A few days before Christmas in the
Year nineteen sixty-four, my singing partner, Mick Crotty and myself
Visited my ancestral home in Galway
On the pretext of a few days away from the city Christmas madness in Dublin.
The real reason was to collect a goose and pick some holly for my
Mothers Christmas table and show off our singing prowess too my cousins.
Whom we thought, wrongly, as it turned out, were all madly in love
On the second day of our stay, we borrowed a couple of bikes and
headed off for the big town of Ballinasloe.
We headed up to the four country roads of Clonfert and at the cross- roads, turned left.
After about forty minutes we found our self's in the town of Eyrcourt,
Where we stopped for a half an hour to wet our whistles, as they
say. On, on, up the road we cycled, just two young boys on the Galway
road in the west of Ireland, at the end of the world.
Soon we arrived in Ballinasloe. It was now late evening and the
winter sun had long set “time for another little drink” we said in unison.
We went into the first pub we found, the cul-na-greine, alas no longer there.
No need to prolong the agony we agreed.
The lights were on, as it was now dark outside, giving a lovely warm glow to the bar and a turf fire was roaring in the grate. Beside the fire was a small neglected Christmas tree, with neither lights nor decorations on it, “no use spending too much on it, twill all be over soon enough.” Said the barman, with a long chin that would look good on a donkey.
We loaded up with bottles of “Carlsberg special brew” a popular drink of the sixties and very potent. It was brewed in Copenhagen and was designed to drive you mad with no more than a couple of bottles. It was a beer made for idiots, which we were.
Pretty soon we began to sing, where upon the barman asked us to leave, after all it was Christmas and he was in a foul, anti-Dublin mood. With our egos much deflated we somehow made it to the door with our heads held as high as we could “you would think he’d have known who we were”
After a long search we stumbled on our bicycles and I mean stumbled, lying the grass.
It was beautiful night. The milkyway was high in the sky like a great
Silver river winding it’s way through the heavens from horizon to horizon and the stars were
twinkling in their thousands.
While low in the sky hung but the sliver of the December moon to light our way.
Looking up at the heavens “there’s Orion, the hunter” I said, just because I knew things like that.
Mick ignored me.
It was beginning to freeze, and the frost was already lying on the road.
We wobbled on.
After what seemed an endless time on the road, we were now passing “the seven sisters”, a group of seven trees on top of Redmond hill away to our left, and as we passed, I began to sing a bit of a song I had written,
“on redmond hill
We drank our fill
On our way to the
Galway races “
Mick said “god, we’ll have to stop or I’m going to die, after the brew”.
So, we dismounted our bikes.
As it was, we had stopped beside the low, ivy-covered wall of an old protestant church yard.
“what about here” I said. “it’ll have to do” mick said.
We sat up on the wall, glad of the break. We sat there for about a half an hour, cooling our heels in the frost. Suddenly the night air turned even colder and we became aware of someone or something watching us from among the head stones, tombs, sepulchres and tall dark ominous cypress trees watching over the dead, shivering in the breeze, although there wasn’t a breath of wind that night.
Then by the pale light of the crescent moon, we saw an ancient apparition starring at us through raven black, pool’s of dead eyes. She was sitting on a moss-covered gravestone, swaying from side to side and keening through a toothless mouth, with a voice that would chill a corpse.
The vision was draped in a long white Shroud with a shawl over her
Shoulders. She held a black funeral wreath in one skeletal hand and was dragging
A comb through her long tangled hair with the other.
But she wasn’t the only occupant in the place of the dead that night.
There were other voices too, voices that hadn’t spoken in a long time,
lost souls from another dimension far from home, their voices whispering through the head-stones.
Then, she gave us a ghostly grin and uttered a long scream that sent shivers through us and with a long-withered finger becond us towards her.
I’m sure at that moment we heard “the bells of hell go ding -a- ling a -ling” across the frost-bitten fields, “I’m out of here” I said, “enough of this craic”!!!
We jumped from the wall, grabbed our bikes and beat a hasty retreat down the road.
Leaving the faerie woman far behind us.
With the frost cracking beneath our tyres and tears of terror in our eyes,
we cycled to save our sanity… and our souls, as if the
hounds of hell were after us, which they probably were.
After all, the banshee is suppose to
Be the harbinger of death.
We never spoke a word about our experience to any one that night.
Neither did we speak of it to each other.
The next day while driving back to Dublin, Mick broke the silence.
“What in the name of god was that last night?”
He said “I never knew the banshee haunted protestant grave yards”
“Maybe she wasn’t a Catholic banshee”
I replied, as I drew my comb through my hair…
But in a funny sort of way I felt a rather deep sorrow for her,
to be condemned to an eternity of wandering this holy land of Ireland in search of poor souls to damn and terrify.
Have a frightfully Happy Christmas!