Ardara, County Donegal, Ireland
Éamonn Doherty eased onto the old rocking chair beside the crackling fire. As soon as he settled, he was bombarded with children, clamoring eagerly for a story from Grandfa.
Well, it was his fault. Whenever he returned from his wanderings around the country, he would give them a story, a tale of Ireland’s past or his own.
The bairns settled onto the ground at his feet. There were Esme and Eithne, the twins, looking stark and thin with shocks of wild red hair and too many freckles to count.
“That’s my spot! I always sit there, Eithne, and you know it!”
Eithne looked at her sister and sniffed, saying nothing. She turned to Éamonn and blinked as if innocent.
Esme pushed at her sister, but Eithne was braced for it. She resisted the shove and looked back over her shoulder with disdain.
Fuming, Esme crossed her arms.
In the far corner, with her arms wrapped firmly around her knees, sat the youngest sister, wee Brighid. Everyone called her Bridey. Her solemn green eyes peered at him, owl-like. She must be about ten years old by now. And little Níaṁ wasn’t a sister, but a cousin, her parents having died of a fever. A brown wren, she was plump and sweet, still a toddler.
Éamonn would have preferred some grandsons to pass his stories to, but his son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Shona, had given him only granddaughters thus far. Still, he loved them dearly. His two other children were both dedicated to the church, so Brian was his last hope for grandsons. Éamonn looked at the girls and decided perhaps a story of a manly hero might do them for the night.
He fixed his eyes on wee Níaṁ until she giggled nervously. He tousled up his thick white hair until it looked like a lion and she laughed. Smiling, he began.
“Tonight our tale will begin with a hero of great fame, for who has never heard of Fionn Mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna, Warriors of Ireland?”
Timidly, Bridey raised her hand.
Interrupted, Éamonn cocked his head. “Yes, child? What is it, my dear?”
“I haven’t heard of him, Grandfa.”
Éamonn closed his eyes, reaching for patience. The children weren’t to know what a rhetorical question was.
“That’s all right, mo chuisle. I will be telling you now, so?”
The girl nodded and wrapped her hands more tightly around her knees until she was just a pair of feet, arms and a curly mass of red hair sparkling in the firelight. For a moment, Éamonn went back in time, to the memory of his dear, long-dead wife, Katie. She had hair such as that, wild and bright. The windows rattled as the wind outside picked up. The children all shifted uncomfortably.