Where Old Ghosts Meet

Growing up in the poverty of 1940s Dublin 10 Year old Danny Flynn relates the roller coaster events of his childhood as his mother tries to hold her family of 6 children together in the face of overwhelming odds.


12. The Miracle of Donore Avenue

  The screening of 'Song of Bernadette' at the Stella cinema in late summer saw a proliferation of saintly young girls flower in the Clover Road area. The grotto in the grounds of Donore Avenue chapel became a magnet for the would be Bernadette's on their way home from school. Despite the many outpourings in front of her statue, Our Lady simply refused to put in an appearance and the skies above Donore Avenue remained vision free. A few days into the phenomenon, when many of the pious schoolgirls had given up hope of early sainthood, Teresa and Josephine wondered if they might be the chosen ones, and called into the grotto one warm sunny evening. The area around the grotto was deserted except for a large heavily built woman who looked like Victor McLaglan. She was pacing up and down with a constipated look on her face and clutching a huge pair of rosary beads.  Every few minutes she inspected the statue to see if her prayers were producing any sign from Heaven. She fixed the two intruding girls with a glare of resentment as they passed her to kneel down on the pew in front of Our Lady’s effigy.  Teresa recognised her as the strange old woman who lived at the end of Clover Road and who had a cat called Eamonn de Valera.  The two girls got down on their knees and stared hard at the statue while they recited a decade of the Rosary checking for any untoward movement from Our Lady after each Hail Mary.  While neither had any real expectation of a visitation from God’s mother they gave the sky an odd glance anyway - just in case.

It was Josephine who received the first vision.  As she completed her last Hail Mary and looked Heavenwards she was utterly amazed to see the outline of Our Lady floating in the clear blue sky above her. Not realising it was only the image of the statue retained in her eye, Josephine called out,  ‘I can see her Teresa!  - Look look I can see her!’

Before she had time to finish the sentence, Victor McLaglan was behind them on her knees breathing hard down her nose.. ‘Blessed Mother,’ she cried out, muscling in on Josephine’s miracle, ‘ What is your message?’  When no divine message came back the owner of Eamonn de Valera gave Josephine a sharp prod in the back. ‘Is she still there?  Can you still see her?’ she demanded to know her hot breath on the back of Josephine’s neck. ‘No - she’s gone,’ Josephine snapped, annoyed with the fat woman for scaring off her apparition. ‘What is your message Mother?,’ the woman boomed out again, her voice echoing around the empty grotto,  ‘Let me know what you want us to do?’ Her only answer was Josephine farting with fear

Maybe she’ll come back later,’ Teresa tried to reason, feeling trapped and anxious to get away. ‘Do you think so?’ Victor McLaglan replied, blessing herself and hauling her massive frame upright.  ‘By the way,’ she added looking sharply at Josephine, ‘What is your name?’ She seemed a bit disappointed to learn it wasn’t Bernadette. ‘You girls live in Clover Road don’t you? I’ve seen you passing up and down outside my house.’ ‘Yes we do,’ Teresa answered for them both and started to edge away to the pathway leading out of the grotto.  The woman was clearly mad and the girls began to regret their venture into the world of sainthood.   ‘We have to go now misses. - our Ma will be waiting for us,’ Teresa called back over the shoulder  as she gripped Josephine’s arm and lead her away from the grotto. ‘Josephine?’ they heard the deranged woman roar after them, ‘ Josephine of Clover Road?’ On their way home the two girls decided to keep quiet about the whole episode at the grotto as they were feeling a little bit foolish and more than a little bit scared. 

Josephine could still hear Josephine of Clover Road  ringing in her ears and see the old woman’s face. On Sally’s bridge they met Vincent and Anthony.  Vincent was carrying a large brown paper bag from which the head of a brown dog kept popping up only to be shoved down again by Vincent.  ‘Hey me Ma’s looking yous two,’  he called over to Teresa and Josephine, and then turned to hand the strange dog parcel over to Anthony to carry. The boys turned left into South Circular Road and headed off in the direction of Dolphin’s Barn. A little earlier old Mrs Winters had seen the boys passing her house and had called them over.  She wanted to know if they knew where the dog’s home was as she was no longer able to care for her dog Soldier, and needed someone to take him to the home. She said she was willing to pay the boys a shilling if they would help her out.

Neither Vincent or Anthony had the faintest idea where the dog’s home was but they lied and said they did. The prospect of getting a shilling was too tempting for a little thing like the truth get in the way. Mrs Winters was delighted to hear that Vincent knew the place like the back of his hand and asked them to wait while she put soldier into a bag for them. The smell of Soldier, when he was finally presented to them, was overpowering, even for two boys well used to the assorted fragrances of Weaver Square school . As they walked slowly up the South Circular Road the boys discussed how they might dispose of Soldier so that he wouldn’t reappear on Mrs Winter’s doorstep and expose their lie.   Just as they passed the large red bricked house where the Christian Brothers lived, Vincent saw four young boys playing football. The ball was an inflated pig’s bladder which could be got free of charge from the slaughterhouse, and only required a bit of a wash and a few puffs of breath to commission. 

They stood watching the boys kick the pig’s bladder ball about and pondered the problem of Soldier’s abandonment. It was Anthony who came up with idea of trying to pass the smelly dog off on the footballers. ‘They might be glad of him,’ he reasoned, more in hope than belief, ‘He could be part of their gang.’ With no other plan in view Vincent had to agree. He waited till he caught the eye of one of the boys and waved him over. The boy was a few years older than Vincent and sauntered  over with the confidence of someone not to be tangled with. Sarah would have tagged him as being from Cuff Street. ‘What ye want?’ he said with dark menace in his voice. ‘I......that is ....we, were just wondering if yous would like this dog for your gang. He’s a great fighter’

On cue Soldier popped his head out of the bag and looked at his potential new owner. He bared his teeth in a growl as if to prove his credentials as a suitable gang member. ‘Let me see him, open the bag up’  the Cuff Street  boy demanded. Vincent opened the brown bag and held it out for his  inspection. ‘Aw fug off,’ the owner of the pig’s bladder football exclaimed stepping back and holding his nose, ‘He’s got the fugging  mange.’ ‘Clear off before I kick your fugging arse’

Mortified once again, Vincent, Anthony and Soldier sloped away to take stock of their situation. They were beginning to regret having taken Mrs Winter’s shilling in the first place. Vincent flirted with the idea of consigning Soldier to a watery grave in the Grand canal but quickly rejected the notion. A sort of empathy had developed between him and the old brown dog and he hadn’t the heart to reject him in that way.  He would have liked to take Soldier home but knew his mother would chase him. In any event Mrs Winters would see the dog on the street. South Circular Road was one of the main thoroughfares in Dublin and an endless stream of double-decker buses passed as the boys stood wondering what to do next. Vincent noticed that the buses had to slow down a little at the bend in the road. It would be easy for him to run forward and deposit the bag and Soldier onto the platform at the back of one of them and be on his toes before the conductor noticed anything. Somebody on the bus might take pity on Soldier and take him home with them. Unknown to him Soldier had peed in the brown bag some time earlier. Just as Vincent was squaring up to give the bus to Dolphin’s Barn an extra passenger, the bottom fell out of the brown bag and Soldier was deposited onto the pavement with a thud. Soldier didn’t run away but sat obediently at Vincent’s foot waiting for his new master. He was  too unsavoury to pick up again and Vincent took off his snake buckle belt and tied it around the dog’s neck. ‘I’m going home,’ Anthony suddenly announced, ’I’ve had enough of this. You can keep the whole shilling to yourself.’ Anthony ran off towards Sally’s Bridge leaving Vincent and Soldier looking after him with surprise. ‘Tell me Ma I’ll be home later,’ Vincent called after him

The evening was fine and warm and Vincent decided to walk to Phoenix park with Soldier to give him a bit of a run around. The two of them made a pathetic sight with Vincent’s patched up trousers and busted shoes, and Soldier’s scruffy brown coat.  People moved aside to avoid them as the pair trudged on oblivious of their bedraggled appearance. They passed the old jail and Vincent felt very uneasy at the thought of the people behind the narrow slits of windows. They would surely suffocate on a such warm day. Hot and tired they eventually reached the park and Vincent released Soldier from his elasticated restraint. He was hoping that Soldier might just run off somewhere and get lost, but the game old mongrel had other ideas. He tore off at an amazing speed for an old dog and then turned and raced back to Vincent, wagging his tail and running around him in circles with his tongue hanging out. He had no intention of leaving his new master. Try as Vincent did there was just no shaking off the brown dog. Vincent remembered another occasion when he and Anthony had visited Phoenix park and coming across a huge posh building where Sean T O Kelly, the President of Ireland, lived. He recalled telling Sister Rosary about it the next day and being informed by her that the building was called Aras an Uachtarain.  He and Anthony had played rolling down a small hillock just outside Aras an Uachtarain and he remembered there was a fence with black metal railings there. He set off to find the grand building with Soldier panting behind him. Eventually, and with some luck, he located it some five minutes later. Vincent put his snake belt back around Soldier’s neck and walked up to the metal railings. He stood for a few moments staring  into the grounds and wondering about the people inside the mansion.  Sean T O Kelly seemed to have a lot of room for one person and must have plenty of money. Maybe if he left Soldier there someone might like him enough to take him in and give him a home. Soldier looked up sadly at Vincent as he tied the other end of the belt to the railings and turned to walk home to Clover Road. Vincent didn’t look back because he knew Soldier would be watching him.








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