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.


3. Widow Flynn

     Vincent’s inbuilt clock told him the family had overslept, although it seemed strange that Bosco was missing from his bed. Through a tear in the old tattered curtains the amount of light in the sky suggested the hour to be after nine o clock, much too late to be sent to school. He lifted a copy of the Beano he had been reading the night before and studied the coloured pictures of Eggo the Ostrich on the front cover. Anthony was snoring loudly and oblivious to their good fortune. The warm bed felt warm and cosy and he covered all those parts of him not required for reading his comic. While Vincent tried to concentrate on the antics of Eggo the events of yesterday forced their way back into his mind, and the image of his father standing at the mirror fixing his hat flooded his thoughts.

The two pennies he had been given lay on the battered old trunk that served as a bedside table, waiting to find their way into Mr Corrigan’s till later. Vincent didn’t hear the bedroom door open or Bosco walking to the bedside.  Bosco’s words came quietly, ‘Our Da’s dead.’  ‘The short message stunned Vincent into a state of shock.  As Bosco turned to walk out of the room, the Beano that Vincent was reading dropped from his hand and onto the bare wooden floor. His mind numbed anaesthetising him from the awful reality of Bosco’s words. Beside him Anthony stirred in his sleep but Vincent had not the heart to waken him to his father’s death.

After Bosco’s visit nobody bothered coming back to the bedroom. The usual routine of the house was shattered and the newly orphaned Vincent didn’t know what his movements should be now. There was nobody to tell him if he should get up or stay in bed. He strained his ears to hear any sound of his mother but heard only an ominous silence from downstairs. Still in a dazed state Vincent swung his legs onto the cold floorboards and sat for a while before pulling the bedclothes back over Anthony and padding his way to the landing. He listened again from the top of the stairs and thought he heard someone sobbing in the kitchen through the closed door.

Barefooted Vincent came down the stairs and stood shivering outside the familiar kitchen door. He wanted it all to be some terrible mistake and to open the door to find everything normal, to find his mother making the breakfast and telling him to sit down at the table. He heard someone speak. It sounded like Mrs McGuinness a neighbour from up the road and her voice was warm and comforting.‘That’s right Sarah, have a good cry ...it’ll help you feel better.’   

Vincent pushed open the door to see Mrs McGuinness with her arm around his mother’s shoulder. Mrs Flynn didn’t appear to notice her son’s presence and went on sobbing out her grief. ‘Come here son,’ Mrs McGuinness said when she noticed Vincent standing in the doorway, ‘come over here.’  The warm and sympathetic greeting brought his sorrow rushing to the surface and he ran forward to cling to his mother and her friend. Teresa and Josephine appeared from the living room, crying as they looked at their distressed mother. It was clear to Mrs McGuinness, as she surveyed the scene of distress from behind her small wire rimmed glasses, that a state of crisis existed in the Flynn household and there was an urgent need for someone to take charge and organise their immediate needs.

She didn’t bother to consult Mrs Flynn, who had now stopped crying and was staring blankly at the wall. The old woman opened the kitchen cupboard to see what there was in the way of food for the family breakfast. There were just a few rounds of bread and some tea and sugar in the corner of the cupboard. Mrs McGuinness closed the door and turned to address Teresa.

‘Listen Teresa, I’m going up to the house for a few minutes....you and Bosco have to give your mammy a bit of help till she’s feeling better ..will you get the young ones dressed for her and when I get back I’ll make yous all something nice to eat?’ Teresa nodded her head dutifully and blinked her tear stained eyes at the woman. When Mrs McGuinness got back some ten minutes later a semblance of order had been restored to the household and Anthony and Columba had woken to the sad news of their father’s death.

Their new found benefactor had brought a small parcel of provisions and set about making a breakfast of tea, toast and marmalade for the family. As they ate, Mrs Flynn neither spoke or acknowledged  the children gathered around her. She sat with a cup of tea in her shaking hands and stared into space. ‘It’s very cold in here,’ declared Mrs McGuinness to break the awkward silence and looked around for something to kindle a fire with. There was a metal bucket standing beside the empty fireplace with the remains of a stone of coal purchased from Corrigan’s the day before. 

‘Be a good boy Vincent and run down to Corrigan’s for a bundle of sticks while I clean out these cinders,’ she instructed Vincent, pressing a two shilling piece into his hand, ‘You can take Anthony with you - buy yourselves some sweets with the change.’

  In a way Vincent felt a sense of relief being out in the familiar street again. People were going about their business as usual and life was going on.  Johnstone, Mooney and   O Brien’s bread cart was slowly rumbling up the road, the huge brown shire horse snorting steam down its nostrils as it dragged the heavy cart behind it. The familiar street song echoed inside Vincent’s head. 

"Johnstone, Mooney and O Brien bought a horse for one and nine,

When the horse began to fart Johnstone Mooney bought a cart."

The two shilling piece held tight in his hand gave Vincent a strange sense of security and he held it up to study the leaping fish on its shiny front. He showed the coin to Anthony who looked at it and managed to smile. The boys crossed over at Parnell Road and came onto Sally’s Bridge where they looked into the inky black water of the Grand Canal below. It was frozen over in parts and three young boys were standing on the  bank discussing whether or not it was safe enough to stand on. Vincent wanted to say something to his younger brother as he normally would have when they were out together, but there didn’t seem to be anything on this occasion.

After watching the boys below for a while he took Anthony by the sleeve of his patched jumper and said, ‘Come on Anthony, let’s go!’ On the way back Vincent let Anthony carry the bundle of sticks while he took charge of the bar of Cleeves toffee they had bought with the change. There was a knack in breaking the toffee so it came away in neat squares and Anthony had not yet mastered the technique.     They walked in silence chewing on the toffee and watching their feet moving one past the other over the icy pavement. Mrs Swords, despite the very cold weather, was out at her door gossiping as usual with Mrs Pender. Vincent smiled remembering his mother’s nickname for the nosey woman.  To the Flynn’s she was always known as Mrs Spittie from her unfortunate habit of spraying spit on those she was talking to. As the boys passed,  Vincent heard her say to Mrs Pender, ‘There’s them poor Flynn children ...God be merciful and look down on them today.’ 

  Despite everything Vincent enjoyed the feeling of being a celebrity and gave a broad smile once they were safely past the two women. Back in the house Vincent mooched around for the rest of the day listening to the older ones discussing the events that had occurred while he had been asleep. His father, it appeared from their conversations, had passed away in the Meath Hospital in the early hours of the morning after suffering another massive heart attack.  Mrs Flynn was relating the sad event to young Father Whelan from the parish of St. Bernadette’s who had called to offer his sympathy. He sat with his knees crossed beside the blazing fire drinking tea from an old cracked cup. Sarah was telling him how a big Garda had knocked on the door at three in the morning with the news.

‘I knew as soon as I saw him Father that Johnny was gone,’ she told the priest and then burst into tears again.   It had been decided by someone, Vincent never found out who, that Mr Flynn’s remains would not be brought back to the house for waking but taken straight from the morgue to St. Bernadette’s Chapel to remain there overnight. At three o clock that  afternoon the neighbours of Clover Road stood silently at their front doors waiting for the cortège to pass on its way to St Bernadette’s chapel. 

They blessed themselves as it passed . Sarah and Teresa stood framed in the doorway of the Flynn’s, blocking Vincent’s view of the street. He ran to join the other children at the living room window.  Bosco, Josephine and Anthony peered out sadly through the steamed up window, while the smaller Columba had to stand on a chair. Vincent found a space beside Josephine and rubbed a spot of steamed up window to look through. Jessie Lynch looked back at him cross-eyed from the garden wall, gave him a smile and waved. She was sporting the candle of green snot from her nose that seemed to be a permanent fixture.

Jessie was the same age as Vincent. She had a very bad squint in both eyes and suffered from chronic catarrh. Nobody bothered much about her, leaving her abandoned to roam the street all day long. If she spoke at all it was in short sentences. The sound of horses hooves clopping crisply on the frosty road surface was the first indication that the remains were on their way. A  long black hearse with tassels and containing the polished coffin of Sgt. John Flynn glinted in the weak December sun. The buffed brass work on the gleaming black horses with luxurious feather plumes on their heads, jingled and shone as they passed the house.

The next day Mrs Flynn was feeling very unwell and was not fit to attend her husband’s funeral. It was only sometime in later life that Vincent found out that she had suffered a miscarriage that very morning. In fact nobody in the family attended the funeral in Mount Jerome cemetery and it was left to Uncle Dan and Auntie Margaret, who had come up from the Curragh, to represent them at the graveside.The cemetery had its high boundary wall running along the back of the houses that made up one side of Clover Road, and from the back bedroom the Flynn’s were gathered around the window where they looked down at the graveyard.  The silent moving figures, tiny in the distance, bore witness to John Flynn being laid to rest. In a field next to Mount Jerome a lone ploughman followed his white horse while a flock of seagulls swooped overhead searching the fresh furrows for worms. Vincent could not understand his complete lack of emotion as he watched the distant burial taking place, and felt only an urgent need to burst out laughing.  


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