William Carleton.

Phil Purcel, The Pig-Driver; The Geography Of An Irish Oath; The Lianhan Shee Traits And Stories Of The Irish Peasantry, The Works of William Carleton, Volume Three online

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Online LibraryWilliam CarletonPhil Purcel, The Pig-Driver; The Geography Of An Irish Oath; The Lianhan Shee Traits And Stories Of The Irish Peasantry, The Works of William Carleton, Volume Three → online text (page 1 of 15)
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Phil Purcel, The Pig-Driver.

The Geography Of An Irish Oath.

The Lianhan Shee.


Phil Purcel was a singular character, for he was never married; but
notwithstanding his singularity, no man ever possessed, for practical
purposes, a more plentiful stock of duplicity. All his acquaintances
knew that Phil was a knave of the first water, yet was he decidedly a
general favorite. Now as we hate mystery ourselves, we shall reveal the
secret of this remarkable popularity; though, after all, it can scarcely
be called so, for Phil was not the first cheat who has been popular
in his day. The cause of his success lay simply in this; that he never
laughed; and, none of our readers need be told, that the appearance of
a grave cheat in Ireland is an originality which almost runs up into
a miracle. This gravity induced every one to look upon him as a
phenomenon. The assumed simplicity of his manners was astonishing,
and the ignorance which he feigned, so apparently natural, that it was
scarcely possible for the most keen-sighted searcher into human motives
to detect him. The only way of understanding the man was to deal with
him: if, after that, you did not comprehend him thoroughly, the fault
was not Phil's, but your own. Although not mirthful himself, he was the
cause of mirth in others; for, without ever smiling at his own gains, he
contrived to make others laugh at their losses. His disposition, setting
aside laughter, was strictly anomalous. The most incompatible, the most
unamalgamatible, and the most uncomeatable qualities that ever refused
to unite in the same individual, had no scruple at all to unite in Phil.
But we hate metaphysics, which we leave to the mechanical philosophers,
and proceed to state that Phil was a miser, which is the best
explanation we can give of his gravity.

Ireland, owing to the march of intellect, and the superiority of modern
refinement, has been for some years past, and is at present, well
supplied with an abundant variety of professional men, every one of whom
will undertake, for proper considerations, to teach us Irish all manner
of useful accomplishments. The drawing-master talks of his profession;
the dancing-master of his profession; the fiddler, tooth-drawer, and
corn-cutter (who by the way, reaps a richer harvest than we do), since
the devil has tempted the schoolmaster to go abroad, are all practising
in his absence, as professional men.

Now-Phil must be included among this class of grandiloquent gentlemen,
for he entered life as a Professor of Pig-driving; and it is but justice
towards him to assert, that no corn-cutter of them all ever elevated his
profession so high as Phil did that in which he practised. In fact, he
raised it to the most exalted pitch of improvement of which it was then
susceptible; or to use the cant of the day, he soon arrived at "the head
of his profession."

In Phil's time, however, pig-driving was not so general, nor had it
made such rapid advances as in modern times. It was, then, simply,
pig-driving, unaccompanied by the improvements of poverty, sickness, and
famine. Political economy had not then taught the people how to be poor
upon the most scientific principles; free trade had not shown the nation
the most approved plan of reducing itself to the lowest possible state
of distress; nor liberalism enabled the working classes to scoff at
religion, and wisely to stop at the very line that lies between outrage
and rebellion. Many errors and inconveniences, now happily exploded,
were then in existence. The people, it is true, were somewhat attached
to their landlords, but still they were burdened with the unnecessary
appendages of good coats and stout shoes; were tolerably industrious,
and had the mortification of being able to pay their rents, and feed
in comfort. They were not, as they are now, free from new coats and
old prejudices, nor improved by the intellectual march of politics and
poverty. When either a man or a nation starves, it is a luxury to starve
in an enlightened manner; and nothing is more consolatory to a person
acquainted with public rights and constitutional privileges, than to
understand those liberal principles upon which he fasts and goes naked.

From all we have said, the reader sees clearly that pig-driving did
not then proceed upon so extensive a scale as it does at present. The
people, in fact, killed many of them for their own use; and we know not
how it happened, but political ignorance and good bacon kept them in
more flesh and comfort than those theories which have since succeeded so
well in introducing the science of starvation as the basis of national
prosperity. Irishmen are frequently taxed with extravagance, in addition
to their other taxes; but we should be glad to know what people in
Europe reduce economy in the articles of food and clothing to such close
practice as they do.

Be this as it may, there was, in Ireland, an old breed of swine, which
is now nearly extinct, except in some remote parts of the country, where
they are still useful in the hunting season, particularly if dogs happen
to be scarce.* They were a tall, loose species, with legs of an unusual
length, with no flesh, short ears, as if they had been cropped for
sedition, and with long faces of a highly intellectual cast. They were
also of such activity that few greyhounds could clear a ditch or cross
a field with more agility or speed. Their backs formed a rainbow arch,
capable of being contracted or extended to an inconceivable degree; and
their usual rate of travelling in droves was at mail-coach speed, or
eight Irish miles an hour, preceded by an outrider to clear the way,
whilst their rear was brought up by another horseman, going at a
three-quarter gallop.

* We assure John Bull, on the authority of Purcel
himself, that this is a fact.

In the middle of summer, when all nature reposed under the united
influence of heat and dust, it was an interesting sight to witness a
drove of them sweeping past, like a whirlwind, in a cloud of their own
raising; their sharp and lengthy outlines dimly visible through the
shining haze, like a flock of antelopes crossing the deserts of the

But alas! for those happy days! This breed is now a curiosity - few
specimens of it remaining except in the mountainous parts of the
country, whither these lovers of liberty, like the free natives of the
back settlements of America, have retired to avoid the encroachments of
civilization, and exhibit their Irish antipathy to the slavish comforts
of steamboat navigation, and the relaxing luxuries of English feeding.

Indeed, their patriotism, as evinced in an attachment to Ireland and
Irish habits, was scarcely more remarkable than their sagacity. There is
not an antiquary among the members of that learned and useful body, the
Irish Academy, who can boast such an intimate knowledge of the Irish
language in all its shades of meaning and idiomatic beauty, as did this
once flourishing class of animals. Nor were they confined to the Irish
tongue alone, many of them understood English too; and it was said
of those that belonged to a convent, the members of which, in their
intercourse with each other, spoke only in Latin, that they were
tolerable masters of that language, and refused to leave a potato field
or plot of cabbages, except when addressed in it. To the English tongue,
however, they had a deep-rooted antipathy; whether it proceeded from the
national feeling, or the fact of its not being sufficiently guttural,
I cannot say; but be this as it may, it must be admitted that they were
excellent Irish scholars, and paid a surprising degree of deference and
obedience to whatever was addressed to them in their own language. In
Munster, too, such of them as belonged to the hedge-schoolmasters were
good proficients in Latin; but it is on a critical knowledge of their
native tongue that I take my stand. On this point they were unrivalled
by the most learned pigs or antiquaries of their day; none of either
class possessing, at that period, such a knowledge of Irish manners, nor
so keen a sagacity in tracing out Irish roots.

Their education, it is true, was not neglected, and their instructors
had the satisfaction of seeing that it was not lost. Nothing could
present a finer display of true friendship founded upon a sense of
equality, mutual interest, and good-will, than the Irishman and his pig.
The Arabian and his horse are proverbial; but had our English neighbors
known as much of Ireland as they did of Arabia, they would have found as
signal instances of attachment subsisting between the former as between
the latter; and, perhaps, when the superior comforts of an Arabian hut
are contrasted with the squalid poverty of an Irish cabin, they would
have perceived a heroism and a disinterestedness evinced by the Irish
parties, that would have struck them with greater admiration.

The pigs, however, of the present day are a fat, gross, and degenerate
breed; and more like well-fed aldermen, than Irish pigs of the old
school. They are, in fact, a proud, lazy, carnal race, entirely of the
earth, earthy. John Bull assures us it is one comfort, however, that
we do not eat, but ship them out of the country; yet, after all, with,
great respect to John, it is not surprising that we should repine a
little on thinking of the good old times of sixty years since, when
every Irishman could kill his own pig, and eat it when he pleased. We
question much whether any measure that might make the eating of meat
compulsory upon us, would experience from Irishmen a very decided
opposition. But it is very condescending in John to eat our beef and
mutton; and as he happens to want both, it is particularly disinterested
in him to encourage us in the practice of self-denial. It is possible,
however, that we may ultimately refuse to banquet by proxy on our own
provisions; and that John may not be much longer troubled to eat for us
in that capacity.

The education of an Irish pig, at the time of which we write, was an
important consideration to an Irishman. He, and his family, and his
pig, like the Arabian and his horse, all slept in the same bed; the
pig generally, for the sake of convenience, next the "stock" (* at the
outside). At meals the pig usually was stationed at the _serahag_, or
potato-basket; where the only instances of bad temper he ever displayed
broke out in petty and unbecoming squabbles with the younger branches
of the family. Indeed, if he ever descended from his high station as a
member of the domestic circle, it was upon these occasions, when, with
a want of dignity, accounted for only by the grovelling motive of
self-interest, he embroiled himself in a series of miserable feuds and
contentions about scraping the pot, or carrying off from the jealous
urchins about him more than came to his share. In these heart-burnings
about the good things of this world, he was treated with uncommon
forbearance: in his owner he always had a friend, from whom, when he
grunted out his appeal to him, he was certain of receiving redress:
"Barney, behave, avick: lay down the potstick, an' don't be batin' the
pig, the crathur."

In fact, the pig was never mentioned but with this endearing epithet of
"crathur" annexed. "Barney, go an' call home the pig, the crathur, to
his dinner, before it gets cowld an him." "Barney, go an' see if you can
see the pig, the crathur, his buckwhist will soon be ready." "Barney,
run an' dhrive the pig, the crathur, out of Larry Neil's phatie-field:
an', Barney, whisper, a bouchal bawn, don't run _too_ hard, Barney, for
fraid you'd lose your breath. What if the crathur does get a taste o'
the new phaties - small blame to him for the same!"

In short, whatever might have been the habits of the family, such were
those of the pig. The latter was usually out early in the morning to
take exercise, and the unerring regularity with which he returned at
mealtime gave sufficient proof that procuring an appetite was a work of
supererogation on his part. If he came before the meal was prepared, his
station was at the door, which they usually shut to keep him out of
the way until it should be ready. In the meantime, so far as a forenoon
serenade and an indifferent voice could go, his powers of melody were
freely exercised on the outside. But he did not stop here: every stretch
of ingenuity was tried by which a possibility of gaining admittance
could be established. The hat and rags were repeatedly driven in from
the windows, which from practice and habit he was enabled to approach on
his hind legs; a cavity was also worn by the frequent grubbings of his
snout under the door, the lower part of which was broken away by the
sheer strength of his tusks, so that he was enabled, by thrusting
himself between the bottom of it and the ground, to make a most
unexpected appearance on the hearth, before his presence was at all
convenient or acceptable.

But, independently of these two modes of entrance, i. e., the door and
window, there was also a third, by which he sometimes scrupled not to
make a descent upon the family. This was by the chimney. There are
many of the Irish cabins built for economy's sake against slopes in the
ground, so that the labor of erecting either a gable or side-wall is
saved by the perpendicular bank that remains after the site of the house
is scooped away. Of the facilities presented by this peculiar structure,
the pig never failed to avail himself. He immediately mounted the roof
(through which, however, he sometimes took an unexpected flight),
and traversing it with caution, reached the chimney, into which he
deliberately backed himself, and with no small share of courage, went
down precisely as the northern bears are said to descend the trunks of
trees during the winter, but with far different motives.

In this manner he cautiously retrograded downwards with a hardihood,
which set furze bushes, brooms, tongs, and all other available weapons
of the cabin at defiance. We are bound, however, to declare, that this
mode of entrance, which was only resorted to when every other failed,
was usually received by the cottager and his family with a degree of
mirth and good-humor that were not lost upon the sagacity of the pig.
In order to save him from being scorched, which he deserved for his
temerity, they usually received him in a creel, often in a quilt, and
sometimes in the tattered blanket, or large pot, out of which he looked
with a humorous conception of his own enterprise, that was highly
diverting. We must admit, however, that he was sometimes received with
the comforts of a hot poker, which Paddy pleasantly called, "givin' him
a warm welcome."

Another trait in the character of these animals, was the utter scorn
with which they treated all attempts to fatten them. In fact, the usual
consequences of good feeding were almost inverted in their case; and
although I might assert that they became leaner in proportion to what
they received, yet I must confine myself to truth, by stating
candidly that this was not the fact; that there was a certain state
of fleshlessness to which they arrived, but from which they neither
advanced nor receded by good feeding or bad. At this point, despite of
all human ingenuity, they remained stationary for life, received
the bounty afforded them with a greatness of appetite resembling
the fortitude of a brave man, which rises in energy according to the
magnitude of that which it has to encounter. The truth is, they were
scandalous hypocrites; for with the most prodigious capacity for food,
they were spare as philosophers, and fitted evidently more for the chase
than the sty; rather to run down a buck or a hare for the larder, than
to have a place in it themselves. If you starved them, they defied you
to diminish their flesh; and if you stuffed them like aldermen, they
took all they got, but disdained to carry a single ounce more than
if you gave them whey thickened with water. In short, they gloried in
maceration and liberty; were good Irish scholars, sometimes acquainted
with Latin; and their flesh, after the trouble of separating it from a
superfluity of tough skin, was excellent venison so far as it went.

Now Phil Purcel, whom we will introduce more intimately to the reader by
and by, was the son of a man who always kept a pig.

His father's house had a small loft, to which the ascent was by a
step-ladder through a door in the inside gable. The first good thing
ever Phil was noticed for he said upon the following occasion. His
father happened to be called upon, one morning before breakfast, by his
landlord, who it seems occasionally visited his tenantry to encourage,
direct, stimulate, or reprove them, as the case might require. Phil was
a boy then, and sat on the hob in the corner, eyeing the landlord and
his father during their conversation. In the mean time the pig came in,
and deliberately began to ascend the ladder with an air of authority
that marked him as one in the exercise of an established right. The
landlord was astonished at seeing the animal enter the best room in the
house and could not help expressing his surprise to old Purcel:

"Why, Purcel, is your pig in the habit of treating himself to the
comforts of your best room?"

"The pig is it, the crathur? Why, your haner," said Purcel, after a
little hesitation, "it sometimes goes up of a mornin' to waken the
childhre, particularly when the buckwhist happens to be late. It doesn't
like to be waitin'; and sure none of us likes to be kept from the male's
mate, your haner, when we want it, no more than it, the crathur!"

"But I wonder your wife permits so filthy an animal to have access to
her rooms in this manner."

"Filthy!" replied Mrs. Purcel, who felt herself called upon to defend
the character of the pig, as well as her own, "why, one would think,
sir, that any crathur that's among Christyen childhre, like one o'
themselves, couldn't be filthy. I could take it to my dyin' day, that
there's not a claner or dacenter pig in the kingdom, than the same pig.
It never misbehaves, the crathur, but goes out, as wise an' riglar, jist
by a look, an' that's enough for it, any day - a single look, your haner,
the poor crathur!"

"I think," observed Phil, from the hob, "that nobody has a betther right
to the run of the house, whedher up stairs or down stairs, _than him
that pays the rint_."

"Well said, my lad!" observed the landlord, laughing at the quaint
ingenuity of Phil's defence. "His payment of the rent is the best
defence possible, and no doubt should cover a multitude of his errors."

"A multitude of his shins, you mane, sir," said Phil, "for thruth he's
all shin."

In fact, Phil from his infancy had an uncommon attachment to these
animals, and by a mind naturally shrewd and observing, made himself
as intimately acquainted with their habits and instincts, and the best
modes of managing them, as ever the celebrated _Cahir na Cappul_* did
with those of the horse. Before he was fifteen, he could drive the most
vicious and obstinate pig as quietly before him as a lamb; yet no one
knew how, nor by what means he had gained the secret that enabled him to
do it. Whenever he attended a fair, his time was principally spent among
the pigs, where he stood handling, and examining, and pretending to buy
them, although he seldom had half-a-crown in his pocket. At length, by
hoarding up such small sums as he could possibly lay his hand on, he got
together the price of a "slip," which he bought, reared, and educated in
a manner that did his ingenuity great credit. When this was brought
to its _ne plus ultra_ of fatness, he sold it, and purchased two more,
which he fed in the same way. On disposing of these, he made a fresh
purchase, and thus proceeded, until, in the course of a few years, he
was a well-known pig-jobber.

* I subjoin from Townsend's Survey of the county of
Cork a short but authentic account of this most
extraordinary character: - "James Sullivan was a native
of the county of Cork, and an awkward ignorant rustic
of the lowest class, generally known by the appellation
of the _Whisperer_, and his profession was horse-
breaking. The credulity of the vulgar bestowed that
epithet upon him, from an opinion that he communicated
his wishes to the animal by means of a whisper; and the
singularity of his method gave some color to the
superstitious belief. As far as the sphere of his
control extended, the boast of _Veni, Vidi, Vici_, was
more justly claimed by James Sullivan, than by Caesar,
or even Bonaparte himself. How his art was acquired, or
in what it consisted, is likely to remain for ever
unknown, as he has lately left the world without
divulging it. His son, who follows the same occupation,
possesses but a small portion of the art, having either
never learned its true secret, or being incapable of
putting it in practice. The wonder of his skill
consisted in the short time requisite to accomplish his
design, which was performed in private, and without any
apparent means of coercion. Every description of horse,
or even mule, whether previously broke, or unhandled,
whatever their peculiar vices or ill habits might have
been, submitted, without show of resistance, to the
magical influence of his art, and, in the short space
of half an hour, became gentle and tractable. The
effect, though instantaneously produced, was generally
durable. Though more submissive to him than to others,
yet they seemed to have acquired a docility, unknown
before. When sent for to tame a vicious horse, he
directed the stable in which he and the object of his
experiment were placed, to be shut, with orders not to
open the door until a signal given. After a _tete-a-
tete_ between him and the horse for about half an hour,
during which little or no bustle was heard, the signal
was made; and upon opening the door, the horse was
seen, lying down, and the man by his side, playing
familiarly with him, like a child with a puppy dog.
From that time he was found perfectly willing to submit
to discipline, however repugnant to his nature before.
Some saw his skill tried on a horse, which could never
be brought to stand for a smith to shoe him. The day
after Sullivan's half hour lecture, I went, not without
some incredulity, to the smith's shop, with many other
curious spectators, where we were eye-witnesses of the
complete success of his art. This, too, had been a
troop-horse; and it was supposed, not without reason,
that after regimental discipline had failed, no other
would be found availing. I observed that the animal
seemed afraid, whenever Sullivan either spoke or looked
at him. How that extraordinary ascendancy could have
been obtained, it is difficult to conjecture, in common
eases, this mysterious preparation was unnecessary. He
seemed to possess an instinctive power of inspiring
awe, the result, perhaps, of natural intrepidity, in
which, I believe, a great part of his art consisted;
though the circumstance of his tete-a-tete shows, that,
upon particular occasions, something more must have
been added to it. A faculty like this would, in other
hands, have made a fortune, and great offers have been
made to him for the exercise of his art abroad; but
hunting, and attachment to his native soil, were his
ruling passions. He lived at home, in the style most
agreeable to his disposition, and nothing could induce
him to quit Dunhalow and the fox-hounds."

Phil's journeys as a pig-driver to the leading seaport towns nearest
him, were always particularly profitable. In Ireland, swine are not kept
in sties, as they are among English feeders, but permitted, to go at
liberty through pasture fields, commons, and along roadsides, where they
make up as well as they can for the scanty pittance allowed them at home
during meal-times. We do not, however, impeach Phil's honesty; but simply
content ourselves with saying, that when his journey was accomplished,
he mostly found the original number with which he had set out increased
by three or four, and sometimes by half a dozen. Pigs in general

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Online LibraryWilliam CarletonPhil Purcel, The Pig-Driver; The Geography Of An Irish Oath; The Lianhan Shee Traits And Stories Of The Irish Peasantry, The Works of William Carleton, Volume Three → online text (page 1 of 15)