Wild Wales, by George Borrow

Chapter 41

The Pier — Irish Reapers — Wild Irish Face — Father Toban — The Herd of Swine — Latin Blessing.

THE day was as hot as the preceding one. I walked slowly towards the west, and presently found myself upon a pier, or breakwater, at the mouth of the harbour. A large steamer lay at a little distance within the pier. There were fishing-boats on both sides, the greater number on the outer side, which lies towards the hill of Holy Head. On the shady side of the breakwater under the wall were two or three dozen of Irish reapers; some were lying asleep, others in parties of two or three were seated with their backs against the wall, and were talking Irish; these last all appeared to be well-made middle-sized young fellows, with rather a ruffianly look; they stared at me as I passed. The whole party had shillealahs either in their hands or by their sides. I went to the extremity of the pier, where was a little lighthouse, and then turned back. As I again drew near the Irish, I heard a hubbub and observed a great commotion amongst them. All, whether those whom I had seen sitting, or those whom I had seen reclining, had got, or were getting on their legs. As I passed them they were all standing up, and their eyes were fixed upon me with a strange kind of expression, partly of wonder, methought, partly of respect. “Yes, ’tis he, sure enough,” I heard one whisper. On I went, and at about thirty yards from the last I stopped, turned round and leaned against the wall. All the Irish were looking at me — presently they formed into knots and began to discourse very eagerly in Irish, though in an undertone. At length I observed a fellow going from one knot to the other, exchanging a few words with each. After he had held communication with all he nodded his head, and came towards me with a quick step; the rest stood silent and motionless with their eyes turned in the direction in which I was, and in which he was advancing. He stopped within a yard of me and took off his hat. He was an athletic fellow of about twenty-eight, dressed in brown frieze. His features were swarthy, and his eyes black; in every lineament of his countenance was a jumble of savagery and roguishness. I never saw a more genuine wild Irish face — there he stood looking at me full in the face, his hat in one hand and his shillealah in the other.

“Well, what do you want?” said I, after we had stared at each other about half a minute.

“Sure, I’m just come on the part of the boys and myself to beg a bit of a favour of your reverence.”

“Reverence,” said I, “what do you mean by styling me reverence?”

“Och sure, because to be styled your reverence is the right of your reverence.”

“Pray what do you take me for?”

“Och sure, we knows your reverence very well.”

“Well, who am I?”

“Och, why Father Toban to be sure.”

“And who knows me to be Father Toban?”

“Och, a boy here knows your reverence to be Father Toban.”

“Where is that boy?”

“Here he stands, your reverence.”

“Are you that boy?”

“I am, your reverence.”

“And you told the rest that I was Father Toban?”

“I did, your reverence.”

“And you know me to be Father Toban?”

“I do, your reverence.”

“How do you know me to be Father Toban?”

“Och, why because many’s the good time that I have heard your reverence, Father Toban, say mass.”

“And what is it you want me to do?”

“Why, see here, your reverence, we are going to embark in the dirty steamer yonder for ould Ireland, which starts as soon as the tide serves, and we want your reverence to bless us before we goes.”

“You want me to bless you?”

“We do, your reverence, we want you to spit out a little bit of a blessing upon us before we goes on board.”

“And what good would my blessing do you?”

“All kinds of good, your reverence; it would prevent the dirty steamer from catching fire, your reverence, or from going down, your reverence, or from running against the blackguard Hill of Howth in the mist, provided there should be one.”

“And suppose I were to tell you that I am not Father Toban?”

“Och, your reverence, will never think of doing that.”

“Would you believe me if I did?”

“We would not, your reverence.”

“If I were to swear that I am not Father Toban?”

“We would not, your reverence.”

“On the evangiles?”

“We would not, your reverence.”

“On the Cross?”

“We would not, your reverence.”

“And suppose I were to refuse to give you a blessing?”

“Och, your reverence will never refuse to bless the poor boys.”

“But suppose I were to refuse?”

“Why, in such a case, which by-the-bye is altogether impossible, we should just make bould to give your reverence a good big bating.”

“You would break my head?”

“We would, your reverence.”

“Kill me?”

“We would, your reverence.”

“You would really put me to death?”

“We would not, your reverence.”

“And what’s the difference between killing and putting to death?”

“Och, sure there’s all the difference in the world. Killing manes only a good big bating, such as every Irishman is used to, and which your reverence would get over long before matins, whereas putting your reverence to death would prevent your reverence from saying mass for ever and a day.”

“And you are determined on having a blessing?”

“We are, your reverence.”

“By hook or by crook?”

“By crook or by hook, your reverence.”

“Before I bless you, will you answer me a question or two?”

“I will, your reverence.”

“Are you not a set of great big blackguards?”

“We are, your reverence.”

“Without one good quality?”

“We are, your reverence.”

“Would it not be quite right to saddle and bridle you all, and ride you violently down Holyhead or the Giant’s Causeway into the waters, causing you to perish there, like the herd of swine of old?”

“It would, your reverence.”

“And knowing and confessing all this, you have the cheek to come and ask me for a blessing?”

“We have, your reverence.”

“Well, how shall I give the blessing?”

“Och, sure your reverence knows very well how to give it.”

“Shall I give it in Irish?”

“Och, no, your reverence — a blessing in Irish is no blessing at all.”

“In English?”

“Och, murder, no, your reverence, God preserve us all from an English blessing!”

“In Latin?”

“Yes, sure, your reverence; in what else should you bless us but in holy Latin?”

“Well then prepare yourselves.”

“We will, your reverence — stay one moment whilst I whisper to the boys that your reverence is about to bestow your blessing upon us.”

Then turning to the rest who all this time had kept their eyes fixed intently upon us, he bellowed with the voice of a bull:

“Down on your marrow bones, ye sinners, for his reverence Toban is about to bless us all in holy Latin.”

He then flung himself on his knees on the pier, and all his countrymen, baring their heads, followed his example — yes, there knelt thirty bare-headed Eirionaich on the pier of Caer Gybi beneath the broiling sun. I gave them the best Latin blessing I could remember, out of two or three which I had got by memory out of an old Popish book of devotion, which I bought in my boyhood at a stall. Then turning to the deputy I said, “Well, now are you satisfied?”

“Sure, I have a right to be satisfied, your reverence; and so have we all — sure we can now all go on board the dirty steamer, without fear of fire or water, or the blackguard Hill of Howth either.”

“Then get up, and tell the rest to get up, and please to know and let the rest know, that I do not choose to receive farther trouble, either by word or look, from any of ye, as long as I remain here.”

“Your reverence shall be obeyed in all things,” said the fellow, getting up. Then walking away to his companions he cried, “Get up, boys, and plase to know that his reverence Toban is not to be farther troubled by being looked at or spoken to by any one of us as long as he remains upon this dirty pier.”

“Divil a bit farther trouble shall he have from us!” exclaimed many a voice, as the rest of the party arose from their knees.

In half a minute they disposed themselves in much the same manner as that in which they were when I first saw them — some flung themselves again to sleep under the wall, some seated themselves with their backs against it, and laughed and chatted, but without taking any notice of me; those who sat and chatted took, or appeared to take, as little notice as those who lay and slept of his reverence Father Toban.

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