The Coach-a-bower

The Coach-a-bower

"This happened long ago when I was only a slip of a girl, living on the edge of the Sperrins. We lived in a very lonely place, beside a road which ran through the mountains and down into Pomeroy, twisting and turning like an eel as it did so. I must have been about twelve or thirteen when all this first took place. There was a turf stack a little ways down the road and, every night, one of us young ones had to go down to it and get some peats for the fire. This night, at the very edge of winter, it was my turn to go and so I set off to bring home a bag of it.

It was a clear and frosty night with the moon as big as a shilling and twice as bright, and I wasn't afraid of anything in those days. The turf had been brought out of the bog about a week before, so it was very dry, but it was also very heavy. That didn't bother me much for I was big and strong for a girl. I heaved the bag up onto my shoulders and turned for home, walking a bit slow on account of the weight.

Well, I had only taken a couple of steps towards our house when I heard the sound of wheels on the road behind me. It was lounder than you would have heard from a pony and trap and it was coming up on me very quick. I thought it might be one of our neighbours in a hurry, so I turned to see who it was and what was wrong. The road lay behind me, twisting and curling across the hills and, because of the moonlight, I could see along its length for miles. There wasn't a thing on it. I looked again to make sure that I hadn't been mistaken but it was still empty as you please. Yet all the time I could hear the sound of wheels drawing closer.

I thought that it might be a cart or a carriage some distance away and that the frosty air was making the sound travel, so I put down the turf-sack and waited to see if anything would come into view. Still I saw nothing and the sound drew closer and closer but the divil a thing did I see, although I looked and looked. Then, suddenly, it was right up beside me and I was pushed tight up against the ditch as if something was trying to get past me. And still there was nothing to be seen, nothing at all. There was just the fields, white with frost, and the empty road all around me. The best way that I can describe it was that it was like trying to push into a strong wind and the whole night was filled with its sound.

And then it was gone by me and away down the road before me. I heard the sound of its whells getting further and further from me and still there was nothing to be seen, even though the moonlight was as clear as day.

Well, you wouldn't believe the speed that I made home. I left the bag of turf standing in the middle of the road and ran for dear life. I'd have outstripped the best runner in the district, so I would, just to get tgo my own front door and shut it tight after me. I told all in the house what I'd heard but nobody would believe me and my father made me go back for the bag of turf. They all made such fun of me that I eventually began to believe that the experience had been nothing more than my own imagination.

Anyway, with other things going on, I'd all but forgotten about the whole affair when, some time after, I was talking to an old woman, Ellen Bradley, who used to come about our house. She was greatly regarded as a wise woman in the locality and was always telling stories about the fairies and of the ghosts who wandered across the mountains. I told her about the noise that I'd heard on the road. At the very mention of it, she started up and crossed herself.

'God between us and harm!' says she. 'It's not right that such a young person should hear these things! That was the coshta bower - the death coach - that you surely heard. There is misery for some poor crathur somewhere in this locality in its passing.'

She told me that the coshta-bower, or the coach-a-bower as it is sometimes called, carried death into a neighbourhood. It was a death warning like a banshee, she said, but it was never seen at all. The sound of its wheels were sometimes heard going past upon the road outside on frosty nights and if they stopped by a door then you knew that death would visit that house. Well, as you might guess, this greatly troubled me for a time and I watched anxiously to see if anyone in our district would die.

There was a man who lived further along the road, just below us, who was very fond of the drink. They said that he was very bad to his wife and I had often seen him passing by our house, coming from some pub or other, in a great state of intoxication. One evening, about two months after I had heard the coshta bower, he came past our door, more drunk than usual, and passed on down the road towards his own house. As he was going past our turf-stack, didn't the drink trip him up and he fell heavily at the very place that I had heard the sound. He cut his leg badly but, being a strong enough man and well full of the drink, he never gave it much attention. It swelled up with blood poisoning a couple of days after and they had to rush him to the hospital in Omagh where I heard that he died in spite of everything that the doctors could do for him. That was why the coshta-bower had been on our road, leaving death and grief in its wake. What I heard at that time was a death-warning sure enough and it was a long, long time before anybody could get me to go back to the turf-stack after that!

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From Beasts, Banshees and Brides from the Sea by Bob Curran