Penelope's Irish Experiences
“ Moist and agreeable, — that’s the Irish notion both for climate and company.”
SHAN VAN VOCHT HOTEL, Heart of Connemara.
SHAN VAN VOCHT means in English the “Poor Little Old Woman,” one of the many endearing names given to Ireland in the Gaelic. There is, too, a wellknown rebel song called by this title, — one which was not only written in Irish and English, but which was translated into French for the soldiers at Brest who were to invade Ireland under Hoche.
We had come from Knockcool, Donegal, to Westport, in County Mayo, and the day was enlivened by two purely Irish touches, one at the beginning and one at the end. We alighted at a certain railway junction to await our train, and were interested in a large detachment of soldiers, — starting for a long journey, we judged, by the number of railway carriages and the amount of luggage and stores. In every crowded compartment there were two or three men leaning out over the locked doors; for the guard was making ready to start. All were chatting gayly with their sweethearts, wives, and daughters, save one gloomy fellow sitting alone in a corner, searching the crowd with sad eyes for a wished-for face or a last greeting. The bell rang, the engine stirred; suddenly a pretty, rosy girl flew breathlessly down the platform, pushing her way through the groups of on-lookers. The man’s eyes lighted ; he rose to his feet, but the other fellows blocked the way ; the door was locked, and he had but one precious moment. Still he was equal to the emergency, for he raised his fist and with one blow shattered the window, got his kiss, and the train rumbled away, with his victorious smile set in a frame of broken glass! I liked that man better than any one I ’ve seen since Himself deserted me for his Duty ! How I hope the pretty girl will be faithful, and how I hope that an ideal lover will not be shot in South Africa !
Copyright, 1901, by KATE DOUGLAS RIGGS.
And if he was truly Irish, so was the porter at a little way station where we stopped in the dark, after being delayed interminably at Claremorris by some trifling accident. We were eight persons packed into a second-class carriage, and totally ignorant of our whereabouts ; but the porter, opening the door hastily, shouted, " Is there anny one there for here?” — a question so vague and illogical that none of us said anything in reply, but simply gazed at one another, and then laughed as the train went on.
We are on a here-to-day-and-gone-tomorrow journey, determined to avoid the railways, and travel by private conveyance and the public “ long cars,” just for a glimpse of the Weeping West before we settle down quietly in County Meath for our last few weeks of Irish life.
Thus far it has been a pursuit of the picturesque under umbrellas; in fact, we ’re desthroyed wid the dint of the damp ! If the barometer bore any relation to the weather, we could plan our drives with more discretion; but it sometimes remains as steady as a rock during two days of sea mist, and Francesca, finding it wholly regardless of gentle tapping, lost her temper on one occasion and rapped it so severely as to crack the glass. That this peculiarity of Irish barometers has been noted before we are sure, because of this verse written by a native bard: —
Be sure the weather will be dirty.
When the glass is high, O very !
There ’ll be rain in Cork and Kerry.
When the glass is low, O Lork !
There ’ll be rain in Kerry and Cork ! ”
I might add : —
The sky is weeping in the West.
The national rainbow is as deceitful as the barometer, and it is no uncommon thing for us to have half a dozen of them in a day, between heavy showers, like the smiles and tears of Irish character ; though, to be sure, one does not need to be an Irish patriot to declare that a fine day in this country is worth three fine days anywhere else. The present weather is accounted for partially by the fact that, as Horace Walpole said, summer has set in with its usual severity, and the tourist is abroad in the land.
I am not sure but that we belong to the hated class for the moment, though at least we try to emulate tourist virtues, if there are any, and avoid tourist vices, which is next to impossible, as they are the fruit of the tour itself. It is the circular tour which, in its effect upon the great middle class, is the most virulent and contagious, and which breeds the most offensive habits of thought and speech. The circular tour is a magnificent idea, a praiseworthy business scheme; it has educated the minds of millions, and why it should have ruined their manners is a mystery, unless indeed they had none when they were at home. Some of our fellow travelers with whom we originally started disappear every day or two, to join us again. We lose them temporarily when we take a private conveyance or when they stop at a cheap hotel, but we come together again on coach or long car ; and although they have torn off many coupons in the interval, their remaining stock seems to assure us of their society for days to come.
We have a Protestant clergyman who is traveling for his health, but beguiling his time by observations for a volume to be called The Relation between Priests and Pauperism. It seems, at first thought, as if the circular coupon system was ill fitted to furnish him with corroborative detail; but inasmuch as every traveler finds in a country only, so to speak, what he brings to it, he will gather statistics enough. Those persons who start with a certain bias of mind in one direction seldom notice any facts that would throw out of joint those previously amassed; they instinctively collect the ones that “ match,” all others having a tendency to disturb the harmony of the original scheme. The clergyman’s traveling companion is a person who possesses not a single opinion, conviction, or trait in common with him ; so we conclude that they joined forces for economy’s sake. This comrade we call “ the man with the evergreen heart,” for we can hardly tell by his appearance whether he is an old young man or a young old one. With his hat on he is juvenile; when he removes it, he is so distinctly elderly that we do not know whether to regard him as damaged youth or well-preserved old age; but he transfers his solicitous attentions to lady after lady, rebuffs not having the slightest effect upon his warm, susceptible, ardent nature. We suppose that he is single, but we know that he can be married at a moment’s notice by anybody who is willing to accept the risks of the situation. Then we have a nice schoolmaster, so agreeable that Salemina, Francesca, and I draw lots every evening as to who shall sit beside him next day. He has just had seventy boys down with measles at the same time, giving prizes to those who could show the best rash ! Salemina is no friend to the competitive system in education, but this appealed to her as being as wise as it was whimsical.
We have also in our company an indiscreet and inflammable Irishman from Wexford and a cutler from Birmingham, who lose no opportunity to have a conversational scrimmage. When the car stops to change or water the horses (and as for this last operation, our steeds might always manage it without loss of time by keeping their mouths open), we generally hear something like this; for although the two gentlemen have never met before, they fight as if they had known each other all their lives.
Mr. Shamrock. “ Faith, then, if you don’t like the hotels and the railroads, go to Paris or London ; we’ve done widout you up to now, and we can kape on doing widout you ! We’d have more money to spind in entertainin’ you if the government had n’t taken three million of pounds out of us to build fortifications in China.”
Mr. Rose. “ That’s all bosh and nonsense; you would n’t know how to manage a hotel if you had the money.”
Mr. Shamrock. “ If we can’t make hotel-kapers, it’s soldiers we can make; and be the same token you can’t manage India or Canada widout our help ! Faith, England owes Ireland more than she can pay, and it’s not her business to be thravelin’ round criticisin’ the throubles she’s helped to projuce.”
Mr. Rose. “ William Ewart Gladstone did enough for your island to make up for all the harm that the other statesmen may or may not have done.”
Mr. Shamrock, touched in his most vulnerable point, shrieks above the rattle of the wheels : “ The wurrst statesman that iver put his name to paper was William Ewart Gladstone ! ”
Mr. Rose. “ The best, I say ! ”
Mr. Shamrock. " I say the wurrst! ” Mr. Rose. “ The best! ! ”
Mr. Shamrock. “ The wurrst ! ! ” Mr. Rose (after a pause). “ It’s your absentee landlords that have done the mischief. I’d hang every one of them, if I had my way.”
Mr. Shamrock. “ Faith, they’d be absint thin, sure enough ! ”
And at this everybody laughs, and the trouble is over for a brief space, much to the relief of Mrs. Shamrock.
The last two noteworthy personages are a dapper Frenchman, who is in business at Manchester, and a portly Londoner, both of whom are seeing Ireland for the first time. The Frenchman does not grumble at the weather; for he says that in Manchester it rains twice a day all the year round, save during the winter, when it commonly rains all day.
Sir James Paget, in an address on Recreation, defined its chief element to be surprise. If that is true, the portly Londoner must be exhilarated beyond words. But with him the sensation does not stop with surprise : it becomes first amazement, and then horror ; for he is of the comparative type, and therefore sees things done and hears things said, on every hand, that are not said and done at all in the same way in London. He sees people — ay, and policemen — bicycling on footpaths and riding without lamps, and is horrified to learn that they are seldom, if ever, prosecuted. He is shocked at the cabins, and the rocks, and the beggar children, and the lack of trees; at the lack of logic, also, and the lack of shoes ; at the prevalence of the brogue; above all, at the presence of the pig in the parlor. He is outraged at the weather, and he minds getting wet the more because he hates Irish whiskey. He keeps a little notebook, and he can hardly wait for dinner to be over, he is so anxious to send a communication (probably signed “ Veritas ”) to the London Times.
The multiplicity of rocks and the absence of trees are indeed the two most striking features of the landscape ; and yet Boate says, “ In ancient times, as long as the land was in full possession of the Irish themselves, all Ireland was very full of woods on every side, as evidently appeareth by the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis.” But this was long ago, —
Was set in the brow of a stranger.”
In the long wars with the English these forests were the favorite refuge of the natives, and it was a common saying that the Irish could never be tamed while the leaves were upon the trees. Then passages were cut through the woods, and the policy of felling them, as a military measure, was begun and carried forward on a gigantic scale in Elizabeth’s reign.
At one of the cabins along the road they were making great preparations, which we understood, from having seen the same thing in Lisdara. There are wee villages and solitary cabins so far from chapel that the priests establish “ stations ” for confession. A certain house is selected, and all the old, infirm, and feeble ones come there to confess and hear mass. The priest afterwards eats breakfast with the family ; and there is great pride in this function, and great rivalry in the humble arrangements. Mrs. Odevaine often lends a linen cloth and flowers to one of her neighbors, she tells us ; to another a knife and fork, or a silver teapot; and so on. This cabin was at the foot of a long hill, and the driver gave me permission to walk; so Francesca and I slipped down, I with a parcel which chanced to have in it some small purchases made at the last hotel. We asked if we might help a bit, and give a little teapot of Belleek ware and a linen doily trimmed with Irish lace. Both the articles were trumpery bits of souvenirs, but the old dame was inclined to think that the angels and saints had taken her in charge, and nothing could exceed her gratitude. She offered us a potato from the pot, a cup of tea or goat’s milk, and a flower from a cracked cup ; and this last we accepted as we departed in a shower of blessings, the most interesting of them being, “ May the Blessed Virgin twine your brow with roses when ye sit in the sates of glory ! ” and “ The Lord be good to ye and sind ye a duke for a husband ! ” We felt more than repaid for our impulsive interest, and as we disappeared from sight a last “ Bannact dea leat! ” (God’s blessing be on your way !) was wafted to our ears.
I seem to have known all these people before, and indeed I have met them between the covers of a book ; for Connemara has one prophet, and her name is Jane Barlow. In how many of these wild bog lands of Connaught have we seen a huddle of desolate cabins on a rocky hillside, turf stacks looming darkly at the doors, and empty black pots sitting on the thresholds, and fancied we have found Lisconnel! I should recognize Ody Rafferty, the Widow McGurk, Mad Bell, old Mrs. Kilfoyle, or Stacey Doyne, if I met them face to face, just as I should know other real human creatures of a higher type, — Beatrix Esmond, Becky Sharp, Meg Merrilies, or Di Vernon.
“'Did the Irish elves ever explain themselves to you, Red Rose ? '
No, I can’t say that they did,’ said the English Elf. ‘ You can’t call it an explanation to say that a thing has always been that way, just; or that a thing would be a heap more bother any other way.’ ”
The west of Ireland is depressing, but it is very beautiful; at least if your taste includes an appreciation of what is wild, magnificent, and sombre. Oppressed you must be, even if you are an artist, by its bleakness and its dreariness, its lonely lakes reflecting a dull gray sky, its desolate bog lands, its solitary chapels, its wretched cabins perched on hillsides that are very wildernesses of rocks. But for cloud effects, for wonderful shadows, for fantastic and unbelievable sunsets, when the mountains are violet, the lakes silver with red flashes, the islets gold and crimson and purple, and the whole cloudy west in a flame, it is unsurpassed ; only your standard of beauty must not be a velvet lawn studded with copper beeches, or a primary-hued landscape bathed in American sunshine. Connemara is austere and gloomy under a dull sky, but it has the poetic charm that belongs to all mystery, and its bare cliffs and ridges are delicately penciled on a violet background, in a way peculiar to itself and enchantingly lovely.
The waste of all God’s gifts; the incredible poverty ; the miserable huts, often without window or chimney; the sad-eyed women, sometimes nothing but “ skin, bones, and grief ; ” the wild, beautiful children, springing up like startled deer from behind piles of rocks or growths of underbrush; the stony little bits of earth which the peasants cling to with such passion, while good grass lands lie unused, yet seem forever out of reach, — all these make one dream, and wonder, and speculate, and hope against hope that the worst is over and a better day dawning. We passed within sight of a hill village without a single road to connect it with the outer world. The only supply of turf was on the mountain top, and from thence it had to be brought, basket by basket, even in the snow. The only manure for such land is seaweed, and that must be carried from the shore to the tiny plats of sterile earth on the hillside. I remember it all, for I refused to buy a pair of stockings of a woman along the road. We had taken so many that my courage failed ; but I saw her climbing the slopes patiently, wearily, a shawl over her white hair, — knitting, knitting, knitting, as she walked in the rain to her cabin somewhere behind the high hills. We never give to beggars in any case, but we buy whatever we can as we are able ; and why did I draw the line at that particular pair of stockings, only to be haunted by that pathetic figure for the rest of my life ? Beggars there are by the score, chiefly in the tourist districts; but it is only fair to add that there are hundreds of huts where it would be a dire insult to offer a penny for a glass of water, a sup of milk, or the shelter of a turf fire.
As we drive along the road, we see, if the umbrellas can be closed for a half hour, flocks of sheep grazing on the tops of the hills, where it is sunnier, where food is better and flies less numerous. Crystal streams and waterfalls are pouring down the hillsides to lose themselves in one of Connemara’s many bays, and we have a glimpse of osmunda fern, golden green and beautiful. It was under a branch of this Osmunda regalis that the Irish princess lay hidden, they say, till she had evaded her pursuers. The blue turf smoke rises here and there, — now from a cabin with houseleek growing on the crumbling thatch, now from one whose roof is held on by ropes and stones, — and there is always a turf bog, stacks and stacks of the cut blocks, a woman in a gown of dark red flannel resting for a moment, with the empty creel beside her, and a man cutting in the distance. After climbing the long hill beyond the “station” we are rewarded by a glimpse of more fertile fields ; the clumps of ragwort and purple loosestrife are reinforced with kingcups and lilies growing near the wayside, and the rare sight, first of a pot of geraniums in the window, and then of a garden all aglow with red fuchsias, torch plants, and huge dahlias, so cheers Veritas that he takes heart again. “ This is something like home! ” he exclaims breezily ; whereupon Mr. Shamrock murmurs that if people find nothing to admire in a foreign country save what resembles their own, he wonders that they take the trouble to be traveling.
“ It is a darlin’ year for the pitaties,” the driver says; and there are plenty of them planted hereabouts, even in stony spots not worth a keenogue for anything else, for “ pitaties does n’t require anny inthricket farmin’, you see, ma’am.”
The clergyman remarks that only three things are required to make Ireland the most attractive country in the world, — “ Protestantism, cleanliness, and gardens ; ” and Mr. Shamrock, who is of course a Roman Catholic, answers this tactful speech in a way that surprises the speaker and keeps him silent for hours.
The Birmingham cutler, who has a copy of Ismay’s Children in his pocket, triumphantly reads aloud, at this moment, a remark put into the mouth of an Irish character: “ The low Irish are quite destitute of all notion of beauty, — have not the remotest particle of artistic sentiment or taste ; their cabins are exactly as they were six hundred years ago, for they never want to improve themselves.”
Then Mr. Shamrock asserts that any show of prosperity on a tenant’s part would only mean an advance of rent on the landlord’s ; and Mr. Rose retorts that while that might have been true in former times, it is utterly false to-day.
Mrs. Shamrock, who is a natural apologist, pleads that the Irish gentry have the most beautiful gardens in the world and the greatest natural taste in gardening, and there must be some reason why the lower classes are so different in this respect. May it not be due partly to lack of ground, lack of money to spend on seeds and fertilizers, lack of all refining, civilizing, and educating influences ? Mr. Shamrock adds that the dwellers in cabins cannot successfully train creepers against the walls or flowers in the dooryard, because of the goat, pig, donkey, ducks, hens and chickens; and Veritas asks triumphantly, “ Why don’t you keep the pig in a sty, then ? ”
The man with the evergreen heart (who has already been told this morning that I am happily married, Francesca engaged, Salemina a determined celibate, but Benella quite at liberty) peeps under Salemina’s umbrella at this juncture, and says tenderly, “ And what do you think about these vexed questions, dear madam ? ” Which gives her a chance to reply with some distinctness, “ I shall not know what I think for several months to come; and at any rate, there are various things more needed on this coach than opinions.”
At this the Frenchman murmurs, “ Ah, qu’elle a raison! ” and the Birmingham cutler says, “ ’Ear ! ’ear ! ”
On another day the parson began to tell the man with the evergreen heart some interesting things about America. He had never been there himself, but he had a cousin who had traveled extensively in that country, and had brought back much unusual information. “The Americans are an extraordinary people on the practical side,” he remarked; “ but having said that, you have said all, for they are sordid and absolutely devoid of ideality. Take an American at his roll-top desk, a telephone at one side and a typewriter at the other, talk to him of pork and dollars, and you have him at his very best. He always keeps on his Panama hat at business, and sits in a rockingchair smoking a long cigar. The American woman wears a blue dress with a red lining, or a black dress with orange trimmings, showing a survival of African taste; while another exhibits the American Indian type, — sallow, with high cheek bones. The manners of the servant classes are extraordinary. I believe they are called the ‘ help,’ and they commonly sit in the drawing-room after the work is finished.”
“ You surprise me ! ” said Mrs. Shamrock.
“ It is indeed amazing,” he continued ; “and there are other extraordinary customs, among them the habit of mixing ices with all beverages. They plunge ices into mugs of ale, beer, porter, lemonade, or Apollinaris, and sip the mixture with a long ladle at the chemist’s counter, where it is usually served.”
“ You surprise me ! ” exclaimed the cutler.
“ You surprise me too ! ” I echoed in my inmost heart. Francesca would not have confined herself to that blameless mode of expression, you may be sure, and I was glad that she was on the back seat of the car. I did not know it at the time, but Veritas, who is a man of intelligence, had identified her as an American, and, wishing to inform himself on all possible points, had asked her frankly why it was that the people of her nation gave him the impression of never beingrestful or quiet, but always so excessively and abnormally quick in motion and speech and thought.
“ Casual impressions are not worth anything,” she replied nonchalantly. “ As a nation, you might sometimes give us the impression of being phlegmatic and slow-witted. Both ideas may have some basis of fact, yet not be absolutely true. We are not all abnormally quick in America. Look at our messenger boys, for example.”
“ We! Phlegmatic and slow-witted ! ” exclaimed Veritas. “ You surprise me ! And why do you not reward these government messengers for speed, and stimulate them in that way ? ”
“ We do,” Francesca answered; “ that is the only way in which we ever get them to arrive anywhere, — by rewarding and stimulating them at both ends of the journey, and sometimes, in extreme cases, at a halfway station.”
“ This is most interesting,” said Veritas, as he took out his damp notebook ; “ and perhaps you can tell me why your newspapers are so poorly edited so cheap, so sensational ? ” “ I confess I can’t explain it,” she sighed, as if sorely puzzled. “ Can it be that we have expended our strength on magazines, where you are so lamentably weak ? ”
At this moment the rain began, as if there had been a long drought, and the sky had just determined to make up the deficiency. It fell in sheets, and the wind blew I know not how many Irish miles an hour. The Frenchman put on a silk mackintosh with a cape, and was berated by everybody in the same seat because he stood up a moment and let the water in under the lap covers. His umbrella was a dainty en-tout-cas with a mother-of-pearl handle, that had answered well enough in heavy mist or soft drizzle. His hat of fine straw was tied with a neat cord to his buttonhole ; but although that precaution insured its ultimate safety, it did not prevent its soaring from his head and descending on Mrs. Shamrock’s bonnet. He conscientiously tried holding it on with one hand, but was then reproved by both neighbors because his mackintosh dripped over them.
“ How are your spirits, Frenchy ? ” asked the cutler jocosely.
“I am not too greatly sad,” said the poor gentleman, “ but I will be glad it should be finished; far more joyfully would I be at Manchester, triste as it may be.”
Just then a gust of wind blew his cape over his head, and snapped his parasol.
“ It is evidently it has been made in Ireland,” he sighed, with a desperate attempt at gayety. “It should have had a grosser stem, and hélas ! it must not be easy to have it mended in these barbarous veelages.”
We stopped at four o’clock at a wayside hostelry, and I had quietly made up my mind to descend from the car, and take rooms for the night, whatever the place might be. Unfortunately, the same idea occurred to three or four of the soaked travelers ; and as men could leap down, while ladies must wait for the steps, the chivalrous sex secured the rooms, and I was obliged to ascend again, wetter than ever, to my perch beside the driver.
“ Can I get the box seat, do you think, if I pay extra for it ? ” I had asked one of the stablemen, before breakfast.
“ You don’t need to be payin’, miss ! Just confront the driver’, and you’ll get it aisy! ” If, by the way, I had confronted him at the end instead of at the beginning of the journey, I should never have succeeded; for my coat had been leaked upon by red and green umbrellas, my hat was a shapeless jelly, and my face imprinted with the spots from a drenched blue veil.
After two hours more of this we reached the Shan Van Vocht Hotel, where we had engaged apartments; but we found to our consternation that it was full, and that we had been put in lodgings a half mile away.
Salemina, whose patience was quite exhausted by the discomforts of the day, groaned aloud when we were deposited at the door of a village shop, and ushered upstairs to our tiny quarters ; but she ceased abruptly when she really took note of our surroundings. Everything was humble, but clean and shining, — glass, crockery, bedding, floor, on the which we were dripping pools of water, while our landlady’s daughter tried to make us more comfortable.
“ It’s a soft night we ’re havin’,” she said, in a dove’s voice, “ but we ’ll do right enough if the win’ does n’t rise up on us.”
Left to ourselves, we walked about the wee rooms on ever new and more joyful voyages of discovery. The curtains rolled up and down easily; the windows were propped upon nice clean sticks instead of tennis rackets and hearth brushes ; there was a well-washed stone to keep the curtain down on the sill ; and just outside were tiny window gardens, in each of which grew three marigolds and three asters, in a box fenced about with little green pickets. There were well-dusted books on the tables, and Francesca wanted to sit down immediately to The Charming Cora, reprinted from The Girl’s Own Paper. Salemina meantime had tempted fate by looking under the bed, where she found the floor so exquisitely neat that she patted it affectionately with her hand.
We had scarcely donned our dry clothing when the hotel proprietor sent a jaunting car for our drive to the seven-o’clock table d’hôte dinner. We carefully avoided our traveling companions that night, but learned the next morning that the Frenchman had slept on four chairs, and rejected the hotel coffee with the remark that it was not “ véritable,” — a criticism in which he was quite justified. Our comparative Englishman had occupied a cot in a room where the tin bathtubs were kept. He was writing to the Times at the moment of telling me his woes, and, without seeing the letter, I could divine his impassioned advice never to travel in the west of Ireland in rainy weather. He remarked (as if quoting from his own communication) that the scenery was magnificent, but that there was an entirely insufficient supply of hot water; that the waiters had the appearance of being low comedians, and their service was of the character one might expect from that description ; that he had been talking before breakfast with a German gentleman, who had sat on a wall opposite the village of Dugort, in the island of Achill, from six o’clock in the morning until nine, and in that time he had seen coming out of an Irish hut three geese, eight goslings, six hens, fifteen chickens, two pigs, two cows, two barefooted girls, the master of the house leading a horse, three small children carrying cloth bags filled with schoolbooks, and finally a strapping mother leading a donkey loaded with peat baskets ; that all this poverty and ignorance and indolence and filth was spoiling his holiday ; and finally, that if he should be as greatly disappointed in the fishing as he had been in the hotel accommodations, he should be obliged to go home ; and not only that, but he should feel it his duty to warn others of what they might expect.
“ Perhaps you are justified,” said Francesca sympathetically. “ People who are used to the dry, sunny climate and the clear atmosphere of London ought not to expose themselves to Irish rain without due consideration.”
He agreed with her, glancing over his spectacles to see if she by any possibility could be amusing herself at his expense, — good old fussy, fault-finding Veritas; but indeed Francesca’s eyes were so soft and lovely and honest that the more he looked at her, the less he could do her the injustice of suspecting her sincerity.
But mind you, although I would never confess it to Veritas, because he sees nothing but flaws on every side, the Irish pig is, to my taste, a trifle too much in the foreground. He pays the rent, no doubt; but this magnificent achievement could be managed from a sty in the rear, ungrateful as it might seem to immure so useful a personage behind a door or conceal his virtues from the public at large.
Breasts the keen air, and carols as he goes.”
If you drive from Clifden to Oughterard by way of Maam Cross, and then on to Galway, you will pass through the O’Flahertys’ country, one of whom, Murrough O’Flaherty, was governor of this county of Iar (western) Connaught. You will like to see the last of the O’Flaherty yews, a thousand years old at least, and the ruins of the castle and banqueting hall. The family glories are enumerated in ancient Irish manuscript, and instead of the butler, footman, chef, coachman, and gardener of to-day we read of the O’Flaherty physician, standard bearer, brehon or judge, keeper of the black bell, master of the revels, and keeper of the bees ; and the moment Himself is rich enough, I intend to add some of these personages to our staff.
We afterwards learned that there was formerly an inscription over the west gate of Galway : —
Good Lord, deliver us.”
After Richard de Burgo took the town, in 1226, it became a flourishing English colony, and the citizens must have guarded themselves from any intercourse with the native Irish ; at least, an old by-law of 1518 enacts that “ neither O’ nor Mac shalle strutte ne swaggere thro’ the streetes of Galway.”
We did not go to Galway straight, because we never do anything straight. We seldom get any reliable information, and never any inspiring suggestions, from the natives themselves. They are all patriotically sure that Ireland is the finest counthry in the world, God bless her ! but in the matter of seeing that finest counthry in the easiest or best fashion they are all very vague. Indirectly, our own lack of geography, coupled with the ignorance of the people themselves, has been of the greatest service in enlivening our journeys. Francesca says that, in looking back, she finds that our errors of judgment have always resulted in our most charming and unforgettable experiences; but let no one who is traveling with a well-balanced and logical-minded man attempt to follow in our footsteps.
Being as free as air on this occasion (if I except the dread of Benella’s scorn, which descends upon us now and then, and moves us to repentance, sometimes even to better behavior), we passed Porridgetown and Cloomore, and ferried across to the opposite side of Lough Corrib. Salemina, of course, had fixed upon Cong as our objective point, because of its caverns and archæological remains, which Dr. La Touche tells her not on any account to miss. Francesca and I said nothing, but we had a very definite idea of avoiding Cong, and going nearer Tuam, to climb Knockma, the hill of the fairies, and explore their ancient haunts and archæological remains, which are more in our line than the caverns of Cong.
Speaking of Dr. La Touche reminds me that we have not the smallest notion as to how our middle-aged romance is progressing. Absence may, at this juncture, be just as helpful a force in its development as daily intercourse would be ; for when one is past thirty, I fancy there is a deal of “ thinking-it-over ” to do. Precious little there is when we are younger; heart does it all then, and never asks head’s advice ! But in too much delay there lies no plenty, and there’s the danger. Actually, Francesca and I could be no more anxious to settle Salemina in life if she were lame, halt, blind, and homeless, instead of being attractive, charming, absurdly young for her age, and not without means. The difficulty is that she is one of those “ continent, persisting, immovable persons ” whom Emerson describes as marked out for the blessing of the world. That quality always makes a man anxious. He fears that he may only get his rightful share of blessing, and he craves the whole output, so to speak.
We naturally mention Dr. La Touche very often, since he is always writing to Salemina or to me, offering counsel and suggestion. Madam La Touche, the venerable aunt, has written also, asking us to visit them in Meath ; but this invitation we have declined, principally because the Colquhouns will be with them, and they would surely be burdened by the addition of three ladies and a maid to their family ; partly because we shall be freer in our own house, which will be as near the La Touche mansion as possible, you may be sure, if Francesca and I have anything to do with choosing it.
The La Touche name, then, is often on our lips, but Salemina offers no intimation that it is indelibly imprinted on her heart of hearts. It is a good name to be written anywhere, and we fancied there was the slightest possible hint of pride and possession in Salemina’s voice when she read to us to-night, from her third volume of Lecky’s History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, a paragraph concerning one David La Touche, from whom Dr. Gerald is descended : —
“ In the last of the Irish Parliaments no less than five members of the name sat together in the House of Commons, and his family may claim what is in truth the highest honor of which an Irish family can boast, — that during many successive governments and in a period of most lavish corruption it possessed great parliamentary influence, and yet passed through political life untitled and unstained.”
There is just the faintest gleam of hope, by the way, that Himself may join us at the very end of June, and he is sure to be helpful on this sentimental journey; he aided Ronald and Francesca more than once in their tempestuous love affair, and if his wits are not dulled by marriage, as so often happens, he will be invaluable. It will not be long then, probably, before I assume my natural, my secondary position in the landscape of events. The junior partners are now, so to speak, on their legs, although it is idle to suppose that such brittle appendages will support them for any length of time. As soon as we return in the autumn, I should like to advertise (if Himself will permit me) for a perfectly sound and kind junior partner, — one who has been well broken to harness, and who will neither shy nor balk, no matter what the provocation ; the next step being to urge Himself to relinquish altogether the bondage of business care. There is no need of his continuing in it, since other people’s business will always give him ample scope for his energies. He has, since his return to America, dispensed justice and mercy, chiefly mercy, to one embezzler, one honest fellow tempted beyond his strength, one widow, one unfortunate friend of his youth, and two orphans, and it was in no sense an extraordinary season.
To return to notes of travel, our method of progression, since we deserted the highroad and the public car, has been strangely varied. I think there is no manner of steed or vehicle which has not been used by us, at one time or another, even to the arch donkey and the low-backed car with its truss of hay, like that of the immortal Peggy. I thought at first that “ arch ” was an unusual adjective to apply to a donkey, but I find after all that it is abundantly expressive. Benella, who disapproves entirely of this casual sort of traveling, far from “ answerable roads ” and in “ backwards places ” (Irish for “ behind the times ”), is yet wonderfully successful in discovering equipages of some sort in unlikely spots.
In towns of any size or pretension, we find by the Town Cross or near the inn a motley collection of things on wheels, with drivers sometimes as sober as Father Mathew, sometimes not. Yesterday we had a mare which the driver confessed he bought without “ overcircumspeetin’ it,” and although you could n’t, as he said, “ extinguish her at first sight from a grand throtter, she had n’t rightly the speed you could wish.”
“ It’s not so powerful young she is, melady ! ” he confessed. “ You’d be afther lookin’ at a chicken a long time and niver be reminded of her; but sure ye might thry her, for belike ye would n’t fancy a horse that would be leppin’ stone walls wid ye, like Dan Ryan’s, there ! My little baste ’ll get ye to Rossan before night, and she won’t hurt man nor mortial in doin’ it.”
“ Begorra, you ’re right, nor herself nayther,”said Dan Ryan ; “and if it’s leppin’ ye mane, sure she could n’t lep a sod o’ turf, that mare could n’t! God pardon ye, melady, for thrustin’ yerself to that paiceable brindly-colored ould hin, whin ye might be gettin’ a dacint highsteppin’ horse for a shillin’ or two more ; an’ belike I might contint meself to take less, for I would n’t be extortin’ ye like Barney O’Mara there ! ”
Our chosen driver replied to this by saying that he would n’t be caught dead at a pig fair with Dan Ryan’s horse, but in the midst of all the distracting discussions and arguments that followed we held to our original bargain ; for we did not like the look of Dan Ryan’s high-stepper, who was a “ thrifle mountainy,” as they say in these parts, and had a wild eye to boot. We started, and in a half hour we could still see the chapel spire of the little village we had just left. It was for once a beautiful day, but we felt that we must reach a railway station some time or other, in order to find a place to sleep.
“ Can’t you make her go a bit faster ? Do you want to keep us on the road all night ? ” inquired Francesca.
“ I do not, your ladyship’s honor, ma’am.”
“ Is she tired, or does n’t she ever go any better ? ” urged Salemina.
“ She does ; it’s God’s truth I’m tellin’ ye, melady, she’s that flippant sometimes that I scarcely can hould her, and the car jumps undher her like a spring bed.”
“ Then what on earth is the matter with her ?” I inquired, with some fire in my eye.
“ Sure I believe she’s takin’ time to think of the iligant load she’s carryin’, melady, and small blame to her ! ” said Mr. Barney O’Mara; and after that we let him drive as best he could, although it did take us four hours to do nine Irish miles. He was a perfect honeypot of useless and unreliable information, was Barney O’Mara, and most learned in fairy lore ; but, for that matter, all the people walking along the road, the drivers, the boatmen and guides, the men and women in the cottages where we stop in a shower or to inquire the way, relate stories of phookas, leprehauns, and sprites, banshees and all the various classes of elves and fays, as simply and seriously as they would speak of any other occurrences. Barney told us gravely of the old woman who was in the habit of laying pishogues (charms) to break the legs of his neighbor’s cattle, because of an ancient grudge she bore him ; and also how necessary it is to put a bit of burning turf under the churn to prevent the phookas, or mischievous fairies, from abstracting the butter or spoiling the churning in any way. Irish fays seem to be much interested in dairy matters, for, besides the sprites who delight in spoiling the churning (I wonder if a lazy up-and-down movement of the dasher invites them at all ?), it is well known that many a milkmaid on a May morning has seen fairy cows browsing along the banks of lakes, — cows that vanish into thin mist at the sound of human footfall.
When we were quite cross at missing the noon train from Rossan, and quite tired of the car’s jolting, Barney appeased us all by singing, in a delightful mellow voice, a fairy song called The Leprehaun.1 This personage, you must know, if you have n’t a large acquaintance among Irish fairies, is a tricksy fellow in a green coat and scarlet cap, with brave shoe buckles on his wee brogues. You will catch him sometimes, if the “ glamour ” is on you, under a burdock leaf or a thorn bush, and he is always making or mending a shoe. He commonly has a little purse about him, which, if you are quick enough, you can snatch ; and a wonderful purse it is, for, whatever you spend, there is always money to be found in it. Truth to tell, nobody has yet succeeded in being quicker than Master Leprehaun, though many have offered to fill his cruiskeen with “ mountain dew,” of which Irish fairies are passionately fond.
A leprehaun I spied;
With scarlet cap and coat of green,
A cruiskeen by his side.
’T was tick, tack, tick, his hammer went,
Upon a weeny shoe ;
And I laughed to think of his purse of gold ;
But the fairy was laughing too !
Quite softly I drew nigh :
There was mischief in his merry face,
A twinkle in his eye.
He hammered, and sangwith tiny voice,
And drank his mountain dew ;
And I laughed to think he was caught at
But the fairy was laughing too !
‘ Your fairy purse ! ’ I cried.
‘ The purse ! ’ he said — ‘’t is in her hand —
That lady at your side.’
I turned to look : the elf was off.
Then what was I to do ?
O, I laughed to think what a fool I’d been;
And the fairy was laughing too ! ”
I cannot communicate any idea of the rollicking gayety and quaint charm Barney gave to the tune, nor the light-hearted, irresistible chuckle with which he rendered the last two lines, giving a snap of his whip as accent to the long “ O ” : —
And the fairy was laughing too ! ”
After he had sung it twice through, Benella took my guitar from its case for me, and we sang it after him, again and again ; so it was in happy fashion that we at last approached Ballyrossan, where we bade Barney O’Mara a cordial farewell, paying him four shillings over his fare, which was cheap indeed for the song.
As we saw him vanish slowly up the road, ragged himself, the car and harness almost ready to drop to pieces, the mare, I am sure, in the last week of her existence, we were glad that he had his Celtic fancy to enliven his life a bit, — that fancy which seems a providential reaction against the cruel despotisms of fact.
Up the heather glen ;
The voice has magic in it
Too sweet for mortal men !
Sing O, the blooming heather,
O, the heather glen !
Where fairest fairies gather
To lure in mortal men.”
On the shores of Lough Corrib.
A modern Irish poet 2 says something that Francesca has quoted to Ronald in her letter to-day, and we await from Scotland his confirmation or denial. He accuses the Scots of having discovered the fairies to be pagan and wicked, and of denouncing them from the pulpits, whereas Irish priests discuss with them the state of their souls ; or at least they did, until it was decided that they had none, but would dry up like so much bright vapor at the last day. It was more in sadness than in anger that the priests announced this fiat; for Irish sprites and goblins do gay, graceful, and humorous things, for the most part, tricksy sins, not deserving annihilation, whereas Scottish fays are sometimes malevolent, — or so says the Irish poet.
This is very sad, no doubt, but it does not begin to be as sad as having no fairies at all. There must have been a few in England in Shakespeare’s time, or he could never have written The Tempest or the Midsummer Night’s Dream ; but where have they vanished ?
As for us in America, I fear that we never have had any “ wee folk.” The Indians had their woodland spirits, spirits of rocks, trees, mountains, star and moon maidens ; the negroes had their enchanted animals and conjure men; but as for real wee folk, either they were not indigenous to the soil, or else we unconsciously drove them away. Yet we had facilities to offer! The columbines, harebells, and fringed gentians would have been just as cosy and secluded places to live in as the Irish foxgloves, which are simply running over with fairies. Perhaps they would n’t have liked our cold winters ; still it must have been something more than climate, and I am afraid I know the reason well, — we are too sensible ; and if there is anything a fairy detests, it is common sense. We are too rich, also; and a second thing that a fairy abhors is the chink of dollars. Perhaps, when I am again enjoying the advantages brought about by sound money, commercial prosperity, and a magnificent system of public education, I shall feel differently about it; but for the moment I am just a bit embarrassed and crestfallen to belong to a nation absolutely shunned by the fairies. If they had only settled among us like other colonists, shaped us to their ends as far as they could, and, when they could n’t, conformed themselves to ours, there might have been, by this time, fairy trusts stretching out benign arms all over the continent.
Of course it is an age of incredulity, but Salemina, Francesca, and I have not come to Ireland to scoff, and, whatever we do, we shall not go to the length of doubting the fairies; for, as Barney O’Mara says, “they stand to raison.”
Glen Ailna is a “ gentle ” place near Carrig-a-fooka Inn,— that is, one beloved by the sheehogues ; and though you may be never so much interested, I may not tell you its exact whereabouts, since no one can ever find it unless he is himself under the glamour. Perhaps you might be a doubter, with no eyes for the “ dim kingdom ; ” perhaps you might gaze forever, and never be able to see a red - capped fiddler, fiddling under a blossoming sloe bush. You might even see him, and then indulge yourself in a fit of common sense or doubt of your own eyes, in which case the wee dancers would never flock to the sound of the fiddle or gather on the fairy ring. This is the reason that I shall never take you to Knockma, to Glen Ailna, or especially to the hyacinth wood, which is a little plantation near the ruin of a fort. Just why the fairies are so fond of an old rath or lis I cannot imagine, for you would never suppose that antiquaries, archæologists, and wee folk would care for the same places.
My desire of all desires is to see a fairy ring and its dancers, or hear the fairy pipes. The “ ring ” is made, you know, by the tiny feet that have tripped for ages and ages, flying, dancing, circling, over the tender young grass. Rain cannot wash it away ; you may walk over it; you may even plough up the soil, and replant it ever so many times; the next season the fairy ring shines in the grass just the same. It seems strange that I am blind to it, when an ignorant, dirty spalpeen who lives near the foot of Knockma has seen it and heard the fairy music again and again. He took me to the very place where, last Lammas Eve, he saw plainly — for there was a beautiful white moon overhead — the arch king and queen of the fairies, who appear only on state occasions, together with a crowd of dancers, and more than a dozen pipers piping melodious music. Not only that, but (lucky little beggar !) he heard distinctly the fulparnee and the folpornee, the rap-lay-hoota and the roolya-boolya, — noises indicative of the very jolliest and wildest and most uncommon form of fairy conviviality. Failing a glimpse of these midsummer revels, my next choice would be to see the Elf Horseman galloping round the shores of the Fairy Lough in the cool of the morn.
Stars come out and stars are hidin’;
The wather whispers on the stones,
The flittherin’ moths are free.
Onest before the mornin’ light
The Horseman will come ridin’
Roun’ an’ roun’ the Fairy Lough,
An’ no one there to see.”
But there will be some one there, and that is the aforesaid Jamesy Flanigan ! Sometimes I think he is fibbing, but a glance at his soft, dark, far-seeing eyes under their fringe of thick lashes convinces me to the contrary. His field of vision is different from mine, that is all, and he fears that if I accompany him to the shores of the Fairy Lough the Horseman will not ride for him ; so I am even taunted with undue common sense by a little Irish gossoon.
I tried to coax Benella to go with me to the hyacinth wood by moonlight. Fairies detest a crowd, and I ought to have gone alone ; but, to tell the truth, I hardly dared, for they have a way of kidnapping attractive ladies and keeping them for years in the dim kingdom. I would not trust Himself at Glen Ailna for worlds, for gentlemen are not exempt from danger. Connla of the Golden Hair was lured away by a fairy maiden, and taken, in a “ gleaming, straight-gliding, strong crystal canoe,” to her domain in the hills ; and Oisin, you remember, was transported to the Land of the Ever Youthful by the beautiful Niam. If one could only be sure of coming back ! But Oisin, for instance, was detained three hundred years, so one might not be allowed to return, and still worse, one might not wish to ; three hundred years of youth would tempt — a woman ! My opinion, after reading the Elf Errant, is that one woman has been there, — Moira O’Neill. I should suspect her of being able to wear a fairy cap herself, were it not for the human heart throb in her verses ; but I am sure she has the glamour whenever she desires it, and hears the fairy pipes at will.
Benella is of different stuff; she not only distrusts fairies, but, like the Scotch Presbyterians, she fears that they are wicked. “ Still, you say they have n’t got immortal souls to save, and I don’t suppose they ’re responsible for their actions,” she allows ; “ but as for traipsing up to those heathenish haunted woods when all Christian folks are in bed, I don’t believe in it, and neither would Mr. Beresford; but if you ’re set on it, I shall go with you ! ”
“ You would n’t be of the slightest use,” I answered severely ; “ indeed, you’d be worse than nobody. The fairies cannot endure doubters; it makes them fold their wings over their heads and shrink away into their flower cups. I should be mortified beyond words if a fairy should meet me in your company.”
Benella seemed hurt and a trifle resentful as she replied: “ That about doubters is just what Mrs. Kimberly used to say.” (Mrs. Kimberly is the Salem priestess, the originator of the “ science.”) “She could n’t talk a mite if there was doubters in the hall; and it’s so with spiritualists and clairvoyants too, — they ’re all of ’em scare-cats. I guess likely that those that’s so afraid of being doubted has some good reason for it !" Well, I never went to the hyacinth wood by moonlight, since so many objections were raised, but I did go once at noonday, the very most unlikely hour of all the twenty-four, and yet —
As I sat there beneath a gnarled thorn, weary and warm with my climb, I looked into the heart of a bluebell forest growing under a circle of gleaming silver birches, and suddenly I heard fairy music, — at least it was not mortal, — and many sounds were mingled in it: the sighing of birches, the carol of a lark, the leap and laugh of a silvery runnel tumbling down the hillside, the soft whir of butterflies’ wings, and a sweet little over or under tone, from the over or under world, that I took to be the opening of a million hyacinth buds in the sunshine. Then I heard the delicious sound of a fairy laugh, and, looking under a swaying branch of meadowsweet, I saw — yes, I really saw —
You must know that first a wee green door swung open in the stem of the meadowsweet, and out of that land where you can buy joy for a penny came a fairy in the usual red and green. I had the Elf Errant in my lap, and I think that in itself made him feel more at home with me, as well as the fact, perhaps, that for the moment I was n’t a bit sensible and had no money about me. I was all ready with an Irish salutation, for the purpose of further disarming his aversion. I intended to say, as prettily as possible, though, alas, I cannot manage the brogue, “ And what way do I see you now ? ” or “ Good-mornin’ to yer honor’s honor! ” But I was struck dumb by my good fortune at seeing him at all. He looked at me once, and then, flinging up his arms, he gave a weeny, weeny yawn ! This was disconcerting, for people almost never yawn in my company ; and, to make it worse, he kept on yawning, until, for very sympathy, and not at all in the way of revenge, I yawned too. Then the green door swung open again, and a gay rabble of wide-awake fairies came trooping out: and some of them kissed the hyacinth bells to open them, and some of them flew to the thorn tree, until every little brancheen was white with flowers, where but a moment ago had been tightly closed buds. The yawning fairy slept meanwhile under the swaying meadowsweet, and the butterflies fanned him with their soft wings ; but, alas, it could not have been the hour for dancing on the fairy ring, nor the proper time for the fairy pipers, and long, long, as I looked I saw and heard nothing more than what I have told you. Indeed, I presently lost even that, for a bee buzzed and a white petal dropped from the thorn tree on my face, and in that moment the glamour that was upon me vanished in a twinkling.
“ But I really did see the fairies ! ” I exclaimed triumphantly to Benella, the doubter, when I returned to Carrig-afooka Inn, much too late for luncheon.
“ I should think you did, by the looks of your eyes,” she responded, gazing at me searchingly. “ Land ! they ’re all puffed up, and you won’t sleep a wink to-night! ”
Kate Douglas Wiggin.
(To be continued.)