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Open Features: Barney And The Revenue Man

...Barney McGreevey has always maintained that his narrow squeak with the Revenue man would never have happened if Michael” Yankee” Murphy had been more discreet. You see, Barney has a rare skill in the manufacture of Poteen...

Ace storyteller Alan McConnell tells a fine Irish tale.

Barney McGreevey has always maintained that his narrow squeak with the Revenue man would never have happened if Michael” Yankee” Murphy had been more discreet. You see, Barney has a rare skill in the manufacture of Poteen, a skill which he occasionally and very, very discreetly puts to use.

Michael was widely known by the nickname “Yankee” because of his long sojourn in the United States before returning in the autumn of his life to live with his brother and sister who farmed a few acres up at Craigadooish.

As Christmas was approaching the Yankee took a notion to purchase a couple of bottles of Barney’s illicit brew to enable him the better to celebrate the festive season with some of his cronies.

Well, in due course the forbidden spirit was produced and bottled and it only remained for the Yankee to take delivery. He arranged to drive over to Barney’s farm on the Monday before Christmas for that purpose.

His arrival in the yard in front of the McGreevey house coincided with that of Eric McIlwaine’s grocery van and as the Yankee left his car to approach the house Eric threw open the rear doors of his van to allow his wares to be seen by Barney’s wife who had emerged from the house carrying a large basket. She was closely followed by Barney himself and the Yankee’s eyes lit up when he saw that Barney was carrying a bottle containing a transparent liquid in the crook of each arm.

As Barney approached the grocery van behind which his wife, Eric and the Yankee were grouped he noted a black car entering the yard. He presumed that the car belonged to the vet from Letterkenny come to check on an ailing heifer. It was only on closer inspection that he noted two people in the car, one of whom he recognised as Garda Sergeant Liam O’Brady. The driver, a stranger to Barney was dressed in civilian clothes.

Knowing that the visitors had nothing to do with veterinarian procedures Barney became apprehensive, as anyone would, finding themselves in the presence of the law while carrying two bottles of bootleg liquor. In the circumstances he felt discretion to be the better part of valour and placing the van between himself and his unexpected guests, made his way towards the far end of the yard and towards the gate which opened onto a lane running around the back of the house.

As he was opening the gate Sergeant O’Brady called to him, “Barney, hold on there, we’d like a word with you.”

Barney proceeded on his way as if he hadn’t heard him. The two men hastened after him and all three disappeared from the sight of the three people standing by the grocery van. It would not be stretching the truth to say that something akin to alarm could have been seen writ large on their faces. But, be that as it may we must return to Barney and his pursuers.

Once in the laneway and out of sight of those in the yard Barney stopped and waited for the Sergeant and his companion to catch up to him

“Did ye want to see me about something, Sergeant.”

“Indeed we do Barney. This is Mr. Coogan the Revenue Inspector from Letterkenny and he’d like to talk to you about those bottles you’re carrying.

“Well now”, says Barney, “he can talk all he likes about them but there’s not much to say about this Ballybreen water, is there?”

Coogan gave him a sour look and said, “I’d just like to sample a little of that water if you don’t mind, Mr. McGreevy. It might turn out to have intoxicating properties, you know.”

“Sample away ‘til your heart’s content, says the bold Barney handing over the bottles. “Sure don’t you see that the label says “Ballybreen Water” and I don’t see anything about intoxicating stuff, more’s the pity now.”

Well, Coogan favoured Barney with a derisive sort of smirk. “Let me be the judge of that, Mr. McGreevy, labels are not always what they seem.” Having said that he unscrewed the cap of one of the bottles and taking a small folding cup from a pocket, opened it and poured in a teaspoonful or so of the contents of the bottle, put it to his lips and tasted it. After the tasting the smirk that had previously adorned his face was replaced by a sour look. He hurriedly unscrewed the cap of the other bottle and repeated the tasting procedure with the same result. His face bore the look of one who found himself chewing on a wasp.

The Sergeant turned away and put his hand over his mouth. For his part Coogan threw down the bottles in disgust and as he turned away he glowered at Barney. “You might have got away with it this time, McGreevy but I’ll be watching out for you, so mind your step my boy.” With that he stamped off back towards the car.

O’Brady hung back for a moment. “You were near it that time, Barney. That boy will have it in for you in future, so go easy.” With that he followed the disgruntled Coogan back to the farmyard.

When they reached the yard Eric’s van and the Yankee had gone. Mrs. McGreevy was standing at the door of the house. “You and your friend are welcome to a wee cup of tea and a bit of a soda cake just out of the oven, Sergeant.”

Coogan merely shot a bitter glance in her direction and headed straight for the car leaving Liam to say, “Not today thanks, Eileen. Some other time I’ll be glad to take up your offer. I’d better see this man safely on his way back to Letterkenny.”

Barney returned to the house and when safely ensconced at the kitchen table with the tea and soda bread in front of him said, “Did Michael get the bottles all right?”

“Aye”, says Eileen, “That he did. It was quick thinking of you to put them into Eric’s can and grab the two bottles of water. But mind you, Eric was in a quare stew. He couldn’t get away from the place quick enough and the Yankee was hard on his heels. Both of them will mind this day’s work for a long time!”

Barney was lost in thought for a spell. At last he said, “I wonder how that pest from Letterkenny knew to come here just at the wrong time. Somebody must have heard the Yankee and me making the arrangement and put two and two together and informed Coogan. I wouldn’t put it past your man up in Gortaclady who never forgave me for outbidding him for that pony that Nugent was selling last year. Come to think of it he was hanging around when Michael and me were talking in McIlwaine’s shop last Wednesday. Anyway, alls well that ends well. I’ll just have to lie low for a couple of months and when the time comes for another run of the stuff keep a good eye out for Coogan.

As for the Yankee, he’ll not know when the next delivery will be made until I give it directly into his hand.”


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