AID FOR SMALL FARMERS

Many of those now on the run were ensconced in the basement flat in Harcourt Street. This had a small kitchen, a front room of couches and sofas and a large gloomy dormitory: the walls of which were painted in a drab grey-green colour and contained two large wardrobes and one double bed. Sleeping bags, rumpled and abandoned, lay, almost permanently, scattered on the wooden floor.

The place was known as 'Hangover Haunt' because it was sometimes occupied by pale faced young people who lolled about bemoaning the aftermath of the night before. These recurrent illnesses resulted from nightly folk sessions and poetry readings, which usually went on until the early hours, at any, and sometimes every, day or night of the week. While time was of little relevance in such a place it was no Garden of Eden and food and money was often in short supply.

Sometimes exercise was taken in the form of soccer matches. These were played in the large dormitory when the bed was pushed aside and stood on its end and the two wardrobes substituted for goals.

Hangover Haunt

During these games the ball careered around the room in every direction. It bounced from wall to ceiling to floor to wall like an angry bluebottle. Likewise, the players chased it in every direction. They tore around the dust-filled room, sometimes in a tight knot, like an accelerating bunch of Irish dancers. At other times, they scattered away from each other as if someone had shouted 'wrozzers'.

Some of the players exhibited a furious skill in the cramped conditions; some did not and some were dangerous. Marsh was the most dangerous as his contribution to a game was to spin around on the same spot and kick wildly anytime the ball or any of the players came near him.

One of these games had just begun when, in the Peacock, Marsh collared a new member who was a law student.

"Go over to Hangover Haunt and tell them there's a good session tonight in Leslie Allen's. Make sure you're not follied."

By a circuitous route the fresh faced student arrived outside the flat. Two people were standing on the street looking into the basement.

"What's the matter?"

"Listen. Somebody is bein' kilt down there."

The student listened. As the room was in the back, the din was muffled somewhat. If anything this made it sound all the more frightening. He had never heard anything like it coming from a house. It sounded like a riot in some distant asylum. The basement appeared periodically to shudder, and once or twice, rising above the garbled bawls and dull explosions, he heard a deep voice roaring: "Kick the fucking thing. Kick it."

If somebody was being murdered, thought the subaltern, he was putting up a terrific battle for survival. His first impulse was to run up the nearby lane which led onto Camden Street. Although the pandemonium suggested that the whole of Dublin Castle were locked in combat with the fugitives down below, there was not a Special Branch car to be seen on the street. There must be an appalling brawl going on among the group itself, he concluded, and it better be stopped before somebody did call the police.

"It's alright," he told the curious onlookers, as he descended the wooden steps in some trepidation, "it's a karate club, I'm a member myself."

At about nine o'clock that night the red Volkswagen pulled alongside the front of Leslie Allen's pub in Rockbrook at the foot of the Dublin Mountains. In the car were Fitzgerald, Marsh, Edwards and a fugitive.

The four entered the crowded back lounge and sat down in a corner as a number of musicians were limbering up with squeaks and drones. They were half way down their first pint and the band was flowing through 'Craig's Pipes' when Fitzgerald groaned:

"I don't fucking believe it but isn't drain face Nobber the harrier after walking in." He was referring to a Dublin Branchman who was now standing at the counter.

Nobber was a hefty Branchman in his early forties. His owlish face and hooded eyes gave him a morose appearance. Despite his sombre look he was a great man to crack a joke. Once, for instance, when he was releasing a forty year old diminutive republican from the Bridewell Garda Station, he said in a loud voice to the Slug, "That chap will grow up to be a fine patriot some day. Sure isn't he already very big in the republican movement."

"Did he see us?" the fugitive inquired.

"I don't know. Keep yer backs to the counter and I'll keep an eye on him."

Later the band was belting out a jig when Fitzgerald stiffened in his seat.

"Nobber is going out."

The four of them jumped up. Fitzgerald and Ructions went out through the lounge door that led to the back of the pub. They hurried around to the front as Edwards and his companion followed Nobber. As Nobber opened the front door he was greeted by Fitzgerald and Ructions. The Branchman blinked as if he was seeing things.

"Jaysus, the bould Nobber," laughed Ructions. "Fancy seeing you here."

Nobber seemed a little bewildered. He put his hand inside his white mackintosh.

"I wouldn't advise that," Edwards warned him from behind. Nobber swung around.

"Jaysus Joe, I'm just getting a cigarette: actually I'm on my way home," he said as he endeavoured to preserve a carefree composure.

"You're skedaddling to the nearest phone," Edwards laughed.

"No. Not at all. I just came here to hear the band playing."

"I'd never have taken you to be a follower of diddle di dee music," Ructions sneered.

"I thought the 'Laughing Policeman' would be top of your chart." said the fugitive.

"Well one of the lads in the band is a garda."

The others looked at each other and laughed.

"The problem now Nobber," explained Fitzgerald, "is that if you leave we have to leave. The problem with that is that we have some friends on the way and we'd hate to have them walk into a pub full of wrozzers."

Nobber looked at the men standing around him. His mouth became a thin line and the corners turned down as he dragged deep on his cigarette. The situation was dire, he thought. It brought him back to a school yard over thirty years earlier. Then he was shunted into the corner of the yard by the school's red-haired bully who asked him, as a demand, if he wanted to see London. When he said 'yes', the bully grabbed him by both ears and lifted him off the ground. It was painful. But what was more painful was that the bully then searched his pockets and filched his bag of Bull's Eye sweets. The incident left him feeling emasculated and it haunted him for a long time.

It was years later, and only as a result of long hours of persistent and diligent raking through every category of file available in the garda station that Nobber discovered the bully's lair. This discovery was only the initial breakthrough in his investigation.

He now had to expand his knowledge with a forensic examination of the bully's everyday movements. This, he limited to a night stalk whenever he was not on official night duty. Sometimes when he found himself working night shifts, he still managed to weave himself into a thick hedge from where he could spy on the bully's house. He quickly noted that his prey ambled to his local pub, which was about a quarter of a mile away, every Friday and Saturday night.

On one clammy Saturday night, Nobber, wearing his green gabardine overcoat which was especially bought for his stalk, dissolved into the Cherry Laurel hedge. Soon the heavy air, more viscous inside the hedge than outside, had Nobber's clothes clinging to him as sweat began to ooze from every pore in his body. To add to the general discomfort some small spiders and other creepies busied themselves by crawling down the inside of his shirt. An observant person passing by would have noticed the evergreen hedge give a little flurry every now and again as an aberration to the all drenching stillness of the surrounding vegetation.

The atmosphere, inside the evergreen hedge, was becoming breathless when suddenly a razor ray of light dazzled the night and lit up the road for a blinding second. Almost immediately the sky above the fidgeting figure crashed and banged and rocked the stifling blackness. The thunder trundled and rolled away into the distance and the new silence gave way to the drumming of rain.

The downpour washed over Nobber like baptism, and, in turn, washed all the insects and minutiae of hedge garbage down inside his shirt. Unable to follow the rivulets further down his body they congregated at the waistband of his underpants. He was just about to flee from the torment and tear his clothes asunder on the pavement when the bully emerged from his house and drove off in the rain in his Hillman car.

Despite the itching and scratching something told Nobber to remain concealed and endure a protracted vigil. The rain had eased off and the night was well advanced when the Hillman returned. In a green blizzard the vengeful sleuth burst from the hedge and held up his garda badge. He jumped in front of the car shouting, "I have yeh."

In court the bully was later convicted of drunk driving. He was sentenced to a long driving ban and a heavy fine when the outraged judge heard, in evidence, how the irresponsible driver had told Nobber that he would shove his wheel brace up his hole.

While the driver did not actually say that, Nobber was sufficiently satisfied, that in his spectacular confrontation and arrest, the bully was thinking of something on similar lines. What made him happiest however, was that when the bully was leaving the court, Nobber whispered to him: "Did you like the Bull's Eyes sunshine?"

Now he looked at the four around him. He would have to go along with whatever they wanted, he reckoned, because these would not just take his Bull's Eye sweets, they would take his life.

One day, he hoped, he would be able to ask them in a police cell: "Did youse enjoy the session in Leslie Allen's?"

He shuddered a little as he noticed Ructions studying him closely with his wild staring eyes, suspecting that it had just occurred to Ructions that he had never tapped a policeman.

"We can stay out here in the cold until our friends arrive, or we can go inside and enjoy the music," Fitzgerald proposed.

The five re-entered the merry pub in a tight, silent knot. Nobber, a pale faced, solid figure, was shaking his head from side to side as if he had heard a tragic story. They sat down in stony silence, looking uneasily at one another.

"For fuck's sake Nobber, will you take that woebegone smirk off your face," urged Ructions as he took one of his cigarettes, "you're among friends."

"Jeeesus, if I'm seen here sitting with you lot, it's the arsehole of Donegal for me," Nobber moaned.

"If we're seen with the likes of you it's a bog hole for us." Fitzgerald scoffed.

When Marsh and Davis arrived they were most surprised to find the others and Nobber in lighthearted conversation.

"Frank me oul segocha," the Branchman slurred, beaming and extending a hand.

"Don't fucking oul segocha me," Davis spat out.

"It's alright Frank," explained Ructions, "It's Dublin Castle P.R. A new tactic. The Nobber here is going to kill subversion with kindness, ciggies and free beer."

At the end of the evening the band began to play the National Anthem. Everybody stood up, and Nobber, erect with his hand across his chest, sang like a patriot. They left the pub and, as they went on their separate ways, Marsh shouted after an unsteady Branchman, "One last thing Nobber."

"Whassa Tommy?"

"You've a voice like a foghorn."

Soon after the beernapping of Nobber a pretend kidnapping caused a political flurry when someone leaked to the Press that Saor Eire were planning to kidnap Government Ministers, and in particular, the Secretary of the Department of Justice, Mr Peter Berry.

News of that plot prompted the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, and Desmond O'Malley to announce that they were considering introducing internment.

At first Marsh and the others thought that Frankie the striker had gone back to his old habits. They could not have been more wrong.

Later Berry said of the plot, in his papers published posthumously in Magill: "I was to be the centerpiece of a Government decision—I should really say a caucus in Government—ostensibly promoted for my safety from kidnapping by Saor Eire but timed to come into effect before a bye-election in County Donegal which Fianna Fail hoped to win with the help of a substantial Protestant vote, which would be attracted by the Government's evident determination to put an end to violence."

Not long after the session at Leslie Allen's word arrived in the Peacock that a bag of money was to be collected from the Provincial Bank in Collooney, County Sligo.

"Sligo!" quipped Fitzgerald, "sure that's nearly in America. There's no way I'm going over there to keep dossers in Hangover Haunt in beer money. The day of cosy socialism is over. They should read Marx on the lumpenproletariat."

"I wouldn't mind but some of them are swannian around with guns going rusty in their waistbands," added a rangy Nolan.

Marsh and Ructions agreed to take care of the Collooney business with Edwards and Davis from Hangover Haunt. To be fair to Davis, he had held a job for a short time over the summer before having to go on the run.

spacer

The job was that of a half butler, half chauffer to an elderly woman physician who lived in the Ailsbury Road area of Dublin. Davis had little or nothing to do and, by all accounts, did little or nothing.

After some time in the job a dispute arose when Davis demanded a pay increase. His employer refused, saying that she could not afford any more, and that she was, in fact, paying over the rate.

For three weeks during the summer, Davis pranced around the large house wearing a high necked sweater. He told his employer that he had suffered eczema of the neck, or a prognosis in that disease range.

One of Davis' functions was to bring trays of food and drinks around the assembled guests when his boss threw a party. There was one coming up, and they were always formal because the lady of the house was from that sort of milieu. She became concerned about the butler's black sweater: it would be frightfully inappropriate.

Davis assured her that as his neck was almost cured he would be in the appropriate Attire, white shirt and bow tie, and on the evening of the party, he was.

"Frank, you're holding your chin against your chest. Are you sure you're alright?" asked his employer in her gentrified accent.

"Certainly Ma'am. Just keeping pressure on the back of me neck as advised. Keeping a bit of a stretch on it like. Just until the party starts like."

"I think you should change doctors."

For the next half hour Davis helped the maid in the kitchen with his chin seemingly glued to his chest, and his eyes, from his down turned face, looking as if they were trying to crawl onto his forehead.

"Stop looking at me like that Frank, you're giving me the willies," the maid tittered.

As the large drawing room filled with eminent guests, Davis entered with his silver tray of delicacies. His eyes rambled over the ornate plaster ceiling as he moved haughtily among the speechless guests, his chin raised in a gesture of aloof arrogance.

Davis had a very hairy body, and this was now demonstrated in a most peculiar fashion. From the top of his gleaming white collar to the outline of his clean-shaven chin, he looked like a wolf-man concealed in a butler's uniform. The hair, which he had deliberately nurtured for three weeks, bristled out in all directions from his neck like a pubic explosion and gave the impression that something obscene and depraved was ready, at any moment, to unleash itself from its human disguise.

spacer

After Edwards and Davis worked out a cunning and ingenious escape route, they drove out with Marsh and Ructions on October 7th in a Peugot 404. Marsh was seated in the back seat with Davis. Every now and again Marsh pulled the mask on him and stared at Davis. And, every time he did this Davis burst into laughter as he imagined the faces of the bank staff, and the newspaper reports later of a garda hunt for a three hundred year old bank robber. The carry-on in the back of the car unnerved Edwards who at one stage threatened to drive back to Dublin.

"Yah couldn't dump a three hundred year old man on the side of the road."

That night the four camped in a tent on the slopes of the Ox Mountains. They were up early the next morning and found themselves staring into a wall of fog.

"You know, that fog is so thick," Marsh explained, "that if you walked fifty yards through it, you'd find your way back through the gap you'd leave."

"We're going to have to blow up the Meteorological Office when we get back," Ructions hissed.

Within half an hour the fog had cleared and the birds were singing.

"The fuckers in the meteorological department must have got the wind up them," Edwards concluded as the campers covered all traces of their stay. Ructions took the shotgun and loaded one of Marsh's wax cartridges into the top barrel.

"Does it work?" he inquired as they came to a clearing in the wood.

"I never tried it."

"What about that hut over there?" suggested Davis. He pointed to a small wooden hut used by forestry workmen to store shovels and related implements. The hut was about twenty five yards away. Ructions took aim with the shotgun. The others hurried behind trees in case the gun exploded.

"Any last message for the mot?"

"Tell her to send me beard to Cuba."

There was a loud bang, and a cloud of smoke enveloped Ructions. He stood there staring as if he had seen a ghost.

"What d'yah see?" inquired Edwards.

"I see fuck all. That thing just disintegrated, you fucking eejit," he shouted at Marsh.

Marsh ran up to the hut.

"Who's a fucken eejit?" he shouted, pointing to a fist size hole in the wooden door.

"Look at the back," said Edwards.

"Holy fuck!"

The shell had entered the door and blown a large hole out of the back of the wooden structure. The men were getting into the car, which they had covered with tree branches, when Davis asked: "Did anyone check if there was anybody in that hut?"

"If there was it's going to be a most mysterious fucking murder."

As Edwards maneuvered the car on the deserted main street, Marsh hurried towards the Provincial Bank.

"Look at the old man go," Davis laughed.

"Sure robbing a bank is as insignificant to him as scratching your hole is to you, Frank."

As the robbers were leaving the bank a customer entered. He stared at Marsh.

"Isn't it a lovely morning?" said Marsh

"It is...mighty," he answered cautiously.

"Are you lodging or withdrawing?" he asked laconically.

"Withdrawing."

"You'll have to come back another day. We're completely out of funds. Isn't that right?" he shouted to the white faced bank manager.

Edwards sped out of the town.

"Take it easy," cautioned Ructions, "the insurance is a little on the dickey side."

Davis had the map and was calling out like a rally co-pilot: "Next turn right, second left, next left half a mile," as the car sped down the narrow secondary roads. After about five miles Edwards jammed on the brakes.

"This is wrong, this is wrong," he shouted out, looking in desperation at Davis.

"What's fucking wrong?" he demanded.

"Are we out of juice?" roared Ructions.

Marsh looked all around him but the mask hid the anxiety contorting his real face.

Edwards snatched the map from Davis.

"Where have we come from?" he demanded.

"B, pointed Davis, B for fucking bank, where else?"

"B is for base, Edwards cried out. X is for bank. He jumped out of the car.

"Where are you going?" asked Ructions.

"Got to have a plonk, plonk, can't hold any longer," said Edwards. He climbed over a metal gate. He crouched on the far side of the gate and gripped it with one extended arm to prevent himself from falling backwards. Ructions stared at him from the car with a look of murder on his face.

Marsh now realized that the map had been read backwards so that a left turn should have been a right turn and vice versa.

"We've got to get out of here," he pleaded desperately. "They'll have a chopper up soon."

Perhaps the alarming turn of events had loosened Edwards' bowels, who could tell? As those in the car all began blaming each other, Edwards ran around the field looking for something to wipe his arse. Ructions threw him the map: "It's all it's good for." It was out of the question now to retrace the route back and begin again.

"Just drive," snarled Ructions as Edwards jumped back into the car.

After a number of twists and turns they found themselves on a potholed boreen. This had high hedges on both sides which were mottled in parts with dead leaves. The fugitives were hoping to find a small wood where they could hide the car from an army helicopter, which they expected at any moment. This was so much on their minds that for most of the time, they were driving with their heads craned skywards, and almost crashed off the narrow path on a number of occasions.

The path ended near a farmhouse and led into a field. Marsh and Ructions jumped from the car and dragged open a ramshackle wooden gate. They drove into the field. "Hold it Joe, bring the car back," said Ructions.

"Why?"

"There's a fucking farmer watching us."

A middle aged farmer was now standing near the open gate watching the proceedings in the field, his field, with an unruffled curiosity. Ructions walked ahead of the car towards the pastoral gawker. He beckoned to Edwards with authoritative waves of his arm.

"Keep her coming, that's it, lovely job, lovely job. That's a beautiful morning now," he called out to the farmer as he drew level with him.

"It is to be sure," said the farmer, his creased face scourged by sun and wind. He was now peering towards Marsh who had pulled on the London mask and was, in turn, looking at him with a face which suggested that nature had lost all control.

"Is that your house?" asked Ructions.

"It is...surely," said the farmer warily.

The farmer had seen enough. He suddenly made a dash towards the farmhouse.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," he bellowed. He was followed by Ructions, Marsh and Davis who had now alighted from the car. Ructions raced past the roaring farmer to the house. He knew that whoever was in the house had to have heard the commotion in the quiet, isolated area. If anyone escaped from the house and made it over the fields to raise the alarm the four were doomed to capture.

Ructions, moving faster than bad news, crossed the scutter-splattered farmyard and skidded to a halt at the front door just as the matronly farmer's wife prepared to slam it shut.

After some running, ducking, jumping and slipping, Marsh and Davis came to grips with the farmer. He was mad for fight. In a kind of rolling maul the trio crossed the farmyard in yelling stops and starts with Edwards bringing up the rear in the getaway car.

Ructions had just about calmed the farmer's wife when the rubber masked Marsh, Davis and the farmer crashed through the doorway and the inside of the house became like a madhouse.

"We're political irregulars, not fucken knackers," Marsh roared in an effort to convince the occupants that they were in safe hands. However, behind the mask, the shouts were incomprehensible, and only added to their fears that the men, if that indeed was what they were, were not only planning to rob them but to devour their flesh and drain the succulent juices of them on their own kitchen table.

It was only after Edwards, rushing to quell the pandemonium, showed them the bag of stolen money, that the bedlam ceased and the atmosphere became more relaxed. Bank robbery was something the couple could understand.

Ructions stood on guard in the homely kitchen, while the others sweated as they rifled out bales of hay to cover the car. Soon it had disappeared, and it seemed only seconds later when they heard the machine-gun-like clatter of the army helicopter as it circled the surrounding area.

Cups of tea were brewed on the large, black range. The farmer had now completely relaxed. He shook his head, scratched at his balding pate and blew ominously through pursed lips.

"Jesus! Ye are lucky chaps to have found this house, aren't they Emer?"

"Would yah think so?"

The farmer stood up and began to rummage inside a wellington boot. The four watched him closely. The farmer pulled out a large lemonade bottle and held it aloft.

"Poteen!" he declared. He splashed some into the cups.

"Not mine," insisted Edwards. "I'm driving. I don't know where the fuck to but, sooner rather than later, I'm hitting the fucking road."

"Go easy on that stuff now boys," the farmer's wife appealed as she began to cut into a large brown bread cake.

"Go easy!" scoffed the farmer. "Go easy, and these men at war out in the country trying to free Ireland, and help the Catholics in the North."

"Yer right there Pal," agreed Marsh, as he tried to drink the mixture by lifting the mouth part of his mask away from his face. "It's fucken war."

Davis apologised for the slurping sounds.

"That's his real face missus."

"What were you saying about this house, or us, or something being lucky?" inquired Davis.

"Its the connection."

"The connection?"

"Yeah. Ye coming here today an' me great uncle James, isn't that right Emer?"

The farmer's wife muttered something and glared at him with an expression which suggested that someone had just farted right into her face.

"Yer great uncle?"

"Yeah, you see he was in the Brotherhood."

"That's not something I'd go around broadcasting," Davis advised, "biggest bunch of arse bandits ever..."

"The Fenian Brotherhood," corrected the farmer. "He was a dynamitard. He dynamited all around him in England until he was betrayed by the informer McDermott."

The others lit cigarettes as more poteen was splashed into the cups.

"He aways used the spring, never the clock. The spring. 'Tis yer only man!" he explained.

Marsh shook his head. "The spring, hmmm," he mumbled.

"That stuff would put a smile in yer step, bejaysus," said Ructions, smiling himself at the thought of it.

"Liquid dynamite," laughed Davis.

Emer removed a plate of cooked bacon from the range oven. Ructions licked his lips.

"You said he was a lunatic," she said to her husband as she placed the bacon on the table.

"A lunatic!!" snarled the farmer. "I said he died a lunatic." He looked at Marsh appealingly. "He became a lunatic because of the lack of dynamite."

"What about the springs?" inquired Edwards.

"Yeah, the fucking lack of springs. The informer McDermott. The prison beatings. Solitary confinement and bread and water. All that turned him into an acute lunatic. Now you go on and carve up the bacon and don't…"

"Sure that would drive even a bishop spare...especially informers," agreed Marsh.

The men munched on the bacon. The farmer splashed more poteen into the cups. He was a little unsteady as he stood up on a chair and from there stepped onto the table. He thumped the ceiling with his raised fists. His wife threw a resigned look towards Edwards and shook her head.

"I'm more Irish than Cuchulainn," the farmer roared, with the beltaine bonfire of a light in his eye. "I'm as Irish as the turnips in the duck pond field. I'm Irish from the balls of me feet to the crown of me head. I'm gun-cotton Irish. I'm dynamite Irish. I'm fucking nitro-glycerine Irish. I'm Fenian Brotherhood Irish. I'm Invincible Irish."

"He's also drunken Irish," his wife muttered to Davis.

"T'was down by the Glenside I met an old woman," sang the farmer in a tuneless bawl. He was joined by the others as he swayed on the table. As they sang the second verse the farmer decided to plough his own furrow, more the modern rapper than an old-time rapparree.

"If I had nine times nine lives, I'd gladly give all of them for the freedom of Ireland," he rapped out as the others sang. "I will snap the neck of John Bull wherever I find him. I will break the palsied grasp of England and her quislings. I will spit on..."

"There's a car coming up the road," shouted Edwards.

"It's the vet," said the farmer's wife. "I forgot that he was due for a TB test today."

"Everyone under the table," shouted Ructions, as himself and Marsh dragged the farmer from the top of it. He resisted until Marsh pulled out a gun.

"Open yer mouth and I'll scatter yer teeth all over yer gums."

The vet knocked on the door for quite a time. Then they heard the car leaving.

"That's a stubborn fucker," the farmer muttered as he emptied the last of the poteen into the cups. Suddenly he ran out into the yard.

"Get him," ordered Marsh.

Edwards raced after him thinking that the farmer was trying to sell them out. He was relieved when the farmer just stood in the middle of the yard and addressed an imaginary audience at the top of his voice.

"My call," he bawled out. "My call to the people of Ireland. I will murder without warning. I will kill without compassion. I will destroy like me great-uncle James. He was as sane as a rock until they drove him mad."

"The neighbours!!" shouted Ructions, looking out the small kitchen window.

The farmer's wife laughed. "The neighbours, huh!" She shrugged. "They'll just know he's on the poteen again, which is more than enough knowledge for the likes of them, and not the slip of a salmon between the whole collection. Bitches and whores, hanging outta half-doors. Criticising."

"She's as mad as he is," thought Ructions, turning his attention back to the man himself.

"In his madness me great-uncle saw things that were an abomination to the sane world," the farmer went on. "He saw things that Knackers never saw. He saw things that were before their time. Things that would make the hairs stand on gooseberry bushes. He saw the dead Rossa, the soon to be dead Pearse standing over him. Do yis hear me. Yis fools, yis fools, yis fools..."

Eventually Edwards and Ructions persuaded the old man, who was frothing at the mouth, to calm down and sit himself in the kitchen while the bean an ti served up strong tea with hunks of fine brown bread and heavy.

"This has been one of the best days of me life," said the farmer, gesticulating with a heel of the loaf. "See these men! See these men here!" he rhetoricalled his wife. "These men are the genuine fucking article. These men are the double punch bullocks of the revolution."

By seven that evening, Edwards decided that everyone was sober enough to leave and allow the farmer to reintegrate with his normal life, though what that might be he dreaded to think. The couple were emphatic that they could be trusted not to alert the police: sure there was never an informer spawned or nurtured in any generation of either of their families.

Marsh pointed out that if they did inform the police, who were really only 26 county B Specials, the Special Branch would arrive in droves and dig up every bit of their farm, without compensation or agricultural grants, just to see if money or guns had been hidden there. "There's the breed of the muck savage in many of those Castle hacks, they're divils for diggin'." warned Edwards the Cityphiliac.

Marsh then explained that a lot of his more aggressive friends had a disparaging opinion of informers.

Lastly, with the lordly munificence of one born to shite and parsley, he slapped a £100 bundle of notes into the farmer's solid hand, saying, "There ye go, pal! Buy yerself a double punch bullock with a huge arse."

The Dream Of Cuchulainn

As Marsh and his marauding crew drove into the wan light of a tired sun setting, the old farmer stood shaking in the throes of a transformation.

"It's the dreamtime, Emer," he called to his wife. "The old men are out on the mountain tops dancing: their women singing them on. And the humour is on me now, Emer. They are dancing and singing us away now, back to the world's first dream. Yes, Emer, it's the dreamtime danced again and the humour is on me now."

The farmer was a big man to begin with and now he was huge. As the store-bought clothes of his meek and mildness sundered and split to fall from him in tatters he clothed himself in the tartan and leather of his youth.

And, standing in his glory in the farmyard, he declaimed:

"In this dream of a world there are dreamers and the dreamed. It is a dream of power of which the humour is on me now.

"First thing is, I dream myself anew. Fresh for the frolic of me, out of this farm, bound for the ford and the pillar.

"Muirthemne! I am a son of light and the chariot. Sétanta! Then Culainn's hound I am, with the boys at Emain Macha.

"Three barrels a day man; I am Aoife's lover, Connla's father and his killer.

"Ferdia's foster-brother and friend. I killed him too!

"I call to me now the war crow, night's daughter, queen of slaughter.

"For I am the world's wide-reaping wonder. Laughing in my work, I will kill every sad thing in it."

The farmer now filled the farmyard with his frolic. At one with all the wildness that ever weather willed. Brother to the battle frenzy of the winds above Torr Head. Twin to the thunder crashing and the lightning flashing out beyond Kinsale. Father to the sheets of rain and hail that swept across The Burren and denuded the Cliffs of Moher of tourists.

"So he sez to me, Go buy yourself a cow!" he roared. "To me it is he sez that. I'll raid a cow, and a herd of cows, and all the cows in Connaught, so I will, and lift the heads of any dare stand against me."

So the night stormed in and fell on, but faltered with the farmer's dream, as, stumbling, it toppled into a black pig's dyke of despair and despondency.

As he shrank to the meagre six feet two of his diminished self his wife came to the farmhouse door and called to him.

"Come in now, ye ould hound ye. The fire is hot and the tea is warm. And there's whiskey in the jar behind the sink."

There being nothing left of his dream but a dull ache the farmer drew the paltry humours of the real world's night around him, and in he went.