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The Untold Tale of Fergus Torloch and Brian Ualgarg

Story ID:3049
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Fiction
Location:Galway Connacht Ireland
Year:1886
Person:Fergus Torloch
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The greatest battle of champions never to take place occurred in the west of Ireland in the spring of 1886.

In the southern part of the state of Connacht, near Galway, there lived a man whose physical prowess became known the length and breadth of Ireland. Fergus Torloch was like a 19th century Finn McCool. Tall, ruggedly handsome and powerfully built, Fergus Torloch walked the land like a giant, winning the respect of all. He stood about six feet and six inches in height, had jet black hair and ice blue eyes. He could lift two hundred pound bags of corn with either hand and fling them into a cart ten feet away. He once lifted a man who was standing on a long-handled shovel, straight up in the air and placed him on a water tank that stood eight feet off the ground. Despite his fearsome strength, Fergus was a decent man to all his friends and neighbors and would never think of exploiting his physical superiority to get his way or make a point.

As a fighter, he was unbeatable and, like the great Finn McCool, Fergus’ reputation grew. Challengers, who admired his fame, came to test their strength against this Irish champion. They came from England, Wales and Scotland. Some even came from the continent of Europe, although not many came from there; since most continental Europeans seemed to enjoy broken bones less than the Celts and Britons.

The fights were legendary. Fergus sent one British champion home in a wheel-chair, a Scot was taken back to Scotland after two month’s traction in Galway General Hospital. Identical twins from Wales came to fight Fergus. Ercwlff and Deiniol had proven themselves to be mighty champions, beating many men to within an inch of their lives in Wales. These young men felt they could easily best Fergus Torloch, but during the fight between Fergus and Ercwlff, Deiniol lost control of himself at the sight of Ercwlff being pounded into a pulp and jumped into the ring. The two, together, attacked Fergus, with the result that the brothers had to be taken back to Wales on gurneys. Now both brothers think they’re the one called Deiniol.

For many years Fergus Torloch was Ireland’s accepted champion, a man who brought pride to the west of Ireland and, indeed, the whole nation. His name itself bespoke strength. Fer-gus means “man-strength.” Torloch is a combination of Tor (Tower) and Leac (Stone). This was a name given to men of great strength and stature in Gaeltacht, the language of western Ireland. He married a beauty called Kathleen Malone and she bore him two girls and a boy. It seemed Fergus was living a charmed life.

Then one day Frank O’Toole, the richest man in Galway, dropped by to pay the Torlochs a visit.

“Fergus, me boy, have you not heard?” he asked liberally buttering both sides of a piece of bread Kathleen had given him.

“What is it I’ve not heard Frank?” asked Fergus who was taking the visit as a short break from farm work.

“A family has just rented some land I own in Sligo”

“Well then Frank” said Fergus, “You’ll be happy about that now, won’t you.”

“Yes and indeed I am happy at that, but I must say, you might not be so happy” chuckled Frank O’Toole.

“Why would that be Frank?” asked Fergus, “I have nothing against the O’Tooles charging rent” said Fergus kindly.

“Well now, it seems that the family has a champion amongst them, a man called Brian Ualgarg, a man who might be after taking your seat at the top.” Frank O’Toole seemed to be enjoying himself.

“That’s as may be Frank, but it’s not so until it is so. I will meet any man who wants to best me and give him what for, you know that Frank, now if you will allow me, I have some work to do on the barn.”

Frank licked his fingers and said: “Well I’ll be leaving you then will I Fergus? Mrs. Torloch, I bid you and your family a good day. May your enemies’ enemies grow stronger each minute. Don’t you give that man another thought now, you hear Fergus?” Frank stood to go, noticing he’d not been offered any whiskey.

“I’ll do just that Frank and I bid you to fare well your good self.” Fergus watched as Frank whistled down the stone path that led from the cottage swinging his shillelach. He seemed too sure of himself. Fergus knew how much money was won and lost at his fights, but he determined to put the incident out of his mind.

“Will you be coming home for your lunch Fergus?” asked Kathleen.

“I will be coming home for lunch and your lovely companionship at about midday.” said Fergus, hiding his concern about the new champion.

A week passed and the excitement about a new champion in Connacht spread like wildfire in a dry climate. Fergus started to notice sneers and averted eyes when he would come to town to buy supplies. Finally, one fine spring day he asked Sean McBride, the local general store keeper: “Sean, has the Devil got the town by the hind leg?”

“How do you mean Fergus?” asked the implacable Sean McBride.

“I mean to know why everyone is behaving as if I’d thumbed my nose at the Pope.” said Fergus with a perplexed look on his handsome face.

“Ah Fergus, ‘tis nothing like that, no, someone started a rumor that you’re too afraid to face this man Ualgarg in Sligo. His reputation has grown since the family arrived there and they say….” At this Sean stopped talking.

“What is it they say about the man?” asked the still more perplexed Fergus.

“Don’t think I made any of this up Fergus, but they say the man is so strong that he can carry a bullock on his shoulders for ten miles and not break a sweat. They say he can break a tree to the ground with his bare hands and that he keeps the coopers in business snapping iron barrel bands from around his chest with just a breath.”

Fergus looked at Sean’s eyes, trying to find any sign of playful deceit, but the man appeared sincere. “Sean, I expect the man is strong, but there is no fear of him in me. Why do the people think that?”

“Well Fergus, the talk is you’re now a married man and you have three little ones to take care of. The talk in Galway is that you have different concerns now and that you might not be as willing to risk life and limb as you were in your prime.”

“In my prime! Sean, I haven’t left me prime yet, surely they don’t think I am passed it.”

“I’m just reporting the talk Fergus. Personally I think you’re in magnificent shape and ready to face anyone, but honestly Fergus, if I had a wife like Kathleen and three bonnie wee children like you have, I meself would not care a whit about a new champion.”

On his way home Fergus was troubled at how quickly the town’s allegiance had changed. He thought long and hard about his situation. Before he reached his small stone cottage he’d made a decision. That night over a bowl of stew, when the children were all in their beds, Fergus broached the subject with Kathleen. “Kathleen, there is something I must tell you” he began “I have heard rumors in the town that I am a coward and that there is a man I am afraid to face.”

“Yes,” said Kathleen, “and I’ve heard rumors that the sky will fall when the 20th century arrives. Fergus, my love, are you going to let the idle tongues of silly boys change your life?”

“You are right as usual Kathleen, but I have to say that a lot of the respect we get as a family comes from the fact that I am their champion. They look to me to be the best ever and to defend the honour of Ireland against all foreign comers and the honour of Galway against all Irish Challengers.”

“Fergus,” chided Kathleen, do you think I married you because you’re a big brute of a man, or because you have eyes that were created in heaven itself? Do you think I would love you any less if you were a skinny little man? Fergus, I married you for the light I see in your soul, for the gentleness in your eyes, the respect you give everyone and the kindness you show me and the children. You have nothing to prove to me or to anyone.”

That night Fergus lay unable to sleep in his oversized bed. He understood and accepted what Kate had said, but there were issues of manhood she didn’t understand. In fact, if he took the time to think about them, he’d find he didn’t understand them either. By morning his mind was made up. When he came down Kathleen was packing a traveling bag and some food for him.

“You know then.” he said. Kathleen just nodded and said: “Come home soon Fergus. The children and I will be looking for your return.” So with little fanfare, Fergus left the cottage and headed north to meet the new great champion.

Somehow the word spread that Fergus was going to challenge the new man and a few miles up the road friends and neighbors from Galway lined the lane to bid their champion good luck. “May the wind be always at your back Fergus!” they cried as the huge man walked boldly to the north.

Fergus loved to walk in the countryside of western Ireland. He enjoyed the fresh air and the smell of lavender drifting through the meadows. The emerald green hills seemed like old friends to him as he walked in the cathedral quiet. Only the sound of a few passing Black-Tailed Godwits punctuated the consistent quiet. The sun broke through the cloud layer every now and again and washed the land in warmth and Fergus continued north through Tuam towards Ballyhaunis. The voyage took several days with the odd cart ride being offered by farmers and accepted by the big man.

Just northeast of Tobercurry Fergus took his shirt off. It was hot under the unusually bright sun that day. A few miles further down the road Fergus saw a man in the distance. He was in a field, but it was too far to see what he was doing. It seemed the man had seen him too, but he couldn’t be sure. As he approached he noticed that the man was naked from the waist up and ploughing…! He was pushing a two hundred pound wood and iron plough through the soil without the benefit of a Clydesdale pulling the other end! “By God” Fergus thought, “I have finally found my man.” With that thought he hailed the man. “Hello there! Hello ploughman, might I ask you a question?”

The man stopped ploughing and wiped the sweat off his forehead with an old rag he took from the back pocket of his trousers. He stood about the same height as Fergus and was powerfully built too. Fergus thought the man was probably as powerfully built as he himself. “This will be a terrible battle” thought he, “one that will go into the history books and be told to children for centuries to come.”

“Good day to you.” said the man.

“Where’s your horse?” asked Fergus.

“We can’t afford one” said the man shrugging his massive shoulders as if it was no great loss. “We were lucky to get the land.”

“Would you be willing to part with a little information?” asked Fergus.

“Certainly, if it is in me mind to tell.” said the man.

Fergus braced himself and said: “I am looking for a man by the name of Brian Ualgarg, who is supposed to be a great champion fighter. I am Fergus Torloch from Galway and I was told he lives in these parts. Are you familiar with that name and could you direct me to his whereabouts?” asked Fergus, fully expecting the man to point at himself.

The man wiped his brow with a massive forearm and said: “Oh yes, I can certainly do that. I am Finnbar Ualgarg; Brian is me bigger brother and he lives about 2 miles back the way you came.” With that he lifted the two hundred pound plough out of the soil with one hand and pointed back southwest saying: “There, in that direction on the road to Ballymote about five miles you’ll find him.” He put the plough down and looked at Fergus.

After a short moment Fergus said: “I thank you for your time, Finn. I’ll be heading that way now. May the rest of your day be as pleasant as it has been so far.” And Fergus began the long journey home - to his wife and family.

Brian Ualgarg wiped his brow again. That had been a close one. He had seen the giant coming at a distance and knew it was the champion Fergus Torloch. When he saw him approach in the bright sun, shirtless and getting red, with corded muscles over his entire torso he realized that everything he’d heard about the man’s fearsome reputation was true. As he watched Fergus now walking away towards the southwest he sent up a prayer that his ruse would make Fergus quit his search for the Sligo champion and just go home. Ten minutes later Fergus had disappeared over a ridge. Brian sat down and couldn’t help thinking: “Now THERE would have been a battle indeed.”