From The Archives

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Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea who condemned Jesus to death, eternally hovers somewhere between innocent-at-large, cornered in a no-win situation by the wily citizens of Jerusalem, and villain. But in some Christian churches, Pilate, and his wife, Claudia Procula, are revered as saints.
PAT POLAND considers the elusive figure who washed his hands of Christ.

According to the New Testament, when Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judaea, He summarized His mission in the following terms: “I came into the world…to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.”

“What is truth?” (Quid est veritas?) said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer, we are told, thus consigning countless Christians to two millennia of frustrating speculation.

But just who was Pontius Pilate? We know that Pilate’s chief claim to fame is his role during the final stages of Christ’s ministry on earth. He was, in fact, a minor figure, just one of many hundreds of Roman officials tasked by the emperor to administer his far-flung dominions.

Pilate lived from c.20 BC until sometime after 36 AD, and served as governor, or Praefectus, of the Roman province of Judaea from 26 AD to 36 AD. Depending on which source one tends to believe, he was born in either Italy, Spain, Germany, or Scotland.

For many centuries, the legend has persisted that Pilate was born in Fortingall, Perthshire, the son of a Roman envoy sent by Caesar Augustus to establish diplomatic relations with British chieftains and the important Caledonian chieftain, Metellanus.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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Finbar Furey is back on the road again with his exciting new album Don’t Stop This Now. He tells Kay Doyle about his incredible life journey and how his family background, which is steeped in authentic Irish tradition, ensured that there was no way of escaping his musical destiny …

A few years ago Finbar Furey was standing in a hotel lobby in a New York hotel when a familiar piece of music began to waft its way through the air. The strains of When You Were Sweet Sixteen, now played to a different musical arrangement, instantly transported the second-eldest of the Furey brothers back three decades to the upstairs room in his mother’s house. It was here that he had first picked out those famous notes on his banjo, echoing with poignancy in the aftermath of his beloved father’s passing.
“I had found some lines of a song on a piece of paper that my father had kept,” he recalls. “The song was Sweet Sixteen. It had been written by a vaudeville performer, James Thornton, who thought up the song when his wife Bonnie asked him one day if he still loved her. He answered, ‘I love you like I did when you were sweet sixteen’.

“I brought the piece of paper upstairs and took out my banjo, which I hadn’t played for some time. I restrung it, cleaned it up and started to pick out some notes to create an introduction to go with the song. I knew immediately, and so did my mother who was listening downstairs, that this was something special. It went on to be a big number one for us here in Ireland and got to number 12 in the UK Top 40, and we got to perform on Top of the Pops. It went on to mean so much to not just us but to so many people around the world.”

Finbar Furey was born in The Coombe Hospital on September 28th, 1946, and spent his very early childhood in Dublin’s Liberties, before his family moved on to Ballyfermot. His parents were blessed with musical talent, his father, Ted, having first spotted his future wife, Nora, while she was busking on her banjo at the Kilorglin Fair.

Ted was the ‘fix-it’ man for many traditional fiddle players around Ireland, and as a result other musicians dropped their instruments off at the Furey house when in need of repairs.

“The house was always full of instruments,” he says. “When I was around five or six, my mother sent me off to buy some groceries and when I was at the shop I spotted a tin whistle. I bought it for a few pence and brought it home with me. The first tune I learned on it was Home Sweet Home, an old folk tune that I would have heard my mother singing as she went around the house.

“Then one day my father arrived in with a half set of uileann pipes and I was drawn to the sound straight away. When I turned six, he brought me to the famous piper, Tommy Moore, for lessons. Tommy taught me what I needed to know but he also encouraged me to free flow, and develop my own groove.

“He was a great influence on me and when we’d finish the lesson he’d sit with my father and they would have a glass of poitin or whiskey, just the one glass mind as none of them were big drinkers, and I would sit there falling asleep listening to them talking about music. But in the kitchen Tommy’s wife, Bridie, would cook the best potato cakes you ever tasted. I can still smell the melted butter on them and it makes my mouth water even now.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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Actor Bela Lugosi (1882 Ð 1956) and actress Martha Mansfield (1899 Ð 1923) in the 1923 film 'Silent Command'. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Bela Lugosi;Martha Mansfield

The dark arts of the secret agent have always held Hollywood movie makers in thrall, writes Tom McParland.

Our first forthright spy was the magic mirror in Snow White, which could only relay to the Queen that she had become an also-ran in the beauty stakes. Later in childhood we learn – if not the noun, the verb – about the capabilities of my little eye. But perhaps our earliest awareness of deliberate duplicities is Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. One for money, the other for skin-saving. That’s why only the child of a cynic is called Judas, and why becoming a spy is never high on a child’s gonnabe agenda.

We were further inculcated into the black arts by everything from The Beano and Girls Crystal to the School Friend and Wizard. We learned from them how to easily identify spies. If a sneaky class prefect had an older male cousin with a van, most likely she had her eye on the school silver. Foreign spies stood out always wearing beards or a fez.

Also, although words like perspicacious or catastrophic caused foreign spies no problems, their pronunciation of the (zee), or this (zis) was a dead giveaway. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That in spite of this thorough grounding, what we know about spying could be written in code as duck awl.

It is on our – and their – thankful ignorance that the writers of spy fiction depend. For the unambiguous enjoyment of spy stories the reader or viewer must occupy the position of the totally incorruptible. And we do. Would we betray our country? No. Not even for money? Certainly not. If our life was threatened? Definitely still no. The wife’s life? – Em – Definitely still no! The mother-in-law? Em – OK, whaddaye offering?

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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‘Galway Bay,’ one of the most famous Irish emigrant songs, was written in 1947 and made famous by Bing Crosby and by its use in the film ‘The Quiet Man’.

It was once the third bestselling song in the world, according to the Billboard chart. It became one of the great Irish tunes of all time.

The creator of ‘Galway Bay’ was a quiet doctor who was born in Ireland, who died in England and was buried in an unmarked grave back in his beloved Irish homeland.

Doctor Arthur Colahan never lived to see the massive worldwide success of his song, which he composed in 1927 in memory of his brother Randolph, who drowned in the bay in 1912.

He was born in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the eldest child of Professor Nicholas Colahan (1853-1930) and Elisabeth Quinn of Limerick (b.c.1866). His family moved to Galway, and he grew up there.

After completing his secondary education at St Joseph’s College, Galway, he enrolled at University College, Dublin, in 1900, did an Arts degree and then studied medicine. He transferred to University College, Galway and graduated in 1913. He was a member of the college Literary and Debating Society and participated in drama.

He began his medical career in the County Infirmary in Galway, and then moved to Holles Street. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was badly affected by mustard gas in India. After the war he settled in Leicester, where he spent the rest of his career as a neurological specialist.

Theories abound as to where the song was written or where it was first heard. Some say it was in the home of Dr Morris at 1 Montpelier Terrace, while others believe it was in The Vicars Croft on Taylor’s Hill, from where one could see Galway Bay.

Other songs written by Colahan included ‘Maccushla Mine’, ‘Asthoreen Bawn’, ‘Until God’s Day’, ‘The Kylemore Pass’ and ‘The Claddagh Ring’.

The opening lines: “If you ever go across the sea to Ireland… and Maybe at the closing of the day” has brought many a tear to emigrant eyes.

More importantly, Colahan never knew Bing Crosby changed his lyrics from “speak a language that the English do not know” to “speak a language that the strangers do not know” because Crosby did not want the song to be too political.

The ‘Light a Penny Candle’ lyric from the song became the title of a Maeve Binchy book that proved very popular.

The song vies with four other great Galway songs. ‘The West’s Awake’, ‘My Own Dear Galway Bay’, Mundy’s ‘Galway Girl’ and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Galway Girl’.

In more recent times the Pogues revived its memory by including it in their incredible Christmas tune ‘Fairytale of New York’.

The Colahan family grave in Galway cemetery makes no mention of Dr Arthur’s burial and few of his family attended his funeral. The song was used in the 1952 movie ‘The Quiet Man’, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, but Arthur Colahan’s name does not appear in the credits. It seems this songwriter was forgotten by almost everyone.

The Irish Graves Association discovered that Colahan, who composed the song was buried in a multiple grave in Bohermore, the Galway city center cemetery.

Galway Bay

If you ever go across the sea to
Then maybe at the closin’ of your day
You will sit and watch the moon rise
over Claddagh
And see the sun go down on Galway

And if there’s to be a life in the
hereafter —
And somehow I’m sure there’s going
to be —
I will ask my God to let me make my
In that dear land across the Irish sea.

Just to hear again the ripple of the
trout stream
And the women in the meadows
making hay,
To sit beside the turf fire in the cabin
And watch the barefoot gossoons at
their play.

For the breezes blowin’ across the
sea from Ireland
Are perfumed by the heather as they
And the women in the upland diggin’
Speak a language that the strangers
do not know.

For the strangers came and tried to
teach us their way.
They scorned us just for bein’ what
we are.
But they might as well go chasin’ after
moon beams
Or light a penny candle from a star.

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Popular Radio One presenter and accomplished musician Ronan Collins is back on the road reliving happy memories for Irish music fans with his hit show ‘Reeling in the Showband Years’ . He tells Kay Doyle about his life as a long-serving radio and television presenter as well as his drumming career, and how after his recent health scare he is looking forward to whatever opportunities 2018 brings his way.


Ronan Collins has begun 2018 feeling fit and well after a recent health scare that he feels may have had a less happy ending had it not been for the excellent care he received at the hands of our medical professionals.

“I feel very well now, and back to my old self,” says one of RTÉ’s longest serving day broadcasters. “It was in the autumn of last year when I started to feel unwell. I had lost the feelings in my legs, there was no pain, but I couldn’t stand properly. My brother took me to my GP and from there I was rushed into A&E. I went into Connolly Hospital as an emergency case, through the public system, and spent about thirty hours there being examined.

“It wasn’t immediately obvious what was wrong with me so I was taken by ambulance to Beaumont Hospital. They did an MRI and they described it as a cyst pressing against my spinal cord, and it needed to be removed immediately. I was operated on early on Sunday morning and by Sunday afternoon I was sitting up in bed feeling much better.

“The care I received was excellent, and the priority from the outset was my health. If they had waited for another twelve hours, I could have ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I have a lot to be thankful to them for.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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Jim Fogarty takes a look at the wondrous book that is the Old Moore’s Almanac, making curious predictions since 1764

The first day of any year is a favourite for physics, fortune tellers, astrologists, and many others said to have the gift of predicting the future in the fast lane. By covering a wide range of subjects, they often get a few correct! Probably by luck, rather than and untold gifts. We all like to take a brief look into the future!

But one of the most famous predictors is Old Moore’s Almanac which has stood the test of time. Its founder, Theophilus Moore, (Offaly-born) was aged about 30 when he went to Dublin and ran a classical academy at Milltown on the outskirts of Dublin. He became known as a clever mathematician and a veritable wizard of astrology, and taught mathematics and classics as well as astronomy and astrology.

He published his Old Moore’s Almanac for the first time in 1764. It was such a success that it outshone other such publications of the era. He is buried in the Drumcondra Churchyard, in Dublin.

The perceived accuracy of the predictions gave Old Moore’s Almanac its staying power. Theophilus Moore himself was said to have had a great skill in prophecy, and subsequent editors made sure that whoever did the predictions was good at it.

There are famous examples of predictions coming true in the past which made readers take notice. The present in-house psychic remains anonymous, preferring to stay away from the public glare.

The many copycat editions raised the ire of the real Old Moore’s Almanac publishers. In fact the editors of the time often wrote to newspapers complaining about it.

Continue reading in the New Year Annual 2018

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By Liam Nolan

The gun should never have been left lying around in the first place. Making the carelessness even worse was that it was loaded. With two unsupervised eight-year-old boys messing with it, something catastrophic was bound to happen. It did.
Young Brignon squeezed the trigger. There was a loud, sharp, crack, a whiff of gun smoke, a gush of blood, and an eruption of high, hard screechy-screaming.

Placide Cappeau, a son of winemakers and barrel makers, was suddenly and excruciatingly on his way to becoming permanently one-handed. The bullet destroyed his right hand, which had to be amputated. That put paid to any idea that when he grew up he would become a cooper like his dad. Jacques Brignon, father of the boy who accidentally shot Placide, was distraught. In an attempt to make amends, he offered the Cappeau family financial support for the education of their amputee son.
The handgun incident happened in 1816 in the small town of Roquemaure, about seven-and-a-half miles north of Avignon in the south of France.

Placide was accepted by the College Royal d’Avignon. There, at the age of 17, he won first prize in drawing. Subsequently he studied literature in Nimes, and in 1831 he obtained a law degree in Paris. But he never practiced law. Instead, in Roquemaure he became a wine merchant whose main hobby was writing verse.

A competent enough poet, he never achieved widespread literary success or fame, though he was well known enough locally to get himself elected mayor of the town.
Born and brought up a Catholic, he had drifted away from religion, only rarely attended Mass, and in conversations with people directed a lot of biting criticism at the Roman Catholic clergy in general.

The parish priest of Roquemare was close to giving up on him, especially when Cappeau began to publicly espouse socialism.

However, in what proved to be a last throw of the dice in attempting to draw Cappeau (right) back into the bosom of Mother Church, in 1847 the priest asked him to write a Christmas poem for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The priest also asked him to take it to one of France’s most famous and successful composers, Adolphe Adam, for a musical setting.

Cappeau felt both puzzled and flattered, and told the priest he would do his best to come up with something suitable. For reference, he turned to Luke’s gospel about the birth of Christ, reasoning that it would give him an authoritative framework on which he might base his poem.

Then, on December 3rd of that year, during a long, bumpy and swaying journey by coach from Roquemare to Paris, he began the task of putting words on paper. It was on the section between the cities of Macon and Dijon that he did the bulk of the work. By the time the coach trundled into Paris, he had completed it. He gave it the title Cantique de Noel (Song of Christmas).

What he had done was to imagine what it would have been like to witness the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. When he read and re-read what he had written, he felt deeply moved by the words.

Now he had to get the poem to Adolphe Adam, whose theatrical successes included the ballets Faust, and Giselle, and La Fille du Danub. Adam (pictured below) had been commissioned to compose orchestral works and ballets that were performed in faraway St Petersburg, and in Berlin and London. He was at the height of his fame.
Into his hands now came Cappeau’s poem, and, given its subject matter and the beautiful style of is writing, it presented him with a challenge unlike any he had been presented with before.

He spent three weeks perfecting his composition, and ended up with what is frequently called a heartbreakingly beautiful piece of music.

Cappeau took the song back to Roquemare and handed it over to the parish priest, who was overcome with awe and gratitude.

He contacted a Parisian opera singer who lived locally, and at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, she gave the first public performance of the carol that would become known as O Holy Night, and would be (and is) sung tearfully and with reverence all over the world.

The congregation at that Midnight Mass loved the carol, and within a short time it won the hearts and approval of people all over France. The Catholic Church in France originally endorsed its use in Christmas ceremonies.

And then something strange happened. The church authorities denounced the carol. Placide Cappeau had denounced the Catholic Church and joined the socialist movement, and Adolphe Adam was found to have had Jewish ancestry. The reasons given by the church authorities for banning Cantique de Noel were: “its lack of musical taste”! and “total absence of the spirit of religion.”! But the common people disregarded the denunciation. They wouldn’t let the song die. Cantique de Noel continued to be sung at Christmas ceremonies all over France.

An extraordinary happening during the 1870/’71 Franco-Prussian War was allegedly the reason the Catholic Church authorities received the song back into religious ceremonies. During a lull in battle, a French soldier jumped up out of his trench, stood in full view, and sang Cantique de Noel. Not one shot was fired at him. The Germans were so moved that one of their soldiers then stood up and sang one of Martin Luther’s hymns. Nobody fired a shot at him either. It resulted in the armies of both sides honouring a 24-hour Christmas truce.

The English words of O Holy Night were written by an American named John Sullivan Dwight who introduced the song to America.

And on Christmas Eve, 1906, O Holy Night became the first song ever broadcast over the radio when Reginald Fassenden played it when experimenting with a microphone and the telegraph.

I first heard the song as a youngster on a crisp starry night in Cobh when boy soprano Jack Kelly sang it in the cathedral. I can still hear in my head his beautiful, clear, true voice, and it breaks my heart, as O Holy Night will this year again, and I’ll cry when I listen to Jussi Bjorling, and precious memories from all the years flood through me.

From our Christmas Annual 2017

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John Lennon Cohen recalls how his mother’s touch made Christmas a special time in his home


For some reason we always called Santa, Santie. Perhaps it’s an Irish or Dundalk colloquialism. A version of him used to sit outside Parks’ shop in Clanbrassil Street in Dublin, which was a café, as well as a sweet shop. I was always a little nervous of him and after my visit to him was over, and I had told him specifically what I would like for Christmas, we made our way to Toyland in Bachelors Walk.

Well, my eyes lit up when we went inside for I never saw such an array of toys in all my life and all in the one place.

To me and my sisters it was heaven, an Aladdin’s cave for there were toy train sets, cars, cowboy suits, guns, soldiers, dolls and prams, board games and every conceivable toy you could think of.

I picked a cowboy suit, which consisted of trousers with special trimmings running down the sides and a waistcoat, which also had the special trimmings and of course to complete the outfit, the cowboy hat with a silver star. I tried it on and with the silver gun, sure I thought I was the Lone Ranger.

In the hustle and bustle of the run up to the big day, my mother found time to bake a Christmas cake and pudding and we always knew that the big day was fast approaching when she had the currents, raisins, sultanas, flour, and the mixing bowl out on the table as we came in from school.

We all were invited to turn the mixture of the pudding three times and then we could make a wish, an old tradition I expect!

Closer to the day we would go to James Wood’s fruit and vegetable shop in Church Street to purchase our Christmas tree that was just freshly cut from the forest. I don’t think that artificial trees were on the go then. Why a ‘fruit and veg’ shop sold trees is beyond me but I suppose they had a good name to sell trees.

Once this task was completed, we knew it was a reality and the great day would very soon arrive. So we then began to adorn our humble abode with paper decorations that straddled the ceiling and holly with red berries embellished every hanging picture that could be seen.

We would then dress the tree with tinsel, coloured sparkling balls and fairy lights and last of all the Angel Gabriel took pride of place on top of the tree.

Of course a small crib and a red candle were placed in the window.

The candle was lit late into the evening on Christmas Eve and this was to show the way for the Holy Family and to let them know that they were welcome in our house.
The effigy of the baby Jesus could not be placed in the crib until after midnight on Christmas Eve, and this signalled our cue to go to bed.

We were never permitted to let the tradition of Christmas or its true meaning, the birth of Jesus Christ, go, despite all the commercialism especially in later years and my mother made sure of that. After saying our prayers we were tucked into bed and tried to get to sleep.

The morning announced her arrival with a brightness that peeped in through a gap in the curtains to partially light up my room – the big day had arrived.

With eyes still closed tight I crawled deep down into my bed and with my feet rummaged about the bottom to investigate whether any presents were left and hoping at the same time that I didn’t get a bag of cinders that were always promised to bold naughty boys.

You see ‘Santie’ in our house always left our presents at the bottom of our beds and not under the tree and I think that it was a more personal touch to have him visit our own room. I got exactly what I wanted, a cowboy suit and a gun and holster. My sisters got exactly what they asked for too.

Mother made breakfast and then we prepared to go to Mass. As we walked up to Saint Nicholas Church our hearts were still pounding with that much pleasure that Mother had to subdue us so that we could compose ourselves for the ceremony.

The church was beautifully decorated with garlands and had a huge crib. Mother cried at the mass as the choir sang ‘Oh Holy Night’ as she was probably thinking of times past and her deceased parents who would have taken her as a young girl to the same ritual. When the Mass was over we went and said a prayer at the crib and Mother took a piece of straw for each of us, told us to keep it in our pockets and we would never be short of money, another old tradition I assume.

Then we walked home, our minds filled with images of the magnificent traditional Irish Christmas dinner that our mother had worked hard to prepare for us. My mother made a very bad situation good for us children, sheltering us from a cruel reality that she hid by placing it firmly and entirely upon her own shoulders and by doing so she made us oblivious of our dire situation. Who else but a loving mother would do such things for her children? She made Christmas special.

Read more Christmas memories in the Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual 2017

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By Mairead Doohan

Sitting on a bench here in Dundrum Town Centre on the shortest day of the year waiting for some friends to have a pre-Christmas coffee.

It somehow feels like the longest day of the year in this crowded centre of commerce – the human tide ebbing and flowing but never stopping. People shopping, spending, eating, drinking, speaking to one another, speaking on their mobile phones – the endless hum of humanity.

I think back to the Christmas shopping of my youth and the names of the local shopkeepers come flooding back, the butcher, the shoemaker, the genial farrier, the pub owners, the draper, the Banks, the Hall, with its brass band and regular dances.
Christmas was a quiet time then, a family time. The various shopkeepers would reward their regular customers with a Christmas Box, and the Clergy would be busy in the confessionals! Long queues would form outside the confession boxes. You would know the ‘easy’ priest who wouldn’t ask too many questions and give short penances!
He would always have the longest queue at his box! Confessions would last about three hours over two nights, for in those days you couldn’t receive Holy Communion without first going to Confession. Children’s confessions would be heard earlier in the day. It’s a long time now since I saw queues outside any confessionals!

Mass would be at midnight, reputedly the hour of Christ’s birth, and the Church would be packed. It is an abiding memory of mine walking to Mass on frosty Christmas Eve nights with my family, the frost crunching under our feet, and the prospect of a snow fight on the way home – plus the dream of a visit from Santa Claus later!
We didn’t need Bing Crosby to help us dream of a white Christmas!

The tradition was that the youngest child in the house would light the Christmas candle which would be placed in the window as a welcome to Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own

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By Anne Bevan (from the Ireland’s Own Christmas Annual)


A poignant tale of a Christmas letter never sent, and another not received…


The postman pushed his bicycle up the rough track to the old cottage door, his head bent against the wind.

“Hello Mrs. Murphy, hardy day out,” he said to the lady sheltering behind the slightly open door.

“Come in, come in,” she said. “Will you have a cup of tea, ah you will, to warm you for the journey.”

He sat at the kitchen table, knowing he had no use refusing.

“It’s beginning to snow out there, I won’t stay long today,” he said.
Mrs. Murphy didn’t get many visitors these days; all the old ones were gone now. Still, she loved the wireless and the very rare letter she got from that son of hers in New York; that and the postman’s visits kept her going.

“There you are now,” she said, handing him the cup and saucer; she never used mugs, ruined a lovely cup of tea, she said.

“Have a biscuit Dermot,” she said, proffering the plate of USA biscuits.
“I’ve a letter for you to post, to Daniel in New York; I haven’t finished writing the address yet. Will you take it with you?”

“I will,” Dermot replied, sipping the scalding tea and feeling glad now that he had come in.

“Good, good,” she muttered to herself, as she pottered about the kitchen looking for a pen.

“These biros are no use, not like the old pens used to be, the last one leaked all over the table. It was ruined only for the oilcloth.”

Finishing his tea, Dermot stood up and blessed himself.

“I’ll collect that letter from you tomorrow Mrs. Murphy, I’m anxious to get home today, the baby is nearly due and Katy is a little nervous on her own,” he said.

“Okay Dermot,” she replied, “safe home.”

In the morning the snow had stopped and Dermot made his way in bright sunshine; he called to Mrs. Murphy. He knocked at the door and waited but there was no sign of the old woman.

Continue reading in this year’s Christmas Annual