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  • The Three-Sided Penny
  • Dennis McFadden (bio)

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Figure 1.

Photograph by Andreas Beer

[End Page 24]

Old Foley was the first to discover the thing, followed by your man Terrance Lafferty. Foley brought it into Cleery's public house to show it off one evening, a year or two gone by now. He was a farmer, Foley was, a poor excuse for a farmer, a man who couldn't afford the price of a belt so he kept his trousers up with a piece of rope. Nor could he sustain himself on his own wee patch of potatoes, possessing little more than an old donkey named Isadora, which was fit only for glue, and a fierce and malicious old bull called Cromwell. So he worked at odd jobs, Foley did, one of which was cutting turf on the MacGregor estate for his lordship. Standing at the bottom of the bog cutting his last sod of turf this particular day he looks [End Page 25] down and there it lay, there beside his slean like it just fell from God's own pocket, this little piece of metal in the shape of a triangle. From God's pocket to Foley's own, and not a word was spoken.

A coin it was. An old coin. Foley called it a penny, although there was no hint of a denomination on the thing at all. Only a picture of a man's head, a man wearing a crown, the words Johannes Rex beneath. On the other side, a cross of some sort.

The nature of the metal fell into dispute. "Sure it's gold," Foley said, "pure."

"Fool's gold then, if it's in your pocket," says Gallagher, a regular. "It's copper. You can tell it when you smell it."

"Balls," Cleery says, "it's brass. They made everything out of brass back in them days." Cleery, your publican, was a man in the wrong line of work. He'd a wayward black mass of curls on his head going gray here and there at the edges and lively black eyes that were guarded. His tight smile was seldom seen, and never a how-do-you-do except to a paying customer with cash on the bar. A mysterious limp that seemed to come and go.

Lafferty himself didn't venture an opinion on the nature of the metal. He preferred watching men paint themselves into their own corners, then pointing out their predicament for them.

"What'll you give me for it?" says Foley to Cleery.

"A kick in the arse," replies Cleery. "A worthless piece of shite. And so's your penny."

That wasn't the last heard of the penny, however. A month ago doesn't Foley show up again with the thing. A dismal April evening it was, rendering the ambience in Cleery's pub even more gloomy than normal—in the best of times the only illumination comes from whatever God or the village of Kilduff might send in through the one wide window in the front, that and the old string of Christmas lights nailed up on the beam over the bar and one bright lamp by the cash register. So it took a while for the great wide smile of Foley's face to come to light. A niece is after ringing him up from Dublin, he informs the congregation at Cleery's, telling him she's seen a coin identical to his penny up on eBay, the bid rising up like a rocket.

"Over a hundred thousand quid," says Foley. "An archaeological treasure!"

"You're codding me!" says Cleery, old Foley commencing a jig. He carried his treasure to the bar, Cleery making a space and providing a cut of fine white linen to display it on, and everyone in the place tripping over one another to get a glimpse. "Johannes Rex," says Foley, as proud as if he'd deciphered the Rosetta Stone, "is Greek for King John." Word spreads, as word is wont to do, and it [End Page 26] wasn't long before every soul in the village of Kilduff, as well as...


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