A story by George Shorten

Introduced by his grandaughter Margaret Williams


My grandfather was George Shorten who is best known around Ballingeary as the man who wrote "An Capaillín Bán". He died while I was quite young but I have very fond memories of him, as I used to spend a lot of time with my grandparents. Grandad and I used to go for long walks along the canal near where they lived in Crosby, Liverpool.
Grandad married Grace Scott Currie 12th Sept. 1905 at St Aloysious RC Church in Glasgow. I expect Grandad was working in that area, because at the time of his marriage his home address was in Liverpool, obviously Gran was born and brought up in Scotland.
I know that Grandad worked for a company exporting butter etc. but I think that after he married he had his own business, same type of exporting as far as I know.


They lived in Liverpool and at one stage probably because of work
went to live in Hull then back to Liverpool. Gran and Grandad had 5 children

Marion Nessa b. 16th Aug. 1906 ( died Jan 1990 )

John b. 24th May 1908 ( d. 7th June 1908)

Grace Ita b. Aug 1st 1911 ( still living )

Mary Finola b. 1st Dec 1912 ( d. 12 Nov 1984 )

Kathleen (my Mum) b, Aug 2nd 1915 ( d. April 5th 1977 )

I came across a couple of little stories written by Grandad in March 1922. I have chosen this one because it tells a story about Grandad and my Aunty Ita, Anyway here is the story and it would be nice to dedicate it to Aunt Ita as the only surviving daughter of George Shorten.

Thank you again,

Margaret Williams,

Flintshire, Wales.

The Big Mother Bird.

Do you understand the language of birds?


Some of them often talk as plain as can be. From living in the country and spending a lot of time in the woods and in the fields, I got to understand the talk of many birds, and sometimes could speak to them, but that is a long while ago, and I forget much of their speech now.

My favourite gossip was the Thrush, and we spent many mornings and evenings chatting to each other. Some mornings she came very early perched in a tree
outside my bedroom window, while I lay in bed and listened to her chatter.
She was always very tidy and clean, and could not bear to see anybody dirty,
so when the milk boy came around with muddy boots, and unwashed face, it
would call out " go back, go back, dirty, dirty".

Not many years ago when Ita was about six, she and I would have had to stay all night on a mountain, if I had not known the language of birds. It happened this way.


One fine evening in the spring, we went for a walk along the shore till we came to a place where the sand ends. A high cliff stops one from going any further, but the cliff had a long ladder reaching up to a shelf from where one could climb step by step to the top of the hill. As we climbed higher and higher the people in the sand down below looked like midgets, and we had a grand view right out to sea and back into the heart of the country.

While we were admiring the lovely scenery, we heard a noise quite close, then a flapping of wings, and a big bird rose out of a rock ledge beside us. We made our way to the place from which it flew, and after searching around a bit, Ita exclaimed, " Oh look, here is the nest", and sure enough there it was, cosily concealed and containing three lovely eggs. Ita wanted to take one of the eggs home, and had actually lifted it off the nest, when I heard the croaking of the bird overhead. It said quite plainly " don't rob my nest ".


I told Ita what the bird said, and that it would be bad luck to take the egg, so she put it carefully back and we continued our climb. We were more than half way up, and in another twenty minutes we reached the top, almost out of breath, and we were glad to sit down, on the rock, and admire the scenery. Out at sea there were ships of all sizes from big liners to the fishing boat. We knew that the small fishing boats would not go far away, but where were the others going to? And what were they carrying? And would they come back this way again? And if they come, what would they bring back? And would all the people who went out with the ship come back again? When you see a big ship, sailing away, don't you always feel like waving it good-bye, even though you don't know anybody on it?
The setting sun looked a lovely picture just as it neared the edge of the sea, and it was so red that when it was disappearing from view, you would expect to hear a hissing sound like a red hot poker would make when plunged into water.


The setting sun reminded me that it was getting late and time to be going
home. It was difficult work getting back down the cliffs, and as Ita was tired I carried her on my back part of the way. We went on away past the big bird's nest, and down to the first shelf of rock from which we started, but imagine our surprise to find the ladder was gone. There was no other way of getting down onto the sands, and as it was getting dark we were a little frightened. I shouted at the top of my voice, but everybody seemed to have gone home for there was no response.


In another ten minutes it would be quite dark, and we could neither climb up nor get down. As we were looking round for some nice cosy place to spend the night, we heard the flapping of wings again, and there above us was the big bird we saw earlier in the evening. It commenced to talk in its own queer way, " I see you are in trouble, " said the bird. " We are in very great trouble" said I," and I don't know what mother will say if we don't get home tonight"

" Never mind " said the bird; " you will get home ".

" But how ", said I.

"Ask no questions " answered the bird, " lie flat on the ground, little girl" " Her name is Ita, Mr Bird ", said I,

" And my name is not Mr Bird, and if you go on arguing you will not get home tonight "

So I got Ita to lie down, and waited for what was to come.


I had no fear of the bird now for I knew it was friendly, and warned Ita whatever happened not to scream or shout. When the bird swooped down however, and stood on her chest, she gave a little yell, and then I suppose she remembered what I told her, and remained very quiet.


The bird got its claws round her body, and lifted her in the air. I was really a bit scared now, when I found myself alone, and I asked him where he was taking her. " Ask no questions, " said the bird " I'll come back for you in a minute"


I watched him and his load gliding gently down, down, till they reached the sand below. He dropped Ita carefully onto the sands, and then flew back towards me. I was ready and lay down, hoping for the best.


He did not lift me as easily, as I am a little heavier than Ita, but he managed quite well and soon I felt the grip of the claws, and I was looking upwards into a mass of feathers and flapping wings. I would get an occasional glimpse of the cliffs, which seemed to be moving farther and farther away. Then I felt a slight bump, and I was landed on the sand beside Ita. The bird let go its hold, and was hopping away when I called him back.


" I want to thank you, Mr Bird " said I " for you have saved us "

" My name is not Mr Bird " he answered " My name is Mrs Raven, and as for the thanks, it is I who owe them to you for not disturbing my nest, and one good turn deserves another, so goodnight and safe journey home, and bye the bye. If you call round to my nest in June, I shall show you three little raven chicks."


We promised to come, but when June came we all had measles, and we never saw Mrs Raven nor the little Ravens since. When we got home it was quite dark, and we were tired and weary. Mother was waiting anxiously for our return, and was going to be cross with us until we told her of our adventure. Of course she was quite surprised to hear all that had happened, and said that some day I should write the story of Mrs Raven, and this is it.
March 1922.