In the Build up to Christmas, The Kilkenny Observer newspaper will publish four short stories by Kilkenny authors. Each story will have a Christmas theme, and will, we hope, spark some beautiful memories for our readers. The Observer is delighted to promote the arts in general, and we wish to thank the four writers for their contributions.
The writers include Willie Joe Meally ( Clogh), Joe Brennan ( Callan) Catherine Cronin (Cellarstown) and Patrick Griffin ( Loughboy, Kilkenny city)
This week’s contribution comes from Willie Joe Meally.
A Christmas story by Willie Joe Meally
It was 1959.
The weeks leading up to Christmas were very special. As I walked through the streets of Comer, on my way to the Boys School, the shopkeepers were busy preparing their windows. I was eager to go to school early, just to have a longer look in the windows, not just a glance.
As Christmas drew nearer all the windows were decked out fully. At lunch break there was a mad rush down the street, and every school child gathered around the windows to have a look at the toys on display. I chose the early morning, for my personal viewing, if the window wasn’t all fogged up.
I knew what I wanted. Right there in the corner was a complete cowboy outfit. Yes, that was mine. I imagined myself walking down The Old Road in Moneenroe, two guns in the holster, loaded with full rolls of caps, ready to draw on anything or anyone that moved. I practised well on my way home from school, dreaming of becoming the fastest gun around. Well not as fast as Audie Murphy or Annie Oakely or the Cisco Kid. To make matters official, I told my school pals of my intended Christmas gift. Word spread. Now and then, a lad would challenge me, “Ok cowboy, go for your gun?” On a few occasions, I had to fall.
Christmas Eve arrived and I went shopping with my mother, promising to carry the shopping bags for her. I couldn’t wait to get down Kilkenny Street to my favourite window. “Mother, mother, I have something to show you here in this window,”
“Oh, what is it now?
I looked in the corner of the window. There was an empty space. I was speechless, no cowboy outfit, just a broken derailed train set, a few scraggy dolls, a few boxes of jigsaws and Snakes and Ladders and in the corner a little red mouth organ.
“Well, what is it you want to show me? asked mother.
“There it is, that little red mouth organ, could I have that please mother?”
“Can you play it?”
“No, but I could learn.”
“You’d have to take it down the fields to play it, until you learn it, you can’t bring it into the kitchen, sure it would annoy us all. Well, I’ll see what I can do. We may hurry now as it will soon be getting dark.”
Mother gathered up another few messages. We headed for home, over The Big Bridge. It started to snow again. We came upon a carman, he was hammering frost nails into the horse’s hooves. We stopped to have a word with him and he said, “I’ll be needing them by the time I get to Coon, I hope to be home before Santy arrives.”
We walk slowly, my heart breaking for the cowboy outfit. I wondered who got it. We rested at the first Black and White Wall. Mother halved a bar of Cadbury’s Cream Chocolate, and handed me one half, it was delicious.
“There’s your mouth organ and for God’s sake, don’t tell the others how you got it. Tell them you found it.” It had a case to hold it, with blue and green stripes. Horner was inscribed on the mouth organ.
I took it out, gave it a few blows. It sounded good. I would have blown it all the way home only my fingers were getting numb. The snow stopped. At The Black Path Stile a burst of evening sun lit up around us. Blackbirds picked haws on Comerford’s hedge, Sammy Bradley’s white mare rested under the beech trees.
“We’re nearly there, a mhac, I hope the kettle is singing.”
* Willie-Joe Meally is from Moneenroe, Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny and is now living in Kilpatrick, Clogh. Married to Jane, he is a founder member of Clogh Writers (1995). He has published at local, national and international level, and has also has read his work at literary events and workshops throughout the country. He writes mainly poetry and short stories. His work reflects a local theme, rooted in a mining heritage. One of his stories was adapted for a short film and was well received in Ireland and abroad. He was very involved in Clogh Writers’ organisation of four Culture Night events and welcomes visiting writers from near and far.