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I never asked my father about the Spearins after that. I left him alone to pursue his latest obsession with growing sunflowers in the back garden.

In the school attendance book my name appeared in its Irish form. Speirin (pronounced Spayreen) was how Brother Savage translated my surname. Speir being the Irish word for sky, I became known as Little Sky. When we played cowboys and Indians I was always one of the Indians. Little Sky stood well alongside such legends as Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The Dalcassian Archeological Society conducted an excavation of a site near Carraig O Gunnell castle and they unearthed some ancient arrowheads and quivers made from buffalo skin. This got me thinking that maybe Little Sky's (Spearins) ancestors had sailed up the Shannon once and landed near Tervoe. This might explain their latter-day presence all around that area. Tattered cattle-skin manuscripts found near the dig site were studied by experts who deciphered references to a group called Clan na Craiceann dearga (Family of Redskins). I visited the place and found it to be a hotbed of bog-snorkling which, as everyone knows, is a very Spearinish pastime, being always curious about what lurks beneath the dark and murky surface.

But back to the schoolyard and while the Apaches and Cherokees were battling against the early settlers and pioneers something strange was happening in our back garden at home. The sunflowers sown by my father were beginning to emerge above the ground in a most bizarre fashion. The pattern of their initial sowing became obvious when, at just ten inches tall they described a perfect swastika. Uncle Distaff arrived on his sideways bicycle, took one look at the display and declared it to be the sign of an underground Nazi plot. Murphy next door said it could be the work of the Freemasons.

"I don't think so" said Uncle Distaff, "sure all the Freemasons do is build walls for nothing".

He sprinkled the swastika with liquid from a Fanta bottle whilst speaking in Latin.

"What are you doing?" demanded my father, "I watered them only an hour ago"

"This water" Uncle Distaff assured us, "is genuine holy water, passed recently by the Bishop of Lourdes".

Well it must have been good stuff as the sunflowers blossomed and grew taller. We had a six foot high botanical replica of wartime Germany's national symbol. Word came to my father that the Parish Priest was about to call. A hurried cropping of the outer arms of the emblem left a credible cruciform shape which seemed to please the PP no end.

Uncle Distaff called again a week later and said prayers in the back garden. There were heated words between him and my father. "Dragging it all up again" was one of the phrases Uncle Distaff used. My father laughed and began to sing the HORST WESSEL LEID whereupon Uncle Distaff doused him with the stuff from the Fanta bottle.

"That will scorch you" he cried.

Then he blessed us all and gave us sweets. As he departed on his bike, one leg resting on the handlebars, the other leg pushing the left-hand pedal, I couldn't help thinking that he knew a lot more about the family background than I hitherto realised.

It was some time after the sunflower episode that my father started doing night duty. This upset his metabolism and caused him to turn pale from lack of sunlight. He also began to suffer from boils at the back of his neck. Two large pustules in the jugular region were unsightly and he sliced through them one morning while he shaved. Blood poured from the wounds. He stuck two plasters on the site and drank whiskey. He was asleep on a chair when Uncle Distaff called. He asked about the neck wounds and I told him about the crop of boils. He hummed and hawed.

"I'll be back" is all he said.

When he left I woke my father and told him Uncle Distaff was returning and I was fearful of another row. My father donned a polo neck jumper and headed for the pub.

When Uncle Distaff arrived back he carried a canvas bag into the house. "Where is he?" he asked. I told him I didn't know.

While he searched for my father upstairs I opened up the canvas bag and peered inside. It contained a crucifix, some garlic bulbs, a hammer and a pointed wooden stake.

I was glad my father was gone to the pub.

Joe Spearin

August 2011

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Last update: April 2011

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