English as we speak it in Ireland/XI
|←X. Comparisons||English as we speak it in Ireland by
XI. The Memory of History and of Old Customs
|XII. A Variety of Phrases→|
THE MEMORY OF HISTORY AND OF OLD CUSTOMS.
Church, Chapel, Scallan. All through Ireland it is customary to call a Protestant place of worship a 'church,' and that belonging to Roman Catholics a 'chapel': and this usage not only prevails among the people, but has found its way into official documents. For instance, take the Ordnance maps. In almost every village and town on the map you will see in one place the word 'Church,' while near by is printed 'R.C. Chapel.' This custom has its roots far back in the time when it was attempted to extend the doctrines of the Reformation to Ireland. Then wherever the authority of the government prevailed, the church belonging to the Catholics was taken from them; the priest was expelled; and a Protestant minister was installed. But the law went much farther, and forbade under fearful penalties the celebration of Mass—penalties for both priest and congregation. As the people had now no churches, the custom began of celebrating Mass in the open air, always in remote lonely places where there was little fear of discovery. Many of these places retain to this day names formed from the Irish word Affrionn [affrin], the Mass; such as the mountain called Knockanaffrinn in Waterford (the hill of the Mass), Ardanaffrinn, Lissanaffrinn, and many others. While Mass was going on, a watcher was always placed on an adjacent height to have a look-out for the approach of a party of military, or of a spy with the offered reward in view.
After a long interval however, when the sharp fangs of the Penal Laws began to be blunted or drawn, the Catholics commenced to build for themselves little places of worship: very timidly at first, and always in some out-of-the-way place. But they had many difficulties to contend with. Poverty was one of them; for the great body of the congregations were labourers or tradesmen, as the Catholic people had been almost crushed out of existence, soul and body, for five or six generations, by the terrible Penal Laws, which, with careful attention to details, omitted nothing that could impoverish and degrade them. But even poverty, bad as it was, never stood decidedly in the way; for the buildings were not expensive, and the poor people gladly contributed shillings coppers and labour for the luxury of a chapel. A more serious obstacle was the refusal of landlords in some districts to lease a plot of land for the building. In Donegal and elsewhere they had a movable little wooden shed that just sheltered the priest and the sacred appliances while he celebrated Mass, and which was wheeled about from place to place in the parish wherever required. A shed of this kind was called a scallan (Irish: a shield, a protecting shelter). Some of these scallans are preserved with reverence to this day, as for instance one in Carrigaholt in Clare, where a large district was for many years without any Catholic place of worship, as the local landlord obstinately refused to let a bit of land. You may now see that very scallan—not much larger than a sentry-box—beside the new chapel in Carrigaholt.
And so those humble little buildings gradually rose up all over the country. Then many of the small towns and villages through the country presented this spectacle. In one place was the 'decent church' that had formerly belonged to the Catholics, now in possession of a Protestant congregation of perhaps half a dozen—church, minister, and clerk maintained by contributions of tithes forced from the Catholic people; and not far off a poor little thatched building with clay floor and rough walls for a Roman Catholic congregation of 500, 1000, or more, all except the few that found room within kneeling on the ground outside, only too glad to be able to be present at Mass under any conditions.
These little buildings were always called 'chapels,' to distinguish them from what were now the Protestant churches. Many of these primitive places of worship remained in use to a period within living memory—perhaps some remain still. When I was a boy I generally heard Mass in one of them, in Ballyorgan, Co. Limerick: clay floor, no seats, walls of rough stone unplastered, thatch not far above our heads. Just over the altar was suspended a level canopy of thin boards, to hide the thatch from the sacred spot: and on its under surface was roughly painted by some rustic artist a figure of a dove—emblematic of the Holy Ghost—which to my childish fancy was a work of art equal at least to anything ever executed by Michael Angelo. Many and many a time I heard exhortations from that poor altar, sometimes in English, sometimes in Irish, by the Rev. Darby Buckley, the parish priest of Glenroe (of which Ballyorgan formed a part), delivered with such earnestness and power as to produce extraordinary effects on the congregation. You saw men and women in tears everywhere around you, and at the few words of unstudied peroration they flung themselves on their knees in a passionate burst of piety and sorrow. Ah, God be with Father Darby Buckley: a small man, full of fire and energy: somewhat overbearing, and rather severe in judging of small transgressions; but all the same, a great and saintly parish priest.
That little chapel has long been superseded by a solid structure, suitable to the neighbourhood and its people.
What has happened in the neighbouring town of Kilfinane is still more typical of the advance of the Catholics. There also stood a large thatched chapel with a clay floor: and the Catholics were just beginning to emerge from their state of servility when the Rev. Father Sheehy was appointed parish priest about the beginning of the last century. He was a tall man of splendid physique: when I was a boy I knew him in his old age, and even then you could not help admiring his imposing figure. At that time the lord of the soil was Captain Oliver, one of that Cromwellian family to whom was granted all the district belonging to their Catholic predecessors, Sir John Ponsonby and Sir Edward Fitzharris, both of whom were impeached and disinherited,
On the Monday morning following the new priest's first Mass he strolled down to have a good view of the chapel and grounds, and was much astonished to find in the chapel yard a cartload of oats in sheaf, in charge of a man whom he recognized as having been at Mass on the day before. He called him over and questioned him, on which the man told him that the captain had sent him with the oats to have it threshed on the chapel floor, as he always did. The priest was amazed and indignant, and instantly ordered the man off the grounds, threatening him with personal chastisement, which—considering the priest's brawny figure and determined look—he perhaps feared more than bell book and candle. The exact words Father Sheehy used were, 'If ever I find you here again with a load of oats or a load of anything else, I'll break your back for you: and then I'll go up and break your master's back too!' The fellow went off hot foot with his load, and told his master, expecting all sorts of ructions. But the captain took it in good part, and had his oats threshed elsewhere: and as a matter of fact he and the priest soon after met and became acquainted.
In sending his corn to be threshed on the chapel floor, it is right to remark that the captain intended no offence and no undue exercise of power; and besides he was always careful to send a couple of men on Saturday evening to sweep the floor and clean up the chapel for the service of next day. But it was a custom of some years' standing, and Father Sheehy's predecessor never considered it necessary to expostulate. It is likely enough indeed that he himself got a few scratches in his day from the Penal Laws, and thought it as well to let matters go on quietly.
After a little time Father Sheehy had a new church built, a solid slate-roofed structure suitable for the time, which, having stood for nearly a century, was succeeded by the present church. This, which was erected after almost incredible labour and perseverance in collecting the funds by the late parish priest, the Very Rev. Patrick Lee, V.F., is one of the most beautiful parish churches in all Ireland. What has happened in Ballyorgan and Kilfinane may be considered a type of what has taken place all over the country. Within the short space of a century the poor thatched clay-floor chapels have been everywhere replaced by solid or beautiful or stately churches, which have sprung up all through Ireland as if by magic, through the exertions of the pastors, and the contributions of the people.
This popular application of the terms 'chapel' and 'church' found—and still finds—expression in many ways. Thus a man who neglects religion: 'he never goes to Church, Mass, or Meeting' (this last word meaning Non-conformist Service). A man says, 'I didn't see Jack Delany at Mass to-day': 'Oh, didn't you hear about him—sure he's going to church now' (i.e. he has turned Protestant). 'And do they never talk of those [young people] who go to church' [i.e. Protestants]. (Knocknagow.)
The term 'chapel' has so ingrained itself in my mind that to this hour the word instinctively springs to my lips when I am about to mention a Catholic place of worship; and I always feel some sort of hesitation or reluctance in substituting the word 'church.' I positively could not bring myself to say, 'Come, it is time now to set out for church': it must be either 'Mass' or 'the chapel.'
I see no reason against our retaining these two words, with their distinction; for they tell in brief a vivid chapter in our history.
Hedge-Schools. Evil memories of the bad old penal days come down to us clustering round this word. At the end of the seventeenth century, among many other penal enactments, a law was passed that Catholics were not to be educated. Catholic schoolmasters were forbidden to teach, either in schools or in private houses; and Catholic parents were forbidden to send their children to any foreign country to be educated—all under heavy penalties; from which it will be seen that care was taken to deprive Catholics—as such—altogether of the means of education.
But priests and schoolmasters and people combined all through the country—and not without some measure of success—to evade this unnatural law. Schools were kept secretly, though at great risk, in remote places—up in the mountain glens or in the middle of bogs. Half a dozen young men with spades and shovels built up a rude cabin in a few hours, which served the purpose of a schoolhouse: and from the common plan of erecting these in the shelter of hedges, walls, and groves, the schools came to be known as 'Hedge Schools.' These hedge schools held on for generations, and kept alive the lamp of learning, which burned on—but in a flickering ineffective sort of way—'burned through long ages of darkness and storm'—till at last the restrictions were removed, and Catholics were permitted to have schools of their own openly and without let or hindrance. Then the ancient hereditary love of learning was free to manifest itself once more; and schools sprang up all over the country, each conducted by a private teacher who lived on the fees paid by his pupils. Moreover, the old designation was retained; for these schools, no longer held in wild places, were called—as they are sometimes called to this day—'hedge schools.'
The schools that arose in this manner, which were of different classes, were spread all over the country during the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth. The most numerous were little elementary schools, which will be described farther on. The higher class of schools, which answered to what we now call Intermediate schools, were found all over the southern half of Ireland, especially in Munster. Some were for classics, some for science, and not a few for both; nearly all conducted by men of learning and ability; and they were everywhere eagerly attended. 'Many of the students had professions in view, some intended for the priesthood, for which the classical schools afforded an admirable preparation; some seeking to become medical doctors, teachers, surveyors, &c. But a large proportion were the sons of farmers, tradesmen, shopkeepers, or others, who had no particular end in view, but, with the instincts of the days of old, studied classics or mathematics for the pure love of learning. I knew many of that class.
'These schools continued to exist down to our own time, till they were finally broken up by the famine of 1847. In my own immediate neighbourhood were some of them, in which I received a part of my early education; and I remember with pleasure several of my old teachers; rough and unpolished men many of them, but excellent solid scholars and full of enthusiasm for learning—which enthusiasm they communicated to their pupils. All the students were adults or grown boys; and there was no instruction in the elementary subjects—reading, writing, and arithmetic—as no scholar attended who had not sufficiently mastered these. Among the students were always half a dozen or more "poor scholars" from distant parts of Ireland, who lived free in the hospitable farmers' houses all round: just as the scholars from Britain and elsewhere were supported in the time of Bede—twelve centuries before.'
In every town all over Munster there was—down to a period well within my memory—one of those schools, for either classics or science—and in most indeed there were two, one for each branch, besides one or more smaller schools for the elementary branches, taught by less distinguished men.
There was extraordinary intellectual activity among the schoolmasters of those times: some of them indeed thought and dreamed and talked of nothing else but learning; and if you met one of them and fell into conversation, he was sure to give you a strong dose as long as you listened, heedless as to whether you understood him or not. In their eyes learning was the main interest of the world. They often met on Saturdays; and on these occasions certain subjects were threshed out in discussion by the principal men. There were often formal disputations when two of the chief men of a district met, each attended by a number of his senior pupils, to discuss some knotty point in dispute, of classics, science, or grammar.
There was one subject that long divided the teachers of Limerick and Tipperary into two hostile camps of learning—the verb To be. There is a well-known rule of grammar that 'the verb to be takes the same case after it as goes before it.' One party headed by the two Dannahys, father and son, very scholarly men, of north Limerick, held that the verb to be governed the case following; while the other, at the head of whom was Mr. Patrick Murray of Kilfinane in south Limerick, maintained that the correspondence of the two cases, after and before, was mere agreement, not government. And they argued with as much earnestness as the Continental Nominalists and Realists of an older time.
Sometimes the discussions on various points found their way into print, either in newspapers or in special broadsheets coarsely printed; and in these the mutual criticisms were by no means gentle.
There were poets too, who called in the aid of the muses to help their cause. One of these, who was only a schoolmaster in embryo—one of Dannahy's pupils—wrote a sort of pedagogic Dunciad, in which he impaled most of the prominent teachers of south Limerick who were followers of Murray. Here is how he deals with Mr. Murray himself:—
- Lo, forward he comes, in oblivion long lain,
- Great Murray, the soul of the light-headed train;
- A punster, a mimic, a jibe, and a quiz,
- His acumen stamped on his all-knowing phiz:
- He declares that the subsequent noun should agree
- With the noun or the pronoun preceding To be.
Another teacher, from Mountrussell, was great in astronomy, and was continually holding forth on his favourite subject and his own knowledge of it. The poet makes him say:—
- The course of a comet with ease I can trail,
- And with my ferula I measure his tail;
- On the wings of pure Science without a balloon
- Like Baron Munchausen I visit the moon;
- Along the ecliptic and great milky way,
- In mighty excursions I soaringly stray;
- With legs wide extended on the poles I can stand,
- And like marbles the planets I toss in my hand.
The poet then, returning to his own words, goes on to say
- The gods being amused at his logical blab,
- They built him a castle near Cancer the Crab.
But this same astronomer, though having as we see a free residence, never went to live there: he emigrated to Australia where he entered the priesthood and ultimately became a bishop.
One of the ablest of all the Munster teachers of that period was Mr. Patrick Murray, already mentioned, who kept his school in the upper story of the market house of Kilfinane in south Limerick. He was particularly eminent in English Grammar and Literature. I went to his school for one year when I was very young, and I am afraid I was looked upon as very slow, especially in his pet subject Grammar. I never could be got to parse correctly such complications as 'I might, could, would, or should have been loving.' Mr. Murray was a poet too. I will give here a humorous specimen of one of his parodies. It was on the occasion of his coming home one night very late, and not as sober as he should be, when he got 'Ballyhooly' and no mistake from his wife. It was after Moore's 'The valley lay smiling before me'; and the following are two verses of the original with the corresponding two of the parody, of which the opening line is 'The candle was lighting before me.' But I have the whole parody in my memory.
- Moore: I flew to her chamber—'twas lonely
- As if the lov'd tenant lay dead;
- Ah would it were death and death only,
- But no, the young false one had fled.
- And there hung the lute that could soften
- My very worst pains into bliss,
- And the hand that had waked it so often
- Now throbb'd to my proud rival's kiss.
- Already the curse is upon her
- And strangers her valleys profane;
- They come to divide—to dishonour—
- And tyrants there long will remain:
- But onward—the green banner rearing,
- Go flesh ev'ry brand to the hilt:
- On our side is Virtue and Erin,
- And theirs is the Saxon and Guilt.
- Already the curse is upon her
- Murray: I flew to the room—'twas not lonely:
- My wife and her grawls were in bed;
- You'd think it was then and then only
- The tongue had been placed in her head.
- For there raged the voice that could soften
- My very worst pains into bliss,
- And those lips that embraced me so often
- I dared not approach with a kiss.
- A change has come surely upon her:—
- The child which she yet did not wane
- She flung me—then rolled the clothes on her,
- And naked we both now remain.
- But had I been a man less forbearing
- Your blood would be certainly spilt,
- For on my side there's plunging and tearing
- And on yours both the blankets and quilt.
- A change has come surely upon her:—
I was a pupil in four of the higher class of schools, in which was finished my school education such as it was. The best conducted was that of Mr. John Condon which was held in the upper story of the market house in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, a large apartment fully and properly furnished, forming an admirable schoolroom. This was one of the best schools in Munster. It was truly an excellent Intermediate school, and was attended by all the school-going students of the town, Protestant as well as Catholic—with many from the surrounding country. Mr. Condon was a cultured and scholarly man, and he taught science, including mathematics, surveying, and the use of the globes, and also geography and English grammar. He had an assistant who taught Greek and Latin. I was one of the very few who attempted the double work of learning both science and classics. To learn surveying we went once a week—on Saturdays—to Mr. Condon's farm near the town, with theodolite and chain, in the use of which we all—i.e. those of us learning the subject—had to take part in turn. Mr. Condon was thorough master of the science of the Use of the Globes, a very beautiful branch of education which gave the learners a knowledge of the earth, of the solar system, and of astronomy in general. But the use of the globes no longer forms a part of our school teaching:—more's the pity.
The year before going to Mitchelstown I attended a science school of a very different character kept by Mr. Simon Cox in Galbally, a little village in Limerick under the shadow of the Galty Mountains. This was a very rough sort of school, but mathematics and the use of the globes were well taught. There were about forty students. Half a dozen were grown boys, of whom I was one; the rest were men, mostly young, but a few in middle life—schoolmasters bent on improving their knowledge of science in preparation for opening schools in their own parts of the country.
In that school, and indeed in all schools like it through the country, there were 'poor scholars,' a class already spoken of, who paid for nothing—they were taught for nothing and freely entertained, with bed, supper, and breakfast in the farmers' houses of the neighbourhood. We had four or five of these, not one of whom knew in the morning where he was to sleep at night. When school was over they all set out in different directions, and called at the farmers' houses to ask for lodging; and although there might be a few refusals, all were sure to be put up for the night. They were expected however to help the children at their lessons for the elementary school before the family retired.
In some cases if a farmer was favourably impressed with a poor scholar's manner and character he kept him—lodging and feeding him in his house—during the whole time of his schooling—the young fellow paying nothing of course, but always helping the little ones at their lessons. As might be expected many of these poor scholars were made of the best stuff; and I have now in my eye one who was entertained for a couple of years in my grandmother's house, and who subsequently became one of the ablest and most respected teachers in Munster.
Let us remark here that this entertainment of poor scholars was not looked upon in the light of a charity: it was regarded as a duty; for the instinct ran in the people's blood derived from ancient times when Ireland was the 'Island of Saints and Scholars.' It was a custom of long standing; for the popular feeling in favour of learning was always maintained, even through the long dark night of the Penal Laws.
'Tis marvellous how I escaped smoking: I had many opportunities in early life, of which surely the best of all was this Galbally school. For every one I think smoked except the half dozen boys, and even of these one or two were learning industriously. And each scholar took his smoke without ceremony in the schoolroom whenever he pleased, so that the room was never quite clear of the fragrant blue haze. I remember well on one occasion, a class of ten, of whom I was one, sitting round the master, whose chair stood on a slightly elevated platform, and all, both master and scholars, were smoking, except myself. The lesson was on some of the hard problems in Luby's Euclid, which we had been unable to solve, and of which Mr. Cox was now showing us the solutions. He made his diagram for each problem on a large slate turned towards us; and as we knew the meaning of almost every turn and twist of his pencil as he developed the solution, he spoke very little; and we followed him over the diagram, twigging readily the function of every point, line, angle, and circle. And when at last someone had to ask a brief question, Mr. Cox removed his pipe with his left hand and uttered a few monosyllabic words, which enabled us to pick up the lost thread; then replacing the pipe, he went on in silence as before.
I was the delight and joy of that school; for I generally carried in my pocket a little fife from which I could roll off jigs, reels, hornpipes, hop-jigs, song tunes, &c., without limit. The school was held in a good-sized room in the second story of a house, of which the landlady and her family lived in the kitchen and bedrooms beneath—on the ground-floor. Some dozen or more of the scholars were always in attendance in the mornings half an hour or so before the arrival of the master, of whom I was sure to be one—what could they do without me?—and then out came the fife, and they cleared the floor for a dance. It was simply magnificent to see and hear these athletic fellows dancing on the bare boards with their thick-soled well-nailed heavy shoes—so as to shake the whole house. And not one in the lot was more joyous than I was; for they were mostly good dancers and did full justice to my spirited strains. At last in came the master: there was no cessation; and he took his seat, looking on complacently till that bout was finished, when I put up my fife, and the serious business of the day was commenced.
We must now have a look at the elementary schools—for teaching Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic to children. They were by far the most numerous, for there was one in every village and hamlet, and two or three or more in every town. These schools were very primitive and rude. The parish priests appointed the teachers, and kept an eye over the schools, which were generally mixed—boys and girls. There was no attempt at classification, and little or no class teaching; the children were taught individually. Each bought whatever Reading Book he or his parents pleased. So there was an odd mixture. A very usual book was a 'Spelling and Reading book,' which was pretty sure to have the story of Tommy and Harry. In this there were almost always a series of lessons headed 'Principles of Politeness,' which were in fact selected from the writings of Chesterfield. In these there were elaborate instructions how we were to comport ourselves in a drawing room; and we were to be particularly careful when entering not to let our sword get between our legs and trip us up. We were to bear offences or insults from our companions as long as possible, but if a fellow went too far we were to 'call him out.' It must be confessed there was some of the 'calling out' business—though not in Chesterfield's sense; and if the fellows didn't fight with pistols and swords, they gave and got some black eyes and bloody noses. But this was at their peril; for if the master came to hear of it, they were sure to get further punishment, though not exactly on the face.
Then some scholars had 'The Seven Champions of Christendom,' others 'St. George and the Dragon,' or 'Don Bellianis of Greece,' 'The Seven Wonders of the World,' or 'The History of Reynard the Fox,' a great favourite, translated from an old German mock heroic. And sometimes I have seen girls learning to read from a Catholic Prayerbook. Each had his lesson for next day marked in pencil by the master, which he was to prepare. The pupils were called up one by one each to read his own lesson—whole or part—for the master, and woe betide him if he stumbled at too many words.
The schools were nearly always held in the small ordinary dwelling-houses of the people, or perhaps a barn was utilised: at any rate there was only one room. Not unfrequently the family that owned the house lived in that same room—the kitchen—and went on with their simple household work while the school was buzzing about their ears, neither in any way interfering with the other. There was hardly ever any school furniture—no desks of any kind. There were seats enough, of a motley kind—one or two ordinary forms placed at the walls: some chairs with sugaun seats; several little stools, and perhaps a few big stones. In fine weather the scholars spent much of their time in the front yard in the open air, where they worked their sums or wrote their copies with the copybooks resting on their knees.
When the priest visited one of these schools, which he did whenever in the neighbourhood, it was a great event for both master and scholars. Conor Leahy was one of those masters—a very rough diamond indeed, though a good teacher and not over severe—whose school was in Fanningstown near my home. One day Billy Moroney ran in breathless, with eyes starting out of his head, to say—as well as he could get it out—that Father Bourke was coming up the road. Now we were all—master and scholars—mortally afraid of Father Bourke and his heavy brows—though never was fear more misplaced (p. 71). The master instantly bounced up and warned us to be of good behaviour—not to stir hand or foot—while the priest was present. He happened to be standing at the fireplace; and he finished up the brief and vigorous exhortation by thumping his fist down on the hob:—'By this stone, if one of ye opens your mouth while the priest is here, I'll knock your brains out after he's gone away!' That visit passed off in great style.
These elementary teachers, or 'hedge teachers,' as they were commonly called, were a respectable body of men, and were well liked by the people. Many of them were rough and uncultivated in speech, but all had sufficient scholarship for their purpose, and many indeed very much more. They were poor, for they had to live on the small fees of their pupils; but they loved learning—so far as their attainments went—and inspired their pupils with the same love. These private elementary schools gradually diminished in numbers as the National Schools spread, and finally disappeared about the year 1850.
These were the schools of the small villages and hamlets, which were to be found everywhere—all over the country: and such were the schools that the Catholic people were only too glad to have after the chains had been struck off—the very schools in which many men that afterwards made a figure in the world received their early education.
The elementary schools of the towns were of a higher class. The attendance was larger; there were generally desks and seats of the ordinary kind; and the higher classes were commonly taught something beyond Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic; such as Grammar, or Book-keeping, with occasionally a spice of Euclid, Mensuration, Surveying, or Algebra.
It very often happened that the school took its prevailing tone from the taste of the master; so that the higher classes in one were great at Grammar, those of another at Penmanship, some at Higher Arithmetic, some at 'Short Accounts' (i.e. short methods of Mental Arithmetic), others at Book-keeping. For there were then no fixed Programmes and no Inspectors, and each master (in addition to the ordinary elementary subjects) taught just whatever he liked best, and lit up his own special tastes among his pupils.
So far have these words, church, chapel, scallan, hedge-school, led us through the bye-ways of History; and perhaps the reader will not be sorry to turn to something else.
Rattle the hasp: Tent pot. During Fair-days—all over the country—there were half a dozen or more booths or tents on the fair field, put up by publicans, in which was always uproarious fun; for they were full of people—young and old—eating and drinking, dancing and singing and match-making. There was sure to be a piper or a fiddler for the young people; and usually a barn door, lifted off its hinges—hasp and all—was laid flat, or perhaps two or three doors were laid side by side, for the dancers; a custom adopted elsewhere as well as in fairs—
- 'But they couldn't keep time on the cold earthen floor,
- So to humour the music they danced on the door.'
- (Crofton Croker: Old Song.)
There was one particular tune—a jig—which, from the custom of dancing on a door, got the name of 'Rattle the hasp.'
Just at the mouth of the tent it was common to have a great pot hung on hooks over a fire sunk in the ground underneath, and full of pigs cheeks, flitches of bacon, pigs' legs and croobeens galore, kept perpetually boiling like the chiefs' caldrons of old, so that no one need be hungry or thirsty so long as he had a penny in his pocket. These pots were so large that they came to be spoken of as a symbol of plenty: 'Why you have as much bacon and cabbage there as would fill a tent-pot.'
One day—long long ago—at the fair of Ardpatrick in Limerick—I was then a little boy, but old enough to laugh at the story when I heard it in the fair—a fellow with a wattle in his hand having a sharp iron spike on the end, walked up to one of these tent-pots during the momentary absence of the owner, and thrusting the spike into a pig's cheek, calmly stood there holding the stick in his hand till the man came up. 'What are you doing there?'—When the other looking sheepish and frightened:—'Wisha sir I have a little bit of a pig's cheek here that isn't done well enough all out, and I was thinking that may be you wouldn't mind if I gave it a couple of biles in your pot.' 'Be off out of that you impudent blaa-guard, yourself and your pig's cheek, or I'll break every bone in your body.' The poor innocent boy said nothing, but lifted the stick out of the pot with the pig's cheek on the end of it, and putting it on his shoulder, walked off through the fair with meek resignation.
More than a thousand years ago it was usual in Ireland for ladies who went to banquets with their husbands or other near relations to wear a mask. This lady's mask was called fethal, which is the old form of the word, modern form fidil. The memory of this old custom is preserved in the name now given to a mask by both English and Irish speakers—i fiddle, eye-fiddle, hi-fiddle, or hy-fiddle (the first two being the most correct). The full Irish name is aghaidh-fidil, of which the first part agaidh, pronounced i or eye, means the face:—agaidh-fidil, 'face-mask.' This word was quite common in Munster sixty or seventy years ago, when we, boys, made our own i-fiddles, commonly of brown paper, daubed in colour—hideous-looking things when worn—enough to frighten a horse from his oats.
Among those who fought against the insurgents in Ireland during the Rebellion of 1798 were some German cavalry called Hessians. They wore a sort of long boots so remarkable that boots of the same pattern are to this day called Hessian boots. One day in a skirmish one of the rebels shot down a Hessian, and brought away his fine boots as his lawful prize. One of his comrades asked him for the boots: and he answered 'Kill a Hessian for yourself,' which has passed into a proverb. When by labour and trouble you obtain anything which another seeks to get from you on easy terms, you answer Kill a Hessian for yourself.
During the War of the Confederation in Ireland in the seventeenth century Murrogh O'Brien earl of Inchiquin took the side of the Government against his own countrymen, and committed such merciless ravages among the people that he is known to this day as 'Murrogh the Burner'; and his name has passed into a proverb for outrage and cruelty. When a person persists in doing anything likely to bring on heavy punishment of some kind, the people say 'If you go on in that way you'll see Murrogh,' meaning 'you will suffer for it.' Or when a person seems scared or frightened:—'He saw Murrogh or the bush next to him.' The original sayings are in Irish, of which these are translations, which however are now heard oftener than the Irish.
In Armagh where Murrogh is not known they say in a similar sense, 'You'll catch Lanty,' Lanty no doubt being some former local bully.
When one desires to give another a particularly evil wish he says, 'The curse of Cromwell on you!' So that Cromwell's atrocities are stored up in the people's memories to this day, in the form of a proverb.
In Ulster they say 'The curse of Crummie.'
'Were you talking to Tim in town to-day?' 'No, but I saw him from me as the soldier saw Bunratty.' Bunratty a strong castle in Co. Clare, so strong that besiegers often had to content themselves with viewing it from a distance. 'Seeing a person from me' means seeing him at a distance. 'Did you meet your cousin James in the fair to-day?' 'Oh I just caught sight of him from me for a second, but I wasn't speaking to him.'
Sweating-House.—We know that the Turkish bath is of recent introduction in these countries. But the hot-air or vapour bath, which is much the same thing, was well known in Ireland from very early times, and was used as a cure for rheumatism down to a few years ago. The structures in which these baths were given are known by the name of tigh 'n alluis [teenollish], or in English, 'sweating-house' (allus, 'sweat'). They are still well known in the northern parts of Ireland—small houses entirely of stone, from five to seven feet long inside, with a low little door through which one must creep: always placed remote from habitations: and near by was commonly a pool or tank of water four or five feet deep. They were used in this way. A great fire of turf was kindled inside till the house became heated like an oven; after which the embers and ashes were swept out, and water was splashed on the stones, which produced a thick warm vapour. Then the person, wrapping himself in a blanket, crept in and sat down on a bench of sods, after which the door was closed up. He remained there an hour or so till he was in a profuse perspiration: and then creeping out, plunged right into the cold water; after emerging from which he was well rubbed till he became warm. After several baths at intervals of some days he commonly got cured. Persons are still living who used these baths or saw them used. (See the chapter on 'Ancient Irish Medicine' in 'Smaller Soc. Hist. of Anc. Ireland,' from which the above passage is taken.)
The lurking conviction that times long ago were better than at present—a belief in 'the good old times'—is indicated in the common opening to a story:—'Long and merry ago, there lived a king,' &c.
'That poor man is as thin as a whipping post': a very general saying in Ireland. Preserving the memory of the old custom of tying culprits to a firm post in order to be whipped. A whipping post received many of the slashes, and got gradually worn down.
The hardiness of the northern rovers—the Danes—who made a great figure in Ireland, as in England and elsewhere, is still remembered, after nine or ten centuries, in the sayings of our people. Scores of times I heard such expressions as the following:—'Ah shut that door: there's a breeze in through it that would perish the Danes.'
The cardinal points are designated on the supposition that the face is turned to the east: a custom which has descended in Ireland from the earliest times of history and tradition, and which also prevailed among other ancient nations. Hence in Irish 'east' is 'front'; 'west' is 'behind' or 'back'; north is 'left hand'; and south is 'right hand.' The people sometimes import these terms into English. 'Where is the tooth?' says the dentist. 'Just here sir, in the west of my jaw,' replies the patient—meaning at the back of the jaw.
Tailors were made the butt of much good-natured harmless raillery, often founded on the well-known fact that a tailor is the ninth part of a man. If a person leaves little after a meal, or little material after any work—that is 'tailor's leavings'; alluding to an alleged custom of the craft. According to this calumny your tailor, when sending home your finished suit, sends with it a few little scraps as what was left of the cloth you gave him, though he had really much left, which he has cribbed.
When you delay the performance of any work, or business with some secret object in view, you 'put the pot in the tailor's link.' Formerly tailors commonly worked in the houses of the families who bought their own material and employed them to make the clothes. The custom was to work till supper time, when their day ended. Accordingly the good housewife often hung the pot-hangers on the highest hook or link of the pot-hooks so as to raise the supper-pot well up from the fire and delay the boiling. (Ulster.)
The following two old rhymes are very common:—
- Four and twenty tailors went out to kill a snail,
- The biggest of them all put his foot upon his tail—
- The snail put out his horns just like a cow:
- 'O Lord says the tailor we're all killed now!'
- As I was going to Dub-l-in
- I met a pack of tailors,
- I put them in my pocket,
- In fear the ducks might ait them.
In the Co. Down the Roman Catholics are called 'back-o'-the-hill folk': an echo of the Plantations of James I—three centuries ago—when the Catholics, driven from their rich lowland farms, which were given to the Scottish Presbyterian planters, had to eke out a living among the glens and mountains.
When a person does anything out of the common—which is not expected of him—especially anything with a look of unusual prosperity:—'It is not every day that Manus kills a bullock.' (Derry.) This saying, which is always understood to refer to Roman Catholics, is a memorial, in one flash, of the plantation of the northern districts. Manus is a common Christian name among the Catholics round Derry, who are nearly all very poor: how could they be otherwise? That Manus—i.e. a Catholic—should kill a bullock is consequently taken as a type of things very unusual, unexpected and exceptional. Maxwell, in 'Wild Sports of the West,' quotes this saying as he heard it in Mayo; but naturally enough the saying alone had reached the west without its background of history, which is not known there as it is in Derry.
Even in the everyday language of the people the memory of those Plantations is sometimes preserved, as in the following sayings and their like, which are often heard. 'The very day after Jack Ryan was evicted, he planted himself on the bit of land between his farm and the river.' 'Bill came and planted himself on my chair, right in front of the fire.'
'He that calls the tune should pay the piper' is a saying that commemorates one of our dancing customs. A couple are up for a dance: the young man asks the girl in a low voice what tune she'd like, and on hearing her reply he calls to the piper (or fiddler) for the tune. When the dance is ended and they have made their bow, he slips a coin into her hand, which she brings over and places in the hand of the piper. That was the invariable formula in Munster sixty years ago.
The old Irish name of May-day—the 1st May—was Belltaine or Beltene [Beltina], and this name is still used by those speaking Irish; while in Scotland and Ulster they retain it as a common English word—Beltane:—
- 'Ours is no sapling, chance sown by the fountain,
- Blooming at Beltane, in winter to fade.'
- ('Lady of the Lake.')
Before St. Patrick's time there was a great pagan festival in Ireland on 1st May in honour of the god Bél [Bail], in which fire played a prominent part: a custom evidently derived in some way from the Phœnician fire festival in honour of the Phœnician god Baal. For we know that the Phœnicians were well acquainted with Ireland, and that wherever they went they introduced the worship of Baal with his festivals.
Among other usages the Irish drove cattle through or between big fires to preserve them from the diseases of the year; and this custom was practised in Limerick and Clare down a period within my own memory: I saw it done. But it was necessary that the fires should be kindled from tenaigin [g sounded as in pagan]—'forced fire'—i.e., fire produced by the friction of two pieces of dry wood rubbed together till they burst into a flame: Irish teine-éigin from teinĕ, fire, and éigean, force. This word is still known in the South; so that the memory of the old pagan May-day festival and its fire customs is preserved in these two words Beltane and tenaigin.
Mummers were companies of itinerant play-actors, who acted at popular gatherings, such as fairs, patterns, weddings, wakes, &c. Formerly they were all masked, and then young squireens, and the young sons of strong farmers, often joined them for the mere fun of the thing; but in later times masking became illegal, after which the breed greatly degenerated. On the whole they were not unwelcome to the people, as they were generally the source of much amusement; but their antics at weddings and wakes were sometimes very objectionable, as well as very offensive to the families. This was especially the case at wakes, if the dead person had been unpopular or ridiculous, and at weddings if an old woman married a boy, or a girl an old man for the sake of his money. Sometimes they came bent on mischievous tricks as well as on a shindy; and if wind of this got out, the faction of the family gathered to protect them; and then there was sure to be a fight. (Kinahan.)
Mummers were well known in England, from which the custom was evidently imported to Ireland. The mummers are all gone, but the name remains.
We know that in former times in Ireland the professions ran in families; so that members of the same household devoted themselves to one particular Science or Art—Poetry, History, Medicine, Building, Law, as the case might be—for generations (of this custom a full account may be seen in my 'Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland,' chap. vii., especially page 184). A curious example of how the memory of this is preserved occurs in Armagh. There is a little worm called dirab found in bog-water. If this be swallowed by any accident it causes a swelling, which can be cured only by a person of the name of Cassidy, who puts his arms round the patient, and the worm dies. The O'Cassidys were hereditary physicians to the Maguires, chiefs of Fermanagh. Several eminent physicians of the name are commemorated in the Irish Annals: and it is interesting to find that they are still remembered in tradition—though quite unconsciously—for their skill in leechcraft.
'I'll make you dance Jack Lattin'—a threat of chastisement, often heard in Kildare. John Lattin of Morristown House county Kildare (near Naas) wagered that he'd dance home to Morristown from Dublin—more than twenty miles—changing his dancing-steps every furlong: and won the wager. 'I'll make you dance' is a common threat heard everywhere: but 'I'll make you dance Jack Lattin' is ten times worse—'I'll make you dance excessively.'
Morristown, Jack Lattin's residence, is near Lyons the seat of Lord Cloncurry, where Jack was often a guest, in the first half of the last century. Lady Morgan has an entry in her Memoirs (1830):—'Returned from Lyons—Lord Cloncurry's, a large party—the first day good—Sheil, Curran, Jack Lattin.'
It is worthy of remark that there is a well-known Irish tune called 'Jack Lattin,' which some of our Scotch friends have quietly appropriated; and not only that, but have turned Jack himself into a Scotchman by calling the tune 'Jockey Latin'! They have done precisely the same with our 'Eileen Aroon' which they call 'Robin Adair.' The same Robin Adair—or to call him by his proper name Robert Adair—was a well-known county Wicklow man and a member of the Irish Parliament.
The word sculloge or scolloge is applied to a small farmer, especially one that does his own farm work: it is often used in a somewhat depreciatory sense to denote a mere rustic: and in both senses it is well known all over the South. This word has a long history. It was originally applied—a thousand years ago or more—to the younger monks of a monastery, who did most of the farm work on the land belonging to the religious community. These young men were of course students indoors, as well as tillers outside, and hence the name, from scol, a school:—scológ a young scholar. But as farm work constituted a large part of their employment the name gradually came to mean a working farmer; and in this sense it has come down to our time.
To a rich man whose forefathers made their money by smuggling pottheen (illicit whiskey) from Innishowen in Donegal (formerly celebrated for its pottheen manufacture), they say in Derry 'your granny was a Dogherty who wore a tin pocket.' (Doherty a prevalent name in the neighbourhood.) For this was a favourite way of smuggling from the highlands—bringing the stuff in a tin pocket. Tom Boyle had a more ambitious plan:—he got a tinker to make a hollow figure of tin, something like the figure of his wife, who was a little woman, which Tom dressed up in his wife's clothes and placed on the pillion behind him on the horse—filled with pottheen: for in those times it was a common custom for the wife to ride behind her husband. At last a sharp-eyed policeman, seeing the man's affectionate attention so often repeated, kept on the watch, and satisfied himself at last that Tom had a tin wife. So one day, coming behind the animal he gave the poor little woman a whack of a stick which brought forth, not a screech, but a hard metallic sound, to the astonishment of everybody: and then it was all up with poor Tom and his wife.
There are current in Ireland many stories of gaugers and pottheen distillers which hardly belong to my subject, except this one, which I may claim, because it has left its name on a well-known Irish tune:—'Paddy outwitted the gauger,' also called by three other names, 'The Irishman's heart for the ladies,' 'Drops of brandy,' and Cummilum (Moore's: 'Fairest put on Awhile'). Paddy Fogarty kept a little public-house at the cross-roads in which he sold 'parliament,' i.e. legal whiskey on which the duty had been paid; but it was well known that friends could get a little drop of pottheen too, on the sly. One hot July day he was returning home from Thurles with a ten-gallon cag on his back, slung by a strong soogaun (hay rope). He had still two good miles before him, and he sat down to rest, when who should walk up but the new gauger. 'Well my good fellow, what have you got in that cask?' Paddy dropped his jaw, looking the picture of terror, and mumbled out some tomfoolery like an excuse. 'Ah, my man, you needn't think of coming over me: I see how it is: I seize this cask in the name of the king.' Poor Paddy begged and prayed, and talked about Biddy and the childher at home—all to no use: the gauger slung up the cag on his back (about a hundredweight) and walked on, with Paddy, heart-broken, walking behind—for the gauger's road lay towards Paddy's house. At last when they were near the cross-roads the gauger sat down to rest, and laying down the big load began to wipe his face with his handkerchief. 'Sorry I am,' says Paddy, 'to see your honour so dead bet up: sure you're sweating like a bull: maybe I could relieve you.' And with that he pulled his legal permit out of his pocket and laid it on the cag. The gauger was astounded: 'Why the d—— didn't you show me that before?' 'Why then 'tis the way your honour,' says Paddy, looking as innocent as a lamb, 'I didn't like to make so bould as I wasn't axed to show it?' So the gauger, after a volley of something that needn't be particularised here, walked off with himself without an inch of the tail. 'Faix,' says Paddy, tis easy to know 'twasn't our last gauger, ould Warnock, that was here: 'twouldn't be so easy to come round him; for he had a nose that would smell a needle in a forge.'
In Sligo if a person is sick in a house, and one of the cattle dies, they say 'a life for a life,' and the patient will recover. Mr. Kinahan says, 'This is so universal in the wilds of Sligo that Protestants and Catholics believe it alike.'
As an expression of welcome, a person says, 'We'll spread green rushes under your feet'; a memory of the time when there were neither boards nor carpets on the floors—nothing but the naked clay—in Ireland as well as in England; and in both countries, it was the custom to strew the floors of the better class of houses with rushes, which were renewed for any distinguished visitor. This was always done by the women-servants: and the custom was so general and so well understood that there was a knife of special shape for cutting the rushes. (See my 'Smaller Social Hist. of Ancient Ireland,' p. 305.)
A common exclamation of drivers for urging on a horse, heard everywhere in Ireland, is hupp, hupp! It has found its way even into our nursery rhymes; as when a mother is dancing her baby up and down on her knee, she sings:—
- 'How many miles to Dub-l-in?
- Three score and ten,
- Will we be there by candle light?
- Yes and back again:
- Hupp, hupp my little horse,
- Hupp, hupp again.'
This Irish word, insignificant as it seems, has come down from a period thirteen or fourteen hundred years ago, or probably much farther back. In the library of St. Gall in Switzerland there is a manuscript written in the eighth century by some scholarly Irish monk—who he was we cannot tell: and in this the old writer glosses or explains many Latin words by corresponding Irish words. Among others the Latin interjection ei or hei (meaning ho! quick! come on) is explained by upp or hupp (Zeuss).
Before Christianity had widely spread in Ireland, the pagans had a numerous pantheon of gods and goddesses, one of which was Badb [bibe], a terrible war-fury. Her name is pronounced Bibe or Bybe, and in this form it is still preserved all over Cork and round about, not indeed for a war-fury, but for what—in the opinion of some people—is nearly as bad, a scolding woman. (For Badb and all the other pagan Irish gods and goddesses, see my 'Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland,' chap. v.)
From the earliest times in Ireland animals were classified with regard to grazing; and the classification is recognised and fully laid down in the Brehon Law. The legal classification was this:—two geese are equivalent to a sheep; two sheep to a dairt or one-year-old heifer; two dairts to one colpach or collop (as it is now called) or two-year-old heifer; two collops to one cow. Suppose a man had a right to graze a certain number of cows on a common (i.e. pasture land not belonging to individuals but common to all the people of the place collectively); he might turn out the exact number of cows or the equivalent of any other animals he pleased, so long as the total did not exceed the total amount of his privilege.
In many parts of Ireland this system almost exactly as described above is kept up to this day, the collop being taken as the unit: it was universal in my native place sixty years ago; and in a way it exists there still. The custom is recognised in the present-day land courts, with some modifications in the classification—as Mr. Maurice Healy informs me in an interesting and valuable communication—the collop being still the unit—and constantly referred to by the lawyers in the conduct of cases. So the old Brehon Law process has existed continuously from old times, and is repeated by the lawyers of our own day; and its memory is preserved in the word collop. (See my 'Smaller Soc. Hist. of Anc. Ireland,' p. 431.)
In pagan times the religion of Ireland was Druidism, which was taught by the druids: and far off as the time is the name of these druids still exists in our popular speech. The Irish name for a druid is drui [dree]; and in the South any crabbed cunning old-fashioned-looking little boy is called—even by speakers of English—a shoundree, which exactly represents in sound the Irish sean-drui, old druid; from sean [shoun or shan], old. (See 'Irish Names of Places,' I. 98.)
There are two words much in use in Munster, of which the phonetic representations are thoothach or thoohagh and hóchan (ó long), which tell a tale of remote times. A thoothach or thoohagh is an ignorant unmannerly clownish fellow: and hóchan means much the same thing, except that it is rather lower in the sense of ignorance or uncouthness. Passing through the Liberties of Dublin I once heard a woman—evidently from Limerick—call a man a dirty hóchan. Both words are derived from tuath [thooa], a layman, as distinguished from a cleric or a man of learning. The Irish form of the first is tuathtach: of the second thuathcháin (vocative). Both are a memory of the time when illiterate people were looked down upon as boorish and ill-mannered as compared with clerics or with men of learning in general.
The people had great respect and veneration for the old families of landed gentry—the real old stock as they were called. If a man of a lower class became rich so as to vie with or exceed in possessions many of the old families, he was never recognised as on their level or as a gentleman. Such a man was called by the people a half-sir, which bears its meaning on its face.
Sixty years ago people very generally used home-made and home-grown produce—frieze—linen—butter—bacon—potatoes and vegetables in general. A good custom, for 'a cow never burst herself by chewing her cud.' (MacCall: Wexford.)
To see one magpie or more is a sign of bad or good luck, viz.:—'One for sorrow; two for mirth; three for a wedding; four for a birth.' (MacCall: Wexford.)
The war-cry of the great family of O'Neill of Tyrone was Lauv-derg-aboo (the Red Hand to Victory: the Red Hand being the cognisance of the O'Neills): and this cry the clansmen shouted when advancing to battle. It is many a generation since this same cry was heard in battle; and yet it is remembered in popular sayings to this day. In Tyrone when a fight is expected one man will say to another 'there will be Dergaboos to-day': not that the cry will be actually raised; but Dergaboo has come to be a sort of symbolic name for a fight.
In and around Ballina in Mayo, a great strong fellow is called an allay-foozee, which represents the sound of the French Allez-fusil (musket or musketry forward), preserving the memory of the landing of the French at Killala (near Ballina) in 1798.
When a person looks as if he were likely to die soon:—'He's in the raven's book.' Because when a person is about to die, the raven croaks over the house. (MacCall: Wexford.)
A 'cross' was a small old Irish coin so called from a figure of St. Patrick stamped on it with a conspicuous cross. Hence a person who has no money says 'I haven't a cross.' In Wexford they have the same saying with a little touch of drollery added on:—'There isn't as much as a cross in my pocket to keep the devil from dancing in it.' (MacCall.) For of course the devil dare not come near a cross of any shape or form.
A keenoge (which exactly represents the pronunciation of the Irish cíanóg) is a very small coin, a farthing or half a farthing. It was originally applied to a small foreign coin, probably Spanish, for the Irish cían is 'far off,' 'foreign': óg is the diminutive termination. It is often used like 'cross': 'I haven't as much as a keenoge in my pocket.' 'Are you not going to lend me any money at all?' 'Not a keenoge.'
A person not succeeding in approaching the house or spot he wants to reach; hitting wide of the mark in shooting; not coming to the point in argument or explanation:—'Oh you didn't come within the bray of an ass of it.' This is the echo of a very old custom. More than a thousand years ago distance was often vaguely measured in Ireland by sound. A man felling a tree was 'bound by the Brehon Law to give warning as far as his voice could reach,' so as to obviate danger to cattle or people. We find a like measure used in Donegal to this day:—[The Dublin house where you'll get the book to buy is on the Quays] 'about a mountain man's call below the Four Courts.' (Seumas MacManus.) The crow of a cock and the sound of a bell (i.e. the small hand-bell then used) as measures of distances are very often met with in ancient Irish writings. An old commentator on the Brehon Laws defines a certain distance to be 'as far as the sound of the bell or the crow of a barn-door cock could be heard. This custom also prevailed among other ancient nations. (See my 'Smaller Soc. Hist. of Anc. Ireland,' p. 473.)
The 'Duty'. Formerly all through Ireland the tenants were obliged to work for their landlords on a certain number of days free, except that they generally got food. Such work was commonly called in English the 'duty.' In Wicklow for example—until very recently—or possibly still—those who had horses had to draw home the landlord's turf on certain days. In Wexford they had in a similar way to draw stones for the embankments on the Barrow. The tenants commonly collected in numbers on the same day and worked all together. The Irish word used to designate such gatherings was bal—still so called in Connaught. It was usual to hear such English expressions as—'Are you going to the duty?' or 'Are you going to the bal?' (Kinahan.)
(N.B. I do not know the Irish word bal in this sense, and cannot find it in the Dictionaries.)
'Duty' is used in a religious sense by Roman Catholics all through Ireland to designate the obligation on all Catholics to go to Confession and Holy Communion at Easter time. 'I am going to my duty, please God, next week.'
'I'll return you this book on next Saturday as sure as the hearth-money': a very common expression in Ireland. The old English oppressive impost called hearth-money—a tax on hearths—which every householder had to pay, was imported into Ireland by the English settlers. Like all other taxes it was certain to be called for and gathered at the proper time, so that our saying is an apt one; but while the bad old impost is gone, its memory is preserved in the everyday language of the people.
A king, whether of a small or large territory, had in his service a champion or chief fighting man whose duty it was to avenge all insults or offences offered to the families of the king and tribe, particularly murder; like the 'Avenger of blood' of the Jews and other ancient nations. In any expected danger from without he had to keep watch—with a sufficient force—at the most dangerous ford or pass—called bearna baoghaill [barna beel] or gap of danger—on that part of the border where invasion was expected, and prevent the entrance of any enemy. This custom, which is as old as our race in Ireland, is remembered in our present-day speech, whether Irish or Anglo-Irish; for the man who courageously and successfully defends any cause or any position, either by actual fighting or by speeches or written articles, is 'the man in the gap.' Of the old Irish chiefs Thomas Davis writes:—
- 'Their hearts were as soft as the child in the lap,
- Yet they were the men in the gap.'
In the old heroic semi-historic times in Ireland, a champion often gave a challenge by standing in front of the hostile camp or fort and striking a few resounding blows with the handle of his spear either on his own shield or on a shield hung up for the purpose at the entrance gate outside.
The memory of this very old custom lives in a word still very common in the South of Ireland—boolimskee, Irish buailim-sciath, 'I strike the shield,' applied to a man much given to fighting, a quarrelsome fellow, a swaggering bully—a swash-buckler.
Paying on the nail, paying down on the nail; paying on the spot—ready cash. This expression had its origin in a custom formerly prevailing in Limerick city. In a broad thoroughfare under the Exchange stood a pillar about four feet high, on the top of which was a circular plate of copper about three feet in diameter. This pillar was called 'The Nail.' The purchaser of anything laid down the stipulated price or the earnest on the nail, i.e. on the brass plate, which the seller took up: when this was done before witnesses the transaction was as binding as if entered on parchment. (O'Keeffe's Recollections.) 'The Nail' is still to the fore, and may now be seen in the Museum of the Carnegie Library building, to which it was transferred a short time ago.
The change in the Calendar from the old style to the new style, a century and a half ago, is noted in the names for Christmas. All through the South, and in other parts of Ireland, the 6th January ('Twelfth Day') is called 'Old Christmas' and 'Little Christmas' (for before the change of style it was the Christmas): and in many parts of the north our present Christmas is called New Christmas. So in Donegal the 12th of May is called by the people 'Old May day.' (Seumas MacManus.)
Palm, Palm-Sunday. The usual name in Ireland for the yew-tree is 'palm,' from the custom of using yew branches instead of the real palm, to celebrate Palm Sunday—the Sunday before Easter—commemorating the palm branches that were strewed before our Lord on His public entry into Jerusalem. I was quite a grown boy before I knew the yew-tree by its proper name—it was always palm-tree.
Oliver's Summons.—When a lazy fellow was driven to work either by hunger or by any unavoidable circumstance he was said to have got Oliver's Summons, a common household word in parts of the county Limerick in my younger days, originating in the following circumstance. When a good plentiful harvest came round, many of the men of our neighbourhood at this time—about the beginning of last century—the good old easy-going times—worked very little—as little as ever they could. What was the use of working when they had plenty of beautiful floury potatoes for half nothing, with salt or dip, or perhaps a piggin of fine thick milk to crown the luxury. Captain Oliver, the local landlord, and absolute monarch so far as ordinary life was concerned, often—in those seasons—found it hard or impossible to get men to come to do the necessary work about his grounds—though paying the usual wages—till at last he hit on an original plan. He sent round, the evening before, to the houses of the men he wanted, a couple of fellows with a horse and cart, who seized some necessary article in each house—a spinning-wheel, a bed, the pot, the single table, &c.—and brought them all away body and bones, and kept them impounded. Next morning he was sure to have half a dozen or more strapping fellows, who fell to work; and when it was finished and wages paid, the captain sent home the articles. I had this story from old men who saw the carts going round with their loads.
4 ^ For the Penal Laws, see my 'Child's Hist. of Ireland,' chaps. lv, lvi.
5 ^ For 'Poor Scholars,' see O'Curry, 'Man. & Cust.,' i. 79, 80: Dr. Healy, 'Ireland's Anc. Sch.,' 475: and, for a modern instance, Carleton's story, 'The Poor Scholar.' The above passage is quoted from my 'Social Hist. of Anc. Ireland.'
6 ^ See my 'Smaller Social Hist. of Anc. Ireland,' chap, vii.
7 ^ See for an example Dr. Hyde's 'Children of the King of Norway,' 153. (Irish Texts Soc.)