To thee belongs the rural reign; / Thy cities shall with commerce shine; / All thine shall be the subject main, / And every shore it circles, thine. – from Rule, Britannia by James Thomson, 1740


Instalment 1 of The Cursing Stone

Book One












22nd SEPT. 1884

Grave Marker, Tory Island


21 March 1884

Ruairí knew the path by the way it felt under his feet. The grassy walkway from East Town curved up through the sloping fields toward the cliffs on the north shore. He could see dim outlines ahead where the grass ended and the granite began. He had been out on the cliffs on other nights when a bright moon and stars lit the way, but the light had made the cliff-birds restless. The egging would be better, he knew, on a night like this one when the clouds covered the stars like a wet wool blanket.

He heard Eoghan following close behind. He knew that Eoghan couldn’t see well in the dark – his shins were scarred from running at full speed into the rocks and iron ploughs that littered the fields of Thoraí Island. He could hear Eoghan’s heavy breathing. Ruairí wondered if his brother realised exactly where they were.

The grassy walkway ended, and he felt the narrow dirt footpath begin. The path ran along the narrow granite ridge at the eastern end of the island, inches away from the sheer cliffs that dropped straight to the sea on both sides. He could hear the waves washing against the rocks hundreds of feet below. He shifted the bag of straw from one shoulder to the other. A gull flapped by, the sound of its wings disappearing into the darkness.

He saw a flickering light on the path ahead, and he kicked the ground in anger. He’d wanted to be the first one down.

Hey, look,” said Eoghan. “Pádraig’s already here.”

Yeah, the bastard,” said Ruairí. “That’s twice tonight he’s beat me.”


Ruairí was tempted to snap at Eoghan, but he didn’t want Pádraig to hear them. “Don’t you remember? In the game?”

The football game?”

Remember when you got the ball away from him, and you broke away up the field?”

Yeah, I scored a goal then.”

That’s the time. While you were up there at the goal, he clipped me from behind. I still got a sore rib.”

I didn’t know that, Ruairí.”

Nobody else did, either.”

If you’d told me then, I’d have got him back.”

Ruairí stopped and turned to his brother. “That’s why I didn’t tell you. This is just between him and me.”

Well, sure, Ruairí…”

Ruairí stared at Eoghan without saying anything. Eoghan fidgeted and said, “I’m sorry. I mean, I know you can take care of yourself. I just want to help…”

If you wanted to help, why didn’t you come up here faster with me?” Ruairí said, surprised by the harsh edge in his own voice. “I could have beat Pádraig up here if you hadn’t wanted to piss around back there after the game.”

I didn’t even know we was coming up here.”

Didn’t you hear what he said? It’s a good night for eggin’, if anybody has the nerve. Didn’t you hear that?”

No, I didn’t…”

He’s been pushin’ me since I can remember. Don’t you see it?”

As they walked along the ridge, Ruairí could feel Eoghan trying to decide what to say. He didn’t like to boss his brother around, but there were times when he ran out of patience with Eoghan’s slow thoughts.

They approached an ankle-high pile of rocks where a dry, long-abandoned bird’s nest smouldered. A rope was looped around an outcropping of stone, trailing over the edge of the cliff and down into the darkness. Far below, they could see Pádraig dangling at the end of the rope, holding a burning stick in one hand and a cloth bag in the other.

Hey,” said Eoghan. “I’ll grab that rope and scare the piss out of him.”

No, don’t do that. I got a better idea.”

Looking down the cliff-face, they watched Pádraig shove the burning stick into a hollow in the cliffside. Two puffins came flapping out, and Ruairí could see a flash of their bright red beaks for an instant before they disappeared into the dark air. Pádraig reached into the hollow, pulled out an egg, and slipped it into the bag over his arm.

I want to go down tonight,” said Eoghan.

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