Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 25

Lacing-up High-lows — The Native Village — Game Leg — Croppies Lie Down — Keeping Faith — Processions — Croppies Get Up — Daniel O’Connell.

I SLEPT in the chamber communicating with the room in which I had dined. The chamber was spacious and airy, the bed first-rate, and myself rather tired, so that no one will be surprised when I say that I had excellent rest. I got up, and after dressing myself went down. The morning was exceedingly brilliant. Going out I saw the Italian lacing up his high-lows against a step. I saluted him, and asked him if he was about to depart.

“Yes, signore; I shall presently start for Denbigh.”

“After breakfast I shall start for Bangor,” said I.

“Do you propose to reach Bangor to-night, signore?”

“Yes,” said I.

“Walking, signore?”

“Yes,” said I; “I always walk in Wales.”

“Then you will have rather a long walk, signore; for Bangor is thirty-four miles from here.”

I asked him if he was married.

“No, signore; but my brother in Liverpool is.”

“To an Italian?”

“No, signore; to a Welsh girl.”

“And I suppose,” said I, “you will follow his example by marrying one; perhaps that good-looking girl the landlady’s daughter we were seated with last night?”

“No, signore; I shall not follow my brother’s example. If ever I take a wife she shall be of my own village, in Como, whither I hope to return, as soon as I have picked up a few more pounds.”

“Whether the Austrians are driven away or not?” said I.

“Whether the Austrians are driven away or not — for to my mind there is no country like Como, signore.”

I ordered breakfast; whilst taking it in the room above I saw through the open window the Italian trudging forth on his journey, a huge box on his back, and a weather-glass in his hand — looking the exact image of one of those men, his country people, whom forty years before I had known at N-. I thought of the course of time, sighed and felt a tear gather in my eye.

My breakfast concluded, I paid my bill, and after inquiring the way to Bangor, and bidding adieu to the kind landlady and her daughter, set out from Cerrig y Drudion. My course lay west, across a flat country, bounded in the far distance by the mighty hills I had seen on the preceding evening. After walking about a mile I overtook a man with a game leg, that is a leg which, either by nature or accident not being so long as its brother leg, had a patten attached to it, about five inches high, to enable it to do duty with the other — he was a fellow with red shock hair and very red features, and was dressed in ragged coat and breeches and a hat which had lost part of its crown, and all its rim, so that even without a game leg he would have looked rather a queer figure. In his hand he carried a fiddle.

“Good morning to you,” said I.

“A good morning to your hanner, a merry afternoon and a roaring, joyous evening — that is the worst luck I wish to ye.”

“Are you a native of these parts?” said I.

“Not exactly, your hanner — I am a native of the city of Dublin, or, what’s all the same thing, of the village of Donnybrook, which is close by it.”

“A celebrated place,” said I.

“Your hanner may say that; all the world has heard of Donnybrook, owing to the humours of its fair. Many is the merry tune I have played to the boys at that fair.”

“You are a professor of music, I suppose?”

“And not a very bad one, as your hanner will say, if you allow me to play you a tune.”

“Can you play Croppies Lie Down?”

“I cannot, your hanner, my fingers never learnt to play such a blackguard tune; but if you wish to hear Croppies Get Up I can oblige ye.”

“You are a Roman Catholic, I suppose?”

“I am not, your hanner — I am a Catholic to the back-bone, just like my father before me. Come, your hanner, shall I play ye Croppies Get Up?”

“No,” said I; “it’s a tune that doesn’t please my ears. If, however, you choose to play Croppies Lie Down, I’ll give you a shilling.”

“Your hanner will give me a shilling?”

“Yes,” said I; “if you play Croppies Lie Down; but you know you cannot play it, your fingers never learned the tune.”

“They never did, your hanner; but they have heard it played of ould by the blackguard Orange fiddlers of Dublin on the first of July, when the Protestant boys used to walk round Willie’s statue on College Green — so if your hanner gives me the shilling, they may perhaps bring out something like it.”

“Very good,” said I; “begin!”

“But, your hanner, what shall we do for the words? though my fingers may remember the tune my tongue does not remember the words — that is unless . . . ”

“I give another shilling,” said I; “but never mind you the words; I know the words, and will repeat them.”

“And your hanner will give me a shilling?”

“If you play the tune,” said I.

“Hanner bright, your hanner?”

“Honour bright,” said I.

Thereupon the fiddler taking his bow and shouldering his fiddle, struck up in first-rate style the glorious tune, which I had so often heard with rapture in the days of my boyhood in the barrack-yard of Clonmel; whilst I, walking by his side as he stumped along, caused the welkin to resound with the words, which were the delight of the young gentlemen of the Protestant academy of that beautiful old town.

“I never heard those words before,” said the fiddler, after I had finished the first stanza.

“Get on with you,” said I.

“Regular Orange words!” said the fiddler, on my finishing the second stanza.

“Do you choose to get on?” said I.

“More blackguard Orange words I never heard!” cried the fiddler, on my coming to the conclusion of the third stanza. “Divil a bit farther will I play; at any rate till I get the shilling.”

“Here it is for you,” said I; “the song is ended, and, of course, the tune.”

“Thank your hanner,” said the fiddler, taking the money, “your hanner has kept your word with me, which is more than I thought your hanner would. And now your hanner let me ask you why did your hanner wish for that tune, which is not only a blackguard one but quite out of date; and where did your hanner get the words?”

“I used to hear the tune in my boyish days,” said I, “and wished to hear it again, for though you call it a blackguard tune, it is the sweetest and most noble air that Ireland, the land of music, has ever produced. As for the words, never mind where I got them; they are violent enough, but not half so violent as the words of some of the songs made against the Irish Protestants by the priests.”

“Your hanner is an Orange man, I see. Well, your hanner, the Orange is now in the kennel, and the Croppies have it all their own way.”

“And perhaps,” said I, “before I die, the Orange will be out of the kennel and the Croppies in, even as they were in my young days.”

“Who knows, your hanner? and who knows that I may not play the old tune round Willie’s image in College Green, even as I used some twenty-seven years ago?”

“Oh then you have been an Orange fiddler?”

“I have, your hanner. And now as your hanner has behaved like a gentleman to me I will tell ye all my history. I was born in the city of Dublin, that is in the village of Donnybrook, as I tould your hanner before. It was to the trade of bricklaying I was bred, and bricklaying I followed till at last, getting my leg smashed, not by falling off the ladder, but by a row in the fair, I was obliged to give it up, for how could I run up the ladder with a patten on my foot, which they put on to make my broken leg as long as the other. Well your hanner, being obliged to give up my bricklaying, I took to fiddling, to which I had always a natural inclination, and played about the streets, and at fairs, and wakes, and weddings. At length some Orange men getting acquainted with me, and liking my style of playing, invited me to their lodge, where they gave me to drink and tould me that if I would change my religion, and join them, and play their tunes, they would make it answer my purpose. Well, your hanner, without much stickling I gave up my Popery, joined the Orange lodge, learned the Orange tunes, and became a regular Protestant boy, and truly the Orange men kept their word, and made it answer my purpose. Oh the meat and drink I got, and the money I made by playing at the Orange lodges and before the processions when the Orange men paraded the streets with their Orange colours. And oh, what a day for me was the glorious first of July when with my whole body covered with Orange ribbons, I fiddled Croppies Lie Down, Boyne Water, and the Protestant Boys before the procession which walked round Willie’s figure on horseback in College Green, the man and horse all ablaze with Orange colours. But nothing lasts under the sun, as your hanner knows; Orangeism began to go down; the Government scowled at it, and at last passed a law preventing the Protestant boys dressing up the figure on the first of July, and walking round it. That was the death-blow of the Orange party, your hanner; they never recovered it, but began to despond and dwindle, and I with them; for there was scarcely any demand for Orange tunes. Then Dan O’Connell arose with his emancipation and repale cries, and then instead of Orange processions and walkings, there were Papist processions and mobs, which made me afraid to stir out, lest knowing me for an Orange fiddler, they should break my head, as the boys broke my leg at Donnybrook fair. At length some of the repalers and emancipators knowing that I was a first-rate hand at fiddling came to me and tould me, that if I would give over playing Croppies Lie Down and other Orange tunes, and would play Croppies Get Up, and what not, and become a Catholic and a repaler, and an emancipator, they would make a man of me — so as my Orange trade was gone, and I was half-starved, I consinted, not however till they had introduced me to Daniel O’Connell, who called me a cridit to my country, and the Irish Horpheus, and promised me a sovereign if I would consint to join the cause, as he called it. Well, your hanner, I joined with the cause and became a Papist, I mane a Catholic once more, and went at the head of processions covered all over with green ribbons, playing Croppies Get Up, Granny Whale, and the like. But, your hanner, though I went the whole hog with the repalers and emancipators, they did not make their words good by making a man of me. Scant and sparing were they in the mate and drink, and yet more sparing in the money, and Daniel O’Connell never gave me the sovereign which he promised me. No, your hanner, though I played Croppies Get Up, till my fingers ached, as I stumped before him and his mobs and processions, he never gave me the sovereign: unlike your hanner who gave me the shilling ye promised me for playing Croppies Lie Down, Daniel O’Connell never gave me the sovereign he promised me for playing Croppies Get Up. Och, your hanner, I often wished the ould Orange days were back again. However as I could do no better I continued going the whole hog with the emancipators and repalers and Dan O’Connell; I went the whole animal with them till they had got emancipation; and I went the whole animal with them till they had nearly got repale — when all of a sudden they let the whole thing drop — Dan and his party having frighted the Government out of its seven senses, and gotten all they could get, in money and places, which was all they wanted, let the whole hullabaloo drop, and of course myself, who formed part of it. I went to those who had persuaded me to give up my Orange tunes, and to play Papist ones, begging them to give me work; but they tould me very civilly that they had no further occasion for my services. I went to Daniel O’Connell reminding him of the sovereign he had promised me, and offering if he gave it me to play Croppies Get Up under the nose of the lord-lieutenant himself; but he tould me that he had not time to attend to me, and when I persisted, bade me go to the Divil and shake myself. Well, your hanner, seeing no prospect for myself in my own country, and having incurred some little debts, for which I feared to be arrested, I came over to England and Wales, where with little content and satisfaction I have passed seven years.”

“Well,” said I; “thank you for your history — farewell.”

“Stap, your hanner; does your hanner think that the Orange will ever be out of the kennel, and that the Orange boys will ever walk round the brass man and horse in College Green as they did of ould?”

“Who knows?” said I. “But suppose all that were to happen, what would it signify to you?”

“Why then divil be in my patten if I would not go back to Donnybrook and Dublin, hoist the Orange cockade, and become as good an Orange boy as ever.”

“What,” said I, “and give up Popery for the second time?”

“I would, your hanner; and why not? for in spite of what I have heard Father Toban say, I am by no means certain that all Protestants will be damned.”

“Farewell,” said I.

“Farewell, your hanner, and long life and prosperity to you! God bless your hanner and your Orange face. Ah, the Orange boys are the boys for keeping faith. They never served me as Dan O’Connell and his dirty gang of repalers and emancipators did. Farewell, your hanner, once more; and here’s another scratch of the illigant tune your hanner is so fond of, to cheer up your hanner’s ears upon your way.”

And long after I had left him I could hear him playing on his fiddle in first-rate style the beautiful tune of “Down, down, Croppies Lie Down.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 14:50