Willie Walsh was every inch the typical Mayo man, hardworking and well disposed to help his fellow villagers, and indeed it was just such an act of kindness which brought about his early demise.

Willie had often spoken of his fear of dying, especially if the Ban Sidhe should come for him before his expected three score and ten or before his harvest was in. Like many in Mayo, Willie was fearfully superstitious.  He would cut a wide path around the fairy bush  and would never be found sewing his socks of a Sunday. As will now be plain from my discourse, Willy had not yet given any thought to seeking a wife to darn his socks and turn his boxty in the skillet, as he had not yet reached the age of forty-five. If truth be told - and sufficient time has passed now that it may be - Willie was not exactly favoured in the area of his looks. In fact, he had a wee bit of a humpy back, which his mother had attributed to his having been touched by a fairly whilst in his crib. Willie never let his back get in his way however, and could plough a field and lepp over a stile with the best of them.

Indeed it was very quiet in the Walsh house, since Willie's parents were long departed and his brothers flown to America. With only the excitement of a passing horse and cart or even the very occasional motor car bouncing down the lane - an event which would draw him swiftly to the window - time passed slowly and quietly for Willie. 

It was sometime around 1940 - but sure, isn't one year much like the next in Mayo?  Having harvested his own barley in record time, he was prompted by his affable nature to lend a hand - both hands if accuracy be desired - with bringing in his neighbour's crop.  Being unused to his neighbour's old, rusty scythe however, Willie managed to run the blade across his ankle. All who were working in the fields ran in response to his roaring, but the bleeding could not be stopped and, in spite of Willie's reservations regarding the fee, the doctor was sent for.

'Am I dying?' Willie asked of his neighbour, Paddy Naughton.

'If you are, you're making a terrible lot of noise for a dying man,' Paddy reassured him.

'I'm not ready to die. I don't want to go,' Willie wailed fearfully, 'I won't go! I won't!'

Well, as the title of my tale has already betrayed, Dr Lyons' arrival was too late and Willie was gone.  The good physician's whiskey breath pronounced Willie Walsh extinct and the saddened villagers set about composing a telegram for America and organising his wake. 

The whole of Achad Mor turned out for Willie Walsh's wake. On account of Willie's bit of a hump, the women who laid him out had to tie his feet and his shoulders tightly to the parlour table, as otherwise it would have been impossible for him to be laid flat. A knotted shawl was draped over him and the customary pennies placed on his closed eyelids and the men stood around to praise his many virtues and to toast his departure to the next world. The older men and women sat huddled by the blazing fire and children conspired beneath the table. Mountains of ham sandwiches were passed around and the whiskey and hot sugar water flowed liberally  in the warmth of the overcrowded room.

Suddenly, the low hum of respectful chatter was interrupted by an unexpected snapping noise, followed by quite the loudest and most prolonged fart anyone had ever heard. The bemused company glanced around, keen to identify the culprit, when all suddenly noticed the deceased Willie Walsh, a rictus grin spreading across his bloodless face, rising slowly into an upright sitting position. A split second later, to loud screams, the room was vacated. Children became entwined with grown up's legs, men beat women aside and Paddy Naughton half concussed himself as his head collided with the door frame. In uncharacteristically quick time for country folk, they left the room deserted, save for the well whiskey-ed Dr Lyons. No-one was there to hear his slurred prognosis regarding 'expansion and expulsion of post-mortem gases', and sure who would have understood it anyway?  One thing was sure, however, the entire village would never forget Willie Walsh's wake.  They still speak of it today.  

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Tags: Achad, Faith, Folklore, Mayo, Mor, wake

Comment by DJ Kelly on April 23, 2014 at 1:53am

A snippet from 'The Potato Field' by DJ Kelly. A fable as told to me by my Mayo Grannie.

Comment by P.J. Francis on April 23, 2014 at 10:53am

A good story, DJ.


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Comment by Fran Reddy on April 24, 2014 at 12:03pm

I love it! A grand Irish tale if ever there was one ; )

Comment by Jim Curley on April 24, 2014 at 2:43pm

Tim Finnegan had nothing on Willie Walsh.

Comment by Gerry Regan on April 24, 2014 at 2:56pm

LOL, Denise, a great yarn, presuming it's not true. I love stories that engage all the senses, including the olfactory. Is the suggestion, though, that Willie's gaseous discharge drove him into a sitting posture?


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Comment by Bit Devine on April 24, 2014 at 4:21pm

I believe it might have been a combination of that and Rigor mortis....coupled with being tied to the table...

Quite the wordsmith ya are, DJ...Just as if there was a picture accompanying the story...

Comment by DJ Kelly on April 24, 2014 at 11:58pm

Thanks all. I've no idea what was the exact cause of the corpse's alarming behaviour (perhaps a combination of factors), or indeed if it really happened, but this was the gist of my grandmother's recounting of the tale to the young and impressionable me. Kate Lyons (no relation to the doctor, for a great many Lyons lived in the village, and still do) told me many stories on nights when I had trouble sleeping - and then I couldn't sleep at all! Gerry has added the photo which adds a certain spookiness.   

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