These Shadows

“When the darkness carried away

And it so simple how

For the morphing down the lane

The sky breaking down

Yeah ,the feeling touch

Oh, these shadows.”

Erik William Johnson

Monaghan is a strange and wonderful place. Things move around. The cross in Old Cross Square, is not a cross, and has only been in Old Cross Square since 1876, when it was removed from The Diamond in the centre of Monaghan to make way for the Rossmore Monument. This led to a curse on the Rossmore’s by Bishop James Donnelly, “As you moved the cross , stone by stone, your house will fall, stone by stone.” Bishop Donnelly had already been in a dispute with Lord Rossmore over use of his quarry to provide stone for St.Macartan’s Cathedral, and may have had a sherry or two at the unveiling of the monument.

Dry rot got into Rossmore Castle and it became uninhabitable during the 1920’s. The Rossmores’ kept their favourite paintings, furniture, books, and moved to the sister house , Camla Vale across the Threemilehouse road from the Castle. The rest of the furniture, paintings, library, mantlepieces, doors, staircases, window frames, floorboards, and kitchen sinks were all sold off at auction.

The castle fell, stone by stone.

On moving to their new home , Camla Vale, they took their wine barrels with them from the cellars, and , unknowingly, the dry rot spores the old oak casks contained.

Camla Vale fell too…stone by stone.

Nothing but foundations of each remain.

Or maybe that was a dream I had.

Other things move around too.

The old jail, became the Courthouse, and the new jail eventually became the hospital.

A number of years ago I was helping out with something in front of the Courthouse , a cinema, market, circus, or combination of all three, and we needed to lift some paving stones to access a power supply. Jenny Blackburn was there too and commented that when they were putting the new paving down in front of the courthouse they came across lots of old human bones that they originally thought may have been from an old position of St.Patrick’s graveyard, but were then informed that they were more likely the remains of prisoners who had been hung in front of the old jail.

“Wouldn’t you be afraid to be around here on your own at night knowing that ?” I asked.

“Not at all “ Jenny replied “ I take comfort from the fact that I’m not alone.”

At some point in the 18th century when the jail was in it’s original position here in Church Square, the chief warden was Johnie Shortt and on fair days he would let some of the prisoners out to pick pockets and give him the spoils on their return that evening in exchange for better food, or a shorter sentence. The jail became known as ‘Johnie Shortt’s Hotel’.

Whenever I spot my shadow I get a sense of comfort that I’m not alone. Last year my Soulmate and I walked a week of the Camino and on our last day heading towards Santiago I spotted our shadows in front of us. We held hands , and they held hands, and …. Well, everything just seemed right.

I think of that moment from time to time.

I’m thinking of it now.

It’s my blog, so I get to do things like that….

I also think of great friends and sometimes when we meet in a blink I can catch moments and memories of who we were, times we had, and smile.

Last Friday I had dinner with 9 long shadows of my life. Some longer than the others, but all individually wonderful. Some were friends in their own right, some had never met each other, I was the common denominator.

Other than knowing me, the other thing that they all had in common was their genuine kindness, decency, and general awesomeness.

Milo and Shane I’ve known since I was 12, the three of us ended up in the priesthood after school. They were pretend priests in that ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Seminary’ in Maynooth, while I joined a proper order, The Holy Ghosts. None of us became priests. Shane and I share a great passion for music and very short walks. Milo is like the shopkeeper in Mr Ben, whenever I’m in trouble, I look around and Milo appears.

Micky took pity on me when we were both doing evening study in 4th year in The Sem when we were 15. He’d take me home to his house during the break in study and we grew up together, first girlfriends, first drinks, smokes, gigs, heartaches, were all journeyed together.

We’re still growing up together.


When did I not know Ray ?

When I was in the Holy Ghost Fathers we had a Spiritual Guidance Counsellor to whom you could tell anything to, doubts about faith, troubles with fellow Spiritans, queries about the Exorcist…

Ray is my Spiritual Counsellor…with perhaps an element of Bad Santa thrown in.

If I had a big brother it would be Gerry. Gerry is 27-ish years younger than me, but always looks out for me and keeps me out of trouble. It is true that most of the trouble he keeps me out of is trouble he suggested we get into in the first place, but my life is immeasurably better, and perhaps longer because of my big brother. Sometimes he’ll say ‘No’ to one of my suggestions, with that beardy half smile of his, and I know that in his heart of hearts he’d love me to do it. And sometimes he doesn’t even have to be there, yet I can hear his voice saying “Paul Bond, that’s a terrible idea !”.

I know we’re all in trouble when Gerry calls me by my full name.

Benny, Glenn, and Trevor did not come as a set, but for a long time the four of us just seemed to be together, at everything, involved in everything….and drinking everything.

I have younger brothers, but these three are my younger, younger brothers. There are no brakes. I should be the one advising caution, but I just get giddy when they’re around , and although we’re not a club or institution, our motto is “Fuck it, lets do it anyway.”

Their enthusiasm inspires me, and , don’t tell them , but I look up to them.

That motto would make a great tattoo !

And Dominic is the most recent of these great shadows and friends, yet we’ve known each other for years and have had many, many chats about EVERYTHING…usually over coffees in Rossmore after Parkruns. Dominic looked after Ray and I on lots of long training runs last year. He regaled us with lots of tales of international travels, subterfuge, and intrigue. We’re not saying that Ray and I are convinced that Dominic is a spy….no, wait, we are both convinced that Dominic is a spy.

But he’s our spy.

Last Friday we met for dinner in Dublin, by the end of it, everyone was friends, and we then went to a brilliant gig in the Olympia, ‘The Last Waltz’. It was stunning. We roared our heads off to ‘Who Do You Love’, The Weight’, ‘Caravan’, ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’, ‘Baby Let Me Follow You Down’, and crying tears of joy ‘Forever Young’.

We repaired to Brogan’s next door afterwards, breaking up into little groups, before reforming and drinking in the lobby of the Leonardo until 4am.

Everyone went to bed in spirits….good spirits…Redbreast mostly. There had not been a cross word all night…apart from Milo’s …but I’m saving that for a whole blog on it’s own…it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.

I am so fortunate to have so many amazing friends.

When I go to shake their hand, or a hug now, that evening will form part of the shadow of memories in the blink, and then a new adventure will begin…


Paul ( owner of a new motto tattoo )

P.S. This is ‘Forever Young’

P.P.S. This is a story I wrote about Bishop Donnelly and the building of the cathedral in Monaghan

Like most people born in Scotstown, His Most Reverend Excellency , James Donnelly, Bishop of Clogher, was imbued with that  most powerful combination of wild ambition , and the supreme confidence that they are right about all things at all times.  

Five years after his ordination in 1846 he was sent to the United States to fundraise for the new Catholic University in Maynooth. This was a heady time in all 31 of  the United States, the gold rush was in full swing in California, The New York Times began , he sees the first ever pair of Levi’s denim jeans, hears the first Steinway piano, witnesses Frederick Douglass’ speech ‘The Hypocrisy Of American Slavery’, attends the New York World’s fair, is terrified by the anti-Catholic riots in Maine, he reads Moby Dick and meets Walt Whitman. American literature becomes a lifelong secret passion.

He was offered a post in the new Catholic University , Notre Dame, and wrote home to his bishop , Charles McNally , asking for permission to stay. He was told to come back at once, fundraising was needed closer to home.
Bishop McNally was, unfortunately ,born in Ardaghey. He too had wild ambition, but lacked the Scotstown confidence to back it up. He decided to build a cathedral in Monaghan, in 1859, less than 10 years after Ireland, and Monaghan in particular, had suffered through the famine, mass emigration and an almost halving of it’s population. Scotstown itself had a population of 3,927 in 1841, pre-famine, and a population of 2,264 twenty years later, when Bishop McNally decided to fundraise for his new cathedral. Obviously , if you had no money, you could simply donate your labour, sand, gravel, or stone. The building was no higher than his knee when Bishop McNally died in 1864.His vault had of course been one of the first structures completed.

James Donnelly had advised his bishop against building a cathedral, and now as the new bishop was left with a crippling debt and the task of completing it.

He headed off to the First Vatican Council in Rome in 1869 in very heavy spirits indeed. The cathedral walls weren’t much higher than Bishop McNally had left them, he was having running battles with Lord Rossmore over tenants’ rights and votes , building schools, and spent more time looking for money than anything else.
And now he was stuck in Rome, smiling politely at everyone, and finding out what was actually happening by reading The New York Times in the Antico Caffee Greco on Via dei Condotti each morning. He likes this café for two reasons. Firstly it is usually full of loud travelling Americans which remind him of happier carefree days, and secondly it is free of other clergy. Except this morning.

As James sits at his usual table , on the right, at the window at the front , he is joined by two very jolly, heavily bejewelled,  and incredibly well dressed fellow bishops. They ask if the coffee is good and if he will share with them what the New York Times says they all agreed on yesterday, as they haven’t a clue what’s happening either. They laugh and James relaxes.

James offers to buy them coffee and introduces himself. They , in turn introduce themselves as Matthias Eberhard, of Trier in Germany, and José Ríos de los Lamadrid, of Lugo in Spain. They are in fine form, and quickly pick up on the fact that James is not.

“What ails you my friend, other than the sheer boredom of this ‘Council’ that afflicts us all ?” Matthias asks.

“Nothing that doesn’t also frustrate us all.” James answers.

“Ah, yes, celibacy.” Jose responds. “You are among friends here James, do not worry. Rome is a beautiful place full of beautiful people. We are all away from home. It is only natural. Who among us has not at some time…”

“NO! Good God no.” James quickly interrupts. “I meant money. I have money troubles.”

“Ah, yes, of course that is what I meant.” Jose says , sheepishly. They all laugh.

“So, you have too much money ? A common problem. But there are ways of hiding it.” Matthias drums his fingers on the table as he says this , showing of his heavily jewelled ringed fingers. “ Necessities like these mean that there is less cumbersome cash for Rome to lay it’s grubby hands on. You should treat yourself, your hands look positively Presbyterian !”

They all laugh again.

“You misunderstand me, my friends. I have no money, and worse, a new cathedral to build.”

Matthias and Jose look at each other and then back to James. “Is he serious ?” Matthias asks Jose. “He seems to be.” Jose answers. “Serious and naïve. He’s definitely Irish !” They both laugh again.

They stop when they notice that James is looking embarrassed. “We mean no offence, my friend. But you have the very answer to your own problem, only you can’t see it.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t follow”

“I am from Trier, one of the wealthiest diocese in Germany.” Matthias began “Why ? Because we have an apostle ! St.Matthias, after whom I am named. For hundreds of years many, many generous pilgrims have travelled to see him in his final resting place. They donate to our church, they stay in our towns, our towns are wealthier, our parishioners donate more themselves. You see ? Jose you, tell him.”

“We don’t even have an apostle, but we are on the way to Santiago, where they have St.James, and we have so many visitors passing through that they visit every one of our churches, stay overnight, donate. You see ?”

Both Jose and Matthias were now staring intently at James. He felt a bit foolish.

“You are both fortunate to have an apostle , but I am in Monaghan in Ireland, I do not have one, and will never have one. None of the apostles made it to Ireland.”

“Really ?” Jose said with mock astonishment. “No apostles made it to Ireland, imagine that ? We are truly fortunate that St. James made it the whole way to northern Spain, never told anyone, no one ever mentioned it, and then in the 8th century King Alfonso II of Asturias is under virtual siege from the Umyyad’s , cries out for help to Charlemagne and the Pope, but they both ignore him. Then, miraculously, he discovers that St. James is buried in the middle of Asturias for no apparent reason, and they all come to his aid. A miracle. A lovely , lucrative miracle.”

“And we were even more fortunate” Matthias continues.” Coincidentally, my predecessors were building a new and very expensive cathedral in 1127, and you’ll never guess what they discovered while digging the foundations ? Yes ! The remains of St.Matthias, the apostle, sent there by no less than Empress Helena in the 4th century and quietly buried without any fuss, or subsequent mention until our miraculous need for an apostolic amount of money to finish our cathedral !”

“Yes, but really, in this day and age, who’s going to believe…”

“This day and age ???” Matthias interrupted “France is about to go to war with Prussia, the Papal States are about to be swallowed into the Kingdom of Italy, we have photographs, moving pictures, underground trains, the Suez canal, and yet we’ve been summoned from the four quarters of the earth to Rome to declare the Pope infallible ??? People will fall for anything !”

James was no longer sure if they were still joking with him or not. “But all of the apostles have already been discovered, or at least, claimed.”

“There’s still one.” Jose smiled. ”Judas. “

“I thought that Judas Thaddeus was buried here in Rome ? Will they lend it to me ?” James joked, raising his coffee for a sip.

“Not him .The other one !”

James spat out his coffee , “Judas Judas ?!? Are you mad ? Who’d want to visit him ?”

“You’d be surprised. It would be such a bold move. The last apostle, the black sheep, forgiven, home at last…in Monaghan !” Matthias smiled broadly. He called over the waiter and ordered a bottle of Crème de Menthe and three glasses.

After three of four glasses of Crème de Menthe it started to make sense to James. “Yes, Judas had played his part, as he saw it, he had simply kissed his friend, and then left Jerusalem immediately, travelling West as far as possible, Ireland, where he lived a life of solitude and penance, in Monaghan. He was such a mournful figure that no one went near him.”

James was enjoying himself now.

“And then one day Judas heard a scream, he rushed from his reed hut to see a young boy being gored by a wild boar. Without thinking he threw himself in front of the boar, suffering terrible lacerations. He managed to beat the boar away. But it had taken a terrible toll on him. He fell to his knees. He turned to see if the boy was safe, but there was no one to be seen. He stumbled back home, feeling that he was being watched. It took months for him to recover but one wound in his side where the boar’s tusk had penetrated deeply never properly healed.”

Jose and Matthias thought this was a marvellous start. They ordered a second bottle of Crème de Menthe.

“That winter he again heard a cry in the forest. He ran until he found a young boy being terrorised by a flock of ravens. They swooped and dived on him pecking at his clothes. Again Judas ran straight towards the boy shielding him in his cloak and wrapping his arms over his own head to protect himself. The ravens were merciless , their sharp beaks piercing his arms and hands. There was a deafening whirlwind of noise, and then just as suddenly, nothing. The ravens were gone, as was the boy. He almost thought it had been a dream, but his hands ached and bled so badly that he knew it hadn’t been. As he made his way back to his hut, he saw in the trees that he was being watched by someone in a hooded brown cloak.

Months passed. All of the ravens’ inflicted wounds healed completely except for two, on in each wrist.
He woke one morning and knew that someone was close. He went outside and saw the man in the hooded cloak standing there, he instantly knew it was the same man who had observed him after he had interrupted the attacks on the young boy. The hooded man motioned to him and he understood that he was to follow him. He followed the hooded figure in silence to the edge of the forest where there was a small gathering of similarly cloaked people of different ages. A man came up to him and pulled back his sleeve to reveal a very bad wound. Judas instinctively placed his hand on it and the man fainted. His friends helped him up and when he came too, he pulled his sleeve back up, his wound was healed. A woman next approached him , she revealed a badly blistered burnt leg. He knelt down and placed his palms gently over the blisters, they disappeared. One after another they approached him in turn with toothaches, fractures, war wounds, pain. He cured them all. They silently bowed to him and left. He awoke the next morning to find furs, an axe, wood for his fire, and jars of food.”

They ordered a third bottle of Crème de Menthe. Matthias and Jose were now hanging on his every word.

“Years passed. Every so often Judas would wake to find the hooded man outside and he would follow him to the edge of the forest and place his hands upon those who needed it. Each time he would awake the next day to find things he hadn’t even realised he’d needed waiting for him. Sometimes when he followed the man to the edge of the forest there would be no one physically ill or wounded, just someone who needed help or luck, a troubled soul. He would place his hands on whoever approached. He never once spoke to any of them , and they did not speak to him, although he did hear them say the word Lorcain which he knew was directed at him.

Many years passed, Judas was now a snow haired old man. When he was summoned to the edge of the forest now he knew he was treating the children and grandchildren of those first people he’d met there. It made him smile. Heading back from the edge of the forest and thinking of nothing other than what gifts would be waiting for him when he woke tomorrow, he heard that old scream. He knew it was the young boy. He ran as fast as he could towards the cries, but there was no boy there this time. Standing in front of the white thorn bush was his friend, the one he’d kissed all those years ago. He tried to speak. He couldn’t. His friend simply opened his arms, they embraced and Judas was at peace.

The next morning when the people came with their gifts they found Judas sitting outside , propped up against his hut, eyes closed ,silent, a crown of white thorns on his head. They took him from that place , to the highest point near where they lived and interred him there. They called the place Leacht Lorcain, it means ‘Grave Mound Of The Silent One’. The area is now called Latlorcan, that is where my cathedral is being built.” James was looking down at his glass of Crème de Menthe as he finished his story. He looked up to see Matthias and Jose staring at him.

“That is the best story I’ve ever heard!” Jose beamed, slapping the table. “ I would walk barefoot on pilgrimage from Luga, through all of France, across the sea and the length of Ireland to pay my respects to St.Lorcain, the black sheep, the lost apostle. The last apostle.”

“Unfortunately the cathedral is already called St.Macartans.” James said sadly. Matthias walloped him on the arm.
“What sort of stupid name is Maacchrrrtan ??? You have the perfect story. Say it came to you in a dream that there are bones buried there somewhere, they call out to you, their name is Lorcain, the black sheep, the lost apostle. The last apostle !!! Can’t you see it ? You will be the richest bishop in Europe !”

“ Where would I get the bones ?” James countered.

“Bones, schmones. They even have so many of them in churches here, they don’t know which one’s which. You only need one bone anyway, a skull. Yes, a skull, that’s all you need ! Waiter ! Waiter ! Another bottle !”  

They ordered a fourth bottle of Crème de Menthe, at least they thought they did. It could have been a fifth. Or sixth.
They woke up the next morning in James’ room in the Irish College. Jose had slept in the wardrobe, Matthias was in the bed, and James had slept at his desk. He was the last to wake , woken by some painful, sniggering, from the other two. They had woeful hangovers, so their laughs were causing them pain, but they couldn’t help it.

“What is it ? What’s so amusing ?” He said good humouredly as he tried to lift his head off his desk and open his bleary eyes.

Then he saw it. “Sweet Mother of The Divine Jesus ! What is that ?!?” he recoiled away from it. On his desk was what looked like a melted face in a gilt edged glass box.

“Say ‘Hello’ to Lorcain, the black sheep, the lost apostle, the last apostle !” Matthias and Jose sang together. “Isn’t he magnificent ?”

“Where did it come from ?” James asked.

“Don’t you remember ?” Jose said. “When we left the café we went into several churches looking for bones, and when we saw that one we all agreed that it was perfect. So here it is. All of your problems solved !”

“We have to put it back !” James argued.

“One problem.” Matthias countered.

“What ??” James snapped.

“I can’t remember where we got it. Do you Jose ?”

Jose shrugged. “ Doesn’t matter, no one will be looking for it now. The Council has been cancelled, the Italians are taking Rome, Prussia and France are at war, we’re all going home.”

They all sat on the end of the bed for a while staring at the face on the skull in the glass case. It looked healthier at that moment than any of them felt.

Everything happened very fast over the next few hours. They all had to leave the Vatican immediately. James reluctantly agreed to take the face in the case with him, to avoid trouble. But he had no idea what to do with it, he certainly wasn’t going to ‘discover’ it in Monaghan. On the last leg of his journey back to Monaghan he visited his sister, Sheila , a Dominican nun, living in Drogheda. He told her the story. She laughed , “Would you believe that we used to have a head here? It was supposed to be the head of Oliver Plunkett, the martyr, his sister was a Dominican and there was a box kept on top of the grandfather clock in the hall, that she swore it contained his head, the poor dear. When she passed away they took the box down and found a papier-mâché face in it. They left it there and for ever since we’ve always teased the novice nuns that the box contained Oliver Plunkett’s head.” She laughed , remembering her own belief years ago that it really did contain a head. She stopped laughing when she noticed that James was looking seriously at her.

“No , James , no ! I know what you’re thinking.”

James made it home to Monaghan , the head stayed in Drogheda.

There was a parcel waiting for him. It had been posted in Rome the day he left. He opened the small box to find several gold , heavily jewelled rings, three from Jose, and four from Matthias, with a note.

“ Our Dearest James,
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the highlight of our 18 months in Rome ! We will never for get that day and night in the Antico Caffe Greco. We will never forget St. Lorcain, the black sheep, the lost apostle. The last apostle ! And most of all we shall never forget you.
We know you are so wonderfully serious and naïve that you will never use the story, as we both believe you should. It is a story of hope !
So, as we have so much , thanks to our imaginary saints, we thought it only fair to share with you. Please dispose of these trinkets as you see fit and finish that dreadful Maaachkarton shack of yours.
Your friends,
Jose & Matthias.
P.S. We will never touch C.d.M. again !”

James spent the rest of his life supervising the building and furnishing of the cathedral. Soon after his arrival back from Rome he managed to settle a debt of £250 with Lord Rossmore for stone from the Tirkeenan quarry, and the cathedral was completed without incurring any further debt. A miraculous feat.

James lived to perform the dedication of the cathedral to the service of his god on August 21st 1892.

On the south face of the cathedral , the Dublin Road side, there are seven statues made of Italian marble, the last one on the right is of His Most Reverend Excellency , James Donnelly, Bishop of Clogher, holding a little model of the cathedral.

Inside the cathedral itself the wonderful wooden hammer- beam roof is supported by numerous stone carved corballs, mostly depicting saints, apart from six, which ,at His Most Reverend Excellency , James Donnelly, Bishop of Clogher’s direction depict, respectively, a young boy, a wild boar, a raven, a white thorn bush , an old white haired man, and one which is quite plain but appears to have the letters C d M over cut with a large x.

Author: paul

1 thought on “These Shadows

  1. Thanks for the shout out. It made my day as I’m sure it did for everyone else mentioned in the blog. High praise indeed coming from an eldest sibling to an eldest sibling, and from such an esteemed gentleman as yourself! You should know that I feel the same way about you. You have given me some sage advice over the years. We will have to call ourselves twins.

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