Sunday, 5 June 2016

Michael Rogers, Seanachai: Monologue Part II.

By Kathleen Handrick.

This is the second part of my fictional monologue spoken by Michael Rogers, who was a prisoner amongst the hundreds detained in Frongoch Internment Camp, Bala, North Wales after the 1916 Easter Rising. He was a contemporary of my grandfather, the two families living beside each other in North Mayo, a place steeped in Irish history, being the site of the French Landings in 1798.

Michael was described as one of the greatest Seanachai (storyteller) of his time by Eoin MacNeill. 

In the first part of the monologue, Michael talks to new arrivals in Frongoch and you can find that here. In this, the second part, he recites a story to them given to him as a child from an old neighbour, Mickey Forde, who witnessed the arrival of the French soldiers in 1798 at Kilcummin, in the parish.

Michael's Story of Lacken, North Mayo 1798

Look at ould Mickey Forde now. He must have been nearly eighty when I was but a child. He'd sit down by the back strand, waiting for the men to bring up the mackerel. Then we'd all go along to his cabin for a bit o’ kitchen and then, there'd be singing and dancing and storytelling... oh ’twas great sport we had.

Would you ever believe now that Mickey was a garsún in '98.  Just think on that a young ‘98!
Come.  Éist liom anois.

Listen now and I’ll tell ye the story just the way Mickey would be telling me when I was a youngster.

I was roaming above in the fields and I saw three strange ships anchored below in the bay. I ran like the hare to tell my father but he couldn't be found. There were neighbours and strangers running and roaring everywhere -crying out that the French had landed! We children were told to stay at home and not go wandering abroad.

Commemoration at Kilcummin
© Kathleen Handrick

But me, well now, I was an adventurous kind of lad, and a day or two later, I crept out to the crossroads. Suddenly, I heard a tremendous sound – like thunder -  yet the afternoon was a fine one. I scrambled down beneath a hedge and looked along the Foghill road. I saw, coming towards me over the rise, a great dark cloud. There were sparks of light flashing here and there and, as the vision came closer, I thought my ears would burst with the deafening sound.

'Twas the foreigners - marching to the beat of a fife and drum. They were led by a horseman wearing a long green coat and a tall fur hat, sitting upright and bowing his head to the one or two countrymen who were standing in the fields. He looked most fine.  As the soldiers passed me by, I saw it was the sun, striking the buttons on their jackets, that was causing the flashes of light to blind me.

Statue to commemorate the first French Soldier to die on Irish soil in 1798.
© Kathleen Handrick

I heard again the sound of another horse and as it came nearer, I saw it was a gig and in this gig, there was a man, like none I’d ever seen before.  He was dressed in the grandest style- a wide black hat upon his head and a splendid uniform with gold on his shoulders and jacket. There were even more soldiers marching behind him.

 Now ... I thought then, my mind had been affected by this happening, because there - to my astonishment– following all this were my own people – a great crowd of them talking and shouting excitedly.  They were carrying pikes and pitchforks –sticks and loys- and there- in the midst of them was my father!

St Cummin's Church
© Kathleen Handrick

I scurried back home to my mother and found her with the women kneeling in prayer at the holy well.  They stayed there, waiting for news ... on their knees praying - and all the time, they say, you could hear the uproar from Killala, above in Cashel.

Now my lads, Mickey would tell me that story often and I would be at his feet – just like you now - and I’d never tire of it.

Yes, his father did return - a beaten man but others ... alas, they never came back.

Poor Mickey, the Lord have mercy on him. He went to meet his maker in heaven, still longing for the day his father's dreams would come true.

Images & text of this post © Kathleen Handrick.
Kathleen Handrick is retired and lives in Oldham with her husband and family.  She joined MIW in 2013 as a novice writer and enjoys participating in the writers’ events. Her Irish roots are in County Mayo.

Kathleen wrote ‘Michael Rogers’ for MIW's commemorative event, '1916: The Risen Word', which was performed at the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester on March 10 2016. MIW received the generous support of the Embassy of Ireland for this event.

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