Father John Murphy stood back and looked at his church. He was quite pleased with this tiny but perfect building that was his first very own parish. He knew it was a sin but he felt great pride.
“Top of the morning to you Father Murphy.”
As he started to turn around Father Murphy ran through the list of names in his head that might belong to that voice. “Ah yes, good morning Miss O’Dell. It is indeed a lovely morning.” The voice belonged to the ancient and diminutive local gossip. There were some who said she had been around for more than a hundred years.
“Are you settling in now Father Murphy? Have you made peace with the locals?”
“I’m not quite sure I understand what you mean Miss O’Dell. The local what?”
“Why the wee folk Father Murphy! Don’t you know the truth?” Before he had a chance to answer, Miss O’Dell answered for him. “Oh, my goodness you don’t! You’re from the ‘Americas’ and you don’t know!”
Without another word Miss O’Dell put a hand to her throat and turned away. She was muttering to herself as she hurried down the main street and was quickly gone from sight.
Father Murphy was surprised at the reaction but he had too many other things on his mind to worry about. So, he dismissed the incident and turned to go back into his office. He still had Sunday’s sermon to write.
Kilkenny was a small village on the northernmost point of Northern Ireland. It is said that the old ways are still practiced in Kilkenny and people guard their privacy well. Father John Murphy was indeed from the ‘Americas’ but both his parents had been born just a few miles down the road from this tiny village. He had been raised hearing stories about this idyllic section of the world and when he joined the church, he had let it be known that he would love to someday have a parish here. It took many years but his wish came true. Unfortunately, his parents didn’t tell him all the stories about Kilkenny. But then, he didn’t know that.
Several hours after his encounter with Miss O’Dell, Father Murphy was working on his sermon when his housekeeper entered his office with a cup of tea and a few biscuits on a tray.
“It’s time for a break now Father Murphy. You canna work your fingers to the bone. You need sustenance.” She spoke as she placed the tray on his desk.
Father Murphy looked up from his work a little confused. He had been working intently and hadn’t heard Mrs. Finnegan come into the room.
The woman who had interrupted the good Father’s work was formidable. She had been involved in the upkeep of the church for the last 47 years and it was doubtful she was ever going to retire. She knew how things were to be done and made sure everyone else knew it too, including the resident priest.
“I heard you had a wee chat with old Miss O’Dell,” continued Mrs Finnegan. “They say she has the second sight. You would do well to pay attention to her words. Do you want more than two biscuits now?”
“Um, yes, no, I think two biscuits will be just fine Mrs. Finnegan. How on earth did you hear about my conversation with Miss O’Dell so quickly?
‘Now Father Murphy you have to understand that there are very few things in this village that I don’t know. I have a network you see.”
“Well then maybe you can tell me where my pens are. They all seem to have disappeared. I’m down to using pencils that are much too dull.”
“Did you say all your pens are gone?” Mrs. Finnegan studied the young priest for a moment. “Well now, they’re starting early with you. You would do well to make peace with the locals.”
Before he had a chance to react Mrs. Finnegan flicked her cloth at an imaginary piece of dust and left the room closing the door behind her.
Father Murphy sat back in his chair and shook his head. “What locals!” He burst out. But there was no one there to hear him, or was there.
Absentmindedly he reached out for one of the very delicious biscuits. Mrs. Finnegan made them fresh every morning and he looked forward to them with his tea at just about this time every day. What his hand closed on was not a biscuit. It was wet and soft and quite unpleasant! He quickly dropped it and stood up, staring at the offending item. It smelled too.
“Mrs. Finnegan! Mrs. Finnegan! Could you come here please!” He tried to keep the panic out of his voice.
Mrs. Finnegan must’ve been right outside the door as she was there within seconds. “Ewwwwwww they gave you a mud biscuit! You are lucky, the last priest they gave him a dog turd! You’d better make peace in a hurry because it will escalate from here.”
Ever the efficient housekeeper Mrs. Finnegan picked up the offending item and made to dispose of it outside.
“Wait”, said Father Murphy as he wiped the mud from his fingers. “I need to know what’s going on. I keep hearing cryptic comments about making peace with the locals. What does that mean?”
Mrs. Finnegan smiled. “I’ll be right back. Sit down and I’ll explain everything. I just want to get rid of this first.”
Father John Murphy sat down behind his desk, in his first parish in the village of Kilkenny and wondered just what he’d gotten himself into. He had heard stories but he’d always thought they were just that, stories. They couldn’t possibly be true. Not now, not today. Such things just didn’t exist except in myth and legend.
“Oh, we exist.”
It was a tiny voice and Father Murphy wasn’t even sure he actually heard it but when he turned around, he saw a flicker of movement just at the edge of his peripheral vision. He wasn’t even sure he had actually seen it. But if he had, then that meant . . . it was the locals.
Mrs. Finnegan bustled back into the room with a fresh plate of biscuits. “If you don’t take your eyes off these you will actually get to eat them this time.”
“It’s true then? I thought it was only in legends and myths”
The housekeeper made herself comfortable in a chair across the desk from the priest and helped herself to a biscuit. “You really didn’t know then? I thought your parents were from near here?”
“They never told me. They did act a little strange when I told them I was taking a parish here. Why do you call them locals?”
“They were here first. We come and go, but they are always here. And they are always watching. My advice to you, don’t make them angry. They’re cute and adorable in stories but the reality is much different. Farmer Bellamy had cows that didn’t give milk for three weeks because he made a crass comment about the locals.”
All Father Murphy could do was shake his head.
Mrs. Finnegan continued, “You said you mislaid all your pens, have you noticed that your shoes aren’t where you put the night before and your toothbrush is always upside down in the glass? They’re giving you a warning. Be nice to them. And they’ll find you fresh blueberries every morning. They might even clean your shoes when you’re not looking. And one more thing, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up so you might want to be extra special in your sermon. They like that, the leprechauns do. Because you know they’re always watching.”