The relief works organised by the Government took the form of draining and road-making. This entailed delay, owing to the preliminary surveying, and when employment could be given, the people were too emaciated and feeble to work. All over Ireland unfinished roads leading half way to places of no consequence are to-day grass-grown memorials of that ghastly effort of State assistance.
Almost the earliest of the private soup-kitchens for the relief of the sufferers was that opened at Dingle under the joint initiative of Lady Ventry, Mrs. Hickson, my future mother-in-law, and Mrs. Hussey, my mother. So as not to pauperise the people, subscriptions of one penny a week were asked from every house in the town. At ten in the morning those who wanted it could get a pint per head of really excellent soup for themselves and their families. Those who were known to be able to pay had to contribute a penny; the really destitute had gratuitous relief.
So bad was the famine that people coming in from the country fell in the street never to rise again. One woman was found lying on the outskirts of the town almost dead from starvation, her three children having succumbed beside her, and had she not been carried to the soup-kitchen she would not have survived them many hours.
My wife well remembers another case. One day her mother emerged from a cabin carrying what looked like a big bundle of clothes. It was the form of an emaciated woman, whose four children and husband had all starved. My mother-in-law took her to her own house, fed her at first with spoonsful of soup, and kept her there until she had rebuilt her once vigorous constitution.
My wife subsequently recollects her as a hale, buxom, young widow coming to say good-bye before emigrating to America.
Very soon all the coffins had been exhausted, and in many places the dead were taken to the graves and dropped in through the hinged bottom of a trap-coffin.
After soup had been introduced, Indian meal stirabout proved efficacious, and it was distributed from large iron boilers set up by the roadside to the gaunt, cadaverous wretches who scuffled for the sustenance.
Even more terrible than those privations was the fever which supervened. Apart from the lack of food, a great cause of mortality lay in the change of diet. Potatoes form a bulky article of food, and stirabout, unless very carefully made, used to swell after it was consumed. Many, too, ate raw turnips from sheer destitution, and these also caused swelling of the stomach as well as a dysentery almost always fatal in a few days.
Numbers of starving Catholics had gone to Protestant clergymen and offered to become converts in return for food, and when some of these sickened with the fever, the priests declared it was a judgment on them, and religious hostility became intensified.
At Dingle Lady Ventry and her helpers were denounced from the pulpits as 'benevolent sisters bent on superising the poor'—to superise being the improvised verb for Protestantising, a thing they decidedly did not attempt.
A very early instance of the open-air cure never before recorded took place at Lismore. When every possible place in the hospital had been filled with fever patients, a number had to be lodged in a disused quarry near the Blackwater, and of the latter not a single sufferer died, though the mortality within doors was excessive.
I remember one rather quaint incident.
A large amount of sea biscuit was brought into a house for distribution by a benevolent gentleman. His daughter, aged seven, surreptitiously stole a biscuit for the purpose of eating it. But at the first attempt to bite the tough thing, out came a loose tooth. She howled with fright, thinking it a judgment on her for her misdeed, and went in tears to tell her mother.
I have always hoped the latter had enough sense of humour to laugh at the incident, but my shrewd suspicion is that she improved the occasion—an error for which there is always temptation, and on which there is often the retribution of the few words having the opposite effect to that intended.
The conduct of the landlords during the famine and fever has been much discussed and variously represented. But many of the Nationalists themselves have declared that the diatribes of their comrades have been thoroughly undeserved. Absenteeism apart—for which no excuse need be attempted—the Irish landlords did their best, gave of their substance, and imperilled their own lives for the sake of the sufferers. Mr. Richard White of Inchiclogh, near Bantry, fell a victim to the fever. Two other landlords who gave their lives for others were Mr. Richard Martin, M.P., and Mr. Nolan of Ballinderry. The conditions of tenure did not admit of lavish financial generosity, but as one of their sharpest critics in later times admitted, the vast majority 'went down with the ship.'
The survivors of this terrible time numbered heroes drawn from all classes of life; and it would have been well if the lesson of universal charity then practically demonstrated had been allowed to sink into all hearts.
Instead I will quote the following extract from John Mitchel's History of Ireland, a thick, paper-bound volume, which, at the price of eighteenpence, has circulated enormously among the Irish, not only at home, but in Glasgow and America.
On page 243:—'That million and a half of men, women, and children were carefully, prudently, and peacefully slain' [the italics are those of Mitchel] 'by the English Government. They died of hunger in the midst of abundance which their own hands created; and it is quite immaterial to distinguish those who perished in the agonies of famine itself from those who died by typhus fever, which in Ireland is always caused by famine.
'Further, this was strictly an artificial famine—that is to say, it was a famine which desolated a rich and fertile island that produced every year abundance and superabundance to sustain all her people and many more. The English, indeed, call that famine a dispensation of Providence, and ascribe it entirely to the blight of the potatoes. But potatoes failed in like manner all over Europe, yet there was no famine save in Ireland. The British account of the matter, then, is first a fraud; second, a blasphemy. The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.'
Such pestilential perversion of truth is freely circulated and firmly believed, for contradiction never penetrates to those gulled by these lies. In America the gutter press section of journalism is esteemed at its true worth, and is as harmless as a few squibs. In Ireland what is seen in bad print is always believed, and is corroborated by the lower class of priest. When I say so much I am simply indicating a national sore, but it needs a wiser physician than myself to apply a successful remedy.
Perhaps with the spread of education may arise the same power to discriminate between the true and false published in the papers that is a characteristic of both the English and Scottish. As it is, the Irishman believes whatever he reads in print; and in most cases the solitary paper that he reads is one full of treason and untruths.
When the famine took place, the Irish fled as from a plague to America, and when they landed there both men and women were the prey of every blackguard without a single person to advise or protect them.
Had the Government taken the movement in hand and employed agents at New York to provide for them until they obtained employment, and to direct them where to apply for it, England would to-day probably have had a grateful nation on the other side of the Atlantic. Instead, we have a hostile multitude which neglects no opportunity of voting for any politician hostile to Great Britain; and this disaffection sadly militates against that union of Anglo-Saxon hearts, which is so freely accepted by journalists and politicians as a sort of millennium.
Miss Cobbe related a story about a steady-going girl who had received money from her sister who was doing well in New York to pay her passage money out.
She told Miss Cobbe how she had been to an emigration office and booked her passage.
'Direct to New York, of course.'
'Well no, Miss. But to some place close by, New something else.'
'New something else near New York?'
'Yes; I disremember what it was, but he said it was quite handy for New York.'
'Not New Orleans, surely?'
'Yes, Miss, that was it, New Orleans, quite near New York,' he said.
The scoundrelly agent had taken her passage money and sent her off absolutely friendless to New Orleans, where she died of a fever in less than a year.
Many of the three million emigrants after the famine must have been as easily duped.
A considerable time ago (but if I were in Kerry I could give the date from my diary, because I met the man at a dinner given at the St. James's Club by Lord Kenmare's son-in-law, Mr. Douglas) one of the big New World railway companies sent over an emissary to the British Government.
He was charged to offer to take every distressed man in Ireland, with his priest—if he would go—piper, cat, wife, sister, mother, and children, to the land through which the great railway ran. Each man was to be given a log-house with three rooms, one hundred and sixty acres, ten of them under cultivation, and no residence was to be more than ten miles from a railway station. All that was asked in return was a loan for ten years without interest to cover the expenses of transportation.
I rather think Mr. Chichester Fortescue was the Chief Secretary. Anyhow, whoever occupied that post urged the Cabinet to accept the offer. The conclave wavered, but Mr. Gladstone firmly vetoed the idea. He was afraid the plan would be unpopular with the priests, who would see themselves bereft of the favourite members of their congregations.
Instead of this admirable scheme, we have ever since had the pitiable sight of the parents, the sisters, and the sweetheart crooning over the emigration of the best able-bodied young men from Ireland.
No one who has heard the keening and wailing, say at Limerick Junction, over Paddy going over the water will forget the appealing sorrow of the scene, the sound of which rings long in one's ears after the train has gone out of sight.
The emigrant has been the theme of song and story. He has also been one of the finest recruits of the United States, whilst he is a stigma on English politics, and a drain on the land which in all Europe can least afford to spare him.
Mr. Wyndham's new Act will not arrest emigration, indeed it will probably increase it.
At present the landlord is often able to put pressure on his tenants to give employment to respectable men. But the small farmer is certain to use as few men as possible. You can see the analogy in contemporary France. Therefore more families will see the pride of their cabins starting for the New World.
Perhaps what I am proudest of, was being called in an address in Kerry 'the poor man's friend,' for it is what I have always striven to be.
But if I were to be a young man to-morrow, instead of a day older than I am to-day, I should be powerless to merit such a title in years to come.
And the reason, as I have just indicated, is the fault of the Government.
I sometimes think the canniest man of whom I ever heard was the old Scottish minister who was accustomed to preface his extempore petition with the words:—
'My britheren, let us noo pray that the High Court of Parliament winna do ony harm.'
I am quite aware the opinion I am about to deliver will cause great surprise, but I give it after mature consideration, supported by all my knowledge of Ireland.
It is this:—
The old Fenianism was politically of little account, socially of no danger, except to a few individuals who could be easily protected, and has been grossly exaggerated, either wilfully or through ignorance.
Matters were very different after Mr. Gladstone, by successive acts, of what I maintain were criminal legislation, deliberately fostered treason and encouraged outrage in Ireland.
Irish agitation would never have reached genuine importance unless it had been steadily assisted in its noisome growth by the so-called Grand Old Man, at whose grave may be laid every calamity which has affected Ireland since it had the misfortune to arouse his interest, and the ill effects of whose demoralising interference will bear fruit for many years to come.
This is set down in sober earnest and in as unprejudiced a spirit as it is possible for any sincerely patriotic—using the word in its true and not in its debased meaning—Irishman to feel when he is thoroughly acquainted with all the niceties of the national history for the past sixty years.
I am far from saying that subsequent British cabinets have always understood the Irish questions, but they are at least only reaping the whirlwind where Mr. Gladstone sowed the wind.
I would broadly characterise as Fenian every Irish outbreak or ebullition in the nineteenth century up to the time of the baneful influence of the man who conducted the Midlothian campaign.
Half the tumultuous efforts of the earlier movements would have been rendered ridiculous had it been possible to have them contemporaneously examined by a few special correspondents. I can imagine the representative of the Daily Mail finding material for very few sensational headlines in the Whiteboys Insurrection.
As for the tales of single-handed terrorism, these in Ireland did nursery duty to alarm imaginative children, just as the adventures of Dick Turpin and Jack Sheppard or the kidnapping of heirs by gipsies serve as stories to thrill English little ones.
Of course in 1789 to have killed three Protestants was counted a passport into heaven in the vicinity of Vinegar Hill. But Father Matthew's temperance crusade was worth more salvation to the nation, and mere threatening letters count for nothing. I have had over one hundred in my time, yet I'll die in my bed for all that.
My father-in-law had a pretty solid contempt for the Whiteboys—not the original breed, but those who assumed the title in Kerry early in the nineteenth century.
He was told that these miscreants had a plan to surround his house that night and to shoot everybody in it, and at that very moment they were confabulating at a certain farmhouse.
Refusing to be escorted or guarded, he made his way to that farm, and walking into the kitchen, rated the lot of them in unmeasured terms.
Cowed and abashed they listened to him as he threatened the law, hell, and the devil alone knows what beside. Finally, pistol in hand, he bade them produce their arms and put them in his dog-cart.
This they actually did—for they had imbibed no liquor to give them false pluck—and, with a final curse, he whipped up his horse and drove away 'with all their teeth' to the barracks, where he left a very useful arsenal, and was never troubled by one of them again.
To thus obtain complete immunity by sheer coolness is as much a matter of personal magnetism as anything else. An instance of this, which impressed me much, occurred in a coiner-ghost story told by Mr. T.P. O'Connor, which I venture to quote.
'The hero was no less a person than Marshal Saxe. One night, on the march, he bivouacked in a haunted castle, and slept the sleep of the brave until midnight, when he was awakened by hideous howls heralding the approach of the spectre. When it appeared, the Marshal first discharged his pistol point-blank at it without effect, and then struck it with his sabre, which was shivered in his hand. The invulnerable spectre then beckoned the amazed Marshal to follow, and preceded him to a spot where the floor of the gallery suddenly yawned, and they sank together through it to sepulchral depths. Here he was surrounded by a band of desperate coiners who would forthwith have made away with him if the Marshal had not told them who he was, and warned them that if he disappeared his army would dig to the earth's centre to find him, and would infallibly find and finish every one of them.
'"If I am reconducted to my chamber by this steel-clad spectre and allowed to sleep undisturbed until morning, I promise never to relate this adventure while any harm can happen to you by my telling it."
'To this the coiners after consultation agreed. He was led back to bed, and next morning ridiculed all spectral stories to his officers. It was not until the world of coiners was finally broken up that he related his experiences.'
In that story I wonder who went bail for the Marshal's truth. Veracity and gallantry may not have gone hand in hand, or perhaps they were affianced, and therefore took care not to come near one another.
Another sort of gallantry was noteworthy in what was known as Young Ireland, for in 'the set' were several ladies, Eva, Mary, and Speranza, all prone to write seditious verse. Eva was Miss Mary Kelly, daughter of a Galway gentleman, who promised her lover to wait while he underwent ten years penal servitude, and kept her word, marrying him at Kingstown two days after his release. 'Mary' was Miss Ellen Downing, whose lover was also a fugitive after the outbreak; but he proved unfaithful, and she was one of the last I heard of who died of pining away. It used to be much talked of in my young days. Perhaps now that it is not, it more often occurs. 'Speranza' was Lady Wilde, a fluent poet and essayist, who survived her husband the archaeologist. One of her children inherited much of her talent, but bears a chequered fame. I always thought the wit of Oscar Wilde anything but Irish, and was always glad it possessed no national attributes—unless impudence was one.
At one of his own first nights in London (I think it was on the occasion of the production of An Ideal Husband at the Haymarket) he was summoned before the curtain by the customary shouts for 'Author, author.'
He stood there for a moment amid the cheering, and then, in response to cries for a speech, calmly took a cigarette case out of his pocket, selected one of the contents, and, having very deliberately lighted it, said:—
'Ladies and gentlemen, I do not know what you have done, but I have spent a very pleasant evening with my own play. Good night.'
His brother, known as 'Wuffalo Will' among his friends, is the hero of many stories.
Once he went up to a policeman and said:—
'Which is the way to heaven?'
'I don't know, sir; better ask a parson.'
'What do you think I pay taxes for? It's your business to be able to tell me the way to heaven. As for the bally parsons, they don't understand.'
A broad smile came over the constable's face.
'Were you asking where you could get blind drunk comfortably, sir? because if so—'
And out came the hint with a wink.
Wilde was fond of that tale at one time.
The affair of ''48' was a farce. Stimulated by the French Revolution, John Mitchel wrote rabid sedition, but received short shrift at the hands of the Government, who arrested him, sentenced him to fourteen years' transportation, and almost from the dock he was taken manacled in a police van, escorted by cavalry, and put on board a steamer, which at once put out to sea.
Smith O'Brien was the leader of this feeble insurrection. He had boasted he would be at the head of fifty thousand Tipperary men. Instead his army consisted of a few hundred half-clad ragamuffins, which attacked a squad of police who took refuge in a farmhouse, and easily routed the rabble.
Smith O'Brien proved himself an arrant coward. He hid in a cabbage garden, and is still believed to have made his temporary escape from the police in the habit of an Anglican sisterhood, of which his sister, Hon. Mrs. Monsell, was Mother Superior.
The bigger outbreak was not a bit more serious. It was all trumped up by the Irish in America, and their reliance upon help from American soldiers was destroyed after the war. This agitation was the one known as the work of the Phoenix Society, and the object was the separation of Ireland from England and the confiscation of Irish property.
The leaders were James Stephens, who had nearly escaped being shot by a policeman in the Smith O'Brien campaign, and that indomitable scoundrel O'Donovan Rossa. It was at this time we began to hear of mysterious strangers. In this case it was Stephens; later Parnell wrapped himself in strange isolation; and subsequently Tynan, who was known as 'Number One.'
Cork and Kerry were the chosen parts of Ireland for the new Fenianism to come to a head, and a certain amount of enrolling and drilling did take place.
I was then residing within two miles of the city of Cork, and one night the Fenians came out and encamped all round my house, without offering the slightest molestation or injury to anybody.
Two Fenians walked into the house of my stableman, about a quarter of a mile from my own, and asked for food, saying they were ready to pay for it.
The woman replied that she had no food in the house, but the breakfast of her brother Charles, which she was about to take to him in the stables.
They wanted to pay her a shilling for it, but she declined, and then they went away quietly.
The principal outbreak was to be in Killarney, and they plotted to attack the police barrack at Cahirciveen, because they had an ally in the son of the head constable.
But a man in the town, to whom he had shown kindness, warned the head constable of the attack, which in the end consisted of a few shots fired by a ragged rabble of about three hundred, half of whom were half-hearted, and the other half half-drunk.
The coastguards manned their boat and rowed off to a gunboat in the harbour to ask for some marines; and the moment this was known to the besiegers they dispersed. Some of them marched rather downcast towards Killarney, and on the road they met a mounted policeman riding to warn Cahirciveen of the attack which was to be made against the barracks, for every movement of this silly rebellion was known to the Government.
They called on the man to stop and deliver up his despatches. He declined to do so, and so soon as he had ridden on they shot him in the back, wounding him badly.
He recovered, but was very shabbily treated by the Government, who only awarded him a miserably small pension, a niggardly act which aroused much dissatisfaction.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Killarney, Doctor Moriarty, protested strongly against the cowardice of the Fenians, who were afraid to face one armed man, and waited until his back was turned before they shot him.
However, as I have indicated, the Fenian movement was very insignificant, and was known in all its aspects to the Government, which dealt pretty roughly with it.
It is a singular fact that in the Fenian councils Killarney should have been selected for the outbreak.
This is a town where nearly all the landed proprietors were Roman Catholics, where there was a Catholic Bishop, a monastery and two convents, while one half-ruined Protestant church sufficed to accommodate the few worshippers who sat under a dreary, inoffensive vicar on a very small salary. All reasonable folk, moreover, know that Killarney is the town to which, more than any other in Ireland, it is important to attract British tourists.
It was well known that some of the promoters and instigators of the movement betrayed it before its very inception to the Government; and Bishop Moriarty, from his pulpit, in his sermon alluded in no measured language to those criminals who instigated the innocent peasants to play a part in this mock insurrection, and then betrayed them.
'It may be a hard saying, but surely hell is not too hot nor eternity too long for the punishment of such villainy.'
Yet the whole of Irish history is disfigured by the poisonous trail of the insidious informer.
I was in Kerry at the time of the Cahirciveen fizzle, in the neighbourhood of Dingle, and it was rumoured that the insurrection was to be general.
That was not my opinion, for I travelled on an open car by myself, with a large quantity of money, and no other weapon than an umbrella.
It was a very different state of affairs in the distress caused by Mr. Gladstone's legislation, for then I never travelled without a revolver, and occasionally was accompanied by a Winchester rifle. I used to place my revolver as regularly beside my fork on the dinner-table, either in my own or in anybody else's house, as I spread my napkin on my knees.
And yet it is strangely difficult to see any other cause than Mr. Gladstone's Acts for such ill-feeling.
As my sworn evidence, on which I was cross-examined in the Parnell Commission, showed, I had only ten evictions in six years among two thousand tenants.
I should like to ask, in what class of life is there not more than one in twelve hundred that gets into financial troubles in a year?
In the insurance world such a ratio of claims to premiums would make a perfect fortune to the companies.
The tenants were not associated with the Fenian movement at all, the outbreak being solely confined to the townsfolk, which, in Ireland, helped to make it a feeble affair. I did not know one bona fide farmer that was connected with the movement, and though the arms were mainly smuggled in from America, mighty little hard cash came to the pockets of any but the leaders.
Stephens was the original 'Number One,' and he was let out of Kilmainham by the chief warder's wife. No one knew where he was to be found, but the police, who were well aware that he was devoted to his own wife, kept a strict watch on her, and eventually caught him through his opening communications with her.
When the hue and cry was loudest, it was reported he had come to Cork to foster the Fenian movement, and that he was disguised in feminine garb.
One day my wife found her steps dogged by a man in the most aggravating way, for he followed her into three shops without attempting to speak to her, his only desire being to shadow her, which he was doing in the most clumsy manner.
I was away at Dingle for the day, so my wife went into the establishment of the leading linen-draper, and sending for the head of the firm, asked him to speak to the man, who was then pretending to buy some tape.
It turned out that he was a detective fresh from Dublin, who had taken it into his head that she was Stephens, and was most apologetic, as well as crestfallen, at his error.
Some time after this Fenian fizzle, my coachman saw a number of people being chased by the police for drilling; and about two years later, when I sent him to the Cork barracks on private business, he told me that he there noticed some of the very people who had been routed by the constabulary, but this time they were being drilled by the Government as militia.
I have always had a theory that Ireland was created by Providence for the express purpose of bothering philosophers, and preventing them or politicians from thinking themselves too wise.
At the time when the Fenian scare was damaging Killarney as a tourist resort, Sir Michael Morris—as he then was—was staying at Morley's Hotel in London, and saw in the American paper lying on the table a vivid account of how the Fenian army had attacked a British garrison, and would have easily captured the stronghold had not an overpowering force of English cavalry and artillery hurried up to deliver the besieged.
Of course, the facts were, that in County Limerick several hundred 'patriots,' led by a man in a green calico uniform, attacked a police barrack in which were five constables. Keeping as much out of range of the constabulary fire as possible, they had exchanged a few shots when a District Inspector of Police, who resided some eight miles off, arrived with ten constables on a couple of cars, at the sight of which stupendous relieving force, the whole corps of young Irishmen bolted.
Morris gave the waiter a shilling for the paper—and took it off his tip at leaving, no doubt—and carefully treasured the journal until he went to hold the next assizes at Limerick, when he found the bulk of the attacking army in the dock before him.
When the D.I. was giving evidence, Morris asked him:—
'Where were the British cavalry?'
'What cavalry, my lord? Why, there was none.
'Oh ho,' says the judge. 'And where was the artillery?'
'Faith, my lord, there was as much artillery as there was cavalry, and that would not get in the way of a donkey race.'
Then Morris, with appropriate solemnity, proceeded to read out the newspaper account for the benefit of the audience. The whole Court was convulsed with laughter, in which the prisoners in the dock heartily joined.
After the trial was over, a parish priest came to congratulate Morris, and said to him:—
'My lord, you have laughed Fenianism out of Limerick.'
MYSELF, SOME FACTS, AND MANY STORIES
In 1850 I became agent to the Colthurst property, which consisted of most of the parish of Ballyvourney, one estate alone containing about twenty-three thousand acres. The rental was then over L4600. There were only three slated houses on the property, hardly any out-buildings, only seven miles of road under contract, and about twenty acres planted.
By 1880 the landlord had expended L30,000 on improvements, there were over one hundred slated houses, about sixty miles of roads, and over four hundred acres planted.
Under the Land Act of 1881 the rent was reduced to L3600.
That was the encouragement officially given to the landlord for assisting in the improvement of his property.
From the time of Moses downwards, the policy of all Governments has been to give relief to the debtor. By the Encumbered Estate Act, which was passed just after the famine, special relief was given to the creditor.
What the English view was may be taken from the Times—
'In a few years more, a Celtic Irishman will be as rare in Connemara as is the Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan.'
That is to say, English capital was at last to flow into Ireland for the purchase of encumbered estates, but the anticipation of course was erroneous.
English capital was placed for preference in Turkish and in Egyptian bonds, to the great loss of all concerned. As for Ireland, out of the first twenty millions realised by the new Court, over seventeen was Irish money; and at the outset there was an inevitable downward tendency of prices which involved heavy depreciation.
Credit was destroyed in Ireland, and every man who owed a shilling was utterly ruined. Had the Government given loans at a reasonable rate of interest, which would have amply repaid them, all this could have been saved. As it was, properties were sold like chairs and tables at a paltry auction, and in thousands of cases the judge expressed himself satisfied that the rent could have been considerably increased.
I knew one unfortunate shopkeeper who paid L6000 for a property under these circumstances; and in place of an increase of rent, the confiscators—that is to say the commissioners imposed by Mr. Gladstone—took a third of the rental off him.
Those purchasers who were English conceived when they bought properties that they would get as much from them as the solvent tenants were willing to pay. The legislation of Mr. Gladstone in coalition with the blunderbuss soon put an end to the pleasing delusion. It was one more of the English mistakes about Ireland, where, when the tenant is content to pay, the British Government and the Land League both combine to prevent him from offering a reasonable rent to a landlord.
As a matter of fact, even the most seditionary organs confessed that the tenants gained little and lost much by the change from the old type of landlord to the new, for the latter, being practical men, had no sympathy for the man who was permanently behindhand with his rent. And no one can say that this habitual arrear was a healthy stimulus to the moral wellbeing of the tenant himself, though he felt aggrieved at its being checked.
There is not the least need to sketch how I gradually became one of the largest land agents in Ireland. It has been published in other books, and would only prove wearisome if set out in detail in this volume. So I will merely observe that only two years after the big Fenian rising, as it was called—which I should describe as being composed of a rabble of less importance than the ragamuffins led by Wat Tyler—so little was I impressed by its magnitude that I went to live at Edenburn. There I laid out a lot of money in rebuilding the house, spending over L2000 in additions. This was most idiotic of me, because I had not counted on the infernal devices of Mr. Gladstone to render Ireland uninhabitable for peaceful and law-abiding folk.
When I first settled down there, labourers were working at eightpence or tenpence a day. Now the lowest rate is two shillings. The labourer rectified this rate by emigration, and if the farmers, who could more advantageously have emigrated, had done so, the cry for compulsory reduction would never have arisen.
Thus far I have dealt with facts and myself as concerned in them, but I propose now to relate a few stories, a thing more congenial to my temperament than any other form of conversational exercise. Whether it will equally commend itself to the reader is a matter on which I, as an aged novice in literature, though hopeful, am of course uncertain.
Indeed I am in exactly the predicament of a farmer's wife who was asked by the Dowager Lady Godfrey, after a month of marriage, how she liked her husband.
'I had plenty of recommendation with him,' was the reply, 'but I have not had enough trial of him yet to say for sure.'
There is a story about a honeymoon couple at Killarney which is worth telling.
The bridegroom had a valet, a good, faithful fellow, long in his service, but talkative, a thing his master loathed. He said to him:—
'John, I've often told you to hold your tongue about my affairs. This time I emphatically mean it. If you tell the people in the hotel that I am on my honeymoon, I'll sack you on the spot.'
So John promised to be as silent as the grave, but on the third afternoon, as the happy pair were ascending the stairs of the Victoria Hotel, they saw by the giggles and smirks of the chambermaids that their secret had been discovered.
The bridegroom rang his bell and went for John in a towering passion, but the fellow held his ground.
'Is it not unfair the way you are taking on? Sure the other servants did ask me if you were on your honeymoon, but I was even with them, for I told them "devil a bit, your honour was not going to marry the lady until next month."'
I do not know how that alliance turned out, but the happy pair left the hotel early next morning.
I can tell rather more about the matrimonial experiences of an Archdeacon at Cork, who married firstly a woman who was very fond of society. She died, and he then married another, who grew very stout. She also died, and the indefatigable cleric married as his third experiment a widow cursed with a very violent temper.
He was one day chaffed on the practical demonstration he had given to the Romish doctrine of the celibacy of the Church, when he said:—
'After all they were a trial, for I married the world, the flesh, and lastly the devil, and now I tremble whenever I think of recognition in eternity.'
This Cork story comes naturally, because at that time I was living near Cork and very happily too.
Now and again we took trips up to Dublin when I had business there.
I am not much of a playgoer, but in Dublin we always went to the theatre on the chance of hearing some of the proverbial wit of its gallery.
On one occasion, a lady in the play, when her lover had had some doubt of her fidelity, exclaimed:—
'Would there were a mirror in my side that you could see into my heart.'
Whereupon a voice from the gods shouted:—
'Would not a pain [i.e. pane] in your stomach do as well. I have one myself.'
Lord Chancellor Brady was of a notoriously convivial temperament, which did not prevent him being an admirable lawyer when he would allow his wits to get their heads above water, so to speak, though it was little enough that he used to dilute his spirits.
When Jenny Lind sang in some Italian opera, he occupied a seat in the vice-regal box, and gazed at her through a portentously enormous lorgnette.
This was too much for a wag in the gallery, who yelled:—
'Brady, me jewel, I'm glad to see you're fond of a big glass yet.'
At the time of the Crimean War, John Reynolds, a very energetic citizen, was perpetually raising the question about the dangerous practice of driving outside cars from the side instead of the box—in which he was undoubtedly right.
When he went to the theatre, a gallery boy shouted:—
'Three cheers for Alderman John Reynolds the hero of Kars.'
The Lord Mayor of the period who sat beside him was a tallow chandler, and the same spokesman shouted out:—
'Three cheers for his grease the Lord Mayor just back from the races at Tallagh.'
That sort of thing seems to be particularly indigenous, the only parallel being when undergraduates or medical students get gathered together.
The eloquence of Irish members in the House of Commons has really nothing to do with my reminiscences, but I remember one occasion when it was uncommonly well excelled by a stolid Englishman.
Fergus O'Connor—an Irishman, as his name betrays—was an ardent Chartist, and before the Reform Bill was introduced he said in the House that he had been accused of being a personal enemy of King William's. This was quite untrue, for if there were only good laws he did not care if the devil were King of England.
Sir Robert Peel replied:—
'When the honourable member is gratified by seeing the sovereign of his choice on the throne of these realms, I hope he will enjoy, and I am sure he will deserve, the confidence of the Crown.'
Whilst I am anecdotal, perhaps I had better say something about books into which my stories have been pressed. I was always given to telling tales, but of course my great time was when Lord Morris and I would sit trying to cap one another. If he were ever too idle to remember an anecdote of his own, he would reel off one of mine: as for his own fund of stories and humour ever approaching exhaustion, that was not to be thought of. He was far and away the wittiest man I ever met, and if I do not quote one of his tales on this page it is because no single sample can show the superb richness of his vintage, and more than one of his brand will be found scattered in the present volume.
I gave a good many anecdotes to my dear old friend Mr. W.R. Le Fanu—cheeriest of fishermen, kindest of jolly good fellows—for his garrulous book. He observes in his preface that he makes his first attempt at writing in his eight-and-seventieth year. I am nearly twenty-four months his senior when thus far on the road of these reminiscences. I also echo another phrase of his:—
'I trust I have said nothing to hurt the feelings of any of my fellow-countrymen.'
Just one quotation—and only a little one—which is not mine, but the warning which Sheridan Le Fanu, author of that capital novel Uncle Silas, gave in the Dublin University Magazine against matrimony:—
'Marriage is like the smallpox. A man may have it mildly, but he generally carries the marks of it with him to his grave.'
And very true too in his division of an Irishman's life into three parts:—
'The first is that in which he is plannin' and conthrivin' all sorts of villainy and rascality; that is the period of youth and innocence. The second is that in which he is puttin' into practice the villainy and rascality he contrived before; that is the prime of life or the flower of manhood. The third and last period is that in which he is makin' his soul and preparin' for another world; that is the period of dotage.'
Shakespeare's seven ages of man may have been more poetical, but it does not betray a closer grip of the Irish temperament.
My other appearance as a literary ghost or rather as an anonymous contributor was when I supplied Mrs. O'Connell with stories for The Last Count of the Irish Brigade. That was about twenty years ago, and therefore long after the death of the hero who was uncle to the Liberator.
The writer was a daughter of Charles Bianconi, the originator of all the mail-cars in Ireland, who owned at one time sixteen hundred horses, and always laughed at the idea of any violence on the part of the peasantry, pointing out that though his cars daily covered four thousand miles in twenty-two counties, no injury was ever done to any of his property.
Mrs. O'Connell was married to a nephew of the great Dan, and he represented Kerry in Parliament for nearly thirty years. He was an intimate friend of Thackeray's, and gave him all the idioms of his delightful Irish ballads. This O'Connell was a clever, amusing fellow, and precious idle into the bargain.
I remember one story he told me.
Mrs. MacCarthy, near Millstreet, had a son, a small proprietor, and he got married. The mother-in-law lived with the daughter-in-law, who had rather grand ideas, and set up as parlour-maid in the house a raw lass just taken from the dairy.
One afternoon old Mrs. MacCarthy saw the parish priest coming to call, and told the girl if he asked for Mrs. MacCarthy to say she was not in but the dowager was.
Now the maid had never heard the word dowager in her life, but thought she would make a shot for it, so when his reverence asked if Mrs. MacCarthy was at home, she blurted out:—
'No, sir, but the badger is.'
And to her dying day the relic of deceased MacCarthy went by the name of 'the badger.'
Now it is really time I related how my own beauty was spoilt, by breaking my nose in 1858.
I was racing the present Knight of Kerry and a young gunner named Hickson—no relation—on the Strand, when the horse of the latter collided with my own, and they both fell at the same time. He was a loose rider, and being shot off some distance from his animal picked himself up unhurt. I had always a tight grip, so I got entangled in the saddle which twisted round, and my mare almost literally tore off my face with her hind hoof.
I walked back a quarter of a mile, trying to hold my face on to my head with my hand; and in a month's time I was able to get about again, which the doctor said was one of the quickest cases of healing he had ever known.
But I was absolutely unrecognised by my acquaintances when I reappeared, and Mr. Dillon the R.M. actually took me for a walk in Tralee to see the town, thinking I was a stranger, a situation the fun of which I heartily appreciated.
Before that infernal gallop I had a hooked nose like the Duke of Wellington; and it's lucky I got married when I did, for no one would have had me afterwards, though my own wife always says 'for shame' if I make the remark in her presence, God bless her.
When I went to the Abbey of St. Denis, near Paris, I told the verger I was very anxious to see the likeness of the saint who had walked for six miles with his head in his hand, because I was the nearest living counterpart, having walked a quarter of a mile with my face in mine.
Hickson was universally congratulated on his lucky escape. He went out to India and was dead in eighteen months, and here am I at eighty with half my face and some of my health still in spite of the attentive care of my family and the doctor.
My present doctor is a capital fellow, and when he comes to see me he laughs so much at my stories that I always think he ought to take me half price. Instead of that he regards me as an animated laboratory for his interesting chemical experiments; but I had the best of him last time I was laid up, for I made him take a dose of the filthy compound he had ordered for me the previous day.
First he said he wouldn't, then he said he couldn't, but I said what was not poison for the patient could not hurt the physician; and in the end he had to swallow the dose, making far more fuss over its nasty taste than I did. But I noted that he at once wrote me a new prescription, which was as sweet as any advertised syrup, and further, that he arranged his next visit should be just after I finished the bottle.
However, that is years and years after the time of which I am treating.
Yet I am tempted to anticipate, because the mention of Edenburn earlier in this chapter suggests a quaint individual about whom a few observations may be made.
Bill Hogan was our factotum. He was stable-boy, steward, ladies'-maid, and professional busybody, as well as a bit of a character, though he possessed none worth mentioning.
When we were packing up to leave Edenburn, my wife was watching him fill two casks, one with home-made jam, the other with china.
Called away to luncheon, she found on her return both casks securely nailed down.
'Oh, you should not have done that, Bill,' she said, 'for now we shan't know which contains which.'
'I thought of that, ma'am,' replies Bill, 'so I have written S for chiney on the one, and G for jam on the other.'
Bill's orthography was obviously original.
So was the drive he took with a certain cheery guest of mine one Sabbath morning.
The said guest desired more refreshment than he was likely to get at that early hour at Edenburn, so he drove into Tralee, ostensibly to church, and told Bill to have the car round at the club at one.
'Well,' narrated Bill afterwards, 'out came the Captain from the club, having a few drinks taken, and up he got on the car with my help, but at the corner of Denny Street he pulled up at the whisky store, and said we must drink the luck of the road. Well we drank the luck at every house on the way out of the town, and presently in the road down came the mare, pitching the Captain over the hedge, and marking her own knees, as well as breaking the shaft. At last we all got home somehow, and there in the yard was the master, looking us all three up and down as though he were going to commit us all from the Bench. Then a twinkle came into his eye, and he said as mild as a dove to the Captain, "I see by the look of her knees you've been taking the mare to say her prayers."'
THE HARENC ESTATE
So large a part has the purchase of this estate made in my more public appearances, owing to the fact that I have been brought into general notice through offensive legal proceedings, that a brief account of the matter must form part of my reminiscences.
Prior to 1878, a gentleman named Harenc, the owner of a large extent of landed property in the north of Kerry, died.
Who the estate subsequently belonged to I am uncertain. Anyhow, according to the title-deeds, it was somehow divided among ten or twelve individuals before the property came into the Land Estate Courts for sale.
This circumstance suggested to a large number of the tenantry that it might be an opportunity to avail themselves of the provisions of the Bright Clauses, and become pretty cheaply the owners of the land on which they lived.
After they had offered the sum of L75,000 for the estate, for the purpose of splitting it up into small holdings, it was found that the trustee had privately agreed to sell it to Mr. Goodman Gentleman, the agent for the late Mr. Harenc, for L65,000.
The tenants were not going to be frustrated by that—being Irishmen and litigious, which is one and the same thing. So they appealed to the Landed Estates Court, and induced Judge Ormsby to make an order annulling the deed of sale, and directing that the property should be put up in lots suitable to the purposes of the tenants.
Several of the tenants who did not want the property split up approached me to suggest I should buy the property, and appeared by counsel—the present Judge Johnson—in support of me.
I met the tenants, and stated that if it fell to me I would give each of them a lease of thirty-one years, and indemnify myself for the purchase-money by a rise on the entire rental of five per cent, on the valuation of each estate, according to current estimates, at which they showed every sign of satisfaction.
I then offered L80,000 for the whole estate, and was declared the purchaser. A large bonfire was lighted on February 20th, 1878, by the tenants at Aghabey, near Luxnow, on their being apprised I had become their landlord.
Another section of tenants, however, were anxious that the property should be bought by Messrs. Lombard and Murphy, private individuals I never met.
The judge of the Landed Estate Court, Judge Ormsby, gave them the property.
I appealed against this decision, and the Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the verdict of Judge Ormsby, the three judges being the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, the Master of the Rolls—who said it was one of the most important cases decided since the foundation of the Land Court—and Lord Justice Deasy. I have been told on most excellent authority that Lord Justice Christian declined to sit because, as he told the Lord Chancellor, he felt so strongly in my favour that he could not hear the case with an unbiassed mind.
There had been a demonstration at the previous decision, but it paled before the great rejoicings over my success among all the tenantry over whom I was agent. There were more than fifty bonfires blazing that night in Kerry, so that the county looked as though it were signalling the advent of another Armada, as in the fragment Macaulay left. The only place where any opposition was exhibited was in Castleisland, whence the Lombard family originally sprang; and there the lighted tar-barrels, which had been placed on the ruins of the old castle, were extinguished, to avoid unpleasant contact with a gang of rowdy roughs.
Messrs. Lombard and Murphy had stated that they were buying on behalf of the tenants. So I served them with notice that if they undertook to sell to every tenant his own holding they might have the property.
This they very wisely declined, and left me in the position that in 1879 I finally purchased a property on what was called an indefeasible Parliamentary title, under the approval of Her Majesty's Judges, and in 1881 an Act of Parliament practically took one-third of it from me.
In 1881 I wrote a letter to Mr. Gladstone, asking him to take my property and give me back my money.
To this he returned an evasive answer, declining my offer.
If the tenants had themselves bought the Harenc property at that time they would by this time all be paupers, for they could only get two-thirds of the money from Government, and would have had to borrow the other third at a heavy rate of interest.
One man, Mr. Hewson, bought one of the farms for L13,500, and under Mr. Gerald Balfour's Act of 1896 it was compulsorily sold to the tenants for about L6000. I have the exact figures at Tralee, but these are approximate enough for the purpose of demonstration.
Several of the other tenants took me into Court.
I had a piece of reclaimable ground on my own hands which I let for eight shillings an acre. The adjoining tenant, with exactly the same nature of land—which he swore on oath he had paid more than the fee-simple in improving—had his rent fixed by the County Court at four shillings an acre.
To be sure, if the County Court valuer had not done so, he would have quickly lost his employment. The position is one incompatible with honesty, and the value of land, apart from what you can get for it, is a very disputable matter.
My relations with my Harenc tenantry were always good.
After the purchase in 1879 I had no trouble with them, and on the contrary received the warmest thanks from the parish priest for my conduct as a landlord.
I drained soil and imported seed potatoes, besides executing other improvements. The estate was not in good order when I purchased it, and I know from other sources that the tenants were well satisfied with me.
I may as well mention, that having no agencies on the Listowel side of Kerry, I was never on the Harenc property before the question of purchasing arose, and it had on it no house in which I and my family could reside.
Until 1881 no tenant made any hostile move, but one fellow, who took me into the Land Court after the Land Act, presented a very curious case.
This man, whose rent was sixty-five pounds a year, applied to the Court for reduction. There was a press of business at the time which necessitated an adjournment, but in the end the Court fixed the new rent at the same amount as the old rent.
The tenant appealed; but though the Appeal Court valuers attested that it was worth seventy-five pounds a year, still the rent was unchanged.
In other words, the Government sold me a farm and parliamentary title at sixty-five pounds a year which one set of Commissioners thought fair and the other thought cheap, and yet I had to spend more than half a year's rent in defending my title to it.
There is no appeal as to value, except to the head Commissioners. They appoint two other Sub-Commissioners to inspect the land, and they of course avoid disagreeing with their brethren.
It is very like Mr. Spenlow in David Copperfield, who said, 'If you are not satisfied with Doctors' Commons you can go to the delegates,' and being asked who the delegates were, he replied that they came from Doctors' Commons.
I bought the Harenc property as a speculation, and it turned out a confoundedly bad one.
Once I had a conversation with a Land Leaguer on the subject. He said:—
'You bought a stolen horse, and must take the consequences.'
'If that were so,' I retorted, 'I would have an action against the Government which sold me the horse.'
I had a correspondence on the subject with Mr. Chamberlain, which elicited some remarkable letters; but as he marked all of his private and confidential, they of course cannot be published.
Now for a few anecdotes, just to show that I have not exhausted my stock.
It would be cruel to specify the individual of whom I can truthfully say, he was the biggest fool that ever disfigured the Irish bench.
He had been tutor to the children of a great peer, and his patron subsequently pressed the Prime Minister to do something for him.
'I can't make him a County Court judge,' said the Prime Minister, 'for he would never decide rightly.'
'Well,' said another Minister, 'we are going out, and have not the ghost of a chance of ever getting in again in our time. Let him be Solicitor-General for Ireland during the last weeks we hold office.'
So this was done out of sheer good-nature; but after the election the Government found themselves saddled with him, for in those days holders of high office were not shelved at the caprice of Premiers, whilst the country had unexpectedly returned the old gang to power.
It has always been averred by the Irish Bar that an office was specially created for the purpose of shunting this legal luminary into it, but as an historical fact I will not vouch for the truth of the sarcasm. The account of the Cabinet conclave came to me on excellent authority.
When Chief Justice Monaghan died, Lord Morris, who was then a Puisne Judge of Common Pleas, observed that he himself had a good chance of the post.
'What about Keagh and Lawson?' asked his acquaintance, they being brother judges.
'Very good men,' replied Lord Morris, 'but as they were not appointed by the Tories, I don't think they'll promote them.'
'And how about Ormsby?' continued the other.
'Ah now,' said Morris, 'you are getting sarcastic.'
There is a cheery story about Judge Keagh, who has just been mentioned.
A number of brothers were before him, charged with killing a man at Listowel.
The judge was most anxious to ascertain from an important witness what share each of the accused had in the murder.
'What did John do?'
'He struck him with his stick on the head.'
'James hit him with his fist on the jaw.'
'Philip tried to get him down and kick him.'
'He could do nothing, my lord, but he was just walking round searching for a vacancy.'
Which reminds me that fair play is not always recognised as essential in these matters, as the following anecdote shows.
There was a faction feud between the Kellehers and Leehys near Sneem.
One of the Leehys had a bad leg, and was therefore bound apprentice to a shoemaker in Sneem.
On a fair day a solitary Kelleher ventured into the town, and very speedily the Leehys had half-killed and beaten him as well as their numbers would allow.
Suddenly there was a shout, and the poor lame Leehy came hobbling down the street as fast as his wooden leg would permit.
'Boys, for the love of mercy,' says he, 'let a poor cripple have one go at the black-hearted varmint.'
One of the counsel engaged in the Harenc case was Mr. Murphy, who was a near relative of Judge Keagh, and he was a man of ready wit into the bargain.
There was a company promoter from London, who had induced several people to take shares in a bogus concern, and was consequently defendant in an action brought against him in Cork.
He thought he would make an impression on the wild Irish by being overdressed and gorgeously bejewelled.
When Murphy arose to address the jury, he said:—
'Gentlemen of the jury, look at the well-tailored impostor without a rag of honesty to take the gloss off his new clothes.'
Another counsel in the case was Mr. Byrne. He was always in impecunious circumstances despite his legal eloquence, but the lack of a balance at his banker's never troubled him.
Once he took Chief Justice Whiteside to see his new house in Dublin, which he had furnished in sumptuous style.
'Don't you think I deserve great credit for this?' he asked at length.
'Yes,' retorted Whiteside, 'and you appear to have got it.'
Lord Justice Christian, who had declined to sit on the Appeal, was considered one of the soundest opinions in Ireland. When he ceased to be sole Judge of Appeal, he had addressed the Bar after this fashion:—
'As this is the last time I sit as sole Judge of Appeal, it is an opportune time for me to review my decisions. By a curious coincidence, I have been thirteen years in this Court, and I have decided thirteen cases which have been taken to the House of Lords. Eleven of my decisions were confirmed, one appeal was withdrawn, and the last was a purely equity case. The two equity lords went with me, the two common law lords were against me, and when I inform the Bar that my judgment was reversed on the casting vote of Lord O'Hagan, I do not think they will attach much importance to the decision.'
Judge Christian's allusion to the Land Act is most noteworthy, for he said:—
'The property of the country is confided to the discretion of certain roving commissioners without any fixed rules to guide and direct them. In fact, we have reverted to the primitive state of society, where men make and administer the laws in the same breath.'
Reverting to the Harenc estate, a rather amusing account was once perpetrated by a Special Commissioner.
'Never heard tell of Ballybunion?' said his carman to the journalist as on the road they met the carts laden with sand and seaweed from that place. 'Why it's a great place intirely in the season, when quality from all parts come for the sea-bathing.'
As he evidently regarded it as the first watering-place in the world, the Special Commissioner thought he had better see the place, and here is his description:—
'A village perched on the summit of a cliff, an ancient castle of the Fitz-Maurice clan, wonderful caves, and a little hotel are the leading features of the place.
'The morning after my arrival, I experienced a wish to see the cliffs and caves, and no sooner were the words spoken than a figure bearing an unlit torch appeared at the door.
'It was Beal-bo (which may be translated into a somewhat Sioux cognomen—the Yellow Cow). A figure in rags with an inimitable limp, and a fashion of closing one eye that reminds one of Victor Hugo's Quasimodo of Notre Dame. A more intimate acquaintance proved there was much instruction, and a good deal of amusement, to be derived from this strange character.
'The grand cave is Beal-bo's special source of revenue. He regards it as his own property, and takes a pride in it accordingly. This is the theatre of the many wiles he practises upon unsuspecting strangers. When he has lured them into the bowels of the cave, he turns down a gallery, and informs them that they cannot get out unless they cross a pool about five feet wide. When he has his victim upon his back, he seizes the opportunity to levy blackmail, for the pool is a quicksand and he suddenly affects great fear. After he has sunk to the knees in the yielding sand, the tourist is glad enough to give him a shilling to hurry across.
'In another gallery it is necessary for the stranger to cross a pool on a plank which Beal-bo provides for the occasion, and on this he charges a toll. He used to let the water in to deepen the pools before the tourists came through, in order to bring his plank into requisition.
'Suspended on a cliff between heaven and sea, one hundred feet above the water, on all sides were piled the immense masses of masonry, the ruins of which are all that remains of the once proud Castle of Doon. Gazing in awe down the horrid depths of the "Puffing Hole," Beal-bo informed us:—
'"Twas there Brian used to sleep in the day, and come out at night to milk the cows up in the Killarney hills, he and his dog."'
The Special Commissioner looked incredulous, but Beal-bo was confident:—
'"May I never be saved, sir, if I haven't seen him meself, many a night, sir, as he climbed the cliffs backwards to rob the hawks' nests."'
How can even a Special Commissioner dispute an eyewitness?
Still the knowledge that I own a harbour of refuge for Brian will hardly repay me for all the expense and anxiety the Harenc property has caused me.
Before quitting the subject, I can conclude with a more gratifying fact.
At the time of the Tralee election, when I stood as a Conservative, a small clique of mob orators and amateur politicians tried to make political capital out of the history of the Harenc estate, and a priest, Father M. O'Connor, rode the jaded topic to death. The unkindest cut of all to him was the direct contradiction by the tenants themselves of every assertion that their self-constituted champions made on their behalf.
'We, the tenants of the Harenc estate, think it our duty to state that since Mr. S.M. Hussey became purchaser of the above estate, he has in every respect treated us kindly. He was good enough to give us seed potatoes for half the price they cost himself; he also drained our portions of the land at two and a half per cent., employed all the labourers, and paid them good wages while so employed by him. As a landlord we find him liberal and generous.'
To this were appended fifty signatures, and the best part of all is that the whole of the manifesto was absolutely unsolicited by me, proving an unexpected source of pleasure.
An election in most places is an occasion for breaking heads, abusing opponents, and other similar demonstrations of ardent local philanthropy. Such opportunities are never lost by Kerry men, whose heads are harder and whose wits are sharper than those of the average run of humanity. If you are a real Kerry man of respectable convictions, and self-respecting into the bargain, you will never let the man who is drinking with you entertain any opinions but your own at election times. If he contradicts you, it's up with your stick and a crack on his skull, and as that only tickles him up—having much the effect of a nettle under a donkey's tail—you then go outside and mutually destroy as much of each other as can be effected in a fight. Some weeks later, when the vanquished is able to crawl away from the dispensary doctor, and so save his own life amid the dire forebodings of that physician, who refuses to answer for the consequences, you begin to drink with him again just to show there is no ill-feeling; which of course there is not, if you and he are both real Kerry men. Naturally, if you get a sullen, revengeful, calculating Protestant from the North, it's another matter, for he'll be far too friendly with the constabulary and won't hold with the good old local ways approved by every Kerry Papist and tolerated by most of the priests.
In 1851 there was a Kerry election. A Protestant candidate stood, and so did one who in those days was a Whig. I went stoutly for the Protectionist, but the priests plumped for the Free Trader, and their congregations have been regretting it ever since.
One tenant was driving in a gig with me to the poll when a priest passed me on the road and said to my tenant:—
'May the blast of the Almighty be upon you, for I know you are being taken to vote the wrong way.'
The tenant got very nervous, for in those times it was generally believed that the priests had power to change men into frogs and toads, a superstition by no means obsolete even now in lone districts. However, I took him along very easily, giving him the benefit of the roll of my tongue as to what he should do, and before he reached the polling-booth he recovered and voted for the Tory.
A Mr. Scully from Tipperary was the Whig candidate, and the family was not popular in its own county.
A Cork man, making inquiries of a Tipperary man about him, was answered:—
'I don't know this gentleman personally, but I believe we have already shot the best of the family.'
Mr. Scully was a very amusing man, and in the House of Commons he used to go by the nickname of 'old Skull.'
Lord Monk accosted him by this name one night, and Mr. Scully replied:—
'If you have taken the "e y" off your own name, my lord, it is no reason you should do it off mine.'
Here is another story of him.
Mr. Dillwyn said to him, a Roman Catholic:—'I have lived sixty years in this world, and I don't yet know the difference between the two religions.'
'Bydad,' retorted Scully, 'you will not have been five minutes in the other without finding it out.'
Shortly after the franchise was enlarged—which threw Imperial Parliament at the mercy of the ignorant—old Lord Kenmare died and the present peer was called up to the House of Lords.
Lord Kenmare was the most popular landlord in Kerry, and he selected a Roman Catholic cousin of his, Mr. Dease, to stand for the county, Mr. Roland Blennerhasset, a young Protestant landlord, being started against him in support of Home Rule principles.
The Roman Catholic bishop and most of the priests backed Mr. Dease, but the Home Rule candidate beat him by three to one. Some of the priests, who were very obnoxious to the people, supported Mr. Blennerhasset, and were then idolised, whilst a very popular parish priest, who canvassed for Mr. Dease, had to run for his life.
From thenceforth no one but a Home Rule candidate had any chance in Munster, and Mr. Roland Blennerhasset, having seen the error of his ways, afterwards became a Unionist candidate in England. He is a very clever man, who was quite young then, but has now blossomed into a K.C. in London, and is mighty shrewd about speculations.
The election was great fun except for the stones and bricks, of which enough were thrown about to build a city without foundations. Mr. Dease got a blow on his ribs at Castle Island, which told on his health, and he died soon afterwards. He was a brother of Sir Gerald Dease, and a man very much liked.
It was during this election that I was fired at one night at Aghadoe, returning from Puck Fair at Killorghin. A rumour was started that it was the work of one of the tenants on Sir George Colthurst's Cork estates, and the Tralee correspondent of the Examiner telegraphed his belief in this, adding 'so repugnant are Kerry men to these dastardly outrages.'
They took to them as greedily as a duck to water in later times, as all the world knows; and in the light of subsequent events it is delightful to remember that the Freeman stated, 'All condemn this dastardly act, for Mr. Hussey is universally respected.'
It atoned for this lapse into truth by subsequently taking my name in vain hundreds of times in the bad periods that were ahead.
There had been a libel case between the Rev. Denis O'Donoghue, parish priest of Ardfert, and myself. The address of this cleric in proposing Mr. Blennerhasset at the nomination had annoyed those he assailed intensely. Up to that point I had been utterly indifferent, but after that I strained every nerve to defeat Father O'Donoghue's nominee.
This is an extract from his speech at Ardfert:—
'Sam Hussey is a vulture with a broken beak, and he laid his voracious talons on the consciences of the voters. (Boos.) The ugly scowl of Sam Hussey came down upon them. He wanted to try the influence of his dark nature on the poor people. (Groans). Where was the legitimate influence of such a man? Was it in the white terror he diffused? Was it not the espionage, the network of spies with which he surrounded his lands? He denied that a man who managed property had for that reason a shadow of a shade of influence to justify him in asking a tenant for his vote. What had they to thank him for?'
A voice: 'Rack rents.'
'They knew the man from his boyhood, from his gossoonhood. He knew him when he began with a collop of sheep as his property in the world. (Laughter.) Long before he got God's mark on him. It was not the man's fault but his misfortune that he got no education. (Laughter.) He had in that parish schoolmasters who could teach him grammar for the next ten years. The man was in fact a Uriah Heep among Kerry landlords. (Cheers.)'
The result of this and other incentives to irritability was that the voters for Mr. Dease had to be escorted by troops and constabulary.
The sporting proclivities had already been shown over a race. In the County Club at Tralee there was an altercation between Mr. Sandes and a leading 'Deasite' as to the rival merits of a bay mare belonging to one and a chestnut horse owned by the other.
Quoth Mr. Sandes:—
'I'll run you a two mile steeplechase for a hundred guineas if you like, and I'll call my horse Home Rule—do you call yours Deasite; each to ride his own horse.'
No Kerry man could refuse such a challenge, and the race excited more interest than the election.
Mr. Sandes won, leaving 'Deasite' nowhere, and this helped Mr. Blennerhasset to head the poll.
More than one man is asserted to have voted for:—'Him you know that me landlord wants me to vote for.'
But I should say several dozen voted for:—
'Him you know that the priest, God bless him, tells me to vote for.'
The libel over which the action arose was alleged to have been published in the Cork Examiner, and the words complained of were pretty sturdy.
The jury returned a verdict of one farthing for the plaintiff priest, and I do not think he derived as much advertisement out of it as Miss Marie Corelli obtained from a similar coin of the realm.
Of course all this should have shown me that I had in my own interests better keep clear of Kerry politics, but after I had bought the Harenc estate, I stood for Tralee as a Tory against The O'Donoghue, who was a Nationalist. I never supposed I was going to get in, but I really had a capital run for the Parliamentary Handicap, though I was weighted by political convictions and penalised by my creed. The priests made a most active set against me. There were only fifty Protestants on the register, and yet I managed to get one hundred and thirty votes, for which suffrages some eighty honest men must have been well worrited in the confessional.
The O'Donoghue polled one hundred and eighty votes, and I believe a good many of his supporters had strong views on the currency question, and he was backed by a wealthy merchant. The constituency is now merged into the county, and the remotest chance of returning a rational member is now at an end.
The O'Donoghue did not stand after the merging of the constituency, though he was well used to electioneering work and had fought me very pleasantly, with as much devil about him as would make an angel palatable.
I did not much care for the whole thing. Still I was always a bit of a stormy petrel rejoicing in a gale, and my capacity has not waned even in my eightieth year.
The mob indulged in some lively work. A good many windows of houses belonging to my supporters were broken and a man stabbed.
The polling day was made the occasion of a public holiday, which meant that the bulk of the population was imbibing a great deal more than was compatible with the laws of equilibrium. Some amusement was caused by the panic of The O'Donoghue's supporters at the votes I was getting, and presently they brought up in cars one poor man in an advanced stage of consumption, and another unable to walk from old age.
It was a wearisome day to me; but before its close it became abundantly evident that if the electors were allowed to exercise a free discretion and vote according to their consciences, I should have headed the poll by a large majority. However in Ireland man proposes and the priest disposes.
At a meeting of the Conservative electors in Cork, Mr. Standford read a telegram announcing the return of The O'Donoghue in Tralee, which was received with hisses. He said the reason I had stood there was a requisition, signed by Sir Henry Donovan, in the presence of nine grand jurors of the County of Kerry, calling on me to do so. Sir Henry Donovan had since turned over to The O'Donoghue from the man he had forced into the field. Now that would teach them not to be fooled by Liberal promises. It almost made him believe no truth, no honour, and no sincerity existed among their opponents.
This was received with applause, which was renewed with laughter when Mr. Young observed:—
'I will make one remark. I think Sir Henry Donovan and The O'Donoghue are well met.'
To show that strong views in my favour were not confined to Protestants, I may quote the following letter written from the Augustinian Convent in Drogheda by J.A. Anderson, O.S.A.:—
'If the electors of Tralee return Mr. O'Donoghue (alias The O'Donoghue) as their representative in the coming Parliament, they will be false to Ireland, false to the men that galvanised the dead body that Gavan Duffy left on "the dissecting table" before starting for Australia, and they will have the honour (?) of returning to Parliament the greatest political renegade to Irish nationality that this generation has known.'
A lady has recently drawn my attention to a footnote in Mr. Lecky's History of Ireland, where is quoted from a letter of my ancestor, Colonel Maurice Hussey, the following opinion:—
'It—i.e. Tralee—was a nest of thieves and smugglers, and so it always will be until nine parts of ten of O'Donoghue's old followers be proclaimed and hanged on gibbets on the spot.'
So when O'Donoghues have troubled me, it is a case of history repeating itself, and if the percentage of the followers of the modern chieftain had been 'removed'—as the modern phrase in Ireland ran—according to the manner advocated by my ancestor, I could have voted in Parliament against dismembering the Empire to gratify the eagerness of an old man to truckle to the traitors of the country intrusted to his care.
Of course one of the great troubles in Ireland is drink. I am no advocate for teetotalism, for I think a man who can enjoy a moderate glass is a better one than his brother who has to drink water in order that he may not yield to the overpowering 'tempitation'—to quote Mr. Huntley Wright—to get drunk! But for my fellow-countrymen I can see that drink is a terrible curse, one which is the cause of half the crime, half the illness, and more than half the misery that exists there.
Of all Irish benefactors, possibly Father Mathew was the greatest; but in my boyish days, when it became known that men, not yet in a lunatic asylum, had taken up the notion that human life was possible without alcoholic drinks, the wits of Kerry and Cork were heartily diverted at the bare idea.
It used to be the stock joke after dinner, even when Father Mathew was in the zenith of his triumph.
In Cork if you laugh at a thing you can generally suppress it, for, whereas all Irishmen are keenly susceptible to ridicule, the Cork folk are even more so.
The cold water business furnished endless jests, but it survived them.
Perhaps the strangest thing of all was the clergyman who preached against it as being irreligious, taking as the text of his sermon, 'Wine, that maketh glad the heart of man.'
I like a man who is disinterested, therefore I wish to remind the present generation that Father Mathew came of a stock of distillers, and his family was among the first to suffer by his preaching.
It was probable there would be a reaction after his death; and when that event took place, after the famine and fever, none really took his place to warn the diminishing population, in sufficiently effective fashion, of all the ills that drink was laying up for them.
Wherever, in my work, I found Government relief works, within a stone's throw of every pay office a whisky shop started into operation.
New Ireland arose from the famine, and she has never since shown much sign of temperance. Indeed, an excessive amount of money is, and has ever since then been, spent on liquor in Ireland.
At Castleisland, the scene of so many outrages, the population of the town is thirteen hundred, and the number of whisky shops is fifty-two. Very nearly the same proportion can be noticed in several other towns.
There never was an outrage committed without an empty whisky bottle being found close to the scene of the murder.
In the worst time a moonlighter slept for a fortnight close to the house of an Irish landlord, who was well aware that he was there for the express purpose of shooting him, but he never even attempted it.
'Time after time I lay in a ditch to have a go at him, but he would ride by, looking for all the world as if he would shoot a flea off the tail of a shnipe, so that, with all the whisky in the world to help me, I dared not do it,' was his explanation before he left for America.
Did you never hear the parish priest's sermon?
'It's whisky makes you bate your wives; it's whisky makes your homes desolate; it's whisky makes you shoot your landlords, and'—with emphasis, as he thumped the pulpit—'it's whisky makes you miss them.'
There is as much truth in that sermon as in any that was preached last Sunday between Belfast and Glengariff.
As a matter of fact, the profits to the drink retailer are not so enormous as might be imagined, owing to the competition.
In the neighbourhood of Castleisland there is one group of twelve houses and nine of these are whisky booths. However anxious the population may be to consume immoderate amounts of the fiery liquor, and however large the traffic on the road—never a big thing in Ireland, except on market-day—the division of the local receipts by nine is apt to diminish the profits in each case.
It has been suggested to me by a lady who knows Kerry well, that the consumption of drink might be diminished if a law were passed forcing the publicans to sell food. As she very truly remarks, it is often impossible for the country folk, even on market-day, when coming into a town, to get food for immediate consumption.
However, I do not think this would have any effect. When away from his cabin the Irishman and the Irishwoman want drink, not food, for there are a few potatoes at home which will provide all the solid sustenance most of them desire.
If her proposal were made law, each publican would keep a loaf in his window, and there it would stay for a year.
That reminds me of the man who was waiting in Waterford Station on March 12th, and to pass the time had a ham sandwich at the bar.
After one mouthful he asked the astonished barmaid for another, made of February bread, because he really felt that it was time January bread might have a rest.
To give an example of how Irishmen crave for drink, I will relate an incident connected with the Parnell Commission.
Three of Lord Kenmare's tenants had been sent over in charge of an experienced and reliable man to give evidence, and on their return journey, when they arrived at North Wall—the hour being 6 A.M.—the conductor said:—
'There is cold meat, or bread and cheese. Now, what will your fancy be?'
Far from wanting nutrition after an all night journey, or even the soothing solace of a cup of tea, it was half a pint of whisky apiece that they all asked for.
Just as much drinking exists among the Protestants as among the Roman Catholics, only there is a trifle more geniality in the bibulous propensities of the latter. Much less affects an Irishman than a Scotsman. The latter, when he has absorbed all the whisky he can assimilate in a bout—and no bad amount it is, let me observe—will go quietly to sleep. But an Irishman's joy is incomplete unless he knocks somebody down, which may account for the fact that the Irish are the best soldiers in the world.
One redeeming feature in the liquor traffic is the increasing consumption of porter, for that at least has some nourishment in it, and is reasonably wholesome, whereas the whisky is vilely adulterated, not only by the publicans before it reaches the consumer, but also in some of the factories.
Puck Fair is the great annual fete and mart of Killorglin; and it is so called because a goat is always fastened to a stave on a platform, and gaily bedizened. Formerly the animal was attached to the flagstaff on the Castle. To this fair all Kerry for many miles congregates, and the neighbouring roads towards evening are literally strewn with bibulous individuals of either sex.
On one occasion a Killorglin publican was in jail, and his father asked for an interview because he wanted the recipe for manufacturing the special whisky for Puck Fair. It has been a constant practice to prepare this blend, but the whisky does not keep many days, as may be gathered from the recipe, which the prisoner without hesitation dictated to his parent:—
A gallon of fresh, fiery whisky. A pint of rum. A pint of methylated spirit. Two ounces of corrosive sublimate. Three gallons of water.
An Irishman's constitution must be tougher than that of an ostrich to enable him to consume much of the filthy poison. Temperance orators are welcome to make what use they like of the recipe of this awful decoction, annually sold to a confiding population.
It is not considered etiquette to come out of Killorglin sober on Puck Fair; and, judging by the state of the people in the vicinity in the evening, this social custom is rigidly observed.
They are wonderfully particular in Kerry in attending to exactly what is congenial to them, and if it were not for the thickness of their heads a good many lives would be lost.
There was a gauger, in a central county in Ireland, killed by a blow on the head from a stick.
The man who struck him, in his defence, stated:—
'I did not hit him a very hard blow, and why the devil did the Government make a gauger of a man that had a head no thicker than an egg-shell?'
Mighty few of the Killorglin folk have egg-shell heads, and the bulk of these do not come to maturity.
The avowed fact that lunacy is largely on the increase in Ireland has been pronounced by the committee which sat on the question in Dublin to be mainly due, not only to excessive drinking, but to the assimilation of adulterated spirits.
Though the foregoing recipe furnishes a pretty fair example, I certainly would not wager that it could not be beaten elsewhere in Ireland.
For a long time the priests were entirely apathetic on the subject, but latterly they are bestirring themselves, and are doing their best to put down wakes, which simply mean one or more nights of disgusting intemperance in the immediate vicinity of the corpse.
Keening, by the way, is dying out, and what remains of this curious, mournful waiting is now almost entirely in the hands of old women who are experts in the art, and get remunerated not only in drink but also in cash.
It is, however, possible that when I am deploring the alcoholic tendencies of the Irishman, that these may be due to his more vegetarian dietary, and not to any undue natural craving for alcohol. This is borne out by the fact that no Irishman will willingly drink alone, and that his potations are in the shops where whisky and porter are sold for consumption on the premises, or at fairs, markets, weddings, or wakes, to the diminishing number of which I have just called attention.
The parish priest of Dingle recently stated in court that in a population of seventeen hundred there were over fifty licensed houses, and he rightly declared that all dealings in licences should for the present be only by transfer, and that for five years at least no new licences should be granted. The argument so often heard against stopping licences is that then more illicit drinking will ensue, but this does not convince me that the redundant licences should be renewed.
My remedy would be to increase all renewals of licences to fifty pounds apiece, and to apply the difference as compensation to unrenewed licences. If a man fits up his house as a shebeen, and has conducted it tolerably, he ought to receive just compensation when his licence is cancelled owing to there being too many in a district.
If this is not done, he would be the victim of as great a robbery as was perpetrated on the unfortunate landlords by the Land Act.
I have a yarn or two on the subject of drink which may be appropriately related here.
Old David Burus, the steward at Ardrum, County Cork, was a great character who had got inextricably confused between the Council of Trent and the Trant family in the vicinity, and no amount of explanation could ever enlighten him. Directly he had begun to be jovial, he used to say:—
'My blessing on Councillor Trent, who put a fast on meat, but not on drink.'
And he proved the devoutness of his gratitude by conscientiously getting drunk every Friday.
That recalls to my mind the case of the illustrious gentleman—also a fellow-countryman, I regret to say—who committed burglary and murder when there was an opportunity, but religiously refrained from eating meat on Friday.
Reverting to David Burus: on one occasion I remonstrated with him on the amount of whisky he drank.
'I did drink a great deal of whisky, and I would have drunk more.' was his reply, 'if I had known it was going to be as dear as it is now.'
He evidently regretted not having thoroughly saturated himself with alcohol. It was the only way in which he could have possibly increased his consumption.
He was wont to say that if he had known the trick Mr. Gladstone was going to play on honest, God-fearing men, with sound stomachs and a decent appetite, by imposing a ten shilling duty on every gallon of whisky, he would have drunk his fill beforehand, even if delirium tremens had been the penalty.
Such hard drinking as his, and so calmly avowed, must, even in the south of Ireland, be fortunately rare, for few constitutions can stand conversion into animated whisky vats.
There was a farmer at Kanturk railway station who confided to the stationmaster that he himself on the previous evening had been as drunk as the very devil.
A parson on the platform, overhearing him, said:—
'You make a mistake, my friend, the devil does not drink. He keeps his head cool for the express purpose of watching such as you.'
The countryman replied:—
'You seem to be very well acquainted with the respected gentleman's habits, your riverince.'
And then they walked off different ways.
Which reminds me of another clerical incident.
A parish priest within twenty miles of Tralee, who subsequently left the Church—I will not say on account of his thirst, though, as that was unquenchable, it no doubt conduced to his retirement—came into the parlour of the manager of the bank with two farmers to have a bill discounted.
The manager, having ascertained the farmers were good security, cashed the bill and gave the proceeds to the priest. He was very much surprised on the following day at the two farmers walking into his room with the money.
'What's the meaning of this?' says he.
'Well, your honour, we could not stay in the parish, if we refused to join his reverence in the deal, which was sure to be a very bad one for us. So we thought the best thing to do was to get him a little hearty at his own expense on the way home. And then we picked his pocket and have brought the money to your honour, whilst he is cursing every thief outside his parish, and will probably ask the congregation to make up the amount next Sunday.'
And that is a true story, and as illustrative of the Irish peasant as any you could ever get told to you.
A coffin-maker named Sullivan thrived in Tralee. He received an order for a coffin for a man living about six miles away from the town. It was not called for for a week, and so he went out to the house where the man lay dead to inquire the cause.
When he came back to Tralee, he said to a friend:—
'Who do you think I saw, Mick, but that scoundrel of a corpse sitting in a ditch eating a piece of pig's cheek.'
That reminds me of another coffin story.
A man who lived in Cork was notorious for being always behind time for everything. He knew his failing, and was rather touchy about it.
One night, stumbling out of a whisky shop, he lurched into a yard, fell against a door, which gave way, and finished his slumbers peacefully in the shed, which was the storehouse of an undertaker.
In the morning he awoke, rubbed his eyes in astonishment at the strange surroundings amid which he found himself, and after recollecting his own pet proclivity, as he ruefully surveyed all the empty coffins, ejaculated:—
'Just my usual luck. Late for the Resurrection.'
Which recalls another tale:—
A man was dead drunk, so some friends, for a lark, brought him into a dark room, lit a lot of phosphorus, and made up one of their party in the guise of a devil before they flung a bucket of water over their victim.
'Where am I?' asked the fellow, looking round 'skeered.'
'In hell,' retorted the devil, with exaggerated solemnity.
'Heaven bless your honour, as you know the ways of the place, will you get me a drop of drink?'
But a mere drop does not suffice as a friend of mine found out.
He was wont to reward his car-driver with a glass of whisky, and gave it to him in an antique glass, which did not contain as much as cabby wished for.
'That's a very quare glass, captain,' says he.
'Yes,' replied Captain Stevens; 'that's blown glass.'
'Why, Captain,' says the carman, 'the man must have been damned short in the breath that blew that.'
This would no doubt have been the opinion of a Dublin carman who was in the habit of bringing a present to an acquaintance of mine from a lady living at some distance, and being recompensed with a glass of grog. By degrees, however, the water grew to be the predominant partner in the union within the glass, so at last he burst out in disgust:—
'If you threw a tumbler of whisky over Carlisle Bridge, it would be better grog than that at the Pigeon House.'
Which being interpreted into cockneyism would read, 'If you threw a glass of whisky over Westminster Bridge it would be better grog than that at Greenwich Pier.'
Still all consumption of liquor is not confined to Ireland, and I well remember when I was with Bogue in Scotland, that one night he had a fellow-farmer of the very best type to dine with him, and about ten o'clock, with much difficulty, my man and I hoisted him into the saddle.
An hour afterwards we heard a knock at the door, and a voice rather quaveringly inquired:—
'Pleash, can you tell me the way to X., I have lost my way?'
The tracks next morning revealed he had been riding round and round the house without once quitting the vicinity, which was almost as bad as Mark Twain's famous nocturnal perambulation with his pedometer, when he went on a tramp abroad!
Of potation stories I could tell scores more, and the Tralee Club has seen enough whisky imbibed within its walls to drown all the members.
A quaint character named Mullane was at one time steward, and decidedly astonished a member, who was a total abstainer, by charging him in his bill for three tumblers of punch.
'Well,' explained Mullane, 'it's this way. Some take six tumblers, and some takes none, so I strikes an average—and to tell you the truth, it's mighty convenient for the great majority.'
A quaint member of the club was Mr. Edward Morris. He was extremely diminutive, and he wore an eyeglass. One evening he was standing on the first landing, pondering in a bemused state whether he could get downstairs without falling, when a pursey little doctor trotted past him without even touching the bannister.
This inspired Morris with courage, so he let go his hold of the balustrade, whereupon he promptly fell on the physician, and both rolled to the bottom of the stairs.
Thence in hiccuping tones were heard:—
'Waiter! Waiter, put the glass in my eye, and let me see who the scoundrel was who struck me.'
On another evening in the club, when he had imbibed very freely, he ordered an additional glass of grog, and began to moralise aloud, addressing it after this fashion:—