THE CONFESSION OF NORA GANNON GALLAGHER by Greg Rappleye

Found in a Copy of John Duncan’s Birds of the British Isles (1898):

Nephew, I have placed this letter at Page 100 of Duncan’s book, against his engraving of the Melodious Warbler (Hypolis polyglotta, Viell), because the author writes that this rare Irish visitor, like myself, “has but one British record.” —26 November 1932

Word went round Galway soon after

the cruel murder of Father Michael Griffin,

that a Captain Smythe of Auxiliaries

had re-billeted to Cappaghwhite,

southeast of Limerick. The maid said

(though she would not so testify, for fear

of her life) that it was Smythe and one

she didn’t know what banged on the door

of the rectory that night and struck the good

priest with a truncheon, then took him

by the scruff of his neck and bundled him

off in a Vauxhall 25. Having a Spanish

revolver, a box of milled hollow-points

and a steady hand, and being a 63 year-old

with a husband long-lost to the Cause

and no orders in several years, I waited

through the Epiphany, then made passage

to Cappaghwhite, and took a room in the village.

Pleading our distant kinship, I was soon enough

in service as barmaid at Margaret Moran’s.

The first I saw Smythe, all ruddy-faced,

posed at the turve fire in his high boots

and black field jacket, it was only to know

who he was—a former Captain of Lancers,

loud-talking about butchering Jerrys

at Passchendaele, and his glory days

during the Great War. He paid me no mind,

nor I him; though I was aided by the barman,

Kevin Flynn, who affirmed Smythe’s name,

and nothing more. It was the cold night

of 21 January 1921, he came again.

In a different mood he was, and sat alone

drinking Bushmills and stout, mumbling

to no point in particular. I gave him

a few pleasantries and the bend of an ear

until after 8, when he rose to leave.

I slipped out the back door (on pretense

of tossing a pail of water) and stalked

the stumbling man below a quarter-moon,

out beyond the oil-lamps of the village.

There, unsteady, he paused at a cattle ditch

with his back to me, and made the stance

of one working to loosen his trousers.

His stream was steamy and loud, his mind

doubtless a-cloud by the pegs he had taken.

It was nothing to slip close and, from four feet

away—himself, a decorated lancer!—aim

my cocked pistol dead-on between his shoulder

blades and BANG! And when he dropped

like a sack of buttered roosters, to lean to

the gurgling water and pop a second shot

across his temple BANG! The lead gone right

to left, as Father Michael Griffin had been done

on the moors near Galway, not two months before.

I then walked back to Moran’s, and resumed

a barmaid’s duties. And by 2 AM, the snow was

general across Tipperary—fluffy and bright,

and there could be no tracks; not a trace

of who might have gunned the Captain down.

It was daylight, then, that Smythe was found

by a milk carter; the corpse face-down, blooding

the ditch. I stayed on through the Feast of St. Kieran,

going about my work, and though the Black & Tans

come knocking at Moran’s twice and bullying

Kevin Flynn and others, nary a word was asked

of me. Who would suspect a widow who sang old

songs to no one, who went round with a book of birds,

counting wrens, poking sticks at the blackthorn?

So I took my leave, claiming a niece’s work

at my home in Killeen (though I was then from Sligo)

and to Sligo I returned. Forgotten, not needed

for service, other than hiding a rock tosser or-two,

this was my great act for the Cause—something

no man had the courage to do, or at least, something

no man had yet done.  It was not hard to find a priest

to forgive avenging the murder of a priest;

a few Hail Marys, a Sign of the Cross did the trick,

and now, with Monsignor Hardy’s lips sealed,

first, by Holy Vows and then by death,

and with De Valera’s late-declared amnesty made

general, Nephew, you are the only one left to judge.

As for myself, I have no feelings of guilt. On this matter

I made a full act of Contrition, and resolved thereafter

in my unholy life, to keep no regrets at all.


Greg Rappleye’s work has appeared in Poetry, The Southern Review, Shenandoah, and other literary journals. His second book of poems, A Path Between Houses (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. His third book, Figured Dark (University of Arkansas Press, 2007), was first runner-up for the Dorset Prize and was published in the Miller Williams Poetry Series.

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