Jodhpurs and High Boots
Martin Sheehan’s farmstead was set back against a rugged wooded hill and only approachable by a long boreen that cut through acres of low potato fields. They were awash in their purple and white spring blossoms, and with the showers down the earthy odour off them filled the afternoon’s air. Rory inhaled the scent deep into his lungs after the long run he’d put in it from Cloonlara to far out the Ennis Road, but when the Sheehan place came into view, he finally slowed his feet to give his mind a chance to catch up with his plan, whatever that might be. He really hadn’t a clue why he was there.
The very thought of Liam taking on a job at the New Barracks was wrecking his head. That barracks was the seat of English power in Limerick City, housing both British Army troops and a good number of RIC men. Hundreds of ’em. You could hear the bastards drilling on their acres of parade grounds inside its walls. You could see them as well, with a peek through the massive stretch of iron gate that led inside, at least until you were ushered along by the soldiers stationed at the two guard posts on either side. How could he agree to work for the fuckers?
Rory’s whole life, Liam was as far from political as a man could get. He did his work and that was that. Rory had never seen him take any interest in Republicanism, never heard him speak a word on the movement. Still, the Sinn Feinery was the talk all over Ireland in them days. Hell, Rory himself rarely stopped yammering about it. There was no way Liam wasn’t aware of the message he was sending by taking on that job. People would wonder what side he was on, and maybe not for the first time. But he never cared what people wondered. He did his work and that was that.
The whole way over he’d tried to suss out a reason that might make sense in explaining it to Martin. Could it really be the money? Was it enough that the Brit’s job would be after paying three or four times what they’d get anywhere else? Sure, money was tight. With the war on everyone was skint. But that was always the case and they’d always gotten by. No way Martin would accept that as a justification.
But fuck’s sake, what did he really think Martin could do about it anyhow? Could he talk him out of it? Rory’d never known Liam to be talked out of anything. Could he maybe bring other pressures to bear to make Liam reconsider? Rory knew well enough who Martin was. Is that why he was nearly to the man’s door?
He stood out in front of the house for a long moment. It was hardly surroundings that would suggest a regular meeting place of the upper command of the Brotherhood for Limerick. Horses could be heard from inside a large barn, set a ways off to the side just next to a small riding ring. The house itself was a fine two-storey, stone Georgian with a large brass claddagh knocker hanging in the center of its bright green door.
Martin’s wife answered it. The beautiful Mrs. Sheehan spoke to Rory with an accent he’d never before heard the likes of. A beguiling mix of New York and Sicily was a voice entirely alien to Clare. “Ciao,” she smiled. “What is it I can do for you, my dear?”
She sounded to him like an angel singing poetry. “Mr. Sheehan?” is all he could muster in reply.
“Just a minute,” she said, disappearing back inside to find him.
As he waited, Rory heard a horse neigh off by the riding ring. For a small stud farm, Martin had earned a reputation for breeding some of the soundest horses in Munster, and Rory was always keen to get a look at one of them. Indeed, it was an impressive stallion being led into the ring, but Rory couldn’t even take notice of it, for his eyes were captured by the even finer beauty pulling the reins. He was gobsmacked.
“Rory McCabe?” Martin said when he opened the door.
Rory near had to pull his own head back around to face Martin. “’T’is, sir,” he answered. “Hello, Mr. Sheehan.”
“Are ya alright, lad?”
“I am,” Rory said, taking a quick glance back to the ring to make sure he wasn’t having visions.
“What can I do for ya?” Martin asked him.
“It’s my father, sir. He’s after taking on work for the Brits. At the New Barracks.”
Martin didn’t answer, but clearly this wasn’t news to his ears. Rory looked back to the ring again but the only half that was visible to him was empty now. “Well, I thought you should know of it,” he said.
“And I do,” Martin answered.
Rory’s thoughts were barely hanging together when he’d arrived. Now, he’d nearly lost the plot altogether. “Well, it’s bollocks isn’t it?” Rory asked.
“Ah,” Martin signed. “I can respect the decision. A man has to earn his bread.”
“Well I’m not having any part in it,” Rory says, stealing another glance to the ring. There she was again. Feckin’ amazing.
Martin finally noticed the cause of Rory’s distraction.
“I just thought I wanted you to know that,” Rory stammered on.
“And I can respect that decision as well. Even more so.” Martin says, offering a handshake. “Fair play to ya, lad.” It was a clear send-off.
Rory shook his hand, but held onto it. He finally collected himself and refocused. “I want to join the Brotherhood, Mr. Sheehan. I can help.”
Martin looked at him for a long moment. “Does Liam know you’re here, lad?” he asked.
“Does it matter?” Rory asked him back.
“Maybe,” Martin says.
“I’m not fifteen anymore,” Rory answered. “I can help.”
“Not now you can’t,” Martin says, finally pulling his hand away. “But leave it with me.” He gave him a good clap on the back. “All the best now, Rory.” Then he turned to go back inside. That was it.
Rory didn’t know what to make of it, but then he heard the horse again. “Wait, Mr. Sheehan!” he shouted, nearly yanking him back out the doorway. He pointed to the ring. There she was, riding along its rail, deftly guiding the stallion. A vision she was. “Who is that?”
“That, is the prettiest girl in all of Ireland,” Martin says. “My daughter, Maria.”
“Jaysus, I’d forgotten you had a daughter.”
“She’s been off in America living with her mother’s family for the past years. Only back a week.”
Now, like any good Irishman, Rory was a great admirer of our fair-haired colleens but, having inherited her mother’s Italian features − long, silky, raven black hair and soft, tawny skin that made him think of a warm, milky tea − Maria was a beauty unlike anything he’d ever seen.
“She’d be almost near my age then wouldn’t she?” Rory asked, his curiosity bursting.
“She would, almost,” Martin said. “I tried everything I could but, much to my consternation, she’s not fifteen anymore either.”
But Martin liked the match. He headed over to the ring, calling out to her. “Maria! Come here. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Rory trailed, trying to collect himself as she rode over to the rail.
“Maria, this gentleman is Rory McCabe, the finest young hurler in County Clare.” Rory reached up and shook her hand. Her splendid, velvety hand.
“Rory, my daughter, Maria Sheehan.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Maria said, with an American accent.
He could hardly contain himself. “Not half as much as me.”
Martin knew enough to take his leave. “Well Rory, I’ve work to attend to.”
The horse nudged Rory and he gave him a pat. “He’s some horse, Mr. Sheehan,” he said, though he never took his eyes off Maria. “Would you mind if I watched him for a spell?”
“Not at all,” Martin says. “I’ll leave you to it then.”
“All the best, Mr. Sheehan,” Rory says, never even looking back to him.
Rory watched Maria ride a smooth canter, though she could have been on a drunken, three-legged mule for as much as he watched the animal. She was perfectly trig in a red riding coat, jodhpurs and high boots. She was also the first girl he’d ever seen ride astride on a horse and not sidesaddle. “You’ve some way with that horse.”
“Thank you,” she said. “I rode every day in America.”
“A bit fancy maybe,” he added quickly.
“To each his own.”
“I could show ya a bit if ya like,” he offered, never a lad to shrink when he could stretch.
“I think I’ll get by,” says Maria. “Would you mind pulling the gate open?”
Rory hopped down and put his hands to the gate − but held it fast. “Only if you’ll be my dancing partner at the céilí on Saturday. It’s out at the crossroads by Ballyglass.”
“I’m busy Saturday,” she answered.
Rory lifted his hands. “Shame in that. I guess you’ll just have to open it yourself.”
As he made himself a great show of walking away, Maria spun the horse and ran it hard at the gate, leaping him over it and right at Rory, who just managed to dive himself out of the way. She slowed the horse and circled back around him, laying there on the ground. “I’ll expect you Saturday then,” she said.
And with that she gave the stallion a kick and tore off into the meadow. Rory stayed on the ground and gazed up at the sky for a spell. He watched the sun slowly break through the clouds thinning above him and just waited until its rays eventually came shining down, landing warm on his face. A kiss off heaven.
Wasn’t it nearly that same time that Conor lay back upon one of the makeshift hammocks they’d hung within the walls of Fenian’s Trace and felt the heat off the same glorious rays of sunshine? When Rory’d taken off after the dust-up with Liam, Conor figured for certain he’d be at their hideout in the ruin. This wasn’t the first cross words the McCabe walls had heard, and Rory always headed there to settle his blood. It was a sanctuary of sorts. Conor gave him some time of his own before wandering down.
It was strange he didn’t find him there, but he knew he’d turn up like always, so he chose a book from the stash he kept in one of their secret chambers. He had every intention of getting stuck deep into its pages, the quickest route to forgetting the day that was in it, but with the sudden early summer heat hitting him, and the rare quiet without Rory there rabbitin’ on, he instead closed his eyes and dozed off into a brilliant slumber.
He would’ve slept for ages had the hoof beats of an approaching horse not stirred him. Their secret spot was that way for good reason. Few still knew of it and callers were scarce. Conor quietly moved out to the arched entryway, shrouded in the shadows. Then he stopped dead.
After growing up together the lads had plenty in common but their near identical reactions were nothing strange. Maria was just that enchanting. Still is. There’s not a healthy eighteen-year-old boy in the world who wouldn’t have been similarly spellbound.
She dismounted her horse and walked out onto the rocks. Kneeling down, she swept a hand through the water, feeling the cool current on her fingertips. She splashed some onto her face, rinsing off the glow of sweat from her brisk gallop through the meadows. Then she sat and pulled off her riding boots and stockings. She stuck her feet in and laid back upon the warm stone.
Conor could only stare. He was helpless to look away, wondering if maybe he was still lost in a dream. After a while, Maria stood up. She took her boots and walked back to her horse who was having a drink at the edge of the small cove formed by the outcropping. When she had a good hard look around, Conor ducked back into the entryway, yet he still had a fine sight of her when suddenly she took off her riding coat. It nearly stopped his heart.
She draped it up onto the horse’s saddle, but wouldn’t you know it, as she did so the big beast took a few steps to his side and put himself directly in Conor’s view. All he could see was her lower legs. Not entirely unsatisfactory mind you, but a bit disappointing all the same, especially when it was her blouse that followed the coat onto the saddle. When next she slipped her jodhpurs off, he almost fainted. Her stallion was as handsome a horse as he’d ever seen but had Conor a rifle that day the animal would have been stone dead.
Maria waded in up to her waist, then turned and fell back into the frigid water, unwittingly emitting a soft cry as it grabbed her breath. Conor strained for a better view but the feckin’ horse thwarted him from every angle and Maria was soon out. It was only a few stirring glimpses he caught as she quickly dressed and mounted up, but then she suddenly steered her horse in a straight dash to the stone archway. Conor ducked deep into it and pressed his back hard against the cold stone.
“If I’d wanted to put on a show, I’d have charged an admission,” Maria called out to the shadows. She peered in but it was too dark to see much of anything. Conor closed his eyes and held his breath and hoped to God he’d disappear. Gave it a good effort, too. When he didn’t, he knew he was caught rotten.
“If I’d known there was to be a show, I’d have bought the horse’s ticket,” says him. Finally, he leaned out into the light. “I didn’t mean any harm. Ya kinda took me by surprise.”
“I took you by surprise?” she cried. “You nearly put the heart crossways in me.”
Getting his first good look at her face, he was immediately taken by her eyes. They were incredibly blue, much like her father’s, but where his held a tight and steely gaze, hers seemed to overflow with a softness that illuminated her entire face. They were the color of the warm, faraway seas of his imagination. And from that moment, he longed to swim away in them.
“I was just trying to read my book,” Conor says, holding it up. “If I’d known it was your bathtime, I’d have found a quieter place.”
“Well I guess I owe you an apology then?” Maria replied. “You see, I’ve been away for a while and somehow I didn’t realize this was now a library. Somehow I mistook it for a tinker camp. And I suppose you’re the good librarian then aren’t you, and not the head tinker himself?”
Conor laughed. “You talk like a Yank.”
“Well, maybe this is better,” she said, before putting on her thickest Irish brogue. “Sure boyo, aren’t you only a right eejit?”
Conor was completely taken aback. For such a sight to look at, she had some cheek on her. “I guess it’s well true what they say of a swim in the Shannon then.”
She reverted to her own voice. “And what is it they say? Mind the peeping tinkers?”
Conor smiled. “They say it confers the gift of impudence.”
“Is that so?”
“T’is indeed. But only if it’s a swim such as yours,” he said. “That is, one wearing nothing but a smile, ya might say.” And with that he gave her a sly wink.
Her eyes narrowed and a stroppy look came over her face. “You really are a nitwit, aren’t you?”
“Jaysus! I’d say the river’s rewarded you with abundance.”
“Well, I say take your book …” she said, pointing into the entryway, “and creep back into your God forsaken hole.”
With that she set herself to ride off but Conor grabbed the horse’s reins. “Have a go at me if ye like, but you’d wanna mind yerself. This God forsaken hole happens to be a historic landmark.”
Being her father’s daughter, this settled her for a moment. “You don’t say. And what bit of Irish folklore supposedly happened here?”
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard the story of Fenian’s Trace?”
“Why do I suspect I’m about to?” she asked, chancing a slight smile.
That was all Conor needed. He gently moved to take the reins from her. “May I?”
She eyed him for a long moment. “You may.”
Conor pulled the horse under the entryway. “Mind your head now.” Maria ducked under and they came through to the inside of the ruin.
“Back in the 1860s, Fenian times, this place belonged to an old English lord. But he was a good man, a Fenian himself,” he said, as he slowly walked her around the house. “For a long time it was a meeting place for the rebels because the Brits never bothered with the old man. They all thought he’d gone a bit daft, living out here alone for so long.”
Maria had a good look around the place and by that time the lads had it well outfitted. There was peat for the fire, a roof for the rain and their hammocks for rest. It wasn’t difficult to picture a rugged band of rebels assembled there, plotting their insurrections.
“I presume you’ve heard of the Rebellion of 1867?” Conor asked her.
“Well, not long before it, a load of guns and ammunition, and a good bit of dynamite even, were stashed here in anticipation of the big day.” Conor pulled away a loose board leaning against the wall to show her the hidden chamber in the wall, which was now stuffed with his books. “Of course, wouldn’t you know, some scoundrel of an informer told the Brits what they’d find here. So, they set out to collect the weapons, arrest the old man and burn the house to the ground, as they were in the habit of doing back then.”
Conor had a way with his words and was pouring it on thick. Maria couldn’t help herself being drawn into the story.
“The old man got wind of this, but the rebels were well scattered about at the time, so it was just him here alone when the Brits came on to him.”
Conor climbed up the steps that led to the old second story and sat on its edge, about even with Maria on her horse. “Well, as the story goes, he piled up near all the dynamite in the middle of the second floor, which was right here. Then, he took the guns and ammo up there,” he said, pointing up to the tower. “And just when they got through his doors, he blew the house into bits, along with more than a few of the crown soldiers, and then proceeded to hold off the rest of ‘em for the guts of the night.”
“Then what happened?” she asked.
“When the house finally burned itself out by morning, this was all that was left of it.”
“Did he live?”
“This was it. There was no sign of the old man.”
Maria took a long look around the place as Conor came back down the steps. “But why do they call it Fenian’s Trace?” she asked.
“Because it’s got a better ring to it than ‘God forsaken hole.’” he teased.
“Tell me,” she said.
“Mind your head,” he said again as he led her horse back out under the archway. “As the story goes, when the old man was told they were coming to burn his house down, he spoke his very last words, ‘The only one’s gonna burn this place is me, and I won’t leave the bastards a trace’.” He turned the horse around to give Maria another look. “Fenian’s Trace.”
“Sounds like a story from the Irish fairies,” she said.
“It’s all true. Ask your da. He knows.”
“How do you know who my father is?” she asked.
“’Cause you’re Maria Sheehan. I remember you as a young lass.”
She was taken aback slightly, but mostly flattered. “But I’ve been away a long time. How did you know it was me?”
Conor looked straight into her eyes. “I’d remember those eyes forever,” he said. Of course Maria loved hearing this, as any girl would, and could hardly hide her blushing smile.
But she quickly stifled it when she saw the sheepish grin spread across Conor’s face as he looked down at the horse’s legs. “’Course I shoed Blackie here for your da last month as well.” He winked at her. “Two and two together, is all.”
Maria yanked the reins from his hands and pulled her horse away, embarrassed for letting her guard down. “Well, I’ll have you know that his name is now Brooklyn, not Blackie,” she said. “That’s after a burrough of New York City where I lived, though I’m sure you know nothing of it.”
Conor just smiled, a bit amused by her petulance.
“Well don’t worry, you can name a horse after your own home,” she said, turning Brooklyn away to head off. “Just call him God Forsaken Hole.”
And with that, she tore off. Conor quickly climbed up into the turret and watched her ride away, catching only glimpses while she passed through the woods and over the hills, but he didn’t turn away once until she finally disappeared completely.
It wasn’t long after that both lads found themselves at Clancy’s. Rory was in first, with their mates Michael and Eamonn. He was in quite a celebratory mood, his frustration with Martin’s rebuff well forgotten amidst the wonder he’d discovered at the riding ring. The three were already well-oiled when Conor arrived, feeling nothing short of brilliant his own self.
“Hey, ya bollocks!” Rory roared at him “I’ve been waiting on you.”
Conor got a look at the state of them. “I see you lads put another day to good use.”
“A pint for Conor, Mr. Clancy.” Rory says, raising up his own. “I’ve an announcement to make. Was holding onto this for you, Conor. It’s a toast is in order, lads ... a toast to the future. To the future of Ireland ...”
The others gave up their obligatory encouragement, these proclamations being typical of Rory when he was in his cups. Conor especially had heard it all many times over, but still he always enjoyed Rory’s antics.
I handed Conor his pint when Rory continued on, at least that’s how I remember it. Maybe I only imagine it now, knowing the future in it, but I swear I saw his face fall on the very next words from Rory. “... and to the future Mrs. Rory McCabe.”
“Fer fuck’s sake, what are ya goin’ on about?” Michael says.
“Feck off with ya,’” Eamonn added, a lad not known for his eloquence.
“Whose acquaintance I just happened to make today,” Rory continued. “And who will be swinging on my arm at the crossroads on Saturday. And who just happens to be the daughter of one Mr. Martin Sheehan.”
“The Sheehans don’t have a daughter,” says Michael.
“Oh, they’ve a daughter alright,” Rory says. “And a finer looking lass you won’t ever see.”
“Where’ve they been hiding her all these years?” asked Eamonn.
“She’s after spending the past five or so in America,” Rory answered, hardly able to contain himself. “Some very, very formative years, lads.”
He threw an arm around Conor and pulled him aside. “Jaysus Conor, I wouldn’t mind only I hardly know meself. Wait’ll you see her. She’s a vision. Ya won’t believe it.”
Conor took a long drink of his pint, then wiped his lips with his sleeve. “No, Rory,” he said, somehow mustering up a smile. “Sure, aren’t you gushing with it?” He finished his pint right quick and called to me for two more. “I believe it alright.”
It was only later that week that Martin and Lucia Sheehan and young Maria took a walk through the town. And didn’t they stand well out amongst the more regulars and common folks? Martin always commanded a certain respect and the unique features and indisputable beauty of his wife and daughter drew them loads of attention. They hardly noticed it.
“Is it as you remember?” Martin asked them.
“It looks mostly the same,” Maria answered. “But I think it feels different.”
Martin was curious. Maria’s time in America had transformed her. Of course, she’d done all the normal growing up and was no longer his little girl, as was to be expected. But it was clear to him that she was also developing a personality not common to most Irish women, especially around Limerick City.
He knew a large part of this was due to the lifestyle she enjoyed in America. Her mother’s family had seen some success in various New York City enterprises and, with Martin’s financial contributions added in, she wouldn’t yet have made an acquaintance with misfortune. Is there an Irish lass can say the same?
In Ireland, every Catholic girl already knew the path of her life before she turned sixteen. There was no way of escaping it. The Church knocked them down young and the social order kept them there. If they dared fight it, they’d get kicked from both sides. If they still somehow managed to stand up, to somehow come even to a man, the English were always there to remind them we were all still second-class citizens.
Irish women hadn’t a hope.
But his Maria did, and Martin could see it in her. Sure, didn’t she nearly glow with it? She was far from resigned to her place. She’d even fought their return to Ireland initially, but relented when Martin insisted on it, even if she didn’t like his reason. Part of her was still her daddy’s little girl and she missed him. She knew her mother did as well.
Martin just hadn’t expected her to return so different, but he was enjoying every second. No man ever wore a scarf as warm as his daughter’s arm around his neck.
“How is it different?” Martin asked her.
“I can’t say exactly,” she replied. “I don’t remember everyone seeming so restless and agitated. Everyone’s in a tizzy. Maybe it’s just the war, but it’s not like this in America.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Martin says.
“Well, it isn’t one,” she said, rolling her eyes to high heaven.
Just then Rory snuck up and tapped Maria’s shoulder, then hopped in front of her as she turned. She fell for it.
“Good day Mr. and Mrs. Sheehan,” he said. He smiled wide at Maria when she turned back. “Looking for someone?”
She smiled. “Hello, Rory.”
“Good day, Rory,” Martin said. “You remember Mrs. Sheehan?”
“Of course,” Rory answered.
“Ciao,” she said.
He nodded and took off his cap, then chanced it. “Ciao,” he said.
Maria laughed at him.
“I understand you’re to be taking Maria out Saturday,” Martin says.
“I am. To the céilí. If she’ll still allow.”
“Of course,” said Maria.
“I hope you remember your steps, Maria,” Martin said. “Or Rory here may be tough to keep up with.”
“Is that so?” Maria asked.
“I’ll take it easy on ya,” Rory promised with a wink.
Martin pointed down the road a ways. “Isn’t that Conor there?” he asked. Indeed, Conor was guiding Oscar and their cart along. He was heading in their general direction but hadn’t taken any notice of them.
“It is,” Rory answered. “Head in the clouds, like always.” He suddenly held his hands up to the Sheehans. “C’mere lads,” he said. “Would ye wait here for just a moment now? Would ye mind?”
Rory dashed over to Conor and grabbed his arm. “C’mere!” he said, almost pulling it from his shoulder. “There’s someone for ya to meet.”
Conor steered over and hopped off the cart. “Mr. Sheehan,” he nodded. “Hello, Mrs. Sheehan,” he said, pulling off his cap. His eyes checked Maria’s quickly but he didn’t speak. He wasn’t sure if he could and he hadn’t a feckin’ notion what to say to her anyhow.
Martin saved him. “Conor, this is my daughter, Maria.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Maria said, offering her hand.
“Maria’s the girl I told you about,” Rory says. “Remember?”
“Of course I remember,” Conor answered. “You could hardly contain yourself.”
Rory smiled at Maria. “I told him a lot about you,” he explained.
When Conor shook her hand he finally mustered a look in her eyes. “Indeed he did,” he said. Their sparkle gave him a bit of a boost. “But I must say, it’s far better seein’ you in the flesh.”
Maria was sure the whole street would notice her blushing, but it was only Conor who did. It took her a long moment to reply, “Well, I do hope you’re not disappointed.”
Conor stammered for a response but Rory interrupted. “Where ya off to?” he asked.
“Only a few chores.”
“Grand, I’ll give ya a hand.”
Conor climbed back up onto the cart, waving him off. “I’ll be alright.”
But Rory jumped in next to him. “Ah sure, we’ll finish up and go for a pint.” He nodded to the Sheehans and waved to Maria. “Saturday, Maria. I can hardly wait.”
“All the best,” Conor said, waving to the Sheehans. “Maria,” he said, tipping his cap to her. “Nice to finally have met you.”
Rory could hardly wait ‘til they were out of earshot. “Have ya ever seen anything like her? I was tryin’ me best to talk to Mr. Sheehan but I couldn’t keep my feckin’ eyes off her.”
They rode along a while, both thinking of her. “Didn’t I tell ya, Conor?” Rory said.
“That you did,” Conor confirmed as he steered Oscar alongside the high, cut stone walls of Lord Edward Street.
“Those blue eyes of hers are amazing,” Rory went on. “Jaysus, look at me. I’m blabbering like a schoolboy.”
When Oscar turned the corner, Rory’s demeanour changed entirely. He suddenly realized where they were - approaching the wide gates of the New Barracks. A few soldiers looked at them from their guard posts.
“Yer goin’ to the barracks,” Rory says.
“I told ya I didn’t need your help.”
“For fuck’s sake now,” Rory exclaims. “Will ya just cop on already? Yer probably making the same bars they’ll put us behind some day.”
“Fencing for a storage yard is all,” Conor replied.
“That’s not the point, Conor.”
Conor couldn’t look at him. “There’s more to consider.”
“We’ll get by without the work,” Rory said. “We always do.”
“That’s not my decision to make,” Conor answered.
“Well ya can’t leave it up to auld Liam,” Rory said, as he got out of the cart. “He’d let ’em burn the whole country to the ground so long as they left him his fuckin’ forge and food on his fuckin’ table!”
“Some people might be grateful for that,” Conor said quietly.
Rory just walked off. Conor snapped the reins and Oscar made for the guard post.
Come that Saturday Rory could hardly contain himself so he set off to O’Connor’s Cross to help set up for the céilí. It was bucketin’ though when he arrived and there was strong talk being given that a cancellation might be in order. Rory wouldn’t hear of it, and it was his insistence that carried the day. Of course, the lad wouldn’t have given up on that dance if a wintry blizzard had landed in Clare that afternoon. He would have put up the tent and lay down the dance platform by himself if he’d had to.
Indeed the turnout was strong that night. Young and old alike would attend in them days and you could see a face from every family for six miles. The best musicians around gathered up just behind the platform and the worst nudged in at their elbows. The men would drift to their side and the women to theirs, but the bit of poitín that usually made the rounds would eventually bring them together again and ensure that anyone with half a note in their head would be up for the sing-song.
Martin decided to use the occasion to celebrate the homecoming of his wife and daughter and all eyes fell on them when he arrived with the two ladies on his arms. They were as fine-looking as any family Clare had ever seen and Martin was proud as a peacock. If it weren’t for the grisly scowls on Crotty and O’Keefe trailing them all night, no one would have peeled their eyes away.
As soon as the music kicked up, Rory promptly asked Maria for her hand and led her out onto theplatform to join in line with several others. The bodhran player put them right into the beat of The Haymaker’s Jig and the fiddle and flute carried it away. Everyone was watching the couple, with more than a few envious eyes staring daggers at the newest arrival in Clare. Rory was known as a class dancer and there was never a shortage of girls hopeful to be his partner. He’d generally spin every one of them, but his attentions never left Maria that night. Nor did many others. Both Michael and Eamonn quickly joined in to get a swing with her, but Conor just lurked at the edges. Of course, he watched every step.
Rory loved his dancin’. There was many a night he’d swung Conor around their floor, half just for the craic but half for his practice. He had all the jig steps − rise and grind, quick-sevens, promenade − but didn’t Maria keep up with each of them? After the The Siege of Ennis and The Walls of Limerick, the crowd cleared a bit. Ever the showman, Rory took the opportunity to break off into a Sean-nós dance, battering up a storm and putting your man on the bodhran through his paces. The crowd clapped and stomped along to the tune. Even Martin’s ill-tempered companions joined in.
Then, Rory all of a sudden darted off the platform, swept the unsuspecting Conor up into his arms, and carried him right back. Poor Conor was raging, but he was helpless in Rory’s mighty grasp. Everyone loved it and Rory swung him about until he finally pulled a smile out of him. And when he put him back to his feet, didn’t Conor even gave the crowd a few smart steps of his own?
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