Celtic Remnants by Deborah O'Toole is a powerful novel of enduring love and betrayal set in the political turbulence of Ireland, glamour of London and wilds of Scotland.
RESTING HIS HEAD against the back of the rocking chair in the Egan living room, Eamon closed his eyes. He swayed the chair in a slow, steady rhythm. His face was blank, his shattered feelings protected behind a wall of numbness. It had been two days since the event now called Bloody Sunday, two days since he lost his partner and friend. It seemed like years ago, but then again felt like seconds. He had been debriefed immediately after the riot, but because of his personal relationship with Patrick, Chief Constable McMurty had released Eamon quickly. Since that day he had been off-duty, secluded at home with his family and with what remained of Patrick’s family.
Sitting across the room from Eamon, keeping his voice quiet for the sake of the women weeping in the next room, McMurty asked: “Tell me what you saw, Eamon. What can you tell me that will shed light on the matter?”
“’Twas Brit soldiers,” Eamon said softly, stopping the motion of the rocking chair and opening his eyes. “There were two of them at first, and then more.”
Frowning, McMurty leaned forward. “That’s impossible, Eamon.”
Eamon’s eyes flashed as he looked at his commander. “Are you accusing me of lying?”
“Perhaps you were mistaken, confused because of the melee?” McMurty responded carefully.
Eamon began rocking again, turning his head away to hide his disgust. “I know what I saw, John. I was not confused. I saw them, heard them. There was no just cause for the shooting, and no rationale for Patsy’s killing.” He gestured toward the kitchen. “Listen to them. I’ve lived with that for days, trying to understand what happened. I’ve been over and over it in my head, and I know what I saw.”
“I’m trying to understand, too,” McMurty said impatiently. “Yesterday was a terrible tragedy. Besides Patrick and his daughter, fourteen other people were killed on Rossville Street.”
“Yes, I heard,” Eamon said bitterly. “Of course, the British are claiming civilians fired on the soldiers first. It’s a load of bullshyte, and you know it.”
“The investigation into the incident has started already,” McMurty replied. “That’s why I need to hear your detailed version of events. Please, Eamon.”
“I told you what I saw,” Eamon said curtly. “Believe it or not, it’s up to you.”
McMurty furrowed his brow in distress. Eamon was understandably in shock. He had just lost his best friend and partner. McMurty knew Eamon was a loyal member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, ever since the day he signed on. Eamon had proven his worth over the years, despite Seamus Egan’s vocal protests, and had become known for his honesty and diligence on the force. McMurty understood Eamon had silently raged an inner war about the conflicts in Northern Ireland from the start, but he never imagined Eamon could be turned the other way. Until now. The bloodshed had been too close to home this time.
“Would you be able to recognize the soldiers if you saw them?” McMurty finally asked.
“I don’t know,” Eamon said dully. “One of them was my age, the other one was younger. It looked like the older one had taken off his jacket, so I couldn’t see a name. The other soldier was behind the older one. I didn’t get a good look at him.” Eamon gazed at McMurty. “What’s the point in all of this? The British will claim they were fired upon, and that will be the end of it. But you know as well as I do that neither Megan nor Patrick O’Casey fired any first shots. We’re talking about Meggie, for God’s sake. How plausible is that? A seventeen-year-old girl carrying a weapon and her hair barrette?”
“Was Meggie involved in any shenanigans that you knew of?” McMurty pressed.
Eamon was incredulous. “Are you daft, man? You knew Meggie, for chrissakes. What do you think?”
McMurty reddened. “I have to explore all of the possibilities, Eamon. You understand, don’t you?”
Eamon stared at McMurty, disbelieving. The man was up to something; all of his talk was leading somewhere. Eamon demanded: “Are you laying the groundwork for a cover up?” He leaned forward from the rocking chair, his expression full of building rage. “Tell me, John, are you being told to steer the investigation toward the truth, or to what the British military wants you to find? Have you sold out? Just what the hell are you hiding?”
“Eamon, be serious,” McMurty blurted angrily. “You know better than that, man. Jaysus, I realize you’re grieving, but please don’t be shooting your mouth off like that. Someone is apt to hear you and think the same thing.”
“From the way I see it, what harm could it do? Especially if I speak the truth?”
McMurty stood, his face red with anger. “I won’t listen to this,” he snapped. “I’ll come back when you’ve come to your senses.”
Eamon stood to join him. “I have all my senses, thank you. You’re avoiding straight answers to my questions, John. Or is there more? Was Patsy fingered by somebody? Was that the plan? Shoot a police officer and blame it on the civilians? Give the British another excuse to murder one of us in cold blood and get away with it?”
Silently, McMurty turned to the front door.
Eamon watched him. “I hope you can live with yourself, John. I hope you can sleep tonight. If you’ve done anything that even remotely caused Patsy’s death, you will rot in hell for it.”
McMurty glanced back at Eamon briefly, and then walked out. He slammed the door behind him.
* * *
TIM O’CASEY SAT huddled on the fence between his family’s property and the Egan’s, his jaw buried in a jacket against the bitter wind. Winter’s cold had doused Eglinton, and drizzle spit out of the blustery gray sky. Soon the drizzle would become earnest rain.
Ava leaned against the fence, watching Tim carefully. They both wore their Sunday clothes. She pulled her coat closer and brushed her hair out of her face with a cold hand. “Let’s go inside to wait,” she said. “I’m freezing.”
Tim shook his head. “No, I can’t go in there. Me Ma will start crying again. I couldn’t take it.” He peeked at Ava over his coat collar. “You go inside. There’s no sense in both us staying out here. We have an hour before we have to leave for the cemetery.”
“Na. I’ll stay here with you.” She shook her head.
Tim looked at her, blessing his good fortune for having such a friend. He could not imagine muddling through the last few days without her. She rarely left him alone, and was always on hand if he needed her. Ava felt the tragedy, he could see that. She had lost a friend in Megan, and she had thought the world of Patrick O'Casey.
The injustice and brutality of the afternoon on William Street was etched in their minds forever. Tim could not accept that his father and sister were gone. He still half-expected to look up and see them. He knew he would never see them again, but speaking it out loud made it fact, and he was having none of that. Still, in a few hours he would be burying his father and sister. He had no clue how he was going to cope, but Ava would be there for him.
Ava tried to talk to Tim about why British soldiers shot Patrick, Megan and the fourteen others. He listened, nodded his head, but said nothing. Eamon had been little help. He was mired in his own grief, barely able to explain the events to his own daughter. Ava was hurt and angered by the neglect, but she said nothing, not daring to push her father.
She glanced at Tim. “Come on, Timmy. Please. Let’s go inside and have a cup of hot tea. Your Ma is there with mine, waiting. If you get sick, where will that leave your Ma? She needs you.”
Tim took a deep breath and closed his eyes, then jumped down from the fence. “All right, Ava girl,” he said resignedly. “I’ll go inside, but only to stop you from nagging me beyond common decency.”
Ava managed a small, sad smile.
* * *
THE CEMETERY IN Eglinton was behind St. Martin’s Church on the outskirts of the village. Almost a hundred people had come to Patrick and Megan O’Casey’s funerals, along with several uniformed members of the RUC.
Eamon Egan stood next to his children Cary, Ava and Sophie, while Franny held the arm of Maud O’Casey, who was weeping. Tim stood on her other side, trying to comfort his mother while holding in his own grief. Members of the RUC stood nearby, heads bowed, while Father Michael O’Doherty read from the Bible.
At the last minute Eamon’s younger sister, Siobhan, arrived and came to stand next to her brother beside the open graves. She wore black and carried a single rose. Ava glanced at her aunt. Siobhan sent back the stare and nodded slightly. Ava returned her attention to the service, thinking what a relief it would be to talk with Siobhan about what happened. Siobhan had solid common sense with a passionate flair, traits enhanced by her dark red hair and uncommon beauty. With Eamon being so withdrawn, and Franny caring for Maud, Ava was glad Siobhan was there to help her.
When the service was over, and the RUC had given a twenty-one-gun salute in honor of Patrick O’Casey, the mourners began to disperse. Most of them would be heading to the Egan cottage where Franny had planned a small reception of gratitude to those attending the funeral. Maud had been inconsolable in her grief, incapable of doing it herself.
After the service, Eamon and Siobhan lingered beside the graves. Siobhan laid the rose on Patrick’s coffin, and then turned to her brother. When he raised his eyes to look at her, she saw his pain. “What was the way of it, Eamon?” she asked. “Is it true British soldiers shot down Patsy and Meggie?”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“What can I do?” he said bitterly. “Me own commander doesn’t want the truth.”
“You need to make sure people know the truth and to hell with your commander.”
“You sound like Daddy and Rory.”
“They were my father and brother, too,” Siobhan said. “Whether you choose to believe it or not, they did what they thought was right. I’m not here to tread on your sergeant pride, only to remind you where your real loyalties lie.”
“The truth? Who will listen to the truth?”
She looked at him and said quietly: “The IMC.”
Eamon’s eyes widened. “Oh, yes, that’s the ticket. Run to the men who carry on the violence I’ve been sworn to defend Derry against.”
“Defending Derry from the British hasn’t turned out so well, has it?” she countered.
He walked to the edge of Patrick’s grave and looked down at the rose on the casket. “I owe Patsy something,” he said. “I don’t want his death, or Megan’s, to be in vain.” He ran his hand through his dark hair. “I thought about my own family while I stood here today, listening to the priest speak of Patsy and Meggie, praying for their souls. That could have been my family, Siobhan, just as easily as it was Patsy and Meggie. For all the years of service and loyalty I’ve given to the RUC, against the wishes of my own father, it could have been my kids, my wife, in those graves…even me. If the roles were reversed and Patsy was standing here instead of me, would he try and find the truth? Would he seek revenge for my death?”
“You know he would. Patsy may have been a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but his first loyalty was to you, Eamon. He wouldn’t have let your death go unnoticed, or swept away by British attempts to hide the truth.”
“And how can the IMC help me uncover the truth?”
“You know the organization has its own network. They will find out who is responsible. You know they can do it, but they will also want something in return.”
“Are you their messenger now?” Eamon frowned.
She shook her head. “No, I have my own life to lead, and you know it. But I still maintain ties with Daddy’s old cronies, and they do have a message for you.”
“What is it?”
“If you seek the truth, they will help you. They will also help you avenge Patsy’s death. You know how it works, you were raised by a Republican the same as me. I’m thinking all of it goes much deeper than a few British soldiers run amok, and the IMC thinks so, too. Something stinks about the whole thing, and the IMC is determined to find out what it is.”
“With or without me?”
“That’s up to you.”
Eamon turned away and looked across the cemetery. He saw Franny helping Maud into their car, the children piling into the back seat. They would wait for him to come. Eamon realized Franny was letting him have a private moment to deal with his grief. He rarely expressed deep emotions to his wife, so he was surprised by her understanding. She knew him very well, despite his inner defenses and gruff exterior. He turned to Siobhan again. “And what will it look like if I up and resign from the RUC? Don’t you think fingers would point at me, that it would rouse some sort of suspicion?”
“Of course it would. But does it really matter now?”
He looked at her for a long moment, hearing echoes of Seamus Egan’s voice saying: “Place yer loyalty to yer own first, rather than the masses.” Then he saw Patsy’s bloody dead face.
“I’m in,” he choked. “I give up.” Hanging his head, he covered his eyes as silent sobs shook him.
CELTIC REMNANTS ©2011-2016 Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.
"Celtic Remnants" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Celtic Remnants" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.