Legend of the Yew Tree

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter II-9 | Start of chapter

An old woman who had been praying, according to the custom of the country, beside the grave of some deceased relative, observing me examining the tree with some degree of attention, volunteered to relate to me a legend concerning it, which had been handed down from generation to generation, and which is firmly believed by all the country folks for miles around. Having an hour to throw away, and being well pleased to avail myself of the protection which the thick foliage of this wonderful tree offered against the fervid rays of the noontide sun, I seated myself upon one of the moss-grown tombstones, and invited my ancient shanahus [5] to take a seat beside me: which, with a multitude of apologies and thanks for my "honour's civilitude," she at last consented to accept.

"May be your honour knows the Fineens of these parts?"

"No," I replied, "I am unacquainted with any person in this neighbourhood."

"Well, it don't much matter:—anyhow they're come of the right ould stock, and has some of the rale O'Sullivan blood in their veins; but, as I was sayin', there was one Frank Fineen lived, I don't know how long ago, over at the other side of the lake: a nater boy than Frank you couldn't pick out from here to Doneraile, and it's he that was the darling among the cailleens: many a purty red cheek grew redder when he walked into the chapel of a Sunday morning; and it's little of the prayers or sarmins the poor girls minded with thinking of Frank Fineen and his pair of roguish black eyes.

"But amongst them all there was not one, barrin Honor Hennesey, that could plase Frank's fancy. Honor, to be sure, was as likely a girl as ever shook a foot on short grass; tall and comely she was, and straight as a rush; and when she moved it was like a slendher ash-tree waving in the summer wind. Then, hadn't she a beautiful blume upon her cheek like the blush of an opening rose? and as for her eyes, wissha! I can't tell your honour how they sparkled with the life and joy that was dancing in her young veins. Any how she put poor Frank Fineen's heart into a terrible flustration; and more besides him, I can tell you; for there was hardly a boy in the parish, ould or young, that wasn't ready to break his neck after her. If Honor had a fault, it was that she delighted in bewildherin' the poor souls with her deludin' ways; for it can't be denied that her smile wor like the priest's blessing, everybody got a share of it, and each one thought he himself had the biggest ind of it. In troth, it was a shame for her; but sure it's the way with all the cailleens, they like to make fools of the men; and by what I undherstand, sir, it's much the same amongst the quality ladies. Hows'ever, there was only two of all her sweethearts for whom Honor really cared a trawneen [6] and these were Frank Fineen, and a wild young chap called Neal Connor, who had been out sogering in the horse-dragoons, and fighting agin ould Boney and the black king of Morawco in furrin parts, and who had lately come home to see his ould mother, and get cured of a wound in his arm that happened to him by axcidence in the wars.

"Neal was a smart, good-looking fellow enough, with an uncommon gift of the gab, and a free-and-asy way that made him, like a tinker's dog, at home wherever he went. His dress, too, was enough to take the sight out of one's eyes, and he wore a little cap like a skimmin-dish, with a bit of goold band round it, stuck on one side of his head, as if he thought everybody should admire him. Of course, he had nothing to do but stravaige up and down the village, showing his fine clothes, and divarting himself with making love to all the purty girls that came in his way, and, amongst the rest, to Honor Hennesey, whose head was fairly turned with all the murdherin' stories he told her of; his fights and battles, where the colours wor flying and the drums bating, and the trumpets blowing, and the cannons tundhering, and the generals shouting out, 'Feigh a baillagh! [7] Fair play for ould Ireland!' while the Connaught Rangers, the darlins, wor making lanes through the French corps with their swoords and bag'nets. Any how these fine discoorses made Honor begin to fancy she liked the young soger better than Frank Fineen, who had been coorting her for nigh hand a twelvemonth, and who she knew doted down upon the very ground she walked upon; so that between Frank's honest love and Neal's fine speeches, poor Honor didn't know which of them to choose, and, like many a girl in her situation, would fain have kept them both. Hows'ever that could not be, at laste in these parts; and so as the time was fast drawing on that Frank should return to his regiment, Honor found that she must decide one way or the other. I believe it was only two or three evenings before the day that Frank was to leave the village, that a meeting was held at the public-house above at the cross-roads, where all the boys and girls of the neighbourhood were gathered to have a fling of a dance together.


[5] The Shanahus, or professional story-teller, was in times past the historian and genealogist of great families in Ireland.

[6] Trawneen, the stem of the grass.

[7] Feigh a baillagh! "Clear the way," or, more literally, "Clear the pass," was often the watchword to victory in the Peninsular campaign amongst the Connaught Rangers, who formed a portion of the brave Picton's "fighting division."