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.

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13. The Visionary

   Later that evening Vincent sat beside the old Pye radio listening to Donald Pearce on Radio Eireann singing his concluding song, In a Shady Nook and wondered what had become of Soldier. Mrs Winter’s shilling still nestling in his pocket had lost its appeal for the moment. Teresa and Josephine had gotten over the worst of their encounter with the woman at the grotto. They were laughing as the read the Pen Friends page of the Ireland’s Own. ‘Here’s one for you Josephine - 60 year old County Wicklow farmer with large herd of cows seeks refined Catholic lady.’ Not to be outdone Josephine scanned the page until she found -  50 year old lonely bachelor (Carlow)  seeks Catholic lady 18 - 30 with view to marriage.  They laughed out loud and then turned to the Songs Page and began to sing the words of Teddy O Neill. Despite the sparse furniture and bare floorboards the children felt cosy and secure. Sarah was at the kitchen table mixing up some odd ingredients she had found at the back of the cupboard in the hope of turning them into a cake. It was to be a delicacy called Gibraltar cake to make it sound more appealing, and possibly to pave the way for it turning out to be a rocky lump. Dusk was beginning to fall and Sarah switched on the kitchen light to get a better view of her culinary creation. She pounded the unwieldy mixture into submission with a rolling pin until it was the approximate shape of a cake. ‘What’s that noise?’ Bosco suddenly exclaimed above the babble of voices. ‘Hey listen, ‘ he called louder when nobody acknowledged him, ‘Turn down that bloody wireless Vincent -Shush - Listen.’ They all shushed and listened. Voices singing Hail Queen of Heaven could be heard drifting in from the front street.

There was a stampede  from the kitchen to the front room to investigate the cause of the singing. Teresa arrived first and pressed her nose up against the glass.  She quaked at the sight that greeted her. Looking over the wall and into the Flynn’s garden was Victor McLaglan from the grotto, and she wasn’t alone. Three of her friends flanked her as they made their musical appeal to Our Lady .’.......Guide of the wanderer here below ....Thrown on life’s surf we claim thy care ... ’  they croaked The strange quartet was holding lighted candles and looking solemn as they sung to the front of the Flynn’s house. Mrs Hennessey from next door was half way down her front path to see what new lunacy the Flynn’s were involved in and smiling broadly to herself.   People began to emerge from their houses to stand behind the choral group. Some even ran back home to return with lighted candles and rosary beads. They gleefully joined in the hymn singing even though they had no idea what it was all about. There was soon a throng outside the Flynn’s  asking Our Lady to ‘.... save them from peril and from woe.’ ‘What in God’s good name’s going on here?‘ Sarah asked herself. Her first thought was this was something to do with the Holy Year and that the people  just happened to be stopped outside her house. Teresa and Josephine who knew better just kept quite in the hope that the crowd would eventually get fed up and melt away.  Hail Queen of Heaven  finished only to be replaced  with a spirited rendition of Faith of Our Fathers  and a swelling of the multitude. The notion that this was something to do with the Holy Year was dispelled when lighted candles began to be placed along the top of Flynn’s wall. News had spread among the crowd that a visionary lived in the house and people began to surge forward to get a better view of the local saint‘s dwelling. Sarah looked on flabbergasted as the gate was opened and the four women began to walk up the path.  ‘Good God, they’re coming up here,’ ‘ she exclaimed, ‘ What in onder God does these ones want?’ I think I might know mammy,’ Josephine finally confessed, but Sarah didn’t hear her as she was already on her way to the door.  Josephine fled upstairs to the toilet and locked herself in. She tried not to listen by blocking her ears as the front door was opened and her mother began to talk to the women.

‘Yes - can I help you?’ Sarah asked them, standing well back. ‘ Hello. My name is Mrs McEniff and these are my friends from the Legion of Mary,’ Sarah scanned the group of Legionnaires waiting to hear the reason for their visit. Two of the group were identical twins.  Each was wearing a black beret and pink twin set. The fourth woman,  who smelt of mothballs, carried a wicker shopping basket filled with blessed candles.  She had flaming red hair and a long sharp nose that was caked with dry snuff and kept pushing out the top row of her dentures with her tongue   ‘Is the little one in - little Josephine?’ Mrs McEniff asked. ‘Josephine?’  Sarah replied incredulously, ’Do you mean our Josephine?  What’s this got to do with her?  I think you must have the wrong house misses.’ ‘No, no, no,’ the woman from the grotto insisted, ‘ This is the house alright.  Your little Josephine - the one who Our Lady appeared to today.’Sarah looked up and down the street and then at the expectant crowd outside fully expecting to wake up and find she was dreaming. ‘Is this some kind of joke?’ Mrs Flynn demanded to know, ‘Look have you lot been drinking?’ ‘No, no,’ Mrs McEniff pressed on, ‘your little girl was at the grotto in Donore Avenue today and Our Blessed Mother appeared to her. Ask the older girl who was along with her if you don’t believe me.’ ‘Teresa! Josephine!  Come out here this instant, ‘ Mrs Flynn called over her shoulder, not  taking her eyes off the women at her door. The crowd outside the garden wall looked on in silence and with mounting interest , waiting for the appearance of Josephine. Josephine however had other ideas and was refusing to come out of the toilet.  Teresa appeared meekly at her mother’s side and gave her a potted account of the visit to the grotto. Sarah listened with mounting panic to the unfolding story.  Having a saint to contend with was all she needed right now. ‘We’re all going down to Donore Avenue now to say the rosary and we need Josephine with us,’ the woman with the snuff caked nose informed her. She was clearly acting out a scene from the movie with Josephine about to play the part of Jennifer Jones. Sarah had become quite used to thinking on her feet. She looked anxiously at the crowd and then at the four dotty women on her doorstep. They were unlikely to depart just on her say so. What she needed was a bit of breathing space - a bit of time to defuse the dangerous and hysterical drama unfolding outside her house. ‘Listen,’ she finally replied looking at Mrs McEniff, ‘ I need to get Josephine cleaned up a bit - Can’t have her talking to Our Lady with a dirty face now can we? - why don’t youse head on down to Donore Avenue and I’ll bring her down in - say about half an hour? ‘ The suggestion seemed to satisfy the ladies from the Legion who didn’t suspect any duplicity.  Anyway it would give them time to set up the scene before the Blessed Mother appeared again. The three friends of Mrs McEniff looked at her, waiting for further instructions.  ‘Right so,’ she replied, ‘  we’ll see you down there in half an hour.’ The Legionaries set off down Clover Road to the tune of The Bells of the Angelus. The crowd followed behind, more out of curiosity that religious fervour. Sarah went inside and sat at the table to consider the latest predicament.  She knew that Josephine had an over fertile imagination and gave no credence at all  to the story about the vision. There was something however about the women from the Legion of Mary that told her they wouldn’t give up easily and were likely to return if she didn’t show up with Josephine. It was even plausible that this might turn into a nightly event and maybe attract even bigger crowds. She could already see the headlines in the Herald -  DONORE AVENUE - THE NEW LOURDES !

There was a need to get away from Clover Road for a few days till the fuss died down, but she knew nobody in Dublin she could stay with. Like a shining beacon her sister Margaret’s face smiled into her mind. Margaret lived in the Curragh and could be reached by bus. Her husband Dan was commandant of the Curragh military camp and they occupied a large house there.  The only problem was that Margaret had thirteen children of her own and might not be all that welcoming.  Sarah quickly dismissed the doubt from her mind on the grounds of needs do as needs must.   It was just a matter of getting to Merchant’s Quay where the bus for the Curragh left from.  She looked at the kitchen clock and knew that if the hurried they could catch the last bus

The children whooped with delight when Mrs Flynn informed them they were all going to Auntie Margaret’s in the Curragh for a few days. Nobody questioned what had prompted this sudden and  unexpected holiday - it was just enough to know that they were going.  Vincent and Anthony were already planning games with Brian and Damien - the two cousins nearest in age to them. With great haste Mrs Flynn got the children assembled and left the house to catch the number 81 bus to O Connell Street. The Gibraltar cake sat abandoned on the table as the front door closed.    From the top deck of the bus the Flynn’s could see excited people flocking to Donore Avenue as they passed on their way to the city centre.  

 

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