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.
Pay Our Writers