Author: Jim Wills
Page count: 276
Genre: Irish historical fiction
I’ve had many and varied careers. In more or less historical order, I’ve been a motorcycle mechanic, a race engine builder, a teacher, an academic, a hard rock miner (silver), a book editor and ghost writer, a commercial writer in print and video, a novelist, a mason, a wood-fired artisan bread baker and a teacher of that craft. Some, if not all, have overlapped in time and continue.
A Few Men Faithful is the first of four Kavanagh stories. It sets the stage, defines the Kavanagh family and tells of a troubled land and an equally troubled romance amid war and treachery. Time span: 1916 to 1924 in Dublin, County Cork and Northern Ireland. Major events: Easter Rising, Secret War, War of Independence, the Civil War. This last is little known and less explored, especially through the eyes of a soldier on the losing side. The main character, Danny Kavanagh, escapes Dublin in 1916 only to become one of the Twelve Apostles, that squad of executioners Michael Collins used to shut the spying eyes in Dublin Castle. As a soldier he is haunted, nearly driven mad, by what he has done, what he cannot do, yet still hold onto that deathless dream of a united Ireland. He pays the price, finally, as an exile and IRA emissary in North America.
How long did it take to write the book?
Mechanically, start to finish, about 18 months (see next answer), including time spent with a professional freelance fiction editor.
What inspired you to write the book?
I grew up in an intensely Republican Irish family with strong roots in the old country (Strabane, County Tyrone, and Dublin). I was surrounded from the cradle with Irish mythology, stories, history, language, songs, dancing, graveyard wit, all of which included a strong sense of grievance. As a result, I gravitated to Irish history and literature both on the undergraduate and graduate levels. My first trip to Ireland, some fifteen years ago, was the catalyst for beginning this first in the series. It just took awhile, once the seed was sown.
Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
As a graduate student writing a thesis, I learned quickly to treat writing as a 9-5 job, six days a week. More or less, I follow the same regimen as authors like Charles Dickens. I’ve been reading Irish literature all my life, from the earliest stories to Yeats, Joyce, Flann O’Brien, Frank McCourt, Roddy Doyle. Same with Irish history, from Charles Callan Tansel to Robert Kee. Kee’s three volume, The Green Flag, and Tim Pat Coogan’s Michael Collins, among many others, were key research for the Kavanagh series. I also took a six-week research trip to Ireland, south and north, with the specific goal to make the sites, scenery, language, music and history as authentic as possible.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
Apart from a ripping good, high speed tale and a very chancy love story, I hope to add some clarity to the troubled and murky world of Irish history. I’d like a reader to say, “Danny Kavanagh did what he had to do as a soldier, but much of it comes from the utter madness and futility of war.”
Where can we go to buy your book?
Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca.
Any other links or info you’d like to share?
A Few Men Faithful is the first in a continuing series. Philly MC: A Kavanagh Story II, and Shooter in a Plague Year: A Kavanagh Story III, are both available on Amazon. Amazon.com has reader reviews, especially of the first novel. The fourth novel, “This Hard Gemlike Flame,” will be appearing on Amazon this summer. A fifth, “Fianna,” is at the writing stage. A sixth, “Summer Soldiers,” is at the research stage.
A Few Men Faithful made it through the first judging round of The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in 2010. Here’s a review from one of the panel:
ABNA Expert Reviewer
What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?
The strongest aspect of this excerpt is its characterization. The writer has to introduce 3 brothers fast and make us remember them. He excels in this task.
What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?
This is a very powerful story, told with due regard to historical fact, enlightening and entertaining the reader at the same time. The characters are drawn boldly and made unforgettable.
The writer most certainly knows his guns, his history and his people. He knows war in all of its stupidity and valor.
We are in the welcome grip of someone in love with words who shares that love with us. For example, this is far more than a mere characterization: “the link among them was failure and minor poetry.” And this is more than a description: “famine haunt and flogging scream.”
But who could fail to be thrilled with action depicted like this: “Time slowed and stopped in a diamond moment of this life, soul deep, never to be forgotten, added to the ulcerous hate passed through the generations.”
Shooter in a Plague Year has made it through the first round of judging this year, but I won’t know anything more until the end of March.
I’ve also written Tools Are Made, Born Are Hands: Baking True Artisan Breads in a Wood Fired Oven that’s available on Amazon as well. My website is www.marygbread.com.
Excerpt from book:
1. “Wherever Green Is Worn”
The three young brothers sat together, backs against a low stone wall, listening to the muzzles cracking and the bullets hissing over their heads. Casually, they competed to see who could identify the heavier arms being fired at them. “Vickers, that’s sure.” “No, no, ye daft twit, it’s one a them new Lewis guns. Where’s yer ears, man, in yer pants?” On the outside, they seemed unconcerned, almost nonchalant, joking and laughing, before, in turn, they knelt to fire over the wall at the Tommies. Danny, the youngest, calmly puffed his pipe, regarded the trembling air with satisfaction and sniffed the cordite with relish. On the inside, they all felt the exhilaration of revenge, gloried in being on the side of right, yearned for the deathless Republican dream. None had ever killed a man. Many on the barricades opposite had.
Jack Kavanagh, the eldest, turned to Mick, next in age. “What’s your thought? Will we whip the bastards this time?” He said it with a rhetorical smile. As usual, the taciturn middle brother said nothing; waiting for the answer he knew was coming from Danny, the most talkative of the three. Danny pulled the pipe from his mouth, spat reflectively, and said: “’Soon or Never,’ as the saying goes. At least we can collect on a few markers.” The other two nodded, their lips hardening to thin lines. Once the artillery started on them, they knew they were finished. But all three understood it had to be done.
They watched with mild amusement as one of their officers slithered toward them on his belly. “Danny, you and the brothers get out front and cover us while we do it. Dev’s idea.” The order was shouted over the new and very near rattle of a British Vickers heavy machine gun that was quickly overwhelmed by the incoming whistle and explosion of an eighteen-pounder field gun shell. Dust and pieces of brick hailed down on their slouch hats. “Right, Captain, we’re for it.” Danny Kavanagh and his brothers slung their old Mausers over their backs and headed for sniping positions outside the trenches and barricades around Boland’s Flour Mill in Dublin. The shelling, the massed machine gun and rifle fire, made the position of the 3rd Brigade of the Irish Volunteers untenable. Everyone knew that. Everyone knew, too, that their Brigade Commander, Eamon de Valera, was a mathematics teacher, no military man and very near to breaking point.
Captain Cullen responded to de Valera’s diversion scheme with alacrity, naϊve bravado; so had three of his men. They crouched behind the stone wall that overlooked the Grand Canal Basin and watched the Kavanaghs spread out in front of them. They all hoped Dev’s plan worked, even for a while, to take the pressure off. It was late Tuesday afternoon, April 25, 1916, and British reinforcements had arrived, along with their field guns. Except for the officers, most of the rank and file among the enemy were Irish, too, men who traded the King’s shilling for French trenches.
The three Kavanaghs were in the minority among the Irish Volunteers that Easter week: north country men from County Armagh, familiar with weapons from boyhood, more than ready for a fight, members of the militant and very secret Irish Republican Brotherhood. Weathered, muscular, tough. Their coloring was a Celtic essay: Jack, black haired, brown eyed, the tallest; Mick, red haired, pale, blue eyed; and the auburn haired Danny of the green, green eyes. Jack continued the head of the family tradition as a small farmer of small success in Crossmaglen, where they all were born. Mick, the mechanic, could not help his fascination with the new tractors and motor cars. Danny, the journeyman carpenter, had more knowledge of wood than the trees. Poaching and smuggling through the Gap of Armagh, generations old vocations, took up the rest of their time.
Work hardened, practical, men of their hands, they were not among the Dublin intellectuals, the dreamers, like the contemplative poet, Padraig Pearse, who believed myth must triumph over history, right over steel, rhetoric over legislation. In Ireland, both Catholics and Protestants who thought as he did had been making magnificent rebellious plans, delaying them interminably, then sliding into the greasy clay pit of political infighting and treachery for time out of mind. The speeches were grand, no doubt, but the link among them was failure and minor poetry.
Witty, somewhere between skeptical and hostile about religion, fond of a drink, a song, the girls, at bottom the Kavanaghs were grim, determined men, survivors of Pearse’s rhetorical flourish of the “Fenian dead,” inheritors of famine haunt and flogging scream. Their purpose was straight- forward, six hundred years old, hard as the stones in the Armagh fields: drive the English invader into the Irish Sea—forever—no matter the cost or the wait. It was their core belief; not reasoned, passed through the umbilical cord.
They had little time for and less understanding of the Citizen Army, the city-bred fledgling socialist workers who followed James Connolly and Jim Larkin under the Starry Plough flag. To the Kavanaghs, a workers’ state had no meaning. They, and country IRB men like them, wanted all the land back, the landlords gone, the crushing rents a mere sour memory, and, most of all, revenge that was physical, not political. In 1916, they still lived the horror years of the Famine Queen, more than seventy years after their great grandparents were evicted from their holding and starved in a ditch while Queen Victoria drank Scotch and roasted potatoes at Balmoral. Dublin that Easter week retold the old story of Ireland: splits in the ranks, rancorous division upon division over politics, spies upon spies, Irishmen facing Irishmen over rifle barrels, self-directed inner rage turned to killing.
Stationed twenty yards apart, the brothers watched as the four men advanced toward the old, empty stone tower two hundred yards in front of their position. Cover was not good; progress slow. Lee-Enfield rounds whipped by them, kicking up clouds of rank coal dust, chipping off brick. Modern, accurate, trenches tested, every one of the rebels longed for a Lee-Enfield rifle.
Just turned twenty, unmarried, Danny Kavanagh was definitely the best shot. In Crossmaglen, he was an occasional poacher of legendary success, bringing home the Christmas deer slung over his shoulders. He lined up the helmet of a British soldier in his iron sights and gently squeezed off a round. Even at 100 yards, the clank of metal being pierced could be heard above the noise of battle. He blinked hard, his teeth crushing the stem of his stubby pipe. The remaining enemy helmets popped out of sight like mushrooms sucked back into the ground.
Captain Cullen and his men still had fifty yards to go. They made a strange squad: none in uniform, all in lapelled jackets, collars, ties, soft hats. Shabby, but disciplined. One, Pat Brennan, a butcher from Dublin’s Moore Street, tried to advance from a pile of paving stones to an overturned wagon with its dead and bloated horse. He collapsed in a heap, shot through the body, legs kicking briefly at the horse’s taut stomach. Jack Kavanagh leaped from his position, cleared the rubble in a bound and made for them at a crouching run. Hearts in their dry mouths, Danny and Mick covered him until he was safe among them. Of the three, Jack was the bravest, the most reckless, easily the most angry.
The last hundred feet were the worst. Danny and Mick fired as rapidly as they could, hoping to appear many rather than two. The barrels of their ancient German Mausers began to overheat. They were leftovers from the arms shipment paid for by Joe McGarrity from Philadelphia and landed at Howth by Erskine Childers in 1914. On their stomachs, the detail of Irish Volunteers finally made it into the base of the tower. Enemy fire resumed in the direction of Boland’s Mill for the time. From his position, Danny could see Captain Cullen emerge on top of the tower; smoke from the burning buildings obscuring him from the enemy for as long as he needed. Cullen knelt, tied the green flag to a pike and hoisted it. The afternoon was close, dull, cloudy, and the fires had created a fitful, swirling wind around the tower. The flag hung limp for a second, then tried to unfurl. It might have been the famous bedspread of the Countess Markievicz. It wasn’t; no one seemed to know where it came from, but it was emblazoned with the outrageous treason: “Irish Republic.”
An odd, muted cheer, almost a moan of desperation, could be heard faintly from the Irish lines. Danny Kavanagh crouched transfixed, looking over the sights of his Mauser. Time slowed and stopped in a diamond moment of his life, soul deep, never to be forgotten, added to the ulcerous hate passed through the generations. The flag furling, the volunteers emerging from the base of the tower. His oldest brother, Jack, leaving his feet and flipping onto his back as if slapped by the hand of an invisible angry god. Shot through the head, dead in a second. His slouch hat seemed to take minutes to sail to the ground. From that instant, young Danny Kavanagh was changed utterly. He could see Jack’s wife and children, smiling in the tiny garden, at home in Crossmaglen. The abiding fury created by that image would never leave him till the day he died.
Mick tried, but he knew he could not stop him. Danny ran upright, in full view, to his brother’s body, bullets ripping past him, shredding his jacket. Cullen and his men watched him come, mouths open, more in disbelief than fear for his life. It was as if he ran surrounded by a bubble of safety, impenetrable. One look at Jack’s mangled head, and the blinding Kavanagh anger took him. Long German bayonet fixed, Danny charged the British position. One, perhaps two, maybe three soldiers who had survived the Hun in Flanders went down in Dublin internecine squalor. Then Mick Kavanagh could see the rifle butt poised over his brother; it came down again and again. The body was pushed over the English barricade, rolled onto its face and lay still.
Perhaps the price was worth the effect. The enemy turned their attention and their field gun on the old tower, rather than the mill. The inevitable was forestalled. The green bedspread continued to fly.
Night came damp, moonless, cheerless among the Irish Volunteers at Boland’s Mill. De Valera’s command was isolated across the River Liffey, east of the city center. Pearse and Plunkett and their people had taken the central General Post Office on Sackville Street, but all their early success got them was more attention from the enemy than the other positions in the city. The Aud, the arms ship from Germany, had not arrived to supply the entire country; Sir Roger Casement had been caught; no Irish prisoners of war, freed by the Germans, marched in to die alongside them; a mere $1000 had arrived from Joe McGarrity in Philadelphia, along with a few Thompson submachine guns. The fighting outside Dublin was sporadic, desultory, mostly it had been called off, once Eoin MacNeill countermanded the orders for a rebellion from the more militant commanders of the Irish Volunteers.
An Easter Rising was yet another grand gesture, no doubt, borne of longing, principle, belief, reprisal, but it would fail as the others had failed: 1798, 1843, 1867. They knew it would, just as well as they knew it was necessary for several key reasons. In 1886, Parnell, the uncrowned king of Ireland, lost the real battle in London for Irish Home Rule, then his life. Later, John Redmond agreed to the exclusion of Ulster from a version of it—temporarily it was said—until after the war in Europe, it was said. In 1913, Edward Carson and James Craig publicly armed the paramilitary, anti-Home-Rule Loyalist Volunteer Force in Ulster—ironically with German weapons—with the full and mutinous support of the British garrison at the Curragh. The Irish Volunteers, organized in response a year later, were definitely not allowed to bear arms. Over the decades and blood since its foundation in 1858, the Irish Republican Brotherhood expression now had become a secret refrain sighing on the Atlantic wind; much, much more than a political saw or seditious proverb: “Soon or Never;” soon they must win or they never would.
In the chill damp, Mick Kavanagh slithered forward and retrieved the body of his oldest brother. Reverently, he emptied his pockets of the few possessions Jack’s wife would want, straightened his tie and arranged his jacket, before folding the hands over the chest. As the next son in age, he slipped his father’s brass pocket watch into his pocket. For the wife’s sake, he regretted there were no priests among them for the last rites. The priests would not come until much later, and the more radical among the Irish Republican Brotherhood contingent in the Irish Volunteers did not want them, a refusal hardened by the fact that Pius IX had excommunicated all the Fenians in 1869, including Jimmy, the father of the Kavanagh boys.
Something of sedition scholar, Jimmy would kick off his muck covered boots in front of the turf fire at home in Crossmaglen and once more say to his sons over his jar: “Ah, we’ve not done well with the Popes now have we boys? Priests neither. Think of old Adrian IV who told that English bastard Henry II to conquer Ireland in 1155. Then consider the power hungry arsewipe, Alexander VIII, who ordered the Te Deum sung across Europe when his bum boy, King Billy, won the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Then Pius VII supported the English veto in 1816. Old Pius IX was just following their lead when he excommunicated the lot of us. I’m in fine company. I’ll not have to remind you about the Irish hierarchy in 1863 or Dublin’s Archbishop Cullen in 1865. We’ll leave Cromwell out of it for the time.” These were the articles of faith, the apostles’ creed, for the Kavanagh men. Only the Kavanagh women kept the rosaries polished for the keening. The men went to church when they must—to keep the peace—but theirs was another religion.
Lying on his face, blowing dark, sticky bubbles in his own blood, Danny Kavanagh was neither conscious nor unconscious. In a swoon of images, the memory broke on him like stepping through a low doorway, light to dark. It was textured, living, real, the color, sound, the perfume of burning turf, the oil lamp’s yellow, pulsing bloom on shadowed whitewash. His mother sat at the wooden table in the kitchen, head in her hands, puzzling over the official letter between her red elbows propped on the scrubbed top. Her first language was Gaelic, and written English came slowly to her. Then the rocking and moaning started. In May, 1906, Jimmy Kavanagh was executed by firing squad in the Stonebreakers Yard of Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. They finally caught up with him for his part in the dynamite plots in England during the winter of 1883-84. The charges were sedition and murder—and belonging to the Irish Republican Brotherhood that everyone in Ireland thought had ceased to exist. Dublin Castle did not feel it necessary to ship the body home to County Armagh. The corpse was thrown into a pit on Arbour Hill, then covered with quicklime. The hill had plenty of space left for more pits, more martyrs dissolving in lime.
Mick knew that retrieving Danny would be much, much more difficult. It took an hour to reach him. He expected dead weight, but as he lay side by side with his brother, directly beneath the English barricade, Mick could hear the foaming, ragged breathing of the living as he smelled the pipe smoke and tea of the enemy.
“Can you speak, Danny?” The battered head turned a slow negative, mouth full of clotting blood. “Can you move, man?” The smashed face nodded a slow affirmative. Danny Kavanagh spit out the blood and mumbled “crazy fucker” to his only brother. As they crawled the hundreds of yards back to the rebel lines, Danny seemed to be losing more blood than humanly possible, a dark slug smear marking their path.
“That was the most courageous or foolhardy thing I’ve ever seen, Mick. Your brother lives up to the Armagh reputation for the savage, the madman and the dead shot. But, and I’m sorry to say it, he’ll die by morning unless we can get him to Jim Ryan at the GPO. He’s the only one with any sort of combat wound experience. I’m a doctor as well, but I’ve no knowledge of this extent of trauma, no equipment, no medicines left.”
“Thanks for your concern, Dr. Kelly, but I’m thinking it’ll be a difficult bit of ground to travel between here and there, just now.”
“So it would, but it seems that someone managed to commandeer a British motorbike that might just need a driver to take messages to Pearse at the GPO. Passengers definitely permitted. Are you game, man?”
“Indeed I am, sir. I’ve only driven one a few times, not far. Usually, I just fixed their tires and such at the garage, but it’s not that difficult. After all, it’s really a bicycle with a motor.” He spoke with the offhand confidence of youth, not any real experience. The sight of his dead brother did not leave the front of his mind.
“For Danny’s sake, I hope you’re right, so I do.”
The motorcycle was a Triumph Model H, the “Trusty Triumph” used by Allied dispatch riders in France. Except for the military and the police, they were uncommon in Ireland then; toys for landowners’ sons, transport for the detested Royal Irish Constabulary. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this one had a sidecar: fortunate for the injured passenger, unfortunate for the fledgling driver, because it made the machine much more difficult to control. Leaning in the wrong direction when rounding a corner could flip the rig in an instant, ejecting the passenger into the night, like a sack of coal. Mick tried to remember the controls near the fire the Volunteers made to brew their tea. He found the throttle, the spark advance, the kick starter, brake, clutch. Perhaps it could be done. Perhaps—with luck.
“Where’s the man Kavanagh? I need to speak with him now.” Like most of the commanders during Easter week, Eamon de Valera was an intellectual. He might not have been much of a military man, but he was imperious and used to being obeyed immediately. Unusually tall, dark, thin, bespectacled, his somber, sagging face was couched in sadness by a thick moustache. Ordinarily, he looked on the verge of tears. Now, worry, lack of sleep, fear, gave his lanky frame the tension of a long German bayonet. His red rimmed eyes glowed in a disconcerting, blank stare that flicked from object to object. Unlike most of the Irish Volunteers, Dev wore full uniform, making him look rather foreign. Perhaps the feeling originated from his dead Spanish father or the Irish mother who, some said, abandoned him, or the fact he was born in New York City and retained his American citizenship. Despite his imperious manner, de Valera commanded immense respect and loyalty from the men under his command at Boland’s Mill.
Captain Cullen pointed Mick out by the fire. De Valera strode over, towering above all around him. The firelight accentuated the dark bags under his averted eyes, the morose skin of his face. “Right, Kavanagh, I was sorry to hear of your one brother killed and the other wounded. Ireland will remember them both when we drive the British from our land and establish our right to a nation. For their sake, for our sake, for the sake of history, you must make it to the GPO and give these messages to Padraig Pearse. The whole course of the rising depends on it.” Mick stood rigid, still, assaulted by the images of the afternoon. The muscles worked in his jaw. De Valera shook Mick’s hand quickly, turned on his heel and stalked away, like some dreaming, tormented stork.
Dev was never one to miss an opportunity for a speech. It was clear from the first word that he was talking for the benefit of his men. Not one among them thought there was any chance. They were out manned, overwhelmed by modern weaponry. Worse, the people of Dublin were against them. Those citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland were much more concerned in 1916 with putting bread on the table. That was the city, among the prosperous. In the agricultural countryside, bread was a luxury, because most of the grain to make it went as rent to England, along with the bacon, butter, beef. Potatoes remained the usual and only fare, if the blight didn’t come again. In the steaming heap and vermin playground of the Dublin slums, there was no fare at all.
From his post behind the pile of ledger books, coal sacks, chairs, typewriters stacked in front of the Georgian Sackville Street entrance to the General Post Office, Sean Hurley could see British troops attempting to barricade the street. They were careful but hardly impervious to the Irish marksmen in the windows around them, even though the wide, dark street was lit only by fires. “It’s just a matter of time,” he thought with a small smile. Next to him stood his cousin, Michael Collins, the “Big Fella,” who would live to become the most dangerous, most enigmatic man in Ireland. Collins, ADC to the Director of Operations, Joseph Mary Plunkett, with the rank of Staff Captain, was one of the few in the Post Office wearing the resplendent green uniform of the Irish Volunteers. The closest of friends since boyhood, Hurley and Collins spoke little, knowing each other’s thoughts, wordlessly sharing their bright dream of an Irish nation, no matter the cost. Like the Kavanaghs from South Armagh, they hoped the wait was nearly over. “Soon or Never” once more.
“Jaysus Murphy, Michael, will you just look at that.” Around the partially finished barricade, through the fire smoke from Sackville Street, a military motorcycle suddenly appeared, close, apparently from nowhere. The demented driver had little training, anyone could see that. He was going much too fast, and, despite his attempts to correct it, the single wheel of the sidecar hovered uncertainly, nearly a foot off the ground, then bounced to the cobbles, then rose again. The passenger’s face was heavily bandaged in white gauze turned red on one side. Such a bizarre sight momentarily froze the normally unflappable British troops, even their snipers held back, though a few less experienced men stood to gawk before being pulled down by more battle hardened hands. Neither side knew who they were at first, so no one fired. The silence was dead still, hard on ears used to pitched battle, until Mick Kavanagh began screaming, “Éirinn go bloody Brách, goddamn it, here I come, lads.”
Inside the GPO, the riflemen saw the rider’s civilian clothes, heard him shout, so they opened up on the enemy barricade, concentrating on the Vickers gun position that could have cut the motorcycle down in a second.
Mick Kavanagh saw no other way. He swerved sharply left, headed the bike between the massive columns in the middle of the portico and made directly for the broad doorway. At least he had the sense to slow down, but he cracked over the low curbing so fast that he bit his cheek and his kidneys bounded on their moorings. Beside him, Danny bounced in the sidecar like a haunch of dressed beef. As the Triumph hit the doorway, Mick could see the muzzle flashes of rifle and shotgun rounds headed for the British positions. He smashed through the makeshift barrier, spraying typewriters. Once the tires hit the slick marble of the foyer, made slicker by melting window glass, the bike skidded 180 degrees, ending up against a long mahogany counter, pointing in the direction from which it had come.
The large room was completely silent for long seconds; eyes white in faces gunpowder black; then a laugh, then a cheer for the brave, the foolhardy, the Irish. Casually, Michael Collins strode over to the motorcycle, regarding it as he would if he were a prospective buyer in a showroom. He turned on the brilliant, boyish smile and said to Mick, “Well now, boyo, and that was a dramatic entrance suitable for the Court Theater. Deus ex machina, don’tcha know. You are one of us, I trust?”
“Yes, sir, Mick Kavanagh, South Armagh IRB. Messages for Pearse from de Valera. Some ride that. These motorbikes are fantastic. Have a go, sir?”
“Charmed, I’m sure. Unfortunately, I’m a bit tied up at the moment. Nevertheless, I do have a pressing appointment with a divine young nurse by the name of Theresa tomorrow. Perhaps then, if you would be so kind.”
“Certainly, sir, I’ll be sure to be here.”
“Of that I have no doubt.”
Collins took a closer look at the inert passenger. Curiosity, then deep concern, spread over his face. “Your man is in a bad way, Kavanagh. Is he alive?”
“My brother, sir. Danny. Tom Kelly said Jim Ryan could patch him back together.”
The deep creases in Collins’ brow said the brother was past hope. He took off his officer’s cap, slowly smoothed the shock of brown hair aside and turned to Sean Hurley: “Right, Sean, get some men and take this man to Doctor Ryan. Give them both a strong shot of whiskey, too, one for his insanity, the other for his life.” This was a large concession from Michael Collins. He was sensitive to the historical sneer about the 1798 Irish rebels needing drink for courage, so he had gone so far as to pour two tierces of porter down a drain in front of his astonished men. But this, this was an exception. “The messages, man, give them to me. I’ll get them to the Commandant. You attend to your brother. Then you can start using those God awful rifles you brought with you. Bloody Mausers.” Collins turned to go. He stopped, briefly, a sour look on his face as he stared at the men on their knees, telling the beads. “And we’re supposed to be an army. God help us. What we need is more and better weapons from McGarrity and his lot in the States, not more Hail Marys. Damned sad lot of revolutionaries we are.”