Mortal Sin

By J A O’Brien

There were not many times when I saw my Da really angry. I think the first time I can remember was when he had an argument with Uncle John.

John was a bachelor who lived with his brother Kevin and his wife and five children in the working-class suburb of Kimmage. He was a cautious and careful man who always tried to do the right thing by everybody.

Da reckoned he had this fixation about propriety because he had not gone out in 1916 to join the Rising. John and his brother William had both been members of the Irish Volunteers and on that fateful Easter Monday William had joined his company and marched off to be part of the Boland’s Mills garrison.

John had obeyed the countermanding order of Eoin MacNeill the chief of the Volunteers who opposed the Rising, and so had not joined his unit on that momentous day. For the rest of his life he had regretted his decision and it was to influence his attitude and his dealings with people for the rest of his days.

He had a friend, Dick Duggan, who had died owing close to five pounds to a local publican “Dribbler” Deasy, so called because he had an almost permanent dribble of spittle on the side of his moustache. When Uncle John learned that his old friend had died in debt to Deasy he went to the publican and paid out the five pounds ‘to clear his friends good name’ as he put it.

When Da heard about this he was furious and when Uncle John called to see us one Saturday afternoon, he remonstrated with him in no uncertain terms.

“Five pounds to the Dribbler,” he shouted. “What in the name of Jasus made you do that?”

“It was a matter of principle, Pat,” John said defensively.

“Principle,” Da roared. “What principles does a bloody publican hold? Just look at how they advertise for staff in the papers. ‘Must be strict TT and Non-TU’. Strictly teetotal and non-trade union,” he said contemptuously.

“But Pat, I could not have let Dick go to his grave in dishonour,” John said. “I had to allow for his redemption and clear his soul of his sin.”

“You are living with Kevin and Mary and five hungry kids. Five quid would put food on the table for a few weeks. You could have offered it up in your prayers for him, if that’s what worried you,” Da said, his tone softening just a little.

And that was when Uncle John overplayed his case. “But Pat,” he said piously. “The debt had to be paid as full restitution for his sin. If not, it would be a mortal sin on his soul.”

Da stood up I had never seen him so worked up. “Mortal sin,” he roared. “Mortal sin! Oh, Christ help this bloody country.”

He turned to Uncle John “Get out,” he said. “Get out of this house. I’ll tell you what mortal sin is. It is a mortal sin not to do a bloody publican.”

© J A O’Brien 2009.

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