Short storm, p.1
Short Storm, page 1
© David Hegarty 1991
David Hegarty has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 1991 by Emperor Publishing.
This edition published in 2017 by Endeavour Press Ltd.
For Mardie & Peter
Andree & Robert
Table of Contents
He lay flat on the grassy bank. A grey dawn was breaking and a westerly wind whipped in from the sea, over the shore and around the hills of the burrow in rainy blasts. A cold damp was creeping into his body. But he knew it wasn’t just the weather. He felt that this could be the end. Or at least his last chance.
It was the other factors which perished his insides. The loneliness. The final disconnection. He had never known he could be so susceptible. But that was because he’d never been resigned to death before. Death had come at him in other times of his life. It had stalked him, jumped him and even attacked him head on. And he had always evaded it, challenged it. Because that was when he had wanted life. Now death was irrelevant. He felt he was already dead.
The sheeting rain flew in over the low hills where he lay and swept into his eyes. He stared into the brightening murk of wind and rain. He was getting soaked. Wetter by the minute. That didn’t bother him. This weather suited him fine. It was good for hunting. He mustn’t be found. Not now. Later on it wouldn’t matter. Not in the slightest. But right now he had one more thing to do. Then nothing mattered. Neither life nor death, nor all the time that had gone before, now amassed in this one moment, making him see the futility of his own course in life.
He was in a sheltered spot. But when the wind comes in from the south-west over the Atlantic, it brings the rain in great drenching showers. It hits the shore in manic delight at having a dry receptacle. It soaks the land. It fills the ditches, floods the fields and overflows the streams and rivers. Heavy dull opaque skies pour into the earth and there’s nothing that stays dry.
It was like a storm within a storm. But Steven Cullen was grateful.
He pushed a wet lock from his brow. His eyes squinted at the humps and ridges of the faint green hills and mounds in front of him. He had to blink and look twice at some clusters of fern and shivering reed: they might be anything at first glance. But he needed only a glimpse of what he was watching for to recognise it. The movement would be quick, deliberate, human — like no spontaneous dance of a weed or a reed in the wind.
He lifted the shot gun, gripped the .45 in his pocket once for luck, once for direction. He got up from the ground and took the first step into the lifelong journey to the next hill.
The south-eastern area of Ireland has always enjoyed a better climate than the rest of the country. The coastline on the eastern side consists of long beaches, some sandy, some stony.
The Atlantic and Irish seas met a few miles out from the village of Rinnemor, nestled in a corner of the large, half-moon bay. Behind it, to the west, were a low run of hills. The village enjoyed a shelter and mildness not given to many.
When spring came, it breathed life quickly to the land and to the people there. The soil and the grass and the land each had their own distinctive fragrances. In the verdant grass, around the green trees and under the foliating bushes and thickening hedges, the first splashes of crocus, daffodil, pansy came in bright and scented patches, glowing in the warmth of sun and sky.
People got out and about, met each other daily again — a considerable event after a quiet and lonely winter. They were liberated from the tight constraints of their small cottages with thick quiet walls and tiny curtained windows. Boats were painted, fitted out after the hard winter. Checks were done on hulls, rigging and timbers. Engines were overhauled, nets repaired, pots mended and ropes renewed.
One striking sound of the springtime season was the chapel bell. It sounded clearer, more resonant, carrying out over the fields and roads, over the roofs and far into the countryside. Sometimes it was heard at sea, at the time of the evening Angelus, when the boats came in with the day’s catch, joined by a shivering cloud of gulls screaming and diving for the scraps and the bait.
People believed in spring. They built a credit of faith in the summer to come that would carry them through whatever trials and disappointments lay in store for them. Most summer fishing seasons fell short of expectations in one way or another.
But there was one exceptional year. It was the summer which all those who lived through it remembered as “that good summer.”
It had been generous in the fishing harvest. The people had eaten well, worked hard, cleared off debts, paid their ways with relative ease and, at the end of the season, even put a little money by. It was as close to what the word “prosperity” could mean as the people in Rinnemor had ever experienced.
That year a whole new concept of fishing, and thus a whole new attitude to life, was brought to the village by a man named Sean Doyle. The expression of his thinking and his feeling about fishing, about life, their lives and about what he and the rest of the village could do about it, was exemplified by the Stella Maris. The Stella was a boat the likes of which the people of Rinnemor had never dreamed of. She was of a different world. That year, when Doyle sailed in one fine Sunday morning to the harbour of Rinnemor, steering the Stella Maris with precision and dignity, the people of the village came forward half a century within the same fraction of an hour.
So that was why that summer had seemed so good. The spring had been a warm, lively affair of blue intensity in sea and soil, prolific fertility in the soil and a strong promise of the summer to come. And the summer had come. And the Stella, and the new life startling everyone with its heat and brightness. People spent the entire summer in a state of suspended surprise, wondering when this good thing, like all the others, must come to an end. But it didn’t. It went on and on.
Father Tom McMicheal hinted frequently that he’d personally requested it from the Divine Hierarchy. It pleased him greatly when people nodded knowingly and let him know they had understood. It filled him with ever more affection for his flock and they in turn loved him dearly for his innocence.
There had been one isolated storm lasting two days. Most of the people remembered it because it was a singular contrast to the rest of the season. But for an entirely different reason, a small group of people remembered the storm more clearly. No one remembered it better than Sean and Eileen Doyle. They would never forget it.
On the day Sean Doyle arrived back with his new trawler, the entire village of Rinnemor turned out to greet
It was summer, mid-June. Father Thomas McMicheal prepared with great ceremony for the arrival.
The boat had left Howth in County Dublin on Saturday morning. However, for the religious ceremonies to be properly accommodated, she had anchored four miles out on Saturday night. Thus the scene was set for her arrival at the Rinnemor pier on Sunday just after noon, for the welcome and the audience.
The boat moved serenely and steadily in the noonday sun. Doyle kept her throttled back in accordance with the solemnity of the event. The other fishing boats of the harbour stood festooned with flags and buntings of the various saints and patrons.
As the new ship came nearer, the sweet burble of her giant diesels could be heard on the summer breeze. It was octaves lower than Father McMicheal’s voice and served as an underscore to his holy invocations. Here was the proof that Man and Nature were one, products of the Divine Power and Man’s intelligence helping him fulfil his role in the emulation of Christ’s image. The excitement caught.
Sensing the greater attention to the trawler than to his praying, Father McMicheal wisely paused in his devout soliloquy. With dignity preserved, he moved forward to bless the vessel, now drifting in low gear into the harbour.
Doyle was the personal representative of the entire fishing community. He was the one who showed the outside world that Rinnemor was well and truly a place to admire and respect. He threw the engine into neutral, then reverse, then slow ahead and neutral again, showing confidence and finesse at the control of the vessel.
Father McMicheal finished his blessing: “…and all who work in her. Amen.”
“Amen,” answered the crowd.
The crowd quieted. Doyle spoke briefly, his voice strong, warm and only slightly louder than in normal conversation, but even those standing and sitting up the pier heard him clearly. His voice carried on the gentle breeze and echoed easily off the concrete walls.
“My friends,” he paused and looked around, glancing at faces and eyes of people he knew. It sounded as if he was addressing each individual privately and intimately. The only noises were matches scratched as cigarettes were lit, the calls of the wheeling gulls and the squeaks of the tyre-fenders between the boats. He scanned the crowd.
“What Father Tom has said, when he said it is a great day for Rinnemor, is true. It is true because we are witnessing the fact that we,” he swept at the silent crowd with his arm, “we, by our own industry, by our efforts, by our devotion to work when other sections of the country are bargaining for less work and more money, that we,” his voice jumped to a shout on the word, “can determine what we have and what we won’t have.”
Clapping and cheering began, but he cut it short.
“It is our belief in ourselves which will help us achieve what is needed for our lives. And not just for our lives, but those of our children, and their children after them.” Sporadic claps and cheers rippled through the crowd, but they were shushed by their neighbours.
“What I am saying is that Father Tom is right. That this is a great day for Rinnemor because now we are coming into a new era, into an era of prosperity and contentment, and that we are going to be ready for it. God has given us the sense to see that this is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a long road and a hard road, a road with unexpected twists and turns which are there for the unwary. But because we know our destination, because we know where we want to go, we will be prepared for the twists and turns and falls. With God’s help and Father Tom’s guidance,” he placed a big hand affectionately on the priest’s shoulder, “we will find our way and rid, for once and forever, the cause of our traditional poverty.”
A spontaneous cheer hit the air and Doyle put his arms up for silence. “Let me welcome you now, each and all of you, not to my boat, not to your boat,” he paused then roared, “but to the bank’s boat!”
The pier erupted in cheering laughter. Doyle held his arms up again for silence. The laughter subsided just long enough for him to continue.
“And the bank’s boat she may be at the moment, but not for long!”
His last invitation to the people to come aboard was lost in the chatter from the crowd as they advanced on the trawler in a laughing and excited throng.
It was late afternoon by the time the last member of the proud village community had disembarked and wended their way homeward. Doyle and his crew set about putting the ship to her officially designated birth. Once she was tied up, the men — still dressed in their Sunday best — quickly and efficiently checked over all the gadgets and switches, then walked proud and tired to their waiting families, bidding goodnight to their skipper.
Doyle was alone in the harbour. He did a quick tour of the vessel, checking everything topside. Then he went back to the cabin, to the rear hatch and down the steep ladder. The bunks were made, neatly sheeted with folded blankets. She was impressive all right. A damn sight more so than the old rotwood he’d fished in for the past twenty years. A quick pang of guilt at his own mental description of his former boat ran through him. She’d been tough, but reliable, and had fed him and his family for that time. He peered into the shadows at the stern end of the cabin. Quietly he went back to the door leading to the aft cabin and opened it. He was still surprised by the size and the amount of space. Blinking in the darkness, he asked, “Are you all right?”
Doyle opened a bottle of stout and handed it to the other man, then sat and watched him. He’d known Cullen all his life. As they grew up and went their separate ways, they had still kept in touch. Their ideals were not wholly dissimilar and they had early recognized in each other an intensity and desire to achieve what they believed to be within reach.
From a young age they both knew that they wanted something more in life than six days fishing, Saturday night stout and Sunday spent in idle wistfulness thinking about the better things in life. The symptoms of discontent had been clearly noticed in each by the other: this had given them an affinity.
These thoughts were going through Doyle’s mind in a quick and confused way as he watched Cullen eat the fresh brown bread spread thickly with butter and salty ham. Quickly and noisily he ate, swigging the bottle between each mouthful.
“It’s the sea air,” he spluttered. Cullen looked at Doyle and winked, then gestured with the bottle that he was about to say something. With a quick swill, and a hurried swallow of unchewed bread and ham, he said,
“By Christ, I’m tellin’ you Sean! I’m tellin’ you! Those fuckers in the Joy know how to curb your appetite.”
He held the bread up in his hand and asked,
“How did you get this?”
“Father Tom brought it down. And the ham. Asked Mary Rose to make the bread when he heard I’d got you on board. The ham he got in Sullivan’s.”
“Good fella, Tom. Always knew he’d make a good priest. He thinks I’m still with the Organization, you know.”
“You mean you’re not?” Doyle was surprised. The other man looked him in the eye.
“Not for six months. We parted. They thought I was going to the I.N.L.A., but the truth is I was just getting out. I did some work with Sweeney and his crowd. They thought I was still with the Provos and gave me a good payment to keep the lads off their backs. But the truth is, Sean, I’m fed up with the lot of ’em.” He looked around the boat and back at Doyle.
“I thought I’d get out before I was given an assignment.”
Doyle watched him carefully.
“Then what does the British Army want you for? Why were there stories in the papers about your extradition? That you were going to be handed over to the British authorities? Isn’t it true?”
There was silence for a moment as the two men eyed each other. Cullen’s gaze fell first. He glanced around the cabin as if he were trying to find something to fix on, but his eyes kept darting back to Doyle. Doyle held fast. He wanted information.
Questions were gathering fast in his mind. He had a curious feeling he had been somehow betr
“Well?” he prodded. His voice was low but there was an edge to it. “Isn’t it, or wasn’t it, true?”
Cullen sighed. He joined his hands in front of him on the table, clenched the rugged knuckles together and sighed again deeply, relaxing.
“It was true.”
He spoke quietly, matter-of-fact.
“They wanted me for the jobs in Newry and Coalisland.”
He raised a hand to prevent interruption.
“But they were trying to put me into everything else as well.” He paused for a moment. It hit him that he was on the run again. Once more. Jesus! Would it ever end? Would he never walk a street in daylight? Have a drink in comfort? Sleep without a gun? Shake a man’s hand without his other fist wrapped around the Webley? God, yer a great man, Steven, they’d tell him when he made swift appearances, faster disappearances, at Republican burials, or meetings, or rallies. They all saw him for a moment in his fine, well-cut, olive green uniform, black beret and glasses, watched him step boldly forward, stomp to attention and salute, then move in military dignity, without haste, back into the crowd. And they cheered him.
“God bless Steven!”
Then off to another secret place. Another dirty, unmade bed, or a cheesy couch where his presence caused excitement. All he could think of was how pointless the whole thing had become. He was no patriot. But he was a great schemer. He could mix and talk with anyone when there were pound notes in the air. Only now he was in business for himself. Not everyone in the Organization knew this. They suspected it. And they despised him for his high public profile and low personal standards. They considered him a weakling and a threat. He did the right things but for the wrong reasons, as far as they were concerned. His life, he saw, was precarious.
As soon as a replacement was found for him in the field of operation and the attention of the followers could be averted to another face, his time was up. It was no life, he’d decided.
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