Chapter 3: Michael Kilkenny’s Wake

Posted on March 17, 2013

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I was wanting to illustrate this with a series of classic Irish flies, but lacking images I have permission to use, instead I’ve been looking at slides I took in Ireland when I was 17, before I even fished, the water always called to me.

This installment is for my good friend Sharon O’brien who came over with her husband Christian, and cooked me a good Irish boiled dinner, shared some family stories, and helped me drink my wine. Yes, I have some might fine wine.

Author’s Notes

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

3 Trout in Heaven

As a whole, the town turned the idea over and over again. It seemed as foolproof as brisket. After much discussion, Michael put the scrap in the post with two American dollars extracted from the bank in Donegal and ran it as an ad in the New York Times. In those days the mail went by boat, so it was May before he got a reply. A solicitor from New York said he had “always meant to visit the country of his forebears,” happened to have some business at the county seat, and would arrive the last week in June, business allowing. He enclosed his check. That sealed it, we were in the fire now.

I remember those days well. It was like we were preparing for a festival. People painted and put up flower boxes. As the days grew longer, old chores got accomplished before we went to the pub, and I dare say I heard more than one wife say “that fence got fixed as surely as Michael did it.” Oh, he was a hero, he was.

If Michael was poaching, I was not up early enough to see it, and those that were kept it to themselves. Perhaps he kept up his constitution far from his home waters.

One fine day in June, I had just settled into me seat at Johnny’s when Sean comes running in. “We’s done for. The lord is returning on the morrow’s train. A month early he is!”

Michael went as white as the underbelly of a carp. “And me big fish not even here from New York! What shall I do?”

We convened at his table in the corner. Many august ideas ventured forth through the foam, each of us shouting over the other. There was no refunding the money, which was muchly well and long ago spent, and even if we could, what about the cost of the trip? And there was no fishing the land with the lord in town. Even with Liam’s help, it was too bold and brazen a thing. Michael and the client would end up in gaol to be sure.

As the pontification wound down, Eamonn took a sip and wiped his mouth. “You are a dead man, Michael sure as we’re sitting here. I hope there are trout rising in heaven and the season never closes.”

“Heaven!” somebody snorted.

I looked around, but couldn’t make out the scoundrel. “There’s nothing for it then, let us raise a pint to the poor, departed, Michael Kilkenney. A great man with a rod, and a great friend to all of us, when suren his needs were more than ours.” I raised my glass and tilted my cap to my friend, sure he’d be in gaol afore the sun set next day hence. We all held our glasses in a silent toast.

Michael jumped from the table “Aye! And aye! Surely I’m feeling the Lord’s loving touch a callin’ me home. Didn’t I pass a dust whorl on the way in?” Several people crossed themselves then. “It’s a shame really that when Mr. Thomkins comes in from New York after such a long and perilous voyage that his poor and loyal guide will be fresh dead, and all the money gone with him.”

People stared at each other, agape. “If I’m agoina die, might as well do it before he gets here as after, don’t you think?” Oh, the mad, crazy, logical bastard that was Michael Kilkenny. Go ahead and die he says, and all the problems solved. We had a good hoot at that one.

“You know” says Shamus, “it might just work, and this is how we’ll do it.” And he laid the whole thing out. Now it only mattered who would serve up the news to our guest, and how would we entertain him whilst he was among us?

The Lord had been back almost a week now, although we’d yet to see him in to town from the manor house. Storms in the Atlantic slowing Mr. John Tompkins arrival, when Billy, Shamus’s wee lad came running in to the pub. “Trains in, and there is a fancy dude at the station asking for Mr. Michael Kilkenny!” We took a collective breath. Pete wiped his hands on his starched white apron. I sent Billy to the Widow’s to make sure all was ready. The village being too small for an inn, she put up the occasional visitor. “No need to be nervous, folks,” says I. I had been appointed the one to meet Mr. Thomkins at the station and break the news. “Just stick to the plan.”

I walked out to the station, wishing I could take me own advice. I had to wipe me hands on me jacket twice to keep them presentable enough to shake a gentleman’s hand. I knew him right off, aside from being the only stranger in town, he was dressed head to toe in Abercrombie and Fitch, as if he was expecting to get right off the train and go fishing, which indeed he was.

“Mr. Kilkenny? Damn glad to meet you.” He grabbed my hand and pumped it in that thoroughly American way as if it were a pump handle on a dry well. “We’re running a little late here, but if you could have a boy take my kit to the house, we could catch an evening hatch.” He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the town. “Say, where’s your gear?”

“Well, Mr. Thomkins, I’m not Michael, I’m William. William O’Shaunessy. I’m afraid I have a bit of bad news for you.” I cleared my throat. “Poor Michael, I don’t know how to say it. He has gone to the West Mr. Thomkins.”

“That boy is travelling? We have business to attend to.”

“Oh, uh, know, well, not in the literal sense that is. ‘Going to the West is how we here on the Isle say a man has passed, if you beg my pardon. Michael just up and died on us last night.”

“Died?” You could see it hit him hard. “I mean, we’d only exchanged a few letters, but I felt like I knew the man. I guess I was sure set on meeting him.”

“Aye, and him you, to be sure.” I bent to take his bags and turned to walk towards the Widow’s. “You can’t go back tonight, there’s no train, have to wait until the morrow and we can set you off. I don’t know about the money, you know Michael had some bills to pay.”

“Well, I don’t mean to be insensitive, William, but I took this month off work, took ship across the water, and spent good money with Michael. I still intend to fish while I’m here.”

I put the bags down and looked at him. We had not thought of this! “Well, Mr Thomkins, it’s not so simple here as it is in that great free land of yours. You see here the water is mostly private, owned by the lords. Michael had a lease on a run, but without him…”

He picked up his bags and carried on down the lane, his bluster having returned. “I’m a businessman, a solicitor, Sean. There’s always a way to get something done. How about tomorrow you bring me round to this Lord fella and we sort it all out? I’m sure he’ll oblige.”

“I, uh,” I chewed my mustache. “No, you’re right no need for you to fret about that, we’ll send somebody up and have a chat with him tomorrow on your account. Probably best that way.”

“Let me take those bags for you.” I picked them up and carried them on, looking to steer the conversation away from tomorrow, and then a thought struck me. “Where is your gear, Mr Thomkins, was Michael gonna supply it?”

He pointed to the tube in my hand, “They are all right there.”

“All?” I asked holding the leather tube up and amazed at it’s lightness. “I think you may have forgotten to put your rods in the tube Mr. Thompkins.”

John laughed. “In there, Mr. is a 91/2’ Payne Tonkin cane trout rod, weighing less than 3 ounces for dry fly fishing for trout, and a 12’ foot three-piece Walters for Salmon fishing.”

“It canna be,” I said. Not a man in the village had a rod of less than 15’ or two-and-a-half pounds made of a single piece of stout greenheart.

Thankfully, we were at the Widow’s and I made the introductions. “She’ll settle you in for dinner and we’ll have somebody round in bright and early in the morning.”

“Dawn?”

The Widow cackled. “Bright and early Mr. Thompkins is 10:30 here.”

“Well, I mean that is the earliest we will hear back from the lord,” I shot in defense. “He’s not known as a particularly early riser.”

“Harumph!” Said the Widow wiping her hands on her skirt and turning away from the door to attend to dinner.

I was half to the gate when Mr Thompkins said one last thing. “Oh, and please do send the tailor around first thing, William.”

“A tailor Mr. Thompkins?”

“I would not so disrespect Michael Kilkenny by missing his wake, and I’m afraid I didn’t put a mourning suit in my kit, this being a sporting adventure.”

“Wake?”

“It is traditional to have it the next day, to make sure the man is good dead before you bequeath him to the ground, is it not? I assume there will be a wake tomorrow and I intend to be ready for it.”

“Certainly, certainly Mr. Thomkins. Now, if you will excuse me I have some things to attend to.” Like planning a wake, I thought, as I tipped me cap and spun on my heel out the gate.

As always, comments appreciated. Okay, well, I live for them.
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