Summer is ending in County Cork, Ireland, and with it the tourist season. Expat Maura Donovan is determined to keep Sullivan’s Pub in the black as the days grow shorter—but how? When she hears that the place was once a hot spot for Irish musicians who’d come play in the back room, she wonders if bringing back live music might be Sullivan’s salvation.
As word gets out, legendary musicians begin to appear at the pub, and the first impromptu jam session brings in scores of music lovers. But things hit a sour note when Maura finds a dead musician in the back room the next morning. With a slew of potential suspects, it’s going to take more than a pint and a good think to force a murderer to face the music.
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Maura Donovan looked at the piles of paper spread out on her well-worn kitchen table and despaired. For six months now she’d been running Sullivan’s, a small pub in a small town in County Cork, Ireland, and she had no idea if she’d made any money at all. She knew how to handle the day-to-day stuff like tending bar—she’d been doing that since she was legally old enough (and maybe a bit before), back in Boston where she’d grown up—but running a business was a different matter. At least it had been a good summer with nice weather, and the place had been well filled some nights. Not so well filled on others. She’d heard it was the poor economy everywhere that was keeping the tourists from other countries home watching their own pennies, but it was hard to get by with only the locals as customers. And even here in Leap there was plenty of competition, particularly from the inn across the street, plus the new bistro that just opened down the road—and even more competition in nearby Skibbereen, a thriving market town seven miles down the road and with ten times the population of Leap.
All of which was why Maura had been putting off doing the numbers for Sullivan’s. She didn’t have a computer or spreadsheets—just invoices and bank statements and lots of scraps of paper with scrawls that she couldn’t even read. She had taken a couple of accounting classes back in Boston, but she’d never liked them and hadn’t paid a lot of attention then. She’d paid the salaries of her employees—Mick, Jimmy, and Jimmy’s daughter, Rose—but they were all part-time and worked erratic schedules, adjusting their hours from day to day or week to week. How her employees managed to live on what she paid them, she did not know, but closing down wasn’t an option: she was pretty sure Mick could find himself another job, but she had her doubts about Jimmy. Jimmy was good at bantering with customers but when it came time to swap out the kegs of Guinness or wash up on a busy night, he always seemed to disappear. Then there was his daughter, Rose, who’d only recently turned seventeen, a sweet, bright girl who had little future in the small village but no plans to leave her father to fend for himself. Good for Jimmy, bad for Rose. Worse, there were hardly any young people Rose’s age around: they’d all gone off looking for work in other places, not that Maura could blame them. The young men in particular seemed to have gone the farthest, not only to England or Spain but even to Australia.
Maura wanted the girl to have a life of her own, but she couldn’t offer much guidance, certainly not based on her own patchy history. Besides, she was still learning the ins and outs of Irish culture, and maybe she was reading the situation all wrong. But she was pretty sure there had to be something better for Rose than pulling pints part-time in a shabby small-town pub and going home to fix supper for dear old dad. Rose was quite a good cook, based on what she’d brought in to share now and then. Maybe she could find work in a restaurant locally. There was some money in the region, Maura knew—a conference center had opened over in Rosscarbery and a newer one in Glandore just up the harbor a bit. People were coming to the area, and they had to eat, didn’t they? There were a few nice restaurants in Skibbereen. Rose should look to her future, rather than doing what Maura had done, which was drift along with no plan and no goals until her grandmother’s death had blasted her out of her rut and somehow landed her in Ireland.
Well, now she was here, trying to scratch out a living, and responsible for employees. Maura herself took as little money out as she could, but even she had expenses, if only minimal ones.
Her house, for example, she’d inherited outright six months earlier, along with the pub from Old Mick Sullivan, but no matter how much she scrimped, she still had to pay for electricity, and gas for cooking and heating. She hadn’t needed much heat yet, but that could change—she hadn’t even been in the country through a winter yet. She’d been told that it never got really cold in this part of Ireland—something about the ocean currents. She’d even seen palm trees here and there, which always startled her. Still, these old stone and stucco cottages were hard to keep warm. Was she supposed to be laying in peat—or turf, as they called it here—or wood? She could just see herself in the middle of a damp winter, huddling over a small pile of smoky burning moss, trying to keep warm. Not the life you imagined back in Boston, Maura.
And then there was the car. She was driving an ancient Peugeot on an extended loan, somewhere short of a gift, from Bridget Nolan down the lane. But Maura couldn’t expect Bridget to pay upkeep on the car that had belonged to her late husband, and she didn’t like to take charity from anyone. She was happy to pay her own way and willing to work hard. But there was so much she didn’t know.
Old Mick had kindly left her some money to tide her over when she took over the pub, but that wasn’t going to last much longer. Which left the whole mess in her lap. For a moment Maura looked back on her days as a bar waitress with something like nostalgia: it sure was easier when all she’d had to do was show up and serve people, then collect a paycheck and some tips if she was lucky.
Of course, she could walk away from Sullivan’s, if she couldn’t make the numbers work. What would be the point of staying open just to lose money? The real estate market in Ireland was still down, but the pub license had to be worth something, didn’t it? And it was hers to sell. She hadn’t yet run through all the money Old Mick had left to her; she could take that and go . . . anywhere. Except she didn’t know where to go. She didn’t feel any strong need to go back to Boston—now that Gran was gone, there was nothing for her there. And she had Jimmy and Rose and Mick depending on her, and she didn’t want to turn them out when there weren’t enough jobs to go around. And maybe the new owners wouldn’t be so kind to Old Billy Sheahan, a longtime friend of Old Mick’s and a fixture in the well-worn armchair by the pub fireplace, or maybe they’d tear down the place altogether and put in a shiny modern place of some sort and change the town. Maura sighed. Not easy being an owner. Maybe it got better with practice.
She stretched, then checked her watch. Nearly ten a.m., and she should be opening the pub by ten thirty. Too late to start anything now, eh, Maura? she told herself. She stood up, pulled on a sweater hanging by the door, and went out the front door of her house.
She had no near neighbors. At one end of the lane, where it petered out, there was a house that hadn’t been lived in for years, although the owners still kept sheep and cows on the pasture. The house on the other side of hers had been abandoned even longer, and she guessed it had been in ruins since before she was born. There were other, newer houses up the hill in front of her, and a few farther down the hill, not that she often saw the people who lived there. And then there was Bridget’s cottage, on the lane that led from the top to the bottom of the hill. Maura decided to stop in and say good morning before she left for the village.
She picked her way along the muddy, unpaved lane toward Bridget’s house, pulling her sweater close. It was September now, with the tourist season just ending. The days were getting shorter, and the wind sharper. She knocked on the front door of Bridget’s cottage, which was smaller even than hers. She knew Mick, Bridget’s grandson, made sure it was kept up and paid for his gran’s phone so she could reach him in an emergency. Bridget was well into her eighties, but refused to consider moving in with Mick’s sister a few towns over. This townland—called Knockskagh, or “hawthorn hill”—was her home, and she wouldn’t be moved from it; she’d settled into the cottage when she married and had lived here all her adult life. Maura might have wondered if Bridget got lonely if she hadn’t seen the steady trickle of friends and relatives who stopped by to make sure the old woman was all right and to swap gossip and news. It was nice, knowing that people were looking out for you. Her gran had done a lot of looking out for the struggling Irish immigrants who’d arrived in Boston.
“Ah! Dia duit a Mhaire!” Bridget opened the door with a broad smile.
“Dia’s Muire duit, a Bride,” Maura replied, with the little Irish she knew. Bridget had taught her a few phrases, like how to exchange a basic greeting.
“Come in, come in,” Bridget said. “There’s a bit of a chill in the air, isn’t there?”
“Definitely. I can’t stay long, but I was going crazy trying to sort out the finances for the pub and I thought some fresh air might help. Although I always like to see you.”
“There’s tea on the stove and fresh scones in the tin, if yer hungry.”
“Thanks.” Maura, long familiar with Bridget’s kitchen by now, helped herself. “Can I pour you a cup?”
“That’d be grand, if it’s no trouble.”
“No problem.” Maura filled two cups and carried them back to where Bridget now sat in front of a small fire. “Are you feeling the cold already?”
Bridget sighed. “Don’t you be getting old, Maura—if it’s not one thing, it’s another. I can feel winter coming in my bones.”
“Anything I can do?” Maura asked. She hated to think that Bridget might be failing. Since she’d lost her grandmother—the only relative she’d ever known—less than a year before, somehow she’d come to count on Bridget to take Gran’s place. It was because of Bridget that Maura had come to Leap in the first place, after she’d stumbled upon Bridget’s long correspondence with her gran.
Bridget waved a dismissive hand at her. “Ah, don’t be minding me. I’m just a fussy aul woman. And don’t you be telling Mick that I’m complaining, either, or he’ll be after me again to move in with my granddaughter over to Bandon. Which would not suit me at all, for she’s got two loud children and little enough room as it is.”
Maura knew Mick kept a close eye on his gran and would notice any decline in her condition on his own, so she wasn’t about to go tattling to him. She took a sip of her tea—strong, as always. “I’ve been trying to figure out if Sullivan’s is making any money. How did Old Mick manage?”
“He didn’t ask for much. Many of his friends spent their time there of an evening. Not that they drank much. They could nurse a pint for hours, or so Mick used to say. They were there for the craic, not for the drink. God help the poor tourist who stuck his nose in while that crowd was in good form.”
That wasn’t hard for Maura to imagine, especially since she’d made few physical changes since she’d taken over in the spring, afraid to drive away what patrons she had. Besides, she’d never been big on prettying up a place. She tried to imagine track lighting and new curtains in the pub and had to swallow a laugh, though she had at least managed to introduce a few new paintings, which had brightened some of the darker corners. The paintings were the works of Gillian Callanan, an artist who lived over the hill in an old creamery by the lake, at least during the summer. Maura hadn’t seen much of Gillian lately and wondered if she’d gone back to Dublin for the winter, as she had told Maura she usually did. Maura would miss her if she went, since Gillian was close to her own age and had quickly become a friend—one of the few Maura had made since she’d arrived—but she knew that Gillian couldn’t make a living selling her paintings during the winter around here. Besides, the creamery building wasn’t heated, certainly not well enough to withstand the wind rushing across Ballinlough. Maura could tell already that this could be a lonely place in winter.
She stood up. “I should probably be going. Can I pick up anything for you?”
“No, love, I’m grand. Mick came by yesterday. And don’t worry yerself about the numbers—I’m sure things will come right.”
“I hope so, Bridget. See you later.”
She shut the door on her way out, then trudged back to her place. She wasn’t sure why she’d asked Bridget if she needed anything, when Maura was the one with a bare pantry. There never seemed to be any time to shop, much less prepare meals, and she spent most of her waking hours at the pub. It was easier to walk down to the Costcutter at the gas station and pick up something quick.
She drove into the village, glad in a way that the few clueless tourists who had ventured along the lanes had gone home now. To be fair, she’d been in the same boat herself not that long ago. It was hard for some people to accept that there were no road signs, except on the biggest of the main roads, and that most people gave driving instructions along the lines of “Turn left at the abandoned church and go up the hill until you see the field with the bull, then turn right at the fallen tree.” It took a bit of getting used to, and by the time most people did, it was time for them to leave. Luckily most of the time there were no cars on the lanes, which were pretty much one lane wide anyway.
Maura parked her car well away from Sullivan’s—parking was at a premium along the main road and she didn’t want to discourage any potential customers—and went toward the front door of the pub, keys in hand. She was surprised to find the door already unlocked and Rose behind the bar. She stepped into the dark interior and took quick stock of the scene: no customers except for a casually dressed young man seated on a stool at the bar and talking to Rose with great animation.
Rose looked up and saw her, then beckoned her over eagerly. “Maura, this is Timothy Reilly. He’s a student from Trinity up in Dublin and he’s here to work on a project, he says. Tim, this is Maura Donovan—she’s the owner here, since March. Mebbe you’d best explain what it is yer after.” Rose was as animated as Maura had seen her in a while, but then, Tim was a fairly attractive young man. He looked to be around twenty, putting him about five years younger than Maura, and he had an open, eager face.
“Nice to meet you, Tim,” Maura said. “What brings you to the Wild West of Cork?”
“It’s a pleasure, Maura. It’s the music that brings me—the music here at Sullivan’s.”
For a moment Maura stared blankly at Tim: this was the first she’d heard anything about music at Sullivan’s. She glanced at Rose, who shrugged, apparently as ignorant as Maura. She pulled out a stool and sat down next to the young man.
“Can I get you anything, Maura?” Rose asked.
“A coffee, please. Tim, are you set?” He had an empty cup in front of him, so he must have been here for a while, even though the pub wasn’t officially open yet.
“Another coffee would be grand, if you don’t mind, Rose.” He smiled at her.
Rose blushed. “Right away.”
Maura turned to face Tim. “So, what’s this about music?”
He cocked his head at her. “American, are you? How do you come to own this place?”
Maura noticed he hadn’t exactly answered her question, but by now she was used to the roundabout path most conversations here took. “I grew up in Boston, but my grandmother was the niece of the late owner, Michael Sullivan—that’d be Old Mick. I took over about six months ago.”
Tim looked disappointed. “So you’d know little about the history of the place? Did you know this Old Mick?”
Maura shook her head. “I never met the man, I’m afraid. And I kind of hit the ground running here, so there hasn’t been a lot of time to ask about what happened before I showed up. What are you looking for?”
Rose set two mugs of coffee on the bar in front of them. Tim smiled his thanks, and Rose’s blush returned. “As Rose here said, I’m a student at Trinity in Dublin—do you know it?”
“I haven’t seen Dublin yet, only this part of the country.” To be fair, Maura had seen the airport and the bus station, but she didn’t really think those counted. After arriving on a red-eye flight, she hadn’t noticed much about the scenery she’d passed on her way to Cork.
Tim filed that fact away. “I’m doing an arts degree in musicology.” When Maura stared blankly at his description, he explained, “It’s the history of music, and to finish I have to write a dissertation—that’s a long paper—so I’m here fer the research. The department requires we know a bit about playing music, and I’m not a bad aul player m’self, but what I’m looking to do is teach music history and theory. Do you know anything about Irish bands?” He looked hopefully at Maura.
She hated to disappoint him again, but she’d never been particularly interested in music. “You mean all that tin whistle and fiddle stuff?”
Tim smiled. “That’s the traditional side of things. Which is all good and well—and some of the tunes go back for centuries, so it’s interesting to see them surviving today and still being played. But what interests me now is more the contemporary scene, and how modern musicians have borrowed elements of the old forms and made them into something new.”
Maura glanced quickly at Rose, who had to know more than she did. “Like the Saw Doctors and the Cranberries,” Rose volunteered. “Is that what you mean, Tim?”
The names meant nothing to Maura. Were those current bands? Or ancient history?
He nodded vigorously. “Yes, but they’re not the only ones. Where do you come from, Maura? Did you mention Boston?”
“Yeah, I grew up in South Boston.”
“Grand—then surely you know of the Dropkick Murphys?”
Maura smiled. It was impossible to grow up in Southie and not know the Dropkick Murphys; impossible to work in any local bar and not hear their songs in the background, over and over. “Them I know.”
Tim beamed. “Well, there you go. They’re American, of course, but there’s still that element of the traditional in what they write, what they perform, even today. Maybe it’s in the genes, but that’s a study for a different department, for sure. What I’m looking at is the evolution of recent Irish music over the past couple of decades and its debt to the traditional.”
“That sounds interesting,” Maura said politely. “But where does Sullivan’s fit?”
Tim looked incredulous. “Do you not know? Sullivan’s was the heart of the music scene for this end of the country, back for a decade or more in the nineties.”
Back in the nineties, Tim would have been in diapers. Why would he be interested in the music? But then, Maura didn’t claim to understand how colleges worked. She had a vague idea that when you wrote a paper you had to do something that hadn’t been done before. In that case, writing about the history of Sullivan’s definitely qualified. Maura searched her memory and couldn’t recall anyone mentioning music and Sullivan’s in the same breath, although now that she thought of it, there were some posters of bands tacked up in the little-used back room . . . “Here? But this is the middle of nowhere!”
Tim nodded. “It is that, but who’s to question how these things come about? In its day, Sullivan’s drew players from all over. It was Mick Sullivan brought them together, and he sat in often enough. Or so I’m told.”
Old Mick had been a musician? One more thing Maura hadn’t known about him. He must have had a wealth of stories to tell. And Tim here had missed him by only six months. Too bad. “It’s a shame you can’t talk to him,” Maura said.
“It is,” he agreed. “I should have sorted things out sooner, but I’ve only just scratched the surface. But surely there are others around here who remember? Who knew the place back then?”
Maura and Rose exchanged looks. “Before I was born,” Rose said. “Me da might know.”
“Or Mick—young Mick, that is,” Maura explained to Tim. “No relation to Old Mick. But young Mick’s old enough to remember—he had to have been a teenager then, right, Rose?” Rose nodded.
“And where might I find these fellas?” Tim asked.
“Here,” Maura said promptly. “They’ll both be in sometime today—they work here. And they worked for Old Mick, before. I’m sure they’ll be happy to help. And, of course, there’s Billy Sheahan.”
“Who’s he?” Tim asked.
“An old friend of Old Mick’s—and I mean ‘old’ in both senses.” Maura smiled. “He’s in his eighties, and he and Old Mick were friends for decades. He usually comes in about now, and he’s here for most of the day.” Billy hadn’t yet arrived, but it was early yet. Maura wasn’t worried, since he lived on the ground floor at the other end of the building and could make his way to the pub blindfolded; once he arrived he’d stay most of the day, spinning tales for any tourists who wandered in and swapping stories with his local friends. Maura happened to know that most of Billy’s stories were true, although he wasn’t beyond throwing in a bit of creative detail, depending on his audience. She had come to realize that often in Ireland the telling of the story was more important than the truth of it. She had no idea what tourists made of him, but she was pretty sure they went away believing they’d had a taste of Auld Ireland.
“Brilliant! That’s exactly what I was hoping for—an oral history of the way things were. I’d planned to poke around for a few days anyway.”
“Do you have a place to stay?” Maura asked. So far her impression was that most people from outside County Cork assumed there were plenty of bed-and-breakfasts and hotels to be had, but the reality was a bit different: the Leap Inn, locally more often called Sheahan’s, across the street catered to fishermen and had only a handful of rooms; the hotel in Skibbereen was kind of upscale for a student; and the conference centers that were popping up here and there were probably far beyond his means.
“I thought I’d look for a hostel or the like,” he said. “Do you know of one?”
“I hear there’s one in Skibbereen, if you don’t mind dormitory style,” Rose volunteered.
“That’d be grand. By the way, what music do you listen to here now? I don’t see any jukebox in the place.”
“Nothing,” Maura admitted. “I don’t have time. There’s the television for the customers, for sports. When the place is busy, it’s too loud to hear anyway.” She spotted a couple of men coming in the door and excused herself to go over to greet them and take their orders as they settled themselves at a table. When she looked back, Rose and Tim were deep in conversation, no doubt comparing bands, local or other. For a moment Maura felt old, even though she was probably only a few years older than Tim. But, she told herself, she’d had much more life experience than a sheltered college student like Tim could have had. It was small comfort.
There were a half dozen people in the place by the time Old Billy Sheahan made his slow way into the pub, headed for his accustomed chair like a stately tugboat.
“Good morning to you, Maura, or, no, I should say, good afternoon,” Billy greeted her. “As the cold sets in, I move a bit slower.”
“That’s what Bridget said too. What can I get you?”
“A pint, if you will.”
“Coming up.” She went over to the bar and went behind it to start pulling Billy’s pint.
Rose turned to her and said tentatively, “Maura, would you mind if Tim and I went out for a bit of lunch? It’s quiet here.”
“Sure, go ahead. I think I can handle it.” She smiled to indicate her sarcasm. And she wanted some time to talk to Billy alone about this whole music thing, of which she knew absolutely nothing. She had trouble picturing any friend of Billy’s as a music guru, although Old Mick and Billy would have been in their late sixties back then. Now that she thought about it, she could name a lot of performers who were still going strong in their sixties and even seventies, touring and everything. Like the Rolling Stones. Maybe she’d been too quick to judge.
Rose and Tim went out the door, and Maura topped off Billy’s pint and took it over to him. She checked to make sure everyone else was well supplied with drink, then sat down next to Billy.
“Who’s that young man who left with our Rose?” he asked. “Not from around here, is he?”
“No, he’s a student, from Dublin, he says. His name’s Tim Reilly. He said he wants to find out about the music scene here in Sullivan’s in the nineties. It’s the first I’ve heard about it.”
Billy’s eyes lit up. “I hadn’t thought of that in years! This used to be quite the place to play.”
“So he was right about that?” Maura asked.
“Oh, yes, musicians would come from all over. Not for concerts, as such, but to—what should I call it? Jam?—with each other. Like a seisiún is for the traditional kind of music.”
“What they were playing wasn’t traditional?”
“No, these were players of popular stuff. Not always the lead singer of this band or the other, but a lot of the sidemen. Word would go out—don’t ask me how, it was before all this electronic nonsense—and the players would come together here of an evening, late, and settle in the back room and go on half the night. And people would come to hear them. I don’t know how they’d find out it was happenin’, but they’d start appearing early in the evening, and they’d stay ’til the end. Packed, the place was.”
“Was Old Mick a musician?”
“He’d been known to pick up a fiddle now and then, but mostly he kept the drinks flowing.”
“How’d they get around the regulations about closing times, if they stuck around all night? Even I know you can’t keep serving ’til dawn.” Maura knew there was some give-and-take, depending on the attitude of the gardaí, the local police, but she didn’t think the rules could be stretched that far.
“You’ll have heard the term ‘lock-in’?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure how it works.”
“If you want to keep yer pub open after legal closing time, you ask that yer patrons pay for their drinks beforehand, and then after closing time you lock yer doors and it becomes a private party, with no money changing hands.”
“Ah.” Maura could see a lot of room for interpretation of the law there, but it made a kind of sense. “What about you, Billy? Did you join in?”
He grinned. “You’ve never heard me sing, have you? Like a gate that needs greasin’. No, I’d keep an eye on the front of the house while Mick covered the back. Grand times they were.”
“That kid who was talking with Rose—he says he’s a student at Trinity, studying how popular music changed in Ireland in the nineties—not the old stuff. He seems to think Sullivan’s was like the center of the music universe, at least around here. Would you be willing to talk to him? I can’t tell him anything, and Rose is too young to have known about it then, but I’m sure you could fill his ear for quite a while. Do you mind if I turn him over to you?”
“I’m happy to go on about those days. And if he’s to be around fer a few days, then he and Rose can spend some time together as well.”
Maura was struck once again with how perceptive Billy was. He might look like a doddering old man, but he was shrewd enough to recognize that Rose was enjoying Tim’s company. “You playing matchmaker now, Billy? I don’t know how long Tim will be around, but he was asking about a place to stay.”
“Assuming he needs to get back to Dublin for the start of Michaelmas term, that’s not ’til late in the month. So he’s got a bit of time free.”
Michaelmas? Another label that meant nothing to Maura. In any case, Tim would have a week or two to find out whatever he needed for his paper or whatever. “When he comes back, I’ll tell him to talk to you.”
“My pleasure. You might tell him to talk to Mick as well.”
“You don’t mean Old Mick, do you?” Maura teased.
“Sure and he’s dead, isn’t he? No, Mick Nolan. He was still at school when all the bands were playing here, but he hung around as much as Mick would let him.”
“Huh,” Maura replied. She’d never seen Mick show the slightest interest in music, but then, he was certainly closemouthed about his own life. Maybe he had hidden depths. Or maybe she should talk to him first, before siccing Tim on him.
By the time Rose and Tim returned an hour later, business had picked up a bit—now there were six men and a lone woman in Sullivan’s, each looking for a quick pint or a cup of coffee before taking off to do errands. Or filling their time, if they had no jobs to go to. About normal, but any one customer made a noticeable impact on the day’s intake. Rose took a quick glance around then hurried to the bar. “Sorry I’ve been so long, but we lost sight of the time.”
“That’s on me,” Tim said quickly. “It helps me to talk through what I need to know, and what questions I want to ask, so I was trying them out on Rose first.”
“It’s okay, Rose. Relax,” Maura said, nodding in Billy’s direction. “By the way, Tim, I talked to Billy over there, and he said he’d be glad to fill you in on what used to go on here.”
Rose beamed. “Oh, that’s brilliant! Tim here was telling me about all the bands back then and all the people who played in ’em. Seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? This place filled with people and music?”
Sad but true, Maura thought. “Was it the times that changed, or did Old Mick just let it go downhill? He was getting old.”
“I couldn’t say,” Rose said. “Old Mick never mentioned the past, at least not to me, but I didn’t know him long. You can try asking young Mick, though.”
“Has he ever talked about music with you? I mean, not just music here, but anywhere else?”
Rose considered the question. “Not that I remember. He’s not one for those little music players, like so many of the lads.”
Mick was hardly a lad, Maura thought, since he was probably ten years older than she was. But MP3 players or mobile phones that played music were nearly universal these days. Not that she’d ever had the money for either one. Shoot, that reminded her of another expense to consider: her pay-as-you-go phone was almost out of minutes. Now she’d have to figure out what she wanted in a phone—and what she could afford. She didn’t have many people to call, but it was good to have a phone just in case.
Her mind was drifting, so she straightened her shoulders and told Rose, “Will you take over the bar for now? I’d like to hear what Billy has to say too, I guess. Tim, you come with me and we’ll talk to Billy together. The price for his talk is usually a pint.”
“You said his name was Sheahan? Is he related to the people who run the hotel across the road? The sign there’s kind of hard to miss.”
“He is, but don’t ask me exactly how. I keep finding that everyone around here is related somehow, even to me. They can’t always explain how we’re related, though, so they just call us cousins,” Maura said. “Anyway, come on over and let me introduce you to Billy.” She led the way to the corner next to the fireplace where Billy held court. Billy looked up, delighted at the idea of a new audience.
“Billy, this is Timothy Reilly from Dublin,” Maura said. “He wants to talk about the music at Sullivan’s, back in the early nineties.”
“Fáilte romhat, mo bhuachaill,” Billy said, laying it on thick.
“Go raibh maith agat, a dhuine uasail,” Tim replied promptly.
Billy smiled broadly. “Ah, the schools are doing a sound job of keeping the language alive these days! So, Timothy Reilly. Where are yer people from?”
“Me ma was from Clonakilty, sir, but she left there early for Dublin.”
“And now yer doin’ a degree at Trinity. In music?”
“I am, sir. I’m interested in the persistence of musical traditions as they’ve been carried over into contemporary forms. I’ve been told that Sullivan’s here was a sort of nexus.”
Billy looked blank at the unfamiliar word, but Tim was quick to realize it. “Sorry, kind of a crossroads, where the old and the new came together. I’ve heard that a lot of sidemen from some of the big-name groups made it a point to drop in here just to play with whoever was handy. And whoever wandered into the pub was the happy beneficiary.”
“Yer not far wrong, my boy. Let me tell you . . .” And Billy was off. Maura sat back and contented herself with listening, while keeping an eye on Rose behind the bar, but there were few new customers in the midafternoon. Tim, on the other hand, pulled out a small notebook and was trying to keep up with scribbled notes, stopping Billy every now and then to clarify a point or check the spelling of a name. He seemed to grow more excited the longer Billy talked, almost bouncing in his chair. After an hour or so Billy cleared his throat and, with a pointed glance toward the bar, said, “All this talkin’ is dry work. I wouldn’t say no to a pint.”
Tim looked startled, until he figured out what Billy meant. “Oh, right, of course. I’ll be just a minute.”
When he had walked away, Maura leaned in toward Billy. “You don’t mind, do you? He seems very eager.”
“Saints, no! It’s a rare treat to talk about those days, those people. There are few who know about it anymore; fewer still who ask.”
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Maura said. “Was it really a big thing?” She wasn’t even sure what a “big thing” would mean around here. “Old Mick had regular music events here? Not just a guy with a fiddle and someone with a drum or that bagpipe thing?”
Billy nodded. “That’s the traditional style, and it’s an uilleann pipe, not a bagpipe. Mick pulled in a few of those, now and then. The tourists like it. But that wasn’t where his heart lay. He brought the new music in—the bands on the way up or the ones on the way down, and anywhere in between.” Billy cocked his head at her. “Yer not one for the music, are you, now?” When Maura shook her head, he went on, “How do I say it best? There are the stars—the bands that play in the big stadiums in the big cities—and no doubt you’ve heard of those. Then there are the others who play with them now and then, when the schedules fit. They aren’t always part of the band, see, but they’re on tap fer when they’re needed, and you might never hear their names. And those are the ones, who aren’t working steady, who come together at places like these to keep their hand in, and to swap gossip.”
“Okay, I can understand that. But what was special about Sullivan’s? Was it the only game around?”
“It was Mick made it into something more, you see. He knew music and he knew people, and he knew how to put them together. So the fellas that showed up here of an evening were fair talents on their own, and the word got ’round. They came from all over, and they knew Mick would give them a hot meal, as much as they could drink, and a bed for the night—or the floor if all the beds were filled. All they had to do was play, and play they did. The lads would have played anyways, but when they were into it, it was something special, and the audience knew it.”
“How did people find out they were playing here? I mean, this was before the Internet or even cell phones. Or didn’t it matter? I mean, were they just playing for themselves, or did they need an audience?” Maura asked.
“The people came. I couldn’t tell you how they heard, back then, but they found their way here.”
“How long did all this last?”
Billy contemplated the flaking plaster of the ceiling for a moment. “A decade, maybe? Times changed, and so did the music. After a while the players stopped coming around so often, and I guess Mick got tired.” Billy paused as Tim reappeared. “Ah, Timothy, there you are—I’d started to wonder if you were brewin’ the stuff yerself. Or was it that yer brewin’ something with that lovely young girl over there?”
Maura watched with amusement as Tim blushed.
Tim set the brimming pint down where Billy could reach it and turned to Maura. “Hey, it sounds like you’ve got loads of great stories, and there are probably other people around here that I should be talking with. I don’t suppose Mick Sullivan kept any written records, did he?”
Maura suppressed a rude snort. She herself now had the sum and total of Mick’s documents, which consisted of a single battered file folder holding a list of his suppliers and a few other pieces of paper. All other details—about ownership of the place, taxes paid, and the like—were in his lawyer’s hands, along with his will. Or rather, her lawyer—solicitor?—now. “Sorry, Tim,” Maura said, “but Mick ran the place to suit himself and no one else. I don’t think he was thinking about preserving the history of the place.”
“That’s all right—an oral history will do just as well.” Tim stood up and faced Billy again. “Thank you, Mr. Sheahan. May I spend some more time with you tomorrow?”
“Mr. Sheahan was me da—I’m Billy to one and all, save that the boys call me Old Billy when they think I can’t hear them. But I can’t say they’re lyin’, for I know I’m old. I’d be happy to ramble on tomorrow. Stop by ’round lunchtime, will you?”
“I’ll do that, thank you.”
Maura looked over at the bar to see Rose getting ready to go home and fix her father’s supper. Still no sign of Jimmy, but she saw Mick through the window, heading her way. “Tim, why don’t you catch Rose on her way out, and she can give you directions to that hostel she mentioned earlier? We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here. Thanks, Maura.” He ducked his head and hurried over to the bar, where Rose gave him a huge smile, which in turn brought on another vivid blush from Tim. Rose slipped on a sweater, and he held the door for her, then followed her out. Mick slid in as they left, giving Tim a speculative look as they crossed paths.
“Evenin’, Maura. What’s his story?” Mick nodded in the direction of Tim and Rose, who were now standing on the sidewalk outside the pub. Rose was gesturing broadly toward the west and Skibbereen. But before Maura could explain, a group of customers came in, and she and Mick got caught up in serving them.
“I’ll fill you in later,” she said, as she busied herself pulling pints.
Their steadiest crowd at Sullivan’s was made up of men who stopped by nearly every day on the way home. Whether they had jobs, Maura didn’t know for sure, nor did she feel she could ask; she’d make conversation with them, but never about anything serious, and only if they seemed to want to talk. But they all seemed to know one another. They’d drift in and settle in for a pint or two, in no hurry to go home to their dinner. Or maybe there was no one waiting for them, and Sullivan’s was as close as they came to a home. As long as they bought their pints, Maura wouldn’t complain, and it wasn’t as though other people were clamoring for their seats. On average each man stayed a bit over an hour, then drifted out the way he’d come, with a raised hand or a tipped cap as he went out the door.
When they’d gotten everyone served, Mick found time to ask, “Right, so—who was that boy in here earlier?”
“The one Rose was talking to? What, are you looking out for Rose now?” Maura swallowed the rest of what she wanted to say, which was that someone had to: Rose had no mother to look after her, and her father, Jimmy, was all but useless. “I worry about Rose,” she said.
“You’ve said that before. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, Maura. Let her work things out for herself. You’ve got enough on yer plate with this place without worrying needlessly about things that don’t require yer assistance.”
“I know, but there’s not much of a future for her in this place.”
“Maybe some Prince Charming will walk in and sweep her away,” Mick said, unruffled. “Which brings me back to my original question. Who was the fella I saw her leaving with? We don’t get many around here who are both young and unfamiliar. Tourist?”
“Not exactly.” Maura filled Mick in on Tim’s musical quest. “Since I didn’t know squat about that, I handed him over to Billy, who was happy to explain. Or start to, at least. It sounds like Billy has plenty of information. What about you? Do you know about what went on here?”
Mick stared over Maura’s head, lost in thought. “Right, you wouldn’t know,” he said, almost to himself.
Maura turned to face him. “Well, of course I wouldn’t! I’ve barely been here six months. Tim’s asking about twenty years ago. So unless U2 played here or something, I doubt I’d have heard about it.”
Mick smiled. “No one quite so grand. But not so far from it as you might think, looking at the place.”
“So fill me in. I hate looking stupid.”
Mick didn’t answer directly. “You’ve seen the back room?”
Maura nodded. “I’ve looked at it, and I shut the door as fast as I could. It’s a mess, and I haven’t had time to worry about it. Why?”
“That’s where the music was. Did you not notice the equipment?”
“Not really. If the stuff crammed in the corners there is music equipment, it looks pretty ancient.”
“Maybe, but back then it was top of the line, especially for a small place.”
“So how many people does this ‘small’ back room hold?”
Excerpted from "An Early Wake"
Copyright © 2015 Sheila Connolly.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the New York Times Bestselling County Cork Mystery series:
"'Tis a grand thing...The prolific Sheila Connolly...pays tribute to her Irish heritage...Connolly invests this leisurely series opener with a wealth of Irish color and background." Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Another winner of a series...Connolly's latest is a captivating talesweet, nostalgic, and full of Irish charm, but also tightly plotted and full of twists, turns, and shocking reveals." The Maine Suspect
"[A] well-set and nicely paced cozy." Library Journal
"The Irish countryside continues to enchant...Maura is a strong lead character, near perfect." MyShelf.com