The scene that young Patrick O’Dyer returned to in 1918 was one of disruption and treachery. He had served in France with an Irish brigade, fighting, ironically enough, for the continued successes of a ruthless British Empire. Along with countless other Irishmen, many of whom never survived the trenches, he had been promised Home Rule by Parliament, in return for his allegiance. 

     His small plot of land was still his own, despite the attempts of the local privileged to acquire it. These neighbors had been moved to Ireland by the British more than 250 years before. They had come from Scotland but themselves were no more than pawns in a continuing game of chance conducted by King George V, the kissin cousin of the German Kaiser. The Irish peasantry was on its last leg. Landlords extracted back-breaking taxes, families lost native lands, the young departed for Australia and America. In addition, an export-induced famine had resulted in a century-long nightmare and loss of faith as food grown in Ireland had been sent to Britain under armed guard, while the Irish people starved.

     Some of Ireland’s sons had even joined the German Army, and why wouldn’t they.

     To understand the complexities of O’Dyer’s return one must examine the power base in Ireland at the time. On top of the heap we have the British, represented in the field by regiments of scalawags and murderers, called the Black and Tans. Then we have the landed gentry, the Anglo-Irish, the Presbyterians. They had been given most of the good land and had the right to vote. Along with these two sat an unlikely ally, the Roman Catholic Church.

     Although Oliver Cromwell killed thousands of Irishmen due to their Papist ties, the same religion that had set them apart from the British had now become a serpent-like nemesis of frightening proportions. Certainly many of the lowly parish priests had remained loyal to their flocks, suffering from empty bellies and culture shock. It was the higher ups, the bishops and those who coveted that power, who had turned their backs on their own and slept, like common whores, under the well-starched sheets of British transgression.

     When we speak of British we mean the well-to-do, who benefited from the sins of the Empire, not the English from places like Birmingham and Liverpool, who were nothing more than fodder for a Northern European caste system, in place since the Normans arrived.

     When O’Dyer arrived back in Ireland all he wanted to do was be left alone, work his farm and forget the horrors of France. That would not be so easy. His father, Michael, had died of influenza at the age of 44, in 1917. The neighbors all said he could have been saved had the doctor been willing to visit the farm, not far from the village of Inchegeela, in the west of County Cork. There had been Republican activity reported and all loyal citizens had been warned to stay clear of the region until the Black and Tans had caught the traitors to the Queen. In January of 1918 his only sister, Maureen, had died in childbirth, her defeated husband again unable to summon a doctor in time. The other siblings were distributed equally around the globe leaving him only his aging mother and a younger brother named Sean, whose future was as cloudy as most of the other Irish Catholic children living under British rule.

     The O’Dyer land measured about three and a half acres backed up to a pearl grey ridge to the east and meandering down to a small stream where he had often fished in his innocent youth.

     That was the time of the first visit from Monsignor Monahan, a nervous, balding, little man who Patrick had not liked when the former was a priest in charge of the village school. His face seemed always contorted and his body resembled that of a slick, desperate rodent who had just flattened itself out so as to pass under a closed door. Even back then he had kowtowed to the British who had insisted that Gaelic not be taught as part of the curriculum. The Monsignor, now driven around in a smart, black carriage, arrived in the morning expecting tea.

     “Good day, O’Dyer,” barked Monahan from his perch. “Welcome back. The farm looks good for the wear and your mother is well.”

     “Good morning Monsignor,” cracked O’Dyer crisply. “What brings the likes of you all the way out here?”

     “Well, I thought we should talk, Patrick. You’ve always been a hot headed lad and things have changed since you left for Flanders, was it in 1915?”

     “It was 1914, monsignor,” said O’Dyer. “In the beginning. I was in the thick of it for three and a half years, so if you don’t mind my saying so I think I can handle my own affairs here in the confines of my home.”

     “I heard you were wounded, son. How is your leg?” asked the cleric, fetching for common ground as he peered into the shabby, thatched roof cottage and out into the back where Patrick’s mother, Nellie O’Dyer was busy arranging laundry.

     “My leg is fine.”

     The two engaged in forced small talk. O’Dyer knew the man had another agenda and feared that Monahan was well entrenched in the bowels of the current power structure.

     “Things have indeed changed,” he repeated. “Beware of the Black and Tans. They are the power now and they rule with the whip and the hangman’s noose.”

     When the monsignor had finished he departed. Patrick watched as his carriage blended with the emerald horizon.


     It was just two days later, on a Saturday that O’Dyer felt the wrath of the oppressor. A contingent of Black and Tans rode onto his farm, asked to see his papers, inventoried his livestock and handed him an assessment which would be the predecessor to a final tax bill, collectible in a week. The fact that he had served with distinction in the British Army made no difference to this trash. He was Irish and that’s all that mattered. Prior to their leaving they confiscated three sheep and half of O’Dyer’s skinny herd of cows. Outmanned, Patrick said nothing. He just stared at the captain who attempted to provoke him with insults and his condescending remarks.

     Now at the same time of O’Dyer’s emasculation there lived a man in Inchegeela named Brendan Sheehan who was said to have consorted with the fairies. In fact, according to some of the more prodding neighbors, he was once actually a retired leprechaun himself, in another life, of course. The curly-haired spark plug visited the O’Dyer farm shortly after the Black and Tans had come and was visibly angry at the report given by Patrick.

     “Bastards,” was all he whispered.

     In about a week Monsignor Monahan returned with a warning that the Black and Tans would be making their rounds again. They were looking for IRA “traitors” and would not be above hanging a few of the local citizenry for entertainment. Sheehann shared the ramshackle porch with O’Dyer that afternoon and would not acknowledge the priest, staring off into the distance as if possessed by a vengeful spirit. His high-pitched laugh took Monahan aback when the priest warned Patrick to show the proper respect to the authorities.

     And they came back. This time with a taste for fresh blood before them. They had one of the neighbor’s sons in tow and threatened to hang the boy from O’Dyer’s very porch. He had been beaten severely and had the smell of death about hi. Patrick knew that smell. Then they took the remaining livestock and searched the cottage for weapons, callously breaking pictures and keepsakes in their quest for the tools of rebels.

     O’Dyer, amazed at their arrogance and brutality, stood his ground but did nothing as the captain of the company fingered his pistol and stared blankly at his victims.


     “It’s a good thing I wasn’t there,” bragged Sheehan the next morning when he heard of the intrusion. “These heartless indiscretions will not end until we rid our land of this hateful species, including their brother Monahan.”

     “Do you think the monsignor has jumped the hedge to the Black and Tans?” asked O’Dyer.

     “He jumped a long time ago, Patrick, when he saw the wheels of power and the spoils of corruption. He wants to be a bishop someday and he knows he’ll never reach that plateau without help from the overlords,” spat Sheehan.


     That night Patrick was visited by the fairies. Keeping very quiet they noted the loss of livestock and the troubled sleep of the cottage’s inhabitants. The talked among themselves. Then they visited the cottage of Brendan Sheehan. This time they were not so quiet. They woke him up and demanded poteen. They told him they had come in response to his request but that there was little they could do, given the depths of the situation.

     “Just make them go to sleep, the Black and Tans, the priest, just for a few hours,” said Sheehan. “I have the power to do the rest.”

     “Your powers are diminished,” said one leprechaun. “You are nothing more than a mortal, and a very tired looking one at that. What can you do?”

     “I can pull the wool over the eyes of the damned!” shot Sheehan, startling even the largest of the fairies. “I can change sheep to goats and cattle to sheep! And, if I can find my potions, I can even turn chickens into a fine mount for the O’Dyer lad!”

     The leprechauns conversed again. They had heard of the wizardry common to the spirits who had roamed these parts. They had never seen such magic but, being a wagering sort, agreed to put the monsignor and the soldiers into a deep sleep for no longer than three hours. In return, if Sheehan failed at his task, they would collect all his eggs and the best produce from his garden for the next two years. 

     As the moon rose over the village, Sheehan secured his own livestock and, with his two dogs, headed to the residence of Monsignor Monahan. He eyeballed the situation from the river bottom before venturing on to the lands of the church. Arriving in the moonlight he thought to himself, “Those cows look familiar and I recognize the sheep too. I think they once grazed on pastures belonging to the O’Dyers.”

     Sheehan then began an ancient Gaelic chant, waving his hands above his head in a circular motion.

     “I call on the pleasures of the daoine maithe. To the Tuatha De Danan I give offerings!”

     He left a few pieces of soda bread, some carrots and a glass of whiskey for the slooa shee exhorting them to shoot their fairy darts in the direction of evil men. Then he waved around some more and in a soft, raspy voice chirped, To forgive is divine but the earth is merely dust, disguise the cows as goats and change sheep to cattle, is just!

     At once the goats, who had been crowding the left side of the monsignor’s corral, began their new life as cows and the sheep instantly became scampering goats. Then a flock of chickens was magically transformed into a beautiful, young chestnut mare. Sheehan mounted her and rode home in quiet triumph as the loyal canines coerced the liberated livestock down the soggy road to O’Dyer’s cottage.


     “What’s that?” jumped Monsignor Monahan as he was wrestled from his sleep by a company of loitering wee folk, who began to sing:

     Down along the rocky shore some make their home, they live on crispy pancakes of yellow tide-foam; Some in the reeds of the black mountain lake with frogs for their watchdogs, all night awake!*

     The monsignor sat up in bed.

     “Surely I have been visited by the devil himself,” shook the cleric. “What does the fallen one have in store for me?”

     That morning the priest, still shaken from what he swore was no dream, discovered that several of his cows and sheep were missing. He had been instructed to watch the animals until the soldiers returned and was afraid of what would happen to him when they discovered he had failed at the task.

     Meanwhile Sheehan said nothing when O’Dyer proclaimed his joy at the return of his livestock (For they looked no different to him). Like most honorable Irishmen he believed in things he couldn’t see (and not in what he could see) so there was no moral conflict. Not even the neighbors could recognize the cows and sheep. They certainly weren’t the ones that had grazed away the misty afternoons the month before, so they said.


     And if the ending isn’t happy enough for the likes of you: Did you know that the company who had scourged the countryside west of Cork died there. They spent their last hours in summer of 1921 dangling from Sycamore trees near Skibbereen. It was just three days before the truce was signed and a frightful peace emerged.

     That was the time of Monsignor Monahan’s third visit to the farm of Patrick O’Dyer. Admiring his flourishing herds the monsignor, due to the power of the pookas, was left in the dark as to the magic in his midst. O’Dyer had just come out of the barn after putting a calf to the knife.

     “How are you today, monsignor?” O’Dyer asked.

     “Not so well,” answered the aging priest. “I have been informed that I am being sent to the west, to Dingle, as a parish priest, no less!”

     “I’ve heard it’s very pretty there,” offered O’Dyer.

     “Pretty may be,” said Monahan, “but at the end of the earth. There hasn’t been a bishop from there since the Druids!”

     “I’m sorry,” lied O’Dyer.

      Then Nellie Dyer appeared on the porch wearing a new white linen dress, a present from her son Sean, who had only that week had been accepted at college in Dublin.

     “Monsignor Monahan! What a fine surprise. Will you be joining us for dinner?” 

– Kevin Haley

* This passage from The Trooping Fairies by William Allingham 

Filed Under: Hard News


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