In Wicklow and West Kerry Part 1

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In Wicklow and West Kerry is a Webnovel created by John M. Synge.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

In Wicklow and West Kerry.

by John M. Synge.


In WEST KERRY was partly re-written from articles which appeared in the Shanachie, where some of IN WICKLOW also appeared; the remainder of the Wicklow articles were originally published in the Manchester Guardian.

The publishers desire to thank the editors of the Manchester Guardian and the Shanachie for permission to reprint the articles which appeared in their columns.


The Vagrants of Wicklow

Some features of County Wicklow, such as the position of the workhouses and holiday places on either side of the coach road from Arklow to Bray, have made this district a favourite with the vagrants of Ireland. A few of these people have been on the roads for generations; but fairly often they seem to have merely drifted out from the ordinary people of the villages, and do not differ greatly from the cla.s.s they come from. Their abundance has often been regretted; yet in one sense it is an interesting sign, for wherever the labourer of a country has preserved his vitality, and begets an occasional temperament of distinction, a certain number of vagrants are to be looked for. In the middle the gifted son of a family is always the poorest–usually a writer or artist with no sense for speculation–and in a family of peasants, where the average comfort is just over penury, the gifted son sinks also, and is soon a tramp on the roadside.

In this life, however, there are many privileges. The tramp in Ireland is little troubled by the laws, and lives in out-of-door conditions that keep him in good-humour and fine bodily health. This is so apparent, in Wicklow at least, that these men rarely seek for charity on any plea of ill-health, but ask simply, when they beg: ‘Would you help a poor fellow along the road?’ or, ‘Would you give me the price of a night’s lodging, for I’m after walking a great way since the sun rose?’

The healthiness of this life, again, often causes people to live to a great age, though it is not always easy to test the stories that are told of their longevity. One man, however, who died not long ago, claimed to have reached one hundred and two with a show of likelihood; for several old people remember his first appearance in a certain district as a man of middle age, about the year of the Famine, in 1847 or 1848. This man could hardly be cla.s.sed with ordinary tramps, for he was married several times in different parts of the world, and reared children of whom he seemed to have forgotten, in his old age, even the names and s.e.x. In his early life he spent thirty years at sea, where he sailed with some one he spoke of afterwards as ‘Il mio capitane,’ visiting India and j.a.pan, and gaining odd words and intonations that gave colour to his language.

When he was too old to wander in the world, he learned all the paths of Wicklow, and till the end of his life he could go the thirty miles from Dublin to the Seven Churches without, as he said, ‘putting out his foot on a white road, or seeing any Christian but the hares and moon.’ When he was over ninety he married an old woman of eighty-five. Before many days, however, they quarrelled so fiercely that he beat her with his stick, and came out again on the roads. In a few hours he was arrested at her complaint, and sentenced to a month in Kuilmainham. He cared nothing for the plank-bed and uncomfortable diet; but he always gathered himself together, and cursed with extraordinary rage, as he told how they had cut off the white hair which had grown down upon his shoulders.

All his pride and his half-conscious feeling for the dignity of his age seemed to have set themselves on this long hair, which marked him out from the other people of his district; and I have often heard him saying to himself, as he sat beside me under a ditch: ‘What use is an old man without his hair? A man has only his bloom like the trees; and what use is an old man without his white hair?’

Among the country people of the east of Ireland the tramps and tinkers who wander round from the west have a curious reputation for witchery and unnatural powers. ‘There’s great witchery in that country,’ a man said to me once, on the side of a mountain to the east of Aughavanna, in Wicklow. ‘There’s great witchery in that country, and great knowledge of the fairies. I’ve had men lodging with me out of the west–men who would be walking the world looking for a bit of money–and every one of them would be talking of the wonders below in Connemara. I remember one time, a while after I was married, there was a tinker down there in the glen, and two women along with him. I brought him into my cottage to do a bit of a job, and my first child was there lying in the bed, and he covered up to his chin with the bed-clothes. When the tallest of the women came in, she looked around at him, and then she says:

“That’s a fine boy, G.o.d bless him.”

“How do you know it’s a boy,” says my woman, “when it’s only the head of him you see?”

“I know rightly,” says the tinker, “and it’s the first too.”

‘Then my wife was going to slate me for bringing in people to bewitch the child, and I had to turn the lot of them out to finish the job in the lane.’

I asked him where most of the tinkers came from that are met with in Wicklow. ‘They come from every part,’ he said. ‘They’re gallous lads for walking round through the world. One time I seen fifty of them above on the road to Rathdangan, and they all matchmaking and marrying themselves for the year that was to come. One man would take such a woman, and say he was going such roads and places, stopping at this fair and another fair, till he’d meet them again at such a place, when the spring was coming on. Another, maybe, would swap the woman he had with one from another man, with as much talk as if you’d be selling a cow. It’s two hours I was there watching them from the bog underneath, where I was cutting turf and the like of the crying and kissing, and the singing and the shouting began when they went off this way and that way, you never heard in your life. Sometimes when a party would be gone a bit down over the hill, a girl would begin crying out and wanting to go back to her ma. Then the man would say: “Black h.e.l.l to your soul, you’ve come with me now, and you’ll go the whole way.” I often seen tinkers before and since, but I never seen such a power of them as were in it that day.’

It need hardly be said that in all tramp life plaintive and tragic elements are common, even on the surface. Some are peculiar to Wicklow. In these hills the summer in a few weeks from a late spring, full of odour and colour, to an autumn that is premature and filled with the desolate splendour of decay; and it often happens that, in moments when one is most aware of this ceaseless fading of beauty, some incident of tramp life gives a local human intensity to the shadow of one’s own mood.

One evening, on the high ground near the Avonbeg, I met a young tramp just as an extraordinary sunset had begun to fade, and a low white mist was rising from the bogs. He had a sort of table in his hands that he seemed to have made himself out of twisted rushes and a few branches of osier. His clothes were more than usually ragged, and I could see by his face that he was suffering from some terrible disease. When he was quite close, he held out the table.

‘Would you give me a few pence for that thing?’ he said. ‘I’m after working at it all day by the river, and for the love of G.o.d give me something now, the way I can get a drink and lodging for the night.’

I felt in my pockets, and could find nothing but a shilling piece.

‘I wouldn’t wish to give you so much,’ I said, holding it out to him, ‘but it is all I have, and I don’t like to give you nothing at all, and the darkness coming on. Keep the table; it’s no use to me, and you’ll maybe sell it for something in the morning.’

The shilling was more than he expected, and his eyes flamed with joy.

‘May the Almighty G.o.d preserve you and watch over you and reward you for this night,’ he said, ‘but you’ll take the table; I wouldn’t keep it at all, and you after stretching out your hand with a shilling to me, and the darkness coming on.’

He forced it into my hands so eagerly that I could not refuse it, and set off down the road with tottering steps. When he had gone a few yards, I called after him: ‘There’s your table; take it and G.o.d speed you.’

Then I put down his table on the ground, and set off as quickly as I was able. In a moment he came up with me, holding the table in his hands, and slipped round in front of me so that I could not get away.

‘You wouldn’t refuse it,’ he said, ‘and I after working at it all day below by the river.’

He was shaking with excitement and the exertion of overtaking me; so I took his table and let him go on his way. A quarter of a mile further on I threw it over the ditch in a desolate place, where no one was likely to find it.

In addition to the more genuine vagrants a number of wandering men and women are to be met with in the northern parts of the county, who walk out for ferns and flowers in bands of from four or five to a dozen. They usually set out in the evening, and sleep in some ditch or shed, coming home the next night with what they have gathered. If their sales are successful, both men and women drink heavily; so that they are always on the edge of starvation, and are miserably dressed, the women sometimes wearing nothing but an old petticoat and shawl–a scantiness of clothing that is sometimes met with also among the road-women of Kerry.

These people are nearly always at war with the police, and are often harshly treated. Once after a holiday, as I was walking home through a village on the border of Wicklow, I came upon several policemen, with a crowd round them, trying to force a drunken flower-woman out of the village. She did not wish to go, and threw herself down, raging and kicking on the ground. They let her lie there for a few moments, and then she propped herself up against the wall, scolding and storming at every one, till she became so outrageous the police renewed their attack. One of them walked up to her and hit her a sharp blow on the jaw with the back of his hand. Then two more of them seized her by the shoulders and forced her along the road for a few yards, till her clothes began to tear off with the violence of the struggle, and they let her go once more.

She sprang up at once when they did so. ‘Let this be the barrack’s yard, if you wish it,’ she cried out, tearing off the rags that still clung about her. ‘Let this be the barrack’s yard, and come on now, the lot of you.’

Then she rushed at them with extraordinary fury; but the police, to avoid scandal, withdrew into the town, and left her to be quieted by her friends.

Sometimes, it is fair to add, the police are generous and good-humoured. One evening, many years ago, when Whit-Monday in Enniskerry was a very different thing from what it is now, I was looking out of a window in that village, watching the police, who had been brought in for the occasion, getting ready to start for Bray. As they were standing about, a young ballad-singer came along from the Dargle, and one of the policemen, who seemed to know him, asked him why a fine, stout lad the like of him wasn’t earning his bread, instead of straying on the roads.

Immediately the young man drew up on the spot where he was, and began shouting a loud ballad at the top of his voice. The police tried to stop him; but he went on, getting faster and faster, till he ended, swinging his head from side to side, in a furious patter, of which I seem to remember–

Botheration Take the nation, Calculation, In the stable, Cain and Abel, Tower of Babel, And the Battle of Waterloo.

Then he pulled off his hat, dashed in among the police, and did not leave them till they had all given him the share of money he felt he had earned for his bread.

In all the circ.u.mstances of this tramp life there is a certain wildness that gives it romance and a peculiar value for those who look at life in Ireland with an eye that is aware of the arts also.

In all the healthy movements of art, variations from the ordinary types of manhood are made interesting for the ordinary man, and in this way only the higher arts are universal. Beside this art, however, founded on the variations which are a condition and effect of all vigorous life, there is another art–sometimes confounded with it–founded on the freak of nature, in itself a mere sign of atavism or disease. This latter art, which is occupied with the antics of the freak, is of interest only to the variation from ordinary minds, and for this reason is never universal. To be quite plain, the tramp in real life, Hamlet and Faust in the arts, are variations; but the maniac in real life, and Des Esseintes and all his ugly crew in the arts, are freaks only.

The Oppression of the Hills

AMONG the cottages that are scattered through the hills of County Wicklow I have met with many people who show in a singular way the influence of a particular locality. These people live for the most part beside old roads and pathways where hardly one man in the day, and look out all the year on unbroken barriers of heath. At every season heavy rains fall for often a week at a time, till the thatch drips with water stained to a dull chestnut, and the floor in the cottages seems to be going back to the condition of the bogs near it. Then the clouds break, and there is a night of terrific storm from the south-west–all the larches that survive in these places are bowed and twisted towards the point where the sun rises in June–when the winds come down through the narrow glens with the congested whirl and roar of a torrent, breaking at times for sudden moments of silence that keep up the tension of the mind. At such times the people crouch all night over a few sods of turf and the dogs howl, in the lanes.

When the sun rises there is a morning of almost supernatural radiance, and even the oldest men and women come out into the air with the joy of children who have recovered from a fever. In the evening it is raining again. This peculiar climate, acting on a population that is already lonely and dwindling, has caused or increased a tendency to nervous depression among the people, and every degree of sadness, from that of the man who is merely mournful to that of the man who has spent half his life in the madhouse, is common among these hills.

Not long ago in a desolate glen in the south of the county I met two policemen driving an a.s.s-cart with a coffin on it, and a little further on I stopped an old man and asked him what had happened.

‘This night three weeks,’ he said, ‘there was a poor fellow below reaping in the glen, and in the evening he had two of whisky with some other lads. Then some excitement took him, and he threw off his clothes and ran away into the hills. There was great rain that night, and I suppose the poor creature lost his way, and was the whole night perishing in the rain and darkness. In the morning they found his naked footmarks on some mud half a mile above the road, and again where you go up by a big stone. Then there was nothing known of him till last night, when they found his body on the mountain, and it near eaten by the crows.’

Then he went on to tell me how different the country had been when he was a young man.

‘We had nothing to eat at that time,’ he said, ‘but milk and stirabout and potatoes, and there was a fine const.i.tution you wouldn’t meet this day at all. I remember when you’d see forty boys and girls below there on a Sunday evening, playing ball and diverting themselves; but now all this country is gone lonesome and bewildered, and there’s no man knows what ails it.’

There are so few girls left in these neighbourhoods that one does not often meet with women that have grown up unmarried. I know one, however, who has lived by herself for fifteen years in a tiny hovel near a cross roads much frequented by tinkers and ordinary tramps.

As she has no one belonging to her, she spends a good deal of her time wandering through the country, and I have met her in every direction, often many miles from her own glen. ‘I do be so afeard of the tramps,’ she said to me one evening. ‘I live all alone, and what would I do at all if one of them lads was to come near me? When my poor mother was dying, “Now, Nanny,” says she, “don’t be living on here when I am dead,” says she; “it’d be too lonesome.” And now I wouldn’t wish to go again’ my mother, and she dead–dead or alive I wouldn’t go again’ my mother–but I’m after doing all I can, and I can’t get away by any means.’ As I was moving on she heard, or thought she heard, a sound of distant thunder.

In Wicklow and West Kerry Part 5

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In Wicklow and West Kerry is a Webnovel created by John M. Synge.
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Then for a while my road ran round an immense valley of magnificent rich turf bog, with mountains all round, and bowls where hidden lakes were lying bitten out of the cliffs.

As I was resting again on a bridge over the Behy where Diarmuid caught salmon with Grania, a man stopped to light his pipe and talk to me. ‘There are three lakes above,’ he said, ‘Coomacarra, Coomaglaslaw and Coomasdhara; the whole of this place was in a great state in the bad times. Twenty years ago they sent down a ‘mergency man to lodge above by the lake and serve processes on the people, but the people were off before him and lay abroad in the heather.

Then, in the course of a piece, a night came, with great rain out of the heavens, and my man said: “I’ll get them this night in their own beds, surely.” Then he let call the peelers–they had peelers waiting to mind him–and down they come to the big steppingstones they have above for crossing the first river coming out of the lakes; my man going in front to cross over, and the water was high up covering the Stones. Then he gave two leps or three, and the peelers heard him give a great shriek down in the flood. They went home after–what could they do?–and the ‘mergency man was found in the sea stuck in a net.’

I was singularly pleased when I turned up the boreen at last to this cottage where I lodge, an looked down through a narrow gully to Dingle Bay. The people bade me welcome when came in, the old woman kissing my hand.

There is no village near this cottage, yet many farms are scattered on the hills near it; and as the people are in some ways a leading family, many men and women look in to talk or tell stories, or to buy a few pennyworth of sugar or starch. Although the main road a few hundred yards to the west, this cottage is well known also to the race of local tramps who move from one family to another in some special neighbourhood or barony. This evening, when I came in, a little old man in a tall hat and long brown coat was sitting up on the settle beside the fire, and intending to spend, one could see, a night or more in the place.

I had a great deal to tell the people at first of my travels in different parts of the county, to the Blasket Islands–which they can see from here–Corkaguiney and Tralee; and they had news to tell me also of people who have married or died since I was here before, or gone away, or come back from America. Then I was told that the old man, Dermot (or Darby, as he is called in English), was the finest story-teller in Iveragh; and after a while he told us a long story in Irish, but spoke so rapidly and indistinctly–he had no teeth–that I could understand but few pa.s.sages. When he had finished I asked him where he had heard the story.

‘I heard it in the city of Portsmouth,’ he said. ‘I worked there for fifteen years, and four years in Plymouth, and a long while in the hills of Wales; twenty-five years in all I was working at the other side; and there were many Irish in it, who would be telling stories in the evening, the same as we are doing here. I heard many good stories, but what can I do with them now and I an old lisping fellow, the way I can’t give them out like a ballad?’

When he had talked a little more about his travels, and a bridge over the Severn, that he thought the greatest wonder of the world, I asked him if he remembered the Famine.

‘I do,’ he said. ‘I was living near Kenmare, and many’s the day I saw them burying the corpses in the ditch by the road. It was after that I went to England, for this country was ruined and destroyed. I heard there was work at that time in Plymouth; so I went to Dublin and took a boat that was going to England; but it was at a place called Liverpool they put me on sh.o.r.e, and then I had to walk to Plymouth, asking my way on the road. In that place I saw the soldiers after coming back from the Crimea, and they all broken and maimed.’

A little later, when he went out for a moment, the people told me he beats up and down between Killorglin and Ballinskelligs and the Inny river, and that he is a particular crabby kind of man, and will not take anything from the people but coppers and eggs.

‘And he’s a wasteful old fellow with all,’ said the woman of the house, ‘though he’s eighty years old or beyond it, for whatever money he’ll get one day selling his eggs to the coastguards, he’ll spend it the next getting a drink when he’s thirsty, or keeping good boots on his feet.’

From that they began talking of misers, and telling stories about them.

‘There was an old woman,’ said one of the men, ‘living beyond to the east, and she was thought to have a great store of money. She had one daughter only, and in the course of a piece a young lad got married to her, thinking he’d have her fortune. The woman died after–G.o.d be merciful to her!–and left the two of them as poor as they were before. Well, one night a man that knew them was pa.s.sing to the fair of Puck, and he came in and asked would they give him a lodging for that night. They gave him what they had and welcome; and after his tea, when they were sitting over the fire–the way we are this night–the man asked them how they were so poor-looking, and if the old woman had left nothing behind her.

‘”Not a farthing did she leave,” said the daughter.

“And did she give no word or warning or message in her last moments?”

said the man.

‘”She did not,” said the daughter, “except only that I shouldn’t comb out the hair of her poll and she dead.”

‘”And you heeded her?” said the man.

‘”I did, surely,” said the daughter.

‘”Well,” said the man, “to-morrow night when I’m gone let the two of you go down the Relic (the graveyard), and dig up her coffin and look in her hair and see what it is you’ll find in it.”

‘”We’ll do that,” said the daughter, and with that they all stretched out for the night.

‘The next evening they went down quietly with a shovel and they dug up the coffin, and combed through her hair, and there behind her poll they found her fortune, five hundred pounds, in good notes and gold.’

‘There was an old fellow living on the little hill beyond the graveyard,’ said Danny-boy, when the man had finished, ‘and he had his fortune some place hid in his bed, and he was an old weak fellow, so that they were all watching him to see he wouldn’t hide it away. One time there was no one in it but himself and a young girl, and the old fellow slipped out of his bed and went out of the door as far as a little bush and some stones. The young girl kept her eye on him, and she made sure he’d hidden something in the bush; so when he was back in his bed she called the people, and they all came and looked in the bushes, but not a thing could they find. The old man died after, and no one ever found his fortune to this day.’

‘There were some young lads a while since,’ said the old woman, ‘and they went up of a Sunday and began searching through those bushes to see if they could find anything, but a kind of a turkey-c.o.c.k came up out of the stones and drove them away.’

‘There was another old woman,’ said the man of the house, ‘who tried to take down her fortune into her stomach. She was near death, and she was all day stretched in her bed at the corner of the fire. One day when the girl was tinkering about, the old woman rose up and got ready a little skillet that was near the hob and put something into it and put it down by the fire, and the girl watching her all the time under her oxter, not letting on she seen her at all. When the old woman lay down again the girl went over to put on more sods on the fire, and she got a look into the skillet, and what did she see but sixty sovereigns. She knew well what the old woman was striving to do, so she went out to the dairy and she got a lump of fresh b.u.t.ter and put it down into the skillet, when the woman didn’t see her do it at all. After a bit the old woman rose up and looked into the skillet, and when she saw the froth of the b.u.t.ter she thought it was the gold that was melted. She got back into her bed–a dark place, maybe–and she began sipping and sipping the b.u.t.ter till she had the whole of it swallowed. Then the girl made some trick to entice the skillet away from her, and she found the sixty sovereigns in the bottom and she kept them for herself.’

By this time it was late, and the old woman brought over a mug of milk and a piece of bread to Darby at the settle, and the people gathered at their table for their supper; so I went into the little room at the end of the cottage where I am given a bed.

When I came into the kitchen in the morning, old Darby was still asleep on the settle, with his coat and trousers over him, a red night-cap on his head, and his half-bred terrier, Jess, chained with a chain he carries with him to the leg of the settle.

‘That’s a poor way to lie on the bare board,’ said the woman of the house, when she saw me looking at him; ‘but when I filled a sack with straw for him last night he wouldn’t have it at all.’

While she was boiling some eggs for my breakfast, Darby roused up from his sleep, pulled on his trousers and coat, slipped his feet into his boots and started off, when he had eaten a few mouthfuls, for another house where he is known, some five miles away.

Afterwards I went out on the cnuceen, a little hill between this cottage and the sea, to watch the people gathering carragheen moss, a trade which is much followed in this district during the spring tides of summer. I lay down on the edge of the cliff, where the heathery hill comes to an end and the steep rocks begin. About a mile to the west there was a long headland, ‘Feakle Callaigh’ (‘The Witch’s Tooth ‘), covered with mists, that blew over me from time to time with a swish of rain, followed by sunshine again. The mountains on the other side of the bay were covered, so I could see nothing but the strip of brilliant sea below me, thronged with girls and men up to their waists in the water, with a hamper in one hand and a stick in the other, gathering the moss, and talking and laughing loudly as they worked. The long frill of dark golden rocks covered with seaweed, with the and children slipping about on it, and the bars of silvery light breaking through on the further inlets of the bay, had the singularly brilliant loveliness one meets everywhere in Kerry.

When the tide began to come in I went down one of the to the sea, and met many parties of girls and old men and women coming up with what they had gathered, most of them still wearing the clothes that had been in the sea, and were heavy and black with salt water.

A little further on I met Danny-boy and we sat down to talk.

‘Do you see that sandy head?’ he said, pointing out to the east, ‘that is called the Stooks of the Dead Women; for one time a boat came ash.o.r.e there with twelve dead women on board her, big ladies with green dresses and gold rings, and fine jewelleries, and a dead harper or fiddler along with them. Then there are graves again in the little hollow by the cnuceen, and what we call them is the Graves of the Sailors; for some sailors, Greeks or great strangers, were washed in there a hundred years ago, and it is there that they were buried.’

Then we began talking of the carragheen he had gathered and the spring tides that would come again during the summer. I took out my diary to tell him the times of the moon, but he would hardly listen to me. When I stopped, he gave his a.s.s a cut with his stick, ‘Go on now,’ he said; ‘I wouldn’t believe those almanacs at all; they do not tell the truth about the moon.’

The greatest event in West Kerry is the horse-fair, known as Puck Fair, which is held in August. If one asks anyone, many miles east or west of Killorglin, when he reaped his oats or sold his pigs or heifers, he will tell you it was four or five weeks, or whatever it may be, before or after Puck. On the main roads, for many days past, I have been falling in with tramps and trick characters of all kinds, sometimes single and sometimes in parties of four or five, and as I am on the roads a great deal I have often met the same persons several days in succession–one day perhaps at Ballinskelligs, the next day at Feakle Callaigh, and the third in the outskirts of Killorglin.

Yesterday cavalcades of every sort were pa.s.sing from the west with droves of horses, mares, jennets, foals and, with their owners going after them in flat or railed carts, or riding on ponies.

The men of this house–they are going to buy a horse–went to the fair last night, and I followed at an early hour in the morning. As I came near Killorglin the road was much blocked by the latest sellers pushing eagerly forward, and early purchasers who were anxiously leading off their young horses before the roads became dangerous from the crush of drunken drivers and riders.

Just outside the town, near the first public-house, blind beggars were kneeling on the pathway, praying with almost Oriental volubility for the souls of anyone who would throw them a coin.

‘May the Holy Immaculate Mother of Jesus Christ,’ said one of them, ‘intercede for you in the hour of need. Relieve a poor blind creature, and may Jesus Christ relieve yourselves in the hour of death. May He have mercy, I’m saying, on your brothers and fathers and sisters for evermore.’

Further on stalls were set out with cheap cakes and refreshments, and one could see that many houses had been arranged to supply the crowds who had come in. Then I came to the road that goes round the fair-green, where there was a great concourse of horses, trotting and walking and galloping; most of them were of the cheaper cla.s.s of animal, and were selling, apparently to the people’s satisfaction, at prices that reminded one of the time when fresh meat was sold for threepence a pound. At the further end of the green there were one or two rough shooting galleries, and a number of women–not very rigid, one could see–selling, or appearing to sell, all kinds of trifles: a set that come in, I am told, from towns not far away. At the end of the green I turned past the chapel, where a little crowd had just carried in a man who had been killed or badly wounded by a fall from a horse, and went down to the bridge of the river, and then back again into the main slope of the town. Here there were a number of people who had come in for amus.e.m.e.nt only, and were walking up and down, looking at each other–a crowd is as exciting as champagne to these lonely people, who live in long glens among the mountains–and meeting with cousins and friends. Then, in the three-cornered s.p.a.ce in the middle of the town, I came on Puck himself a magnificent he-goat (Irish puc), raised on a platform twenty feet high, and held by a chain from each horn, with his face down the road. He is kept in this position, with a few cabbages to feed on, for three days, so that he may preside over the pig-fair and the horse-fair and the day of winding up.

At the foot of this platform, where the crowd was thickest, a young ballad-singer was howling a ballad in honour of Puck, making one think of the early Greek festivals, since the time of which, it is possible, the goat has been exalted yearly in Killorglin.

The song was printed on a green slip by itself. It ran:



All young lovers that are fond of sporting, pay attention for a while, I will sing you the praises of Puck Fair, and I’m sure it will make you smile; Where the lads and la.s.sies coming gaily to Killorglin can be seen, To view the Puck upon the stage, as our hero dressed in green.


And hurra for the gallant Puck so gay, For he is a splendid one Wind and rain don’t touch his tail, For his hair is thirty inches long.

Now it is on the square he’s erected with all colours grand and gay; There’s not a fair throughout Ireland, but Puck Fair it takes the sway, Where you see the gamblers in rotation, trick–o’-the-loop and other games, The ballad-singers and the wheel-of-fortune and the shooting-gallery for to take aim.


Where is the tyrant dare oppose it?

Our old customs we will hold up still, And I think we will have another– That is, Home Rule and Purchase Bill.

Now, all young men that are not married, next Shrove can take a wife, For before next Puck Fair we will have Home Rule, and then you will be settled down in life.

In Wicklow and West Kerry Part 6

If you are looking for In Wicklow and West Kerry Part 6 you are coming to the right place.
In Wicklow and West Kerry is a Webnovel created by John M. Synge.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

Now the same advice I give young girls for to get married and have pluck.

Let the landlords see that you defy them when coming to Fair of Puck.

Cead Mile Failte to the Fair of Puck.

When one makes the obvious elisions, the lines are not so irregular as they look, and are always sung to a measure: yet the whole, in spite of the a.s.sonance, rhymes, and the ‘colours grand and gay,’

seems pitifully remote from any good spirit of ballad-making.

Across the square a man and a woman, who had a baby tied on her back, were singing another ballad on the Russian and j.a.panese War, in the curious method of antiphony that is still sometimes heard in the back streets of Dublin. These are some of the verses:


Now provisions are rising, ’tis sad for to state, The flour, tea and sugar, tobacco and meat; But, G.o.d help us I poor Irish, how must we stand the test


If they only now stop the trade of commerce.


Now the Russians are powerful on sea and on land; But the they are active, they will them command, Before this war is finished I have one word to say,


There will be more shot and drowned than in the Crimea.


Now the are victorious up to this time, And thousands of Russians I hear they are dying.

Etc., etc.

And so it went on with the same alternation of the voices through seven or eight verses; and it was curious to feel how much was gained by this simple variation of the voices.

When I pa.s.sed back to the fair-green, I met the men I am staying with, and went off with them under an archway, and into a back yard to look at a little two-year-old filly that they had bought and left for the moment in a loose box with three or four young horses. She was prettily and daintily shaped, but looked too light, I thought, for the work she will be expected to do. As we came out again into the road, an old man was singing an out-spoken ballad on women in the middle of the usual crowd. Just as we pa.s.sed it came to a scandalous conclusion; and the women scattered in every direction, shrieking with laughter and holding shawls over their mouths.

At the corner we turned into a public-house, where there were men we knew, who had done their business also; and we went into the little alcove to sit down quietly for a moment. ‘What will you take, sir,’

said the man I lodge with, ‘a gla.s.s of wine?’

I took beer and the others took porter; but we were only served after some little time, as the house was thronged with people.

The men were too much taken up with their bargains and losses to talk much of other matters; and before long we came out again, and the son of the house started homewards, leading the new filly by a little halter of rope.

Not long afterwards I started also. Outside Killorglin rain was coming up over the hills of Glen Car, so that there was a strained hush in the air, and a rich, aromatic smell coming from the bog myrtle, or boggy shrub, that grows thickly in this place. The strings of horses and jennets scattered over the road did not keep away a strange feeling of loneliness that seems to hang over this brown plain of bog that stretches from Carrantuohull to Cuchulain’s House.

Before I reached the cottage dense torrents of rain were closing down through the glens, and driving in white sheets between the little hills that are on each side of the way.

One morning in autumn I started in a local train for the first stage of my journey to Dublin, seeing the last of Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, that were touched with snow in places, Dingle Bay and the islands beyond it. At a little station where I changed trains, I got into a carriage where there was a woman with her daughter, a girl of about twenty, who seemed uneasy and distressed. Soon afterwards, when a collector was looking at our tickets, I called out that mine was for Dublin, and as soon as he got out the woman came over to me.

‘Are you going to Dublin?’ she said.

I told her I was.

‘Well,’ she went on, ‘here is my daughter going there too; and maybe you’d look after her, for I’m getting down at the next station. She is going up to a hospital for some little complaint in her ear, and she has never travelled before, so that she’s lonesome in her mind.’

I told her I would do what I could, and at the next station I was left alone with my charge, and one other pa.s.senger, a returned American girl, who was on her way to Mallow, to get the train for Queenstown. When her mother was lost sight of the young girl broke out into tears, and the returned American and myself had trouble to quiet her.

‘Look at me,’ said the American. ‘I’m going off for ten years to America, all by myself, and I don’t care a rap.’

When the girl got quiet again, the returned American talked to me about scenery and politics and the arts–she had been seen off by her sisters in bare feet, with shawls over their heads–and the life of women in America.

At several stations girls and boys thronged in to get places for Queenstown, leaving parties of old men and women wailing with anguish on the platform. At one place an old woman was seized with such a pa.s.sion of regret, when she saw her daughters moving away from her for ever, that she made a wild rush after the train and when I looked out for a moment I could see her writhing and struggling on the platform, with her hair over her face, and two men holding her by the arms.

Two young men had got into our compartment for a few stations only, and they looked on with the greatest satisfaction.

‘Ah,’ said one of them, ‘we do have great sport every Friday and, seeing the old women howling in the stations.’

When we reached Dublin I left my charge for a moment to see after my baggage, and when I came back I found her sitting on a luggage barrow, with her package in her hand, crying with despair because several cabmen had refused to let her into their cabs, on the pretext that they dreaded infection.

I could see they were looking out for some rich tourist with his trunks, as a more lucrative fare; so I sent for the head-porter, who had charge of the platform. When the porter arrived we chose a cab, and I saw my charge driven off to her hospital, sitting on the front seat, with her handkerchief to her eyes.

For the last few days–I am staying in the Kerry cottage I have spoken of already–the people have been talking of horse-races that were to be held on the sand, not far off and this morning I set out to see them with the man and woman of the house and two of their neighbours. Our way led through a steep boreen for a quarter of a mile to the edge of the sea, and then along a pathway between the cliffs and a straight hill. When we had gone some distance the old man pointed out a slope in front of us, where, he said, Diarmuid had done his tricks of rolling the barrel and jumping over his spear, and had killed many of his enemies. He told me the whole story, slightly familiarized in detail, but not very different from the version everyone knows. A little further on he pointed across the sea to our left–just beyond the strand where the races were to be run–to a neck of sand where, he said, Oisin was called away to the Tir-na-nOg.

‘The Tir-na-nOg itself,’ he said, ‘is below that sea, and a while since there were two men out in a boat in the night-time, and they got stuck outside some way or another. They went to sleep then, and when one of them wakened up he looked down into the sea, and he saw the Tir-na-nOg and people walking about, and side-cars driving in the squares.’

Then he began telling me stories of mermaids–a common subject in this neighbourhood.

‘There was one time a man beyond of the name of Shee,’ he said, ‘and his master seen a mermaid on the sand beyond combing her hair, and he told Shee to get her. “I will,” said Shee, “if you’ll give me the best horse you have in your stable.” “I’ll do that,” said the master. Then Shee got the horse, and when he saw the mermaid on the sand combing her hair, with her covering laid away from her, he galloped up, when she wasn’t looking, and he picked up the covering and away he went with it. Then the waves rose up behind him and he galloped his best, and just as he was coming out at the top of the tide the ninth wave cut off his horse behind his back, and left himself and the half of his horse and the covering on the dry land.

Then the mermaid came in after her covering, and the master got married to her, and she lived with him a long time, and had children–three or four of them. Well, in the wind-up, the master built a fine new house, and when he was moving into it, and clearing the things out, he brought down an old hamper out of the loft and put it in the yard. The woman was going about, and she looked into the hamper, and she saw her covering hidden away in the bottom of it. She took it out then and put it upon her and went back into the sea, and her children used to be on the sh.o.r.e crying after her. I’m told from that day there isn’t one of the Shees can go out in a boat on that bay and not be drowned.’

We were now near the sandhills, where a crowd was beginning to come together, and booths were being put up for the sale of apples and porter and cakes. A train had come in a little before at a station a mile or so away, and a number of the usual trick characters, with their stock-in-trade, were hurrying down to the sea. The roulette man pa.s.sed us first, unfolding his table and calling out at the top of his voice:

Come play me a game of timmun and tup, The more you puts down the more you takes up.

‘Take notice, gentlemen, I come here to spend a fortune, not to make one. Is there any sportsman in a hat or a cap, or a wig or a waistcoat, will play a go with me now? Take notice, gentlemen, the luck is on the green.’

The races had to be run between two tides while the sand was dry, so there was not much time to be lost, and before we reached the strand the horses had been brought together, ridden by young men in many variations of jockey dress. For the first race there was one genuine race-horse, very old and bony, and two or three young horses belonging to farmers in the neighbourhood. The start was made from the middle of the crowd at the near end of the strand, and the course led out along the edge of the sea to a post some distance away, back again to the starting-point, round a post, and out and back once more.

When the word was given the horses set off in a wild helter-skelter along the edge of the sea, with crowds cheering them on from the sandhills. As they got small in the distance it was not easy to see which horse was leading, but after a sort of check, as they turned the post, they began nearing again a few yards from the waves, with the old race-horse, heavily pressed, a good length ahead. The stewards made a sort of effort to clear the post that was to be circled, but without much success, as the people were wild with excitement. A moment later the old race-horse galloped into the crowd, twisted too suddenly, something cracked and jolted, and it limped out on three legs, gasping with pain. The next horse could not be stopped, and galloped out at the wrong end of the crowd for some little way before it could be brought back, so the last horses set off in front for the final lap.

The lame race-horse was now mobbed by onlookers and advisers, talking incoherently.

‘Was it the fault of the jock?’ said one man.

‘It was not,’ said another, ‘for Michael (the owner) didn’t strike him, and if it had been his fault, wouldn’t he have broken his bones?’

‘He was striving to spare a young girl had run out in his way,’ said another. ‘It was for that he twisted him.’

‘Little s.l.u.t!’ said a woman; ‘what did she want beyond on the sand?’