The MacConnells have always been a poor clan down the centuries except for one golden 20 year period three generations ago on my father's side.

I might have told ye some of the story about Stuttering Mickie here in the past, but dammit I am going to tell it again. Some of ye probably missed the earlier telling and, above and beyond that, we all need some light relief on both shores of the Atlantic just now as an escape from the dire politicking that is blistering all the airwaves.

So come back in time with me to the era when my great great grandfather Stuttering Mickie was trying to raise a family of two sons and a daughter on a swamp of a tiny farm on the shores of Lough Erne in Co. Fermanagh. In wet years, and there were many of them, half of his holding was under the Erne. Life and living was a constant struggle not helped at all by the speech defect which gave him his nickname.

Know well too, this being Ulster, that all the fine farms and big houses both topographic and economically above Mickie's thatched roof were in the hands of the wealthy Protestant farmers who were the descendants of the original Planters. And there was (is?) a major divide between that community and the struggling Papish farmers like Mickie that history had driven almost off the land altogether and into the Erne.

Of all the farming problems attacking Mickie's generation, probably the worst was created by attacks upon their crucial stores of potatoes, grain, and other foodstuffs and supplies in the stone sheds and cabins around their homes. The sheds and cabins were not capable of preventing the wily rodents from entering and eating everything in sight.

In very wet winters the problem was multiplied greatly, and it was in this area that Stuttering Mickie's great natural gift came to the fore. Because our Stuttering Mickie was able to rid your holding and sheds of all rats overnight once you approached him with a bottle of whiskey and a silver coin at least. The folklore term for his gift was that he was able to billet rats.

As I was told by my father, the supplicant who was afflicted by the rodents came to Mickie's doorstep with the bottle of whiskey in his hand and a silver coin in his pocket. Silver coins, even a six penny piece, were valuable back then.

Mickie and the neighbor downed some shots by the open fire, the coin changed hands, and the arrangement was that Mickie would visit the infected farm the following day or as soon as possible.

He would arrive at the farm then, and I gather a few more shots would be downed before he walked the edges of the holding with the owner. He was looking for a certain hole which marked the dwelling place of the Master Rat. He never failed to find it after a short search.

The critical point arose then, and remember we are in divided Ulster. Stuttering Mickie would ask the afflicted farmer where did he want his bloody rats billeted forever after they departed his lands after midnight.

The Papish farmer, of course, a victim of his history, always nodded towards the big Protestant farm atop the hill and say he wanted the flock billeted there. So Mickie took a piece of paper from his pocket, wrote down the address of the new billet, and stuffed it into the entrance of Master Rat's dwelling.

He then stood back three paces, crossed himself, and intoned a Latin phrase of which, sadly, as ye will hear, only one word survives. That word is "fructus..." and it was followed (said my father Sandy) by no more than four other words.

Then Mickie would cross himself again, the men would retreat back to the hearth and the bottle of whiskey and maybe a feed of bacon and cabbage and the job was done. By next dawn the Master Rat had led his followers away to the big house on the hill and the big Orange farmers always called George or William or Aubrey or names like that were up to their eyeballs in rodentine trouble.

Meanwhile, back home, Mickie's wife had a purse bulging with the shillings and sixpences of the most prosperous period in this clan's history.

Mickie's fame spread like wildfire along the shores of the Lough. He had customers every day, sometimes two a day. It was too good to last for sure.

The unique day came when, incredibly, the spring carts of both the parish priest of the Papishes and the rector of the suffering Protestant farmers on the hills arrived together at the doorstep and commanded Mickie to instantly cease practicing what they called the Black Arts in their area.

Mickie was defiant, but the daughter in the corner was in hysterics and his wife was absolutely terrified by the sight of not just one but two clergymen in the kitchen. It was her who commanded poor Mickie to get down on his knees before the clergymen and swear that he would never billet rats again. He did so and he kept his word.

After that the family fortunes rapidly declined. They have done so to this day.

Mickie's health and spirits also went into decline. He rarely left the house for three long years afterwards and spent more and more time in the corner by the hearth.

Eventually, four years later, he took to the bed and was sinking fast when his two sons, in the absence of their mother, prevailed upon him to tell him the secrets behind his gift so that they could go into business again and save the family.

Weakly but serenely poor Mickie passed on to them the details behind the billeting until finally he came to tell them the magic Latin phrase. My father told me he raised himself up on his elbows in the bed, uttered the word "Fructus" quite clearly and then began a second word beginning with "Sssss..." But the bloody stutter locked up his tongue and he fell back on the pillow stone dead.

God rest him, but I so wish he had lived for just five or six words longer and we MacConnells would be much more prosperous nowadays.

That's the story. I hope it diverted your minds from politics for a little while.

If the dreadful political stuff persists over here for another week I just might tell ye then how this cracked clan also provided the world with its very first hang glider back in May of 1872!

""The folklore term for his gift was that he was able to billet rats."Caty Bartholomew