Tasty Tales of Monaghan - The Druid’s Egg
In old Celtic legends there are mentions of the Druid’s Egg which was in fact a mythical, magical stone roughly the size and shape of a small chicken’s egg. It was said that on the summer solstice evening it would rise from its resting place and if you caught it before it fell back to earth its magic would be at your command for as long as you kept it on your person. Whoever possessed the Druid’s Egg was bestowed with great wisdom, cunning and luck and if they were ever pursued by attackers they had to make for running water and reaching the other side their pursuer could not follow them. The Egg bestowed great powers of persuasion on whoever possessed it, so much so that the Romans barred anyone carrying anything resembling a Druids Egg into court. The person who possessed it could not give it to anyone else, when he passed away the egg disappeared, and misfortune would follow anyone who stole it.
The last known mention of the Druids Egg was in the year 332 in the vicinity of Lough Ooney near Smithborough. There was a great crannog in the middle of the lake which was the home of Ruadhrach, lord of Lough Ooney. The 4th century in Monaghan and most of Ulster was a time of great turmoil. The Three Collas were expanding their territory from Connaught to the north through Donegal and then west through Tyrone and Fermanagh towards Monaghan. Ruadhrach was a practical man and was in possession of the Druids Egg which had ensured that his people had lived in peace for all of his reign. He knew that in any negotiation with the Three Collas the power of the egg would influence the outcome in his favour.
Unfortunately his son Caireall was a passionate hot head and was spoiling for a fight. On the eve of the negotiations, as his father slept, he stole the Druids Egg and made haste to the Three Collas camp where he challenged their greatest warrior to a ‘David & Goliath’ style contest. In his heart he believed that his victory was certain because he now possessed the egg and in turn this victory would spare the lives of many people. The Three Collas accepted the challenge and Caireall was slain by their warrior Conaille. The Druids Egg was not seen again…..
And then on the Summer solstice in 1952 a young rascal called Johnny Mohan, who, despite several warnings from Master McEntaggart, had given himself permission not to attend school and was busily exploring the island on Lough Ooney when out of nowhere The Druids Egg appeared. Johnny was taken aback but as the egg began to fall he regained his composure and dived forward catching the stone before it reached the ground. It glowed bright gold for a moment before fading again. He looked at it, turning it over in his hand, but it had no markings whatsoever and really just looked like a regular stone, except that it was shaped like an egg. He popped it in his pocket and as it was nearly time for school to end he decided to make his way home.
He was nearly back home when he saw Master McEntaggart walking down the lane towards him, blocking his route home. The Master spotted him too and started to walk faster before breaking into a sprint, shouting “I’ve got you now Mohan! This is the last time you play truant.” Johnny turned and ran across the field, but he’d forgotten how fast Master McEntaggart was and he knew he had little chance of out running him, but the thought of what would happen if he was caught spurred him on. There was a little stream at the bottom of the field and Johnny cleared it in one jump but he fell awkwardly and twisted his ankle, he couldn’t out run the Master now. He turned to face him, but then the strangest thing happened. Just as Master McEntaggart ran up to the stream about to jump he stopped dead in his tracks. He looked a little confused at first and then scanned the other bank of the stream looking left and right of where Johnny stood in clear view. He cursed “I’ll get you yet you little blaggard, where ever the hell you went to.” And then to Johnny’s amazement, Master McEntaggart turned on his heels and walked back up the field and onto the lane, heading back to the school. He felt something warm in his pocket and retrieved the stone, again it was glowing gold before quickly fading once more.
Over the years the Druids Egg came to Johnny’s assistance on numerous occasions. Like many entrepreneurial young men growing up along the border in those days the only avenue open to making a living was in exploiting the many differences in prices and taxes that existed on either side of the border for butter, sugar, tea, cigarettes , bicycle parts and, of course, eggs. Johnny Mohan excelled in his role as the chief egg smuggler, no one could catch him. The local customs men eventually resigned themselves to never catching him and resorted to letting Johnny pass as he wished, and concentrated on catching the unlucky smugglers instead. Johnny by now had a genuine bona fide egg business established, Greenfield Eggs, employing many neighbours. But he still indulged in the odd wee bit of smuggling….just for old times sake….and to give the Druids Egg the odd chance to glow.
But in 1972 a new chief customs officer was stationed in Clones, Jason McEntaggart, son of Johnny’s former school master. On his first day in the job he drove straight to Smithborough and called into the office of Greenfield eggs asking to speak to Mr.Mohan. When Johnny came down to meet his visitor he extended his hand in greeting but the new customs man refused to accept it, he simply glared at him and through gritted teeth said “Listen here Mohan, I’m giving you notice your smuggling days are over. Today. Finished. I requested this position just so that I could haunt your every living moment, the same way you haunted my father’s. Every Greenfield Eggs van, or anything I suspect has anything to do with you , will be held up at the border and gone through thoroughly, I’ll follow you and …..” Johnny held up his hand to silence McEntaggart.
“I’m a legitimate business man McEntaggart, but I’ll make it easy for you, really easy. I’m going to tell you the time and place where I’m going to ‘export’ 60,000 eggs across the border.” McEntaggart opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, but closed it again as Johnny continued “Sunday 30th July, 5 o’clock, Newtownbutler Road. Cheerio.” And with that he waved a patronising goodbye to McEntaggart and went back upstairs to his office.
McEntaggart couldn’t wait to get back to his office in Clones. He summoned all of the customs men under his command and informed them all that all leave and holidays were cancelled for Sunday July 30th, that the border crossing at Newtownbutler road was to be placed under round the clock double patrols, and that he was going to catch Johnny Mohan. A customs officer at the back of the room nervously put up his hand. “Speak man !” McEntaggart snapped “ we’re not at school , what do you want to say ?”
“Sorry Chief, it’s just that…you do know that Sunday 30th is the day of the Ulster Final…here…in Clones ?”
“And , what of it ?” McEntaggart snapped back.
“Well, it’s Donegal and Tyrone in the final, there’ll be 15,000 people crossing the border that day. It’ll be impossible to search them all.”
“We don’t need to search them all, just Greenfield Egg vans and any sign of Johnny Mohan !”
The day of the Ulster Final arrived and crowds of football fans from Donegal and Tyrone streamed across the border into Clones. McEntaggart had forty disgruntled customs officers sitting on the Newtownbutler van from lunchtime. The match started at 3pm and that was when the first Volkswagen Kombi Greenfield Eggs van drove up to the customs checkpoint. The officers inspected it thoroughly; there wasn’t even an egg sandwich on board. They searched it again under the watchful stare of McEntaggart. Nothing. They had to let the van through. The van drove across the border and stopped once it was safely across and parked at the side of the road in full view of the customs officers. The driver got out and opened the back doors of the van and then simply sat in the grass verge at the side of the road taking out the newspaper from his pocket and started reading it/
“What the hell is he up to?” McEntaggart asked, but before anyone could answer, two more brand new VW Kombi Greenfield Egg vans approached the customs post. Again they were each searched twice, revealing nothing. This time McEntaggart had all of the panels in all of the doors removed, still nothing. The two vans had the panels restored and then drove across to park alongside the first one, and similarly opened the back doors. In the distance they could here the whistle from St.Tiernach’s Park signalling half time in the Ulster Final.
Three VW Komi vans approached this time and the same frustrating process was undertaken. By the time the full time whistle blew in the final there were a dozen VW Kombi Greenfield Egg vans parked up across the border from the customs post. There had been no sign of Johnny Mohan himself yet, but as the crowds streamed out of Clones heading home, the Donegal fans victorious, and it approached 5 o’clock, a battered old Greenfield Eggs van sputtered it’s way through the crowd and eventually stopped at the customs post. Johnny Mohan would down the window and greeted McEntaggart with a bright and breezy smile.
The customs officers opened the van and saw the eggs sitting openly and brazenly in the back of his van….all six of them. They started sniggering. McEntaggart marched to the back of the van, saw the half a dozen eggs, his face went bright red with a mixture of anger and shame. He marched back to the drivers door and barked “Have you got any paperwork for these eggs ?”.
Johnny smiled and said “Do you want to tell him boys, or shall I ?” One of the customs officers approached the chief and whispered “Anyone can take half a dozen eggs across the border, that quantity is exempt from duty or excise.”
From his van Johnny shouted “Hey McEntaggart ! Look !” he was pointing across the border, where as all of the football fans passed on their way home they each handed a half dozen eggs to the waiting drivers. Three of the Greenfield Egg vans were now full of eggs. It transpired that before the match the dozen Greenfield Egg vans were lined up outside St.Tiernachs Park handing out free Donegal and Tyrone flags to anyone who agreed to take a carton of six eggs across the border for them after the match.
There was nothing McEntaggart could do.
Johnny called him over to the battered old van , McEntaggart had lost face in front of his men and he knew that this story would reach the department in Dublin. He held out his hand to Johnny, which Johnny graciously accepted, saying “Your Da was a decent man McEntaggart, I bear neither you nor him any ill will. Is this going to be trouble for you ?”
McEntaggart nodded “I think I’ll be out of a job tomorrow when the department hears, which they will by the end of the day.” He looked over his shoulder where the rest of his officers were no longer even trying to hide their laughs.
“Well , I have a job available as a manager. You can start with me tomorrow.”
McEntaggart was gobsmacked “There must be great money in eggs ?”
Johnny laughed “Eggs ? There’s no money in eggs. Volkswagens. Now that’s a different matter altogether !”.