Fingering the culprit

‘Fingering the Culprit’

John Wid

“And that” concluded old Johnny Herlihy “was how Lar Shea lost the first two fingers on his right hand”. That anyone among the audience he had managed to cajole into listening to this declaration could possibly be in agreement with what they’d just heard would be a major surprise. Old Herlihy had a reputation for fabricating incredulous stories and his tendency to take large dramatic license in the matters of fact and fiction during the telling of said tales was part and parcel of the experience. But this particular one truly beggared belief. “Bitten off” announced the Lurker Doyle “in a Junior B game down in Ballininch!”, scepticism underlining his tone “I’ve heard a few tales in me time Johnny but nothing as you’re after telling us there. Junior B hurling is rough enough but two fingers bitten off during a match, did you ever hear the like of it?” he mused, to no one in particular. “Sure wasn’t I there myself to see it” proclaimed old Herlihy, by way of justifying the tale.

It would be fair to say that Johnny Herlihy and his vivid imagination were largely taken with a fair pinch of salt. His musings were much renowned in the area and as was customary with a typical Herlihy tale, this particular one was greeted with the familiar raised eyebrow and knowing cough and would soon have been consigned to dustbin of trivialities but for the strange sequence of events that followed its completion. A general surprise descended amongst the regulars of Lally’s when a gruff voice announced from the corner “That’s a fine tale considering”, he paused briefly before delivering the clincher “that Lar Shea never picked up a hurl in his life”. Herlihy, suddenly affronted, offended even, by this sudden and unprovoked attack on his credibility was left speechless, his mouth agape as all eyes turned upon him. “Who are you to state otherwise?” Herlihy stuttered clumsily in his defence. “Someone who knows much better than to be believing such rabid nonsense from the likes of yourself” was his answer.

Herlihy sat silently, shocked by the sheer audacity of the newcomer. As ridiculous and often times infuriating as his tales were, Herlihy was a tolerated and, dare it be said, integral member of the hardcore circle of Lally’s regular customers. He, as much as any of them, was not used to this sort of thing. As such, any perceived slight directed at him would naturally be seen as being directed towards the group. Mickey Sheehy, contemplative until now, was quickly out of his seat posturing aggressively and jabbing a crooked finger towards the stranger. “Johnny here is an honest man and if he claims that Lar Shea’s fingers were bitten off in a Junior B game down in Ballininch I, for one, will not doubt him”. But the stranger retorted quickly “I knew Lar himself and I’ll tell you exactly how he came to lose those digits so we can settle this matter”. And so, with the old boys temporarily pacified in their bar stools, he began his version of the events leading up to the loss of Lar Shea’s fingers…

“The Turk Murphy used to leave his house every morning at half nine, regular as clockwork, and take his greyhounds out for a stroll around the boundaries of his land. Now, the Turk was a rather notable figure in the area owing in no small way to the fact that he was the only Arab living in the environs of Kilmeckin. His grandfather, Ahmed had been a writer of subversive literature back in Persia and had been forced to leave the country after the Shah objected forcefully to the nature of the texts he had been producing, out he went. Exactly how and why he ended up living in Kilmeckin is a long debated subject. Whatever the case, Ahmed’s son Mohamed ended up marrying a local girl and started calling himself Matty Murphy. Matty, an even more famed figure in the locality did a great deal for community affairs and was a pioneer in organising the inaugural Kilmeckin Feile. Which now brings me to his son William, the aforementioned William ‘Turk’ Murphy; the antithesis of his old man, the Turk himself was withdrawn, guarded and largely suspicious of the locals. He kept himself to himself. People, as is customary, speculated on the unknown quantity of his character and the reclusive Turk was prime conversation fodder. His exploits were and still are a great source of discussion in the area.

Now, Lar Shea, who you gentlemen are obviously well aware of, in possession of the full complement of fingers at this stage, was, at the time, working for the Turk in the capacity of a sort of grounds man, his time spent maintaining the Turk’s garden and land. The Turk being progressive enough in his thinking on the matters of gardening, he often ventured to undertake various grandiose landscaping plans and schemes, always with the aid of the ubiquitous Lar, who was a good grafter back then.

Back in those days the local publican Brick Kenneally’s son Liam, probably about 10 at the time and a snooping sort of young lad spent his time hiding around the place spying on people and returning in the evenings to furnish his mother, the town gossip, with largely fabricated accounts of what he had seen and heard. As it was, on this particular summer’s day he had been observing the Turk Murphy from a hiding spot as he walked his greyhounds. The Turk had stopped to talk briefly with Lar, probably outlining some jobs that he had in mind for the day and referring briefly to the digging of top soil from one particular area of the garden. Now, young Kenneally must have misheard the exchange because he was home later that day informing his mother all about Turk Murphy and the “Oil” in the fields.

You and I, of course would be much too knowledgeable to even think for one second that the Turk Murphy would possibly be thinking about digging for oil in the middle of a field in Kilmeckin but, and it says something about the widespread gullibility of the locals of Kilmeckin, this theory was widely adopted as true in the following days, the result of a frenetic gossip campaign, no doubt. Of course, when Lar Shea was seen, day after day, continually digging an increasingly large hole in the centre of the Turk Murphy’s garden, the theory gained further credibility. The curiosity of the village was now firmly aroused and anyone who tried to talk sense was soon shamed into accepting the view by sheer public fervour.

Nobody, during this entire time, even bothered to query the Turk or Lar so the speculation increased and grew increasingly frenzied, to the point that a series of people were wandering out to the Turk’s property to watch Lar Shea digging an ever widening hole in the ground.

Packie Lynch, the resident town guru, whose council was much sought on matters of general knowledge and wisdom, was much in demand at this time. Large volumes of puzzled villagers quizzed him on the issue of ‘the oil’ and what its presence would mean for the area. Packie himself, having little real idea about oil except what he had seen in its application in the use of engines, outlined the nature and texture of the substance. Quite what most made of these findings is unknown but the overwhelming response was one of fear – this oil was not going to do anyone any good in the least.

Finally, left with no option, a conscientious panel of senior heads in the village decided on a plan. In hindsight and in light of the aftermath of these events, most were sorry to have played any part in it but panic had overcome any rationality. Action was demanded for, nothing short of it. The Brick Kenneally set off to ‘discuss’ the matter with the Turk Murphy and let him know that nobody was at all happy about his digging for oil in the garden.

So off he went, accompanied by most of the population of the village, storming through the gates and striding across the lawn towards the Turk’s house clutching a shotgun in his hands. Meanwhile, Lar Shea looked up from his digging to see an unruly mob moving towards him. The Brick roared ‘Out of the way Lar, we’re not having this here. Not in our village! Where’s the Turk, I need to see him’ waving his shotgun with reckless disregard. Before Lar could even answer, a horde of people were shovelling the newly dug soil withfrantic hands and throwing it back into the pit that Lar had been digging. ‘Stop, stop’ he said ‘What are you doing?’ ‘There’ll be no oil Lar, no oil here’ said the Brick. ‘Oil?!’ exclaimed Lar, ‘what are you talking about. There’s no oil here, where did you get such a ridiculous idea’. ‘What are you doing here then, what’s all this digging for??’ enquired the Brick. ‘It’s a pond, an artificial pond I’m clearing out for Mr. Murphy’ he responded to an utterly bemused Brick.

Unfortunately, the Turk, having seen the gun and the crowd had rushed to the greyhound’s kennels and set them loose. In the ensuing fracas, people were running everywhere, jumping gates and ditches as they tried to evade the canine menace. The lead hound, sensing the Brick Kenneally as a principal threat leapt towards him viciously. Reacting as best he could, the Brick fired off an errant shot in an attempt to deter the dog but succeeded only in blowing off the first two fingers on the right hand of a stunned Lar Shea, who had raised his hands in vain defence at the prospect of being mangled by the rampant beast before him.

I hardly need to go into the aftermath of the whole affair suffice to say that many a finger was pointed but nobody really took the blame and the Turk eventually let the matter go. He had little choice really, considering the damage his dogs had done but that’s not the point. Lar was never to retrieve his fingers, there was too much damage. So there you have it, the truth about how Lar Shea lost the first two fingers on his right hand.”

The first one to break the silence afterwards was old Johnny Herlihy himself, at this stage recovered from whatever personal slight he might have felt had been inflicted upon him, “I never knew, I must have got him mixed up with old Lar Ward” he mumbled by way of avoiding any questioning on the dubious origin of his earlier summary of the matter. “A fine tale” said the Lurker Doyle “a fine tale indeed. Sad to see” he added “how it can all turn to madness. ‘Twould never happen here, I can tell you that”. The stranger finished his drink and walked slowly to the bar “No chance lads, with such cultured folk as yourselves and proponents of sound logic” and he placed the empty glass on the counter. “Of course, one can never be too sure of such things. It’s a pretty unpredictable world.” He moved out into a cold winter’s afternoon, leaving the old boys to themselves once more.

“A bad way for anyone to lose two fingers eh?” suggested Herlihy in his typical rhetorical manner. “Is there a good way to lose two fingers Johnny” quipped the Lurker Doyle. Mickey Sheehy, silent until now, looked utterly perplexed – his wizened face a picture of worry. He ventured slowly, almost tentatively “I know how he lost the first two fingers of his right hand, that’s settled now but who, in the name of God, is Lar Shea?” The other two looked at each other and burst out into hearty laughter. Old Johnny Herlihy needed little prompting “Settle round lads”. Outside, the sun began to set on a cold December’s day, a small group gathered around the fire in Lally’s…

John Wid

End

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