The Grand Canal Fox

Up at Belgard, the caged fox paced, confined for tomorrow’s foxhunt. Down at Clondalkin, the
ancient Round Tower pointed at a cloudless sky as the Grand Canal’s waters glittered in Spring
sunshine. Another lovely day in Clondalkin, what could go wrong?
Lunchtime at the gunpowder mill near the Tower. Work was tough, fuelled by the River Camac’s
energy and the labour of most local men. The mid-day heat, the mill’s stuffy and confined interior,
the bitter smell of the gunpowder stacked high in the store-room – over 260 barrels. A large, urgent
shipment for the British forces, ready for expert loading onto canal boats moored nearby for onward
dispatch – carefully – to the war in America.
Then it happened. Very simple. Two men, Tom and Matt. First words low and threatening. Then a
vicious, jaw-landing punch started the fistfight. Fellow workers knew well there was bad blood
between them. This was their fight. One lad ran for Maura, Tom’s sister. She lived nearby. Maybe
she alone could stop it.
With a life of its own, the bloody fight moves around the store-room. The others can only remain
apart. Dust rises, twinkling in shafting sunlight. Blood spurts as another punch lands. The two grunt
in a dangerous dance, their shouting over. Unheeding, they lunge towards where shovels rest.
Some see the shovels fall. Their blades clash, causing tiny sparks. One remains alight. Floats high. It
lands, igniting gun-powder grains on a barrel-top. A mighty explosion as Maura, screaming, reaches
the store-room. The great blast blows up the whole mill. April 1787.
The fox stopped pacing, feeling the great tremor under his paws. As the ground kept shaking, his
wooden cage collapsed. Now free, he ran. He knew the countryside well. As foxes do, he headed
for the nearest water. Downhill. Towards Clondalkin. Crossing the Naas Road at full gallop, the
aftershocks spurred him on. Wily and cunning yet, he doubled back to the Booth Road and paused
but only for a moment. Heavy masonry thudded down all around him. Fire-laden ashes fell,
blistering his back, burning his paws. His heaving lungs were sore. Gun-smoke and dust tormented
his eyes, his nose. He must get to water.
Down Steeple Street and past the Round Tower, he sensed the Camac River, the water to quench his
fur and give him some ease. Distressed people running, shouting, calling in sudden semi-darkness
and panic at the riverside. They blocked his way in. Unseen, he dashed past, on to the Grand Canal.
He plunged in among floating dead fish. The fire in his fur extinguished, hissing. Exhausted, he
clambered out at last. He found the broken remains of a canal boatman’s hut. Crept inside. Still
shaking and blistered and so, so tired, he slept.
Newspapers reported two men dead, only one found. Several injured. One young woman
disfigured. Chimney pots toppled from houses in Usher’s Quay, 4 miles away in Dublin. Crockery in
Kildare fell and smashed. Many Clondalkin houses demolished, St Mochua’s church blown away.
The mill destroyed completely. The Round Tower remained undamaged – its architecture saved it.
The windows in Moyle Park House (the residence of Mr Caldbeck, the mill owner) were unshattered.
Fish in the canal and River Camac, all killed. Mature trees flattened. Mrs Donovan of east Clondalkin
assured the Court that the blast cured her rheumatism and caused her bad tooth to fall out.
And the fox? A canal boatman discovered him and treated him kindly. Thereafter, our oul’ fox
could be seen freely trotting after his boatman like a well-trained dog. Safe at last.