(Eddie Stack was born
in Ennistymon, Co. Clare and emigrated to the United States in
1986. He settled in San Francisco and founded ‘The Island,’
an Irish journal. In 1991
he received a Top 100 Irish American Award in response to his
first book of short fiction, ‘The West: Stories from Ireland.’
Eddie Stack is co-founder of the Irish Arts Foundation, a San
Francisco-based organization. From 1991 to 2000 he was artistic
director of the IAF and produced the annual S.F. Celtic Music
and Arts Festival, the San Francisco Film Fleadh, Finnigans Awake
(Irish Writers Festival) and Cruinniú Music Festival. He
also developed the Irish Studies Program at New College of California,
San Francisco and taught Irish writing there. In 2000 he returned
to Ireland. His first collection of short stories, ‘The
West’ is now available as an ebook from www.tintaun.com.
A spoken word CD of four stories from the book read by Stack,
with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill was released in 2002.
A second collection of his short stories, ‘Out of The Blue’
was published by Tintaun in November 2003.)
The Warrior had enough of the
Christmas fair and took cover in Looney’s bar. It was empty,
dark and cold, still waiting to be strobed by the solstice sun.
“A harmless aul fair,” sniffled
Bridgey, totting up his bill on a brown paper bag.
“Four shillins for the Powers an’
three an’ sixpence for the bottle a Porter...what’s
“Seven an’ six Bridgey,”
said the Warrior, leaving three half crowns on the red formica
counter. He settled them into a small pile.
“Thanks Bridgey and good luck to you.”
“The same to yourself...ahh they have
the country ruined...and everythin’ is so dear sure...”
“They have this poor country shagged
Bridgey. That’s about the size of it now.”
“Tis true for you...”
“And what’s more, the crowd that’s
doin’ it never fired a shaggin’ shot in their life.”
“Tis true for you...”
“Anyways,” sighed the Warrior,
flopping his arms in resignation, “Give us another small
“Powers, wasn’t it?”
“Twas...that’s the way now Bridgey.
What kind of a Christmas are ye havin’ so far?”
“Yarrah...’tis quiet. Don’t
you know yourself now. An’ sure today is the big day an’
can’t you see the way it is. Quiet, sure. You might rise
a stir in it yourself above in the Square later on.”
“Not today Bridgey.”
“Not today Bridgey,” the Warrior
repeated, shaking his head, “but anyways, this is the overcoat
I was tellin’ you about, the last day I here.”
She admired the dark crombie coat and listened
to how he came upon it. And he was wearing the good blue suit,
clean shirt, collar and tie. These he bought from the Pakistani
hawker who came to Ennis every Saturday. That was another story,
best left for another day, he said.
“Is there anyone dead belongin’
to you?” she asked.
“No, not that I know of Bridgey,”
he answered, “And I didn’t hear anything up the town.
But there was a funeral this morn beyond in Maheramore, I s’pose
you heard that. That poor Mrs. Canney was buried. Her son is married
to a daughter of Paraffin Hogan’s.”
“Is that the boy that drives Blake’s
“Now you have it.”
“That’s where Doran’s hearse
must have been. It passed up the road a while ago.”
“I got a lift to town with them. ‘Twas
my first time in a hearse and it won’t be my last Bridgey.”
“Tis true for you.”
She smoked one of his cigarettes and put the
pieces together. The Warrior was wearing his good clothes because
of the funeral. He had a few drinks after filling the grave with
Doran. That’s why he wasn’t going up to the Square—he
had drink taken. He never drinks before going to the Square.
“Are you alright now for a while? I have
to put down the dinner.”
“Sound as a bell Bridgey—but give
us another half wan an’ a packet of plain cigarettes so
I wont be botherin’ you.”
Bridgey peeled potatoes
into a bowl by the kitchen fire.
“That bar out there is freezin’,”
she sniffled. If it got any colder she would have to get an oil
heater. She could hear him stamp his feet to keep the blood running
to his toes.
“Are you alright Warrior?” she
called, tapping on the bar window.
“Sound as a bell Bridgey. The circulation.”
“I hope he don’t throw a turn,”
she mumbled. It would be the talk of the country--The Warrior
Carty to die in the only pub he was served in. The six other publicans
in the town would not let his toe inside their doors but Bridgey
saw no harm in him. He was persecuted by his own after he fought
for them in the War of Independence and the Civil War. Later he
went abroad and the misfortunate wretch got shell-shocked in some
foreign war. That’s where the strange behavior comes from,
like the exhibition above in the Square.
“God help us,” she sighed and added
an extra potato to the pot.
The usual crowd gathered
in the Square before midday and waited for the Warrior Carty.
This was the highpoint of their fair—to see and cheer this
robust man lift a cartwheel, which was as big and heavy as himself,
and balance it on the hub of his chin while the Angelus bells
rang out. It was an extraordinary feat and he performed it at
every fair, hail, rain or snow. He did it to distract the fair
from prayer and succeeded for the most part. The Warrior’s
act could be the making or breaking of the day.
When the church bells called for prayer in
Looney’s bar the Warrior blew a smoke ring for every peal.
It was as defiant as he wanted to be that mid-winter’s day.
He knew the followers in the Square would be disappointed, but
that was life—nothing lasts for ever. He had retired. The
decision had been made in his sleep and he was obeying. Orders
from the Management. Not God, just the Management.
The crowd felt like fools. Cheated of their
entertainment and their prayers, they dispersed sullenly and griped
about the Warrior. Where was he? Had he not walked the town earlier
in the day, showering everyone with Christmas greetings? It was
not his form to ignore the call of duty—especially today,
The Small Fair of Christmas. A long lean farmer said he must have
lost his nerves. His neighbour disagreed.
“The Warrior was born without nerves,”
he claimed. It was his age.
“He musht be sixty-five or seventy years
old if he’s a day,” he insisted, sliding into Peter
Inside, they joined a couple of cattle jobbers who were already
discussing the Warrior.
“Well sure he started out first in Boland’s
Mill in 1916...then he lead the Faha column of the boys in 1920,”
declared a barrel shaped jobber in a once-white coat.
“I know it. And he never surrendered
after the Civil War. I know that too. Carty never handed over
“Tha’s right sure. ‘Don’t
give up the fight.’ I often heard him say that,” drawled
his companion. “An’ he went off to Spain with the
Brigade too. Maybe that was to get another wallop at the Blueshirts.”
“Maybe, but I don’t think so.”
“An’ sure if they hadn’t
locked him up in the Curragh Camp durin’ the last war he’d
have been soldierin’ somewhere.”
Bridgey left a plate
with a piece of haddock and a potato on the counter.
“Ate this,” she said. “It’ll
do you good.”
“The Blessin’s a God on you Bridgey,”
he said and picked at the meal. He felt like confiding in her.
He wanted to explain why he didn’t go to the Square and
what he was doing in Sunday clothes. But it was a delicate matter
and she might pick it up wrong.
“Bridgey...” he asked, motioning
for another whiskey and stout. “Do we soften with age?”
“Tis hard to say,” she said slowly
and pondered at her reflection in the mirror behind the whiskey
“The aul fair’ll be over early,”
she muttered putting his drinks on the cold red-topped counter.
He would be her only customer today.
The money box was getting heavier and he was
getting drunker, but in a quiet sort of a way. For a short while,
a beam of evening sun warmed the bar and they traced about things
of long ago like rekindled lovers. He reminisced about the great
fairs, when you could walk on the backs of beasts from one end
of the town to the other without stepping on the ground. Bridgey
reminded him of the great dances that used be held before the
Christmas years ago.
“All that’s gone now,” she
They recalled the big crowds arriving home
from England and wondered where they all were now.
“A sad day for Ireland Bridgey,”
Warrior sighed and a cloud of silence darkened the bar. Bridgey
fumbled under the counter and a string of Christmas lights blazed
a trail around whiskey bottles. Tiny beads of yellow, green, red
and blue blinked at the warrior.
“Jaysus Bridgey...” he said slowly,
“but I love Christmas, even though Christmas is not the
same as it used to be.”
“Nothing stays the same sure,”
she said, almost in a whisper.