English as we speak it in Ireland/V

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English as we speak it in Ireland by Patrick Weston Joyce
V. The Devil and his 'Territory'

CHAPTER V.[edit]

THE DEVIL AND HIS 'TERRITORY.'[edit]

Bad as the devil is he has done us some service in Ireland by providing us with a fund of anecdotes and sayings full of drollery and fun. This is all against his own interests; for I remember reading in the works of some good old saint—I think it is St. Liguori—that the devil is always hovering near us watching his opportunity, and that one of the best means of scaring him off is a good honest hearty laugh.

Those who wish to avoid uttering the plain straight name 'devil' often call him 'the Old Boy,' or 'Old Nick.'

In some of the stories relating to the devil he is represented as a great simpleton and easily imposed upon: in others as clever at everything. In many he gets full credit for his badness, and all his attributes and all his actions are just the reverse of the good agencies of the world; so that his attempts at evil often tend for good, while anything he does for good—or pretending to be for good—turns to evil.

When a person suffers punishment or injury of any kind that is well deserved—gets his deserts for misconduct or culpable mismanagement or excessive foolishness of any kind—we say 'the devil's cure to him,' or 'the devil mend him' (as much as to say in English 'serve him right'); for if the devil goes to cure or to mend he only makes matters ten times worse. Dick Millikin of Cork (the poet of 'The Groves of Blarney') was notoriously a late riser. One morning as he was going very late to business, one of his neighbours, a Quaker, met him. 'Ah friend Dick thou art very late to-day: remember the early bird picks the worm.' 'The devil mend the worm for being out so early,' replied Dick. So also 'the devil bless you' is a bad wish, because the devil's blessing is equivalent to the curse of God; while 'the devil's curse to you' is considered a good wish, for the devil's curse is equal to God's blessing. (Carleton.) The devil comes in handy in many ways. What could be more expressive than this couplet of an old song describing a ruffian in a rage:—

'He stamped and he cursed and he swore he would fight,
And I saw the ould devil between his two eyes.'

Sometimes the devil is taken as the type of excellence or of great proficiency in anything, or of great excess, so that you often hear 'That fellow is as old as the devil,' 'That beefsteak is as tough as the devil,' 'He beats the devil for roguery,' 'My landlord is civil, but dear as the divil.' (Swift: who wrote this with a pen dipped in Irish ink.)

A poor wretch or a fellow always in debt and difficulty, and consequently shabby, is a 'poor devil'; and not very long ago I heard a friend say to another—who was not sparing of his labour—'Well, there's no doubt but you're a hard-working old devil.'

Very bad potatoes:—'Wet and watery, scabby and small, thin in the ground and hard to dig, hard to wash, hard to boil, and the devil to eat them.'

'I don't wonder that poor Bill should be always struggling, for he has the devil of an extravagant family.'

'Oh confusion to you Dan,' says the T. B. C.,
'You're the devil of a man,' says the T. B. C.
(Repeal Song of 1843.)

(But this form of expression occurs in Dickens—'Our Mutual Friend'—'I have a devil of a temper myself'). An emphatic statement:—'I wouldn't like to trust him, for he's the devil's own rogue.'

'There's no use in your trying that race against Johnny Keegan, for Johnny is the very devil at running.' 'Oh your reverence,' says Paddy Galvin, 'don't ax me to fast; but you may put as much prayers on me as you like: for, your reverence, I'm very bad at fasting, but I'm the divel at the prayers.' According to Mr. A. P. Graves, in 'Father O'Flynn,' the 'Provost and Fellows of Trinity' [College, Dublin] are 'the divels an' all at Divinity.' This last expression is truly Hibernian, and is very often heard:—A fellow is boasting how he'll leather Jack Fox when next he meets him. 'Oh yes, you'll do the devil an' all while Jack is away; but wait till he comes to the fore.'

In several of the following short stories and sayings the simpleton side of Satan's character is well brought out.

Damer of Shronell, who lived in the eighteenth century, was reputed to be the richest man in Ireland—a sort of Irish Croesus: so that 'as rich as Damer' has become a proverb in the south of Ireland. An Irish peasant song-writer, philosophising on the vanity of riches, says:—

'There was ould Paddy Murphy had money galore,
And Damer of Shronell had twenty times more—
They are now on their backs under nettles and stones.'

Damer's house in ruins is still to be seen at Shronell, four miles west of Tipperary town. The story goes that he got his money by selling his soul to the devil for as much gold as would fill his boot—a top boot, i.e. one that reaches above the knee. On the appointed day the devil came with his pockets well filled with guineas and sovereigns, as much as he thought was sufficient to fill any boot. But meantime Damer had removed the heel and fixed the boot in the floor, with a hole in the boards underneath, opening into the room below. The devil flung in handful after handful till his pockets were empty, but still the boot was not filled. He then sent out a signal, such as they understand in hell—for they had wireless telegraphy there long before Mr. Marconi's Irish mother was born—on which a crowd of little imps arrived all laden with gold coins, which were emptied into the boot, and still no sign of its being filled. He had to send them many times for more, till at last he succeeded in filling the room beneath as well as the boot; on which the transaction was concluded. The legend does not tell what became of Damer in the end; but such agreements usually wind up (in Ireland) by the sinner tricking Satan out of his bargain.

When a person does an evil deed under cover of some untruthful but plausible justification, or utters a wicked saying under a disguise: that's 'blindfolding the devil in the dark.' The devil is as cute in the dark as in the light: and blindfolding him is useless and foolish: he is only laughing at you.

'You're a very coarse Christian,' as the devil said to the hedgehog. (Tyrone.)

The name and fame of the great sixteenth-century magician, Dr. Faust or Faustus, found way somehow to our peasantry; for it was quite common to hear a crooked knavish man spoken of in this way:—'That fellow is a match for the devil and Dr. Fosther.' (Munster.)

The magpie has seven drops of the devil's blood in its body: the water-wagtail has three drops. (Munster.)

When a person is unusually cunning, cute, and tricky, we say 'The devil is a poor scholar to you.' ('Poor scholar' here means a bad shallow scholar.)

'Now since James is after getting all the money, the devil can't howld him': i.e. he has grown proud and overbearing.

'Firm and ugly, as the devil said when he sewed his breeches with gads.' Here is how it happened. The devil was one day pursuing the soul of a sinner across country, and in leaping over a rough thorn hedge, he tore his breeches badly, so that his tail stuck out; on which he gave up the chase. As it was not decent to appear in public in that condition, he sat down and stitched up the rent with next to hand materials—viz. slender tough osier withes or gads as we call them in Ireland. When the job was finished he spread out the garment before him on his knees, and looking admiringly on his handiwork, uttered the above saying—'Firm and ugly!'

The idea of the 'old boy' pursuing a soul appears also in the words of an old Anglo-Irish song about persons who commit great crimes and die unrepentant:—

'For committing those crimes unrepented
The devil shall after them run,
And slash him for that at a furnace
Where coal sells for nothing a ton.'

A very wet day—teeming rain—raining cats and dogs—a fine day for young ducks:—'The devil wouldn't send out his dog on such a day as this.'

'Did you ever see the devil
With the wooden spade and shovel
Digging praties for his supper
And his tail cocked up?'

A person struggling with poverty—constantly in money difficulties—is said to be 'pulling the devil by the tail.'

'Great noise and little wool,' as the devil said when he was shearing a pig.

'What's got over the devil's back goes off under the devil's belly.' This is another form of ill got ill gone.

Don't enter on a lawsuit with a person who has in his hands the power of deciding the case. This would be 'going to law against the devil with the courthouse in hell.'

Jack hates that man and all belonging to him 'as the devil hates holy water.'

Yerra or arrah is an exclamation very much in use in the South: a phonetic representation of the Irish airĕ, meaning take care, look out, look you:—'Yerra Bill why are you in such a hurry?' The old people didn't like our continual use of the word; and in order to deter us we were told that Yerra or Arrah was the name of the devil's mother! This would point to something like domestic conditions in the lower regions, and it is in a way corroborated by the words of an old song about a woman—a desperate old reprobate of a virago—who kicked up all sorts of ructions the moment she got inside the gate:—

'When she saw the young devils tied up in their chains
She up with her crutch and knocked one of their brains.'

'Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.' The people of Munster do not always put it that way; they have a version of their own:—'Time enough to bid the devil good-morrow when you meet him.' But an intelligent correspondent from Carlow puts a somewhat different interpretation on the last saying, namely, 'Don't go out of your way to seek trouble.'

'When needs must the devil drives': a man in a great fix is often driven to illegal or criminal acts to extricate himself.

When a man is threatened with a thrashing, another will say to him:—'You'll get Paddy Ryan's supper—hard knocks and the devil to eat': common in Munster.

'When you sup with the devil have a long spoon': that is to say, if you have any dealings with rogues or criminals, adopt very careful precautions, and don't come into closer contact with them than is absolutely necessary. (Lover: but used generally.)

'Speak the truth and shame the devil' is a very common saying.

'The devil's children have the devil's luck'; or 'the devil is good to his own': meaning bad men often prosper. But it is now generally said in joke to a person who has come in for an unexpected piece of good luck.

A holy knave—something like our modern Pecksniff—dies and is sent in the downward direction: and—according to the words of the old folk-song—this is his reception:—

'When hell's gate was opened the devil jumped with joy,
Saying "I have a warm corner for you my holy boy."'

A man is deeply injured by another and threatens reprisal:—'I'll make you smell hell for that'; a bitter threat which may be paraphrased: I'll persecute you to death's door; and for you to be near death is to be near hell—I'll put you so near that you'll smell the fumes of the brimstone.

A usual imprecation when a person who has made himself very unpopular is going away: 'the devil go with him.' One day a fellow was eating his dinner of dry potatoes, and had only one egg half raw for kitchen. He had no spoon, and took the egg in little sips intending to spread it over the dinner. But one time he tilted the shell too much, and down went the whole contents. After recovering from the gulp, he looked ruefully at the empty shell and blurted out—the devil go with you down!

 

Many people think—and say it too—that it is an article of belief with Catholics that all Protestants when they die go straight to hell—which is a libel. Yet it is often kept up in joke, as in this and other stories:—The train was skelping away like mad along the main line to hell—for they have railways there now—till at last it pulled up at the junction. Whereupon the porters ran round shouting out, 'Catholics change here for purgatory: Protestants keep your places!'

This reminds us of Father O'Leary, a Cork priest of the end of the eighteenth century, celebrated as a controversialist and a wit. He was one day engaged in gentle controversy—or argufying religion as we call it in Ireland—with a Protestant friend, who plainly had the worst of the encounter. 'Well now Father O'Leary I want to ask what have you to say about purgatory?' 'Oh nothing,' replied the priest, 'except that you might go farther and fare worse.'

The same Father O'Leary once met in the streets a friend, a witty Protestant clergyman with whom he had many an encounter of wit and repartee. 'Ah Father O'Leary, have you heard the bad news?' 'No,' says Father O'Leary. 'Well, the bottom has fallen out of purgatory, and all the poor Papists have gone down into hell.' 'Oh the Lord save us,' answered Father O'Leary, 'what a crushing the poor Protestants must have got!'

Father O'Leary and Curran—the great orator and wit—sat side by side once at a dinner party, where Curran was charmed with his reverend friend. 'Ah Father O'Leary,' he exclaimed at last, 'I wish you had the key of heaven.' 'Well Curran it might be better for you that I had the key of the other place.'

A parish priest only recently dead, a well-known wit, sat beside a venerable Protestant clergyman at dinner; and they got on very agreeably. This clergyman rather ostentatiously proclaimed his liberality by saying:—'Well Father —— I have been for sixty years in this world and I could never understand that there is any great and essential difference between the Catholic religion and the Protestant.' 'I can tell you,' replied Father ——, 'that when you die you'll not be sixty minutes in the other world before you will understand it perfectly.'

The preceding are all in joke: but I once heard the idea enunciated in downright earnest. In my early life, we, the village people, were a mixed community, about half and half Catholics and Protestants, the latter nearly all Palatines, who were Methodists to a man. We got on very well together, and I have very kindly memories of my old playfellows, Palatines as well as Catholics.

One young Palatine, Peter Stuffle, differed in one important respect from the others, as he never attended Church Mass or Meeting. He emigrated to America; and being a level headed fellow and keeping from drink, he got on. At last he came across Nelly Sullivan, a bright eyed colleen all the way from Kerry, a devoted Catholic, and fell head and ears in love with her. She liked him too, but would have nothing to say to him unless he became a Catholic: in the words of the old song, 'Unless that you turn a Roman you ne'er shall get me for your bride.' Peter's theology was not proof against Nelly's bright face: he became a Catholic, and a faithful one too: for once he was inside the gate his wife took care to instruct him, and kept him well up to his religious duties.

They prospered; so that at the end of some years he was able to visit his native place. On his arrival nothing could exceed the consternation and rage of his former friends to find that instead of denouncing the Pope, he was now a flaming papist: and they all disowned and boycotted him. So he visited round his Catholic neighbours who were very glad to receive him. I was present at one of the conversations: when Peter, recounting his successful career, wound up with:—'So you see, James, that I am now well off, thanks be to God and to Nelly. I have a large farm, with ever so many horses, and a fine baan of cows, and you could hardly count the sheep and pigs. I'd be as happy as the days are long now, James, only for one thing that's often troubling me; and that is, to think that my poor old father and mother are in hell.'