to her dad’s house, who unusually, wasn’t at home. There was no time like the present for Catherine, so she rang his mobile, which he answered almost immediately – also unusual in itself.

“Where are you Dad? I need to speak to you,” she demanded.

“I’m down the road,” was his reply. “I needed to speak to you as well funny enough, pop down here and have a chat.” And he hung up without waiting for a reply.

“Down the road”, referred to the pub a hundred metres away. As Catherine marched towards enlightenment she couldn’t help but talk aloud to herself, “You wanted to chat. Of course you did. The wedding date has been set I suppose.”

Flouncing into the warm interior she immediately saw her dad halfway through his pint, standing up to kiss her flustered rosy cheek – something he hadn’t done since….she couldn’t even remember. He must be feeling guilty.

“Sit down love. I got you a glass of wine, thought you might need it.” She was ready to spit feathers but took a sip of her drink and composed herself.

“Right Dad, off you go so. I’m all ears.” He looked a little sheepish and twirled the porter around in his glass, for once, slow to start.

“I’ve been on the internet” he started; “you know… the computer… down at the library.”

“On the internet is it?” Catherine interrupted, “I know what a computer is alright, haven’t you become the modern man. Now let’s see if I can guess what you have been doing on the internet…looking for a woman by any chance?” she hissed at him.

“A woman?” he asked surprised. “Good God no! I have been looking for a man…”
“For a man?” Catherine interrupted, almost choking on her drink. “You’re looking for a man?”

Her father cottoned on to what she was alluding to and laughed. “Not quite Catherine. I was looking for a man, but not for me; and I found him, through that Facebook thing, the man you split up with three years ago, shortly after your mother died – because you wouldn’t go with him to Australia – because you felt too guilty about leaving me on my own.”

Catherine was stunned, “You have been in touch with Jimmy?”

“I have, and I should have done it years ago. The two of you were made for each other. You have wasted enough time on me. It’s time to get on with your own life, and Jimmy thinks so too. Sure ask him yourself,” and he nodded in the direction of the counter where her older but still handsome Jimmy was sitting expectantly (and somewhat nervously) on a stool, not sure of how Catherine would react.

Her dad got up and put on his coat. “I’m off. I’ll leave you with it. If things work out, fantastic, if not, then at least I know I tried. Goodnight and good luck.” And he was off, leaving the two of them staring at each other with regret for the past, hope for the future, and a lot of catching up to do.

The End

Read original short stories by our readers every week in Ireland’s Own

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Eanna O Murchu meets the man who has helped over 3,000 couples find romance

Romantic Ireland will never be dead and gone, not while Willie Daly, Ireland’s most famous matchmaker, has a hand to play in the age old art of “courting”.

For the past century and a half, County Clare man Willie and his forefathers have been responsible for the beating in unison of thousands of love-pierced hearts, and the man with an astute eye for pairing perfect partners is confident that the successful traditional trend won’t be bucked anytime soon.

“My grandfather, who was also Willie, did a good bit of matchmaking,” says Willie. “Though what he did was on a different scale to what happens today. This was the nineteenth century, and houses had no electricity or running water. There were no motor cars and the matchmaking was conducted at horse fairs or cattle fairs or at weddings, and even funerals. News about the matchmaker spread through word of mouth and people thought nothing of walking a good distance, be it miles from Ennistymon, or even from further outside the county, if it meant a chance of finding romance.”

In the early 1900s, Willie’s dad, Henry, upped sticks and moved across the country to settle in Dublin. There he secured a job at the Guinness Brewery before establishing his own pub and restaurant at Pembroke Place. However, after he got married and he became the father of two daughters, Delia and Elizabeth, the lure of the homeland proved too much, and in 1940 the Dalys said farewell to the capital, selling the business, and returning to County Clare.

Upon their return, Henry took over management of the family farm. It was into this rural existence that Willie was born. He also had a stepbrother, Michael.

“My father would have done a modest amount of matchmaking,” says Willie. “He wasn’t fond of drinking or socialising, and was more of a home person. People wrote to him asking about the chances of finding them a match, and he went with the flow a little. He passed away in 1972. After that, people kept asking me if I was going to do it. There was a need for it you see, just like there still is today. After all, I had made my first match when I was fifteen.”

Indeed, Willie’s first “match” is  quite the entertaining story.

“There was a lovely lad who lived nearby me and he fancied one of the neighbours. She lived with her father and the lad was disappointed because he rarely got to see her. But I remember watching the pair of them at Mass on a Sunday in Kilshanny Church. When he’d be going up to communion her face would go red as she passed him on the way down, and then his face would go red.

“Those were the days when the women sat on the left and the men on the right. She was very pretty. He told me that he would love to meet her. He was sixteen, she was seventeen. One day, the father put an ad in the Clare Champion, saying that he had a pig for sale. So I had an idea. I  told the lad that we would call to the house and I would pretend to want to buy the pig. He was too shy to talk. We got there and I knocked on the door. The father came out. He looked the two of us up and down before I told him that I’d heard he had a fat pig for sale.

“‘He’s over there in the pig sty,’ he said, pointing at a dry wall. We walked over, and Eileen came with us. She was beautiful, with dark curly hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks.
“The farmer pressed on the pig, telling us all about his softness. Then he invited us to press on him. Eileen pressed on him and said, ‘He’s a well-fed pig, on barley and milk and potatoes’. Then the lad couldn’t keep quiet any longer and blurted out ‘Will you ate him with me?’ to poor Eileen. She didn’t know what to say, and ran out of the sty.

“Three days passed by. I was at home fixing the wheel of a car in the yard when the old man arrived at my gate on a bicycle. I was hoping he wasn’t offering me the pig at the small price I’d offered, because I didn’t want the pig at all. He sat up on the wall and said ‘that was a nice boy you had with you the other night. Is he a good worker?’

“‘He is,’ I told him. ‘I’m getting older,’ he said, ‘and Eileen will need some help running the farm.’ And just like that, my first match was made.”

Willie waited until he was 24 before he started matchmaking again. It went on slowly enough to start with, at horse fairs and cattle fairs. Potential clients would shiftily make their way up to him at the fair and prod and poke a cow before whispering in his ear if there was a chance of making them a match. Coy as you like, for they didn’t want the greater public knowing what they were up to.

“I remember one funny story from when I was eleven,” says Willie. “It was the end of a fair day in mid-November and the youngsters had been sent home with the cattle. The men convened in the pub for a drink and I was waiting for my father. At around 8.30pm in walked a small well-dressed man with a cap. He had a shake in his head, the kind of man who would react to anything.

“The men at the bar knew this and thought nothing of hopping him a ball. It had been a bad day at the fair and he had five daughters with him. ‘My God Paddy,’ said one of the men at the bar, ‘with prices so bad at the fair you’ll never make a fortune for those daughters of yours.’

“Well, he hit the bar an almightyful smack with his fist and said, ‘Their face is their fortune. And you’ll have to pay 1,000 pounds for each one of them.’ Girls were available for dowries back then. There were one or two matches made that night, but not for the money he initially demanded.”

Willie’s own marriage was the result of a bit of skilled matchmaking by his father. The Dalys run a riding school in Ennistymon and one day, when he was about 28, three women arrived at the house to go out riding.

His father was quite elderly at this stage and was in a bed in a room off the kitchen. When the three women got caught out in the rain, Willie offered to give them a lift back into town, but first he had a job to do with the cattle.

While he was out, his father dropped his pipe and he started calling for Willie to come and fill it up for him. One of the young women, Marie, picked it up for him, and filled it. Quite taken with the obliging young lady, he asked her if she would consider marrying Willie.

“I would,” said she, and the two would go on to marry and be blessed with a large family of their own.

When Willie thinks about the matchmaking in times gone by and the matchmaking of today, he feels not much has changed. Years ago there were mainly two types of people that sought matches – singletons and widows, or widowers. Now, you can include a lot more people that are separated and looking for happiness the second time around.

“Some people can be reluctant to go down that road again, as it wasn’t so great the first time around,” says Willie, “but my advice is that the second time around can be a totally different experience. I’m a firm believer in the traditional matchmaking system that is proven to work. There is online dating these days but the traditional system sees you meet the person and you can touch the flesh. Online you can take a chance, and it might not always be the same when you see the thing.

“You know, you only have one life and people will always want companionship, it’s in our nature.

“Irish men are unique – they have a lovely nature and way of looking at life. That’s why I get so many women from all over the world writing to me looking to meet a nice Irish man. From 23 to 83, there is no need to be on your own and feeling sorry for yourself.

“I  have a lucky book that is approximately 160 years old, which was used by my father and grandfather. If you touch with both hands you will be in love and married within six months; touch it with one hand and you will just fall in love, and if you are married and touch it you resurrect romance in your life and relive a part of your honeymoon experience. I take it with me everywhere, it’s a good luck charm.

“My daughter said to me once, ‘there’s an awful lot of people walking around that wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the matchmaker’ and she was right.”

Matchmaking continues to keep Willie exceptionally busy, and in recent weeks he made a couple of trips to the UK to address Irish communities.

“My bigger interest these days in working with Irish people,” he says. “We really are such a special race of people and one of the biggest enemies of people getting married is shyness.

“When we lose a friend or neighbour, that doesn’t get married, then that’s a few generations missed and those people won’t be replaced. I like to think I can help stop that from happening.”

Willie Daly can be contacted at The Matchmaker Bar, Lisdoonvarna, County Clare or by calling 087 671 2155.

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By Annie May Harte

A grandfather reflects on his past and gets a wonderful surprise letter in the post

The dusk of evening was slowly dropping down. The mist gathered over the big black mountain behind the house.  It would soon be dark. The winter was setting in earlier this year, he mused.

 ‘How long have I been sitting here in this chair?’ John asked himself.  ‘What an idle man I have become,’ he chuckled.  ‘I remember when I hadn’t time to bless myself, always working all the daylight hours God sent. Shep the black and white collie lay at his master’s feet.

John stroked him gently as he rose to put more turf on the fire.  Soon the fire was aglow and the flames blazing up the chimney.  He lowered the oil lamp from the shelf. Taking his time to trim the wick, he lit the lamp and replaced the smoked stained globe.

Smiling, he recalled that the globe was always shining bright when herself was here, yes the house had lost its shine since she died.

John did not like the long winter nights, they brought a gloom. Memories of what used to be kept going around in his head.  He brought the pipe from his pocket and tapped it on his shoe, then filled and lit it.

The haze of smoke marred his gaze as it swept around the kitchen.  

His eyes then rested on the oil lamp.  It was over forty years since it had come into the house, although it was much older than that.  It came from his parent’s house, a present to them on their marriage.

The old house where he was born was just a couple of fields away.  John was the youngest of eight.  The others had emigrated all over the world. There were three in America and four in England.  His father had left the farm to him, although it was a small holding one could make a living out of it.  

It seemed only like yesterday that Jane and he had crossed the fields to clear out his home place.  He remembered that morning as they madetheir way across the fields; Jane told him that they were expecting their first child.  

He would have liked to gather her into his arms and kiss her but he couldn’t be seen doing that. No displays of affection could be shown to the outside world.  The neighbours would have thought big John had gone soft in the head.  

Later that day when they had returned to the house, their precious lamp which had always sat on the shelf had been polished to perfection.  Jane mashed the tea and he saw the lovely glow about her.  

They talked into the night about their plans for the future.  He could say without contradiction that this was the second happiest day of his life; the first being the day Jane became his bride. The modest wedding was held at Jane’s parent’s home, her sister was bridesmaid and Pat Kelly was best man.

Brid was born that August. The following year Francie arrived, he was called after Jane’s father and he was her pride and joy. Then Alice came along, followed by Danny.  
Brid took up nursing and was above in Dublin. She was married now and had young children of her own.  Both John and Jane had travelled up to help with the new born. They spent a few days sightseeing and then travelled back home by train. Jane laughingly told John it was like the honeymoon they never had.  

Francie got a job in the Civil Service in England.  He was there for a year in the earlier part of the twentieth century. War was looming in Britain.  

Francie joined up with the Irish Fusiliers; it came as a great shock to the family back home.  Jane had shed many a tear over his choice of army. She was from a staunch Republican family and it did not sit well with her.  

He was sent to France in 1916 and in the thick of the fighting he lost his life in the trenches. He was buried in an unknown grave far away from home and family.  

The cable arrived one morning with the dreadful news.  Two officers called to his parents with the medals which he was awarded for bravery along with some of his personal possessions. Among them were a few worn pictures. One was of Jane and himself in the garden on the Sunday he left home and a picture of a girl that he had met in London.  He was always remembered during the family rosary each night. Jane had never got over his death.  

Alice was nursing in England and was married with two children. She visited every year for a couple of weeks. Danny the youngest had just sat his exams and had not made up his mind what he wanted to do with his life.

His uncle Joseph and his wife Maria came home on a visit from America. It was their first trip home since they emigrated twenty years previously.

The visit held many happy memories for Joseph; their parents had passed away many years ago. Joseph spent many hours reminiscing about the wonderful memories he had of growing up in the old homestead. It had now seen better days and some slates were missing from the roof.

One day as he wandered around his birthplace, he recounted to his brother John his memories of sleeping in the old bedroom. The four boys used to sleep in the one bed. Every night there were gales of laughter as they lay head and heels.

During their visit Joseph and Maria became very close to Danny and they indicated to John and Jane that they would like to invite him over for a visit.

‘Well I suppose it would be no harm to see how he likes it and maybe he’ll find work there,’ John replied, anxious that his son would do well for himself as there were great opportunities in America.

‘I’ll pay his passage and sure if he doesn’t settle he can always come home,’ Joseph generously offered.

Danny found work in America and settled there. He came home to visit his parents whenever he could.

Brid’s family had grown to four; they journeyed down every couple of months. On one of her visits, she noticed her mother’s failing health. She finally agreed to go the doctor and she was diagnosed with a kidney complaint. Poor Jane died that Spring. They all came home for the funeral. Danny had grown older and looked like Francie. They recalled the old days over the wake and funeral but all too soon everyone was ready to get back to the routine of their lives again.

John sat counting the days since Jane had died, the days turned to years, he counted ten, the decade had passed last Spring. He still thought of her every day.

One day a letter addressed to Mr and Mrs Browne arrived by post.  On opening the letter, he got a big surprise it read;

Dear Grandparents,
I’m sure you will not know me, and I have been wanting to write to you for so long but my mum did not want me to bother you after all these years.  I know my dad died at the front and was honoured with medals for bravery.  We wrote to the war office some years ago and they gave us this information.  We are very proud of dad. I thought of going into the army, I would like to visit you if that would be possible. If you would rather that we did not get in touch, we will understand.
Your grandson Francie.

John reread the letter many times that day and finally he got the pen and notepad down and began to write his reply. Before nightfall he went to the post office and posted the letter.  He wrote and asked them both to come and see him.

The reply came back within the week; they would both be delighted to accept the invitation. They were due to arrive in Dublin at ten o’clock on Wednesday morning.
John sent his daughter in Dublin the news of his long lost grandson.  Brid made her way to the airport and was standing near the baggage arrivals holding the name ‘Francie from London,’ on a cardboard sign.  She didn’t have to wait long, until she saw the tall lean lad coming towards her.  He was so like his dad, she ran to meet him.  She held him and wept, feeling the love that only comes when someone has been gone for so long.
She turned to the lad’s mother and asked; ‘Why did you not contact us before?’  

The tears welled up in the other woman’s eyes as she said; ‘I was afraid that you might have rejected us.’

They drove down by car and were home with John by five o’clock. As the car pulled up, John was outside to greet his grandson and his mother.  

When the lad lifted his head to greet his grandfather, they wrapped their arms around each other and remained speechless for some time.

They all went indoors, John was murmuring ‘we have a lot of catching up to do,’ as he gently closed the door to the outside world.

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The words and lyrics of the old carol ‘O Holy Night’ were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847. Cappeau was a wine-seller by trade but was asked by the parish priest to write a poem for Christmas. He obliged and wrote the beautiful words of the hymn. He then realised that it should have music to accompany the words and he approached his friend Adolphe Charles Adams(1803-1856). He agreed and the music for the poem was therefore composed by Adolphe. Adolphe had attended the Paris conservatoire and forged a brilliant career as a composer. It was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893).

Oh holy night

O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

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By Matt Keane

Match of the Day is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

It is one of the BBC’s longest-running shows, having first aired on August 22nd, 1964. Arsenal and Liverpool were the teams who featured on that historic night.

It is worth noting, however, that the first colour edition of the programme arrived on November 15th, 1969 – Liverpool and West Ham the two teams who featured in that game.

Some recognisable names have been MOTD presenters including Kenneth Wolstenholme, David Coleman, Jimmy Hill and a man born in Ennis, Co. Clare, Des Lynam.

Des left Ireland at the age of six when his family decided to move to Brighton. He presented the show from 1988 to 1999. During that period the BBC lost the rights of the show to ITV for four years, but they regained the rights in 1992 when the Premier League was formed.

During those four years the BBC were confined to showing FA Cup games only. Lynam was working on MOTD in April, 1989, at Hillsborough, when disaster struck and 96 supporters lost their lives.

The first Republic of Ireland international player to score a goal on MOTD was Andy McEvoy on October 3rd, 1964. He was playing for Blackburn Rovers against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge; unfortunately Rovers lost 5-1.

Born in Bray, McEvoy played 183 games for Blackburn and he scored 89 goals. He won 17 caps for Ireland, scoring six goals. He finished his career with Limerick, scoring 38 goals for the Shannonsiders. He passed away in 1994 aged just 55 years. Match of the Day is synonymous with its “Goal of the Season” award and another Irish international picked up the prize in 1975.

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By Rebecca Mansell

Consider stuffed cabbage, herring fish and cod fish and Christmas doesn’t exactly spring to mind, does it? How about leaving polished boots on the windowsill or competing to display the best fireworks or going to your friends for a barbeque? Still doesn’t seem very festive does it? Yet all over the world people have different ways of celebrating Christmas.

In many places St. Nicholas is the main gift giver. His feast day, which is his earthly death date, actually falls on 6th December.

Where St. Nicholas is prominent, his day, not Christmas, is the primary gift giving day. Parties may be held on the eve; 5th December, and stockings left for St. Nicholas to fill during the night.
However St. Nicholas gifts are meant to be shared, emphasising the benevolent time of year. Yet very little is actually known about St. Nicholas. He may be considered as the original “Santa Claus” but there are a lack of secure references about him.

One of the earliest legends that is attached to his name tells how St. Nicholas heard of a man who could not afford the dowries for his three daughters, with the result that he intended – regretfully – to send them to a house of ill repute to work.

St. Nicholas saves them from this fate by throwing three bags of gold through their window at night.
Therefore it is this tale which is often identified as the root of St. Nicholas’s reputation as a gift-giver. Many countries incorporate St. Nicholas in their celebrations…so let’s gather the reindeers, leap into the sleigh and fly through the starry night to visit these countries and experience their very own Christmas Day…

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By Fintan Quigley

We grew up in a small rural Irish town, not one-horse, but just about big enough for two.

One memorable Christmas Eve, after Mam was satisfied that she had enough supplies to see her through to Stephen’s Day, Dad mumbled that he was heading down for a couple of “after-tea pints” and that he wouldn’t stay long.

“Don’t forget we’re going to Midnight Mass,” she called after him. He waved a hand of acknowledgement, before disappearing down the street.

For the next few hours myself and my brother helped my mother out in the kitchen. I was in charge of the stuffing, the sting of the onions making my eyes weep, while my brother made an attempt at making a trifle.
Shortly before ten, I saw my mother cast an agitated eye towards the clock. “You’d better run down to Ryan’s and get him,” she said.

I found my father at the bar, telling jokes and letting anyone who would listen know why such a horse was a sure thing in the King George. I told him we had better be off, that we had a Mass to attend.

He slouched along the road, using me as a support every now and then, and told me what a great son I was, and how brilliant my brother was too.

He also told me how lucky he was to have such a wonderful and understanding wife – I hoped she would still be as understanding when we got home. She took one look at him when we reached the door, and laughed, “Sure, Christmas comes but once a year.”

We found a pew towards the back of the church; Midnight Mass always filled up early. Fr. Kelly came out and accompanied by the local choir, the Christmas celebration began. It was a heartlifting experience.

Sitting there listening to the enchanting hymns and the story of the birth of Christ, I felt a warm glow inside.
However, it was when they sang the most heavenly version of Silent Night I had ever heard, that my father started to add his own noises to proceedings.

By the time they got to the third verse he was snoring like a lion. All around him people were laughing, and my mother, God bless her, was mortified. I gave him a few shakes and he came to.

That was over twenty years ago. I am fully grown now, and have children of my own. I still make it home to see the folks on Christmas Eve. I even join my dad and brother for a pint or two before Midnight Mass.
Though I have yet to fall asleep during the service. And whatever my mother said to father in the early hours of that memorable Christmas morning, he has never had a snooze in The Lord’s house since.

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Alice Taylor shares her memories of Christmases past


The first step into Christmas was a visit to the wood for holly. This major safari was undertaken a few weeks before Christmas when we set out with balls of foxy binder twine, a saw and hatchet to bring home the holly. The refinement of a pruner had yet to find its way into the depths of rural Ireland.
We walked through four fields until we reached the river that was the boundary running along the valley between us and a neighbouring farm. We got across the river by skilfully balancing on large stones put in position for such journeys. Then up many hilly fields until we reached the wood.  

Here we did a tour of inspection to locate the tree with the best red berries. Sometimes the birds had beaten us to it and we had to go deep into the wood before we were all satisfied that this was the best tree. Then we brought the saw into action and cut down a profusion of the best berried branches and sometimes if a branch proved too stubborn, the crack of the hatchet brought it into submission.

If my father, who was a protector of trees, had been with us he would have been horrified. Finally all the holly was collected into thorny heaps and then tied into firm bundles with the binder twine and swung over our shoulders. Our first step into Christmas was on the way home!
The next and more challenging step was the plucking of the geese and before this could be done the grisly business of execution had to be undertaken by my mother who did it quietly behind closed doors. Then we were all lined up with a still warm goose across our knees and plucking commenced.
Feather and white down fluttered all over us and turned us into snow children as gradually the tea chest between us filled to overflowing.  

These feathers and down were later used to fill pillows and feather ticks. Duvets had yet to float into our bedrooms!

The naked geese were then hung off the rafters in an old stone turf house at the end of the yard. Some would later go to town cousins and three would be for our own festive consumption on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Little Christmas.


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From November 2013, the 50th anniversary of the death of JFK

By Gerry Breen


JOHN F. KENNEDY was loved by the Irish people and his assassination during his visit to Dallas, Texas, on 22nd November, 1963, caused a wave of shock in Ireland, the land of his ancestors, and an unprecedented outpouring of grief on the death of a president who had, less than six months previously, received a rapturous welcome during his emotional visit to his homeland.

At the conclusion of his visit, as he prepared to leave from Shannon Airport, President Kennedy described Ireland as a very special place, and he went on to recite some lines from a poem which President deValera’s wife had quoted for him. ‘I wrote down the words,’ he said, ‘because I thought they were so beautiful’: This is the Shannon’s brightly glancing stream, Brightly gleaming, silent in the morning beam, Oh, the sight entrancing, Thus returns from travels long, Years of exile, years of pain, To see old Shannon’s face
again, O’er the waters dancing.’ 

Then, to the delight of the attendance, he concluded with a promise. ‘I am going to come back and see old Shannon’s face again,’ he told them, ‘and I am taking, as I go back to America, all of you with me.’ 

The President’s remarks were brief, but they were full of feeling and they brought a lump to the throats of his listeners who fervently hoped there would only be a short interval before the next visit of this smiling, vivacious and charismatic leader who had captured the hearts of the Irish. 

It was not to be. President Kennedy was unable to fulfill his promise because, within months, he was gunned down in Dallas, and now, fifty years later, the memories of that fateful day still have power to stir the emotions. 

Around the world there was a stunned reaction to the assassination, and in Ireland the news shocked the nation. Men and women wept openly. People gathered to share the news, and, in some areas, traffic came to a halt as the news spread from one car to another.

The event left a lasting impression, and most people vividly remembered where they were when they heard about the death of the President.

Prayers were offered in churches and books of condolence were opened for people to sign. Memorial services were held to allow people to express their grief, and people mourned as they would for the loss of a family member.

In a way, it is easy to understand President Kennedy’s hold on the affections of the Irish people. Emigration was always a painful reality for the majority of Irish families.

Leaving family and friends to try to make a new life in a strange land is never easy, but it is difficult for us today to realise the anguish involved in times gone by.

In the old days, the parting was, in all too many cases, for life. It was like a death in the family. If children were going to America or Australia, chances were they would never return.

That’s the way it was when President Kennedy’s paternal great – JFK – the triumph and Fifty years after the death of a grandfather, Patrick Kennedy, had emigrated to Boston from Dunganstown, near New Ross in Co. Wexford, in 1848 during the Great Famine.

The Irish got a very cold reception in Boston, where the Mayor, Theodore Lyman, speaking as the official voice of Boston, expressed his feelings in a way that left little room for doubt.

He declared that the Irish ‘are a race that will never be infused with our own, but, on the contrary, would always remain distant and hostile’.

The plight of Irish immigrants received little sympathy, but the Irish hadn’t come through poverty and famine to be second-class citizens of America. They set up their own power base – in politics.

Within a generation, they had established a political nursery in which a future President of the United States was nurtured.

At the age of twenty-five, John F. Kennedy’s father, Joe Kennedy became the youngest bank president in America, and he went on to amass a huge fortune from a wide variety of business ventures.

However, in spite of his great wealth and high profile as a businessman, the social acceptance which he also desired proved very elusive. When he applied for membership of the exclusive Cohasset Country Club, the summer hideaway of the Boston elite, he was blackballed.

Many people believe it was slights like that which fuelled his ambitions to have his sons occupy high political office. Whatever the reason, it is certain that he was the driving force in propelling his son, John F.
Kennedy, up the political ladder, and his efforts were crowned with success when John F. was elected President of America in November, 1960. It was a great day for the Irish.

Later when the President visited Ireland, he told his relatives: ‘When my greatgrandfather came to America and my grandfather was growing up, the Irish Americans had a song about the familiar sign which went ‘No Irish Need Apply’.

He then said: ‘In 1960, the American people took the sign down from the last place it was still hanging – the door of the White House’.

On Thursday, 19th January, 1961, the eve of the inauguration of the newly-elected President, a fierce storm put the celebrations in jeopardy.

Nearly eight inches of snow fell and icy winds caused the snow to drift, resulting in traffic jams. On the big day, Kennedy, in spite of the cold, removed his overcoat before standing to take the oath of office.

He was immensely proud of his Irish ancestry and even took his oath of office using the Fitzgerald family bible, which had been brought to the United States from Ireland by his forebears.

His inaugural address was preceded by a contribution from the eighty-six year old poet Robert Frost.

John F. Kennedy took only sixteen minutes to read his address of 1,355 words, an address which has been hailed as one of the most moving speeches ever made by a United States President.

It was a speech which fired the imagination and offered exciting promises of a new era in which ideals would be valued and friend and foe alike would be brought together in a partnership to make the world a better place for everyone. 

Fifty years later, the speech is still remembered by people all over the world. One of the best remembered phrases in the address is: ‘…ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.’

The newly-elected President concluded an inspiring address with these words: ‘My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
‘Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.’ 

Despite the freezing cold, more than twenty thousand people had gathered to hear the address, and it was estimated that as many as a million people turned out in the streets of Washington for the three-hour inaugural parade which was reviewed by the President.

It looked like the newly-elected President had it all – youth, film-star looks, pedigree and money. He was a very special person – smart and popular with ideas and enthusiasm that made it seem that nothing was impossible. 

Irish people everywhere were justifiably proud when, at the age of 43 years, John Fitzgerald Kennedy became the youngest and the first Catholic President to be elected in the United States.

During his third year in office, Kennedy decided to embark on a European tour, which would include a visit to Ireland.

The news that the President of the United States was going to visit his ancestral home in Dunganstown, Co. Wexford, in June, 1963, caused a huge stir in Ireland. The vast majority of Irish-Americans were thrilled, but there were some who were not very impressed by the idea.

One of these was Kenneth O’Donnell, the White House Appointments Secretary and supervisor of JFK’s schedule.

He told the President: ‘You’ve got all the Irish votes in this country that you’ll ever get. If you go to Ireland, people will say it’s just a pleasure trip.’

Kennedy’s response was: ‘That’s exactly what I want!’

Before coming to Ireland, the President visited Berlin where it was estimated that 1.5 million of the city’s total population of 2.2 million turned out to greet him.

Standing before the Berlin City Hall, he spoke out strongly of freedom’s power in the face of communism. ‘All free men’, he declared, ‘wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words Ich bin ein Berliner.’

Even though he had been coached in the phrase during the flight to
Berlin, Kennedy got it wrong. He should have said: Ich bin Berliner.
What he did say could also have meant ‘I am a doughnut’!

It didn’t matter. The Berliners certainly didn’t hold it against him.

He was given a rapturous reception. After Berlin, the President spent a
magical three days in Ireland, and Arthur Schlesinger Jnr., unofficial
historian of the Kennedy years, has written: ‘I imagine that he was never
easier, happier, more involved and detached, more completely himself
than during this blissful interlude of homecoming.’

He was given celebrity treatment in Ireland, and in his exuberance, he climbed out of his car to greet the thousands who turned out to see him and almost caused heart attacks amongst his Secret Service detail.

When the President’s helicopter set down in Wexford’s G.A.A. grounds, hundreds of well-wishers were waiting to greet him.

A choir of 300 boys sang The Boys of Wexford, a ballad commemorating the insurrection of 1798. The President left his bodyguards to join with the boys in singing the chorus.

Later he was taken on a sentimental journey to the port of New Ross from where his greatgrandfather had set sail for America back in 1848. 

Thousands had gathered to greet him in New Ross and in a speech at the quayside, the President said: ‘When my great-grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things – a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty. ‘I am glad to say,’ continued the President, ‘that all of his grandchildren have valued that inheritance.’ 

At nearby Dunganstown, President Kennedy visited the home of his ancestors. There he met fifteen of his cousins and, with a teacup in his hand, he said: ‘I want to drink a cup of tea to all those Kennedys who went and all those Kennedys who stayed.’

When it was time to leave, it was notable that the President was emotional. One of the highlights of his visit was his address to a joint session of the Oireachtas.

‘I am deeply honoured to be your guest in the free Parliament of a free Ireland’, he told the assembled. Deputies and Senators. ‘If this nation had achieved its present political and economic stature a century or so ago, my great-grandfather might never have left New Ross, and I might, if fortunate, be sitting down there with you. Of course, if your own President (Eamonn De Valera) had never left Brooklyn, he might be standing up here instead of me.

‘This elegant building, as you know, was once the property of the Fitzgerald family, but I have not come here to claim it. Of all the new relations I have discovered on this trip, I regret to say that no one has yet found any link between me and a great Irish patriot, Lord Edward Fitzgerald.

Lord Edward, however, did not like to stay here in his family home ‘because’, as he wrote to his mother, ‘Leinster House does not inspire the brightest ideas.’ ‘That was a long time ago, however. It has also been said by some that a few of the features of this stately mansion served to inspire similar features in the White House in Washington. Whether this is true or not, I know that the White House was designed by James Hoban, a noted Irish-American architect, and I have no doubt that he believed, by incorporating several features of the Dublin style, he would make it more homelike for any President of Irish descent.

It was a long wait, but I appreciate his efforts. ‘There is also an unconfirmed rumour that Hoban was never fully paid for his work on the White House. If this proves to be true, I will speak to our Secretary of the Treasury about it, although I hear this body is not particularly interested in the subject of revenue.

‘I am proud to be the first American President to visit Ireland during his term of office, proud to be addressing this distinguished assembly, and
proud of the welcome you have given me. My presence and your welcome, however, only symbolise the many and the enduring links which have bound the Irish and the Americans since the
earliest days.’

When he was asked what was the highlight of his trip to Ireland, the President said it was the Memorial Service at Arbour Hill which he attended prior to addressing the joint session of the Dail and Seanad.

At Arbour Hill he reviewed a guard of honour, laid a wreath and read some of the Proclamation of the Republic of Ireland.

The President was so impressed by the military cadets that he asked for a film of the Guard of Honour drill movements to be sent to him.

When he returned to America, he suggested that a similar ceremonial drill should be introduced at the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

There is no doubt that President Kennedy had a deep love for Ireland and his Irish connections. When leaving from Shannon Airport, he said: ‘This is not the land of my birth, but is the land for which I hold the greatest affection, and I certainly will come back in the spring time.’

Unfortunately, that was not to be. At the close of many of his election campaign speeches, the President had often quoted from the Robert Frost poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.’

It was in pursuit of one of those promises that he travelled to Dallas. Governor John Connolly had issued an official invitation to the President to visit Texas, and had asked if Jackie Kennedy could come along as well. It was thought that she was unlikely to accompany her husband, because she had declined to take part in his campaigns since the 1960 primaries.

However, she surprised everyone when she announced that she planned to campaign with him and would do anything to help to get her husband re-elected as President.

The scene was set for one of the most infamous moments in history. For the motorcade to the Dallas Trade Mart, the Kennedys and Connollys rode together in the open convertible. It had been suggested
that they should use a bubbletop, but John Kennedy explained that the people needed to see the President and First Lady clearly.

The motorcade proceeded under a blazing sun, with the temperature at 76 degrees. Spectators thronged the route, and Governor Connolly’s wife remarked: ‘Mr. President, you can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you.’ ‘No, you can’t’, replied the President.

Then, at 12.30 p.m., the shots rang out. One bullet passed through the President’s back and throat and then a second bullet smashed into the back of his head.

As the car sped to Parkland Hospital, President Kennedy slumped in his wife’s lap, his blood splattering her skirt.

The President was rushed into the trauma bay within minutes, and the doctors did all they could, but the President was pronounced dead at 1 o’clock. The date was 22nd November, 1963.

The world was stunned by the news and the people of Ireland were devastated. The 35th President of the United States had been in office for only three years, but, under his presidency, there was great economic expansion, the creation of the Peace Corps, the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis, Civil Rights reform and a renewed commitment to the space programme.

On November 25th, the day of the President’s funeral, there was almost universal mourning for a charismatic leader who had still much to offer. Three letters were included in the casket containing the
remains of the President. His daughter Caroline expressed her love and said she would miss her daddy.

Jackie Kennedy helped John Jnr., to make his childish scribbles and her own letter began: ‘My Darling Jack.’ Jackie led the funeral procession, flanked by the President’s brothers, Teddy and Bobby. Directly behind the horse-drawn caisson there was a black riderless horse, symbolising the lost leader, and the Irish Guards performed complex military drills as they marched, while four drummers beat out a steady cadence.

Following the Pontifical Requiem Mass in traditional Latin, at which Richard Cardinal Cushing presided, the funeral proceeded to Arlington, where a twenty-one gun salute was fired. Jackie received the folded American flag and she and Bobby Kennedy lit the eternal flame.

There were numerous tributes to President Kennedy in the days and weeks following the assassination, and it was generally acknowledged that he had filled the office of the most powerful political figure in the world with grace and style.

Now fifty years after the life of the 35th President of the United States was cruelly ended by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, millions still mourn for what might have been, and Ireland remembers those magical days in June, 1963, when John F. Kennedy lifted the spirits and captured the minds and hearts of the nation. ■

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Miss Flanagan was really enjoying helping out with the ‘Locals Come Dancing’ competition that was in full swing in the parish of Benford.

Ten local people had been attending dance classes and fundraising for months with a view to competing first in a special Benford gala dance night and then in a bigger competition against other parishes. Already there was a huge buzz in the locality about these great events coming up.

Now the local final was only a week away and tension was mounting.

Miss Flanagan was in charge of keeping all the contestants’ costume changes name-tagged and in order and helping the women change as they needed to.

What a selection there was, she thought, as she put them in order on a clothes rail. The colourful dresses in particular would add a huge amount to the glamour and glitz of the event.

It brought back memories of the old days when people really made an effort to look well when they were going out dancing – and put effort into learning how to do steps properly beforehand as well!

She would have to make sure that everything was on the rail for quick changes, that there were no ladders in tights and that shoes were well shone. The dress rehearsal had gone well but ‘spot polishing’ as Clara, the dance teacher, called it, would take place for all couples, one at a time, after the well-deserved tea-break.

Miss Flanagan was delighted that everything was going so well. Dave, the sound guy had his work perfected as had Roy on lighting and the MC, Ben, in tuxedo, would certainly add gravitas to the proceedings next week.

As she poured tea and coffee for the participants, Miss Flanagan couldn’t help noting how the atmosphere in the place had changed since the classes began, however. Now they were all watching one another because they were in competition with one another and she had heard at least two catty remarks passed by one contestant about another.

Gabby Faulkner, wife of Roy, the lighting man, was dance partnering with Frank Doyle, a local insurance salesman, and she was the most accomplished dancer, having lived in London and taken classes before.

Lena Stewart, a local mother-of-two, who worked in the community centre, was the next best and desperately wanted to win and could be seen frequently looking daggers at Gabby.

“But that’s competition for you,” Miss Flanagan said to herself. “It’ll all add grist to the mill.” Tea-break over, everyone returned to the hall where the light was muted and the spotlight ready to follow Gabby and Frank who were first on the list to do their tango again.

Yes, they certainly looked wonderful, movements measured, precise, graceful, legs turning, smooth swivelling, eyes locked as if in romantic mode… Then there was a shock, a scream – Gabby had fallen! The music stopped, lights and OMGs went up and everyone gathered round. “Be careful! The floor is treacherous! That’s why she fell,” Frank was shouting. Gabby was on the floor. “My ankle!” Another competitor with medical training went to assist. “It’s probably broken,” she said. “You’d best call an ambulance.”

Roy, Gabby’s husband, was beside her, looking pale and trying to comfort her. “It’s okay, it’s not the end of the world…” “But the competition – I won’t be able to dance..” “Ssh.. We’ll get you to hospital and get you sorted out. Try not to worry.” Miss Flanagan was thinking about what Frank had said about the floor being treacherous. Lena Stewart, Gabby’s rival and the person who put dance wax on the floor each night before the classes, was already defending herself. “I did it the same way as I usually do – sparingly and brushing it in well. I know how dangerous it is if you don’t use the right stuff and put it on right.” As Gabby was put on the stretcher she shouted at Lena. “You did this to get me out of the competition, I know you did!” “I didn’t – honest! I’m being blamed in the wrong here!”

Oh dear… Miss Flanagan asked everyone to stay in the community hall until she tried to establish what had happened. She made everyone move off the dance floor and talked firstly to Frank Doyle. “The floor was fine until we turned on that corner. I nearly fell myself. It wasn’t like that before the tea break.”

Everyone agreed that the floor had been fine earlier. Miss Flanagan suggested everyone have another cup of something in the tearoom while she examined and photographed the floor with the chairperson, John Duggan. “It does look like too much polish was put on here – you can see that it wasn’t distributed evenly,” he said. “This is all we need – crime in the parish hall!” “That’s life,” said Miss Flanagan, “and we have to deal with it, but I’ll do my best to find out what happened.”

She was already scribbling in her notebook, desperately trying to remember who had left the tearoom during the break – yes, Lena had gone to make a phone call, Davy Miller for a cigarette, Roy Faulkner, who had gone to the hospital with his wife, was late coming in because he was adjusting one of the lights. Who else had been absent? She couldn’t think of anyone.

The people involved didn’t take kindly to being asked exactly how long they’d been gone, however. “I didn’t do it,” they all said. “I was gone for five minutes,” Lena said, “you can see on my phone how long I was outside and Dave can testify to that – he was standing there having a smoke so he saw me!” “The tin of dance wax for the floor – where is it kept?” Miss Flanagan asked. “In its usual place – and I put it back after using it!” Miss Flanagan asked to be shown where it was – in an unlocked cupboard in the kitchen. Anyone could have had access to it, she thought…

Miss Flanagan had a sterile plastic bag out now and she was putting the partly-used tin into it. It was evidence, after all. “Did anyone notice anyone other than Lena near that cupboard tonight?” Everyone shook their heads. So, no one had seen anything – or no one was prepared to say…

This could get very nasty if she didn’t find out quickly what had happened. Next day, the news wasn’t good about Gabby. She had broken her ankle, Roy told Miss Flanagan. “She’ll be hard to live with, not being able to dance, but what can you do?” Had Roy noticed anyone with the tin of dance floor wax, other than Lena, she asked? “No, definitely not. She just mustn’t have spread it right before they started. It’s an important job, putting that on.” Miss Flanagan knew he was right. A person who enjoyed ballroom dancing once herself, in her ‘palmy’ days, as her father used to call youth, she always ‘tested’ the floor on the first time round it, being cautious.

Even suede soles wouldn’t give the right slip and grip on a floor that had been treated incorrectly. She’d heard all sorts of horror stories about totally inappropriate substances like baby powder and soap flakes being sprinkled on dance floors – accidents waiting to happen! The professional product had several different kinds of waxes in it along with rice flour, she knew – especially tailored for the purpose. Lena Stewart was overwrought when she rang her a few minutes later. “I’m going to pull out of the competition!

Two people have already accused me of trying to put Gabby out by messing up the floor. It’s all around the town. I’m like a leper and I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m good at putting on the polish – I’ve looked after that floor for years so why would I mess up it up now? I could have hurt myself by not doing it right, for God’s sake!” “Try not to worry. I’ll get back to you if I have any news,” she said. After taking fingerprints from the tin, Miss Flanagan now examined a teaspoonful of the contents of the polish tin under her microscope. She would send it to a lab immediately for examination but she wanted to have a look herself. It was fine-ish powder.

Bowing her head to look through the eyepiece she noticed a familiar, slightly antiseptic smell. Did dance floor wax smell like that normally, she wondered or had the polish been interfered with? Deciding that she would need a baseline sample for the lab to compare the used tin sample with, she went back to the community centre and took a sealed tin of the polish with her to courier to the lab also. All she could do on that front now was wait, after the courier left with the package. The fingerprint exercise didn’t lead to much. Lena’s prints were on it, of course, but everything else was smudged and useless. What could she do now but think about motivation… Lena certainly had motive – there was jealousy there, she knew. Lena’s nose was out of joint with Gabby stealing her thunder on the dance floor. And there were prizes at stake for the couples too.

Maybe it was someone else, though, who had a grudge against Frank Doyle, Gabby’s dance partner. Maybe they wanted him out of the competition. It would be impossible to tell unless she could come up with some hard evidence. In the meantime she would have another chat with everyone who had left the tea-room during the break.

Davy Miller was a bit cross about being asked. “I’ve never hurt anyone ever in my life and you know it, so I’d appreciate it if you’d direct your questions somewhere else.” Ouch… Miss Flanagan had to continue with her questioning however – how else was she to get a breakthrough? She decided not to annoy Roy Faulkner, questioning him again about noticing anyone in the hall when he was fixing the lights. He had enough to be doing to look after his wife at the moment. He’d had to take today off from the pharmacy in Kilmullen where he worked, she knew, all because of the accident.

At least he was a helpful husband. She seldom saw Gabby out without him, in general. Pity he wasn’t a good dancer, though, or he could have partnered his wife in the competition but sure, not everyone has that talent, she thought.

Miss Flanagan got the lab report by email the following morning. Yes, the dance floor wax contained all the ingredients that were in the sealed tin but ‘boric acid was also present in considerable quantity’, the report said, in sample a, from the opened tin. Boric acid! That’s why she’d got that familiar smell!

She’d often used it as a homemade pesticide, mixed with sugar and flour to kill ants in outhouses. She knew it had many other uses, too, sometimes as a mild antiseptic or anti-fungal treatment. On dance floors it would be dangerous, though, leading to slips and falls. Boric acid, she thought – it wasn’t the sort of thing generally available in shops. You’d have to go to the chemist’s to get it, she knew. Chemist’s… pharmacy… What if…? Grabbing her bag and her bike, she set off immediately for Kilmullen. Dillon’s Pharmacy was busy enough for a Thursday. Roy Faulkner was behind the counter, she saw. Gabby must be feeling a bit better…

Getting ready to choose her words very carefully, Miss Flanagan approached him. After asking how Gabby was and making general conversation, she told him what she wanted to buy. “Boric acid, yes,” she repeated.

Roy Faulkner had looked shocked for a second. “Not many people look for that nowadays,” he was saying. Had he smiled a little too quickly? “I know, but it’s useful for many things and I want it to get rid of some insects. It does get rid of pests very successfully, doesn’t it?” Roy Faulkner had turned pale. “Is something wrong?” “No, no…” “Good. Funny thing is that I’ve had the dance floor polish analysed and it contained a lot of boric acid – not something you’d want on a dance floor now, is it?” Roy Faulkner had turned even paler. “No.” Leaving the pharmacy Miss Flanagan was 99% sure she had her culprit. Jealousy was a terrible thing and seeing your spouse dancing the tango very romantically, even in performance, could lead an over-active imagination to suspect deeper bonds…

Time to get Sergeant Reilly to have a word with Roy Faulkner. “It was the green-eyed monster all right, Brigid,” the Sergeant told her. “He was afraid of losing his wife to Frank Doyle, who he considered ‘a bit of a lad’. He had access to the boric acid easy enough, working in a chemist’s, and had the opportunity to mix some into the tin and sprinkle it on one corner of the hall, knowing that his wife and dance partner would be doing their ‘polishing’ first after the break.

He was happy she was out of the contest even though it wasn’t her that he wanted to get hurt, of course – it was Frank Doyle. “He’s a bit of a control freak in that marriage, I think. Very insecure in himself really, though you wouldn’t think it. He’s admitted to it all so Lena is off the hook and the competition can go on with the rest of the contestants, so it looks like you’ve tripped the light fantastic again, Brigid, in the investigating sense!” 

Read Miss Flanagan every week in Ireland’s Own