O’Toole and His Bag of Gold

This one is for the coming St. Paddy’s Day on Tuesday. So have a Guinness and enjoy:

If you’re Irish, you’ve heard all sorts of tales about the leprechauns. This was one of the strangest that ever came my way.

The one-eyed leprechaun, O’Toole, was an old warrior who’d seen more than his share of battles. He was tired of all the war and very little of being left in peace. In his younger days, there wasn’t a tussle he wouldn’t go out of his way to find. He’d been in so many scraps he’d come to be known by the others of his breed as especially mean-tempered. And many of these quarrelsome altercations he’d fought were in defense of what was rightfully his, his precious bag of gold.

Yet here it was a fine spring day in the Glen of Cloongallon, and there was another Irishman slogging along on the path below O’Toole’s hidden green cottage, and he’d come looking for trouble. Of that, the leprechaun was sure. As sure as Patrick was the patron saint of Ireland, he was wanting the leprechaun’s gold. And he was loud, so loud he could be heard all the way to Dublin and back. They were always noisy, these greedy knuckleheaded humans after his treasure. There was not getting around it. O’Toole and his solitude was not to be left alone

Though his muscles ached and he wasn’t as young as he used to be, O’Toole, being O’Toole, couldn’t let a challenge like this go by the wayside. He set aside his pipe and his hammer and the shoe he’d been working on and rose from his wooden chair. He took a quick gulp from a mug of poteen, strapped on his short sword and stepped through the cottage door.

He looked to the sky and sure enough there was a rainbow. He walked past the hawthorn, the ash, and the blackthorn hedges and between the chestnuts toward the man. He was a tall muscular man, all dressed in green, with a shillelagh in his right hand. He called himself Darcy and he stood by the six large standing stones. The leprechaun stopped aways off from the man. Then he drew his sword.

“What is it ye’ll be wanting, Muscles?” O’Toole called.

“I’ll be a-needing yer gold, Leprechaun,” Darcy answered. “Where there’s a rainbow, there must be a leprechaun and his gold.”

“Me? A leprechaun?” O’Toole laughed. “There’s no fairy folk here.”

“That’s not what I’m a-believing. I would be a-guessing ye’re one of the wee people yer own self, tain’t ye?”

“I’m a-telling ye none of the folk ye’re seeking are here in the meadow.” O’Toole swung his sword twice.

“I been chasing that there rainbow for a dozen or so years and here’s the end of it, right here in yer parlor. Ye’re not denying it, are ye?”

“It’s not me parlor. I just happened along.”

Darcy laughed as he pounded the end of the shillelagh against his left palm.

“Be that or not, I’ll be taking yer gold, and I’ll be taking it now.” Darcy started toward O’Toole.

“What will it be worth to ye? Yer own sweet life?”

“That and all me ancestors, as well.” Darcy continued to advance.

“Stop there, or it’s yer head. There’s many a headless chucklehead walking around in this dale. Here ye’ll be one more ghost for the banshees to chase.”

“Ye think ye’ll be about to keep yer head out of the way of me shillelagh?” Darcy asked as he stopped and reflected upon the circumstances that he and O’Toole found themselves in.

“Club or no, ye’ll be a dead chucklehead.”

Darcy raised his stick and O’Toole raised his sword. The two stood there eye to eye and waiting. The leprechaun knew he could defeat the chucklehead before him, but what was the point? He was tired and his muscles ached and there would be others. There were always others. There was no stopping them. As much as he loved his gold, it was a curse. O’Toole lowered his sword.

“So, ye wants me gold? And ye’re about to die for it.”

“Live or die, it’ll be mine.”

“And yer ancestors, knuckle-brain?”

“They’ll die for it too.”

O’Toole sheathed his sword and reached behind himself. When he turned back toward Darcy, he had a large bag of gold in his hand. He dropped it into Darcy’s palm. Then he said, “Take the gold and all the troubles that will beseech ye because of it.”

With that, the old leprechaun turned and walked away happy.

The Hound of Culann

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, here is an Irish tale. It is based on “Táin Bó Cúalnge”. In English, that’s The Cattle Raid of Cooley.

The Blood of Cu Chulainn

In the long long ago days before Patrick came to the Emerald Isle, before the Holy Man chased the snakes away, before the Blessed Saint converted the Irish folk away from their pagan ways, there was a mighty mighty man. Mightier than Hercules of the Romans and the Greeks, Mightier than Thor of the Norsemen. Mightier than Paul Bunyan.

His name was Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann. Known by some as The Cuke. For one thing, it was easier to pronounce. For a t’other, the mighty mighty man had a tendency to run amucksky from time to time. His amucksky was enough to throw the Incredible Hulk into a corner, crying for his mommykins. That’s how badass The Cuke was.

Now that we’ve met our hero, it’s time to meet the Villain. Notice I capitalize Villain. Her name was Medb, but we’ll call her Maeve. Take Catwoman, stir in a dose of Mystique, throw in a dollop of Bella Lestrrange, then toss in a dollop of Morgan Le Fay, and you’ve got Maeve.

Being bested in a contest could get her dander up. She did not take lightly to losing. Take the time she was runner-up for Miss Teenage Celt of Ireland. Miss Teenager Celt dropped dead the day after her coronation. Everybody said it was poison but they couldn’t prove it. There was no CSI in those days.

Before that, she was supposed to be Paris’ lady love. Maeve was none to happy that he ran off with Helen. Maybe that was why Troy ended up the way Troy ended up. And when Arthur came calling, then change his mind and went after Guinevere. Well, it was bye-bye-Miss-American-Pie for Camelot. As you can see, Maeve was used to getting her way. When it came to Maeve, it was like Nancy Sinatra sang. You didn’t want to go messing where you shouldn’t be messing. Just ask her four husbands. After all, she was the daughter of the High King of Ireland.

One night, after playing a game of frisky with her fourth husband, Ailill, King of Cannaucht, the two got into an argument of who had the bestest–and the mostest–stuff. Laughing, she said, “I’ll show you.” So they jumped out of bed and had their servants bring all their treasures to the Great Hall: silver buckets, golden pots, rings, jewelry, sheep, horses and pigs. People were really into livestock in those days.

When they got to cattle, Maeve turned up one bull short. That just wouldn’t do. There was no way that the daughter of the High King was going to be one bull short.

Now she figured that since she was one bull short, why not get the best bull. She decided she wanted Donn Cualinge, The Brown Bull of Cualinge. But he was up in Ulster. There was nothing to do but go and get him. Unfortunately, the bull was guarded by none other than The Cuke.

Maeve called in all the favors owed her and Ailill. She sent messengers to the Four Counties. “We’re going to war.”

To ready herself, she gave her fashion designer, and all-around good dress maker, a hoot and a holler. He was someone who had dressed queens from one end of the planet to the other. You name the princess and he’d done her get-up. Now Maeve needed some get-up and go for her ownself. And she was about to get it. He had saved his best work for Maeve. After all, his blood bled green. “I have just the thing for you, dahling,” he said.

And it was just the thing. A silver helmet that left her long red hair free to flow in the wind. Golden armor that reflected the sun, and yet revealed the physicality of her physicality. In it, her curves had curves.

And the piece de resistance was her makeup. Her makeup artist painted her face with such war paint that it could’ve scare the bejeesus out of Hades. She looked her best kick butt. And, of course, her chariot was the Ferari of Chariots from none other than Chariots Ellite. It was the latest CE-337.

She seated herself beside her driver, then the chariot pulled out in front o her army. With her green eyes ablaze with war, she commanded, “On to Ulster.” Away she went, leading her troop to war. As they made their way through the countryside, people lined the roads to watch the parade go by.

Since every war needs a theme song, her men marched onward, singing, “Faigh scuab agus nigh do chuid fiacia.” Translated, it meant “Get a brush and clean your teeth.” Maeve was way ahead of her time when it came to hygiene. She showered twice a day. She’s the one who came up with “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

Guiding the way to Ulster was Fergus mac Roich. Once upon a time he was King of Ulster, but no more. Though he was on the outs with the current king of Ulster, he was still buddy-buddy with The Cuke. He secretly did a Paul Revere and sent his friend a message, “The Irish are coming, the Irish are coming.” Then he led the queen here, there and everywhere, but not to Ulster. To give his friend time to prepare.

“Fergie, what are you trying to do, Big Boy?” Maeve asked with her best Mae West. “Why’s it taking so long?”

“Well,” Fergus answered, “it’s a long way to Tipperary.”

“We’re not going to Tipperary.”

“That’s not what your husband told me.”

Ailill defended himself. “I didn’t say Tipperary. I said temporary. We’re going to Ulster, you goof.”

“Don’r call me a goof. Apologize or I’ll have you for lunch.”

Not wanting to distract from the current campaign, Ailill apologized.

“Just watch it,” Fergus said.

Queen Maeve was tired of the tit for tat. “We’re going to Ulster, and you are a goof.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Fergus asked. “Ulster’s that way. At least, I think it is. Without the gps, I’m not for certain.”

“You’re just trying to put things off,” Maeve said. “Now let’s get to it before I turn you into a frog.”

“You can do that?” Fergus wanted to know.

“You bet your sweet booties. Now on to Ulster.”

“Would you like to go  the secret way? That way we’ll get the Bull without anybody knowing. And we’ll avoid The Cuke.”

“Cuke, smuke. We have an army. We have two armies Ulster will be no match for us. Besides they have the Curse.”

The Curse? you ask. Years earlier, a witch, one of Macbeth’s three-bies, placed a Curse on the Ulstermen. When an army approached, they would go off into a little snooze. Because The Cuke was a superhero, the Curse never affected him.

Maeve’s army came to a river. The heads of four of her warriors were facing her, sticking out their tongues.

“Who did this?” Maeve demanded.

“Only The Cuke could do such a thing,” Fergus answered the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

“We’re just going to have to whop up on this Cuke,” the queen said, and she meant it.

The great warrior Froech of the mac Fidaigs stepped forward. “Your majesty, I’d be pleased as punch if you would let me do the pleasure.” And off he went, taking nine buddies with him. The Cuke took them out like Captain America took out Red Skull.

Next up was another group of warriors with muscles up the ying-yang. The Cuke did a Muhammad Ali on them, KO-ing them like there was no tomorrow.

Over the next few days, The Cuke stacked up the bodies and begged Maeve to keep ’em coming. There was no way she was going to get past him if The Cuke had anything to say about it. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything to say about it. All the rough housing and beating the crap out of guys who wanted to be the next champion of the world had worn him out.

Maeve managed to sneak past him without her army. She picked up the Bull and slipped him past The Cuke. And then she took off, heading back home.

The Cuke gave chase. But it wasn’t much of a chase. His energy had sapped out and he dropped. That was when daddy showed up. Lugh was a god and he had come to get his boy back in shape. Fro three days and three nights, Lugh put his healing magic to work.

The Cuke recovered and chased Maeve and her army. Then he wreaked his vengeance on her men. Maeve begged for more folks to go out and take on The Cuke. “Are you crazy?” the asked, knowing that she was half cuckoo. She promised them gold and sex, and silver and sex, and sex and sex. She was very persuasive. So they went after The Cuke. They met him in the swamp known as Blood Iron. They did not make it back.

Finally she called for The Cuke’s foster brother, Ferdia. She promised and she promised and she promised. But he kept saying, “Ain’t no way, lady. He’s my bro.” Then she lied, “He said that slaying you would be so easy peasy.”

Ferdia had his pride. There was no way he was going to take that from anybody. Even a brother. So he armored up and headed down to the river.

“Bro, I am not going to fight you,” The Cuke said.

“You got no choice,” Ferdia said, no realizing he’d been tricked by the Wicked Witch of the West.

First it was short spears they fought with. The it was long spears. Then it was large stabbing spears. Each time The Cuke protected himself with a shield that would take three large men to lift. Ferdia was elegant with his shield maneuvers as well.The next morning it was stabbing spears. The day after that, swords were the weapons. After each fight, the two spent the night, reminiscing and toasting each other and feasting till their bodies were filled. Then they slept like logs.

Finally, on a bright summer’s morning, the two met for one last battle. They put on their best armor. Then, like Hector and Achilles, they charged each other. Ferdia swung hard, each swing barely missing. The Cuke’s temper got the best of him. He leaped in the air, brought the spear down, drove through Ferdia. Ferdia dropped to the ground.

The Cuke’s temper left him. All he was left with was sorrow. Uncontrollable sorrow. Holding his brother in his arms, tears ran down his face. Then Ferdia died. The Cuke lowered the limp body to the grass. Then he sang a lament.

The next morning he was joined by the men of Ulster. The Curse had been lifted. Then they went to battle. When Ulstermen went to battle, they really went to battle, slashing and bopping and cutting and thrusting and do all sorts of un-choreographed maneuvers that looked really cool. They fought the men of Connaught and they fought till the men of Connaught had no more fight in them.

Realizing the foolishness of it all, Ulster and Cannaught smoked the peace pipe. Fergus was the one who summed it up best. “What was it all about? A cow. Can you believe that?”

The Cuke joined in with the sentiment. “Let her have her stupid cow. Let’s go home.”

And for seven years there was peace in the land. And when men gathered around a fire, they sang of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. And remembered fondly the deeds of Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann.

 

 

Evan’s return

Evan Murphy bought his mother’s house. It was a cottage in Ireland. When he returned to the small village where he grew up to become the fine fellow he was, he presented the deed to her. She was now debt free.

The cottage had been her grandfather’s house and his father’s before him. It even had their smells, the smells of generations who lived in that house.

Evan returned to the village a successful man. The priest welcomed him with open arms. He needed a benefactor and Evan was just the benefactor he needed. Work had not been done on the church for years. The roof had a leak.

Each of the villagers came to Evan with a sob story. Evan helped each out with a little bit of money. After all, he had made plenty. In America. His invention had done it for him. And continued to do it. He had licensed it and now he was living off the royalties.

Conal Breathnach had a daughter. Kathleen was her name. When he was twelve, Evan had fallen in love with her. Now he returned to claim his bride. Kathleen was tall with her long red hair hanging to her waist. She had a quietness to her. A calm that could make it through a storm. Evan loved her deeply, and she loved him in return.

Breathnach agreed to the wedding now that his future son-in-law was a wealthy man. Years earlier he had given the boy a no. Now he gladly gave Evan a nod.

Kathleen and Evan walked beside each other out by the stream where the men fished for their suppers. “What’s your intentions?” she asked the man she was to marry.

“My intensions, Kathleen Breathnach?” Evan held her hand as they walked.

“Yes,” she said. “What do you see for the future, Evan Murphy?”

“Aye,” he said. “I see children. At least, two.”

“I like children,” she said, knowing she would be the one to bear them.

“And I see us living in a big house just outside the village. With acres and acres of land.”

“I want to see the world. I’ve seen this village and I’m ready for the world.”

Evan had always dreamed of returning and living in the village as a great landlord. Kathleen did not have this dream. Her dream was to get as far away as she could from the people in the village. They were a small, petty folk, and she wanted none of them.

Evan had seen the world and he knew the folk everywhere were the same. There were those who’d tried to steal his invention. At least, he knew the pettiness and the smallness of the village folk. But then, if this was what Kathleen wanted, he would give it to her. It had been ten years since he left and she had waited on him. She had had offers but none of them had been Evan Murphy.

They walked over the hill and down to the giant tree where they had pledged their love before he left. Kathleen believed in Evan with all her heart. She had known he would return somebody. And now here he was, a man of the world with worldly success.

Finally, Kathleen asked the question that had been bothering her. “Just how much money do you have, Evan Murphy?” If he was to be the father of her children, she wanted to know none of them would starve the way she had in the year of ’07. That year, the hunger had been the worst it ever was.

Evan Murphy assured her that he had enough money for generations to come. And there was more than enough for a trip around the world. Evan Murphy was a rich man. That was for sure.

“I do love you, Evan Murphy,” she said, then she kissed his lips.

It was the first kiss he had since his return. It was not the kiss he remembered. That kiss had a sweetness to it like honey. This one had a bitterness. The bitterness of experience with living with a father who beat her when he came home drunk. The bitterness of losing her mother from the sickness. The bitterness of having hunger as a companion. It was a bitter kiss.

Evan realized that this was not the Kathleen he’d left behind to go off and make his fortune in America. Evan realized that Kathleen had been a romanticized fantasy. The Kathleen he’d just kissed was not the Kathleen he’d left behind. Life had made her bitter then and life still made her bitter.

The memories of all the tears she’d shed to manipulate him from leaving. All the times they had fights. He remembered the sorrow that the village wore from the poverty it had carried like a burden on its shoulders. It had been a hard life he left behind.

But he loved Kathleen Breathnach. So he agreed to take her away with him. They would sail around the world, then they would settle in a faraway place where there was no bitterness, no hunger and the people lived free of all the poverty the world can throw at you. Perhaps then, Kathleen’s kisses would taste like the sweetness of honey again.

micropoem for the day: St. Patrick’s Day

Okay. I admit it. I do like St. Paddy’s Day. Just a bit of a reminder who this superhero of the Irish is. He’s the fellow that ran the snakes out of Ireland. He’s the fellow who made Catholics out of the Celts. Before St. Patrick, the Celts would do anything for a bar fight. Their greatest hero’s greatest deed was to defend Ulster from a queen who wanted to steal a cow. His name was Cú Chulainn. And in those days, cow stealing was a no-no.

St. Patrick’s Day,
leprechauns, shamrocks, Seamus Heaney;
words to delight the tongue.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Creator: Seamus Heaney

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, this week’s Spotlight Creator is the great Irish poet, Seamus Heaney:

Upon his death

Making Sense of a Life

Seamus Heaney was our Irish poet. Just as Derek Walcott was our Caribbean poet. He sang songs so dug into the Irish soil that they were universal. He sang with a poet’s voice that was as beautiful as Everest is tall. He threw out the net of his words in such a way that they caught the attention of all us fishes.

We thought we would have him forever. Too often we fool ourselves into believing an artist, a poet, will continue among us. They will continue to give more and more of the poetry pouring out of him. It’s such an illusion.

Our bubble has burst. Seamus Heaney’s voice has been lifted from among us and risen to join his brothers and sisters in the heavens: Homer, Sappho, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats, Frost, Eliot, Bishop, Hughes and the Others. And I am sure he is finding new ways to sing Hallelujah.

But we can be thankful for the time we had with him and the glorious poetry he gave us. One of his lines can best sum up the motto for any artist. I know it does for me. “Walk on air against your better judgement”, from one of his poems, “The Gravel Walks”. It’s the epitaph on his gravestone.

Thank you, Seamus.