listenedBy Karen Gilleland © 2014
I’m posting this article on April 1, which is “April Fools’ Day” in the United States. The day seemed appropriate for this light-hearted (admittedly improbable) look at the “Doc,” whose encounter with an Irish priest offers new insight into Martin’s past.
At the same time, the song, “Boolevogue,” evokes the sadness of Father Murphy and the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
I learned about the medical issue from a local priest, now semi-retired, who, incredibly, suffered from the condition all his life before discovering this very simple cure.
Driving back from Truro, Martin spotted a man staggering at the side of the road and stopped the car. “Are you all right,” he asked the man with white, bushy hair, clear blue eyes, and wearing the cassock and collar of a Catholic priest.
“Do you have a problem with your feet? You seem to have difficulty walking.”
“Too true, son. My feet have tortured me for fifty years. Tis like walkin’ on razorblades.”
“Why haven’t you had them taken care of?”
“I’ve tried, son, but doctors can nay put their finger on the source of the ailment. I’ve had surgery, metal put into my feet, worn special shoes, but nothing works. I’ve had to say Mass sitting down for years.”
“Come to the surgery. I’ll have a look.” At the priest’s quizzical glance, Martin added, “I’m Doctor Ellingham, the GP in Portwenn.”
“Are you, son? Faith and Begorrah, tis a grand day that the Lord has sent a doctor to fetch
me off the road. I’m Father Timothy McKenna, County Kerry, Ireland.”
“You have ingrown corns,” said the “Doc.” “I can remove them, if you like.”
The priest gasped. “Have I wandered into the arms of Cosmos and Damian, then?”
“Patron saints of physicians, son. Twin brothers, beheaded for the faith. If you can fix my feet, you’ll be the answer to prayer.”
Martin had the priest soak his feet. Then he took up a scraper and began to remove the ingrown corns. When he finished, he said, “It’s possible the corns will grow back. Use an emery board to keep them filed down.”
Father McKenna slid off the couch, taking cautious steps over to the chair, where he put on his shoes. He smiled at Martin. “You’re very casual, son. What you have done is nay short of a miracle.”
Martin pulled off his gloves and washed his hands. “You can call your brother from this phone.”
“Thank you,” said the priest, still looking at Martin in astonishment. “I’m here to marry my nephew tomorrow. My brother is Patrick McKenna. Do you nay know the family?”
The priest picked up the phone and dialed a number. “Patrick, and where would you be instead of at the bus stop picking me up?” He listened, then said, “But you have a miracle worker right here in Portwenn. Why have you nay called Doctor Ellingham?”
At his words, Martin walked over to the priest. “Talk with the doctor, Patrick. It’s his very office I’m calling from.” The man handed the phone to Martin.
Martin listened as Patrick described his wife’s erratic breathing. “She may be having a panic attack. Have her breathe into a paper bag.” Martin waited until Patrick reported that Mrs. McKenna’s breathing had become regular. “She should be fine. If not, bring her into see me.”
“Did I nay tell you he was a miracle worker, Patrick,” said Father McKenna into the phone, and he began speaking in Gaelic. He hung up and said, “Patrick will come within the hour. With your permission, I’ll wait here.”
“Yes. Have a seat in reception.” Martin turned, but stopped and asked, “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Tea would be most welcome, son. Plain will do. Thank you.”
Patrick McKenna arrived, a slightly younger version of the priest – white, bushy hair and clear blue eyes. He told Martin his wife had fully recovered. “I think Sean’s wedding has her flustered.”
Patrick looked over at his brother and said, “Timothy says you cured his feet. Tis a miracle, for sure. He has suffered for years.”
“Simple procedure. Excuse me, I need to answer the phone,” and Martin walked into his office.
When he returned to the reception area, the brothers were speaking in Gaelic, their hands moving in tempo with their words. At sight of Martin, Patrick switched to English, “Doctor Ellingham, we would be honored to have you and your family come to our Sean’s wedding tomorrow.”
“Sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “Busy.”
“Come to the bachelor party tonight,” put in Father McKenna quickly. “We’ll have a grand time. T’will be the first time ever folks will see me standing on me own two feet at a celebration.”
Louisa came into the doorway, and Father McKenna said, “You ask him to come to the party, lass. He’d nay refuse those beautiful eyes.”
Looking at the priest, Louisa smiled and said, copying his brogue, “And, sure, tis you who’ve kissed the blarney stone this very day, Father.”
The priest laughed and said to Martin. “Eight o’clock. Patrick will send Innis and Daniel for you.” He stepped close to Martin, looked up at him and winked. “You’ll come as a favor to this old man of the cloth, will you nay, son?” Before Martin could respond, the visitors disappeared through the door.
At eight o’clock, the two McKenna boys knocked at the door to face a protesting Martin. “Himself will have our heads if we nay bring you back, Doctor Ellingham,” said Innis, and the boys hustled him out the door and into their van.
“The party’s in the barn,” said Innis. “Only place big enough to hold all the kin here from Ireland. The lads each brought a bottle of whiskey from County Cork itself, and the women have laid a grand spread.” Then Innis cranked up the radio, and the boys’ heads bobbed to the music.
Twenty minutes later, Innis parked the van, and the men heard the voices of the merrymakers in the barn. When Martin stepped across the threshold, Father McKenna, microphone in hand, caught his arm.
“Mo Chairde, we have a special guest. This is Doctor Martin Ellingham, the miracle worker the Lord sent to heal me wretched feet. Each man of you, come, raise your glass and salute this grand lad.” He raised his arm and shouted, “Erin go bragh!” and the room thundered with the phrase.
Martin, feeling his face flushing with embarrassment, took a glass of whiskey from Innis. The roomful of men, smiling broadly, came one by one and offered a toast –
“May you live as long as you want, and never want as long as you live.”
“May the Lord keep you in His hand and never close His fist too tight.”
“May the sound of happy music, and the lilt of Irish laughter, fill your heart with gladness, that stays forever after.”
Each man clinked glasses with Martin and tipped back his drink. Martin sipped the whiskey guardedly, but Innis stood by, continually refilling his glass.
When the last lad toasted Martin, the harpist, fiddle player and accordionist stepped up on the makeshift stage and began playing. The men, arms around one another, joined in singing and stepping in time to the music. Timothy pulled Martin into the line, and they joined in the raucous chorus.
“And how is it you know the words to these Irish songs, Doctor Ellingham?” shouted Timothy in Martin’s ear.
“A semester at Trinity College in Dublin,” called back Martin.
After a few rounds of singing and a few more rounds of drinking, Timothy led Martin to the stage. “Here, lads, lend an ear. Our good doctor may nay have the gift of gab, but he has the voice of a true Irishman. Lead us on, lad,” he said, handing Martin the microphone, to cheers and stomps.
Martin, buoyant from the effects of the whiskey, stepped forward and began singing the bitter ballad, “Boolavogue,” in a melodic baritone. Tears came to the eyes of the men. When the song ended, the room erupted with “Erin go bragh!”
When the musicians took a break, Timothy said to Martin, “Stay close. You’ll nay want to miss the jokes.”
Innis came over to Father Timothy and said, “Start us off with your ‘Rory’ joke, Father. It would nay be a party without it,” and he handed the priest the microphone.
Father Timothy stepped on stage to cheers. “Sad to tell,” he began, “but Mike O’Connor’s beloved dog, Rory, was hit by a car. Mike asked Father O’Shea if Rory could be buried in the Catholic cemetery. ‘Oh, no, tis sacred ground. We don’t allow animals,’ said Father O’Shea. ‘Ask at the Church of the Holy Word on the corner.’
“‘Thanks, Father,’ said Mike. ‘Do you think I should offer three thousand pounds or four to bury Rory?’
“Father O’Shea raised his hands. ‘Hold on, now, son, you nay did tell me the dog was Catholic.’”
The crowd hooted and clapped. Then a string of lads stepped on stage to tell other time-honored stories, and the music began again.
At twelve o’clock, the band struck up “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen,” and Innis and Daniel appeared at Martin’s side. Each took one arm and walked him out to the van. At the surgery, the boys opened the front door and helped Martin inside, shushing his rendering of “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral.”
“I heard singing,” Louisa said, coming down the stairs in pajamas.
“Sorry to wake you,” said Innis. “Tis a grand voice, the doctor has.”
“I’ll take him from here,” she said. “Thank you.”
Louisa helped Martin stagger up the steps and into the bedroom. He flopped onto the bed, eyes closed. Suddenly, his eyes popped open. He raised an arm straight up and shouted, “Erin go bragh!”
“Doc Martin” is owned by Buffalo Pictures.