The period which followed was one of mixed emotions for Michael. After his unexpected
but wonderful acceptance by the ladies of this close knit clan, he felt that he had
moved a little nearer to finding a place for himself as one of the family. Now, more
than ever he knew just how much he had missed them all.
He was aware that in making a space for him to occupy, the family would be
taking a risk; a risk that two of his brothers were clearly not ready to take. They
may not have articulated it so, but their reluctance to join their wives said more
than words would say. This troubled Michael for it seemed to illustrate what he most
feared; that his presence continued to create disunity. While the ladies had displayed
what they might call an act of faith, creating another chasm within the family was
the last thing he wanted to do. Michael was determined that somehow he must not
let that happen, and If his return continued to upset the family harmony, his only
option would be to leave.
Surprisingly, despite the tension a sense of calm had descended over Ballymay,
at least as far as the Cassidy family was concerned, for a while it was business
as usual. Even the Sunday Mass came and went without incident, other than the fact
that during the family gathering that followed, the two brothers still kept a few
paces away. However, Michael was pleased to notice that the distance between them
was somewhat less than before.
The summer was now well behind them; autumn’s annual display of colour too
had faded and winter was just around the corner. While it was not likely to be as
severe as in many parts of the British Isles in terms of snow and ice, that small
advantage might easily be lost under westerly storms and lashing rain; natures gift
from the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the country.
Michael was not looking forward to it at all. So many years living in the
warmth of the Australian continent had not prepared him for such a climatic change
and already he was feeling the cold. It was only not that his health was deteriorating,
so was his peace of mind for nothing much was happening in respect of his brothers.
While he sensed that their animosity was less than it had been, neither of them seemed
to want to take that last step. Visits from Connie had continued and their relationship
had settled to one of close friendship. Molly was a great support, seeing to his
every need; sometimes to the point of irritation.
"You've got to let me do things." Michael had told her more than once. "Anyone
would think I'm an invalid."
"And I aim to see that you don't become one; but you're not the man you were
so please let me look after you."
There's was an unusual relationship, more like an elderly married couple
than brother and sister, and their arguments were frequent. They were both strong
minded people who could, and did, express their views firmly, but due to their mutual
respect they never allowed their disputes to get out of hand. That Michael had a
great respect for Molly had never been doubted, but it had become a two way thing.
Gradually as Michael had fought his battle to find his son, and then abandoned his
objective for the better good, her respect for him had grown. She had felt her brother's
pain when he came to realise that success in his quest would probably destroy everything,
and everyone, he held dear. Unselfishly he had given it up, a decision she knew without
any doubt must have been one of the hardest he had ever made.
Nevertheless, finding the right balance between looking after Michael, and
encouraging him to be as active as possible was a test for her normal good sense.
The weeks passed and Michael's period of calmness faded too. His illness
was becoming more apparent, and at one of his meetings with Connie he confessed to
her for the first time that his condition was a cause for concern.
"It's a bit of a downer." he said laughing, trying to make light of his announcement.
Connie was not fooled. Only eighteen months earlier she had seen her husband
slip away after a long illness. She knew the signs. "It's all been too much for you,"
she said quietly, "and I'm still not sure what it was all for."
"Sometimes I wonder too," he said quietly, "but I would die happy if I could
bring my three sons together, even if it were to be only once. I know it's very unlikely,"
he gave her a sad smile. "but wouldn't it be something?"
"It would Michael, at least it would for you. But are you sure it would be
for them? In any case you know I can't tell Matt."
"Can't or won't?"
"It's the same thing, and anyway you promised."
"I know and I will keep my promise; but the dream is still there."
"And even if I did I did tell Matt's I can't say what his reaction would
be." Connie added.
Michael put his hand out to Connie, and though she had determined that she
would not allow Michael into her heart again, she took it as he spoke. "I brought
you a lot of unhappiness once and I do not want to bring you any more, but I must
hold on to my dream even if that is all it ever will be."
It was a tough moment for Connie, torn as she was between her loyalty to
her son, and her acknowledgement that despite her resolve she did feel something
of what she had shared with Michael so long ago. But she held firm.
"What about your son in America?"
"Of course Ben, unless there are more that you are keeping quiet about."
It was a moment of laughter they both needed, and Michael relinquished Connie's
hand. "No," he said, "there's only Ben."
"I know that you have written to your son in Australia, asking him to come
to Ireland. Wouldn't you like Ben to come and see you as well?" she asked.
"That I would. As far as I know he still lives in New York, but why would
he come all this way just to see me. I don't have a very good record when it comes
to being a good father do I?"
"Not that I've noticed," Connie answered, her somewhat barbed comment softened
with a smile. "but he might just surprise you."
A look passed between them that a casual observer would not have noticed,
but it was enough for Connie. "Tell me what you can, and I'll do what I can."
Armed with the information that Michael was able to give her, and with the
help of her local solicitor, plus that of a private detective in New York she managed
to trace Ben and contacted him by Email, telling him of his father's failing condition.
She was also able to tell him of his contrition, and his desire to make amends, wherever
and with whoever he could.
"And that means you." she had emphasised, while asking him to make the journey.
Some time after that when Molly was at the post office she had hardly entered
the door when a 'cooee' attracted her attention. The lady behind the counter was
calling. "Hello Molly," she said, "there’s a letter for Michael and it's from Australia."
On her return to the cottage she waited patiently, as patiently that is as
she could, for Michael to divulge its contents.
"Well," she said after a while, "what's it about?"
"It's from my son Daniel; he is coming to see me."
"Well that's a nice surprise." Molly responded, even though Michael had earlier
asked if he might send for him sometime, and she had assured him that he would receive
a warm welcome. "He can stay in the top floor bedroom. It's not too big but he should
"No worries, he'll fit in pretty good wherever you put him."
Two men sat excitedly next to each other as the coach sped along a quiet country
lane. They talked as if they had known each other all their lives, despite the fact
that they had met for the first time barely hours before.
It had been the most remarkable of meetings, not least because they had spoken
to each other twice before and on neither of those previous occasions had either
man known that fate had brought them together in such an amazing way.
Danny Witten had been annoyed. “Damn!” he muttered rather loudly, as he read
down the list of departures from Dublin Airport only to find that the flight to Shannon
was delayed for two hours.
“Frustrating isn't it?” the man standing next to him said.
“Sorry about that,” Danny answered. “I've travelled all the way from Australia
without a hitch and then at the last minute, this.” The last word said with some
“Same here! I've come from New York, but I guess that a couple of hours
won't make that much difference.”
Danny looked up at the other man. Ten years older he guessed than his own
thirty one. “No, I suppose not. At least that will give me time to get a cup of coffee.”
“You seemed to be looking at the Shannon schedule; that's my flight too.
Mind if I join you?”
With that the two men grabbed their cases and in-flight bags and slowly
walked to the cafeteria. When they were seated the younger of the two men stretched
out his hand. “I'm Danny Witten.” he said.
Taking the offered hand the other replied, “Nice to meet you Danny, I'm
They settled down with their coffee to while away the time, and both men
were surprised how easily they fell into conversation. “You here on business?” Danny
“Not business.” Ben replied. “More like family business.”
“Me too. Cassidy you say! I've got some Cassidy blood in me. We might be
Both men laughed quietly before Ben replied, “It's a long shot I'm afraid.
Have you any idea how many Cassidy's there are in the world; and they all hail from
With conversation flowing easily the two hours went by quickly and soon
it was time to board where each man took their allocated seats. No more delays were
encountered and before long they were airborne. An hour later they landed at Shannon
where they both emerged from the plane. A friendly rise of the hand by one and a
simple greeting by the other, “Hello; we meet again.” was all that had distinguished
that second meeting.
Ben had arrived first at a ticket office seeking information. “I need to
get to Ballymay.” he asked the clerk. “is there a train or bus I can catch, or perhaps
“I; that there is,” replied the man behind the counter. “You can get a taxi
- but it'll likely cost you a hundred euros or more. There's a train every hour to
Enniskillen - next one in twenty minutes.” he added. “After that it's a lovely run
by coach to Galway - but of course you won't be going that far.” He stressed his
point by indicating on the map under its Perspex cover on top of the counter.
He spoke in a continuous staccato of short statements, but his message was
clear. “Thanks.” Ben raised his hand a little in acknowledgement, and as he turned
to leave, he almost bumped into Danny.
Danny, who had been standing just behind was astonished and stopped him.
“Hello again; we can't seem to get away from each other.” They both laughed before
Danny spoke again. “Sorry for ‘ear wigging’, but I could not help overhearing. I
can't believe that you are going to Ballymay. That's where I am going too.”
“Are you really; what a coincidence. What takes you to that little dot on
“Well I might ask you the same thing, but to tell you the truth it's a bit
of family business. My father has not been too well lately and he has been recuperating
in his home town. Village I should say.”
Ben was silent for a short time before he spoke again. “It seems uncanny
but you have almost taken the words out of my mouth. My father is ill too, and is
spending time with his folks.”
There was another period of silence while each took in what the other had
said. It was Danny who spoke first. “Do you mind if I ask again. You did say your
surname is Cassidy?”
“Sure is; and yours is Witten?” Ben responded somewhat quizzically, for
he had not yet seen where Danny was heading, and was certainly not prepared for Danny's
“My name is Danny Witten; but my father's name is Michael Cassidy.”
“So is mine!” Answered Ben, beginning now to understand the significance
of the conversation.
The two men seemed stunned, for a while neither was able to comprehend what
they had just learned. Once again it was Danny who broke the silence. “My dad has
mentioned that he has a son in New York called Ben. Surely that can't be you?” It
was almost a rhetorical question for as he asked he was certain of the answer.
“I guess so. And I know that he has a son in Australia.” Ben paused before
his next words, almost too surprised to be able to say them. “I guess you must be
my kid brother.”
For a few moments neither knew quite what to do next, until spontaneously
they each threw their arms around the other. There they stayed and there they would
have stayed longer had it not been for a polite cough from the man in the ticket
office, and a ripple of applause from the four or five people who had formed a queue
and had witnessed the drama played out before them.
The two men left the ticket office each knowing little of the other, yet
they were no longer strangers. Only a matter of hours earlier they had never met
but remarkably by the time the coach neared Ballymay they both felt the same thing.
It really was as though they had known each other all their lives.
Molly was pleased that she would soon meet a new nephew, if only to fill in some
of the many gaps in her knowledge of her brother's life but despite that she was
ill prepared when he arrived , for instead of one nephew she found herself greeting
two, for they arrived together. But she was a pragmatic person and the shock of an
extra, if unexpected visitor was soon behind her and she was soon in charge again.
Introductions and explanations had been quickly made and both sons were welcomed.
"But how?" Molly had asked Ben. "How did you know that Michael was ill?"
"I got a message from someone called Connie. Connie O'Grady. Seems she is
a lifelong friend of my father. She thought I ought to know."
"But she never said." Molly was puzzled. In recent weeks as Michael's condition
had gradually worsened he had been less able to make his regular visit to Connie's
home, so she had taken to calling on him, and during this period she and Molly had
developed a friendship. Molly therefore was surprised that she had not mentioned
"Perhaps she thought I might not come." Ben sought to placate her. "I wasn't
sure myself until a week ago. To be honest it took a lot of soul searching before
I decided." he paused, "In the end it was my mother who persuaded me. You must she
told me - for me as well as for yourself."
It was of course a huge boost for Michael to have his two sons with him;
the one he knew so well, and the other who he had not seen since he had left New
York more than thirty years before. Yet suddenly, unexpectedly, they stood before
him, not only as his two sons, but as brothers.
Inevitably Michael asked Ben the same question; how? He explained that Connie
had been doing some detective work.
"Yes I know about that; but how did she find you?"
"Sorry I can't tell you. All I can say is that one day my computer went 'Ting'
and there was a message from this lady who I had never heard of, from a village in
Ireland I had never heard of, about a man that I hardly knew."
"And you came. Thank you."
"She writes a mean Email does this Connie person. I'm sure she will give
you a fuller explanation."
"She's not here at the moment but she visits me quite often."
"In that case you will have to wait until her next visit, and," he added
with a smile, "I want to meet her too."
Unfortunately that visit was destined to be later than it might otherwise
have been, for the following day Connie suffered a fall while shopping. After treatment
at the local medical centre for a broken leg she was then confined to a period of
convalescence at home.
Michael was delighted to have his two sons with him for it meant that he
was not the centre of attraction, at least for a little while. Despite their differing
ages and near antipodean lifestyles, plus the fact that they had different mothers
the two men had quickly developed a friendship and had lost no time in comparing
their lives. How they had lived; their likes and dislikes. So fast and firm did the
friendship grow that they wondered whether, despite the huge distance between them,
some force about which they were unaware, had caused them to influence each other.
Danny learned of his brother's life in America, while Ben listened in rapture as
Danny unfolded Michael's rags to riches story in Australia. Latterly of course Danny
had himself been part of that story, and he told of his father’s disappointment that
he had failed to produce any grandchildren.
"I have a male partner back home." he confided. "Dad's OK about it, but I
know that he would have preferred a few grandkids."
Ben laughed. "In that case he should be pleased to know he has four grandchildren
with me, so the Cassidy name should live for another generation or two."
There were some unexpected consequences arising from the appearance of these
two men for they made a point of visiting their 'kin' , as quickly as possible. All
of Michael's nieces and nephews were married with their own families, and some had
moved away, but those who were reachable were called on. Their ambassadorial skills
were such that soon only Richard and Donny were the only ones to remain isolated.
Michael was of course pleased that his sons had been so well accepted and prayed
that his brothers would soften their resistance. However, more important at the moment
was the other unexpected consequence that he was given him the chance to renew his
relationship with Ben, the son that had been almost as lost to him as was Matt.
Their first meeting had been rather awkward but Michael had taken the hand
that Benny had offered. "Come and talk to me when you can." he asked, "There are
so many things I want to ask you, and some things I would like to try to explain."
"Maybe now is a good time, but I think Mom explained it pretty good." Ben
replied, a little uncomfortably.
"Yes I guess so; and if she painted me black I know I deserved it."
"Well not black, but I guess you might say a darkish grey." It was not the
best joke in the world, but it was sufficient to change the mood from uneasy to good
"Your Mom, Jean. Is she well?"
"She is. She married again you know. Over twenty years now."
"Is she happy?"
"I would say so."
"I'm glad to hear that. I was very lucky to get her you know. She was quite
a catch for a man like me, but I'm sorry to say that I was the one with butterfingers."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I let her slip through my fingers."
"You know, Mom doesn't think badly of you. Maybe she did at first but she
came to realise that there were other factors beside....." He stopped not knowing
how to finish what he had started.
"Besides me being unfaithful to her. Is that what you were trying to say?"
"She had a very generous spirit when I first knew her, but we reached a point
when we lost sight of all the good in each other; the things that brought us together.
It's nice to know that she is once again like she was when I fell in love with her."
"Did you really love her?" Ben asked.
"Oh yes. We were very happy at first; and when you came along; well; we were
in seventh heaven."
"Do you know about your sister?"
"A little! Mom always found it difficult to talk about, but I understand
she died as an infant."
"Worse than that I'm afraid. We thought that everything was going well up
to the time she was due but she was born dead. It broke our hearts and neither of
us ever got over it. We didn't know it at the time of course but when your baby sister
died our marriage died too."
For a while they were quiet but Michael felt that he had something more he
had to say. "I think that is where I failed her. You Mom took it very bad, but I
couldn't find a way to help her. I did try for I desperately wanted us to become
again the happy family we had been before. For a long time we hoped that another
baby would come along but it didn't happen, and for reasons I can't explain we stopped
liking each other."
"I guess it was pretty rough."
"It certainly was. Jean's father had been ill and died before the birth -
a wonderful man who had been a rock to her, and I am sure he would have helped her
though it - but he was gone. I even think losing him might have had something to
do with what happened. But whether or not, somehow I was not big enough or strong
enough to take his place, and when she needed me most I was not there for her. "
"I think you do yourself a disservice father. Before I left Mon did not
speak of you this way."
"Time is a great healer, but I must say that I'm glad to hear that she does
not think ill of me."
"Not any more. In fact I think the reason she wanted me to come is her way
of saying sorry."
"Sorry." Michael repeated. "She has nothing to be sorry about."
"I think she means that she is sorry about the way things turned out; not
about who was to blame."
"I always knew she was a good woman at heart. And do you know, despite what
had happened we might have made a go of it the devil had not decided that this was
the time to roll a nice big juicy apple at my feet."
"An apple! I don't understand."
"Temptation Ben! That's what I mean."
"Got it in one. And what a woman."
Michael told Ben of his life with Jessie. How he had followed her to Australia
and how she had supported him in the early years, and then when Danny came along
how he had a family again.
"It was only an affair to start with you know. And if your mother had not
found out I don't think it would have lasted."
"No way; I mean, it was just too hot. The sex side you understand." Michael
stopped for a moment not wanting to embarrass his son with intimate details, but
Ben did not appear to be shocked.
"But anyway as they say, God works in mysterious ways. Jean found out: Jessie
had returned to Australia to look after her sick father: I was kicked out so I followed
her; and we were together for thirty years until she died last year."
"It sounds as though she was a good woman too."
"Oh she was. Quite different to your mother. I guess I'm a lucky man to have
been loved by thr… two wonderful women, and now..." Michael spread his hands forward,
"I have their sons; my sons; with me."
"And you have four grandchildren father. I have three boys and a girl back
home in the states. When I get back and tell them about you I know that they'll not
be able to wait until they can see you."
Ben could see that Michael was tiring and he took his leave feeling that
at last he did have a father, and looked forward to getting to know him better. Before
departing he had kissed Michael on the forehead, a show of affection about which
he was both surprised, but which had felt very natural. But he was he surprised to
notice while making that gesture that his father's eyes were as wet as his own.
Michael settled down hoping to sleep for a little while, but at first sleep
would not come. His mind was full of the events of the last twenty four hours. He
thought of Jean, who, he had learned, had forgiven him. He thought of the fondness
displayed by the fine son they had produced. He hoped that Ben had not noticed his
slip of the tongue when he nearly let out the secret of Connie. He knew he was a
lucky man. And he thought of his four grandchildren. Ben had said they would also
want to get to know him, but would his luck hold for that to happen? His last thought
before finally drifting off into a contented sleep was that he hoped God would not
claim him first?
I wasn't long before Connie made an appearance, despite the inconvenience of two
sticks. The telephone and Mr Browns taxi had easily solved the problem of mobility.
Molly's cottage was full, for as well as the two visitors Donald's youngest daughter
Christine had arrived with her two children. This was particularly pleasing to Michael
for while Richard and Donny were still reluctant to accept him back into their midst
in welcoming their children and grandchildren he hoped to soften the divide. However
he was careful not to say anything critical or disrespectful about them. Christine
was well into her third pregnancy and Michael asked if she knew yet whether the baby
was a boy or a girl.
"No not yet," she answered, "My husband doesn't want to know until it arrives.
He's very superstitious you know; doesn't want to temp providence."
"How does that work then?" Michael asked her.
"Oh I don't know, but you know how some people are. We have two girls and
I know he wants a son. He thinks if he finds out that it's another girl he'll not
be able to hide his disappointment. But if it turns out to be a girl I know he'll
love from the first moment she is born. Just like the other two."
"I'm sure he will, but for him I hope it's a boy. And if it is I hope you'll
call him Donny after his granddad."
Christine smiled and bent down to kiss Michael on the forehead. "You're a
nice man Michael; I hope that soon my father will come to realise that too."
"I hope so too, but I can't make believe that I miss him."
This tender moment between a man and his niece, who until recent times had
no knowledge of each other, was brought to a premature close by a knock on the door
and the appearance of Molly. "Connie’s here to visit you Michael. Are you OK?"
"Of course, wheel her in."
"There'll be no wheeling me Mr Cassidy," Connie responded. "Not while I have
Molly withdrew and Christine called for he children to say goodbye. "I'll
leave you now; there are lot's of people wanting to see you. She smiled at Connie
who she knew, but not very well. "I'm sorry to hear about your accident, but at least
you will have something to beat him off with if he gets out of hand."
"Ach, I don't need these. I've got a good tongue and an awesome glare. That
usually does the trick."
As she sat down Molly popped her head through the bedroom door again. "The
lads are taking Christine home. They've got one of Mr Brown's cars so they are taking
her to see her mother first, and with a bit of luck they might see Donny as well."
With that she was off again.
"You seem to be having a busy time." Connie said as she settled down.
"Yes; it seems strange coming after a time when no-one wanted to have anything
to do with me." The comment was made with a smile, for while it had never been quite
as bad as that there had been many times when Michael had felt detached.
"Well don't over-do it. I'm only going to stay half an hour. I've booked
Michael laughed. "Mr Brown is doing well out of us at the moment."
They settled down for a quiet chat, this time with no interruptions. Their
conversations were easier now. No longer were they confrontational, ready to pounce
if either seemed to be gaining an advantage. And while the main issue which might
have divided them was still unresolved, it did not. Each knew the feelings of the
other and Michael had come to realise that the status quo had to be accepted. Any
change would have to come from Connie, and even if it did it would be between her
and Matt. It had been a bitter pill to digest but one which he now accepted, that
he may never know Matt as his son, nor might Matt ever know him as his father. That
he had met him might be the nearest he will ever get to his dream, but he knew that
any move by him to change the status quo might destroy everything. He was content
to leave it at that.
The half hour went all too quickly and Connie was making preparation to leave,
all the more difficult with her walking sticks. She looked again at the man who once
had been her lover, strong, vital and full of life. Now he was like and old man,
pale and propped up in bed, extra pillows holding him semi upright. It was all she
could do to stop crying there in front of him. "Matt's coming at the week-end," she
said quietly, "would you like to see him?"
Michael on the other hand was unable, despite his best attempt, to hide his
feelings. "Yes please." he managed to convey while doing his best to hold back the
As the taxi took her the few miles to her home Connie was strangely perplexed.
She had not intended telling Michael of Matt's imminent visit, and yet seeing him
lying there she could not help it. 'It seemed the least I could do' she told herself.