My name is Anna Mulhoney and I am thirty years old. I was born in County Meath to a poor farmer who was killed eight years later by the British for owning a firearm. I was born in the same ancient stone house that I live in now with my aged mother and my young brother Tom. We own a single cow and eight chickens, and I almost died today.
His name was Arthur - not a very Irish name, to be sure, but his surname made up for it - Arthur McConaghey, eighteen years of age, tall and bright-smiled and brown-eyed and curly-haired, the handsomest boy I ever met. We met on the street when I dropped the basket of peat I was taking home to burn; he helped me pick it up and then offered to carry the basket for me. I was sixteen. I let him carry it. We were so poor - no cows then, no chickens, no barley or potatoes even - but I invited him in for dinner just the same. He must have realised we couldn't afford it, because he politely declined and then, so I might know he didn't do so because of any fault of mine, asked if I might join him for same the next day. He would meet me in the village at noon. I was head-over-heels for him already and giddy - of course I agreed. It was only after he left and mother scolded me for unneeded hospitality that I realised how fine his clothes had been in comparison to my own threadbare dress, my unravelling shawl. He was too much a gentleman to comment.
Arthur's mother was English, his father a wealthy turncoat officer in the British army. Arthur had been educated at Oxford and Eaton; he had just come back to the country of his youth a few days before, and I had never met anyone like him. I will never understand why he chose me - he might have fallen for any girl in the county, and with his letters and his inheritance he would have been guaranteed to have his affections returned - but he fell for me, and I - I had fallen for him the moment I laid eyes on him. For a traitor and a Brit his parents were kind enough folk, though I do believe they considered me a charity case. It helped, I think, that there were no men in my family - Tom was not yet eight, and my uncles and cousins all far away. No chance they might be inadvertently supporting a revolutionary. And Arthur liked me - they could see that well enough. And so I was tolerated, even appreciated to some degree. Mum was glad to see me getting well-fed for once.
We knew each other for just under a year, Arthur and I. By the end of that time I know he was working up the courage to propose to me - not for fear of rejection, for we both knew well that I would gladly and totally have accepted, but for fear of his parents' reaction.
We were together, walking to his house for supper. And then suddenly he wasn't. A stray bullet, aimed at someone else inside a building nearby, went through a window and struck Arthur in the temple at an angle and knocked him down, killed him instantly - so fast he didn't even make a sound. I screamed and screamed, and they - the townsfolk, the soldiers, the doctor, whoever was about, I don't know - had to pry me from his corpse. His parents gave me a kind word or two and then never spoke to me again. They buried him under a tree on the mount overlooking the village, and then they left Ireland for good. The great house they lived in went up for sale. An English nobleman bought it for a third estate. We never saw him.
That bullet might have been Black-and-Tan, or it might have been IRA, but my Arthur was the first casualty of a year that would see many, many more dead of both. My Arthur, who couldn't have been a kinder, more class-blind person, who treated me as well as anyone ever has - killed accidentally, and for nothing. Lord, it brings me to tears still, and to fury. Why must people fight? He had done nothing. I will never understand.
In my life there were three men who I can say I loved. Arthur was the first. The second was Eoin Monaghan.
Eoin was twenty-two, dark-haired, dark-eyed, quiet and strong. He was a member of the IRA, but I didn't know that til he asked me to deliver a message for him, for them. He too was a transplant, from the northern part of the county, and he had a strange energy about him that I couldn't explain. He only smiled when I was around, the other men of his unit told me. I only smiled when I was around him.
I was riding my bicycle - a rusty, broken-down one with a bent frame that made it a constant battle to steer, but the best thing I'd ever had given me - down a long slope in the the hills when somehow I hit a rock and couldn't regain control; the bike skidded onto its side and I skinned my leg and rolled a good ways. I lay still for a moment, in shock at having crashed and the new wound stinging, and then suddenly bounding down the heath came a young man in a long grey coat and a wool cap with a rifle over his shoulder, calling in worried tones to see if I was quite all right after the spill I'd taken. He helped me up, dusted me off, picked up my bicycle, insisted I come with him and get the scrape cleaned. We went down the road a ways to a little house and he got a damp cloth and cleaned the blood - of which there was a startling amount - from my leg - and you needn't worry, the scrape extended no further up than my knee - and made sure the bleeding had stopped before he let me go on my way. He checked the bicycle as well - he was so concerned for my well-being. And then I bid him thank you and farewell, and thought that would be it. But not four days later I ran into him again at the market square, where I was trading cabbages for barley. He asked how my leg was. I said very well, thanks to him. He smiled and asked if I might join him for a stroll on the heath some morning. I told him I would like nothing better.
A month passed and he asked me very nervously if I would take a letter for him to a certain house in another village. I must have care - if the British were to find the note... And so began my involvment in the IRA. Eoin thanked me and thanked me again, but I knew he didn't like putting me in danger; he only ever asked for my help if there was no one else. I would have done any favor he had asked me, though, no matter the danger - I admired him more than anyone else, and I loved him. But he could never ask my hand, not while the war continued. He tried to hide his feelings for me. He couldn't. Eight months after that first fateful meeting I stood with him atop a great hill in the north as the sun was setting, his men camped not far from where we stood, and he said something about how glad he was to have me around - how only a look from me was enough to lighten his spirits and give him hope... And then suddenly we were in each other's arms, kissing. It was the first time I had kissed anyone - really kissed, with lips touching and everything - and I was blown away. We held each other and kissed and then I had to go home. He didn't want to let me go, anyone could've seen that. I think - he may even have been crying. As though he knew.
Six days later I heard that he had been captured by the British and hung. They broke all his fingers first. The charge was possession of a firearm, the same cause the British gave for shooting my father in the head on his own property in front of his pregnant wife. My Eoin, killed for trying to gain freedom for his country. I became hard then. I joined the IRA in earnest - I did everything for them that I could: gun-running, spying, delivering messages. When the treaty was ratified, I kept on until one of the boys who had left for the Free State Army came to my house and warned me that if I kept it up, my brother Tom, then an aspiring schoolteacher, and my mother and my gran, who was almost dead already anyway, would be killed and our house burned to the ground. He offered me a cow and a pair of chickens as further incentive to stop. I thought of my mother, I thought of Tom and gran and my father, and of Eoin and Arthur and all the men I'd seen die in this thoughtless war. And I took the cow.
Four years later the civil war had ended. Our family no longer starved. Gran died that summer. Mum began to grow old herself. Tom went off to school. I grew cabbages and potatoes and did laundry and took care of the animals and sold eggs in the market square. Our life was better than it had ever been, but my heart was cold within me, and I was unhappy. I felt I had betrayed my fellows. Yet not one of them ever accused me of such, though they knew the bribe I had accepted.
Tom is a schoolteacher now. Mum is still lucid enough to care for the garden and the house and the animals while I am out. And today, as I said earlier, I almost died.
I don't know the name of the man who saved me. I will probably never know, but I swear to you I love him. Why must I always meet my men by my misfortune? He didn't have to help; Arthur didn't either, nor Eoin. But they did. Lord, how I wish I could repay them.
I was in the market with my eggs this morning. It was cool out, but the sunny cool before a hot day. I was standing in a doorway talking to another woman. A strong breeze came up and blew off my shawl.
The man was a little older than I, though not yet forty, with the light lines of one who has seen horror and the rough, tanned skin of a farmer. He smiled as he handed me the scarf. "You dropped this, ma'am," he said. And then there were shots and someone screamed - he turned - an explosion - we all ducked, and he threw himself over me. He shielded me with himself. He took the shrapnel to the spine that would have killed me.
I will never understand. The IRA probably planted the bomb, though I don't know why or even exactly where, and it might have been someone else. But that man - the one who saved me - he was innocent. He was probably IRA himself once. And now he lies dead. I do not understand.
So what now? I have loved three men. I am thirty years old and I live in the house where my father died because he dared to keep a fox-hunting rifle about, and my brother is a schoolteacher. Eoin Monaghan lies in an unmarked grave somewhere near the old British barracks, which then became the Free State Army barracks, and which are now only an abandoned shell since they were bombed six years ago. I don't even know the name of the man who gave his life for me, and I never even thanked him for returning my shawl. What do I do? Do I spend my life planting cabbages and watching Mum lose her mind? Do I keep selling eggs in the marketplace?
My name is Anna Mulhoney. I have loved three men. And I will live.
I ask that if you read this you write SOMETHING in response, even if it's a single emoticon. I just get very disillusioned, you see. And the world doesn't need any more emo than it's already got. So do yourself - and the world - a favor: Write a review. Your kids will thank you.