In Wicklow and West Kerry Part 6

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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?’

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