Penelope's Irish Experiences
Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part 2 out of 4
purser of the ship that she crossed in, to see if I can recover the
sixty or seventy dollars she left behind her.) Her principal idea
in life seems to be that of finding some kind of work that will be
'interestin'' whether it is lucrative or not.
I don't think she will be able to dress hair, or anything of that
sort--save in the way of plain sewing, she is very unskilful with
her hands; and she will be of no use as courier, she is so
provincial and inexperienced. She has no head for business
whatever, and cannot help Francesca with the accounts. She recites
to herself again and again, 'Four farthings make one penny,
twelvepence make one shilling, twenty shillings make one pound'; but
when I give her a handful of money and ask her for six shillings and
sixpence, five and three, one pound two, or two pound ten, she
cannot manage the operation. She is docile, well mannered,
grateful, and really likable, but her present philosophy of life is
a thing of shreds and patches. She calls it 'the science,' as if
there were but one; and she became a convert to its teachings this
past winter, while living in the house of a woman lecturer in Salem,
a lecturer, not a 'curist,' she explains. She attended to the door,
ushered in the members of classes, kept the lecture-room in order,
and so forth, imbibing by the way various doctrines, or parts of
doctrines, which she is not the sort of person to assimilate, but
with which she is experimenting: holding, meantime, a grim
intuition of their foolishness, or so it seems to me. 'The science'
made it easier for her to seek her ancestors in a foreign country
with only a hundred dollars in her purse; for the Salem priestess
proclaims the glad tidings that all the wealth of the world is ours,
if we will but assert our heirship. Benella believed this more or
less until a week's sea-sickness undermined all her new convictions
of every sort. When she woke in the little bedroom at O'Carolan's,
she says, her heart was quite at rest, for she knew that we were the
kind of people one could rely on! I mustered courage to say, "I
hope so, and I hope also that we shall be able to rely upon you,
This idea evidently had not occurred to her, but she accepted it,
and I could see that she turned it over in her mind. You can
imagine that this vague philosophy of a Salem woman scientist
superimposed on a foundation of orthodoxy makes a curious
combination, and one which will only be temporary.
We shall expect you to-morrow evening, and we shall be quite ready
to go on to the Lakes of Killarney or wherever you wish. By the
way, I met an old acquaintance the morning I arrived here. I went
to see Queen's College; and as I was walking under the archway which
has carved upon it, 'Where Finbarr taught let Munster learn,' I saw
two gentlemen. They looked like professors, and I asked if I might
see the college. They said certainly, and offered to take my card
into some one who would do the honours properly. I passed it to one
of them: we looked at each other, and recognition was mutual. He
(Dr. La Touche) is giving a course of lectures here on Irish
Antiquities. It has been a great privilege to see this city and its
environs with so learned a man; I wish you could have shared it.
Yesterday he made up a party and we went to Passage, which you may
remember in Father Prout's verses:-
'The town of Passage is both large and spacious,
And situated upon the say;
'Tis nate and dacent, and quite adjacent
To come from Cork on a summer's day.
There you may slip in and take a dippin'
Fornent the shippin' that at anchor ride;
Or in a wherry cross o'er the ferry
To Carrigaloe, on the other side.'
Dr. La Touche calls Father Prout an Irish potato seasoned with Attic
salt. Is not that a good characterisation?
Good-bye for the moment, as I must see about Benella's luncheon.
Yours affectionately S.P.
Chapter X. The belles of Shandon.
'The spreading Lee that, like an Island fayre,
Encloseth Corke with his divided floode.'
We had seen all that Youghal could offer to the tourist; we were
yearning for Salemina; we wanted to hear Benella talk about 'the
science'; we were eager to inspect the archaeologist, to see if he
'would do' for Salemina instead of the canon, or even the minor
canon, of the English Church, for whom we had always privately
destined her. Accordingly we decided to go by an earlier train, and
give our family a pleasant surprise. It was five o'clock in the
afternoon when our car trundled across St. Patrick's Bridge, past
Father Mathew's statue, and within view of the church and bells of
Shandon, that sound so grand on the pleasant waters of the river
Lee. Away to the west is the two-armed river. Along its banks rise
hills, green and well wooded, with beautiful gardens and verdant
pastures reaching to the very brink of the shining stream.
It was Saturday afternoon, and I never drove through a livelier,
quainter, more easy-going town. The streets were full of people
selling various things and plying various trades, and among them we
saw many a girl pretty enough to recall Thackeray's admiration of
the Corkagian beauties of his day. There was one in particular,
driving a donkey in a straw-coloured governess cart, to whose
graceful charm we succumbed on the instant. There was an exquisite
deluderin' wildness about her, a vivacity, a length of eyelash with
a gleam of Irish grey eye, 'the greyest of all things blue, the
bluest of all things grey,' that might well have inspired the
English poet to write of her as he did of his own Irish wife; for
Spenser, when he was not writing the Faerie Queene, or smoking
Raleigh's fragrant weed, wooed and wedded a fair colleen of County
'Tell me, ye merchant daughters, did ye see
So fayre a creature in your town before?
Her goodlie eyes, like sapphyres shining bright;
Her forehead, ivory white;
Her lips like cherries, charming men to byte.'
Now we turned into the old Mardyke Walk, a rus in urbe, an avenue a
mile long lined with noble elm-trees; forsaken now as a fashionable
promenade for the Marina, but still beautiful and still beloved,
though frequented chiefly by nurse-maids and children. Such babies
and such children, of all classes and conditions--so jolly, smiling,
dimpled, curly-headed; such joyous disregard of rags and dirt; such
kindness one to the other in the little groups, where a child of ten
would be giving an anxious eye to four or five brothers and sisters,
and mothering a contented baby in arms as well.
Our driver, though very loquacious, was not quite intelligible. He
pronounced the simple phrase 'St. Patrick's Street' in a way to
astonish the traveller; it would seem impossible to crowd as many
h's into three words, and to wrap each in flannel, as he succeeded
in doing. He seemed pleased with our admiration of the babies, and
said that Irish children did be very fat and strong and hearty; that
they were the very best soldiers the Queen had, God kape her! They
could stand anny hardship and anny climate, for they were not
brought up soft, like the English. He also said that, fine as all
Irish children undoubtedly were, Cork produced the flower of them
all, and the finest women and the finest men; backing his opinion
with an Homeric vaunt which Francesca took down on the spot:-
'I'd back one man from Corkshire
To bate ten more from Yorkshire:
And Munster agin creation,
Wirrasthrue! 'tis a pity we aren't a nation!'
Here he slackened his pace as we passed a small bosthoon driving a
donkey, to call out facetiously, "Be good to your little brother,
"We must be very near Coolkilla House by this time," said Francesca.
"That isn't Salemina sitting on the bench under the trees, is it?
There is a gentleman with her, and she never wears a wide hat, but
it looks like her red umbrella. No, of course it isn't, for whoever
it is belongs to that maid with the two children. Penelope, it is
borne in upon me that we shouldn't have come here unannounced, three
hours ahead of the time arranged. Perhaps, whenever we had chosen
to come, it would have been too soon. Wouldn't it be exciting to
have to keep out of Salemina's way, as she has always done for us?
I couldn't endure it; it would make me homesick for Ronald. Go
slowly, driver, please."
Nevertheless, as we drew nearer we saw that it was Salemina; or at
least it was seven-eighths of her, and one-eighth of a new person
with whom we were not acquainted. She rose to meet us with an
exclamation of astonishment, and after a hasty and affectionate
greeting, presented Dr. La Touche. He said a few courteous words,
and to our relief made no allusions to round towers, duns, raths, or
other antiquities, and bade us adieu, saying that he should have the
honour of waiting upon us that evening with our permission.
A person in a neat black dress and little black bonnet with white
lawn strings now brought up the two children to say good-bye to
Salemina. It was the Derelict, Benella Dusenberry, clothed in
maid's apparel, and looking, notwithstanding that disguise, like a
New England schoolma'am. She was delighted to see us, scanned every
detail of Francesca's travelling costume with the frankest
admiration, and would have allowed us to carry our wraps and
umbrellas upstairs if she had not been reminded by Salemina. We had
a cosy cup of tea together, and told our various adventures, but
Salemina was not especially communicative about hers. Oddly enough,
she had met the La Touche children at the hotel in Mallow. They
were travelling with a very raw Irish nurse, who had no control of
them whatever. They shrieked and kicked when taken to their rooms
at night, until Salemina was obliged to speak to them, in order that
Benella's rest should not be disturbed.
"I felt so sorry for them," she said--"the dear little girl put to
bed with tangled hair and unwashed face, the boy in a rumpled,
untidy nightgown, the bedclothes in confusion. I didn't know who
they were nor where they came from, but while the nurse was getting
her supper I made them comfortable, and Broona went to sleep with my
strange hand in hers. Perhaps it was only the warm Irish heart, the
easy friendliness of the Irish temperament, but I felt as if the
poor little things must be neglected indeed, or they would not have
clung to a woman whom they had never seen before." (This is a
mistake; anybody who has the opportunity always clings to Salemina.)
"The next morning they were up at daylight, romping in the hall,
stamping, thumping, clattering, with a tin cart on wheels rattling
behind them. I know it was not my affair, and I was guilty of
unpardonable rudeness, but I called the nurse into my room and spoke
to her severely. No, you needn't smile; I was severe. 'Will you
kindly do your duty, and keep the children quiet as they pass
through the halls?' I said. 'It is never too soon to teach them to
obey the rules of a public place, and to be considerate of older
people.' She seemed awestruck. But when she found her tongue she
stammered, 'Sure, ma'am, I've tould thim three times this day
already that when their father comes he'll bate thim with a
"Naturally I was horrified. This, I thought, would explain
everything: no mother, and an irritable, cruel father.
"'Will he really do such a thing?' I asked, feeling as if I must
know the truth.
"'Sure he will not, ma'am!' she answered cheerfully. 'He wouldn't
lift a feather to thim, not if they murdthered the whole
"Well, they travelled third class to Cork, and we came first, so we
did not meet, and I did not ask their surnames; but it seems that
they were being brought to their father, whom I met many years ago
As she did not volunteer any further information, we did not like to
ask her where, how many years ago, or under what circumstances.
'Teasing' of this sort does not appeal to the sophisticated at any
time, but it seems unspeakably vulgar to touch on matters of
sentiment with a woman of middle age. If she has memories, they are
sure to be sad and sacred ones; if she has not, that perhaps is
still sadder. We agreed, however, when the evening was over, that
Dr. La Touche was probably the love of her youth--unless, indeed, he
was simply an old friend, and the degree of Salemina's attachment
had been exaggerated; something that is very likely to happen in the
gossip of a New England town, where they always incline to
underestimate the feeling of the man, and overrate that of the
woman, in any love affair. 'I guess she'd take him if she could get
him' is the spoken or unspoken attitude of the public in rural or
provincial New England.
The professor is grave, but very genial when he fully recalls the
fact that he is in company, and has not, like the Trappist monks,
taken vows of silence. Francesca behaved beautifully, on the whole,
and made no embarrassing speeches, although she was in her gayest
humour. Salemina blushed a little when the young sinner dragged
into the conversation the remark that, undoubtedly, from the
beginning of the sixth century to the end of the eighth, Ireland was
the University of Europe, just as Greece was in the late days of the
Roman Republic, and asked our guest when Ireland ceased to be known
as 'Insula sanctorum et doctorum,' the island of saints and
We had seen her go into Salemina's bedroom, and knew perfectly well
that she had consulted the Peabody notebook, lying open on the desk;
but the professor looked as surprised as if he had heard a pretty
paroquet quote Gibbon. I don't like to see grave and reverend
scholars stare at pretty paroquets, but I won't belittle Salemina's
exquisite and peculiar charm by worrying over the matter.
'Wirra, wirra! Ologone!
Can't ye lave a lad alone,
Till he's proved there's no tradition left of any other girl--
Not even Trojan Helen,
In beauty all excellin'--
Who's been up to half the divilment of Fan Fitzgerl?'
Of course Francesca's heart is fixed upon Ronald Macdonald, but that
fact has not altered the glance of her eyes. They no longer say,
'Wouldn't you like to fall in love with me, if you dared?' but they
still have a gleam that means, 'Don't fall in love with me; it is no
use!' And of the two, one is about as dangerous as the other, and
each has something of 'Fan Fitzgerl's divilment.
'Wid her brows of silky black
Arched above for the attack,
Her eyes they dart such azure death on poor admiring man;
Masther Cupid, point your arrows,
From this out, agin the sparrows,
For you're bested at Love's archery by young Miss Fan.'
Of course Himself never fell a prey to Francesca's fascinations, but
then he is not susceptible; you could send him off for a ten-mile
drive in the moonlight with Venus herself, and not be in the least
Dr. La Touche is grey for his years, tall and spare in frame, and
there are many lines of anxiety or thought in his forehead; but a
wonderful smile occasionally smooths them all out, and gives his
face a rare though transient radiance. He looks to me as if he had
loved too many books and too few people; as if he had tried vainly
to fill his heart and life with antiquities, which of all things,
perhaps, are the most bloodless, the least warming and nourishing
when taken in excess or as a steady diet. Himself (God bless him!)
shall never have that patient look, if I can help it; but how it
will appeal to Salemina! There are women who are born to be petted
and served, and there are those who seem born to serve others.
Salemina's first idea is always to make tangled things smooth (like
little Broona's curly hair); to bring sweet and discreet order out
of chaos; to prune and graft and water and weed and tend things,
until they blossom for very shame under her healing touch. Her mind
is catholic, well ordered, and broad,--for ever full of other
people's interests, never of her own: and her heart always seems to
me like some dim, sweet-scented guest-chamber in an old New England
mansion, cool and clean and quiet, and fragrant of lavender. It has
been a lovely, generous life, lived for the most part in the shadow
of other people's wishes and plans and desires. I am an impatient
person, I confess, and heaven seems so far away when certain things
are in question: the righting of a child's wrong, or the demolition
of a barrier between two hearts; above all, for certain surgical
operations, more or less spiritual, such as removing scales from
eyes that refuse to see, and stops from ears too dull to hear.
Nobody shall have our Salemina unless he is worthy, but how I should
like to see her life enriched and crowned! How I should enjoy
having her dear little overworn second fiddle taken from her by main
force, and a beautiful first violin, or even the baton for leading
an orchestra, put into her unselfish hands!
And so good-bye and 'good luck to ye, Cork, and your pepper-box
steeple,' for we leave you to-morrow!
Chapter XI. 'The rale thing.'
'Her ancestors were kings before Moses was born,
Her mother descended from great Grana Uaile.'
Knockarney House, Lough Lein.
We are in the province of Munster, the kingdom of Kerry, the town of
Ballyfuchsia, and the house of Mrs. Mullarkey. Knockarney House is
not her name for it; I made it myself. Killarney is church of the
sloe-trees; and as kill is church, the 'onderhanded manin'' of
'arney' must be something about sloes; then, since knock means hill,
Knockarney should be hill of the sloe-trees.
I have not lost the memory of Jenny Geddes and Tam o' the Cowgate,
but Penelope O'Connor, daughter of the king of Connaught, is more
frequently present in my dreams. I have by no means forgotten that
there was a time when I was not Irish, but for the moment I am of
the turf, turfy. Francesca is really as much in love with Ireland
as I, only, since she has in her heart a certain tender string
pulling her all the while to the land of the heather, she naturally
avoids comparisons. Salemina, too, endeavours to appear neutral,
lest she should betray an inexplicable interest in Dr. La Touche's
country. Benella and I alone are really free to speak the brogue,
and carry our wild harps slung behind us, like Moore's minstrel boy.
Nothing but the ignorance of her national dishes keeps Benella from
entire allegiance to this island; but she thinks a people who have
grown up without a knowledge of doughnuts, baked beans, and
blueberry-pie must be lacking in moral foundations. There is
nothing extraordinary in all this; for the Irish, like the Celtic
tribes everywhere, have always had a sort of fascinating power over
people of other races settling among them, so that they become
completely fused with the native population, and grow to be more
Irish than the Irish themselves.
We stayed for a few days in the best hotel; it really was quite
good, and not a bit Irish. There was a Swiss manager, an English
housekeeper, a French head waiter, and a German office clerk. Even
Salemina, who loves comforts, saw that we should not be getting what
is known as the real thing, under these circumstances, and we came
here to this--what shall I call Knockarney House? It was built
originally for a fishing lodge by a sporting gentleman, who brought
parties of friends to stop for a week. On his death is passed
somehow into Mrs. Mullarkey's fair hands, and in a fatal moment she
determined to open it occasionally to 'paying guests,' who might
wish a quiet home far from the madding crowd of the summer tourist.
This was exactly what we did want, and here we encamped, on the
half-hearted advice of some Irish friends in the town, who knew
nothing else more comfortable to recommend.
"With us, small, quiet, or out-of-the-way places are never clean; or
if they are, then they are not Irish," they said. "You had better
see Ireland from the tourist's point of view for a few years yet,
until we have learned the art of living; but if you are determined
to know the humours of the people, cast all thought of comfort
So we did, and we afterward thought that this would be a good motto
for Mrs. Mullarkey to carve over the door of Knockarney House. (My
name for it is adopted more or less by the family, though Francesca
persists in dating her letters to Ronald from 'The Rale Thing,'
which it undoubtedly is.) We take almost all the rooms in the
house, but there are a few other guests. Mrs. Waterford, an old
lady of ninety-three, from Mullinavat, is here primarily for her
health, and secondarily to dispose of threepenny shares in an
antique necklace, which is to be raffled for the benefit of a Roman
Catholic chapel. Then we have a fishing gentleman and his bride
from Glasgow, and occasional bicyclers who come in for a dinner, a
tea, or a lodging. These three comforts of a home are sometimes
quite indistinguishable with us: the tea is frequently made up of
fragments of dinner, and the beds are always sprinkled with crumbs.
Their source is a mystery, unless they fall from the clothing of the
chambermaids, who frequently drop hairpins and brooches and buttons
between the sheets, and strew whisk brooms and scissors under the
We have two general servants, who are supposed to do all the work of
the house, and who are as amiable and obliging and incapable as they
well can be. Oonah generally waits upon the table, and Molly cooks;
at least she cooks now and then when she is not engaged with Peter
in the vegetable garden or the stable. But whatever happens, Mrs.
Mullarkey, as a descendant of one of the Irish kings, is to be
looked upon only as an inspiring ideal, inciting one to high and
ever higher flights of happy incapacity. Benella ostensibly
oversees the care of our rooms, but she is comparatively helpless in
such a kingdom of misrule. Why demand clean linen when there is
none; why seek for a towel at midday when it is never ironed until
evening; how sweep when a broom is all inadequate to the task?
Salemina's usual remark, on entering a humble hostelry anywhere, is:
"If the hall is as dirty as this, what must the kitchen be! Order
me two hard-boiled eggs, please!"
"Use your 'science,' Benella," I say to that discouraged New England
maiden, who has never looked at her philosophy from its practical or
humorous side. "If the universe is pure mind and there is no
matter, then this dirt is not a real thing, after all. It seems, of
course, as if it were thicker under the beds and bureaus than
elsewhere, but I suppose our evil thoughts focus themselves there
rather than in the centre of the room. Similarly, if the broom
handle is broken, deny the dirt away--denial is much less laborious
than sweeping; bring 'the science' down to these simple details of
everyday life, and you will make converts by dozens, only pray don't
remove, either by suggestion or any cruder method, the large key
that lies near the table leg, for it is a landmark; and there is
another, a crochet needle, by the washstand, devoted to the same
purpose. I wish to show them to the Mullarkey when we leave."
Under our educational regime, the 'metaphysical' veneer, badly
applied in the first place, and wholly unsuited to the foundation
material, is slowly disappearing, and our Benella is gradually
returning to her normal self. Perhaps nothing has been more useful
to her development than the confusion of Knockarney House.
Our windows are supported on decrepit tennis rackets and worn-out
hearth brushes; the blinds refuse to go up or down; the chairs have
weak backs or legs; the door knobs are disassociated from their
handles. As for our food, we have bacon and eggs, with coffee made,
I should think, of brown beans and liquorice, for breakfast; a bit
of sloppy chicken, or fish and potato, with custard pudding or
stewed rhubarb, for dinner; and a cold supper of--oh! anything that
occurs to Molly at the last moment. Nothing ever occurs either to
Molly or Oonah at any previous moment, and in that they are merely
conforming to the universal habit. Last week, when we were starting
for Valencia Island, the Ballyfuchsia stationmaster was absent at a
funeral; meantime the engine had 'gone cold on the engineer,' and
the train could not leave till twelve minutes after the usual time.
We thought we must have consulted a wrong time-table, and asked
confirmation of a man who seemed to have some connection with the
railway. Goaded by his ignorance, I exclaimed, "Is it possible you
don't know the time the trains are going?"
"Begorra, how should I?" he answered. "Faix, the thrains don't
always be knowin' thimselves!"
The starting of the daily 'Mail Express' from Ballyfuchsia is a time
of great excitement and confusion, which on some occasions increases
to positive panic. The stationmaster, armed with a large dinner-
bell, stands on the platform, wearing an expression of anxiety
ludicrously unsuited to the situation. The supreme moment had
really arrived some time before, but he is waiting for Farmer
Brodigan with his daughter Kathleen, and the Widdy Sullivan, and a
few other local worthies who are a 'thrifle late on him.' Finally
they come down the hill, and he paces up and down the station
ringing the bell and uttering the warning cry, "This thrain never
shtops! This thrain never shtops! This thrain never shtops!"--
giving one the idea that eternity, instead of Killarney, must be the
final destination of the passengers. The clock in the Ballyfuchsia
telegraph and post office ceases to go for twenty-four hours at a
time, and nobody heeds it, while the postman always has a few
moments' leisure to lay down his knapsack of letters and pitch
quoits with the Royal Irish Constabulary. However, punctuality is
perhaps an individual virtue more than an exclusively national one.
I am not sure that we Americans would not be more agreeable if we
spent a month in Ireland every year, and perhaps Ireland would
profit from a month in America.
At the Brodigans' (Mr. Brodigan is a large farmer, and our nearest
neighbour) all the clocks are from ten to twenty minutes fast or
slow; and what a peaceful place it is! The family doesn't care when
it has its dinner, and, mirabile dictu, the cook doesn't care
"If you have no exact time to depend upon, how do you catch trains?"
I asked Mr. Brodigan.
"Sure that's not an everyday matter, and why be foostherin' over it?
But we do, four times out o' five, ma'am!"
"How do you like it that fifth time when you miss it?"
"Sure it's no more throuble to you to miss it the wan time than to
hurry five times! A clock is an overrated piece of furniture, to my
mind, Mrs. Beresford, ma'am. A man can ate whin he's hungry, go to
bed whin he's sleepy, and get up whin he's slept long enough; for
faith and it's thim clocks he has inside of himself that don't need
"What if you had a business appointment with a man in the town, and
missed the train?" I persevered.
"Trains is like misfortunes; they never come singly, ma'am.
Wherever there's a station the trains do be dhroppin' in now and
again, and what's the differ which of thim you take?"
"The man who is waiting for you at the other end of the line may not
agree with you," I suggested.
"Sure, a man can always amuse himself in a town, ma'am. If it's
your own business you're coming on, he knows you'll find him; and if
it's his business, then begorra let him find you!" Which quite
reminded me of what the Irish elf says to the English elf in Moira
O'Neill's fairy story: "A waste of time? Why, you've come to a
country where there's no such thing as a waste of time. We have no
value for time here. There is lashings of it, more than anybody
knows what to do with."
I suppose there is somewhere a golden mean between this complete
oblivion of time and our feverish American hurry. There is a
'tedious haste' in all people who make wheels and pistons and
engines, and live within sound of their everlasting buzz and whir
and revolution; and there is ever a disposition to pause, rest, and
consider on the part of that man whose daily tasks are done in
serene collaboration with dew and rain and sun. One cannot hurry
Mother Nature very much, after all, and one who has much to do with
her falls into a peaceful habit of mind. The mottoes of the two
nations are as well rendered in the vernacular as by any formal or
stilted phrases. In Ireland the spoken or unspoken slogan is, 'Take
it aisy'; in America, 'Keep up with the procession'; and between
them lie all the thousand differences of race, climate, temperament,
religion, and government.
I don't suppose there is a nation on the earth better developed on
what might be called the train-catching side than we of the Big
Country, and it is well for us that there is born every now and
again among us a dreamer who is (blessedly) oblivious of time-tables
and market reports; who has been thinking of the rustling of the
corn, not of its price. It is he, if we do not hurry him out of his
dream, who will sound the ideal note in our hurly-burly and bustle
of affairs. He may never discover a town site, but he will create
new worlds for us to live in, and in the course of a century the
coming Matthew Arnold will not be minded to call us an unimaginative
and uninteresting people.
Chapter XII. Life at Knockarney House.
'See where Mononia's heroes lie, proud Owen More's
'Tis they that won the glorious name and had the grand
James Clarence Mangan.
It was a charming thing for us when Dr. La Touche gave us
introductions to the Colquhouns of Ardnagreena; and when they, in
turn, took us to tea with Lord and Lady Killbally at Balkilly
Castle. I don't know what there is about us: we try to live a
sequestered life, but there are certain kind forces in the universe
that are always bringing us in contact with the good, the great, and
the powerful. Francesca enjoys it, but secretly fears to have her
democracy undermined. Salemina wonders modestly at her good
fortune. I accept it as the graceful tribute of an old civilisation
to a younger one; the older men grow the better they like girls of
sixteen, and why shouldn't the same thing be true of countries?
As long ago as 1589, one of the English 'undertakers' who obtained
some of the confiscated Desmond lands in Munster wrote of the
'better sorte' of Irish: 'Although they did never see you before,
they will make you the best cheare their country yieldeth for two or
three days, and take not anything therefor. . . . They have a common
saying which I am persuaded they speake unfeinedly, which is,
'Defend me and spend me.' Yet many doe utterly mislike this or any
good thing that the poor Irishman dothe.'
This certificate of character from an 'undertaker' of the sixteenth
century certainly speaks volumes for Irish amiability and
hospitality, since it was given at a time when grievances were as
real as plenty; when unutterable resentment must have been rankling
in many minds; and when those traditions were growing which have
coloured the whole texture of Irish thought, until, with the poor
and unlettered, to be 'agin the government' is an inherited
instinct, to be obliterated only by time.
We supplement Mrs. Mullarkey's helter-skelter meals with frequent
luncheons and dinners with our new friends, who send us home on our
jaunting-car laden with flowers, fruit, even with jellies and jams.
Lady Killbally forces us to take three cups of tea and a half-dozen
marmalade sandwiches whenever we go to the Castle; for I apologised
for our appetites, one day, by confessing that we had lunched
somewhat frugally, the meal being sweetened, however, by Molly's
explanation that there was a fresh sole in the house, but she
thought she would not inthrude on it before dinner!
We asked, on our arrival at Knockarney House, if we might breakfast
at a regular hour,--say eight thirty. Mrs. Mullarkey agreed, with
that suavity which is, after her untidiness, her distinguishing
characteristic; but notwithstanding this arrangement we break our
fast sometimes at nine forty, sometimes at nine twenty, sometimes at
nine, but never earlier. In order to achieve this much, we are
obliged to rise early and make a combined attack on the executive
and culinary departments. One morning I opened the door leading
from the hall into the back part of the establishment, but closed it
hastily, having interrupted the toilets of three young children,
whose existence I had never suspected, and of Mr. Mullarkey, whom I
had thought dead for many years. Each child had donned one article
of clothing, and was apparently searching for the mate to it,
whatever it chanced to be. Mrs. Mullarkey was fully clothed, and
was about to administer correction to one of the children who,
unhappily for him, was not. I retired to my apartment to report
progress, but did not describe the scene minutely, nor mention the
fact that I had seen Salemina's ivory-backed hairbrush put to
excellent if somewhat unusual and unaccustomed service.
Each party in the house eats in solitary splendour, like the
MacDermott, Prince of Coolavin. That royal personage of County
Sligo did not, I believe, allow his wife or his children (who must
have had the MacDermott blood in their veins, even if somewhat
diluted) to sit at table with him. This method introduces the last
element of confusion into the household arrangements, and on two
occasions we have had our custard pudding or stewed fruit served in
our bedrooms a full hour after we had finished dinner. We have
reasons for wishing to be first to enter the dining-room, and we
walk in with eyes fixed on the ceiling, by far the cleanest part of
the place. Having wended our way through an underbrush of corks
with an empty bottle here and there, and stumbled over the holes in
the carpet, we arrive at our table in the window. It is as
beautiful as heaven outside, and the table-cloth is at least cleaner
than it will be later, for Mrs. Waterford of Mullinavat has an
When Oonah brings in the toast rack now she balances it carefully,
remembering the morning when she dropped it on the floor, but picked
up the slices and offered them to Salemina. Never shall I forget
that dear martyr's expression, which was as if she had made up her
mind to renounce Ireland and leave her to her fate. I know she
often must wonder if Dr. La Touche's servants, like Mrs.
Mullarkey's, feel of the potatoes to see whether they are warm or
At ten thirty there is great confusion and laughter and excitement,
for the sportsmen are setting out for the day and the car has been
waiting at the door for an hour. Oonah is carolling up and down the
long passage, laden with dishes, her cheerfulness not in the least
impaired by having served seven or eight separate breakfasts. Molly
has spilled a jug of milk, and is wiping it up with a child's
undershirt. The Glasgy man is telling them that yesterday they
forgot the corkscrew, the salt, the cup, and the jam from the
luncheon basket,--facts so mirth-provoking that Molly wipes tears of
pleasure from her eyes with the milky undershirt, and Oonah sets the
hot-water jug and the coffee-pot on the stairs to have her laugh out
comfortably. When once the car departs, comparative quiet reigns in
and about the house until the passing bicyclers appear for luncheon
or tea, when Oonah picks up the napkins that we have rolled into
wads and flung under the dining-table, and spreads them on tea-
trays, as appetising details for the weary traveller. There would
naturally be more time for housework if so large a portion of the
day were not spent in pleasant interchange of thought and speech. I
can well understand Mrs. Colquhoun's objections to the housing of
the Dublin poor in tenements,--even in those of a better kind than
the present horrible examples; for wherever they are huddled
together in any numbers they will devote most of their time to
conversation. To them talking is more attractive than eating; it
even adds a new joy to drinking; and if I may judge from the groups
I have seen gossiping over a turf fire till midnight, it is
preferable to sleeping. But do not suppose they will bubble over
with joke and repartee, with racy anecdote, to every casual
newcomer. The tourist who looks upon the Irishman as the merry-
andrew of the English-speaking world, and who expects every jarvey
he meets to be as whimsical as Mickey Free, will be disappointed. I
have strong suspicions that ragged, jovial Mickey Free himself,
delicious as he is, was created by Lever to satisfy the Anglo-Saxon
idea of the low-comedy Irishman. You will live in the Emerald Isle
for many a month, and not meet the clown or the villain so familiar
to you in modern Irish plays. Dramatists have made a stage Irishman
to suit themselves, and the public and the gallery are disappointed
if anything more reasonable is substituted for him. You will find,
too, that you do not easily gain Paddy's confidence. Misled by his
careless, reckless impetuosity of demeanour, you might expect to be
the confidant of his joys and sorrows, his hopes and expectations,
his faiths and beliefs, his aspirations, fears, longings, at the
first interview. Not at all; you will sooner be admitted to a
glimpse of the travelling Scotsman's or the Englishman's inner life,
family history, personal ambition. Glacial enough at first and far
less voluble, he melts soon enough, if he likes you. Meantime, your
impulsive Irish friend gives himself as freely at the first
interview as at the twentieth; and you know him as well at the end
of a week as you are likely to at the end of a year. He is a
product of the past, be he gentleman or peasant. A few hundred
years of necessary reserve concerning articles of political and
religious belief have bred caution and prudence in stronger natures,
cunning and hypocrisy in weaker ones.
Our days are very varied. We have been several times into the town
and spent an hour in the Petty Sessions Court with Mr. Colquhoun,
who sits on the bench. Each time we have come home laden with
stories 'as good as any in the books,' so says Francesca. Have we
not with our own eyes seen the settlement of an assault and battery
case between two of the most notorious brawlers in that alley of the
town which we have dubbed 'The Pass of the Plumes.'* Each barrister
in the case had a handful of hair which he introduced on behalf of
his client, both ladies apparently having pulled with equal energy.
These most unattractive exhibits were shown to the women themselves,
each recognising her own hair, but denying the validity of the other
exhibit firmly and vehemently. Prisoner number one kneeled at the
rail and insisted on exposing the place in her head from which the
hair had been plucked; upon which prisoner number two promptly tore
off her hat, scattered hairpins to the four winds, and exposed her
own wounds to the judicial eye. Both prisoners 'had a dhrop taken'
just before the affair; that soft impeachment they could not deny.
One of them explained, however, that she had taken it to help her
over a hard job of work, and through a little miscalculation of
quantity it had 'overaided her.' The other termagant was asked
flatly by the magistrate if she had ever seen the inside of a jail
before, but evaded the point with much grace and ingenuity by
telling his Honour that he couldn't expect to meet a woman anywhere
who had not suffered a misforchin somewhere betwixt the cradle and
*The original Pass of the Plumes is near Maryborough, and was
so called from the number of English helmet plumes that were strewn
about after O'Moore's fight with five hundred of the Earl of Essex's
Even the all too common drunk-and-disorderly cases had a flavour of
their own, for one man, being dismissed with a small fine under
condition that he would sign the pledge, assented willingly; but on
being asked for how long he would take it, replied, 'I mostly take
it for life, your worship.'
We also heard the testimony of a girl who had run away from her
employer before the completion of her six months' contract, her plea
being that the fairies pulled her great toe at night so that she
could not sleep, whereupon she finally became so lame that she was
unable to work. She left her employer's house one evening,
therefore, and went home, and curiously enough the fairies 'shtopped
pulling the toe on her as soon as iver she got there!'
Not the least enlivening of the prisoners was a decently educated
person who had been arrested for disturbing the peace. The
constable asserted that he was intoxicated, but the gentleman
himself insisted that he was merely a poet in a more than usually
"I am in the poetical advertising line, your worship. It is true I
was surrounded by a crowd, but I was merely practising my trade. I
don't mind telling your worship that this holiday-time makes things
a little lively, and the tradesmen drink my health a trifle oftener
than usual; poetry is dry work, your worship, and a poet needs a
good deal of liquid refreshment. I do not disturb the peace, your
worship, at least not more than any other poet. I go to a grocer's,
and, standing outside, I make up some rhymes about his nice sweet
sugar or his ale. If I want to please a butcher--well, I'll give
you a specimen:-
'Here's to the butcher who sells good meat--
In this world it's hard to beat;
It's the very best that's to be had,
And makes the human heart feel glad.
There's no necessity to purloin,
So step in and buy a good sirloin.'
I can go on in this style, like Tennyson's brook, for ever, your
worship." His worship was afraid that he might make the offer good,
and the poet was released, after promising to imbibe less frequently
when he felt the divine afflatus about to descend upon him.
These disagreements between light-hearted and bibulous persons who
haunt the courts week after week have nothing especially pathetic
about them, but there are many that make one's heart ache; many that
seem absolutely beyond any solution, and beyond reach of any
Chapter XIII. 'O! the sound of the Kerry dancing.'
'The light-hearted daughters of Erin,
Like the wild mountain deer they can bound;
Their feet never touch the green island,
But music is struck from the ground.
And oft in the glens and green meadows,
The ould jig they dance with such grace,
That even the daisies they tread on,
Look up with delight in their face.'
One of our favourite diversions is an occasional glimpse of a
'crossroads dance' on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, when all the
young people of the district are gathered together. Their religious
duties are over with their confessions and their masses, and the
priests encourage these decorous Sabbath gaieties. A place is
generally chosen where two or four roads meet, and the dancers come
from the scattered farmhouses in every direction. In Ballyfuchsia,
they dance on a flat piece of road under some fir-trees and larches,
with stretches of mountain covered with yellow gorse or purple
heather, and the quiet lakes lying in the distance. A message comes
down to us at Ardnagreena--where we commonly spend our Sunday
afternoons--that they expect a good dance, and the blind boy is
coming to fiddle; and 'so if you will be coming up, it's welcome
you'll be.' We join them about five o'clock--passing, on our way,
groups of 'boys' of all ages from sixteen upwards, walking in twos
and threes, and parties of three or four girls by themselves; for it
would not be etiquette for the boys and girls to walk together, such
strictness is observed in these matters about here.
When we reach the rendezvous we find quite a crowd of young men and
maidens assembled; the girls all at one side of the road, neatly
dressed in dark skirts and light blouses, with the national woollen
shawl over their heads. Two wide stone walls, or dykes, with turf
on top, make capital seats, and the boys are at the opposite side,
as custom demands. When a young man wants a partner, he steps
across the road and asks a colleen, who lays aside her shawl,
generally giving it to a younger sister to keep until the dance is
over, when the girls go back to their own side of the road and put
on their shawls again. Upon our arrival we find the 'sets' are
already in progress; a 'set' being a dance like a very intricate and
very long quadrille. We are greeted with many friendly words, and
the young boatmen and farmers' sons ask the ladies, "Will you be
pleased to dance, miss?" Some of them are shy, and say they are not
familiar with the steps; but their would-be partners remark
encouragingly: "Sure, and what matter? I'll see you through."
Soon all are dancing, and the state of the road is being discussed
with as much interest as the floor of a ballroom. Eager directions
are given to the more ignorant newcomers, such as, "Twirl your girl,
captain!" or "Turn your back to your face!"--rather a difficult
direction to carry out, but one which conveys its meaning. Salemina
confided to her partner that she feared she was getting a bit old to
dance. He looked at her grey hair carefully for a moment, and then
said chivalrously: "I'd not say that that was old age, ma'am. I'd
say it was eddication."
When the sets, which are very long and very decorous, are finished,
sometimes a jig is danced for our benefit. The spectators make a
ring, and the chosen dancers go into the middle, where their steps
are watched by a most critical and discriminating audience with the
most minute and intense interest. Our Molly is one of the best jig
dancers among the girls here (would that she were half as clever at
cooking!); but if you want to see an artist of the first rank, you
must watch Kitty O'Rourke, from the neighbouring village of
Dooclone. The half door of the barn is carried into the ring by one
or two of her admirers, whom she numbers by the score, and on this
she dances her famous jig polthogue, sometimes alone and sometimes
with Art Rooney, the only worthy partner for her in the kingdom of
Kerry. Art's mother, 'Bid' Rooney, is a keen matchmaker, and we
heard her the other day advising her son, who was going to Dooclone,
to have a 'weeny court' with his colleen, to put a clane shirt on
him in the middle of the week, and disthract Kitty intirely by
showin' her he had three of thim, annyway!
Kitty is a beauty, and doesn't need to be made 'purty wid cows'--a
feat that the old Irishman proposed to do when he was consummating a
match for his plain daughter. But the gifts of the gods seldom come
singly, and Kitty is well fortuned as well as beautiful; fifty
pounds, her own bedstead and its fittings, a cow, a pig, and a web
of linen are supposed to be the dazzling total, so that it is small
wonder her deluderin' ways are maddening half the boys in
Ballyfuchsia and Dooclone. She has the prettiest pair of feet in
the County Kerry, and when they are encased in a smart pair of
shoes, bought for her by Art's rival, the big constable from
Ballyfuchsia barracks, how they do twinkle and caper over that half
barn door, to be sure! Even Murty, the blind fiddler, seems
intoxicated by the plaudits of the bystanders, and he certainly
never plays so well for anybody as for Kitty of the Meadow.
Blindness is still common in Ireland, owing to the smoke in these
wretched cabins, where sometimes a hole in the roof is the only
chimney; and although the scores of blind fiddlers no longer
traverse the land, finding a welcome at all firesides, they are
still to be found in every community. Blind Murty is a favourite
guest at the Rooney's cabin, which is never so full that there is
not room for one more. There is a small wooden bed in the main
room, a settle that opens out at night, with hens in the straw
underneath, where a board keeps them safely within until they have
finished laying. There are six children besides Art, and my
ambition is to photograph, or, still better, to sketch the family
circle together; the hens cackling under the settle, the pig ('him
as pays the rint') snoring in the doorway, as a proprietor should,
while the children are picturesquely grouped about. I never
succeed, because Mrs. Rooney sees us as we turn into the lane, and
calls to the family to make itself ready, as quality's comin' in
sight. The older children can scramble under the bed, slip shoes
over their bare feet, and be out in front of the cabin without the
loss of a single minute. 'Mickey jew'l,' the baby, who is only
four, but 'who can handle a stick as bould as a man,' is generally
clad in a ragged skirt, slit every few inches from waist to hem, so
that it resembles a cotton fringe. The little coateen that tops
this costume is sometimes, by way of diversion, transferred to the
dog, who runs off with it; but if we appear at this unlucky moment,
there is a stylish yoke of pink ribbon and soiled lace which one of
the girls pins over Mickey jew'l's naked shoulders.
Moya, who has this eye for picturesque propriety, is a great friend
of mine, and has many questions about the Big Country when we take
our walks. She longs to emigrate, but the time is not ripe yet.
"The girls that come back has a lovely style to thim," she says
wistfully, "but they're so polite they can't live in the cabins anny
more and be contint." The 'boys' are not always so improved, she
thinks. "You'd niver find a boy in Ballyfuchsia that would say
annything rude to a girl; but when they come back from Ameriky, it's
too free they've grown intirely." It is a dull life for them, she
says, when they have once been away; though to be sure Ballyfuchsia
is a pleasanter place than Dooclone, where the priest does not
approve of dancing, and, however secretly you may do it, the curate
hears of it, and will speak your name in church.
It was Moya who told me of Kitty's fortune. "She's not the match
that Farmer Brodigan's daughter Kathleen is, to be sure; for he's a
rich man, and has given her an iligant eddication in Cork, so that
she can look high for a husband. She won't be takin' up wid anny of
our boys, wid her two hundred pounds and her twenty cows and her
pianya. Och, it's a thriminjus player she is, ma'am. She's that
quick and that strong that you'd say she wouldn't lave a string on
Some of the young men and girls never see each other before the
marriage, Moya says. "But sure," she adds shyly, "I'd niver be
contint with that, though some love matches doesn't turn out anny
better than the others."
"I hope it will be a love match with you, and that I shall dance at
your wedding, Moya," I say to her smilingly.
"Faith, I'm thinkin' my husband's intinded mother died an old maid
in Dublin," she answers merrily. "It's a small fortune I'll be
havin' and few lovers; but you'll be soon dancing at Kathleen
Brodigan's wedding, or Kitty O'Rourke's, maybe."
I do not pretend to understand these humble romances, with their
foundations of cows and linen, which are after all no more sordid
than bank stock and trousseaux from Paris. The sentiment of the
Irish peasant lover seems to be frankly and truly expressed in the
'Oh! Moya's wise and beautiful, has wealth in plenteous store,
And fortune fine in calves and kine, and lovers half a score;
Her faintest smile would saints beguile, or sinners captivate,
Oh! I think a dale of Moya, but I'll surely marry Kate.
. . . . .
'Now to let you know the raison why I cannot have my way,
Nor bid my heart decide the part the lover must obey-
The calves and kine of Kate are nine, while Moya owns but
So with all my love for Moya I'm compelled to marry Kate!'
I gave Moya a lace neckerchief the other day, and she was rarely
pleased, running into the cabin with it and showing it to her mother
with great pride. After we had walked a bit down the boreen she
excused herself for an instant, and, returning to my side, explained
that she had gone back to ask her mother to mind the kerchief, and
not let the 'cow knock it'!
Lady Kilbally tells us that some of the girls who work in the mills
deny themselves proper food, and live on bread and tea for a month,
to save the price of a gay ribbon. This is trying, no doubt, to a
philanthropist, but is it not partly a starved sense of beauty
asserting itself? If it has none of the usual outlets, where can
imagination express itself if not in some paltry thing like a
Chapter XIV. Mrs. Mullarkey's iligant locks.
'Where spreads the beautiful water to gay or cloudy skies,
And the purple peaks of Killarney from ancient woods arise.'
Mrs. Mullarkey cannot spoil this paradise for us. When I wake in
the morning, the fuchsia-tree outside my window is such a glorious
mass of colour that it distracts my eyes from the unwashed glass.
The air is still; the mountains in the far distance are clear
purple; everything is fresh washed and purified for the new day.
Francesca and I leave the house sleeping, and make our way to the
bogs. We love to sit under a blossoming sloe-bush and see the
silver pools glistening here and there in the turf cuttings, and
watch the transparent vapour rising from the red-brown of the
purple-shadowed bog fields. Dinnis Rooney, half awake, leisurely,
silent, is moving among the stacks with his creel. How the missel
thrushes sing in the woods, and the plaintive note of the curlew
gives the last touch of mysterious tenderness to the scene. There
is a moist, rich fragrance of meadowsweet and bog myrtle in the air;
and how fresh and wild and verdant it is!
'For there's plenty to mind, sure, if on'y ye look to the grass
at your feet,
For 'tis thick wid the tussocks of heather, an' blossoms and
herbs that smell sweet
If ye tread thim; an' maybe the white o' the bog-cotton waves
in the win',
Like the wool ye might shear off a night-moth, an' set an ould
fairy to spin;
Or wee frauns, each wan stuck 'twixt two leaves on a grand
little stem of its own,
Lettin' on 'twas a plum on a tree.'*
As for Lough Lein itself, who could speak its loveliness, lying like
a crystal mirror beneath the black Reeks of the McGillicuddy, where,
in the mountain fastnesses, lie spell-bound the sleeping warriors
who, with their bridles and broadswords in hand, await but the word
to give Erin her own! When we glide along the surface of the lakes,
on some bright day after a heavy rain; when we look down through the
clear water on tiny submerged islets, with their grasses and drowned
daisies glancing up at us from the blue; when we moor the boat and
climb the hillsides, we are dazzled by the luxuriant beauty of it
all. It hardly seems real--it is too green, too perfect, to be
believed; and one thinks of some fairy drop-scene, painted by
cunning-fingered elves and sprites, who might have a wee folk's way
of mixing roses and rainbows, dew-drenched greens and sun-warmed
yellows; showing the picture to you first all burnished, glittering
and radiant, then 'veiled in mist and diamonded with showers.' We
climb, climb, up, up, into the heart of the leafy loveliness;
peering down into dewy dingles, stopping now and again to watch one
of the countless streams as it tinkles and gurgles down an emerald
ravine to join the lakes. The way is strewn with lichens and
mosses; rich green hollies and arbutus surround us on every side;
the ivy hangs in sweet disorder from the rocks; and when we reach
the innermost recess of the glen we can find moist green jungles of
ferns and bracken, a very bending, curling forest of fronds:-
'The fairy's tall palm-tree, the heath bird's fresh nest,
And the couch the red deer deems the sweetest and best.'
Carrantual rears its crested head high above the other mountains,
and on its summit Shon the Outlaw, footsore, weary, slept; sighing,
"For once, thank God, I am above all my enemies."
You must go to sweet Innisfallen, too, and you must not be prosaic
or incredulous at the boatman's stories, or turn the 'bodthered ear
to them.' These are no ordinary hillsides: not only do the wee
folk troop through the frond forests nightly, but great heroic
figures of romance have stalked majestically along these mountain
summits. Every waterfall foaming and dashing from its rocky bed in
the glen has a legend in the toss and swirl of the water.
Can't you see the O'Sullivan, famous for fleetness of foot and
prowess in the chase, starting forth in the cool o' the morn to hunt
the red deer? His dogs sniff the heather; a splendid stag bounds
across the path; swift as lightning the dogs follow the scent across
moors and glens. Throughout the long day the chieftain chases the
stag, until at nightfall, weary and thirsty, he loses the scent, and
blows a blast on his horn to call the dogs homeward.
And then he hears a voice: "O'Sullivan, turn back!"
He looks over his shoulder to behold the great Finn McCool, central
figure in centuries of romance.
"Why do you dare chase my stag?" he asks.
"Because it is the finest man ever saw," answers the chieftain
"You are a valiant man," says the hero, pleased with the reply;
"and as you thirst from the long chase, I will give you to drink."
So he crunches his giant heel into the rock, and forth burst the
waters, seething and roaring as they do to this day; "and may the
divil fly away wid me if I've spoke an unthrue word, ma'am!"
Come to Lough Lein as did we, too early for the crowd of sightseers;
but when the 'long light shakes across the lakes,' the blackest arts
of the tourist (and they are as black as they are many) cannot break
the spell. Sitting on one of these hillsides, we heard a bugle-call
taken up and repeated in delicate, ethereal echoes,--sweet enough,
indeed, to be worthy of the fairy buglers who are supposed to pass
the sound along their lines from crag to crag, until it faints and
dies in silence. And then came the 'Lament for Owen Roe O'Neil.'
We were thrilled to the very heart with the sorrowful strains; and
when we issued from our leafy covert, and rounded the point of rocks
from which the sound came, we found a fat man in uniform playing the
bugle. 'Blank's Tours' was embroidered on his cap, and I have no
doubt that he is a good husband and father, even a good citizen, but
he is a blight upon the landscape, and fancy cannot breathe in his
presence. The typical tourist should be encouraged within bounds,
both because he is of some benefit to Ireland, and because Ireland
is of inestimable benefit to him; but he should not be allowed to
jeer and laugh at the legends (the gentle smile of sophisticated
unbelief, with its twinkle of amusement, is unknown to and for ever
beyond him); and above all, he should never be allowed to carry or
to play on a concertina, for this is the unpardonable sin.
We had an adventure yesterday. We were to dine at eight o'clock at
Balkilly Castle, where Dr. La Touche is staying the week-end with
Lord and Lady Killbally. We had been spending an hour or two after
tea in writing an Irish letter, and were a bit late in dressing.
These letters, written in the vernacular, are a favourite diversion
of ours when visiting in foreign lands; and they are very easily
done when once you have caught the idioms, for you can always
supplement your slender store of words and expressions with choice
selections from native authors.
What Francesca and I wore to the Castle dinner is, alas! no longer
of any consequence to the community at large. In the mysterious
purposes of that third volume which we seem to be living in Ireland,
Francesca's beauty and mine, her hats and frocks as well as mine,
are all reduced to the background; but Salemina's toilet had cost us
some thought. When she first issued from the discreet and decorous
fastnesses of Salem society, she had never donned any dinner dress
that was not as high at the throat and as long in the sleeves as the
Puritan mothers ever wore to meeting. In England she lapsed
sufficiently from the rigid Salem standard to adopt a timid
compromise; in Scotland we coaxed her into still further
modernities, until now she is completely enfranchised. We achieved
this at considerable trouble, but do not grudge the time spent in
persuasion when we see her en grande toilette. In day dress she has
always been inclined ever so little to a primness and severity that
suggest old-maidishness. In her low gown of pale grey, with all her
silver hair waved softly, she is unexpectedly lovely,--her face
softened, transformed, and magically 'brought out' by the whiteness
of her shoulders and slender throat. Not an ornament, not a jewel,
will she wear; and she is right to keep the nunlike simplicity of
style which suits her so well, and which holds its own even in the
vicinity of Francesca's proud and glowing young beauty.
On this particular evening, Francesca, who wished her to look her
best, had prudently hidden her eyeglasses, for which we are now
trying to substitute a silver-handled lorgnette. Two years ago we
deliberately smashed her spectacles, which she had adopted at five-
"But they are more convenient than eye-glasses," she urged obtusely.
"That argument is beneath you, dear," we replied. "If your hair
were not prematurely grey, we might permit the spectacles, hideous
as they are, but a combination of the two is impossible; the world
shall not convict you of failing sight when you are guilty only of
The grey satin had been chosen for this dinner, and Salemina was
dressed, with the exception of the pretty pearl-embroidered waist
that has to be laced at the last moment, and had slipped on a
dressing jacket to come down from her room in the second story, to
be advised in some trifling detail. She looked unusually well, I
thought: her eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed, as she
rustled in, holding her satin skirts daintily away from the dusty
Now, from the morning of our arrival we have had trouble with the
Mullarkey door-knobs, which come off continually, and lie on the
floors at one side of the door or the other. Benella followed
Salemina from her room, and, being in haste, closed the door with
unwonted energy. She heard the well-known rattle and clang, but
little suspected that, as one knob dropped outside in the hall, the
other fell inside, carrying the rod of connection with it. It was
not long before we heard a cry of despair from above, and we
responded to it promptly.
"It's fell in on the inside, knob and all, as I always knew it would
some day; and now we can't get back into the room!" said Benella.
"Oh, nonsense! We can open it with something or other," I answered
encouragingly, as I drew on my gloves; "only you must hasten, for
the car is at the door."
The curling iron was too large, the shoe hook too short, a lead
pencil too smooth, a crochet needle too slender: we tried them all,
and the door resisted all our insinuations. "Must you necessarily
get in before we go?" I asked Salemina thoughtlessly.
She gave me a glance that almost froze my blood, as she replied,
"The waist of my dress is in the room."
Francesca and I spent a moment in irrepressible mirth, and then
summoned Mrs. Mullarkey. Whether the Irish kings could be relied
upon in an emergency I do not know, but their descendants cannot.
Mrs. Mullarkey had gone to the convent to see the Mother Superior
about something; Mr. Mullarkey was at the Dooclone market; Peter was
not to be found; but Oonah and Molly came, and also the old lady
from Mullinavat, with a package of raffle tickets in her hand.
We left this small army under Benella's charge, and went down to my
room for a hasty consultation.
"Could you wear any evening bodice of Francesca's?" I asked.
"Of course not. Francesca's waist measure is three inches smaller
"Could you manage my black lace dress?"
"Penelope, you know it would only reach to my ankles! No, you must
go without me, and go at once. We are too new acquaintances to keep
Lady Killbally's dinner waiting. Why did I come to this place like
a pauper, with only one evening gown, when I should have known that
if there is a castle anywhere within forty miles you always spend
half your time in it!"
This slur was totally unjustified, but I pardoned it, because
Salemina's temper is ordinarily perfect, and the circumstances were
somewhat tragic. "If you had brought a dozen costumes, they would
all be in your room at this moment," I replied; "but we must think
of something. It is impossible for you to remain behind; we were
invited more on your account than our own, for you are Dr. La
Touche's friend, and the dinner is especially in his honour. Molly,
have you a ladder?"
"Sorra a wan, ma'am."
"Could we borrow one?"
"We could not, Mrs. Beresford, ma'am."
"Then see if you can break down the door; try hard, and if you
succeed I will buy you a nice new one! Part of Miss Peabody's dress
is inside the room, and we shall be late to the Castle dinner."
The entire corps, with Mrs. Waterford of Mullinavat on top, cast
itself on the door, which withstood the shock to perfection. Then
in a moment we heard: "Weary's on it, it will not come down for us,
ma'am. It's the iligant locks we do be havin' in the house; they're
mortial shtrong, ma'am!"
"Strong, indeed!" exclaimed the incensed Benella, in a burst of New
England wrath. "There's nothing strong about the place but the
impidence of the people in it! If you had told Peter to get a
carpenter or a locksmith, as I've been asking you these two weeks,
it would have been all right; but you never do anything till a month
after it's too late. I've no patience with such a set of doshies,
dawdling around and leaving everything to go to rack and ruin!"
"Sure it was yourself that ruinated the thing," responded Molly,
with spirit, for the unaccustomed word 'doshy' had kindled her quick
Irish temper. "It's aisy handlin' the knob is used to, and faith it
would 'a' stuck there for you a twelvemonth!"
"They will be quarrelling soon," said Salemina nervously. "Do not
wait another instant; you are late enough now, and I insist on your
going. Make any excuse you see fit: say I am ill, say I am dead,
if you like, but don't tell the real excuse--it is too shiftless and
wretched and embarrassing. Don't cry, Benella. Molly, Oonah, go
downstairs to your work. Mrs. Waterford, I think perhaps you have
forgotten that we have already purchased raffle tickets, and we'll
not take any more for fear that we may draw the necklace. Good-bye,
dears; tell Lady Killbally I shall see her to-morrow."
Chapter XV. Penelope weaves a web.
'Why the shovel and tongs
To each other belongs,
And the kettle sings songs
Full of family glee,
While alone with your cup,
Like a hermit you sup,
Och hone, Widow Machree.'
Francesca and I were gloomy enough, as we drove along facing each
other in Ballyfuchsia's one 'inside-car'--a strange and fearsome
vehicle, partaking of the nature of a broken-down omnibus, a hearse,
and an overgrown black beetle. It holds four, or at a squeeze six,
the seats being placed from stem to stern lengthwise, and the
balance being so delicate that the passengers, when going uphill,
are shaken into a heap at the door, which is represented by a ragged
leather flap. I have often seen it strew the hard highroad with
passengers, as it jolts up the steep incline that leads to
Ardnagreena, and the 'fares' who succeed in staying in always sit in
one another's laps a good part of the way--a method pleasing only to
relatives or intimate friends. Francesca and I agreed to tell the
real reason of Salemina's absence. "It is Ireland's fault, and I
will not have America blamed for it," she insisted; "but it is so
embarrassing to be going to the dinner ourselves, and leaving behind
the most important personage. Think of Dr. La Touche's
disappointment, think of Salemina's; and they'll never understand
why she couldn't have come in a dressing jacket. I shall advise her
to discharge Benella after this episode, for no one can tell the
effect it may have upon all our future lives, even those of the
doctor's two poor motherless children."
It is a four-mile drive to Balkilly Castle, and when we arrived
there we were so shaken that we had to retire to a dressing-room for
repairs. Then came the dreaded moment when we entered the great
hall and advanced to meet Lady Killbally, who looked over our heads
to greet the missing Salemina. Francesca's beauty, my supposed
genius, both fell flat; it was Salemina whose presence was
especially desired. The company was assembled, save for one guest
still more tardy than ourselves, and we had a moment or two to tell
our story as sympathetically as possible. It had an uncommonly good
reception, and, coupled with the Irish letter I read at dessert,
carried the dinner along on a basis of such laughter and good-
fellowship that finally there was no place for regret save in the
hearts of those who knew and loved Salemina--poor Salemina, spending
her dull, lonely evening in our rooms, and later on in her own
uneventful bed, if indeed she had been lucky enough to gain access
to that bed. I had hoped Lady Killbally would put one of us beside
Dr. La Touche, so that we might at least keep Salemina's memory
green by tactful conversation; but it was too large a company to
rearrange, and he had to sit by an empty chair, which perhaps was
just as salutary, after all. The dinner was very smart, and the
company interesting and clever, but my thoughts were elsewhere. As
there were fewer squires than dames at the feast, Lady Killbally
kindly took me on her left, with a view to better acquaintance, and
I was heartily glad of a possible chance to hear something of Dr. La
Touche's earlier life. In our previous interviews, Salemina's
presence had always precluded the possibility of leading the
conversation in the wished-for direction.
When I first saw Gerald La Touche I felt that he required
explanation. Usually speaking, a human being ought to be able, in
an evening's conversation, to explain himself, without any
adventitious aid. If he is a man, alive, vigorous, well poised,
conscious of his own individuality, he shows you, without any
effort, as much of his past as you need to form your impression, and
as much of his future as you have intuition to read. As opposed to
the vigorous personality, there is the colourless, flavourless,
insubstantial sort, forgotten as soon as learned, and for ever
confused with that of the previous or the next comer. When I was a
beginner in portrait-painting, I remember that, after I had
succeeded in making my background stay back where it belonged, my
figure sometimes had a way of clinging to it in a kind of smudgy
weakness, as if it were afraid to come out like a man and stand the
inspection of my eye. How often have I squandered paint upon the
ungrateful object without adding a cubit to its stature! It refused
to look like flesh and blood, but resembled rather some half-made
creature flung on the passive canvas in a liquid state, with its
edges running over into the background. There are a good many of
these people in literature, too,--heroes who, like home-made paper
dolls, do not stand up well; or if they manage to perform that feat,
one unexpectedly discovers, when they are placed in a strong light,
that they have no vital organs whatever, and can be seen through
without the slightest difficulty. Dr. La Touche does not belong to
either of these two classes: he is not warm, magnetic, powerful,
impressive: neither is he by any means destitute of vital organs;
but his personality is blurred in some way. He seems a bit remote,
absentminded, and a trifle, just a trifle, over-resigned.
Privately, I think a man can afford to be resigned only to one
thing, and that is the will of God; against all other odds I prefer
to see him fight till the last armed foe expires. Dr. La Touche is
devotedly attached to his children, but quite helpless in their
hands; so that he never looks at them with pleasure or comfort or
pride, but always with an anxiety as to what they may do next. I
understand him better now that I know the circumstances of which he
has been the product. (Of course one is always a product of
circumstances, unless one can manage to be superior to them.) His
wife, the daughter of an American consul in Ireland, was a charming
but somewhat feather-brained person, rather given to whims and
caprices; very pretty, very young, very much spoiled, very
attractive, very undisciplined. All went well enough with them
until her father was recalled to America, because of some change in
political administration. The young Mrs. La Touche seemed to have
no resources apart from her family, and even her baby 'Jackeen'
failed to absorb her as might have been expected.
"We thought her a most trying woman at this time," said Lady
Killbally. "She seemed to have no thought of her husband's
interests, and none of the responsibilities that she had assumed in
marrying him; her only idea of life appeared to be amusement and
variety and gaiety. Gerald was a student, and always very grave and
serious; the kind of man who invariably marries a butterfly, if he
can find one to make him miserable. He was exceedingly patient; but
after the birth of little Broona, Adeline became so homesick and
depressed and discontented that, although the journey was almost an
impossibility at the time, Gerald took her back to her people, and
left her with them, while he returned to his duties at Trinity
College. Their life, I suppose, had been very unhappy for a year or
two before this, and when he came home to Dublin without his
children, he looked a sad and broken man. He was absolutely
faithful to his ideals, I am glad to say, and never wavered in his
allegiance to his wife, however disappointed he may have been in
her; going over regularly to spend his long vacations in America,
although she never seemed to wish to see him. At last she fell into
a state of hopeless melancholia; and it was rather a relief to us
all to feel that we had judged her too severely, and that her
unreasonableness and her extraordinary caprices had been born of
mental disorder more than of moral obliquity. Gerald gave up
everything to nurse her and rouse her from her apathy; but she faded
away without ever once coming back to a more normal self, and that
was the end of it all. Gerald's father had died meanwhile, and he
had fallen heir to the property and the estates. They were very
much encumbered, but he is gradually getting affairs into a less
chaotic state; and while his fortune would seem a small one to you
extravagant Americans, he is what we Irish paupers would call well
Lady Killbally was suspiciously willing to give me all this
information,--so much so that I ventured to ask about the children.
"They are captivating, neglected little things," she said. "Madame
La Touche, an aged aunt, has the ostensible charge of them, and she
is a most easy-going person. The servants are of the 'old family'
sort, the reckless, improvident, untidy, devoted, quarrelsome
creatures that always stand by the ruined Irish gentry in all their
misfortunes, and generally make their life a burden to them at the
same time. Gerald is a saint, and therefore never complains."
"It never seems to me that saints are altogether adapted to
positions like these," I sighed; "sinners would do ever so much
better. I should like to see Dr. La Touche take off his halo, lay
it carefully on the bureau, and wield a battle-axe. The world will
never acknowledge his merit; it will even forget him presently, and
his life will have been given up to the evolution of the passive
virtues. Do you suppose he will recognise the tender passion if it
ever does bud in his breast, or will he think it a weed, instead of
a flower, and let it wither for want of attention?"
"I think his friends will have to enhance his self-respect, or he
will for ever be too modest to declare himself," said Lady
Killbally. "Perhaps you can help us: he is probably going to
America this winter to lecture at some of your universities, and he
may stay there for a year or two, so he says. At any rate, if the
right woman ever appears on the scene, I hope she will have the
instinct to admire and love and reverence him as we do," and here
she smiled directly into my eyes, and slipping her pretty hand under
the tablecloth squeezed mine in a manner that spoke volumes.
It is not easy to explain one's desire to marry off all the
unmarried persons in one's vicinity. When I look steadfastly at any
group of people, large or small, they usually segregate themselves
into twos under my prophetic eye. It they are nice and attractive,
I am pleased to see them mated; if they are horrid and disagreeable,
I like to think of them as improving under the discipline of
matrimony. It is joy to see beauty meet a kindling eye, but I am
more delighted still to watch a man fall under the glamour of a
plain, dull girl, and it is ecstasy for me to see a perfectly
unattractive, stupid woman snapped up at last, when I have given up
hopes of settling her in life. Sometimes there are men so
uninspiring that I cannot converse with them a single moment without
yawning; but though failures in all other relations, one can
conceive of their being tolerably useful as husbands and fathers;
not for one's self, you understand, but for one's neighbours.
Dr. La Touche's life now, to any understanding eye, is as incomplete
as the unfinished window in Aladdin's tower. He is too wrinkled,
too studious, too quiet, too patient for his years. His children
need a mother, his old family servants need discipline, his baronial
halls need sweeping and cleaning (I haven't seen them, but I know
they do!), and his aged aunt needs advice and guidance. On the
other hand, there are those (I speak guardedly) who have walked in
shady, sequestered paths all their lives, looking at hundreds of
happy lovers on the sunny highroad, but never joining them; those
who adore erudition, who love children, who have a genius for
unselfish devotion, who are sweet and refined and clever, and who
look perfectly lovely when they put on grey satin and leave off
eyeglasses. They say they are over forty, and although this
probably is exaggeration, they may be thirty-nine and three-
quarters; and if so, the time is limited in which to find for them a
worthy mate, since half of the masculine population is looking for
itself, and always in the wrong quarter, needing no assistance to
discover rose-cheeked idiots of nineteen, whose obvious charms draw
thousands to a dull and uneventful fate.
These thoughts were running idly through my mind while the
Honourable Michael McGillicuddy was discoursing to me of Mr.
Gladstone's misunderstanding of Irish questions,--a
misunderstanding, he said, so colossal, so temperamental, and so
all-embracing, that it amounted to genius. I was so anxious to
return to Salemina that I wished I had ordered the car at ten thirty
instead of eleven; but I made up my mind, as we ladies went to the
drawing-room for coffee, that I would seize the first favourable
opportunity to explore the secret chambers of Dr. La Touche's being.
I love to rummage in out-of-the-way corners of people's brains and
hearts if they will let me. I like to follow a courteous host
through the public corridors of his house and come upon a little
chamber closed to the casual visitor. If I have known him long
enough I put my hand on the latch and smile inquiringly. He looks
confused and conscious, but unlocks the door. Then I peep in, and
often I see something that pleases and charms and touches me so much
that it shows in my eyes when I lift them to his to say "Thank you."
Sometimes, after that, my host gives me the key and says gravely
"Pray come in whenever you like."
When Dr. La Touche offers me this hospitality I shall find out
whether he knows anything of that lavender-scented guest-room in
Salemina's heart. First, has he ever seen it? Second, has he ever
stopped in it for any length of time? Third, was he sufficiently
enamoured of it to occupy it on a long lease?
Chapter XVI. Salemina has her chance.
'And what use is one's life widout chances?
Ye've always a chance wid the tide.'
I was walking with Lady Fincoss, and Francesca with Miss Clondalkin,
a very learned personage who has deciphered more undecipherable
inscriptions than any lady in Ireland, when our eyes fell upon an
Seated on a divan in the centre of the drawing-room, in a most
distinguished attitude, in unexceptionable attire, and with the
rose-coloured lights making all her soft greys opalescent, was Miss
Salemina Peabody. Our exclamations of astonishment were so audible
that they must have reached the dining-room, for Lord Killbally did
not keep the gentlemen long at their wine.
Salemina cannot tell a story quite as it ought to be told to produce
an effect. She is too reserved, too concise, too rigidly
conscientious. She does not like to be the centre of interest, even
in a modest contretemps like being locked out of a room which
contains part of her dress; but from her brief explanation to Lady
Killbally, her more complete and confidential account on the way
home, and Benella's graphic story when we arrived there, we were
able to get all the details.
When the inside-car passed out of view with us, it appears that
Benella wept tears of rage, at the sight of which Oonah and Molly
trembled. In that moment of despair and remorse, her mind worked as
it must always have done before the Salem priestess befogged it with
hazy philosophies, understood neither by teacher nor by pupil.
Peter had come back, but could suggest nothing. Benella forgot her
'science,' which prohibits rage and recrimination, and called him a
great, hulking, lazy vagabone, and told him she'd like to have him
in Salem for five minutes, just to show him a man with head on his
"You call this a Christian country," she said, "and you haven't got
a screwdriver, nor a bradawl, nor a monkey-wrench, nor a rat-tail
file, nor no kind of a useful tool to bless yourselves with; and my
Miss Peabody, that's worth ten dozen of you put together, has got to
stay home from the Castle and eat warmed-up scraps served in
courses, with twenty minutes' wait between 'em. Now you do as I
say: take the dining-table and set it out under the window, and the
carving-table on top o' that, and see how fur up it'll reach. I
guess you can't stump a Salem woman by telling her there ain't no
The two tables were finally in position; but there still remained
nine feet of distance to that key of the situation, Salemina's
window, and Mrs. Waterford's dressing-table went on top of this
pile. "Now, Peter," were the next orders, "if you've got sprawl
enough, and want to rest yourself by doin' something useful for once
in your life, you just hold down the dining-table; and you and
Oonah, Molly, keep the next two tables stiddy, while I climb up."
The intrepid Benella could barely reach the sill, even from this
ingeniously dizzy elevation, and Mrs. Waterford and Salemina were
called on to 'stiddy' the tables, while Molly was bidden to help by
giving an heroic 'boost' when the word of command came. The device
was completely successful, and in a trice the conqueror disappeared,
to reappear at the window holding the precious pearl-embroidered
bodice wrapped in a towel. "I wouldn't stop to fool with the door-
knob till I dropped you this," she said. "Oonah, you go and wash
your hands clean, and help Miss Peabody into it,--and mind you start
the lacing right at the top; and you, Peter, run down to Rooney's
and get the donkey and the cart, and bring 'em back with you,--and
don't you let the grass grow under your feet neither!"
There was literally no other mode of conveyance within miles, and
time was precious. Salemina wrapped herself in Francesca's long
black cloak, and climbed into the cart. Dinnis hauls turf in it,
takes a sack of potatoes or a pig to market in it, and the stubborn
little ass, blind of one eye, has never in his wholly elective
course of existence taken up the subject of speed.
It was eight o'clock when Benella mounted the seat beside Salemina,
and gave the donkey a preliminary touch of the stick.
"Be aisy wid him," cautioned Peter. "He's a very arch donkey for a
lady to be dhrivin', and mebbe he'd lay down and not get up for
"Arrah! shut yer mouth, Pether. Give him a couple of belts anondher
the hind leg, melady, and that'll put the fear o' God in him!" said
"I'd rather not go at all," urged Salemina timidly; "it's too late,
and too extraordinary."
"I'm not going to have it on my conscience to make you lose this
dinner-party,--not if I have to carry you on my back the whole way,"
said Benella doggedly; "and this donkey won't lay down with me
more'n once,--I can tell him that right at the start."
"Sure, melady, he'll go to Galway for you, when oncet he's started
wid himself; and it's only a couple o' fingers to the Castle,
The four-mile drive, especially through the village of Ballyfuchsia,
was an eventful one, but by dint of prodding, poking, and belting,
Benella had accomplished half the distance in three-quarters of an
hour, when the donkey suddenly lay down 'on her,' according to
Peter's prediction. This was luckily at the town cross, where a
group of idlers rendered hearty assistance. Willing as they were to
succour a lady in disthress, they did not know of any car which
could be secured in time to be of service, but one of them offered
to walk and run by the side of the donkey, so as to kape him on his
legs. It was in this wise that Miss Peabody approached Balkilly
Castle; and when a gilded gentleman-in-waiting lifted her from
Rooney's 'plain cart,' she was just on the verge of hysterics.
Fortunately his Magnificence was English, and betrayed no surprise
at the arrival in this humble fashion of a dinner guest, but simply
summoned the Irish housekeeper, who revived her with wine, and
called on all the saints to witness that she'd never heard of such a
shameful thing, and such a disgrace to Ballyfuchsia. The idea of
not keeping a ladder in a house where the door-knobs were apt to
come off struck her as being the worst feature of the accident,
though this unexpected and truly Milesian view of the matter had
never occurred to us.
"Well, I got Miss Peabody to the dinner-party," said Benella
triumphantly, when she was laboriously unlacing my frock, later on,
"or at least I got her there before it broke up. I had to walk
every step o' the way home, and the donkey laid down four times, but
I was so nerved up I didn't care a mite. I was bound Miss Peabody
shouldn't lose her chance, after all she's done for me!"
"Her chance?" I asked, somewhat puzzled, for dinners, even Castle
dinners, are not rare in Salemina's experience.
"Yes, her chance," repeated Benella mysteriously; "you'd know well
enough what I mean, if you'd ben born and brought up in Salem,
* * *
Copy of a letter read by Penelope O'Connor, descendant of the King
of Connaught, at the dinner of Lord and Lady Killbally at Balkilly
Castle. It needed no apology then, but in sending it to our
American friends, we were obliged to explain that though the Irish
peasants interlard their conversation with saints, angels, and
devils, and use the name of the Virgin Mary, and even the Almighty,
with, to our ears, undue familiarity and frequency, there is no
profane or irreverent intent. They are instinctively religious, and
it is only because they feel on terms of such friendly intimacy with
the powers above that they speak of them so often.
At the Widdy Mullarkey's,
Knockarney House, Ballyfuchsia,
Och! musha bedad, man alive, but it's a fine counthry over here, and
it bangs all the jewel of a view we do be havin' from the windys,
begorra! Knockarney House is in a wild, remoted place at the back
of beyant, and faix we're as much alone as Robinson Crusoe on a
dissolute island; but when we do be wishful to go to the town, sure
there's ivery convaniency. There's ayther a bit of a jauntin' car
wid a skewbald pony for drivin', or we can borry the loan of Dinnis
Rooney's blind ass wid the plain cart, or we can just take a fut in
a hand and leg it over the bog. Sure it's no great thing to go do,
but only a taste of divarsion like, though it's three good Irish
miles an' powerful hot weather, with niver a dhrop of wet these
manny days. It's a great old spring we're havin' intirely; it has
raison to be proud of itself, begob!
Paddy, the gossoon that drives the car (it's a gossoon we call him,
but faix he stands five fut nine in his stockin's, when he wears
anny)--Paddy, as I'm afther tellin' you, lives in a cabin down below
the knockaun, a thrifle back of the road. There's a nate stack of
turf fornint it, and a pitaty pot sets beside the doore, wid the
hins and chuckens rachin' over into it like aigles tryin' to swally
Across the way there does be a bit of sthrame that's fairly shtiff
wid troutses in the saison, and a growth of rooshes under the edge
lookin' that smooth and greeny it must be a pleasure intirely to the
grand young pig and the goat that spinds their time by the side of
it when out of doores, which is seldom. Paddy himself is raggetty
like, and a sight to behould wid the daylight shinin' through the
ould coat on him; but he's a dacint spalpeen, and sure we'd be lost
widout him. His mother's a widdy woman with nine moidtherin'
childer, not countin' the pig an' the goat, which has aquil
advantages. It's nine she has livin', she says, and four slapin' in
the beds o' glory; and faix I hope thim that's in glory is quieter
than the wans that's here, for the divil is busy wid thim the whole
of the day. Here's wan o' thim now makin' me as onaisy as an ould
hin on a hot griddle, slappin' big sods of turf over the dike, and
ruinatin' the timpers of our poulthry. We've a right to be
lambastin' thim this blessed minute, the crathurs; as sure as eggs
is mate, if they was mine they'd sup sorrow wid a spoon of grief,
before they wint to bed this night!
Mistress Colquhoun, that lives at Ardnagreena on the road to the
town, is an iligant lady intirely, an' she's uncommon frindly, may
the peace of heaven be her sowl's rist! She's rale charitable-like
an' liberal with the whativer, an' as for Himself, sure he's the
darlin' fine man! He taches the dead-and-gone languages in the
grand sates of larnin', and has more eddication and comperhinson
than the whole of County Kerry rowled together.
Then there's Lord and Lady Killbally; faix there's no iliganter
family on this counthryside, and they has the beautiful quality
stoppin' wid thim, begob! They have a pew o' their own in the
church, an' their coachman wears top-boots wid yaller chimbleys to
thim. They do be very openhanded wid the eatin' and the drinkin',
and it bangs Banagher the figurandyin' we do have wid thim! So you
see Ould Ireland is not too disthressful a counthry to be divartin'
ourselves in, an' we have our healths finely, glory be to God!
Well, we must be shankin' off wid ourselves now to the Colquhouns',
where they're wettin' a dhrop o' tay for us this mortial instant.
It's no good for yous to write to us here, for we'll be quittin' out
o' this before the letther has a chanst to come; though sure it can
folly us as we're jiggin' along to the north.
Don't be thinkin' that you've shlipped hould of our ricollections,
though the breadth of the ocean say's betune us. More power to your
elbow! May your life be aisy, and may the heavens be your bed!
Penelope O'Connor Beresford.
Chapter XVII. The Glens of Antrim.
'Silent, O Moyle,* be the roar of thy water;
Break not, ye breezes, your chain of repose;
While murmuring mournfully, Lir's lovely daughter
Tells to the night-star her tale of woes.'
* The sea between Erin and Alban (Ireland and Scotland) was called
in the olden time the Sea of Moyle, from the Moyle, or Mull, of
Sorley Boy Hotel,
Glens of Antrim.
We are here for a week, in the neighbourhood of Cushendun, just to
see a bit of the north-eastern corner of Erin, where, at the end of
the nineteenth century, as at the beginning of the seventeenth, the
population is almost exclusively Catholic and Celtic. The Gaelic
Sorley Boy is, in Irish state papers, Carolus Flavus--yellow-haired
Charles--the most famous of the Macdonnell fighters; the one who,
when recognised by Elizabeth as Lord of the Route, and given a
patent for his estates, burned the document before his retainers,
swearing that what had been won by the sword should never be held by
the sheepskin. Cushendun was one of the places in our literary
pilgrimage, because of its association with that charming Irish
poetess and good glenswoman who calls herself 'Moira O'Neill.'
This country of the Glens, east of the river Bann, escaped
'plantation,' and that accounts for its Celtic character. When the
grand Ulster chieftains, the O'Donnells and the O'Neills of Donegal,
went under, the third great house of Ulster, the 'Macdonnells of the
Isles,' was more fortunate, and, thanks to its Scots blood, found
favour with James I. It was a Macdonnell who was created first Earl
of Antrim, and given a 'grant of the Glens and the Route, from the
Curran of Larne to the Cutts of Coleraine.' Ballycastle is our
nearest large town, and its great days were all under the
Macdonnells, where, in the Franciscan abbey across the bay, it is
said the ground 'literally heaves with Clandonnell dust.' Here are
buried those of the clan who perished at the hands of Shane O'Neill-
-Shane the Proud, who signed himself 'Myself O'Neill,' and who has
been called 'the shaker of Ulster'; here, too, are those who fell in
the great fight at Slieve-an-Aura up in Glen Shesk, when the
Macdonnells finally routed the older lords, the M'Quillans. A
clansman once went to the Countess of Antrim to ask the lease of a
"Another Macdonnell?" asked the countess. "Why, you must all be
Macdonnells in the Low Glens!"
"Ay," said the man. "Too many Macdonnells now, but not one too many
on the day of Aura."
From the cliffs of Antrim we can see on any clear day the Sea of
Moyle and the bonnie blue hills of Scotland, divided from Ulster at
this point by only twenty miles of sea path. The Irish or Gaels or
Scots of 'Uladh' often crossed in their curraghs to this lovely
coast of Alba, then inhabited by the Picts. Here, 'when the tide
drains out wid itself beyant the rocks,' we sit for many an hour,
perhaps on the very spot from which they pushed off their boats.
The Mull of Cantire runs out sharply toward you; south of it are
Ailsa Craig and the soft Ayrshire coast; north of the Mull are blue,
blue mountains in a semicircle, and just beyond them somewhere,
Francesca knows, are the Argyleshire Highlands. And oh! the pearl
and opal tints that the Irish atmosphere flings over the scene,
shifting them ever at will, in misty sun or radiant shower; and how
lovely are the too rare bits of woodland! The ground is sometimes
white with wild garlic, sometimes blue with hyacinths; the primroses
still linger in moist, hidden places, and there are violets and
marsh marigolds. Everything wears the colour of Hope. If there are
buds that will never bloom and birds that will never fly, the great
mother-heart does not know it yet. "I wonder," said Salemina, "if
that is why we think of autumn as sad--because the story of the year
is known and told?"
Long, long before the Clandonnell ruled these hills and glens and
cliffs they were the home of Celtic legend. Over the waters of the
wee river Margy, with its half-mile course, often sailed the four
white swans, those enchanted children of Lir, king of the Isle of
Man, who had been transformed into this guise by their cruel
stepmother, with a stroke of her druidical fairy wand. After
turning them into four beautiful white swans she pronounced their
doom, which was to sail three hundred years on smooth Lough
Derryvara, three hundred on the Sea of Erris--sail, and sail, until
the union of Largnen, the prince from the north, with Decca, the
princess from the south; until the Taillkenn** should come to Erinn,
bringing the light of a pure faith, and until they should hear the
voice of a Christian bell. They were allowed to keep their own
Gaelic speech, and to sing sweet, plaintive, fairy music, which
should excel all the music of the world, and which should lull to
sleep all who listened to it. We could hear it, we three, for we
loved the story; and love opens the ear as well as the heart to all
sorts of sounds not heard by the dull and incredulous. You may hear
it, too, any fine soft day if you will sit there looking out on Fair
Head and Rathlin Island, and read the old fairy tale. When you put
down the book you will see Finola, Lir's lovely daughter, in any
white-breasted bird; and while she covers her brothers with her
wings, she will chant to you her old song in the Gaelic tongue.
** A name given by the Druids to St. Patrick.
'Ah, happy is Lir's bright home today
With mirth and music and poet's lay;
But gloomy and cold his children's home,
For ever tossed on the briny foam.
Our wreath-ed feathers are thin and light
When the wind blows keen through the wintry night;
Yet oft we were robed, long, long ago,
In purple mantles and robes of snow.
On Moyle's bleak current our food and wine
Are sandy seaweed and bitter brine;
Yet oft we feasted in days of old,
And hazel-mead drank from cups of gold.
Our beds are rocks in the dripping caves;
Our lullaby song the roar of the waves;
But soft, rich couches once we pressed,
And harpers lulled us each night to rest.
Lonely we swim on the billowy main,
Through frost and snow, through storm and rain;
Alas for the days when round us moved
The chiefs and princes and friends we loved!'+
The Fate of the Children of Lir is the second of Erin's Three
Sorrows of Story, and the third and greatest is the Fate of the Sons
of Usnach, which has to do with a sloping rock on the north side of
Fair Head, five miles from us. Here the three sons of Usnach landed
when they returned from Alba to Erin with Deirdre--Deirdre, who was
'beautiful as Helen, and gifted like Cassandra with unavailing
prophecy'; and by reason of her beauty many sorrows fell upon the
Naisi, son of Conor, king of Uladh, had fled with Deirdre, daughter
of Phelim, the king's story-teller, to a sea-girt islet on Lough
Etive, where they lived happily by the chase. Naisi's two brothers
went with them, and thus the three sons of Usnach were all in Alba.
Then the story goes on to say that Fergus, one of Conor's nobles,
goes to seek the exiles, and Naisi and Deirdre, while playing at the
chess, hear from the shore 'the cry of a man of Erin.' It is
against Deirdre's will that they finally leave Alba with Fergus, who
says, "Birthright is first, for ill it goes with a man, although he
be great and prosperous, if he does not see daily his native earth."
So they sailed away over the sea, and Deirdre sang this lay as the
shores of Alba faded from her sight:-
"My love to thee, O Land in the East, and 'tis ill for me to leave
thee, for delightful are thy coves and havens, thy kind, soft,
flowery fields, thy pleasant, green-sided hills; and little was our
need of departing."
Then in her song she went over the glens of their lordship, naming
them all, and calling to mind how here they hunted the stag, here
they fished, here they slept, with the swaying fern for pillows, and
here the cuckoo called to them. And "Never," she sang, "would I
quit Alba were it not that Naisi sailed thence in his ship."
They landed first under Fair Head, and then later at Rathlin Island,
where their fate met them at last, as Deirdre had prophesied. It is
a sad story, and we can easily weep at the thrilling moment when,
there being no man among the Ultonians to do the king's bidding, a
Norse captive takes Naisi's magic sword and strikes off the heads of
the three sons of Usnach with one swift blow, and Deirdre, falling
prone upon the dead bodies, chants a lament; and when she has
finished singing, she puts her pale cheek against Naisi's, and dies;
and a great cairn is piled over them, and an inscription in Ogam set
We were full of legendary lore, these days, for we were fresh from a
sight of Glen Ariff. Who that has ever chanced to be there in a
pelting rain but will remember its innumerable little waterfalls,
and the great falls of Ess-na-Crubh and Ess-na-Craoibhe? And who
can ever forget the atmosphere of romance that broods over these
We have had many advantages here as elsewhere; for kind Dr. La
Touche, Lady Killbally, and Mrs. Colquhoun follow us with letters,
and wherever there is an unusual personage in a district we are
commended to his or her care. Sometimes it is one of the 'grand
quality,' and often it is an Ossianic sort of person like Shaun
O'Grady, who lives in a little whitewashed cabin, and who has, like
Mr. Yeats's Gleeman, 'the whole Middle Ages under his frieze coat.'
The longer and more intimately we know these peasants, the more we
realise how much in imagination, or in the clouds, if you will, they
live. The ragged man of leisure you meet on the road may be a
philosopher, and is still more likely to be a poet; but unless you
have something of each in yourself, you may mistake him for a mere
"The practical ones have all emigrated," a Dublin novelist told us,
"and the dreamers are left. The heads of the older ones are filled
with poetry and legends; they see nothing as it is, but always
through some iridescent-tinted medium. Their waking moments, when
not tormented by hunger, are spent in heaven, and they all live in a
dream, whether it be of the next world or of a revolution. Effort
is to them useless, submission to everybody and everything the only
safe course; in a word, fatalism expresses their attitude to life."
Much of this submission to the inevitable is a product of past
poverty, misfortune, and famine, and the rest is undoubtedly a trace
of the same spirit that we find in the lives and writings of the
saints, and which is an integral part of the mystery and the
traditions of Romanism. We who live in the bright (and sometimes
staring) sunlight of common-sense can hardly hope to penetrate the
dim, mysterious world of the Catholic peasant, with his
unworldliness and sense of failure.
Dr. Douglas Hyde, an Irish scholar and staunch Protestant, says: "A
pious race is the Gaelic race. The Irish Gael is pious by nature.
There is not an Irishman in a hundred in whom is the making of an
unbeliever. The spirit, and the things of the spirit, affect him
more powerfully than the body, and the things of the body . . . What
is invisible for other people is visible for him. . . He feels
invisible powers before him, and by his side, and at his back,
throughout the day and throughout the night . . . His mind on the
subject may be summed up in the two sayings: that of the early
Church, 'Let ancient things prevail,' and that of St. Augustine,
'Credo quia impossibile.' Nature did not form him to be an
unbeliever; unbelief is alien to his mind and contrary to his
Here, only a few miles away, is the Slemish mountain where St.
Patrick, then a captive of the rich cattle-owner Milcho, herded his
sheep and swine. Here, when his flocks were sleeping, he poured out
his prayers, a Christian voice in Pagan darkness. It was the memory
of that darkness, you remember, that brought him back, years after,
to convert Milcho. Here, too, they say, lies the great bard Ossian;
for they love to think that Finn's son Oisin,++ the hero poet,
survived to the time of St. Patrick, three hundred years after the
other 'Fianna' had vanished from the earth,--the three centuries
being passed in Tir-nan-og, the Land of Youth, where the great Oisin
married the king's daughter, Niam of the Golden Hair. 'Ossian after
the Fianna' is a phrase which has become the synonym of all
survivors' sorrow. Blinded by tears, broken by age, the hero bard
when he returns to earth has no fellowship but with grief, and thus
'No hero now where heroes hurled,--
Long this night the clouds delay--
No man like me, in all the world,
Alone with grief, and grey.
Long this night the clouds delay--
I raise their grave carn, stone on stone,
For Finn and Fianna passed away--
I, Ossian left alone.'
++Pronounced Isheen' in Munster, Osh'in in Ulster.
In more senses than one Irish folk-lore is Irish history. At least
the traditions that have been handed down from one generation to
another contain not only the sometimes authentic record of events,
but a revelation of the Milesian temperament, with its mirth and its
melancholy, its exuberant fancy and its passion. So in these weird
tales there is plenty of history, and plenty of poetry, to one who
will listen to it; but the high and tragic story of Ireland has been
cherished mainly in the sorrowful traditions of a defeated race, and
the legends have not yet been wrought into undying verse. Erin's
songs of battle could only recount weary successions of Flodden
Fields, with never a Bannockburn and its nimbus of victory; for, as
Ossian says of his countrymen, "they went forth to the war, but they
always fell"; but somewhere in the green isle is an unborn poet who
will put all this mystery, beauty, passion, romance, and sadness,
these tragic memories, these beliefs, these visions of unfulfilled
desire, into verse that will glow on the page and live for ever.
Somewhere is a mother who has kept all these things in her heart,
and who will bear a son to write them. Meantime, who shall say that
they have not been imbedded in the language, as flower petals might
be in amber?--that language which, as an English scholar says, "has
been blossoming there unseen, like a hidden garland of roses; and
whenever the wind has blown from the west, English poetry has felt
the vague perfume of it."
Chapter XVIII. Limavady love-letters.
'As beautiful Kitty one morning was tripping
With a pitcher of milk from the fair of Coleraine,
When she saw me she stumbled, the pitcher it tumbled,
And all the sweet buttermilk watered the plain.'
We wanted to cross to Rathlin Island, which is 'like an Irish
stockinge, the toe of which pointeth to the main lande.' That would
bring Francesca six miles nearer to Scotland and her Scottish lover;
and we wished to see the castle of Robert the Bruce, where,
according to the legend, he learned his lesson from the 'six times
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