When it is stated that, throughout the town of Galway, you cannot get a cigar which costs more than twopence, Londoners may imagine the strangeness and remoteness of the place. The rain poured down for two days after our arrival at “Kilroy’s Hotel.” An umbrella under such circumstances is a poor resource: self-contemplation is far more amusing; especially smoking, and a game at cards, if any one will be so good as to play.
But there was no one in the hotel coffee-room who was inclined for the sport. The company there, on the day of our arrival, consisted of two coach-passengers, — a Frenchman who came from Sligo, and ordered mutton-chops and fraid potatoes for dinner by himself, a turbot which cost two shillings, and in Billingsgate would have been worth a guinea, and a couple of native or inhabitant bachelors, who frequented the table d’hote.
By the way, besides these there were at dinner two turkeys (so that Mr. Kilroy’s two-shilling ordinary was by no means ill supplied); and, as a stranger, I had the honour of carving these animals, which were dispensed in rather a singular way. There are, as it is generally known, to two turkeys four wings. Of the four passengers, one ate no turkey, one had a pinion, another the remaining part of the wing, and the fourth gentleman took the other three wings for his share. Does everybody in Galway eat three wings when there are two turkeys for dinner? One has heard wonders of the country, — the dashing, daring, duelling, desperate, rollicking, whiskey-drinking people: but this wonder beats all. When I asked the Galway turkiphagus (there is no other word, for Turkey was invented long after Greece) “if he would take a third wing?” with a peculiar satiric accent on the words third wing, which cannot be expressed in writing, but which the occasion fully merited, I thought perhaps that, following the custom of the Country, where everybody, according to Maxwell and Lever, challenges everybody else, — I thought the Galwagian would call me out; but no such thing. He only said, “If you please, sir,” in the blandest way in the world; and gobbled up the limb in a twinkling.
As an encouragement, too, for persons meditating that important change of condition, the gentleman was a teetotaller: he took but one glass of water to that intolerable deal of bubblyjock. Galway must be very changed since the days when Maxwell and Lever knew it. Three turkey-wings and a glass of water! But the man cannot be the representative of “a class, that is clear: it is physically and arithmetically impossible. They can’t all eat three wings of two turkeys at dinner; the turkeys could not stand it, let alone the men. These wings must have been “non usitatae (nec tenues) pennae.” But no more of these flights; let us come to sober realities.
The fact is, that when the rain is pouring down in the streets the traveller has little else to remark except these peculiarities of his fellow-travellers and inn-sojourners; and, lest one should be led into further personalities, it is best to quit that water-drinking gormandiser at once, and retiring to a private apartment, to devote one’s self to quiet observation and the acquisition of knowledge, either by looking out of the window and examining mankind, or by perusing books, and so living with past heroes and ages.
As for the knowledge to be had by looking out of window, it is this evening not much. A great, wide, blank, bleak, water-whipped square lies before the bedroom window; at the opposite side of which is to be seen the opposition hotel, looking even more blank and cheerless than that over which Mr. Kilroy presides. Large dismal warehouses and private houses form three sides of the square; and in the midst is a bare pleasure-ground surrounded by a growth of gaunt iron-railings, the only plants seemingly in the place. Three triangular edifices that look somewhat like gibbets stand in the paved part of the square, but the victims that are consigned to their fate under these triangles are only potatoes, which are weighed there; and, in spite of the torrents of rain, a crowd of bare-footed, red-petticoated women, and men in grey coats and flower-pot hats, are pursuing their little bargains with the utmost calmness. The rain seems to make no impression on the males; nor do the women guard against it more than by flinging a petticoat over their heads, and so stand bargaining and chattering in Irish, their figures indefinitely reflected in the shining, varnished pavement. Donkeys and pony-carts innumerable stand around, similarly reflected; and in the baskets upon these vehicles you see shoals of herrings lying. After a short space this prospect becomes somewhat tedious, and one looks to other sources of consolation.
The eighteenpennyworth of little books purchased at Ennis in the morning came here most agreeably to my aid; and indeed they afford many a pleasant hour’s reading. Like the “Bibliotheque Grise,” which one sees in the French cottages in the provinces, and the German “Volksbucher,” both of which contain stores of old legends that are still treasured in the country, these yellow-covered books are prepared for the people chiefly; and have been sold for many long years before the march of knowledge began to banish Fancy out of the world, and gave us, in place of the old fairy tales, Penny Magazines and similar wholesome works. Where are the little harlequin-backed story-books that used to be read by children in England some thirty years ago? Where such authentic narratives as “Captain Bruce’s Travels,” “The Dreadful Adventures of Sawney Bean,” &c., which were commonly supplied to little boys at school by the same old lady who sold oranges and alycompayne? — they are all gone out of the world, and replaced by such books as “Conversations on Chemistry,” “The Little Geologist,” “Peter Parley’s Tales about the Binomial Theorem,” and the like. The world will be a dull world some hundreds of years hence when Fancy shall be dead, and ruthless Science (that has no more bowels than a steam-engine) has killed her.
It is a comfort, meanwhile, to come on occasions on some of the good old stories and biographies. These books were evidently written before the useful had attained its present detestable popularity. There is nothing useful here, that’s certain: and a man will be puzzled to extract a precise moral out of the “Adventures of Mr. James Freeny;” or out of the legends in the “Hibernian Tales;” or out of the lamentable tragedy of the “Battle of Aughrim,” writ in most doleful Anglo-Irish verse. But are we to reject all things that have pot a moral tacked to them? “Is there any moral shut within the bosom of the rose?” And yet as the same noble poet sings (giving a smart slap to the utility people the while), “useful applications lie in art and nature,” and every man may find a moral suited to his mind in them; or, if not a moral, an occasion for moralising.
Honest Freeny’s adventures (let us begin with history and historic tragedy, and leave fancy for future consideration), if they have a moral, have that dubious one which the poet admits may be elicited from a rose; and which every man may select according to his mind. And surely this is a far better and more comfortable system of moralising than that in the fable-books, where you are obliged to accept that story with the inevitable moral corollary that will stick close to it.
Whereas, in Freeny’s life, one man may see the evil of drinking, another the harm of horse-racing, another the danger attendant on early marriage, a fourth the exceeding inconvenience as well as hazard of the heroic highwayman’s life — which a certain Ainsworth, in company with a certain Cruikshank, has represented as so poetic and brilliant, so prodigal of delightful adventure, so adorned with champagne, gold-lace, and brocade.
And the best part of worthy Freeny’s tale is the noble naiveté and simplicity of the hero as he recounts his own adventures, and the utter uncsciousness that he is narrating anything wonderful. It is the way of all great men, who recite their great actions modestly, as if they were matters of course; as indeed to them they are. A common tyro, having perpetrated a great deed, would be amazed and flurried at his own action; whereas I make no doubt the Duke of Wellington, after a great victory, took his tea and went to bed just as quietly as he would after a dull debate in the House of Lords. And so with Freeny, — his great and charming characteristic is grave simplicity; he does his work; he knows his danger as well as another; but he goes through his fearful duty quite quietly and easily, and not with the least air of bravado, or the smallest notion that he is doing anything uncommon.
It is related of Carter, the Lion-King, that when he was a boy, and exceedingly fond of gingerbread-nuts, a relation gave him a parcel of those delicious cakes, which the child put in his pocket just as he was called on to go into a cage with a very large and roaring lion. He had to put his head into the forest-monarch’s jaws, and leave it there for a considerable time, to the delight of thousands: as is even now the case; and the interest was so much the greater, as the child was exceedingly innocent, rosy-checked, and pretty. To have seen that little flaxen head bitten off by the lion would have been a far more pathetic spectacle than that of the decapitation of some grey-bearded old unromantic keeper, who had served out raw meat and stirred up the animals with a pole any time these twenty years: and the interest rose in consequence.
While the little darling’s head was thus enjawed, what was the astonishment of everybody to see him put his hand into his little pocket, take out a paper — from the paper a gingerbread-nut — pop that gingerbread-nut into the lion’s mouth, then into his own, and so finish at least two-penny worth of nuts!
The excitement was delirious: the ladies, when he came out of chancery, were for doing what the lion had not done, and eating him up — with kisses. And the only remark the young hero made was, “Uncle, them nuts wasn’t so crisp as them I had t’other day.” He never thought of the danger, — he only thought of the nuts.
Thus is it with Freeny. It is fine to mark his bravery, and to see how he cracks his simple philosophic nuts in the jaws of innumerable lions.
At the commencement of the last century, honest Freeny’s father was house-steward in the family of Joseph Robbins, Esq., of Ballyduff; and, marrying Alice Phelan, a maid-servant in the same family, had issue James, the celebrated Irish hero. At a proper age James was put to school but being a nimble, active lad, and his father’s mistress taking a fancy to him, he was presently brought to Ballyduff, where she had a private tutor to instruct him during the time which he could spare from his professional duty, which was that of pantry-boy in Mr. Robbins’s establishment. At an early age he began to neglect his duty; and although his father, at the excellent Mrs. Robbins’s suggestion, corrected him very severely, the bent of his genius was not to be warped by the rod, and he attended “all the little country dances, diversions and meetings, and became what is called a good dancer; his own natural inclinations hurrying him” (as he finely says) “into the contrary diversions.”
He was scarce twenty years old when he married (a frightful proof of the wicked recklessness of his former courses), and set up in trade in Waterford; where, however, matters went so ill with him, that he was speedily without money, and 50l. in debt. He had, he says, not any way of paying the debt, except by selling his furniture or his riding-mare, to both of which measures he was averse: for where is the gentleman in Ireland that can do without a horse to ride? Mr. Freeny and his riding-mare became soon famous, insomuch that a thief in jail warned the magistrates of Kilkenny to beware of a one-eyed man with a mare.
These unhappy circumstances sent him on the highway to seek a maintenance, and his first exploit was to rob a gentle-man of fifty pounds; then he attacked another, against whom he “had a secret disgust because this gentleman had prevented his former master from giving him a suit of clothes!
Urged by a noble resentment against this gentleman, Mr. Freeny, in company with a friend by the name of Reddy, robbed the gentleman’s house, taking therein 70l. in money, which was honourably divided among the captors.
“We then,” continues Mr. Freeny, “quitted the house with the booty, and came to Thomastown; but not knowing how to dispose of the plate, left it with Reddy, who said he had a friend from whom he would get cash for it. In some time afterwards I asked him for the dividend of the cash he got for the plate, but all the satisfaction he gave me was, that it was lost, which occasioned me to have my own opinion of him.”
Mr. Freeny then robbed Sir William Fownes’ servant of 14l., in such an artful manner that everybody believed the servant had himself secreted the money; and no doubt the rascal was turned adrift, and starved in consequence — a truly comic incident, and one that could be used, so as to provoke a great deal of laughter, in an historical work of which our champion should be the hero.
The next enterprise of importance is that against the house of Colonel Palliser, which Freeny thus picturesquely describes. Coming with one of his spies close up to the house, Mr. Freeny watched the Colonel lighted to bed by a servant; and thus, as he cleverly says, could judge “of the room the Colonel lay in.”
“Some time afterwards,” says Freeny, “I observed a light upstairs, by which I judged the servants were going to bed, and soon after observed that the candles were all quenched, by which I assured myself they were all gone to bed. I then came back to where the men were, and appointed Bulger, Motley, and Commons to go in along with me; but Commons answered that he had never been in any house before where there were arms: upon which I asked the coward what business he had there, and swore I would as soon shoot him as to look at him, and at the same time cocked a pistol to his breast; but the rest of the men prevailed upon me to leave him at the back of the house, where he might run away when he thought proper.
“I then asked Grace where did he choose to be posted: he answered ‘that he would go where I pleased to order him,’ for which I thanked him. We then immediately came up to the house, lighted our candles, put Houlahan at the back of the house to prevent any person from coming out that way, and placed Hacket on my mare, well armed, at the front; and I then broke one of the windows with a sledge, whereupon Bulger, Motley, Grace, and I got in; upon which I ordered Motley and Grace to go up stairs and Bulger and I would stay below, where we thought the greatest danger would be; but I immediately, upon second consideration, for fear Motley or Grace should be daunted, desired Bulger to go up with them, and when he had fixed matters above, to come down, as I judged the Colonel lay below. I then went to the room where the Colonel was, and burst open the door; upon which he said, ‘Odds-wounds! who’s there?’ to which I answered, ‘A friend, sir;’ upon which he said, ‘You lie! by G-d, you are no friend of mine!’ I then said that I was, and his relation also, and that if he viewed me close he would know me, and begged of him not to be angry: upon which I immediately seized a bullet-gun and case of pistols, which I observed hanging up in his room. I then quitted the room, and walked round the lower part of the house, thinking to meet some of the servants, whom I thought would strive to make their escape from the men who were above, and meeting one of them, I immediately returned to the Colonel’s room; where I no sooner entered than he desired me to go out for a villain, and asked why I bred such disturbance in his house at that time of night. At the same time I snatched his breeches from under his head, wherein I got a small purse of gold, and said that abuse was not fit treatment for me who was his relation and that it would hinder me of calling to see him again. I then demanded the key of his desk which stood in his room; he answered he had no key; upon which I said I had a very good key; at the same time giving it a stroke with the sledge, which burst it open, wherein I got a purse of ninety guineas, a four-pound piece, two moidores, some small gold, and a large glove with twenty-eight guineas in silver.
“By this time Bulger and Motley came down stairs to me, after rifling the house above. We then observed a closet inside his room, which we soon entered and got therein a basket wherein there was plate to the value of three hundred pounds.”
And so they took leave of Colonel Palliser, and rode away with their earnings.
The story, as here narrated, has that simplicity which is beyond the reach of all except the very highest art; and it is not high art certainly which Mr. Freeny can be said to possess, but a noble nature rather, which leads him thus grandly to describe scenes wherein he acted a great part. With what a gallant determination does he inform the coward Commons that he would shoot him as soon ”as look at him;” and how dreadful he must have looked (with his one eye) as he uttered that sentiment! But he left him, he says with a grim humour, at the back of the house, “where he might run away when he thought proper.” The Duke of Wellington must have read Mr. Freeny’s history in his youth (his Grace’s birthplace is not far from the scene of the other gallant Irishman’s exploit), for the Duke acted in precisely a similar way by a Belgian Colonel at Waterloo.
It must be painful to great and successful commanders to think how their gallant comrades and lieutenants, partners of their toil, their feelings, and their fame, are separated from them by time, by death, by estrangement-nay, sometimes by treason. Commons is off, disappearing noiseless into the deep night, whilst his comrades perform the work of danger; and Bulger, — Bulger, who in the above scene acts so gallant a part and in whom Mr. Freeny places so much confidence — actually went away to England, carrying off “some plate, some shirts, a gold watch, and a diamond ring,’ of the Captain’s; and, though he returned to his native country, the valuables did not return with him, on which the Captain swore he would blow his brains out. As for poor Grace, he was hanged, much to his leader’s sorrow, who says of him that he was “the faithfullest of his spies.” Motley was sent to Naas jail for the very robbery: and though Captain Freeny does not mention his ultimate fate, ’tis probable he was hanged too. Indeed, the warrior’s life is a hard one, and over misfortunes like these the feeling heart cannot but sigh.
But, putting out of the question the conduct and fate of the Captain’s associates, let us look to his own behaviour as a leader. It is impossible not to admire his serenity, his dexterity, that dashing impetuosity in the moment of the action and that aquiline coup-d’oeil which belongs to but few generals. He it is who leads the assault, smashing in the window with a sledge; he bursts open the Colonel’s door, who says (naturally enough), “ Odds-wounds! who’s there?” “A friend, sir,” says Freeny. “You lie! by G-d, you are no friend of mine “ roars the military blasphemer. “I then said that I was, and his relation also, and that if he viewed me close he would know me, and begged of him not to be angry: upon which I immediately seized a brace of pistols which I observed hanging up in his room.” That is something like presence of mind: none of your brutal braggadocio work, but neat, wary — nay, sportive hearing in the face of danger. And again, on the second visit to the Colonel’s room, when the latter bids him “go out for a villain, and not breed a disturbance,” what reply makes Freeny? “At the same time I snatched his breeches from under his head.“ A common man would never have thought of looking for them in such a place at all. The difficulty about the key he resolves in quite an Alexandrian manner; and, from the specimen we already have had of the Colonel’s style of speaking, we may fancy how ferociously he lay in bed and swore, after Captain Freeny and his friends had disappeared with the ninety guineas, the moidores, the four-pound piece, and the glove with twenty-eight guineas in silver.
As for the plate, he hid it in a wood; and then, being out of danger, he sat down and paid everybody his deserts. By the way, what a strange difference of opinion is there about a man’s deserts! Here sits Captain Freeny with a company of gentlemen, and awards them a handsome sum of money for an action which other people would have remunerated with a halter. Which are right? perhaps both: but at any rate it will be admitted that the Captain takes the humane view of the question.
The greatest enemy Captain Freeny had was Counsellor Robbins, a son of his old patron, and one of the most determined thief-pursuers the country ever knew. But though he was untiring in his efforts to capture (and of course to hang) Mr. Freeny, and though the latter was strongly urged by his friends to blow the Counsellor’s brains out: yet, to his immortal honour it is said, he refused that temptation, agreeable as it was, declaring that he had eaten too much of that family’s bread ever to take the life of one of them, and being besides quite aware that the Counsellor was only acting against him in a public capacity. He respected him, in fact, like an honourable though terrible adversary.
How deep a stratagem-inventor the Counsellor was, may be gathered from the following narration of one of his plans:— “Counsellor Robbins finding his brother had not got intelligence that was sufficient to carry any reasonable foundation for apprehending us, walked out as if merely for exercise, till he met with a person whom he thought he could confide in, and desired the person to meet him at a private ‘place appointed for that purpose, which they did; and he told that person he had a very good opinion of him, from the character received from his father of him, and from his own knowledge of him, and hoped that the person would then show him that such opinion was not ill founded The person assuring the Counsellor he would do all in his power to serve and oblige him, the Counsellor told him how greatly he was concerned to hear the scandalous character that part of the country (which had formerly been an honest one) had lately fallen into; that it was said that a gang of robbers who disturbed the country lived thereabouts. The person told him he was afraid what he said was too true; and, on being asked whom he suspected, he named the same four persons Mr. Robbins had, but said he dare not, for fear of being murdered, be too inquisitive, and therefore could not say anything material. The Counsellor asked him if he knew where there was any private ale to be sold and he said Moll Burke, who lived near the end of Mr. Robbins’s avenue, had a barrel or half a barrel. The Counsellor then gave the person a moidore, and desired him to go to Thomastown and buy two or three gallons of whiskey, and bring it to Moll Burke’s and invite as many as he suspected to be either principals or accessories to take a drink, and make them drink very heartily, and when he found they were fuddled, and not sooner, to tell some of the hastiest that some other had said some bad things of them, so as to provoke them to abuse and quarrel with each other; and then, probably, in their liquor and passion, they might make some discoveries of each other, as may enable the Counsellor to get some one of the gang to discover and accuse the rest.
“The person accordingly got the whiskey and invited a good many to drink; but the Counsellor being then at his brother’s a few only went to Moll Burke’s, the rest being afraid to venture while the Counsellor was in the neighbourhood: among those who met there was one Moll Brophy, the wife of Mr. Robbins’s smith, and one Edmund or Edward Stapleton, otherwise Gaul, who lived thereabouts; and when they had drank plentifully, the Counsellor’s spy told Moll trophy that Gaul had said she had gone astray with some persons or other: she then abused Gaul, and told him he was one of Freeny’s accomplices, for that he, Gaul, had told her he had seen Colonel Palliser’s watch with Freeny, and that Freeny had told him, Gaul, that John Welsh and the two Graces had been with him at the robbery.
“The company on their quarrel broke up, and the next morning the spy met the Counsellor at the place appointed, at a distance from Mr. Robbins’s house, to prevent suspicion, and there told he Counsellor what intelligence he had got. The Counsellor not being then a justice of the peace, got his brother to send for Moll Brophy to be examined; but when she came, she refused to be sworn or to give any evidence, and thereupon the Counsellor had her tied and put on a car in order to be carried to jail on a mittimus from Mr. Robbins, for refusing to give evidence on behalf of the Crown. When she found she would really be sent to jail, she submitted to be sworn, and the Counsellor drew from her what she had said the night before, and something further, and desired her not to tell any body what she had sworn.”
But if the Counsellor was acute, were there not others as clever as he? For when, in consequence of the information of Mrs. Brophy, some gentlemen who had been engaged in the burglarious enterprises in which Mr. Freeny obtained so much honour were seized and tried, Freeny came forward with the best of arguments in their favor. Indeed, it is fine to see these two great spirits matched one against the other, — the Counsellor, with all the regular force of the country to back him, — the Highway General, with but the wild resources of his gallant genius, and with cunning and bravery for his chief allies.
“I lay by for a considerable time after, and concluded within myself to do no more mischief till after the assizes, when I would hear how it went with the men who were then in confinement. Some time before the assizes Counsellor Robbins came to Ballyduff, and told his brother that he believed Anderson and Welsh were guilty, and also said he would endeavour to have them both hanged: of which I was informed.
“Soon after, I went to the house of one George Roberts, who asked me if I had any regard for those fellows who were then confined (meaning Anderson and Welsh). I told him I had a regard for one of them: upon which he said he had a friend who was a man of power and interest, — that he would save either of them, provided I would give him five guineas. I told him I would give him ten, and the first gold watch I could get; whereupon he said that it was of no use to speak to his friend without the money or value, for that he was a mercenary man; on which I told Roberts I had not so much money at that time, but that I would give him my watch as a pledge to give his friend. I then gave him my watch, and desired him to engage that I would pay the money which I promised to pay, or give value for it in plate, in two or three nights after; upon which he engaged that his friend would act the needful. Then we appointed a night to meet, and we accordingly met; and Roberts told me that his friend agreed to save Anderson and Welsh from the gallows; whereupon I gave him a plate tankard, value 10l., a large ladle, value 4l., with some tablespoons. The assizes of Kilkenny, in spring, 1748, coming on soon after, Counsellor Robbins had Welsh transmitted from Naas to Kilkenny, in order to give evidence against Anderson and Welsh; and they were tried for Mrs. Mounford’s robbery, on the evidence of John Welsh and others. The physic working well, six of the jury were for finding them guilty, and six more for acquitting them; and the other six finding them peremptory, and that they were resolved to starve the others into compliance, as they say they may do by law, were for their own sakes obliged to comply with them, and they were acquitted. On which Counsellor Robbins began to smoke the affair, and suspect the operation of gold dust, which was well applied for my comrades, and thereupon left the court in a rage, and swore he would forever quit the country, since he found people were not satisfied with protecting and saving the rogues they had under themselves, but must also show that they could and would oblige others to have rogues under them whether they would or no.”
Here Counsellor Robbins certainly loses that greatness which has distinguished him in his former attack on Freeny; the Counsellor is defeated and loses his temper. Like Napoleon, he is unequal to reverses in adverse fortune his presence of mind deserts him.
But what call had he to be in a passion at all? It may be very well for a man to be in a rage because he is disappointed of his prey: so is the hawk, when the dove escapes, in a rage; but let us reflect that, had Counsellor Robbins had his will, two honest fellows would have been hanged and so let us he heartily thankful that he was disappointed, and that these men were acquitted by a jury of their countrymen. What right had the Counsellor, forsooth, to interfere with their verdict? Not against Irish juries at least does the old satire apply, “And culprits hang that jurymen may dine?” At Kilkenny, on the contrary, the jurymen starve in order that the culprits might be saved — a noble and humane act of self-denial.
In another case, stern justice, and the law of self-preservation, compelled Mr. Freeny to take a very different course with respect to one of his ex-associates. In the former instance we have seen him pawning his watch, giving up tankard, table spoons — all, for his suffering friends; here we have his method of dealing with traitors. One of his friends, by the name of Dooling, was taken prisoner, and condemned to be hanged, which gave Mr. Freeny, he says, “a great shock;” but presently this Dooling’s fears were worked upon by some traitors within the jail, and -
“He then consented to discover; but I had a friend in jail at the same time, one Patrick Healy, who daily insinuated to him that it was of no use or advantage to him to discover any thing, as he received sentence of death; and that, after he had made a discovery, they would leave him as he was, without troubling themselves about a reprieve. But notwithstanding, he told the gentlemen that there was a man blind of an eye who had a bay-mare, that lived at the other side of Thomastown bridge, whom he assured them would be very troublesome in that neighbourhood after his death. When Healy discovered what he told the gentlemen, he one night took an opportunity and made Dooling fuddled, and prevailed upon him to take his oath he never would give the least hint about me any more. He also told him the penalty that attended infringing upon his oath — but more especially as he was at that time near his end — which had the desired effect; for he never mentioned my name, nor even anything relative to me,” and so went out of the world repenting of his meditated treason.
What further exploits Mr. Freeny performed may be learned by the curious in his history: they are all, it need scarcely be said, of a similar nature to that noble action which has already been described. His escapes from his enemies were marvellous; his courage in facing them equally great. He is attacked by whole “armies,” through which he makes his way; wounded, he lies in the woods for days together with three bullets in his leg, and in this condition manages to escape several “armies” that have been marched against him. He is supposed to be dead, or travelling on the continent, and suddenly makes his appearance in his old haunts, advertising his arrival by robbing ten men on the highway in a single day. And so terrible is his courage, or so popular his manners, that he describes scores of labourers looking on while his exploits were performed, and not affording the least aid to the roadside traveller whom he vanquished.
But numbers always prevail in the end: what could Leonidas himself do against an army? The gallant band of brothers led by Freeny were so pursued by the indefatigable Robbins and his myrmidons, that there was no hope left for them, and the Captain saw that he must succumb. He reasoned, however, with himself (with his usual keen logic), and said: “My men must fall, — the world is too strong for us, and to-day, or to-morrow — it matters scarcely when — they must yield. They will be hanged for a certainty, and thus will disappear the noblest company of knights the world has ever seen.
“But as they will certainly be hanged, and no power of mine can save them, is it necessary that I should follow them too to the tree? and will James Bulger’s fate be a whit agreeable to him, because James Freeny dangles at his side? To suppose so, would be to admit that he was actuated by a savage feeling of revenge, which I know belongs not to his generous nature.”
In a word, Mr. Freeny resolved to turn king’s evidence; for though he swore (in a communication with the implacable Robbins) that he would rather die than betray Bulger, yet when the Counsellor stated that he must then die, Freeny says, “I promised to submit, and understood that Bulger should be set.”
Accordingly some days afterwards (although the Captain carefully avoids mentioning that he had met his friend with any such intentions as those indicated in the last paragraph) he and Mr Bulger came together: and, strangely enough, it was agreed that the one was to sleep while the other kept watch, and, while thus employed, the enemy came upon them. But let Freeny describe for himself the last passages of his history:
“We then went to Welsh’s house, with a view not to make any delay there; but, taking a glass extraordinary after supper, Bulger fell asleep. Welsh, in the meantime, told me his house was the safest place I could get in that neighbourhood, and while I remained there I would be very safe, provided that no person knew of my coming there (I had not acquainted him that Breen knew of my coming that way). I told Welsh that, as Bulger was asleep, I would not go to bed till morning: upon which Welsh and I stayed up all night, and in the morning Welsh said that he and his wife had a call to Cullen, it being market-day. About nine o’clock I went and awoke Bulger, desiring him to get up and guard me whilst I slept, as I guarded him all night; he said he would, and then I went to bed charging him to watch close, for fear we should be surprised. I put my blunderbuss and two cases of pistols under my head, and soon fell fast asleep. In two hours after the servant-girl of the house, seeing an enemy coming into the yard, ran up to the room where we were, and said that there were an hundred men coming into the yard, upon which Bulger immediately awoke me, and taking up my blunderbuss he fired a shot towards the door which wounded Mr Bargess, one of the sheriffs of Kilkenny of which wound he died. They concluded to set the house on fire about us, which they accordingly did; upon which I took my fusee in one hand and a pistol in the other, and Bulger did the like and as we came out of the door? we fired on both sides, imagining it to be the best method of dispersing the enemy, who were on both sides of the door. We got through them. but they fired after us, and as Bulger was leaping over a ditch he received a shot in the small of the leg, which rendered him incapable of running; but, getting into a field, where I had the ditch between me and the enemy, I still walked slowly with Bulger, till I thought the enemy were within shot of the ditch, and then wheeled back to the ditch and presented my fusee at them. They all drew back and went for their horses to ride round, as the field was wide and open, and without cover except the ditch. When I discovered their intention I stood in the middle of the field, and one of the gentlemen’s servants (there were fourteen in number) rode foremost towards me; upon which I told the son of a coward I believed he had no more than five pounds a year from his master and that I would put him in such a condition that his master would not maintain him afterwards. To which he answered that he had no view of doing us any harm, but that he was commanded by his master to ride so near us; and then immediately rode back to the enemy, who were coming towards him. They rode almost within shot of us, and I observed they intended to surround us in the field, and prevent me from having any recourse to the ditch again. Bulger was at this time so bad with the wound, that he could not go one step without leaning on my shoulder. At length, seeing the enemy coming within shot of me, I laid down my fusee and stripped off my coat and waistcoat, and running towards them, cried out, ‘You sons of cowards, come on, and I will blow your brains out!’ On which they returned back, and then I walked easy to the place where I left my clothes, and put them on, and Bulger and I walked leisurely some distance further. The enemy came a second time, and I occasioned them to draw back as before and then we walked to Lord Dysart’s deer-park waIl. I got up the wall and helped Bulger up. The enemy, who still pursued us, though not within shot, seeing us on the wall, one of them fired a random shot at us to no purpose. We got safe over the wall, and went from thence into my Lord Dysart’s wood, where Bulger said he would re main, thinking it a safe place; but I told him he would be safer anywhere else, for the army of Kilkenny and Callen would be soon about the wood, and that he would be taken if he stayed there. Besides, as I was very averse to betraying him at all, I could not bear the thoughts of his being taken in my company by any party but Lord Carrick’s. I then brought him about half a mile beyond the wood, and left him there in a brake of briars, and looking towards the wood I saw it surrounded by the army. There was a cabin near that place where I fixed Bulger: he said he would go to it at night, and he would send for some of his friends to take care of him. It was then almost two o’clock, and we were four hours going to that place, which was about two miles from Welsh’s house. Imagining that there were spies fixed on all the fords and by-roads between that place and the mountain, I went towards the bounds of the county Tipperary, where I arrived about nightfall, and going to a cabin, I asked whether there was any drink sold near that place? The man of the house said there was not; and as I was very much fatigued, I sat down, and there refreshed myself with what the cabin afforded. I then begged of the man to sell me a pair of his brogues and stockings, as I was then barefooted, which he accordingly did. I quitted the house, went through Kinsheenagh and Poulacoppal, and having so many thorns in my feet, I was obliged to go barefooted, and went to Sleedelagh, and through the mountains, till I came within four miles of Waterford, and going into a cabin, the man of the house took eighteen thorns out of the soles of my feet, and I remained in and about that place for some time after.
“In the mean time a friend of mine was told that it was impossible for me to escape death, for Bulger had turned against me, and that his friends and Stack were resolved upon my life; but the person who told my friend so, also said, that if my friend would set Bulger and Breen, I might get a pardon through the Earl of Carrick’s means and Counsellor Robbins’s interest My friend said that he was sure I would not consent to such a thing, but the best way was to do it unknown to me; and my friend accordingly set Bulger, who was taken by the Earl of Carrick and his party, and Mr. Fitzgerald, and six of Counsellor Robbins’s soldiers, and committed to Kilkenny jail. He was three days in jail before I heard he was taken, being at that time twenty miles distant from the neighbourhood; nor did I hear from him or see him since I left him near Lord Dysart’s wood, till a friend came and told me it was to preserve my life and to fulfil my articles that Bulger was taken.”
“Finding I was suspected, I withdrew to a neighbouring wood and concealed myself there till night, and then went to Ballyduff to Mr. Fitzgerald and surrendered myself to him, till I could write to my Lord Carrick; which I did immediately, and gave him an account of what I escaped, or that I would have gone to Ballylynch and surrendered myself there to him, and begged his lordship to send a guard for me to conduct me to his house-which he did, and I remained there for a few days.
“He then sent me to Kilkenny jail; and at the summer assizes following, James Bulger, Patrick Hacket otherwise Bristeen, Martin Millea, John Stack, Felix Donnelly, Edmund Kenny, and James Larrasy were tried, convicted, and executed; and at spring assizes following, George Roberts was tried for receiving Colonel Palliser’s gold watch knowing it to be stolen, but was acquitted on account of exceptions taken to my pardon, which prevented my giving evidence. At the following assizes, when I had got a new pardon, Roberts was again tried for receiving the tankard, ladle, and silver-spoons from me knowing them to be stolen, and was convicted and executed. At the same assizes, John Reddy, my instructor, and Martin Millea, were also tried, convicted, and executed.”
And so they were all hanged: James Bulger, Patrick Hacket or Bristeen, Martin Millea, John Stack and Felix Donelly, and Edmund Kenny and James Larrasy, with Roberts who received the Colonel’s watch, the tankard, ladle, and the silver-spoons, were all convicted and executed. Their names drop naturally into blank verse. It is hard upon poor George Roberts too: for the watch he received was no doubt in the very inexpressibles which the Captain himself took from the Colonel’s head.
As for the Captain himself, he says that, on going out of jail, Counsellor Robbins and Lord Carrick proposed a subscription for him — in which, strangely, the gentlemen of the county would not join, and so that scheme came to nothing; and so he published his memoirs in order to get himself a little money. Many a man has taken up the pen under similar circumstances of necessity.
But what became of Captain Freeny afterwards, does not appear. Was he an honest man ever after? Was he hanged for subsequent misdemeanours”? It matters little to him now; though, perhaps, one cannot help feeling a little wish that the latter fate may have befallen him.
Whatever his death was, however, the history of his life has been one of the most popular books ever known in this country. It formed the class-book in those rustic universities which are now rapidly disappearing from among the hedges of Ireland. And lest any English reader should, on account of its lowness, quarrel with the introduction here of this strange picture of wild courage and daring, let him be reconciled by the moral at the end, which, in the persons of Bulger and the rest, hangs at the beam before Kilkenny jail.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00