The Tale of Ronan O’Callaghan
Ronan was born just before the clock struck midnight on December 31st 1899, or so his mother would recall. Though there seemed to be some confusion on this matter. As his father recounted, while drinking excessively in the next room, the babe’s cry was not heard until 12:01 am. Therefore, Ronan spent his brief life in the stagnant area between the end of an era and the beginning of another, and this juxtaposition began to define his very existence. His life in a small village pointed him toward the previous century, a time steeped in history and predictability, that would demand he marry young, produce a gaggle of offspring, and drown in the bitter ale served every night at the local pub. But the allure of the next century called out earnestly to him. It’s decadent and carefree lifestyle drew him, like a moth to the newly installed electric street lights in Dublin.
At the tender age of 15, Ronan left his ancestral stone cottage with a carpet bag containing exactly one change of clothes, 5 pound sterling, and his father’s silver flagon. His mother wept from the doorway, watching his lean figure retreat into the morning mist, while his father searched in vain for his missing flagon.
His life in Dublin began in a blur of jazz and liquor, from which he never fully emerged, and soon he became a fixture of the burgeoning shebeen scene. The party didn’t start until Ronan arrived, the music wasn’t good until Ronan deemed it so, and the whiskey in Ronan’s tumbler was always top-shelf. In the span of a few months, Ronan, through more luck than skill, parlayed the few silver bobs in his pocket for some serious money, care of the gaming tables he frequented, and he found this was more than enough to fund his extravagance.
Life was good for Ronan, but fate, it would seem, would intervene in the winter of 1922 when three strangers appeared in the doorway of his regular Thursday night pub. Shaking the rain from their collars, the small party, two men and an older woman, took up residency at the table adjacent to Ronan’s own. And while the jazz played on and the women flirted shamelessly with him, Ronan’s attention was inexplicably drawn to the strangers huddled together, engaged in an energetic discussion. They were quite a loquacious group, ordering a few rounds of whiskey and gesturing excessively with each declaration. After some fairly subtle eavesdropping, Ronan was delighted to learn the strangers were celebrating the simultaneous birthday and book publishing of Ireland’s own, James Joyce, the tallest and loudest of the group. His two sesquipedalian compatriots, W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory were quick to elicit frenzied speeches from Joyce about the flashpoints of the day: politics, religion, industry, art, music. And Ronan was enthralled with it all. Never had he heard such articulate speech, depth of thought, or unapologetic passion. In contrast, the sycophants hanging off of him seemed almost vulgar in their baseness.
As the crowd grew more boisterous and the air hung a little heavier with smoke, Ronan, with surgeon-like precision, inserted himself into the conversation of his new neighbors and was soon deep in a whiskey-fueled debate about the existential crisis of the modern Irishman. Lady Gregory, an Irish Revivalist, led a riveting discussion on the evolution of Irish slang and with each glass of whiskey, she forgot more and more English until she was speaking most emphatically and exclusively in the old tongue.
Ronan watched and listened all through the night, hesitant to speak at times, as he knew he could not contend with such greatness of thought and eloquence of language. But in no time at all, they began to appreciate Ronan’s refreshing mixture of surprising wit and incandescent naivety. And as the sun crested the horizon, the group emerged from their smokey refuge. Joyce, always ready for another adventure, implored the group to join him for a “morning cap”. But it was not to be, and as Yeats left for the Senate and Lady Gregory the Abbey Theatre, Joyce turned to Ronan and asked “How about you, old chap?” Ronan’s eyes glistened in awe, and he happily acquiesced. Thus began a three day pub crawl leading them deep into neighboring County Offaly. The friends shut down many a pub and were momentarily detained by Republican Forces until Ronan managed to silver tongue their way out of any serious trouble, much to the amazement of Joyce. The two friends spent their days napping and their nights philosophizing about every topic conceived by man, and Ronan felt as if he had gained a comrade, nay, a brother.
It was Joyce who led them to Kinnitty Castle (née Castle Bernard) one evening, home of his dear friend, one Charles J. Alexander, who, as the son of a shipping clerk, had caused quite the scandal when he married into the esteemed Bernard family. The Bernard family eagerly took in the guests and treated them to a hot meal and an even hotter bath. Charles’ young sister-in-law, Maude who, much to the chagrin of her family, remained unwed, took a shining to Ronan’s boyish, if not somewhat rakish, charms, and Ronan was instantly fond of her direct manner and sharp wit. Charles, Joyce, and Ronan availed themselves of a particularly good barrel of whiskey, long forgotten in the wine cellar, and the merry party talked and laughed deep into the night until Ronan, eyes heavy with happiness, lost consciousness. Ronan awoke with a violent cough in the early hours of the morning. He found himself lying in front of the dormant fireplace in the formal sitting room with a crippling headache and spooning a large, taxidermied beaver. And though the fire was out, the room was quickly filling up with smoke. Ronan heard shouting from other rooms and the muffled sounds of frantic feet descending the stone staircase.
Ronan emerged into the greying light of dawn, made even greyer by the smoke now being exhaled from every window of the castle. In the front drive, Ronan was relieved to find Joyce and his new friends in good health, though spiritually defeated as they watched their ancestral seat succumb to the blaze. It was at this moment, the hysterical Maude turned to Ronan and said, “My poor Mr. Mew Mew. What shall I do?” And like any true gentleman would, he divested himself of his favorite double breasted dinner jacket, handed it to a confused Joyce, and ran back into the inferno.
Alas, these were to be the last moments of the enigmatic Ronan O’Callaghan who succumbed to smoke inhalation that fateful morning at Kinnitty Castle. And although death found him early in what could have been a long and wondrous life, Ronan was able to accomplish one last good deed before his soul departed this Earth, for moments after he entered the castle, “Bartholomew the cat” emerged from the plumes of a second story window with as much pomp and circumstance as can be afforded an overweight Abyssian, landing at the feet of a crying Maude.
After the fire, Joyce recovered Ronan’s body and laid him to rest in the courtyard of Kinnitty Castle wearing his favorite dinner jacket and clutching his father’s silver flagon full of his new favorite whiskey. The Kinnitty Castle Dapper Blend is offered in his honor.