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U3A Writing: The Epitaph

Michael might have been a bit of a rogue - but did he deserve his end? Sandy Saunders tells a tale filled with the best kind of Irish blarney.

The grave was well-tended, the stone of good quality and the epitaph read:

Here lies a thoroughgoing rogue.
His naughty deeds were all the vogue,
until one foggy summer morn,
he heard the sound of Gabriel's horn.

The township looked as if it had fallen on hard times a while ago, without ever making much effort to get back up again. The local Guinness/Murphy dispensary had its usual quota of oldest inhabitants with a sprinkling of self-employed men who were "just between jobs you see." It did not take long to bring the conversation round from the weather, state of going at the Curragh etc. to the naughty deeds of which Michael Aloysius Doherty lay accused.

"An altogether sinful man," was the barmaid's verdict, and her account of three bigamous marriages lent some weight to her view. The desertion of each spouse as soon as her savings had gone, was not the behaviour of a proper Wicklow man opined her brother in a stout-laden aside.

The Garda had put his hat on the bar-counter, signifying that he was now off-duty; his view that the deceased had a lot to answer for was clearly a personal assessment. How did he view Michael officially? Well that was a more difficult question - not to be attempted while a man was still thirsty after a troublesome shift.

No, the Garda did not mind visitors showing hospitable intentions - not at all. Officially the difficulty was that the proofs required by a Court of Law were not easy to come by. Take the three deserted wives for example. All had gone through ceremonies in different provinces but none of the officiating clergy could be traced. Enquiry at the Mission Halls at which the troths had been plighted failed to turn up any records of the events. Nor were the victims of any real help; they said Michael was a charming fellow and had been perfectly willing to take him back.

The sale of Ballycorcoran bridge to the tourist from Arizona was equally awkward. After all, if a tourist pays 10,000 dollars for a document conveying the rights of Michael in that property, there is no provable fraud. No document existed showing that Michael had ever claimed it was his.

So why did someone shoot him? It was caused by disputes over hunting rights. In the days when West German hunters paid parcels of Punts to stalk deer, the ownership of sporting rights quickly became the subject of family quarrels. Yes, Michael had been closely related to more than two-thirds of the owners concerned but refused to accept that although it was all right for him to do a bit of rough shooting on his cousins' lands, it was an offence to share this good fortune with wealthy tourists.

Soon he ran out of cousins prepared to tolerate his raids on their game and in the cosy warmth of the bar harsh words had been exchanged. Yes, Michael was always a reckless child. You could not really expect him to listen to reason,nor had he ever had much of a clue about local weather patterns. So when, to avoid his cousins, he took a wealthy Berliner out on the hill on a September Saturday it was not surprising that they were soon fog-bound.

He had told the short-sighted Berliner of a stag that browsed the edges of the Forestry plantations and assured him of a clear shot. Neither would have worries when they lost touch with each other, and they would not have shouted in case they scared away the stag. When Michael was leaning forward to look for spoor and his brown-stocked gun was pointing down, the Berliner obviously mistook him for the stag.

Yes, the Berliner was a real gentleman - insisted on paying for the tombstone. Of course it was Michael's Mammy who wrote the inscription.

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