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Authors: Patrick McCabe

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First there was the medal for Best Student. Then followed the Essay of 1963 award, and of course Exemplary Latin and Classics Scholar of the same year. Not to mention the
captaining of the team which sailed to victory in the 1965 Cardinal McGing All-Ireland Championships trophy. On a morning in 1967, I opened a copy of
magazine to discover once more
his sleek, Brylcreemed head superimposed above the squat, many-windowed outline of a fever hospital which, apparently, he had single-handedly been responsible for building in the African parish
where he was finishing up as spiritual administrator, having been transferred home – I shuddered! – to the town of Barntrosna, in the parish of Clonacoosey. All of a sudden I was seized
by a blind, uncontrollable panic. Some inexplicable, atavistic fury found me with the magazine twisted beyond all recognition in my lap. What am I to do? I repeated hoarsely to myself as I paced
the Axminster of my study. Never in the history of St Mackie’s had the rise of a student been so meteoric. It was at that point – yet another fever-sweltering dream concerning my
failure to act on that fateful morning in the sacristy having wakened me in the night – I became convinced that events were definitely coming to a head with Mr Packie ‘Fr’

I flung the remains of
magazine into the waste-paper basket and resolved at once to act.


I arrived at St Ignatius’s General Hospital (in which establishment I had ascertained he had taken up residence as chaplain) on the morning of the 16th of July 1967, to be
informed, to my amazement, that ‘Dear Fr Packie’ had had his farewell party only the evening before and was now stationed in the town of Labacusha, fifty-five miles south of Drogheda.
Little did I know that on the very spot where I stood, only one year later fifteen children would be wheeled out on squeaking trolleys, each and every one of them having perished from some
inexplicable, unidentified illness – and each of them members, at one time or another, of Fr Packie Cooley’s St Ignatius’s Hospital Soldiers of Christ Choral and Drama Group.

Those, of course, were the days of flower power and ‘hippies’ and the strains of popular hits of the time, dealing as they did with young people opting out of society and what have
you, delivered up their raucuous, hopelessly deluded cacophony to the street as I made my way past some elderly cap-doffing citizens, struggling with the defiantly atonal strains of ludicrously
foreign instruments in an effort to gather my thoughts and formulate some plan of action.

I am not and have never pretended to be a cleric in the G. K. Chesterton mould, but conscious as I was of the importance and, at this juncture, undoubted urgency of my task, I gave myself
wholeheartedly to the investigation and within a matter of mere days had located the elusive, chameleon-like clergyman. A young boy I chanced to encounter in the supermarket told me that it was his
custom to attend the ‘cubs’ with ‘Fr Packie’ and that if I was to make my way on Thursday evenings to the vicinity of the local football field, I would without a doubt find
him there.


To this day, any recollection of the sight that met my eyes on that fateful day in 1967 as I briskly turned the corner towards the football field fills me with an almost
intolerable grief. For there, ringed by a phalanx of red-eyed young boys in shorts who were sobbing their little hearts out, was the prone figure of an eight-year-old, now lying dead on the grass
because of a ‘kick in the head’. An ‘unfortunate, freakish accident’, it would later, in the full throes of his weeping, be categorized by the ‘trainer’ –
who, of course, was none other than . . .!

I fled from that place, lest I become overwrought and find myself drawn into physical confrontation, which could only – in those maddeningly fabricated circumstances – have proved
counter-productive. Being possessed, of course, of no concrete proof of what were not – at this stage – my suspicions, but my absolute convictions, I could not feasibly make my
accusations public, crying: ‘I know, Cooley! I know, you see! You’ve played your last card here, my friend!’ or similar. And thus I was compelled to bide my time and enjoin the
Lord to continue to assist me as I gave myself wholeheartedly to my investigations which I realized would now have to become both dogged and persistent if there was to be any hope of confounding my
adversary, which he now undoubtedly and most emphatically was, for who can look upon the pale cold countenance of a once-breathing footballing child in the prime of his youth without a sliver of
ice entering their heart?

Following the ‘sad incident’, as the credulous local newspaper described the passing of little Tommy McGinnity, the parish priest – Ladies! Have you met Fr Lucifer? He’ll
be taking over from Fr Joe! Ha ha! – retired to Europe for a short holiday, returning prematurely when the city of Paris was torn apart by riots – the photographs of which, as has now
become common knowledge (at least among us, the clergy, much as it horrifies us to admit it), revealed, without exception, the unmistakable figure of a familiar white-collared silhouette, its face
disfigured by pure evil.

I was horrified to hear that on his return he had been appointed pastor of St Gertie’s School for Girls, a reputable convent on the south side of Dublin City. Rather than make my presence
conspicuous, I decided to employ a more peripheral modus operandi, attiring myself after the manner of a gardener in a tweed hat and weather-beaten brown corduroys, and applying for the position
which I had been given to understand was currently available there. And which, I am happy to say, having acquainted myself with all manner of domestic plants and flowers which might have been
expected to be found thriving there, I am happy to say I was successful in acquiring.

With small three-pronged fork in hand, my investigations were now to begin in earnest.


The shriek of what at other times might reasonably have been considered girlish laughter echoing in the night to this day returns to haunt me, and with it the memory of fit
young bodies appearing at unadorned windows like pure, unblemished dolls only to be whisked away by a cackling shape with unmistakably protruding horns. Which I endured as best I could, but in the
end I could take no action other than that which I did, bursting into his office, firmly slamming a paperweight upon the felt-topped desk as I cried, hoarsely, such was the level of my distress:
‘The Devil is in this building!’

But little did I realize – even yet! – the adroitness and resourcefulness of the fiendish intelligence with which I was now engaged. Some days later, subsequent to the
‘exhaustive’ interviews she had conducted with him – a consequence of my relentless insistence – I was horrified to hear Sister Soobie inform me that far from discovering
the ‘can of worms the like of which the ecclesiastical world can only have nightmares about’ she had now come to the conclusion that my accusations regarding Fr Packie were nothing
short of ‘hysterical’, which, as it transpired, the reverend mother did too, remarking coolly as she sipped her tea, ‘Can you imagine! Our Fr Packie!’

I will not pretend that I found myself in any place but the pits of despair as I doffed my tweed hat for the last time and slipped quietly down the avenue, not once turning to look back, the
black energy that was radiating from behind the glass where he stood at the main window of the reception room on the ground floor, along with the catgut-thin length of his lopsided, teasing grin,
just about as much as I could at that moment humanly bear.

It is of little use now to repeat that only days later the carcass of a sacrificed sheep was discovered in one of the girls’ wardrobes and that a secret compartment in the senior locker
room gave up its horrid contents of bales of pornographic magazines and an upside-down cross.

There is an old folk-tale dating back to famine times, that in places where the dreaded blight exhaled its foul, dread breath, it was found when it had passed that in each of these stricken
villages there was somehow always a locked cottage. Locked, firmly shuttered, and seemingly uninhabited. Inexplicable yes, but a constant which remained with dogged ferocity throughout those
shoot-rotting, nettle-munching days, on each and every occasion when the blank, unfeeling door was broken in, revealing the interior to be packed floor to ceiling with what can only be described as
a ridiculous surfeit of foodstuffs, including potatoes, corn, maize and any number of handsomely filled wooden chests of Indian tea. Not uncommon also were sides of cooked ham. All of which, of
course, had mysteriously disappeared only weeks before the ragged cloak of the hunger had first draped itself about the unwitting land! Is there any need for me to point out the single, stark and
unequivocal conclusion which we have no choice but to draw from these assembled, totally incontrovertible facts? That in each of these unfortunate villages at that time, there had resided and
‘ministered’ a man known by only one name – Mr Packie ‘Fr’ Cooley!

And thus it came as no surprise whatsoever to me when, almost a year to the day after my experiences in Labacusha, I picked up the newspaper to enjoy a relaxing read after a very pleasant
evening meal – (lovely buns!) – prepared for me as usual by the ever-reliable Mrs Miniter, and, once again, felt the blood begin to drain from my face as I discerned before my very eyes
– in shimmering black bold type, such once more were the levels of my gathering anxieties – the words Strange Goings-on in County Cork Village, and composed myself as best I could to
assimilate the bizarre details of the story as they unfolded before me. By all accounts, the local bank had been robbed no less than eleven times, and it appeared that of late beer and marijuana
parties had become a regular occurrence in the town, but not clandestinely hidden away in some seemingly respectable suburb behind discreet Venetian blinds but in full view of the inhabitants as
they went about their daily chores – on the village green itself! One youth when interviewed stated baldly that he did not care what the police or the priests said and that he was going to do
his ‘own thing’ whether they liked it or not. A beautiful-looking young girl with all her life before her saw absolutely nothing wrong, it would seem, with brashly pronouncing that it
was her express intention to earn her living by becoming a common prostitute as soon as she was old enough to take her leave of the village. As if this wasn’t enough, a roughneck who smugly
described himself as a ‘Hell’s Angel’ magnanimously shared with the world the edifying information that nothing would give him quite so much pleasure as any occasion, in any
public place or private establishment whatsoever (he was not choosy, he informed us), which might provide him with an opportunity to, as he quaintly termed it, ‘bust heads’. Behind this
explosion of poorly tended face-fungus and unkempt leather, I gloomily noted the outline of a blazing building, which valiant firemen were doing their level best to quench.

By the time I made for my bed, there was little doubt in my mind as to who was behind this latest manifestation of creeping entropy or whatever label one might care to put on it, and a few
well-placed telephone calls the following morning only served to confirm my worst suspicions. It transpired that Cooley had been transferred from a violence-ridden hamlet in the west (where
faction-fighting, unknown for generations, had erupted again with a vengeance – 1,300 people being hospitalized over one two-day period) to this unfortunate, selfsame village only weeks
before! As I replaced the receiver, my heart beat in my chest like a bellows and the blood coursed through my palpitating veins like some veritable crashing Niagara. Cigarette upon cigarette I
smoked, pacing the Axminster and cracking my knuckles until even the mild-mannered Mrs Miniter could take no more and cried: ‘Stop that! Stop that, your grace! Stop it now, I tell

I apologized profusely to her and seated myself in my Chesterfield as at last I felt a cool, refreshing calm descending over me. A cool calm that whispered: ‘This time you’ll have to
act. You know that, your grace – don’t you?’

It is not with any pride I report that barely five minutes after my foot touched the surface of the main street of Bunacash, in the county of Cork, I found myself propositioned by a gum-chewing
teenager in a blouse or shirt so flimsy that it barely seemed to exist at all, who promised to show me one or two things I would have only read about in books, and it was all – God forgive
me! – I could do not to slap her face right there and then to bring her back to her senses as I held her against the wall and cried: ‘What is going on here! Who put you up to
this!’ But I could see that she was so high on drugs that I would succeed in prising no information of any worth out of her. I knew there was nothing for it but to make straight for the
presbytery to confront my quarry once and for all. Discarding my shrieking, giddy charge, I hastily gathered my skirts about me and stormed uncompromisingly down the main street.

I was heartened by my firm sense of purpose and resolution, or at least I understood myself to be until I flung the front door of the presbytery open and there to my horror beheld what I had
long feared and suspected – a sight so repellent that I can scarcely bring myself to describe it here. There, before my very eyes, draped across the chaise longue – like some hideous
oriental puzzle of flesh – in a pose which can only be described as ‘grotesque’ and exuding a seductive lotus-eating lassitude, were any number of nubile young women in various
states of undress, blearily laughing their heads off and clearly under the influence of some soporific narcotic. Enthusing pathetically as the Devil himself, sporting a clerical collar but bereft
of any other form of human garb or clothing of any kind, blasphemed wildly as he sprang wildly about the room in an abominable, mocking gavotte, his smoking manhood lividly erect before him.
‘Say you worship me, my sweet ones!’ I heard him cackle. ‘Worship for ever He Who Destroys!’

The sight of those once innocent eyes as they slid to the floor before him was more than I could bear. ‘NO!’ I cried, leaping into the air and catching him firmly by the horns,
falling across the coffee table (upon which were casually discarded any number of glossy magazines happily displaying further preposterously interlocking combinations of pink-hued female flesh). I
– from whence I found my strength to this day I do not know – I began to pummel him furiously without restraint about his charcoal-coloured razor-toothed visage, crying hysterically
– for it is no lie – I was close to losing my reason – ‘No, Cooley! No more, you hear me! You have destroyed enough lives! This for you is the end of the road! Do you hear
me? Do you hear me – Emperor of Hell!’ With all the resources I could humanly muster, I continued to lay forcefully about him, using his horns as a grip whilst I brought his head into
contact with the floor. Had he been but human my work would, within minutes have been complete. But Packie Cooley was not human. Indeed, he was so far from that condition that the mortal mind can
only begin to imagine it, as I discovered when I looked up from my handiwork only to find, with a gradually growing sickening sensation of hopelessness, that he was standing virtually unscathed
adjacent to the drinks cabinet sipping a brightly coloured viscous liquid, as though some deranged lounge-lizard, enquiring with one raised eyebrow as to whether I was finished yet. Such was the
feeling of despair – not to mention physical exhaustion – that my head slumped lifelessly to my chest and I could bear no more of his understated taunts, his limp-wristed, degenerate
admonitions to the now reassembling pyramid of alabaster-pale flesh, whose laughter accelerated inside my mind as I lay there, prone and red-eyed, ineffectual, empty, for all to see. As in a dream,
I perceived them begin to advance upon me, the irregular cracks upon the white ceiling slowly converging as his razor teeth shone, his grey fingers approaching as if to stroke my cheek towards
Hades and the eternal boatman, the only recollection remaining to me, consumed as I was now with exhaustion and – to my shame! – naught but a longing for oblivion, being that of my
soutane’s forcible removal and the Prince of Blackness standing over me, rubbing his night-dark hands with glee as the transformed figures – for they surely must once have been women
– cavorted, shrieking, waving their arms as they gleefully inhaled lungfuls of the purplish smoke that by now had filled the room.

BOOK: Mondo Desperado
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