The Irish Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Pattern at Croaghpatrick.

On the Pattern day, however, the washerwomen and children had all disappeared-nay, the stream, too, seemed to be gone out of town. There was a report current, also, that on the occasion of the Pattern, six hundred teetotallers had sworn to revolt; and I fear that it was the hope of witnessing this awful rebellion which induced me to stay a couple of days at Westport. The Pattern was commenced on the Sunday, and the priests going up to the mountain took care that there should be no sports nor dancing on that day but that the people should only content themselves with the performance of what are called religious duties. Religious duties! Heaven help us! If these reverend gentlemen were worshippers of Moloch or Baal, or any deity whose honour demanded bloodshed, and savage rites, and degradation, and torture, one might fancy them encouraging the people to the disgusting penances the poor things here perform. But it’s too hard to think that in our days any priests of any religion should be found superintending such a hideous series of self-sacrifices as are, it appears, performed on this hill.

A friend who ascended the hill brought down the following account of it. The ascent is a very steep and hard one, he says; but it was performed in company of thousands of people who were making their way barefoot to the several “stations” upon the hill.

“The first station consists of one heap of stones, round which they must walk seven times, casting a stone on the heap each time, and before and after every stone’s throw saying a prayer.

“The second station is on the top of the mountain. Here there is a great altar — a shapeless heap of stones. The poor wretches crawl on their knees into this place, say fifteen prayers, and after going round the entire top of the mountain fifteen times, say fifteen prayers again.

“The third station is near the bottom of the mountain at the further side from Westport. It consists of three heaps. The penitents must go seven times round these collectively, and seven times afterwards round each individually, saying a prayer before and after each progress.”

My informant describes the people as coming away from this “frightful exhibition suffering severe pain, wounded and bleeding in the knees and feet, and some of the women shrieking with the pain of their wounds.” Fancy thousands of these bent upon their work, and priests standing by to encourage them! — For shame, for shame. If all the popes, cardinals, bishops, hermits, priests, and deacons that ever lived were to come forward and preach this as a truth — that to please God you must macerate your body, that the sight of your agonies is welcome to Him, and that your blood, groans, and degradation find favour in His eyes, I would not believe them. Better have over a company of Fakeers at once, and set the Suttee going.

Of these tortures, however, I had not the fortune to witness a sight: for going towards the mountain for the first four miles, the only conveyance I could find was half the pony of an honest sailor, who said, when applied to, “I tell you what I do wid you: I give you a spell about.” But, as it turned out we were going different ways, this help was but a small one. A car with a spare seat, however, (there were hundreds of others quite full, and scores of rattling country-carts covered with people, and thousands of bare legs trudging along the road,) — a car with a spare seat passed by at two miles from the Pattern, and that just in time to get comfortably wet through on arriving there. The whole mountain was enveloped in mist; and we could nowhere see thirty yards before us. The women walked forward, with their gowns over their heads; the men sauntered on in the rain, with the utmost indifference to it. The car presently came to a cottage, the court in front of which was black with two hundred horses, and where as many drivers were jangling and bawling; and here we were told to descend. You had to go over a wall and across a brook, and behold the Pattern.

The pleasures of the poor people — for after the business on, the mountain came the dancing and love-making at its foot — were woefully spoiled by the rain, which rendered dancing on the grass impossible; nor were the tents big enough for that exercise. Indeed, the whole sight was as dismal and half savage a one as I have seen. There may have been fifty of these tents squatted round a plain of the most brilliant green grass, behind which the mist-curtains seemed to rise immediately; for you could not even see the mountain-side beyond them. Here was a great crowd of men and women, all ugly, as the fortune of the day would have it (for the sagacious reader has, no doubt, remarked that there are ugly and pretty days in life). Stalls were spread about, whereof the owners were shrieking out the praises of their wares-great coarse damp-looking bannocks of bread for the most part, or, mayhap, a dirty collection of pigsfeet and such refreshments. Several of the booths professed to belong to “confectioners” from Westport or Castlebar, the confectionery consisting of huge biscuits and doubtful-looking ginger — beer-ginger-ale or gingeretta it is called in this country, by a fanciful people who love the finest titles. Add to these, cauldrons containing water for “tay” at the doors of the booths, other pots full of masses of pale legs of mutton (the owner “prodding,” every now and then, for a bit, and holding it up and asking the passenger to buy). In the booths it was impossible to stand upright, or to see much, on account of smoke. Men and women were crowded in these rude tents, huddled together, and disappearing in the darkness. Owners came bustling out to replenish the empty ‘water-jugs: and landladies stood outside in the rain calling strenuously upon all passers-by to enter.

Meanwhile, high up on the invisible mountain, the people were dragging their bleeding knees from altar to altar, flinging stones, and muttering some endless litanies, with the priests standing by. I think I was not sorry that the rain, and the care of my precious health, prevented me from mounting a severe hill to witness a sight that could only have caused one to be shocked and ashamed that servants of God should encourage it. The road home was very pleasant; everybody was wet through, but everybody was happy, and by some miracle we were seven on the can There was the honest Englishman in the military cap, who sang, “The sea, the hopen sea’s my ome,” although not any one of the company called upon him for that air. Then the music was taken up by a good-natured lass from Castlebar; then the Englishman again, “With burnished brand and musketoon;” and there was no end of pushing, pinching, squeezing, and laughing. The Englishman, especially, had a favourite yell, with which he saluted and astonished all cottagers, passengers, cars, that we met or overtook. Presently came prancing by two dandies, who were especially frightened by the noise. “Thim’s two tailors from Westport,” said the carman, grinning with all his might. “Come, gat out of the way there, gat along!” piped a small English voice from above somewhere. I looked up, and saw a little creature perched on the top of a tandem, which he was driving with the most knowing air — a dreadful young hero, with a white hat, and a white face, and a blue bird’s -eye neck-cloth. He was five feet high, if an inch, an ensign, and sixteen; and it was a great comfort to think, in case of danger or riot, that one of his years and personal strength was at hand to give help.

“Thim’s the afficers,” said the carman, as the tandem wheeled by, a small groom quivering on behind-and the car-man spoke with the greatest respect this time. Two days before, on arriving at Westport, I had seen the same equipage at the door of the inn — where for a moment there happened to be no waiter to receive me. So, shouldering a carpet-bag, I walked into the inn-hall, and asked a gentleman standing there where was the coffee-room? It was the military tandem-driving youth, who with much grace looked up in my face, and said calmly, “I dawnt know.” I believe the little creature had just been dining in the very room — and so present my best compliments to him.

The Guide-book will inform the traveller of many a beautiful spot which lies in the neighbourhood of Westport, and which I had not time to visit; but I must not take leave of the excellent little inn without speaking once more of its extreme comfort; nor of the place itself, without another parting word regarding its beauty. It forms an event in one’s life to have seen that place, so beautiful is it, and so unlike all other beauties that I know of. Were such beauties lying upon English shores it would be a world’s wonder perhaps, if it were on the Mediterranean or the Baltic, English travellers would flock to it by hundreds; why not come and see it in Ireland! remote as the spot is, Westport is only two days’ journey from London now, and lies in a country far more strange to most travellers than France or Germany can be.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/thackeray/william_makepeace/irish/chapter21.html

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