THE MOST FANTASTIC TALE OF SQUIREEN PADDY AND THE CLURICAN
The year is 1820, George IV has recently ascended to the British throne and Ireland has been under the English colonial yoke for as long as anyone can remember. It is the 13th of July and it is market day in Ashford a prosperous village in the county of Wicklow in the south-east of Ireland.
Patrick, Aloysius, Michael, Brendan o’Byrne had set off at first light by jaunting car from his comfortable, not unsubstantial 80 acre farm and was weaving his way from the high ground of Roundwood village, spiralling downwards to Ashford, Past the high stone walls of the Synge estate, over the stone pack-horse bridge through Nun’s cross arriving at the bustling village of Ath na Feansoige; Ashford .
Paddy o’Byrne was well known locally as a gentleman farmer. As a young man he had received a fine education at Trinity College in Dublin and was conversant with the classics and could often be heard, after a few balls of Jamesons’ finest malt, reciting Ovid or Homer to any poor unfortunate Spalpeen who happened to be pulled into Paddy’s grandiloquent orbit. Paddy’s father Seamus had ‘stepped over’ and consequently had managed to maintain ownership of the family farm. Seamus had had a good eye for property and a good nose for fine catch. Too fine for the ‘solid’ county Wicklow girls and because of this Paddy was a bachelor.
‘Squireen Paddy’ cut quite the dashing figure dressed in high-cut black boots, blue frock–coat with red braided cuff, burgundy waistcoat, grey pantaloons, and the whole ensemble crowned with a black Caroline hat.
As the jaunting car rounded the last bend into Ashford village the sound of the pipes could be heard. Paddy recognised the air as Brian Boru’s march and whistled shrilly along, to the intense annoyance of the Jarvey who grimaced in response. The car was skilfully negotiated through the pilgrimage of people and livestock before coming to a jolting halt at the Inn, mid a flurry of geese and ducks, much to the relief of the poor Jarvey who had endured a continuous barrage of monologues, soliloquies and political rhetoric and it was with great relief that, with a doff of his cap he accepted the penny payment and retired to the back bar for a well earned glass of porter and a plate of crubeens.
‘Squireen Paddy’ cast a careful eye around the room first noticing the two young soldiers with their grizzled drunken sergeant, collapsed across the table, then the two old biddies, sitting under the ‘King otter skin’, coughing and hacking as they shared a pipe of tobacco, finally settling on a jolly group of well-fed, red-faced farmers. The farmers were occupying a comfortable fire-side nook seated on two high-back settles. From the array of empty pint pots and whiskey glasses it was obvious that they had had a head start and were not ‘feeling any pain’. The largest and loudest of the party whom Paddy always referred to as ‘Melon head’, sat in the middle of the group. He was shoe-horned into brown breeches and a canary yellow waistcoat whose buttons were in imminent danger of flight. ‘Melon-head’ raised his right hand motioning to Paddy to join their merry throng. ‘Squireen Paddy’ side-stepped passed a party heartily breakfasting from a large iron pot of steaming crubeens. He thought the party very odd, very odd indeed! There were two of the bothy boys from the Glanmore estate, an old white haired blind man with a long waist length beard tucked into a tattered worn leather belt with a large ornamental buckle. Atop his head rested an ancient battered beaver-skin hat. Presiding over this motley gathering was a most distinguished looking gentleman impeccably attired in blue satin pantaloons white shirt and high boots. He recognised the man as Mr Jetson–case. The land agent for the Synge estate.
The old man took a deep draw from his pipe and hocked a deep brown viscous spit into the embers of the hearth.”Gaibh cheithre crugh fiorasail dein dha leath do gach”… the old mans speech was interrupted by the dark haired bothy boy ”Mr Michael sor, in English for the good gintleman” Old Michael stopped and continued ”Take four shoes from the one ass and make two halves of each shoe. “Put a half shoe on the threshold and a half shoe on the window. “So a half shoe over each door and window that is in the house, and there shall come no fairy, Leprechaun, Chlurichaun or any fairy folks or demons of the air across them” Paddy was aware that a deathly hush had uncharacteristically descended on all assembled. Even the jolly farmers were staring goggle eyed at the old Seanachee. ‘Melon head’ held out a large fat hand to Paddy. ”Good morning to you Mr O’Byrne. Please take a seat and join us in a toast to his Royal Highness” Paddy manoeuvred himself around, bidding good day to the other members and squeezed in at the end of the settle. Reluctantly he accepted the invitation and raised the glass of whiskey before deftly despatching the warm golden nectar in one swift movement. Paddy sat fully back into his seat and called for another round of drinks. Well He began.”what the devil is all this nonsense? Intelligent men listening to the blatherings of an old Omadhaun who hasn’t a farthing to his name.” “ Mr o’ Byrne one of the other farmers interjected.” There have been some strange goings on up at the castle”. “Furniture has moved of its own accord, the wells have run dry, the cows on Glanmore farm are giving sour milk and one of the maids has run away after seeing fairy folk racing silver tea trays down the grand stair case of the castle! There is talk of a pishogue!” ”Bunkum!” interrupted Paddy “ stuff and nonsense!” “As Plato and my old Professor from my esteemed alma mater would say” ‘We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light’ “Now gentlemen” he continued “Let us hear no more of little folk and strange goings on. “I have a prize shorthorn bull with legs like mahogany stair rails for sale and fifty head of prime beef cattle”. “Which, by now will be all safely driven to the market awaiting the appreciative eye of you fine gentlemen”. ‘Melon heads’ colour had been rising gradually as the combination of the whiskey and the high-minded dismissive tone of ‘Squireen Paddy ‘permeated through the mist. “ Fools are we? Children are we? “Melon head” said disdainfully.”I suppose an educated scientific gintleman the likes of ye would accept a challenge? I challenge ye, on this day Friday the 13th to walk the full length of the Divil’s glen alone and to sweeten the offer, we’ll make it a wager of two shillings!” “ Well” Paddy replied quite nonchalantly as it is on my way home, and it’s promised fine and, as a man of science I will accept your wager.”but, but, but”, continued Paddy preventing the fat farmer from interrupting “ we’ll raise the stakes.”Half a crown Sir”! said Paddy confidently proffering his outstretched hand.” Done Sor!” said ‘melon head’ spitting into his palm before heartily shaking Paddy’s hand. Paddy left the Inn feeling slightly uneasy.
The route through the Devil’s glen was pleasant enough on a fine summer’s day but it did have a reputation for being a refuge for brigands and rebels, but surely nothing untoward had been reported since Emmet’s time? And, after all he was a former boxing blue! If he could conclude his business by four o’clock, he could be up the road through the cross and over the bridge by five then from the entrance to the glen he’d be up past the waterfall by six then up on to the Roundwood road by seven, then he’d be home by eight, two and six the richer and ready for a glass of port wine and a portion of Mrs Murphy’s game pie. Yes He would prove to these Dunderheads that science and rational thinking would triumph over ignorance and stupidity.
‘Squireen Paddy’ was in great form; business had gone very well, the bull had fetched a much higher price than anticipated, he had made a reasonable profit on the cattle and he had enjoyed a most delicious plate of oyster rolls, washed down with a few tankards of porter.
It was a perfect afternoon for walking, the sun was smiling down and there was a gentle breeze fanning the golden wheat. Paddy stopped at the crossroads and anxiously looked up at to the jagged crown of trees which outlined the heights of the devils glen then set off with a determined stride, past the tinkers encampment, and past a row of squalid sod built, windowless cabins from which dirty, ragged, barefoot children stared out from the doorsteps with wonder and curiosity at the colourful sartorial spectacle. A most unusual sight indeed! The closest they ever came to ‘The Quality’ was watching through the smoke as their stately carriages sped past en route to the grand estates at the Devils glen and Glendalough. Paddy was soon joined by a rag-tag assembly of soot-stained urchins who formed in procession behind him in order of size. The leader of this merry little band a lad of twelve or thirteen years produced a penny whistle and commenced to serenade the fine gentleman with jigs and reels while the other members of the retinue skipped and danced along, finally dispersing after a half mile or so with a rousing chorus of ‘oro se do bheatha bhaile’ Paddy felt strangely honoured by the attention of the mini-minstels and rewarded the leader generously with a shiny penny piece.
The road was sloping very gradually upwards and Paddy could see the four gothic finials of Nun’s cross church. He continued on a pace and not before long he was crossing the stone pack-horse bridge which spans the Vartry river. He recalled his old geography book; ‘ The river is fed by streams rising under the Great sugar-loaf mountain and flows eastward through Roundwood towards Ashford where it enters the Devils glen cascading with great fury a 100 feet into the Devils punch bowl below then winding through the glen under Nun’s cross bridge finally meeting the Irish sea at Wicklow town’. Paddy halted at the brow of the bridge and gazed down into the water. A kingfisher darted across the bank and perched on an overhanging branch. In an instant the brightly coloured bird had dived and reappeared with a small brown trout. He lifted his watch-chain dangling it between forefinger and thumb. “Fifteen minutes past the hour of five”, and continued following the bend of the bridge and turned right towards the river bank.
The forest path up to the glen winds its way leisurely running parallel with the river until it spirals up to high ground leaving the river below. Paddy stepped on to the path and gazed up at the slightly swaying oaks creaking and moaning in chorus with the gentle roar of the Vartry and marvelled at the early evening sun diffusing through the high canopy dappling the shimmering light on to the leaves. His pace quickened commensurately with the steepening incline and he soon found himself on the final series of bends which would eventually lead him to the glen itself. The first tantalising glimpse of Glanmore castle appeared through the trees above him and suddenly disappeared before reappearing at the last turn in all its stately splendour, perched high above the river, majestic and defiant.
Paddy recalled the antics at the Inn and hasted his step before furtively blessing himself and turning right to meet the downward path to the Devil’s glen. The pungent aroma of wild garlic wafted up to his nostrils and he could hear again the comforting roar of the Vartry with the blackbirds and thrushes singing their tiny hearts outs in delightful competition.
Paddy stopped at the edge of the path and through the clearing in the trees stared down at the river momentarily transfixed by the awesome power and beauty of nature; boulders the size of horse carts scattered like dice in some titanic game heaped up in picturesque disorder. “To be or not to be that is the question “ declared Paddy with arms outstretched in a most dramatic fashion. “To be or not to be that is the question….ya big eejit! returned the echo. “What?” ”What?” spluttered Paddy. “How strange?” “I could have sworn, no, no” he puzzled. Paddy cleared his throat deeply. “ to be or not to be that is the question.” he boomed thespian- like.”To be or not to be that is the question”….”ya blathering ould windbag!” came the response. Paddy gasped then swirled both index fingers in both earholes and tugged at his fleshy lobes.” um, um, um”, he calculated. ”it must be the acoustics of the valley?” “Yes, Yes” he smiled agreeing with his prognosis.”How wonderful science is!”
Paddy straightened his hat and then continued on his way, Following the path through the parade of sentinel oaks stretching their finger- like branches clasping high above his head in gothic penitence.
The river was much louder now and on one side the trees gave way to huge vivid green moss covered rocks rising vertically to the top of the glen. Paddy suddenly became aware of something scurrying between the rocks high above his head. He stopped, rubbed his eyes and stared upwards. A Sparrow- hawk with an over sized prey dangling between its talons was struggling to maintain its flight path, oscillating, dipping and weaving until suddenly dropping its still writhing victim down amongst the tree canopy. Paddy breathed a sigh of relief and carried on.
The path now slightly muddy underfoot, led him through a small chasm with large luminous green vertical rocks on both sides. Paddy felt increasingly nervous as the way narrowed until barely two people abreast could pass through, causing him to quicken his pace until after a few long strides he had safely negotiated the defile and found himself on a bend in the river next to an old gnarled oak tree with long generous boughs. By the river bank there was an inviting clearing Paddy stopped and sat down on a fallen tree trunk removing his hat and placing it carefully beside him. He stared over to the opposite bank of the river then at the monstrous rocks then gazed down admiringly at his reflection in the clear water. “Still a fine catch” he thought “ “If you were a biscuit would ye take a bite out of yer self?” said a voice.
Paddy startled, looked towards the oak tree. On one of the highest boughs he perceived a most peculiar sight; a very small person was standing rod-straight with both arms crooked, hands on hips. Before He could utter even one syllable or gasp, the tiny figure had leant over, grasping the thin end of the bough, and turned a most acrobatic somersault before launching himself onto a lower bough trapezing 360 degrees, five or six times before landing squarely in front of a mystified Paddy. Paddy quickly donned his hat and leapt to attention.
“Patrick Aloysius Michael Brendan o’ Byrne” announced the little man.”otherwise known as Squoireen Paddy” “ yes sir”,”no sir” “yes sir” mumbled Paddy staring in absolute amazement. “well ye are Squoireen Paddy are ye not?” The little man continued in an accusing tone.” Yes sir if you will sir, if it pleases your eminence? answered Paddy “May I be so bold as to ask what manner of title or noble soubriquet that your worship has been endowed with?” Paddy bowed his head scanning the wee man from his tiny buckle shoes to his black cocked hat. He was lavishly attired in green and gold with a red vest, silk stockings and breeches. All liberally highlighted with braid and gold buttons. The little chaps face was pinched and wrinkled with a myriad of over lapping lines. his nose was long hooked and luminously scarlet, his chin was also long arcing upwards towards the tip of his incandescent snout.” ye are reckoned to be a man of some intilligence and edgimacation are ye not? enquired the dapper wee gent “ Can ye not guess who I am”? “ well your illustriousness “answered Paddy. “I would hazard a guess that by your military bearing and regal demeanour that you are a personage of the highest rank”. The homunculus let out a shriek of laughter which echoed through the glen, “Squoireen Paddy Would ye be partial to a riddle”? Paddy nodded apprehensively in agreement. The wee fellow continued “ I may be from cunicular but rabbit I am not”. “To discover what ye search for stew the rabbit in the pot”. Paddy scratched his head and pulled nervously at his earlobe then scratched his head again “ stew the rabbit in the pot” “stew the rabbit in the pot” he mumbled “aha!” he exclaimed with an Archimedean tone of self surprise; widening his eyes and pointing a large index finger skyward and then announcing with accusing confidence, preceded by a very thespian like triple clearing of the throat “ Oryctolagus cuniculus is the common European rabbit, if one takes the letters and reforms them into a new sentence then your name and title are revealed.” “You are, most honourable sir, Count Carlos Lucias Guy !” “Count Carlos Lucias Guy!” shrieked the little man” hopping from one foot to the other.”wrong!” “Wrong!” “ Wrong!” “For an edgimacated man ye are an awful eejit!” A look of determination came over the wee chap and he suddenly launched himself from a squatting position off the ground and on to the top of Paddy’s beautiful Caroline hat, quickly finding his balance before assuming a standing position. “Keep still now, not a breath” ordered the little sprite and he commenced to lilt;
”Te ta te tum te ta te tum “ ………
“I am the master of the glen and of the realm below”.
“I am the keeper of the book of folks who come and go.”
“I am the taker of the tolls and everyman must pay and I decree what form that be when mortals pass my way”
The little entertainer continued, adding a few impressive steps until he was Tap! Tap! Tapping! On Paddy’s lovely hat! The hat being squeezed further downwards on Paddy’s disgruntled brow…
“ I am not a mortal born, or a creature of this earth,
For I am called the Cluricaun, a thousand times your worth!”
To Paddy’s great relief the Cluricaun desisted from his terpsichorean tapping and before he knew it the creature had back- flipped off the top of his head and with a somersault thrown in for good measure landing a few feet behind Paddy. At this time Paddy was attempting to pull his hat off and had gripped the rim with both hands. The hat had been pushed right down over his eyes and he couldn’t see a thing! The mischievous Cluricaun decided that this was far too good an opportunity to miss as Paddy, struggling with the hat, had bent over provocatively presenting an irresistible target.”Abu!” cried the little Goblin” For Ireland and St Patrick!” and quick as a flash the tiny foot had made contact with Paddy’s backside, sending him hurtling through the brambles and down the bank into the river with a splash! Paddy sat upright in the shallows and blew out a spurt of water. The Cluricaun unable to contain himself was rolling around on the ground his little legs kicking wildly, squealing with unbridled hilarity!
Paddy stood up and made his way to the bank, his boots heavy with water, his fine coat and waistcoat drenched and dripping. He clambered back on to the bank and sat down on the end of the fallen tree trunk. With one eye on the jubilant Clurichaun he emptied his boots one by one while surreptitiously checking the inside pocket of his waistcoat for the reassuring bulk of his wallet. The Cluricaun had composed himself somewhat and was dusting himself down with a handkerchief. Paddy spread his coat across the tree trunk and sat with both legs extended to avail of the welcoming embrace of the late afternoon sun. Meanwhile the Cluricaun was scrambling behind the big oak tree. He appeared to be on all fours and was mumbling away to himself. ”Where are ye me little darlin’? I left ye here a few weeks ago” “ ah now there ye be!”
The Cluricaun had retrieved a large brown earthen-ware bottle which he proceeded to uncork with his teeth and raise to his thin lips.”Slainte!” he cried “and God bless ould Mr Synge!” keeper of the best drop in the whole of County Wicklow!” Paddy looked on in amazement as; Glug! Glug! Glug! The little Lush drained the bottle and cast it triumphantly on to the grass before emitting a deep sonorous belch of impressive satisfaction………… “Newtownmountkennedy!” …….. then…………… “Antidisestablishmentarianism!” Belched the bad mannered little fairy.” Now that shook ye?” and I can break wind in sixteen different languages!” And with that he plopped down on to the ground and sat cross legged staring up to the tree-line at the top of the glen. Paddy now behind the Cluricaun had discreetly slipped back into his coat and had started to slowly edge carefully backwards onto the path. He had only covered a few yards when he heard ”Squoireen Paddy Where might ye be off to?” “ I was just making my way home your most gracious Excellency” replied Paddy pitifully.” Well me Bucko replied the Cluricaun, Ye’ll not be going anywhere while there’s a toll to be paid.” The little prankster had broken off a switch from a laurel tree and was testing it for flexibility by bending it and swishing it through the air.” Now we are going on a wee donkey ride and you my fine fellow will be the donkey!” By this time Paddy was looking very shabby indeed. He had lost a heel from his left boot, his beautiful hat was squashed like a concertina and his fine coat had started to ride up his back. “Squoireen Paddy” said the little goblin in a most venomous and sarcastic tone.” If yer highfallutin friends could see ye now!”” just look at the state o’ye”! “ sure the coat looks like a saddle on yer back!”
The Cluricaun then stowed the switch in his wide leather belt and leapt up on to Paddy’s back grasping Paddy’s fleshy earlobes.”That’s one pull together for go, two together for stop and left and right are individual pulls” in this fashion the Cluricaun led poor Paddy further up the winding path until they halted at a clearing where through the foliage could be seen a series of stone steps leading upwards. Paddy felt a single tug on his ear and he obediently responded, hobbling slightly, due to the absence of a heel. Up and up they went through, ferns brambles and stinging nettles, over broken tree roots, under fallen trees with the tiny jockey on poor Paddy’s back, with the occasional tip of the switch and a dig of the heel, all the way to the top of the glen. And, all the way serenaded by the shrill singing of the spiteful little sprite! “ oh whiskey yer the divil, yer laeding me astray over hills and mountains and to Americay! Yer sweeter stronger lovlier yer spunkier than tay! Oh whiskey yer me darlin’ drunk or sober………..”
The Cluricaun led Paddy along the upper path and through the arch that had been cut through the buttress in the cliff face and signalled with two sharp tugs. Paddy halted and the little jockey dismounted.
The Cluricaun again commenced scrambling amongst the undergrowth eventually raising trophy-like above his head, another brown earthenware bottle, despatching the contents with equal reverence and rapidity and again concluding his bacchanalian ritual with a resounding belch ”Sesquipedelian!”………….. followed by ………….Bolleculartransdidification!” Paddy had assumed a sitting position with his back propped up against the foot of the cliff arch and was hoping that this time the potent brew would lay the little windbag low enough to enable him to make his escape. But to no avail as the Cluricaun continued ”Now that shook you again! And ye a mortal man with diplomas and honours bursting out of yer big fat head! Bolleculartransdidification! Indeed an’ yer wouldn’t know it if took root on the end of that piggy little smudge of a snout! “ Paddy felt for the reassuring bulge of his wallet but to his horror the wallet had gone. Twelve pounds, Ten shillings and sixpence…all gone. The wages for the month, the money for the extra winter feed and the new stable-block….What a calamity!
“ Up ye get an’ quick about it” ordered the little bully. Paddy got to his feet. This time the tiny tippler swayed slightly to and fro before launching himself, landing awkwardly on Paddy’s back. “ To the waterfall!” came the command with a painful pull on Paddy’s ear. Paddy reluctantly hobbled forward, the weight on his back felt even heavier. He had never been so miserable! What had he done to deserve this? His fine clothes were in tatters, his money was lost and he had been humiliated beyond the limits of any reasonable human being! Paddy glanced over the precipitous cliff edge down to the river below. A very, very dark thought flashed through his head. Two or three steps to the right followed by a swift half –turn would be sufficient to dislodge his loathsome luggage and send the hateful humanoid to his doom. But Paddy for all his faults was not an evil man and after all. That action would not be the deed of a gentleman. Paddy had stopped briefly but was swiftly reprimanded by a switch to the back and a boot in the ribs. He limped on grimly over the stony high path then downwards back to the lower glen following the path where it resumed its parallel course with the Vartry. The sound of the waterfall was echoing and reverberating around the lower cliff walls and the evening air was moist and humid.
Paddy carefully negotiated the flight of stone steps leading up to the natural stone viewing platform set below the thunderous falls and gazed up at the wonderful majesty of nature, marvelling at the power and fury of the torrent churning and weaving finally falling, crashing, tumbling and foaming into the cataracts below. The Cluricaun urged Paddy onwards between two large boulders finally coming to a halt on a massive flat smooth granite slab. He dismounted and yet again true to form briefly disappearing on his libational quest. And lo! and behold! A brown earthen- ware bottle was located and ceremoniously venerated and polished off in three or four loud super-human gulps. The impudent little imp then spread his little legs and braced his tiny body in anticipation. A deep, incredibly loud, resonant belch seemed to emanate from the very tips of his buckle shoes and rippled upwards like a line of toppling dominoes;
“Bollickusfartiushairiusarsiusmaximus”! “Bollickusfartiushairiusarsiusmaximus”! “Bollickusfartiushairius arsiusmaximus”!
The echoes cascaded around the walls of the glen and returned overlapped in slight delay. The little foghorn took another deep breath but before he could exhale, his eyes crossed, his head came down and he half collapsed to the ground landing very unceremoniously on his back side with his ankles crossed in front. Paddy looked on as the little man’s head grew heavier and his grip loosened on the bottle causing it to roll towards him. Paddy was sitting with his back resting against the flat side of the boulder. The Cluricaun’s head was now bowed to one side of his chest and his hat had fallen down almost covering his eyes. Paddy could clearly see the rhythmical rise and fall of his chest and the distinct muffled sound of inhaled and exhaled breath, punctuated by brief spluttering and murmurings. Paddy felt for the base of the boulder and with the palms of his hands flat against the rock slowly inched his way to a semi-upright position. All the while keeping an eye on the slumbering sprite.
Paddy was now sitting on the top of the boulder. All he would need to do now was to swing his legs over the top and he could then roll behind the cover of the rock and then roll further down unseen and away. He took a deep breath and within seconds was stealing away down the stone steps past the punchbowl pool and up, up, up along the winding path to the top of the glen. Paddy limped on not daring to look back, he hobbled on out of the upper glen, through the wood, past Tiglin farm house and then on to the Roundwood road stopping to remove his boots which he looped on to his belt.
It was just starting to get dark and there was still a pleasant breeze. Paddy instinctively reached for the gold chain of his elegant time piece. But to his great shock and despair his beautiful gold half-hunter pocket-watch had gone. He stared with disbelief at the end of the fine gold chain. The recent elation at his successful escape now dampened. He continued on his way. He was very, very tired, hungry and very, very miserable. He thought deeply retracing his steps in an effort to discover how or where he may have lost his beloved watch and concluded that the Cluricaun had probably stolen it. No doubt as part payment for the toll. Paddy thought about his elegant, comfortable house and was comforted by the expectation of Mrs Murphy’s delicious game pie followed by a well earned glass of Port wine and a pipe of his favourite tobacco, enjoyed in his special fire-side armchair. He recounted the events of the day; the market, the jolly farmers, the musical urchin troupe; what would they be doing now? Huddling around a meagre fire in their damp, dank, windowless hovel, shivering and hungry. His thoughts were interrupted by the beckoning familiarity of his surroundings. This was the last bend in the road before Roundwood village.
Paddy’s step quickened in anticipation, his feet were sore and his coat felt strangely heavy on his back. He thought about the nasty Cluricaun and shivered.
Mrs Murphy was waiting at the door of the house under the portico. When she caught sight of the wretched figure coming towards her she let out a scream! “ Mr O’ Byrne, What the Divil happened to ye?” A most forlorn ’Squireen Paddy’ stood before her for a full minute as she stared at the apparition; his hat was completely banjaxed; part of the rim was hanging off, the crown was scuffed and battered and leaning to one side. His coat was ripped and had ridden up his arms and back, and two of the remaining buttons were hanging by a thread. His pantaloons were torn and caked with mud and his silk stockings were ripped and bloodied.
“O Mr o’ Byrne, Mr o’ Byrne I have hot water ready and tae made” comforted Mrs Murphy. He followed her into the sitting room, removed his boots from his belt and collapsed into his favourite armchair. A large pan of warm water had been thoughtfully provided for his sore feet which was dutifully topped up with hot by the obliging housekeeper. He placed both feet into the hot embracing liquid and smiled in deep contentment, then leaning forward in his chair he peeled the coat from his shoulders and arms and handed the garment to Mrs Murphy. “ Have you something heavy in the pockets Mr o’ Byrne?” queried Mrs Murphy holding the coat from the scruff.
Paddy grasped the coat firmly and held it at arms length judiciously discerning any difference with a slight waiver of his arm.” That is indeed heavier, much heavier Mrs Murphy” He noticed a jagged tear in the silk lining in the back of the coat and inserted a probing finger. He could feel a quantity of damp sand which had dispersed and gathered in dense pockets around the hem of the garment. He grasped a handful of the damp material and held it over the empty ash-bucket by the marble fire-place, then opening his large hand stared in wide-eyed amazement as the material separated, filtering through his broad fingers into the ash-bucket. He stared at the dreggy residue in his palm and then stared incredulously into the bottom of the bucket which was now shimmering and glittering! He repeated the process, carefully discarding the residue in to the hearth until the hem was cleared, then calling for a pair of scissors completely removed the lining from both arms and cut away at all of the internal pockets. The glittering pile was growing quite considerably helped along by a modest addition from the recesses of his waistcoat. Mrs Murphy looked on mouth gaping. Paddy paused for a moment then took a deep breath and announced authoritatively;
“ That Mrs Murphy” pointing to the ash-bucket is gold” “Gold Mr O’Byrne” exclaimed Mrs Murphy? Be the holy hoke!” “Yes gold, Wicklow’s purest, finest, most magnificent alluvial gold… A gift from the Vartry Goddess! Paddy clasped the genial housekeeper by the arms and waltzed her around the room.
‘Squireen Paddy’ slept soundly that night, for he was a changed man. The following morning Paddy drove the carriage down to Wicklow town first calling at the bank then at his Solicitors office. If you happen to travel to Ashford, County Wicklow today. You will observe some changes; The row of squalid sod built cabins is gone replaced by a row of solid stone built cottages with fine slate roofs. There are no ragged soot- stained urchins only well clothed, well fed and happy children and, if you venture further up the road towards Roundwood, just before Nun’s cross church you will find a brand new schoolhouse and, if you look closely at the wall to the right of the doorway you will notice that there is a small plaque which reads:
THIS SCHOOLHOUSE WAS BUILT IN 1821.
FOR THE CHILDREN OF ASHFORD VILLAGE
SOLEY BY THE MOST GENEROUS CONTRIBUTIONS OF ITS MOST ILLUSTRIOUS BENEFACTORS;
PATRICK ALOYSIOUS BRENDAN O’BYRNE AND COUNT CARLOS LUCIUS GUY.