Published by: Leitrim County Council Arts Office © Jo Holmwood 2013 All rights reserved Edited by: Dermot Healy ISBN: 978-0-9576189-0-9 Photos pp. 2, 4, 6, 20, 30, 34, 45, 56, 68, 74-75 (except headstone image & picture Mrs Maher), 78, 79, and inside back cover © Bush Hotel Photos of news extracts, pp. 16, 62 © Leitrim Observer, reproduced by kind permission of Editor Claire Casserly. Canon image pp. 8 © Liz Smith, reproduced by kind permission. Timeline: Hugh Kelly conviction (pp. 9), Home Rule Candidate meeting (pp. 10) and Mohill Friendly Cycling Club (pp.11), all © Leitrim Observer, reproduced by kind permission of Editor Claire Casserly. Banquet extract (pp. 11) & Carrick Volunteers extract (pp.12), originally published in the Freeman’s Journal. West’s Personality Battle image & Pioneers day trip (both pp. 14), originally published in the Irish Press. Photo pp. 25, reproduced by kind permission of Carrick-on-Shannon & District Historical Society. Photos pp. 26, 38, 40, 49, Headstone image pp. 75, Housekeeping cupboard & roadside images pp. 84 – Author’s own. Proclamation to the Common People of County Leitrim pp. 72, originally published in Gerard McAtasney’s book ‘Leitrim and the Croppies 1776-1804’, reproduced by kind permission of Carrick-on-Shannon & District Historical Society. Architectural plans pp. 76-77 reproduced by kind permission of Conor Gray, C. Gray & Associates Architects, Carrickon-Shannon Architectural plans pp. 80-81, reproduced by kind permission of Kevin Rooney at Rooney Associates Architects, Dublin Photo pp. 83, Bush Hotel field, reproduced by kind permission of Mary Dolan at Carrick-on-Shannon Local History Centre. Designed by: Shane Finan (shanefinanart.org) Printed by: Nicholson & Bass Ltd. http://bushhotelartist.blogspot.ie/
Under the one roof A creative memory document of the Bush Hotel
by Jo Holmwood Edited by Dermot Healy
This book is dedicated to the memory of Andrew Dolan (1991-2012)
About Spark Spark is new initiative developed by Leitrim County Council Arts Office and Leitrim County Enterprise Board with the support of the Arts Council of Ireland. The programme is aimed at artists who are interested in working in new environments and companies who are interested in collaborating with artists and promoting creativity within their organisations. As part of Spark, artists take on the roles of ‘artist’ and ‘creative collaborator’ within a company in County Leitrim. Artists are provided with the opportunity to make work influenced by the environment, staff or working practices of a company, to explore different methods of working, new influences and to produce art in a unique context that allows for greater participation in its creation. As creative collaborator, the artist can propose new and different creative and innovative paths, and serve as a catalyst for new thinking within companies. The artist can address areas where benefit to the company could accrue, developing new attitudes towards creativity in the workplace or adoption of new thoughts on products, service users or the wider society. In both roles, there are no pre-determined outcomes and the journey the residency takes defines its own path as it progresses. Spark was developed in direct response to companies who want to think more laterally about how they do things, and who want to introduce more creative perspectives on their current practice. Equally it responds to artists who are interested in working in collaborative contexts outside of their conventional workplace and outside the conventional borders of their artform. Ultimately, Spark is about creativity and creative thinking. If making art is about thinking differently each time about how to best research, enquire and communicate a new concept, idea or sentiment, as part of the Spark programme, this methodology, long proven in conventional art spaces, has found a new application at the Bush Hotel. Philip Delamere, Leitrim County Council Arts Officer
Welcome One of Irelandâ€™s oldest hotels, the Bush started life as an Inn and resting point for tired travellers and their weary horses on the Bianconi Stage Coach route between Dublin and the Northwest. Inn keeping continues to this day and the Hotel has been sensitively developed blending modern day hospitality with old world charm. The Bush is steeped in history, tradition and character with many memorabilia from the past much of which â€˜Under the one roofâ€™ has indeed admirably captured and reflected. This Book is a successful outcome of a fortuitous and timely coming together of likeminded people with knowledge, enterprise, determination (and some resources!). I acknowledge the assistance of Leitrim County Council, the Enterprise Board and Arts Council in selecting the Bush Hotel in the SPARK Programme. I salute the very professional, innovative (and independent!) approach of the author and Artist in Residence, Jo Holmwood; her dedication, most pleasant disposition and good humour ensured that the success of the initiative was never in doubt. To the so many who have assisted Jo in her research (and none more so than the Maher Family) I also convey my sincere appreciation. Were it not for the cumulative effort of all the above this fantastic publication would never have materialised. Enjoy the read.
Joe Dolan, Managing Director, March 2013
Artist’s Statement This book is the culmination of a six-month creative residency that I undertook in the Bush Hotel in the second half of 2012. I was delighted to be awarded this residency, as I saw great potential, given the extensive history of the Bush Hotel, to use creative writing as a tool for documenting aspects of the hotel both past and present – its intimate day-to-day workings, as well as its role against the backdrop of the wider social history of Leitrim, Carrick-on-Shannon, and even Ireland. The theme of my residency was broadly ‘Corporate Memory’, which referred to the ‘organisational knowledge’ within the hotel; details of its role and function, and the roles and functions of those who work within it. The individuals who inhabit an organisation are unique assets, not only in their physical presence but also because of the intangible or tacit knowledge that they carry with them and my interest was in capturing and documenting this knowledge and how it has been passed on over more than 200 years. As part of this process, the organisation too becomes a folkloric figure in the town’s history; part of the collective consciousness; a whole made up of hundreds of parts, human and inanimate. In some ways then it is a microcosm of Ireland itself; a prism through which society can be seen refracted in many colours. As a writer, the possibilities of this were limitless. Over the course of this six-month collaboration, what has emerged is a document, in which I have sought to share snapshots of the hotel, through fiction and fact: photographic documentation, creative interpretation and historical footnotes. ‘Corporate Memory’ has now translated into what I would prefer to call ‘Organisational Folklore’. Some of the stories in this book are more ‘real’ than others, but with all of them I have attempted to convey a truthfulness through the lens of creative fiction. This was a very exciting and unique collaboration between myself and the Bush Hotel and I am grateful to them for being so open to the creative process.
7Jo Holmwood 2013
Timeline A Spring Tide Page 69
Window & Hearth tax abolished Opened as a coaching inn by Peter Darby McDermott
b. Arthur McDermott Descendant of Peter Darby McDermott
The French rebellion Humbertâ€™s Canons get stuck in the bog!
The Execution of Hugh Kelly Page 17
Rumoured to be a member of the Molly Maguires but was executed for the murder of McGreevy
Daycoach runs to Dublin
1848 1840s The famine years
Cholera epidemic Watchmen in Carrickon-Shannon prevent strangers from stopping in the town
b. Ellen â€“ Arthurâ€™s future wife
The Home Rule Candidate Page 63
Roman Catholic meeting to decide parliamentary Home Rule candidate
Ellen McDermott appeals against the reduction of the 7 day licence
Death of Arthur McDermott Arthur McDermott contracted to supply meat to Carrick Union b. Thomas J. McDermott â€“ Arthurâ€™s son
Ellen McDermott requests a transfer of the liquor licence
Bush Hotel provides food for the policemenâ€™s ball. Among the supplies were 2 legs of mutton, 3 hams, 10 chickens and 12 shillings worth of cigarettes
Census shows Ellen McDermott as the proprietress of the Bush Hotel
In the evening over forty guests were entertained at a banquet, supplied by Mrs McDermott, in her usual well known style...
Meeting of councillors to discuss the ban on flying the national flag
Thomas J. McDermott at amnesty demonstration, Ballinamore
1896 Nationalist demonstration
Land league meeting Meeting of Leitrim Liberal Club Land league committee banquet Extraordinary demonstration Mohill cycling club
Demolition of old thatch building and hotel rebuilt with slate roof Page 76
McDermott & Hamilton join forces as auctioneers Gun Club shoot Pat McHugh MP stays overnight on his way to Ballinagleera Queenâ€™s County team and visitors dined at Bush Hotel Clay pigeon shoot Ellen McDermott dies Members of the Royal Commission on Congestion in Ireland stay at the Bush Hotel (see p. 2)
Thomas J. McDermott attends the Easter demonstration
James W Slacke dies as a result of a fall at the Bush Hotel
1915 1917 1916 Death of Thomas J. McDermott
A Happy Dawn Page 51 Michael Collins stays at Bush Hotel
Mary Elizabeth, widow of Thomas J., attends annual luncheon of the Irish Tourist Association at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin
Death of Mary Elizabeth â€“ widow of Thomas J. McDermott
The big snow
The Big Snow Page 35
AGM of the Connaught branch of the IASA held at the Bush Hotel Meeting held at the Bush Hotel to discuss new centres for education Minister for health MP Flanagan opens ‘Disabled person of the year’ at the Bush Hotel The Bush Hotel is one of 7 hotels participating in a tourist link-up
Change to decimal currency
Renovations of the hotel, led by builder Jimmy Stenson, architect Denis Kelly and quantity surveyor, Coveney
Pioneers day trip & lunch
Sport For All convention at Bush Hotel
Sean Lemass and de Valera visit the Bush Hotel while attending Stephen Flynn’s funeral in Drumkeeran
A Slight Cold Page 27
Taoiseach Jack Lynch ‘mops up’ at Bush Hotel during 1973 election campaign
Shifting Buckin’ Tables Page 46
New function room built, and access road to N4 bypass
1993 Dolan family buy the Bush Hotel
Mary McAlease launches her presidential campaign at the Bush Hotel
Hotel extension – new bedrooms, conference centre and ballroom Mary O’Rourke launches her memoir in Mulvey’s Carrick-on-Shannon and lunches at the Bush Hotel Artist-in-Residence at the Bush Hotel
The Execution of Hugh Kelly
“What is this place?” Foxwood said.
The sun had outstripped them. Another day on the road and it had arrived before they had, nestling into the horizon ahead of them, leaving only a pale waning strip of light that Daniel thought perhaps he only now imagined. It could be just a lingering flash in his eyes from staring so hard into the growing darkness, but the surrounds were still visible. Clouds pushed along in the dusky sky. Trees ran alongside them and disappeared. Water surrounded them; a low silent network of lakes, which they seemed to be following. The carriage driver, at least, knew where he was going. Daniel was afraid of so much water. As a young child, he had fallen into a puddle and nearly drowned, and the very sight of it cast fear into him ever since. But it looked impressive; long strips of it that seemed to lead the way out west, fringed by rustling reeds, and presided over by ducks that might soon migrate to even cooler climes. Clunk! Clunk! The carriage bundled over a small stone bridge and turned sharply, so that Mister Foxwood had to hold onto his hat to keep it in place.
“Where are we now eh?” He shouted up.
“Roosky,” the driver roared back. “We shall be at Carrick in less than an hour.”
“Less than an hour!” Mister Foxwood said. “The sooner this country gets proper railroads, the
better. The roads here are even worse than in Lancashire.”
Daniel closed his eyes. Every turn of the wheels seemed to induce a bump from some stone or
pothole. “I could pee for England,” he murmured.
“Well we ‘ent stopping for nowt between here and our destination, so you can tie a knot in it
lad!” When they arrived at the coaching inn, Daniel took the bags and Foxwood pulled his cloak about him.
“Mind the puddle,” Daniel said. But Mister Foxwood’s boot had already struck it with a
resounding splash that sent dirty water up onto his trousers.
“Don’t it do anything but rain in this country, eh?” he said, although the rain had stopped. The
driver took the horses down the lane to be fed and stabled.
Inside, the inn was warm with a wide hearth fire and gas lamps flickering on the walls. “This is
the proprietor’s wife,” Foxwood said quietly to Daniel, as they made their way through the hall.
“Have you been here before then?” Daniel asked with surprise.
“Aye, a course lad. Don’t ‘e think they commit crimes in Ireland?”
“Well Mister Foxwood, you’re welcome,” the lady said.
“Always a pleasure Missus McDermott.”
“And, you have company.”
“This is my new assistant Daniel O’Connor,” Foxwood said. “He’s just starting out.”
“Ah!” Missus McDermot opened a large ledger and motioned for them to scrawl their names.
“Well, you must be Irish so?” she said to Daniel.
Daniel shook his head. “Manchester, born and reared,” he replied.
“Well some predecessor was surely from these parts one time,” she said. “There’s O’Connors all
over Connaught so there are.”
“Is that so?”
“Ay. You’ve the colouring too,” she said. Daniel blushed. “You did not come in on the Bianconi, I
“No ma’am we didn’t. We hired a chaise from Dublin. It is one of the perks of the job. But it’s a
long road all the same.”
“Oh it’s long indeed,” Missus McDermott said. “You men must be wild with hunger.”
“You might say. Have you anything for us to eat?”
“Of course. The cook has thick kidney soup and pig’s liver and onions, if you would like.
Potatoes are in short supply, but we have bread...”
“That’ll do us fine,” Foxwood said. “We’re not fussy are we Dan?”
The restaurant was down a short flight of stairs, at the back of the hotel. Daniel could hear people passing in the laneway and the neighing of horses in the stables behind. Foxwood drank beer and had loosened the collar of his shirt. He was in high spirits; a working class man with more purpose than most. Daniel had observed how he changed when he was in front of a crowd. The job elevated him. Foxwood took pride in his role, as though it were part of a great stage performance. He always dressed carefully for the
occasion, making sure to have a clean suit, gloves and boots. Daniel had watched him tread the boards of the gallows carefully before each execution, to ensure he was familiar with the space within which he was to operate and then… the glory of the finale. He could see that Foxwood enjoyed it, even though all the eyes in the crowd were never fixed on him, but on the stertorous demise of the condemned. Daniel shivered. He was still getting used to it. But it was a wage. Two guineas per execution, on average. And it was that or follow his father down the mines.
“What did this fellow do then?” he asked, mopping his plate with a bit of bread.
“Murder, I believe,” Foxwood said, taking another swig of beer. “Not that it’s my business. Once
they’ve been tried and sentenced that’s all that matters. The judgement is handed down and me and thee see to it that it’s carried out. That’s all we’re paid for. Not to speculate on the details lad.”
Foxwood raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t you sometimes wonder?”
“Wonder what lad?”
“About their motives, I mean. Why they did it, like. Or whether they repent at all, or what. Or
whether they’re afraid of death.”
Foxwood leaned back and stared at Daniel, with what seemed like contempt. Then he said, “All
I know is that every man knows right from wrong. And them that chose to do wrong, know what they bring upon themselves. Empathy and pity lad, they’re not for us. You’re in the wrong business if you start down that route.”
“I must take a leak,” Foxwood said.
Daniel looked about. The room was all but empty, save for a girl who cleared the tables.
Foxwood always grumbled that the judiciary received the very best treatment during trials; private sitting rooms and so on, while they, as mere executioners, were only given basic bed and board. But to Daniel it all seemed agreeable enough. The place was warm and as long as there was a good horsehair mattress to rest on, he did not care too much about the rest. His stomach was full and that put him in good spirits, even though the eve of a new job gave him a sense of nervous anticipation. He drank so as not to think about it.
The girl came to take his plate.
“Was all to your liking?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said, looking up at her. She was attractive, and not undernourished as so many he
had seen along the journey. He knew what had happened here and Foxwood had told him about the depravity of the poorhouses. “Places such as ‘e would never wish to set foot in,” he had said.
“Are ye from England?” The girl asked.
“Is it pleasant there?”
Daniel thought of the London fog, the filthy streets, the stench of sewage, the toothless urchins
and stinking wenches who showed up at every hanging to pick people’s pockets and slaver at the misfortune of those who were to be executed. There was not a famine in England, but he had seen typhus and cholera, and he had heard of another called syphilis, which was particularly nasty.
“Not so nice as you might imagine,” he said.
“Do you live here?” he asked.
She nodded. “It’s this or the workhouse,” she said.
“What’s your name?”
“Agnes!” The proprietress bellowed from the doorway. “You’re needed in the kitchen. Get those
dishes cleared away.”
In the morning, Daniel saw that it had rained overnight. But it was a blustery spring day and the skies were bright and clear. Foxwood was whistling. He had gone out after supper in search of entertainment and whatever kind he had found, he had woken in the best of spirits.
They walked out to the gaol house, an imposing stone building that stood on the very edge of the
town on the banks of the river Shannon. A wooden gallows had been erected at the front of it, according to Foxwood’s specifications. He and Daniel inspected it closely.
“Well Daniel?” Foxwood enquired. “Will it do?”
Daniel looked at the platform, the trap doors and the overhang for the rope. “Aye sir. It seems to
“Yes,” Foxwood confirmed. A gust of wind blew along the river so that the tails of Foxwood’s
coat flapped about his legs. The sun flared bright and then was dulled by a new blanket of cloud passing across it.
“I notice sir, that it is a short drop,” Daniel said.
Foxwood looked briefly across the rippling river, his face turned to the wind. Then he glanced
up at the high small windows of the gaol, where presumably the condemned man was confined.
“That is our preferred method.”
“We said we might try the long drop in future, for a clean break of the neck.”
“Not for this crowd,” Foxwood said. “They will like the prolonged nature of strangulation. They
are morbid in these parts lad. Enough have died by unnecessary means. When it comes to one who dies deservedly, they delight in it. I promise you, they will savour his suffering.” “Really?”
“Oh yes.” Foxwood walked away, once again staring across the river. Then he turned sharply
back. “This is a nation in grief Daniel,” he said. “They need an outlet.”
Daniel thought of what Foxwood had said at supper; that it wasn’t their job to cast judgement
on the degree of crime that had been committed, or the degree of punishment. And yet, he knew that by subjecting Mister Kelly to the short drop, Foxwood was imposing a far longer and more painful death upon him. But the long drop was a newer method and more involved. He shrugged. “I thought perhaps they’d seen enough death, but I suppose some common folk never tire of it.”
“Exactly,” Foxwood replied.
By late morning the crowds were gathering on the banks of the river and on the rise of the new bridge, which Missus McDermott had urged Daniel and Mister Foxwood to look at.
“We will see it from the gaol house,” Foxwood had said.
“Aye, but you will be busy labouring. And it is quite something to see at close hand,” she said.
Foxwood muttered to himself as they walked the length of St George’s Terrace. “Does she think
we’ve never seen a proper bridge before!”
More people gathered on the far bank of the river, which bowed in a loop right around them.
The town had a watery noose of its own, which threatened to rise up and drown the town. Surely a heavy rain would be enough to strangle the place, Daniel thought as he stood on the scaffold and looked down. His legs were weak from the height and the sight of the water. He had tested the drop already and
now it was only a matter of time before the prisoner was brought out. He expected a great rowdy, bawdy clamour, the same as they got in London, but there was only a low murmur and a sweep of sullen faces. They were a bedraggled lot, hungry and stricken looking with poor clothing and some with no shoes on their feet at all. But as the crowd swelled, the spirits were brighter and the prospect of a spectacle seemed to bring them into a kind of quiet camaraderie.
When the prisoner, Hugh Kelly, was finally brought out into the light, the crowd surged
suddenly forward and a cheer came from across the river, where they couldn’t physically advance.
“There must be two thousand here at least,” Foxwood said. “I didn’t think there were so many
people in this town.”
It was Daniel’s job to strap the man’s feet to the gallows, which he did quickly. He was swarthy
and sinister looking all right, but Daniel felt his muscles shaking. He was not allowed to speak to the prisoner but when he had the feet tethered he said, “It’ll be over quick.”
He stood back. He watched as Foxwood put the noose around the man’s neck. The rope dangled
with menace. Soon it would be taut, straining under the dead weight. He remembered going into the mines once with his father. It was pitch black down there. More frightening than anywhere he had ever been. More frightening even than the prospect of flailing in water. They crawled through the cold rock and he heard the sound of picks and shovels at the coalface. There was a pulley system in place to carry the coal to the surface. It squealed as the rope wheeled up and down; light and high as it came down; heavy and strained as it went up. One day, his father had told him, the rope had snapped and the coal had fallen down on top of a man. That was a death Daniel could not fathom.
“Do you have any last words?” Foxwood asked in a loud voice for the benefit of those gathered.
The man raised his head. A whisper passed through the crowd. The faces of those at the
front turned upwards too, in collective expectation. Daniel had heard murmurings among them that McGreevy’s death was not the only one this man was responsible for, whoever McGreevy was anyway. It meant nothing to him. Aside from the irrepressible wonder as to why any man could be driven to kill. A total hush had descended. Kelly leaned forward and implored the crowd with a wail.
“Pray for me!” he cried.
They groaned with disappointment. They wanted more.
At the last moment, as he heard Kelly fall into the shallow void and the rope labour on his throat for what might be minutes, he saw the girl far back in the crowd, close to the fast flowing river. How had he
singled her out? A move of the head perhaps. Her eyes were dipped, in sorrow, or respect. Or perhaps she could not stomach the grasping, suffocating demise of any man, guilty or not. She raised her head and stared, not at Hugh Kelly, but at Daniel. Their eyes met through a sea of faces, all fixated on the singular process of death.
“Agnes,” he said quietly to himself. Her eyes were as dark as coals thrown out in the snow.
When Kelly drew a last wheezing, exasperated breath, the crowd cheered. Agnes blinked once and crossed herself.
“That’s you lad,” Foxwood said, motioning for Daniel to release the body from the stranglehold
of the rope and lay it out.
“Yes sir,” Daniel said.
Foxwood stood with his hands on his hips, his round belly pushing at the buttons of his coat.
“You might be right after all,” he said. “There is something satisfactory about the finality of the snap of the neck. We might try the long drop next time.”
“Whatever you think sir.”
“That way, it is all done in the blink of an eye.”
25 The old stone bridge, built in 1718
A Slight Cold It is November and the Shannon is cold. It spools like a film that will never end. In the darkness it is almost silent, heaving through the wide banks that try to divide Roscommon and Leitrim. The town of Carrick-on-Shannon sleeps side by side with the river. It is barely awake, save for the delivery van that rocks as its engine turns over. Its exhaust rattles as the driver loads broadsheets at Mulvey’s door. His face tells of weariness. There will be no tea before he has reached Enniskillen. Even the birds are still silent in the darkness, unsure when to expect the dawn light. The driver slams the van door and drives on towards Bridge Street.
Mrs Maher, not long risen from her bed, sweeps the front step of the hotel and watches the dirt
catch Mister Costello’s shoes as he hurries by.
“Good morning Mister Costello,” she says, pretending she has not seen it fly over his soft leather
“Hello Mrs Maher!” He is too preoccupied with his morning tasks to notice a bit of dust in the
dark winter street. A cold mist is still sinking down the hill at St Mary’s Close, so low that it seems to threaten to jump down the collar of his shirt. No rain yet though. For that they are grateful.
She closes the door and goes to the kitchen to check that Cook has put the water on for the tea
and has the pans ready for breakfast. Miss Roarty is setting up the restaurant for breakfast.
“Awful cold,” Cook says. The skin of his face is pimpled and blanched like raw pancake batter.
“Bitter!” The telephone rings early. They are calling me already, she thinks. A hotel never sleeps! And Mister Maher barely out of his bed.
“Hello, Bush Hotel.”
The operator says, “A call from the Dáil for Mister Maher. Can I connect you?”
A bit of dust catches in her throat. “The Dáil?” she says, trying to disguise her surprise. “Yes put
It is a lady’s voice. “I’m calling from Dublin, from Mister De Valera’s office. I was instructed to speak with the proprietor, Thomas Maher.”
She casts her gaze across reception as if she might find him standing there, instead of in the
restaurant eating sausages and drinking tea. Then she says, “Hold the line please.” And she runs to fetch him.
“Come quickly!” she says. “Mister De Valera’s office is on the telephone.”
If her son were here he would surely tell her that offices can’t make telephone calls. But she is
thinking about work that needs to be done. She will have to ask young Tess to polish the brass and pass the carpet sweeper again in reception. Tom comes back into the restaurant and resumes the consumption of his sausages. “Well?”
“De Valera and Seán Lemass are coming.”
“This afternoon. After Stephen Flynn’s funeral. They will want a hot dinner and they are staying
“God bless us and save us!”
“He passed away on Thursday.”
“And them only telling us now!”
“Funeral’s in Drumkeeran. Sure, where else would they stay?”
“Where indeed. Thank God the renovations are finished.” She looks across the room. The
building work took nearly a year. The pig sheds and old farm buildings were taken away. Twenty-six new rooms were added, and the kitchen was extended. There was now central heating throughout the whole hotel, hot and cold water in all the bedrooms, and double-glazing added to all the original sash windows. She eyes the tables and chairs, which have been newly purchased from Arnotts in Dublin. Her mother always rated Arnotts above all other department stores. But she wonders if she would approve of the modern furnishings that she and Tom have chosen to complement the refurbishments. It is hard to do anything in the hotel without first wondering what her mother might have done in her place. And now what would she say about having Uachtaráin and Taoiseach under the one roof? Her roof!
“We’d better get the rooms ready,” she says. “Where is Grace?”
“I’ll go next door and get some meat,” Tom says. “But I’ll finish my sausages first.”
The rain comes at lunchtime. She sees shadows pass across the front door. The clouds are like assassins raining bullets through the Main Street.
“Are they coming in a motorcar?” She asks. Tom is flicking all the light switches to check that
none of the bulbs are gone.
“They won’t be coming up tha’ river on a barge anyways.”
“I only wondered. They might’ve got the train.”
“The train? He’d be in the ground and buried before they got here.”
“Well, I don’t know.”
She imagines the two men side by side on the back seat of the Plymouth Dodge. She has seen
pictures of it. Five metres of shiny black metal, worked into smooth curves that you can almost see your reflection in. It has a split windscreen and chrome lines that run down the sides; a long straight bonnet and a neat little tail that curves towards the chrome bumper at the back. What do these men talk about on such a long journey?
Grace Roarty is dusting and polishing.
“Perhaps we should get a new visitors book,” she says, as she stacks and neatens the papers and
ledgers that cover the desk in the reception lounge. “For the president to sign.”
“That is a good idea,” says Mrs Maher. “I will see if I can get one in Mulvey’s.” She puts on her
coat and steps out into the rain, glad of the distraction.
“Is it warm enough in here?” Mr Maher asks.
“Oh yes, I think so,” Grace replies.
“The boiler has been on all morning.”
Eyleen Maher returns with a visitors book and sets it proudly at the front of the reception desk, opened at the first clean page. It is green, which is accidental, but perhaps fitting. She has also bought a new ink pen to leave beside it.
When the car finally pulls up, its round headlamps catch the drizzle in the quickly fading light.
The days are short and this one has a lingering funereal gloom.
“They are here,” the porter says.
The two men are accompanied by a secretary, Miss O’Connell, who wears an interesting two-piece
suit and carries a smart vanity case. Three rooms have been made ready for them. The housemaids are exhausted from running up and down the stairs to the new top floor. They have spent all morning and half of the afternoon buffing the bathroom floors, shining the taps, smoothing the beds, plumping the cushions, passing the carpet sweeper and brushing the curtains. The rooms are spotless. There is a private sitting room too, which has been reserved for them, and this is where Missus Maher leads them to now. De Valera has keenly signed the visitors book, while Lemass was sneezing into his hanky.
“It is a bad day for a funeral,” Missus Maher says.
The president has aged, she notices. But of course, he is seventy-eight. The years in politics have
seen his hair thin, his cheeks sag, and his ears grow a little bigger, but she admires him all the same. He and Lemass have worked for many years together and now Lemass is in the driving seat while de Valera is the figurehead – the embodiment of State.
“We will have dinner ready for you shortly,” she says.
“Has a room been organised for my driver?” The President asks.
“Oh yes, he is being looked after. And the car is parked in the garage beside the gardens.”
A small room has been prepared for the three of them for dinner. They come in and sit at the table, which has been laid with a starched tablecloth and the finest silver cutlery and china delph. There is fresh water on the table that has been brought from the pump at Shannon Lodge. It is the purest in the town.
“Would you like me to take your coat?” Missus Maher says, noticing that Mr Lemass is still
wearing his overcoat. The slightly damp smell of it has followed him into the room. It is a nice coat all the same. She seems to remember that his father was into tailoring or drapery on Capel Street, and it shows.
“No, you’re alright. I’ll keep it on for a while,” he replies.
Miss O’Connell leans across and says, “He has a slight cold.”
“I’m sorry to hear it. Would you like a tonic of any kind, maybe a hot whiskey?”
He shakes his head.
They choose their meals. There is meat or fish: herring or whiting, or ham or beef. And soup to
start. She goes to the kitchen to tell Cook what they will eat. But she is concerned for Mister Lemass.
“He has a cold,” she tells her husband.
“It’s the time of year,” he says.
She returns to the small dining room. Tess and Grace have brought the soups and set them
“Mister Harman, the chemist is just next door,” she says. “I’ll pop in to ask him for a pill that I
hear is great for clearing the head cold and drying everything up.”
They nod appreciatively.
Outside it has grown dark. Harman’s shop smells of antiseptic cream, camphor and medicaments. He is there in his white coat; glasses perched on his nose. The bell rings as she closes the door.
“Hello Eyleen,” he says.
“Mister Harman, I have a special favour to ask you.”
He looks at her inquisitively. Normally she is full of small talk.
“We have both the Taoiseach and the Uachtaráin in the house this evening,”
“Have you really?” he says, “Imagine that!”
“But Mister Lemass is come down with a terrible cold.”
“I believe there’s a new medicine, a pill or something, that does wonders for the cold.”
“I know the one you’re talking about Eyleen, but I can’t give it without a prescription.”
He is putting small boxes of creams and ointments out onto the shelves. She notices pretty
perfume bottles on the other side of the shop and thinks of Miss O’Connell’s lovely vanity case.
“Yes, a prescription from the doctor. We have to be quite strict about these things.”
“Of course you do,” she says. He is a protestant through and through. She pulls her coat around
her. “But Mister Harman, he is the Taoiseach. Can’t you make an exception?”
“I’m afraid not. It’s more than my job is worth. Rules are rules, and there is no exception that can
be made. Honey and lemon is a good remedy for the cold.”
“Well never mind, so.”
“Or hot whiskey.”
She goes back to the hotel, her face red. In the small private dining room, she puts her hands together and bows her head.
“I’m very sorry Mister Lemass, but the chemist tells me that the pill I mentioned is available only
on prescription, and since we don’t have one of those to give him…”
Grace and Tess are clearing the soup bowls. The prime minister wipes his face with his napkin,
pushes his chair back and stands up.
“You’re alright Missus Maher, just lead the way. Whatever needs to be signed I’ll sign it.”
She takes him to the street and points to Mister Harman’s shop. She had not intended to send him off in search of it himself, but at least he will get what he needs. Then she goes back to the dining room to check that Miss O’Connell and Mister de Valera are being looked after.
“Mister Harman likes to do things by the book,” she explains. Minutes later, the Taoiseach
returns empty-handed and laughing. “I’ll have that hot whiskey after all,” he says. De Valera and Miss O’Connell look surprised.
“I really must commend the people of this town Missus Maher,” he says, still laughing, “for
upholding so strictly the laws that my colleagues and I put in place!”
She bows to him. It is a sort of curtsey, mixed with the desire for the ground to swallow her up.
When she has regained herself, she goes to seek out her husband, to ask him to stoke up the fires to get the place warm, and make Mister Lemass a hot whiskey. She eyes the poker beside the fire in the lounge and for a short moment she thinks of what she would like to do with it. But Tom comes out of the kitchen laughing. Grace has told him – and all of the kitchen staff – about the Taoiseach’s visit to the chemist.
“He’ll not forget us in a hurry,” Tom says.
“For God’s sake, get him a hot whiskey Tom,” she says. “And stop laughing.”
“I really must commend the people of this town…” She smiles. The bell in reception rings. There are new guests to check in. The smell of cloves wanders.
Bush Hotel gardens under snow
The Big Snow The year after the Emergency ended it was a wet summer. The rain came on heavy in late spring, catching us early on the ride to school. I cycled into town with my brothers and sisters in the early morning when the light was barely up and the hills all around were covered in a grey and gloomy mist. We used to race down the road and when we came to the river, we sped over the bridge never stopping to look at its fast currents and wide trembling girth in the cloudy light of the dawn.
I was only sixteen and finishing my studies in the Vocational School, when the lady from the
hotel came in to talk to us. Miss Reynolds had been telling us for some time that we should soon be thinking about what we would do after the Group Cert, and that if we weren’t doing the Leaving, we would have to get jobs or move abroad like most of our aunts and uncles had done. But I was too fond of home and not inclined to move to any unknown place so far away. We had come in from the yard that morning and were sitting at our desks when Miss Reynolds said there was a visitor come to talk to us from the Bush Hotel and that we should listen carefully to what she had to say.
“There is an opportunity for a young person to get employment in the hotel,” the lady said.
“Now that you are all nearly finished school, perhaps one of you is interested in getting some experience in the hotel business.” We were quiet for a time and I looked at Miss Reynolds to see if she approved of this idea or not, but her face was just blank, her eyes moving over each of us without expectation.
“You can earn five pounds a week,” the lady said. “And your meals and lodgings will be
When I thought about the five pounds, I thought of my mother at home in Drumlion with my
four youngest brothers and sisters and how it would help her for me to be out of the house and earning some money, so I put my hand up.
“Good girl Mai,” Miss Reynolds said. And I was pleased then that I had been the first to put up
The lady told me to talk it over with my mother and father and to let Miss Reynolds know
if I was still interested, so they could make arrangements for me to start when I had completed my
certificate. I went home that evening and asked my mother and father what they thought about me working in a hotel in the town. “If you think you’re cut out for it,” my father said. “We won’t stop you.” And my mother nodded.
“If you don’t like it, you can come back home,” she said.
So I started in the late autumn after a summer of frantic harvesting. And when my time came to
go, I was excited about living out. My mother cried a little when Sonny Feehily came to take my things down to the hotel, but my father said, “She’ll only be in the town. Sure, there’s no loss on her at all.” I told them I would be home for my dinner on Sundays. When I arrived at the hotel, I met Miss Harrington who was the manageress and she told me that I was “very welcome”. Then she gave me a uniform, a dress and pinny, and said I should try them on for size and that after that she would show me to the staff quarters and then I could have a glass of milk and a biscuit. She said she thought I looked like a “decent girl” and that she didn’t see why I shouldn’t get on grand in the hotel, which surprised me, because I had never done any work before and didn’t know how she could tell whether I would be any good or not. But she seemed a nice woman, friendly and fair. In the morning, there was a knock at my door and I washed at the sink and got dressed quickly for fear I would be late starting my work. It was seven o’clock and Miss Harrington was in the best form, tidying reception and telling the staff all the jobs they should be doing.
“Now Mai,” she said, turning towards me. “First I want you to go and take up the blinds in
the lounge, there’s a good girl. And after that you can clean away the glasses from last night, lift all the ashtrays and clean them out, straighten the tables and chairs, sweep out the room and dust all the surfaces.”
“Yes Miss Harrington,” I said, blushing.
But in the lounge, the blinds were unlike anything I had ever seen before, with a long dangling
cord and big hard roll at the top. I stared at them for some time wondering how I could ‘take them up’, as Miss Harrington had said, and finally for fear of wasting time, I pulled up a chair to stand on and began to lift the rolls at the top out of their hooks at each side of the window so that the whole blind could be pulled away. For want of anywhere else to set them, I put them on the window ledges and went about the other jobs Miss Harrington had instructed me to undertake. It was only when the porter came in that I knew for sure I had done it wrong.
“Who took these blinds down?” he said, staring across at me. I felt my face go hot and went to
clean the tables in the corner, making like I hadn’t heard him.
“Did you get up on that chair and take those blinds down?” he said. I looked across at the chair,
which I had forgotten to put back in its rightful place.
“I didn’t know how to take them up,” I said ashamed, expecting him to get thick. But he only
sighed and climbed up onto it himself to replace the blinds and pull them up as should have been done in the beginning. I nearly died with shame when he tugged gently on the cord of each one and they spooled upwards like film reels over the still dark windows.
“That’s how it’s done,” he said, his eyes rolling upwards like the blinds, and at that, Miss
Harrington came in to tell me I could take my breakfast.
In a small room beside the kitchen, a group of them were eating. They nodded at me as I came
in but didn’t stop on my account. Miss Harrington pointed to an empty chair and said, “Now Mai. Help yourself.” There was egg and sausage and rashers on a dish in the middle of the table so I did as she said and took what I wanted. I felt lucky to be fed so well, but the girl beside me said, “you’ll need all the energy you can get.”
“You’ve a good appetite anyway,” Miss Harrington said. The porter came in with a big tray
of cutlery and set about polishing it and stacking it on the sideboard. “Who’s the new lassie?” he said, nodding his head in my direction. I blushed then and slowed my eating, with the shame of all them people looking at me.
“It’s rude to talk over a girl’s head like that.” Miss Harrington said. He shrugged. “That’s Mai.
Another Mai. Like me.” She winked at me.
“I didn’t know your name was Mai, Miss H,” the porter said.
“Go on away out of that,” she said laughing, as if he had paid her a compliment. “You’ve to be
nice to her for her first week. All of you.”
“And after that?”
“Well she’d better learn to lift the blinds right,” the porter said. I nearly choked on a bit of
wheaten. I hoped he wouldn’t tell what I had done and could have cried at the thought of all those people laughing at my stupidity. But he just winked at me and said, “You’ll know for the next day anyway,” and tapped his nose. Then I saw that he wasn’t so mean and thought it was kind of him not to tell the others of my mistake. More than a month after Christmas, a cold wind came down the Shannon, which seemed to shiver and
blanch, and looked awful slothful on its slow drag down towards Roosky. One day I was walking out on my break and saw the boat coming upstream with the Guinness barrels, which were offloaded by the bridge. The man on the boat was a Mister McDermott, not related so far as I knew to the proprietress of the hotel, and I heard him saying to the man at the barrel store who helped take in the barrels that there was a bad storm coming down from the arctic. How he knew it, I couldn’t tell, but sure enough the air was dry and clear, even though the clouds were beginning to sit low on the horizon, all pillowy and grey. I went back to the hotel and told the porter, whose name was Martin, that a storm was coming down from the Arctic.
“Is that so?” he said. “And how would you know there’s a storm coming?”
“You can feel it in the air,” I said, not letting on I had heard it from Mister McDermott.
“Well, you’d better help me get this coal in and these hearth fires lit then,” he said. But I could
tell from the way he smiled that he didn’t credit what I had said to him.
Then, within a day or so, the snow came. It was just flurries at first and Miss Harrington let
me and Annie out to run about in it, trying to catch the flakes on our tongues. But then there was too much work to be done, and we were called in to finish cleaning the rooms and told that the harder we worked, the warmer we would be. We stared out of the windows at the snow. The ground was covered in a blanket of it already and small drifts were forming on the corners of the buildings. We watched the people on the street as they brought all the goods from their shop fronts inside and the men were stabling the horses and moving their carts off the road. What few motorcars there were, were quickly covered in a layer of white and no one dared move them after that.
“Would you look at it coming down!” Annie said excitedly. She was easily distracted. And so too
was I, only I was thinking about how I would get home to my mother and father on Sunday if the snow kept on.
In the hotel reception, some of the guests were gathered in the doorway, staring out at the
blizzard, which is what it quickly had become. Some had their hats and coats on as if they were ready to leave, but already there was word coming up from Longford that the train from Dublin had been delayed and might not arrive at all that day. In the afternoon some of the commercial travellers were laughing and joking with Miss Harrington and Mrs Lowe, who was the assistant manageress, and fooling around as if they were on holiday. But others were put out by the sudden disruption that the weather had caused.
Next thing, men were being called from the town to go out and help the farmers to look for their
sheep and cattle in the snow and bring them in. Miss Harrington ordered Martin to put on his coat and boots and join them, and as he went out of the main entrance he waved at me and Annie, and we were morbidly excited by the idea of the peril he faced, and sorry for him too, dramatically wailing, “Oh Miss Harrington, what if he never comes back?” Later that night, we were having hot milk and biscuits in the kitchen when Martin came back, cold and wet and almost sobbing with exhaustion. “There’s carriages abandoned all along the road,” he said, unlacing his boots.
“What do you mean, Martin?” Annie said. We had not looked out since darkness had fallen,
although we saw, as we pulled the blinds and curtains at the windows, that the snow was falling harder than ever.
“The roads are blocked,” he said. “There’s no way through.” We stared from one to the other in
“What do you mean blocked?” Mrs Lowe said. She was filling clay bottles with hot water to give
to the guests to put in their beds.
“Blocked I said. Tha’ snow is too thick. The boiríns and the drains and tha’ hedges are impossible
to tell apart. They’re all covered in snow to the very top. And the road to Boyle is impassable. There’s motorcars abandoned and please God, the drivers got away quick, ‘caus if not, I hate to think what’s become of them.”
We were quiet for a moment taking in what he had said.
“And the animals?” I said. I had never liked to see an animal in distress or to think of one
“Some farmers have all their animals in,” Martin said. “But for the rest, I imagine it’s too late.
There’s no sense going out now. It’s deathly cold and too dark to see a damn thing!”
We were frightened then. Martin took a sup of milk that Miss Harrington had given him. I
saw her put a drop of whiskey into it for him and he drank it down keenly. When we went out to our quarters, we could hardly believe the sight before us. Even in the pitch of night, we could see the whiteness of the fields, which stretched out down to the river at the back of the hotel. It was all uniform with none of the usual landmarks. It seemed muted too. The snow had dampened the sound of the town and everything was hushed and still. Me and Martin and Annie held onto one another going down the way and all we could see was the clouds of our breath.
“Mind your footing,” Martin said. We clung to him, not wanting to slip on the ice. I lay in my
bed that night thinking of the poor animals that could not be rescued from the fields before the snow and the darkness came so thick and sudden. It did not occur to me to pray for folk who might be caught in the snow, because I did not believe anyone could be so unlucky as to get stuck outdoors in a blizzard like that. Last thing before I fell to dreaming, I thought of my mother and father and ten brothers and sisters in our cottage at home. Although I was surely warmer and safer in the hotel, I wished to be back with them just for a while, sleeping by the hearth fire and feeling the warmth of their bodies in the bed beside me. The blizzard continued on for two whole months.
In that time, I soon got to learning about the workings of the hotel, although things were not
regular on account of the snow. All about the town it was quiet as people did not want to go out and were only trying to keep warm. Martin was forever stoking the fires to keep them going and all we heard was talk of how to get more timber, as the coal could not be brought down from Arigna. We were cleaning and scrubbing to make use of our time, and Cook fed us stories that he picked up from the wireless about elderly people being found frozen to death in their homes, or Johnny Gormley, the postman in Roscommon, who collapsed with hypothermia and would have died only for the farmer who found him and saved him. Or about the two men who had gone out to collect turf from the bog in Sligo and were found dead in a snowdrift four days later.
Despite the fear of God that these stories filled us with, I was desperate to see my mother and
father. I had already received a hand-written message from them, which said ‘Don’t think of coming home until the snow is gone!’ But one day I went over the bridge and up Cortober Hill to look at the road that led out to Drumlion. It was hard to believe that something as soft and pretty as snow could cause so much disruption and even death, but I saw how fierce it was when just getting up the small incline of the hill was a struggle.
“Where are you going girl?” a rail worker said to me. They had been trying to clear the rail lines
“I just want to see if the road to Drumlion is passable,” I said.
“Not passable by any means,” he said, shaking his head, and looking at me carefully to see was I
going to be foolish enough to ignore his warning and try it. I sighed. I knew that he was right. But it was becoming tiresome waiting for the snow to stop falling. Men from all around spent hours trying to clear the way with shovels and picks but the best they could manage was a narrow channel amid the high
walls of snow which lined the route to Boyle and beyond. That was sufficient for the postmen who, come what may, were intent on delivering mail where they could. But for everyone else, such treacherous expeditions were of little appeal and fruitless, as I now realised. Bicycles lay abandoned everywhere as folk had made a go of journeying about the town, only to go slipping on the ice at the first bump or bend.
In the hotel, it was hard to keep going without fresh water and we were so desperate for it that
we took to washing the sheets and towels in melted snow, which after all, was not so fresh and clean as you might imagine. But it was the only thing we had in plentiful quantity. It sat in drifts halfway up the sides of the buildings, and there were great mounds of it down in the fields below and even on the river, which was solid from bank to bank and all the way up to the Shannon pot, I shouldn’t wonder. Shannon herself had been paused in her mythic flow.
Little did the guests know that we were melting snow for their baths too, although I don’t
know where they thought the water was coming from otherwise, as there wasn’t a well in the whole country that hadn’t frozen solid. In the evenings, while they sat close to the fire in the resident’s lounge, which Martin worked so hard to keep alight, and played cards and drank tea, me and Annie and Mary Keville took turns to watch over the pans of snow, which sat on the stove in the kitchen. And then at five minutes to eight, Martin was called in to carry them upstairs to fill the baths for those who had ordered them. Finally, as the evenings stretched out in the springtime, the thaw came, and suddenly there was water everywhere. Never have you seen such a quantity of water all about the place, the very thing we had been needing for so long! And we no longer recognised the town that emerged from underneath all that snow. The buildings seemed naked and cold, and the fields and trees were brown and stunted as if they had been scorched. The river ran fast under the bridge like it was trying to catch itself up and eventually the banks were not enough to hold it in its eagerness and it overflowed out into the fields below the hotel, which were like small lakes with the bushes and the hedges sorrowfully poking out of the them. Anyone wishing to cross over the bridge into Roscommon had to pass through great puddles of water at the bottom of Bridge Street, and there were many who no longer had the luxury of a bicycle since so many had been abandoned in the snow. In the hotel we were busy with people coming and going and the housekeeping duties were greater what with having to change the beds more frequently. The boiler was working again and it began making great groaning and banging noises as the water filtered back into it and the pipes got hot. Martin was delighted about not having to melt any more snow and Miss
Harrington said that we could go back to charging the guests three pence for a proper bath.
“Should ‘ve been charging ‘em two shillings before what with all the extra work we was doing,”
Martin said. “Shovelling snow and putting pans on the stove. I’m glad it’s all over.”
“Will you not miss the pretty white fields?” Annie said to him.
“I will not Annie. If I never see a white field again in my life it will be too soon!” And me and
Annie laughed because we enjoyed teasing him and we knew sure enough that Martin was fed up with the snow because he missed playing the Hurling and the Gaelic.
On the first Sunday after the thaw, I got ready to go home for the evening, my first trip home
in two months. I was excited about getting home to see my mother and father, and brothers and sisters, and also about getting out on my bicycle, which had been safe in the sheds at the back of the hotel all the while. I pushed the bike up to the Main Street and passed Martin by the front door of the hotel. He was washing the windows and the front steps and sweeping away the last of the snow and the dirt and the salt that had collected on the street. It was a soft evening with a pale light that was only just starting to fade. Miss Harrington had let me off a bit early and I was eager to get away. Missus McDermott, the proprietress, would be closing the door at eleven pm, and we had to be back on the dot or else risk being locked out for the night.
“Better get off before it gets dark!” I said, putting my foot on the pedal of the bike.
“Hey Mai!” Martin shouted, as I swung the other leg over and pushed off. I tapped my foot to
the ground and looked back. “How did you know the blizzard was coming?” he said.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Sixth sense!” I said, smiling to myself as I rode off.
2005 Shifting Buckin’ Tables I am running up the buckin’ stairs to the link room at the back of the bar. It is Saturday – a busy day. There are men in the bar watching sport on the big screen and drinking pints of beer. In this country people drink beer from large glasses, which are empty very quickly. The doors to the balcony are open in the bar.
“What brings you to Ireland?” Hugh, the chef, asked me, not long after I arrived.
“The weather,” I said. It was a joke. Here they speak about the weather all the time. But it has
been sunny, with a very pleasant air – a breeze – that blows up on the river. Really, what brings me to Ireland – to Leitrim – is my family. The mother of my sister’s husband lives in Drumsna. I tell this to the customers who are friendly enough to talk to me.
“Ah!” they say. “It’s a small world!” I know what they mean. In my country, we say El mundo es
un pañuelo – the world is a handkerchief. I try to tell them, no this is not a coincidence, but they do not listen. The Irish people are a very friendly race of people. I notice they will look for an excuse to make some connection with you, even when there is not one.
I hurry through the bar. Joseph is busy moving around the tables and rushing between the bar
and the feckin’ kitchen. Often I am helping him here, filling up the ice buckets, pouring drinks, ensuring there are lots of glasses of water, clearing plates from tables – lifting them, as they say. But today Rose and I are setting up for a wedding. It took me some time to understand this: set up. There are too many of these phrasal verbs in this language: hang on; hang out; clear off; give up; put off; take in; make out; give out; give off… These last two are uniquely Irish, I think. It has taken me some time to understand all this.
“Don’t get thick,” I heard one staff say to another. I knew this word. It means the opposite of
thin, and also it means stupid. And I read in my book that it can also mean ‘on very friendly terms’ with someone, as in the instance of ‘thick as thieves’. I was very pleased with myself for knowing all of this. But I could not understand which of these meanings was being employed in the present context. Later, I
discover that it also means angry. How many meanings exactly can one word have? This angry is also a nightmare for me. I challenge any not-English speaking person to identify the difference between hungry and angry when spoken by natives. If a customer comes to me and tells me, ‘I am very hungry,’ I am hesitant, thinking maybe I am going to be told a complaint.
In any case, this day everyone is happy. We are setting up for a wedding and that itself is a
pleasant thing. I like to work with Rose as she knows exactly what is going where and what we must do to have everything ready. She has told me what I must do, which is to set up the rest of the buckin’ tables in the ballroom, the same as the first one, which she did herself. The ballroom is a large function room at the back of the hotel, where the old gardens used to be. How I know this is that a lady customer told me she was married in 1971 and that she had the reception here in the hotel and that in those days, the back stairs, the ones for staffs at the back of the bar, used to lead out (two more phrasal verbs) into very pretty gardens where all the brides and grooms had their photographs taken. That was before the extension and all the new bedrooms and the conference centre.
For a small town, there are a lot of people here working and on the weekend we go out. I miss
the fiestas, but here it is the good craic instead. The nights are black, white and red. They all have their pints of Guinness and I have my red wine (or a gin tonic, but is very expensive, ¡Dios mío!) And the mornings are green and yellow. Pale faces and sickly stomachs. Everyone loves to get twisted, locked, wrecked, wasted, blootered, half cut. But the next day, they are not smiling. Even though Spain too is prosperous, in Ireland it is like a big celebration. The pints are drunk as if tomorrow the world was going to end!
This summer is unusual, they tell me, because it is hot and so there are even more reasons to
drink. At the moment, there are lot of housekeeping staffs because there are so many rooms, and these all must be turned around for new guests. When I arrived, they asked me if I had ever worked in a hostelry or catering environment before. I told them that I used to clean glasses in a bar in Madrid and before that, peeling potatoes and other vegetables in a small restaurant in San Sebastián. You cannot imagine how many buckin’ potatoes they need every day to make all the tortillas españolas. And they say that Ireland is the potato-loving nation! But I recently discover from John, also a chef here, that because of EU Directives, they are not allowed to peel potatoes anymore. The peelings and the starch block the drains, and all the potatoes are bought in vacuum packed bags. It is a small world and also a strange one! ¡Rarísimo!
“I will do anything,” I told them, “except housekeeping.” Because I always hated cleaning and
I am not good at it. So I was told that I could help out in the bar and the restaurant. Echar una mano. And there is plenty of work, with all the meetings, and functions and funerals and weddings. But like I say, I am still getting accustomed. I go to all the usual places for the things that I need… wine glasses, cups and saucers, salt and pepper containers, cutlery… but there is not a single teaspoon anywhere to be found. I load all the things onto a tray and take them back downstairs.
When I get down there Rose says, “Help me shift this table.”
I look at her for a moment, with a questioning look, and she laughs. I know from my language
books that this kind of laughter is called a giggle. It is a word I have always liked because it is so unusual and that is why I never forgot its meaning.
“Shift this?” I say confused.
Rose laughs some more. Now the giggle is not a giggle but a big laugh from her stomach. Una
carcajada. She knows what I am thinking but it is clear we have crossed our wires. Otherwise why would she be laughing so much? Now, to humour her (and knowing I have got it wrong), I put my arms around my body in a pretend embrace and make a kiss-kiss noise with my lips. When I first arrived, this is how shifting was explained to me. All the staffs were eager to tell me all the naughty words in English and the things that I am not supposed to say.
“I am here to learn English,” I said, back in the beginning. They all looked at each other with a
shrug or smirk (another of my favourite words), as if to say, you’ll learn to speak something but it might not be English. Of course, there are also a lot of Polish and Lithuanian workers here now because of all the new countries that have joined the EU.
Rose begins calling over other staffs who are passing through the ballroom to tell them why I
do not want to shift the buckin’ table. They all laugh a lot. To keep the joke going, I jump onto the table face down and pretend I really am shifting the table. Now they are laughing louder but also telling me to stop – to go away out of it and quit messin’. Eventually, Rose explains that ‘to shift’ also means ‘to move’ something. Ah, I say. ¡Ya caigo! The penny dropped. But they did not tell me this before. We move the table to the other end of the room and Rose begins unfolding the cloth that will go over it.
“There are no feckin’ teaspoons in the whole building,” I tell her, which may be a bit of a lie, but I
do not know how to begin finding them.
“See what you can do,” she says, which means – go off again and look harder. But as lunchtime
moves to afternoon, the teaspoons are as difficult to find as ever. I have been able to grab one or two from trays of dirty plates and wash them myself. I have stood waiting in the wash-up for the clean cutlery trays to come out of the washer. But I am told they are needed for the bar and the coffee shop and not to be robbing them for the ballroom. Because I am new, I obey orders and do not want to make anyone angry. I go back downstairs and tell Rose that there are not enough teaspoons to be upstairs and downstairs at the same time. We need at least eighty for our wedding tomorrow.
“Okay, follow me,” she says. We go out past the conference centre and up the main stairs to the
corridor, past the resident’s lounge and the restaurant and into reception. We stand there for a second and Rose looks left and right. Then she bends over a brass coal bucket, which she opens up. Inside is a cloth, which she lifts out and inside the cloth, is a big pile of teaspoons, shining and clean. She hands them to me and says,
“Don’t let on señorita,” and puts her fingers to her lips.
“I won’t let on,” I say. That is another buckin’ phrasal verb to add to my list.
A Happy Dawn He came on the train from Dublin and was to arrive at about half past eight. Sam Holt, Fran McGreevy, Denis Cassidy and two others had volunteered to go and meet him off the train and take him direct to the Bush Hotel. I had volunteered for Sunday, saying I could borrow Costello’s Ford to bring him to Gowel.
“Good man,” Sam had said, which pleased me.
All day I could not stop myself thinking of him on the train; Mick, as Sam called him, his large
frame pressed in against some window, staring out at the flat fields of Mullingar and Longford, or making notes to himself. But though I had never been on the steam train I had heard tell it was fierce noisy and a sore ride.
I spent the day working with Mister Costello in the shop. It was busy, as Saturdays always were.
I usually liked to work on a Saturday but this day I was restless with excitement. They were all in getting their messages and usual Saturday things… pumps and patches for their bicycle tyres, bags of nails, matches, tins of oil. Holiday-makers stopped in on their way through to Bundoran or Strandhill and it was a hot day too, so all the young ones were looking for lemon sodas and dry gingers.
“You’d better get on to Egan’s,” Mister Costello said to me. “And order another twelve dozen
each of minerals.” We usually did our orders at the end of the day, but when stock was moving it was better to do it straight away. I sent Egan’s a telegram directly. We put in orders to them every ten days or so and they were always quick to deliver. I marked it in the book. 12 doz. lemon soda, 2/- a dozen = 1 pound and four shillings; 12 doz. dry ginger at 2/3 a dozen = 1 pound and seven shillings, 12 doz. soda… and so on.
When I was closing the book Mister Conlon came in. I sighed. Though it was busy, the day could
not finish quick enough for me, and this fellow was of the flavour that could never make up his mind. I read him the letter from Harrington’s.
“Well Mister Conlon,” I said. “Here it is, the reply from Mister Harrington himself…” (And that
was a lie because it was merely signed off Harringtons Ltd, but I thought the extra bit of attention might swing it.) “Dear Sir,” I read. “In reply to yours of 16th inst. 1 gallon of our oxide paint covers from 600 to 900
sq feet of corrugated iron according to the condition of the surface. We enclose tint card and circular and would be glad to have your orders. Yours truly…”
“Hmmm,” Conlon said. I checked my wristwatch. Perhaps the train would be in Mullingar
“Do you want me to order it, Sir?” I said. I was getting impatient. Conlon looked like he might
not bother with the stuff, but just then Mister Costello came through from the back and said,
“Fine day, Conlon.” And at that Conlon said,
“I’ll order it then so. May as well get the job done as leave it,” which was about as decisive as he
was apt to be.
“Not a bother,” I said, relieved, and making a note of his order. “It might take a week to come
from Cork, but I’ll let you know when it’s in.”
“Right so,” Conlon said.
Later, Denis’s brother Joseph came in from the hotel and winked at me as the bell jangled.
“Well,” he said as a form of greeting.
“Well,” I said back. Mister Costello was out making some deliveries.
“What time is he coming at?” Joseph said.
“Not till after eight,” I replied. “Do they not tell you anything?”
“Everything is hush hush,” he said, rolling his eyes. He swung his arms about and idly ran his
fingers over the larger items that sat around the shop. When he was given messages, Joseph was never in a hurry to get back to work.
“What are you after?” I said.
“Joint ‘a ham” he said.
“Is it for…?”
“Yes,” he said. “Man’s got ta eat somewhere.” I thought of Alice the cook. She would not be
belittled by the notion of making a meal for any man, no matter how great. But Mary, who waited the tables, might not be so relaxed.
“You staying around?” I asked, meaning was he going to sit in the bar like the rest of us, trying
to catch a glimpse of the Big Fellow.
“Nothin’ for it but to stay,” he said. “Josephine has the evening off, so I’m working the bar.”
“Ah,” I said. “I might see you later so.”
He shrugged and waited for me to cut the joint of ham.
It was near seven when we were finally closing up. Mrs Reynolds had been in looking for cuts of meat, and Miss Griffith sent down a boy, Freddie, for haberdashery items just as we were pulling all the things in from the street. He stood breathless at the door and said, “Miss Griffith is anxious to fix a dress for this evening. Are ye closed?”
“Do we look closed?” Mister Costello said, although the light at the front of the shop had been
dimmed. He had never been known to close his door to a paying customer. I was anxious to get away and we still had to write out the orders for all the suppliers.
“What is it she wants?” Mister Costello said. Freddie handed him a piece of paper with the items
listed on it and Mister Costello went off to find them.
“We’ll do the orders presently,” he said to me, and I went out to bring in the last items from the
“Give us a box of matches,” Freddie said, putting a ha’penny bit and a farthing on the counter. I
gave him a small box of Paterson’s Buffalo and followed him outside. He lit a cigarette and offered me a puff, which I took quickly.
“Is it true you’re to pick him up tomorrow?” he said.
“Aye,” I said, lifting a cluster of willow baskets to bring indoors.
“Mighty,” he said.
Mister Costello came to the door and handed him Miss Griffith’s items in a brown bag. “I’ll put
it on the account,” he said. And we went inside to do the orders.
By a quarter to eight we had written out all the orders in the book: Tea from Bewleys in Dublin;
Grain from Gorman’s in Sligo; Bicycle tyres from Huet’s; Linseed oil and turpentine from McMaster Hodgson; Ironware from Riddel’s; Fabric from Goodbody Clara; Blight preventative and varnish from Harrington’s, along with Conlon’s oxide paint; And the usual dairy items from Kiltoghert Co-op Creamery, which was established when I was a boy.
“That should do us,” said Mister Costello, taking off his apron and hanging it up, which was my
cue to take off mine and be on my way.
“Thank you Mister Costello,” I said. And he gave me the key to the Ford. I put it in my pocket
and said, “See you Monday.”
“Mind yourself,” he said, but I was already stepping out onto the street and the warm summer
evening breeze. At the height of summer, the days were long, and the darkness didn’t come until the pubs were near closing. That night, the puffy lines in the sky put me in mind of the steam of the train that was now forging its slow and steely path along the tracks towards Carrick. I walked along George’s Terrace and out towards the gaol house, which stood on a natural jetty of land around which the river snaked like an eel, gleaming in the western light. Its austere walls towered upwards with lines of tiny square windows that ran like ladders across them. Each window was like a small whispering breath of life dwarfed by the great condemning power of the law. Not even a year since, the man himself had been imprisoned too, for his part in the rising. His belief in our right to freedom had only brought him inside the prison walls. But now, things were more hopeful, since McGuinness had won his seat in Longford and the prisoners at Lewes had been released. Perhaps we could have our freedom without violence, I thought.
I stared out across the river to the fields and hills of Roscommon, where flocks of crows were
settling in the thorny shadows. It looked like a distant land, on account of the wide sweep of the river that passed before me. I walked back down stream towards the bridge, and crossed over. The water was flowing gently down the country and Collins was coming up it, pressing against the current of nature in his mighty train, powered by coal and steam. But it was nothing more than nature that we wanted; to lay claim to our land and our heritage, which were in the stony fields and the wild hedgerows and the manse waters of our four provinces. I walked up Cortober Hill and sat waiting for the train. From this vantage point, I would see the billowing steam, as it rounded Lough Corry and came under Curries Hill.
The train’s whistle woke me. It was like an owl’s cry extending through the valley and up the
river. Except it was accompanied by the low rumbling and shunting of wheels on the tracks. I watched as the train made slow progress through the trees in the gently settling summer dusk. Sam, Francis, Denis and the others would all be waiting at the station platform, to meet our man after his long journey. I imagined him emerging tall from the steam-filled shadow of the train like an apparition, in his full military regalia. Sam would be first to shake his hand.
The brakes were applied as the train came over a small tributary of the river towards Cortober
and from there it seemed almost retrogressive as it stalled and lurched its way into the station. I ran back down the hill towards the river. I wanted to tell all who would listen that there was a brave man arrived in our town, but instead, I just ran breathless on to the bridge and stared up and down the river for a few
minutes, catching my breath. Then I ran on up Bridge Street, past the clock and along the Main Street to the railings under the trees opposite the hotel, where I stood smoking cigarettes and watching for the men.
After about twenty minutes had passed, there was still no sign of Collins. Mary Burns stepped
out onto the street to sweep the front step and I whistled to her and beckoned her to cross over to where I stood.
“They are taking their time in coming from the station,” I said, almost in a whisper.
“What do you mean?” she said with a coy smile, passing the brush over the pavement even
though on that side she had no business sweeping it. “They are here these fifteen minutes already.”
“What!” I said. “But I have been waiting here all the time.”
“Then you must be blind or stupid!” she said with a laugh and ran back across the road. I could
only suppose they had come in by the servant’s entrance at the back of the hotel, but I did not see the need for such precautions or secrecy.
“Wait!” I followed her over. “What are they doing? Is he having dinner?”
Mary looked me up and down as if I was a hopeless case.
“Missus McDermott has reserved him a table in the restaurant. He is dining alone and then I
‘spose he will go to his room since he has had a long journey,” she said.
“What room is he in?” I said, unable to help myself.
“Room five,” she said, pointing to a window on the first floor. “Shall we throw stones and see if
he comes to the window?”
“No!” I said although I knew she was codding me. “Just wondering.”
She skipped up the front steps and stood in the doorway of the hotel.
“Are you coming in then?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“Why do you never come in?”
I shrugged and kicked a stone out across the road. This time, I had thought to go in but it was
the same as always. The kind of people who ate and drank and stayed there were all important people, commercial travellers or people with money; protestants and the like. It wasn’t a place for types like me, and I didn’t feel easy about going in in my working clothes. But Mary was laughing at me.
She said, “Can’t stand about idling,” and danced in.
I wandered back along the Main Street and went into Bredin’s instead. There would be time
tomorrow to meet him. There were bottles of Guinness set all along the bar and men mostly, old and young, stood crowding the corners and along the walls. Someone clapped me on the back and put a bottle in my hand. It was Denis Cassidy.
“Well Denis,” I said.
“Well,” he said.
“Is the Big Fellow arrived?”
“And is he as you imagined?” I said.
“Every bit,” Denis said. We drank from our bottles and only remembered to toast one another
when they were nearly empty. On Sunday, I parked at the front of the hotel and left the Ford idling. I had dressed smart and went into the hotel for the first time, bold as brass. I could feel my heart beating hard in my chest. Inside, I looked about. There was a large reception lounge, which had settees and easy chairs in the centre, and small tables between them. When Mister McDermott died the year before, I had stood on the street with a crowd of hundreds, waiting for his coffin to be brought out. But I never imagined what it was like inside. And all the times I had walked past, I never thought it would be so homely and friendly. And how sorry I was that Mister McDermott could not have lived to see this… a revolutionary man seated in his very hotel, for he was an upstanding man of the town, a councillor and all, and sympathetic to our cause. I looked at the lady behind the desk, who was not Mary Elizabeth, his widow, but the manageress. She nodded to a man who had a paper raised in front of his face. I saw the grey of his trousers and knew it was him. His shoes were buffed to a high shine and I smiled, knowing the night porter had probably spent half the night on them.
“Mister Collins,” I said.
He lowered the paper and sprang up from his armchair.
“Casey,” I said, and stretched out my hand, which he shook vigorously. He was about my age, or
a year or two older at the most, but I was intimidated by his towering frame and overshadowed by his military poise. He is a man who has faced into and fired bullets, I thought. Not many are cut out for that.
“Shall we be on our way?” he said. He was a man who got straight to the business of things.
“Surely,” I said. “This way.”
He followed me out to the street and jumped in the Ford.
“Is the hotel to your liking sir?” I asked him, when were on the road, shouting to be heard over
the loud mechanics of the Ford’s engine.
“Very much to my liking Casey,” he replied. I was pleased that he addressed me by my name.
“Look how the porter has shined my shoes,” he said, gleefully. “If he buffed them any more there shouldn’t be anything left!”
“O’Donovan Rossa stayed at that hotel one time,” I said, trying to impress him.
“Is that so?”
“And did you sleep well?” I asked, eager to keep up some conversation.
“I do not sleep much as a rule,” he said. “But late last night I received a telegram, so I had letters
to write.” “Oh.”
“Thomas Ashe has been arrested. What do you make of it?”
“Arrested?” I said. I could hardly believe it. “What for?”
“Sedition,” he said. “He is in custody as we speak.”
I felt a strange kind of despair. “Sedition,” I repeated.
“Yes. At Ballinalee. Not thirty miles from here. Were you at it?”
I shook my head. I wished I had been there. But why should I go to Ballinalee for a Republican
meeting when there would be one here in my very own town?
“I was at it,” Collins said. “Tom and I together. It is a poor charge. Sedition! Whatever happened
to freedom of speech, Casey? We cannot speak for our country anymore without being charged under the Defence of the Realm Act. But whose realm is it? That is our dispute. That is our fight.”
“What will you do?” I said, all too aware of the senselessness of the question. But Collins seemed
like an instigator, a man who got things done. A man who could solve anything.
“All we can do is keep focused on our goal,” he said, resolutely.
We drove along narrow lanes towards Gowel. In my nervousness I drove too fast, the Ford
bumping and banging along the hard surface. With every pothole, Collins’s head nearly hit the roof.
The summer sky was swollen with clouds that blew swiftly across the sun. As we rounded the bend at Tonnagh, we saw fields awash with buttercups among the long grass that glowed in the sunlight. The hawthorns in the hedges were in blossom and they brushed and scratched at the windows as we bumped along. The road to Kilnagross was up and down, the tunnelling trees standing over a deep drain on our left; the fields tumbling away behind to a long and shallow valley. With every rise in the road, Sheemore was more visible on our left, like the crown of a head rising from the earth. Her rounded grassy form was a landmark that anchored me. And when she was in full view we stopped at Saint Patrick’s Chapel in Gowel, not too many miles from where we had first set out.
Collins jumped out and shook hands with scores of young men who were waiting on us to
arrive. Duignan was there and he escorted him swiftly inside the Chapel and Mass was said. When the priest held up the chalice and said, “This is my blood, which was shed for you,” I glanced across at Collins who was in the pew in front of me and along near the pillar. It put me in mind of the struggle and the Easter Rising, and the blood that had already been spilled for all our sakes. He just kept his head bowed and never moved. Then we all drank from the cup and it was like a seal of a promise, at least to my own mind.
After Mass, we went into the hall, and there we were followed by some hundred or more young
men, who all were eager to hear the words of Collins. But he was less rousing than I expected, perhaps on account of Ashe’s arrest, which was no doubt playing on his mind. He spoke briefly of the separatist cause and the groups that were leading it – the IRB, the Volunteers and Sinn Féín.
“Will they merge?” he was asked.
Yes, it looked likely.
“What is the difference between them?” To this, he spoke of the differences in approach between
Griffith, who was head of Sinn Féin, and Ashe, who was head of the IRB.
“But we should all be working towards one goal, and that is a Republic,” he said, with finality.
Then Duignan fielded more questions:
“Is Griffith standing down as head of Sinn Féin?”
“Is it true that de Valera opposed Joe McGuinness in standing for the election?
“Did you put McGuinness forward?”
“Has Thomas Ashe been arrested?”
“Who was the last man to surrender at the Easter Rising? Was it de Valera?”
“What was prison life like at Frongoch?”
Each question Collins answered with impassioned brevity, but when the talk turned to heroism,
he sighed. “I am not here to glorify violence,” he said. “But I am here to promote our cause. Ireland belongs to each and every one of us. And we must resort to whatever means are necessary to achieve our goal. Tactical force is unavoidable. We must not dwell on the short-term consequences of our actions, but on the long-term benefits for our nation.”
This was met with applause. But that was the extent of his persuasion. Perhaps the presence of a
policeman in the corner was enough to pacify him also. If he were also arrested for sedition, much good it would do them!
“Who’s that?” he had asked Duignan when we first came into the hall.
“Sergeant Thornton,” Duignan said, with a roll of the eyes. “He will report back of course, but I
doubt he is even aware of who you are.”
It was only later when we were back in the Ford and driving once more for Carrick that Collins turned to me and said, “There was a fellow by the name of Thornton at Frongoch when I was in prison there.”
“Oh,” says I. I kept my eyes on the road ahead.
“He was to be drafted into the British Army, because he had been living in England when war
“Is that so?” I said, unsure of where he was leading. I knew all about the dispute of Irishmen
being conscripted and was afraid of the day when they would pass the bill and force us to fight on behalf of our own enemy.
“But when they called him forward,” Collins continued. “He refused to identify himself.
Wouldn’t answer to his name. Do you know what they did?”
I shook my head.
“They made us line out in the yard. Over a thousand of us. And they called our names out, one
by one. Some day that was! We had to step forward, each of us in turn. Collins! Costello! Coughlan! Covey! Daly! Davitt! Davy! Dineen…! Here sir! Here sir! Here sir! Here sir! Until Thornton could be identified. Most of us didn’t even know who the hell he was. But we didn’t care. We had a great day of it, watching their faces as they worked towards ‘T’. They couldn’t stand the sight of us by the end of it!”
I laughed and Collins laughed too. He laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes. The Ford
wound back down the hill into Carrick. He would head two more meetings in the evening, one in Carrick and one in Drumlion, before getting the night mail train back to Dublin. Back on the Main Street, Sam was waiting for us. Collins briefly shook my hand before disappearing back into the hotel, presumably for some lunch and private business of his own.
“Good man,” Sam said, patting me on the back.
I drove off around the town before going home to my ma’s for lunch. My head was full of the
day’s events and the disbelief that the Big Fellow had sat beside me in the Ford. He was friendly and officious, but not as outspoken or belligerent as we had heard tell of him. Later I would attend the meeting in Carrick, but only as a passive observer.
That night I lay in bed with the window open, hoping to hear the blast of the mail train shunting
through Cortober. It would take all night to reach Dublin. It would be a long slow journey, channelling with steady force headstrong through the dark and formless night, before reaching a happy dawn at the other end.
The Home Rule Candidate It is a June day, the eve of Midsummer. The hawthorns are in flower up and down the county. The grasses are long and the fields where there isn’t hay being cut are filled with wildflowers. In the town it is unseasonably hot. The rivers and streams are labouring under a bright sun, which illuminates the whole of Connaught, right out to the glittering Atlantic. It beats down on the main street, which is in a haze of dust, kicked up from the stone road by a multitude of horses’ hooves and cart wheels.
Just before midday, when the sun is almost at its zenith and it is as hot as it can be for these
parts, a number of clergymen are seen entering the old hotel, and some laymen too. The thatch on the roof is bristling in the heat, but its overhang casts shadow across the windows and its green front door. A dog sits panting under the shade of a bush, which has pushed its way through the cracks in the flagstones at the front of the hotel. The men hurry in. A circular advertising a meeting, has been signed by Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald, P.P. and reads as follows:
I have been requested to convene a special general meeting of the Leitrim Liberal Club, to be
held on next Friday, the 23rd inst., in McDermott’s Hotel, Carrick-on-Shannon, at 12 O’clock,
to decide on our candidate and arrange the course to be pursued, in order to prevent our choice
from being unseated by any undue influence, as was the case at our last election. Your presence is
The banquet room and general meeting hall of the hotel runs along the back of the building, behind the kitchen. The hotel is built on the rise of the gradient fields that slope down to the lowlands of the Shannon, and from here there is a view, through the small windows, out to the gardens and fields below, and the river beyond. Even in the shade of the room, it is warm. Some thirty or forty chairs have been set out for all those present at the meeting to sit on. They shift and shuffle their feet in the heat of the room.
Out in the hall, three men wait to be called into the meeting. They have spent the past two weeks
electioneering and are contesting to be selected as the ‘Home Rule’ parliamentary candidate for Leitrim. Captain O’Beirne is the most presentable of the three. He wears a frock coat and low cut waistcoat with a small bow tie with pointed ends. John McMahon Q.C. wears a sack suit with matching waistcoat
and jacket. He sits upright with an air of importance and looks disdainfully at Charles McGowan who paces the floor and chews his lip. He is dressed in less fashionable mismatched separates. He huffs and whistles; frowns and smiles to himself as his feet hit the cold stone floor. Inside, Reverend Maguire is to chair the meeting.
He likes to get straight to business, and when all the men are settled, he produces some papers,
which he glances over officiously, his long nose tipping downwards. He reads out two letters from the bishops of Armagh and Kilmore, in which they state their approval of Captain O’Beirne’s candidature. It is then proposed and seconded among those present that Captain O’Beirne be adopted as the popular Home Rule candidate and this is met with general approval among those present. The three candidates are asked to enter the room. They sit at the head of the small crowd. Mister McGowan scratches his ear and turns his shoulders under the hard collar of his jacket.
“Well O’Beirne,” Maguire says. “In selecting the Home Rule candidate for the next election, I can
confirm that you have been the unanimous choice.”
O’Beirne nods his head with little show of surprise. Maguire invites him to speak and he stands
to address the clergy and few laymen who are present.
“I should be wanting in every sentiment of gratitude if I did not feel grateful beyond anything
that it is in my power to express, for this honour that is about to be conferred on me for being elected as your member of parliament,” he says. This is met by a general murmur of approval.
“My political principles are well known and as you are all aware I am an advocate of self-
government for Ireland, that is to say ‘Home Rule’. I am also an advocate of denominational education and will use my best endeavours at all times for the remaining political prisoners. I believe there should be an amendment in the Land Bill of 1870, which in its practical working has been incomplete and is capable of inflicting great injustice on the tenantry, because it has not secured us the fixity of tenure at equitable rates, which is what we prized above all else. I trust that at all times, both in and out of the House of Commons, I shall devote my abilities, such as they are, to your service with the most unflagging energy.”
Captain O’Beirne smiles, as his words are met with enthusiastic applause. He takes his seat
again. He is no stranger to the rigours of public life. His father was High Sheriff of Leitrim, and he himself has stood once already to be a representative in parliament. His grandfather played an active role in support of the Defenders before and during the rebellion of ’98. Reverend Maguire turns to address the second candidate, McMahon.
“It is only respectful,” he says, “to tell you what has taken place. The club believes that we have
expressed the unmistakable feeling of Leitrim from one extreme to the other when we unanimously selected O’Beirne as our representative. As we deliberated, there was also some general feeling that you had the intention of retiring...?”
McMahon stands to make his address. “I am sure, my friends and gentleman,” he says, “it gives
me great pleasure to find that courtesy and kindness which have been bestowed on me for now some twenty-four years exhibited today.” The men in the room stare at McMahon, unsure of how long he will wax on for. He continues.
“I remember when I was put forward by my friend Father Peter Curran... And on that occasion
when he gave utterance to opinions about matters of politics that have since become law, many friends around him thought he was extremely rash, because it would displease the opposite side. Nearly a quarter of a century has passed and they have seen realised some of those great measures that have placed them as Roman Catholics on the same level with the Protestant fellow countrymen.” This is met with applause.
A voice comes forward from the back.
“Are we to understand that Mister McMahon has withdrawn?”
Reverend Maguire looks questioningly at McMahon.
“I see around me a great number of my faithful friends…” McMahon says. “If the matter is
ultimately left to Captain O’Beirne, my present impression is that I will fight him, but I would like to consult with my faithful friends.”
Maguire looks disconcerted. “I should like to emphasise,” he says carefully, “that the meeting
has been exceedingly unanimous.”
McMahon nods ambiguously. “If it were just a contest between Mister O’Beirne and myself...”
Maguire sighs. He is impatient. O’Beirne remains impassive, but McGowan is restless in his
“Sir,” Reverend Maguire says, “when you refer to zealous friends and respected friends
around you, you should bear in mind that those zealous friends have expressed themselves fully and unmistakably determined to sustain Mister O’Beirne. They would only be making themselves worthless if after selecting Captain O’Beirne they took up any other man, no matter who he is, and say they were now in support of him instead.”
“Yes, I have no doubt that what you say is correct,” McMahon says. “It would be out of the
question to go to the expense of a fruitless contest...”
McGowan interjects again. “So, do you resign Mister McMahon?”
McMahon shrugs evasively. “No,” he says. Maguire sighs. “But I will never enter into a fruitless
“I would be deluding you,” Maguire says, “If I did not tell you that even if your victory were
possible, it would be against all the priests and Liberals of Leitrim.”
This time McMahon concedes. “I will never win a contest in Leitrim against the Roman Catholic
priests,” he says. “I will yield to the wishes of my friends and the people,” McMahon says, a sentiment that is met with relief and loud applause.
Reverend McTiernan thanks McMahon for his generosity in retiring.
Following this lengthy debate with McMahon, McGowan stands, but the company is now restless and hot, wishing for the meeting to conclude so that they can once again go out into the June light and feel some bit of air from the river.
“The Leitrim Liberal Club is politically defunct!” McGowan says. “That may be bad language
but it is grammar.” This is met by a general moan and shouts of disapproval. “Now, I must get a hearing or the meeting will be broken up. Don’t contradict me. I will put forward my arguments at the expense of my life and you will have to walk over my corpse before you silence me.”
There is laughter from the back of the room.
“I appeal to the chairman,” McGowan says. “The clergy were written to, to convene this meeting;
and be it known that this meeting consists of twenty Roman Catholic clergymen, with Doctor Maguire in the chair, and five or six laymen.”
“I represent ten laymen!” one fellow says.
“You are a liar!” Another shouts.
Reverend Fitzgerald stands up. “This is not what the meeting is about,” he says.
“He may as well shut up.”
McGowan continues, “You may as well tell me that a tenant farmer of Leitrim who has been
heard at the Home Rule conference, and at the Belfast Conference won’t get a hearing.”
Fitzgerald is angry. “You are not a member of the club at all,” he says.
“Are you afraid of me?” McGowan says. He is smiling, enjoying his agitation, deliberately
“Put him out!”
Maguire says, “This meeting is dissolved.”
“Wait,” Reverend McTiernan says. “The club is not dead.”
“I intend to contest the county!” McGowan says.
“The meeting is over!”
“I come here as a bona fide farmer’s candidate!”
“Kick him out!”
“He is a paid tool.”
The men are taking their jackets from the backs of their chairs and leaving in twos and threes. Most of the jugs and cups of water that have been set out are left untouched in spite of the heat. Ellen McDermott sees the men leaving and goes in to enquire about the meeting.
“Well gentlemen, was it a success?” she asks.
“I return to you my sincere thanks for your courtesy and kindness,” McGowan shouts ironically
to those who are passing through. The young men laugh.
“Mister O’Beirne was selected as the representative,” Maguire says.
“Very good,” Missus McDermott replies. “Are you riding back out to Jamestown Captain
“Yes,” he says. “It is a fine day for riding.”
“Very fine,” she replies. “Very fine indeed.”
Old Bush Hotel logo
A Spring Tide Mister Reynolds travels down from Letterfine into the town. It is more or less a straight road from Lough Scur, along the foot of Sheebeg and Sheemore, past Mister Keon’s house and over the little bridge at Leitrim village. It is a familiar route, but Reynolds tires of travelling it. No matter how well made or well kept the wheels of his carriage are, they cannot be dissuaded from finding every little bump and groove on the rumbling camber of the road.
Lately Reynolds’s spirits have been low on account of a spate of violence, which, like the
weather, seems to be sweeping through the county in every direction at once. As a magistrate, he is used to exercising control, passing judgement and meting out retributive penalties. But these days, he fears that power is coming into the hands of those who will exploit it. As he passes Keonbrook, his feeling of despair is accentuated. His own neighbour – a catholic merchant – is keenly promoting the issues that are at the heart of the latest unrest; defiance against the Militia Act, and who knows what other ideals, and protests that will come to light.
Reynolds is sympathetic to the catholic cause, particularly in the case of those middle-class
gentlemen, such as Keon and O’Beirne, who only wish to assert their own right to carry arms, or to be landlords, or to act as representatives of the people. But it is the sentiment that they are inciting among common people, which Reynolds fears. The sentiment is like a spring tide on the river; a freak wave of irrationality washing down through the tributaries of society. There is a malicious outlook, borne out of frustration from the subordination and powerlessness of old. The Catholic Relief Act of the previous year was meant to appease such feeling but it has done little to assuage the resentment of the poor. If anything, they are more incensed than before. Some dormant grain of insurgency has been aroused and is finally taking hold. They stand outside the chapels on Sundays, their numbers swelling. They wave flags, and although these are red and white – red for allegiance to the King, and white as a symbol of peace, Reynolds feels the tension of the crowd; the mounting unrest, like a compressed coil.
His horses tear keenly up the hill out of Leitrim, round the bend and along the final straight
towards Carrick. In the wake of the violence at Ballyfarnon Fair, Reynolds was compelled to write a proclamation, entitled To the Common People of the County of Leitrim, in which he implored catholic folk to
find gratitude for their current situation, and to observe the potential benefits in remaining subdued. But it had been useless. The violence now is worse than ever, and the last few days have seen unspeakable acts; riots that have left men dead. British soldiers have been ambushed, and insurgents have been killed straight out in response. The houses of the gentry are being ransacked and attacked. At night Reynolds stands at his window and looks out to the road, which leads up into the hills of Cavan and northwards to the hostile lands of Ulster. He still has the power of the law on his side. But he senses fear among his peers. The laws are changing. Catholics are allowed to carry arms. They are being selected at random to serve with the Militia. That is their grievance. But there are older grievances. Tithes and rents.
The court sessions are always busy. But Reynolds is afraid of the streets themselves, stepping
tentatively each day from his carriage towards the magistrateâ€™s office, watchful for men crowding the corners, making judgements on his character. He has always tried to be fair. In the town, the day has lifted. The clouds are high and there is a faded blue sky beyond. The hooves of his horses rattle through the avenue of trees that lead in to the main road. He rounds the corner. The road bends upwards along the little ridge of the town before turning and tipping back down towards the river. It is lined on one side with low thatched buildings. At the end there is a shambles, which is busy on certain days of the week. There are people in the town, and horses tethered at the roadside.
As he passes along the main street, he notes that one of the houses has been turned into a
posting house, where post riders and their horses can rest and exchange their consignments for the next leg of the journey. Probably it is also a general coaching inn for visitors to the town. Later he will go in and enquire as to the kind of people who are staying there. At these times, you cannot be too careful. With Defenderism on the rise, there are men from Armagh and other parts of Ulster travelling the country seeking support for the Society of United Irishmen. Their influence is a negative one and will only enhance existing tensions, Reynolds thinks. It is every manâ€™s duty to be watchful, but particularly those who are providing bed and board for strangers. At noon, when he has time to walk through the town and take some refreshment, he enters through the narrow doorway of the inn and looks around. It is cool and only a little of the dayâ€™s light comes through the small north-westerly facing windows that give onto the main street. The tax on windows makes daylight an expensive commodity as Reynolds well knows. His own house is fitted with hand-blown glass panes that allow him to see and think clearly, but he pays dearly for them. Nevertheless, in spite of the dim light, the inn is homely and well presented. After a short time, a man appears. He has an industrious keen look about him.
“Can I assist you, sir?” he asks.
“I am a magistrate in the town,” Reynolds says.
“Are you the keeper here?”
“Aye. McDermott is my name.”
“George Nugent Reynolds.”
They shake hands.
“I hope it will not offend you, sir, if I enquire as to your purpose in opening as a posting house.”
“Offend me? No sir,” McDermott says. “But the purpose is simple enough, to make my keep.”
“Are you from these parts?” Reynolds asks.
“From the County Cavan, sir.”
“Ah.” He thinks for a moment.
“What do you make of this violence,” he asks.
“I don’t like to see it,” McDermott says.
“Not all strangers to this town are welcome ones.”
“I take your meaning, sir.”
“It is in our interest to be watchful,” Reynolds says. He can see that the keeper has the canny
way of a Cavan man. After some thought, McDermott says,
“With respect, my business isn’t to ask after that of others.”
“No” Reynolds says. “But vigilance would be wise.”
“I am always vigilant,” McDermott says.
“Well that is good.”
He makes to leave.
“You can inform me if you notice any suspect persons about this place,” he says.
He tips his hat.
He is well equipped for it, Reynolds thinks, when he is once again out on the street. With good stables and farmland behind. Post-chaise travellers might stop here too, and maybe some who have hired their own horses. He feels more at ease. In the main, men who can afford to travel and stay at inns are respectable types. But there is money behind the others too. He walks towards the egg market. Better hostelry would bring more industry to the town, but with the way things areâ€Ś He shakes his head.
He says to himself: That place will never last.
Ownership Peter Darby McDermott
Mary Elizabeth (wife of Thomas J.)
Ellen McDermott (wife of Arthur) 1840-1906
Arthur McDermott 1823-1868 Direct descendant of Peter Darby Thomas J. McDermott 1863-1916 (son of Arthur and Ellen) County Councillor
Purchased by Dolan Family, 1991
Eyleen McDermott (daughter of Thomas J. and Mary Elizabeth)
Short Ownership McWeeneys (1980s)
Thomas Maher (husband of Eyleen) Tom Maher 1938-2012 (son of Thomas and Eyleen)
Joe Dolan, managing director
1790s (original building) 1900s - rebuilt
Original sheds rebuilt 1960
1993 2004/05 - rebuilt
1790s Old single storey thatched building 1900 Building demolished and rebuilt with 3 storeys and slate roof (see pg. 78-79) 1960 Third floor added to back of existing building, kitchen extended and 26 new bedrooms added. 1993 2 storey extension at the back, function room added and access road to N4 bypass constructed 2004/05 New function room and business centre with 25 additional bedrooms above and new roof over the ballroom
The front of the Bush Hotel during demolition in 1900
The eponymous bush… Rebranded in 1900 as ‘The Bush Hotel’, where is the bush that it was named after? Some say there was a bush pushing its way through the pavement outside the shop front that is now the Bush Hotel coffee shop. But others say it was named after the bushy trees opposite at St Mary’s Close (see front cover image).
The colour green… The Bush field and gardens – Part of the collective consciousness of Carrick-on-Shannon. Now the hotel’s environmental policy aims to bring it back to its ‘home grown’ roots.
Acknowledgements Joe, Rosie, David & Marian Dolan, and all the staff at the Bush Hotel Philip Delamere and Christine Kelly at Leitrim County Council Arts Office Nicola McManus and Joe Lowe from Leitrim County Enterprise Board Jimmy Stenson & Mai Cryan, who provided me with two of these stories Rose McLoughlin John Marsden â€“ Descendant of the McDermotts Mary Conefrey and all the staff at the Local Studies Library, Ballinamore Mary Dolan at Carrick-on-Shannon Local History Centre Dermot Healy Shane Finan The Maher Family Dermot McNabb Kevin Rooney at Rooney Associates Architects, Dublin Conor Gray at C. Gray & Associates Architects, Carrick-on-Shannon Farrell McElgunn Paul Gibson Orla Kenny Vanya Lambrecht Ward Linda Shevlin Sandra Vernon Claire Casserly, Editor of the Leitrim Observer Liz Smith
Developed from a writer-in-residence project at the Bush Hotel as part of the Spark creative residency programme 2012.
Published by Leitrim County Council Arts Office ISBN: 978-0-9576189-0-9
Bush Hotel Main St Carrick-on-Shannon Co. Leitrim 07196-71000 http://www.bushhotel.com
Under the one roof Jo Holmwood
Under the one roof