A cold mist enveloped Thomas Brady as he walked the Irish country lane to meet up with fellow rebels at Duggan’s shebeen. He pulled his frayed collar up and shivered. The wind was blowing in from the Kerry coast and swept inward up the bay to the small village of Kenmare.
Duggan’s wasn’t much of a tavern but it was the only one around for miles. Thomas was looking for a cup of whiskey to ward off the chill of the night as well as a little talk of insurrection with friends.
He reached the thatched-roof mud and stone shebeen and walked in. A peat fire was glowing, warming him and the occupants.
“Come on in, Thomas, don’t want the banshee grabbing you.”
‘Hush now, James O’Brien, don’t you be tempting fate,” said Thomas, his eyes adjusting to the candlelight and peat fire.
Thomas walked up to the makeshift bar that was just a slab of plank, ordered his spirit, plunked down the Queens’s coin and took a big sip. It burned his throat going down and choked him.
“Holy Mary, Duggan, this poteen is evil stuff. How old is it? One day?”
“Once it warms you up you’ll be back for more,” said Duggan with a toothless grin.
Thomas greeted the other patrons by name. In this small piece of Ireland, everyone knew each other. Rarely had any even traveled outside the county. The ones that did travel went to America hoping for a better life after the famine that deprived so many, young and old, of their tortured existence.
Duggan’s was crowded with men flush with some coin from market day. They knew it could be lean again so they tried to temper their drinking but to no avail. It was easy for the poteen to drive away the pain, and drive it away they wished.
“Sit with us, Thomas,” said Patrick Kevane. He was a few years older than Thomas. Dark hair and dark brooding eyes. A young wife and 5 children waited for him at the mud, windowless hut he called home. They barely survived the potato blight and the famine that ravaged west Ireland. Patrick had pushed his way to the front of the line at some of the inadequate works programs the British government had set up. It wasn’t much but it kept them alive until the next potato crop. He hoped the blight was finally done and the landlord didn’t evict him.
Thomas pulled up a low stool that had seen better days, but at least it had all its legs. He was a flax farmer and that helped him weather the famine. He was unmarried and liked it that way. He courted a few lasses but when they ran their fingers through his flaming red hair and talked of marriage he moved on. He saw the anguish of his friend Patrick, always worried about feeding and keeping alive his brood.
By the fireplace, a fiddler was playing a song of lament and sadness, age-old songs of land conquered and occupied for centuries. The men around him went quiet and stared into their cups.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we are a maudlin race,” said James. He called out to Michael Sullivan the fiddler, “play something lively will ya, boyo!”
Sullivan took the hint and started in on a jig. Before long the men were clapping and laughing.
“That’s more like it. How the hell are we going to drive the English out if we keep our heads hanging?”
“Hanging is where they would like us, James. Seriously now, you heard the Ribbonmen crippled some of the landlord’s cattle again.”
“Yes and no doubt he will be bringing in Dragoons to keep an eye on things. All that will do is hamper our building the movement here.”
“You’re the Young Ireland representative here, James, what did you hear when you were in Dublin.”
James was from Cork, educated and considered a gentleman to the local lads who were mostly poor tenant farmers. But he was also a rebel and they respected him. He traveled far and wide in West Cork and Kerry spreading the gospel of Ireland free from the tyranny of British rule.
“There is a crackdown on owning arms which puts a damper on our forming a militia. And they raided the offices of The Nation, so our paper will not be going out as we planned.”
Patrick scoffed. “Like we could afford to buy arms, and most around here including me can’t read.”
“But there is talk of a rising,” said James.
“There is always talk of a rising,” said Thomas. “How do you expect half-dead people, starved and weak from the famine to rise up this time? And all those risings in the past that failed? Wolf Tone in ’98? Robert emmet in ’03? Jaysus save us.”
“Maybe we can bring in others from Cork to help?” James was always looking for a way. The members of Young Ireland, passionate though they were, sometimes missed the boat on the reality among the poor.
The night wore on and as more whiskey was consumed the brave talk of the intoxicated took over.
Before long Thomas, Patrick, and James had hatched a plan. They were going to raid the local constable barracks and seize some weapons. If there was going to be a rising, hell or high water, they were going to be part of it.
A bleary-eyed Thomas looked at both of them. “That’s fine with me but I have a question. It is a barracks and they have the guns we want, right?”
Patrick and James nodded to him unsteadily, the whiskey having taken its toll long before.
“So how are we going to take away guns from men who have them when we don’t have any?”
It was clear that this was a revelation to Patrick, who looked at them both quizzically.
“Ah, boyo, but we do,” said James. “I have a pistol at my lodgings. We will just pick it up on our way and we raid the barracks while they are asleep.”
“And another thing, Constable Murphy knows Patrick and me,” said Thomas.
“I have some rags we can use to cover our faces,” said James.
The three rebels said goodbye to Duggan and the other patrons and went out into the night. It was a full moon and it lit the way down the path towards the village to James’ lodging.
“You two wait here while I go up to my room. I don’t want to wake up Mrs. O’Shea. And no singing,” he admonished.
“Do you think we are eegits,” said Patrick.
Thomas scowled. “Never you mind. He is the leader here.”
James came down, gave them the rags to cover the bottom of their faces, and showed them the black powder pistol that had been passed on to him from the Young Ireland organization.
“This should put the fear in them,” said James, waving it around.
Patrick and Thomas looked at each other with dubious eyes. Then the three marched off to raid the barracks and to get the guns needed for the coming rising.
A little way out of the village they passed by the old stone circle with the large boulder in the middle. No one knew how long it had been there. The home of the ancients is all they said.
“Ar Sinsear,” James said in Gaelic. “Our ancestors.” He looked at the others. “This was all our land once. Back before the invasions, the Northmen, the Normans, and the bloody English landlords. It will be again.”
It didn’t take long to reach the barracks, a low building with just a few rooms to hold the constable and his men, a small jail and a storage area for weapons.
The three rebels huddled by a stone wall to make their plans. It didn’t take long for an argument to break out.
Patrick was the first to raise an objection.
“Are you sure they are asleep, James?”
“Do you see a light through the window?” said Thomas.
“And if I could hear them snoring I would be a happy man,” James said with irritation. “Are we to do this or not?” By now he was getting angry.
“Do we just kick the door in James?”
James shook his head in agony.
“Does it look like we can break it down? No, we are going to be civilized and rap on the door. And cover your faces with those rags I gave you.”
James pounded on the door.
“Maybe they aren’t here,” said Thomas, looking for a way out.
James pounded again and heard someone clearing his throat and cussing.
The deadbolt and latch were thrown back and a bleary-eyed Constable Murphy opened the door.
James waved his pistol at him and yelled: “Into the barracks, boys!”
“What is this?” said Murphy.
“It is a raid by Young Ireland. We have come for your weapons.”
Behind the constable, five police were stirring from their bunks.
“Best tell them to stand down or you will be the first to be shot,” said James.
The constable looked to his men and waved them back down and turned back to James.
“These young men are just new recruits from the county. Barely trained they are. Sure, you don’t want to be hurting your own kind. As for me, I will lose my job here as a constable if I tell my superiors I was disarmed by three rebels when there are six of us. And I have a wife and four young ones to feed. I plead with you fine young men, go get more rebels, say ten more, and come back. Then I can say I was overwhelmed by a large force of rebels and had no choice but to surrender our arms.”
James, always the gentleman pondered this.
“Let us step outside and discuss this,” he said to Patrick and Thomas.
Once outside the three rebels debated their next step.
“Where are we going to get ten more men, James?” said Thomas.
“Who are we going to get on a night like this? We can’t get anyone from Duggan’s. They couldn’t walk back in a straight line if you guided them,” said Patrick, unsteady himself.
While all this was going on, Constable Murphy was talking to his young recruits.
“Get yourselves dressed. Quiet now boys, don’t make a sound. And grab all those weapons in the armory.”
Slowly and stealthily they all went out the back door and disappeared into the night.
James, still discussing his predicament with Thomas and Patrick, knew it would just have to be the three of them.
“It has to be us then. We do our small part for Ireland.”
With that, he threw the door open and said: “In the name of….”
The three rebels looked around at the empty barracks. James went to the small room where the weapons had been kept and shook his head.
“We’ve been fooled, boys. Let this be a lesson. Never trust a constable.”
“What now, James,” said Thomas.
“Well, I am a little parched. What say we go back to Duggan’s and if he isn’t awake let’s wake the old devil up.”
“You know James, someday we are really going to organized and win our freedom.”
“That we will Thomas, maybe not tomorrow but someday. It is inevitable.”
“How about a song, boys,” said Patrick.
The country lane in Kerry sprang alive with three men singing rebels songs and talking insurrection, the moon lighting the way back to Duggan’s shebeen.