The Green Angel
Ronan sat up in his bed and listened. Apart from the sound of his brothers snoring, the house was quite still. He was used to these nocturnal awakenings and had experienced them regularly in all of his 11 years of life. If it wasn’t the dreams it was the shadows. He lay down again, wide awake, looking through the pre-dawn gloom at the many posters and pennants adorning the walls of the room he shared with his two older brothers. They showed fit young men wearing green hooped shirts holding aloft trophies or just smiling at the camera. This was the club’s centenary year and there was hope that they would crown it with suitable success. Following the fortunes of Celtic was as natural in the McCarthy household as breathing or eating. Ronan refocussed and thought about his latest dream. In it an angel was conversing with his father as in the distance a huge fire roared and flickered into the dark, night sky. He closed his eyes and tried sleep but the vision from his dream kept forcing its way into his consciousness.
‘Get up Ronan, you’ll be late for school!’ a voice called to him. Ronan opened his eyes and glanced around the familiar room now illuminated with bright winter sunshine. He must have nodded off. His older brother, Anthony, was smiling at him, ‘You having those nightmares again? You look knackered.’ Ronan shook his head, ‘Where’s my Ma? What time is it?’ He struggled into his school uniform and pulled on his plain black shoes. His mother was in the kitchen, where familiar smells of frying bacon and toast drifted on the air. ‘Ma, can I talk to you?’ She turned and smiled at him, ‘Of course Ronan, what is it?’ He nodded towards the kitchen table and closed the kitchen door. ‘Ma...’ he hesitated slightly, ‘I had another one of my dreams and my Da was in this one.’ Her face changed as she sat in a chair by the kitchen table. ‘Tell me the whole thing from the start.’
As Ronan walked down the hill towards school, the chilly Glasgow drizzle caressing his face, he thought about the dreams he’d been having for as long as he could remember. He recalled as a small child his old great-granny in Donegal had told him that she had them too, said it was a gift, but to Ronan it felt more like a curse. He was permanently tired and saw some grim sights in his visions. Then there were the shadows. Sometimes if he was in a crowd he could see them hang about some people like dark, acrid cigarette smoke. No one else seemed to notice them and when he told his mother she frowned and actually blessed herself. It came and went this so called 'gift’ but at 11, Ronan still didn’t understand it. Sometimes he thought he was losing his mind and tried hard to ignore the dreams and the shadows which haunted him.
When school was over and he returned home, his mother was waiting by the door of their first floor tenement flat. ‘Ronan, I’ve been on the phone to your father and he’s coming home. He’s going to take you to Ireland, says you need to speak to your great-Gran about your dreams. She knows about these things.’ Ronan looked at her, sensing mild disapproval in her tone. Ronan responded, ‘So he’s not going on the rig?’ She shook her head, ‘come.’ She led him into the living room where the TV was on. The sound was muted but the news channel showed pictured of a gas rig off the coast of Scotland, flames spouting from one side of it. ‘There was a blow out, no one was hurt. Your father was due on the rig this morning but when I phoned him and told him your dream he made and excuse not to go, got them to check the helicopter so no one went today. I don’t know what your dreams are Ronan but they…’ she hesitated, ‘they seem to see things before they happen.’ Ronan looked at her, puzzled, ‘How can that be?’ She shrugged, ‘I don’t know, son.’
Ronan’s father, Dominic McCarthy, was a tough, bearded Glaswegian who made his living in the gas industry. He drove home to Glasgow as Ronan slept that night and was sitting at the kitchen table when his son wandered in. ‘Howz my boy!’ he grinned as Ronan threw himself into his arms. ‘Did you sleep well?’ Ronan nodded, no dreams just the welcome relief of a good night’s sleep. ‘Are we going to Ireland, da?’ Ronan said a little excitedly. ‘His Father smiled, ‘Aye, old Kathleen had best hear what’s going on. I don’t put much stock in her way of seeing things but she might be able to help us.’ Ronan was glad, as his dreams were increasing in frequency and some were quite disturbing for one so young.
Ireland was a place Ronan loved visiting. It was so different in rural Donegal from the bustling streets of his home city. He spent long summer holidays there running and playing on the wind swept beaches with his cousins or exploring the hills and forests. His older relatives told them the legends and history of the area and he’d play at being Cú Chulainn, the great Celtic warrior while his cousin, Ruaidrí would be Niall of the nine hostages. They would make dens in the woods and splash through the chilly steams which flowed down from the hills of Donegal. They were golden times for a boy growing up.
They journey from Glasgow to the small hamlet of Money Beg was somewhat laborious but as Ronan jumped out of the hire car his father had arranged to take them from Belfast airport to Donegal his heart was light. Donegal held good memories for him and he felt a sense of belonging here. His great grandmother’s cottage was a small white building which sat near the dark waters of Lough Nacung, to the east stood the brooding mass of Mount Errigal which dominated the area. Ronan breathed in the chilly, fresh air and followed his father up the path to the cottage. Old Kate McCarthy was waiting for them in the kitchen, warm tea and rye bread on the table. Ronan watched as his father embraced the old woman. She was no more than 5 feet tall and her wispy grey hair framed a face lined with deep furrows which spoke of the 85 winters she had lived through in the harsh Donegal wind.
Her pale blue eyes regarded Ronan, her arms open to him. ‘My you’re certainly growing Ronan, so like your mother but your father’s eyes, no doubting that. Have some food and we’ll speak soon.’ The boy sat by the kitchen table and began to eat, his eyes gazing out at the cloud covered mountain a few miles to the east. His father and great-Gran sat by the peat filled fire in the small living room adjoining the kitchen, talking in low tones. On the wall by the fire was a cross of St Bridget made from woven rushes. His great-Gran was adept at making them and knew all the tales and lore which accompanied them. Their history went back into the Celtic mist even before Christianity was established in Ireland. When he finished eating she called to him, ‘Ronan, join me by the fire will ye?’
His father said he was going for a walk and left the boy alone with the old woman. ‘Tell me of your dreams,’ she said in a kindly voice as he sat in the old armchair facing her. Ronan outlined the dreams he could remember to her. They ranged from overflowing rivers to injured birds on his window ledge calling to him. She listened patiently and in silence, nodding occasionally. ‘Then there’s the shadows,’ he said a little confused, ‘I don’t know what they mean, I see them on people, ye know like a dark smoke around them.’ She listened again in silence and when he trailed off there was silence for a moment as if she was trying to formulate the right words. ‘Long ago…’ she began, ‘In the time of my great-Grandmother there were other people who had dreams like yours. They saw things, warnings perhaps, and were able to discern what the dreams meant. Some called them ‘Seers’ and sought their advice. Long ago they would foretell the outcome of battles and the like. The Church and the great hunger ended the time of the Seers. A few still clung on in more rural places but their day was over. Today a few are still given the gift but there is no one to tutor them, to help them learn the meanings of their dreams and visions.’ Ronan listened with rapt attention before saying in a timid voice, ‘So…you think I might be a seer?’ She continued, ‘More than that Ronan. These dark shadows you see around some people are usually warnings of illness. The darkness gathers where it festers. Some Seers were healers too and saw illness before people were even aware they were sick.’ Ronan thought of all the people he had seen the shadows around, a teacher at school, a boy in the street in Glasgow, a Policeman at Belfast Airport. ‘So I should warn them?’ he said. She sighed, ‘Few would take a child seriously and the burden of seeing these things would make your life a toil indeed.’ Ronan looked into the old woman’s eyes, ‘So what should I do? I’m so tired I can’t study at school and sometimes… I’m a bit scared to go to sleep.’ She reached over and touched his hand, ‘Long ago there was a well around here, it brought forth good water but one winter a child fell into it. Only good fortune and a faithful dog brought her cries to our attention and she was saved. We capped the well with a heavy stone and in doing so lost both the danger and the sweet water.’ Ronan looked at her as if she were speaking in riddles. She continued, ‘Your gift is like that well, Ronan. It brings both danger and the possibility of good. But like the well it can be capped, if that is what you wish.’
As darkness crept down from the hills and covered the land Ronan had a filling supper and then got ready for bed. The travelling had tired him as had the broken sleeps he had endured for years. His great-Grandmother had left him and his father alone for a couple of hours as she went collecting various things from her herb garden. As Ronan’s father tucked him in the old woman entered the small bedroom. His father kissed him and left them alone. She held a small cup in her hand, ‘This will help you sleep Ronin and it will also ‘cap the well.’ Think carefully before you drink it and decide if that’s what you want.’ She hugged him, mumbling in Gaelic in his ears words which he didn’t understand but he nonetheless felt the love in them. She closed the bedroom door and left him alone with the cup. Did he want to ‘cap the well’ as she put it? He decided after long thought in the darkness that he did and reached for the cup and the sweet smelling liquid it contained.
Ronan saw in his dreams that night a man of around 40 leading a boy who looked like himself to the top of a high hill. On the hill sat an angel. She smiled at them and turned her face towards a great hall and pointed. It was not a threatening dream and when he awoke he felt refreshed. At breakfast he told the old woman about it and she smiled, ‘Tis your farewell to the dreams Ronan, the well has been capped. One day this last dream will make sense to you.’ He nodded, hoping it was true.
Ronan McCarthy’s great Grandmother was correct. His dreams returned to those normal for a boy of his age and the dark shadows he saw around some people were gone. As the years slipped past he’d forget about his childhood nightmares and become more focused on life. The old lady had passed just a few months short of her 95th birthday and was given a fine send off by friends and neighbours. Ronan still visited Donegal and always made a point of visiting her grave which lay in the shadow of Mount Errigal where she had spent all of her life. As he grew to manhood and had a son of his own he was glad the dreams had stopped and glad the old Kate had helped him stop them as it allowed him to live a normal life. Whatever was in that sweet smelling potion she had concocted had done the trick although he sometimes thought she might have used clever psychology on him and the drink had a placebo effect. Either way he was free to live his life and for that he was thankful.
Young Aidan looked up into the cavernous roof of Glasgow Cathedral with that wonder only children seem to possess, ‘Wow dad! Look at this, it’s so high!’ His father, Ronan McCarthy, smiled at him, ‘Aye son, to think they built these places with no electricity, no power but men and horses.’ They looked at the ragged battle flags of long forgotten wars, some still bearing bullet holes before descending to the crypt and the tomb of St Mungo. Later, as they exited the old Cathedral they wandered across the bridge outside which linked it to the old graveyard. Ronan enjoyed the time he spent alone with Aidan. He reminded him so much of himself at that age. As they walked in the brisk March wind they came to one of the highest hills in the graveyard which offered views across much of Glasgow. Ronan watched his son read some of the names on the ancient gravestones before turning and looking east. He froze, staring at what he saw there. His dream in Donegal more than 25 years before on the night he decided to ‘cap the well’ came back to him in a flash. An Angel, gazing towards a great hall…
Ronan smiled, the old woman had said one day it’d be clear to him and now it was. Aidan took his hand, ‘What are you looking at Dad?’ He gazed at his son, ‘Look Aidan, there’s an Angel watching over Paradise.’