The Macdermots of Ballycloran, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 4.

Myles Ussher.

Every one knows that Ireland, for her sins, maintains two distinct, regularly organised bodies of police; the duties of the one being to prevent the distillation of potheen or illicit whiskey, those of the other to check the riots created by its consumption. These forces, for they are in fact military forces, have each their officers, sub-officers, and privates, as the army has; their dress, full dress, and half dress; their arms, field arms, and house arms; their barracks, stations, and military regulations; their captains, colonels, and commander-inchief, but called by other names; and, in fact, each body is a regularly disciplined force, only differing from the standing army by being carried on in a more expensive manner.

The first of these — that for preventing the distillation of potheen, commonly called the revenue police — was, at the time of our story, honoured by the services of Myles Ussher. He held the office of one of the sub-inspectors in the county of Leitrim, and he resided in the town of Mohill; he had a body of about five-and-twenty men under him, with a sergeant; and his duty was, as I have before said, to prevent the distillation of potheen. This was only to be done by seizing it when made, or in the process of making; and, as a considerable portion of the fine levied in all cases possible from the dealers in the trade, became the perquisite of the sub-inspector or officer effecting the seizure, the situation in a wild lawless district was one of considerable emolument; consequently gentlemen of repute and good family were glad to get their sons into the service, and at the present time, a commission in the revenue police is considered, if not a more fashionable, at any rate a more lucrative appointment than a commission in the army. Among these officers some of course would be more active than others, and would consequently make more money; but it will be easily imagined, that however much the activity of a sub-inspector of revenue police might add to his character and standing at headquarters, it would not be likely to make him popular in the neighbourhood in which he resided.

Myles Ussher was most active in the situation which he filled; whether an impartial judge would have said that he was too much so, would be a question difficult to settle, as I have no impartial judge on the subject to whom I can refer; but the persons among whom he lived thought that he was. At the time I allude to, about ten years ago, a great deal of whiskey was distilled in the mountains running between the counties of Leitrim and Cavan, and in different parts of the County Leitrim. Father Mathew’s pledge was then unknown; the district is a wild country, not much favoured by gentlemen’s residences, and very poor; and, though it may seem to be an anomaly, it will always be found to be the case that the poorer the people are the more they drink; and, consequently, Captain Ussher, as he was usually called in the neighbourhood, found sufficient occupation for himself and his men.

Now the case is different; the revenue police remain, but their duties have, in most districts, gone; and they may be seen patrolling the roads with their officers accompanying them, being bound to walk so many miles a day. It is very seldom one hears of their effecting a seizure, and their inactivity is no doubt owing to the prevalence of Father Mathew’s pledge of total abstinence.

Myles Ussher was a Protestant, from the County Antrim in the north of Ireland, the illegitimate son of a gentleman of large property, who had procured him the situation which he held; he had been tolerably well educated; that is, he could read and write sufficiently, understood somewhat of the nature of figures, and had learnt, and since utterly forgotten, the Latin grammar. He had natural abilities somewhat above par; was good-looking, strongly made, and possessed that kind of courage, which arises more from animal spirits, and from not having yet experienced the evil effects of danger, than from real capabilities of enduring its consequences. Myles Ussher had never yet been hit in a duel, and would therefore have no hesitation in fighting one; he had never yet been seriously injured in riding, and would therefore ride any horse boldly; he had never had his head broken in a row, and therefore would readily go into one; he cared little for bodily pain if it did not incapacitate him — little at least for any pain he had as yet endured, and his imagination was not strong enough to suggest any worse evil. And this kind of courage, which is the species by far most generally met with, was sufficient for the life he had to lead.

But the quality in which Ussher chiefly excelled, and which was most conducive to give him the character which he certainly held in the country for courage, talent, and gallantry, was his self-confidence and assurance. He believed himself inferior to none in powers of body and mind, and that he could accomplish whatever he perseveringly attempted. He had, moreover, an overwhelming contempt for the poor, amongst whom his duties so constantly brought him, and it is not therefore wonderful that he was equally feared and execrated by them. I should also state that Myles Ussher had had sagacity enough to keep some of the money which he had received, and this added not a little both to his reputation and standing in the country, and also to the real power which he possessed; for in Connaught ready money is scarce, and its scarcity creates its importance.

This, then, was Feemy’s lover, and she certainly did love him dearly; he had all the chief ornaments of her novel heroes — he was handsome, he carried arms, was a man of danger, and talked of deeds of courage; he wore a uniform; he rode more gracefully, talked more fluently, and seemed a more mighty personage, than any other one whom Feemy usually met. Besides, he gloried in the title of Captain, and would not that be sufficient to engage the heart of any girl in Feemy’s position? let alone any Irish girl, to whom the ornaments of arms are always dear. But whether he loved her as truly, might, I fear, be considered doubtful; if so, why were they not married?

Larry Macdermot was too broken-hearted a man, and too low-spirited, to have objected to Myles on the ground of his being a Protestant: it was not that he was indifferent about his religion, but he had not heart enough left to be energetic on any subject. In other respects, Myles was more than a match for his daughter, in the present fallen condition of the family. But the matter had not even been mentioned to him by his daughter or her lover. Ussher was constantly at Ballycloran — was in the habit of riding over from Mohill, only three miles, almost daily, when disengaged, giving his horse to Patsy, the only male attendant at Ballycloran, and staying the whole morning, or the evening, there, without invitation; and Larry, if he never seemed particularly glad, at any rate never evinced any dislike to his visits.

Whatever war the sub-inspector might wage against run spirits in the mountains and bogs, he always appeared on good terms with it at Ballycloran, and as the Macdermots had but little else to give in the way of hospitality, this was well.

Young Thady could not but see that his sister was attached to Ussher; but he knew that she could not do better than marry him, and if he considered much about it, he thought that she was only taking her fun out of it, as other girls did, and that it would all come right. Thady was warmly attached to his sister; he had had no one else really to love; he was too sullen at his prospects, too gloomy from his situation, to have chosen for himself any loved one on whom to expend his heart; he was of a disposition too saturnine, though an Irishman, to go and look for love when it did not fall in his way, and all that he had to give he gave to his sister. But it must be remembered that poor Thady had no refinement; how should he? And though he would let no one injure Feemy if he could help it, he hardly knew how effectually to protect her. His suspicions were now aroused by his counsellor Pat Brady; but the effect was rather to create increased dislike in him against Ussher, than to give rise to any properly concerted scheme for his sister’s welfare.

On the evening previous to the fair at Mohill mentioned in the last chapter, Captain Ussher with a party of his men had succeeded in making a seizure of some half-malted barley in a cabin on the margin of a little lake on the low mountains, which lay between Mohill and Cashcarrigan. He had, as in these cases was always his practice, received information from a spy in his pay, who accompanied him, dressed as one of his own men, to prevent any chance of his being recognised; this man’s name was Cogan, and he had been in the habit of buying illicit whiskey from the makers at a very cheap rate, and carrying it round to the farmers’ houses and towns for sale, whereby he obtained considerable profit — but at considerable risk. With this employment Captain Ussher had made himself acquainted, and instead of seizing the man whilst in possession of the whiskey, he had sounded him, and finding him sufficiently a villain, had taken him into his pay as a spy; this trade Cogan found more lucrative even than the former, but also more dangerous; as if detected he might reckon on his death as certain. He still continued to buy the spirits from the people, but in smaller quantities; he offered lower prices; and though he nominally kept up the trade, it was more for the purpose of knowing where the potheen was, than of buying and selling it.

It was not wonderful therefore that more seizures than ever had been lately made, and that the men were getting more cautious, and at the same time more irate and violent in their language. In the present instance the party had come on the cabin in question unawares; not that they might not have been noticed, but that the people were confident of not being suspected. No whiskey had been run there; and the barley had only lately been brought in turf kishes from another cabin where it was not thought to be safe.

Three men and an old woman were found in the cabin when Captain Ussher entered with three of his own men. On being questioned they denied the existence of either whiskey, malt, or barley; but on searching, the illicit article was found in the very kishes in which it had been brought; they were easily discovered shoved into the dark chimney corner farthest from the door.

“Dat I may never see the light,” began the old woman, “if I thought it wor anything but the turf, and jist the kishes that Barney Smith left there, the morn; and he to say nothing of the barley, and bring all these throubles on me and yer honer — the like of him, the spalpeen!”

“Never mind my trouble, my dear,” said Ussher; “it is little we think of the trouble of easing you; and who’s Barney Smith, ma’am?”

“Oh, then, Barney’s jist my daughter’s own son; and he coming down from the mountains with turf, and said he must lave the kishes here, till he just went back round Loch Sheen with the ass, he’d borrowed from Paddy Byrne, and he’d be-”

“And very good natured it was of him to leave you the malt instead of the turf; and who are you, my good men?”

The men had continued smoking their pipes quietly at the fire without stirring.

“We be sthrangers here, yer honer,” said one; “that is, not sthrangers jist, but we don’t live here, yer honer.”

“Where do you live, and what’s your names?”

“I and Joe Smith live down away jist on the road to Cash, about half a mile out of this; and Tim Reynolds, he lives away at Drumleesh, on Mr. Macdermot’s land; and my name’s Paddy Byrne.”

“Oh, oh; so one of you is father of the lad who brought the donkey, and the other the owner of it; and you neither of you knew what was in the kishes.”

“Sorrow a know, yer honer; ye see Barney brought them down here from the mountains when we warn’t in it; and it war some of the boys up there was getting him to get away the malt unknownst, hearing of yer honer, maybe.”

“Ah, yes I see — whose land is this on?”

“Counseller Webb’s, yer honer.”

“Who holds the cabin and potato garden?”

“I do, your honer, jist for my wife’s mother, ye see; but I live down towards Cash.”

“Ah, very good-natured of you to your wife’s mother. I hope the three of you have no objection to take a walk to Mohill this evening.”

“Ochone, ochone, and it’s ruined we’ll be, yer honer; and that I may never see the light if the boys knew it; and yer honer wouldn’t have the death of an ould woman on ye!” the old woman was exclaiming, while the police began seizing the malt and making prisoners of the men.

“Carol, see and get an ass to put these kishes on,” said Ussher. “Killeen, pass a rope across these fellows’ arms; I suppose they’ll go quiet.”

It was now full time for the men to arise when they found that the rope was to be fastened across their arms; which meant that a rope was to be fastened on the right arm of one, passed behind his back, fastened to the arm of the second, and so behind his back to the third. Smith and Byrne, the former of whom in spite of his protestations to the contrary was the inhabitant of the cabin, had given the matter up as lost; but as the other, Tim Reynolds, did in fact reside at Drumleesh, he thought he might still show some cause why he should not be arrested for visiting his friend Joe Smith.

“Yer honer won’t be afther taking an innocent boy like me,” began Tim, “that knows nothing at all at all about it. Shure yer honer knows the masther, Mr. Thady down at Ballycloran; he will tell yer honer I’d nothing in life to do in it. Then don’t you know yourself I live with Joe Reynolds down at Drumleesh, and war only up here jist gagging with the ould woman and the boys, and knew nothing in life — how could I? — about the malt, Captain Ussher.”

“Oh no, Mr. Reynolds, of course you could not; how could you, as you justly observe — particularly being the brother of that inoffensive character Mr. Joe Reynolds, and you living too on Mr. Macdermot’s property. You and your brother never ran whiskey at Drumleesh, I suppose. Why should a tenant of the Macdermots escape any more than one of Counsellor Webb’s?”

“No, yer honer, in course not; only you being so thick with the masther, and that like; and av he’d spake a good word for me — as why shouldn’t he? — and I knowing nothing at all at all about it, perhaps yer honer —”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Reynolds, I cannot oblige you in this little matter, but that’s not the way I do business. Come along, Killeen; hurry, it’s getting d —— d cold here by the water.”

With this Captain Ussher walked out of the cabin, and the two men followed, each having an end of the rope. Smith and Byrne followed doggedly, but silently; but poor Reynolds, though no lawyer, could not but feel that he was unjustly treated.

“And will I go to gaol then, jist for coming up to see ould widow Byrne, Captain?”

“Yes, Mr. Reynolds, as far as I can foresee, you will.”

“Then, Captain Ussher, it’s you’ll be sorry for the day you were trating that way an innocent boy that knows nothing at all at all about it.”

“Do you mean to be threatening me, you ruffian?”

“No, Captain Ussher, I doesn’t threaten you, but there is them as does; and it’s this day’s work, or this night’s that’s all the same, will be the black night work to you. It’s the like of you that makes ruffians of the boys about; they isn’t left the manes of living, not even of getting the dhry pratees; and when they tries to make out the rint with the whiskey, which is not for themselves but for them as is your own friends, you hunts them through the mountains and bogs like worried foxes; and not that only; but for them as does it, and them as does not be doing it, is all the same; and it’s little the masther, or, for the like of that, the masther’s daughter either, will be getting from being so thick with sich as you — harrowing and sazing his tenants jist for your own fun and divarsion. Mind I am not threatening you, Captain Ussher, but it’s little good you or them as is in Ballycloran will be getting for the work you’re now doing — What are you pulling at, misther’? D’ye think I can’t walk av myself, without your hauling and pulling like a gossoon at a pig’s hind leg.”

The last part of Tim’s eloquence was addressed to the man who held the foremost end of the rope, and who was following his officer at a rapid pace.

Captain Ussher made no further answer to his remonstrating prisoner, but marched on rapidly towards Carrick after the advanced party, with whom was Cogan the informer. He, after having pointed out the cabin, of course did not wait to be recognised by its occupiers. This capture was the subject of the discussion held on the fair-day at Mulready’s whiskey-shop in Mohill, at which Joe Reynolds the prisoner’s brother had presided, as Brady informed Thady Macdermot — or at any rate had taken the most noisy part. To tell the truth, our friend Pat himself had been present all the evening at Mulready’s, and if he did not talk so loud, he had said full as much as Joe. The latter was naturally indignant at the capture of his brother, who, in fact, at the time was living in his cabin, though he did hold an acre or two of ground in the same town-land as Joe Smith and the widow Byrne. He was not, however, engaged in the potheen making there; and though at the moment of the entrance of the police, the party were all talking of the malt, which had, in fact, been brought from Byrne’s cabin to that of his mother and brother-in-law, Reynolds had really nothing to do with the concern.

His known innocence made the party more indignant, and they consequently swore that among them they’d put an end to our poor friend Ussher, or as Joe Reynolds expressed it, “we’ll hole him till there ar’nt a bit left in him to hole.” Now, for the benefit of the ignorant, I may say that, “holing a man,” means putting a bullet through him.

The injuries done by the police were not, however, the only subject discussed at Mulready’s that night.

Ribbonism, about 183 — was again becoming very prevalent in parts of Ireland, at any rate so said the stipendiary magistrates and the inspectors of police; and if they said true, County Leitrim was full of ribbonmen, and no town so full as Mohill. Consequently the police sub-inspector at Ballinamore, Captain Greenough, had his spies as well as Captain Ussher, and Joe Reynolds was a man against whom secret information had been given. Joe was aware that he was a marked man, and consequently, if not actually a ribbonman, was very well inclined to that or anything else, which might be inimical to gaols, policemen, inspectors, gaugers, or any other recognised authority; in fact, he was a reckless man, originally rendered so by inability to pay high rent for miserably bad land, and afterwards becoming doubly so from having recourse to illegal means to ease him of his difficulties.

He, and many others in the neighbourhood of Mohill somewhat similarly situated, had joined together, bound themselves by oaths, and had determined to become ribbonmen; their chief objects, however, at present, were to free themselves from the terrors of Captains Ussher and Greenough, and to prevent their landlords ejecting them for non-payment of rent. It would be supposed a man of Pat Brady’s discernment, station, and character, would not have wished to belong to, or have been admitted by, so desperate a society; but he, nevertheless, was not only of them, but one of their leaders, and it can only be supposed that “he had his rasons.”

All these things were fully talked over at Mulready’s that night. The indignities offered to humanity by police of every kind, the iniquities of all Protestants, the benefits likely to accrue to mankind from an unlimited manufacture of potheen, and the injustice of rents, were fully discussed; on the latter head certainly Brady fought the battle of his master, and not unsuccessfully; but not on the head that he had a right to his own rents, but what he was to do about Flannelly, if he did not get them.

“And shure, boys, what would the ould masther do, and what would Mr. Thady do without the rint among ye — an’ ould Flannelly dunning about him with his bonds, and his bills and morgidges? How’d ye like to see the good ould blood that’s in it now, driven out by the likes of Flannelly and Keegan, and them to be masthers in Ballycloran?”

“That’s all very well, Pat, and we’d be sorry to see harum come to Mr. Larry and the young masther along of such born robbers as them; but is them dearer to us than our own flesh and blood? As long as they and the like of them’d stand between us and want, the divil a Keegan of them all’d dare put a foot in Ballycloran. But who is it now rules all at Ballycloran? Who, but that bloody robber, Ussher? They’d go through the country for him, the born ruffian — may food choke him! — and he making little of them all the time. Bad manners to the like of him! they say he never called an honest woman his mother. Will I, Mr. Brady, be giving my blood for them, and he putting my brother in gaol, and all for sitting up warming his shins at Loch Sheen? No; may this be my curse if I do!” and Joe Reynolds swallowed a glass of whiskey; “and you may tell Mr. Thady, Pat, if he wants the boys to stick to him, let him stick to them, and not be helping a d —— d ruffian to be dhriving the lives out of them he should befriend. And maybe he will want us, and that soon; and if he’ll stick to us now, as his fathers always did, sure it’s little he need be fearing Flannelly and Keegan. By G— — the first foot they set in Ballycloran they shall leave there forever, if Thady Macdermot will help rid his father’s land of that bloody ruffian.”

“It’s little Mr. Thady loves the Captain, Joe, and it’s little he ever will, I think; however, you can come up, you know, on Friday, and say your own say about your brother, and the rint and all.”

“And so I will come, Pat; but there’s all the rint I have, and Mrs. Mulready, I think,’ll have the best part of that,” and he jingled a few halfpence in his pocket. So ended the meeting previous to the conversation in Macdermot’s rent-office.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01