Authors: Marita Conlon-McKenna
About the Book
Inheritance changes everything, as Ella Kennedy soon discovers when her father dies and the hundred-acre farm she has grown up on and run for years in the Wexford countryside is no longer hers. Hurt and angry following a fight with her brother, Ella leaves her home and people she cares for and joins her wild cousin Kitty in Dublin.
Exiled in the city, Ella is forced to make a new life for herself like the other country girls. She tries to forget the farm, pushing all thoughts of Sean Flanagan, the neighbour she had loved, from her mind. In time she hopes to return to the home she left and find true happiness with a man who wants her for herself, and not what she will bring him.
In memory of my wonderful mother Mary and Aunt Eleanor Murphy – two very special West Cork women
I would like to thank the following:
My editor Francesca Liversidge
And all the great team at Transworld
Simon Hess and Geoff Bryan and everyone in the Dublin office
The National Library of Ireland
My wonderful friends
My husband James and my children, Amanda, Laura, Fiona and James. Special thanks for filling my life with joy.
THE LAND STRETCHED
out all around her, acre after acre of the finest farm land in the county. Ella could never have enough of it, never fail to appreciate the rich landscape of patterned fields, green upon green, hemmed by a ragtag border of hedgerows and ditches, which formed their farm and its surroundings. A hundred fertile acres that straddled the Wexford–Waterford borderland, with the estuary in the far distance and the dipping bowl of Lough Garvan in the middle of it all. She watched as the great grey heron rose up from its murky blue fish-pool and flew languidly out across the lake, the water below shivering in the March breeze. She shivered herself, wrapping her heavy knitted jacket about her and stomping her boots across the muddy ground. The day was cold and it was high time she got back to the house and set to preparing the midday dinner, for the old man must be starving by now. He’d have the fire cleaned out and lit and would be sitting in the armchair
on her. She couldn’t remember the day or the time she had begun to call or consider her father an old man, but of late Martin Kennedy had slowed down. His long spine had begun to bend and his joints stiffen and swell. Every day more work seemed to fall to her as he no longer had the power or the energy needed to run the place.
‘’Tis all yours, Ella girl!’ he’d console her, when she was soaked to the skin, or frozen cold, spattered with dung, her fingers raw with heavy work, her muscles aching with fatigue, the promise of the land keeping her going.
Returning to the whitewashed farmhouse that nestled snug in the curve of the hillside Ella noticed no comforting dash of smoke from the chimney. Inside, the embers of the previous night’s fire still lay warm in the grate and the bread and soft butter sat on the table where she’d left them that morning, the butter melting, the bread hardening and the full teapot up beside the Rayburn untouched.
‘Daddy!’ she shouted, alarmed. ‘Daddy, I’m back!’
Panicked she took the stairs two at a time, making for the master bedroom at the front of the house. Her father was sitting on the edge of the bed, bent over, the green sateen coverlet lying on the linoleum.
‘Are you all right, Daddy?’
His heavy brogues and socks lay on the floor before him, and she could tell he’d been trying to put them on.
‘What is it Daddy are you sick?’ Rushing over, she sat down beside him, hugging him. He didn’t answer, couldn’t answer, the words wouldn’t come out the way he wanted and she could read the fear in his eyes.
‘Can you stand?’
There was no reply and she noticed the dribble of saliva that ran from the corner of his mouth and down his chin.
‘’Tis all right Daddy, I’m here now. You’ll be all right, honest you will.’
His skin felt cold and she realized that he must have been sitting like this for hours, as she’d heard him dressing himself when she’d left the house that morning. His untied pyjama bottoms gaped loosely from his hips; embarrassed, she fastened them, touching his chicken-cold skin.
‘Let’s get you tucked up Daddy, you’re freezing cold.’
Her father was a big man and it was as much as she could do to turn him round and lift up his feet and legs and lower him onto the pillows and bolster, pulling the sheet and blankets over him.
‘You stay there Daddy and I’ll go get help. I won’t be long, I promise.’
She’d go up onto the main Wexford road, hoping that a car would come along or that one of the neighbours would appear on a tractor, anything, anyone that would get help. She cursed the Department of Posts and Telegraphs that had said it would be years before telephones would be
down this way, for it was at least a three-mile walk to O’Connor’s Bar where there was a public phone. Perhaps the Flanagans might help! She began to half walk and half run the mile or so towards their place, without seeing a sinner. Panting, she had to stop to get her breath when she noticed the work crew of men at the road’s edge, picks and shovels in their hands, chipping at the grey stone face of a curve in the hillside, scooping out the earth and stone to create a hollow. They were working on the parish grotto to Our Lady and St Bernadette that was being built for the Marian year celebrations, and downed their tools when she approached them. Running towards them she begged the labourer seated in the van to drive to the pub and phone the local doctor, or call in to his surgery and tell him that he was needed urgently up at Martin Kennedy’s. She thanked the workman and turned to race back along the gravel road, praying that her father was not in pain.
Her father lay staring up at the bedroom ceiling, his body awkward, his face contorted, as she prattled on trying to reassure both of them that all would be well. She fixed up the bed and patted his bolster, trying to make him reasonably comfortable. In readiness for the doctor’s visit she tidied the bundle of clothes abandoned on the chair in the corner and stacked the pile of newspapers that had accumulated beside her father’s wide bed, and using a corner of a sheet wiped the dust
tea and milk stains from the mahogany table.
‘There you go Daddy, that’s much better.’ She sighed, catching a glance of the scared-looking woman that she was in the dressing-table mirror. He must be thirsty and she offered him a sip of water, not knowing if that was the right thing or not, holding the china cup to his lip as if he were a baby, the water spilling down his neck as she tilted it between his lips. Then she sat waiting, stroking his arm till the doctor came.
‘It’s a stroke, Ella. We could try and get him down the stairs ourselves but it’s safer to let the ambulance boys do it. I’ll organize it.’
Martin Kennedy tried frantically to speak and make himself understood.
‘It’s all right, Martin, you have to go to the hospital, you’ve had a stroke. I’m going to organize a bed for you in St Joseph’s. Don’t worry, Ella and I’ll look after everything.’
Ella could see that her father was agitated. He hated St Joseph’s, and she hated the thought of his going to the old County Hospital.
‘Could he not say here?’ She gesticulated at the stuffy front bedroom, which her father loved.
‘No,’ said Paddy Walshe emphatically.
Ella saw the doctor out. He was about ten years younger than her father, but with his grey hair and tired green eyes could have passed for the same age; both of them drank in O’Connor’s
of a Wednesday and a Friday night.
‘You’d best send for your brother, Ella. Get him home as soon as you can. Martin would like to see him.’
‘Is he that bad?’
Paddy shrugged. ‘You can never tell, but it’s best to be on the safe side.’ The local doctor, although an infrequent visitor to the house, had always been a good friend to the family, stitching cuts, easing pains, lancing boils. He had too a directness and honesty about him that garnered respect.
‘I’ll get him so,’ sighed Ella.
‘Try not to worry! Martin will get the best of care in St Joseph’s, and I’ll see the both of you tomorrow when I do my rounds. We’ll be better able to assess his condition by then.’
Back upstairs she could sense the dismay in her father’s face; avoiding his eyes, she busied herself about the room fetching pyjamas from the chest of drawers, and his razor and toothbrush and a fresh towel, relieved when she finally heard the trundling ambulance pull into the farmyard below.
It had taken an age to get her father from the bed and down the stairs on a stretcher, she trying to keep out of the way as the ambulance men manoeuvred the reluctant patient out to their van. She clambered in beside him, and rode the long stretches of potholed and bumpy country roads, her father, a scared, old man, holding her hand all the way.
* * *
Inside the old red-bricked hospital building, calm red-faced girls took over the care of her father, making her sit down and have a cup of tea in the corridor. She watched as they bustled up and down, their crisp starched uniforms rustling as they passed, shiny hair pinned tightly under their nurse’s veils. They’d pulled the green curtains around the cubicle where her father lay and a young pimply-faced doctor was attending to him.
Ella hated St Joseph’s with its green half-tiled walls, cream-coloured paintwork and myriad of overhead pipes, its pinkish marbled floors and that strange hospital stench that filled your nose the minute you stepped into the place. Her mother had died in this hospital. The doctors and nurses had been unable to stop the spread of septicaemia from her burst appendix.
‘We’ll be admitting your father,’ the sister told her after more than an hour’s wait. She had followed them up in the clanking iron lift to the male ward of St Paul’s, which was a long narrow room that contained about eighteen beds. The patients ranged in age from the elderly wizened figures propped in worn armchairs to two young fellahs sitting on the edge of a bed, playing cards.
‘Visiting time is at seven o’clock,’ remarked the ward sister, dismissing her. ‘It’s best you leave it to us to admit your father and get him settled in. You may return later this evening.’
* * *
She’d kissed her father and tried to placate him, sensing his disorientation. ‘The nurses will look after you, Daddy. I’ll be back after tea, once I’ve fed the animals and checked the place. Honest, I will!’
He tried to nod and she wondered if he understood at all what she was saying. She hugged him clumsily, feeling guilty at leaving him in that place that she knew he detested.
‘It’ll be fine, Daddy!’ she promised, trying in all honesty to reassure herself as much as him. Relieved, she left the place and went back home.
THE OLD FARMHOUSE
was lonesome without him, and Ella wondered if she’d ever get used to not having her father about the place. The two of them had been constant companions for more than ten years, keeping house together, sharing the workload and minding each other, sitting up at night discussing the next day’s work and planning for the weeks and months and years ahead.