by Thomas John Mulvey, PhD
|Childhood reflections of rural, 1870s Ireland and Celtic history.|
Edited by Eric C. Biemiller and William L. Mulvey|
Grandsons of Thomas John Mulvey, PhD
Copyright© William L. Mulvey, all rights reserved
Editors' note: This manuscript was penned by T. J. Mulvey when he was in his seventies. It remained in the Mulvey family for years and ultimately became in the possession of Dorothy O. Mulvey, T. J.'s youngest daughter. Upon her passing at age 92, T.J.'s grandson, Richard M. (Dicky) Mulvey, retrieved the manuscript and passed it along to his older brother Bill. Thanks to Dicky we are able to bring this important work to the world.|
The Original Cover from T. J. Mulvey's Manuscript
I Am Born
I was born in Ireland on the ninth of June, 1870, my parents; William and Annie Mulvey were married in New York City on the nineteenth of July, 1869, and returned to Ireland in November of that same year.
My mother's maiden name was Annie Slack. She was an Irish girl from Drumhubrid, County Leitrim.
It was characteristic of Irish immigrants in America who had a common County of origin to seek one another out and to pal together; to give a ball or two in the late fall or winter of each year that they might meet and so become better acquainted. It was the old clan spirit transplanted to America. After all, Drumshanbo and Ballinamore, the town nearest to Drumhubrid, were not very far apart, only a distance of a dozen miles on a country road, and less across country. I traveled it when I was a boy of only eight or nine years all by myself, though I confess that I was scared to death by the geese and especially by the ganders that I met on the way. My mother used to send me on errands to my grandfather Slack's once in awhile and gave me explicit instructions how to reach the Slack farm.
A strange incident, or so it was looked upon by my mother, occurred on the evening of her marriage to my father. The ceremony took place in the parish house of Saint Ann's Church of which Father Preston, later Monsignor Preston of Seton Hall, New Jersey, was parish priest. He performed the ceremony.
Just before his entrance, according to the account given me by my mother, a stranger, a gentleman in appearance and in dress, entered the room where the wedding party were sitting, walked right up to my mother whom he singled out from the rest of the wedding party, and presented a bouquet of beautiful flowers to her with the words, "To the bride in token of great happiness," and immediately withdrew. It was considered remarkable, for there was little or nothing to distinguish her from her bridesmaid or from the other girls in the wedding party. However, my mother cherished the words in her heart with true Celtic belief in the significance of the occurrence. She told me of it several times when I was a young boy of thirteen or fourteen years of age.
After the ceremony in St. Ann's Parish House, my father and mother went to live with some friends in 26 or 28 Beach Street between Varick and Hudson Streets. There was no such thing as a wedding trip for their honeymoon; they merely took up residence in a couple of rooms put at their disposal in what must have been an apartment occupied by these friends in what had been a fashionable residence a few years before.
For, up to the early fifties, Beach Street was a very different neighborhood from what it had become some ten or fifteen years later. All the property belonged to Trinity Church. The square bounded by Beach, Hudson, Laight, and Varick Streets was a private park known as St. John's Park for St. John's Chapel facing it on Varick Street.
Each of the residents facing the park on the four streets surrounding it, had, in former days, a key to one of its gates and was allowed the use of its paths and the shade offered by its trees.
Now the neighborhood is all changed; in fact, it has undergone several changes in the past seventy or eighty years. First of all, the site of the park was bought by the Hudson River Railroad for the construction of a freight depot occupying the entire square bounded by Beach, Hudson, Laight, and Varick Streets.
St. John's Chapel was an imposing church building modeled after the mother church, old Trinity, with a steeple pointing to the stars and a clock to tell the passing of worldly time for its worshipers.
In 1703, according to Rufus Rockwell Wilson in his "New York, Old & New," page 156, Queen Anne was persuaded by one of Cornbury to make to Trinity Church "what was virtually a free gift of the tract of land then known as Queen's Farm. The tract in question, originally set aside by the Dutch to be tilled for the benefit of the servants of the West India Company, lay between the present Fulton and Warren Streets, and Broadway and the North River."
It was later enlarged and became known as the Duke's Farm, meaning the Duke of York, and had been "increased in 1670 by large purchases from the heirs of Annetje Jans and carried northward as far as the present Charlton Street. Its bestowal upon Trinity now caused it to be renamed the Church Farm and, at the same time, laid the foundation of immense revenues which that church has continued to enjoy and to use for the benefit of the city down to the present day."
"Cornbury's (who did the persuading) part in this questionable gift met with sharp rebuke from those who did not profit by it, and who knew that his assumption of religious zeal was but a cloak to hide a vicious private life…..
When in 1807 the vestry of Trinity Church began the erection of St. John's Chapel on Varick Street between Beach and Laight, wiseacres railed at the folly of building so fine a structure in so remote and forbidding a quarter, for cattle were still pastured on the meadows (Lispenard's Meadows) to the west, and the outlook from the new Church's marshy site was over an unshaded waste of rushes and brambles….
"Hudson Square, or St. John's Park, …was laid out as a private pleasure-ground, and when it had been graded, planted, and fenced in, wide-fronted, red-brick houses arose around it, the houses of men of wealth and distinction."
Wilson continues the narrative, which I must quote. "St. John's Park remained for many years an abiding place for polite society, but fashion moved away in the early fifties." The neighborhood deteriorated little by little from its high estate and in year 1869, that of my father and mother's marriage, the site of the park was occupied by the freight-depot of the Hudson River Railroad Company. The houses that surround the park are still there but, in the eighties, nearly all were run-down tenements.
When my father and mother were married and went to live with some friends in Beach Street, the place was still a respectable neighborhood. My parents occupied quarters, as I have said, either at 26 or 28 Beach Street. No. 36 Beach Street, close to the corner of Hudson, was, until his death in 1889, the residence of John Ericsson, the inventor and builder of the "Monitor" that put the "Merrimac" out of action in the Civil War and made the shipping of the Union safe.
Previously to his marriage, my father had received many urgent requests from his father to return to Ireland and settle down upon the small farm rented and worked by my grandfather. Of course, he did not own the land; he was only a tenant. The land was owned by a landlord, as was all the land thereabouts. An agent took care of collecting the rents; the owner of the land seldom if ever saw it. That was the curse of absentee landlordism. The Irish Catholic peasant was not permitted to buy the land on which he lived. If he improved it, the rent was raised. Consequently, there was no incentive for him to improve the land or to build on it an impressive residence because, should he do so, his rent was boosted. The tenant was merely a serf eking out a bare livelihood by the sweat of his brow. And yet, he loved every sod of his little farm, for with it were bound up all the memories, all the traditions, of his fathers before him; of his own young days out of which came the haunting lines reminding him of some youthful romance. "I am sitting on the stile, Mary, where we sat side by side." And the peasant boy in his manhood, in his maturer years, was loath to tear himself away from the scene; longed for it in his exile, even if the land of that exile were the Eldorado of the West. He belonged to the sensitive, warm-hearted race, a race tinged with a trace of melancholy inseparable from impressionable natures.
But, for the small tenant famer, beginning to raise a family, there was the gradual hopelessness, the sheer uselessness of human effort, which had become thoroughly ingrained among the poorer people of Ireland. There was on the part of the tenant farmer an almost universal subservience; yet this subservience was merely outward; it never became an inferiority complex. The Irish farmer still held his head high. The consciousness of something he possessed, the consciousness of his inherent dignity and his belief in an ennobling something maintained among the peasant Irish, a sense of superiority (were they not all believers in their descent from kings, or at least from noblemen?) in the presence of the ruling, but intruding, class. The soil of Ireland was still his by inheritance; he belonged to it, and it to him. He was descended from the proud Milesian race!
Practically everything done on the farm in the eighteen-seventies, yes, and for years and years before, was done by human hand-power, the ancient way. It is to be marveled at that the people have retained their sense of human dignity, their independence of spirit in spite of this enforced, but only outward, subservience. Yet they did retain that sense and showed it when they reached a land where it could be exercised and given full scope. Ask the police forces and the politicians of the cities of the Eastern United States.
My father, as the youngest son of the family, felt it incumbent on himself to return to Ireland to take care of his parents in their declining years. He had five or six brothers, all older than himself, who had come to America before him. Two of them were in New York, namely, my Uncle Frank and Uncle Martin. The others, Uncle Thomas and Uncle John, had gone to Toronto, Canada. Uncle Frank was a handsome man, five feet ten or eleven inches tall, as I remember him in 1880, when we all had come to this country. He carried a cane, wore a high hat and a swallowtail coat on Sundays, as was the custom of well-dressed men in those days. He and my father had opened a small dry goods store on Greenwich Street just before my father's marriage.
My grandfather Mulvey paid his sons a visit in the early sixties, going the rounds before he returned to Ireland. He must have been a little daring to undergo the discomforts of a sailing vessel, on which he made the voyage, with its six weeks to three months at sea, as I often heard him narrate; not to mention the expense of the trip into the bargain. But, perhaps his sons sent him the money for the voyage. He did not intend to remain in America; he just wished to see the country and to visit his children.
But that's the kind of man my grandfather Mulvey was. Physically, he was about five feet nine inches tall, and, even as I remember him in eighteen hundred seventy-nine and eighty, straight as a young poplar. All his sons, except my father, who was five feet eight and a half inches, were big, strapping men. Uncle Frank, whom I remember very well, Uncle Thomas and Uncle John, were all big men...meaning, about six feet. In fact, our family was known to everybody in the country-side as "the big Mulveys."
This same grandfather, Thomas Mulvey, for whom I was christened Thomas, must have been born between 1810 and 1820. They didn't have the custom of celebrating birthday anniversaries as we have, and so they lost track of them; but I fix his birth around 1810 because of my recollection of what he was like in 1879 and 1880.
For an Irish peasant born in the first years of the nineteenth century, he had a remarkable education. How he came by it I do not know, for a young boy in the first or second decade of that century had little opportunity to receive any schooling at all, except from a hedge schoolmaster. The Catholic peasantry was disenfranchised and suffered many disabilities until 1829, when my grandfather must have been a big boy and beyond school age…that is, for one living on a farm.
Yet he was looked up to by all his neighbors as one well versed in book learning, and justified the respect in which they held him. He could recite poetry and discuss problems in mathematics with the schoolmaster.
He taught me, or tried to teach me, "The Rule of Three" when I was only nine years old. At any rate, he did awaken in me an understanding of the principles of logic that helped me to develop my reasoning powers, or at least taught me to think things through, a fact that stood me in good stead all through my life. How he came by the principles of logic, I do not know; but he could discourse on the major, minor, and middle terms of a syllogism as though they were second nature to him.
He had the natural love of the Irish for learning. He may have sat in the shade of the hawthorn bushes with some other gossoons reciting for and listening to some hedge schoolmaster who taught them the lore of Irish history, which my grandfather had pretty pat; and not only the history of Ireland and its traditions, but the sonorous Latin tongue in which he must have been well versed in earlier years. For, in spite of the English proscription of priests and teachers, we read that even in the days of Queen Elizabeth, the learned Thomas Campion, a lyric poet of Elizabeth's time, found Latin widely spoken among the peasantry, and Father Mooney met country lads familiar with Virgil and Homer.
Of course he was in part responsible for my father's acquaintance with a good many facts and traditions of Celtic lore, as well as of other subjects. He must have taught him some Latin, besides the Latin used by an altar boy, which both of them, each in his turn, was. My father gave evidence of this acquaintance with Latin, and not only the Latin of the beginner in the study of that language, but acquaintance with its prosody.
When I was at college, or really prep school, at Saratoga, New York, he posed me this sentence, containing a play on words. The story had it that a Catholic priest was taken ill and was confined to his bed for a while. A physician friend of his treated him for the cold or pleurisy which laid him low. When he was out of danger and convalescing all right, his physician one day dropped in to see him to exchange a few works with him for old times' sake. They were both, of course, good Latin scholars. Said the physician to the priest:
"Well now, Joe, your Reverence, you know Parvum vinum accuit ingenium…."
"Hold on, Ed; you've made a mistake in your quantity…."
"What's that?..." with a rising inflection of the "that"… "I haven't forgot my Latin, I'd like you to know, Joe! What's wrong with Paarvum vinum accuit ingenium? My syllables are of the right quantity, I'd have you to know, sir!"
"Aisy, now, my good friend and doctor! But I'm surprised at you, none the less, and you a physician! Why, everybody knows that you should have said, Multum vinum accuit ingenium, and so I said you made a mistake in quantity!
Ed laughed, and said: "Shure it's your Reverence must have your little joke! But, 'pon me soul, Joe you'd better stick to a little wine an' never heed your Multum, me ladibuck, saving your presence, your Reverence."
The Celt of Ireland, whether in his native Erin, or in some distant land, that, however, he came quickly to call his own in allegiance, has always been known for that nimbleness of mind which sees the relation between words and ideas; a nimbleness commonly called wit, and at times, akin to humor. It is that quirk of the Celtic mind which, in a way, was responsible for the dispatch sent by General Napier to announce his final victory in the conquest of the great province of India known as Sind, containing an area of no less than forty-eight thousand square miles and nearly three million people. Instead of saying in his dispatch, "I have Sind," he perpetrated the most famous pun in military history by using the single Latin word, "Peccavi," which being translated means "I have sinned." He was certain that the recipient of the news would see the point at once, as a play on words, and know its meaning, for every man in the English Services in the early nineteenth century, nay, at all time, was well versed in the classical languages, and the Latin perfect indicative active was to him no stumbling block.
This same Irish General at the head of an English army, Sir Charles James Napier, was but one of a number of illustrious Irishmen who brought glory and renown to the English Army. There come to mind the names of Lord Wolseley, Commander in Chief; Lord Roberts, Field Marshal in the Transcoal; Sir George White, the hero of Ladysmith; Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, who conquered the Soudan, and Sir Bernard Law Montgomery who turned the tables on the Nazi, Rommel, the Desert Fox, and drove him clear across North Africa and into the Mediterranean at Tunis; and historically the greatest of them all, the Iron Duke, Wellington, the winner in the Battle of Waterloo, who won for England the final victory over Napoleon on the 18th of June, 1815.
Thus one word conjures up several other words, with related meaning, to the well-stocked Celtic mind, for even the peasant Irishman has a much larger vocabulary than the average. The Irishman acquires words quickly and retains their meaning with remarkable fidelity. Because of this, a single word may strike a spark of association in his mind that is faster than lightning: for the speed of lightning may be measured physically, but the speed of thought may defy any instrument of the physicist or even of the psychologist or of the psychiatrist. The nimble mind of the Irishman finds in many a word a myriad of associations from which he may choose for his witty project.
My grandfather composed at least three or four ballads, known as "Come all ye's" on events of local interest. I remember that in the winter of 1879 and 1880, when the failure of the potato crop caused a near-famine in all Ireland, and, for the matter of that, in most of Western Europe, there was a distribution of Indian meal by some Government Agency to those in need. My grandfather wrote a ballad, celebrating the event, beginning, "Come all ye good people and listen to my song….”
It was entitled "The Committee Meal." The word "Committee" was accented on the first syllable, "com", and "meal" was pronounced to rhyme with "scale," with open ea, as was common among Irishmen when speaking English. That habit is responsible for the so-called brogue. As a matter of fact, the sound is believed to be that given to the "ea" in Elizabethan, or medieval, English. Padraic Colum in "The Road Round Ireland" has this to say: "In pronunciation many peculiarities in Anglo-Irish speech are survivals, not vulgarisms. We still give the diphthong 'ea' the value that Shakespeare gave it. –
'And for a woman wert thou first created, Till Nature as she wrought thee, fell a-doting, And by addition me of thee defeated.'
"Our pronunciation of English is, in many parts of the country, derived from the Elizabethan pronunciation. Certain English writers, unaware of the mutations of the language, thought that our treatment of ea was an ignorant departure from standard pronunciation, and, by a false analogy, they have made us say 'praste' for 'priest', and 'belave' for 'believe', and indade' for 'indeed'. However, the old English sounds of 'ie' and 'ee' have not changed with us, and the Irish pronunciation of the diphthongs is in perfect agreement with standard pronunciation."
Here I may be permitted to quote what Colum has to say in the very next paragraph about the Irish as fighting men, because it fits in with what took place after the final fall of Limerick and the Broken Treaty which was signed on that occasion, and anent the departure of Patrick Sarsfield and his soldiers for foreign fields; nay, of many more Irish leaders and their followers, to fight under other standards than their own beloved Irish flag, dragged in the dust by English perfidy. This is what Padraic Colum has to say of the Irishman, both on the score of his diction and his inherent bravery: "The Gael has always been marked for his abundant and vivid speech and for his conspicuous martial qualities. (Born soldiers of fortune,) says the German historian. (Very great scorners of death,) said the Elizabethan observers. Because of his conspicuous courage and his impassioned speech, the Irishman has been credited with a quality that is supposed to go with these – the lover's passion and the lover's devotion. But love, as the English and Continental writers think of it, has little place in the life of the Irish country people. Amongst the peasantry lovemaking is more often a subject for satire than for romance, and our cousins, the Gaels of Scotland, say of us, 'As loveless as an Irishman.'
There's a passage or two in Padraic Colum's "The Road Round Ireland," that explains the nature of "Irish County Speech" to a TEE. The speech is picturesque and exact. Much of the exactness is due to their effort to translate the Gaelic literally and handed down to their children the exact equivalent, as nearly as possible, in English of the verb-forms that would be used in Irish to convey their meaning. For Irish Gaelic is one of the richest languages in the world in the different shades of meaning to be conveyed. The ordinary everyday speech of the average Irishman is apt to be poetry in everything but form.
Padraic Colum says that one day he went into the house of a couple that were known for their quarreling and "….found a silence between the pair, and an atmosphere that was tense. "What is the matter with you, Nora?" I said to the woman. "There is an oul' devil eating the flesh off me," she said. Did she get the phrase from Swift, from some oral tradition of the Dean's writing, or did Swift and she get it out of a common stock? The man spoke to me outside the house. "She sticks her eyes into me when I come in, and the sort of temper I have, the brain does be leppin' off me." He made an apology in a speech that was poetry in everything except form. 'I'm runnin' the four winds of the world, striven' to get them bread. I would not know why the people were dressed nor when the holiday came, I would be that bent with hardship.' Once he spoke to me about the virtues of a certain well that we were near. I wrote down his phrase. Afterwards I thought that this was the expression that he had used, "The water of that well...when the sun is on the stones, the coldness of it would shake the teeth in your head.'"
Mr. Colum continues, "Educated people find it hard to believe that an Irish countryman or woman, when speaking, had often a compelling sense of style. I believe that it is so. A man said to me, 'He was offered gallons of gold in Cavan gaol to betray the people.' He used 'gallons' with 'gold' for the sake of the alliteration…
"It has been said that in England the country people have a vocabulary of from 300 to 500 words. Doctor Pedersen took down 2500 words for the vocabulary of Irish speakers in the Arran Islands. Doctor Douglass Hyde wrote down a vocabulary of 3000 words from people in Roscommon who could neither read nor write, and he thinks he fell short by 1000 words of the vocabulary in actual use. He suggests that in Munster – especially in Kerry – the average vocabulary in use amongst Irish speakers is probably between 5000 and 6000 words"…a "man had a meal at his younger relatives' house, and he said afterwards, 'God made meat, but somebody else made cooks.' In the old days in Ireland poets were always making satires."
On "The Anglo-Irish Idiom," Colum has these illuminating observations on Irish pronunciation--observations that clear up the considerable misunderstanding about the misnamed Irish Brogue. He writes: "The Anglo-Irish idiom is naturally formed and logically constructed; every deviation from the standard English tongue has its reasons and its explanation. 'Are you selling the horse today?' The speaker of correct English has to move the emphasis from one word to another of the four last according to the information he seeks. Four successive positions of the chief stress give four different meanings to the question. The Anglo-Irish idiom, which in this matter follows the locution of the Gaelic, has no need of accentuating. Its user would say (a) 'Is it you who are selling the horse?' or 'Is it selling the horse you are?' or (c) 'Is it the horse you are selling?' or (d) 'Is it today you are selling the horse?' In other words', says a well-informed writer, 'where the English purist depends upon stress to bring out his meaning, the Irish idiom employs construction for the same purpose, and much more effectively.'
"In reply to the query, 'Does it rain here?', the native says, 'It bees raining', or ‘It does be raining.' He is making an attempt to reach an exactitude that is possible in Gaelic; in that language there is a distinct form of the verb 'to be' to indicated the habitual, the frequentative tense. The Irishman, who has the tradition of Gaelic, even though he may never have heard it spoken, feels the want of the frequentative tense in English, and he attempts to supply it. And so 'bees' and 'does be' are used as a distinct tense in the Anglo-Irish idiom. – 'He bees lame in the winter', or 'He does be lame in the winter' implies that the man's lameness is intermittent.
It has been said that the purest English, especially as to idiom, was spoken in the "Pale," that is, in Dublin and the adjoining neighborhood. Witness Goldsmith in his "Vicar of Wakefield," the novel that is a classic of domestic life, not only in the portrayal of loveable characters, such as Dr. Primrose; but also in some of the language, stilted at times, it is true, yet homely and idiomatic, in spite of its belabored sentences. The story has it that Goldsmith's friend, or Johnson, rescued "The Vicar of Wakefield" from the wastebasket.
Both my father and grandfather knew and were great admirers of those Irishmen who perforce wrote in English, yet displayed the Irish genius for fine description.
There is "The Traveler" and "The Deserted Village," whose rhyming couplets, though mechanical and rather sing-song, yet are long remembered for their musical swing and their aptness for quotation. Johnson felt the same way about Goldsmith's workmanship, for he said of him, in his epitaph of Goldsmith, "Nihil tetigit quod non ornavit." That workmanship is quite different in idiom from the Latin-larded English of the great Dictionary-maker, Dr. Johnson, of whom it is alleged that Goldsmith said if Johnson could make minnows talk, he would have them speak like whales. Goldsmith was an Irishman, the son of a poor Irish curate, who was the prototype of Dr. Primrose. His home must have furnished the inspiration for "The Deserted Village." Like the characteristic Irishman that he was, Goldsmith had great reverence for pure womanhood. He was a typical Irishman in other ways, delighting in the finery of his dress, extravagant and reckless of money, giving it to beggars, even when on the morrow he would stand in need of it himself.
Edmund Burke, the Irishman, whom Taine calls "the first mind of the age," who, to judge from the variety of subjects which he treated, took, like Francis Bacon, the whole range of human knowledge for his province, was born in Dublin of a Protestant father, but Catholic mother whom he always revered and who mightily influenced his character. He had the truly Celtic mind which expressed itself in resounding rhetoric and impassioned oratory in his written speeches and essays. It is true that he was called the dinner-bell of Parliament from the fact that when he rose to speak, the members of the House of Commons emptied the room on pretence of going to eat. Burke was a stocky, ungainly, unprepossessing individual, wild and extravagant in gesticulation with a nasal twang in his voice which made his delivery far from pleasing and hard to listen to. But the members of Parliament were just as sure to read his speeches when published as they were unwilling to listen to them delivered. He spoke with vehemence against England's treatment of the American Colonies, against her Irish policy, as well as her shameful exploitation of India, still a burning question today.
Dean Swift of Trinity College, Dublin, was another Irishman, arrogant and haughty, who considered himself the peer of any man, and who made those of high degree knuckle under to him. He was a satirist who turned his pen against sham and pretense in high places. He was the most original writer of his time and one of the greatest masters of English prose. Without striving after literary effects, "he drives straight on to the end with a convincing power that has never been surpassed in our language."
Of course, Swift was an Irishman only by the accident of birth. He became a clergyman of the Church of England and was appointed to a poor parish in Ireland, which country he disliked intensely. However, he accepted the appointment because there was no other "living" open to him. He discharged his duties as pastor of his little flocks with meticulous care and labored to improve the condition of the people around about him. Somehow, with all his bitterness at seeing men of small parts preferred to himself for large parishes, he cared for the poor with genuine Irish sympathy. In this he showed the influence of the winning habits of the Irish peasantry to awaken in his heart a love for the race which he pretended to despise.
Swift, who was born in 1667 of English parents, was one of the many Englishmen touched by the Irish character and by it completely influenced. Many other Englishmen of the Pale and of northern Ulster espoused the Irish cause and, in some instances, like Robert Ernnst, died for it. What is it due to? May it not be to the insularity of Ireland? Insularity, that is, compactness of the inhabitants in the racial sense. They are all in love with the Emerald Isle as their fatherland, no matter what their provincial differences. In area Ireland is about the same as the State of Maine, but it is an island of a whole piece, pressed by the Atlantic Ocean, St. George's Channel, the Irish Sea and the North Channel into compete oneness, much more so than England, Scotland, and Wales. It is inhabited by one race of people, or by races which have blended into homogeneity almost before the age of authentic recorded history. Be their ancestry Formorian, Firbolgian, Tuath-de Dannaan, or Milesian, they war among themselves, it is true; but like husband and wife in a private quarrel, are always ready to turn upon an outsider who should interfere.
The English are mostly Anglo-Saxons, who drove the original Celts westward into Wales, and Scots, with the blood of Irish immigrants from Eman Macha, which is the County Leitrim today. Just read "Deirdre of the Sorrows" by J. M. Synge, for Deirdre and Naisi and his brothers.
The Anglo-Saxons did not intermarry with the Celts or Britons, as a general rule; they maintained their own identity and during one hundred fifty or more years spread their rule over the most of what is today England. Hence the English, as Anglo-Saxons, may be considered interlopers. They were and are alien to the soil. The Celts, or Britons, were the real owners, but they were driven back into Wales. The Picts and Scots across the border were for a long time a thorn in the side of the English whom they raided often and fought with intermittently.
Consequently the inhabitants of Great Britain, who are now Anglo-Saxons, did not for a long time have the same love or hereditary fondness for their island that the Irish had for their own Emerald Isle.
My grandmother Mulvey, who before her marriage to my grandfather, was an O'Connor, Ellen O'Connor, often used to tell a story of a near relative of hers, which my father often repeated to us when we were older. It was a story of heroism and of maternal devotion that was surely substantially true. I forget just what was the relationship between her and the principal actor in the story, though, the impression left on my mind was that the relationship was very close. She told it as though it was the perfectly natural thing to do under the circumstances–told it without any frills or adornments of language.
It was the story of a young man who, on horseback, was acting as a lookout on the Irish west coast for the arrival of a French ship with supplies of guns and ammunition for the Irish rebels in the rebellion of 1798. The French and Irish had always been great friends, as was natural. They were both Celts, whereas the English were Anglo-Saxons. To understand the story, we must look at a little history.
The English and French, about the turn of the nineteenth century, were at war, or at the point of war, most of the time. The French were willing to aid the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and the Irish sought that aid with assiduity, believing that England's trouble was Ireland's opportunity. The English set on foot to destroy the Irish Parliament. The result was the formation of the Society of United Irishmen, which embraced both Presbyterians in the north of Ireland and Catholics in the South. In Connaucht especially men of prominence, like Lord Edward Fitzgerald, joined the movement. In Ulster alone they numbered 74,000.
Wolfe Tone went to France and succeeded, without so much as credentials of any kind, by the sheer force of his earnestness, in securing a French fleet and 10,000 men who sailed for Bantry Bay in the winter of 1796. The winds favored William of Orange but were adverse to the French who, after every effort, could not land. They returned to France. Another expedition, fitted out in the ship Trexel, failed similarly.
English regiments were put at "free quarters" in the homes and cabins of the people with demands for bed and board. Suspected persons were tortured to secure confessions. The wretched people were driven to fury. "Prosecutions of United Irishmen were frequent." It was all done deliberately to provoke revolt, according to one historian. In 1798 the revolt came, and with it came some names that shall live forever in Irish history.
There was Wolfe Tone, the Catholic, who was arrested and thrown into prison where, driven to despair, he died by his own hand. Then there was Robert Emmet, who was not a Catholic, whose speech from the dock is, or was, a favorite recitation, or declamation of young Irishmen of the last century. I have recited it many times.
My father used to tell us the story, as he got it from his mother, of another Irishman by the name of O'Connor who, as I said, was also an O'Connor when she married my grandfather Mulvey. This O'Connor was a young man in the days of that Rebellion of 1798. He belonged to the Irish guerillas. He and his fellow rebels were on the lookout for a ship bringing supplies of arms and ammunition from France to be landed somewhere along the west coast, probably on the shores of Galway Bay. He was alone one night keeping watch for the expected arrival of the vessel, his horse hidden and waiting for him in a nearby gully. Just as dawn was breaking, he spied the ship coming close-hauled and waiting, evidently, for some prearranged signal from the shore. O'Connor gave the signal. It was seen and answered from on board the vessel – but it was also seen by some Redcoats who, unfortunately for O'Connor, were watching from a defile not far away. Their mounts were concealed and waiting for them in another defile beyond a rise in the ground.
These Redcoats had crept up on O'Connor and, just as he mounted his horse, opened fire on him. The young man was wounded in the left arm. Turning quickly, O'Connor fired almost at random at the spot whence the volley had come, spoke to his horse, pressed his heels into his flanks and made a dash for it. The soldiers, one of whom had been hit by O'Connor's random shot, ran back to their horses, and, after some delay in caring for their wounded companion, gave chase. They were certain of overtaking O'Connor, for they knew that he had been hurt and would make for the somewhat distant cottage of his mother.
Up hill and down dale they sped, O'Connor seeking to lose his pursuers in the winding and twisting country roads that led to his home. He needed some ministrations for the wound in his arm.
He gained on his pursuers by taking across country and reached his mother's cottage while the two remaining Redcoats were nowhere in sight.
He dismounted from his horse which, with a pat on the rump, headed for his stall in the stable, while O'Connor closed the stable door with his good hand. Then, staggering from loss of blood, he pushed open the half-door of the cottage, entered and greeted his mother with these words: "Mother macree, I'm shot and they are after me, just behind the rise in the road. They'll be here in a couple o' minutes. Tie a rag around this hole in my arm while you have time."
"Come here, then, achushla," said she. "Now, off with yer coat and boots. Throw them there on the floor," and she tied a rag around his arm above and across the hole that the musket ball had made.
"Now, out with ye through the back door. Creep through the cabbage patch, agrah, and away with ye."
He did as he was told and reached a clump of trees in no time.
Meanwhile, the soldiers reached the house, ran toward the stable, saw the horse there, his flanks and withers flecked with foam from the hard riding, and surmised that O'Connor, wounded as he w as, could not have gone any farther than the house. So the Redcoats entered, looked around, saw a small pool of blood that had dripped down from the wound in his arm, and a further trail where the mother dragged the blood-stained coat after her to the room beyond.
They hastily made their way to the door of the bedroom, cautiously opened it, and saw the bed occupied. The coverings were only roughly arranged, as though done in a hurry by the one lying there. The bed-clothes revealed the heel and leg of a riding boot, while the tails of the riding-coat were just visible under the covers. The head and the face of the one on the bed were completely hidden as though the occupant had dived in and, ostrich-like, pulled the bedclothes around his head and neck, while his face was turned toward the wall.
Here then was s dangerous rebel, trapped and wounded. The dragoons were not taking any chances; it was a case of shoot first and ask questions afterwards.
A shot rang out. A convulsive shiver shook the form on the bed. The dragoon lowered his carbine.
"That does it," said the officer. "Let us see where you hit him."
They approached the bed, pulled off the clothes, turned the form toward them and revealed the face and form of a woman!
The mother had pulled on her son's boots and great coat and arranged herself on the bed to simulate her son. She was shot dead – had given her life to save that of her boy.
Meantime, O'Connor had crept swiftly through the cabbage patch, reached a clump of trees, whistled to another horse that was grazing in a field nearby, mounted him and, bending low over the horse's neck, picked his way through a gulley so as to make as little noise as possible until he came out on a country road. He was hidden for awhile by the peasantry, then in time made his way to another part of the coast and took ship for America. Report had it that he worked his way to New Orleans and settled there.
Just recently an acquaintance of my daughter Dorothy's sent me, by her, a copy of "Handy Andy" published just one hundred years ago, in 1842, in Dublin, and written by Samuel Lover. Dorothy's friend said that I should enjoy it if I was interested in Irish stories. The fact is, I had read it when I was a boy some sixty years ago, but I was glad of the chance to read it again.
In it I found this conversation between one Edward O'Connor and the captain of some English soldiers, with two or three others joining in. The soldiers had been called out to quell a disturbance that took place on the occasion of an Irish election.
O'Connor had appealed to a gathering crowd of Irish peasantry who had been intimidated by a detachment of police, of "Peelers," to reinforce whom a cowardly sheriff had summoned a company of soldiers from the neighboring barracks on orders from a blood-thirsty Squire. The soldiers were about to fire into the crowd, when O'Connor appeared on horseback, rode in between the soldiers and the fast-growing mob, and spoke to them a few soothing, reasonable words in tones which they understood. He asked them not to commit an act of violence, but to scatter peaceably and go to their homes. The crowd cheered him and melted away.
"I never saw a people over whom those in authority require more good temper," remarked the captain.
"Gentleness goes a long way with then," said Edward.
"And violence never succeeds," added Mr. Monk.
"You are of the opinion, then," said the soldier, "They are not to be forced?"
"Except to do what they like," chimed in Growling.
"That's a very Irish sort of coercion," said the captain, smiling.
"And therefore fit for Irishmen," said Growling; "and I never knew an intelligent Englishman yet, who came to Ireland, who did not find it out. Paddy has a touch of the pig in him – he won't be driven; but you may coax him a long way; or if you appeal to his reason – for he happens to have such a thing about him, -- you may persuade him into what is right if you take the trouble."
"By Jove," said the captain, "it is not easy to argue with Paddy; the rascals are so ready with quip and equivoque, and queer answers, that they generally get the best of the talk, however fallacious may be their argument; and when you think you have Pat in a corner, …he's off without your knowing how he slipped through your fingers."
In this passage the characteristics of the Irish nature are summed up by a man who knew them. He sympathized with the race that possessed them, without any whit of prejudice; for the author of "Handy Andy" was not of their faith. Samuel Lover was an Irish Protestant of the Pale, i. e., Dublin and the surrounding country. The same thing may be said of one of the characters which he describes, the hero of the incident quoted, namely, Edward O'Conner.
With regard to the Irish brogue, in a book written some ninety years later than "Handy Andy," and called "Ireland Beautiful" by Wallace Nutting, the statement is made that "The best English in the world is spoken in the great Irish cities of Dublin and Boston, in Dublin by the Irish, and in Boston by – others. Coming to Scotland from Larne in Ireland, I could hardly understand the speech of the shopkeepers, whereas at Larne and in Belfast I could with difficulty notice any variation from correct English. Only about one percent of the Irish speak Irish as their mother tongue, so I was told by a teacher of Irish. The variations from correct English in Ireland are slight in comparison with the North English dialect. The Irish have the gift of speech, and the English lack it; hence the Irishman can literally take the words out of an Englishman's mouth and better them."
Ireland had a literature and was a cultured nation from the sixth century when the English and Scotch were far from that degree of civilization, to say the least. The Irishman, among other things, has the gift of speech, and speech is impossible without ideas to be expressed in it. Those who speak Erse, the literary language of ancient Ireland, say that it is rich in synonyms, words of delicate shades of meaning, and precise at that. The result is a large vocabulary that expresses every shade of thought. It is well to know and to remember that Irish is the most ancient vernacular literature of modern Europe. "It was brought to perfection by generations of scholars and writers who made of it a remarkable medium, -- flexible, beautiful, poetic. And the present-day Irish scholars declare the best of the Erse compositions excel in literary merit the works of other languages.
It is true that several generations ago there was a great deal of the so-called Irish Brogue and several varieties of it, especially among the peasant population. But it is different today. "A great surprise awaits travelers in Ireland when they learn that people with whom they converse usually speak as correctly as themselves, and often more so. A language which has seven words for water is not likely to lack liquid qualities! …But of one thing there can be no question – the English-speaking Irishman usually has the Englishman and often the American at a disadvantage. He inherits a readiness and a range of speech. The Irish have long been known for their quickness of repartee, a thing which can happen only among people of quick wits and good vocabulary."
Moreover, the Irish are great linguists, given the chance. I remember reading an Irish novel, in which the linguistic ability of the Irish is shown forth. I think it was "Rory O'More" by Samuel Lover. The hero of it had been a soldier of fortune and had traveled in many countries acquiring the language of each. He spoke French like a Frenchman, German like a German, Italian like an Italian, and English – like an Irishman! That was in the days of the Irish Brogue, so called, whereas, in many instances, it is merely the preserved Elizabethan pronunciation. But today the Irishman generally speaks English pure and undefiled, and better than most Englishmen.
|Chapter Two||Chapter Three||Chapter Four||Chapter Five||Chapter Six|
|Chapter Seven||My Father Leaves
|Chapter Nine||Chapter Ten||Chapter Eleven|
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