28th October, 1999

by Ronnie McGinn

Bullets of rain were striking the windows and rattling them in their frames. As the wind curled around the eves and banshee’d itself between the chimneys. It was a black Hallow’een night and I was alone in a big empty house. The light from the candle on my bedside table cast shadows of the furniture around the room. The candle flickered and the shadows quivered as if dancing to the storm. Not allowing myself to be frightened I blew out the candle and snuggled down into my warm cosy bed. The storm howled on, downstairs a door slammed, the windows rattled and the house creaked. It will be all gone in the morning I told myself. Still a cold shiver ran through me as I tried to ignore everything and fall asleep. But it wouldn’t happen, I lay there curled up and awake. Then I heard it, at first I thought it was my imagination, then it came again - a knock on the window. Cold fear ran through me. This couldn’t be. My room had three bay windows and was over the front door porch, there could be nobody out there, especially on a night like this. Unless of course somebody was trying to frighten me. But who’d go to the trouble. They’d have to put a ladder against the outside, and at the risk of being blown off, climb up and knock on the window. It came again, tap! tap! That was it, I’d give them something to tap about. My right hand slid out from under the blankets and touched the floor, my fingers groped around until they found the rifle. I lifted it on to the bed, turned over on my right side and propped myself up on my elbow, a trickle of sweat ran across my shoulders. I worked the bolt on my sixteen shot B.S.A. It was always loaded. Now with a live round in the firing chamber, I waited. It came again, the wind blew and the house shook and then tap, tap, I fired at the spot the tapping was coming from, with lighting speed I worked the bolt and fired again. A 22 is normally a quite rifle, but in an enclosed room it roared like a volcano. My ears rang from the noise and the smell of cordite almost choked me. But for whoever was out there this was war.
The first movie I ever saw was called “High Noon”. After that I was Gary Cooper and I was only six. I desperately wanted to be a cowboy and have a gun. But being Gary Cooper meant being a good guy and that wasn’t always easy. Not at that age anyway. We lived in Frankfie1d in a big tudor style villa that stood in the centre of a three and a quarter acre estate, with an L shaped, tree lined avenue and a shop at the entrance. It was called the “Maples” and it was owned by my grandmother Mary J. Collins who was probably better known as “Erin’s Ghost”. A nickname she acquired at the time the British let her out of Cork Prison to attend Terrence McSweeney’s funeral. One evening as I, and my dog Peggy, were walking home from town after getting my shoes repaired, we were attacked by a pack of dogs at the Frankfield House gate. The people who lived in Frankfield House in those days were butchers and they had a slaughter house in their back yard. It was said their fourteen dogs were fed on the blood from the slaughter house and that’s why they were so blood thirsty and attacked people. Any I ran up the hill from the gate of Frankfield House to my grandmothers shop at the entrance to the Maples. By the time I got there I had been bitten at least a dozen times on my arms and legs and on my backside. I ran in the door of the shop, pumping blood in all directions, shaking hysterically, and bawling crying. My grandmother was a strong woman, she calmed me down and asked me to explain what happened. Then she boiled some water on a primus behind the counter and was bathing my wounds when Jack Bradley walked in. Jack was one of our local hunters and he lived with his parents in a cottage on the Douglas side of Frankfield Church. He was wearing a brown leather jacket and had a shotgun under his arm, a cartridge belt around his waist and a game bag hanging from his shoulder. “My God Jack”, said my grandmother, “But you’re getting very fat”. Jack who looked like John Wayne grinned and replied “It’s from eating Oranges Missus, what’s happened to the young fella?”
My grandmother told him and Jack said, “You look after the child, and I’ll look after the dogs”.. And with that he went out into the night.
Those dogs never bothered me again, I don’t even remember seeing any of them again, except maybe one limping around the place. One thing was certain, I needed a gun. A few tears later at a boarding school when I was old enough I joined the F.C.A. and got to know all there was to know about guns. Also I was entitled to have gun licence of my own and that’s how I came to have a rifle under the bed.
It was hallow’een and I was on a mid term break. I always stayed with my grandmother when I got the chance. It meant she also got a break, and she could go and visit her friends the Gouldings over in Cattle Market Place. She knew I could look after things on my own. As well as the shop she had a couple of cows, a sow and bonhams, a hundred hens, a few ducks and a horse. It gave her a mini holiday, and it gave me a break from studying.
The storm had died and the dawn was breaking and I hadn’t slept. I could see the two bullet holes in the window, so I crept out of bed and moved slowly towards the window. There was nothing there. No ladder, no body, nothing. Just a wire coat hanger, that I had used for drying my shirts in the summer, hanging off the shoot. What an idiot. I knew then it was time to say goodbye. After all everything was changing. The County Council were laying pipes that would bring water to all the houses in the area. The E.S.B. were putting poles in the fields and soon every house would have electricity. There was even talk that C.I.E were going to extend the Grange Bus route to take in Frankfield. It was 1958 and Ireland was moving with the times. A new age was dawning, and so I said goodbye. Goodbye to Gary Cooper and the old ways. It was time to lay down the guns, and saddle the horses and ride away towards a new day and a brighter future.

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