Mary Monaghan



The first case I ever cracked was when I was on a train and just as it entered a tunnel there was a knock on the window.  The lights in the compartment flickered and I glanced at my fellow travellers.  They too had heard it, a furious knocking, but where was it coming from?  We looked at each other as the train sped through the tunnel.  The lights started to flicker; one of our fellow travellers had gone down the train to the dining car.  He had been gone a long time.

Jimmy was a street sweeper, but not just any street sweeper, he used to sing and dance as he swept the streets.

As the train emerged into the light of day there was a sharp thud.  The teacher who was sitting next to me moved towards the window and looking out she saw the street sweeper’s body bumping along the railway tracks.  She motioned to me to look out of the window and I immediately pulled the emergency alarm.  The train shuddered to a halt.  The rest of the passengers had now seen what had happened and the noise was incredible as they shouted and screamed to each other.

I blew my police whistle, ‘Order, order, I am a police officer, please stay calm and stay where you are.’  I moved to the door, opened it and jumped down to the tracks together with the driver and the conductor.  Jimmy, the street sweeper’s lifeless and mangled body lay sprawled across the tracks.  Some of the passengers tried to approach the body. ‘Stand back, stand back,’ I said.  ‘This is a crime scene’.

I followed procedure and confirmed that Jimmy was dead and then surveyed his body for clues as to who had perpetrated this crime.  This was my big chance to make a name for myself.  I knew it would make all the papers, a murder on a train, and I was right there.

I thought back to my time on the train. Jimmy had been talking to the suave and very opinionated ad executive, Al who was smoking outside in the corridor.  It was clear that the Al did not like what Jimmy was saying to him.  Jimmy was not happy with the attention that Al had been paying to Jimmy’s fiancée Ethel.  Ethel was a quiet, timid sort, a teacher and evidently didn’t know how to fend off Al’s unwanted advances.

Jimmy followed Al when he went to the dining car.  Al returned ta few minutes later, his face flushed, holding his shoulder.  Yes, it had to be him who had manhandled Jimmy off the train sending him to his untimely death.

I had cracked the case, my first one ever.

Mary Monaghan

Ashes to Ashes – A drabble

Ann looked at the parched patch on the lawn. It looked scarred, unhappy and desolate so close to the vibrant colour of Tom’s rose garden. Would the faded lawn ever recover? She hoped so. Tom would have loved to see his rose garden looking so splendid but its beauty was marred by the dead lawn in front of it.
When his family came in a few weeks’ time she would cover the patch with a table decorated with flowers, photos of Tom and the urn with his ashes to scatter over his beloved roses. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Mary Monaghan

I never knew I loved waves until I lived in my little house by the sea.  The sound of the waves in the distance sometimes big and terrifying, other times lapping quietly against the shore.
I never knew I loved roses until I missed seeing them every Monday in the bathroom, a single red rose in a vase welcoming me back. 
I never knew I loved roses until they arrived at random to tell me that he was in love with me.  I never knew I loved them until they stopped coming and I knew what that meant.
I never knew I loved sunsets until I walked along the boardwalk and stood silently watching the sun go down behind the mountains, leaning into the arms of a kind, gentle, loving man who planned to watch many more sunsets with me.
I never knew I loved rocks until we sat together on the rocks enjoying the silence.
I never knew I loved hands until we fell asleep in the guesthouse, hands held across the gap between our single beds, so close, closer than if we had shared the same bed. Strong hands, hands to hold me, take care of me, support and protect me.

Mary Monaghan

She wanted that storm but
it knocks her off
balance, keeps her guessing,
sweeps her away.
from all sides, whipped
by the wind she
off balance, out of control,
at the mercy of the storm, turned
this way and that. It will
have its way.
descends and
then –
she emerges,

Mary Monaghan

I am the flower on the mountainside facing the sun, searching for pleasure
The lightness of being, its rays on my petals, searching for pleasure

I am the path winding its way up the mountain
A guide in times of uncertainty, searching for pleasure

Finding the rock where I recover my stillness
Gazing at the mountain, its beauty, its majesty, searching for pleasure

Eroded with time, beautiful and rounded
Energy and passion, stillness and compassion, searching for pleasure

Sometimes noisy, sometimes silent, always alive
Mary, a life force, an energy that does not falter, searching for pleasure

Mary Monaghan

Doctor Kathleen Lynn (from a work in progress)

It was a cold, wet autumn day in 1955 when the family and friends of Kathleen Lynn gathered to pay their last respects.  It is doubtful she would have wished to be buried with full military honours disillusioned as she had become with the new Ireland.

Many of her friends felt unable to enter  the Church of Ireland for fear of excommunication.   They stood outside the church gate, observing the funeral rites from a distance, wanting to pay their last respects to a truly great Irishwoman, a suffragette, the Chief Medical Officer of the Irish Citizen army, a revolutionary and republican who had done so much for her country.

A big black car drew up outside the church.  The driver jumped out and opened the door, umbrella in hand as he ushered his distinguished visitor out of the car. President De Valera put his foot into a puddle of water but, seemingly unconcerned, straightened himself up, grabbed the umbrella and approached the church railing.  The crowd standing outside the churchyard tapped their hats, aware of the significance of his presence.

How could he not be here?  He and Kathleen went back to the days of the Rising. They had fought side by side for Ireland’s independence.  Lately they had disagreed vehemently over De Valera’s reluctance to continue funding of the St Ultan’s children’s hospital. The former friends had become foes.

De Valera put his hand on the gate, the crowd outside looked at him in anticipation.  Surely he wasn’t going to risk the ire of the Catholic church by setting foot into a Protestant churchyard?   He hesitated, unsure of what to do.  Kathleen had been a fellow revolutionary, she deserved his respect.  He glanced at the crowd as they waited for his next move.  Was it worth it?  Probably not.  The church was already full to capacity with Kathleen’s family he reasoned.   His entering the church so late could only be disruptive.  People’s focus would turn to him rather than Kathleen.  It was enough that he was there, albeit at a distance. He took his hand off the gate and there was a collective sigh of relief as he moved to one side, an aged solitary figure standing in the rain.

Mary Monaghan

The seed planted in fertile earth
Strong and fulfilling
A new beginning
Energy waves swelling

Strong and fulfilling
Catch the sunlight
Energy waves swelling
Hold me in their light embrace

Catch the sunlight
Emerge from the darkness
Hold me in their light embrace
The seed planted in fertile earth

Mary Monaghan

Poem of Desire

Inner turmoil
Should I?
A gentle circling
Your fingers on my breast
We cannot progress
– Beyond this touch –
Suspended in this moment
Subtle acknowledgement
Desire awakened
We come together
We cannot hold back
Just this once
Attuned to each other’s rhythm
Being true to ourselves
So often we deny
The truth so long concealed
This must be the first time
And the last time
I can never have you
But I will always yearn for you

Mary Monaghan

Green are the hills far away

‘I need to look in the old suitcase where you keep all the photos.’ I said to Kathryn as we sat in her poky flat in London.

It was a cold, rainy, summer’s day and we had a few hours to kill before catching up with some old friends at the Pink Rupee in Cricklewood. There was no way I fancied venturing outside as I listened to the rain beating against the sash windows, gazing at the grey skyline.

‘Ok, I’ll get it down from the attic. Put the kettle on, maybe some coffee will warm us up a bit.’

I padded into the kitchen, cursing the fact that I was freezing cold on a midsummer’s day in London. Why was I always surprised, I should know better.

‘Here it is,’ she said.


I wanted to look out some old photos from our childhood, ones of Cyprus which would help to bring back memories of the period I was writing about in my book. I dragged the heavy suitcase into the lounge, and sat on the carpet ready to sift through all the photos my parents had accumulated over the years. As I opened old albums, untied ribbons around packets of letters, my parents’ life together began to unfold before my eyes. In amongst the bundles at the bottom of the suitcase I saw a yellowing exercise book, RAF issue. It was filled with my mother’s expressive handwriting. At the top of the first page she had written a title: ‘Green are the hills far away.’

‘What’s this?’ I asked Kathryn.

‘It’s Mother’s story; she wrote it down just before she died.’

’ Why didn’t you tell me about it before?’ I asked.

‘I did.’ She answered, irritation at my selective memory clearly registering in her voice.

‘Ok, sorry, let me read it then.’

I moved over to the armchair and placed my coffee mug beside me. I curled my feet up underneath me, propped myself up with a cushion, then opened the exercise book and started to read my mother’s story.

I am writing this story for you, Kathryn and Mary from Johannesburg where I’m visiting Mary and John. I’m getting old now and I want you to know about my early life in Ireland.

I know I haven’t spoken to you much about my childhood, it has always been a bit of a sore subject with me. It was such an unhappy period of my life, but I think the time has come to explain to you why I have always been so reluctant to go home to Ballinrobe. It holds bad memories for me. My father died of consumption six weeks after I was born in 1917, leaving my mother to bring up my sister Marie and I single-handedly. He had been in the sanatorium for six months before he died; consumption was rife in Ireland in those days. He had worked in a draper’s shop and earned enough to keep the family in food and shelter; there was no need for my mother to work. Now here she was with very little money, two small children and a small widow’s pension. She always considered herself as being from the better part of town, living as she did on High Street and she hated the thought of having to earn a living. But the reality was she had to generate some form of income so she begrudgingly took to dressmaking and doing alterations for people in the town. She kicked against it, always considering herself to be above this, preferring to think of it simply as a service she was providing for her friends.

From my early childhood she always made it clear that Marie was her favourite, the intellectual of the family. No chance of Marie being sent to the well to get water every evening. She couldn’t be parted from her studies. That duty always fell to me. The bucket was heavy to carry and I was scolded if I spilled too much on the climb back up the hill.

‘You’ll never make anything of yourself,’ my mother said to me. ‘You’ll come to no good,’ she continued as she gave me yet another hiding. Marie would watch from behind her book, smiling sheepishly. She knew there was nothing she could do to help.

‘Kathleen O’Toole, come up to the front of the class!’ was a common refrain from the nuns at school. I had misbehaved yet again and had to take my punishment, being hit with the strap in front of all my classmates.

I was naughty, a rebel, my mother was expecting me to misbehave, so why disappoint her? When I look back now, the things I did were so minor, but at the time they were seen as major misdemeanours, bringing shame on my family and tarnishing my mother’s genteel image in the community.

One of the worst things I did was to cover my school books with paper from the draper’s shop full of pictures of brassieres, corsets and stockings. Just imagine the drama it caused in the early 1920s when the nuns were confronted with this in the classroom!

Part of the curriculum was domestic science. So what did that entail? Why doing the nun’s laundry of course! We stood in the basement of the convent swirling their long johns and bodices around in steaming vats of water, our hands red and burning from the harsh detergent. One day it got too much for me and when time came to iron their undergarments I decided to starch their long johns and stand them to attention along the passage. You can imagine the response that evoked. Kathleen O’Toole beaten mercilessly with the strap again, not to mention the hiding from my mother when I got home.

‘Marie is such a lovely, sweet child. I don’t know where you came from. We would all be better off if you had never been born.’ So continued my mother’s almost daily refrain. I couldn’t understand why both she and the nuns were so heartless. They were supposed to be holy people; my mother went to Mass every day and was a pillar of the church. How could she spend her life abusing me like this? Even as a child I realized that there was a contradiction between her fervent faith and the hand raised to beat me at every opportunity. And all under the gaze of the myriad of statues of Our Lady.

I got on well with Marie though. I knew it wasn’t her fault; she was quiet and sweet, always in her books, cut off from the harsh reality of the outside world. As I grew older, things didn’t change. I was always expected to be up to no good even when I wasn’t. Marie was always the perfect one. It was a miserable and repressed childhood; the atmosphere was oppressive, never carefree. I was allowed no freedom; I could never express myself. I knew as soon as I got the opportunity I had to leave and start a new life for myself.

I turned to Kathryn, stretching my legs out from underneath me.

‘She always made light of her rebelliousness, I had no clue how rough life was for her.’

‘I know’ Kathryn replied. ‘That must be why she was so careful to treat us both equally, never showing favouritism. It makes such sense now; she took it to the other extreme, keeping things so impartial. Do you remember her favourite saying: “You are no better than anyone else and no-one is any better than you”?’

‘Of course I do.’

‘Now we know where it comes from. Thank goodness she turned her bad experience into such a positive one for us.’

The rain had stopped and it was time to get ready for our outing to the Pink Rupee. There was a lot more to read but I was glad of the chance to take a break. I had enough to think about for now. I closed ‘Green are the hills far away’ and placed it carefully in the suitcase on top of our baby albums.

Mary Monaghan

Life’s Journey

Deep in the forest
We walk through life
Guide us on our journey
Creating a meaningful path

We walk through life
Coming together
Creating a meaningful path
Our touch is light

Coming together
Awaken our senses
Our touch is light
Returning to earth’s nurture

Awaken our senses
Guide us on our journey
Returning to earth’s nurture
Deep in the forest