The Irish Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

More rain in Galway — A walk there — and the second Galway Night’s Entertainment.

“Seven hills has Rome, seven mouths has Nuns’ stream,

Around the Pole seven burning planets gleam.

Twice equal these is Galway, Connaught’s Rome:

Twice seven illustrious tribes here find their home.a

Twice seven fair towers the city’s ramparts guard:

Each house within is built of marble hard.

With lofty turret flanked, twice seven the gates,

Through twice seven bridges water permeates.

In the high church are twice seven altars raised,

At each a holy saint and patron’s praised.

Twice seven the convents dedicate to heaven, -

Seven for the female sex-for godly fathers seven.”b

Having read in Hardiman’s History the quaint inscription in Irish Latin, of which the above lines are a version, and looked admiringly at the old plans of Galway which are to be found in the same work, I was in hopes to have seen in the town some considerable remains of its former splendour, in spite of a warning to the contrary which the learned historiographer gives.

a By the help of an Alexandrine, the names of these famous families may also be accommodated to verse.

“Athey, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Deane, Dorsey, Frinche.

Joyce, Morech, Skereth, Foote, Kirowan, Martin, Roche.”

b If the rude old verses are not very remarkable in quality, in quantity they are sill more deficient, and take some dire liberties with the laws laid  down in the Gradus and the Grammar:]

“Septem ornant montes Romam, sept ostia Nilum

Tot rutilis stellis splendet in axe Pollus.

Galvia, Polo Niloque bis aequas. Roma Conachtae,

Bis septem illultres has colit illa tribus.

Bis urbis septem defendunt moenia turres,

Intus et en duro est marmore quaeque domus.

Bis septem portae sunt, castra et culmina circum,

Per totidem pontum unda vias.

Principle bis septem fulgent altaria templo,

Quaevis patronae est ara dicata suo,

Et septem sacrata Deo coenobia, patrum

Foeminei et sexus, tot pia tecta tenet.”

The old city certainly has some relics of its former stateliness; and indeed, is the only town in Ireland I have seen, where an antiquary can find much subject for study, or a lover of the picturesque an occasion for using his pencil. It is a wild, fierce, and most original old town. Joyce’s Castle in one of the principal streets, a huge square grey tower, with many carvings and ornaments, is a gallant relic of its old days of prosperity, and gives one an awful idea of the tenements which the other families inhabited, and which are designed in the interesting plate which Mr. Hardiman gives in his work. The Collegiate Church, too, is still extant, without its fourteen altars, and looks to be something between a church and a castle, and as if it should be served by Templars with sword and helmet in place of mitre and crozier. The old houses in the Main Street are like fortresses the windows look into a court within; there is but a small low door, and a few grim windows peering suspiciously into the street.

Then there is Lombard Street otherwise called Deadman’s Lane, with a raw-head and cross-bones and a “memento mori” over the door where the dreadful tragedy of the Lynches was acted in 1493. If Galway is the Rome of Connaught, James Lynch Fitzstephen, the Mayor, may be considered as the Lucius Junius Brutus thereof. Lynch had a son who went to Spain as master of one of his father’s ships, and being of an extravagant, wild turn, there contracted debts, and drew bills, and alarmed his father’s correspondent, who sent a clerk and nephew of his own back in young Lynch’s ship to Galway to settle accounts. On the fifteenth day, young Lynch threw the Spaniard overboard. Coming back to his own country, he reformed his life a little, and was on the point of marrying one of the Blakes, Burkes, Bodkins, or others, when a seaman who had sailed with him, being on the point of death, confessed the murder in which he had been a participator.

Hereon the father, who was chief magistrate of the town, tried his son, and sentenced him to death; and when the clan Lynch rose in a body to rescue the young man, and avert such a disgrace from their family, it is said that Fitzstephen Lynch hung the culprit with his own hand. A tragedy called “The Warden of Galway” has been written on the subject, and was acted a few nights before my arrival.

The waters of Lough Corrib, which “permeate” under the bridges of the town, go rushing and roaring to the sea with a noise and eagerness only known in Galway; and along the banks you see all sorts of strange figures washing all sorts of wonderful rags, with red petticoats and redder shanks standing in the stream. Pigs are in every street: the whole town shrieks with them. There are numbers of idlers on the bridges, thousands in the streets, humming and swarming in and out of dark old ruinous houses; congregated round numberless apple-stalls, nail-stalls, bottle-stalls, pigsfoot-stalls; in queer old shops, that look to be two centuries old; loitering about warehouses, ruined or not; looking at the washerwomen washing in the river, or at the fish-donkeys, or at the potato-stalls, or at a vessel coming into the quay, or at the boats putting out to sea.

The boat at the quay, by the little old gate, is bound for Arranmore; and one next to it has a freight of passengers for the cliffs of Mohir on the Clare coast; and as the sketch is taken, a hundred of people have stopped in the street to look on, and are buzzing behind in Irish, telling the little boys in that language — who will persist in placing themselves exactly in the front of the designer — to get out of his way: which they do for some time; but at length curiosity is so intense that you are entirely hemmed in and the view rendered quite invisible. A sailor’s wife comes up — who speaks English — with a very wistful face, and begins to hint that them black pictures are very bad likenesses, and very dear too for a poor woman, and how much would a painted one cost does his honour think? And she has her husband that is going to sea to the West Indies to-morrow, and she’d give anything to have a picture of him. So I made bold to offer to take his likeness for nothing. But he never came, except, one day at dinner, and not at all on the next day, though I stayed on purpose to accommodate him. It is true that it was pouring with rain; and as English waterproof cloaks are not waterproof in Ireland, the traveller who has but one coat must of necessity respect it, and had better stay where he is, unless he prefers to go to bed while he has his clothes dried at the next stage.

The houses in the fashionable street where the club-house stands (a strong building, with an agreeable Old Bailey look,) have the appearance of so many little Newgates. The Catholic chapels are numerous, unfinished, and ugly. Great warehouses and mills rise up by the stream, or in the midst of unfinished streets here and there; and handsome convents with their gardens, justice-houses, barracks, and hospitals adorn the large, poor, bustling, rough-and-ready-looking town. A man who sells hunting-whips, gunpowder, guns, fishing-tackle, and brass and iron ware, has a few books on his counter; and a lady in a bystreet, who carries on the profession of a milliner, ekes out her stock in a similar way. But there were no regular book-shops that I saw, and when it came on to rain I had no resource but the hedge-school volumes again. They, like Patrick Spelman’s sign, present some very rude flowers of poetry and “entertainment” of an exceeding humble sort; but such shelter is not to be despised when no better is to be had: nay, possibly its novelty may be piquant to some readers, as an admirer of Shakspeare will occasionally condescend to listen to Mr. Punch, or an epicure to content himself with a homely dish of beans and bacon.

When Mr. Kilroy’s waiter has drawn the window-curtains, brought the hot-water for the whiskey-negus, a pipe and a “screw” of tobacco, and two huge old candlesticks that were plated once, the audience may be said to be assembled, and after a little overture performed on the pipe, the second night’s entertainment begins with the historical tragedy of the “Battle of Aughrim.”

Though it has found its way to the West of Ireland, the “Battle of Aughrim” is evidently by a Protestant author, a great enemy of popery and wooden shoes: both of which principles incarnate in the person of Saint Ruth, the French General commanding the troops sent by Louis XIV. to the aid of James II., meet with a woeful downfall at the conclusion of the piece. It must have been written in the reign of Queen Anne, judging from some loyal compliments which are paid to that sovereign in the play; which is also modelled upon “Cato.”

The “Battle of Aughrim” is written from beginning to end in decasyllabic verse of the richest sort; and introduces us to the chiefs of William’s and James’s armies. On the English side we have Baron Ginkell, three Generals, and two Colonels; on the Irish Monsieur Saint Ruth, two Generals, two Colonels, and an English gentleman of fortune, a volunteer, and son of no less a person than Sir Edmundbury Godfrey.

There are two ladies — Jemima, the Irish Colonel Talbot’s daughter, in love with Godfrey; and Lucinda, lady of Colonel Herbert, in love with her lord. And the deep nature of the tragedy may be imagined when it is stated that Colonel Talbot is killed, Colonel Herbert is killed, Sir Charles Godfrey is killed, and Jemima commits suicide, as resolved not to survive her adorer. St. Ruth is also killed, and the remaining Irish heroes are taken prisoners or run away. Among the supernumeraries there is likewise a dreadful slaughter.

The author, however, though a Protestant is an Irishman (there are peculiarities in his pronunciation which belong only to that nation), and as far as courage goes, he allows the two parties to be pretty equal. The scene opens with a martial sound of kettle-drums and trumpets in the Irish camp, near Athlone. That town is besieged by Ginkell, and Monsieur St Ruth (despising his enemy with a confidence often fatal to Generals) meditates an attack on the besiegers’ lines, if, by any chance, the besieged garrison be not in a condition to drive them off. After discoursing on the posture of affairs, and letting General Sarsfield and Colonel O’Neil know his hearty contempt of the English and their General, all parties, after protestations of patriotism, indulge in hopes of the downfall of William. St. Ruth says he will drive the wolves and lions’ cubs away. O’Neil declares he scorns the revolution, and, like great Cato, smiles at persecution. Sarsfield longs for the day “when our Monks and Jesuits shall return, and holy incense on our altars burn.” When

Enter a Post.

“Post. With important news I from Athlone am sent,

Be pleased to lead me to the General’s tent.

“Sars. Behold the General there. Your message tell.

“St. Ruth. Declare your message. Are our friends all well?

“Post Pardon me, sir, the fatal news I bring

Like vulture’s poison every heart shall sting.

Athlone is lost without your timely aid.

At six this morning an assault was made,

When, under shelter of the British cannon,

Their grenadiers in armour took the Shannon,

Led by brave captain Sandys, who with fame

Plunged to his middle in the rapid stream.

He led them through, and with undaunted ire

He gained the bank in spite of all our fire

Being bravely followed by his grenadiers

Though bullets flew like hail about their ears,

And by this time they enter uncontrolled.

St Ruth. Dare all the force of England be so bold

To attempt to storm so brave a town, when I

With all Hibernia’s sons of war am nigh?

Return: and if the Britons dare pursue,

Tell them St. Ruth is near, and that will do.

“Post Your aid would do much better than your name.

St Ruth. Bear back this answer, friend, from whence you came.

[Exit Post."]

The picture of brave Sandys, “who with fame plunged to his middle in the rapid strame,” is not a bad image on the part of the Post; and St. Ruth’s reply, “Tell them St. Ruth is near, and that will do,” characteristic of the vanity of his nation. But Sarsfield knows Britons better, and pays a merited compliment to their valor:

“Sars. Send speedy succours and their fate prevent

You know not yet what Britons dare attempt.

I know the English fortitude is such,

To boast of nothing, though they hazard much

No force on earth their fury can repel,

Nor would they fly from all the devils in hell.”

Another officer arrives: Athlone is really taken, St: Ruth gives orders to retreat to Aughrim, and Sarsfield, in a rage, first challenges him, and then vows he will quit the army. “A gleam of horror does my vitals damp,“ says the Frenchman (in a figure of speech more remarkable for vigour than logic): “I fear Lord Lucan his forsook the camp!” But not so: after a momentary indignation, Sarsfield returns to his duty, and ere long is reconciled with his vain and vacillating chief.

And now the love-intrigue begins. Godfrey enters, and states Sir Charles Godfrey is his lawful name: he is an Englishman, and was on his way to join Ginckle’s camp, when Jemima’s beauty overcame him: he asks Colonel Talbot to bestow on him the lady’s hand. The Colonel consents, and in Act II., on the plain of Aughrim, at 5 o’clock in the morning, Jemima enters and proclaims her love. The lovers have an interview, which concludes by a mutual confession of attachment, and Jemima says, “Here, take my hand. ’Tis true the gift is small, but when I can I’ll give you heart and all.” The lines show finely the agitation of the young person. She meant to say, Take my heart but she is longing to be married to him, and the words slip out as it were unawares. Godfrey cries in raptures-

“Thanks to the gods! who such a present gave:

Such radiant graces ne’er could man receive (resave)

For who on earth has e’er such transports known?

What is the Turkish monarch on his throne,

Hemmed round with rusty swords in pompous state?

Amidst his court no joys can be so great.

Retire with me, my soul, no longer stay

In public view! the General moves this way.”

’Tis, indeed, the General; who, reconciled with Sarsfield, straightway, according to his custom, begins to boast about what he will do:—

“Thrice welcome to my heart, thou best of friends!

The rock on which our holy faith depends!

May this our meeting as a tempest make

The vast foundations of Britannia shake,

Tear up their orange plant, and overwhelm

The strongest bulwarks of the British realm I

Then shall the Dutch and Hanoverian fall,

And James shall ride in triumph to Whitehall;

Then to protect our faith he will maintain

An inquisition here like that in Spain.

“Sars. Most bravely urged, my lord! your skill, I own.

Would be unparalleled — had you saved Athlone.

- “Had you saved Athlone!” Sarsfield has him there. And the contest of words might have provoked quarrels still more fatal, but alarms are heard: the battle begins, and St. Ruth (still confident) goes to meet the enemy, exclaiming, “Athlone was sweet, but Aughrim shall be sour.” The fury of the Irish is redoubled on hearing of Talbot’s heroic death: the Colonel’s corpse is presently brought in, and to it enters Jemima who bewails her loss in the following pathetic terms:—

“Jemima. Oh! — he is dead! — my soul is all on fire.

Witness ye gods! — he did with fame expire.

For Liberty a sacrifice was made,

And fell, like Pompey, by some villian’s blade.

There lies a breathless Corpse, whose soul ne’er knew

A thought but what was always just and true;

Look down from heaven, God of peace and love,

Waft him with triumph to the throne above;

And, O ye winged guardians of the skies

Tune your sweet harps and sing his obsequies!

Good friends, stand off — whilst I embrace the ground

Whereon he lies — and bathe each mortal wound

With brinish tears, that like to torrents run

From these sad eyes. O heavens! I’m undone.

[Falls down on the body.

Enter Sir Charles Godfrey. He raises her.

“Sir Char. Why do these precious eyes like fountains flow,

To drown the radiant heaven that lies below’

Dry up your tears, I trust his soul ere this
Has reached the mansions of eternal bliss.

Soldiers I bear hence the body out of sight.

[They bear him of.

“Jem. Oh, stay-ye murderers, cease to kill me quite;

See how he glares -and see again he flies

The clouds fly open, and he mounts the skies.

Oh I see his blood, it shines refulgent bright,

I see him yet — I cannot lose him quite,

But still pursue him on — and — lose my sight.”

The gradual disappearance of the Colonel’s soul is now finely indicated, and so is her grief: when showing the body to Sir Charles, she says, “Behold the mangled cause of all my woes.” The sorrow of youth, however, is but transitory; and when her lover bids her dry her gushish tears, she takes out her pocket-handkerchief with the elasticity of youth, and consoles herself for the father in the husband.

Act III. represents the English camp: Ginckle and his Generals discourse; the armies are engaged. In Act IV. the English are worsted in spite of their valour; which Sarsfield greatly describes. “View,” says he -

“view how the foe like an impetuous flood

Breaks through the smoke, the water, and — the mud!”

It becomes exceedingly hot. Colonel Earles says-

“In vain Jove’s lightnings issue from the sky,

For death more sure from British ensigns fly.

Their messengers of death much blood have spilled,

And full three hundred of the Irish killed.”

A description of war (Herbert):—

“Now bloody colours wave in all their pride,

And each Proud hero does his beast bestride.

General Dorrington’s description of the fight is, if possible, still more noble:

“Dor. Haste, noble friends, and save your lives by flight,

For ’tis but madness if you stand to fight.

Ourr cavalry the battle have forsook,

And death appears in each dejected look;

Nothing but dread confusion can be seen,

For severed heads and trunks o’erspread the green;

The fields, the vales, the hills, and vanquished plain,

For five miles round are covered with the slain.

Death in each quarter does the eye alarm,

Here lies a leg, and there a shattered arm.

There heads appear, which, cloven by mighty bangs,

And severed quite, on either shoulder hangs:

This is the awful scene, my lords. Oh, fly

The impending danger, for your fate is nigh.”

Which party, however, is to win — the Irish or English? Their heroism is equal, and young Godfrey especially, on the Irish side, is carrying all before him — when he is interrupted in the slaughter by the ghost of his father: of old Sir Edmundbury, whose monument we may see in Westminster Abbey. Sir Charles, at first, doubts about the genuineness of this venerable old apparition; and thus puts a case to the ghost:—

“Were ghosts in heaven, in heaven they there would stay

Or if in hell, they could not get away.

A clincher, certainly, as one would imagine; but the ghost jumps over the horns of the fancied dilemma, by saying that lit is not at liberty to state where he comes from.

“Ghost. Where visions rest, or souls imprisoned dwell,

By heaven’s command. we are forbid to tell;

But in the obscure grave — where corpse decay,

Moulder in dust and putrefy away, -

No rest is there for the immortal soul

Takes its full flight and flutters round the Pole;

Sometimes I hover over the Euxine sea -

From Pole to Sphere, until the judgment day -

Over the Thracian Bosphorus do I float,

And pass the Stygian lake in Charon’s boat,

O’er Vulcan’s fiery court and sulph’rous cave,

And ride like Neptune on a briny wave;

List to the blowing noise of Etna’s flames,

And court the shades of Amazonian dames;

Then take thy flight up to the gleamy moon:

Thus do I wander until the day of doom.

Proceed I dare not, or I would unfold

A horrid tale would make your blood run cold,

Chill all your nerves and sinews in a trice

Like whispering rivulets congealed to ice.

Sir Char. Ere you depart me, ghost, I here demand

You’d let me know your last divine command!

The ghost says that the young man must die in the battle; that it will go ill for him if he die in the wrong cause; and, therefore, that he had best go over to the Protestants — which poor Sir Charles (not without many sighs for Jemima) consents to do. He goes off then, saying-

“I’ll join my countrymen, and yet proclaim

Nassau’s great title to the crimson plain.”

In Act V., that desertion turns the fate of the day. Sarsfield enters with his sword drawn, and acknowledges his fate. “Aughrim,” exclaims Lord Lucan,

“Aughrim is now no more, St. Ruth is dead,

And all his guards are from the battle fled,

As he rode down the hill he met his fall,

And died a victim to a cannon ball.”

And he bids the Frenchman’s body to

“ — lie like Pompey in his gore,

Whose hero’s blood encircles the Egyptian shore.”

“Four hundred Irish prisoners we have got,” exclaims an English Genera!, “and seven thousand lyeth on the spot.” In fact, they are entirely discomfited, and retreat off the stage altogether; while, in the moment of victory, poor Sir Charles Godfrey enters, Wounded to death, according to the old gentleman’s prophecy. He is racked by bitter remorse: he tells his love of his treachery, and declares “no crocodile was ever more unjust.” His agony increases, the “optic nerves grow dim and lose their sight, and all his veins are now exhausted quite;” and he dies in the arms of his Jemima, who stabs herself in the usual way.

And so every one being disposed, of the drums and trumpets give a great peal, the audience huzzas, and the curtain falls on Ginckle and his friends exclaiming-

“May all the gods th’ Suspicious evening bless,

Who crowns Great Britain’s arrums with success I ”

And questioning the prosody, what Englishman will not join in the sentiment.

In the interlude the band (the pipe) performs a favourite air. Jack the waiter and candle-snuffer looks to see that all is ready; and after the dire business of the tragedy, comes in to sprinkle the stage with water (and perhaps a little whiskey in it). Thus all things being arranged, the audience takes its seat again and the afterpiece begins.

Two of the little yellow voumes purchased at Ennis are entitled “The Irish and Hibernian Tales.” The former are modern, and the latter of an ancient sort; and so great is the superiority of the old stories over the new, in fancy, dramatic interest, and humour, that one can’t help fancying Hibernia must have been a very superior country to Ireland.

These Hibernian novels, too, are evidently intended for the hedge-school universities. They have the old tricks and some of the old plots that one has read in many popular legends of almost all countries, European and Eastern: successful cunning is the great virtue applauded; and the heroes pass through a thousand wild extravagant dangers, such as could only have been invented when art was young and faith was large. And as the honest old author of the tales says “they are suited to the meanest as well as the highest capacity, tending both to improve the fancy and enrich the mind,” let us conclude the night’s entertainment by reading one or two of them; and reposing after the doleful tragedy which has been represented. The “Black Thief “ is worthy of the Arabian Nights, I think, — as wild and odd as an Eastern tale.

It begins, as usual, with a King and Queen who lived once on a time in the South of Ireland, and had three sons; but the Queen being on her death-bed, and fancying her husband might marry again, and unwilling that her children should be under the jurisdiction of any other woman, besought his Majesty to place them in a tower at her death, and keep them there safe until the young Princes should come of age.

The Queen dies: the King of course marries again, and the new Queen, who bears a son too, hates the offspring of the former marriage, and looks about for means to destroy them.

“At length the Queen, having got some business with the hen-wife, went herself to her, and after a long conference passed, was taking leave of her, when the hen-wife prayed that if ever she should come back to her again she might break her neck.

The Queen, greatly incensed at such a daring insult from one of her meanest subjects, to make such a prayer on her, demanded immediately the reason, or she would have her put to death. ‘It is worth your while, madam,’ says the hen-wife, ‘to pay me well for it, for the reason I prayed so on you concerns you much.’ ‘What must I pay you?’ asked the Queen. ‘You must give me,’ says she ‘the full of a pack of wool: and I have an ancient crock which you must fill with butter; likewise a barrel which you must fill for me full of wheat.’ ‘How much wool will it take to the pack?’ says the Queen. ‘It will take seven herds of sheep,’ said she, ‘and their increase for seven years.’ ‘How much butter will it take to fill your crock?’ ‘Seven dairies,’ said she, ‘and the increase for seven years.’ ‘And how much will it take to fill the barrel you have?’ says the Queen. ‘It will take the increase of seven barrels of wheat for seven years.’ ‘That is a great quantity,’ says the Queen, ‘but the reason must be extraordinary, and before I want it I will give you all you demand."’

The hen-wife acquaints the Queen with the existence of the three sons, and giving her Majesty an enchanted pack of cards, bids her to get the young men to play with her with these cards, and on their losing, to inflict upon them such a task as must infallibly end in their ruin. All young princes are set upon such tasks, and it is a sort of opening of the pantomime, before the tricks and activity begin. The Queen went home, and “got speaking” to the King “in regard of his children, and she broke it off to him in a very polite and engaging manner, so that he could see no muster or design in it.” The King agreed to bring his sons to court, and at night, when the royal party “began to sport, and play at all kinds of diversions,” the Queen cunningly challenged the three Princes to play cards. They lose, and she sends them in consequence to bring her back the Knight of the Glen’s wild steed of bells.

On their road (as wandering young princes, Indian or Irish, always do) they meet with the Black Thief of Sloan, who tells them what they must do. But they are caught in the attempt, and brought “into that dismal part of the palace where the Knight kept a furnace always boiling, in which he threw all offenders that ever came in his way, which in a few minutes would entirely consume them. ‘Audacious villains!’ says the Knight of the Glen, ‘how dare you attempt so bold an action as to steal my steed? see now the reward of your folly: for your greater punishment, I will not boil you altogether, but one after the other, so that he that survives may witness the dire afflictions of his unfortunate companions.’ So saying, he ordered his servants to stir up the fire. ‘We wilt boil the eldest-looking of these young men first,’ says he, ‘and so on to the last, which will be this old champion with the black cap. He seems to be the captain, and looks as if he had come through many toils,’ —’ I was as near death once as this Prince is yet,’ says the Black Thief, ‘and escaped: and so will he too.’ ‘No, you never were,’ said the Knight, ‘for he is within two or three minutes of his latter end.’ ‘But,’ says the Black Thief, ‘I was within one moment of my death, and I am here yet.’ ‘How was that?’ says the Knight. ‘I would be glad to hear it, for it seems to be impossible.’ ‘If you think, Sir Knight,’ says the Black Thief, ‘that the danger I was in surpassed that of this young man, will you pardon him his crime?’ ‘I will,’ says the Knight, ‘so go on with your story.’

“‘I was, sir,’ says he, ‘a very wild boy in my youth, and came through many distresses: once in particular, as I was on my rambling, I was benighted, and could find no lodging. At length I came to an old kiln, and being much fatigued, I went up and lay on the ribs. I had not been long there, when I saw three witches coming in with three bags of gold. Each put her bag of gold under her head as if to sleep. I heard the one say to the other that if the Black Thief came on them while they slept he would not leave them a penny. I found by their discourse that everybody had got my name into their mouth, though I kept silent as death during their discourse. At length they fell fast asleep, and then I stole softly down, and seeing some turf convenient, I placed one under each of their heads, and off I went with their gold as fast as I could.

‘I had not gone far,’ continued the Thief of Sloan, ‘until I saw a greyhound, a hare, and a hawk in pursuit of me, and began to think it must be the witches that had taken that metamorphosis, in order that I might not escape them unseen either by land or water. Seeing they did not appear in any formidable shape, I was more than once resolved to attack them, thinking that with my broadsword I could easily destroy them. But considering again that it was perhaps still in their power to become so, I gave over the attempt, and climbed with difficulty up a tree, bringing my sword in my hand, and all the gold along with me. However, when they came to the tree they found what I had done, and making further use of their hellish art, one of them was changed into a smith’s anvil, and another into a piece of iron, of which the third was soon made a hatchet. Having the hatchet made, she fell to cutting down the tree, and in the course of an hour it began to shake with me.’”

This is very good and original. The “boiling” is in the first fee-faw-fum style, and the old allusion to “the old champion in the black cap” has the real Ogresque humour. Nor is that simple contrivance of the honest witches without its charm: for if, instead of wasting their time, the one in turning herself into an anvil, the other into a piece of iron, and so hammering out a hatchet at considerable labour and expense — if either of them had turned herself into a hatchet at once, they might have chopped down the Black Thief before cock-crow, when they were obliged to fly off and leave him in possession of the bags of gold.

The eldest Prince is ransomed by the Knight of the Glen in consequence of this story and the second Prince escapes on account of the merit of a second story; but the great story of all is of course reserved for the youngest Prince.

“I was one day on my travels,” says the Black Thief, “and I came into a large forest, where I wandered a long time and could not get out of it. At length I came to a large castle, and fatigue obliged me to crawl into the same, where I found a young woman, and a child sitting on her knee and she crying. I asked her what made her cry, and where the lord of the castle was, for I wondered greatly that I saw no stir of servants or any person about the place. ‘It is well for you,’ says the woman, ‘that the lord of this castle is not at home at present; for he is a monstrous giant, with but one eye on his forehead, who lives on human flesh. He brought me this child,’ says she, — ‘I do not know where he got it — and ordered me to make it into a pie, and I cannot help crying at the command.’ I told her that if she knew of any place convenient that I could leave the child safely, I would do it, rather than it should be buried in the bowels of such a monster. She told of a house a distance off, where I would get a woman who would take care of it. ‘But what will I do in regard of the pie?’ ‘Cut a finger off it,’ said I, ‘and I will bring you in a young wild pig out of the forest, which you may dress as if it was the child, and put the finger in a certain place, that if the giant doubts anything about it, you may know where to turn it over at first, and when he sees it he will be fully satisfied that it is made of the child.’ She agreed to the plan I proposed; and, cutting off the child’s finger, by her direction I soon had it at the house she told me of and brought her the little pig in the place of it. She then made ready tbe pie; and, after eating and drinking heartily myself, I was just taking my leave of the young woman when we observed the giant coming through the castle-gates. ‘Lord bless me ‘ said she, ‘what will you do now? run away and lie down among the dead bodies that he has in the room’ (showing me the place), ‘and strip off your clothes that he may not know you from the rest if be has occasion to go that way.’ I took her advice, and laid myself down among the rest, as if dead, to see how he would behave. The first thing I heard was him calling for his pie. When she set it down before him, he swore it smelt like swine’s flesh; but, knowing where to find the finger, she immediately turned it up — which fairly convinced him of the contrary. The pie only served to sharpen his appetite, and I heard him sharpen his knife, and saying he must have a collop or two, for he was not near satisfied. But what was my terror when I heard the giant groping among the bodies, and, fancying myself, cut the half of my hip off, and took it with him to be roasted. You may be certain I was in great pain; but the fear of being killed prevented me from making any complaint. However, when he had eat all, he began to drink hot liquors in great abundance, so that in a short time he could not hold up his head, but threw himself on a large creel he had made for the purpose, and fell fast asleep. When ever I heard him snoring, bad as I was, I went up and caused the woman to bind my wound with a handkerchief; and taking the giant’s spit, I reddened it in the fire, and ran it through the eye, but was not able to kill him. However, I left the spit sticking in his head and took to my heels; but I soon found he was in pursuit of me, although blind; and, having an enchanted ring, he threw it at me, and it fell on my big toe and remained fastened to it. The giant then called to the ring, ‘Where it was?’ and to my great surprise it made him answer, ‘On my foot,’ and he, guided by the same, made a leap at me — which I had the good luck to observe, and fortunately escaped the danger. However, I found running was of no use in saving me as long as I had the ring on my foot; so I took my sword and cut off the toe it was fastened on, and threw both into a large fish-pond that was convenient. The giant called again to the ring, which, by the power of enchantment, always made answer; but he, not knowing what I had done, imagined it was still on some part of me, and made a violent leap to seize me — when he went into the pond over head and ears and was drowned. Now, Sir Knight,” said the Thief of Sloan, “you see what dangers I came through and always escaped; but indeed I am lame for want of my toe ever since.”

And now remains but one question to be answered, viz.:

How is the Black Thief himself to come off? This difficulty is solved in a very dramatic way and with a sudden turn in the narrative that is very wild and curious.

“My lord and master,” says an old woman that was listening all the time, “that story is but too true, as I well know for I am the very woman that was in the giant’s castle, and you, my lord, the child that I was to make into a pie; and this is the very man that saved your life, which you may know by the want of your finger that was taken off, as you have heard, to deceive the giant.”

That fantastical way of bearing testimony to the previous tale, by producing an old woman who says the tale is not only true, but she was the very old woman who lived in the giant’s castle, is almost a stroke of genius. It is fine to think that the simple chronicler found it necessary to have a proof for his story, and he was no doubt perfectly contented with the proof found.

“The Knight of the Glen, greatly surprised at what he had heard the old woman tell, and knowing he wanted his finger from his childhood, began to understand that the story was true enough. ‘And is this my dear deliverer?’ says he. ‘O brave fellow, I not only pardon you all, but I will keep you with myself while you live; where you shall feast like princes and have every attendance that I have myself.’ They all returned thanks on their knees, and the Black Thief told him the reason they attempted to steal the steed of bells, and the necessity they were under of going home. ‘Well,’ says the Knight of the Glen, ‘if that’s the case, I bestow you my steed rather than this brave fellow should die: so you may go when you please: only remember to call and see me betimes, that we may know each other well.’ They promised they would, and with great joy they set off for the King their father’s palace, and the Black Thief along with them. The wicked Queen was standing all this time on the tower, and hearing the bells ringing at a great distance off, knew very well it was the Princes coming home, and the steed with them, and through spite and vexation precipitated herself from the tower and was shattered to pieces. The three Princes lived happy and well during their father’s reign, always keeping the Black Thief along with them; but how they did after the old King’s death is not known.”

Then we come upon a story that exists in many a European language — of the man cheating Death; then to the history of the Apprentice Thief, who of course cheated his masters: which, too, is an old tale, and may have been told very likely among those Phoenicians who were the fathers of the Hibernians, for whom these tales were devised. A very curious tale is there concerning Manus O’Malaghan and the Fairies:— “In the parish of Ahoghill lived Manus O’Malaghan. As he was searchingfor a calf that had strayed, he heard many people talking. Drawing near, he distinctly heard them repeating, one after the other, ‘Get me a horse, get me a horse;’ and ‘Get me a horse too,’ says Manus. Manus was instantly mounted on a steed, surrounded with a vast crowd, who galloped off, taking poor Manus with them. In a short time they suddenly stopped in a large wide street, asking Manus if he knew where he was? ‘Faith,’ says he, ‘I do not.’ ‘You are in Spain,’ said they.”

Here we have again the wild mixture of the positive and the fanciful. The chronicler is careful to tell us why Manus went out searching for a calf, and this positiveness prodigiously increases the reader’s wonder at the subsequent events. And the question and answer of the mysterious horsemen is fine:

“Don’t you know where you are? In Spain.” A vague solution, such as one has of occurrences in dreams sometimes.

The history of Robin the Blacksmith is full of these strange flights of poetry. He is followed about “by a little boy in a green jacket,” who performs the most wondrous feats of the blacksmith’s art, as follows:— “Robin was asked to do something, who wisely shifted it, saying he would be very sorry not to give the honour of the first trick to his lordship’s smith — at which the latter was called forth to the bellows. When the fire was well kindled, to the great surprise of all present, he blew a great shower of wheat out of the fire, which fell through all the shop. They then demanded of Robin to try what he could do. ‘Pho!’ said Robin, as if he thought nothing of what was done. ‘Come,’ said he to the boy, ‘I think I showed you something like that.’ The boy goes then to the bellows and blew out a great flock of pigeons, who soon devoured all the grain and then disappeared.

“The Dublin smith, sorely vexed that such a boy should outdo him, goes a second time to the bellows and blew a fine trout out of the hearth, who jumped into a little river that was running by the shop-door and was seen no more at that time.

“Robin then said to the boy, ‘Come, you must bring us yon trout back again, to let the gentlemen see we can do some-thing.’ Away the boy goes and blew a large otter out of the hearth, who immediately leaped into the river and in a short time returned with the trout in his mouth, and then disappeared. All present allowed that it was a folly to attempt a competition any further.”

The boy in the green jacket was one “of a kind of small beings called fairies;” and not a little does it add to the charm of these wild tales to feel, as one reads them, that the writer must have believed in his heart a great deal of what he told. You see the tremor as it were, and a wild look of the eyes, as the storyteller sits in his nook and recites, and peers wistfully round lest the beings he talks of be really at hand.

Let us give a couple of the little tales entire. They are not so fanciful as those before mentioned, but of the comic sort, and suited to the first kind of capacity mentioned by the author in his preface.

Donald and his Neighbours

“Hudden and Dudden and Donald O’Neary were near neighbours in the barony of Ballinconlig, and ploughed with three bullocks; but the two former, envying the present prosperity of the latter, determined to kill his bullock to prevent his farm being properly cultivated and laboured — that, going back in the world, he might be induced to sell his lands, which they meant to get possession of. Poor Donald, finding his bullock killed, immediately skinned it, and throwing the skin over his shoulder, with the fleshy side out, set off to the next town with it, to dispose of it to the best advantage. Going along the road a magpie flew on the top of the hide, and began picking it, chattering all the time. This bird had been taught to speak and imitate the human voice, and Donald, thinking he understood some words it was saying, put round his hand and caught hold of it. Having got possession of it, he put it under his great-coat, and so went on to the town. Having sold the hide, he went into an inn to take a dram; and, following the landlady into the cellar, he gave the bird a squeeze, which caused it to chatter some broken accents that surprised her very much. ‘What is that I hear?’ said she to Donald: ‘I think ‘it is talk, and yet I do not understand.’ ‘Indeed,’ said Donald, ‘it is a bird I have that tells me everything, and I always carry it with me to know when there is any danger. Faith,’ says he, ‘it says you have far better liquor than you are giving me.’ ‘That is strange,’ said she, going to another cask of better quality, and asking him if he would sell the bird. I will,’ said Donald, ‘if I get enough for it.’ ‘ I will fill your hat with silver if you leave it with me.’ Donald was glad to hear the news, and, taking the silver, set off, rejoicing at his good luck. He had not been long home when he met with Hudden and Dudden. ‘Ha!’ said he ‘you thought you did me a bad turn but you could not have done me a better for look here what I have got for the hide, showing them the hatful of silver. ‘You never saw such a demand for hides in your life as there is at present.’ Hudden and Dudden that very night killed their bullocks, and set out the next morning to sell their hides. On coming to the place they went to all the merchants, but could only get a trifle for them. At last they had to take what they could get, and came home in a great rage and vowing revenge on poor Donald. He had a pretty good guess how matters would turn out, and his bed being under the kitchen-window, he was afraid they would rob him, or perhaps kill him when he was asleep; and on that account, when he was going to bed he left his old mother in his bed, and lay down in her place which was in the other side of the house, and they, taking the old woman for Donald, choked her in the bed; but he making some noise, they had to retreat and leave the money behind them, which grieved them very much. However, by daybreak Donald got his mother on his back and carried her to town: Stopping at a well, he fixed his mother with her staff as if she was stooping for a drink, and then went into a public-house convenient and called for a dram. ‘I wish,’ said he to a woman that stood near him, you would tell my mother to come in. She is at yon well trying to get a drink, and she is hard in hearing: if she does not observe you give her a little shake, and tell her that I want her.’ The woman called her several times, but she seemed to take no notice: at length she went to her and shook her by the arm; but when she let her go again, she tumbled on her head into the well, and, as the woman thought, was drowned. She, in great fear and surprise at the accident, told Donald what had happened. ‘O mercy,’ said he, ‘what is this?’ He ran and pulled her out of the well, weeping and lamenting all the time, and acting in such a manner that you would imagine that he had lost his senses. The woman, on the other hand was far worse than Donald, for his grief was only feigned, but she imagined herself to be the cause of the old woman’s death. The inhabitants of the town, hearing what had happened, agreed to make Donald up a good sum of money for his loss, as the accident happened in their place; and Donald brought a greater sum home with him than he got for the magpie. They buried Donald’s mother; and as soon as he saw Hudden and Dudden, he showed them the last purse of money be had got. ‘You thought to kill me last night,’ said he, ‘but it was good for me it happened on my mother, for I got all that purse for her to make gunpowder.’

“That very night Hudden and Dudden killed their mothers, and the next morning set off with them to town. On coming to the town with their burdens on their backs, they went up and down crying, ‘Who will buy old wives for gunpowder?’ so that every one laughed at them, and the boys at last clodded them out of the place. They then saw the cheat, and vowing revenge on Donald, buried the old women and set off in pursuit of him. Coming to his house, they found him sitting at his breakfast, and seizing him, put him in a sack, and went to drown him in a river at some distance. As they were going along the highway they raised a hare, which they saw had but three feet, and throwing off the sack, ran after her, thinking by appearance she would be easily taken. In their absence there came a drover that way, and bearing Donald singing in the sack, wondered greatly what could be the matter. ‘What is the reason,’ said he, ‘that you are singing, and you confined?’ ‘O, I am going to heaven,’ said Donald ‘and in a short time I expect to be free from trouble.’ ‘Oh dear,’ said the drover, ‘what will I give you if you let me to your place?’ ‘Indeed I do not know,’ said he: ‘it would take a good sum.’ I have not much money said the drover; ‘but I have twenty head of fine cattle, which I will give you to exchange places with me.’ ‘Well well,’ says Donald, ‘I don’t care if I should: loose the sack and I will come out.’ In a moment the drover liberated him, and went into the sack himself and Donald drove home the fine heifers and left them in his pasture.

“Hudden and Dudden having caught the hare, returned, and getting the sack on one of their backs, carried Donald, as they thought, to the river, and threw him in, where he immediately sank. They then marched home, intending to take immediate possession of Donald’s property; but how great was their surprise, when they found him safe at home before them, with such a fine herd of cattle, whereas they knew he had none before? ‘Donald,’ said they, ‘what is all this! We thought you were drowned, and yet you are here before us?’ ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘if I had but help along with me when you threw me in, it would have been the best job ever I met with; for of all the sight of cattle and gold that ever was seen, is there, and no one to own them; but I was not able to manage more than you see, and I could show you the spot where you might get hundreds.’ They both swore they would be his friends, and Donald accordingly led them to a very deep part of the river, and lifting up a stone, ‘Now,’ said he, ‘watch this,’ throwing it into the stream. ‘There is the very place, and go in, one of you first, and if you want help you have nothing to do but call.’ Hudden jumping in, and sinking to the bottom, rose up again, and making a bubbling noise as those do that are drowning, seemed trying to speak but could not. ‘What is that he is saying now?’ says Dudden. ‘Faith,’ says Donald, he is calling for help — don’t you hear him? Stand about,’ continued he running back, ‘till I leap in. I know how to do better than any of you.’ Dudden, to have the advantage of him, jumped in off the bank, and was drowned along with Hudden. And that was the end of Hudden and Dudden.”

The Spaemen

“A poor man in the North of Ireland was under the necessity of selling his cow to help to support his family. Having sold his cow, he went into an inn and called for some liquor. Having drunk pretty heartily, he fell asleep, and when he awoke he found he had been robbed of his money. Poor Roger was at a loss to know how to act; and, as is often the case, when the landlord found that his money was gone, he turned him out of doors. The night was extremely dark, and the poor man was compelled to take up his lodging in an old uninhahited house at the end of the town.

“Roger had not remained long here until he was surprised by the noise of three men, whom he observed making a hole, and, having deposited something therein, closing it carefully up again and then going away. The next morning, as Roger was walking towards the town, he heard that a cloth shop had been robbed to a great amount, and that a reward of thirty pounds was offered to any person who could discover the thieves. This was joyful news to Roger, who recollected what he had been witness to the night before. He accordingly went to the shop and told the gentleman that for the reward he would recover the goods, and secure the robbers, provided he got six stout men to attend him. All which was thankfully granted him.

“At night Roger and his men concealed themselves in the old house, and in a short time after the robbers came to the spot for the purpose of removing their booty; but they were instantly seized and carried into the town prisoners, with the goods. Roger received the reward and returned home, well satisfied with his good luck. Not many days after, it was noised over the country that this robbery was discovered by the help of one of the best Spaemen to be found — insomuch that it reached the ears of a worthy gentleman of the county of Derry, who made strict inquiry to find him out. Having at length discovered his abode, he sent for Roger, and told him he was every day losing some valuable article, and as he was famed for discovering lost things, if he could find out the same, he should be handsomely rewarded. Poor Roger was put to a stand, not knowing what answer to make, as he had not the smallest knowledge of the like. But recovering himself a little, he resolved to humour the joke; and, thinking he would make a good dinner and some drink of it, told the gentleman he would try what he could do, but that be must have a room to himself for three hours, during which time he must have three bottles of strong ale and his dinner, All which the gentleman told him he should have. No sooner was it made known that the Spaeman was in the house than the servants were all in confusion, wishing to know what would be said.

“As soon as Roger had taken his dinner, he was shown into an elegant room, where the gentleman sent him a quart of ale by the butler. No sooner had he set down the ale than Roger said, ‘There comes one of them’ (intimating the bargain he had made with the gentleman for the three quarts), which the butler took in a wrong light and imagined it was himself. He went away in great confusion and told his wife. ‘Poor fool,’ said she, ‘the fear makes you think it is you he means; but I will attend in your place, and hear what he will say to me.’ Accordingly she carried the second quart: but no sooner had she opened the door than Roger cried, ‘There comes two of them.’ The woman, no less surprised than her husband, told him the Spaeman knew her too. ‘And what will we do?’ said he. ‘We will be hanged.’ ‘I will tell you what we must do,’ said she: ‘we must send the groom the next time; and if he is known, we must offer him a good sum not to discover on us.’ The butler went to William and told him the whole story, and that he must go next to see what the Spaeman would say to him, telling him at the same time what to do in case he was known also. When the hour was expired, William was sent with the third quart of ale — which when Roger observed, he cried out, ‘There is the third and last of them!’ At which the groom changed colour, and told him ‘that if he would not discover on them, they would show him where the goods were all concealed and give him five pounds besides.’ Roger, not a little surprised at the discovery he had made, told him ‘if be recovered the goods, he would follow them no further.’

“By this time the gentleman called Roger to know how he had succeeded. He told him ‘he could find the goods, but that the thief was gone.’ ‘I will be well satisfied,’ said he, ‘with the goods, for some of them are very valuable.’ Let the butler come along with me, and the whole shall be recovered.’ Roger was accordingly conducted to the back of the stables, where the articles were concealed, — such as silver cups, spoons, bowls, knives, forks, and a variety of other articles of great value.

“When the supposed Spaemen brought back the stolen goods, the gentleman was so highly pleased with Roger that he insisted on his remaining with him always, as he supposed he would be perfectly safe as long as he was about his house. Roger gladly embraced the offer, and in a few days took possession of a piece of land which the gentleman had given to him in consideration of his great abilities.

“Some time after this the gentleman was relating to a large company the discovery Roger had made, and that he coud tell anything. One of the gentlemen said he would dress a dish of meat, and bet fifty pounds that he could not tell what was in it, though he would allow him to taste it. The bet being taken and the dish dressed, the gentleman sent for Roger and told him the bet that was depending on him. Poor Rgrer did not know what to do; but at last he consented to the trial. The dish being produced, he tasted it but could not tell what it was. At last seeing he was fairly beat, ‘he said, ‘Gentlemen, it is folly to talk: the fox may run a while, but he is caught at last,’ — allowing with himself that he was found out. The gentleman that had made the bet then confessed that it was a fox he had dressed in the dish: at which they all shouted out in favour of the Spaeman, — particularly his master, who had more confidence in him than ever.

“Roger then went home and so famous did he become, that no one dared take anything but what belonged to them, fearing that the Spaeman would discover on them.

*

And so we shut up the Hedge-school Library, and close the Galway Night’s Entertainments. They are not quite so genteel as Almack’s to be sure; but many a lady who has her opera box in London has listened to a piper in Ireland.

Perhaps the above verses and tales are not unlike my little Galway musician. They are grotesque and rugged; but they are pretty and innocent-hearted too; and as such, polite persons may deign to look at them for once in a way. While we have Signor Costa in a white neck-cloth ordering opera-bands to play for us the music of Donizetti, which is not only sublime but genteel: of course such poor little operatives as he who plays the wind instrument yonder cannot expect to be heard often. But is not this Galway? and how far is Galway from the Haymarket?

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/irish/chapter16.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07