The Hare’s Tale
How Red Rabbit Came to be Red Rabbit
It doesn’t need to be true; it only needs to be interesting.
-Dr. S.J. Rouse
Chapter 1: The Meeting
know you’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you, and I don’t blame you. I certainly wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t witnessed it all firsthand; but I did, and that’s all I can say. You may think it’s all the end product of too much drinking, and – to be sure – there was plenty of drinking involved; but this story isn’t the result of too much alcohol. This is a story of someone who just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
I’m not sure I actually remember when I met Rua Coinin. I can tell you about when it was, because I was only in Ireland between March of 1993 and November of 1997, and it seems like I met Rua pretty early on…maybe June or July of ’93. I was working for Digital Now!, a monthly magazine from Ferdinand Publishing that covered the latest trends in the computer industry, and right about that time we were beginning to see the first stirrings of the high tech boom that would soon sweep the Emerald Isle and lift it from systemic poverty.
It was astonishing, really. Almost overnight Ireland’s economy was transformed from a sleepy, loose agrarian mishmash with occasional adjuncts like fishing and cottage-industry sweater knitters to a pulsing and vibrant network of motherboard manufacturers and server farms. Most of the new activity was centered around Dublin and Shannon, since they had the only international airports; but you also saw prefab steel-and-aluminum mini-factories spring up right in the middle of nowhere. The picture was surreal, with insipid gleaming industrial complexes suddenly lunging up out of the ancient rocky soil set in relief against the checkerboard of stone fences and lonely castle towers that crisscrossed the land. The scene fairly dripped with anachronistic irony, like seeing a Mercedes parked in the background of a medieval painting; but there it was, all unfolding before the international IT community’s eyes, and I was there to cover it.
Despite this acceleration in economic activity, the Irish still maintained their characteristic placid pace. There was none of the eighteen-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, ulcer-and-migraine inducing madness we Americans know so well. The country didn’t move until after 8:00 in the morning and after 6:00 in the evening the streets were empty because everyone was at the pub.
Ah, the Irish pub! There really isn’t anything like it in the States, where even our restaurants and bars are places of frenetic activity, canned music blaring from all corners and patrons herded in and out as quickly as possible: we seem to think that even our rare moments of relaxation should be processed and shipped like any other commodity. But in Ireland it’s different; in Ireland when you place an order for food at the pub, you have no idea when it may show up…in twenty minutes or in two hours. And you don’t care: there’s lively conversation and plenty of Guinness stout and often two or three genuine live musicians reproducing centuries-old rounds right on the spot. Many pubs only seat twenty people or so; the atmosphere is intimate and congenial and the music is being made within an arm’s length. There are no strangers in an Irish pub, no place to hide, and no cause to.
It took me a few days to adjust to the Irish tempo of life, but once I did it took hold in me deep. During the day I’d interview excited, dynamic young tech entrepreneurs and during the evening I’d sit and sip beer in some tiny local eatery eating savory stews, enchanted by the calls and replies of magical fiddles and flutes. A kind of rhythm took hold of me, ancient and compelling as the Irish hills, and Rua Coinin soon became part of that rhythm.
I know it was a Saturday night and I know the moon was full. I’d been in a pub called The Middle House in the tiny hamlet of Doora for the better part of three or four hours. Doora was near Ennis, and because Ennis was a thriving arts community, there was always wonderful music at The Middle House. Early in the evening there might be a pair of players – maybe a guitar and fiddle – and after a bit they’d be joined by someone playing a whistle, and then after a bit more someone would walk in carrying another instrument case and it might be a mandolin or possibly a flute and so it would go over the course of the evening until there might be eight or ten musicians furiously churning out spontaneous and perfectly synchronized ancient Celtic melodies. Each instrument supported the others and yet stood alone as well; it was the musical equivalent of a group of pilgrims moving together toward a shrine, each with the same goal but each walking his or her own path. Together they became a seamless perfect cloud of melody and counterpoint- lilting, tilting, prancing in time. Individual tunes went on for twelve or fifteen minutes, and then would simply end with another beginning, players moving in and out as it suited them. It was flawless in its simple, raw creative power.
I was behind a few pints when I stepped out into Doora’s tiny main street under an uncharacteristically clear Irish sky. The moon was gleaming brilliantly behind the town’s church spire and the thrashing music was still swirling inside me. I felt whole and perfect. I was making my way at a leisurely pace toward my guesthouse when I caught a glimpse of something just off the road, something reflecting the moon’s light in an odd silvery-red glow. I stopped – not out of fear, but curiosity – to get a better a look: it was a rabbit, calmly observing me, shimmery red and luminous. I know I was somewhat more than tipsy, but I wasn’t drunk; still, as he stared at me, he looked…I don’t know, intelligent. So, while I was certainly surprised at what happened next, I wasn’t shocked.
“Dia duit!” he said in a raspy rabbit voice.
“I’m sorry?” I stammered.
“Cad is ainm duit?” he responded.
I searched my foggy brain, then painfully squeezed out the only local phrase I’d memorized in butchered Gaelic, “Nil Gaeilge agam. An Bhfuil Bearla agat?” (“I don’t speak Gaelic. Do you speak English?”)
The rabbit simply stared at me, glowing softly and made no sound. I began to think I’d just imagined it all, fueled by the Guinness in my belly. I began to move on, turning my back to the creature when I heard, “De reir dealramh...”
I spun in my tracks. “You did speak!” I said.
“Ta athas fearg,” he said, then twitched his whiskers. “I’m sorry,” he said in English, but in a curious, rabbit kind of way, “T’e old tongue is my natch’ral one, but I can keep up in t’e newer.” His words were clear, delivered in a rough rabbity brogue.
I stumbled back a pace, then dropped to the curb at the side of the road, my elbows on my knees and my hands to my head. “God,” I muttered, “I must’ve had more than I realized.”
“Oh, I doubt t’at now,” the rabbit chuckled, hopping up closer to me. “It’s prolly t’e combination of t’e stout and t’e music and t’e moonlight. Sometimes t’ey all get mixed together and produce t’e most amazin’ results.”
I looked up at him. “Yes; I can see that. A glowing, talking rabbit is an amazing combination.”
I examined him more closely. He wasn’t that remarkable in his stature, about the size of wild rabbits I’d seen any number of times in the States; but there was the odd glow he had, so faint that I really wasn’t sure if it was there at all. There was a gauzy red hum about him, soft as a child’s nightlight, but unmistakable. It seemed to get slightly stronger when he spoke.
“Well, bein’ a talkin’ rabbit isn’t all t’at remarkable in t’ese parts, alt’ough I must admit my loinnir is quite a t’ing of admiration amongst one and all.”
“Your what?” I asked.
“My loinnir, my glow. It’s red, y’know!” he said proudly, then took a quick turn in the moonlight. The effect reminded me of the glow-in-dark numerals on an old clock.
“Yes, it’s lovely,” I said with genuine admiration. “What causes that?”
“It’s just t’e way it ‘tis, t’at’s all,” he chuckled. “T’is is Ireland after all! More wondrous t’ings t’an t’at abound in t’is isle.”
He could see I was confused, and more than a bit.
“Fairy folk, leprechauns, tree sprites- everyt’ing’s alive and pulsin’ here! Look around ya, b’y: open yer eyes!”
Eyebrows furrowed, I slowly looked away from him, peering into the moon-drenched night. I saw nothing.
“I don’t see anything,” I said, tossing him a condescending look.
“T’at’s ‘cause ya ain’t lookin’,” he said, low and firm.
I found this conversation somewhat irritating: I could see perfectly well in the brilliant night.
“Always blame the victim,” I muttered, stuffing my hands into my pockets and staring at the ground.
“Just look,” he said again, this time almost a whisper.
I shook my head sourly; but then I thought, “Well, here I am in the middle of the Irish night talking with a glowing red rabbit. I guess I might as well do as he says,” so I lifted my head again to look out into the darkness.
Still nothing; but then, just up the road, I saw something moving toward us, a small animal of some sort. As it got closer its eyes lit up with a brilliant green, and I recognized it to be a cat, big and thick and so black that it almost melted into the night.
It stopped a few feet from us and then sat, in that way cats do, with its tail wrapping about itself and swishing just at the end.
“Rua?” it said, in a purry distinctly feminine voice.
“Aoife?” the rabbit replied. “Conas atá tú?”
“Tá me go maith,” the cat mewed.
“T’is is my good friend Aoife,” the rabbit said to me. “T’e finest feline in all of Ireland!”
The cat examined me with half-closed eyes. “A Yank, eh?” she said.
“Guilty as charged,” I admitted, by this time not even considering it odd that I was introducing myself to a cat.
“Well,” she purred, “Any friend of Rua’s is surely a friend of mine.”
“Atchilly, we’ve not been properly introduced ourselves,” the rabbit said, at which he sat upright on his haunches and extended me a paw.
“I’m called Rua, Rua Coinin,” he said with a certain proud rabbitness.
Nonplussed I accepted it, not certain how robustly I should shake a rabbit’s paw; after all, most of the ones I’d ever seen had been removed from their owner’s immediate possession.
“Pleased to meet you,” I said. “I’m Dale, Dale Marchand.”
“Very, very pleased t’ meetcha,” Rua Coinin said. “I believe you’ve already met Aoife?” Then his voice dropped to a whisper, “Cats don’t shake paws, so don’t bother.”
Taking his advice, I turned to the cat. “Aoife, happy to meet you.”
“And I you,” the cat responded, her tail marking a small circle in the air.
“Well, t’at’s done, t’en,” Rua remarked happily, dropping back down onto all fours. “Mr. Marchand has just come from t’e pub, Aoife.”
“Ah,” the cat grumbled, “That explains the smell, then.”
“What?” I asked, not certain as to whether I should be offended.
Rua took a couple of hops closer, then whispered again, “Cats disparage of imbibin’.”
“Oh,” I whispered back. Then, louder, “I meant no offense.”
“None taken,” the cat said. “This is Ireland, after all. But cats learned long ago the tragedy of drink. As we say, ‘Nine lives are spent quickly in the pub’.”
I took this in silently, nodding my head. Rua, seeming to want to change the subject, asked, “So, how do you find our music, Mr. Marchand?”
“It’s wonderful!” I practically shouted. Then, toning it down a bit, “It’s truly like nothing else I’ve ever heard. It’s so alive!”
“Aye, t’at it is,” Rua chuckled.
I looked from Aoife back to Rua and asked, “Is everyone here a fine musician?”
Aoife squeezed her eyes shut and seemed to twitch her tail more quickly, but Rua answered, “No, not everyone; but t’ere are many, to be sure. Sometimes music has been all we’ve had to get us t’rough. T’ey say that God made a deal with the Irish long ago. ‘Your troubles will be many,” he said, ‘but I’ll give you my very own music to bring you t’rough t’em.’ And bring us t’rough, it has!”
We were quiet then, and it seemed that the very night air carried a kind of melody, lonesome and heartbreaking, so beautiful I could hardly bear it. Aoife began to sing.
“Nach eil e iongantach, gur anns na craobhan
A-nis tha bheatha.
Craobhan air an dlùth-chur
'S air fàs suas a' mùchadh a' ghlinne
Chuir iad às dha na caoraich.
'S tha an ciobair air fhògradh
'S an gleann fo na craobhan.”
When she finished the music in the air disappeared, like vapor from the spout of a kettle, and I felt tears washing down my face. I was overcome with emotion and I didn’t even know why.
“What did she sing, Rua?” I asked after a moment.
“It’s a song of t’e trees and shepherds and long-empty houses- a song of t’e quiet tragedy t’at’s never far from t’e people of t’is island,” he said quietly, with soft rabbit sadness.
“It was beautiful,” I said, speaking to Aoife. I couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or shut, and her tail was almost still.
“Thank you, Mr. Marchand,” she purred demurely.
“Well,” Rua chirped, suddenly perky. “Enough of t’at t’en! T’e night’s too long for tears!”
Again he rose up on his haunches, looking at me but speaking to Aoife. “I’ve a notion that Mr. Marchand here has tastes t’at run more to t’e, shall we say, electric?” And then he cocked his rabbit head in a mischievous way.
“I guess,” I answered. “What do you have in mind?”
“The Uaimh Bhinn?” Aoife asked.
“Exactly!” Rua chirped. Then he dropped back down and suddenly leaped off into the night.
“Better go,” Aoife spoke, her eyes now wide open. “Rua never waits for stragglers.”
I looked off after Rua, then back at Aoife, and she said, “I’ll be right behind, no worry.” And with that I stood up quickly and began chasing a talking red rabbit through the Irish night.
Chapter 2 - Uaimh Bhinn