Draft:: Michael Kilkenny’s Wake

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 against the heath. Evening time – afternoon time if you were to be exact – was pub time. 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 and eye and perhaps a few bits of feather onto the most likely beats.

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 we was a wee boy acting ghillie to his da’ [JBT1] did he ever pass by a dark pool without sinister intent. If the salmon were not in, he would not deign[JBT2]  to stoop as low as a 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 breem and not so much as drop his head. 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 precurring[JBT3]  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, his words, 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’[JBT4] s ear.

“Did you hear,” says he “that the laird is taking off for the month of June[JBT5] .”

“Taking off?” says I.

“Ah, yes, to England. Some business to attend to.”

“And how be knowing you the affairs of the laird? Is it now that you are his secretary, and have you learned to write beyond your name?”

Seano puffed out his chest. “I know my 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, red and meaty on his stool by the fire.

“No, ‘tis not the laird’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 red man-angry to red boy-embarrassed, and we all let out a merry laugh.

“Here’s to 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 [JBT6] of the story when a thought occurred to me.

“Michael, do be telling me nought that you are thinking the laird’s absence might mean the better fishing for you.” My nephew Liam had recently received employment for the laird, 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.

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 Betsy is a wise woman who puts a little a way so that once or twice a week I can pull a mug without giving her a lie about it. So it was about a week before I saw Michael again. When I saw him[JBT7] , 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 pine 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. Five hundred pounds, room and board included. [JBT8] Payment on Demand.

“Are you mad?”

“Do you think it’s too much?” he asked. “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.”

“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 land. I’m just recouping me investment with some additional interest.”

“How will you get away with it? Everybody 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?”

“Three hundred quid. Me fine is 25 quid. Room and board at the Widow’s will be twelve quid, leaving for my living expenses exactly 163 quid. How much will the farm make in June?”

I sputtered and thought vainly for some method beyond logic to convince him otherwise.

“But Liam…”

“Liam has the biggest bill here at Gentleman Johnny’s. Surely that’s why he took the job. 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.”

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.”

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 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” 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.”


 [JBT1]Make his dad the laird’s ghillie

 [JBT2]Wrong word

 [JBT3]

 [JBT4]Shamus.

 [JBT5]Irish fishing season.

 [JBT6]Used 2x

 [JBT7]Transition

 [JBT8]Price? Location?

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