( Image is from my wedding invitation, many moons ago, 1999, designed by a young artist, Annette. Interesting how Midir and Etain were with us even then. Check out her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/artbyannettecorkery/ )

Sipping pints of the dark stuff they contemplated the news that was invading their peace. It was blaring out from the television that sat precariously balanced on a rickety shelf over the bar. There wasn’t many in the pub, there never was anymore in this small town bypassed by the motorway to Dublin.

“Teresa May, UK prime minister, has lost the vote in Parliament. The troubled exit of Britain from the EU is likely to result in the return to a hard border for this island”

Images of car bombs, crying children, men in balaclavas and soldiers flashed across the screen.

Eochy looked over at his companion, her blond hair glittering in the dim light of the bar, her bright blue eyes glued to the screen while she pursed her ruby red lips in anger.

He coughed to get her attention.

“Do you remember that film, ya know the one with the students from Scotland stealing back that rock thing from the English? Do you remember?”

“You mean The Stone of Scone?” she replied absentmindedly.

“Scone? Scone? You mean like the bun you eat with butter and jam or like the English eat with cream, that Scone?” he half said to himself while she continued watching the news.

“Well it’s spelled the same. Why?”

“I was thinking about that stone. They thought it was the Stone of Destiny, An Lia Fáil. You know what? It wasn’t. They were mad wrong, it never left the Hill of Tara.” He looked at her waiting for her questions.

“How do you know that? Oh who cares?”

“ Well, I do know and.you should care, because with that stone and you we can sort out the whole English Brexit shite once and for all. I dreamt about it last night and I know exactly where it is. In my dream a cloaked person led me right to it. I googled it and there are loads of rumours that’s where it’s at. My dream is true, I’m being led to it.”

“You’ve lost me completely now. I haven’t a notion what you’re talking about.” he was exasperating at times.

Eochy didn’t give up.

“The feckin’ English are going to bring the troubles back if we don’t do something about it and our gobshites of politicians are just bending over backwards for their EU lords and doing nothing about it so, SO, we have to. We have to go to Tara, dig up the real Lia Fáil cos the penis stone they have there now isn’t it, it’s just like a headstone or whatever. The real one is buried somewhere beside the mound of hostages. We need to get the real one and you need to stand on it and Bob’s yer uncle, United Ireland, sorted.” He sat back, delighted with himself and downed his pint in one.

“Right, losing me again” Etain had to admit she was more interested now.

“You’re always telling me you’re 100% Irish and your line goes right back to the Kings of Ireland so there is a pretty good chance if you stand on the Stone it will screech with Joy because you’re the rightful heir to the throne and we won’t need to worry anymore about a hard or soft border as there will be no border!”

“You, my friend are most likely mad, polluted drunk definitely, and while I’m loving the idea, there is a problem, I won’t be the King of Ireland, I’m a woman. Ireland is a woman and the King is married to her, that’s how it works” Etain sat back and looked at him.

Eochy looked puzzled. “Don’t get you, why? We can have a queen, sure it’s 2019 for feck sake and didn’t we vote in same sex marriage. Queen of Ireland, let’s get the stone!” He stood up unsteadily and made his way to the bar.

All that night, Etain couldn’t get the conversation out of her head. She had a romantic head on her shoulders and she really was a direct descendant of Niall of the Nine hostages and therefore of the last great king of Ireland, Conn of The Hundred Battles. Legend said he was the last king to make the Stone of Destiny sing out in joy as a true King who could unite the country. The next morning she was still seriously contemplating it, though she couldn’t believe it herself. She rang Eochy who was only waiting for her call and they agreed to meet back in the pub and trash the crazy plan out over lunch.

She greeted him with “It’s an archaeological site of international importance, I don’t want any damage done. Is there any non invasive way we can locate it first before we start digging, like maybe echo sounding or a drone or something? And, we could get in trouble, big trouble. Could end up in jail”

Eochy smiled, delighted this was happening.

“Aye, Maybe we’ll be fined or something which is a crying shame and us only trying to save the country for feck sake. Trouble will happen only if It doesn’t work”

“Yeah, only if it doesn’t work. We will need more help with this but who can we trust?”

Eochy couldn’t stop smiling “I was thinking Aengus, well he has a drone and a good understanding of how to excavate without damaging the site.”

“ Oh yeah, he should do, he is an Archaeological student. Oh he won’t agree.”

“I think he will.” answered Aengus himself as he wandered into the bar. “Eochy already sold the whole idea to me. We should do it as soon as possible. I’ve the drone outside and there was very little growth so we should get a good look at the land, if there is anything there we will see it.”

They discussed it more as they ate their lunch and then drove to the sacred site to have a look for themselves and plan the raid. Etain was worried Aengus doing a drone flight might be traced back but he assured her there were plenty of drones up there all the time and in fact he had, in anticipation, already put a rumour out about a naked pagan ceremony either today or tomorrow so there will be lots of activity. They’ll be lost in the midst of all the air traffic and no one will be suspicious of them being there too.

“There are always prayer circles up there, The other drones will have plenty to look at while we work. It will be like we have a cloak of invisibility over us.” he laughed.

“Misdirection.” agreed Eochy.

When they got to the Hill there already was a bit of a crowd gathered in wait for the mysterious naked pagan ceremony just as Aengus had said so no one noticed them preparing their drone nor did they see that their drone was focused on one small area a little away from all the activity. They were taking detailed coverage over the mound of hostages while the prayer groups, who hadn’t got naked yet, nor would they, were over at the phallic pillar.

Etain decided to take a closer look while the two men were playing with the drone. She wandered up to the entrance of the mound and stared into the darkness. A cloaked man approached her and asked was she joining the group. She said she was only having a look, having never been there before. His accent was Northern Irish, Antrim, like Eochy, she thought. He wandered off up the Hill.

The entrance was gated and locked. She had noticed despite being an important historical site, there wasn’t much other security about the place. The hill was accessible at all times, they would just need to be careful they weren’t conspicuous, weren’t followed up the Hill, bring something to cut the lock and dig. How do you carry a spade without drawing suspicion she wondered as she watched the eccentric group on the hill chanting.

When Etain came back down the two men had put away the drone.

“We took as much footage as we could and thermal imaging as well so if the stone is there we will see it.” Aengus said. “How did you get on?”

“I think I know how we get our shovels up there without looking suspicious, in the funniest way really, as anyone dressed like this would be suspicious anywhere else. We dress in cloaks and we carry our shovels in plain sight in our hands. Keeping the shovel part hidden under our cloaks and a candle on the handle we will walk to the mound in a procession as if we are performing a ritual. No one seems to pass any heed on that sort of carry on here.”

Aengus laughed, “Great idea. We’’ll go back and examine this in detail, I’ll enlarge it up and we can decide when we are coming back then.”

“The sooner the better I think” said Eochy, just to say something as he was feeling a bit superfluous.

“Imbolc” Etain said.”Imbolc, First of February, day of the goddess Brigid, there will be activity here day and night just like there is at all the sites, no one will notice us.”

Aengus nodded “That’s less than a week, we better get back and examine these now so. You two ok to come over to mine?”

Eochy nodded, “Yeah grand, will we stop by the pub and pick up our cars now or will you drop us in later?”

“I’ll drop you there now and you can go home and pack a bag and come over to mine, we could be at this all night, you might as well stay over.”

When they all gathered again, excited with a little trepidation at what they were planning, each of them was afraid to say to the others that this might just be a risk not worth taking. No one in Ireland would appreciate them damaging the site. The authorities would most certainly frown at it. They may be arrested and all for a story, a magical legend that couldn’t possibly be true but they just couldn’t help themselves. It had turned into a quest, a mission, they felt obligated to follow now they had thought of it. Crime or no crime, they had to do it.

“Aengus, this is is very impressive” said Eochy as he looked around at the tech gadgets everywhere. One big screen was in front of the keypad with two smaller ones each side. Aengus was pointing at a spot he had circled on all three screens.

“See here, this darker patch in the photo, there’s something solid there and here over in the thermal image you can see it more clearly. I’ve enlarged it in this one. It’s rectangular, it’s not as big or as phallic looking as the one they have up on the hill but if you look closely you can see a big crack down the middle, where, according to legend, it split when Cú Chulainn hit it in anger. It could be it, maybe.”

Etain looked closely at the image

“It’s flat, you could stand or sit on it. I think it’s worth a try. By the looks of it we have to break in through the entrance and follow the tunnel until we come to the back wall and dig into the left. It looks like there may have been a passage there before. I think we can do this without much interference with the site.”

“We don’t know that for sure but we’ll be years looking for permission and if the legends true well better now than never.” Aengus said against his better judgement.

Over pizza and a bottle, or two, of wine they discussed it more and had a plan of action for the next Thursday night, 31st of January, the eve of Imbolc. Eochy went over to close the curtains as it got dark and noticed a hooded figure standing under the lamppost across the street. While it was odd, he didn’t mention it.

Dressed in cloaks the three gathered their tools from the boot of Aengus’s car, set the battery powered candles on the top of them and made their way up the Hill. They passed a few other cloaked and unusual individuals muttering chants as they wandered up and down the Hill. No one passed much heed on them. They got to the mound of hostages and Etain snapped the lock. Looking around to ensure no one noticed them they slipped inside and pulled the gate behind them. Down the dark passage they went to the end and started to dig at the wall on the left of them. They worked quickly and quietly, each taking turns to keep watch at the gate while the spiritual people outside wandered about their business. Aengus kept a close eye on what they were doing and anything of interest they found he noted its position, documented it and photographed it. It slowed the process down but he insisted.

The night went on. Eochy was on watch and Etain and Aengus were working away when Etain hit a large hard rock. They both cleared all around it and pulled at it until they had it out and were preparing it to drag out of the mound. They were so excited they never noticed that Eochy had returned and he wasn’t alone. Etain recognised the man from the day she had been here before and she looked at Eochy.

“I’m sorry, I had no choice. I owe them money. They were going to hurt you, kill you and me. I didn’t have a dream. I made it up. I had to get you here, they wanted to make sure they got the stone so it can never happen, never come to pass and only a true queen could find it.”

“But it was your idea!”

“No it was mine.” The unwanted visitor stepped out and smiled at Etain. “We can’t take any chances now can we? There won’t be a United Ireland in my lifetime or ever, not when we’ve disposed of you and the stone.”

“You said you wouldn’t hurt her!”

“I did, I lied.” He pointed his gun at Etain ready to shoot.

While they were talking, Aengus, unnoticed, had been cleaning the stone and reading the Ogham lettering on its side in a low whisper. He pulled Etain onto it and finished reading. A guttural roar of deep joy vibrated through the chamber. Eochy and the intruder fell to the ground. Gusts of whirling wind surrounded them whispering “We are released, our time has come.” Aengus and Etain looked at each other wondering what they had done, They knew there would be a United Ireland but they didn’t know under whose, or what, rule.

Competition Feedback:

An heir believing in returning proper order with a stone is good stuff. The characters are wonderfully smart, misguided and remarkably brave….. I thought the writer did a great job writing dialogue that was fun to read and moved the story forward….. Interesting premise and usage of history and legend.” 

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