By Anne F Healy Bart moved slowly towards his chair by the open hearth, his walking stick, fashioned from an ash plant, supporting his frail body. He placed his free hand on the arm of the chair he had made for himself many, many years before, then letting go of the stick and grasping the other arm, he lowed himself gently to the chair, leaving out a gasp of relief as he met the cushion. He leaned over and poked the fire, almost automatically and sent fireworks of sparks up the chimney. Suddenly he heard a noise outside and he smiled to himself. Jason.
Jason placed his bicycle against the front window and removed the bag from the carrier. “Hi, Grandad!” he sang as he let himself into the house. “Hello, son.” A boy of about eleven entered the room, his red hair blown back by the force of the wind against him as he came on his errand. “Ma sent a casserole for your dinner tomorrow. Will I put it in the fridge for you?” “Yes, please, and thank your Ma for me.” “I will. Will you have a cuppa. I’d love one myself. And have you any of those ginger nuts left?” “I would and I have. You know where they are.”
The old man and the young boy sat companionably together, drinking their tea and eating their biscuits. After some time in silence, Jason spoke. “Grandad, you know this is two thousand and sixteen. At school the master told us about the Proclamation and the men of 1916. He says they were heroes and patriots. But you were there too Grandad. Were you a hero or a patriot?” “I don’t know son if I was either. What we did, we did for Ireland. We didn’t think of ourselves as heroes or patriots. We just did what we thought was right. We didn’t think Ireland should be ruled by a foreign country. We thought we should be ruling ourselves. And we felt the time was right to strike for freedom. Of course freedom didn’t come for a few more years. But we felt it was coming and we did our part.” “What was your part, Grandad?” “Oh, I don’t know. We all did our bit but we don’t like talking about ourselves. I was in the Post Office in Dublin with Padraig and Jimmy Connolly and others. But you know, we all thought we would die there. We all thought it was the end of us but the beginning of a new Ireland.” “But you didn’t die, Grandad.” “No, son. I remember, I was quite young at the time and my main job was running from place to place with messages from one leader to another. It was very dangerous and you could be shot on sight for going out. I wasn’t much older than you are now at the time.” “I couldn’t imagine me doing anything dangerous like that.” “I thank God every day that you don’t have to. That was why we fought Jason. So that our children and our grandchildren could have a better life than we had. A free life where everyone was equal and everyone had a fair chance in life. That was what the men of 1916 fought for.” “And has it worked, Grandad?” “On the whole, yes. There are still a lot of problems in the country. There is still poverty, people are still unequal, and I’m not sure the politicians have the best interests of the people at heart once they get into government. “But, please God, things will keep improving and by the time you are a grown man, Jason, things will be even better. I like to think so anyway?” “Grandad, can I see your medal?” “You have seen it many, many times.” “I know, but I am proud that my Grandad fought for the freedom of Ireland.” “It is where it always is. You know?” “Yeah, in the drawer.”
He rose and opened the drawer in the big dresser and took out the precious box, green cover and white base and first took out the little note inside ‘Le dea-mhéin, An Uachtaráin’, (‘Yours sincerely, The President’). Then he took out the medal with its black and amber ribbon. Carefully, he placed it on the table. He examined the soldier on the front with Éire printed across and turning it over, traced the laurel branch down one side. “It’s not beautiful, Grandad. But it is such a treasure.” “It’s yours when I go, Jason. You can keep it in memory of me.” “Oh, I have lots of memories of you Grandad, but I don’t want you to go anywhere.” “Hopefully not Jason. But you know, we all have to go sometime. But let me say this, son, you have been such a treasure yourself in my life. You have enriched my old age and I love you very much.” “I love you too, Grandad.” And he jumped up and hugged the old man tightly. “You’d better be going now, son. It will be getting dark soon and I don’t like you cycling in the dark.” “O.K. Grandad. I’ll say goodbye so. I’ll be back tomorrow or the day after at the latest. I think we might have a hurling match tomorrow but if not, I’ll be over.” “God bless you, son, and I hope ye win the match.”
A phone call at midnight woke the old man. He had just gone to bed but was sound asleep already. “Dad, it’s Emily. I have bad news Dad. It’s Jason. He was in an accident on the way home. He is in intensive care now. The doctors aren’t sure if he will survive. Oh Dad, what will we do if we lose him? I’m so scared.” “Should I come down to you?” “No, Dad. There’s no point. It is just a wait and see for now. He is in an induced coma. They’re trying to reduce the swelling in his brain. They say if the swelling goes down, there is a chance.” “I’ll stay so. Will you call me if there is any change, any time?” “Of course. And Conor will come out for you in the morning to bring you here. We’re staying.”
The old man sat down heavily on the bed, staring into space. He couldn’t believe it. How cruel life is. How utterly cruel. Then he turned suddenly and fell onto his old creaking knees. He had not knelt for many years.
Between the rheumatism and the arthritis and the age of his old bones, it was not easy. But he was on his knees now, looking up at the Sacred Heart picture over his bed. He joined his hands together and pleaded: ‘Dear father in heaven. I have had a very good life. I have not asked you for many things in my life, maybe when my lovely Sarah was dying. But you took her anyway and I didn’t resent it. I felt she had suffered enough. I miss her, of course, but that’s life. “I have something to ask you now, God. My grandson Jason is hurt. He’s but a young lad, full of life and goodness. He shouldn’t die. He should live his life, full of all the good things you provide, dear God. I am asking you, pleading with you, on my bended knees, take me Jesus, but save my grandson. “I am ready to go. I have had a long and happy life. I have done my best to be good to all things, except of course in 1916, but I think you will forgive us our trespasses on that occasion. “It was for love of our country that we did the things we did. Now I am ready to go. Take me this night and let my grandson live. I ask you this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
He stayed a long time on his knees before struggling upright, going to his dressing table and taking out his medal. He pinned it to his chest before getting into bed again. He lay on his back with his rosary wrapped around his fingers, already anticipating what was to come.
Heavy knocking on the door woke him the following morning and it took a while for him to realise he was still alive. He cursed loudly as he struggled to get to the door. “Oh, Father Murphy, it’s you.” “I thought you were dead it took so long to wake you.” “I wish I was.” The priest was astonished at this until the old man related his story. “It’s not for me or you to bargain with God about who goes and who stays, Bart. “God moves in mysterious ways you know. Have you heard anything from the hospital?” “Not yet. Emily said she will call.” With that the telephone rang. “Will I answer it?” the priest asked and the old man nodded. After a short conversation the priest hung up and turned to Bart who was looking really anxious at him. “It’s O.K. He has come out of the coma and is talking to his parents. Emily says it’s a miracle. She said if you are ready I can bring you in to the hospital. Will I give you Holy Communion now?” ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. (John 15:13). Read original short stories every week in Ireland’s Own