Archive for April, 2012

The old ones

Posted: April 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

Many years ago, a bunch of my friends went to Galway in the west of Ireland for a long weekend.  There was a woman in the Hotel who was reading cards for people.  The lads, being tanked up decided to act the fool with the woman and made a bit of a laugh out of her.  The woman, annoyed and upset, placed a curse on them.  The lads laughed but one of them, years later, confided in me that he often thought about it and it worried him.  Inspired by their adventure, here’s a little story that my over active imagination has made up about curses and the like, hope you enjoy.

The Old Ones

I was coming back from a meeting, it had gone on for hours, it had gone badly.  I had a 3 hour drive ahead of me and was dreading every minute of it.  Replaying what had happened, trying to find pointless solutions to an already destroyed plan.  “We simply don’t have the money to proceed” was all they could say, “maybe in another 2 or 3 years”.  This was my last chance though, this was make or break, no way back for me, if this didn’t happen now, I had no way out but the boat or the plane.

I was ambling along the road when up ahead I spotted an old man holding out his thumb. “Fuck it”, I thought, “maybe he’ll butcher me and I’ll have no more problems”.

I pulled in just ahead of him, flicked on my hazard lights and waited for him to reach the car.  “Where are you headed” I asked when he opened the door.  “The other side of Athlone” he said. “Hop in” I replied, “at least one of us is having some luck today”

He was old but it was hard to but an age on him, he wore a lovely tweed suit and overcoat, a Trilby hat at just the right angle, his brown shoes were shinned to a sparkle and he carried a walking stick.  The walking stick was more for show or habit though as I had noticed when he jogged up to the car, he certainly wasn’t unsteady on his feet.

“I’ve been to visit the younger brother” he said, “he’s not feeling too well, he was always the sick one in the family, although at 87 he’s not doing too bad”.  “So your brother is 87 and younger than you, how old are you then” I asked.  “91 last month” was his reply.  “Well you’re certainly in great shape” I said, “long may it continue”.

“It’s a fair old trot from the far side of Athlone”, I said, “How did you get here?”  “Oh I hitched the same as now” he replied.

We chatted as we drove along, usual stuff, the weather, the state of the country, you know yourself.  About 20 miles further on he pointed out an old ruined cottage in off the road and said, “That was my Grandmothers cottage”.  “Wow, pretty old” I responded, “Did you know her well?”  “ Ah I was raised there, my mother died after the youngest was born, and the grandmother took us in, four bothers, mad as cats, don’t know how she did it really, a great woman she was”.

“How did the house get so run down”, I asked.

He went on to tell me. “The man who owned the land wanted to knock the cottage down, he did with many of the cottages around here, he wanted to turn all the tenant small holdings into one big farm, he died before he could do it though.  His son was a drunk and pissed away all the money shortly afterwards.  I don’t know who owns all this land now”

“Where you and your brothers still living there?” I asked

“No, two of us had gone to America, meself and Tom, Peter had gone to Australia, and Davy had gotten married and gone to work his father-in-laws farm, that’s who I was with.  My name is Liam by the way”

“Please to meet you Liam”, I said and I told him my name.

“She was a witch woman you know” he said

I shifted in my seat. “What do you mean”, I asked

“Just as I said, she was a witch woman”

“What, like the wizard of Oz, wicked witch of the west type stuff?”

“No, although she could place a curse, that’s what happened to the landowner.  She made her living from witching”

“OK” I said, “You’re going to have to explain that to me”

“Well, she could make medicine from plants she grew or found in the fields.  If a cow wasn’t milking, hens weren’t laying or a ewe wasn’t lambing, she could give them medicine or cast a spell.  People came from miles around, even from Dublin and once from London to get her help. She made a living from it, because everything she did worked”

I was trying to look at him and keep an eye on the road.  He was obliviously either winding me up or was completely off his trolley.

“Ah, I don’t expect anyone your age to understand or believe it, but it’s true. There are more things going on than we can ever see, some people see them.  My grandmother could and she could use what she saw and could ask the Old Ones for advice and help”

I thought to myself; “Ah for fuck sake, no good deed goes unpunished, I give this old geezer a lift and he turns out to be wandering loon number one, just what I bleeding need”

“There’s a pub just up the road there”, he said, “I’d love a pint, if you’re not in a hurry, I’ll repay the lift with a drink”

Now I have to admit this sounded like a great idea to be honest.  Go into the pub, excuse myself after a minute to go to the bathroom and then do a runner and high tail it away from Gandalf the tweedy.

We went into the pub and he ordered a large bottle of Guinness and a Jemmy chaser, I being the law abiding citizen as always Guard, had a coffee.  Sticking to plan, I excused myself and headed for the bathroom.  Instead of turning left when I came out though and getting the hell of Dodge, I turned right and sat back down at the bar with my new geriatric and crazy friend.  He smiled as I sat down and said “Ah glad you didn’t go”; I flushed red and smiled as I nodded back to him.

“So”, I said, “tell me more about this witch woman”

We, well at least he, talked for hours.  Long enough for the barman to call time.  He told me about how his grandmother had healed bodies, minds and souls.  How she would light different colour candles on different nights of the year, bring different flowers and crops into the house at different times of the year.  Mend the wings and legs and snare wounds of different animals.  How even the local doctor would sometimes call for her help and shake his head incredulously when her medicine worked and all of his medical expertise did not.  About how women in labour insisted that she be present at the birth, much to the annoyance of the matronly and perpetually irritated local midwife.  About how the new Priest had read her out from the Alter one Sunday but had never mentioned her again when she had spoken to him after the Mass.  Instead he would always bow his head a little when he passed her and even once called to the house in the dead of night  to ask her help.  When she died, he cried the hardest at her funeral and long after the brothers had all gone, it was the Priest who left flowers on her grave every week after Sunday Mass.

“So it was all good stuff”, I said, “apart from the poor old landowner that is”

“Oh, well it depended.  Most people are good at heart, they ask for help and it’s fairly and sometimes freely given.  Some people though; the old ones know who they are and they’re just waiting for someone to ask for them to get they’re comeuppance.  It all depends though, in old times, people; some people, knew about things, it’s all forgotten now, but they are still there, all around us, waiting to be spoken too, waiting to be asked”

We headed back to the car and got headed along the road.  Liam told me about his life, his own family, and his travels.  Eventually, having passed a bend in the road, Liam told me that the lane up ahead was his stop.  To be honest my heart sank a little, I had an hour and a half to go from here and I was enjoying the company, more than I ever thought I would.  I pulled over at the top of the lane and Liam got out, I got out myself to stretch my legs.  He came around to the drivers side, reached out his hand and I took it, shaking it warmly.  There was something in my hand when he took his away, an ancient old Irish Twenty pound note.  “I can’t take this” I said, “Please take it back”.  “It’s not for payment son he said, it’s for luck, keep it in your wallet and you’ll never be short of money” he smiled and headed off down the lane.  I lit a smoke and listened in the dark night air to his heels clicking down the lane and his walking stick tapping a rhythm.

I got home about half two, the house was quiet, all asleep, I kissed the kids and pulled their duvets up under there chins.  My wife asked if I was OK.  I kissed her too and told her I would be up in a minute.  I knew I wouldn’t sleep but heated some milk and sat at the kitchen table.  Tomorrow would be a day for decisions, what next being the main one.  Everything here was in the swamp, America, Canada the lands down under beckoned.  A momentary rage passed through my mind, neither I nor any of my friends or family had destroyed the country, why should we have to pay the price for it, why should we have to leave and let those responsible off the hook?

I thought about Liam and his grandmother.  The old ones all around us, waiting to be asked.  A curse I thought, grant me a curse.  She was overall a good woman but occasionally, she placed a curse, hey, we’re all prone to the dark side as Yoda would say, or maybe he’d say “To the dark side, many of us are prone”.  So I sat and thought, tiredness enveloping me and anger simmering away.  I figured it needed to be “ye olde” type words, to show the old ones proper respect. I sat and I thought and finally found the words that I at least was happy with, my curse upon those who screwed my country……..

“In the ancient traditions of my people, I call upon the old ones, to place a curse upon the heads of the destroyers of my country.  That they may be exiled to the dark and never know the light.  That they may only know grief and never joy.  That they may ever know toil and never rest. That their hunger may never be sated nor their thirst quenched.  That they may never know peace nor love until their debt be settled.”

Yeah, hokum probably, but who really knows, can’t do any harm…………..can it?


He’s done it again, written an Album of songs that says so much about the times we live in. The unofficial poet laureate of the working classes, the put down, the fucked over, the dis-enfranchised, has said what I at least as a fully paid up member of all of the above groups needed someone to say.  I know full well that Bruce Springsteen is a very wealthy man, “a rich man in a poor mans shirt” as he says himself.  But he is the only one of my heroes who has stayed a hero to me since I was 13 and walking out of Golden Discs in Crumlin Shopping centre, birthday money spent and the “Born to Run” Album in glorious Vinyl under my arm.

In those 30 years since I bought that album and with all the albums in between he has always sang thoughts and feelings that I was too inarticulate to express.  He made me feel that the experiences of growing up on the shores of the Great state of New Jersey were not that far removed from the, (if not not mean, then slightly dodgy), streets of Drimnagh and Crumlin in South Dublin.  His songs have always been songs of redemption, anger, sometimes despair but above all……..HOPE, HOPE, HOPE.  Yes you may be in the shit, your baby may have left you, you may be headed on a down bound train, the future maybe clouded to you but there is always a new day coming, “sure as the rising Sun” and that new day will bring new chances, new hope.

I am lucky enough to be in a position to go see Bruce and the lads when he visits Dublin this July.  It will be my 16th. time to see him live.  If I hadn’t been in that position, to be honest, I would have begged, borrowed or stolen the money to get to see him.  Its that important to me.  I read a blog yesterday suggesting that Springsteen was a modern Prophet, I’m not an expert on such matters but if that means that with words and music, a man can lift the hearts and souls of those you wish to listen, if that means that a person can inspire hope in the way a religion is supposed to, then maybe he is a Prophet.  The entire E-Street band, if Bruce is a Prophet, are his disciples, they help spread the word.  That’s why I need to go, to hear the word.

I wonder what it will be like this time without the Clarence, sad and different I know. When Danny died, there was a difference, now with the BIGMAN gone there will be a BIG difference, no mind loosing sax solo on Jungleland, no voice the depth of the abyss.  When Clarence died, I cried, perhaps silly to shed tears for a man I never met but how could you not when he has been a huge part of your life, his contribution was perhaps nothing more than to ensure my musical well-being, but I guess you know now how important that is to me.

I know I have oft described Bruce as my personal Messiah, sometimes as a joke, more often as the truth, it’s not a man crush:-) in fairness he’s as ugly as sin:-), I make no apology, its hero worship, plain and simple.