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The man still on the moon - Solly Maguire

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Driving back home from the village of Labasheeda on a crystal bright spring night garnished with stars, I saw Solly Maguire for the first time in close on 20 years. He had not changed one bit from the time I last saw him even though he is a big age now.

He still had the same ruddy cheeks, the huge wide smile, the head on one side. And he still has the double chins and the dimple in the center of the original one.
A remarkable man, Solly, and the father of a daughter with beautiful wisdoms about her.

I said, "Hello there Solly. It's great to see you looking so well." I saluted him with my right arm.

I'd swear the old thatcher and basket maker and storyteller winked back. It is hard to be certain of that, though, because of the distances involved between us.

You see, Solly is better known to the rest of the world as The Man In the Moon!

I was told the yarn many years ago by one of Solly's grandchildren when we were standing outside the fabled Sligo seaside pub Ellen's of Maugherow in the moonlight.

This mature man, whose name I have long forgotten, told me that when they were children growing up on the banks of the Lower Erne near Ballyshannon their grandfather Solly lived with them. His mother was Moira and she was Solly's daughter.

Incidentally, the storyteller's full name was Solomon. For whatever reason it was a popular Christian name in that region at the time. It was invariably shortened to Solly.

He was, according to his grandchild, a mighty man altogether. He was a fisherman and fowler, farmer and thatcher, a master basket maker of the "creels" which every home needed then for carrying turf and vegetables, circular handled baskets of willow rods. And Solly also earned money by selling sheaves of rods to other basket makers.

But to the children of the house it was his art as a storyteller that captivated them during their childhood. Solly would tell his stories of fairies and ghosts and haunted houses as he wove his creels either near the fire in winter or outside in the summertime.

The grandson told me that his mother often listened to the stories too, even though she would have known most of them almost by heart.

He relayed several of them to me that night, but the only one I can recall now was one of a traveling tailor, jilted by his girlfriend, who walked into a bog one night to the home of a farmer with four daughters of marriageable age. The tailor and the farmer drank a bottle of the tailor's whiskey and a deal was arranged.

The deal was that the father would call out the names of the daughters sleeping upstairs, and the tailor could propose to the first one to arrive down to the kitchen below.

Who did not come bursting through the door first in her nightgown but the youngest and prettiest of them all? And dammit, she accepted the tailor's proposal and, of course, they all lived happy ever after.

On the darker side, I seem to also recall a scrap of a story about a pregnant girl in a mean house who cheated a neighbor out of his farm in card games of 25 by concealing the powerful card called The Fingers (the five) on her person. When her child was born afterwards it had five fingers on each hand and an extra toe on each foot as well. Anyway, Solly was a great storyteller.

He lived to a big age and died in his sleep and was buried. They were all brokenhearted in the family.

Two or three weeks later there was a bright moonlit night and they were still grieving. But their mother Moira called them out of their beds to look out through the door and windows at the big fat faraway moon, and she said there was their granda Solly.

“Can't you see his face as clear as day!" smiling down at them and still looking after them. Ever afterwards they saw their beaming grandfather when others saw a nameless Man In the Moon.

That Moira was a great mother in my view. A woman as wise as the original Solomon for sure.

And that's how I met Solly Maguire again the other night. It was a pleasure.

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