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The Soul Traps
by Grainne Rowland

Jack Doogan was a fisherman, just like his father and grandfather before him. Well, not quite like his ancestors! For his father and grandfather had been friends with the merfolk. But Jack had never seen a merman or mermaid. And that bothered him mightily!

"Why shouldn't I meet and become friends with the merfolk?" grumbled Jack. "Am I not as good a fisherman as my father? Did I not bring in the biggest salmon in all the history of Co. Donegal? And do I not navigate as well as my grandfather? Haven't I saved many a man from a wet death in the depths by sailing out in raging storms on rescue missions? So why do the merfolk not come to meet me?"

Such thoughts were racing through Jack's mind one dark, cold, wintery day as he walked glumly along the shore. Throwing a stone into the choppy sea, Jack saw a shape in the water. It's a whale, thought Jack. He ran for his boat and set out. Won't I be a hero if I catch a whale, laughed Jack.

As Jack got closer to the shape, he realized it wasn't a whale. It looked like a man in the water, and a man with a hat on his head!

"That's strange," muttered Jack. "There hasn't been a storm in two weeks. How could anyone from a wreck have stayed alive this long?"

"Well, Jack," smiled the man. "It's about time you noticed the merfolk and came for a visit. It didn't take your father and grandfather so long to notice that we were out here. I wonder if you are half the man they were."

"Of course I am," replied Jack angrily. "I catch bigger fish than they did, and I navigate better in stormy weather."

Answered the merman, "But can you drink like they did? Nobody ever matched me in drinking except your father and grandfather!"

Now Jack didn't drink at all, but he didn't intend to tell the merman that. I'll have to use my wits, thought Jack.

"I can drink you under the table," replied Jack, crossing his fingers behind his back.

"Well, then, let's go to my house and we'll just see about that!" dared the merman. "Put this hat on your head so that you can breathe and stay warm underwater. Now follow me!"

So Jack put on the hat and dived after the merman. They went on and on and deeper and deeper. Then Jack caught a glimpse of the merman's home.

A huge mansion of abalone shell stood amidst green seaweed. Multi-colored fish flittered around the house.

"Welcome, Jack," said the merman. "Come in and we will eat a feast."

And they did! Every kind of seafood was heaped on platters made of giant clam shells. Spiral shells of nautilus served as cups, and they were filled with sea mead. The merman drank many cups of the mead, but Jack only pretended to drink.

After the feast, the merman, now quite tipsy, decided to show Jack his kingdom. He showed him all the kinds of fish that he ruled. He guided Jack to beautiful caves full of treasure chests taken from wrecked ships. But then the merman stopped and asked Jack if he could keep a secret.

"There is one other thing I want to show you, something I never even showed your ancestors. But you must never speak one word about it to another human being. This is my secret. I only show you because you drank more than I did. No one has ever done that!"

I sure fooled him, thought Jack. I drank nothing, and now I must keep my wits about me even more!

The merman went on until they reached a wide area full of lobster traps.

"These are my special treasures," said the merman. "Under each of these traps is the soul of a drowned sailor. When a sailor dies in a storm or in the water, his soul becomes very confused. It cannot tell which way the sky is or where the bottom of the sea is. So usually they end up at the bottom of the ocean. When they come here, I trap them. I try to make friends of these souls because I am very lonely, but they never want to stay. So I must keep them trapped or they would leave."

"That is very interesting," said Jack to the merman. But to himself, Jack wondered if there wasn't some way he could help those poor lost souls.

After a while, Jack and the merman returned to Jack's boat. Jack thanked the merman for the feast and the tour of his kingdom. They made plans to meet again at Jack's home for another feast.

On the day appointed, Jack got up early and prepared a wonderful meal of Irish food. There were rashers and bangers and brown bread and eggs and boiled potatoes. There was cabbage and salmon. And Jack even found some of the strongest "poteen" for the merman, for he had thought of a plan to save the souls.

The meal went along at a good pace. The merman had never tasted poteen, and he drank the whole jug. Soon he fell asleep with his head on Jack's table.

"Now's my chance," whispered Jack. He grabbed the hat the merman had brought and hurried down to the sea. He jumped in and dived down, down, down, until he reached the area of the lobster pots. Jack turned over every pot to set the souls free. Although he couldn't see a soul, Jack pointed to the top of the ocean so the souls would know which way to go. He was sure he saw a ripple in the water as the souls sped off. Then Jack rushed back to his house.

From then on, Jack made dinner for the merman often. Always, he had a jug of poteen for the merman to drink. Always, when the merman drank too much and fell asleep, Jack would go and free any new souls the merman had caught. The merman never noticed that Jack was gone.

This continued for many years. Then, one day, when Jack had a feast ready, the merman did not come. Jack never saw him again.

But Jack had good luck from that day on. Perhaps the lost souls were repaying his kindness?

Images: Lobster traps from Barewalls prints
Tropical fish, Treasure Art & Feast Art from All Posters.
Merman from Earthlink


Fri, Feb 2, 2018

Valentine's Day in Ireland

All over the world, Valentine's Day is celebrated with flowers, chocolates and cards. But in Ireland, it's even more special. In 1836, a relic of St. Valentine was sent by Pope Gregory to the Carmelite Church in Dublin. Every year since then, on Valentine's Day, a casket containing the relic is carried in a procession to the high altar for a special Mass dedicated to young people and those in love. If you're lucky enough to be there, this little known Dublin church also sells Valentine's Day cards. But if you're like most young people, it's much more fun to give cards you've made yourself.
Photo Credit: Early Childhood Ireland

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