By Judith Cullen
The pub was full to bursting this night; alive with energetically familiar greetings, merry introductions, and the scraping of sturdy wooden chairs on the well-worn floor. Micheal Flynn, usually a reserved man, was vigorously weaving through the filled tables talking to people as he went, trying to find a place for the three of them close to the tiny stage in the corner. Pat didn’t understand it. His father was never pushy, but tonight he was actively negotiating to get a prime spot close to the entertainment.
“What’s Da up to?” Pat asked.
“Never you mind, son. Your Da has ideas of his own, and we who love him can best let him have his way this night.”
Pat looked at her like she’d grown another head. She rarely let Da just go off and do what he pleased without her approval. He suspected that she knew why he wanted them up front, but wasn’t about to tell.
He was about to ask outright what was going on, when his attention swerved violently in another direction. Behind his Mum he saw Daimhim Finnegan. She caught his gaze and smiled shyly. Pat felt himself blush and, had he been speaking, he would have surely been stammering. He returned the smile nervously and then looked elsewhere – anywhere!
They had been part of the same crowd of kids who had grown up together there on the
Munster shore. Pat had always been struck by her loveliness;
even back when they had all been young children he’d felt drawn to her. She wasn’t loud, she never flirted, but she
had a quiet strength that he found appealing and comforting. He noticed how she always made certain that
people were taken care of. A few years
older than himself, she had become his ideal: the standard by which he measured
all other girls. Last year she’d started
going out with James O’Brien, which had seemed to put her out of Pat’s reach
forever. Big, bold, popular James, who
everyone flocked to, including Pat, seemed an unlikely partnering for the
modest Daimhim. Even though something
had happened to that relationship in the last few weeks, Pat didn’t dare foster
any hope for himself with herself.
Fearing he’d been staring at her with a moonstruck grin on his face, he hurried to catch up with his parents. Finding them, his Mum insisted that Pat sit closest to the stage and in swift order a pint was thrust into his hand. The stage held just a single chair and nothing else, no clue as to what was being featured that night for the boisterous, excited crowd.
The Publican stepped to the front of the stage and noisily cleared his throat, getting the crowd’s attention. “Now, most commonly it is our brothers in the clergy that we introduce with the greatest family pride.”
There was a loud guffaw from the back of the room and a bustling of chairs behind Pat’s right shoulder. He couldn’t see who it was. The Publican echoed the laugh, “And certainly my little brother, Father Francis, is a source of great pride to the Reillys and will always be willing to take your confessions at his convenience.” The room rang with amused laughter. “But tonight, it is a different brother I am proud to introduce to you: my older brother. It’s been many years since Declan lifted a pint in my house, but I couldn’t be more pleased to introduce him to you anyways. My friends and neighbors, I give you my brother the Seanchai.”
More applause bounced off the walls as an older gentleman of indeterminate age moved with great dignity through the enthusiastic crowd. He used a blackthorn walking stick to steady himself as he took the stage. He sat carefully, a picture of mature gentility, and reverently placed the walking stick at his feet. He looked about the room in a pleasant and bemused manner; nodding his greetings to a few people he recognized, and seeming to memorize the faces of everyone else. He finally locked eyes with Pat, his face exploding with a mischievous grin. Declan the Seanchai began a charming, rambling introduction of himself with a voice that roamed freely between a resonant bass, and a crackling treble.
Pat looked the gentleman over, and realized that this man was a study in not being quite what he seemed. He wore a very fine tweed jacket, but if you really looked with care you saw the soft wear around the cuffs and the few buttons gone missing. His shirt was sturdy, serviceable cotton frayed slightly at the collar points. He wore fine leather shoes whose soles curved from miles of walking under a rolling gait. He looked quite well at first glance, but actually he was just on the respectable side of shabby when you looked closely. “Comfortable” was the politest way to describe him. Yet Pat could not help but notice that he was not weak or diminished in any way. He did not have to push to fill the entire room with his voice. When it was not enticing attention, the Seanchai’s voice commanded it.
“In the long ago times,” Declan mused, “when there were still Irish Lords and Kings on this island, the bards were poets, storytellers, and the conscience of the land. No respectable court would be complete without the man or woman wise in the history and lore of this country and those who call it homeland. Even as the Lords would move from place to place during the coshering season, between the houses and homes of his clan folk, the poets travelled the land along with them. They were of the land, and for the land. ‘Twas considered a dangerous thing to deny hospitality to one of that calling for the satiric tongue of an offended bard was considered as much of a threat as any Norse longboat, or Saxon blade.”
The Seanchai paused for effect, reaching down to the pint of porter that had discretely appeared within his reach. He swallowed a satisfying mouthful and continued. “But those times are not these times, and as the power of the great Irish clans were disbursed by invader after invader. So too the power of the storyteller and the poet waned and was lessened in value. Now we roam, near forgotten relics of a time when stories mattered and history was not preserved by antiseptic scholarship, but in the heart and blood of the people through verse and prose.”
The grin reappeared on his face and he winked. “Yet I think, given those gathered here tonight, that the stories of our people have not completely lost their power to enchant and inspire. So let me begin by telling you of one of our own. He was a great man who was the chief poet of all of
Ireland. Learned he might have been, but not always
wise. And this occasional wisdom had led
him to the great sin of pride.” Some chairs shifted uncomfortably in the
otherwise silent room.
“Now don’t get me wrong, good folk; pride has its place. ‘Tis pride which can give you the confidence to do your best, and strive for better than you ever dreamed possible of yourself. That is goodly pride. But that pride which causes a man to lose his hold on what is right, to claim sole ownership of truth - that kind of pride is a very bad thing and can lead to the downfall of an otherwise sincere soul. Such is the story I share with you this night; the story of a poet whose pride almost exacted a terrible price of the honest people of
Pat listened, enthralled along with the dozens of others filling the pub. He leaned forward in his chair, the vividness of the Seanchai’s tale drawing him closer. He noticed that many people were leaning forward as he was, and some other folks had their eyes closed, sitting back blissfully absorbing the adventure. Even though Declan was not always looking him in the eye, he did catch his gaze frequently. It felt to Pat like the man was telling the story just for him, despite the room full of enthralled people about him.
Pat wondered at the incredible magic of the man’s art. It was the combination of so many things: the choice of words and phrases, the cadence and pitch, the inference of character and emotion. The Seanchai used no book, no notes did he reference. He held the entire gathering gently in his hand as he guided them skillfully along. He expressed the grief and love of a queen, the desperation of a king, the hauteur of a respected poet. When the ancient shade of a warrior strode solemnly the breath and length of
Eire to aid
the King of the Ulaidh, Pat and everyone else felt the tread of every fated
step, the towering height of every mounted hill, and clinging mists which
parted in every valley. When the warrior
knocked on the great wooden keep door, the explosion of each impact shaking the
stone walls of the castle, each and everyone listening held their breath.
When the Seanchai concluded his tale, Pat blinked and looked around. He had completely forgotten where he was: his parents, the room, everything. He had been totally absorbed in the story. The reality of the familiar surroundings came back to him slowly, like returning home after a long journey.
Declan was immediately surrounded by enthusiasm, folks eager to shake his hand and express their gratitude for the great gift of the story. Pat was still dazed, and smiling. His mind was reeling from being transported by this simple man to a place and time he had never spared a thought for. As the Flynns began to gather their things and move towards the door, the storyteller stepped aside and touched young Pat on the shoulder.
“Did you enjoy the story, lad?”
“I did, sir, very much so. It was something very special you shared with us this night, and I thank you for it.”
“Do you like stories, young Patrick?”
How did the man know his name? Pat shook his frown away, “I like books, sir. I like books of all kinds.”
Declan nodded, “That is a goodly thing. There’s much to be found in books.” He smiled, straightening himself and taking Pat’s hand in his, “I’ll be here most likely for a week or so. I sincerely hope I’ll have the pleasure of seeing you again, Patrick Flynn.”
“I would be honored, sir.”
Here's another sneak peek! An illustration in progress for the title page of Patrick's Path.
|"Patrick's Path" title page illustration in progress (c) 2015 by Judith Cullen|
Each story in A Trio of Irish Tales II will feature an ink-and-wash illustration on the title page, by me. Yes, it's true - in another time of my life I was a visual artist. Seems my hands have not entirely forgotten those skills that once paid the rent and bought bread.
Check back next week for another installment, as young Patrick continues to search for his destined path in life.
You can read Part 1 of "Patrick's Path" HERE
You can read Part 1 of "Patrick's Path" HERE
Coming in November!
On Amazon for Kindle and in Paperback
Three modern tales steeped in the lore of an ancient land. A Trio of Irish Tales II will call to your Celtic soul, even if you never thought you had one.