by James Owen Hannay
An Extract from - Our Casualty And Other Stories
I'll say this for old MacManaway, an honester man never lived nor
what he was; and I'm sorry he's gone, so I am.
The speaker was Dan Gallaher. The occasion was the morning of the
auction of old MacManaway's property. The place was the yard behind the
farmhouse in which MacManaway had lived, a solitary man, without wife
or child, for fifty years. Dan Gallaher held the hames of a set of
harness in his hand as he spoke and critically examined the leather of
the traces. It was good leather, sound and well preserved. Old
MacManaway while alive liked sound things and took good care of his
An honester man never lived, Dan repeated And I'm not saying that
because the old man and me agreed together, for we didn't.
How could you agree? said James McNiece. It wasn't to be expected
that you would agree. There wasn't a stronger Protestant nor a greater
Orangeman in the whole country nor old MacManaway.
James McNiece turned from the examination of a cart as he spoke and
gave his attention to the hames. His description of the dead man's
religious and political convictions was just. No one in all the Ulster
border land ever held the principle of the Orange Society more firmly
or opposed any form of Home Rule more bitterly than old MacManaway.
And Dan Gallaher was a Roman Catholic and a Nationalist of the
They tell me, said Dan Gallaher, in a pleasant conversational
tone, that it's to be yourself, James McNiece, that's to be the head
of the Orangemen in the parish now that MacManaway is gone.
James looked at him sideways out of the corners of his eyes. Dan
spoke in a friendly tone, but it is never wise to give any information
to Papishes and rebels.
The Colonel, he said, is the Grand Master of the Orangemen in
Colonel Eden, a J.P., and the principal landlord in the parish,
drove into the yard in his motor. A police sergeant slipped his pipe
into his pocket, stepped forward and took the number of the Colonel's
car. It has never been decided in Ireland whether motor cars may or may
not be used, under the provisions of D.O.R.A., for attending auctions.
We know that the safety of the empire is compromised by driving to a
race meeting. We know that the King and his Army are in no way injured
by our driving to market. Attendance at an auction stands midway
between pleasure and business; and the use of motors in such matters is
It's the D.I's orders, sir, said the sergeant apologetically.
All right, said the Colonel, but if the D.I. expects me to fine
myself at the next Petty Sessions hell be disappointed.
James McNiece and Dan Gallaher touched their hats to the Colonel.
Morning, James, said the Colonel. Morning, Dan. Fine day for the
sale, and a good gathering of people. I don't know that I ever saw a
bigger crowd at an auction.
He looked round as he spoke. The whole parish and many people from
outside the parish had assembled. The yard was full of men, handling
and appraising the outdoor effects. Women passed in and out of the
house, poked mattresses with their fingers, felt the fabrics of sheets
and curtains, examined china and kitchen utensils warily.
There's the doctor over there, said the Colonel, looking at the
stable buckets, and who's that young fellow in the yellow leggings,
I'm not rightly sure, said James McNiece, but I'm thinking he'll
be the new D.I. from Curraghfin.
It is him, said Dan Gallaher. I was asking the sergeant this
minute and he told me. What's more he said he was a terrible sharp
That won't suit you, Dan, said the Colonel. You and your friends
will have to be a bit careful before you get up another rebellion.
It may not suit me, said Dan, but there's others it won't suit
either. Didn't I see the sergeant taking the number of your motor,
Colonel, and would he be doing the like of that if the new D.I. hadn't
The Colonel laughed. As commander of a battalion of the Ulster
Volunteer Force, he was fully prepared to meet Dan Gallaher on the
field of battleDan leading the National Volunteers. He looked forward
with something like pleasure to the final settlement of the Home Rule
question by the ordeal of battle. In the meanwhile he and Dan Gallaher
by no means hated each other, and were occasionally in full sympathy
when the police or some ridiculous Government department made trouble
by fussy activity.
Mr. Robinson, the auctioneer, drove up in his dogcart. He touched
his hat to Colonel Eden, gave an order to his clerk and crossed the
yard briskly. He twisted the cigarette he smoked into the corner of his
mouth with deft movements of his lips, waved his hand to various
acquaintances and looked round him with quick, cheerful glances. No man
in the country was quicker to appreciate the financial worth of a
crowd. He knew before a single bid was made whether people were in a
mood to spend lavishly. He found himself very well satisfied with the
prospect of this particular auction. The stuff he had to sell, indoors
and out, was good. The farmers were enjoying a prosperous season. They
had money in their pockets which they would certainly want to spend.
Mr. Robinson had visions of a percentage, his share of the proceeds,
running into three figures.
He began work in a corner of the yard with a cross-cut saw. The
bidding rose merrily to a point slightly higher than the cost of a
similar saw new in a shop. At 23/6 Mr. Robinson knocked it down to a
purchaser who seemed well satisfied. A number of small articles,
scythes, barrows, spades, were sold rapidly, Mr. Robinson moving round
the yard from outhouse to outhouse, surrounded by an eager crowd which
pressed on him. His progress was not unlike that of a queen bee at
swarming time. He madeas she makesshort flights, and always at the
end of them found himself in the centre of a cluster of followers.
At about half-past twelve Mr. Robinson reached his most important
lot. He lit a fresh cigarettehis eighthbefore putting up for sale a
rick of hay.
About four tons, said Mr. Robinson, new meadow hay, well saved,
saved with not a drop of rain. Gentlemen, I needn't tell you that this
is a rare, under existing conditions, a unique opportunity. Hayyou
know this better than I dois at present unobtainable in the ordinary
market Now, don't disappoint me, gentlemen. Let me have a reasonable
offer. Thirty pounds. Did I hear some one say fifteen pounds? Less than
four pounds a ton! Now, gentlemen, really
But the crowd in front of Mr. Robinson knew just as well as he did
that four pounds a ton is not a reasonable offer. The bids succeeded
each other rapidly. The original fifteen pounds changed to twenty
pounds, then to twenty-five, rose a little more slowly to thirty
pounds. At thirty-two pounds the bidding hesitated. Mr. Robinson,
dropping his cigarette from his mouth, urged his clients on with gusts
of eloquence. There was a short spurt The bids rose by five shillings
at a time and finally stopped dead at thirty-four pounds. The hay was
sold at a little over eight pounds a ton. Public interest, roused to
boiling point by the sale of a whole rick of hay, cooled down a little
when Mr. Robinson went on to the next lot on his list.
Gentlemen, he said, I am now offering the hay stored in the loft
above the stable. A small lot, gentlemen, but prime hay. I offer no
guarantee as to the quantity in the loft; but I should guess it at
anything between ten and fifteen hundred-weight.
Several of the more important farmers drew out of the crowd which
surrounded Mr. Robinson. It was not worth while bidding for so small a
quantity of hay. Other members of the crowd, feeling that a breathing
space had been granted them, took packets of sandwiches from their
pockets and sat down in one of the outhouses to refresh themselves. Mr.
Robinson viewed the diminishing group of bidders with some
disappointment. He was gratified to see that the new police officer
from Curraghfin, a gentleman who had not so far made a single bid,
crossed the yard and took a place on the steps leading to the loft.
Colonel Eden, too, appeared interested in the new lot of hay. If the
inspector of police and Colonel Eden began to bid against each other
the hay might realize a good price.
Now, gentlemen, said Mr. Robinson, shall we make a start with
He glanced at Colonel Eden, then at the police officer. Neither
gentleman made any sign of wishing to bid. It was James McNiece who
made the first offer.
Two pounds, he said.
There was a pause.
Two pounds, said Mr. Robinson, two pounds. Going at two pounds.
You're not going to let this hay,more than half a ton of itgo at
He looked appealingly at Colonel Eden and at the police officer.
They were entirely unresponsive.
And at two pounds, going said Mr. Robinson.
Two-ten, said Dan Gallaher, in a quiet voice.
Two-fifteen, said James McNiece.
Dan Gallaher, still apparently bored by the proceedings, raised the
price another five shillings. James McNiece went half a crown further.
Dan Gallaher, becoming slightly interested, made a jump to three pounds
ten. McNiece, with an air of finality, bid four pounds. The contest
began to attract attention. When the price rose to five pounds interest
became lively, and those who had drawn out of the group round Mr.
Robinson began to dribble back. It seemed likely that the contest was
one of those, not uncommon at Irish auctions, into which personal
feelings enter largely and the actual value of the article sold is
little considered. There was a certain piquancy about a struggle of
this kind between a prominent Orangeman like James McNiece, and Dan
Gallaher, whom everyone knew to be the leader of the Sinn Fein party.
Interest developed into actual excitement when the price rose to ten
pounds. A half ton of hay never is and never has been worth ten pounds.
But ten pounds was by no means the final bid.
Mr. McNiece, said Mr. Robinson, the bid is against you.
Guineas, said McNiece.
Eleven, said Dan Gallaher.
Guineas, said McNiece.
The duet went on, McNiece capping Gallaher's pounds with a
monotonous repetition of the word guineas until the price rose to
twenty pounds. At that point McNiece faltered for a moment. The
auctioneer, watching keenly, saw him turn half round and look at
Colonel Eden. The Colonel nodded slightly, so slightly that no one
except Mr. Robinson and McNiece himself saw the gesture.
At twenty pounds, said Mr. Robinson, going, and at twenty
Thirty, said McNiece.
The crowd of watchers gasped audibly. This was something outside of
all experience. A man might willingly pay a few shillings, even a
pound, too much for the sake of getting the better of an opponent; but
to give thirty pounds for half a ton of haynot even the natural
enmity of an Orangeman for a Sinn Feiner would account for such
Guineas, said Dan Gallaher.
It was his turn to say guineas now, and he repeated the word without
faltering until the price rose to fifty pounds. Mr. Robinson took off
his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Never in all his
experience of auctions had he heard bidding like this. He lit a fresh
cigarette, holding the match in fingers which trembled visibly.
You will understand, gentlemen, that I am only selling the hay, not
the barn or the stable.
Guineas, said Dan Gallaher.
It was the last bid. As he made it Colonel Eden turned and walked
out of the group round the auctioneer. James McNiece took his pipe from
his pocket and filled it slowly.
The hay is yours, Mr. Gallaher, said the auctioneer.
Dan Gallaher, having secured the hay, left the yard. He found his
horse, which he had tethered to a tree, and mounted. He rode slowly
down the rough lane which led from the farm. At the gate leading to the
high road the police sergeant stopped him.
If you wouldn't mind waiting a minute, Mr. Gallaher, said the
sergeant, the D.I. would like to speak to you.
What about? said Gallaher.
The sergeant winked ponderously.
It might be, he said, about the hay you're just after buying.
If he wants it, said Gallaher, he can have it, and I'll deliver
it to him at his own home at half the price I paid for it.
The District Inspector, smiling and tapping his gaiters with a
riding switch, explained in a few words that he did not want the hay
and did not intend to pay for it.
I'm taking over the contents of that loft, he said, in the name
of the Government under the provisions of D.O.R.A.
I don't know, said Gallaher, that you've any right to be taking
over what I've bought in that kind of way, and what's more you'll not
be able to do it without you show me a proper order in writing, signed
by a magistrate.
If I were you, said the D.I., I wouldn't insist on any kind of
legal trial about that hay. At present there's no evidence against you,
Mr. Gallaher, except that you paid a perfectly absurd price for some
hay that you didn't want, and I'm not inclined to press the matter now
I've got what I wanted; but if you insist on dragging the matter into
I do not, said Gallaher.
At ten o'clock that evening Dan Gallaher and James McNiece sat
together in the private room behind the bar of Sam Twining's
public-house. The house was neutral ground used by Orangemen and
Nationalists alike, a convenient arrangement, indeed a necessary
arrangement, for there was no other public-house nearer than
Dan, said James McNiece, I'm an Orangeman and a Protestant and a
loyalist, and what I've always said about Home Rule and always will say
is this:We'll not have it and to Hell with the rebels. But I'm
telling you now I'd rather you had them, papist and rebel and all as
you are, than see them swept off that way by the police. And what's
more, I'm not the only one says that. The Colonel was talking to me
after he heard what happened, and what he said was this'The
Government of this country,' said he, meaning the police, 'is a
disgrace to civilization.'
Give me your hand, James McNiece, said Gallaher. Let me shake
your hand to show there's no ill feeling about the way I bid against
you at the sale to-day.
McNiece laid down the glass of whisky which he was raising to his
lips and stretched out his hand. Gallaher grasped it and held it.
Tell me this now, James McNiece, he said, for it's what I was
never sure ofHow many was there behind that hay?
McNiece looked round him carefully and made sure that no third
person could hear him. Neglecting no precaution he sank his voice to a
Twenty rifles, he said, of the latest pattern, the same as the
soldiers use, and four hundred rounds of ball cartridge.
Gosh, said Gallaher, but we'd have done great work with them.
Either your lads or mine, James McNiece, would have done great work
with them. But, sure, what's the use of talking? The police has them
Damn the police, said James McNiece.