By John McCabe
Polis Service o Norlin Airlan
The sun setting with its golden yellow light lay against the trunks of hardwoods and flickered in the windblown deep lobed leaves of the Hawthorn trees and melted across the grass and rocks. The lake, Lough Neagh, Irish Loch Neathach, beyond the grove of trees was rimmed in a kaleidoscope of brilliant, revolving flashes as impressionistic reflections, as if being brushed by a visiting, invisible Claude Monet. Sunsets, day’s end, were treasured daily as if pre-ordained comforting embraces as nature was tucking her children into their beds.
To the Irish, twilight added divinity in supernatural graces to the landscape. Its strange illuminations beamed off the cloud banks and caressed all human senses. Lillian’s face was adorned by the light. The Irishman looked on her and the evening as his gifts that day and all the days he spent with her. He had the most profoundly Irish name in County Tyrone, Brendan E (Eamonn) McGrath, and the spoken voice of that country, with crisp diction, those inflected phrases, and tones clear, soft and strong. Twilight embellished the evening in its softened glow, while gentle breezes across Lough Neagh blew onto the shores of County Tyrone.
The British claim the lake is owned by The Earl of Shaftesbury. The Irish know it to be a treasure of a great Irish God, The Good God, and the Creator gave it to a certain Finn MacCool. The British may shun that belief, if so the Irish have a full take on the ownership; they say the famous warrior Finn MacCool caused the creation of Lough Neagh.
Legend has it that Finn was chasing a Scottish giant across Ulster when he picked up a large piece of the Irish earth and hurled it at the giant. It missed the giant on the run, and fell into the Irish Sea forming the Isle of Man while the massive crater left behind became filled with water and formed Lough Neagh. With that said, it seems the Earl never owned any of that, at least he wouldn’t own up to that truth.
In addition to those brief Irish cloudbursts of straight-down, pouring summer rain, twilight was the Irishman’s most welcomed environmental condition. However, when in the rain Brendan E. would stand under the lintel of his cottage’s open door staring out over the water in spells of peace, his tobacco smoke was all that escaped into the waiting damp air.
Lillian was always nearby. In the twilight, like this evening, he studied the land, its trees and hillsides, the shapes it presented and the green, yes all the green. This green was life that touched his psyche. Both of these visual and visceral natural elements were entwined in his racial learning born to be a communion in the spin of his chromosomes.
He lived the Irish green in this mellow twilight and the drenching rain when it came, as if he were born to be both the guest and host of his own country. Lillian was his magic in all things. Tea was warmth and the nectar of thoughtfulness, and alcohol brought forth his fire without a match. For Brendan McGrath, Lillian, his linked companion, fit into all climates and events, and especially the unexpected.
All the time Lillian knew him, she didn’t really, as is the pre-ordained cosmic plan for male and female of the same planet. Of that knowledge, Lilian was always instinctively informed and aware, except maybe when they were both drinking, cheered by the intoxicant they shared. He was a quiet man and she was one to make sounds; laughter, and merriment and playful rejoinders. While she was supple though small in frame and body with classic features and lips that smiled even when they were not, he was tall and broad shouldered. His arms were taunt muscle, wide bones; his hands, large and calloused.
She often studied the sense of sorrow on his brow; that sadness found even deeper in those ink blue eyes. She knew also that his was a person rich with humor and the intelligence of a nevertheless tortured race. Like all his countrymen, he was the traveler from uprooting and great distances. Losses and judgments tolled in his memory to a point where what he was in youth and what he is now became chambered in his quietness.
Yes she knew him, but not really. Everything about him was masculine, most of all in the expedition of his gait and long stride. Perhaps all men have a natural scent and his was also that of the open hearth fire, always accompanied by his habit of carrying tobacco. When drinking their whiskey and beer, the aroma of pleasure encircled both of them lingering like warm flowing syrups.. She was his because of his Irish ways, his mysticism, wit and his charm for her. They never became quite as intoxicated by their drinking, or not nearly as much affected as they were by each other.
They were to sail out of Belfast, suitcases packed and the lorry motor running that was to take them along the River Bann and there to the old Quays of Belfast Harbor where the ocean liner, Sea Star was anchored. There was a berth below decks assigned to Brendan E. McGrath. It was a sea voyage for them as it has been for centuries with those leaving the country. Sadly, departures were more common than staying in the homeland for most single, not yet married individuals.
At that moment a dark green van with British markings and the words, ROYAL IRISH CONSTABULARY on the roof and rear windshield, pulled up blocking the path of the lorry. Three uniformed police got out and stood bold as trained pit bulls before the seaside cottage of the McGrath family; a McGrath tenant’s dwelling for well over one hundred years.
One of the police tweeted persistently on a chrome whistle waving to the lorry driver to shut down the diesel engine. When the motor was silent and sea gulls with their plangent calls became the predominant sound around them, the alarming physical struggle for freedom and civil rights began, as it always did when the North Ireland police went into action. One of the police yelling in McGrath’s ear and only inches away bellowed, “Brendan D. McGrath, you are being arrested and you’re not going anywhere, you son-of-a Catholic bitch.”
McGrath moved between the police and Lillian. At that instant, the smallest of the uniformed intruders hit McGrath with a black baton injuring the area of the cerebral cortex which bent McGrath’s head down for the next crushing blow into the cerebellum behind the right ear, a forceful clubbing that would disturb some of McGrath’s abilities for the rest of his life. McGrath had one policeman’s hand clenched in his own two hands and he was yanking the man’s fingers apart. When the biggest of the Policemen pushed Lillian to the ground to stop her flailing fists, McGrath broke the fingers of the adversary in his immediate grip.
While McGrath and the three men fought, Lillian lay on the cinders of the roadway, twilight in its glory was tar brushed by darkness. Lillian was up on one knee, her chin jutting in the direction of the now rumbling police van, black as a hearse as it drove off. She tossed her hair back off her face and rose up defiantly to her feet. Gathering her soiled shawl from the ground, she pulled it over her head and shoulders, and unconsciously trotted, with child like hesitations, after the sound of the police van.
With her footing on the ancient roadway giving way to lose stones and slippery pebbles she finally halted alone in total darkness. The van could no longer be heard on the lower coastal road. With only the glimmer of moonlight, she turned and ran back and down the hillside to the old priests cottage along the eastern shoreline. She used a stick to tap on his door, yelling that the Constabulary had taken Brendan, and that they had the wrong man.
The sad old priest stepped out into the night air and said to her, “Tis our heavy cross to bear Lillian,” and then he hunched his back and turning to the her tearful eyes he said, “My dear Lillian, lovely as you be, you will never convince the authorities to believe you, nor will any of those ruffians care to find the whereabouts of the true criminal if there is one, dear.”
She blinked back her tears and said to her prelate, his age and white hair like a relic to her, “The idiots called Brendan, Brendan D McGrath instead of Brendan E; they got the wrong man, Father. Can you not lift a voice to defend one of your own, your flock?”
“My voice is like a broken reed blowing in the wind to the likes of them brutes.
McGrath was an unconscious body moving with the bumps on the coastal road in the lock-up of the dark green police van. Far behind him now, Lillian fell against the priest and stumbled from his arms. Brendan D. (Damon) McGrath on British record as a Belfast fugitive was hiding all the while, according to British intelligence, someplace, in or around, Coalisland in County Tyrone. Hours later the Sea Star vessel left port with an empty cabin reserved by a Brendan E. McGrath.
The Royal Irish Constabulary police would take Brendan McGrath and other captives to the North of Ireland and imprison or execute them. It was 1921 and no one of authority in the North who could intervene, would do so. When the South of Ireland became the 1922 Free State of Ireland early in the following year, small groups of political prisoners held in the North where gradually released.
One man, when the legalese of a pardon was concluded, came through the border check point outside the Belfast prison walls in a horse drawn prison wagon with a gaggle of other Irishmen. The driver carried an official pardon that read, “Province of Ulster, County Tyrone, Ireland of the United Kingdom – Sentence suspended by order of His Majesty – 30 January, 1923… ” The name, Bernard D. McGrath was listed on the pardon sheet giving at least temporary political freedom and freedom of movement but not to Brendan E. McGrath from that day forth.
Yes she knew him, but not really, because when her Brendan McGrath arrived back home and was telling her his story he said to her, “There has always been much necessary mystery coming from the bog lands of Northern Ireland, and some will forever say the really toughened Irishmen come from deep within those ancient bogs.”
“And what do we do now?” she said.
He answered with a most earnest voice, “My release papers are of great value Lilian. I want to deliver them to that Irish, bog land soldier Brendan D. who has fought for our freedom at great pearl. Surin I uncovered where he’d be found while I was behind those prison walls.”
It was that day that the two of them went to meet the alleged rebel Brendan D. McGrath, a bartender using the name, Patrick Smith and working in a popular pub near Aughnamullen Ireland. Brendan D. was clearly well informed of Brendan E’s captivity. The real Captain Brendan D. McGrath was a Northern Bog Country Catholic, Provisional I.R.A. officer and combatant, successfully hiding for years. The two men took a drink together with a very quiet but curious Lillian looking on.
Brendan E. passed the official British Pardon paper to the real Brendan D. The two McGraths never met or spoke to each other again. Lillian and Brendan sailed, finally, out of Belfast, leaving forever the yet embattled six counties and the Free State of Ireland bound for New York and another life. While they settled in the American city of Philadelphia, Patrick Smith vanished from Aughnamullen, He stayed openly in the Bog Country under the identity of Brendan D. McGrath a pardoned ex-convict of the British Crown.
Twilight evenings were uncommon in Philadelphia but whenever one appeared, Lillian would gaze ruefully at her husband, occasionally asking him, are you not the Captain, or that devil Damon? She had a cautious habit, in the company of their American friends who happened to have English sounding names, of referring to him safely as, he’s the Irishman. If the drinks they were sharing became intoxicating, it was more often, he’s my only Irishman.
Irish matters of great import to any McGrath happened everyday in the Bog lands of Northern Ireland, never to be betrayed. Often words and names where changed or made over cleverly as opportune to cover identities in those Bog Lands. False or true IRA developments were expected to be optimized by the oppressed and suitable for any other purpose, especially those occurring at just the right time. Often such schemes were mistakenly taken by the baffled British authoritarians to be just, the dumb luck of the damn Irish.
“Brendan, Pat, Damon or Eamonn, or Papist Pig, what’s the difference in your identity when it’s being with you here Lillian and free, or being Pat Smith safe once more to come and go on the Bog Lands of the North,” said The Irishman, while sitting on their front porch during one of those uncommonly hazy lit summer evenings in Philadelphia.
“And with you in this lovely twilight, whoever you are sir,” whispered Lillian.
“Trathnona maith duit,” said the real Patrick Smith to his Irish girl.
“Yes and a very good evening to you dear.”
John McCabe, a lifelong writer in all genres, is an active member of the Writers Guild at the Pearl S. Buck Writing Center. His novel The Sanctity of Remembering centers on his experience as a young soldier undergoing atomic bomb testing in Nevada and is actively seeking a publisher.