It was late September 1956 and although the Autumn weather was still holding fair, Johnny Morehouse and his tinker family were making their way to the vicinity of Kenmare in Kerry where they would set up camp for the winter. The last of the swallows were gathering and soon they would be making their dash to a warmer climate in Africa. The harvesting that the family worked to help to bring in was now complete and the horse fair at Ballinasloe had been poor this year. Money would be tight this winter…
There were several sites that they used year in year out that were just far enough away from the local villages not to cause any problems with the Gardai. The family was made up of Johnny, his wife Mary and their eight children, the eldest at 16 being his red-headed daughter Ann.
Ann was a fine strong and good looking young woman and Johnny was getting more frustrated every year when he tried to ‘marry her off’ to one of the better young men from the travelling fraternity. She declined them all. Johnny and Mary were worried that the way of life for the travelling people was coming to an end. Great changes were on the horizon…
As the late evening began to fall, they pulled their two horse-drawn caravans off the road and onto the banks of the River Feale not far from Listowel. They had used the site for many years and the local farmer caused them no problem provided they did not remain there for more than a couple of days.
The land in fact bordered the farm of Seamus Duffy, a forty-five year old bachelor. He was known in the area as a ‘decent man’ but was finding the running of the farm on his own a burden lately. His two brothers had sailed away to America shortly after their father died.
As fate would have it, Seamus was strolling down by the riverside the same evening that the Morehouses set up camp. The sun was setting and throwing its last rays on the calm water of the river. There was also a soft warm breeze drifting across the fields. The tinker’s fire was blazing and both lights caught the figure of Ann in them. Seamus was transfixed for the first time in his life. He had never felt the same about any woman in his life before and was stuck to the spot by her beauty. Johnny saw him and called across the river to him. They waved to each other to signal that all was well…
Seamus returned to the farmhouse and was shocked that he was unable to eat. All he could think of was the sight of beautiful Ann. During the night, he awoke several times and eventually had to get up and walk around the farmyard. He had never felt love before in his life and could not understand the feelings that were stirring inside. However, he made up his mind, then and there to speak to Johnny the next morning.
He waited until dawn had broken and made his way down to the other side of the river and waited until he saw some stirring at the tinker’s campsite. When he saw Ann his stomach churned and he thought he was going to be sick. She was soon joined by Johnny and they began to cook breakfast. Seamus pretended that he was just passing and gave a ‘hello’ to both. Johnny invited him to have a cup of tea and Seamus accepted. Ann soon had the kettle boiling and the two men stood some distance away drinking their strong, sweet, milk-less tea.
“I was thinking Johnny” Seamus began in a soft voice “that I was going to pay a visit to Dan Paddy O’Sullivan the matchmaker over in Lyreacrompane to see if there was a woman for me. ‘Tis about time I got me-self a wife. Working a farm on me own is a lonely life and I should get me-self married. What do you think Johnny?” Seamus asked. “Well now Seamus” Johnny answered, nodding his head towards Ann, “If it ‘tis a good wife you would be looking for, sure there is no need to look no further. Ann is a fine strong woman and she would look after you and the farm”. “Begob now Johnny” Seamus answered with a blush to his cheeks “sure I never thought of that, do you think she would be willin’?” “Now Seamus” Johnny whispered “you just leave it with me and don’t be talking about ould Dan Paddy O’Sullivan, sure he would fix you up with some old Biddy who would rob you left right and centre. I’ll come over to the farm this afternoon and I’ll have news for you”.
With that Seamus left with a big grin on his face. He returned home and began to give the house a good clean-up which it had not seen for many months.
At about three in the afternoon, he heard the sound of voices outside the door and when he opened it, there standing in the sunlight were both Johnny and Ann. They had both put on their best clothes and although Seamus did not notice what Johnny was wearing, he certainly did see what Ann wore. She looked absolutely beautiful in a spotlessly white blouse and red pleated skirt. Seamus could hardly speak. He did however manage to invite them both in to the living room.
He saw that Ann was looking all around her at some of the expensive furnishings that Seamus’s mother had bought a few years before she died. There were things that Ann had only dreamed about. She nodded to Johnny but did not say anything.
“You run along now Ann back to the caravans” Johnny said to her, “I’ll have a little chat with Seamus here and make the arrangements”. Before she left, Ann turned to Seamus and merely said “I accept your proposal Mr. Duffy and I promise you that I will not let you down”. She then skipped across the farmyard and ran down towards the river.
“Right then Seamus” Johnny spoke in an official voice. “The arrangements, if you don’t mind. It would be taken as a great slight on our family if some form of dowry was not offered and accepted. What do you suggest?” Seamus did not have the faintest idea of what to say. “Let us stroll around the farm” suggested Johnny “and see what we can come up with”.
They were not a hundred yards from the house when Johnny pointed to a white pony in one of the fields. “Never tell another tinkerman what we agreed Seamus if one should ever ask, just mention a large sum of money”. Seamus nodded but said nothing. “Right then” Johnny continued “the pony it is, I’ll have the pony and you have a wife. Do you agree?” Again Seamus could not speak, he merely nodded his head. Johnny spat on his hand, took Seamus’s palm and slapped them together. The deal was done…
Two days later the marriage ceremony took place in the local church and they all returned to the farm. The tinkers had moved their caravans into the farmyard the day before and plenty of food and drink had been prepared by Johnny’s wife Mary, Ann and the other younger girls.
In the evening as the caravans were leaving the yard, the crunch of the iron wheels on the gravel brought tears to the eyes of Ann. Already she was missing the freedom of the roads.
Ann put her heart and soul into the marriage but after a month or two, she used every excuse under the sun to get out of the house and work the land. The four walls began to press tighter and tighter by the day and she felt trapped within them. She constantly compared herself to a wild bird caged…
As the first frosts of winter and the first snow arrived, Ann found the confinement torturous. On Christmas night she could not stand it any longer. She slipped out of the bed and silently left the house. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
When Seamus awoke and went down to the kitchen he noticed that the fire had not been set. He called for Ann but no sound was heard. He went out into the yard and called and called without any answer. He began to panic…
He saddled up one of the horses and made his way into the town asking people he met if anyone had seen his wife. One, a young man claimed to have seen a young woman wrapped in a blanket making her way by foot along the road close to one of the distant villages.
He rode on without finding any trace of her. He rode on until he had searched the usual caravan sites when eventually he found Johnny and his family. No-one could help him. When he returned to his farm he began to wander around the fields calling her name. All was silent apart from the call of the crows in the distant trees. He made his way down to the riverside and suddenly noticed something floating by the water’s edge. As he got closer he panicked more and more. It was the blanket from his bed. There was no sign of Ann…
Seamus began to curse the river. He cursed life. He cursed his bad fortune. He finally began to curse Ann and all tinkers. “Be damned if ever one more tinker ever comes onto my land. I’ll shoot the lot of you” he shouted at the top of his voice.
And so the torment of Seamus began. It fermented into total hatred of everything. He sat at his doorway during most of the day with a shotgun on his lap and at night he took it to bed with him. Whenever he heard the crunch of iron-clad wheels on the roadway he would run to the door and shoot off the shotgun.
Six months later Sheamus’ dead body was found floating in the nearby river close to where he had found the blanket. Some locals believe that he at last had forgiven Ann and as he could not live without her in this world, he had decided to join her in the next…
*For the folk song visit Subversify Viral