FICTION

Brian Boru was a racing: pigeon;

Larry Dunne was his master — at least, that’s the way it began. This new tale of old Dublin shows that a man should never g:ive all of his heart to anything:

Sean O’Faolain March 15 1954
FICTION

Brian Boru was a racing: pigeon;

Larry Dunne was his master — at least, that’s the way it began. This new tale of old Dublin shows that a man should never g:ive all of his heart to anything:

Sean O’Faolain March 15 1954

Brian Boru was a racing: pigeon;

FICTION

Larry Dunne was his master — at least, that’s the way it began. This new tale of old Dublin shows that a man should never g:ive all of his heart to anything:

Sean O’Faolain

MEN WHO GO INTO COMPETITION WITH THE WORLD are broken into fragments by the world, and it is such men we love to analyze. But men who do not go into competition with the world remain intact, and these men we cannot analyze. They are always contented men, with modest ambitions. Larry Dunne was that kind of man. All that there is to say about him, therefore, is that he bred pigeons and was happy.

And yet, this unconditional lump of reality, this unrefracted thought in the mind of God, suddenly did fall into fragments. He fell for the same reason as Adam. For when God was saying, “Orchards for Adam,” and “Finance for J. P. Morgan,” and “Politics for Teddy Roosevelt,” and “Pigeons for Larry Dunne,” he must have added (sotto voce): “But one pigeon he must never control.” And it was to that one pigeon, that one ambition, that Larry Dunne gave his heart. The pigeon’s name was Brian Boru. Larry got him on his thirty-fifth birthday from his father.

Any evening that summer you could have met Larry at the pigeon club—it sat every night under the canal bridge on the towpath—and you might have guessed in what direction his heart was already moving by the way he talked endlessly without ever mentioning the fatal bird. You might have heard him, towering over the rest of the club, talking of his runts, tumblers, pouters, homers, racers, without ever mentioning Brian Boru; you might have heard how he had a jacobin, and nearly had a scandaroon; how “Pigeons, mind you, must never be washed, only sprayed with rain water. And what’s more, pigeons should be sprayed from the shoulders down—never the head, unless you want them to die of meningitis.” What a scoundrel the man in Saint Rita’s Terrace was, a low fellow who kept budgerigars and had once actually said that pigeons were mere riff-raff. How his father had stolen a sacred pigeon out of an Indian temple when he was in Rangoon with the Royal Irish. “And what’s more, you should never dry a pigeon, unless, to be sure, you wrapped him up in warm flannel—which isn’t the same thing.” And anyway, what were budgerigars? Only pups off parrots. “They are not even called budgerigars! They call them budgies as if anyone would ever dare to call a pigeon a pidgy! Doesn’t it show yeh?”

But whatever he spoke of, or whomever he spoke to, you might

notice that he never spoke to one little runt of a man who always listened to him with a sly sneering smile on his face. That was the club member whose Michael Collins the Second had beaten Larry’s Brian Boru in every race since the season began—beaten the bird that had laid its beak on Larry’s heart.

NOBODY KNEW the history of this Brian Boru. Whatever his pedigree, the bird was a marvel. Such speed! Such direction! Such a homer! A bird that had only one flaw!

Time and again when there was a race Larry had seen that faint speck of joy come into the sky over the flat counties and the checkered market gardens where he lived, each time half an hour, at the very least, ahead of every other bird in the team; and on one occasion as much as fifty-eight minutes ahead of them, and that in the teeth of a thirty-mile gale. For while other birds had to follow the guiding shore line, or the railway line that dodged the hills, Brian came sailing over mountain top and moor like an arrow from the bow. Time and again, after greeting him with an adoring shout, Larry had gone tearing back down the lane to his tumble-down cottage, roaring to his dad to get out the decoys and to light the primus stove for some new concoction whose smell was to tempt Brian Boru down to his loft. Back then to the bridge, waving to the sky, calling the bird by name as it came nearer and nearer to the parapet on which stood the club’s timepiece—a clock with a glass front on which there was a blue and green painting of a waterfall.

But time and again the one flaw told. Briam Boru would circle, and Brian Born would sink, and inevitably Brian Bom would rise again. After about thirty minutes of this he would come down to the telegraph pole over Larry’s baci yard and stay there until some slow coach like Michael Collins the Second had walked off with the race. The bird so loved the air that it could not settle down.

“Oh!” Larry had been heard to moan, as he looked up at the telegraph pole. “O Brian Boru! Yeh sweet limb o’ the divil, will you come down? Look! I’ve custards for yeh. I have sowanies for yeh. I have yer loft lined with: the sweetest straw,” and he would start clucking and chortling at it. “ Coord le-coor dle-coord le, Brian Boru-u-u-yu. Coordle-coordle-coordle, Brian Boru-u-u-u-yu.” Or: “Tehook, tchuik, tch, tch, tch. Tehook, tch, tch . . . oh, but I’ll tehook you if I lay me hands on you, you criminal type. Brian, my darling, aren’t you going to come down to me?”

Brian would snuggle his beak on his chest, or make a contemptuous noise like a snore. Then, that night at the bridgefor on race nights Larry simply had to talk about Brian Boru:

“It’s not fair,” Larry would protest. “The rules should be altered. That bird is not being given his due. That bird is suffering an injustice. Sure, it’s only plain, honest reason. The bird is first home in every race; will any member of the club deny it? Sure this bird is home hours before any of your so-called pigeons; cripples I call them.” And then, true to his happy lighthearted nature, he could not help laughing and making a joke of it. Six feet two, and as innocent as a child. “Did I call them cripples? Cripples is too good for them. The one-half of ye must be breeding yeer birds from a cross between penguins and pelicans!”

At which he would recover something of his natural good humor again and go off chortling; a chortle that would die as he remembered what began it. It was the Easter Monday race that brought things to a head.

That day a passing stranger said to him, as Brian Boru came into sight: “Whose birefr is that?”

Larry, leaning with his back and two elbows on the parapet, gave an idle glance over his shoulder at the sky.

“Him? He’s my bird. But—eh — he’s not in the race, you know. He’s what

you might call a gentleman pigeon. He’s doing it for fun. That bird, sir, could win any race he wanted to. But the wav it is with him, he couldn’t be bothered. Pride is what’s wrong with that bird, sir. Pride! Pride, they say, made the angels fall. Maybe it did. I wish something would make that fellow fall.”

Whereupon Larry, as if a new understanding of the nature of pigeons had been vouchsafed to him. turned and gave the circling speck a terrible look. It was the look of a man struck by rejected love. Just at that moment

it was that the man who owned Michael Collins the Second said the fatal word, as they all remembered and often recounted long after.

He was a shrimp of a creature, a Tom Thumb of a man, who worked as a boots in a hotel and bred his pigeons out of his tips. Seeing that look of misery in Larry’s face he laughed and said: “Why don't you breed budge-

rigars, Larry? At least you could take them out of their cage and kiss ’em.” The row of pigeon fanciers, staring up at the sky, chuckled. They did not see the look of hate in Larry's face,

or notice the way he slouched away home to his cabin.

Once again he entered the bird. Once more the pigeon scorned the earth. Once more the boots mentioned budgerigars, and this time he added that canaries can at least sing. Once more Michael Collins the Second won the race. That finished it.

1ARRY went home, and on the ¿following Monday he sold every bird except Brian Boru, every box, loft, packet of food, every medicine bottle that he possessed. With the money he bought an old Smith and Wesson, thirty-two bore, and five rounds of ammunition from a former pal of the Irish Republican Army. Then, for the last time, he entered the bird, saw it come, as always, first of the team up against the clouds that floated like bridesmaids over the hedgerows, and saw in the sun how Brian swerved, and circled, and sank . . . and rose again; and did so his usual number of times before making for the inaccessible perch on the telegraph pole. While the dozen heads along the bridge shook their commiseration, Larry gripped his revolver in his pocket and waited for the boots to laugh. The boots laughed.

At that Larry’s body took on the old fighting slouch; he pulled his hat savagely down over one eye; he buttoned his coat across his chest; he I became the old down-looking gunman he had been fifteen years ago when he was in the IRA. Then, with a roll of his shoulders like a militiaman, a trick learned from his soldier days, he looked at the boots between the shoulder blades, put on the final bit of the j gunman’s manner—the ominously cas! ual strolling gait—-and walked quietly j down the lane. There he found Brian on the pole.

“Brian,” he whispered, but without l hope. “Will you come down to me * now?” The bird rose and flew away, circled and came hack again. “So yeh won’t come down?” whispered Larry out of the corner of his mouth. The bird looked haughtily over the lane roofs, as if contemplating another circle of flight. Before it could stir the shot cracked. With one head-sinking tumble it fell with a flop to the ground.

Larry stooped, lifted the hot twitching body in his palms, gave it one agonized look, and pelted back to the bridge, roaring like a maniac.

“By the Lord Almighty,” they said, when they saw him coming, screeching, with the bird in his palms, “Brian Boru is after winning at last!”

Shouldering their cluster right and left, Larry snapped the beak to the glass of the clock, displayed the celluloid ring on the stiff ankle, and shouted, pale as the clouds: “Has he won?”

It was only then that they saw the blood oozing down between his trembling fingers; but before they could tell him what they thought of him they saw the mad look in his eyes, and the way his hand stole to his pocket.

“Well?” yelled Larry at the boots. “Has he won? Or has he not won? Or maybe you’ll say there’s a rule that a dead bird can’t win a race?”

“He’s w-w-won, all right,” trembled the boots.

“Gimme his prize!” said Larry.

In fear they gave it to him. It was a new dovecot, painted a lovely green. (“Eau-de-canal” the boots called it afterward, being the sarcastic brute he was.) Larry took the dovecot, and with the reddening beak hanging from his fist, he slouched away. On Monday he sold the dovecot, had the bird stuffed, and put in the window of his lane cabin for the world to see.

YOU NEVER see Larry Dunne at the canal bridge now. He walks moodily by himself along the towpaths, idly flicking a little twig against the hedges; or he sits with his father at the other side of the fire, learning off bits from his favorite book Who’s Who, or gazing into the dancing devils of flame. The club will be down under the canal bridge, discussing the fancy. The sky outside is lurid with the lights of Dublin. And in the little curtained window, the pigeon looks with two glassy eyes out over the damp market I gardens and the heavy night fields at i the bloody sky. +