Winter had not quite given up, but its latest attempts to show its teeth were without
the bite of the previous month or two. Michael was very ill by now and though he
had not confided the thought to those around him he knew that his demise was getting
ever closer. Despite that sense of the inevitable he was content, and unafraid. All
the rancour that his return had brought about had been set aside, and he wallowed
in the feeling of peace that being once more part of a family engendered. Most of
all he was happy to know that he would be leaving behind a host of people who would
be saddened by his passing, for he knew that had he departed from this life just
one year earlier, only his youngest son Danny would have been there to mourn him.
'Was he being selfish?' he wondered, or a little sorry for himself. He smiled
at the thought. 'Maybe', he conceded, but could not help but contrast what his funeral
might be like were he still in Australia. As likely as not there would be a civic
send-off and hundreds of people paying homage - but only one who loved him, and as
far away from his estranged family and the place of his birth as it was possible
Set against that here in Ballymay a relatively small band of people would
stand and watch his coffin lowered into his final resting place, but any tears that
were shed would be genuine tears; any sighs and heartache would be in the hearts
of not one, but in the many people now congregated who would be glad that he had
come back to them. With the family united Michael would be happy to see his brothers
and sister at his bedside, plus his three sons and the two ladies who had been with
him at the start of his life, and who were still with him when his life was coming
to an end.
In his little day-dream Michael felt a sense of satisfaction for despite
the set-backs and the heartache he had somehow managed to achieve almost all he had
set out to do without breaking up the family. But his sense of well being was not
complete for just one piece of the picture was not quite in place.
He remembered as a child that a popular form of evening entertainment was
to clear the table and bring out the jig saw puzzle. It might be a Constable landscape
or scene depicting some brave adventure from the latest movie picture. Whatever it
might be he remembered being reprimanded more than once by either his Da or his Ma
for trying to force a piece that looked as though it ought to fit but did not. Surely
a little extra push would make the little tags, which were not quite in the right
place, snap into the cavities which were not quite the right shape. Just a little
more pressure should do it, and if it did Michael happily ignored the way the rest
of the puzzle was rendered slightly out of shape.
"How many times have I told you not to do that?" an angry parent would say,
and Michael could never fully understand why his manipulation was so bad, or, if
he got away with it, why there was an odd piece left at the end that did not seem
to belong anywhere.
In a curious way Michael saw his life as a huge jig saw puzzle, with things
by and large fitting into place, but with many 'odd pieces' for which nothing could
account, or a proper place in the general order of things, be found.
Now the 'odd' piece was Matt. There was no longer any doubt that Matt was
his son. Connie had admitted that fact privately to him, and Matt himself new it.
But knowing it and acknowledging it are not the same, and Matt could not bring himself
to renounce Co'lin from that role. So there it sat, the last piece of the jig saw
that would not quite fit into the space that had been allocated.
Michael had asked Connie to visit him; unusual in itself for she was a regular
visitor. Feeling that something unusual might have prompted this request, she hurried
to his side.
"What is it?" she asked, concerned by the unexpected summons.
"I want to ask you to release me from my obligation of silence about Matt."
"But I can't my dear." Connie said. "Don't you see; that release is no longer
mine to give?"
"I don't understand."
"It's up to Matt now. If he does not want to recognise you publicly there
is nothing I can do. It makes no difference what you say to him privately, that is
up to the two of you. But if you speak publicly about it and he denies it, then I
will have to deny it too."
"But he's my son."
"I know; and Matt knows it too. Can't you just leave it at that?"
"I guess I will have to, but before I go I would have loved to see my three
sons together, each knowing the others as brothers." As he said those words Michael
felt a feeling of defeat. "Was that a dream too far?" he asked.
"It may have been, but have faith. Things may work out for themselves."
It seemed like a curious thing to say, but Michael did not follow the lead.
Instead he lifted his hand and took hold of Connie's. "What a mess i made of our
lives. Will you ever really forgive me?"
"Oh don't be silly; I forgave you months ago. And besides, we both had good
lives." Connie smiled. "Not the ones we might have had that's true, but good lives
just the same."
"You were with me all the time." Michael declared. "I admit that I didn't
always know it, but I know it now, so I guess I'm lucky."
"How do you mean 'lucky'?" Connie asked, uncertain of his meaning.
"You were the first woman I ever loved; and now just before I move on you
are my last love. I call that lucky."
"Oh get on with you. And what's this about moving on. I don't think you're
going anywhere just yet."
"Oh I think I am. I am starting to hear the music again. It's very faint
but I can hear it. Won't be long now."
Connie did not need reminding about the music for Michael had confided in
her about his magical reception when he first arrived in Ballymay. While she knew
that it was just in his mind, she also knew that for him it was a powerful emotion.
A mixture of the past, the present and the future.
It was time to go and Connie, still unable to put into words what she knew
to be in her heart, leaned down and gave Michael a soft kiss on his lips; not too
long but long enough to be meaningful. Despite earlier brushing aside Michael's foretelling
of his very limited future, she knew well enough that his end was not far away, and
that she was soon to feel the same kind of grief that she had felt when she lost
As she left Molly's house Connie decided that there was still time. But time,
as the legal people say, is of the essence, and now she knew that even if she could
not help Michael about Matt, there was something else she could do.
It did not seem long before Michael had another visitor. This time Father
Power had called, as arranged, so that he and Michael could say a prayer together.
Michael had come to like the priest, not only for his ecclesiastical qualities, but
because he was not averse to discarding the dog collar when the occasion allowed,
and talk to his parishioners just as two men would talk in the pub. Indeed he was
not against talking to them in the pub either. He had the knack of finding out what
interested members of his flock and would talk about that, then of matters of the
day, then, and only if he judged the time to be right, whatever it was that his
parishioner was concerned about.
"You look tired." he said to Michael. He was, as always, direct. Not a man
to hide from the less pleasant aspects of life, but not uncaring either. "Would you
like me to call later?"
"No Father, please stay. Later may be too late."
"You think so?"
"Perhaps not, but just in case."
"Good, because we might have lots to talk about, and I'll start by telling
you that your son has arrived back from Australia. He's brought someone with him."
"That will be my lawyer. There are a few things to sort out."
"I hear they are staying with your brother Brian."
"Yes, I knew that they were coming. Danny has the business to run in Australia.
Can't wait to see him."
"No doubt you'll be seeing him later today." Father Power was speaking in
his usual easy manner. "Does he know your situation?" he asked.
"I'm not sure." Michael thought for a moment. "Connie has been keeping in
touch with him, Ben too - he went back to New York to be with his family for Christmas.
I think he might be coming to see me soon."
Then remembering the question he continued, "But I don't think she fully
realises that I am close to the exit door."
"I think she probably does; but maybe she's keeping a brave face."
"Do you see her at all?" Michael asked.
"Oh, now and then, but she left the faith when your son was born. I think
my predecessor was less sympathetic than he might have been. Had rather old fashioned
views I fear."
Michael was stunned. "My son! You said my son. How do you know about that?"
"Because Connie told me."
"But why did she tell you? When did she tell you?"
"The when bit is easy; about two weeks ago." Father Power said. "But the
why is pure speculation. I think that she might want to come back to the church."
"What did she say about Matt - my son?"
"Quite a lot actually. We had a long talk about him; and about you; and about
"You will know then that I promised not to tell anyone. Did she ask you to
put a little pressure on me?" For the first time Michael felt a tinge of distrust
in the priest. "Did she not think I would keep my word?"
"Just the opposite Michael." the priest replied with just a touch of curtness
in his voice; his turn to display a little anger. "She asked me not to tell you that
she had come to see me."
"Then why did you?"
"Because I thought you should know that she came to ask my advice on the
subject of marriage."
"Do she mean her and me?"
"Yes she did."
"And what did you tell her?"
"I advised against it."
"Did you now; on what grounds?" Michael asked.
"On a number of grounds. Firstly, if it is to legitimise Matt, I can see
no point. He is a mature adult and he's against it anyway. It would create many problems
for him and solve none for you. Secondly, if it is a declaration of love, you can
do that to each other, privately. You don't need everyone looking over your shoulder
to do that. And thirdly ...." the priest paused, "and lastly I don't think you are
strong enough, emotionally or physically to enter into a marriage. Enjoy what time
you have left with her, and Matt, and all your family."
"Ah well." Michael said softly, "it's a wonderful idea but perhaps you're
right - Maybe next year." he added with a whimsical smile.
There were no more visitors and Michael slumbered the rest of the day away.
The next day however turned out to be a busy one for Michael. He had arranged
to see his lawyer and felt well enough to dress and sit in the chair before the fire,
while they discussed several matters, and he signed more than several papers. Molly
was of course on hand to provide for his every need. After that a small number of
the younger members of the Cassidy clan called to visit, as did his doctor on his
Later there came an unexpected visit by Connie with some news. "I've
had another email from Ben," she told him, "he hopes to be with us on Friday."
That was good news for Michael, for in Ben not only had he found a second
son who had become lost to him, but more importantly had found that they liked each
"And," Connie went on, "we've arranged a little treat for you on Saturday."
"A treat; what kind of a treat."
"Never you mind, but just make sure you're up to it."
"Sounds exciting. And who is the 'we' who has arranged this treat." Michael
"Me; and Matt, and a few others.
Connie would not be drawn further as to the nature of his treat, telling
Michael that he would have to be patient until Saturday. "Just keep your fingers
crossed that it doesn't rain." was the only clue she would allow. The rest of the
week was by comparison very quiet and time seemed to pass slowly. But eventually
Friday arrived and in the late afternoon so did Ben carrying a bunch of flowers.
"These are from my mother," he told Michael, "with her best wishes for your
It was especially pleasing to Michael, that through Ben he and his ex wife
had found a level of friendliness. "Tell her how pleased I am when you see her, for
Came the big day, and Michael was puzzled to find Molly somewhat preoccupied.
"What's up sis?" he enquired.
"I hope it's not going to be too much for you, that's all. At least it's
Clearly Molly was in on the secret Michael realised, but could not help wondering
why she was so flustered. "What are they going to do for me?" he asked himself.
He was soon to find out for just after half past ten Connie and Matt arrived,
and with them a wheelchair.
"Get in." Matt commanded while the two ladies surrounded him with a large
rug, scarf and gloves and a hat. Moments later he was being wheeled around the green,
up the main street past the shops and the church to the main road, and to the crossroads
where only a year before Michael had made his dramatic return to Ballymay.
He could not help noticing the more than usual number of people about, and
that as he passed they all joined the ever growing gathering and followed. By the
time they reached the crossroads there were a hundred or more of them, and a clearly
discernable rumbling of chatter and laughter.
Michael looked at Molly by his side. "What's it all about sis?" he asked,
excited but bemused.
"Don't ask me." she answered, "It's mostly down to Matt I think; and Connie.
But if you ask them I think they will tell you not to be impatient."
It was a good natured rebuke and Michael was aware of an increasing sense
of anticipation. He did not have to wait long for soon a bus came into view and stopped
some way before the crossroads. From it emerged a throng of people, young and not
so young, some dressed in traditional clothes and many carrying instruments. In a
very short time they were arranged at the widest part of the crossroads and without
any delay the music started.
For an hour Michael and all the villagers of Ballymay were treated to a concert
of traditional Irish dancing and music, each set being received with rapturous applause,
while the combined artists prepared for the next. Everybody was happy and enjoying
the unusual event, talking amongst themselves untill the music started, then tapping
the feet; swaying and clapping to its rhythms.
At one point Michael was pleased to notice Ben and Danny and Matt engaged
in articulate conversation. "At least if they can't be brothers they can be friends."
was his consoling thought.
When finally the concert was over everyone joined in to give the players
and dancers a long and well deserved ovation, but then Michael became aware that
the players and dancers were applauding too and that gradually a circle was forming
around him. It was too much and soon tears of happiness fell unashamedly down his
"It was just how I remember when I first came home." he managed to say. Then
he managed a smile which turned into a soft laugh. "Now I hope they don't vanish
into thin air like the last lot."
Somehow the demonstration of the villagers; their complete coming together
to witness Michael's last request; had a remarkable effect on Matt. It was not so
much the music or the dancers, but the fact that in just a day or two a spontaneous
spirit of goodwill had developed which seemed to have enveloped all who were there.
Not only that, but at one point he had found himself sandwiched between Michael's
sons who were talking quite openly about their father. It was as if they knew Matt's
secret and were enticing him to 'come out'.
What Matt didn't know is that they did know. It had come out by chance when,
in an earlier conversation, Danny asked Ben if he knew about another brother.
"Not a thing." Benn had replied. "It's news to me."
So Danny proceeded to tell his American brother as much as he knew; that
it came to light when Jessie mentioned it to Danny one day when Michael had worked
himself into a bit of a state over his impending retirement.
"To be honest I don't think she intended to tell me, but I asked her about
dad going to Ireland?" he told Ben.
"Oh, you know your dad; never satisfied with what's on this side of the fence.
He wants to find his roots."
"Bit late in the day for that isn't it?"
"Well I guess he has his reasons." Jessie did not want to go too deep into
Michael's past in case she inadvertently opened a door that he preferred to remain
closed. Especially if it concerned murder, stealing, stowaway, illegal immigration,
car theft, and adultery.
"But after all this time; there must be a reason." Danny persisted.
"Well I'll tell you. He wants to re-connect with his family, but most of
all he wants to find his son."
"I was amazed," Danny said, "I was shocked to discover that I had a half
brother in Ireland that I knew nothing about. I knew about you in New York, but that
was something right out of the blue."
"Me too." echoed Ben. "I knew about you but I was never encouraged to try
to contact you."
"It was a great pity that I only found out a few days before my mum had her
accident." Danny told Benn. "I never got another chance to find out anything more."
"Did Dad not tell you?"
"Wouldn't talk about for some reason. Didn't matter how hard I tried."
The two half brothers had talked at length about this and as the weeks went
by and then the months, they watched their father until gradually one person emerged
as the likely candidate. They knew that they must find out while Michael was still
alive, and when they saw Matt standing alone it was clear that this was their chance.
Perhaps the only chance they might ever have.
The confrontation when it came was simple and direct.
"Hello Matt. I'm Danny Witten from Sydney. I'm Michael's youngest son."
Before Matt could answer he heard a voice on his other side. "Hello Matt.
I'm Benn Cassidy from New York. I'm Michael's middle son."
Again before he could answer it was Danny speaking again. "Matt O'Grady,
we believe you are Michael's eldest son."
Quickly Ben cut in again, not allowing Matt to reply, "And we believe that
you are our brother."
"What is this?" Matt managed to speak at last. "Who has put you up to this?"
"No one has put us up, as you say." It was Ben again. "We know we have a
brother here somewhere, and we think it is you."
"But why me?" Matt asked. It could be anyone.
"Oh no." Danny said, "We've been watching you, and your mother, and Michael..."
"Especially your mother." Ben cut in again. "It's you alright."
Matt was silent for a while. "What are you going to do? Are you going to
"Not on your Nelly." It was Danny again. "You will have your own reasons
for keeping quiet; that's your business."
"But we just want you to know that we are here for you if you want us." Ben
smiled. "Hey! Were family!"
Once again Matt took time to answer. Turning round so he could face both
'brothers' he put a hand on the upper arm of each man. "Thanks fellers. But do you
mind keeping it to yourselves for the time being. I have to think this through."
Michael's treat was not over for Richard had made his large house available
for a get-together for all the family and there was quite a crowd. Michael's brothers
Richard was of course was the host, Donny and Brian were there with their wives and
sons and daughters and their spouses and children. Connie and Matt and his wife and
two sons. Molly of course, her role as matriarch firmly re-established, and Ben and
Danny. Such a gathering; some thirty or more would never have fitted into Molly's
tiny cottage, not least because half a dozen musicians had also gone to brighten
up the event.
It was indeed a wonderful event, despite it being daytime, though it turned
out to be momentous for quite different reasons. Michael could not have wished for
anything better and at one point he felt like a King as one by one each of his relatives
presented themselves. It was a lot of fun as some would add a little comic aside,
perhaps recite a poem that they had hurriedly composed for the occasion, or simply
quote a memory from their, or Michael's, past. Mostly it was spontaneous, and generous,
sometimes with unhelpful encouragement from the onlookers. Along the line Michael
spotted his two sons with Matt waiting their turn. When they arrived it was Matt
who spoke. "I am Matt O'Grady and these are my Brothers Ben Cassidy and Danny Witten."
There was a brief but curious silence broken when Michael applauded, shortly joined
by Connie, and then by everyone.
Nothing further was said as they moved away to allow the next person to present
himself, but when later he was asked he simply replied "I have two new brothers but
nothing else has changed.
"But to Michael everything had changed and it was music to his ears. In his
own way his first son had acknowledged him publicly. At last Michael was happy that
the family was complete and united, and he watched his relatives dancing and singing
and talking and laughing as if there were no tomorrow.
For Michael there was no tomorrow.
Perhaps the events of the day had been too much after all for he died in
the evening of that day surrounded by his three sons, his three brothers, and the
two ladies whose love for him had, in the end, outlasted all the others; his sister
Molly, and Connie, now acknowledged as the mother of his first son. There were some
recriminations as to the wisdom of the day’s activities, but it was Molly, ever the
diplomat who finally summed it up. "Michael could not have wished for a better day
than this and he died a happy man. You only had to look at his face to know that."
Just before Michael slipped away an enigmatic expression had spread over
his face as he observed the people around him. It was not exactly a smile but more
a look of pure contentment, knowing that as he leaves them his family is united.
"They're here." he whispered as he took the final step, for he fancied that
he could hear again the welcoming sounds created by nimble fingers, and see the fancy
footsteps from agile feet as a heavenly host beckoned him to join them as they were
'dancing at the crossroads'.