Reminiscences of the West

From Ireland: Her Wit, Peculiarities and Popular Superstitions

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CHAPTER III...continued

The summer had glided imperceptibly into autumn, and the great bulk of the crop having been gathered in, and the long nights and short days of early winter approaching with unusual rapidity, the time was propitious for those who stir up rebellion among the people to ply their special craft; and ribbonism, such as that we have alluded to in the commencement of this chapter, soon sank deep and spread wide throughout the peasant and small-farmer class of the hitherto peaceful barony of Ballintober. Those who took no part in the night-walkings, or secret meetings, were compelled to contribute a sort of black mail for the furtherance of "the cause;" and wherever a gun, or any description of fire-arms, or any sort of weapon, was known to exist, thither a nocturnal visit was made, and the inmates of the houses were compelled to deliver it up, and got soundly thrashed if they did not do so with alacrity.

Hitherto the ribbonmen and their captains had, partly in remembrance of the many kindly offices rendered to them by our former acquaintance, the fisherman—the lively planxties he had played at their weddings, or the droll humour he had shown at their mothers' wakes, with what effect he repeated the rosary as their fathers' corpses were carried three times round the grave-yard of Baslick, and what a world of money he had gathered at the gentlemen's houses when he acted Beelzebub in the Christmas mummers, and how many a hook he had mounted for them when they went, of a Sunday morning, a-fishing for perch in the deep still pools of the Lara; or, perhaps, respecting the grief of the wife and orphans—they had left the Widow Welsh's house undisturbed, although it was well known that the old French fusee, with the velvet-and-silver-mounted cheek-piece, "to make it kick asey," was still in the cabin, and that Michael was now of age to take part in the councils as well as the standing army of the country. But as the disturbance and the disaffection spread wider in the neighbouring districts of Mayo and Galway, men appeared at the lodges and marshalled the people, who were strangers to the feelings we have alluded to, and paid no respect to either "widdies or orphants."

After his father's death, young Welsh's natural thoughtfulness and reserve seemed rather to increase. He appeared more wrapt within himself, was more than ever given to reading, and to wandering alone by the old forts, through the ruined castles, and by the ancient grave-yards in the neighbourhood. Still, this in no wise interfered with his daily work. He had clamped the turf, and pitted the potatoes, and stacked the lock of corn, and was mending the thatch with as much, if not greater, energy than before. Neither were his family affections in any degree weakened by his peculiar state of mind. He was as dutiful to his mother and as affectionate to his sister Biddy as ever, but still it was evident that he was not as hearty as in days gone by. Men of such like temperament feel any sudden mental shock, or any great violence done to the affections, more than persons of greater vivacity of disposition; for, although they do not exhibit the same active show of grief, it invariably sinks deeper in their souls, and remains longer graven into their memory, while they want that power of resilience within themselves to shake off their despondency; and, being from habit unaccustomed to society, they are consequently unable to take advantage of that influence which it, along with the soothing effects of time, generally exerts in assuaging sorrow.

The death of his parent had evidently preyed on the young man; his favourite haunts, during the long summer evenings just past, had been among the ruins of the old bawne, where he so often went in earlier times, with his father, to catch moths and look out for wall-flies; or he lingered by the river's banks (although he never fished) to watch the large evening trout, as, with deep sullen plunge, it roved through the still deep pools in quest of prey, and to listen to the well-known sound of the heavy fish, as, without splash and scarcely with any noise, it sucked down the gnats and night-flies from the surface, in the dark shadows of the overhanging bushes, while the wide-spreading circles from the broken water spread out, and intersected each other in all directions, as if oil had been dropped upon the limpid bosom of the stream. Here he would sit or walk during the still calm hours before moonlight, after the light laughing gulls (gula ridens) had skimmed gently and gracefully over the meadows—when the bat wheeled and circled over his head, and the corn-craik had commenced its nightly serenade—long after the cuckoo had got hoarse with mocking, and the only discordant sound was the night owl's shriek, as it flapped its light feathery wings in noiseless flight along the hedgerows. The not unfragrant smell of the baton, or burning land in the distance, mingled with the perfume of the meadow-sweet; and, now and then, the sharp, interrupted bark of the colley in the far off village, came echoless upon the ear over the broad flat pastures of the surrounding country. What his musings were we know not—companions he had but few—friends, such friends as one opens their heart to in these balmy hours of witching eve, he had none. With the exception of his mother and sister, he was alone—yes, alone in the world; but he knew it not, he felt it not; it was the result of the peculiar temper of the mind within him—the circumstances in which he was placed—all the external surroundings of the man.

If he passed the cross roads during the dance of a Sunday evening, he rested without any shyness for a while among the crowd, and kindly, if not cordially, returned the greetings of his neighbours; and if some sprightly lass stepped up to him, and, curtseying before him, said, "Michel, agra, I am dancin' to you," the pale, dark-haired youth did not refuse the offered hand; he danced, and did it well, and gave the piper a penny, and his partner, if she were willing, a goithera [31] and share of a naggin. But the moment he got an opportunity he slipped away, and the people said, "Poor boy, he takes on wonderfully since his father's death; but sure he was always in the lonesomes, and fonder of discoorsing himself than any body else."

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[31] Goithera, a local name for a sort of soft, flat cake, made without barm not unlike the Ulster bap. It is hawked about by the gingerbread seller and itinerant confectioner, who, with a knife dipped in a mug of treacle gives the cake an upper varnish of the sweet fluid as soon as it is purchased.