This piece is by Ulla McFarlane.
The year was 1906, and it was cold. Colder than anybody could remember. The winter had arrived early, the North Easterlies sweeping in the arctic air.
It was early in the morning of a late November day, when a woman made her way through the freezing wind. She was clad in a swath of cloth, which covered her body, protecting her from any intruding wind.
Nobody would have paid her much attention if it hadn’t been for her hair. As always, when Etwina walked down the street, she caused a few heads to turn, admiring her proud swagger as she disappeared further along the street. She held her head high, while her mane of dark red hair swung freely down her back in a sensuous rhythm with every step she made.
If any of her admirers had looked a bit closer, they would have noticed her unusual green eyes burning with such anger that they would have retreated and stayed well out of her way. But, as it was, they didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, so they stayed where they were.
She pulled her shawl a little bit tighter around her upper body to ward off the chill coming from the wide river beyond. Her long dress swayed around her hips and legs, matching the fury that was burning deep in her chest. A grey mist lay over the city of Dublin at this early hour. Only a few brave hearts had ventured out to conduct their business, but although there were not many and the weather was foul, it still didn’t stop them from turning their heads as she hurried by.
That she was on a mission was obvious to them all, but what it could possibly be was beyond their comprehension. And it was as well, because it would have caused a major disruption to their otherwise orderly lives.
She proceeded down Dame Street, and very soon, she was in sight of Trinity College. She continued at speed, not giving the magnificent building a second glance, and veered slightly southwest reaching the Liberties. It was a part of the city that no one would enter unless you lived there. It was dirty and stank from the abject poverty and general decay. Diseases were rife, which nobody could afford to treat and nobody cared about, anyway. It was also mainly inhabited by Catholics.
For a girl like her to enter this seedy part of the city would be unthinkable in any normal circumstance, but this was a time where normality had been suspended. Not only was she a protestant but a rich protestant at that. Well, at least her family was rich. Her father was one of the most affluent merchants in Dublin and he’d made his fortune dealing with countries as far away as India and countries beyond. He’d ridden the Industrial Revolution as you would a wild stallion, and he’d tamed it and reaped the rewards.
So you could be forgiven if you wondered what a rich man’s protestant daughter was doing in the Liberties on a foul morning in late November.
The answer was a simple one. She was on her way to see her lover, but most importantly, she was on her way to warn him of a great danger coming his way. To say that Conor was her lover was true, insofar as he was also the love of her life. He’d fought hard to get her off his scent. He’d avoided her and the pull of her beauty. More importantly, he didn’t know whether he could trust her, knowing her family’s background. But she hadn’t given up, and in the end he’d succumbed. He was in his early thirties and never been in love in all his life, until he’d met her.
He was also a Catholic -Irish, and Gaelic to the core. He’d been lucky to learn to read and write, and it was all contained in an intelligent brain. He was prone to read poetry and reciting old legends derived from his native island. In other words, he was a gentle man living in a giant body. For, big he was. He was tall and strongly built and his square handsome face was crowned by very dark hair, which accentuated his piercing blue eyes.
More dangerously, though, was that he was also a member of the Brotherhood who was dedicated to liberate his country from the British rule. Precisely the reason for Etwina’s unscheduled visit into the Liberties. She was here to warn him, overhearing a conversation she should never been privy to. The protestants and the Irish Parliament that was a British joke, really, were on the scent of the Brotherhood and ready to strike.
When she reached his entrance, she ran up the steps to the room where he’d been hiding. She rapped their secret signal on the door, and a moment later, she fell into his arms, and her mouth found his. It was Etwina who finally tore herself from his embrace, both of them, quite out of breath.
“What is it, girl? I’m sure glad to see you, but something has happened, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, abort whatever you’ve planned. It’s been found out. Get out of here and go back up to Ulster.”
Conor opened his mouth as if to protest. But then he seemed to think again. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Conor, I’m serious. There’s an informer. Just get all of you together and go. I don’t want you to die because of this. I love you, man, more than I can say. I’ll come to you whenever I find a way. Please, just go.”
“Okay, I hear you, and I love you as I’ve never loved before. We’ll go, but just for now. Thanks for warning us.”
Conor took her into his arms again, and brought her face to his. After a moment, they broke apart.
“Etwina, when will we see each other again?”
“I don’t know. My love, I don’t know, but the sooner you’re away and this has blown over, I’ll come up to Inishowen to be at your side.”
She left a soft kiss on his mouth. Turned around, and departed, as abruptly, as she’d arrived.