The poacher Michael Kilkenny is in a bind: pay his fine or go to jail. But everything he does makes it worse, until death is his only option.
A mixed-up, crazy tale of poaching, fraud, and romance in Ireland during the Golden Age of fly fishing. Michael’s latest conviction will send him to jail if he and his cronies cannot con a rich American out of a small fortune. But is the American the bumpkin he appears to be? Who is conning whom, and will Michael live to see his money or will they all spend the rest of their days in jail? Read this hilarious farce and share in their predicaments, right up until the surprise ending.
1 Of Lasses and Leprechauns
Michael Kilkenny was a man resolute in constitution. Hardly a day he was not up by dawn. Well still at dawn, if the fishing was to be good. No evening hatch for himself, a man who blanched at the very thought of throwing his profile east against the heath. But the cool dawn when the piscivorous fellows were still on the prowl would find him rod in hand bent low against the horizon, casting an eye and perhaps a few bits of feather onto the most likely beats. Evening time – afternoon time if you were to be exact – was pub time, regular as Sunday Mass, and almost as pious too, he would be at the pub. Sure and being almost as good with a rod as he was with a pint glass, he was a very famous man these parts about.
They say the best thing about fishing is that once you have the rod, line, and a few bits of gear the rest is free. But those times away from the water did cost him dearly. The nights in the pub he might get a beer for a story, there being somewhat of a Robin Hood charm about a poacher, especially if he brings a bit o’ dinner around on Fridays. But the nights in the gaol were costly indeed, and much better he had not spent a penny on the rod for what the investment cost him in installments, if you know what I mean. For his rugged constitution did cost him dearly. Many a man does not have the discipline to go back to the lifestyle after a few nights with the less fortunate. Some would say he was addicted not to the sport of catchin’ but to the sport of not being caught. There may be truth to that, for while once or twice even I think he may have passed on the drink in cold hard days, I’m not sure that since he was a wee boy acting ghillie to his da’ did he ever pass by a dark pool without sinister intent. If the salmon were not in, he would deign to stoop as low as grilse, sea trout, or even one landlocked if he had to. It was a shame really, to see a man so low at times as to take a bream or other coarse fish and not so much as drop his head.
“A carp has no imagination,” says he, “not like a trout. He’s muddling in the muck, eating what’s good, spitting out what ain’t. He’s not thinking ‘is that a favorite morsel?’ Hard to fool something with no imagination. But when you hook ‘un, hooey, what a ride! Like an ass what’s finally decided to get up an go –no stopping them.” Michael was a brave man, a hero maybe, but he had his demons, he did.
There was one night I do remember. There was ice on the breath and no likely fish around in the morning. The precursory circumstances being a bit fuzzy, Michael, Sean, meself and a few of the boyos was sitting around the fire with a fine clay pot of poitin. Michael was mostly quiet, him just out of the county house for wayward men, and not knowing how an honest man could pay the fine to be sure. I do not remember much of the stories but their fineness, and each being better than the last. Except for being long on leprechauns and short on lasses, you do not measure many a night as fine as that. But the leprechauns were mostly busy frosting the panes and we paid them no mind, until I swear one must’ve whispered directly to Sean’s ear.
“Did you hear,” says he “that the Lord is taking off for the month of June.” “Taking off?” says I. “Ah, yes, to England. Some business to attend to.” “And how be knowing you the affairs of the Lord? Is it now that you are his secretary, and have you learned to write beyond your name?” Seano puffed out his chest. “I know me letters and I’ve read a book or two.” His face began to get red and I could see his fists ball up like little roasted game hens, slick and meaty on his stool by the fire.
“No, ‘tis not the Lord’s ear he has,” says Michael staring into the flames. “’Tis the maid’s. I’ve seen them in the morning so close together he comes home with flour on his cheek. I might be studying me a bit of Yeats myself, could I get so close.” Like that, Sean went from angry man to embarrassed boy, and we all let out a merry laugh.
“Here’s to the misses,” said Michael, “may they be young and many in the tavern, and few and far on the stream.” And what man, fisher or not, could fail to raise a glass to that.? “That reminds me,” said Shamus, “of a lass I once knew.” He then proceeded to tell a tale that had the lass been a fish, every man would call him a liar for length and girth and time fought on the line run to the backing. But one man’s lie becomes the audience’s fantasy and we were all lost in our own installments of the story when a thought occurred to me. “Michael, do be telling me not that you are thinking the Lord’s absence might mean the better fishing for you.”
My nephew Liam had recently received employment from the Lord, and I did not want any bad blood between us had he to pinch Michael. “Why does he persecute me so!” he wailed. “Surely he has never risen for the dawn. We could share that river and him never knowing I was on it if he didn’t pay people to spy on me. Look what he has done to me now. Not even enough for a potato and a pint, where should I be getting the money for the fine? It’s enough to turn an honest man to thieving!”
I think it is the measure of the Island that not one of us laughed at that. You have to be mad to be Irish, and we understand a man ruled by his passions and vices. It was soon after that that my fair Betty came down from the loft and gave the boys the broom, chasing them out into Greenland’s teeth on the road to their own cold hearths, and me off to her delightful bosom.
2 A Pence Too Much
In the cold months, June seems like a long way off, and I did not think much of this conversation until I pulled its tattered threads together from memory just now. It’s a shame the way finances work, just as you have the time for the pub, there is nothing on the farm for money, but for a few chickens and eggs. I have seen too many men ruined by carrying a tally there in the bad times to do it myself, but my Betty is a wise woman who puts a little away so that once or twice a week I can pull a mug without giving her a lie about it. Thus it was about a week before I saw Michael again. He was alone in the corner, hunched over a piece of parchment, scratching his unruly red mop and chewing on the nub of a pencil.
“You look like a man sore vexed. Had I but enough for two pints I would surely buy you one…”
“Ach,” says he. “Were I so wise as your wife, I would know not to give you enough to buy beer for another man when it’s your own troubles you should be quenching.” And thus I sat down, much relieved that I did indeed have enough for a second pint and him knowing about it and not bothering me none.
“Besides, that, I think I have solved all me problems for the short term and even the foreseeable times ahead.” And with that he pushed his scrap over to me. There, much smudged, crossed out, torn, and otherwise obfuscated was a well-camouflaged bit of prose;
Fish an unspoiled Irish stream for one week. Just you and your ghillie on the private water. 25£, room and board included. Payment on Demand.
“Are you mad?”
“Do you think it’s too much?” he asked.
“One pence is too much! You cannot rent another man’s land. This is fraud. You will go to prison.” I have told him again and again O’Malley uses a radiator to make his poitin. I feared it had finally driven him daft.
“I will go to prison,” he pointed the pencil at me, “if I don’t pay me fines. I’ve paid good money over the years to use that stream. I’m just recouping me investment with some additional interest.”
“How will you get away with it, this is a small island, all things considered, and you renting another man’s land is as likely to go unnoticed as the Pope in the pub.”
“The Lord be away on business for months yet. I plan to run the ad in the New York Times. I hear tell that those American sportsmen will pay that much to put on fancy duds and rope milk cows, thinking they are cowboys. Or go to Africa to shoot lions. They already caught all of their own fish and shot all of the buffalo, so they have to go elsewhere.”
“Everybody here will know.”
“Well, of course they will know, I’ll be putting him up won’t I? I’ll be needing the proper respect in the pub won’t I?”
“You cannot expect the whole town to just lie for you.”
“Surely, not the whole town. Do you know, by the way, how much Peter is owed?”
Peter the Publican, we called him.
“And that has to do with the price of milk in Dublin how?”
“A quid by me alone. Fifty quid for the season! Me fine is 5 quid. Room and board at the Widow’s will be 2 quid, leaving for my living expenses exactly 16 quid. How much will the farm make in June?”
I sputtered and thought vainly for some method beyond logic to convince him otherwise.
“Liam has the biggest bill here at Gentleman Johnny’s, over two quid. Surely that’s why he took the job, him as big a poacher as me but not even able to feed the family with it. I had me a chat with his wife over the hedge row the other day. I think Liam will be fine with all of this. Thanks for reminding me.” He did some scratching “I’m down to 15 quid.”
I scratched my head under my cap and held up my fingers for two pints. When Molly showed up I pointed at Michael and said “On him.”
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 Kilkenny. 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 a gonna 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.”
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.”
“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.
4 Twice Kilt
“A wake! Wailed Michael, as if he had all of the genuine emotions of a mourning man. “I thought dying was going to save meself and here it has kilt me twice!”
“Michael, what could be easier than lying in your good suit like an after-church nap?”
“And how am I convincing the Father to go along?” All heads swung towards the bar where the good father, who clearly had been following the conversation, was chatting with Peter over a pint,.
“These are weighty matters you we are discussing. I will be adding greatly to the poor man’s sins. I can feel the heavenly scales tipping even as we speak,” says the Father.
“Surely, we have a marvelous God, who gives us the chance to balance those scales as we go, and not have the whole weight on us at the end. What do you suppose our poor dear Michael, a man who lately has contributed so much to our poor community,” and here I put my arm around him, “could do to balance the scales?”
“Well, 120d in the plate would do it,” Michael groaned. “Plus seventy Hail Marys, and seven weeks straight him sitting in a pew and not the pub as is his normal constitution.” Michael had gone as white as if he had spent the summer in gaol.
“Father,” says he.
“Eighty Hail Marys, and Eight weeks, plus I should be getting paid for the wake, in advance, say another twenty.”
Michael looked at me. “And I don’t suppose, Father, you could be sparing a wee glass of the holy spirit tonight on account of I won’t be able to partake when me final debt comes due?”
“I will even arrange for the ladies to make the casseroles.”
And so they clinked glasses uisge, the of water of life, to seal the deal on his death.
Next morning, I sent Thaddeus, the tailor over to the widow’s. It wouldn’t be no fancy suit, but it wouldn’t be no fancy wake neither. After Thaddeus left, I sent Roberta, my daughter, dressed in her best yellow pinafore to show Mr. Thompkins around. She’s as purty as a full pint and there’s nothing like a comely lass to set a man’s mind aside from what’s at hand. She was under firm instruction to traipse him over heather and moor until he was as tired as an old saw. And that she did. They were seen up at the monastery ruin and the old stones, down by the hedgerow, but always it seems near the water.
I ran around all day, and finally stopped by the pub looking for Michael. He was recruiting “friends” for the wake, totally unnecessary as not one person in town would miss the theatrical event of the season, a show destined for a one-night run no matter how good the cast. He was into his cups for sure when I found him.
Nobody was more surprised than Michael when Roberta and John walked into the pub in the late afternoon. He fell off his stool in his scramble to hide behind the bar. “What is she doing here? “ he hissed. I looked over and barely recognized her. She was in woolen trews, with a grandfather’s mandarin shirt and had her hair done up under a cap.
“Well, halloo,” says he to me. “Your boy here nearly wore me out.”
“Me boy?” Says I looking across at her, burning in shame to be dressed like a man and belly up to the bar.
“Indeed, isn’t that right Bobby?” He slaps her on the back and I dare say she stood up to it with a bit of spit. “I’m right parched, why don’t I buy all of you a pint? And whatever my man Bobby here wants for the evening.”
At this Michael starts to raise his hand up to the bar to put his empty up for a refill, and I had to slap it down. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your wake?” I hissed to him over the bar. He looked up at me, nips a bottle off the shelf he does and scurries out the kitchen. No good could come of that, I thought.
Peter looked over from pulling a pint, gave me a wink and a smile and said “It’s alright, I’ll just put it on his tab.”
I was groaning with my head in my hands.
“I tell you, Peter, there is some mighty fine water here. Fine as anything in the Catskills. Fine as Nova Scotia. It was all I could do not to run back to the Widow’s and grab my rod, but every time I tried Bobby led me further afield. Did you hear back from the Lord?”
I was watching Roberta toss back her pint like she was Michael herself and started stuttering. “I, uh, I’ve been preoccupied with the wake, sir, and did not yet track that down.”
“Oh, my manners.” Says he. “Of course. Let’s have another round for poor dear Michael.”
Shamus raised a glass, with a wink and a nod, “And damn poor timing on that, him missing all of these pints to his health.” That broke the tension and they gathered around him to talk fishing and other manly things.
I dashed over and grabbed Roberta as she held up her hand for another pint. “Lass, what are you doing?”
“You said to keep him busy…”
“Not that, that,” says I smacking her on the cap.
“Oh. Well, it’s like this da’, I was on my way and sure enough Paul starts to teasing me. We starts to scuffle and next thing I know I’m rolling in the mud, my best dress ruined and me late to meet the American.”
Paul was my youngest, too young to know when to stop sometimes, and him and his sister carried on like Picts. “And what did you do?”
“I made him take his clothes off and give them to me. I didn’t realize Mr. Thompkins would think I was a boy!” She made a moue in his direction. “I’m a fair comely lass I am, and I couldna tell him so if he dinna see it.”
Oh, her Irish was up I could see it. She had her mother in her.
Speaking of her mother, I had a feeling I would be on her dark side should I make it home tonight. “And did you leave Paulie naked in the lane?”
She put her hand to her mouth as if shocked at the very suggestion. “Why no da’, I gave him me dress, and I told him it better be clean and dry so I can wear it to the wake tonight!” She put her hands on her hips and pressed her lips together.
“You sent your brother off dressed like a girl!”
“And me like a boy! What is the greater shame of it, and you be taking his side on this.”
“And now you are drinking at the bar like a full man, you are taking to this a bit fast I would think. What would your mother think?”
She winked at me. “I’m doing what you asked da’, I don’t think you want her to know.”
I groaned. Why was I paying for Michael’s sins?
“We had both better get ready for the wake, my dear.” She knocked back the third pint as neat as the first and we scuttled out the side after Michael, and nearly as tipsy.
5 Rough and Tumble Waters
With the whole town turning out, Michael had to book the hall. Wakes are not a thing that come about from long planning, but rather long practice. The place was scrubbed clean, and had a buffet against one long wall, where the women would be, and a bar on a table in the corner for the men. The coffin was up on saw horses covered in a black crepe skirt. All was in order, including the casseroles, excepting one thing – no Michael in the box.
People were straggling in and I could see the American coming down the street, and still no Michael. At the last moment, he comes sneaking in through the back stops and stares at the coffin.
“There isn’t a moment to lose!” I said coming up behind him and taking his arm.
“If you don’t mind,” says he. “This is a solemn moment and I need a little time.” He jerked his arm away and swayed a little on his feet. I could tell he had made good use of that bottle, and put lie to the saying that the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish wake was that the wake had one less drunk.
“Michael, this is no time to be philosophical!”
“It’s not that, it’s just that I did not order such a fine casket.” He looked at me, “Two-and-a half quid!”
Donovan, the undertaker walked up. “Mr. Kilkenny, you cannot take such matters lightly. Having not planned ahead for this event, I had to supply you with what was in stock.”
Thompkins walked in the door. I made eye contact with Roberta, but she was already on her way over to him. The rest of the girls huddled in the corner whispering and clucking behind her.
“But making me buy it, sir, that is the issue. I will only need it but for a few hours.”
“Indeed, and who then would lie in a used coffin? That is not for me to sell. You may if you like.”
Michael turned to him, the cords standing out in his neck and raised a finger as surely he was going to raise his voice. I nodded to the boys on either side and they lifted him up and placed him not gently into the coffin which rocked a little on its supports.
“Enough, you two.” Donovan stood there looking smug and waxy. And who is to blame him for don’t we all shun the dead and those who favor us by dealing with him? Why not exact your payment in gold if you cannot get it in kindness? “I will buy your coffin, Michael, if I go first, which is not likely if you don’t lie down and shut up.” I reached in and crossed his hands, and then he suddenly snapped shut his eyes. With his red hair and beard, he looked the perfect leprechaun lying there, in his fine new suit.
“So, this is the late, great, Michael Kilkenny, the best fisherman in all of Ireland, and a kind soul of whose merits I’ve heard nothing but since I have reached town.” Thompkins was there behind me staring into the coffin, and Roberta had him by the crook of the arm, looking for all the world like she was on a date. I must say, Mr. Thompkins cut a fine image in his new tailored suit.
“Aye. Cut down before he could do half of the things he intended, a very civic-minded man”, said the father, coming up to us, and apparently intent on earning every bit of his fee.
He wisely steered Thompkins to the bar and Michael let out his breath with a whoosh.
“I thought he would never leave.” He said between pressed lips. “I’m as parched as if I was in Hell itself.”
With that one of the boys passed in a flask and he had a quick nip.
I could overhear the conversation from the bar. “It’s a bit unfortunate that you are so late in the season, Mr. Thompkins. The runs are nearly done.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe for your traditional wet flies. They have done some tremendous things with the hair wings on the Restigouche late season, especially with the grilses. They may not be big, but you can have a hundred-fish day on them.”
Michael actually sputtered. “I won’t be having any of those new-fangled American flies in my river. O’Shaunesseys have worked here for over 100 years…” He actually started to sit up and the boys had to restrain him.
Thompkins looked over at the scuffle.
“The hairwing,” says Shamus, “perhaps an American concoction would work over there, but here, we like our traditional flies. Blacker wasn’t born far from here, and some say he developed his Gaudy flies fishing in these very meadows.”
“And no doubt, those flies had some success even on our side of the pond,” he used that trivializing American phrase for the Atlantic, like even conquering that was a days outing in paddle boat for the brash young country. “But the hairwing, are more mobile while many of the feather wings are stiff. They pulsate in the current and act alive. They are juicily translucent while many of the feather-wings are opaque.”
I heard more commotion behind me and used my body to block the view of the casket.
I heard “Here Michael, have a wee snort, why don’t ye?” And things quieted down a bit.
“It matters not, Mr. Thompkins, there is not enough water in the lies for a fly, your fishing opportunities are slim.”
“Well, if not enough for a wet fly, A.E.H. Woods proved long ago that Salmon will rise to a dry fly on a greased line.”
Michael became apoplectic. “Greased line!” says he so loud the men at the bar all turned in our direction.
“Greased line,” I repeated. “Isn’t that fished on the swing?”
“A very common misconception, Mr. “ Thompkins replied. “Actually, Mr. Woods has made some extreme innovations. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a lecture last year while I was in business in London. According to him you present the fly ‘sidling past him and floating downstream’ like a dead leaf. He mends obsessively, and regards any pull on the fly as fatal. According to him the fly should be presented just awash, swimming ‘in a natural manner; wobbling, rising and falling with the play of the eddies exactly as would an insect, or a little fish which was in trouble.’ It’s on account of him that I am using the relatively short 12’ rod.”
“Ah, ah, ah.” Michael had lost his ability to speak, and I heard him given just another dram to quiet him down.
“Twelve feet! Who ever heard such a thing?” says I.
“Mr. Lee Wulff recently landed an Atlantic salmon on a dry fly with a six-foot rod, and he challenges any man to out fish him on any stream with that rod.”
At this point there was such a ruckus behind me that Michael actually fell out of the coffin. The boys acted with alacrity, putting up the braces, restoring the crepe, and putting the column aright. But as Michael was now under the coffin, they chose the expedient of tossing Jimmy O’Malley into it.
“For a moment, says Donovan, I swear I saw him move. God forgive me my clumsiness.
Thompkins stared over with raised eyebrows.
“A six-foot rod? Mr. Thompkins, you stretch credibility.”
“Sir, I tell the truth, and it was on a dry fly no less.” I saw somebody kick at the crepe out of the corner of my eye.
“Wood and Halford developed the dry fly technique, but it was the Americans who perfected it. Theodore Gordon of course made them work in America’s rough and tumble waters, especially for trout, and Hewitt, La Branche and Monell really made them work for Salmon with the the Colonel Monell, Soldier Palmer, Pink Lady Palmer, and the Mole patterns which Wulff used in his recent success. I plan to try to duplicate these feats on these waters.”
“A bold statement sir, to expect to come here and outfish us. Not a fish has been caught in the river in a good three weeks.”
Some degree of confinement must’ve been achieved behind us, because I knew for a fact that Michael had salmon for dinner not this Tuesday last.
“One would think you would’ve tried the nymphing techniques invented by your countryman G.E.M. Skues. His first book, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream, was revolutionary, as was his with The Way of a Trout with a Fly.”
“Skues, sir, was English, and his nymphing techniques show the dishonest and low born traits of his heritage.” I could see Shamus ball his fists.
“I meant not to offend.” Thompkins held his hands up. “I suspect your lack of fish has more to do with over fishing than lack of skill. As Wulff said, ‘game fish are too valuable to be only caught once.’ I release whatever I catch.” Cries of outright disbelief from the crowd. I could see the boys standing abreast in front of the coffin back-kicking at the crepe like line dancers at a wedding. “I am sure of success in these waters using my techniques.”
“Would you be taking a bet sir?” I could not believe the words had come out of my mouth. Here we were needing to keep him off the water at all costs and I had just challenged him to fish. His arrogance had undermined me. The innocence in his grin only redoubled my anger.
“I am, as they say, a betting man.”
My mind was racing, but I thought of Michael’s nocturnal expeditions and a thought occurred to me. “Sea trout.”
“Sea trout? I, ah.” I could see I had him now and my plan was simple.
“Are you not up for it?”
“In honesty, I have never fished for the sea run brown, they not being native to the Americas.” He beamed a smile. “I do like a challenge, though. When shall we go?”
“Right after the wake,” says I. Sea trout ran up the river at night. We would fish him through the night, put him to bed tired and hung over and gain one more day out of sight of the Lord.
“Finally,” he said. “Fishing. Send your boy around and I’ll meet you back here in one hour.” Roberta looked like she might either cry or punch him, but he turned without notice and walked out the door.
6 A Coarse Fish
An hour later the whole party was on the road leading out of town. Roberta dressed again in her brother’s clothes and not looking any too happy about it. As we met, Mr Thompkins stretched out his hand. “Sir, what are your terms.”
I rubbed me palms together and looked up at the stars. “One sea trout, taken exclusively on American techniques, before me boy here, ahem, can land one on his gear. Shall we say a quid?” I choked a bit but finally spit on my palm and extended my hand.
He took it and asked, said, “I will pay him double that for every fish he catches beyond me. Bobby, me boy, why don’t you swing first through the beat?”
Roberta had my old 15’ greenheart. It dwarfed her, but she had fished since she was a child. Already tied on were a pair of classic wet flies Michael had chosen. “Don’t waste any time lass, fish only the deepest cuts where there is enough water for the fish to lie,” he had told her, and she had nodded solemnly.
Thomkins pulled a fine leather wallet out of his breast pocket, took out a long grey feathered fly, and held it up to the moon. Then he took a pair of needle-nosed pliers out and very carefully clipped the barb off the hook. Up till then there had been a steady murmur as bets were wagered and odds were made. The whole group gasped in hushed tones.
Roberta stuck her hand out firmly, took the pliers and did the same. “I kind of like the idea of there being just as many fish tomorrow,” she said.
I took me leave and went up to the bridge to have a word with Liam. “You take that lantern now, and wave back and forth should you see lights go on at the manner house.”
“Ah, I see your point.” I nodded and started to take my leave, and saw Michael and his band of miscreants sneaking down through the gorse on the far side of the river. I turned back to him. “And do you the same if our good friend the American should happen to hook the first fish.”
His eyebrows went up. “You don’t look like a welshing man to me!”
“As sure,” says I, “as I would be sad to cheat the young man of any money he may have coming his way, I do fear that if he wins the bet it will be far enough to raise Michael Kilkenny from the dead, with far greater odds at stake.” He looked at the rustling bushes as the men approached abreast of John and Roberta, crossed himself and said “We may yet meet the devil himself tonight.”
“Michael himself was waving a wicked knife and saying he did not believe in luck when there was money at stake.”
Below, John was holding his fly against the moon again to tie it on. “This here,” he said as he held the fly up “is the fabled Grey Ghost, first tied by Carrie G. Stevens in the Western Maine community of Upper Dam between Mosselookmeguntic Lake and Upper Richardson Lakes on July 1, 1924. Her first time out using this fly she caught a large brook trout, weighing 6 pounds, 13 ounces and 24 3/4 inches long. She gave me this particular fly herself. It is a streamer fly, a new variety and has probably never before been seen in the British Isles, developed for a native American species, Salvelinus fontinalis, actually a char, and no relation to the native European brown trout the Salmo trutta, a nod to its cousin the salmon. I will fish it on the finest Tonkin split cane rod nine feet long as is the practice in the States. Does it satisfy the requirements as being ‘purely American’?”
“A more American approach could hardly be taken, good sir.” I said from the bridge. I nodded and headed downstream, thinking perhaps to keep Michael out of mischief and let the competition play out.
“I am very interested to see if Irish trout will dine on American morsels.” With that he gave the group a quick bow. More hushed tones from the group, and I heard a distinct rustle in the reeds downstream of me. The boys were probably wrestling Michael into submission before the sanctity of his water was breached.
Roberta went first, wading out on the rocks delicately and swinging her fly through only the deepest pools and runs. Thompkins watched her carefully in the moonlight, trying to glean any knowledge he could of the river. When she was about 100 yards down, he began to work line out, using a fancy back and forth motion I had never seen. “If you people would be so kind,” he spoke in a very polite voice, already sobered up considerably since the wake, much to my dismay. “I will need room behind me to cast and I do not want to hook any of you good folk. He turned to address the group, “As lovely as some of you are, I do not believe you would satisfy the bet.” Several of the girls giggled, and he looked over the crowd as if he was looking for somebody in particular.
He did not wade into the water, but stood on the bank and worked line out, then cast across the river and let it swing in the current. He pulled a bunch of line in to lie in the water at his feet, repeated the funny back and forth motions and took three steps downstream and repeated the cast.
“You will note,” he said as if lecturing at university, totally unaware that we needed the utmost stealth 60 drunken people stumbling through the dark and brush could supply, “that the shorter and more pliant bamboo rod allows me to impart great velocity and distance to the fly.” Despite studying Roberta’s tactics, he seemed to cover the water with equanimity. It was a beautiful night, soft winds off of the ocean, and between the murmuring of the stream and his hypnotic casts, the crowd was soon lulled into quiet observation.
As the stream worked down, a long deep slot formed under the far bank. On each successive cast he stripped more line to get as close to the bank as possible, without over reaching. This was made progressively more difficult as clouds began to cover the moon and the far bank was soon completely lost in the dark. And I was glad of it for there was little cover for Michael and company and I wondered how they had not been discovered already.
Finally, he waved the rod back and forth, back and forth, and gave a mighty toss, longer than any cast I have ever seen. At the end of the cast, he waited just a heartbeat before giving a mighty heave. This was followed by an incredible splash by the bank, and the fight was on. .\Surely, he had hooked the largest beast ever caught on the river.
Line alternately screamed off of the reel, and went completely slack, all the while accomplished by a great thrashing in the shallows. Thompson fought mightily, reeling in during the slack times and holding on so as not to lose the rod during the runs. In the dark it was hard to see what was going on but there was much splashing and spluttering across the bank. From my vantage on the bridge, I could see Michael holding his ear with one hand and the line with the other, while his cohorts cavorted in the river splashing around and trying to cut him loose before he shouted out and ruined the whole thing. This went on for several minutes, although it seemed quite a bit longer with him running up and down the bank, the people alternately crowding him and giving him passage. It was a grand fight, sure to be told around many a pub, but in the end Thompson was simply out muscled and the line went full slack at last.
He reeled it in with a good laugh and checked his line. I was a bit shocked at his lightheartedness. “Surely, Mr. Thompkins you are not such a great fisherman that you can lose such a prize so easily,” said Shamus, unaware as everybody else on this side of the river about the shenanigans on the other.
He was already busy tying on another leader and fly, “Oh, Mr. Shamus, obviously that was a coarse fish, probably a carp or a bream, not one to take the bet. You will find, by the way, that as the fish get more practice, they will find it much easier to disengage from these barbless hooks.” He raised his voice and said the last almost as if he was talking to the fish itself in the marsh across the stream. I could see he was having a good chuckle under his breath.
“And now,” says he, “If Bobby has not yet beaten me, let us catch us some trout.”
In the excitement I had forgotten to look to the bridge. Liam was waving the lantern as if it was on the back of a banshee’s hearse, lights were going on up the hill and you could hear the dogs begin the chase. The crowd dispersed like milkweed in a hurricane and Roberta only had the good sense to grab Thompkins by the arm and drag him off, saying he had clearly won and it was time for bed, as it was bad luck to we keep Michael’s ghost occupied, lest he forget to go to heaven . Michael was gone as quickly as if he had a bolt hole nearby, which put into my mind that indeed he might have, and I sulked off in the dark before I should get caught, an upstanding man like myself having poor reason to be on the river at night, and without even a rod at that.
7 Swimming in Beer
The next morning I was snug in me bed, pondering how delightfully quiet an entire hungover town could be, when there was a terrible pounding at the door, what I believe the Americans call a “knock.” In my feeble condition I made it to the door in my night shirt and there stood Mr. John Thompkins.
“I’m sorry to get you up, but what time is the funeral, sir? I can’t seem to find anybody who is up.”
“Funeral. Funeral.” I repeated. How is it that we missed every simple thing? Grit was in my eyes as if I’d slept in the flue and my mouth was unfairly dry for all the whiskey I had shared with it not so long ago. I think the pounding may have been in my head and not at the door as it seemed to reverberate yet. “Today is a day of mourning, the funeral will be tomorrow.” It was the best I could do. I just wanted to go back to bed.
“A day for Michael?”
“No, for the rest of the town.” Betty burst out behind me. “They’ll put Michael in the ground, but it is the rest of them that wishes they would be joining him.”
I could see he had dark words on his tongue but when she spoke and we realized she was in the room, the storm cleared from his brow in a way I was deeply envious of, the one in mine seeming to settle in for a good long while not to be dispelled by a pretty lass. “I love this village, and the hospitality is unequaled,” he tipped his hat to us, “but this trip is vexing, very vexing.” He pursed his lips and seemed to think. “There’s nothing for it, is there? We’re not in Manhattan, are we?” He seemed only then to remember us. “Well, I have some business I can attend to at the county seat. What time does the train leave?”
Oh, the vexation of this man! My brain was fair rattled. I looked at the mantle clock, “It looks like we’ve missed the morning train,” I gave a stern look to Betty, “Why don’t you meet me at the pub in an hour and we’ll sort out a ride for ye?”
He turned to go and then turned back with a snap of his fingers, “Since I’ll be at the county seat, if you like, I could file Michael’s death certificate. I’m sure nobody’s thought of it, but it’s one of those details I’d gladly take care of for you.”
“The death…certificate…” Forgotten it! Of course we’d forgotten it, we weren’t lawyers, were we? We were going to resurrect the poor dead Michael the moment we got this crazy Yankee to go home. “I’ll be asking after it this very morning.”
Half an hour later, I was joining the boys over a pint to soothe our nerves.
Michael was sitting in the corner much working over a scrap of paper, and holds it up just as I enter:
“Here is me obituary, what do you think?”
I took it from him and read it aloud, “One of the county’s dearest inhabitants passed away on Saturday last in the person of Mr. Michael Kilkenny, after a short illness.
The late Mr. Kilkenny was a well-known fisherman, and spent all of his spare time on the banks of the local rivers. He often succeeded in large catches while other anglers failed. He was an expert in tying his own flies, and was well-versed in the habits of the finney tribe.
He was a grand man, of a very upright and kindly manner, and was fond of relating incidents of note in the old town in his early days. He always enjoyed excellent health, and recently worked as a ghillie. He belonged to a very old and respected family and gained and retained the esteem and respect of all who knew him until the end.
His shadow will remain by the fishing brooks in the memory of the present generation of fishermen during their time.”
- This obituary was added as an edit. It came from a genealogy of my good friend Sharon O’Brien’s family. I read the original “finny tribe” and I had the epiphany I was of the Finney (my mother’s maiden name) tribe literally, metaphorically, and now literaturitively I realized I had to find a place in the story for it.
“And what do you think?’ asks he.
“I think it’s a bit bold, but it pales to the point that you need a death certificate and funeral, on account of the American is expecting to take one to the county seat and attend the other.”
“A death certificate! We don’t even have a doctor.” Shamus held his head in his hands, whether from consternation or libation, I wasn’t sure.
“The American does have a point,” said Donovan appearing out of the shadows in the back of the pub like the Green Man himself, “You can’t put a man in the ground without a death certificate.”
“So quick to bury me now!” Says Michael, his head wrapped in linen bandage. “In me fine casket I just paid for. I think I will be keeping me eyes on it just a while longer.”
“Well,” says I, “If you don’t go into the ground, then the American will want to go fishing. It buys us another day.”
“Actually two,” says Shamus looking at the mantle clock, “if we put him on a buggy instead of the train, he won’t get there until this evening. It will take him all day to do his business and get back.”
“At what expense to me dwindling sum? Soon, I’ll have less money than when we started.”
Say Donovan, “Well, there are the diggers, the Father saying kind words and impugning us to do better, the plot, and of course the stone.” He took out a pencil and a small notebook, “What would you be having above your brow for all eternity!”
“Ach!” Screamed Michael, “And how much is that?”
“Much figuring and scratching ensued, “well for a basic stone, we could do it for say 2 quid 25p?”
“A hundred and twenty-five? My dying is the best thing that ever happened to this town! Would you all loved me so much when I was alive I would’ve been swimming in beer and fishing every day.”
We looked around at each other. ‘Tis true that Michael had suddenly become very dear to us, and his success ours. My da’ always said, “If you want praise, die.”
“That’s settled then, a funeral tomorrow, but we need a death certificate, and how will we be producing that?” says I.
“It’ll have to be doc Byrne,” says Shamus.
“He’s as close to a doctor as we have, him having delivered half the men in this room and most of their babies,” he finally looked up from the table, “and being a bit short on account of some trouble at the races.”
“And now I’m covering the bets of a vet who cannot even properly fix a horse race, how ruined am I!”
“He’s a right proper fixer when he’s sober, it’s not like delivering a baby, there is an art to it,” says Shamus. “I imagine he could do it for say 3 pounds, it being an official document and all and there being significant risk…”
Michael looked at me, “Risk. And here I was going to solve all me problems and go fishing too. Now I’m dead and my estate wouldn’t fill me glass.” At which he looked so forlornly at his empty glass that I ordered us both another one, keeping Betty’s prudence in mind.
“I’ll see if the doc is up,” said Shamus.
8 Take the Bullet
And so an hour later we had Mr. Thompkins in a buggy with me driving, and thinking to not hurry back. Sean ran up, winked and tipped his cap to me, “I have just the thing for our sporting American chap. Can I recommend going by way of the Old Kings Hill?” It was a fine day, with blue sky and clouds like cotton puffs – none of which helped the mill wheel grinding in me head. The horse clip clopped along until we came around the side of Old Kings Hill and there we stopped with a dozen or so other carriages.
“What is this?” exclaimed John.
“How could I forget? A few of the boys are having a road bowling match today.”
“Yes, you take the bullet, a steel ball, and bowl it down the road. The person who gets to the next village with the fewest throws wins.”
“All the way to the next village?”
“All the way.”
“Six miles as the donkey walks.”
“And traffic waits?”
“Of course. It’s only polite. Otherwise it would take forever to finish a match.”
He looked at me his lips twisting in a grimace. Just then, he looked across the fields and noticed a train chugging along.
“I thought you said the trains had run?”
“Well, actually I said ‘you had missed the morning train.’”
“And that it would take all day to get to the county seat?”
“Well, yes, especially given that there was nothing else to do today, and road bowling along the way, and us in the buggy and all.”
“You don’t suppose I could jump down, run over, and wave that train down?”
“I suppose you could do all of that, but I would not have high hopes that it would stop.”
“On account of the importance of keeping to schedule and all.”
“We do take great pride in that.”
“I will take my chances.” With that, he grabbed his bag and hopped down from his seat, then ran off across the field waving his hat and hooting at the top of his lungs. I do suppose they stopped the train just to see what all of the fuss was about.
It did indeed take me all day to get to the county seat, but I managed to turn my pint money into a 20 pound note, thanks to a bookie who didn’t anticipate the impact of the wake on our local boy, Seano. He done me proud holding his head between bowls and twice visiting behind a tree but never leaving the match nor turning away refreshment. It was a shame, a real shame that he lacked the concentration to negotiate the curves at the base of the hill, trying to pitch across the bend thrice before he landed one on the road, might have been better if he’d stayed the course.
When I arrived, imagine my surprise to find Mr. Thompkins had completed his business and returned home on the evening train. It took me until near midnight to make it back, and the old horse sorely used.
It was going through my head the whole way home, the pub was closed and I was going to have to rouse the boys and tell them to get ready for the funeral after all, there was nothing for it. After that, I had not one single idea on what to do with this perplexing man. It was like catching a lamprey, every time we had a hold on him he pulled another surprise.
I pulled into the yard and there was me Betty on the porch, arms crossed in a way that said I had more to worry about than a cold dinner. At that moment I would have given the farm to trade places with my dead friend Michael. Excuses were ready to pour from me lips like whiskey at a wake, but I did not get the chance.
“Out prancing around and playing your little games with Michael are ye? Mr. O’Shaunessey,” says she, “you hold your drinking tolerably, and farm well enough that I don’t much harass ye, unlike many another woman in the valley.”
“But ever since you and that leprechaun Michael Kilkenny hatched that mad scheme, barely has a cow been milked or a fence mended on this farm, and you out half-kilt our only horse I see!”
“Aye, and nothing. Tonight your American friend and your daughter were arrested, arrested, for poaching, and are in gaol. You won’t be seeing the inside of this house until she is back in it, and maybe for a good long time after that.” With that she was in the house and me standing there with my hat in my hand.
I took Nell to the barn to curry and feed her. While I was nipping at a bottle of poitin I keep the stable for just such occasions and Paulie sneaks out to bring me a crust o’bread and cheese.
“Mr. Thompkins shows up here about supper time, oh you missed a good one, bacon and boiled cabbage, and says I’m looking for Bobby. She runs up to her room and gets changed. Seems there’s still hours of daylight and he wants to fish the ‘evening hatch’ and so out they go. The Lord himself caught them as he was out walking! He went to thump Bobby with his shillelagh, and him and Mr. Thompkins had fisticuffs over it. Liam snuck up behind him and laid Mr. Thomkins out, though he allows he was sorry to do it.”
I finished the crust while he was telling me the story, and my head was whirling like a leaf in a stream. The fraud exposed and me poor, dear Roberta ruined too! Me bones and brains almost as tired as each other, I sent him in lest he also incur his mother’s wrath and sat down on a hay bale with me bottle and that’s the last I remember.
9 Innocence is not Ignorance; Intent is not Guilt
That next morning the court was fuller than church on a Sunday. I was wringing my hands as me Bobby was brought in, still in hip boots, a trench coat, and a stocking cap. John Tompkins, Esquire didn’t look much better, in an old coat and slouch hat, with a purple bruise on his forehead. They looked like poachers sure as can be. There was a distinct murmur as they approached the bench. “John Thompkins, and Bobby O’Shaunessey, you are charged with trespassing and poaching on the waters of one Sire Roach. How plead ye?”
John held his hat in his hands and looked askance at Bobby who finally took her hat off and let her auburn mane free as it should be. I swallowed half in pride and half in fear. John looked at Bobbie and gave her a mighty wink, then looked at the judge and said, “Not guilty, your honor.”
“Not guilty?!” cried the Lord, “You were on my land, stealing my fish! Ignorance of the law is not innocence!”
“Silence!” said the judge. “This is not a pub. I will silence this court or see it emptied, do you understand?” He glowered at the room from under his wig.
“And what, sir, is your defense. Clearly you were caught red-handed.”
“If it may please the court, I am a solicitor in the states, and as I confirmed at the county seat yesterday, my heritage is in this community. I have researched this case. I would like to represent myself and my codefendant.” Bobby looked up at him with adoration she used to reserve for me.
Again, murmurs rose like an autumn storm in the room.
“The court is not pleased, but it will allow this for a time.” The judge’s wig had processed onto his face and we all looked aside as he replaced it. “Make your case.”
“I came here under the guise of fishing with one Michael Kilkenny who offered to guide me on the local beats, for which I paid the sum of £21. I would like to enter this receipt into evidence.”
“So be it.”
“That scoundrel, that poacher, that thief!” The Lord was fair apoplectic.
“Mr Roach,” warned the judge.
“Msr Kilkenny having died during my passage, I was told that I could not fish the beats as his license passed with him.”
“Michael Kilkenny was a thieving, lying, swindlous poacher who deceived you!” the Lord burst forth.
“Silence! You will get your turn, Mr. Roach.”
“As I was saying, Msr Kilkenny dying intestate and owing me a tidy sum, I placed a lien against it at the county seat yesterday.”
A collective gasp went up and people began shouting down his temerity on the day of mourning.
“Last warning! I will have you all put upon the street!”
“I have here the death certificate, and the lien.” Again, he handed them up to the judge.
“Sir, despite what he may have told you, Michael Kilkenny was a man of little worth, and ill repute. He most certainly did not own a beat. If you are trying to defend yourself through ignorance of the law and false contracts, I’m afraid I must agree with the prosecution and cannot rule for you.”
Here he looked to the back of the courtroom where Michael’s red shock was ill-hid by the bandage that wrapped his head and the slouch hat pulled down low over it.
“Ah, but that is not my defense at all.” He looked directly at the Lord. “I contest that that Michael Kilkenny did indeed have the rights to allow me and Miss Roberta water access,” here he reached over and removed the watch cap, unleashing her hair, and bowed most genteelly to my girl who covered her face with both hands in shame, “and therefore I seek redress for the ill treatment we have received, the fines the late Mr. Kilkenny has paid, and also seek fines for Mr. Roach fishing waters to which he has no rights.”
“The audacity!” The Lord was purple with rage. Michael was on the edge of his chair vibrating like a dog on point for something he wanted and could not have.
“For the last time! I will not have this in my court!” He pointed the gavel accusingly at Thompkins, “What is your reasoning sir?”
“Simply this,” he drew forth yet another document, “The assumption is that the person with the land rights also has the water rights. But,” here he gave dramatic pause, “per the Irish Act in 1877, the water rights were often sundered from the land rights, by heredity, or sold outright for profit.”
He presented yet another document. “Here I have a document where the original owner of the estate presented the water rights to his ghillie, just before he passed. That ghillie being Thomas Kilkenny, Michael Kilkenny’s father. When Mr. Roach took over the estate he fired said ghillie who was living out his declining years in the cottage, either not understanding or not caring about the severance of water rights, and took the waters as his own. But they were not, they passed to Michael on his father’s death.“
Here, he turned to Lord Roach. “If not knowing you are committing a crime is no defense, is meaning to commit a crime but failing to do so an offense? I maintain that Michael’s inviting me to fish here, whether he knew it or not, was legal: making our contract a binding contract.”
At this point, the courtroom exploded, and the judge did clear it excepting myself and a few other interested parties. The poor, dear, departed Michael Kilkenny being relegated to the street.
When it was all quiet, the judge begged him to continue, “Him dying and me being his largest debt owner, I also put lien against his holdings.” Like a magician he pulled yet another thick sheaf of papers out of his leather case, and handed them over to the judge, who mumbled to himself as he looked them over.
“Sir, you have my interest, and as your documentation appears sound, you may continue.”
“At this point, may I ask Sir Roach to take the stand?”
I looked at the windows and could see faces pressed against them. The Judge met my eye, “Oh, Blarney! Open the windows, but shut them if the wind is too loud!”
The Lord took the stand, looking like he just swallowed the Christmas goose entire.
“And sir, how often do you reckon you fish your land?”
“At least twice a week, in season,” says he, thrusting his chin up.
“That being about six months a year?”
“That be,” says he.
“And for how many years would that be?”
“Nigh on 25.”
The judge intervened. “Mr. Thomkins, I have given you leeway, but please, what is the point of your inquisition?”
“Sire, I reckon it like this: 25 years, times six months a year, times four weeks a month, times twice a week, times at least one guest per outing equals 25x6x4x2x2 = 2400 times the lord and company have fished these beats, does that seem correct?”
There was various scratchings going on with the judge conferring with his staff. “That does seem correct, sir.”
“And does that seem correct to you, sir?” John addressed the Lord.
“I would never have guessed it, but when you do the math, that does seem about right.”
“And for each such similar encroachment on your ‘rights’ over the years you have prosecuted Michael Kilkenny for £20 each?”
“The ones I caught him for, yes.”
“But the record shows that he was not trespassing nor poaching, but only exercising his birthright. Sir, at £20 per episode, per your own admission, you would owe him £48,000, excluding interest and the fines he’s paid over time.”
The lord turned to the judge. “This is preposterous! I had no idea the water rights did not come with the land rights! £48,000 plus interest would ruin me!”
John Thompkins leaned in and said, “Sir, I remind you that in your own words, ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse.’ Further, as lien holder against his estate, rather than us,” And here he included me Bobby, “owing you, it is you who owe us.” He turned to the judge, “Finally,” He presented yet more paperwork, “as the lienholder on the Kilkenny estate, I do hereby have a lien for the manor house and all surrounding lands. I rest my case.”
The wind of uproar was mighty indeed and the windows were closed again.
10 Dig Him Up to Bury Him
What with all that paperwork, and closing arguments and getting Bobby home and all, it wasn’t until the next day I caught up with Michael in the pub.
“And so, with the Lord trading on American currency and the crash in the market, he was wiped out. As poor as you! He couldn’t pay the American’s lien, and he’s in such dire arrears on the estate. Mr. Thompkins picked it up for back taxes!”
“Oh, me head. All those years of poaching me own water, and I finally make some money off of it, but not until I die!”
At that moment Mr. Thompkins walked into the bar. “I would like to buy the house a round,” says he. When we had our pints snuggled tight to us he looks around the bar. Poor Michael so forlorn he could not raise his head up. “I would like to toast to poor, dead Michael Kilkenny: he was a wastrel, a liar, and a thief, but all because he was accused of something he was not. No poacher was he! Just a simple fisherman, like the rest of us. In the end, he went to Hell robbed of his true volition. Let that no man here shall suffer such a fate. To Justice!” There were many askance glances at such a toast, but eventually, every pint met its fate.
“Were only I could buy the poor bloke a pint and slake what must be a terrible thirst.” He bought another round and the crowd began to warm up to him. “Well,” says he. I would like to finish my trip out with a rod in my hand.” And he looks at me, “Do you think I could fetch Bobby around?” I allowed as that might be. He left the pub and we all followed him back to my place, me sending one of the boys ahead. Our little procession grew as we wound through town till it fair swelled to fill me yard.
I would like to say I was surprised, but I was not, when she met us standing on the porch in her bright yellow dress with her hands on her hips, just the way her dear mother met me coming home not two days before, and me still sleeping in the barn.
“Can I help ye?” she says.
“I’m looking for you, Bobby.”
“Well, Mr. you find him. Her.” She lost just a little composure. “Would you be wanting my services?”
He looked her up and down, a bemused smirk on his face. “That I would. Bobby O’Shaunnessey. Would you agree with the court that committing a crime and having no knowledge of it is still a crime?”
She crossed her arms “That I might, but what is your fancy lawyer talk good for here on me front porch?”
“And here I am spending the night with you in jail, thinking you a lad, but all along you being a proper lass.” He looked around, “I do believe I have ruined your reputation in a most incontrovertible way.”
“Mr Thompkins!” The cry went up from her and was echoed throughout the crowd.
“And while I might plead innocent of knowing, would you not agree that still it happened and you are due your redress?”
Clearly flummoxed, Bobby sought to take the advantage offered nevertheless. “I do at that!”
John Thompkins pursed his lips and put a finger to them. “What to do? What to do? How does one restore a maid’s honor?” He paced back and forth in front of the porch, looked around the crowd, and then snapped his fingers as if a thought just occurred to him. And then the most amazing thing of all the amazing things that week happened. The gentleman reaches into his suit and pulls out a little box, gets down on his knee and asks her right there in front of the whole town if she would marry him and run the manor house. Her that was rolling in the mud and sent her brother off wearing that very same dress not a week ago. Her that was slapping pints down on the bar and went to jail for poaching. When me Bobby said “Yes.” and jumped off the porch into his arms me eyes started leaking like an old firkin. That solved me sleeping in the barn, which was good as the poitin was gone.
“This calls for a drink!” Says somebody, obviously keen to take advantage of my momentary weakness, so back to the pub we went, me waiting just long enough to collect the missus who gave me a “Harumph!” but came along nevertheless leaking her own self.
John Thompkins and Roberta walk in first and there is Michael sitting on his stool, as sad a man as ever I did see. You would have to dig him up to bury him.
“Mr. Kilkenny,” says the American, and Michael’s head popped up like a bobber freed from a log, “One would think a dead man would have the sense to use the bar mirror, lest his debtors come due.”
Michael’s hand shot to his bandaged ear. “Debtors?”
“You have failed to provide services. You set out to defraud me. You still owe me a week of fishing, lest you have 500 quid on you?”
Michael looked up at the American and pulled one 5p note out of his pocket. “What with the wake, and the funeral, the death certificate, the room and board, the bar bills, and other sundry expenses, this is all I have left of me grand scheme.” And here he handed it over to the lawyer. John took the crumpled bill and looked at it.
“Are you saying that after a week of drinking, feasting, fishing, and lying about in a new bed, you still pulled a pure profit of a fiver? That seems like a recipe for honest work if you could get it!”
Kilkenny looks over at him, his brow darkening and his fist balling.
He slaps the five down on the bar, “Twere me, I’d run that ad again. Probably poach that river dry right under the new Lord’s nose. With all of those sunk costs next time around you should make a tidy sum. And being dead and all, you don’t even need to pay taxes.” Then they looks at each other and starts to laugh and laugh. John paid Michael back all of the “fines” collected from the Lord. Him saying that the money was for Michael, but that the house was for Bobby because only a daft fool or an evil bastard would not know she was a wee lass, even dressed as a boy in the dead of night, and nobody raises a cudgel to a wee lass when John Thompkins is around.
After that, Michael set himself up a right fancy business with all of John’s suit friends from New York. John and Bobby put them up at the manor house, and the best thing is, they all put the fish back for the next guy, Michael not even having to ask. On account of that, he lets them fish however they want.
Turns out Michael Kilkenny dying was about the best thing that ever happened to this town, and dead men don’t have taxes nor bar bills neither. In fact, the judge showed up and says, he thought he would fish the beats on occasion, just to make sure Michael stayed dead and all, and nobody came around to collect his bills. John and Michael scratched their heads but had not much to say to that.
On cold nights I do sometimes go over and help Michael haunt the old ghillie’s cottage with only a jug of poitin and the wind to tell witness to our lies. If that’s Hell, the other side doesn’t look so bad at all.
Appendix – Writing Historical Fiction
I recently started serializing a novelette I’m working on, Michael Kilkenny’s Wake. This is probably the scariest story I’ve ever written; not for you, for me. Certainly on some fronts the most ambitious. They say “write what you know.” Well I know a little bit about fly fishing, and I know a little bit about Ireland, but I don’t know much about fly fishing in Ireland, especially in 1937! 1937 equates to the “Golden Age” of fly fishing. I did do enough research to tie the story all together, and may have compressed history just a little, so if you find egregious errors please let me know. At one time I had an annotated copy of the story with references, but I’m not finding it now.
Around this time there was a lot of innovation in Atlantic salmon fly patterns on both side of the ocean, as well as new techniques developed both in the UK and in America for different species and conditions. The story relies on this to create some tension between the characters. Even in 1937, conservation was a topic, one that still much concerns me and I have not failed to make small mention of it here. Also, without giving too much away, there were changes in Irish House of Lords and heredity in the late 1800s that the story uses, with many of the Great Houses being sold off, and of course the Great Depression was still in force in America, with the Great Recession of 1937 playing a role in the story. Three “Greats” in one sentence, this must be a blockbuster!
The Use of Dialect
Two things especially concern me. The first is that I wrote this in dialect. Well psuedo-dialect. Many people say never to do this, and yet many famous writers do it all the time. The danger is here is great. If, say, you were to write about the American South and wanted to write dialect, you better have a good idea of the state, and perhaps even the county. Likewise, if you are writing about New Yorkers, you better know which borough. In fact, you would use it specifically to contrast your charactuers. Last I was in Ireland, I was 17, and if you gave me a couple of Guinnesses (Guinni?) I would have an instant brogue, now not so much. Heck, if you asked me to mimic a Vermont or New Hampshire accent (the places where I was born and grew up, respectively), I couldn’t do it. This is compounded by the fact that I was very non-specific about which part of Ireland this takes place in. Of course, you want to write characters and not caricatures, even in a farce, so I relied on a few simple devices rather than try to capture the entirety of the dialect (e.g. “me” for “my” which Liam O’Flattery uses and so I’m okay with it). What I really wanted to capture is the way the Irish can turn a phrase. I still remember my grandmother saying “It’s colder than Greenland’s mountain out there.” And you knew exactly what she meant. Unlike many of the other places in the world where they speak English, even as a second language (I think here of my Russian friend Mikhail and my many Indian coworkers), Americans speak English with neither lyricism nor poetry. Please forgive me as I stretch for this goal.
On a final note on dialect, I will say that as my writing progresses, and I hope it’s progressing, I’ve come more to “see” my stories like little movies in my head. In my head, when this story first told itself to me, it was 1937, and this is how the people talked. If it was a movie, you certainly would expect dialect. I’m going to trust the story to tell itself on this one, until I get an editor.
Irish Currency as a Plot Point
My second concern is, again without giving too much away, is the use of money. British money has always been a bit mysterious to me. Right when the story was written £13 Irish Sterling equaled £12 British. The Irish would go to their own pound the next year, 1938, another good reason to set it in ’37 and avoid further complication. Coupled with that, one pound (also a “quid”) equals 20 shillings, equals 240 pence. Then of course there is the farthing, 1/4 of a penny, 1/960th of a pound. I hope I don’t offend my Irish friends when I say that having both multiples of ten and twelve in the same denomination is just a trifle confusing, but shall we say oh, so quaint. (They eventually went to “decimalization” in 1969, about when we went to the Metric System, and I can only hope they were more successful than we were.)
Researching a specific currency at a specific time is non-trivial. I did find that the pound in 1937 converted to today’s Euro would be, roughly £1=€2500, which is also (roughly) how much a week of fly fishing at a manor house would cost you today. But it just doesn’t seem right for it to be only a pound in the story and I doubt the accuracy of the conversion. So I took a different tack. To solve it, I used a trick I used to use bumming around Europe before the Euro came about. We’d get off the train, go to the McDonalds that was guaranteed to be in sight, figure out how much a Big Mac was in local currency compared to dollars (we never once actually ate that crap), and use that ratio to base our valuation of every other thing we bought. So if a Big Mac is 3 clamshells and it’s $1.50 at home, a $1 cup of coffee at home should cost around 2 clamshells. And it turns out there is actually a “Big Mac Index” so we weren’t so stupid! Now I’m creating a Guinness index as the money Michael charges John is the plot hinge for the story. So if a pint is 10d (10 “old pence” before the currency change), how much is a room? Etc. It runs throughout the story. Since a pint of Guinness was 10d then and today runs about $5 here at home, I’m simply scaling up from there.
So if a pint was 10d, then it would work like this.:
240 d/£ ÷ 10d/pint = 24 pints/£.
To use the Guinness Index we would convert that to today’s US dollars like this:
$5/pint x24 pints/£ = $120 (2013)/£ (1937).
One pound from 1937 is worth $120 today, not $2400. Which I’m going to say is good enough for literary work lacking any other direction. So a trip that would cost $2500 today, would be $2500/$120/£ ~21 £. It still seems very low to my eyes, but it’s the very best I can do at the moment. I’m going to think of a pound note as roughly a $100 bill. Again, all corrections to egregious errors much appreciated.
On a side note to this, you may ask, “How did you figure out the price of a pint of Guinness in Ireland in 1937?” Well, I’m glad you did. I emailed Guinness and their archivist had the answer for me in 24 hours. Seriously? How freaking cool is that? Go buy a pint of Guinness simply for having the best customer service of any company I’ve ever heard of.
There was one last concern, fishing literature is rich with poaching tales. I was first exposed to them in the Fireside Book of Fishing Tales, which I took from my parents’ library and read one summer. This book probably made me a fly fisherman, and a romantic. So, I wanted to write a poaching tale, but it came to me as a farce. Just one problem: I’d never written a farce. Writing funny is hard. Really, really hard, But farces have a certain formula. So I did some research on this, too. Per the dictionary:
a. A light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect.
In theatre, a farce is a comedy that aims at entertaining the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humor of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases, culminating in an ending which often involves an elaborate chase scene. Farces are often highly incomprehensible plot-wise (due to the large number of plot twists and random events that often occur), but viewers are encouraged not to try to follow the plot in order to avoid becoming confused and overwhelmed. Farce is also characterized by physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances. Farces have been written for the stage and film. Furthermore, a farce is also often set in one particular location, where all events occur.
Other sources I’ve read say they must include a murder and gender confusion. (Oh, oh, looks like I need a chase scene…Good thing I serialized it!) Many people cite Frasier as having some of the best modern farces, so for two years I have been recording reruns and watching them. Like all of the other issues here, if there is anybody with suggestions for punching it up, I’m all ears. I’m simply not that funny of a guy, at least on purpose, and again my reach may have exceeded my grasp. Rhonda? Spasari? Hoffman? Where are you?
Off to do some math and write a chase scene, thank you very much for reading along.
P.S. Who Are You and Where are You From?
WordPress gives me these awesome reports and I can see how people find me, where they live, how they found the blog, what pages they visited. I see people from Europe, Asia, South America, and I always wonder who they are. I would love to get comments from you! Kind of like a WordPress stamp album.