Anthony, however, having noticed the earnestness which marked the Pedlar's manner, suspected him of attempting to corrupt the principles of his daughter, having forgotten the influence which his own opinions were calculated to produce upon her heart.
"Martin," said he, "'twould be as well you ped attention to what we're sayin' in regard o' the thrial to-morrow, as to be palaverin' talk into the girl's ear that can't be good comin' from your lips. Quit it, I say, quit it! Corp an duoiwol (* My body to Satan)!—I won't allow such proceedins!"
"Swear till you blister your lips, Anthony," replied Martin: "as for me, bein' no residenthur, I'm not bound to it; an' what's more, I'm not suspected. 'Tis settin' some other bit o' work for yez I'll be, while you're all clearin' yourselves from stealin' honest Cassidy's horse. I wish we had him safely disposed of in the mane time, an' the money for him an' the other beasts in our pockets."
Much more conversation of a similar kind passed between them upon various topics connected with their profligacy and crimes. At length they separated for the night, after having concerted their plan of action for the ensuing scrutiny.
The next morning, before the hour appointed arrived, the parish, particularly the neighborhood of Carnmore, was struck with deep consternation. Labor became suspended, mirth disappeared, and every face was marked with paleness, anxiety, and apprehension. If two men met, one shook his head mysteriously, and inquired from the other, "Did you hear the news?"
"Ay! ay! the Lord be about us all, I did! an' I pray God that it may lave the counthry as it came to it!"
"Oh, an' that it may, I humbly make supplication this day!"
If two women met, it was with similar mystery and fear. "Vread, (* Margaret) do you know what's at the Cassidys'?"
"Whisht, ahagur, I do; but let what will happen, sure it's best for us to say nothin'."
"Say! the blessed Virgin forbid! I'd cut my hand off o' me, afore I'd spake a word about it; only that—"
"Whisht! woman—for mercy's sake—don't——"
And so they would separate, each crossing herself devoutly.
The meeting at Cassidy's was to take place that day at twelve o'clock; but, about two hours before the appointed time, Anne, who had been in some of the other houses, came into her father's, quite pale, breathless and trembling.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, with clasped hands, whilst the tears fell fast from her eyes, "we'll be lost, ruined; did yez hear what's in the neighborhood wid the Cassidys?"
"Girl," said the father, with more severity than he had ever manifested to her before, "I never yet riz my hand to you, but ma corp an duowol, if you open your lips, I'll fell you where you stand. Do you want that cowardly uncle o' yours to be the manes o' hanging your father? Maybe that was one o' the lessons Martin gave you last night?" And as he spoke he knit his brows at her with that murderous scowl which was habitual to him. The girl trembled, and began to think that since her father's temper deepened in domestic outrage and violence as his crimes multiplied, the sooner she left the family the better. Every day, indeed, diminished that species of instinctive affection which she had entertained towards him; and this, in proportion as her reason ripened into a capacity for comprehending the dark materials of which his character was composed. Whether he himself began to consider detection at hand, or not, we cannot say; but it is certain, that his conduct was marked with a callous recklessness of spirit, which increased in atrocity to such a degree, that even his daughter could,only not look on him with disgust.
"What's the matter now?" inquired Denis, with alarm: "is it anything about us, Anthony?"
"No, 'tisn't," replied the other, "anything about us! What 'ud it be about us for? 'Tis a lyin' report that some cunnin' knave spread, hopin' to find out the guilty. But hear me, Denis, once for all; we're goin' to clear ourselves—now listen—an' let my words sink deep into you heart: if you refuse to swear this day—no matther what's put into your hand—you'll do harm—that's all: have courage, man; but should you cow, your coorse will be short; an' mark, even if you escape me, your sons won't: I have it all planned: an' corp an duowol! thim you won't know from Adam will revenge me, if I am taken up through your unmanliness."
"'Twould be betther for us to lave the counthry," said Anne; "we might slip away as it is."
"Ay," said the father, "an' be taken by the neck afore we'd get two miles from the place! no, no, girl; it's the safest way to brazen thim out. Did you hear me, Denis?"
Denis started, for he had been evidently pondering on the mysterious words of Anne, to which his brother's anxiety to conceal them gave additional mystery. The coffin, too, recurred to him; and he feared that the death shadowed out by it would in some manner or other occur in the family. He was, in fact, one of those miserable villains with but half a conscience;—that is to say, as much as makes them the slaves of the fear which results from crime, without being the slightest impediment to their committing it. It was no wonder he started at the deep pervading tones of his brother's voice, for the question was put with ferocious energy.
On starting, he looked with vague terror on his brother, fearing, but not comprehending, his question.
"What is it, Anthony?" he inquired. "Oh, for that matther," replied the other, "nothin' at all: think of what I said to you any how; swear through thick an' thin, if you have a regard for your own health, or for your childher. Maybe I had betther repate it again for you?" he continued, eyeing him with mingled fear and suspicion. "Dennis, as a friend, I bid you mind yourself this day, an' see you don't bring aither of us into throuble."
There lay before the Cassidys' houses a small flat of common, trodden into rings by the young horses they were in the habit of training. On this level space were assembled those who came, either to clear their own character from suspicion, or to witness the ceremony. The day was dark and lowering, and heavy clouds rolled slowly across the peaks of the surrounding mountains; scarcely a breath of air could be felt; and, as the country people silently approached, such was the closeness of the day, their haste to arrive in time, and their general anxiety, either for themselves or their friends, that almost every man, on reaching the spot, might be seen taking up the skirts of his "cothamore," or "big coat," (the peasant's handkerchief), to wipe the sweat from his brow; and as he took off his dingy woollen hat, or caubeen, the perspiration rose in strong exhalations from his head.
"Michael, am I in time?" might be heard from such persons, as they arrived: "did this business begin yit?"
"Full time, Larry; myself's here an hour ago but no appearance of anything as yit. Father Farrell and Squire Nicholson are both in Cassidys' waitin' till they're all gother, whin they'll begin to put thim through their facins. You hard about what they've got?"
"No; for I'm only on my way home from the berril of a cleaveen of mine, that we put down this mornin' in the Tullyard. What is it?"
"Why man alive, it's through the whole parish inready;"—he then went on, lowering his voice to a whisper, and speaking in a tone bordering on dismay.
The other crossed himself, and betrayed symptoms of awe and astonishment, not un-mingled with fear.
"Well," he replied, "I dunna whether I'd come here, if I'd known that; for, innocent or guilty, I would'nt wish to be near it. Och, may God pity thim that's to come acrass it, I espishily if they dare to do it in a lie!"
"They needn't, I can tell yez both," observed a third person, "be a hair afeard of it, for the best rason livin', that there's no thruth at all in the report, nor the Cassidys never thought of sindin' for anything o' the kind: I have it from Larry Cassidy's own lips, an' he ought to know best." The truth is, that two reports were current among the crowd: one that the oath was to be simply on the Bible; and the other, that a more awful means of expurgation was resorted to by the Cassidys. The people, consequently, not knowing which to credit, felt that most painful of all sensations—uncertainty.
During the period which intervened between their assembling and the commencement of the ceremony, a spectator, interested in contemplating the workings of human nature in circumstances of deep interest, would have had ample scope for observation. The occasion was to them a solemn one. There was little conversation among them; for when a man is wound up to a pitch of great interest, he is seldom disposed to relish discourse. Every brow was anxious, every cheek blanched, and every, arm folded: they scarcely stirred, or when they did, only with slow abstracted movements, rather mechanical than voluntary. If an individual made his appearance about Cassidy's door, a sluggish stir among them was visible, and a low murmur of a peculiar character might be heard; but on perceiving that it was only some ordinary person, all subsided again into a brooding stillness that was equally singular and impressive.
Under this peculiar feeling was the multitude, when Meehan and his brother were seen approaching it from their own house. The elder, with folded arms, and hat pulled over his brows, stalked grimly forward, having that remarkable scowl upon his face, which had contributed to establish for him so diabolical a character. Denis walked by his side, with his countenance strained to inflation;—a miserable parody of that sullen effrontery which marked the unshrinking miscreant beside him. He had not heard of the ordeal, owing to the caution of Anthony: but, notwithstanding his effort at indifference, a keen eye might have observed the latent anxiety of a man who was habitually villanous, and naturally timid.
When this pair entered the crowd, a few secret glances, too rapid to be noticed by the people, passed between them and their accomplices. Denis, on seeing them present, took fresh courage, and looked with the heroism of a blusterer upon those who stood about him, especially whenever he found himself under the scrutinizing eye of his brother. Such was the horror and detestation in which they were held, that on advancing into the assembly, the persons on each side turned away, and openly avoided them: eyes full of fierce hatred were bent on them vindictively, and "curses, not loud, but deep," were muttered with indignation which nothing but a divided state of feeling could repress within due limits. Every glance, however, was paid back by Anthony with interest, from eyes and black shaggy brows tremendously ferocious; and his curses, as they rolled up half smothered from his huge chest, were deeper and more diabolical by far than their own. He even jeered at them; but, however disgusting his frown, there was something truly apalling in the dark gleam of his scoff, which threw them at an immeasurable distance behind him, in the power of displaying on the countenance the worst of human passions.
At length Mr. Nicholson, Father Farrell, and his curate, attended by the Cassidys and their friends, issued from the house: two or three servants preceded them, bearing a table and chairs for the magistrate and priests, who, however, stood during the ceremony. When they entered one of the rings before alluded to, the table and chairs were placed in the centre of it, and Father Farrell, as possessing most influence over the people, addressed them very impressively.
"There are," said he, in conclusion, "persons in this crowd whom we know to be guilty; but we will have an opportunity of now witnessing the lengths to which crime, long indulged in, can carry them. To such people I would say beware! for they know not the situation in which they are placed."
During all this time there was not the slightest allusion made to the mysterious ordeal which had excited so much awe and apprehension among them—a circumstance which occasioned many a pale, downcast face to clear up, and resume its usual cheerful expression. The crowd now were assembled round the ring, and every man on whom an imputation had been fastened came forward, when called upon, to the table at which the priests and magistrate stood uncovered. The form of the oath was framed by the two clergymen, who, as they knew the reservations and evasions commonest among such characters, had ingeniously contrived not to leave a single loophole through which the consciences of those who belonged to this worthy fraternity might escape.
To those acquainted with Irish courts of justice there was nothing particularly remarkable in the swearing. Indeed, one who stood among the crowd might hear from those who were stationed at the greatest distance from the table, such questions as the following:—
"Is the thing in it, Art?"
"No; 'tis nothin' but the law Bible, the magistrate's own one."
To this the querist would reply, with a satisfied nod of the head, "Oh is that all? I heard they war to have it;" on which he would push himself through the crowd until he reached the table, where he took his oath as readily as another.
"Jem Hartigan," said the magistrate to one of those persons, "are you to swear?"
"Faix, myself doesn't know, your honor; only that I hard them say that the Cassidys mintioned our names along wid many other honest people; an' one wouldn't, in that case, lie under a false report, your honor, from any one, when we're as clear as them that never saw the light of anything of the kind."
The magistrate then put the book into his hand, and Jem, in return, fixed his eye, with much apparent innocence, on his face: "Now, Jem Hartigan," etc, etc., and the oath was accordingly administered. Jem put the book to his mouth, with his thumb raised to an acute angle on the back of it; nor was the smack by any means a silent one which he gave it (his thumb).
The magistrate set his ear with the air of a man who had experience in discriminating such sounds. "Hartigan," said he, "you'll condescend to kiss the book, sir, if you please: there's a hollowness in that smack, my good fellow, that can't escape me."
"Not kiss it, your honor? why, by this staff in my hand, if ever a man kissed"—
"Silence! you impostor," said the curate; "I watched you closely, and am confident your lips never touched the book."
"My lips never touched the book!—Why, you know I'd be sarry to conthradict either o' yez; but I was jist goin' to obsarve, wid simmission, that my own lips ought to know best; an' don't you hear them tellin' you that they did kiss it?" and he grinned with confidence in their faces.
"You double-dealing reprobate!" said the parish priest, "I'll lay my whip across your jaws. I saw you, too, an' you did not kiss the book."
"By dad, an' maybe I did not, sure enough," he replied: "any man may make a mistake unknownst to himself; but I'd give my oath, an' be the five crasses, I kissed it as sure as—however, a good thing's never the worse o' bein' twice done, gintlemen; so here goes, jist to satisfy yez;" and, placing the book near, his mouth, and altering his position a little, he appeared to comply, though, on the contrary, he touched neither it nor his thumb. "It's the same thing to me," he continued, laying down the book with an air of confident assurance; "it's the same thing to me if I kissed it fifty times over, which I'm ready to do if that doesn't satisfy yez."
As every man acquitted himself of the charges brought against him, the curate immediately took down his name. Indeed, before the clearing commenced, he requested that such as were to swear would stand together within the ring, that, after having sworn, he might hand each of them a certificate of the fact, which they appeared to think might be serviceable to them, should they happen to be subsequently indicted for the same crime in a court of justice. This, however, was only a plan to keep them together for what was soon to take place.
The detections of thumb kissing were received by those who had already sworn, and by several in the outward crowd, with much mirth. It is but justice, however, to the majority of those assembled to state, that they appeared to entertain a serious opinion of the nature of the ceremony, and no small degree of abhorrence against those who seemed to trifle with the solemnity of an oath.
Standing on the edge of the circle, in the innermost row, were Meehan and his brother. The former eyed, with all the hardness of a stoic, the successive individuals as they passed up to the table. His accomplices had gone forward, and to the surprise of many who strongly suspected them in the most indifferent manner "cleared" themselves in the trying words of the oath, of all knowledge of, and participation in, the thefts that had taken place.
The grim visage of the elder Meehan was marked by a dark smile, scarcely perceptible; but his brother, whose nerves were not so firm, appeared somewhat confused and distracted by the imperturbable villany of the perjurers.
At length they were called up. Anthony advanced slowly but collectedly, to the table, only turning his eye slightly about, to observe if his brother accompanied him. "Denis," said he, "which of us will swear first? you may;" for, as he doubted his brother's firmness, he was prudent enough, should he fail, to guard against having the sin of perjury to answer for, along with those demands which his country had to make for his other crimes. Denis took the book, and cast a slight glance at his brother as if for encouragement; their eyes met, and the darkened brow of Anthony hinted at the danger of flinching in this crisis. The tremor of his hand was not, perhaps, visible to any but Anthony, who, however, did not overlook this circumstance. He held the book, but raised not his eye to meet the looks of either the magistrate or the priests; the color also left his face, as with shrinking lips he touched the Word of God in deliberate falsehood. Having then laid it down, Anthony received it with a firm grasp, and whilst his eye turned boldly in contemptuous mockery upon those who presented it, he impressed it with the kiss of a man whose depraved conscience seemed to goad him only to evil. After "clearing" himself, he laid the Bible upon the table with the affected air of a person who felt hurt at the imputation of theft, and joined the rest with a frown upon his countenance, and a smothered curse upon his lips.
Just at this moment, a person from Cassidy's house laid upon the table a small box covered with black cloth; and our readers will be surprised to hear, that if fire had come down visibly from heaven, greater awe and fear could not have been struck into their hearts, or depicted upon their countenances. The casual conversation, and the commentaries upon the ceremony they had witnessed, instantly settled into a most profound silence, and every eye was turned towards it with an interest absolutely fearful. "Let," said the curate, "none of those who have sworn depart from within the ring, until they once more clear themselves upon this;" and as he spoke, he held it up—"Behold," said he, "and tremble—behold THE DONAGH!!!"
A low murmur of awe and astonishment burst from the people in general, whilst those within the ring, who with few exceptions, were the worst characters in the parish, appeared ready to sink into the earth. Their countenances, for the most part, paled into the condemned hue of guilt; many of them became almost unable to stand; and altogether, the state of trepidation and terror in which they stood, was strikingly wild and extraordinary.
The curate proceeded: "Let him now who is guilty depart; or if he wishes, advance and challenge the awful penalty annexed to perjury upon this! Who has ever been known to swear falsely upon the Donagh, without being visited by a tremendous punishment, either on the spot, or in twenty-four hours after his perjury? If we ourselves have not seen such instances with our own eyes, it is because none liveth who dare incur such dreadful penalty; but we have heard of those who did, and of their awful punishment afterwards. Sudden death, madness, paralysis, self-destruction, or the murder of some one dear to them, are the marks by which perjury upon the Donagh is known and visited. Advance, now, ye who are innocent, but let the guilty withdraw; for we do not desire to witness the terrible vengeance which would attend a false oath upon the Donagh. Pause, therefore, and be cautious! for if this grievous sin be committed, a heavy punishment will fall, not only upon you, but upon the parish in which it occurs!"
The words of the priest sounded to the guilty like the death-sentence of a judge. Before he had concluded, all, except Meehan and his brother, and a few who were really innocent, had slunk back out of the circle into the crowd. Denis, however, became pale as a corpse; and from time to time wiped the large drops from his haggard brow: even Anthony's cheek, despite of his natural callousness, was less red; his eyes became disturbed; but by their influence, he contrived to keep Denis in sufficient dread, to prevent him from mingling, like the rest, among the people. The few who remained along with them advanced; and notwithstanding their innocence, when the Donagh was presented and the figure of Christ and the Twelve Apostles displayed in the solemn tracery of its carving, they exhibited symptoms of fear. With trembling hands they touched the Donagh, and with trembling lips kissed the crucifix, in attestation of their guiltlessness of the charge with which they had been accused.
"Anthony and Denis Meehan, come forward," said the curate, "and declare your innocence of the crimes with which you are charged by the Cassidys and others."
Anthony advanced; but Denis stood rooted to the ground; on perceiving which, the former sternly returned a step or two, and catching him by the arm with an admonitory grip, that could not easily be misunderstood, compelled him to proceed with himself step by step to the table. Denis, however, could feel the strong man tremble and perceive that although he strove to lash himself into the energy of despair, and the utter disbelief of all religious sanction, yet the trial before him called every slumbering prejudice and apprehension of his mind into active power. This was a death-blow to his own resolution, or, rather it confirmed him in his previous determination not to swear on the Donagh, except to acknowledge his guilt, which he could scarcely prevent himself from doing, such was the vacillating state of mind to winch he felt himself reduced.
When Anthony reached the table, his huge form seemed to dilate by his effort at maintaining the firmness necessary to support him in this awful struggle between conscience and superstition on the one hand, and guilt, habit, and infidelity on the other. He fixed his deep, dilated eyes upon the Donagh, in a manner that betokened somewhat of irresolution: his countenance fell; his color came and went, but eventually settled in a flushed red; his powerful hands and arms trembled so much, that he folded them to prevent his agitation from being noticed; the grimness of his face ceased to be stern, while it retained the blank expression of guilt; his temples swelled out with the terrible play of their blood-vessels, his chest, too, heaved up and down with the united pressure of guilt, and the tempest which shook him within. At length he saw Denis's eye upon him, and his passions took a new direction; he knit his brows at him with more than usual fierceness, ground his teeth, and with a step and action of suppressed fury, he placed his foot at the edge of the table, and bowing down under the eye of God and man, took the awful oath on the mysterious Douagh, in a falsehood! When it was finished, a feeble groan broke from his brother's lips. Anthony bent his eye on him with a deadly glare; but Denis saw it not. The shock was beyond his courage,—he had become insensible.
Those who stood at the outskirts of the crowd, seeing Denis apparently lifeless, thought he must have sworn falsely on the Donagh, and exclaimed, "He's dead! gracious God! Denis Meehan's struck dead by the Donagh! He swore in a lie, and is now a corpse!" Anthony paused, and calmly surveyed him as he lay with his head resting upon the hands of those who supported him. At this moment a silent breeze came over where they stood; and, as the Donagh lay upon the table, the black ribbons with which it was ornamented fluttered with a melancholy appearance, that deepened the sensations of the people into something peculiarly solemn and preternatural. Denis at length revived, and stared wildly and vacantly about him. When composed sufficiently to distinguish and recognize individual objects, he looked upon the gloomy visage and threatening eye of his brother, and shrunk back with a terror almost epileptical. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "save me! save me from that man, and I'll discover all!"
Anthony calmly folded one arm into his bosom, and his lip, quivered with the united influence of hatred and despair.
"Hould him," shrieked a voice, which proceeded from his daughter, "hould my father or he'll murdher him! Oh! oh! merciful Heaven!"
Ere the words were uttered she had made an attempt to clasp the arms of her parent, whose motions she understood; but only in time to receive from the pistol which he had concealed in his breast, the bullet aimed at her uncle! She tottered! and the blood spouted out of her neck upon her father's brows, who hastily put up his hand and wiped it away, for it had actually blinded him.
The elder Meehan was a tall man, and as he stood, elevated nearly a head above the crowd, his grim brows red with his daughter's blood—which, in attempting to wipe away, he had deeply streaked across his face—his eyes shooting fiery gleams of his late resentment, mingled with the wildness of unexpected horror—as he thus stood, it would be impossible to contemplate a more revolting picture of that state to which the principles that had regulated his life must ultimately lead, even in this world.
On perceiving what he had done, the deep working of his powerful frame was struck into sudden stillness, and he turned his eyes on his bleeding daughter, with a fearful perception of her situation. Now was the harvest of his creed and crimes reaped in blood; and he felt that the stroke which had fallen upon him was one of those by which God will sometimes bare his arm and vindicate his justice. The reflection, however, shook him not: the reality of his misery was too intense and pervading, and grappled too strongly with his hardened and unbending spirit, to waste its power upon a nerve or a muscle. It was abstracted, and beyond the reach of bodily suffering. From the moment his daughter fell, he moved not: his lips were half open with the conviction produced by the blasting truth of her death, effected prematurely by his own hand.
Those parts of his face which had not been stained with her blood assumed an ashy paleness, and rendered his countenance more terrific by the contrast. Tall, powerful, and motionless, he appeared to the crowd, glaring at the girl like a tiger anxious to join his offspring, yet stunned with the shock of the bullet which has touched a vital part. His iron-gray hair, as it fell in thick masses about his neck, was moved slightly by the blast, and a lock which fell over his temple was blown back with a motion rendered more distinct by his statue-like attitude, immovable as death.
A silent and awful gathering of the people around this impressive scene, intimated their knowledge of what they considered to be a judicial punishment annexed to perjury upon the Donagh. This relic lay on the table, and the eyes of those stood within view of it, turned from Anthony's countenance to it, and again back to his blood-stained visage, with all the overwhelming influence of superstitious fear. Shudderings, tremblings, crossings, and ejaculations marked their conduct and feeling; for though the incident in itself was simply a fatal and uncommon one, yet they considered it supernatural and miraculous.
At length a loud and agonizing cry burst from the lips of Meehan—"Oh, God!—God of heaven an' earth!—have I murdhered my daughter?" and he cast down the fatal weapon with a force which buried it some inches into the wet clay.
The crowd had closed upon Anne; but with the strength of a giant he flung them aside, caught the girl in his arms, and pressed her bleeding to his bosom. He gasped for breath: "Anne," said he, "Anne, I am without hope, an' there's none to forgive me except you;—none at all: from God, to the poorest of his creatures, I am hated an' cursed, by all, except you! Don't curse me, Anne; don't curse me! Oh, isn't it enough, darlin', that my sowl is now stained with your blood, along with my other crimes? In hell, on earth, an' in heaven, there's none to forgive your father but yourself!—none! none! Oh, what's comin' over me! I'm dizzy an' shiverin'! How cowld the day's got of a sudden! Hould up, avourneen machree! I was a bad man; but to you Anne, I was not as I was to every one! Darlin', oh look at me with forgiveness in your eye, or any way don't curse me! Oh! I'm far cowlder now! Tell me that you forgive me, acushla oge machree!—Manim asthee ha, darlin', say it. I darn't look to God! but oh! do you say the forgivin' word to your father before you die!"
"Father," said she, "I deserve this—it's only just: I have plotted with that divilish Martin to betray them all, except yourself, an' to get the reward; an' then we intended to go—an'—live at a distance—an' in wickedness—where we—might not be known—he's at our house—let him be—secured. Forgive me, father; you said so often that there was no thruth in religion—that I began to—think so. Oh!—God! have mercy upon me!" And with these words she expired.
Meehan's countenance, on hearing this, was overspread with a ghastly look of the most desolating agony: he staggered back, and the body of his daughter, which he strove to hold, would have fallen from his arms, had it not been caught by the bystanders. His eye sought out his brother, but not in resentment. "Oh! she died, but didn't say 'I forgive you!' Denis," said he, "Denis, bring me home—I'm sick—very sick—oh, but it's eowld—everything's reeling—how cowld—cowld it is!"—and as he uttered the last words, he shuddered, fell down in a fit of apoplexy, never to rise again; and the bodies of his daughter and himself were both waked and buried together.
The result is brief. The rest of the gang were secured: Denis became approver, by whose evidence they suffered that punishment decreed by law to the crimes of which they had been guilty. The two events which I we have just related, of course added to the supernatural fear and reverence previously entertained for this terrible relic. It is still used as an ordeal of expurgation, in cases of stolen property; and we are not wrong in asserting, that many of those misguided creatures, who too frequently hesitate not to swear falsely on the Word of God, would suffer death itself sooner than commit a perjury on the Donagh.
* * * * *
The story of the Donagh, the Author has reason to believe, was the means of first bringing this curious piece of antiquity into notice. There is little to be added here to what is in the sketch, concerning its influence over the people, and the use of it as a blessed relic sought for by those who wished to apply a certain test of guilt or innocence to such well known thieves as scrupled not to perjure themselves on the Bible. For this purpose it was a perfect conscience-trap, the most hardened miscreant never having been known to risk a false oath upon it. Many singular anecdotes are related concerning it.
The Author feels great pleasure in subjoining two very interesting letters upon the subject—one from an accomplished scholar, the late Rev. Dr. O'Beirne, master of the! distinguished school of Portora at Enniskillen; the other from Sir William Betham, one of the soundest and most learned of our Irish Antiquaries. Both gentlemen differ in their opinion respecting the antiquity of the Donagh; and, as the author is incompetent to decide between them, he gives their respective letters to the public.
""Portora, August 15, 1832.
""My Dear Carleton.—It is well you wrote to me about the Dona. Your letter, which reached me this day, has proved that I was mistaken in supposing that the promised drawing was no longer necessary. I had imagined, that as you must have seen the Dona with Mr. Smith, any communication from me on the subject must be superfluous. And now that I have taken up my pen in compliance with your wish, what can I tell you that you have not perhaps conveyed to yourself by ocular inspection, and better than I can detail it?
""I accompanied Mr. S. to Brookborough, and asked very particularly of the old woman, late the possessor of the Dona, what she knew of its history; but she could say nothing about it, only that it had belonged to 'The Lord of Enniskillen.' This was the Fermanagh Maguire, who took an active part in the shocking rebellion of 1641, and was subsequently executed. His castle, the ruins of which are on the grounds of Portora, was stormed during the wars of that miserable time. When I entered on my inquiries for you, I anticipated much in the way of tradition, which, I hoped, might prove amusing at least; but disappointment met me on every hand. The old woman could not even detail distinctly how the Dona had come into her possession: it was brought into her family, she said, by a priest. The country people had imagined wonders relative to the contents of the box. The chief treasure it was supposed to contain was a lock of the Virgin Mary's hair!!!
""After much inquiry, I received the following vague detail from a person in this country; and let me remark, by the by, that though the possession of the Dona was matter of boast to the Maguires, yet I could not gain the slightest information respecting it from even the most intelligent of the name. But now for the detail:—
""Donagh O'Hanlon, an inhabitant of the upper part of this country (Fermanagh), went, about 600 years ago (longer than which time, in the opinion of a celebrated antiquary, the kind of engraving on it could not have been made), on a pious pilgrimage to Rome. His Holiness of the Vatican, whose name has escaped the recollection of the person who gave this information, as a reward for this supererogatory journey, presented him with the Dona. As soon as Donagh returned, the Dona was placed in the monastery of Aughadurcher (now Aughalurcher). But at the time, when Cromwell was in this country, the monastery was destroyed, and this Ark of the Covenant hid by some of the faithful at a small lake, named Lough Eye, between Lisbellaw and Tempo. It was removed thence when peace was restored, and again placed in some one of the neighboring chapels, when, as before in Aughalurcher, the oaths were administered with all the superstition that a depraved imagination could, invent, as "that their thighs might rot off," "that they might go mad," etc., etc.
""When Kings James and William made their appearance, it was again concealed in Largy, an old Castle at Sir H. Brooke's deer-park. Father Antony Maguire, a priest of the Roman Church, dug it up from under the stairs in this old castle, after the battle of the Boyne, deposited it in a chapel, and it was used as before.
""After Father Antony's death it fell into the possession of his niece, who took it over to the neighborhood of Florence-court. But the Maguires were not satisfied that a thing so sacred should depart from the family, and at their request it was brought back."
"For the confirmation of the former part of this account, the informant refers you to Sir James Ware. I have not Ware's book, and cannot therefore tell you how much of this story, is given by him, or whether any. In my opinion there is nothing detailed by him at all bearing on the subject. The latter part of this story rests, we are told, on tradition.
"As I confess myself not at all versed in Irish antiquities, it may appear somewhat presumptuous in me to venture an opinion respecting this box and its contents, which is, I understand, opposed to that of our spirited and intelligent antiquary, Sir Wm. Betham. I cannot persuade myself that either the box or the contained MSS. were of such an age as he claims for them. And, first, of the box:—
"At present the MSS. are contained in a wooden box; the wood is, I believe, yew. It cannot be pronounced, I think, with any certainty, whether the wooden box was originally part of the shrine of the precious MSS. It is very rude in its construction, and has not a top or lid. Indeed it appears to me to have been a coarse botched-up thing to receive the MSS. after the original box, which was made of brass, had fallen to pieces.
"The next thing that presents itself to us is the remnant of a brass box, washed with Silver, and rudely ornamented with tracery. The two ends and the front are all that remain of the brass box.
"You may then notice what was evidently an addition of later times, the highly ornamented gilt-silver work, made fast on the remains of the brass box, and the chased compartments, which seem to have formed the top or lid of the box. But, as you have seen the whole, I need not perhaps have troubled you with this description. I shall only direct your attention to the two inscriptions. In the chasing you will see that they are referred to their supposed places.
"The upper inscription, when deciphered, is—
"'Johannes: O'Karbri: Comorbanus: S. Tignacii: Pmisit.' For S. Tigcnaii I would conjecture St. Ignacii: P, I should conjecture to be Presbyterus. On this I. should be very glad to have Sir William's opinion. I cannot imagine, if P stands part of a compound with misit, what it can mean. I would read and translate it thus—'John O'Carbery, coadjutor, priest, of the order of St. Ignatius, sent it.'
"This inscription, is on a narrow slip of silver, and is presumed to have formed part of the under edge of the upper part of the back of the box. The lower inscription is—;
"'Johannes O'Barrdan fabricavit.'
"This also is on a slip of silver, and appears to have fitted into a space on the upper surface which is supposed to have been the top, and to have lain in between the two square compartments on the left hand: this is marked in the drawing. I have expressed myself here in the language of doubt, for the box is all in confusion.
"Now, on the inscriptions, I would say, that they indicate to me a date much later than some gentlemen who have seen the box are willing to ascribe to it. In the island of Devenish, in our lake (Lough Erne), is an inscription, that was discovered in the ruins (still standing) of a priory, that was built there A. D. 1449. The characters in this inscription are much more remote from the Roman character in use among us than those used in the inscriptions on the box. The letters on the box bespeak a later period, when English cultivation had begun to produce some effect in our island, and the Roman character was winning its way into general use. I shall probably be able to let you see the Devenish inscription, and ajuxta position of it and the others will satisfy you, I think, on this point. In my opinion, then, the box, with all its ornaments, must have been made at some time since the year 1449. I cannot think it reasonable to suppose that an inscription, containing many letters like the Roman characters, should be more ancient than one not only having fewer letters resembling them, but also having the letters that differ differing essentially."
Now for the MSS.
"I am deficient in antiquarian lore: this I have already confessed; but perhaps I want also the creative fancy and devoted faith of the genuine antiquary. I cannot, for example, persuade myself, that a MS. written in a clear, uniform, small character of the Roman form, could have been written in remote times, when there is reason to think that MSS. were written in uncial characters only, without stops, and with few or no divisions into words, sentences, or paragraphs. The palimpsest MS. examined by Dr. Barrett is in uncial characters, and is referred by him to the 6th or 7th century. Cic. de Republica, published by Angelo Mai, is assigned to much the same period. Small letters, and the distinctions above mentioned, were the invention of later times. I cannot therefore persuade myself that this MS. is of so early an age as some would ascribe to it, though I will not take it upon me to assign the precise time in which, it was written. The characters are decidedly and distinctly those now called the Roman: they have not many abbreviations, as far as I could judge, and they are written with much clearness and regularity. They are not the literae cursivae, or those used in writing for the sake of facility and connection: they seem rather formed more in imitation, of printed letters. SECUNDUM—This imperfect attempt to present one of the words, will explain my meaning. But I had better not weary you any more with my crude notions. I shall be very glad to hear your opinion, or that of Sir William Betham, to whom I should bow with all the respect due to talent and worth. I must avow my distrust of Irish antiquities; yet, allow me to add, that there is no man more willing to be converted from my heresy, if you would call it so, than
"My dear Carleton,
"Your friend and servant,
"Stradbrook House, October, 1832.
"Dear Sir,—I have read Dr. O'Beirne's important letter on the Dona: the account he has collected of its recent history is full of interest, and for the most part, I have no doubt correct. His speculations respecting its antiquity I cannot give my adhesion to, not feeling a doubt myself on the subject. When I have time to investigate it more fully, I am satisfied that this box, like the others, of which accounts have already been published, will be found mentioned in the Irish Annals. The inscriptions, however, fully identify the MS. and the box, and show that antiquaries, from the execution of the workmanship and figures on these interesting reliques, often underrate their antiquity—a fault which the world are little inclined to give them credit for, and which they fall into from an anxiety to err on what they consider the side which is least likely to produce the smile of contempt or the sneer of incredulity, forgetting that it is the sole business of an antiquarian and historian to speak the truth, disregarding even contempt for so doing.
"I had been somewhat lengthy in my description of the Dona, and from habit, entered into a minute account of all its parts, quite forgetting that you, perhaps, do not possess an appetite for antiquarian detail, and therefore might be better pleased to have a general outline than such a recital. I therefore proceed to give it as briefly as possible, not, however, omitting any material points.
"The Irish word Domnach, which is pronounced Dona, means the Lord's day, or the first day in the week, sanctified or consecrated to the service of the Lord. It is also in that sense used for a house, church, or chapel. Donayhmore means the great church or chapel dedicated to God. This box, being holy, as containing the Gospels, and having the crucifix thereon, was dedicated or consecrated to the service of God. Like the Caah, the Meeshach, and Dhimma's box, it is of brass, covered with plates of silver, and resembles the two former in having a box of yew inside, which was the original case of the MS. and became venerated so much, on that account, as to be deemed worthy of being inclosed with it in the shrine made by permission of John O'Carberry, Abbot of Clonmacnois, in the 14th century.
"The top of the Dona is divided by a cross, on the lower arm of which is a figure of the Savior; over his head is a shield, divided per pale, between two crystal settings; on the dexter is a hand holding a scourge or whip of three thongs, and on a chief a ring; on the sinister, on a chief the same charge and three crucifixion nails. In the first compartment, or quarter of the cross, are representations of St. Columbkill, St. Bridget, and St. Patrick. In the second, a bishop pierced with two arrows, and two figures of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the third, the Archangel Michael treading on the dragon, and the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. In the fourth, St. Tigemach handing to his successor, St. Sinellus, the Dona; and a female figure, perhaps Mary Magdalen.
"The front of the Dona is ornamented with three crystal settings, surmounted by grotesque figures of animals. Between these are four horsemen with swords drawn, in full speed.
"The right hand end has a figure of St. Tigemach, and St. John the Baptist. The left hand end a figure of St. Catherine with her wheel.
"The Dona is nine inches and a half long, seven wide, and not quite four thick.
"So far I have been enabled to describe the Dona from the evidently accurate and well executed drawings you were so good as to present to me. Why the description is less particular than it should have been, I shall take another opportunity of explaining to you.
"There are three inscriptions on the Dona: one on a scroll from the hand of the figure of the Baptist, of ECCE AGNUS DEI. The two others are on plates of silver, but their exact position on the box is not marked in the drawing, but may be guessed by certain places which the plates exactly fit. "The first is—
"JOHANNES: OBARRDAN: FABRICAVIT.
"JOHS: OKARBRI: COMORBANVS: S. TIGNACH: PMISIT."
"'John O'Barrdan made this box by the permission of John O'Carbry, successor of St. Tigermach.'
"St. Tierny, or St. Tigernach was third Bishop of Clogher, having succeeded St. Maccartin in the year 506. In the list of bishops, St. Patrick is reckoned the first, and founder of the see. Tigernach died the 4th of April, 548.
"John O'Carbry was abbott of Clones, or Clounish, in the County of Monoghan, and as such was comorb, or corb*—i. e., successor—of Tigernach, who was founder of the abbey and removed the episcopal seat from Clogher to Clounish. Many of the abbots Were also bishops of the see. He died in 1353. How long he was abbot does not appear; but the age of the outside covering of the Dona is fixed to the 14th century.
* All the successors of the founder saints were called by the Irish comorbs or corbs. The reader Will perceive that O'Carbry was a distant but not we immediate successor of St. Tigernach.
"Since the foregoing was written I have seen the Dona, which was exhibited at the last meeting of the Royal Irish Academy. it has been put together at a guess, but different from the drawing. There is inside O'Barrdan's case another of silver plates some centuries older, and inside that the yew box, which originally contained the manuscripts, now so united by damp as to be apparently inseparable, and nearly illegible; for they have lost the color of vellum, and are quite black, and very much decayed. The old Irish version of the New Testament is well worthy of being edited; it is, I conceive, the oldest Latin version extant, and varies much from the Vulgate or Jerome's.
"The MS. inclosed in the yew box appears from the two membranes handed me by your friend Mr. ———, to be a copy of the Gospels—at least those membranes were part of the two first membranes of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and, I would say, written in the 5th or 6th century; were, probably, the property of St. Tigernach himself, and passed most likely to the abbots of Clounish, his successors, as an heirloom, until it fell into the hands of the Maguires, the most powerful of the princes of the country now comprising the diocese of Clogher. Dr. O'Beirne's letter I trust you will publish. I feel much indebted to the gentleman for his courteous expressions towards me, and shall be most happy to have the pleasure of being personally known to him.
"You must make allowance for the hasty sketch which is here given. The advanced state of your printing would not allow me time for a more elaborate investigation.
"Believe me, my dear sir,
"Very sincerely yours,
We cannot close the illustrations of this ancient and venerable relic without adding an extract from a most interesting and authentic history of it contributed by our great Irish antiquarian, George Petrie, Esq., R.H.A., M.R.I.A, to the 18th vol. of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, together with an engraving of it taken from a drawing made by the same accomplished artist.
"I shall endeavor to arrange these evidences in consecutive order.
"It is of importance to prove that this cumdach, or reliquary, has been from time immemorial popularly known by the name of Domnach, or, as it is pronounced, Donagh, a word derived from the Latin Dominicus. This fact is proved by a recent popular tale of very great power, by Mr. Carleton, called the 'Donagh,' in which the superstitious uses to which this reliquary has been long applied, are ably exhibited, and made subservient to the interests of the story. It is also particularly described under this name by the Rev. John Groyes in his account of the parish of Errigal-Keeroch in the third volume of Shaw Mason's Parochial Survey, page 163, though, as the writer states, it was not actually preserved in that parish.
"2. The inscriptions on the external case leave no doubt that the Domnach belonged to the monastery of Clones, or see of Clogher. The John O'Karbri, the Comharb, or successor of St. Tighernach, recorded, in one of those inscriptions as the person at whose cost, or by whose permission, the outer ornamental case was made, was, according to the Annals of the Pour Masters, Abbot of Clones, and died in the year 1353. He is properly called in that inscription Comorbanus, or successor of Tighernach, who was the first Abbot and Bishop of the Church of Clones, to which place, after the death of St. Mac-Carthen, in the year 506, he removed the see of Clogher, having erected a new church, which he dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul. St. Tighernach, according to all our ancient authorities, died in the year 548.
"3. It appears from a fragment of an ancient life of St. Mac-Carthen, preserved by Colgan, that a remarkable reliquary was given by St Patrick to that saint when he placed him over the see of Clogher.
"'Et addidit, [Patricius] Accipo, inquit, baculum itineris mei, quo ego membra mea sustento et scrinium in quo de sanctorum Apostolorum reliquiis, et de sanctae Mariae capillis, et sancta Grace Domini, et sepulchro ejus, et aliis reliquiis sanctis continentur. Quibus dictis dimisit cum osculo pacis paterna fultum benedictione.'—Colgan, Vit. S. Macaerthenni (24 Mart.) Acta SS. p. 738.
"From this passage we learn one great-cause of the sanctity in which this reliquary was held, and of the uses of the several recesses for reliques which it presents. It also explains the historical rilievo on the top—the figure of St. Patrick presenting the Domnach to St. Mac-Carthen.
"4. In Jocelyn's Life of St. Patrick (cap. 143) we have also a notice to the same effect, but in which the Domnach is called a Chrismatorium, and the relics are not specified—in all probability because they were not then appended to it.
"In these authorities there is evidently much appearance of the Monkish frauds of the middle ages; but still they are evidences of the tradition of the country that such a gift had been made by Patrick to Mac-Carthen. And as we advance higher in chronological authorities, we find the notice of this gift stripped of much of its acquired garb of fiction, and related with more of the simplicity of truth.
"5. In the life of St. Patrick called the Tripartite, usually ascribed to St. Evin, an author of the seventh century, and which, even in its present interpolated state, is confessedly prior to the tenth, there is the following remarkable passage (as translated by Colgan from the original Irish) relative to the gift of the Domnach from the Apostle of Ireland to St. Mac-Carthen, in which it is expressly described under the very same appellation which it still bears.
"' Aliquantis ergo evolutis diebus Mac-Caertennum, sive Caerthennum Episcopuin prsefecit sedi Episcopali Clocherensi, ab Ardmacha regni Metropoli haud multum distanti: et apud eum reliquit argenteum quoddam reliquiarium Domnach-airgidh vulgo nuncupatum; quod viro Dei, in Hiberniam venienti, ccelitus missum erat.'—VII. Vita S. Patricii, Lib. in. cap. 3, Tr. Th. p. 149.
"This passage is elsewhere given by Colgan, with a slight change of words in the translation.
"In this version, which is unquestionably prior to all the others, we find the Domnach distinguished by the appellation of Airgid—an addition which was applicable only to its more ancient or silver plated case, and which could not with propriety be applied to its more recent covering, which in its original state had the appearance of being of gold.
"On these evidences—and more might probably be procured if time had allowed—we may, I think, with tolerable certainty, rest the following conclusions:
"1. That the Domnach is the identical reliquary given by St. Patrick to St. Mac-Carthen.
"2. As the form of the cumdach indicates that it was intended to receive a book, and as the relics are all attached to the outer and the least ancient cover, it is manifest that the use of the box as a reliquary was not its original intention. The natural inference therefore is, that it contained a manuscript which had belonged to St. Patrick; and us a manuscript copy of the Gospels, apparently of that early age, is found within it, there is every reason to believe it to be that identical one for which the box was originally made, and which the Irish apostle probably brought with him on his mission into this country. It is indeed, not merely possible, but even probable, that the existence of this manuscript was unknown to the Monkish biographers of St. Patrick and St. Mac-Carthen, who speak of the box as a scrinium or reliquary only. The outer cover was evidently not made to open; and some, at least, of the relics attached to it were not introduced into Ireland before the twelfth century. It will be remembered also that no superstition was and is more common in connection with the ancient cumdachs than the dread of their being opened.
"These conclusions will, I think, be strengthened considerably by the facts, that the word Domnach, as applied either to a church, as usual, or to a reliquary, as in this instance, is only to be found in our histories in connection with St. Patrick's time; and, that in the latter sense—its application to a reliquary—it only once occurs in all our ancient authorities, namely, in the single reference to the gift to St. Mac-Carthen; no other reliquary in Ireland, as far as can be ascertained, having ever been known by that appellation. And it should also be observed, that all the ancient reliques preserved in Ireland, whether bells, books, croziers, or other remains, have invariably and without any single exception, been preserved and venerated only as appertaining to the original founders of the churches to which they belonged."
There is very little to be added, except that the Donagh was purchased for a few pounds from the old woman who owned it, by Mr. George Smith, of the house of Hodges and Smith, of College Green, Dublin, who very soon sold it for a large sum to the Honorable Mr. Westenra, in whose possession I presume it now is.