William Carleton.

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W. B. Y.




WILDGOOSE LODGE . . . . . .183




AT the end of the last century there lived in the town-
land of Prillisk, in the parish of Clogher, in the
county of Tyrone, a farmer named Carleton. Among his
neighbours he was noted for his great memory. A pious
Catholic, he could repeat almost the whole of the Old and
New Testament, and no man ever heard tell of Gaelic
charm, rann, poem, prophecy, miracle, tale of blessed
priest or friar, revelation of ghost or fairy, that did not
already lie on this man's tongue.

His wife, Mary, was even better known. Hers was the
sweetest voice within the range of many baronies. When
she went to sing at wake or wedding the neighbours
for miles round would flock in to hear, as city folk
do for some famous prima donna. She had a great
store of old Gaelic songs and tunes. Many an air, sung
once under all Irish roof-trees, has gone into the grave with
her. The words she sang were Gaelic. Once they asked
her to sing the air, " The Red-haired Man's Wife," to
English words. " I will sing for you," she answered, " but
the English words and the air are like a quarrelling man


and wife. The Irish melts into the tune : the English does
not" She could repeat many poems, some handed down
for numberless years, others written by her own grand-
father and uncle, who were noted peasant poets in their day.
She was a famous keener likewise. No one could load the
wild funeral song with so deep sorrow. Often and often
when she caught up the cry the other keeners would
become silent in admiration.

On Shrove-Tuesday, in the year 1798, when pitch-caps
were well in fashion, was born to these two a son, whom
they called William Carleton. He was the youngest of
fourteen children.

Before long his mind was brimful of his father's stories
and his mother's songs. In after days he recorded how
many times, when his mother sat by her spinning-wheel,
singing " Shule agra " or the " Trougha" or some other
"song of sorrow," he would go over with tears in his eyes,
and whisper, " Mother dear, don't sing that song ; it makes
me sorrowful." Fifty years later his mind was still full of
old songs that had died on all other lips than his.

At this time Ireland was plentifully stored with hedge
schoolmasters. Government had done its best to crush
out education, and only succeeded in doing what like
policy had done for the priestcraft surrounding it with a
halo. Ditchers and plough-boys developed the strangest
enthusiasm for Greek and Latin. The worst of it was,
the men who set up schools behind the hedges were often
sheer impostors. Among them, however, were a few
worthy of fame, like Andrew Magrath, the Munster poet,


who sang his allegiance to the fairy, " Don of the Ocean

The boy Carleton sat under three hedge schoolmasters
in succession Pat Fryne, called Mat Kavanagh in the
stories; O'Beirne of Findramore; and another, the master
in "The Poor Scholar," whose name Carleton never
recorded, as he had nothing but evil to say of him. They
were great tyrants. Pat Fryne caused the death of a niece
of Carleton's by plucking her ear with such violence that
some of the internal tendons were broken, and inflamma-
tion set in.

When Carleton was about fourteen, the unnamed school-
master was groaned out of the barony; and his pupil, after
six months' dutiful attendance at all wakes, weddings, and
dances, resolved to make his first foray into the world. He
set out as " a poor scholar," meaning to travel away into
Munster in search of education. He did not go beyond
Granard, however, for there he dreamed that he was chased
by a mad bull, and, taking it as an evil omen, returned
home. His mother was delighted to have her youngest
once more. She had often repeated, while he was away,
" Why did I let my boy go ? Maybe I will never see him

He now returned to his dances, fairs, and merry-making
with a light heart. None came near him at jig or horn-
pipe. He was great, too, with his big peasant's body, at
all kinds of athletic contests, could swing a shillelah
with any man, and leap twenty-one feet on a level. But
in his own family he was most admired for his supposed


learning, and showed a great taste, as he tells, for long words.
Hence it was decided that he should become a priest.

When about nineteen he made his second foray into
the world. His father often told him of St. Patrick's
Purgatory on an island in Lough Derg how St. Patrick
killed the great serpent and left his bones changed into
stone, visible to all men for ever, and of the blessing that
falls upon all pilgrims thither. To the mind of the
would-be priest, and tale-weaver that was to be, the place
seemed full of endless romance. He set out, one of the
long line of pilgrims who have gone thither these twelve
hundred years to murmur their rosaries. In a short time
a description of this pilgrimage was to start him in

On his return he gave up all idea of the priesthood,
and changed his religious opinions a good deal. He
began drifting slowly into Protestantism. This Lough
Derg pilgrimage seems to have set him thinking on
many matters not thinking deeply, perhaps. It was
not an age of deep thinking. The air was full of
mere debater's notions. In course of time, however,
he grew into one of the most deeply religious minds
of his day a profound mystical nature, with melancholy
at its root. And his heart, anyway, soon returned to
the religion of his fathers; and in him the Established
Church proselytisers found their most fierce satirist.

One day Carleton came on a translation of Gil Blas^
and was filled at once with a great longing to see the
world. Accordingly, he left his native village and went


on his third foray, this time not to return. He found
his way to the parish of Killanny, in Louth, and stayed
for a while with the priest, who was a relation of the
one in his native parish. At the end of a fortnight,
however, he moved to a farmer's house, where he became
tutor to the farmer's children. A quarter of a mile from
the priest's house was Wildgoose Lodge, where, six months
before, a family of eight persons had been burnt to ashes
by a Ribbon Society. The ringleader still swung on a
gibbet opposite his mother's door, and as she came in
and out it was her custom to look up and say, " God
have mercy on the sowl of my poor martyr." The peasants
when they passed by would often look up too, and
murmur, " Poor Paddy." The whole matter made a
deep impression on the mind of Carleton, and again
and again in his books he returns to the subject of the
secret societies and their corruption of the popular con-
science. He discusses their origin in book after book,
and warns the people against them.

Presently he found that he was not seeing the
world in this parish of Killanny, and finding, beside, that
life in the farmer's household was very dull, he started for
Dublin, and arrived with two shillings and ninepence in
his pocket. For some time he had a hard struggle, trying
even to get work as a bird-stuffer, though he knew
absolutely nothing of the trade. He wrote a letter in
Latin to the colonel of a regiment, asking his advice
about enlisting. The colonel seems to have made out
the Latin, and dissuaded him.


In those days there lived in Dublin a lean controver-
sialist, Caesar Otway. A favourite joke about him was,
"Where was Otway in the shower yesterday?" "Up a
gun-barrel at Rigby's." He also had been to Lough Derg.
When he had looked down upon it from the mountains
he had felt no reverence for the grey island consecrated
by the verse of Calderon and the feet of twelve centuries
of pilgrims. His stout Protestant heart had merely filled
with wrath at so much "superstition."

Carleton and Otway came across each other somehow.
The lean controversialist was infinitely delighted with this
peasant convert, and seems to have befriended him to
good purpose. By his recommendation, " The Lough
Derg Pilgrim" was written. A few years later, Carleton
cleared away many passages. Caesar Otway would
hardly approve its present form. As we have it now,
the tale is a most wonderful piece of work. The
dim chapel at night, the praying peasants, the fear of
a supernatural madness' if they sleep, the fall of the
young man from the gallery no one who has read it
forgets these things.

From this on, there is little to be recorded but the
dates of his books. He married, and for a time eked
out his income by teaching. When about thirty he
published the "Traits and Stories," and with them
began modern Irish literature. Before long there were
several magazines in Dublin, and many pens busy. Then
came " Fardarougha, the Miser," the miser himself
being perhaps the greatest of all his creations. In 1846


was published "Valentine M'Clutchy": his pronounce-
ment on the Irish Land Question, and on the Protestant-
Catholic Controversy. The novel is full of wonderful
dialogues, but continually the intensity of the purpose
lowers the art into caricature. Most of the prophecies
he made about the land question have been fulfilled.
He foretold that the people would wake up some day
and appeal to first principles. They are doing so with
a vengeance. Many of the improvements also that he
recommended have been carried out.

Young Ireland and its literature were now in full swing.
The "National Library," founded by Davis, was elbowing
the chap-books out of the pedlars' packs. As "Traits
and Stories" had started the prose literature of Ireland,
Ferguson's articles on Hardiman's minstrelsy, with their
translations from the Gaelic, had sown a harvest of song
and ballad. Young Ireland was crusading in verse and
prose against the sins of Old Ireland. Carleton felt
bound to do his part, and wrote a series of short stories
for the "National Library" "Art Maguire," a temper-
ance tale ; " Paddy Go-easy," finished in nine days to
fill a gap left by the death of Davis, and attacking the
bad farming and slovenly housekeeping of so many
peasants; and "Rody the Rover," on his old theme the
secret societies. Rody is an agent provocateur a creature
common enough in Ireland, God knows. At the tale's
end, with mingling of political despair and Celtic fatalism,
evil is left triumphant and good crushed out.

A few years later, on the death of John Banim, an


attempt was made to have his pension transferred to
Carleton. It might have saved him from the break-up
of his genius through hack-work. But some official
discovered that this author of a notable temperance tale
drank more than was desirable. "The Red Well," "The
Dream of a Broken Heart," and all his beautiful and
noble creations counted for nothing. Government, that
did not mind a drunken magistrate, more or less, was
shocked, and the pension refused.

The rest of his life was an Iliad of decadence, his
genius gradually flickering out. Many a bright, heaven-
ward spark on the way, though ! At last, nothing left but
the smoking wick, he died at Woodville, Sandford, near
Dublin, on the 3oth of January 1869, aged seventy, and
was buried at Mount Jerome. A short time before his
death he received the pension refused years before, but
seems to have known much poverty.

William Carleton was a great Irish historian. The history
of a nation is not in parliaments and battle-fields, but in
what the people say to each other on fair-days and high
days, and in how they farm, and quarrel, and go on
pilgrimage. These things has Carleton recorded.

He is the great novelist of Ireland, by right of the most
Celtic eyes that ever gazed from under the brows of story-
teller. His equals in gloomy and tragic power, Michael
and John Banim, had nothing of his Celtic humour. One
man alone stands near him there Charles Kickham, of
Tipperary. The scene of the pig-driving peelers in " For


the Old Land," is almost equal to the best of the " Traits
and Stories." But, then, he had not Carleton's intensity.
Between him and the life he told of lay years in prison,
a long Fenian agitation, and partial blindness. On all things
flowed a faint idealising haze. His very humour was full
of wistfulness.

^ There is no wistfulness in the works of Carleton. I
find there, especially in his longer novels, a kind ol
clay-cold melancholy. One is not surprised to hear, great
humorist though he was, that his conversation was more
mournful than humorous. He seems, like the animals
in Milton, half emerged only from the earth and its brood-
ing. When I read any portion of the "Black Prophet,"
or the scenes with Raymond the Madman in " Valentine
M'Clutchy," I seem to be looking out at the wild, torn
storm-clouds that lie in heaps at sundown along the
western seas of Ireland ; all nature, and not merely man's
nature, seems to pour out for me its inbred fatalism.





ONE day about the middle of November, in the year 18 ,
Dominick M'Evoy and his son Jemmy were digging potatoes
on the side of a hard, barren hill, called Esker Dhu. The
day was bitter and wintry, the men were thinly clad, and
as the keen blast swept across the hill with considerable
violence, the sleet-like rain which it bore along pelted into
their garments with pitiless severity. The father had advanced
into more than middle age ; and having held, at a rack-rent,
the miserable waste of farm which he occupied, he was com-
pelled to exert himself in its cultivation, despite either obduracy
of soil or inclemency of weather. This day, however, was so
unusually severe that the old man began to feel incapable of
continuing his toil. The son bore it better ; but whenever a
cold rush of stormy rain came over them, both were compelled
to stand with their sides against it, and their heads turned, so
as that the ear almost rested back upon the shoulder, in order
to throw the rain off their faces. Of each, however, that cheek
which was exposed to the rain and storm was beaten into a red
hue, whilst the other part of their faces was both pale and

The father paused to take breath, and, supported by his
spade, looked down upon the sheltered inland, which, inhabited
chiefly by Protestants and Presbyterians, lay rich and warm-
looking under him.

" Why, thin," he exclaimed to the son, a lad about fifteen,
" sure I know well I oughtn't to curse yees, anyway, you black
set ; and yit, the Lord forgive me my sins, I'm almost timpted
to give yees a volley, an 1 that from my heart out 1 Look at


thim, Jimmy agra only look at the black thieves ! how warm
an' wealthy they sit there in our own ould possessions, an' here
we must toil, till our fingers are worn to the stumps, upon this
thievin' bent. The curse of Cromwell on it ! You might as well
ax the divil for a blessin' as expect anything like a dacent crop
out of it. Look at thim two ridges ! such a poor sthring o"
praties is in it ! one here and one there and yit we must turn
up the whole ridge for that same ! Well, God sind the time
soon whin the right will take place, Jimmy agra !"

" An' doesn't Pasthorini say it 1 Sure, whin Twenty-five
comes, we'll have our own agin : the right will overcome the
might the bottomless pit will be locked ay, double boulted,
if St. Pether gets the kays, for he's the very boy that will
accommodate the heretics wid a warm corner ; an' yit, faith,
there's many o' thim that myself ud put in a good word for,
afther all."

" Throth, an' here's the same, Jimmy. There's Jack Stuart,
an' if there's a cool corner in hell, the same Jack will get it an'
that he may I pray God this day, an' amin ! The Lord sind it
to him ! for he richly desarves it. Kind, neighbourly, and
frindly is he an' all belongin' to him ; an' I wouldn't be where a
hard word ud be spoken of him, nor a dog in connection wid the
family ill thrated ; for which rason may he get a cool corner in
hell, I humbly sufflicate."

" What do you think of Jack Taylor ? Will he be cosy ?"

" Throth I doubt so a blessed youth is Jack ; yit I myself
ud hardly wish it. He's a heerum-skeerum, divil-may-care
fellow, no doubt of it, an' laughs at the priests, which same, I'm
thinkin', will get him below stairs more nor a new-milk heat,
anyway ; but thin, agin, he thrates thim dacent, an' gives thim
good dinners, and they take all his rolliken in good part, so
that it's likely he's not in arnest in it, an' surely they ought to
know best, Jimmy."

" What do you think of Yallow Sam f honest Saw, that
they say was born widout a heart, an' carries the black wool
in his ears, to keep out the cries of the widows an' the orphans
that are long rotten in their graves through his villainy ? He'll
get a snug berth I" 1

" Yallow Sam"- replied the old man, slowly, and a dark
shade of intense hatred blackened his weather-beaten counten-
ance as he looked in the direction from which the storm blew ;

1 This was actually said of the person alluded to a celebrated
usurer and agent to two or three estates, who was a little deaf, and
had his ears occasionally stuffed with black wool


"'twas he left us where we're standin', Jimmy undher this
blast, that's cowldher an' bittherer nor a stepmother's breath
this cuttin' day. 'Twas he turned us on the wide world whin
your poor mother was risin' out of her faver. 'Twas he
squenched the hearth whin she wasn't able to lave the house,
till I carried her in my arms into Paddy Cassidy's the tears
fallin' from my eyes upon her face that I loved next to God.
Didn't he give our farm to a purple Orangeman ? Out we went
to the winds an' skies of heaven, bekase the rich bodagh made
interest aginst us. 1 tould him whin he chated me out o' my
fifteen goolden guineas that his masther, the landlord, should
hear of it ; but I could never get next or near him to make my
complaint ! Eh ? a snug berth 1 I'm only afeard that hell
has no corner hot enough for him but lave that to the divil
himself; if he doesn't give him the best thratement that hell
can afford, why I'm not here."

" Divil a one o' the ould boy's so bad as they say, father ; he
gives it to thim hot an' heavy, at all evints."

" Why, even if he was at a loss about Sam, depind upon it
he'd get a hint from his betthers above that ud be sarviceable."

" They say he visits him as it is, and that Sam can't sleep
widout some one in the room wid him. Dan Philips says the
priest was there, an' had a mass in every room in the house ;
but Charley Mack tells me there's no thruth in it. He was
advised to it, he says ; but it seems the ould boy has too strong
a hoult of him, for Sam said he'd have the divil any time sooner
nor the priest, and it's likest what he would say."

" Och, och, Jimmy, avick, I'm tir'd out! We had betther
give in ; the day's too hard, an' there's no use in standin' agin
the weather that's in it. Lave the ould villain to God, who he
can't chate, anyway."

" Well, may our curse go along wid the rest upon him, for
dhrivin' us to sich an unnatural spot as this ! Hot an' heavy,
into the sowl an' marrow of him may it penethrate ! An' sure
that's no more than all the counthry's wishin' him, whether or
not not to mintion the curses that's risin' out o' the grave agin
him, loud an' piercin' ! "

" God knows it's not slavin' yourself on such a day as this
you'd be, only for him. Had we kep our farm, you'd be now
well an' in your larnin' for a priest an' there ud be one o' the
family sure to be a gintleman, anyhow ; but that's gone too,
agra. Look at the smoke, how comfortably it rises from Jack
Sullivan's, where the priest has a station to-day ! 'Tisn't fishin'
for a sthray pratie he is, upon a ridge like this. But it can't be


helped ; an' God's will be done 1 Not himself 1 faix, it's he
that'll get the height of good thratement, an' can ride home,
well lined, both inside an' outside. Much good may it do him!
'tis but his right."

The lad now paused in his turn, looked down on Jack
Sullivan's comfortable house, sheltered by a clump of trees,
and certainly saw such a smoke tossed up from the chimney as
gave unequivocal evidence of preparation for a good dinner.
He next looked " behind the wind," with a visage made more
blank and meagre by the contrast ; after which he reflected for
a few minutes, as if working up his mind to some sudden
determination. The deliberation, however, was short. He
struck his open hand upon the head of the spade with much
animation, and instantly took it in both hands, exclaiming

" Here, father, here goes ; to the divil once an' for ever I
pitch slavery," 1 and as he spoke the spade was sent as far from
him as he had strength to throw it. "To the divil I pitch
slavery ! An' now, father, wid the help o' God, this is the last
day's work I'll ever put my hand to. There's no way of larnin'
Latin here ; but off to Munster I'll start, an' my face you'll
never see in this parish till I come home a priest an' a gintle-
man ! But that's not all, father dear : I'll rise you out of your
distress, or die in the struggle. I can't bear to see your grey
hairs in sorrow and poverty."

" Well, Jimmy well, agra God enable you, avourneen ; 'tis a
good intintion. The divil a one o' me will turn another spade-
ful aither, for this day ; I'm dhrookiri* wid the rain. We'll go
home an' take an air o' the fire we want it ; and aftherwards
we can talk about what you're on 3 for."

It is usual to attribute to the English and Scotch character
exclusively a cool and persevering energy in the pursuit of such
objects as inclination or interest may propose for attainment ;
whilst Irishmen are considered too much the creatures of
impulse to reach a point that requires coolness, condensation
of thought, and efforts successively repeated. This is a mistake.
It is the opinion of Englishmen and Scotchmen who know not
the Irish character thoroughly. The fact is, that in the attain-
ment of an object, where a sad-faced Englishman would despair,
an Irishman will probably laugh, drink, weep, and fight during
his progress to accomplish it. A Scotchman will miss it
perhaps, but, having done all that could be done, he will try
another speculation. The Irishman may miss it too, but to

1 Toil, labour. 2 Dripping, very wet. 3 Determined on.


console himself he would break the head of any man who may
have impeded him in his efforts, as a proof that he ought to
have succeeded ; or, if he cannot manage that point, he will
crack the pate of the first man he meets, or he will get drunk,
or he will marry a wife, or burn a house, or hamstring a neigh-
bour's cow, or cut the throat of a proctor, or swear a gauger
never to show his face in that quarter again; or he will exclaim,
if it be concerning a farm, with a countenance full of simplicity
"God bless your honour, long life and honour to you, sir 1
Sure an' 'twas but a thrifle, anyhow, that your reverence will
make up for me another time. An' 'tis well I know your lord-
ship ud be the last man on airth to give me the cowld shoulder,
so you would, an' I an ould residenthur on your own father's
estate ; the Lord be praised for that same ! An' 'tis a happiness,
an' nothin' else, so it is, even if I paid double rint wherein
maybe I'm not a day's journey from that same, manin' the
double rint, yer honour ; only that one would do a great deal
for the honour an' glory of livin' undher a raal gintleman an'
that's but rason."

There is, in short, a far-sightedness in an Irishman which is
not properly understood, because it is difficult to understand it.
I do not think there is a nation on earth whose inhabitants mix
up their interest and their feelings together more happily,
shrewdly, and yet less ostensibly, than Irishmen contrive to do.
An Irishman will make you laugh at his joke, while the object
of that joke is wrapped up from you in the profoundest mystery,
and you will consequently make the concession to a certain

Online LibraryWilliam CarletonStories from Carleton: → online text (page 1 of 33)