Thursday, August 16, 2012


Short Stories






Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Amendments 29 and 30

I have written in that past, about my becoming increasingly uninterested in the upcoming Presidential Election. My ire however, was so raised by the entry of Martin McGuinness into the contest, that I moved, to again engage. Fortunately, it would seem that Mister McGuinness’s efforts to subvert history will come to naught and while I will occasionally retweet links to articles that highlight his criminal past, I am no longer concerned with who our next President will be. I am though, concerned with trying to decide who I will vote for. I am so underwhelmed by the remaining candidates that it is proving more than a little difficult to arrive at an order of preference.

There is an argument to be made, that in this instance, the logical thing to do is simply not vote. I really wish I could embrace that view. My problem is that I love voting. Every time I step into a polling booth I experience a thrill of nascent power, of relevancy and of privilege. The problem with being an untutored reader of history is that I see the stories, not the themes. I see the grand sweep of time and I see the tiny blip of history where people get to decide their own leaders. That I live in that infinitesimal oasis, fills me with joy and causes that spark of excitement in the pit of my stomach, when I am afforded the opportunity to have my say. Thus I must vote. Thus I must attach an order of least bad, to these people seeking to be my President.

I am then, embarrassed to admit that I had singularly failed to take note of the two Constitutional Amendments which are being subjected to referenda (or referendums) on the same day as the Presidential Election. I was rescued from my insensibility by the many worthies of the twitterverse, who have recently begun a campaign of awareness raising. To them I say thanks. I fear I may have continued to self indulgently obsess about who I should vote for, right up to casting my votes, in these referenda, in blithe ignorance.

It is particularly galling to me, to have required someone else to remind me about the referenda. Constitutional amendments are several orders of importance, above mere elections. As for a Presidential Election? No comparison. A Constitution is that document that legally defines what we are, how we govern ourselves and it is that precious thing which protects us from witless populism and self-serving politicians. It is so important that we do not allow politicians to even interpret it, never mind amend it. That is not to say, our Constitution is perfect. This atheist would like to see all references to divine beings deleted. The very fact that we are voting on the twenty-ninth and thirtieth amendments also indicate that our Constitution has required certain improvements (or, according to how one has voted, it has been damaged) over the years.

The process of changing our Constitution is relatively simple. The politicians propose a change, we vote yes or no to that change and if yes, the judiciary interpret that change. I’m one of those who think the voting part to be the most important element in that process. So here is my attempt to decide how I should vote in the impending referenda.

Amendment 29 - the proposed change to Article 35, Section 5.

Existing text:

The remuneration of a judge shall not be reduced during his continuance in office.

Proposed text:

5.1 The remuneration of judges shall not be reduced during their continuance in office save in accordance with this section.

5.2 The remuneration of judges is subject to the imposition of taxes, levies or other charges that are imposed by law on persons generally or persons belonging to a particular class.

5.3 Where, before or after the enactment of this section, reductions have been or are made by law to the remuneration of persons belonging to classes of persons whose remuneration is paid out of public money and such law states that those reductions are in the public interest, provision may also be made by law to make proportionate reductions to the remuneration of judges.

Without even looking at the text, I was going to vote yes to this. We are in a recession, so everyone should suffer a little, especially those who are paid so well from the public purse. Section three did appear to exercise some commentators so I have reread it and reread it, ad nauseum. I can only conclude that one would have to be somewhat cynical to find a problem here. Judges will be linked to a cilivl service grade and will enjoy or endure the salary vicissitudes of that grade.

Annoyingly however, I am a cynic. There needs to be mechanism for imposing the harshness of our economic woes on our judiciary, but I am uncomfortable, in the extreme, with the prospect of politicians doing that imposing. Any prospect of politicians having recourse to bringing pressure to bear on judges, fills me with extreme disquiet. I will not pretend to have a better or safer way to reduce the salaries of our judges, but I must believe that a better way can be found. I think that at least one layer of independent adjudication (on renumeration) must exist, as a buffer between the politicians and the judges. Yes, I know, I appear to be advocating for the creation of yet another quango. I make no apologies for that. This amendment clearly makes it too easy for politicians to alter the pay of judges.

The independence of the judiciary, is a cornerstone of liberal democracy and while it is unlikely, in the foreseeable future, that politicians would attempt to undermine this, the principal should still be maintained, jealousy guarded and zealously enforced, in case of the unforeseen. So I will be voting no.

Amendment 30 - the proposed change to Article 15, Section 10.

Existing text:

(1) Each House shall make its own rules and standing orders, with power to attach penalties for their infringement, and shall have power to ensure freedom of debate, to protect its official documents and the private papers of its members, and to protect itself and its members against any person or persons interfering with, molesting or attempting to corrupt its members in the exercise of their duties.

Proposed inserted text:

2 Each House shall have the power to conduct an inquiry, or an inquiry with the other House, in a manner provided for by law, into any matter stated by the House or Houses concerned to be of general public importance.

3 In the course of any such inquiry the conduct of any person (whether or not a member of either House) may be investigated and the House or Houses concerned may make findings in respect of the conduct of that person concerning the matter to which the inquiry relates.

4 It shall be for the House or Houses concerned to determine, with due regard to the principles of fair procedures, the appropriate balance between the rights of persons and the public interest for the purposes of ensuring an effective inquiry into any matter to which subsection 2 applies.

Again I’d have voted yes to this, without even reading it. Who hasn’t been dismayed by the exorbitantly expensive, too long delayed and ultimately toothless Tribunals of Enquiry that we have had to endure these last few decades? I was taken by the image of Bertie Ahern being hounded by a pack of poll aware politicians. It is an image that fills me with glee. To see that man stripped bare of his delusions and arrogance is a spectacle I would pay good money to enjoy. The innumerable bankers, developers and sundry others who destroyed our country would provide ample appetisers, but it is seeing Bertie destroyed, that I want most.

Yet the price demanded, to indulge our sense of vengeful outrage is shockingly high. The inserted text grants unprecedented powers to our politicians. This amendment will allow a government to pick their target, decide the grounds on which to attack their target and to prosecute that target in almost any way they wish. A government will be able to ride roughshod over the opposition, be inculcated from Judicial intervention and be free to destroy whoever they deem fit to destroy. It’s a McCarthyite Charter, pure and simple.

If I want Bertie subjected to this form of ‘stocks‘ am I in danger of suffering a similar fate? I can’t escape the conclusion that this amendment has the potential to be the most dangerous and the most pernicious assault on our freedom, by our politicians, since the foundation of the State. That our elected representatives should have some powers of investigation is obvious. That our elected representatives should be allowed to decide for themselves what those powers should be, is frankly terrifying. The public annihilation of Bertie Ahern and his coterie of self serving sycophants, handlers and ‘digger-outers‘ is not worth the risk that power happy or vengeful politicians could sit in judgement of me.

Imagine the idea of being cross examined by a self-righteous politician. No thank you. I will be voting no.

(NB My apologies to all who read the original version of this post. The wording I used for both amendments was incorrect. I am guilty of stupidly trusting wikipedia. If I was a journalist I would be calling for my immediate resignation. As I am but a mere keyboard warrior, my acute embarrassment will have to suffice. Fortunately for my vanity, but unfortunately for democracy, the wording I had originally assumed to be correct, was much more benign than what we are actually being asked to vote on. The version I had seen, called for 90% support in either House of the Oireachtas. The true wording means that a simple majority would suffice. I can’t think of any reason why anyone would support such a massive transfer of power to politicians. I do hope you will be convinced by the many arguments that are being made against this awful amendment and that you begin to spread the message to family and friends. Paul Bowler)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Him and Her

He pulled the handbrake and turned the key. He smiled at the fifty metre stretch of sand between him and the sea. Perfectly timed, enough hard sand, but not too far for the dog to wet her paws. He reached for his stick and stiffly got out. He opened the back door and her head perked up. She carefully rose and pondered the drop to the tarmac. She whined and looked at him. He smiled and leaning his stick against the car, he rested one hand on the door and helped her to the ground. She sniffed the air, her grey snout raised and wagged her tail. He locked the car and they began their slowly progress to the water’s edge.

They rested at the water’s nearest advance. He leaning on his stick and she sitting at his feet. He checked what wind there was and turned to it. She watched him go before tottering after him, occasionally halting to sniff and rest. He felt sun and breeze on his face and the week trapped by rain fell away. He saw the joggers and schooled his face. Two women, near fifty years younger, jogging towards him. He stared, he thought subtly. His eyes transfixed and mind aflame with their healthy moving and so feminine parts. His neck arthritic, required he turn his body entire, to admire their passing. Their lycrad bottoms the inspiration for his ever rarer morning fumblings.

He looked for her and saw her in the sea, water lapping at her paws. Having spotted a gull she sought to assert the memory of her youth. She trotted as best she could and only when she was near, did the gull deign to look. Then flap to the sky, alighting the merest few lengths away. She tried again and with the same result. The gull not feigning to show her fear. With a rolling gait she beat a retreat. Tongue extended and chest heaving she returned to his feet. He did not comment but with wincing consolation reached down to pet. His mood dimmed, they returned to the car. He did not wait to be asked, but helped her to her chair.

His slippered feet whispered the way from socket to socket, his nightly routine of safety. Third time round he was eased and he made for bed. He sat heavily on the soft deep mattress and taking off his sippers, she licked his face. He pushed her playfully away and patted the bed in invitation. She wagged her tail and crouched to jump, but looked at him uncertainly. He slipped from the bed and knelt to lift her. She went to her side and turned several tight circles, till with a deep sigh she curled up and closed her eyes. He levered himself back up and pulled the duvet back. He got into bed and with his right hand resting on her, he switched off the light and slept.

As was his curse he woke near dawn. He tutted his usual tut and crept in stockinged feet to the bathroom. Bladder empty he looked to sleep again. He got into bed, shut his eyes and rested his hand upon her. She did not move. With his eyes still closed his hand moved over her. No heart beat or raising chest could he detect. He opened his eyes and stared and stared, his hand never leaving her.

When the sun filled the skylight he rose. He found his trowel and went outside and chose a spot. Kneeling he began to dig. Rolling back the grassy turf took the day. He looked at the exposed earth and nodded. He washed up and returned to bed. With his hand resting on her, he slept. With the next dawn, he returned to the plot. Resting on his side he began to dig. Slowly moving the soil, going deeper and deeper. The day passed and by the handful, the hole grew. Hours passed until he had dug to his satisfaction. He looked at his work and with a back in spasm, got to his feet.

He shuffled to the bed, carefully wrapped her in his duvet and lifted her into his arms. His cheek pressed against her head, he carried her to her grave. He stifled a groan of agony as he knelt to lower her into the hole. He stroked her one last time and arranged the duvet over her. With his hands he covered her with the soil and as the sun set, he rolled the grass into place and patted the ground. He sat there awhile, watching the rising moon.

With a ragged breath he staggered to his feet. With shoulders hunched he washed and changed into his Sunday bests. He sat in his chair, his hand reaching to tickle her head. He sat and he waited. He sat. And he waited. 

the end

all rights reserved

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tiger Hunt

Simon dodged behind the rubble of a collapsed church and burrowed his way under some loose masonry. He tried to control his breathing as he felt, rather than heard the 70 ton King Tiger pass within yards of his position. He carefully sneaked a peek at the rolling monster and was struck by the epic beauty of its lines. He ducked his head again and readied his Sten submachine gun, in case of discovery by the infantry men escorting the Tiger. He heard them approach, typically there would be a dozen or so of them. He listened to their continuous exchanges, as they methodically checked the ruins. Fortunately they did not come too close to Simon’s hiding place and when they passed from earshot, he exhaled nosily. He crept from his hiding place and crawled to a new vantage point. The Germans were known to leave a straggler behind, to draw out the unwary enemy. He took out his field-glasses and for ten minutes, minutely observed every possible location, among the destroyed buildings, for a sniper. Only then was he satisfied that he could stand and continue on his way to the rendezvous point.



all rights reserved

Monday, September 26, 2011


Margaret paused as Sister Josephine unlocked yet another door. They walked through and Margaret paused as Sister Josephine locked it. They walked, paused, walked and paused. Margaret flexing her bleached prune hands nervously. She did not waste her breath asking the Sister where she was going. She had already guessed. Annoyed at her own nerves, she pushed her hands under her arms and kept them there. She would not show these people fear. They would not break her. Her back ached, her knees ached, her eyes ached and though only twenty-one, she had begun to see grey in her closely cropped auburn hair. She had washed countless tons of strangers’ clothes in her two years at the laundry, but she was not broken. She was slim, beautiful and unbroken, but she had never been sent out on service before. She had heard stories from the other young women about what happened to those who were rented out by the Sisters. She was scared, but she would not allow them see it.

Finally Sister Josephine opened the last door and silently ushered Margaret through. Margaret heard the door close behind her as she looked at the empty office she’d entered. As she was about to exhale her tension another door opened and The Mother walked in, all fat ugly superiority and false bonhomie. With her was a man in his late fifties, a priest, he was deeply tanned, well dressed and more than willing to be entertained by The Mother’s good humour. Margaret stood to attention. The Mother did not acknowledge her, neither did the Priest. Money was handed over and the Priest rose to leave. He looked at Margaret and indicated with his fedora, that she should go before him. She looked at The Mother, who gave Margaret the merest of nods and a look that was at once sneering, knowing and gleeful. Margaret was untouched by the woman’s behavior, she could not hate The Mother anymore than she already did. She walked out into the sunlight and felt momentarily free.

The Priest, walked towards a car and opened the rear door for Margaret. She looked at him in confusion. She did not see it as kindness, he was renting her after all, but the experience of politeness had been almost forgotten by Margaret. She slowly got in and sat on the leather seat. He closed the door and rounded the car to the driver’s door. He sat in, started the engine and drove off. They drove in silence for an hour. Margaret allowed herself to look at the countryside speeding by and to imagine what it would feel like, to again wander a field, or enjoy a stroll through a wood. Then the dream began to turn to hope and she had to stamp it down. It was not safe to hope. She had seen too many of the other women go mad on hope. Hope was a dangerous thing. She squeezed her hands into tight fists and addressed the Priest.

“Am I to be doing your cleaning or did you get me to use me?”

The car swerved. The Priest fought to regain control of it and when he did so, he pulled into the side of road and stopped the car. He got out and walked to the bonnet. He sat against it hard and searched his pockets. He found cigarettes and a lighter. He lit a cigarette and slowly smoked it. Margaret watched him silently. He was no taller than she, at about five and half foot. Hewas over-weight and though his tan could not disguise his love of drink, he still looked fit. She would not be able to fight him. The question was, should she fight him or should she keep her battles in her head. He finished his cigarette and got back in. He started the engine and continued their journey in silence. Margaret’s tension grew.

She began to lose track of time and drifted in and out of sleep. The Priest did not speak and Margaret was content to leave him in silence, though she knew that the further they drove, the worse things were probably going to be for her. She jerked awake as the car left the road and drove up a narrow, gravel track. The road led up a steep hill and the car was beginning to struggle with the surface and the incline. She judged it to be sometime in the afternoon when the Priest parked the car among some trees. She fought to control her fear. This was it then. He got out of the car and opened her door and sat in beside her. She pushed herself as far away from him as possible and waited for him to indicate what he was going to do to her. He held out his hand to her and smiled reassuringly,

“Hello Margaret, my name is Father Phillips. Robert sent me.”

He spoke in a rich Donegal brogue, an accent that Margaret had always liked. She sat there, unmoving, looking at his hand and wondering if a particular accent could make a man more attractive or conversely less attractive. He kept his hand out, waiting for her to shake it.

“Did you not hear me girl, Robert sent me.”

Tears began to roll down Margaret’s cheeks. This was a game too cruel, even for one who had endured the loss of lover, child and freedom. Why would he not just use her and be done with it? What sick joy could he find in mocking her like this? Father Philips, looked at her with growing concern. He began to move closer to her and she recoiled violently. He quickly moved as far back from her as he could.

“I’m sorry child, I didn’t mean to scare you. I don’t know what those nuns did, but I promise you, all that is over.”

She looked at him, eyes red, tears streaming.


He nodded at her gently.

“Yes Margaret, he said to tell you that he changed his mind, daffodils are beautiful.”

Margaret sobbed a laugh through her tears. She took Father Philips’ hand and he placed his other hand on top of hers. They sat there as she cried. Her hand in his. When her shoulders stopped shaking she looked at him.

“He never liked daffodils, though they are my favorite. Come the Spring we always fought over it. Were you with him in Spain Father? Were you with him at the end?”

Father Phillips nodded at her gravely.

“We were on opposite sides Margaret, but I was with him.”

“You saw him die?”

“I was there yes.”

Margaret nodded and lapsed into silence for a time, then she spoke again in a wistful voice.

“If he’d waited just another week, he’s have known about the baby. We could have got married, or left the country together. I kept it a secret as long as I could, hoping he would come back in time. Then I got the letter from the Irish Brigade man in Dublin, saying he had been caught and executed. Then I was packed off to the Laundry and when I had my little Daniel, they took him from me. They took my baby Father.”

“I know Margaret.”

Father Philips hurriedly got out of the car and opened the boot. He called out to Margaret to join him. She timidly got out of the car and walked to him. He handed her an overcoat. She put it on as he took out a basket of food and a pair of military issue field-glasses. He slammed the boot closed and began to walk through the trees. Margaret could think of nothing better to do than follow him. After a short walk they crested a hill and they saw a large stone building below them. Father Phillips nodded in satisfaction and placed the basket on the ground. He opened it and took out a blanket. He spread it out and sat down. As he sat, his jacket opened and Margaret noticed that he had a handgun in his belt. She looked away from it, pretending not to have seen it. When Father Philips was comfortably seated, he invited Margaret to join him on the blanket. She licked her lips nervously but began to bend her legs to sit next to him. He looked away and Margaret immediately reached down and grabbed the gun from his belt.

It was too large for her to hold with one hand but she was still able to cock it and aim it at Father Phillips. He looked at her calmly, from the other side of the barrel.

“Don’t look so calm priest, I may as well hang for being a murderer as be locked away for being a whore. You were an enemy of Robert and you take me out of that Laundry and you carry a gun, what is it you want?”

Father Phillip looked at her sympathetically and then pointed down the hill.

“I owe Robert a debt Margaret, I owe him my life. Down there, in that sorrowful looking building, is where we’ll find Daniel.”

Margaret’s resolve cracked slightly. Her hands less steady as she held the gun. She looked at the building and then snapped her head back to Father Phillips, though she could not resist looking again at the building. More tears appeared in her eyes. She stepped towards the seated priest and with the gun pointed straight at his head she spoke in a halting voice, part pleading, part deadly earnest.

“If you are playing me for a fool, priest, I will kill you.”

Father Phillips noted how she pronounced priest, as one would a curse and he saw in her eyes the implacable will, to make good her threat.

“I returned to Ireland five months ago Margaret. I have done nothing in that time, but search for you and Daniel and plan your escape. He is down there and tonight, we will snap him up. I promise.”

Margaret examined his face for lies and when she was satisfied that she could wring no more certainty from him, she collapsed onto her knees. She handed him the gun, which he quickly uncocked and put away. He would have hugged her, but he already knew her well enough not to impose too much kindness. Instead he handed her the binoculars. She took them and sat down and began to examine the orphanage.

He watched her for several moments. He took a sandwich from the basket and placed it in her hand. She accepted it and began to eat it, never taking the glasses from her face. He looked at his watch and then at the sky and lay back to take a nap.

He woke up as dusk was beginning to grey the sky and he found Margaret still peering through the binoculars. He sighed in sympathy and looked in the basket for a sandwich. All that had been left to him was an apple and a bottle of tepid beer. Only then did Margaret look away from the building.

“Sorry Father Philips.”

He quickly found a smile to give her.

“Ah sure I can well afford to miss a meal or two lass.”

She nodded at him, agreeing with him and returned to the glasses. Father Phillips tried again.

“When did you eat last?”

“Yesterday lunch time.”


“I did not move quickly enough for Sister Marie. A day without food was my penance.”

“Did that happen often?”

“I wouldn’t have starved.”

She spoke as if describing the weather. Father Philips looked at her in the growing dark and had to quickly stifle his curiosity. They had things to do and no time to explore her experiences at the hands of the Sisters. He stood up and Margaret ceased her staring and stood too. He took a flash light from the basket and checked to see that it worked. Satisfied he put the blanket away and nodded to Margaret.


“It’s been two years Father.”

Father Phillips paused, confused.

“What if I don’t recognise him Father?”

He hadn't thought of that, but was able to answer her quickly.

“Sure we have his name.”

Margaret looked at him, pity and scorn on her face, at his naivete.

“They always change their names priest.”

Father Philips could only stare at her in silence. During all his planning it had never occurred to him that a mother would not be able to recognise her child. He cursed himself for his stupidity. Two years. Two years. He shook himself and took Margaret by the shoulders.

“Don’t fret Margaret, they’ll have records. Even if it takes all night, we’ll find him.”

Margaret nodded at him, desperate to believe him. They began to descend the hill, darkness now all but shrouding the massive institution. Only a few ground floor windows emitting light.

They approached an open window at the back of the building. Father Phillips pulled it all the way open and quickly climbed through it. Margaret followed. He switched on his torch and examined the room they were in. It was a small kitchen, Margaret assumed it was for the staff. She stood close to the priest and whispered in his ear.

“Do you know where we need to go?”

He nodded and whispered back to her.

“I visited here about a dozen times, the files are in an office two floors up and the children are in wards just above us. Office first, then Daniel.”

Margaret clutched at the sleeve of his jacket.

“How did he die Father?”

Father Phillips looked at her in amazement.

“You ask that here?”

“The Irish Brigade man didn’t know and thought it better that way. But everyone knows what Franco did to prisoners. Did he suffer?”

“Lets get Daniel and I’ll tell you everything.”

She squeezed his sleeve even harder but then let go of it. He sighed in relief and began to walk before she asked more questions. He opened the door onto an unlit corridor and turned left. Margaret followed closely in his wake. They walked by the light of Father Philipps’ torch, for what seemed to Margaret, an eternity. They found the office and went inside. Father Phillips switched on the light and smiled at Margaret.

“So far so good my dear.”

She didn’t return his smile and instead walked towards the several filing cabinets.

“Where do we start?”

Father Philips allowed his shoulders to drop a little. Perhaps only he was feeling excited by this night’s escapades. It was like being back in Spain, but without the horror. He joined her at the filing cabinets.

“I think they file by year.”

They found the 1937 cabinet and opened it. They were too busy examining files to notice Sister Michelle walk into the office. The Sister exclaimed in surprise and it was Margaret who reacted first, by running across the office and punching Sister Michelle square on the jaw. The Sister dropped to the floor, out cold. Father Phillips looked as Margaret as she stood, breathing heavily, fists clenched, staring down at the prone nun. Margaret looked back at him, a guilty smile on her lips.

“Sorry Father.”

“For hitting her?”

“No, for enjoying it so much.”

“Ah sure, once you’re sorry.”

He dropped the files he was holding in frustration and went to examine the nun. He lifted her up and dragged and carried her to a chair. He sat her on it and then moved a chair so that he could sit opposite her.

“What are you doing Father?”

“I can’t make sense of the files Margaret, so I’m going to get what we need from the Sister here.”

“What makes you think she’ll tell you anything Father?”

The Priest smiled at her as he pulled out a purple stole and hung it round his shoulders.

“I will take her confession.”


“I will take her confession.”

“You can’t just make someone confess something against their will. It’s not right.”

“It’s not right, but very effective. Would you prefer we left without Daniel?”

Margaret looked at him in horror.

“Is this the sort of thing you did in Spain?”

Father Phillips looked at her coldly.


“What type of bastard are you?”

“The bastard who is going to get your child back.”

There was a murmur of returning consciousness from the felled nun.

“Robert didn’t believe in God, you could have had no power over him.”

“No I didn't, but he had power over me. We made a bargain he and I, my life for your rescue.”

Margaret looked at Father Phillips in disgust.

“My Robert would not make any sort of deal with the likes of you.”

“He was going to die Margaret, I was all he had.”

“How did he die?”

“After we get Daniel.”

“And you can make her talk?”

“That was my job in Spain.”

Sister Michelle murmured louder and Father Philips stood up and faced Margaret and began to speak very quickly.

“After I was ordained, I was posted to Paris. There I discovered, art, architecture, literature, wine and women. I lived the high life, until I was caught in the company of a widow, who ran a rather large and popular brothel. As punishment I was sent to serve in Franco’s army. My job was to mine the peasants for intelligence on the rebels. So thats the kind of man and priest I am. Now, do you want me to take her confession?”

Margaret backed away from him, shock written on her face, but she nodded her head.

“Good, now hide behind that curtain and don’t make a sound.”

He turned and sat down again and took Sister Michelle by the hand and stroked it as she came to. Margaret could hear his soothing coos. How could Robert have trusted this man?

Sister Michelle opened her eyes and saw a priest, with his stole, holding her hand. She whipped her hand back and sat up guiltily.

“You’re that Father Phillips. You’ve been around here a few times.”

“That’s right Sister.”

“I’m not a Sister.”


“I’m not a nun.”

“My apologies child, I just assumed that you were. And what is your name?”

“Michelle Father.”

“Ah Michelle, named for the archangel Michael, who led God’s armies against Satan. A fine name.”

Michelle looked at him uncertainly.

“Thank you Father.”

“Now my child, I am ready to hear your confession.”


“Why else would I be here child?”

“But, but, I don’t understand?”

“Let us just say that a mutual friend has expressed worry about your immortal soul.”

Michelle looked at him in dread.

“What did they say?”

“Will you give me your confession child, then all that can be put behind you?”

Michelle looked around her, seeking escape.

“You have no reason to fear me child, what passes between us is only heard by God.”

Margaret felt pierced through the heart for her part in this betrayal of trust. Michelle began to cry silently.

“There is a burden on you child that I would lift from you, all you have need do, is open your heart to God.”

Michelle began to speak, hesitantly at first.

“Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been two months since my last confession.”

“That’s it child, the healing has already begun. Tell me about him.”

Margaret had to stifle a gasp of shock as Michelle began to sob.

“His name is Mark, Father.”

“And you love him?”

“I do Father, but he is a second son and neither of us have the money to emigrate and no prospect of it neither.”

“And have you been less than modest with this boy Michelle.”

“No Father, but I’ve been fierce tempted.”

“You are a good woman Michelle, but I suspect, not wholly pure.”

Michelle looked away in shame and murmured her reply.

“No Father, we would do a lot of kissing and it made me want to do more. I had to break from him Father, or risk shaming myself. That’s why I work here, to remind myself what would happen if I gave in.”

“You are an example to womanhood Michelle.”

Margaret snarled in silent disgust.

“Now tell me of the sins in your mind, child. How did you turn away from God?”

Michelle stared at Father Phillips in silent horror.

“Unburden yourself my child and God will forgive all.”

“I had thoughts Father.”

“About Mark, about that which you were so strong to resist?”

“Yes Father, I dreamed and sometimes imagined giving into his lust.”

“Was there touching Michelle.”

She began to cry in earnest, nodding a yes to his question.

“Satan is ever searching for those thoughts in us Michelle, once one surrenders to them, Satan is in us.”

“I’m so sorry Father.”

“I know you are child, but this sickness must be tackled. Tell me, do you find yourself out of countenance more and more?”

MIchelle nodded.

“Have you allowed your temper to rule you?”

Again she nodded.

“Have any of the children here suffered your temper?”

She squeaked an answer.

“Yes Father.”

“That is grave my child. And your penance must be equally harsh.”

What colour was left in Michelle’s cheeks fled.

“How much money would you need to get to America with Mark?”

Michelle stared at him in confusion.


Father Phillips put some steel into his voice.

“I am sure you have done the calculations child, when you have not been defiling the Temple of God that is your body.”

“Seventy-eight pound, three shillings Father.”

“Behind you is a locked cabinet. The key is in that desk drawer over there. Get the key and open it.”

Michelle rose and retrieved the key. She opened the cabinet and revealed a safe. She looked back at Father Phillips.

“You may sit again child and begin to recite the Rosary for me, with your eyes tightly closed.”

Michelle sat, squeezed her eyes shut and began to pray. Father Philips stood and approached the safe. He looked at it for several moments before taking a small bag from his pocket. He took some metal pins from it and began to work on the lock. In a very short time he had the safe unlocked. Inside it he saw several stacks of cash. He carefully counted out eighty pound, put it in his pocket and closed the safe. He returned to his seat.

“You may stop praying child.”

Michelle stopped and opened her eyes.

“Tell me child, how long have you worked here?”

“Three years Father.”

“You must have seen a great many children in that time child?”

“Hundreds Father.”

“And these files record them all?”

“Yes Father, by year and the name of the Priest and local Garda who had the mother committed.”

“That is good to know. Are you ready for your penance child?”

Michelle nodded. Too terrified to speak.

“You have allowed lust into your heart, mind and body child. There is no remedy for that except the sacrament of marriage. You must marry this man who has enflamed your loins.”

“But Father.”

“Whist now child, this very night you will take an infant from this place and go straight to Mark. By morning you must be on a boat to America.”

He handed Michelle the cash he had taken.

“Your soul lays on a precipice my child, Satan is waiting for you to fall. And he is certain of his prize. He has made the sex-act a thing of pleasure to tempt you into the destruction of your soul. But God gifted us Holy Matrimony to thwart Satan’s vile designs.”

Michelle looked at Father Philips in rapt awe.

“On the very day you land in America, find yourself a Priest and be married. In the marriage bed there is no sin, no fault and no reason to fear Satan’s siren call. Do you hear me child?”

“Yes Father.”

She looked at the money in her hand and then turned to look at the safe.

“No child, you will never be able to return.”

Michelle nodded. Understanding.

“That’ll be no regret for me Father.”

“Then away with you child, love that baby as if it was your own, Find happiness and may the Grace of God go with you.”

Michelle paused only to push the fistful of notes into her pocket, before fleeing the room. Margaret left her hiding space and walked to Father Phillips and slapped him hard across the face.

“I hope there’s a special place in hell for the likes of you priest.”

Father Phillis rubbed his reddened cheek and shrugged.

“At least now we know what we are looking for.”

“How did you know about that Mark fella?”

“There’s always a Mark.”

Margaret looked as if she would strike him again.

“And why steal a baby?”

“Tomorrow they will discover two children missing and money gone from the safe. I’ve just bought you a whole heap of breathing space.”

She allowed herself only a sneer of contempt for the priest before returning to the files. In under five minutes they found Daniel, his new name and the bed he was in.

They walked towards the wards where the children slept and silently walked past a sleeping nun. They found the correct bed and Father Phillis went to pick the small boy up, but Margaret held his hand back.

“How can we be certain it’s him priest?”

Father Phillips looked at her in consternation, but he paused. He looked at the child closely and then reached for his collar. He pulled it back slightly and shone his torch on it. The name matched the file. He turned Margaret for agreement, but all he saw was her looking at the boy, with tear glistening eyes. She gently lifted Daniel from his bed and they quickly retraced their steps.

Daniel did no more than murmur as they collected the picnic basket and reached the car. Margaret sat in the back, cradling him, crying softly. Father Phillips drove fast and hard. He was two counties away by the time dawn began to light his way. He stopped in front of a house in a large town and they got out. He opened the front door and ushered Margaret in.

“I rented this place a month ago. Your name is Mary and you are my house-keeper, your husband is in England.”

Margaret nodded and went upstairs to find a bedroom. She carefully laid Daniel on the bed, but could not bring herself to move away from him or even stop stroking his hair. In time Father Phillips joined her in the bedroom. She spoke without turning.

“We had an agreement priest.”

“Yes we did. What do you wish to know?”

“How did Robert die?”

“Are you certain you want to know that Margaret?”

“One day Daniel will ask about his Father, I need to be able to give him the truth. Robert was a man who always put great store in the truth. I don’t believe in truth anymore, but I won’t allow Daniel grow up like that. He will be his father’s son.”

“It was a nasty death Margaret.”

“He was tortured?”

“Yes. Horribly.”

“Did they break him?”

“Is that important?”

“It is the truth that I want priest, not an argument about what is and isn't important.”

“Is it not enough for Daniel to know that his father fought well and died bravely?”

“The truth priest.”

“I didn’t see him die Margaret.”

She gave him a withering look.

“They tortured him, did they break him?’

Father Phillips flopped down on a chair, defeated. Staring at his hands, he began to speak in a gentle monotone.

“He died screaming Margaret. A whole night they worked on him. No one in the prison slept for his screams. In the end he would have told them anything they wanted. Anything to stop them, anything to hasten his death. The thing is you see, the thing is, he had nothing they wanted. All that they did to Robert was for to break the man in the cell next to his.”


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