‘Coilin,’ says my father to me one morning after the breakfast, and I putting my books together to be stirring at school – ‘Coilin,’ says he, ‘I have a task for you to-day. Sean will tell the master it was myself kept you at home to-day, or it’s the way he’ll be thinking you’re miching, like you were last week. Let you not forget now, Sean.’
‘I will not, father,’ says Sean, and a lip on him. He wasn’t too thankful it to be the said that it’s not for him my father had the task. This son was well satisfied, for my lessons were always a trouble to me, and the master promised me a beating the day before unless I’d have them at the tip of my mouth the next day.
‘What you’ll do, Coilin,’ says my father when Sean was gone off, ‘is to bring the ass and the little car with you to Screeb, and draw home a load of sedge. Michileen Maire is cutting it for me. We’ll be starting, with God’s help, to put the new roof on the house after to-morrow, if the weather stands.’
‘Michileen took the ass and car with him this morning,’ says I.
‘You’ll have to leg it, then, a mhic O,’ says my father. ‘As soon as Michileen has an ass-load cut, fetch it home with you on the car, and let Michileen tear till he’s black. We might draw the other share to-morrow.’
It wasn’t long till I was knocking steps out of the road. I gave my back to Kilbrickan and my face to Turlagh. I left Turlagh behind me, and I made for Gortmore. I stood a spell looking at an oared boat that was on Loch Ellery, and another spell playing with some Inver boys that were late going to Gortmore school. I left them at the school gate, and I reached Glencaha. I stood, for the third time, watching a big eagle that was sunning himself on Carrigacapple. East with me, then, till I was in Derrybanniv, and the hour and a half wasn’t spent when I cleared Glashaduff bridge.
There was a house that time a couple of hundred yards east from the bridge, near the road, on your right-hand side and you drawing towards Screeb. It was often before that that I saw an old woman standing in the door of that house, but I had no acquaintance on her, nor did she ever put talk or topic on me. A tall, thin woman she was, her head as white as the snow, and two dark eyes, as they would be two burning sods, flaming in her head. She was a woman that would scare me if I met her in a lonely place in the night. Times she would be knitting or carding, and she crooning low to herself; but the thing she would be mostly doing when I travelled, would be standing in the door, and looking from her up and down the road, exactly as she’d be waiting for someone that would be away from her, and she expecting him home.
She was standing there that morning as usual, her hand to her eyes, and she staring up the road. When she saw me going past, she nodded her head to me. I went over to her.
‘Do you see a person at all coming up the road?’, says she.
‘I don’t,’ says I.
‘I thought I saw someone. It can’t be that I’m astray. See, isn’t that a young man making up on us?’, says she.
‘Devil a one do I see,’ says I. ‘There’s not a person at all between the spot we’re on and the turning of the road.’
‘I was astray, then,’ says she. ‘My sight isn’t as good as it was. I thought I saw him coming. I don’t know what’s keeping him.’
‘Who’s away from you?’, says myself.
‘My son that’s away from me,’ says she.
‘Is he long away?’
‘This morning he went to Uachtar Ard.’
‘But, sure, he couldn’t be here for a while,’ says I. ‘You’d think he’d barely be in Uachtar Ard by now, and he doing his best, unless it was by the morning train he went from the Burnt House.’
‘What’s this I’m saying?’, says she. ‘It’s not to-day he went, but yesterday, – or the day ere yesterday, maybe… I’m losing my wits.’
‘If it’s on the train he’s coming,’ says I, ‘he’ll not be here for a couple of hours yet.’
‘On the train?’, says she. ‘What train?’
‘The train that does be at the Burnt House at noon.’
‘He didn’t say a word about a train,’ says she. ‘There was no train coming as far as the Burnt House yesterday.
‘Isn’t there a train coming to the Burnt House these years?’, says I, wondering greatly. She didn’t give me any answer, however. She was staring up the road again. There came a sort of dread on me of her, and I was about gathering off.
‘If you see him on the road,’ says she, ‘tell him to make hurry.’
‘I’ve no acquaintance on him,’ says I.
‘You’d know him easy. He’s the playboy of the people. A young, active lad, and he well set-up. He has a white head on him, like is on yourself, and grey eyes… like his father had. Bawneens he’s wearing.’
‘If I see him,’ says I, ‘I’ll tell him you’re waiting for him.’
‘Do, son,’ says she.
With that I stirred on with me east, and left her standing in the door.
She was there still, and I coming home a couple of hours after that, and the load of sedge on the car.
‘He didn’t come yet?’, says I to her.
‘No, a mhuirnín. You didn’t see him?’
‘No? What can have happened him?’
There were signs of rain on the day.
‘Come in till the shower’s over,’ says she. ‘It’s seldom I do have company.’
I left the ass and the little car on the road, and I went into the house.
‘Sit and drink a cup of milk,’ says she.
I sat on the bench in the corner, and she gave me a drink of milk and a morsel of bread. I was looking all round the house, and I eating and drinking. There was a chair beside the fire, and a white shirt and a suit of clothes laid on it.
‘I have these ready against he will come,’ says she. ‘I washed the bawneens yesterday after his departing, – no, the day ere yesterday – I don’t know right which day I washed them; but, anyhow, they’ll be clean and dry before him when he does come… What’s your own name?’, says she, suddenly, after a spell of silence.
I told her.
‘Muise, my love you are!’, says she. ‘The very name that was – that is – on my own son. Whose are you?’
I told her.
‘And do you say you’re a son of Sean Feichin’s?’, says she. ‘Your father was in the public-house in Uachtar Ard that night…’ She stopped suddenly with that, and there came some change on her. She put her hand to her head. You’d think that it’s madness was struck on her. She sat before the fire then, and she stayed for a while dreaming into the heart of the fire. It was short till she began moving herself to and fro over the fire, and crooning or keening in a low voice. I didn’t understand the words right, or it would be better for me to say that it’s not on the words I was thinking but on the music. It seemed to me that there was the loneliness of the hills in the dead time of night, or the loneliness of the grave when nothing stirs in it but worms, in that music. Here are the words as I heard them from my father after that: –
Sorrow on death, it is it that blackened my heart,
That carried off my love and that left me ruined,
Without friend, without companion under the roof of my house
But this sorrow in my middle, and I lamenting.
Going the mountain one evening,
The birds spoke to me sorrowfully,
The melodious snipe and the voiceful curlew,
Telling me that my treasure was dead.
I called on you, and your voice I did not hear,
I called you again, and an answer I did not get.
I kissed your mouth, and O God, wasn’t it cold!
Och, it’s cold your bed is in the lonely graveyard.
And O sod-green grave, where my child is,
O narrow, little grave, since you are his bed,
My blessing on you, and the thousand blessings
On the green sods that are over my pet.
Sorrow on death, its blessing is not possible—
It lays fresh and withered together;
And, O pleasant little son, it is it is my affliction,
Your sweet body to be making clay!
When she had that finished, she kept on moving herself to and fro, and lamenting in a low voice. It was a lonesome place to be, in that backward house, and you to have no company but yon solitary old woman, mourning to herself by the fireside. There came a dread and a creeping on me, and I rose to my feet.
‘It’s time for me to be going home,’ says I. ‘The evening’s clearing.’
‘Come here,’ says she to me.
I went hither to her. She laid her two hands softly on my head, and she kissed my forehead.
‘The protection of God to you, little son,’ says she. ‘May He let the harm of the year over you, and may He increase the good fortune and happiness of the year to you and to your family.’
With that she freed me from her. I left the house, and pushed on home with me.
‘Where were you, Coilin, when the shower caught you?’, says my mother to me that night. ‘It didn’t do you any hurt.’
‘I waited in the house of yon old woman on the east side of Glashaduff bridge,’ says I. ‘She was talking to me about her son. He’s in Uachtar Ard these two days, and she doesn’t know why he hasn’t come home ere this.’
My father looked over at my mother.
‘The Keening Woman,’ says he.
‘Who is she?’, says I.
‘The Keening Woman,’ says my father. ‘Muirne of the Keens.’
‘Why was that name given to her?’, says I.
‘For the keens she does be making,’ answered my father. ‘She’s the most famous keening-woman in Connemara or in the Joyce Country. She’s always sent for when anyone dies. She keened by father, and there’s a chance but she’ll keen myself. But, may God comfort her, it’s her own dead she does be keening always, it’s all the same what corpse is in the house.’
‘And what’s her son doing in Uachtar Ard?’, says I.
‘Her son died twenty years since, Coilin,’ says my mother.
‘He didn’t die at all,’ says my father, and a very black look on him. ‘He was murdered.’
‘Who murdered him?’
It’s seldom I saw my father angry, but it’s awful his anger was when it would rise up in him. He took a start out of me when he spoke again, he was that angry.
‘Who murdered your own grandfather? Who drew the red blood out of my grandmother’s shoulders with a lash? Who would do it but the English? My curse on—’
My mother rose, and she put her hand on his mouth.
‘Don’t give your curse to anyone, Sean,’ says she. My mother was that kind-hearted, she wouldn’t like to throw the bad word at the devil himself. I believe she’d have pity in her heart for Cain and for Judas, and for Diarmaid of the Galls. ‘It’s time for us to be saying the Rosary,’ says she. ‘Your father will tell you about Coilin Muirne some other night.’
‘Father,’ says I, and we going on our knees, ‘we should say a prayer for Coilin’s soul this night.’
‘We’ll do that, son,’ says my father kindly.
Sitting up one night, in the winter that was on us, my father told us the story of Muirne from start to finish. It’s well I mind him in the firelight, a broad-shouldered man, a little stooped, his share of hair going grey, lines in his forehead, a sad look in his eyes. He was mending an old sail that night, and I was on my knees beside him in the name of helping him. My mother and my sisters were spinning frieze. Seaneen was stretched on his face on the floor, and he in grips of a book. ‘Twas small the heed he gave to the same book, for it’s the pastime he head, to be tickling the soles of my feet and taking an odd pinch out of my calves; but as my father stirred out in the story Sean gave over his trickery, and it is short till he was listening as interested as anyone. It would be hard not to listen to my father when he’d tell a story like that by the hearthside. He was a sweet storyteller. It’s often I’d think there was music in his voice; a low, deep music like that in the bass of the organ in Tuam Cathedral.
Twenty years are gone, Coilin (says my father), since the night myself and Coilin Muirne (may God give him grace) and three or four others of the neighbours were in Neachtan’s public-house in Uachtar Ard. There was a fair in the town the same day, and we were drinking a glass before taking the road home on ourselves. There were four or five men in it from Carrowroe and from the Joyce Country, and six or seven of the people of the town. There came a stranger in, a thin, black man that nobody knew. He called for a glass.
‘Did ye hear, people,’ says he to us, and he drinking with us, ‘that the lord is to come home to-night?’
‘What business has the devil here?’, says someone.
‘Bad work he’s up to, as usual,’ says the black man. ‘He has settled to put seven families out of their holdings.’
‘Who’s to be put out?’, says one of us.
‘Old Thomas O’Drinan from the Glen, – I’m told the poor fellow’s dying, but it’s on the roadside he’ll die, if God hasn’t him already; a man of the O’Conaire’s that lives in a cabin on this side of Loch Shindilla; Manning from Snamh Bo; two in Annaghmaan; a woman at the head of the Island; and Anthony O’Greelis from Lower Camus.’
‘Anthony’s wife is heavy in child,’ says Cuimin O’Niadh.
‘That won’t save her, the creature,’ says the black man. ‘She’s not the first woman out of this country that bore her child in a ditch-side of the road.’
There wasn’t a word out of anyone of us.
‘What sort of men are ye?’, says the black man, – ‘ye are not men, at all. I was born and raised in a countryside, and, my word to you, the men of that place wouldn’t let the whole English army together throw out seven families on the road without them knowing the reason why. Are ye afraid of the man that’s coming here to-night?’
‘It’s easy to talk,’ said Cuimin, ‘but what way can we stop the bodach?’
‘Murder him this night,’ says a voice behind me. Everybody started. I myself turned round. It was Coilin Muirne that spoke. His two eyes were blazing in his head, a flame in his cheeks, and his head thrown high.
‘A man that spoke that, whatever his name and surname,’ says the stranger. He went hither and gripped Coilin’s hand. ‘Drink a glass with me,’ says he.
Coilin drank the glass. The others wouldn’t speak.
‘It’s time for us to be shortening the road,’ says Cuimin, after a little spell.
We got a move on us. We took the road home. The night was dark. There was no wish for talk on any of us, at all. When we came to the head of the street Cuimin stood in the middle of the road.
‘Where’s Coilin Muirne?’, says he.
We didn’t feel him from us till Cuimin spoke. He wasn’t in the company.
Myself went back to the public-house. Coilin wasn’t in it. I questioned the pot-boy. He said that Coilin and the black man left the shop together five minutes after our going. I searched the town. There wasn’t tale or tidings of Coilin anywhere. I left the town and I followed the other men. I hoped it might be that he’d be to find before me. He wasn’t, nor the track of him.
It was very far in the night when we reached Glashaduff bridge. There was a light in Muirne’s house. Muirne herself was standing in the door.
‘God save you, men,’ says she, coming over to us. ‘Is Coilin with you?’
‘He isn’t, muise,’ says I. ‘He stayed behind us in Uachtar Ard.’
‘Did he sell?’, says she.
‘He did, and well,’ says I. ‘There’s every chance that he’ll stay in the town till morning. The night’s black and cold in itself. Wouldn’t it be as well for you to go in and lie down?’
‘It’s not worth my while,’ says she. ‘I’ll wait up till he comes. May God hasten you.’
We departed. There was, as it would be, a load on my heart. I was afraid that there was something after happening to Coilin. I had ill notions of that black man… I lay down on my bed after coming home, but I didn’t sleep.
The next morning myself and your mother were eating breakfast, when the latch was lifted from the door, and in comes Cuimin O’Niadh. He could hardly draw his breath.
‘What’s the news with you, man?’, says I.
‘Bad news,’ says he. ‘The lord was murdered last night. He was got on the road a mile to the east of Uachtar Ard, and a bullet through his heart. The soldiers were in Muirne’s house this morning on the track of Coilin, but he wasn’t there. He hasn’t come home yet. It’s said it was he murdered the lord. You mind the words he said last night?’
I leaped up, and out the door with me. Down the road, and east to Muirne’s house. There was no one before me but herself. The furniture of the house was this way and that way, where the soldiers were searching. Muirne got up when she saw me in the door.
‘Sean O’Conaire,’ says she, ‘for God’s pitiful sake, tell me where’s my son? You were along with him. Why isn’t he coming home to me?’
‘Let you have patience, Muirne,’ says I. ‘I’m going to Uachtar Ard after him.’
I struck the road. Going in the street of Uachtar Ard, I saw a great ruck of people. The bridge and the street before the chapel were black with people. People were making on the spot from every art. But, a thing that put terror on my heart, there wasn’t a sound out of that terrible gathering, – only the eyes of every man stuck in a little knot that was in the right-middle of the crowd. Soldiers that were in that little knot, black coats and red coats on them, and guns and swords in their hands; and among the black coats and red coats I saw a country boy, and bawneens on him. Coilin Muirne that was in it, and he in holds of the soldiers. The poor boy’s face was as white as my shirt, but he had the beautiful head of him lifted proudly, and it wasn’t the head of a coward, that head.
He was brought to the barracks, and that crowd following him. He was taken to Galway that night. He was put on his trial the next month. It was sworn that he was in the public-house that night. It was sworn that the black man was discoursing on the landlords. It was sworn that he said the lord would be coming that night to throw the people out of their holdings the next day. It was sworn that Coilin Muirne was listening attentively to him. It was sworn that Coilin said those words, ‘Murder him this night,’ when Cuimin O’Niadh said, ‘What way can we stop the bodach?’ It was sworn that the black man praised him for saying those words, that he shook hands with him, that they drank a glass together. It was sworn that Coilin remained in the shop after the going of the Rossnageeragh people, and that himself and the black man left the shop together give minutes after that. There came a peeler then, and he swore he saw Coilin and the black man leaving the town, and that it wasn’t the Rossnageeragh road they took on themselves, but the Galway road. At eight o’clock they left the town. At half after eight a shot was fired at the lord on the Galway road. Another peeler swore he heard the report of the shot. He swore he ran to the place, and, closing up to the place, he saw two men running away. A thin man one of them was, and he dressed like a gentleman would be. A country boy the other man was.
‘What kind of clothes was the country boy wearing?’, says the lawyer.
‘A suit of bawneens,’ says the peeler.
‘Is that the man you saw?’, says the lawyer, stretching his finger towards Coilin.
‘I would say it was.’
‘Do you swear it?’
The peeler didn’t speak for a spell.
‘Do you swear it?’, says the lawyer again.
‘I do,’ says the peeler. The peeler’s face at that moment was whiter than the face of Coilin himself.
A share of us swore then that Coilin never fired a shot of a gun; that he was a decent, kindly boy that wouldn’t hurt a fly, if he had the power for it. The parish priest swore that he knew Coilin from the day he baptized him; that it was his opinion that he never committed a sin, and that he wouldn’t believe from anyone at all that he would slay a man. It was no use for us. What good was our testimony against the testimony of the police? Judgment of death was given on Coilin.
His mother was present all that time. She didn’t speak a word from start to finish, but her two eyes stuck in the two eyes of her son, and her two hands knitted under her shawl.
‘He won’t be hanged,’ says Muirne that night. ‘God promised me that he won’t be hanged.’
A couple of days after that we heard that Coilin wouldn’t be hanged, that it’s how his soul would be spared him on account of him being so young as he was, but that he’d be kept in gaol for the term of his life.
‘He won’t be kept,’ says Muirne. ‘O Jesus,’ she would say, ‘don’t let them keep my son from me.’
It’s marvellous the patience that woman had, and the trust she had in the Son of God. It’s marvellous the faith and the hope and the patience of women.
She went to the parish priest. She said to him that if he’d write to the people of Dublin, asking them to let Coilin out to her, it’s certain he would be let out.
‘They won’t refuse you, Father,’ says she.
The priest said that there would be no use at all in writing, that no heed would be paid to his letter, but that he himself would go to Dublin and that he would speak with the great people, and that, maybe, some good might come out of it. He went. Muirne was full-sure her son would be home to her by the end of a week or two. She readied the house before him. She put lime on it herself, inside and outside. She set two neighbours to put a new thatch on it. She spun the makings of a new suit of clothes for him; she dyed the wool with her own hands; she brought it to the weaver, and she made the suit when the frieze came home.
We thought it long while the priest was away. He wrote a couple of times to the master, but there was nothing new in the letters. He was doing his best, he said, but he wasn’t succeeding too well. He was going from person to person, but it’s not much satisfaction anybody was giving him. It was plain from the priest’s letters that he hadn’t much hope he’d be able to do anything. None of us had much hope, either. But Muirne didn’t lose the wonderful trust she had in God.
‘The priest will bring my son home with him,’ she used say.
There was nothing making her anxious but fear that she wouldn’t have the new suit ready before Coilin’s coming. But it was finished at last; she had everything ready, repair on the house, the new suit laid on a chair before the fire, – and still no word of the priest.
‘Isn’t it Coilin will be glad when he sees the comfort I have in the house,’ she would say. ‘Isn’t it he will look spruce going the road to Mass of a Sunday, and that suit on him!’
It’s well I mind the evening the priest came home. Muirne was waiting for him since morning, the house cleaned up, and the table laid.
‘Welcome home,’ she said, when the priest came in. She was watching the door, as she would be expecting someone else to come in. But the priest closed the door after him.
‘I thought that it’s with yourself he’d come, Father,’ says Muirne. ‘But, sure, it’s the way he wouldn’t like to come on the priest’s car. He was shy like that always, the creature.’
‘Oh, poor Muirne,’ says the priest, holding her by the two hands. ‘I can’t conceal the truth from you. He’s not coming, at all. I didn’t succeed in doing anything. They wouldn’t listen to me.’
Muirne didn’t say a word. She went over and she sat down before the fire. The priest followed her and laid his hand on her shoulder.
‘Muirne,’ says he, like that.
‘Let me be, Father, for a little while,’ says she. ‘May God and His Mother reward you for what you’ve done for me. But leave me to myself for a while. I thought you’d bring home to me, and it’s a great blow on me that he hasn’t come.’
The priest left her to herself. He thought he’d be no help to her till the pain of that blow would be blunted.
The next day Muirne wasn’t to be found. Tale or tidings no one had of her. Word nor wisdom we never heard of her till the end of a quarter. A share of us thought that it’s maybe out of her mind the creature went, and a lonely death to come on her in the hollow of some mountain, or drowning in a boghole. The neighbours searched the hills round about, but her track wasn’t to be seen.
One evening myself was digging potatoes in the garden, when I saw a solitary woman making on me up the road. A tall, thin woman. Her head well-set. A great walk under her. ‘If Muirne Ni Fhiannachta is living,’ says I to myself, ‘it’s she that’s in it.’ ‘Twas she, and none else. Down with me to the road.
‘Welcome home, Muirne,’ says I to her. ‘Have you any news?’
‘I have, then,’ says she, ‘and good news. I went to Galway. I saw the Governor of the gaol. He said to me that he wouldn’t be able to do a taste, that it’s the Dublin people would be able to let him out of gaol, if his letting-out was to be got. I went off to Dublin. O, Lord, isn’t it many a hard, stony road I walked, isn’t it many a fine town I saw before I came to Dublin? ‘Isn’t it a great country, Ireland is?’ I used say to myself every evening when I’d be told I’d have so many miles to walk before I’d see Dublin. But, great thanks to God and to the Glorious Virgin, I walked in on the street of Dublin at last, one cold, wet evening. I found a lodging. The morning of the next day I enquired for the Castle. I was put on the way. I went there. They wouldn’t let me in at first, but I was at them till I got leave of talk with some man. He put me on to another man, a man that was higher than himself. He sent me to another man. I said to them all I wanted was to see the Lord Lieutenant of the Queen. I saw him at last. I told him my story. He said to me that he couldn’t do anything. I gave my curse to the Castle of Dublin, and out the door with me. I had a pound in my pocket. I went aboard a ship, and the morning after I was in Liverpool of the English. I walked the long roads of England from Liverpool to London. When I came to London I asked knowledge of the Queen’s Castle. I was told. I went there. They wouldn’t let me in. I went there every day, hoping that I’d see the Queen coming out. After a week I saw her coming out. There were soldiers and great people about her. I went over to the Queen before she went in to her coach.
There was a paper, a man in Dublin wrote for me, in my hand. An officer seized me. The Queen spoke to him, and he freed me from him. I spoke to the Queen. She didn’t understand me. I stretched the paper to her. She gave the paper to the officer, and he read it. He wrote certain words on the paper, and he gave it back to me. The Queen spoke to another woman that was along with her. The woman drew out a crown piece and gave it to me. I gave her back the crown piece, and I said that it’s not silver I wanted, but my son. They laughed. It’s my opinion they didn’t understand me. I showed them the paper again. The officer laid his finger on the words he was after writing. I curtseyed to the Queen and went off with me. A man read for me the words the officer wrote. It’s what was in it, that they would write to me about Coilin without delay. I struck the road home then, hoping that, maybe, there would be a letter before me. ‘Do you think, Sean,’ says Muirne, finishing her story, ‘has the priest any letter? There wasn’t a letter at all in the house before me coming out the road; but I’m thinking it’s to the priest they’d send the letter, for it’s a chance the great people might know him.’
‘I don’t know did any letter come,’ says I. ‘I would say there didn’t, for if there did the priest would be telling us.’
‘It will be here some day yet,’ says Muirne. ‘I’ll go in to the priest, anyhow, and I’ll tell him my story.’
In the road with her, and up the hill to the priest’s house. I saw her going home again that night, and the darkness falling. It’s wonderful how she was giving it to her footsoles, considering what she suffered of distress and hardship for a quarter.
A week went by. There didn’t come any letter. Another week passed. No letter came. The third week, and still no letter. It would take tears out of the grey stones to be looking at Muirne, and the anxiety that was on her. It would break your heart to see her going in the road to the priest every morning. We were afraid to speak to her about Coilin. We had evil notions. The priest had evil notions. He said to us one day that he heard from another priest in Galway that it’s not more than well Coilin was, that it’s greatly the prison was preying on his health, that he was going back daily. That story wasn’t told to Muirne.
One day myself had business with the priest, and I went in to him. We were conversing in the parlour when we heard a person’s footstep on the street outside. Never a knock on the house-door, or on the parlour-door, but in into the room with Muirne Ní Fhiannachta, and a letter in her hand. It’s with trouble she could talk.
‘A letter from the Queen, a letter from the Queen!’, says she.
The priest took the letter. He opened it. I noticed that his hand was shaking, and he opening it. There came the colour of death in his face after reading it. Muirne was standing out opposite him, her two eyes blazing in her head, her mouth half open.
‘What does she say, Father?’, says she. ‘Is she sending him home to me?’
‘It’s not from the Queen this letter came, Muirne,’ says the priest, speaking slowly, like as there would be some impediment on him, ‘but from the Governor of the gaol in Dublin.’
‘And what does he say? Is he sending him home to me?’
The priest didn’t speak for a minute. It seemed to me that he was trying to mind certain words, and the words, as you would say, going from him.
‘Muirne,’ says he at last, ‘he says that poor Coilin died yesterday.’
At the hearing of those words, Muirne burst a-laughing. The like of such laughter I never heard. That laughter was ringing in my ears for a month after that. She made a couple of terrible screeches of laughter, and then she fell in a faint on the floor.
She was fetched home, and she was on her bed for a half year. She was out of her mind all that time. She came to herself at long last, and no person at all would think there was a thing the matter with her, – only the delusion that her son isn’t returned home yet from the fair of Uachtar Ard. She does he expecting him always, standing or sitting in the door half the day, and everything ready for his home-coming. She doesn’t understand that there’s any change on the world since that night. ‘That’s the reason, Coilin,’ says my father to me, that she didn’t know the railway was coming as far as Burnt House. Times she remembers herself, and she starts keening like you saw her. ‘Twas herself that made you keen you heard from her. May God comfort her,’ says my father, putting an end to his story.
‘And daddy,’ says I, ‘did any letter come from the Queen after that?’
‘There didn’t, nor the colour of one.’
‘Do you think, daddy, was it Coilin that killed the lord?’
‘I know it wasn’t,’ says my father. ‘If it was he’d acknowledge it. I’m as certain as I’m living this night that it’s the black man killed the lord. I don’t say that poor Coilin wasn’t present.’
‘Was the black man ever caught?’, says my sister.
‘He wasn’t, muise,’ says my father. ‘Little danger on him.’
‘Where did he belong, the black man, do you think, daddy?’, says I.
‘I believe, before God,’ says my father, ‘that it’s a peeler from Dublin Castle was in it. Cuimin O’Niadh saw a man very like him giving evidence against another boy in Tuam a year after that.’
‘Daddy,’ says Seaneen suddenly, ‘when I’m a man I’ll kill that black man.’
‘God save us,’ says my mother.
My father laid his hand on Seaneen’s head.
‘Maybe, little son,’ says he, ‘we’ll all be taking tally-ho out of the black soldiers before the clay will come on us.’
‘It’s time for the Rosary,’ says my mother.