Tales from Ulster

6:04 AM

     The Northern Irish are a fascinating conglomeration of cultures. They are neither English nor Scottish, Irish, nor European but a delightful mixture of all these things. From the Scots, they have claimed an incredible work ethic, paired with a highland warrior fieriness. From the English, they have inherited a love of manners along with a passion for a good cup of tea! From the Irish, they have acquired their charm, wit, and passion for a good story. If you ever have the good fortune to visit Northern Ireland, don't miss the locals on the way to the scenery, as they'll be sure to spin you a tale you'll not soon forget. 

   One night, shortly after I moved here, Nathan and I were making our way back home to his parents' house. They live in a lovely spot out in the country and kindly let us stay with them until we found our first place. As we drove through the shadowy countryside, Nathan told me tales of haunted church lanes and strange happenings in that part of the world. He never misses an opportunity to wind me up!  As we passed a desolated, decrepit brick house, he nodded seriously,

"That there is the hungry house where all the starving famine victims would come and line up for their bread. " 

   My mind's eye filled with the image of ragged, skeletal creatures waiting desperately for a last bit of sustenance. The ancient dark windows stared down threateningly and my eyes widened. Nathan laughed at my evident fear and was rewarded with a punch on the arm. 

"I'm driving!" he hollered through his chortling. 

 Like any grown adult, I decided to seek my revenge by running into the house to tell his mother about the "haunted tour" he'd led me on. However, if sympathy was what I was expecting, it was not to be sought in that quarter. With a serious face, she regarded me from across the table. 

"Oh aye, did he take you down the lane by the old church?" she asked gravely.

"No, I don't think so." I looked about nervously while trying to cover a gulp.

"Sure, that's where yer man died," she said nonchalantly. 

"Nathan, sure didn't you take her to that lane where yer man died?" she called after him.

I looked up in horror.

Sitting back down to her cup of tea, and with a brogue I could have sworn was thickening by the minute, she launched into a grisly tale of a man who had met a gruesome fate.

"He was a kind, simple man who lived in the area of the church down there. Every day he'd walk down that road to get where he was going, but there was one part of the road he never wanted to pass by. Often he'd tell us that there was something about that bend in the road he didn't like. We didn't pay much mind to it at the time." 

Enlisting her husband's help, she drew him in, "Sure David, didn't yer man always used to say he didn't like that one part of the road?"

"Aye, that he did." David said somberly as he passed through the kitchen. 

I looked up at my austere father-in-law's face, hoping this was some elaborate joke.  

"Then one day," she paused for effect, "as he was walking along the road, a car ran him down and he died. And wasn't it on that exact spot that he always used to say that he hated? Now what do you think of that?" She slammed her hands on the table for effect.

Quickly finishing off her tea, she stood up and with a bright smile at my rigid posture and horrified face, wished me goodnight and left me to my dark, wandering thoughts. 

That was my first education in Northern Irish dark humor. Oh, how they love a tragic tale. If someone has a sad story, it's sure to be passed through the country with a concerned nod and a furrowed brow. Perhaps it is the mournful landscape or their turbulent past, but there is something both deep and diverting, vibrant and yet sombre about these people. They are a mysterious, many layered race and not to be understood in a year or even ten. But if you invite them in, give them a wee cuppa and a biscuit, you'll most likely be privileged to a wild, well worn tale that'll give you chills up your spine or keep you laughing for days. 


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