Chapter 33 - Border Incidents
Big, bluff and outgoing, Uncle Ned had the reputation of being a big smuggler and he revelled in it. He smuggled across the border both ways and said,
"As long as there's a border here, I'm going to make it worth me while".
But sure it was always a game with him. Everyone around smuggled. Mostly this was done at night when the police patrol car was less active, along with the Irish Customs men who were rarely seen in their posts after dark. It was difficult to know when the police might appear so he just took his chances and enjoyed the challenge. Part of the Border Patrol went around on bicycles and it was quite a usual occurrence for houses and shops close to the border to be raided for contraband. Word of an impending raid got round quickly and kindly neighbours helped, dashing in all directions. Some of the goods were taken to Jamsie's wee house across the road until the raid was over. Ned had one or two good places for hiding the goods and they were never discovered. This said a lot for the kindly neighbours and their loyalty.
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The big open fire could swallow half a hundredweight of coal and turf so it was always a warm part of the house. On each side was raised stonework that stopped in line with the grate. Over the years the stonework had become shiny black seats, much used by family and friends. Each side of the fire, behind the wall, there was plenty of space to keep cigarettes dry and anything that wouldn't melt. Petey came in many a night to play his melodeon and he always went straight to the fire to rest and warm himself on the shiny black seat. As he played, a cigarette always hung from his lip and Kathleen had seen him openly taking a packet of cigarettes from its warn hiding place, giving Eileen a nod,
"I'll pay for these Missus when me hands are free", to be answered by a gentle smile of understanding.
The durable foods were stacked in a cupboard at the bottom of the stairs. It didn't look like a cupboard at all as it was provided with a number of coat hooks on which members of the family and their friends hung their coats and sticks. A veritable Aladdin's Cave wee Jamsie called it.
Eileen was there one evening when Ned burst in the back door of the kitchen and shouted,
"Here gersha, take these parcels and get rid of them quickly".
He flung her about eight packages which she quietly put behind the chimney wall.
"Oh will you run into the yard and throw a bucket of water over me bicycle. Then put it in the hay shed. That Constable Flannagan will be here any minute. He was right on me tail"
She moved quickly, enjoying the excitement around her. Ned had done a deal of sweating so the chase must have been a close one. Eileen helped while he threw off his shoes, combed his hair and flung his body on to the couch in a reclining position. She felt like an onlooker at one of those silent films he showed regularly in the hall.
"Do ye know, Kathleen, he clung to me tail right from Harvey's bridge. He must heve been hidin' in the rocks and as soon as I crossed the bridge he was after me like a hare. But that's where me experience on the tracks came up trumps. While he was puffin' and blowin' his way up the hill, I was already down in the hollow on the last lap home".
Ned was right. A few minutes later a very irate policeman came in the back door without so much as a knock or a "please may I come in".
"It was you, wasn't it Ned?" remarked the Constable while still very red faced and puffing, looking down at the reclining figure on the couch.
"Sit down Constable. You look fair done out. You must have given someone a rare chase for their money", Ned replied, grinning.
"That fella should have been on the stage", Kathleen thought.
"Well now what about a wee drop of the cratur to take the cramps out of your legs and help you to get your breath back. You know these hills are bad for you fellas. I mean when you get to your time of day, you want to take it a bit aisy".
By now Constable Flannagan was a little more relaxed at the sight of the bottle. These golden drops were sure a life saver and he was sorely in need of resuscitation.
"It's sunshine you're offering me Ned. There's something in what you say but you haven't told me yet how you come to have a wet bicycle on such a cold starry night, and one of the wheels still rotating".
"So you've been trespassing again on me private property".
Ned said it with a beaming smile as he offered him a big glass of whiskey.
"On the house".
"Wait now Ned 'til I see the road's clear. I don't want the Sergeant coming round and tellin' me I'm not attendin' to me duty".
"Here Kathleen, be a good girl and push the Constable's bicycle into the yard."
Ned then offered the Constable a smoke to calm his nerves which he gladly accepted, remarking,
"I suppose you hide these behind the fireplace".
"Well it's the best place in the house. It keeps the dampness out of them. The boys around here are very particular about their smokes. They'd walk up to Casey's just to get a dacent smoke".
One glass followed another and tongues loosened.
"Kathleen go upstairs and bring me down another bottle of the good stuff", said Ned, giving her a wink at the same time.
"My God", she thought, "he's letting the policeman know where he stores his whiskey. What will he do next?"
The stairs started in the kitchen, facing the front door and ran along the coathangers which concealed the cupboard. As she ascended them, she kept looking back at her Uncle.
"He must be mad in the head", she thought, "he'll have us all in trouble. We'll probably all end up in the Barracks, keeping company with the likes of Mick the Riddler or some of his cronies".
She climbed the stairs at a snails pace and opened the door of the bedrom over the kitchen. She could hear the muffled voices below and now and then a burst of raucous laughter.
"Bedad they must be gettin' drunk down there".
She walked as quietly as she could across the polished floorboards and sat on the big bed with her eyes glued on the middle floor board. This was the one covering his cache of whiskey. Her foot tapped on the board and it almost hit her in the face. It fell with a clatter on the floor and she was really annoyed with herself. The peace below was unbearable. She felt sure all eyes in the kitchen were raised upwards to the ceiling. After a brief pause, the conversation resumed and she gently took out one bottle of whiskey, shocked by the amount of goods nestling under the floorboard. The bedroom had a good assortment of holy pictures, all with eyes cast down as though looking at the smuggled goods. She felt guilty and said a quick prayer.
"Please God forgive me", she thought, "and me Uncle Ned too".
When she emerged from the room and walked down the stairs to the kitchen, the conversation had hushed and Uncle Ned was telling his Ghost Story.
"Didn't you know Constable, there's a ghost that travels the road between here and Drumuckavaull. You can take my word for it and I have Noddin' Tim and wee Jamsie to back me up".
He looked around the room at his stilled audience and set off again. He was in his element.
"I was with them, wee Micky McCoy and 'Cup of Tay' Agnew from the Cross. We were makin' our way home, minding our own business, or one wouldn't be left to tell the tale. They say it attacks the lone traveller".
Constable Flannagan sat up straight in his chair and said to Ned,
"Would you be a good man and tell me what it looks like. I see so many quare things with me own eyes".
"Well that night we were coming back from the dog racing in Dundalk you know. We had taken a few bottles of stout and we were in good fettle, feeling merry and well disposed towards everyone. We were walkin' our bikes up the second last hill from home when we heard the most blood curdlin' yell you would ever wish to hear. I was walking behind the others who were two abreast and when I looked round, Glory Be, there was the biggest and most murderous thing you ever did see. It was shaped like a dog but much, much bigger. A monstrous creature and it came rushing up the hill behind us foaming at the mouth. There seemed to be tongues of flames where it's eyes should be and I could hear the sound of chains clanking. It was enough to make me hair stand on end I can tell you, and it did.
"We didn't wait to see how close it was. We jumped on our bikes and between gulping for breath and praying for the good God to protect us, we flew like the wind, never lookin' back. Just when we were about done in, we crossed the last hill and fell in the door. Eileen will tell you none of us stirred from the house that night and the crossroads was deserted for a good few nights after. Do you wonder why a young man like me has grey hair before his time? It turned grey overnight"
He was a dab hand at telling the tale and knew how to hold his audience. Tonight he was spellbinding.
Constable Flannagan began to look very uncomfortable and said it was time he was on his way. Kathleen wasn't sure if he believed a word of it, but obviously he wasn't taking chances.
"Me bicycle was giving me trouble earlier today and the sooner I get back to the Barracks, the quicker I'll get it repaired".
Kathleen watched his departure, feeling very scared herself and Uncle Ned's beatific smile did not dispel her feelings about the night's carry on.
"That's just the whiskey talkin'", she thought, "it loosens some men's tongues". That night she lay awake, too scared to allow herself to sleep. Her bedroom was over the shop. Under her window, the young men were sitting on the pavement below, telling yarns, and the smoke from their cigarettes filtered up through the open window. She spent the early part of the night sitting on the window seat, glad of the company below. Around three o'clock in the morning they wandered off in all directions with not a bother on any one of them.
Next morning Uncle Ned was full of beans.
"You know Kathleen, in all the excitement of last night, I clean forgot to tell Constable Flannagan why me bike was wet. Didn't I fall into a bog hole".
He gave her another big smile.
"I just think you have the luck of the Divil himself and I'm not going to tell me Daddy about this episode - and me not sleepin'".
Another night her Uncle Ned was late coming in and had them all in fits of laughter as he recounted his latest episode on the border. He had ridden home from Dundalk, carrying a full sack of sugar on his bicycle. It was a bright moonlit night and when he got close to the border, he saw, around the corner, two policemen on patrol. They were standing with their bikes on the bridge, the moon silhouetting their figures as they smacked their hands to keep them warm. They were waiting for someone alright.
In the dark they gave chase and, encumbered by the sack, Ned found the hill hard going.
"Mind you if it wasn't for that sack they wouldn't have seen the back of me heels. As it was they stood a good chance of catchin' me, so I thought quickly. Taking advantage of a small bend, I threw the sack from the bike into the ditch, got off and lay on top of it. . Shortly afterwards the two policemen came up the hill. Now they had dismounted and were walking their bicycles, still puffing a bit from their exertions.
"When they saw the figure on the grass in the ditch one said to the other, 'Begod Sammy, that's a chilly night to have a lassie in the ditch'. They passed on and I was saved".
Wouldn't you think by now they'd know it was you Richardson, said wee Mickey. "You haven't lost your skill apart from those flat feet of yours". There was a twinkle in wee Micky's eye. Ned did have a lot of trouble with his knees and his feet. Maybe that was why he was not too fond of walking.
Wee Micky sat at the table with Kathleen while she learned the game of Poker. She wasn't very good but sure Micky was very quick off the mark and very good to her. When she found herself in difficulty she had only to look down at her lap and from nowhere the right card had appeared there! Maybe it wasn't honest, but Micky's twinkling eyes and wicked wink helped her along and she made the most of her experiences.
The little man was now in his seventies and his large moustache drooped a little more. Next to his glass of porter he enjoyed his pipe and there was always plenty of fun when he was around.
Some weeks later they received a visit from her young Nursing Aunt who was now married and living in County Antrim. Looking across the table at her, Kathleen remembered her courtship much better than the wedding. She particularly remembered when her intended, James, came to visit her Aunt in Crossmaglen. At that time they were living in The Square and it was here she saw the courtship blossom and they had her complete blessing.
James was an attractive young man, tall and handsome and very much in love. He usually brought along a large box of chocolates, so he was always a very welcome visitor to their house. The courting couple sat in their front room, where the large black horsehair sofa faced the fire. Kathleen used every ruse she could think of to get into that room.
"Mammy, I always toast me bread in front of that grate".
"Don't you dare, Kathleen O'Hara".
The words were wasted on her. Armed with a slice of bread smeared with dripping, poised on the end of a toasting fork, she knocked at the door, didn't wait for an answer, but just stepped in saying,
"I'm just toasting me bread"
Sure divil a bit of notice they took of her. He had eyes only for her Aunt and hers only for him. When Kathleen pressed the bread against the bars of the grate, where the dripping melted, hissed and fell, she had time to observe them. The toast had the imprint of the bars of the grate on it but that was the way she usually ate it. Then she saw the opened box of chocolates precariously perched on her Aunt's knee and apparently forgotten. The slice of toast went on fire but this passed unnoticed so she threw it on the fire. In the darkened room she made her way to the back of the sofa, flattening her body to get underneath it. She was there for some time, the couple oblivious to her presence, waiting for the accident to happen and sure enough, eventually it did. Suddenly there were chocolates and sweets all around her, some with coloured wrappings and all with gorgeous centres.
They both made an attempt to pick them up but by then she'd had her fill. This was a marvellous experience for her and she was hoping it would happen again in the near future. She had to surface when her mother appeared and asked the lovers where she was. They hadn't noticed and took it all in good spirits. It was her Mammy who was furious. She said she would put an end to that sort of skulking and she did.
Kathleen had done her best to talk her way out of trouble but to no avail.
"Ah Mammy, you can be awful hard sometimes. Sure I was only picking up the ones that fell down and James could never get down underneath the sofa, he's too big".
That didn't move her Mammy.
"If it wasn't for your inquisitive nature and belligerent attitude to other people, life around here would be a lot easier. When your day comes, you won' t want gawking kids watching your romance".
"That would be the day", she thought. She had stood in the kitchen alone being castigated by her mother and yet not really understanding what her mother was talking about. Afterwards she looked up the word 'belligerent' in the Dictionary and wasn't much wiser. She didn't think she was warlike, always looking for trouble. If there was an argument, all she did was to stand up for herself. Sure anyone would do that and it wasn't fair to call her pugnacious either. Anyone who did stood a good chance of a punch on the nose.
When in Mobane, Kathleen spent a lot of time sitting on her Uncle's famous bike while it stood against the wall alongside the shop window. It was there she was perched when Billie, one of Jamsie Morgan's goats, took a dislike to her. The feeling was mutual. She hated those smelly goats wandering over the rocks and only felt safe when they were back in their yard. They had a habit of getting out to munch the herbs and grasses along the roadside and a lassie returning from the well with a bucket of water was liable to get a dunt up the backside and torn skirts and knickers. She had experienced it herself only too often.
Just at present she was helpless. She had a leg each side of the bar of the bike and that horrible creature, all horns and viciousness, was attacking her. Her screams brought rescue and admonition from her Uncle.
"Get off it you shameless hussy. For Jasus sake what were you doing up there in the first place? You can't ride a man's bike with a fixed wheel".
"If I don't get on a big bike like this, I'll never get the chance to ride to Dundalk. Anyway, if you thought more about me safety and less about this machine it would be more like it".
Still he did lift her down gently.
Kathleen had had more than enough of goats lately and after that she kept a very wary look-out for them, putting as much distance between them and her as she could. There was great laughter coming from the Ball Alley, so she walked over while a game was in progress. Handball was a great favourite with the locals who hit a ball as hard as if they had a racquet in their hand. She settled herself down in the grass and had a real grandstand view. The way Lennon and McEnaney were playing they must have had great power in their arms and hands. They spent an hour in a fierce competitive game, with sleeves rolled up and perspiration running down their faces.
Kathleen's frivolous remarks from the sidelines were met with complete silence. Then she hit a raw spot.
"Wouldn't you think on a fine day like this you'd find something better to do on your land, helping your families", Kathleen said finally.
That sure upset Lennon. He hit the ball with even greater ferocity, walked off the concrete court and told her,
"Wouldn't it be a good idea if you got lost and quickly. This is a man's game and if you had a mind to join us, we've news for you. No women are allowed on this court. Get back to your dolls and let us get on with our game".
"It's not dolls. Shes startin' to look away", said McEnaney.
"God help the puir fella she puts her eye on!"
"Glory Be. It's you who are the divine terrors", she said and quickly took to her heels, running down to the Crossroads and into the house, he face still hot from McEnaney's last remark.
As she came in , her Aunt met her with a large white bucket.
"Away back to the well by the Ball Alley and fetch me a bucket of fresh spring water".
"Could I use O'Dowd's well?"
"No there's too many men working in the field. Go to the quiet one".
She was off again, pegging stones at the two boys as she passed them. She knew she was irritating them but that was the mood she was in. As she was about to cross the stile into the field she heard the unmistakable sound of running hooves. Jamsie Morgan's goats were loose again and charging after her. The big one with the horns and the malevolent eyes came rushing towards her. It wasn't her first encounter with this big billy goat and she was off across the field as fast as she could go, hotly pursued by the goat. She came up to the well which was surrounded by rocks and whin bushes. She knew if she stood over it the goat would nock her in. She climbed up on to the rocks and discovered he could climb too, so back again she went to the stile minus her bucket of water. By then the goat had found some nice herbs and had given up the chase. She couldn't get back to the well while the goat stayed in the same field. Finally rescue came when the handballers decided to help. Mind you they took their time.
"I could have got killed for all you cared and I still haven't got me bucket of water".
Lennon remarked, "Bedabs, Kathleen, we didn't like to interfere in your exercising the goat".
There they were, standing big and tall and laughing at her. Sometimes that Lennon could be a thorn in the flesh. The bucket was back in the field with the goat and Kathleen watched as the two strong men chased him away. They stood by while she knelt down and filled the bucket in the well and gallantly carried it over the stile for her. After a quick word of thanks, she was off like the hammers of hell to the house, dripping water all the way, eventually handing over a half full bucket.
"Eileen. Next time it's your turn to exercise the goats. I lost me breath and almost everything else with it".
"Well you asked for it. Teasing young men like that. What did you expect?"
Never one for taking things lying down, later on when the road was clear, she crossed over and confronted Jamsie and asked him why he didn't keep his gate closed and a better watch on his goats. Jamsie was standing by his own gate looking a bit pensive. He had his own problems and was almost bent over double with rheumatic pains. He gave her an answer though.
"Now gersha, I don't believe of makin' prisoners of me goats and they're on their own stamping ground. Didn't God make the rocks so that me goats could climb them and feel free to eat the choicest herbs and roam around the whins? You know Kathleen, there's no batin' goats' milk".
Well it wasn't for Kathleen. To her all goats were nasty smelly things and she wasn't keen on goats' milk at all.
"Anyway", he remarked, "goats milk is good for all childer and they thrive on it".
She noticed the implication alright.
"Well Mr Morgan, I don't need a sermon from you. Your goats put the fear of God into me. I'm not supposed to be rushin' around in my condition. I know all about pain too" eyeing Jamsie's bent condition as she said it.
He gave her a quizzical look and the ghost of a smile passed over his face and his eyes took on a faraway look.
"I didn't always have the pains. I rmember when I could run as fast as any of me goats and the whins didn't stop me. I just leaped over them. I suppose you know it was behind those rocks and whins your father and mother did their courtin'? And me and the missus as well".
Shock registered on her face as he continued.
"If those rocks were good enough for your parents with the goats around, then the same is good enough for you".
With this parting shot he opened the gate and limped back to his door, not even giving her a parting glance. He frozen gaze followed him as he opened the half door and walked into the house. She was still standing on the same spot, recovering from his last remark.
Grown up people could be perplexing alright.
"To think they never bothered to tell me. I had to hear it from the mouth of a stranger".
When she got home, she marched straight into the kitchen with a reprimand all ready to deliver, only to encounter a big smile from Brigie who lied close to Mobane and was paying her mother a visit.
"Hello Kathleen it's well you're lookin' yourself. How about joinin' us in a wee cup of tay? Your Mammy and I were just discussin' the Carrickmacross Lace and I was giving a demonstration of some of the more difficult stitches.".
She liked Brigie and responded to her warmth, reminding herself she would have a good talk with her mother later on. The evening progressed and soon Brigie was making her departure.
"Kathleen, why don't you walk Brigie part of the way home, I'll expect you back before it gets dark".
She was up like a shot and ready to go.
"Of course I will Mammy".
It was a great delight to walk with Brigie and hear all the latest gossip. They passed Martin's Public House and rounded the corner on to the Dundalk Road. Dusk was falling but Kathleen could distinguish the tall figure of Willie McIlroy holding on to the yard gate. It was a large barred gate which was padlocked every night, to keep the animals inside and unwelcome visitors out.
"Brigie, what would Willie McIlroy be doing standin' up to a locked and barred gate?"
Brigie had a real good laugh.
"You wouldn't expect a warm response to a cold bar, now would you? Don't you know Willie is doing a line with the youngest sister. Mind you it's not a very comfortable way of makin' love, barred gate between them". This was said with another giggle,
"He can't be very welcome then Brigie. Yet he spends all his days there with his "Gone to Lunch" notice always hanging in his window".
"Well Kathleen, it looks to be like love locked out", and Brigie still laughing walked on.
Kathleen returned home. She could see Willie's large silhouette by the gate as she passed by. She felt inclined to make a passing remark but walked smartly on as he turned in her direction. Never mind, the next time she saw him she knew what the topic of conversation would be.
It was a very thoughtful Kathleen who climbed into bed that night, still wondering at the antics of grown-ups. She thought,
"I wonder if Willie ever tried the same antics with me Mammy? Anyway, one thing for certain, he didn't get her behind the whin bushes".