Memorable events of 1946 still stir

John B Keane


John B Keane

Memorable events of 1946 still stir

Whenever I’m stuck for material I opt for a particular year and try to recall something mem-orable. It never fails. Try it sometime if you don’t believe me.

In 1946, a year after the end of World War Two, faint rays of hope began to penetrate the gloom which hung over war-ravished Europe. A peace conference was held in Paris which culminated in numerous successful treaties. White flour became plentiful in rural Ireland. Raisins, dates, figs and currants began to reappear.

The security council and general assembly of the UNO met for the first time while 10 leading Nazi war criminals were hanged. Perversely, however, no punishment of any kind was meted out to the many profiteers who became millionaires at the expense of millions of war dead. Not all the sinners in the Second World War were German and Japs.

True that the New York playwright Arthur Miller in the following year in his searing play All my Sons brought this form of corruption to the fore when he highlighted the rise and fall of a manufacturer of defective war materials. Otherwise little to nothing was done to bring these and other war criminals from the civilian scene to justice. There’s nothing like a low profile if you want to get away with murder.

Also in 1946 another form of corruption attempted to rear its ugly head in the Stacks mountains. It was Dan Paddy Andy O’Sullivan who singled-handedly nipped this rare perversion in the bud with no thanks from the clergy who hounded him for so long.

At the time, of course, the clergy were hounding the wrong people, so that spiritually speaking, the big fish got away; another profitable exercise in the low profile syndrome.

It was a sultry afternoon in July. Dan Paddy Andy had just returned from the meadow where he had cocked the last of his hay. He had hardly seated himself with his sons to a fine meal of bacon, cabbage and floury new spuds when a resounding knock came to the door.

“Come in whoever it is,” Dan’s wife called out and straight away the latch was lifted.

Enter two powerfully built gnarly men in their thirties. Without enquiring whether they were fasting or otherwise, which was the custom of Renagown people, Kate handed each a well-filled plate and bade them be seated on two sugawns near the hearth. There they masticated with great relish and abandon and were aided in their noisy gulps and swallows by two brimming pannies of prime buttermilk.

When the meal was over they asked Dan if they might have a word with him in private. Kate O’Brien was quick to take the hint and without more ado went out of doors with her flock and postponed the washing and drying of the ware until the visitors would have concluded their business.

“Well boys,” Dan opened, “and what is it that I can do for ye?” The visitors explained that they were brothers from the banks of the Brick River, the Feale’s third largest tributary after the Gale and Smearla.

It appeared that their aged mother and father had died the previous winter within weeks of each other and that the small farm on which the four had managed to survive until then had been willed to the two.

It was a rushy holding which was always tested to the utmost, year after year, to sustain the eight milch cows which cropped it. The pair had fought a long, ardous mixed battle against rush and water and had somehow managed to keep their heads above the latter.

Of money they had but little. However, there was enough, or so they indicated, to handsomely compensate Dan for any endeavors that would be made by him to see them settle in marriage.

Dan told his visitors that they foresaw no problem and expressed some surprise that such well-made presentable fellow had not been waylaid by marriageable females before this. Each had the humility to bend his head in modesty before explaining their dilemma in more detail.

“You see,” said the elder, “it isn’t two women we want at all. One will do the two of us grand.”

Dan could scarcely believe his ears. “You see, sir,” said the younger brother uncouthly, “whilst we might barely manage to feed and dress one there is no way we could support two.”

Dan bridled at this. To be called ‘sir’ was nothing less than a glaring example of hypocrisy. The older brother took up where the younger had left off.

“We are aisy,” said he with a grin, “which of us goes to the railings once as the two of us has the same claim on her after.” Dan marvelled at their insolence but decided to play the same to the close.

“What about children?” he asked. “Won’t half of the craturs be illegitimate?” “Oh there’s no danger of that” the older brother assured him, “because supposing the brood has different sires itself they will all be baptised and christened as the legal offspring of which ever one of us goes to the altar.”

“And pray,” asked Dan “which one of you will that be?”

“We’ll toss a coin for that,” said the younger brother. “And maybe after you make out a woman for us you might be good enough to throw the coin in the air yourself.”

“Have you consulted your parish priest about this?” asked Dan. “What would be want to go and do a foolish thing like that for?” said the older brother. “What he won’t know won’t trouble him.”

“Now,” said Dan. “I’ll tell ye one thing and one thing alone and this is it. If ye’re not gone out of here by the count of three there will be blood spilt.”

“If there will,” said the brothers of one accord, “it won’t be our blood.” They flexed their mighty muscles and assumed the pose of boxers.

Said the elder: “Hand us over our expenses now like a good man or we’ll make orphans of your children.”

“Expenses!” Dan echoed in amazement.

“That’s right,” said the younger brother, “we have wasted a half day in coming here and before we leave we’ll be wanting a fair day’s pay between the two of us.”

Dan smiled before he spoke again. “Shove in here closer,” said he, “until I make my position clear on this matter.”

Warily the brothers shoved nearer Dan until they were close enough. He then seized each by the ear and banged their heads together.

They staggered dizzily around the kitchen until Dan came to their aid with two well-aimed kicks on their respective posteriors which dispatched them in the direction of the door and the outside world where they rambled in utter confusion for more than an hour before coming to their senses after which Dan seized each by the scruff of the neck and ran them as far as the cross of Renagown where he implanted two more kicks which speeded their departure forever from the bailwick of Dan Paddy Andy.

The odd thing is that they succeeded in locating the kind of women they wanted without Dan’s help. She married one but played the role of wife to two.

At the time of writing she lives widowed with her daughter, one of many which resulted from this strange relationship. Although Dan’s immense strength was not legendary during his lifetime, he was, nevertheless, recognised as one of the strongest men in the country for his weight and height, which was slightly under five feet ten inches.

“One dog, one bone,” Dan used to say was his method of his expressing his philosophy on life, i.e. one man, one woman. He would countenance no other form of relationship.

“A man and a woman is like bacon and cabbage” he once confided to me. “healthy and natural lasting.”

The late, great John B Keane was a Leader columnist for more than 30 years. This column first appeared in our edition of January 8, 1983