D. J. (David James) O'Donoghue.

The humour of Ireland; selected, with introduction, biographical index and notes online

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Online LibraryD. J. (David James) O'DonoghueThe humour of Ireland; selected, with introduction, biographical index and notes → online text (page 1 of 27)
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Edited by W. H. DIRCKS








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Introduction ....... xi

Exorcising the Demon of Voracity — From the Irish . i
The Roman Earl — From the Irish .... 7

The Fellow in the Goat-Skin — Folk-Tale . . 9

Often-who-Came and Seldom-who-Came — From the Irish . 22

The Old Crow and the Young Crow — Fro?n the Irish . 23

Roger and the Grey Mare — Folk-Poem . . -23

Will o' the Vfisv— Folk- Tale . . . . - 25

Epigrams and Riddles — From the Irish . . .32

Donald and his Neighbours— i^^//^-7<a!/<? . . -34

The Woman of Three Cows — From the Irish . . 39

In Praise of Digressions— /^««Ma» 6*0;^// . . .41

A Rhapsody on Vowtky— Jonathan Swift . . -45

Letter from a Liar — Sir Richard Steele . . .50

Epigrams— /<?y4« Winstanley . . . . -55

A Fine>y— George Farquhar . . . • 5^

The Borrower — George Farquhar . . . .60

Widow Wadman's Eye — Laurence Sterne . , -67

Bumpers, Squire ^o^'es— Arthur Dawson . , -70

Jack Lofty — Oliver Goldsmith . . . - • 73

Beau Ty^^'S^— Oliver Goldsmith . . . . .84

The Friar of Orders G^KY—John O'^Keeffe . . -93

The Tailor and the Undertaker-^(£7>5» Q'Keejffe . . 94

Tom QiKQC—John O'Keejffe , . . • - 97

Bulls — Sir Boyle Rocht . . . - . .101



The Monks of the Screw—/. P. Curran

Ana—/. P, Curran . . . ...

The Cruiskeen Lawn— Anonymous .

The Scandal-Mongers— i^. B. Sheridan

Captain Absolute's Submission— i?. B, Sheridan

Ana — R, B. Sheridan . . . - -

My KyimTlOl^— Edward Lysaght

A Warehouse for Wit — George Canning

Conjugal Affection — Thomas Cannings

Whisky, Drink Divine \— Joseph O'Leary

To A Young Lady Blowing a Turf Fire with her

Petticoat — Anonymous ....
Epigrams, etc. — Henry Luttrell .

Letter from Miss Betty Fudge — Thomas Moore .
Montmorenci and Cherubina — E, S, Barrett
Modern MEDiiEVALiSM — E. S, Barrett
The Night before Larry was Stretched — William

Maher{?) . . .

Darby Doyle's Voyage to Qv-e.^^c— Thomas Ettingsall
St. Patrick of Ireland, my Dear ! — Dr. William Maginn
The Last Lamp of the Alley — Dr. William Maginn
Thoughts and Maxims— Z>r. William Maginn
The Gathering of the Mahonys— Z>r. William Maginn
Daniel O'Rourke— Z>r. William Maginn
The Humours of Donnybrook Fair— Charles 0' Flaherty
The Night-Cap— r. H. Porter ....
Kitty of Colekaink— Anonymous
GiYiNG Credit— William Car leton
Brian O'Linn — Anonymous ....
The Turkey and the Goose-^. A. Wade .
Widow Machree — Samuel Lover
Barney O'Hea — Samuel Lover . . .

Molly Carew — Samuel Lover ....
Handy Andy and the Fostmaster— Samuel Lover .
The Little Weaver of Duleek Gate — Samuel Lover
Bellewstown Hill — Anonymous


The Peeler and the Go\t— Jeremiah cyRyan

The Loquacious Barber — Gerald Griffin

Nell Flaherty's Drake — Anonymous

Elegy on Himself — F. S. Makony {^^ Father Protit")

Bob Mahon's Stoky— Charles Lever .

The Widow Mx-LO-ii-e.— Charles Lever .

The Girls of the West — Charles Lever

The Man for Galway — Charles Lever

How Con Cregan's Father Left Himself a Bit of
Land — Charles Lever

Katey's Letter— Z<z^ Dufferin

Dance Light, for my Heart it lies under your Feet
Love— Z>r./. F, Waller

Father Tom's Wager with the Pope — Sir Samuel Fer-
guson .....

The Ould Irish 'jig— -James AfcKowen

Molly Muldoon — Anonymous

The Quare Gander—/. S, Lefanu

Table-Talk— Z?r. E. V. H, Kenealy ,

Advice to a Young Poet— ^. D. Williams .

Saint Kevin and King O'Toole — Thomas Shalvey

The Shaughraun — Dion Boucicault

Rackrenters on the Stump — T. D, Sullivan

Lanigan's Ball — Anonymous .

The Widow's Lament — Anonymous .

Whisky and WATUEK^-Anonymous .

The Thrush and the Blackbird — C.J. Kickham

Irish Astronomy— C G. Halpine

Paddy Fret, the Priest's Boy— J. F. ODonnell

O'Shanahan T>vl\3—J.J. Bourke

Shane Glas-^. /. Bourke

An Irish Story-Teller — Patrick CLeary

The Haunted Shebeen— C. P. O' Conor

Fan Fitzgerl— ^. P. Graves .

Father O'Flynn— ^. P. Graves

Philandering— William Boyle .



Honied Persuasion^/. De Quincey .... 345
The First Lord Liftinant — W. P, French . . . 347

The American Wake— /^. A, Fahy . . . 355

How TO BECOME A PoET — F. A, Fahy . . . 358

The Donovans — F, A. Fahy ..... 368
Petticoats down to my Knees — F, A. Fahy . .371

Musical Experiences and Impressions— 6^. B. Shaw . 373

From Portlaw to Paradise — Edmund Downey . . 382

The Dance at Marley— /*./. McCall . . -393

Fionn MacCumhail and the Princess—/'./. McCall . 397
Tatther Jack Welsh—/*. /. McCall , . . 403

Their Last Race— Frank Mathew , . . . 405

In Blarney — P.J, Coleman . . . . . 409

BiNDiN* the Oats—/*./. Coleman , . . ,411

Selected Irish Proverbs, etc. . . . ^ 414

Biographical Index . . . . . , 423

Notes ..... 4 •» 433

Of THt




That the Irish people have a wide reputation for wit and
humour is a fact which will not be disputed. Irish humour is
no recent growth, as may be seen by the folk-lore, the
proverbs, and the other traditional matter of the country. It
is one of Ireland's ancient characteristics, as some of its
untranslated early literature would conclusively prove. The
curious twelfth-century story of " The Vision of McConglinne "
is a sample of this early Celtic humour. As the melancholy
side of older Celtic literature has been more often emphasised
and referred to, it is usually thought that the most striking
features of that literature is its sadness. The proverbs, some of
which are very ancient, are characteristic enough to show that
the early Irish were of a naturally joyous turn, as a primitive
people should be, for sadness generally comes with civilisation
and knowledge ; and the fragments of folk-lore that have so far
been rescued impress us with the idea that its originators were
homely, cheerful, and mirthful. The proverbs are so numerous
and excellent that a good collection of them would be very
valuable — yet to judge by Ray's large volume, devoted to those
of many nations, Ireland lacks wise sayings of this kind. He
only quotes seven, some of which are wretched local phrases,
and not Irish at all. The early humour of the Irish Celts is
amusing in conception and in expression, and, when it is
soured into satire, frequently of marvellous power and efficacy.

Those who possessed the gift of saying galling things were
much dreaded, and it is not absolutely surprising that Aengus


O'Daly and other satirists met with a retribution from those
whom they had rendered wild with rage. In the early native
literature the Saxon of course came in for his share of ridicule
and scorn ; but there is much less of it than might have been
fairly expected, and if the bards railed at the invader, they
quite as often assailed their own countrymen. One reason for
the undoubted existence of a belief that the old Celts had little
or no humour is that the reading of Irish history suggests it,
and people may perhaps be forgiven for presuming it to be
impossible to preserve humour under the doleful circumstances
recorded by historians. And indeed if there was little to laugh
at even before the English invasion, there was assuredly less
after it. Life suddenly became tragic for the bards and the
jesters. In place of the primitive amusements, the elementary
pranks of the first ages, more serious matters were forced upon
their attention, but appearances notwithstanding, the humorist
thrived, and probably improved in the gloom overcasting the
country; at any rate the innate good humour of the Irish re-
fused to be completely stifled or restricted. Personalities were
not the most popular subjects for ridicule, and the most detested
characters, though often attacked in real earnest, were not the
favourite themes with the wits. Cromwell's name suggested
a curse rather than a joke, and it is only your moderns —
your Downeys and Frenches — who make a jest of him.

It being impossible to define humour or wit exactly, it is
hardly wise to add another to the many failures attached to
the attempt. But Irish humour, properly speaking, is, one may
venture to say, more imaginative than any other. And it is
probably less ill-natured than that of any other nation, though
the Irish have a special aptness in the saying of things that
wound, and the most illiterate of Irish peasants can put more
scorn into a retort than the most highly educated of another
race. There is sometimes a half-pathetic strain in the best
Irish humorous writers, and just as in their saddest moments
the people are inclined to joke, so in many writings where
pathos predominates, the native humour gleams. If true Irish
humour is not easily defined with precision, it is at least easily
recognisable, there is so much buoyancy and movement in it,
and usually so much expansion of heart. An eminent French


writer described humour as a fusion of smiles and tears, but
clearly that defines only one kind, and there are many varieties,
almost as many, one might say, as there are humorists. The
distinguishing between wit and humour is not so simple a
matter as it looks, but one might hazard the opinion that
while the one expresses indifference and irreverence, the
other is redolent of feeling and sincerity. Humour and satire
are extremes — the more barbed and keen a shaft, the more
malicious and likely to hurt, whereas the genuine quality of
humour partakes of tenderness and gentleness. Sheridan
is an admirable example of a wit, while Lover represents
humour in its most confiding aspect. There are intermediate
kinds, however, and the malice of Curran's repartees is not
altogether akin to the rasping personalities of " Father Prout."
Irish humour is mainly a store of merriment pure and simple,
without much personal taint, and does not profess to be philo-
sophical. Human follies or deformities are rarely touched
upon, and luckily Irish humorous writers do not attempt the
didactic. In political warfare, however, many bitter taunts are
heard, and it is somewhat regrettable that Irish politics should
have absorbed so great a part of Irish wit, and turned what
might have been pleasant reading into a succession of biting
sarcasms. The Irish political satirists of the last and present
centuries have often put themselves out of court by the
ephemeral nature of their gibes no less than by the extra-
ferocious tone they adopted. There is no denying the verve
and point in the writings of Watty Cox, Dr. Brenan, William
Norcott, and so on, but who can read them to-day with
pleasure? Eaton Stannard Barrett's "All the Talents," after
giving a nickname to a ministry, destroyed it; it served its
purpose, and would be out of place if resurrected and placed
in a popular collection, where the student of political history
— to whom alone it is interesting and amusing — will hardly
meet with it. Consequently political satire finds no place in
this work, and even T. D. Sullivan, who particularly excels in
personal and political squibs in verse, is shown only as the
author of a prose sketch of more general application. Besides
what has been wasted in this way, from a literary point of view,
a good deal of the native element of wit has been dissipated


as soon as uttered.. After fulfilling its mission in enlivening a
journey or in circling the festive board, it is forgotten and never
appears in print. How many of Lysaght's and Curran's best
quips are passed beyond recall ? It cannot be that men like these
obtained their great fame as wits on the few sample witticisms
that have been preserved for us. Their literary remains are
so scanty and inconsiderable, and their reputation so universal,
that one can only suppose them to have been continuously coin-
ing jokes and squandering them in every direction.

Irish humour has been and is so prevalent, however, that
in spite of many losses, there is abundant material for many
volumes. It is imported into almost every incident and detail
of Irish life — it overflows in the discussions of the local boards,
is bandied about by carmen (who have gained much undeserved
repute among tourists), comes down from the theatre galleries,
is rife in the law courts, and chronic in the clubs, at the bar-
dinners, and wherever there is dulness to be exorcised. Jokes
being really as plentiful as blackberries, no one cares to hoard
so common a product. A proof of the contempt into which
the possession of wit or humour has fallen may be observed
in the fact that no professedly comic paper has been able to
survive for long the indifference of the Irish public. There
have been some good ones in Dublin — notably, Zoz^ Zozimus^
Pat^ and The Jarvey — but they have pined away in a com-
paratively short space of time, the only note of pathos about
their brief existence being the invariable obituary announce-
ment in the library catalogues — "No more published." But
their lives, if short, were merry ones. It was not their fault
if the people did not require such aids to vivacity, being
in general able to strike wit off the corners of any topic, no
matter how unpromising it might appear. Naturally enough,
the chief themes of the Irish humorist have been courting
and drinking, with the occasional relief of a fight. The
amativeness of the poets is little short of marvellous. Men
like Lover (who has never been surpassed perhaps as a
humorous love-poet) usually confined their humour in that
groove ; others, like Maginn, kept religiously to the tradition
that liquor is the chief attraction in life, and the only possible
theme for a wit after exhausting his pleasantries about persons.


Maginn, however, was very much in earnest and did not
respect the tradition simply because it was one, but solely
on account of his belief in its wisdom. There can be no
question, it seems to me, of Ireland's supremacy in the liter-
ature devoted to Bacchus. It is another affair, of course,
whether any credit attaches to the distinction. All the bards
were not so fierce as Maginn in their likes and dislikes when
the liquor was on the table. It may indeed be said of them
in justice that their enthusiasm for the god of wine was often
enough mere boastfulness. It is difficult to believe Tom Moore
in his raptures about the joys of the bowl. He was no roy-
sterer, and there is wanting in his Bacchanalian effusions,
as in others of his light and graceful school, that reckless
abandon of the more bibulous school. A glance at the
lives of the Irish poets shows that a goodly number of
them lived up to their professions. The glorification of
the joys of the bottle by so many of our poets, their
implication that from no other source is genius to be
drawn, suggests that the Irish inclination to wit was
induced by drinking long and deep. Sallies flowed therefrom,
and the taciturn man without an idea developed under the
genial influence into a delightful conversationalist. Yet as
the professional humorist is often pictured as a very gloomy
personage, gnawed by care and tortured by remorse, his
pleasantries probably strike more in consequence of their
vivid contrast to his dismal appearance. But to return to
the bards' love of liquor. One and all declare of the brown
jug that "there's inspiration in its foaming brim," and what
more natural than that they should devote the result to eulogy
of the source. It may be somewhat consoling to reflect that
often they were less reckless than they would have us believe.
Something else besides poetic inspiration comes from the bowl,
which, after all, only brings out the natural qualities.

As a rule, Irish poets have not extracted a pessimistic philo-
sophy from liquor ; they are " elevated," not depressed, and do
not deem it essential to the production of a poem that its
author should be a cynic or an evil prophet. One of the best
attributes of Irish poetry is its constant expre-ssion of the
natural emotions. Previous to the close of the seventeenth


century, it is said, drunkenness was not suggested by the
poets as common in Ireland — the popularity of Bacchanalian
songs since that date seems to prove that the vice soon became
a virtue. Maginn is the noisiest of modem revellers, and easily
roars the others down.

Not a small portion of the humour of Ireland is the un-
conscious variety in the half-educated local poets. Sometimes
real wit struggles for adequate expression in English with ludi-
crous and unlooked-for results. A goodly number of the street
ballads are very comic in description, phraseology, or vitupera-
tion, and " Nell Flaherty's Drake " may be taken as a fair
specimen of the latter class. Occasionally there is coarseness,
usually absent from genuine Irish songs ; sometimes a ghastly
sort ofgrotesquerie^ as in "The Night before Larry was Stretched."
Only a few examples of such are necessary to form an idea of the
whole. Maginn's great service in exposing the true character of
the wretched rubbish often palmed oif on the English public as
Irish songs deserves to be noticed here. He proved most con-
clusively that the stuff thus styled Irish, with its unutterable
refrains of the " Whack Bubbaboo " kind, was of undoubted
English origin, topography, phraseology, rhymes, and everything
else being utterly un-Irish. The internal evidence alone con-
victs their authors. No Irishman rhymes O^Reilly to bailie^ for
instance, and certainly he would never introduce a priest named
"Father Quipes" into a song, even if driven to desperation for
rhymes to "swipes." Any compiler who gives a place in a
collection of Irish songs to such trash as " Looney Mac-
twolter," " Dennis Bulgruddery," or any other of the rather
numerous effusions of their kind, with their Gulliverian nomen-
clature and their burlesque of Irish manners, is an accomplice
in the crime of their authors. In this connection it may be
pointed out that not only in songs, but in many stories and
other writings purporting to be Irish, the phraseology is any-
thing but Irish. Irishmen do not, and never did, speak of
their spiritual guardian as the praste. The Irishman never
mispronounces the sound of ie^ and if he says tay for tea and
mate for meat he is simply conforming to the old and correct
English pronunciation, as may be seen by consulting the older
English poets, who always rhymed sea with day^ etc. To this


hour, the original sound is preserved by English people in great
and break.
li To leave the anonymous, the hybrid, and the spurious, it will
be well to consider the continuity of the humour of Ireland.
The long line of humorous writers who have appeared in our
literary history has never been broken, despite many intervals of
tribulation. In Anglo-Irish literature they commence practi-
cally with Farquhar, whose method of treating the follies of fine
ladies and "men of honour" is anticipatory of that of the
Spectator. Swift's irony, unsurpassable as it is, is cruel to
excess, and has little that is Irish about it. A contemporary
and countryman. Dean Smedley, said he was "always in jest,
but most so in prayer," but that is an exaggeration, for Swift
was mostly in grim earnest. The charge implies that many of
his contemporaries, like several modems, had a difficulty in
satisfying themselves as to when he joked and when he did not.
Smedley is also responsible for another poem directed against
Swift, which was posted upon the door of St. Patrick's, Dublin,
when the great writer was appointed its Dean, and of which
the following is the best stanza : —

** This place he got by wit and rhyme,
And many ways most odd,
And might a bishop be in time,
Did he believe in God."

The impassive and matter-of-fact way in which Swift, using
the deadliest of weapons, ridicule, reformed the abuses of his
time, deceived a good many. He never moved a muscle,
and his wit shone by contrast with his moody exterior as a
lightning-flash illuminates a gloomy sky. It has that element
of unexpectedness which goes far to define the nature of wit.

Real drollery in Anglo- Irish literature seems to have begun
with Steele. In the case of Steele there is rarely anything to
offend modern taste. His tenderness is akin to Goldsmith's,
and the naturai man is clearly visible in his writings. A
direct contrast is seen in Sterne, who was more malicious and
sly, full of unreality and misplaced sentiment, and depending
chiefly upon his constant supply of doubles entendres and the
morbid tastes of his readers. Writers like Derrick and Bicker-
staffe were hardly witty in the modem sense, but rather in the



original literal meaning of the term. There are many wits, highly
popular in their own day, who are no longer readable with any
marked degree of pleasure. Wit depends so largely upon the
manner of its delivery for the effect produced that the dramatists
are not so numerously represented in this collection as might be
expected from the special fecundity and excellence of the Irish
in that branch of literature. To extract the wit or humour from
some of the eighteenth-century plays is no easy task. In men
like Sheridan, it is superabundant, over-luxuriant, and easily de-
tachable; but others, like Kane O'Hara, Hugh Kelly, William
O'Brien, James Kenney, and so on, whose plays were famous at one
time and are not yet forgotten, find no place in this work on ac-
count of the difficulty of bringing the wit of their plays to a focus.

There never was a writer, perhaps, concerning whose merits
there has been less dispute than Goldsmith. Sheridan, with
all his brilliance, has not been so fortunate. Lysaght and
Millikin were and are both greatly overrated as poets and wits,
if we are to judge by the fragments they have left. Lysaght,
however, must have been considered a genuine wit, for we find
a number of once popular songs wrongly attributed to him.^
He most unquestionably did not write " The Sprig of Shillelagh,"
"Donnybrook Fair," "The Rakes of Mallow," or "Kitty of
Coleraine," though they have all been put down as his. The first
two were written by H. B. Code and Charles O'Flaherty respect-
ively. Millikin's fame is due to one of those literary accidents
which now and then occur. Henry Luttrell in his verse had
something of the sprightliness and point of Moore.

Very few specimens of parody have been included in this
collection. Two extracts are here given from Eaton Stannard
Barrett's burlesque romance, which ridiculed a school of writers
whose mannerisms were once very prevalent. Maginn was a
much better parodist. He was a great humorist in every way,
and may be claimed as the earliest writer who showed genuine
rollicking Irish humour. " Daniel O'Rourke " is here given to
him for the first time, probably, in a collection; though it
appeared in Crofton Croker's " Fairy Legends " it was known
to their contemporaries as Maginn's. He could be both coarse
and refined ; his boisterous praise of the bottle was not a sham,
but his occasional apparent delight in savage personal criticism


was really quite foreign to his character, as he was a most
amiable man, much loved by those who knew him. It was
different with " Father Prout," who was one of the venomous
order of wits, and certainly not a personal favourite with his
colleagues. His frequent and senseless attacks on O'Connell
and other men, dragged into all his essays, are blots on his
work. His wit is too often merely abusive, like that of Dr.
Kenealy, who, almost as learned as "Prout," was quite as un-
necessarily bitter. It is from Lover that we get the cream,
not the curds of Irish humour. He is the Irish arch-humorist,
and it is difficult to exaggerate the excellence of his love-
songs. Others may be more classical, more polished, more
subtle, but there is no writer more irresistible. Among his
earlier contemporaries Ettingsall was his nearest counterpart

Online LibraryD. J. (David James) O'DonoghueThe humour of Ireland; selected, with introduction, biographical index and notes → online text (page 1 of 27)