Excerpt from The Grotto: politician Pat Landy is introduced to readers

Later that night in a townland called Gortaliscaw, about twenty miles to the east of Loughermore, a man was in an agitated state. His name was Pat Landy and he had been Cork North Central’s Teachta Dála – TD or parliamentary representative – for almost thirty years and, up until the last European election, an MEP for Munster. He had looked forward to an easy, distinguished retirement of sitting on state boards, addressing keynote speeches to summer schools and helping his politician daughter, Audrey, rise up through the ranks of the party, so that one day she would get to be a minister like her father. His plans, however, had come unstuck of late; since the publication of the findings of one of Ireland’s long-running tribunals of enquiry into irregularities in the planning process, he had fallen into disgrace, having been strongly implicated in the receipt of monies in exchange for political influence in general, and the rezoning of certain tracts of agricultural land in County Dublin in particular. His daughter was now the black sheep of the party and had lost her parliamentary seat in the recent election, having been shown to have undeclared interests in a frozen foods distribution company that had won substantially more than its fair share of state contracts. Both he and his daughter had been found guilty of tax evasion and the intimate details of their financial affairs had been trawled through in each of the nation’s major newspapers. The reputation and standing of the Landy political dynasty, which stretched back to Pat’s grandfather, who had been a hero in the War of Independence and one of the leading lights of the party up until the 1950s, was now in tatters, and it seemed as if the Landys’ involvement in Irish politics would end with Audrey’s expulsion from the party at the next general meeting, to be held after Christmas.

“Fuck them,” roared Pat Landy. “Fuck those fucking begrudgers.”

He gulped down what remained of his whiskey and banged the glass heavily onto the coffee table. He looked again at the newspaper on his lap, blinking and squinting in an effort to focus on the headline and read it again for perhaps the hundredth time, this time out loud.

“Landy may have to sell home to meet tax bill.” He spat the words across the room.

He stared at the photo of the journalist who had written the piece, a woman in her mid-thirties with long, blond tresses, and shouted: “Cunt – my grandfather would have had you shot, you skinny, hoor’s git of a cunt.” In the centre of the page was an aerial photo of the sprawling mansion in question with arrows leading from text boxes to various features of the house deemed worthy of mention, such as the stables, the swimming pool and the helicopter pad. Flinging the paper across the room towards the fireplace and shouting ‘cunt’ again, he stood up, wobbled, fell back into the sofa and stood up unsteadily again.

“My grandfather would have burnt you out, you Proddy bitch!” he shouted and staggered out of the room into the house’s considerable hallway.

“I’ll show the fuckers! Ye can all stare up at my house now, fucking begrudging bastards!”

With a lurching, meandering walk, he made his way to the control panel for the house’s alarm and CCTV system which was recessed into a nook under the broad, winding staircase. He flicked a switch and suddenly the hallway was bathed in a brilliant white light that streamed in through the mock Georgian door’s fanlight and wide side panels. Pat Landy had turned on the floodlights and his house was now one of the most brightly illuminated structures in County Cork, visible from miles around and either a point of reference in the locality on a dark night or an eyesore spilling light pollution into the night sky, depending on one’s point of view. The floodlighting system, like many other components of the house, had been installed free of charge, nod-and-a-wink pro-bono, by a contractor who had won, with a little help from Pat, a tender to floodlight a large share of the buildings and monuments under the remit of the Office of Public Works.

Pat walked to the front door, pitching and rolling from wall to wall, yanked it open and roared out into the brightness: “Look up at my house, now, ye fucking peasants! Look up at it, ye begrudging bollixes. At least I had the fucking balls to take what I wanted.”

Pat sniffed, held on to the door frame, cocked his head as if listening, and almost looked surprised that nobody had answered him. He was alone in the house, his wife having gone to their villa in Marbella to escape the shame and embarrassment of the gossip and knowing stares from her neighbours – Pat’s former constituents. Not one to be intimidated or cowed by public ridicule or backbiting, Pat had gone to twelve o’clock mass that morning, as always arriving late and taking his usual seat in the front pew. After mass, he went to his local and had a few pints with some of the old party hacks, who, to his face at least, were as loyal and servile as ever. He came home on his own to an empty house with a sheaf of Sunday newspapers under his arm, intending to spend the afternoon quietly reading each from cover to cover, but, instead, the day had turned into a marathon solo drinking session. He cracked open a bottle of wine to have a glass with his lunch, which consisted of a couple of cheese sandwiches and a banana. Half way through the first sandwich it crossed his mind how far he had fallen since his days of being a minister or an MEP, when he would regularly have power lunches in Strasbourg’s best restaurants with mini-skirted French or Swedish fellow MEPs, some of whom were not averse to his put-on, stage-Irish charm and would invite him to their hotel suites ‘for further bilateral discussions’ as he used to put it, usually to their great hilarity. He grew ever more maudlin as he quaffed glass after glass of the red wine, comparing his current disgraced circumstances with the glory days of his past. He opened a second bottle of wine, fitfully flicked through the newspapers and, having read what they had to say about him, decided it was time to move on to the whiskey. As the bells of the Angelus rang out from the radio, he was stumbling round his large, empty house, cursing the journalists who dared write about him and vowing to get his own back on them somehow.

As Pat clung on to the doorframe, his head hung low and the ground spinning around him, he heard a voice in his head, a voice that had troubled his dreams the night before, and which he had dismissed upon waking as mild hallucinations brought on by the five glasses of brandy he had drunk before going to bed. It was a strong, male voice, a type of voice and accent one only heard in radio documentaries of the 1930s or ’40s – a restrained, commanding, dignified voice.

“You should go and teach them a lesson,” it said.

Pat didn’t answer. His muddled, drunken mind was turning slowly. There was something familiar to Pat about that voice and he delved, mole-like, into the thick fudge of his memories, barely hearing the voice as it spoke again.

“They need to be taught a lesson, me laddie.”

“Me laddie,” whispered Pat and then repeated the phrase perhaps a dozen times.

“We have to stand up to them, me laddie,” insisted the voice again.

Pat released his hold on the doorframe and came crashing down on a potted bay tree just outside the porch. From his prone position on the driveway’s gravel he shouted into the night.

“That’s what my granddaddy called me! That’s what my granddaddy used to call me!”

“That’s right, me laddie,” answered the voice, “and it hurts me to see you this way. You have to fight for the family name, for the Landy name, for Ireland, just like I did.”

“Fight for Ireland,” mumbled Pat, picking himself up and half-sitting on the rim of the bay’s stoneware pot.

“Yes! Strike a blow against Ireland’s enemies. Bring glory to the Landy name again. You know what you have to do.”

“I know – I’ll start with that Proddy bitch. I’ll burn her out!”

“Yes, burn her out. Will you do that for me?”

“I’ll do it for you!”

With that, Pat slid off the pot and ran with a stumbling, lurching gait back inside the house. He rummaged in a drawer in his study for the keys to his Mercedes and, having found them, raced out to the driveway, crashing into a selection of antique chairs and tables on his tumbling journey from study to front door. After fumbling with the remote control to unlock the doors, he fell into the driver’s seat and started the ignition. He released the handbrake, changed from neutral into first gear and stomped heavily on the accelerator. The engine roared and the car leapt forward, wheels spinning on the driveway’s gravel. Before Pat could react, the car had reached the sharp elbow bend that led onto the steep descent from the hill atop which the mansion sat to the public road below. As Pat tugged on the steering wheel half a second too late and pushed the brake into the floor with all his might, the car trundled off the driveway and came to a thumping stop against a fencepost in the ditch that ran alongside it. The airbags activated instantly and Pat’s head was prevented from slamming into the steering wheel by the white softness of the steering column’s oval cushion. In his drunken state, Pat somehow imagined that he managed to make it back to his bed, and, hugging the airbag tightly to himself, he rested his head on it and fell into a deep but unrestful sleep.


About ucronin

Microbiologist, brewer, writer, fan of James Joyce, guitar player and gardener, U. Cronin was born in the county town of Ennis, Co. Clare. He's spent much of his adult years moving country — between Spain and Ireland — and at present he is to be found back in his native town. Author of five novels and working on a sixth, U. is back in the lab and engaging his passion for looking for bugs using very bright lasers. Let's hope it turns out well!
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