By Julie McLaughlin – runner up in our Writing Competition


Wordsmith Mark Twain showed the kind of insight that warms my heart when he wrote ‘‘heaven is by favour, if it were by merit, your dog would go in and you would stay out”.
Wise words that popped up on social media and flooded my head with memories of our own four-legged companion who died in my husband’s arms nine years ago.

The wee bundle of canine candyfloss that greeted us after the long drive to visit my brother, Billy, in the hilltop town of Rathfriland in Co Down appealed immediately, despite our reservations.

“We’re both working, Billy, and we really don’t have the time or patience to look after a puppy. It was very thoughtful of you to buy him with us in mind, but it’s a definite no.” We were still protesting when the black, white and bronze terrier was installed in a shoe box and set on the back seat of our car for the trip home.
“He’s the runt of the litter,” said Billy and that was that. Sympathy for this little doe-eyed stranger with the razor baby teeth, the high bushy tail and beautiful multi-coloured face turned to love within seconds and we drove off to the city with our new best friend sleeping soundly.

Our suburban semi became his home overnight – a night spent in our bed. Well, we couldn’t leave that ‘wee mite’ downstairs in the cold. His stainless steel bowls were bought, his high quality blankets, as well of course, and a grand bed that would grace his soon-to-be bedroom.
“His name will be Hennessey,” I said, staring at him intently. He stared back with the sweetest expression I had ever seen. “What about Macduff?”, said my husband, Paul.
‘‘You’re right,” sez I. “He even looks like a Macduff.” And he did!

The half Cairn, half wire-haired Jack Russell with his soft, curly coat wagged his magnificent tail in agreement and became a member of our family.
Carpet was bought to be fitted in the eight feet by four feet cubby hole that would be his bedroom, sometimes. The carpet salesman looked at me with astonishment when I gave him the measurements of the ‘room’, but with the understanding of a dog-lover when I explained its purpose.

From then on every day was an adventure. An odyssey that would last eighteen and a half golden years of many ups and the odd down. The time he ate the plastic flower pot was a real downer, the three-day disappearance after a bitch in heat a heart-breaking time for us that had the local police on his tail before he returned, covered in snow, in the middle of the night.

Cross words were never on the agenda. He was cuddled and warmed in a blanket before a roaring coal fire with words of love whispering in his big floppy ears as he slipped off into the land of nod. But a visit to the vet was arranged to curtail his future love life!

The ups were the joy of his gentle and loving personality. He simply loved everyone. Humans, all dogs, especially puppies that he licked affectionately, even most cats, although the thrill of the chase was never far from his thoughts. And everyone loved him.
His feats of walking became legendary, as would ours. He was a blend of a long-distance athlete, a sprinter, a Sherpa who laughed at mountains and a comedian-companion who smiled on demand, knew the names of all his ‘relative’s and was fiercely protective of my brother-in-law who had had a stroke.

At the words ‘lead on MacDuff’ he would race for the front door while at ‘bath’, which Paul and I would drop casually into our conversation, he would slink silently, like a cartoon character on his tip-toes, behind the sofa.
He played football every day, watched television sitting on Paul’s knee and devoted his whole life to making us happy. Holidays were spent in Donegal or the Glens of Antrim – we could not possibly leave our ‘wee man’ in kennels – and were all the better for it.
He celebrated his eighteenth birthday with a doggy cake and a special ‘I’m 18’ hat and continued his daily exercise right up until his final day when the pain left as he opened his little eyes for the final time to say thank you.

I once asked the late Father Des Wilson, whose Sunday Masses MacDuff attended without fail, if the ‘wee man’ would go to heaven. Wise man that he was, Des said, “Well, Julie, would you expect to be perfectly happy when you go to heaven?” I said ‘yes’.
“And would you be perfectly happy if MacDuff was not there as well?”
I said ‘no’.
I had my answer. Our best pal Macduff would be there on merit. Lead on MacDuff. ÷

Read memories of old Ireland every week in Ireland’s Own