No going back, p.1
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       No Going Back, p.1

No Going Back

No Going Back

Copyright 2016 Mick Moran

This is a work of fiction. All characters are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


The past is not dead. It’s not even past. (William Faulkner)

It seems Martin can never move on. He is again cruelly reminded of the tragic event that happened when he was just a teenager. Will his enemies ever give up?

Although not guilty of the crime he was blamed for, there was no way Martin could prove his innocence. Instead, he had to flee for his life, never again to return to the country and friends he loved.

Martin was another victim of the Irish civil war: a war, which although short, left Irish people divided and embittered for generations.

In England, like many Irishmen, Martin worked in the building trade, moving around the country to wherever the work was. As advised, he didn’t use his own name. He called himself Michael O’Malley.

After many years he moved to Broadfield. It was where the work was at the time. The ‘open-cast’ was hiring lots of men. But it was also a place where many people from Mayo had settled. The likelihood of meeting someone that knew his real name was high. Martin decided the time was right to use his own name again.

It wasn’t a problem. He lodged at ‘Mary’s’. It was a rough and ready but homely place. He was himself again. He enjoyed the craic. He enjoyed talking about home when he met people that came from places close to where he would always call home. Although it was never mentioned no one seemed to care about his past.

Martin was happy there, but it didn’t last. The job finished and there was no more work. He moved back to Birmingham, again calling himself Michael O’Malley, as he was previously known. There, he led a quiet seemingly contented life. Then, one day he is recognised.

Martin was not alone in having to leave his native land. Thousands of others, including many that had taken part in the struggle for independence found themselves in a similar position. Independence was achieved, but it did not end poverty or emigration. The small farmers in the West of Ireland where Martin came from still found it impossible to make a living on the land.

Forty years later the situation is little improved. Andy Horan, who grew up on a farm next to where Martin grew up, has to leave his family and girlfriend behind and go to England to find work. By chance he meets Martin. On discovering who Martin is Andy feels a kinship with Martin as only neighbours from where they both come from do. The feeling, however, does not appear to be reciprocated.

Andy writes and receives letters from home frequently. Martin, however, has long sense lost all contact with his family in Ireland, something Andy is determined to remedy, but is baffled as to why his attempts are rebuffed.

Chapter 1. Maggie.

It was about two o'clock when Andy Horan returned to Maggie’s house that Sunday afternoon. He let himself in. He had his own key. He was well trusted. When he opened the door the strong smell of boiling bacon and cabbage made him realize how hungry he was—he hadn’t eaten all day—and temporary put to one side the priests words which were still going round in his head. Maggie heard him close the door.

“Is that you Andy?”

Who else could it be thought Andy, but answered politely “I, it’s only me”

“Sit down. The dinner will be ready soon”.

“It smells good”.

“I hope you’re hungry”.

She must think she’s still got half-a-dozen lodgers thought Andy as he eyed the big pot of potatoes on the hob. Maggie was a widow then and Andy was her only lodger. She stopped taking lodgers a few years earlier when her husband got ill, but made an exception of Andy because he was her “nephew”. She wasn’t really Andy’s aunt, just a distant cousin of his mother as far as he knew. He never heard of her until just a few weeks before he left Ireland. His mother got the address from another cousin. Letters were exchanged and before he knew it he had somewhere to go to. That had been his mother’s main concern once she realized Andy had made his mind up to go.

Andy sat at the table in the kitchen/dining room. Maggie had her back to him testing the potatoes with the fork. Maggie liked having Andy stay with her. He was her only lodger and almost certainly the last one she would have. She hoped he would stay a while. While he was with her she could postpone the decisions on the changes she would have to make to her life.

The house would have to be sold. It was much too big for her. She was a pensioner then and, although she didn’t like to admit it, running a lodging house was too much for her. But, it was what she had done for forty years and was reluctant to give it up. While Andy was with her she didn’t have to. Also it was nice having him around.

She just wished he would talk to her more. She felt she understood some of the problems he must be experiencing in an environment very different to what he was used to. She went through it all herself many years earlier.

Unlike Mary she wasn’t born into running a lodging house. She was brought up on a little farm only a few miles from where Andy grew up. She came over to Lancashire as a young girl with little knowledge of what to expect. Although she had heard a lot about the place, the image she had in her mind was very different from the reality. She expected to have the excitement that her previous life lacked. The reality, however, fell far short of her expectations.

She understood how Andy felt in his first job in the factory. Her own first job was in a cotton mill. After the peaceful life she was used to it was horrendous: humdrum, exhausting and the deafening noise from the machines were still buzzing in her head when she went to bed at night.

“You’ll get used to it,” she was told. She didn’t. Yet she stuck with it for a whole year—she had little choice—before she got a job in the hospital as a trainee nurse.

Life got better then. It was in the hospital that she met Tim. She nursed his father who was very ill. Tim and his mother were regular visitors. Maggie knew Tim’s father didn’t have long to live and was very sympathetic. From the first time she saw him she fancied Tim and was delighted when he asked her on a date.

Within a year they were married. But sadly Tim's father didn’t live that long.

Tim was a bricklayer and had been working away from home, but had moved back to be with his mother in her hour of need. Maggie, of course was another reason for him wising to stick around. Getting a job locally was no problem then. With all the building that was going on bricklaying was a good trade to have.

As a wedding present, Tim’s mother gave them the house. “It’s much too big for me now,” she said.

“It was always too big for us,” Tim commented later. “I don’t know why they ever bought such a big house.” They had no other children. Tim was an only child. Maybe they expected to have more children. Maggie didn’t know.

“It’s the ideal house for a big family,” Maggie and Tim were told on their wedding day and although they shrugged off such comments it was what they really wanted, especially Maggie.

After a few years, however, they knew that was not to be. Then came Tim’s accident, which left him incapable of doing his job. Although he recovered somewhat it seemed unlikely that he would ever be capable of doing a conventional job. When his mother died they reluctantly decided to sell the house: it was too big and expensive to run for just the two of them.

Just in time came Tarmac and the opencast. Suddenly there was a desperate shortage of accommodation for the large amount of workers, mostly Irishmen, which the opencast attracted to the area.

They had the ideal lodging house. It was just a short bus ride away.

Tim immediately saw the opportunity. Also it was something he could do. He hated being idle. Maggie was not so sure. She was a trained nurse then and was enjoying the work. But Tim was so enthusiastic. “Let’s give it a go,” he said. “We’ll make a good team. You can always go back to nursing if it doesn’t work out.”

They did, of course, give it a go. Maggie had intended it to be for a short time only: a few years at the most. Then, she planned to return to nursing. The years, however, slipped by and it never happened. What regrets she had she was mostly too busy to dwell on. For many years they had a full house and they were working flat out. Tim was so determined to make it a success. And he was right at least in one respect: they did make a good team

Maggie missed Tim. Life was empty without him. Apart from her sister and niece and nephew in Birmingham she had no other relatives in England. She had some friends, but none she could call close friends. Her whole life had been about Tim and the lodgers.

Lodgers came and went, she thought, maybe hundreds over the years. While the opencast was going some stayed for years? Maggie preferred that: she liked to get to know her lodgers. But since the closure of the opencast demand dropped off and the length of time the men stayed got shorter. It wasn’t personal. They were following the work.

She knew Andy’s job was coming to an end. Maybe he would be going soon. She hoped not. Of all the lodgers he had she liked Andy the best. In many ways he was like the son she never had. She could trust him. On a couple of occasions, when she went away for a few days to visit her sister, she had no worries about leaving Andy alone in charge of the house.

“I’m fine. Stay as long as you want,” he told her. She returned to find the house as neat and tidy as she left it.


While preparing the meal Maggie thought about Andy and how she fitted into his life. He looked so worried lately, she thought. She was concerned for him and wished she could be more involved in his life. However, she was sensitive enough to know that he would prefer it if she didn’t. He was a good lodger, but he had no wish to be anything other than that. He was too polite to say so, but, she knew, that he would like it better if she kept her distance and let him get on with his life in his own way. That, however, was not in her nature. Maybe it was the nurse in her, but she had a need to look after people, and Andy, whether he knew it or not needed looking after.

But, how was she to go about it? He wouldn’t welcome what he might see as an intrusion into his life. She decided to play it by ear. She would be there for him if needed, but otherwise she would lay off. Maggie had learned that, in spite of her instincts, sometimes it was better to back off.

Similarly, with her sister: although she enjoyed her visits Maggie could no longer treat her as her baby sister.

Maggie’s sister also ran a lodging house. She got into it for very different reasons. Her husband had deserted her leaving her with two young children. With no help from her husband, taking in lodgers was her means of survival. Luckily she was left with a big house and there was a shortage of accommodation for the many building workers in the area. Her lodgers were also mostly Irishmen. And Maggie had a lot of experience in dealing with them.

It was shortly after Tim died that Maggie’s sister’s husband left her. Maggie had no lodgers then and was able to spend some time with her sister who was in a very vulnerable state.

The idea that her sister should take in lodgers came from Maggie, who was also able to give much practical help and advice. With so much building work going on in the area, the demand for accommodation was high. Soon, with Maggie’s help her sister had a thriving business. Maggie’s last visit was to view the extension that her sister had added to the house to accommodate more lodgers.

Maggie’s sister suggested that Maggie sell up and move down there. Maggie didn’t think so. She was happy to be there when her sister needed her. In fact, putting all her energy into helping her sister had also helped her deal with her own grief. But, her sister, quite the entrepreneur now, thought Maggie, had grown in confidence and no longer needed her. In fact she would be better off without Maggie interfering.

Not so with Andy though. Watching him sitting quietly at the table she thought he looked even more worried than usual. She would, however, have to thread carefully. She ventured a comment.

“I saw you talking to the priest”.

Jesus, thought Andy, she doesn’t miss a thing. He considered telling her what the priest said. He really needed to get it off his chest. The priest was worried about Martin and Maggie knew Martin: at least she knew who he was. So she told Andy when he first mentioned meting him. Maybe she could even offer some advice. She was always keen to know about everything that was going on in Andy’s life: too keen, mostly, for Andy’s liking, but she would be a sympathetic listener. Surely telling her could do no harm. But, then, he remembered how adamant the priest was that no one else be told, and Maggie of all people would have difficulty keeping it to herself. However, from her glance, he knew that some explanation was required.

A white lie would have to suffice. Andy remembered what someone else said to him on the way in to church.

“He said I was a hard man not wearing a coat this cold day.”

“He should have said you’re a silly man. You should have put on your coat. You’ll get your death of cold.”

Andy smiled at Maggie’s back. She was worse than his mother, he thought. His coat was very shabby, but winter would soon be over. He’d get a new one for next winter.

Maggie placed a plate of boiled bacon and cabbage in front of Andy and another, with smaller portions, opposite him for herself. Pleased that at least he was talking she continued the questioning.

“Where did you go after Mass?”

“I had a walk round to Mary’s. I thought I might see Martin Prendergast. Andy answered truthfully. After what the priest said he was worried about Martin. Mary also kept a lodging house. Martin was one of her lodgers.

“Don’t you see enough of him at work?”

“Well, it was about work that I wanted to see him.”

Andy was pleased that Maggie did not push him any further. She placed a basin, full of potatoes in their jackets, on the table.

"How are they after the wedding?" she asked. The wedding was on the previous day. Mary had married Paddy: one of her lodgers.

"Ah, the same as always. Mary was cooking the dinner and Paddy was nowhere to be seen."

"I, marriage won't change Mary, and ask for Paddy...." Maggie shook her head

“Help yourself to the praties.”

As Andy peeled a potato with his knife, wishing to change the subject of conversation back to Martin, he reminded Maggie of what she previously told him.

“You said you knew Martin?”

“Oh, I did, a long time ago. At least I knew of him. I lived a long way away from Martin. But, at one time he was a bit of a hero was Martin. He was talked about for miles around.”

“Now you’re telling me something. I never knew that. What did he do?”

“Well, the story was that Martin was the only one from around there that stood up to the Black-and Tans.” Maggie studied Andy’s face.

“I thought you’d have known that.”

“No, that’s news to me. How did he do it?”

“Well.” Maggie hesitated. “We didn’t see much of the tans in that part of the country. Just sometimes they’d drive past in their wagons, but when we saw them coming we usually kept well clear. They had such a fearsome reputation. Sometimes they’d fire shots in the air to frighten us. But, I never heard of anyone being shot, not like in other places. But, that Sunday afternoon it came near to it.”

Maggie hesitated as if undecided about whether to continue, but, continue she did.

“Martin and a few of his pals -they were little more than schoolboys -was in the ball-alley when the tans were passing. The wagon stopped and the tans got out, pointing their guns at the boys. They ordered all the boys to lie down. Except for Martin, they all did. But, Martin refused, telling the tans that they were too cowardly to shoot.

Afterwards, the boys told how terrified they were: lying there, face down, not daring to look, expecting Martin to be shot any time, and maybe themselves as well. But, the tans must be in a good mood that day. It was said they just got in the wagon and drove off.”

“Martin was a brave man.”

“He was a fool. He could have got them all killed.”

“It’s strange that I never heard that story, and Martin would have been my next door neighbour if we were both still there.”

“Not that strange. It was what happened in the years after that stopped the people talking about it.”

“You mean the civil war?”

“I, but that’s another story. Eat your dinner.”

They both eat in silence. Andy thought about what he knew about the civil war, which wasn’t much.

“Was Martin involved in the civil war?”
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