The Hedge School by William Carleton
There never was a more unfounded calumny, than that which would impute to
the Irish peasantry an indifference to education. I may, on the contrary,
fearlessly assert that the lower orders of no country ever manifested such
a positive inclination for literary acquirements, and that, too, under
circumstances strongly calculated to produce carelessness and apathy on
this particular subject. Nay, I do maintain, that he who is intimately
acquainted with the character of our countrymen, must acknowledge that
their zeal for book learning, not only is strong and ardent, when
opportunities of scholastic education occur, but that it increases in
proportion as these opportunities are rare and unattainable. The very name
and nature of Hedge Schools are proof of this; for what stronger point
could be made out, in illustration of my position, than the fact, that,
despite of obstacles, the very idea of which would crush ordinary
enterprise—when not even a shed could be obtained in which to
assemble the children of an Irish village, the worthy pedagogue selected
the first green spot on the sunny side of a quickset-thorn hedge, which he
conceived adapted for his purpose, and there, under the scorching rays of
a summer sun, and in defiance of spies and statutes, carried on the work
of instruction. From this circumstance the name of Hedge School
originated; and, however it may be associated with the ludicrous, I
maintain, that it is highly creditable to the character of the people, and
an encouragement to those who wish to see them receive pure and correct
educational knowledge. A Hedge School, however, in its original sense, was
but a temporary establishment, being only adopted until such a
school-house could be erected, as it was in those days deemed sufficient
to hold such a number of children, as were expected, at all hazards, to
The opinion, I know, which has been long entertained of Hedge
Schoolmasters, was, and still is, unfavorable; but the character of these
worthy and eccentric persons has been misunderstood, for the stigma
attached to their want of knowledge should have rather been applied to
their want of morals, because, on this latter point, were they principally
indefensible. The fact is, that Hedge Schoolmasters were a class of men
from whom morality was not expected by the peasantry; for, strange to say,
one of their strongest recommendations to the good opinion of the People,
as far as their literary talents and qualifications were concerned, was an
inordinate love of whiskey, and if to this could be added a slight touch
of derangement, the character was complete.
On once asking an Irish peasant, why he sent his children to a
schoolmaster who was notoriously addicted to spirituous liquors, rather
than to a man of sober habits who taught in the same neighborhood,
"Why do I send them to Mat Meegan, is it?" he replied—"and do you
think, sir," said he, "that I'd send them to that dry-headed dunce, Mr.
Frazher, with his black coat upon him, and his Caroline hat, and him
wouldn't take a glass of poteen wanst in seven years? Mat, sir, likes it,
and teaches the boys ten times betther whin he's dhrunk nor when he's
sober; and you'll never find a good tacher, sir, but's fond of it. As for
Mat, when he's half gone, I'd turn him agin the country for deepness in
learning; for it's then he rhymes it out of him, that it would do one good
to hear him."
"So," said I, "you think that a love of drinking poteen is a sign of
talent in a school-master?"
"Ay, or in any man else, sir," he replied. "Look at tradesmen, and 'tis
always the cleverest that you'll find fond of the drink! If you had hard
Mat and Frazher, the other evening, at it—what a hare Mat made of
him! but he was just in proper tune for it, being, at the time, purty well
I thank you, and did not lave him a leg to stand upon. He took him in
Euclid's Ailments and Logicals, and proved in Frazher's teeth that the
candlestick before them was the church-steeple, and Frazher himself the
parson; and so sign was on it, the other couldn't disprove it, but had to
"Mat, then," I observed, "is the most learned man on this walk."
"Why, thin, I doubt that same, sir," replied he, "for all he's so great in
the books; for, you see, while they were ding dust at it, who comes in but
mad Delaney, and he attacked Mat, and, in less than no time, rubbed the
consate out of him, as clane as he did out of Frazher."
"Who is Delaney?" I inquired.
"He was the makings of a priest, sir, and was in Maynooth a couple of
years, but he took in the knowledge so fast, that, bedad, he got cracked
wid larnin'—for a dunce you see, never cracks wid it, in regard of
the thickness of the skull: no doubt but he's too many for Mat, and can go
far beyant him in the books; but then, like Mat, he's still brightest whin
he has a sup in his head."
These are the prejudices which the Irish peasantry have long entertained
concerning the character of hedge schoolmasters; but, granting them to be
unfounded, as they generally are, yet it is an indisputable fact, that
hedge schoolmasters were as superior in literary knowledge and
acquirements to the class of men who are now engaged in the general
education of the people, as they were beneath them in moral and religious
character. The former part of this assertion will, I am aware, appear
rather startling to many. But it is true; and one great cause why the
character of Society Teachers is undervalued, in many instances, by the
people, proceeds from a conviction on their parts, that they are, and must
be, incapable, from the slender portion of learning they have received, of
giving their children a sound and practical education.
But that we may put this subject in a clearer light, we will give a sketch
of the course of instruction which was deemed necessary for a hedge
schoolmaster, and let it be contrasted with that which falls to the lot of
those engaged in the conducting of schools patronized by the Education
Societies of the present day.
When a poor man, about twenty or thirty years ago, understood from the
schoolmaster who educated his sons, that any of them was particularly
"cute at his larnin'," the ambition of the parent usually directed itself
to one of three objects—he would either make him a priest, a clerk,
or a schoolmaster. The determination once fixed, the boy was set apart
from every kind of labor, that he might be at liberty to bestow his
undivided time and talents to the object set before him. His parents
strained every nerve to furnish him with the necessary books, and always
took care that his appearance and dress should be more decent than those
of any other member of the family. If the church were in prospect, he was
distinguished, after he had been two or three years at his Latin, by the
appellation of "the young priest," an epithet to him of the greatest pride
and honor; but if destined only to wield the ferula, his importance in the
family, and the narrow circle of his friends, was by no means so great.
If, however, the goal of his future ambition as a schoolmaster was
humbler, that of his literary career was considerably extended. He usually
remained at the next school in the vicinity until he supposed that he had
completely drained the master of all his knowledge. This circumstance was
generally discovered in the following manner:—As soon as he judged
himself a match for his teacher, and possessed sufficient confidence in
his own powers, he penned him a formal challenge to meet him in literary
contest either in his own school, before competent witnesses, or at the
chapel-green, on the Sabbath day, before the arrival of the priest or
probably after it—for the priest himself was sometimes the moderator
and judge upon these occasions. This challenge was generally couched in
rhyme, and either sent by the hands of a common friend or posted upon the
These contests, as the reader perceives, were always public, and were
witnessed by the peasantry with intense interest. If the master sustained
a defeat, it was not so much attributed to his want of learning, as to the
overwhelming talent of his opponent; nor was the success of the pupil
generally followed by the expulsion of the master—for this was but
the first of a series of challenges which the former proposed to
undertake, ere he eventually settled himself in the exercise of his
I remember being present at one of them, and a ludicrous exhibition it
was. The parish priest, a red-faced, jocular little man, was president;
and his curate, a scholar of six feet two inches in height, and a
schoolmaster from the next parish, were judges. I will only touch upon two
circumstances in their conduct, which evinced a close, instinctive
knowledge of human nature in the combatants. The master would not
condescend to argue off his throne—a piece of policy to which, in my
opinion, he owed his victory (for he won); whereas the pupil insisted that
he should meet him on equal ground, face to face, in the lower end of the
room. It was evident that the latter could not divest himself of his
boyish terror so long as the other sat, as it were, in the plentitude of
his former authority, contracting his brows with habitual sternness,
thundering out his arguments, with a most menacing and stentorian voice,
while he thumped his desk with his shut fist, or struck it with his great
ruler at the end of each argument, in a manner that made the youngster put
his hands behind him several times, to be certain that that portion of his
dress which is unmentionable was tight upon him. If in these encounters
the young candidate for the honors of the literary sceptre was not
victorious, he again resumed his studies, under his old preceptor, with
renewed vigor and becoming humility; but if he put the schoolmaster down,
his next object was to seek out some other teacher, whose celebrity was
unclouded within his own range. With him he had a fresh encounter, and its
result was similar to what I have already related.
If victorious, he sought out another and more learned opponent; and if
defeated, he became the pupil of his conqueror—going night about,
during his sojourn at the school, with the neighboring farmers' sons, whom
he assisted in their studies, as a compensation for his support. He was
called during these peregrinations, the Poor Scholar, a character which
secured him the esteem and hospitable attention of the peasantry, who
never fail in respect to any one characterized by a zeal for learning and
In this manner he proceeded, a literary knight errant, filled with a
chivalrous love of letters, which would have done honor to the most
learned peripatetic of them all; enlarging his own powers, and making
fresh acquisitions of knowledge as he went along. His contests, his
defeats, and his triumphs, of course, were frequent; and his habits of
thinking and reasoning must have been considerably improved, his
acquaintance with classical and mathematical authors rendered more
intimate, and his powers of illustration and comparison more clear and
happy. After three or four years spent in this manner, he usually returned
to his native place, sent another challenger to the schoolmaster, in the
capacity of a candidate for his situation, and if successful, drove him
out of the district, and established himself in his situation. The
vanquished master sought a new district, sent a new challenge, in his
turn, to some other teacher, and usually put him to flight in the same
manner. The terms of defeat or victory, according to their application,
were called sacking and bogging. "There was a great argument entirely,
sir," said a peasant once, when speaking of these contests, "'twas at the
chapel on Sunday week, betiane young Tom Brady, that was a poor scholar in
Munsther, and Mr. Hartigan the schoolmaster."
"And who was victorious?" I inquired. "Why, sir, and maybe 'twas young
Brady that didn't sack him clane before the priest and all, and went nigh
to bog the priest himself in Greek. His Reverence was only two words
beyant him; but he sacked the masther any how, and showed him in the
Grammatical and Dixonary where he was Wrong."
"And what is Brady's object in life?" I asked. "What does he intend to
"Intend to do, is it? I am tould nothing less nor going into Trinity
College in Dublin and expects to bate them all there, out and out: he's
first to make something they call a seizure; (* Sizar) and, afther making
that good he's to be a counsellor. So, sir, you see what it is to resave
good schoolin', and to have the larnin'; but, indeed, it's Brady that's
the great head-piece entirely."
Unquestionably, many who received instruction in this manner have
distinguished themselves in the Dublin University; and I have no
hesitation in saying, that young men educated in Irish hedge schools, as
they were called, have proved themselves to be better classical scholars
and mathematicians, generally speaking, than any proportionate number of
those educated in our first-rate academies. The Munstor masters have long
been, and still are, particularly celebrated for making excellent
classical and mathematical scholars.
That a great deal of ludicrous pedantry generally accompanied this
knowledge is not at all surprising, when we consider the rank these worthy
teachers held in life, and the stretch of inflation at which their pride
was kept by the profound reverence excited by their learning among the
people. It is equally true, that each of them had a stock of crambos
ready for accidental encounter, which would have puzzled Euclid or Sir
Isaac Newton himself; but even these trained their minds to habits of
acuteness and investigation. When a schoolmaster of this class had
established himself as a good mathematician, the predominant enjoyment of
his heart and life was to write the epithet Philomath after his name; and
this, whatever document he subscribed, was never omitted. If he witnessed
a will, it was Timothy Fagan, Philomath; if he put his name to a
promissory note, it was Tim. Pagan, Philomath; if he addressed a
love-letter to his sweetheart, it was still Timothy Fagan—or
whatever the name might be—Philomath; and this was always written in
legible and distinct copy-hand, sufficiently large to attract the
observation of the reader.
It was also usual for a man who had been a preeminent and extraordinary
scholar, to have the epithet Great prefixed to his name. I remember one of
this description, who was called the Great O'Brien par excellence. In the
latter years of his life he gave up teaching, and led a circulating life,
going round from school to school, and remaining a week or a month
alternately among his brethren. His visits were considered an honor, and
raised considerably the literary character of those with whom he resided;
for he spoke of dunces with the most dignified contempt, and the general
impression was, that he would scorn even to avail himself of their
hospitality. Like most of his brethren, he could not live without the
poteen; and his custom was, to drink a pint of it in its native purity
before he entered into any literary contest, or made any display of his
learning at wakes or other Irish festivities; and most certainly, however
blamable the practice, and injurious to health and morals, it threw out
his talents and his powers in a most surprising manner.
It was highly amusing to observe the peculiarity which the consciousness
of superior knowledge impressed upon the conversation and personal
appearance of this decaying race. Whatever might have been the original
conformation of their physical structure, it was sure, by the force of
acquired habit, to transform itself into a stiff, erect, consequential,
and unbending manner, ludicrously characteristic of an inflated sense of
their extraordinary knowledge, and a proud and commiserating contempt of
the dark ignorance by which, in despite of their own light, they were
surrounded. Their conversation, like their own crambos, was dark
and difficult to be understood; their words, truly sesquipedalian; their
voice, loud and commanding in its tones; their deportment, grave and
dictatorial, but completely indescribable, and certainly original to the
last degree, in those instances where the ready, genuine humor of their
country maintained an unyielding rivalry in their disposition, against the
natural solemnity which was considered necessary to keep up the due
dignity of their character.
In many of these persons, where the original gayety of the disposition was
known, all efforts at the grave and dignified were complete failures, and
these were enjoyed by the peasantry and their own pupils, nearly with the
sensations which the enactment of Hamlet by Liston would necessarily
produce. At all events, their education, allowing for the usual
exceptions, was by no means superficial; and the reader has already
received a sketch of the trials which they had to undergo, before they
considered themselves qualified to enter upon the duties of their calling.
Their life was, in fact, a state of literary warfare; and they felt that a
mere elementary knowledge of their business would have been insufficient
to carry them, with suitable credit, through the attacks to which they
were exposed from travelling teachers, whose mode of establishing
themselves in schools, was, as I said, by driving away the less qualified,
and usurping their places. This, according to the law of opinion and the
custom which prevailed, was very easily effected, for the peasantry
uniformly encouraged those whom they supposed to be the most competent; as
to moral or religious instruction, neither was expected from them, so that
the indifference of the moral character was no bar to their success.
The village of Findramore was situated at the foot of a long green hill,
the outline of which formed a low arch, as it rose to the eye against the
horizon. This hill was studded with clumps of beeches, and sometimes
enclosed as a meadow. In the month of July, when the grass on it was long,
many an hour have I spent in solitary enjoyment, watching the wavy motion
produced upon its pliant surface by the sunny winds, or the flight of the
cloud-shadows, like gigantic phantoms, as they swept rapidly over it,
whilst the murmur of the rocking-trees, and the glancing of their bright
leaves in the sun produced a heartfelt pleasure, the very memory of which
rises in my imagination like some fading recollection of a brighter world.
At the foot of this hill ran a clear, deep-banked river, bounded on one
side by a slip of rich, level meadow, and on the other by a kind of common
for the village geese, whose white feathers, during the summer season, lay
scattered over its green surface. It was also the play-ground for the boys
of the village school; for there ran that part of the river which, with
very correct judgment, the urchins had selected as their bathing-place. A
little slope, or watering-ground in the bank, brought them to the edge of
the stream, where the bottom fell away into the fearful depths of the
whirlpool, under the hanging oak on the other bank. Well do I remember the
first time I ventured to swim across it, and even yet do I see, in
imagination, the two bunches of water flaggons on which the inexperienced
swimmers trusted themselves in the water.
About two hundred yards from this, the boreen (* A little road) which led
from the village to the main road, crossed the river, by one of those old
narrow bridges whose arches rise like round ditches across the road—an
almost impassable barrier to horse and car. On passing the bridge in a
northern direction, you found a range of low thatched houses on each side
of the road: and if one o'clock, the hour of dinner, drew near, you might
observe columns of blue smoke curling up from a row of chimneys, some made
of wicker creels plastered over with a rich coat of mud; some, of old,
narrow, bottomless tubs; and others, with a greater appearance of taste,
ornamented with thick, circular ropes of straw, sewed together like bees'
skeps, with a peel of a briar; and many having nothing but the open vent
above. But the smoke by no means escaped by its legitimate aperture, for
you might observe little clouds of it bursting out of the doors and
windows; the panes of the latter being mostly stopped at other times with
old hats and rags, were now left entirely open for the purpose of giving
it a free escape.
Before the doors, on right and left, was a series of dunghills, each with
its concomitant sink of green, rotten water; and if it happened that a
stout-looking woman, with watery eyes, and a yellow cap hung loosely upon
her matted locks, came, with a chubby urchin on one arm, and a pot of
dirty water in her hand, its unceremonious ejection in the aforesaid sink
would be apt to send you up the village with your finger and thumb (for
what purpose you would yourself perfectly understand) closely, but not
knowingly, applied to your nostrils. But, independently of this, you would
be apt to have other reasons for giving your horse, whose heels are by
this time surrounded by a dozen of barking curs, and the same number of
shouting urchins, a pretty sharp touch of the spurs, as well as for
complaining bitterly of the odor of the atmosphere. It is no landscape
without figures; and you might notice, if you are, as I suppose you to be,
a man of observation, in every sink as you pass along, a "slip of a pig,"
stretched in the middle of the mud, the very beau ideal of luxury, giving
occasionally a long, luxuriant grunt, highly-expressive of his enjoyment;
or, perhaps, an old farrower, lying in indolent repose, with half a dozen
young ones jostling each other for their draught, and punching her belly
with their little snouts, reckless of the fumes they are creating; whilst
the loud crow of the cock, as he confidently flaps his wings on his own
dunghill, gives the warning note for the hour of dinner.
As you advance, you will also perceive several faces thrust out of the
doors, and rather than miss a sight of you, a grotesque visage peeping by
a short cut through the paneless windows—or a tattered female flying
to snatch up her urchin that has been tumbling itself, heels up, in the
dust of the road, lest "the gentleman's horse might ride over it;" and if
you happen to look behind, you may observe a shaggy-headed youth in
tattered frieze, with one hand thrust indolently in his breast, standing
at the door in conversation with the inmates, a broad grin of sarcastic
ridicule on his face, in the act of breaking a joke or two upon yourself,
or your horse; or perhaps, your jaw may be saluted with a lump of clay,
just hard enough not to fall asunder as it flies, cast by some ragged
gorsoon from behind a hedge, who squats himself in a ridge of corn to
Seated upon a hob at the door, you may observe a toil-worn man, without
coat or waistcoat; his red, muscular, sunburnt shoulder peering through
the remnant of a skirt, mending his shoes with a piece of twisted flax,
called a lingel, or, perhaps, sewing two footless stockings (or martyeens)
to his coat, as a substitute for sleeves.
In the gardens, which are usually fringed with nettles, you will see a
solitary laborer, working with that carelessness and apathy that
characterizes an Irishman when he labors for himself—leaning upon
his spade to look after you, glad of any excuse to be idle. The houses,
however, are not all such as I have described—far from it. You see
here and there, between the more humble cabins, a stout,
comfortable-looking farm-house, with ornamental thatching and well-glazed
windows; adjoining to which is a hay-yard, with five or six large stacks
of corn, well-trimmed and roped, and a fine, yellow, weather-beaten old
hay-rick, half cut—not taking into account twelve or thirteen
circular strata of stones, that mark out the foundations on which others
had been raised. Neither is the rich smell of oaten or wheaten bread,
which the good wife is baking on the griddle, unpleasant to your nostrils;
nor would the bubbling of a large pot, in which you might see, should you
chance to enter, a prodigious square of fat, yellow, and almost
transparent bacon tumbling about, to be an unpleasant object; truly, as it
hangs over a large fire, with well-swept hearthstone, it is in good
keeping with the white settle and chairs, and the dresser with noggins,
wooden trenchers, and pewter dishes, perfectly clean, and as well polished
as a French courtier.
As you leave the village, you have, to the left, a view of the hill which
I have already described, and to the right a level expanse of fertile
country, bounded by a good view of respectable mountains, peering decently
into the sky; and in a line that forms an acute angle from the point of
the road where you ride, is a delightful valley, in the bottom of which
shines a pretty lake; and a little beyond, on the slope of a green hill,
rises a splendid house, surrounded by a park, well wooded and stocked with
deer. You have now topped the little hill above the village, and a
straight line of level road, a mile long, goes forward to a country town,
which lies immediately behind that white church, with its spire cutting
into the sky, before you. You descend on the other side, and, having
advanced a few perches, look to the left, where you see a long, thatched
chapel, only distinguished from a dwelling-house by its want of chimneys
and a small stone cross that stands on the top of the eastern gable;
behind it is a graveyard; and beside it a snug public-house, well
whitewashed; then, to the right, you observe a door apparently in the side
of a clay bank, which rises considerably above the pavement of the road.
What! you ask yourself, can this be a human habitation?—but ere you
have time to answer the question, a confused buzz of voices from within
reaches your ear, and the appearance of a little "gorsoon," with a red,
close-cropped head and Milesian face, having in his hand a short, white
stick, or the thigh-bone of a horse, which you at once recognize as "the
pass" of a village school, gives you the full information. He has an ink
horn, covered with leather, dangling at the button-hole (for he has long
since played away the buttons) of his frieze jacket—his mouth is
circumscribed with a streak of ink—his pen is stuck knowingly behind
his ear—his shins are dotted over with fire-blisters, black, red,
and blue—on each heel a kibe—his "leather crackers," videlicet—breeches
shrunk up upon him, and only reaching as far down as the caps of his
knees. Having spied you, he places his hand over his brows, to throw back
the dazzling light of the sun, and peers at you from under it, till he
breaks out into a laugh, exclaiming, half to himself, half to you:—
"You a gintleman!—no, nor one of your breed never was, you
procthorin' thief, you!"
You are now immediately opposite the door of the seminary, when half a
dozen of those seated next it notice you.
"Oh, sir, here's a gintleman on a horse!—masther, sir, here's
a-gintleman on a horse, wid boots and spurs on him, that's looking in at
"Silence!" exclaims the master; "back from the door; boys, rehearse; every
one of you, rehearse, I say, you Boeotians, till the gintleman goes past!"
"I want to go out, if you plase, sir."
"No, you don't, Phelim."
"I do, indeed, sir."
"What!—is it after conthradictin' me you'd be? Don't you see the
'porter's' out, and you can't go."
"Well, 'tis Mat Meehan has it, sir: and he's out this half-hour, sir; I
can't stay in, sir—iplrfff—iphfff!"
"You want to be idling your time looking at the gintleman, Phelim."
"No, indeed, sir—iphfff!"
"Phelim, I know you of ould—go to your sate. I tell you, Phelim, you
were born for the encouragement of the hemp manufacture, and you'll die
In the meantime, the master puts his head out of the door, his body
stooped to a "half bend"—a phrase, and the exact curve which it
forms, I leave for the present to your own sagacity—and surveys you
until you pass. That is an Irish hedge school, and the personage who
follows you with his eye, a hedge schoolmaster. His name is Matthew
Kavanagh; and, as you seem to consider his literary establishment rather a
curiosity in its kind, I will, if you be disposed to hear it, give you the
history of him and his establishment, beginning, in the first place, with
THE ABDUCTION OF MAT KAVANAGH, THE HEDGE SCHOOLMASTER.
For about three years before the period of which I write, the village of
Findramore, and the parish in which it lay, were without a teacher. Mat's
predecessor was a James Garraghty, a lame young man, the son of a widow,
whose husband lost his life in attempting to extinguish a fire that broke
out in the dwelling-house of Squire Johnston, a neighboring magistrate.
The son was a boy at the time of this disaster, and the Squire, as some
compensation for the loss of his father's life in his service, had him
educated at his own expense; that is to say, he gave the master who taught
in the village orders to educate him gratuitously, on the condition of
being horsewhipped out of the parish, if he refused. As soon as he
considered himself qualified to teach, he opened a school in the village
on his own account, where he taught until his death, which happened in
less than a year after the commencement of his little seminary. The
children usually assembled in his mother's cabin; but as she did not long
survive the son, this, which was at best a very miserable residence, soon
tottered to the ground. The roof and thatch were burnt for firing, the mud
gables fell in, and were overgrown with grass, nettles, and docks; and
nothing remained but a foot or two of the little clay side-walls, which
presented, when associated with the calamitous fate of their inoffensive
inmates, rather a touching image of ruin upon a small scale.
Garraghty had been attentive to his little pupils, and his instructions
were sufficient to give them a relish for education—a circumstance
which did not escape the observation of their parents, who duly
appreciated it. His death, however, deprived them of this advantage; and
as schoolmasters, under the old system, were always at a premium, it so
happened, that for three years afterwards, not one of that class presented
himself to their acceptance. Many a trial had been made, and many a sly
offer held out, as a lure to the neighboring teachers, but they did not
take; for although the country was densely inhabited, yet it was remarked
that no schoolmaster ever "thruv" in the neighborhood of Findramore. The
place, in fact, had got a bad name. Garraghty died, it was thought, of
poverty, a disease to which the Findramore schoolmasters had been always
known to be subject. His predecessor, too, was hanged, along with two
others, for burning the house of an "Aagint."
Then the Findramore boys were not easily dealt with, having an ugly habit
of involving their unlucky teachers in those quarrels which they kept up
with the Ballyscanlan boys, a fighting clan that lived at the foot of the
mountains above them. These two factions, when they met, whether at fair
or market, wake or wedding, could never part without carrying home on each
side a dozen or two of bloody coxcombs. For these reasons, the parish of
Aughindrum had for a few years been afflicted with an extraordinary dearth
of knowledge; the only literary establishment which flourished in it being
a parochial institution, which, however excellent in design, yet, like too
many establishments of the same nature, it degenerated into a source of
knowledge, morals, and education, exceedingly dry and unproductive to
every person except the master, who was enabled by his honest industry to
make a provision for his family absolutely surprising, when we consider
the moderate nature of his ostensible income. It was, in fact, like a well
dried up, to which scarcely any one ever thinks of going for water.
Such a state of things, however, could not last long. The youth of
Findramore were parched for want of the dew of knowledge; and their
parents and grown brethren met one Saturday evening in Barny Brady's
shebeen-house, to take into consideration the best means for procuring a
resident schoolmaster for the village and neighborhood. It was a difficult
point, and required great dexterity of management to enable them to devise
any effectual remedy for the evil which they felt. There were present at
this council, Tim Dolan, the senior of the village, and his three sons,
Jem Coogan, Brian Murphy, Paddy Delany, Owen Roe O'Neil, Jack Traynor, and
Andy Connell, with five or six others, whom it is not necessary to
"Bring us in a quart, Barny," said Dolan to Brady, whom on this occasion
we must designate as the host; "and let it be rale hathen."
"What do you mane, Tim?" replied the host.
"I mane," continued Dolan, "stuff that was never christened, man alive."
"Thin I'll bring you the same that Father Maguire got last night on his
way home afther anointin' 'ould Katty Duffy," replied Brady. "I'm sure,
whatever I might be afther giving to strangers, Tim, I'd be long sorry to
give yous anything but the right sort."
"That's a gay man, Barny," said Traynor, "but off wid you like a shot, and
let us get it under our tooth first, an' then we'll tell you more about it—A
big rogue is the same Barny," he added, after Brady had gone to bring in
the poteen, "an' never sells a dhrop that's not one whiskey and five
"But he couldn't expose it on you; Jack," observed Connell; "you're too
ould a hand about the pot for that. Warn't you in the mountains last
"Ay: but the curse of Cromwell upon the thief of a gauger, Simpson—himself
and a pack o' redcoats surrounded us when we war beginnin' to double, and
the purtiest runnin' that ever you seen was lost; for you see, before you
could cross yourself, we had the bottoms knocked clane out of the vessels;
so that the villains didn't get a hole in our coats, as they thought they
"I tell you," observed O'Neil, "there's a bad pill* somewhere about us."
* This means a treacherous person who cannot depended
"Ay, is there, Owen," replied Traynor; "and what is more, I don't think
he's a hundhre miles from the place where we're sittin' in."
"Faith, maybe so Jack," returned the other.
"I'd never give into that," said Murphy. "'Tis Barny Brady that would
never turn informer—the same thing isn't in him, nor in any of his
breed; there's not a man in the parish I'd thrust sooner."
"I'd jist thrust him," replied Traynor, "as far as I could throw a cow by
the tail. Arrah, what's the rason that the gauger never looks next or near
his place, an' it's well known that he sells poteen widout a license,
though he goes past his door wanst a week?"
"What the h—— is keepin' him at all?" inquired one of Dolan's
"Look at him," said Traynor, "comin' in out of the garden; how much afeard
he is! keepin' the whiskey in a phatie ridge—an' I'd kiss the book
that he brought that bottle out in his pocket, instead of diggin' it up
out o' the garden."
Whatever Brady's usual habits of christening his poteen might have
been, that which he now placed before them was good. He laid the bottle on
a little deal table with cross legs, and along with it a small drinking
glass fixed in a bit of flat circular wood, as a substitute for the
original bottom, which had been broken. They now entered upon the point,
in question, without further delay.
"Come, Tim," said Coogan, "you're the ouldest man, and must spake first."
"Troth, man," replied Dolan, "beggin' your pardon, I'll dhrink first—healths
apiece, your sowl; success boys—glory to ourselves, and confusion to
the Scanlon boys, any way."
"And maybe," observed Connell, "'tis we that didn't lick them well in the
last fair—they're not able to meet the Findramore birds even on
their own walk."
"Well, boys," said Delany, "about the masther? Our childre will grow up
like bullockeens (* little bullocks) widout knowing a ha'porth; and
larning, you see, is a burdyen that's asy carried."
"Ay," observed O'Neil, "as Solvester Maguire, the poet, used to say—
'Labor for larnin, before you grow ould,
For larnin' is better nor riches nor gould;
Riches an' gould they may vanquish away,
But larnin' alone it will never decay.'"
"Success, Owen! Why, you might put down the pot and warm an air to it,"
"Well, boys, are we all safe?" asked Traynor.
"Safe?" said old Dolan. "Arrah, what are you talkin' about? Sure 'tisn't
of that same spalpeen of a gauger that we'd be afraid!"
During this observation, young Dolan pressed Traynor's foot under the
table, and they both went out for about five minutes.
"Father," said the son, when he and Traynor re-entered the room, "you're a
"Who wants me, Larry, avick?" says the father.
The son immediately whispered to him for a moment, when the old man
instantly rose, got his hat, and after drinking another bumper of the
"Twas hardly worth while," said Delany; "the ould fellow is mettle to the
back-bone, an' would never show the garran-bane at any rate, even if he
knew all about it."
"Bad end to the syllable I'd let the same ould cock hear," said the son;
"the divil thrust any man that didn't switch the primer (* take and oath)
for it, though he is my father; but now, boys, that the coast's clear, and
all safe—where will we get a schoolmaster? Mat Kavanagh won't budge
from the Scanlon boys, even if we war to put our hands undher his feet;
and small blame to him—sure, you would not expect him to go against
his own friends?"
"Faith, the gorsoons is in a bad state," said Murphy; "but, boys where
will we get a man that's up? Why I know 'tis betther to have anybody nor
be without one; but we might kill two birds wid one stone—if we
could get a masther that would carry 'Articles,'* an' swear in the boys,
from time to time—an' between ourselves, if there's any danger of
the hemp, we may as well lay it upon strange shoulders."
* A copy of the Whiteboy oath and regulations.
"Ay, but since Corrigan swung for the Aagint," replied Delaney, "they're a
little modest in havin' act or part wid us; but the best plan is to get an
advartisement wrote out, an' have it posted on the chapel door."
This hint was debated with much earnestness; but as they were really
anxious to have a master—in the first place, for the simple purpose
of educating their children; and in the next, for filling the situation of
director and regulator of their illegal Ribbon meetings—they
determined on penning an advertisement, according to the suggestion of
Delaney. After drinking another bottle, and amusing themselves with some
further chat, one of the Dolans undertook to draw up the advertisement,
which ran as follows:—
"Notes to Schoolmasthers, and to all others whom it may consarn.
"For the nabourhood and the vircinity of the Townland of Findramore, in
the Parish of Aughindrum, in the Barony of Lisnamoghry, County of Sligo,
Province of Connaught, Ireland.
"Take Notes—That any Schoolmaster who understands Spellin'
gramatically—Readin' and Writin', in the raal way, accordin' to the
Dixonary—Arithmatick, that is to say, the five common rules, namely,
addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division—and addition,
subtraction, multiplication, and division, of Dives's denominations. Also
reduction up and down—cross multiplication of coin—the Rule of
Three Direck—the Rule of Three in verse—the double Rule of
Three—Frackshins taught according to the vulgar and decimatin'
method; and must be well practised to tache the Findramore boys how to
manage the Scuffle.*
* The Scuffle was an exercise in fractions, illustrated
by a quarrel between the first four letters of the
alphabet, who went to loggerheads about a sugar-plum.
A, for instance, seized upon three-fourths of it; but B
snapped two-thirds of what he had got, and put it into
his hat; C then knocked off his hat, and as worthy Mr.
Gough says, "to Work they went." After kicking and
cuffing each other in prime style, each now losing and
again gaining alternately, the question is wound up by
requiring the pupil to ascertain what quantity of the
sugar-plum each had at the close.
"N.B. He must be will grounded in that. Practis, Discount, and Rebatin'.
N.B. Must be well grounded in that also.
"Tret and Tare—Fellowship—Allegation—Barther—Rates
per Scent—Intherest—Exchange—Prophet in Loss—the
Square root—the Kibe Root—Hippothenuse—'Arithmatical and
Jommetrical Purgation—Compound Intherest—Loggerheadism—Questions
for exercise, and the Conendix to Algibbra. He must also know Jommithry
accordin' to Grunther's scale—the Castigation of the Klipsticks—Surveying,
and the use of the Jacob-staff.
"N.B. Would get a good dale of Surveyin' to do in the vircinity of
Findramore, particularly in Con-acre time. If he know the use of
the globe, it would be an accusation. He must also understand the Three
Sets of Book-keeping, by single and double entry, particularly Loftus
& Company of Paris, their Account of Cash and Company. And above all
things, he must know how to tache the Sarvin' of Mass in Latin, and
be able to read Doctor Gallaher's Irish Sarmints, and explain Kolumkill's
and Pasterini's Prophecies.
"N.B. If he understands Cudgel-fencin', it would be an accusation
also—but mustn't tache us wid a staff that bends in the middle,
bekase it breaks one's head across the guard. Any schoolmaster capacious
and collified to instruct in the above-mintioned branches, would get a
good school in the townland Findramore and its vircinity, be well fed, an'
get the hoith o' good livin' among the farmers, an' would be ped—
"For Book-keepin', the three sets, a ginny and half.'
"For Gommethry, &c, half a qinny a quarther.
"Arithmatic, aight and three-hapuns.
"Readin", Writin', &c, six Hogs.
"Given under our hands, this 37th day of June, 18004.
"Dick Dolan, his (X) mark.
"Jem Coogan, his (X) mark.
"Paddy Delany, his (X) mark.
"Owen Roe O'Neil, his (X) mark."
"N.B. By making airly application to any of the undher-mintioned, he
will hear of further particklers; and if they find that he will shoot
them, he may expect the best o' thratement, an' be well fed among the
"N.B. Would get also a good Night-school among the vircinity."
* Nothing can more decidedly prove the singular and
extraordinary thirst for education and general
knowledge which characterizes the Irish people, than
the shifts to which they have often gone in order to
gain even a limited portion of instruction. Of this the
Irish Night School is a complete illustration. The
Night School was always opened either for those of
early age, who from their poverty were forced to earn
something for their own support during the day; or to
assist their parents; or for grown young men who had
never had an opportunity of acquiring education in
their youth, but who now devoted a couple of hours
during a winter's night, when they could do nothing
else, to the acquisition of reading and writing, and
sometimes of accounts. I know not how it was, but the
Night School boys, although often thrown into the way
of temptation, always conducted themselves with
singular propriety. Indeed, the fact is, after all,
pretty easily accounted for—inasmuch as none but the
steadiest, most sensible, and best conducted young
men ever attended it.
Having penned the above advertisement, it was carefully posted early the
next morning on the chapel-doors, with an expectation on the part of the
patrons that it would not be wholly fruitless. The next week, however,
passed without an application—the second also—and the third
produced the same result; nor was there the slightest prospect of a
school-master being blown by any wind to the lovers of learning at
Findramore. In the meantime, the Ballyscanlan boys took care to keep up
the ill-natured prejudice which had been circulated concerning the
fatality that uniformly attended such schoolmasters as settled there; and
when this came to the ears of the Findramore folk, it was once more
resolved that the advertisement should be again put up, with a clause
containing an explanation on that point. The clause ran as follows:
"N.B.—The two last masthers that was hanged out of Findramore, that
is, Mickey Corrigan, who was hanged for killing the Aagent, and Jem
Garraghty, that died of a declension—Jem died in consequence of
ill-health, and Mickey was hanged contrary to his own wishes; so that it
wasn't either of their faults—as witness our hands this 207th of
"Dick Dolan, his (X) mark."
This explanation, however, was as fruitless as the original advertisement;
and week after week passed over without an offer from a single candidate.
The "vicinity" of Findramore and its "naborhood" seemed devoted to
ignorance; and nothing remained, except another effort at procuring a
master by some more ingenious contrivance.
Debate after debate was consequently held in Barney Brady's; and, until a
fresh suggestion was made by Delany, the prospect seemed as bad as ever.
Delany, at length fell upon a new plan; and it must be confessed, that it
was marked in a peculiar manner by a spirit of great originality and
enterprise, it being nothing less than a proposal to carry off, by force
or stratagem, Mat Kavanagh, who was at that time fixed in the throne of
literature among the Ballyscanlan boys, quite unconscious of the honorable
translation to the neighborhood of Findramore which was intended for him.
The project, when broached, was certainly a startling one, and drove most
of them to a pause, before they were sufficiently collected to give an
opinion on its merits.
"Nothin', boys, is asier," said Delaney. "There's to be a patthern in
Ballymagowan, on next Sathurday—an' that's jist half way betune
ourselves and the Scanlan boys. Let us musther, an' go there, any how. We
can keep an eye on Mat widout much trouble, an' when opportunity sarves,
nick him at wanst, an' off wid him clane."
"But," said Traynor, "what would we do wid him when he'd be here? Wouldn't
he cut an' run the first opportunity.
"How can he, ye omadhawn, if we put a manwill* in our pocket, an' sware
him? But we'll butther him up when he's among us; or, be me sowks, if it
goes that, force him either to settle wid ourselves, or to make himself
scarce in the country entirely."
* Manual, a Roman Catholic prayer-book, generally
pronounced as above.
"Divil a much force it'll take to keep him, I'm thinkin'," observed
Murphy. "He'll have three times a betther school here; and if he wanst
settled, I'll engage he would take to it kindly."
"See here, boys," says Dick Dolan, in a whisper, "if that bloody villain,
Brady, isn't afther standin' this quarter of an hour, strivin' to hear
what we're about; but it's well we didn't bring up anything consarnin' the
other business; didn't I tell yees the desate was in 'im? Look at his
shadow on the wall forninst us."
"Hould yer tongues, boys," said Traynor; "jist keep never mindin', and, be
me sowks, I'll make him sup sorrow for that thrick."
"You had betther neither make nor meddle wid him," observed Delany, "jist
put him out o' that—but don't rise yer hand to him, or he'll sarve
you as he did Jem Flannagan: put ye three or four months in the Stone
Jug" (* Gaol).
Traynor, however, had gone out while he was speaking, and in a few minutes
dragged in Brady, whom he caught in the very act of eaves-dropping.
"Jist come in, Brady," said Traynor, as he dragged him along; "walk in,
man alive; sure, and sich an honest man as you are needn't be afeard of
lookin' his friends in the face! Ho!—an' be me sowl, is it a spy
we've got; and, I suppose, would be an informer' too, if he had heard
anything to tell!"
"What's the manin' of this, boys?" exclaimed the others, feigning
ignorance. "Let the honest man go, Traynor. What do ye hawl him that way
for, ye gallis pet'?"
"Honest!" replied Traynor; "how very honest he is, the desavin' villain,
to be stand-in' at the windy there, wantin' to overhear the little
harmless talk we had."
"Come, Traynor," said Brady, seizing him in his turn by the neck, "take
your hands off of me, or, bad fate to me, but I'll lave ye a mark."
Traynor, in his turn, had his hand twisted in Brady's cravat, which he
drew tightly about his neck, until the other got nearly black in the face.
"Let me go you villain!" exclaimed Brady, "or, by this blessed night
that's in it, it'll be worse for you."
"Villain, is it?" replied Traynor, making a blow at him, whilst Brady
snatched, at a penknife, which one of the others had placed on the table,
after picking the tobacco out of his pipe—intending either to stab
Traynor, or to cut the knot of the cravat by which he was held. The
others, however, interfered, and presented further mischief.
"Brady," said Traynor, "you'll rue this night, if ever a man did, you
tracherous in-formin' villian. What an honest spy we have among us!—and
a short coorse to you!"
"O, hould yer tongue, Traynor!" replied Brady: "I believe it's best known
who is both the spy and the informer. The divil a pint of poteen ever
you'll run in this parish, until you clear yourself of bringing the gauger
on the Tracys, bekase they tuck Mick M'Kew, in preference to yourself, to
run it for them."
Traynor made another attempt to strike him, but was prevented. The rest
now interfered; and, in the course of an hour or so, an adjustment took
Brady took up the tongs, and swore "by that blessed iron," that he neither
heard, nor intended to hear, anything they said; and this exculpation was
followed by a fresh bottle at his own expense.
"You omadhawn," said he to Traynor, "I was only puttin' up a dozen o'
bottles into the tatch of the house, when you thought I was listenin';"
and, as a proof of the truth of this, he brought them out, and showed them
some bottles of poteen, neatly covered up under the thatch.
Before their separation they finally planned the abduction of Kavanagh
from the Patron, on the Saturday following, and after drinking another
round went home to their respective dwellings.
In this speculation, however, they experienced a fresh disappointment;
for, ere Saturday arrived, whether in consequence of secret intimation of
their intention from Brady, or some friend, or in compliance with the
offer of a better situation, the fact was, that Mat Kavanagh had removed
to another school, distant about eighteen miles from Findramore. But they
were not to be outdone; a new plan was laid, and in the course of the next
week a dozen of the most enterprising and intrepid of the "boys," mounted
each upon a good horse, went to Mat's new residence for the express
purpose of securing him.
Perhaps our readers may scarcely believe that a love of learning was so
strong among the inhabitants of Findramore as to occasion their taking
such remarkable steps for establishing a schoolmaster among them; but the
country was densely inhabited, the rising population exceedingly numerous,
and the outcry for a schoolmaster amongst the parents of the children loud
The fact, therefore, was, that a very strong motive stimulated the
inhabitants of Findramore in their efforts to procure a master. The old
and middle-aged heads of families were actuated by a simple wish,
inseparable from Irishmen, to have their children educated; and the young
men, by a determination to have a properly qualified person to conduct
their Night Schools, and improve them in their reading, writing, and
arithmetic. The circumstance I am now relating is one which actually took
place: and any man acquainted with the remote parts of Ireland, may have
often seen bloody and obstinate quarrels among the peasantry, in
vindicating a priority of claim to the local residence of a schoolmaster
among them. I could, within my own experience, relate two or three
instances of this nature.
It was one Saturday night, in the latter end of the month of May, that a
dozen Findramore "boys," as they were called, set out upon this most
singular of all literary speculations, resolved, at whatever risk, to
secure the person and effect the permanent bodily presence among them of
the Redoubtable Mat Kavanagh. Each man was mounted on a horse, and one of
them brought a spare steed for the accommodation of the schoolmaster. The
caparison of this horse was somewhat remarkable: wooden straddle, such as
used by the peasantry for carrying wicker paniers creels, which are hung
upon two wooden pins, that stand up out of its sides. Underneath was a
straw mat, to prevent the horse's back from being stripped by it. On one
side of this hung a large creel, and on the other a strong sack, tied
round a stone merely of sufficient weight to balance the empty creel. The
night was warm and clear, the moon and stars all threw their mellow light
from a serene, unclouded sky, and the repose of nature in the short nights
of this delightful season, resembles that of a young virgin of sixteen—still,
light, and glowing. Their way, for the most part of their journey, lay
through a solitary mountain-road; and, as they did not undertake the
enterprise without a good stock of poteen, their light-hearted songs and
choruses awoke the echoes that slept in the mountain glens as they went
along. The adventure, it is true, had as much of frolic as of seriousness
in it; and merely as the means of a day's fun for the boys, it was the
more eagerly entered into.
It was about midnight when they left home, and as they did not wish to
arrive at the village to which they were bound, until the morning should
be rather advanced, the journey was as slowly performed as possible. Every
remarkable object on the way was noticed, and its history, if any
particular association was connected with it, minutely detailed, whenever
it happened to be known. When the sun rose, many beautiful green spots and
hawthorn valleys excited, even from these unpolished and illiterate
peasants, warm bursts of admiration at their fragrance and beauty. In some
places, the dark flowery heath clothed the mountains to the tops, from
which the gray mists, lit by a flood of light, and breaking into masses
before the morning breeze, began to descend into the valleys beneath them;
whilst the voice of the grouse, the bleating of sheep and lambs, the
pee-weet of the wheeling lap-wing, and the song of the lark threw life and
animation the previous stillness of the country, sometimes a shallow river
would cross the road winding off into a valley that was overhung, on one
side, by rugged precipices clothed with luxurious heath and wild ash;
whilst on the other it was skirted by a long sweep of greensward, skimmed
by the twittering swallow, over which lay scattered numbers of sheep,
cows, brood mares, and colts—many of them rising and stretching
themselves ere they resumed their pasture, leaving the spots on which they
lay of a deeper green. Occasionally, too, a sly-looking fox might be seen
lurking about a solitary lamb, or brushing over the hills with a fat goose
upon his back, retreating to his den among the inaccessible rocks, after
having plundered some unsuspecting farmer.
As they advanced into the skirts of the cultivated country, they met many
other beautiful spots of scenery among the upland, considerable portions
of which, particularly in long sloping valleys, that faced the morning
sun, were covered with hazel and brushwood, where the unceasing and simple
notes of the cuckoo were incessantly plied, mingled with the more mellow
and varied notes of the thrush and blackbird. Sometimes the bright summer
waterfall seemed, in the rays of the sun, like a column of light, and the
springs that issued from the sides of the more distant and lofty mountains
shone with a steady, dazzling brightness, on which the eye could scarcely
rest. The morning, indeed, was beautiful, the fields in bloom, and every
thing cheerful. As the sun rose in the heavens, nature began gradually to
awaken into life and happiness; nor was the natural grandeur of a Sabbath
summer morning among these piles of magnificent mountains—nor its
heartfelt, but more artificial beauty in the cultivated country, lost,
even upon the unphilosophical "boys" of Findramore; so true is it, that
such exquisite appearances of nature will force enjoyment upon the most
When they had arrived within two miles of the little town in which Mat
Kavanagh was fixed, they turned off into a deep glen, a little to the
left; and, after having seated themselves under a white-thorn which grew
on the banks of a rivulet, they began to devise the best immediate
measures to be taken.
"Boys," said Tim Dolan, "how will we manage now with this thief of a
schoolmaster, at all? Come, Jack Traynor, you that's up to still-house
work—escapin' and carryin' away stills from gaugers, the bloody
villains! out wid yer spake, till we hear your opinion."
"Do ye think, boys," said Andy Connell, "that we could flatter him to come
by fair mains?"
"Flatther him!" said Traynor; "and, by my sowl, if we flatther him at all,
it must be by the hair of the head. No, no; let us bring him first,
whether he will or not, an' ax his consent aftherwards!"
"I'll tell you what it is, boys," continued Connell, "I'll hould a wager,
if you lave him to me, I'll bring him wid his own consint."
"No, nor sorra that you'll do, nor could do," replied Traynor: "for, along
wid every thing else, he thinks he's not jist doated on by the Findramore
people, being one of the Ballyscanlan tribe. No, no; let two of us go to
his place, and purtind that we have other business in the fair of
Clansallagh on Monday next, and ax him in to dhrink, for he'll not refuse
that, any how; then, when he's half tipsy, ax him to convoy us this far;
we'll then meet you here, an' tell him some palaver or other—sit
down where we are now, and, afther making him dead dhrunk, hoist a big
stone in the creel, and Mat in the sack, on the other side, wid his head
out, and off wid him; and he will know neither act nor part about it till
we're at Findramore."
Having approved of this project, they pulled out each a substantial
complement of stout oaten bread, which served, along with the whiskey, for
breakfast. The two persons pitched on for decoying Mat were Dolan and
Traynor, who accordingly set out, full of glee at the singularity and
drollness of their undertaking. It is unnecessary to detail the ingenuity
with which they went about it, because, in consequence of Kavanagh's love
of drink, very little ingenuity was necessary. One circumstance, however,
came to light, which gave them much encouragement, and that was a
discovery that Mat by no means relished his situation.
In the meantime, those who stayed behind in the glen felt their patience
begin to flag a little, because of the delay made by the others, who had
promised, if possible, to have the schoolmaster in the glen before two
o'clock. But the fact was, that Mat, who was far less deficient in
hospitality than in learning, brought them into his house, and not only
treated them to plenty of whiskey, but made the wife prepare a dinner, for
which he detained them, swearing, that except they stopped to partake of
it, he would not convoy them to the place appointed. Evening was,
therefore, tolerably far advanced, when they made their appearance at the
glen, in a very equivocal state of sobriety—Mat being by far the
steadiest of the three, but still considerably the worse for what he had
taken. He was now welcomed by a general huzza; and on his expressing
surprise at their appearance, they pointed to their horses, telling him
that they were bound for the fair of Clansallagh, for the purpose of
selling them. This was the more probable, as, when a fair occurs in
Ireland, it is usual for cattle-dealers, particularly horse-jockeys, to
effect sales, and "show" their horses on the evening before.
Mat now sat down, and was vigorously plied with strong poteen—songs
were sung, stories told, and every device resorted to that was calculated
to draw out and heighten his sense of enjoyment; nor were their efforts
without success; for, in the course of a short time, Mat was free from all
earthly care, being incapable of either speaking or standing.
"Now, boys," said Dolan, "let us do the thing clane an' dacent. Let you,
Jem Coogan, Brian Murphy, Paddy Delany, and Andy O'Donnell, go back, and
tell the wife and two childher a cock-and-a-bull story about Mat—say
that he is coming to Findramore for good and all, and that'll be thruth,
you know; and that he ordhered yez to bring her and them afther him; and
we can come back for the furniture to-morrow."
A word was enough—they immediately set off; and the others, not
wishing that Mat's wife should witness the mode of his conveyance,
proceeded home, for it was now dusk. The plan succeeded admirably; and in
a short time the wife and children, mounted behind the "boys" on the
horses, were on the way after them to Findramore.
The reader is already aware of the plan they had adopted for translating
Mat; but, as it was extremely original, I will explain it somewhat more
fully. The moment the schoolmaster was intoxicated to the necessary point—that
is to say, totally helpless and insensible—they opened the sack and
put him in, heels foremost, tying it in such a way about his neck as might
prevent his head from getting into it: thus avoiding the danger of
suffocation. The sack, with Mat at full length in it, was then fixed to
the pin of the straddle, so that he was in an erect posture during the
whole journey. A creel was then hung at the other side, in which was
placed a large stone, of sufficient weight to preserve an equilibrium;
and, to prevent any accident, a droll fellow sat astride behind the
straddle, amusing himself and the rest by breaking jokes upon the novelty
of Mat's situation.
"Well, Mat, ma bouchal, how duv ye like your sitivation? I believe,
for all your larnin', the Findramore boys have sacked you at last!"
"Ay!" exclaimed another, "he is sacked at last, in spite of his
"An', be my sowks," observed Traynor, "he'd be a long time goin' up a
Maypowl in the state he's in—his own snail would bate him."*
* This alludes to a question in Gough's Arithmetic,
which is considered difficult by hedge schoolmasters.
"Yes," said another; "but he desarves credit for travelin' from
Clansallagh to Findramore, widout layin' a foot to the ground—
"'Wan day wid Captain Whiskey I wrastled a fall,
But faith I was no match for the captain at all—
But faith I was no match for the captain at all,
Though the landlady's measures they were damnable small.
Tooral, looral, looral lorral lido.'
Whoo—hurroo! my darlings—success to the Findramore boys!
Hurroo—hurroo—the Findramore boys for ever!"
"Boys, did ever ye hear the song Mat made on Ned Mullen's fight wid Jemmy
Connor's gander? Well here is part of it, to the tune of 'Brian O'Lynn'—
'As Ned and the gander wor basting each other,
I hard a loud cry from the gray goose, his mother;
I ran to assist him, wid very great speed.
But before I arrived the poor gander did bleed.
'Alas!' says the gander, 'I'm very ill-trated,
For traicherous Mullen has me fairly defated;
Bud had you been here for to show me fair play,
I could leather his puckan around the lee bray.'
"Bravo! Matt," addressing the insensible schoolmaster—"success,
poet. Hurroo for the Findramore boys! the Bridge boys for ever!"
They then commenced, in a tone of mock gravity, to lecture him upon his
future duties—detailing the advantages of his situation, and the
comforts he would enjoy among them—although they might as well have
addressed themselves to the stone on the other side. In this manner they
got along, amusing themselves at Mat's expense, and highly elated at the
success of their undertaking. About three o'clock in the morning they
reached the top of the little hill above the village, when, on looking
back along the level stretch of road which I have already described, they
noticed their companions, with Mat's wife and children, moving briskly
after them. A general huzza now took place, which, in a few minutes, was
answered by two or three dozen of the young folks, who were assembled in
Barny Brady's waiting for their arrival. The scene now became quite
animated—cheer after cheer succeeded—jokes, laughter, and
rustic wit, pointed by the spirit of Brady's poteen, flew briskly about.
When Mat was unsacked, several of them came up, and shaking him cordially
by the hand, welcomed him among them. To the kindness of this reception,
however, Mat was wholly insensible, having been for the greater part of
the journey in a profound sleep. The boys now slipped the loop of the sack
off the straddle-pin; and, carrying Mat into a farmer's house, they
deposited him in a settle-bed, where he slept unconscious of the journey
he had performed, until breakfast-time on the next morning. In the mean
time, the wife and children were taken care of by Mrs. Connell, who
provided them with a bed, and every other comfort which they could
The next morning, when Mat awoke, his first call was for a drink. I should
have here observed, that Mrs. Kavanagh had been sent for by the good woman
in whose house Mat had slept, that they might all breakfast and have a
drop together, for they had already succeeded in reconciling her to the
change. "Wather!" said Mat—"a drink of wather, if it's to be had for
love or money, or I'll split wid druth—I'm all in a state of
conflagration; and my head—by the sowl of Newton, the inventor of
fluxions, but my head is a complete illucidation of the centrifugal
motion, so it is. Tundher-an'-turf! is there no wather to be had? Nancy, I
say, for God's sake, quicken yourself with the hydraulics, or the best
mathematician in Ireland's gone to the abode of Euclid and Pythagoras,
that first invented the multiplication table."
On cooling his burning blood with the "hydraulics," he again lay down with
the intention of composing himself for another sleep; but his eye having
noticed the novelty of his situation, he once more called Nancy.
"Nancy avourneen," he inquired, "will you be afther resolving me one
single proposition.—Where am I at the present spaking? Is it in the
Siminary at home, Nancy?" Nancy, in the mean time, had been desired to
answer in the affirmative, hoping that if his mind was made easy on that
point, he might refresh himself by another hour or two's sleep, as he
appeared to be not at all free from the effects of his previous
"Why, Mat, jewel, where else could you be, alannah, but at home? Sure
isn't here Jack, an' Biddy, an' myself, Mat, agra, along wid me. Your head
isn't well, but all you want is a good rousin' sleep."
"Very well, Nancy; very well, that's enough—quite satisfactory—quod
erat demonstrandum. May all kinds of bad luck rest upon the Findramore
boys, any way! The unlucky vagabonds—I'm the third they've done up.
Nancy, off wid ye, like quicksilver for the priest."
"The priest! Why, Mat, jewel, what puts that into your head? Sure, there's
nothing wrong wid ye, only the sup o' drink you tuck yesterday."
"Go, woman," said Mat; "did you ever know me to make a wrong calculation—I
tell you I'm non compos mentis from head to heel. Head! by my sowl, Nancy,
it'll soon be a capui mortuum wid me—I'm far gone in a disease they
call an opthical delusion—the devil a thing less it is—me
bein' in my own place, an' to think I'm lyin' in a settle bed; that there
is a large dresser, covered wid pewter dishes and plates; and to crown
all, the door on the wrong side of the house! Off wid ye, and tell his
Reverence that I want to be anointed, and to die in pace and charity wid
all men. May the most especial kind of bad luck light down upon you,
Findramore, and all that's in you, both man and baste—you have given
me my gruel along wid the rest; but, thank God, you won't hang me, any
how! Off, Nancy, for the priest, till I die like a Christhan, in pace and
forgiveness wid the world;—all kinds of hard fortune to them! Make
haste, woman, if you expect me to die like a Christhan. If they had let me
alone till I'd publish to the world my Treatise upon Conic Sections—but
to be cut off on my march to fame! another draught of the hydraulics,
Nancy, an' then for the priest—But see, bring Father Connell, the
curate, for he understands something about Matthew-maticks; an' never heed
Father Roger, for divil a thing he knows about them, not even the
difference between a right line and a curve—in the page of histhory,
to his everlasting disgrace, be the same recorded!"
"Mat," replied Nancy, scarcely preserving her gravity, "keep yourself from
talkin', an' fall asleep, then you'll be well enough."
"Is there e'er a sup at all in the house?" said Mat; "if there is, let me
get it; for there's an ould proverb, though it's a most unmathematical
axiom as ever was invinted—'try a hair of the same dog that bit
you;' give me a glass, Nancy, an' you can go for Father Connell after. Oh,
by the sowl of Isaac, that invented fluxions, what's this for?"
A general burst-of laughter followed this demand and ejaculation; and Mat
sat up once more in the settle, and examined the place with keener
scrutiny. Nancy herself laughed heartily; and, as she handed him the full
glass, entered into an explanation of the circumstances attending his
translation. Mat, at all times rather of pliant disposition, felt rejoiced
on finding that he was still compos mentis; and on hearing what took
place, he could not help entering into the humor of the enterprise, at
which he laughed as heartily as any of them.
"Mat," said, the farmer, and half a dozen of the neighbors, "you're a
happy man, there's a hundred of the boys have a school-house half built
for you this same blessed sunshiny mornin', while your lying at aise in
"By the sowl of Newton, that invented fluxions!" replied Mat, "but I'll
take revenge for the disgrace you put upon my profession, by stringing up
a schoolmaster among you, and I'll hang you all! It's death to steal a
four-footed animal; but what do you desarve for stealin' a Christian
baste, a two-legged schoolmaster without feathers, eighteen miles, and he
not to know it?"
In the course of a short time Mat was dressed, and having found benefit
from the "hair of the dog that bit him," he tried another glass, which
strung his nerves, or, as he himself expressed it—"they've got the
rale mathematical tinsion again." What the farmer said, however, about the
school-house had been true. Early that morning all the growing and grown
young men of Findramore and its "vircinity" had assembled, selected a
suitable spot, and, with merry hearts, were then busily engaged in
erecting a school-house for their general accomodation.
The manner of building hedge school-houses being rather curious, I will
describe it. The usual spot selected for their erection is a ditch in the
road-side; in some situation where there will be as little damp as
possible. From such a spot an excavation is made equal to the size of the
building, so that, when this is scooped out, the back side-wall, and the
two gables are already formed, the banks being dug perpendicularly. The
front side-wall, with a window in each side of the door, is then built of
clay or green sods laid along in rows; the gables are also topped with
sods, and, perhaps, a row or two laid upon the back side-wall, if it
should be considered too low. Having got the erection of Mat's house thus
far, they procured a scraw-spade, and repaired with a couple of dozen of
cars to the next bog, from which they cut the light heathy surface in
strips the length of the roof. A scraw-spade is an instrument resembling
the letter T, with an iron plate at the lower end, considerably bent, and
well adapted to the purpose for which it is intended. Whilst one party cut
the scraws, another bound the couples and bauks* and a third cut as
many green branches as were sufficient to wattle it. The couples, being
bound, were raised—the ribs laid on—then the wattles, and
afterwards the scraws.
* The couples are shaped like the letter A, and sustain
the roof; the bauks, or rafters, cross them from one
side to another like the line inside the letter.
Whilst these successive processes went forward, many others had been
engaged all the morning cutting rushes; and the scraws were no sooner laid
on, than half a dozen thatchers mounted the roof, and long before the
evening was closed, a school-house, capable of holding near two hundred
children, was finished. But among the peasantry no new house is ever put
up without a hearth-warming and a dance. Accordingly the clay floor was
paired—a fiddler procured—Barny Brady and his stock of poteen
sent for; the young women of the village and surrounding neighborhood
attended in their best finery; dancing commenced—and it was four
o'clock the next morning when the merry-makers departed, leaving Mat a new
home and a hard floor, ready for the reception of his scholars.
Business now commenced. At nine o'clock the next day Mat's furniture was
settled in a small cabin, given to him at a cheap rate by one of the
neighboring farmers; for, whilst the school-house was being built, two
men, with horses and cars, had gone to Clansallagh, accompanied by Nancy,
and removed the furniture, such as it was, to their new residence. Nor was
Mat, upon the whole, displeased at what had happened; for he was now fixed
in a flourishing country—fertile and well cultivated; nay, the
bright landscape which his school-house commanded was sufficient in itself
to reconcile him to his situation. The inhabitants were in comparatively
good circumstances; many of them wealthy, respectable farmers, and capable
of remunerating him very decently for his literary labors; and what was
equally flattering, there was a certainty of his having a numerous and
well-attended school in a neighborhood with whose inhabitants he was
Honest, kind-hearted Paddy!—pity that you should ever feel distress
or hunger—pity that you should be compelled to seek, in another
land, the hard-earned pittance by which you keep the humble cabin over
your chaste wife and naked children! Alas! what noble materials for
composing a national character, of which humanity might be justly proud,
do the lower orders of the Irish possess, if raised and cultivated by an
enlightened education! Pardon me, gentle reader, for this momentary
ebullition; I grant I am a little dark now. I assure you, however, the
tear of enthusiastic admiration is warm on my eye-lids, when I remember
the flitches of bacon, the sacks of potatoes, the bags of meal, the
miscowns of butter, and the dishes of eggs—not omitting crate after
crate of turf which came in such rapid succession to Mat Kavanagh, during
the first week on which he opened his school. Ay, and many a bottle of
stout poteen, when
"The eye of the gauger saw it not,"
was, with a sly, good-humored wink, handed over to Mat, or Nancy, no
matter which, from under the comfortable drab jock, with velvet-covered
collar, erect about the honest, ruddy face of a warm, smiling farmer, or
even the tattered frieze of a poor laborer—anxious to secure the
attention of the "masther" to his little "Shoneen," whom, in the
extravagance of his ambition, he destined to "wear the robes as a clargy."
Let no man say, I repeat, that the Irish are not fond of education.
In the course of a month Mat's school was full to the door posts, for, in
fact, he had the parish to himself—many attending from a distance of
three, four, and five miles. His merits, however, were believed to be
great, and his character for learning stood high, though unjustly so: for
a more superficial, and at the same time, a more presuming dunce never
existed; but his character alone could secure him a good attendance; he,
therefore, belied the unfavorable prejudices against the Findramore folk,
which had gone abroad, and was a proof, in his own person, that the reason
of the former schoolmasters' miscarriage lay in the belief of their
incapacity which existed among the people. But Mat was one of those showy,
shallow fellows, who did not lack for assurance.
The first step a hedge schoolmaster took, on establishing himself in a
school, was to write out, in his best copperplate hand, a flaming
advertisement, detailing, at full length, the several branches he
professed himself capable of teaching. I have seen many of these—as
who that is acquainted with Ireland has not?—and, beyond all doubt,
if the persons that issued them were acquainted with the various heads
recapitulated, they must have been buried in the most profound obscurity,
as no man but a walking Encyclopaedia—an admirable Crichton—could
claim an intimacy with them, embracing, as they often did, the whole
circle of human knowledge. 'Tis true, the vanity of the pedagogue had full
scope in these advertisements, as there was none to bring him to an
account, except some rival, who could only attack him on those practical
subjects which were known to both. Independently of this, there was a
good-natured collusion between them on those points which were beyond
their knowledge, inasmuch as they were not practical but speculative, and
by no means involved their character or personal interests. On the next
Sunday, therefore, after Mat's establishment at Findrainore, you might see
a circle of the peasantry assembled at the chapel door, perusing, with
suitable reverence and admiration on their faces, the following
advertisement; or, perhaps, Mat himself, with a learned, consequential
air, in the act of "expounding" it to them.
"Mr. Matthew Kavanagh, Philomath and' Professor of the Learned Languages,
begs leave to inform the Inhabitants of Findramore and' its vicinity, that
he lectures on the following branches of Education, in his Seminary at the
"Spelling, Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, upon altogether new
principles, hitherto undiscovered by any excepting himself, and for which
he expects a Patent from Trinity College, Dublin; or, at any rate, from
Squire Johnston, Esq., who paternizes many of the pupils; Book-keeping, by
single and double entry—Geometry, Trigonometry, Stereometry,
Mensuration, Navigation, Guaging, Surveying, Dialling, Astronomy,
Astrology, Austerity, Fluxions, Geography, ancient and modern—Maps,
the Projection of the Sphere—Algebra, the Use of the Globes, Natural
and Moral Philosophy, Pneumatics, Optics, Dioptics, Catroptics,
Hydraulics, Erostatics, Geology, Glorification, Divinity, Mythology,
Medicinality, Physic, by theory only, Metaphysics practically, Chemistry,
Electricity, Galvanism, Mechanics, Antiquities, Agriculture, Ventilation,
"In Classics—Grammar, Cordery, AEsop's Fables, Erasmus' Colloquies,
Cornelius Nepos, Phaedrus, Valerius Maximus, Justin, Ovid, Sallust,
Virgil, Horace, Juvenal, Persius, Terence, Tully's Offices, Cicero,
Manouverius Turgidus, Esculapius, Rogerius, Satanus Nigrus, Quinctilian,
Livy, Thomas Aquinas, Cornelius Agrippa, and Cholera Morbus.
"Greek Grammar, Greek Testament, Lucian, Homer, Sophocles, AEschylus,
Thucydides, Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and the
Works of Alexander the Great; the manners, habits, customs, usages, and
the meditations of the Grecians; the Greek Digamma resolved, Prosody,
Composition, both in prose and verse, and Oratory, in English, Latin and
Greek; together with various other branches of learning and scholastic
profundity—quoi enumerare longum est—along with Irish
Radically, and a small taste of Hebrew upon the Masoretic text.
"Matthew Kavanagh, Philomath." (* See note at the end of this sketch.)
Having posted this document upon the hapel-door, and in all the public
places and cross roads of the parish, Mat considered himself as having
done his duty. He now began to teach, and his school continued to increase
to his heart's content, every day bringing him fresh scholars. In this
manner he flourished till the beginning of winter, when those boys, who,
by the poverty of their parents, had been compelled to go to service to
the neighboring farmers, flocked to him in numbers, quite voracious for
knowledge. An addition was consequently built to the school-house, which
was considerably too small; so that, as Christmas approached, it would be
difficult to find a more numerous or merry establishment under the roof of
a hedge school. But it is time to give an account of its interior.
The reader will then be pleased to picture to himself such a house as I
have already described—in a line with the hedge; the eave of the
back roof within a foot of the ground behind it; a large hole exactly in
the middle of the "riggin'," as a chimney; immediately under which is an
excavation in the floor, burned away by a large fire of turf, loosely
heaped together. This is surrounded by a circle of urchins, sitting on the
bare earth, stones, and hassocks, and exhibiting a series of speckled
shins, all radiating towards the fire, like sausages on a Poloni dish.
There they are—wedged as close as they can sit; one with half a
thigh off his breeches—another with half an arm off his tattered
coat—a third without breeches at all, wearing, as a substitute, a
piece of his mother's old petticoat, pinned about his loins—a
fourth, no coat—a fifth, with a cap on him, because he has got a
scald, from having sat under the juice of fresh hung bacon—a sixth
with a black eye—a seventh two rags about his heels to keep his
kibes clean—an eighth crying to get home, because he has got a
headache, though it may be as well to hint, that there is a drag-hunt to
start from beside his father's in the course of the day. In this ring,
with his legs stretched in a most lordly manner, sits, upon a deal chair,
Mat himself, with his hat on, basking in the enjoyment of unlimited
authority. His dress consists of a black coat, considerably in want of
repair, transferred to his shoulders through the means of a clothes-broker
in the county-town; a white cravat, round a large stuffing, having that
part which comes in contact with the chin somewhat streaked with brown—a
black waistcoat, with one or two "tooth-an'-egg" metal buttons sewed on
where the original had fallen off—black corduroy inexpressibles,
twice dyed, and sheep's-gray stockings. In his hand is a large, broad
ruler, the emblem of his power, the woful instrument of executive justice,
and the signal of terror to all within his jurisdiction. In a corner below
is a pile of turf, where on entering, every boy throws his two sods, with
a hitch from under his left arm. He then comes up to the master, catches
his forelock with finger and thumb, and bobs down his head, by way of
making him a bow, and goes to his seat. Along the walls on the ground is a
series of round stones, some of them capped with a straw collar or
hassock, on which the boys sit; others have bosses, and many of them hobs—a
light but compact kind of boggy substance found in the mountains. On these
several of them sit; the greater number of them, however, have no seats
whatever, but squat themselves down, without compunction, on the hard
floor. Hung about, on wooden pegs driven into the walls, are the shapeless
yellow "caubeens" of such as can boast the luxury of a hat, or caps made
of goat or hare's skin, the latter having the ears of the animal rising
ludicrously over the temples, or cocked out at the sides, and the scut
either before or behind, according to the taste or the humor of the
wearer. The floor, which is only swept every Saturday, is strewed over
with tops of quills, pens, pieces of broken slate, and tattered leaves of
"Reading made Easy," or fragments of old copies. In one corner is a knot
engaged at "Fox and Geese," or the "Walls of Troy" on their slates; in
another, a pair of them are "fighting bottles," which consists in striking
the bottoms together, and he whose bottle breaks first, of course, loses.
Behind the master is a third set, playing "heads and points"—a game
of pins. Some are more industriously employed in writing their copies,
which they perform seated on the ground, with their paper on a copy-board—a
piece of planed deal, the size of the copy, an appendage now nearly
exploded—their cheek-bones laid within half an inch of the left side
of the copy, and the eye set to guide the motion of the hand across, and
to regulate the straightness of the lines and the forms of the letters.
Others, again, of the more grown boys, are working their sums with
becoming industry. In a dark corner are a pair of urchins thumping each
other, their eyes steadily fixed on the master, lest he might happen to
glance in that direction. Near the master himself are the larger boys,
from twenty-two to fifteen—shaggy-headed slips, with loose-breasted
shirts lying open about their bare chests; ragged colts, with white, dry,
bristling beards upon them, that never knew a razor; strong stockings on
their legs; heavy brogues, with broad, nail-paved soles; and breeches open
at the knees. Nor is the establishment without a competent number of
females. These were, for the most part, the daughters of wealthy farmers,
who considered it necessary to their respectability, that they should not
be altogether illiterate; such a circumstance being a considerable
drawback, in the opinion of an admirer, from the character of a young
woman for whom he was about to propose—a drawback, too, which was
always weighty in proportion to her wealth or respectability.
Having given our readers an imperfect sketch of the interior of Mat's
establishment, we will now proceed, however feebly, to represent him at
work—with all the machinery of the system in full operation.
"Come, boys, rehearse—(buz, buz, buz)—I'll soon be after
calling up the first spelling lesson—(buz, buz, buz)—then the
mathematicians—book-keepers—Latinists and Grecians,
successfully. (Buz, buz, buz)—Silence there below!—your pens!
Tim Casey, isn't this a purty hour o' the day for you to come into school
at; arraix, and what kept you, Tim? Walk up wid yourself here, till we
have a confabulation together; you see I love to be talking to you.
"Sir, Larry Branagen, here; he's throwing spits at me out of his pen."—(Buz,
"By my sowl, Larry, there's a rod in steep for you."
"Fly away, Jack—fly away, Jill; come again, Jack—"
"I had to go to Paddy Nowlan's for to-baccy, sir, for my father." (Weeping
with his hand knowingly across his face—one eye laughing at his
"You lie, it wasn't."
"If you call me a liar agin, I'll give you a dig in the mug."
"It's not in your jacket."
"Behave yourself; ha! there's the masther looking at you—ye'll get
"None at all, Tim? And she's not after sinding an excuse wid you? What's
that undher your arm?"
"My Grough, sir."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"Silence, boys. And, you blackguard Lilliputian, you, what kept you away
"One bird pickin', two men thrashin'; one bird pickin', two men thrashin';
one bird pickin'—"
"Sir, they're stickn' pins in me, here."
"Who is, Briney?"
"I don't know, sir, they're all at it."
"Boys, I'll go down to yez."
"I can't carry him, sir, he'd be too heavy for me: let Larry Toole do it,
he's stronger nor me; any way, there, he's putting a corker pin in his
mouth."*—(Buz, buz, buz.)
* In the hedge schools it was usual for the unfortunate
culprit about to be punished to avail himself of all
possible stratagems that were calculated to diminish
his punishment. Accordingly, when put upon another
boy's back to be horsed, as it was termed, he slipped a
large pin, called a corker, in his mouth, and on
receiving the first blow stuck it into the neck of the
boy who carried him. This caused the latter to jump and
bounce about in such a manner that many of the blows
directed at his burthen missed their aim. It was an
understood thing, however, that the boy carrying the
felon should aid him in every way in his power, by
yielding, moving', and shifting about, so that it was
only when he seemed to abet the master that the pin was
applied to him.
"Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo—I'll never stay away agin, sir; indeed I won't,
sir. Oh, sir, clear, pardon me this wan time; and if ever you cotch me
doing the like agin, I'll give you lave to welt the sowl out of me."—(Buz
buz, buz.). "Behave yourself, Barny Byrne."
"I'm not touching you."
"Yes, you are; didn't you make me blot my Copy?"
"Ho, by the livin', I'll pay you goin' home for this."
"Hand me the taws."
"Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo—what'll I do, at all at all! Oh, sir dear,
sir dear, sir dear—hoo-hoo-hoo."
"Did she send no message, good or bad, before I lay on?"
"Oh, not a word, sir, only that my father killed a pig yestherday, and he
wants you to go up to-day at dinner-time."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"It's time to get lave—it isn't, it is—it isn't, it is," etc.
"You lie, I say, your faction never was able to fight ours; didn't we lick
all your dirty breed in Builagh-battha fair?"
"Silence there."—(Buz, buz, buz.)
"Will you meet us on Sathurday, and we'll fight it out clane!"
"Ha-ha-ha! Tim, but you got a big fright, any how: whist, ma bouchal, sure
I was only jokin' you; and sorry I'd be to bate your father's son, Tim.
Come over, and sit beside myself at the fire here. Get up, Micky Donoghue,
you big, burnt-shinn'd spalpeen you, and let the dacent boy sit at the
"Hulabaloo hoo-hoo-hoo—to go to give me such a welt, only for
sitting at the fire, and me brought turf wid me."
"At dinner time, is id?"
"Faith, the dacent strain was always in the same family."—(Buz, buz,
"Horns, horns, cock horns: oh, you up'd vrid them, you lifted your fingers—that's
a mark, now—hould your face, till I blacken you!"
"Do you call thim two sods, Jack Laniran? why, 'tis only one long one
broke in the middle; but you must make it up tomorrow. Jack, how is your
mother's tooth?—did she get it pulled out yet?"
"Well, tell her to come to me, and I'll write a charm for it, that'll cure
her.—What kept you' till now, Paddy Magouran?"
"Couldn't come any sooner, sir."
"You couldn't, sir—and why, sir, couldn't you come any sooner',
"See, sir, what Andy Nowlan done to my copy."—(Buz, buz, buz.)—
"Silence, I'll massacree yez if yez don't make less noise."—(Buz,
"I was down with Mrs. Kavanagh, sir."
"You were, Paddy—an' Paddy, ma bouchal, what war you doing there,
"Masther, sir, spake to Jem Kenny here; he made my nose bleed."—
"I was br ingin' her a layin' hen, sir, that my mother promised her at
mass on Sunday last."
"Ah, Paddy, you're a game bird, yourself, wid your layin' hens; you're as
full o' mischief as an egg's full o' mate—(omnes—ha, ha, ha,
ha!)—Silence, boys—what are you laughin' at?—ha, ha, ha!—Paddy,
can you spell Nebachodnazure for me?"
"No, nor a better scholar, Paddy, could not do that, ma bouchal; but
I'll spell it for you. Silence, boys—whist, all of yez, till I spell
Nebachodnazure for Paddy Magouran. Listen; and you yourself, Paddy, are
one of the letthers:
A turf and a clod spells Nebachod—
A knife and a razure, spells Nebachodnazure—
Three pair of boots and five pair of shoes—
Spells Nebachodnazure, the king of the Jews.'
Now, Paddy, that's spelling Nebachodnazure by the science of Ventilation;
but you'll never go that deep, Paddy."—
"I want to go out, if you plase, sir."
"Is that the way you ax me, you vagabone?"
"I want to go out, sir,"—(pulling down the fore lock.)
"Yes, that's something dacenter; by the sowl of Newton, that invinted
fluxions, if ever you forgot to make a bow again, I'll nog the enthrils
out of you—wait till the Pass comes in."
Then comes the spelling lesson. "Come, boys, stand up to the spelling
"Mickey," says one urchin, "show me your book, till I look at my word. I'm
"Wait till I see my own."
"Why do you crush for?"
"That's my place."
"No, it's not."
"Sir, spake to————-I'll tell the masther."
"What's the matther there?"
"Sir, he won't let me into my place."
"I'm before you."
"No you're not."
"I say, I am."
"You lie, pug-face: ha! I called you pug-face, tell now if you dare."
"Well boys, down with your pins in the book: who's king?"
"I am, sir."
"I am prince, sir."
"Tag rag and bob-tail, fall into your places."
"I've no pin, sir."
"Well down with you to the tail——now, boys."*
* At the spelling lesson the children were obliged to
put down each a pin, he who held the first place got
them all with the exception of the queen—that is the
boy who held the second place! who got two; and the
prince, the third who got one. The last boy in the
class was called Bobtail.
Having gone through the spelling-task, it was Mat's custom to give out six
hard words selected according to his judgment—as a final test; but
he did not always confine himself to that. Sometimes he would put a number
of syllables arbitrarily together, forming a most heterogeneous
combination of articulate sounds.
"Now, boys, here's a deep word, that'll thry yez: come Larry spell
mis-an-thro-po-mor-phi-ta-ni-a-nus-mi-ca-li-a-lioy;—that's too hard
for you, is it? Well, then, spell phthisic. Oh, that's physic you're
spellin'. Now, Larry, do you know the difference between physic and
"Well, I'll expound it: phthisic, you see, manes—whisht, boys: will
yez hould yer tongues there—phthisic, Larry, signifies—that
is, phthisic—mind, it's not physic I'm expounding, but phthisic—boys,
will yez stop yer noise there—signifies——but, Larry,
it's so deep a word in larnin' that I should draw it out on a slate for
you. And now I remimber, man alive, you're not far enough on yet to
understand it: but what's physic, Larry?"
"Isn't that sir, what my father tuck the day he got sick, sir?"
"That's the very thing, Larry: it has what larned men call a medical
property, and resembles little ricketty Dan Reilly there—it
retrogrades. Och! Och! I'm the boy that knows things—you see now how
I expounded them two hard words for yez, boys—don't yez?"
"Yes, sir," etc., etc.
"So, Larry, you haven't the larnin' for that either: but here's an 'asier
one—spell me Ephabridotas (Epaphroditas)—you can't! hut! man—you're
a big dunce, entirely, that little shoneen Sharkey there below would sack.
God be wid the day when I was the likes of you—it's I that was the
bright gorsoon entirely—and so sign was on it, when a great larned
traveler—silence boys, till I tell yez this [a dead silence]—from
Thrinity College, all the way in Dublin, happened to meet me one day—seeing
the slate and Gough, you see, undher my arm, he axes me—' Arrah,
Mat,' says he, 'what are you in?' says he. 'Faix, I'm in my
breeches, for one thing,' says I, off hand—silence childhre, and
don't laugh so loud—(ha, ha, ha!) So he looks closer at me: 'I see
that,' says he; 'but what are you reading?' 'Nothing at all at all,' says
I; 'bad manners to the taste, as you may see, if you've your eyesight.' 'I
think,' says he, 'you'll be apt to die in your breeches;' and set spurs to
a fine saddle mare he rid—faith, he did so—thought me so cute—(omnes—ha,
ha, ha!) Whisht, boys, whisht; isn't it a terrible thing that I can't tell
yez a joke, but you split your sides laughing at it—(ha, ha, ha!)—don't
laugh so loud, Barney Casey."—(ha, ha, ha!)
Barney.—"I want to go out, if you plase, sir."
"Go, avick, you'll be a good scholar yet, Barney. Faith, Barney knows whin
to laugh, any how."
"Well, Larry, you can't spell Ephabridotas?—thin, here's a short
weeshy one, and whoever spells it will get the pins;—spell a red
rogue wid three letters. You, Micky! Dan? Jack? Natty? Alick? Andy?
Pettier? Jim? Tim? Pat? Body? you? you? you? Now, boys, I'll hould you
that my little Andy here, that's only beginning the Rational Spelling
Book, bates you all; come here, Andy, alanna: now, boys, If he bates
you, you 'must all bring him a little miscaun of butter between two
kale leaves, in the mornin', for himself; here, Andy avourneen, spell red
rogue with three letthers."
Andy.—"M, a, t—Mat."
"No, no, avick, that's myself, Andy; it's red rogue, Andy—hem!—F—."
"F, o, x—fox."
"That's a man, Andy. Now boys, mind what you owe Andy in the mornin, God,
"I will, sir."
"And I will, sir."
"And so will I sir," etc., etc, etc
I know not whether the Commissioners of Education found the monitorial
system of instruction in such of the old hedge schools as maintained an
obstinate resistance to the innovations of modern plans. That Bell and
Lancaster deserve much credit for applying and extending the principle
(speaking without any reference to its merits) I do not hesitate to grant;
but it is unquestionably true, that the principle was reduced to practice
in Irish hedge schools long before either of these worthy gentlemen were
in existence. I do not, indeed, at present remember whether or not they
claim it as a discovery, or simply as an adaptation of a practice which
experience, in accidental cases, had found useful, and which they
considered capable of more extensive benefit. I remember many instances,
however, in which it was applied—and applied, in my opinion, though
not as a permanent system, yet more judiciously than it is at present. I
think it a mistake to suppose that silence, among a number of children in
school, is conducive to the improvement either of health or intellect,
that the chest and the lungs are benefited by giving full play to the
voice, I think will not be disputed; and that a child is capable of more
intense study and abstraction in the din of a school-room, than in partial
silence (if I may be permitted the word), is a fact, which I think any
rational observation would establish. There is something cheering and
cheerful in the noise of friendly voices about us—it is a restraint
taken off the mind, and it will run the lighter for it—it produces
more excitement, and puts the intellect in a better frame for study. The
obligation to silence, though it may give the master more ease, imposes a
new moral duty upon the chil—the sense of which must necessarily
weaken his application. Let the boy speak aloud, if he pleases—that
is, to a certain pitch; let his blood circulate; let the natural
secretions take place, and the physical effluvia be thrown off by a free
exercise of voice and limbs: but do not keep him dumb and motionless as a
statue—his blood and his intellect both in a state of stagnation,
and his spirit below zero. Do not send him in quest of knowledge alone,
but let him have cheerful companionship on his way; for, depend upon it,
that the man who expects too much either in discipline or morals from a
boy, is not in my opinion, acquainted with human nature. If an urchin
titter at his own joke, or that of another—if he give him a jab of a
pin under the desk, imagine not that it will do him an injury, whatever
phrenologists may say concerning the organ of destructiveness. It is an
exercise to the mind, and he will return to his business with greater
vigor and effect. Children are not men, nor influenced by the same motives—they
do not reflect, because their capacity for reflection is imperfect; so is
their reason: whereas on the contrary, their faculties for education
(excepting judgment, which strengthens my argument) are in greater vigor
in youth than in manhood. The general neglect of this distinction is, I am
convinced, a stumbling-block in the way of youthful instruction, though it
characterizes all our modern systems. We should never forget that they are
children; nor should we bind them by a system, whose standard is taken
from the maturity of human intellect. We may bend our reason to theirs,
but we cannot elevate their capacity to our own. We may produce an
external appearance, sufficiently satisfactory to ourselves; but, in the
meantime, it is probable that the child may be growing in hypocrisy, and
settling down into the habitual practice of a fictitious character.
But another and more serious objection may be urged against the present
strictness of scholastic discipline—which is, that it deprives the
boy of a sense of free and independent agency. I speak this with
limitations, for a master should be a monarch in his school, but by no
means a tyrant; and decidedly the very worst species of tyranny is that
which stretches the young mind upon the rod of too rigorous a discipline—like
the despot who exacted from his subjects so many barrels of perspiration,
whenever there came a long and severe frost. Do not familiarize the mind
when young to the toleration of slavery, lest it prove afterwards
incapable of recognizing and relishing the principle of an honest and
manly independence. I have known many children, on whom a rigor of
discipline, affecting the mind only (for severe corporal punishment is now
almost exploded), impressed a degree of timidity almost bordering on
pusillanimity. Away, then, with the specious and long-winded arguments of
a false and mistaken philosophy. A child will be a child, and a boy a boy,
to the conclusion of the chapter. Bell or Lancaster would not relish the
pap or caudle-cup three times a day; neither would an infant on the breast
feel comfortable after a gorge of ox beef. Let them, therefore, put a
little of the mother's milk of human kindness and consideration into their
A hedge schoolmaster was the general scribe of the parish, to whom all who
wanted letters or petitions written, uniformly applied—and these
were glorious opportunities for the pompous display of pedantry; the
remuneration usually consisted of a bottle of whiskey.
A poor woman, for instance, informs Mat that she wishes to have a letter
written to her son, who is a soldier abroad. "An' how long is he gone,
"Och, thin, masther, he's from me goin' an fifteen year; an' a comrade of
his was spakin' to Jim Dwyer, an' says his ridgiment's lyin' in the Island
of Budanages, somewhere in the back parts of Africa."
"An' is it a lotther of petition you'd be afther havin' me to indite for
"Och, a letthur, sir—a letthur, master; an' may the Lord grant you
all kinds of luck, good, bad, an' indifferent, both to you and yours: an'
well it's known, by the same token, that it's yourself has the nice hand
at the pen entirely, an' can indite a letter or petition, that the priest
of the parish mightn't be ashamed to own to it."
"Why, thin, 'tis I that 'ud scorn to deteriorate upon the superiminence of
my own execution at inditin' wid a pen in my hand; but would you feel a
delectability in my supersoriptionizin' the epistolary correspondency,
ma'am, that I'm about to adopt?"
"Eagh? och, what am I sayin'!—sir—masther—sir?—the
noise of the crathurs, you see, is got into my ears; and, besides, I'm a
bit bothered on both sides of my head, ever since I heard that weary weid."
"Silence, boys; bad manners to yez, will ye be asy, you Lilliputian
Boeotians—by my hem—upon my credit, if I go down to that
corner, I'll castigate yez in dozens: I can't spake to this dacent woman,
with your insuperable turbulentiality."
"Ah, avourneen, masther, but the larnin's a fine thing, any how; an' maybe
'tis yourself that hasn't the tongue in your head, an' can spake the tall,
high-flown English; a wurrah, but your tongue hangs well, any how—the
Lord increase it!"
"Lanty Cassidy, are you gettin' on wid your Stereometry? festina, mi
discipuli; vocabo Homerum, mox atque mox. You see, ma'am, I must tache
thim to spake an' effectuate a translation of the larned languages
"Arrah, masther dear, how did you get it all into your head, at all at
"Silence, boys—tace—' conticuere omnes intentique ora
tenebant.' Silence, I say agin."
"You could slip over, maybe, to Doran's, masther, do you see? You'd do it
betther there, I'll engage: sure and you'd want a dhrop to steady your
hand, any how."
"Now, boys, I am goin' to indite a small taste of literal correspondency
over at the public-house here; you literati will hear the lessons
for me, boys, till afther I'm back agin; but mind, boys, absente domino
strepuunt servi—meditate on the philosophy of that; and, Mick
Mahon, take your slate and put down all the names; and, upon my soul—hem—credit,
I'll castigate any boy guilty of misty mannes on my retrogadation
thither;—ergo momentote, cave ne titubes mandataque frangas."
"Blood alive, masther, but that's great spakin'—begar, a judge
couldn't come up to you; but in throth, sir, I'd be long sarry to throuble
you; only he's away fifteen year, and I wouldn't thrust it to another; and
the corplar that commands the ridgment would regard your handwrite and
"Don't, ma'am, plade the smallest taste of apology."
"I'm happy that I can sarve you, ma'am."
"Musha, long life to you, masther, for that same, any how—but it's
yourself that's deep in the larnin' and the langridges; the Lord incrase
yer knowledge—sure, an' we all want his blessin', you know."
"Home, is id? Start, boys, off—chase him, lie into him—asy,
curse yez, take time gettin' out: that's it—keep to him—don't
wait for me; take care, you little spalpeens, or you'll brake your bones,
so you will: blow the dust of this road, I can't see my way in."
"Well, boys, you've been at it—here's swelled faces and bloody
noses. What blackened your eye, Callaghan? You're a purty prime ministher,
ye boxing blackguard, you: I left you to keep pace among these factions,
and you've kicked up a purty dust. What blackened your eye—eh?—"
"I'll tell you, sir, whin I come in, if you plase."
"Ho, you vagabones, this is the ould work of the faction between the
Bradys and the Callaghans—bastin' one another; but, by my sowl, I'll
baste you all through other. You don't want to go out, Callaghan. You had
fine work here since; there's a dead silence now; but I'll pay you
presently. Here, Duggan, go out wid Callaghan, and see that you bring him
back in less than no time. It's not enough for your fathers and brothers
to be at it, who have a right to fight, but you must battle betune you—have
your field days itself!"
(Duggan returns)—"Hoo—hoo—sir, my nose. Oh, murdher
sheery, my nose is broked!"
"Blow your nose, you spalpeen you—Where's Callaghan?"
"Oh, sir, bad luck to him every day he rises out of his bed; he got a
stone in his fist, too, that he hot me a pelt on the nose wid, and then
made off home."
"Home is id? Start, boys, off—chase him, lie into him—azy,
curse yez, take time gettin out; that's it—keep to him—don't
wait for me; take care you little salpeens or you'll brake your bones, so
you will: blow the dust of this road, I can't see my way in it."
"Oh! murdher, Jem, agra, my knee's out' o' joint."
"My elbow's smashed, Paddy. Bad luck to him—the devil fly away wid
him—oh! ha I ha!—oh! ha! ha! murdher—hard fortune to me,
but little Mickey Geery fell, an' thripped the masther, an' himself's,
disabled now—his black breeches split too—look at him feelin'
them—oh! oh! ha! ha!—by tare-an'-onty, Callaghan will be
murdhered, if they cotch him."
This was a specimen of scholastic civilization which Ireland only could
furnish; nothing, indeed, could be more perfectly ludicrous than such a
chase; and such scenes were by no means uncommon in hedge-schools, for,
wherever severe punishment was dreaded—and, in truth, most of the
hedge masters were unfeeling tyrants—the boy, if sufficiently grown
to make a good race, usually broke away, and fled home at the top of his
speed. The pack then were usually led on by the master, who mostly headed
them himself, all in full cry, exhibiting such a scene as should be
witnessed in order to be enjoyed. The neighbors, men, women, and children,
ran out to be spectators; the laborers suspended their work to enjoy it,
assembling on such eminences as commanded a full view of the pursuit.
"Bravo, boys—success, masther; lie into him—where's your
huntin' horn, Mr. Kavanagh?—he'll bate yez if ye don't take the wind
of him. Well done, Callaghan, keep up yer heart, yer sowl, and you'll do
it asy—you're gaining' on them, ma bouchal—the
masther's down, you gallows clip, an' there's none but the scholars afther
"Not he; I'll hould a naggin, the poor scholar has him; don't you see,
he's close at his heels?"
"Done, by my song—they'll never come up wid him; listen to
their leather crackers and cord-a-roys, as their knees bang agin one
another. Hark forrit, boy's; hark forrit! huz-zaw, you thieves, huzzaw!"
"Your beagles is well winded, Mr. Kava-nagh, and gives good tongue."
"Well, masther, you had your chase for nothin', I see."
"Mr. Kavanagh," another would observe, "I didn't think you war so stiff in
the hams, as to let the gorsoon bate you that way—your wind's
The schoolmaster was abroad then, and never was the "march of intellect"
at once so rapid and unsuccessful.
During the summer season, it was the usual practice for the scholars to
transfer their paper, slates, and books to the green which lay immediately
behind the school-house, where they stretched themselves on the grass, and
resumed their business. Mat would bring out his chair, and, placing it on
the shady side of the hedge, sit with his pipe in his mouth, the contented
lord of his little realm, whilst nearly a hundred and fifty scholars, of
all sorts and sizes, lay scattered over the grass, basking under the
scorching sun in all the luxury of novelty, nakedness, and freedom. The
sight was original and characteristic, and such as Lord Brougham would
have been delighted with. "The schoolmaster was abroad again."
As soon as one o'clock drew near, Mat would pull out his Ring-dial*
holding it against the sun, and declare the hour.
* The Ring-dial was the hedge-schoolmaster's next best substitute for a
watch. As it is possible that a great number of our readers may never have
heard of, much less seen one, we shall in a word or two describe it—nothing
could indeed be more simple. It was a bright brass ring, about
three-quarters of an inch broad, and two and a half in diameter. There was
a small hole in it, which when held opposite the sun admitted the light
against the inside of the ring behind. On this was marked the hours and
the quarters, and the time was known by observing the number or the
quarter on which the slender ray that came in from the hole in front fell.
"Now, boys, to yer dinners, and the rest to play."
"Hurroo, darlins, to play—the masther says it's dinner-time!—whip-spur-an'-away-grey—hurroo—whack—hurroo!"
"Masther, sir, my father bid me ax you home to yer dinner."
"No, he'll come to huz—come wid me if you plase, sir."
"Sir, never heed them; my mother, sir, has some of what you know—of
the flitch I brought to Shoneen on last Aisther, sir."
This was a subject on which the boys gave themselves great liberty; an
invitation, even when not accepted, being an indemnity for the day; it was
usually followed by a battle between the claimants, and bloody noses
sometimes were the issue. The master himself, after deciding to go where
he was certain of getting the best dinner, generally put an end to the
quarrels by a reprimand, and then gave notice to the disappointed
claimants of the successive days on which he would attend at their
"Boys, you all know my maxim; to go, for fear of any jealousies, boys,
wherever I get the worst dinner; so tell me now, boys, what yer dacent
mothers have all got at home for me?"
"My mother killed a fat hen yesterday, sir, and you'll have a lump of
bacon and flat dutch along wid it."
"We'll have hung beef and greens, sir."
"We tried the praties this mornin', sir, and we'll have new praties, and
bread and butther, sir."
"Well, it's all good, boys; but rather than show favor or affection, do
you see, I'll go wid Andy, here, and take share of the hen an' bacon: but,
boys, for all that, I'm fonder of the other things, you persave; and as I
can't go wid you, Mat, tell your respectable mother that I'll be with her
to-morrow; and with you, Larry, ma bouchal, the day afther."
If a master were a single man he usually went round with the scholars each
night—but there were generally a few comfortable farmers, leading
men in the parish, at whose house he chiefly resided; and the children of
these men were treated, with the grossest and most barefaced partiality.
They were altogether privileged persons, and had liberty to beat and abuse
the other children of the school, who were certain of being most
unmercifully flogged, if they even dared to prefer a complaint against the
favorites. Indeed the instances of atrocious cruelty in hedge schools were
almost incredible, and such as in the present enlightened time, would not
be permitted. As to the state of the "poor, scholar," it exceeded belief;
for he was friendless and unprotected. But though legal prosecutions in
those days were never resorted to, yet, according to the characteristic
notions of Irish retributive justice, certain cases occurred, in which a
signal, and at times, a fatal vengeance was executed on the person of the
brutal master. Sometimes the brothers and other relatives of the mutilated
child would come in a body to the school, and flog the pedagogue with his
own taws, until his back was lapped in blood. Sometimes they would beat
him until few symptoms of life remained.
Occasionally he would get a nocturnal notice to quit the parish in a given
time, under a penalty which seldom proved a dead letter in case of
non-compliance. Not unfrequently did those whom he had, when boys, treated
with such barbarity, go back to him, when young men, not so much for
education's sake, as for the especial purpose of retaliating upon him for
his former cruelty. When cases of this nature occurred, he found himself a
mere cipher in his school, never daring to practise excessive severity in
their presence. Instances have come to our own knowledge, of masters, who,
for their mere amusement, would go out to the next hedge, cut a large
branch of furze or thorn, and having first carefully arranged the children
on a row round the walls of the school, their naked legs stretched out
before them, would sweep round the branch, bristling with spikes and
prickles, with all his force against their limbs, until, in a few minutes,
a circle of blood was visible on the ground where they sat, their legs
appearing as if they had been scarified. This the master did, whenever he
happened to be drunk, or in a remarkably good humor. The poor children,
however, were obliged to laugh loud, and enjoy it, though the tears were
falling down their cheeks, in consequence of the pain he inflicted. To
knock down a child with the fist, was considered nothing harsh; nor, if a
boy were, cut, or prostrated by a blow of a cudgel on the head, did he
ever think of representing the master's cruelty to his parents. Kicking on
the shins with a point of a brogue or shoe, bound round the edge of the
sole with iron nails, until the bone was laid open, was a common
punishment; and as for the usual slapping, horsing, and flogging, they
were inflicted with a brutality that in every case richly deserved for the
tyrant, not only a peculiar whipping by the hand of the common
executioner, but a separation from civilized society by transportation for
life. It is a fact, however, that in consequence of the general severity
practised in hedge schools, excesses of punishment did not often produce
retaliation against the master; these were only exceptions, isolated cases
that did not affect the general character of the discipline in such
Now when we consider the total absence of all moral and religious
principles in these establishments, and the positive presence of all that
was wicked, cruel, and immoral, need we be surprised that occasional
crimes of a dark and cruel character should be perpetrated? The truth is,
that it is difficult to determine, whether unlettered ignorance itself
were not preferable to the kind of education which the people then
I am sorry to perceive the writings of many respectable persons on Irish
topics imbued with a tinge of spurious liberality, that frequently
occasions them to depart from truth. To draw the Irish character as it is,
as the model of all that is generous, hospitable, and magnanimous, is in
some degree fashionable; but although I am as warm an admirer of all that
is really excellent and amiable in my countrymen as any man, yet I cannot,
nor will I, extenuate their weak and indefensible points. That they
possess the elements of a noble and exalted national character, I grant;
nay, that they actually do possess such a character, under limitations, I
am ready to maintain. Irishmen, setting aside their religious and
political prejudices, are grateful, affectionate, honorable, faithful,
generous, and even magnanimous; but under the stimulus of religious and
political feeling, they are treacherous, cruel, and inhuman—will
murder, burn, and exterminate, not only without compunction, but with a
satanic delight worthy of a savage. Their education, indeed, was truly
barbarous; they were trained and habituated to cruelty, revenge, and
personal hatred, in their schools. Their knowledge was directed to evil
purposes—disloyal principles were industriously insinuated into
their minds by their teachers, most of whom were leaders of illegal
associations. The matter placed in their hands was of a most inflammatory
and pernicious nature, as regarded politics: and as far as religion and
morality were concerned, nothing could be more gross or superstitious than
the books which circulated among them. Eulogiums on murder, robbery, and
theft were read with delight in the histories of Freney the Robber, and
the Irish Rogues and Rapparees; ridicule of the Word of God, and hatred to
the Protestant religion, in a book called Ward's Cantos, written in
Hudi-brastic verse; the downfall of the Protestant Establishment, and the
exaltation of the Romish Church, in Columbkill's Prophecy, and latterly in
that of Pastorini. Gross superstitions, political and religious ballads of
the vilest doggerel, miraculous legends of holy friars persecuted by
Protestants, and of signal vengeance inflicted by their divine power on
those who persecuted them, were in the mouths of the young and old, and of
course firmly fixed in their credulity.
Their weapons of controversy were drawn from the Fifty Reasons, the
Doleful Fall of Andrew Sail, the Catholic Christian, the Grounds of
Catholic Doctrine, a Net for the Fishers of Men, and several other
publications of the same class. The books of amusement read in these
schools, including the first-mentioned in this list, were, the Seven
Champions of Christendom, the Seven Wise Masters and Mistresses of Rome,
Don Belianis of Greece, the Royal Fairy Tales, the Arabian Nights'
Entertainments, Valentine and Orson, Gesta Romanorum, Dorastus and Faunia,
the History of Reynard the Fox, the Chevalier Faublax; to these I may add,
the Battle of Auhrim, Siege of Londonderry, History of the Young Ascanius,
a name by which the Pretender was designated, and the Renowned History of
the Siege of Troy; the Forty Thieves, Robin Hood's Garland, the Garden of
Love and Royal Flower of Fidelity, Parismus and Parismenos; along with
others, the names of which shall not appear on these pages. With this
specimen of education before our eyes, is it not extraordinary that the
people of Ireland should be in general, so moral and civilized a people as
"Thady Bradly, will you come up wid your slate, till I examine you in your
figures? Go out, sir, and blow your nose first, and don't be after making
a looking-glass out of the sleeve of your jacket. Now that Thady's out,
I'll hould you, boys, that none of yez knows how to expound his name—eh?
do ye? But I needn't ax—well, 'tis Thaddeus; and, maybe, that's as
much as the priest that christened him knew. Boys, you see what it is to
have the larnin'—to lade the life of a gintleman, and to be able to
talk deeply wid the clargy! Now I could run down any man in arguin',
except a priest; and if the Bishop was after consecratin' me, I'd have as
much larnin' as some of them; but you see I'm not consecrated—and—well,
'tis no matther—I only say that the more's the pity."
"Well, Thady, when did you go into subtraction?"
"The day beyond yesterday, sir; yarra musha, sure 'twas yourself, sir,
that shet me the first sum."
"Masther, sir, Thady Bradly stole my cutter—that's my cutter, Thady
"No it's not" (in a low voice).
"Sir, that's my cutter—an' there's three nicks in id."
"Thady, is that his cutter?"
"There's your cutter for you. Sir, I found it on the flure and didn't know
who own'd it."
"You know'd very well who own'd it; didn't Dick Martin see you liftin' it
off o' my slate, when I was out?"
"Well, if Dick Martin saw him, it's enough: an' 'tis Dick that's the
tindher-hearted boy, an' would knock, you down wid a lump of a stone, if
he saw you murdherin' but a fly!"
"We'll, Thady—throth Thady, I fear you'll undherstand subtraction
better nor your teacher: I doubt you'll apply it to 'Practice' all your
life, ma bouchal, and that you'll be apt to find it 'the Rule of
False'* at last. Well, Thady, from one thousand pounds, no shillings, and
no pince, how will you subtract one pound? Put it down on your slate—this
The name of a 'Rule' in Gough's Arithmetic.
1000 00 00 1 00 00"
"I don't know how to shet about it, masther."
"You don't, an' how dare you tell me so you shingaun you—you
Cornelius Agrippa you—go to your sate and study it, or I'll—ha!
be off, you."—
"Pierce Butler, come up wid your multiplication. Pierce, multiply four
hundred by two—put it down—that's it,
"Twice nought is one." (Whack, whack.)
"Take that as an illustration—is that one?"
"Faith, masther, that's two, any how: but, sir, is not wanst nought
nothin'; now masher, sure there can't be less than nothin'."
"Very good, sir."
"If wanst nought be nothin', then twice nought must be somethin', for it's
double what wanst nought is—see how I'm sthruck for nothin', an' me
knows it—hoo! hoo! hoo!
"Get out, you Esculapian; but I'll give you somethin', by-and-by,
just to make you remimber that you know nothin'—off wid you
to your sate, you spalpeen you—to tell me that there can't be less
than nothin' when it's well known that sporting Squaire O'Canter's worth a
thousand pounds less than nothin'."
"Paddy Doran, come up to your 'Intherest.' Well Paddy, what's the
intherest of a hundred pound, at five per cent? Boys, have manners you
"Do you mane, masther, per cent, per annum?"
"To be sure I do—how do you state it?"
"I'll say, as a hundher pound is to one year, so is five per cent, per
"Hum—why what's the number of the sum Paddy?"
"'Tis No. 84, sir. (The master steals a glance at the Key to Gough.)
"I only want to look at it in the Gough, you see, Paddy,—an' how
dare you give me such an answer, you big-headed dunce, you—go off
an' study it, you rascally Lilliputian—off wid you, and don't let me
see your ugly mug till you know it."
"Now, gintlemen, for the Classics; and first for the Latinaarians—Larry
Cassidy, come up wid your Aisop. Larry you're a year at Latin, an' I don't
think you know Latin for frize, what your own coat is made of, Larry. But,
in the first place, Larry, do you know what a man that taiches Classics is
"A schoolmasther, sir." (Whack, whack, whack.).
"Take that for your ignorance—and that to the back of it—ha;
that'll taiche you—to call a man that taiches Classics a
schoolmaster, indeed! 'Tis a Profissor of Humanity itself, he is—(whack,
whack, whack,)—ha! you ringleader, you; you're as bad as Dick
M'Growler, that no masther in the county could get any good of, in regard
that he put the whole school together by the ears, wherever he'd be,
though the spalpeen wouldn't stand fight himself. Hard fortune to you! to
go to put such an affront upon me, an' me a Profissor of Humanity. What's
Latin for pantaloons?"
"No, it's not, sir."
"Can you do it?"
"Don't strike me, sir, don't strike me, sir, an' I will."
"I say, can you do it?"
"Femorali,"—(whack, whack, whack,)—
"Ah, sir! ah, sir! 'tis fermorali—ah, sir! 'tis fermorali—ah,
"This thratement to a Profissor of Humanity—(drives him head over
heels to his seat).—Now, sir, maybe you'll have Latin for throwsers
agin, or by my sowl, if you don't, you must peel, and I'll tache you what
a Profissor of Humanity is!
"Dan Roe, you little starved-looking spalpeen, will you come up to your
Elocution?—and a purty figure you cut at it, wid a voice like a
penny thrumpet, Dan! Well, what speech have you got now, Dan, ma
bouchal. Is it, 'Romans, counthrymin, and lovers?'"
"No, shir; yarrah, didn't I spake that speech before?"
"No, you didn't, you fairy. Ah, Dan, little as you are, you take credit
for more than ever you spoke, Dan, agrah; but, faith, the same thrick will
come agin you some time or other, avick! Go and get that speech betther; I
see by your face, you haven't it; off wid you, and get a patch upon your
breeches, your little knees are through them, though 'tisn't by prayin'
you've wore them, any how, you little hop-o'-my-thumb you, wid a voice
like a rat in a thrap; off wid you, man alive!"
Sometimes the neighboring gentry used to call into Mat's establishment,
moved probably by a curiosity excited by his character, and the general
conduct of the school. On one occasion Squire Johnston and an English
gentleman paid him rather an unexpected visit. Mat had that morning got a
new scholar, the son of a dancing tailor in the neighborhood; and as it
was reported that the son was nearly equal to the father in that
accomplishment, Mat insisted on having a specimen of his skill. He was the
more anxious on this point as it would contribute to the amusement of a
travelling schoolmaster, who had paid him rather a hostile visit, which
Mat, who dreaded a literary challenge, feared might occasion him some
"Come up here, you little sartor, till we get a dacent view of you. You're
a son of Ned Malone's—aren't you?"
"Yes, and of Mary Malone, my mother, too, sir."
"Why, thin, that's not so bad, any how—what's your name?"
"Now, Dick, ma bouchal, isn't it true that you can dance a horn-pipe?"
"Here, Larry Brady, take the door off the hinges, an' lay it down on the
flure, till Dick Malone dances the Humors of Glynn: silence, boys,
not a word; but just keep lookin' an."
"Who'll sing, sir? for I can't be afther dancin' a step widout the music."
"Boys, which of yez'll sing for Dick? I say, boys, will none of yez give
Dick the Harmony? Well, come, Dick, I'll sing for you myself:
"Tooral lol, lorral lol, lorral lol, lorral, lol—
Toldherol, lorral lol, lorral lol, lol," etc., etc.
"I say, Misther Kavanagh," said the strange master, "what angle does
Dick's heel form in the second step of the treble, from the kibe on the
left foot to the corner of the door forninst him?"
To this mathematical poser Mat made no reply, only sang the tune with
redoubled loudness and strength, whilst little Dicky pounded the old crazy
door with all his skill and alacrity. The "boys" were delighted.
"Bravo, Dick, that's a man,—welt the flure—cut the buckle—murder
the clocks—rise upon suggaun, and sink upon gad—-down the
flure flat, foot about—keep one foot on the ground and t'other never
off it," saluted him from all parts of the house.
Sometimes he would receive a sly hint, in a feigned voice, to call for
"Devil stick the Fiddler," alluding to the master. Now a squeaking voice
would chime in; by and by another, and so on until the master's bass had a
hundred and forty trebles, all in chorus to the same tune.
Just at this moment the two gentlemen altered; and, reader, you may
conceive, but I cannot describe, the face which Mat (who sat with his back
to the door, and did not; see them until they were some time in the
house), exhibited on the occasion. There he sung ore rotundo, throwing
forth an astonishing tide of voice; whilst little Dick, a thin, pale-faced
urchin, with his head, from which the hair stood erect, sunk between his
hollow shoulders, was performing prodigious feats of agility.
"What's the matter? what's the matter?" said the gentlemen. "Good morning,
——Tooral lol, lol——
Oh, good—-Oh, good morning—-gintlemen, with extrame kindness,"
replied Mat, rising suddenly up, but not removing his hat, although the
gentlemen instantly uncovered.
"Why, thin, gintlemen," he continued, "you have caught us in our little
relaxations to-day; but—hem!—I mane to give the boys a holiday
for the sake of this honest and respectable gintleman in the frize jock,
who is not entirely ignorant, you persave, of litherature; and we had a
small taste, gintlemen, among ourselves, of Sathurnalian licentiousness,
ut ita dicam, in regard of—hem!—in regard of this lad
here, who was dancing a hornpipe upon the door, and we, in absence of
betther music, had to supply him with the harmony; but, as your honors
know, gintlemen, the greatest men have bent themselves on espacial
"Make no apology, Mr. Kavanagh; it's very commendable in you to bend
yourself by condescending to amuse your pupils."
"I beg your pardon, Squire, I can take freedoms with you; but perhaps the
concomitant gentleman, your friend here, would be pleased to take my
stool. Indeed, I always use a chair, but the back of it, if I may, be
permitted the use of a small portion of jocularity, was as frail as the
fair sect: it went home yisterday to be mended. Do, sir, condescind to be
sated. Upon my reputation, Squire, I'm sorry that I have not accommodation
for you, too, sir; except one of these hassocks, which, in joint
considheration with the length of your honor's legs, would be, I
anticipate, rather low; but you, sir, will honor me by taking the stool."
By considerable importunity he forced the gentleman to comply with his
courtesy; but no sooner had he fixed himself upon the seat than it
overturned, and stretched him, black coat and all, across a wide concavity
in the floor nearly filled up with white ashes produced from mountain
turf. In a moment he was completely white on one side, and exhibited a
most laughable appearance; his hat, too, was scorched and nearly burned on
the turf coals. Squire Johnston laughed heartily, so did the other
schoolmaster, whilst the Englishman completely lost his temper—swearing
that such another uncivilized establishment was not between the poles.
"I solemnly supplicate upwards of fifty pardons," said Mat; "bad manners
to it for a stool! but, your honor, it was my own detect of speculation,
bekase, you see, it's minus a leg—a circumstance of which you
waren't wi a proper capacity to take cognation, its not being personally
acquainted with it. I humbly supplicate upwards of fifty pardons."
The Englishman was now nettled, and determined to wreak his ill-temper on
Mat, by turning him and his establishment into ridicule.
"Isn't this, Mister ——— I forget your name, sir."
"Mat Kavanagh, at your sarvice."
"Very well, my learned friend, Mr. Mat Kevanagh, isn't this precisely what
is called a hedge-school?"
"A hedge-school!" replied Mat, highly offended; "my seminary a
hedge-school! No, sir; I scorn the cognomen in toto. This, sir, is a
Classical and Mathematical Seminary, under the personal superintendence of
your humble servant."
"Sir," replied the other master, who till then was silent, wishing,
perhaps, to sack Mat in presence of the gentlemen, "it is a hedge-school;
and he is no scholar, but an ignoramus, whom I'd sack in three minutes,
that would be ashamed of a hedge-school."
"Ay," says Mat, changing his tone, and taking the cue from his friend,
whose learning he dreaded, "it's just for argument's sake, a hedge-school;
and, what is more, I scorn to be ashamed of it."
"And do you not teach occasionally under the hedge behind the house here?"
"Granted," replied Mat; "and now where's your vis consequentiae?"
"Yes," subjoined the other, "produce your vis consequentiae; but
any one may know by a glance that the divil a much of it's about you."
The Englishman himself was rather at a loss for the vis consequentiae,
and replied, "Why don't you live, and learn, and teach like civilized
beings, and not assemble like wild asses—pardon me, my friend, for
the simile—at least like wild colts, in such clusters behind the
"A clusther of wild coults!" said Mat; "that shows what you are; no man of
classical larnin' would use such a word. If you had stuck at the asses, we
know it's a subject you're at home in—ha! ha! ha!—but you
brought the joke on yourself, your honor—that is, if it is a joke—ha!
"Permit me, sir," replied the strange master, "to ax your honor one
question—did you receive a classical education? Are you
"Yes," replied the Englishman; "I can reply to both in the affirmative.
I'm a Cantabrigian."
"You are a what?" asked Mat.
"I am a Cantabrigian."
"Come, sir, you must explain yourself, if you plase. I'll take my oath
that's neither a classical nor a mathematical tarm."
The gentleman smiled. "I was educated in the English College of
"Well," says Mat, "and may be you would be as well off if you had picked
up your larnin' in our own Thrinity; there's good picking in Thrinity, for
gentlemen like you, that are sober, and harmless about the brains, in
regard of not being overly bright."
"You talk with contempt of a hedge-school," replied the other master. "Did
you never hear, for all so long as you war in Cambridge, of a nate little
spot in Greece called the groves of Academus?
"'Inter lucos Academi quarrere verum.'
"What was Plato himself but a hedge schoolmaster? and, with humble
submission, it casts no slur on an Irish tacher to be compared to him, I
think. You forget also, sir, that the Dhruids taught under their oaks:
"Ay," added Mat, "and the Tree of Knowledge, too. Faith, an' if that same
tree was now in being, if there wouldn't be hedge schoolmasters, there
would be plenty of hedge scholars, any how—particularly if the fruit
was well tasted."
"I believe, Millbank, you must give in," said Squire Johnston. "I think
you have got the worst of it."
"Why," said Mat, "if the gintleman's not afther bein' sacked clane, I'm
"Are you a mathematician?" inquired Mat's friend, determined to follow up
his victory; "do you know Mensuration?"
"Come, I do know Mensuration," said the Englishman, with confidence.
"And how would you find the solid contents of a load of thorns?"
"Ay, or how will you consther and parse me this sintince?" said Mat—
"'Ragibus et clotibus solemus stopere windous,
Non numerus sumus et fruges consumere nati,
Stercora flat stiro raro terra-tanfcaro bungo.'"
"Aisy, Mister Kavanagh," replied the other; "let the Cantabrigian resolve
the one I propounded him first."
"And let the Cantabrigian then take up mine," said Mat: "and if he can
expound it, I'll give him a dozen more to bring home in his pocket, for
the Cambridge folk to crack after their dinner, along wid their nuts."
"Can you do the 'Snail?'" inquired the stranger..
"Or 'A and B on opposite sides of a wood,' without the Key?" said Mat.
"Maybe," said the stranger, who threw off the frize jock, and exhibited a
muscular frame of great power, cased in an old black coat—"maybe the
gintleman would like to get a small taste of the 'Scuffle'"
"Not at all," replied the Englishman; "I have not the least curiosity for
it—I assure you I have not. What the deuce do they mean, Johnston? I
hope you have influence over them."
"Hand me down that cudgel, Jack Brady, till I show the gintleman the
'Snail' and the 'Maypole,'" said Mat.
"Never mind, my lad; never mind, Mr ———a———Kevanagh.
I give up the contest; I resign you the palm, gentlemen. The hedge school
has beaten Cambridge hollow."
"One poser more before you go, sir," said Mat—"Can you give me Latin
for a game-egg in two words?"
"Eh, a game egg? No, by my honor, I cannot—gentlemen, I yield."
"Ay, I thought so," replied Mat; "and, faith, I believe the divil a much
of the game bird about you—you bring it home to Cambridge, anyhow,
and let them chew their cuds upon it, you persave; and, by the sowl of
Newton, it will puzzle the whole establishment, or my name's not
"It will, I am convinced," replied the gentleman, eyeing the herculean
frame of the strange teacher and the substantial cudgel in Mat's hand; "it
will, undoubtedly. But who is this most miserable naked lad here, Mr.
"Why, sir," replied Mat, with his broad Milesian face, expanded by a
forthcoming joke, "he is, sir, in a sartin and especial particularity, a
namesake of your own."
"How is that, Mr. Kevanagh?"
"My name's not Kevanagh," replied Mat, "but Kavanagh; the Irish A for
"Well, but how is the lad a namesake of mine?" said the Englishman.
"Bekase, you see, he's a, poor scholar, sir," replied Mat: "an' I hope
your honor will pardon me for the facetiousness—
'Quid vetat ridentem dicere verum!'
as Horace says to Maecenas, in the first of the Sathirs."
"There, Mr. Kavanagh, is the price of a suit of clothes for him."
"Michael, will you rise up, sir, and make the gintleman a bow? he has
given you the price of a shoot of clothes, ma bouchal."
Michael came up with a very tattered coat hanging about him; and, catching
his forelock, bobbed down his head after the usual manner, saying—"Musha
yarrah, long life to your honor every day you rise, an' the Lord grant
your sowl a short stay in purgatory, wishin' ye, at the same time, a happy
The gentleman could not stand this, but laughed so heartily that the
argument was fairly knocked up.
It appeared, however, that Squire Johnston did not visit Mat's school from
"Mr. Kavanagh," said he, "I would be glad to have a little private
conversation with you, and will thank you to walk down the road a little
with this gentleman and me."
When the gentlemen and Mat had gone ten or fifteen yards from the school
door, the Englishman heard himself congratulated in the following phrases
by the scholars:—
"How do you feel afther bein' sacked, gintleman? The masther sacked you!
You're a purty scholar! It's not you, Mr. Johnston, it's the other. You'll
come to argue agin, will you? Where's your head, Bah! Come back till we
put the suggaun* about your neck. Bah! You now must go to school to
Cambridge agin, before you can argue an Irisher! Look at the figure he
cuts! Why duv ye put the one foot past the other, when ye walk, for? Bah!
* The suggaun was a collar of straw which was put round
the necks of the dunces, who were then placed at the
door, that their disgrace might be as public as
"Well, boys, never heed yez for that," shouted Mat; "never fear but I'll
castigate yez, ye spalpeen villains, as soon as I go back. Sir," said Mat,
"I supplicate upwards of fifty pardons. I assure you, sir, I'll give them
a most inordinate castigation, for their want of respectability."
"What's the Greek for tobaccy?" they continued—"or for Larry
O'Toole? or for bletherum skite? How many beans makes five? What's the
Latin for poteen, and flummery? You a mathemathitician! could you measure
a snail's horn? How does your hat stay up and nothing undher it? Will you
fight Barny Parrel wid one hand tied! I'd lick you myself! What's Greek
for gosther?"—with many other expressions of a similar stamp.
"Sir," said Mat, "lave the justice of this in my hands. By the sowl of
Newton, your own counthryman, ould Isaac, I'll flog the marrow out of
"You have heard, Mr. Kavanagh," continued Mr. Johnston, as they went
along, "of the burning of Moore's stable and horses, the night before
last. The fact is, that the magistrates of the county are endeavoring to
get the incendiaries, and would render a service to any person capable,
either directly or indirectly, of facilitating the object, or stumbling on
a clew to the transaction."
"And how could I do you a sarvice in it, sir?" inquired Mat.
"Why," replied Mr. Johnston, "from the children. If you could sift them in
an indirect way, so as, without suspicion, to ascertain the absence of a
brother, or so, on that particular night, I might have it in my power to
serve you, Mr. Kavanagh. There will be a large reward offered to-morrow,
"Oh, damn the penny of the reward ever I'd finger, even if I knew the
whole conflagration," said Mat; "but lave the siftin' of the children wid
myself, and if I can get anything out of them you'll hear from me; but
your honor must keep a close mouth, or you might have occasion to lend me
the money for my own funeral some o' these days. Good-morning, gintlemen."
The gentlemen departed.
"May the most ornamental kind of hard fortune pursue you every day you
rise, you desavin' villain, that would have me turn informer, bekase your
brother-in-law, rack-rintin' Moore's stables and horses were burnt; and to
crown all, make the innocent childre the means of hanging their own
fathers or brothers, you rap of the divil! but I'd see you and all your
breed in the flames o' hell first." Such was Mat's soliloquy as he entered
the school on his return.
"Now, boys, I'm afther givin' yez to-day and to-morrow for a holyday:
to-morrow we will have our Gregory;* a fine faste, plinty of poteen, and a
fiddle; and you will tell your brothers and sisters to come in the evening
to the dance. You must bring plinty of bacon, hung beef, and fowls, bread
and cabbage—not forgetting the phaties, and sixpence a-head for the
crathur, boys, won't yez?"
The next day, of course, was one of festivity; every boy brought, in fact,
as much provender as would serve six; but the surplus gave Mat some good
dinners for three months to come. This feast was always held upon St.
Gregory's day, from which circumstance it had its name. The pupils were at
liberty for that day to conduct themselves as they pleased: and the
consequence was, that they became generally intoxicated, and were brought
home in that state to their parents. If the children of two opposite
parties, chanced to be at the same school, they usually had a fight, of
which the master was compelled to feign ignorance; for if he identified
himself with either faction, his residence in the neighborhood would be
short. In other districts, where Protestant schools were in existence, a
battle-royal commonly took place between the opposite establishments, in
some field lying half-way between them. This has often occurred.
Every one must necessarily be acquainted with the ceremony of barring
out. This took place at Easter and Christmas. The master was brought
or sent out on some fool's errand, the door shut and barricaded, and the
pedagogue excluded, until a certain term of vacation was extorted. With
this, however, the master never complied until all his efforts at forcing
an entrance were found to be ineffectual; because if he succeeded in
getting in, they not only had no claim to a long vacation, but were liable
to be corrected. The schoolmaster had also generally the clerkship of the
parish; an office, however, which in the country parts of Ireland is
without any kind of salary, beyond what results from the patronage of the
priest; a matter of serious moment to a teacher, who, should he incur his
Reverence's displeasure, would be immediately driven out of the parish.
The master, therefore, was always tyrannical and insolent to the people,
in proportion as he stood high in the estimation of the priest. He was
also a regular attendant at all wakes and funerals, and usually sat among
a crowd of the village sages engaged in exhibiting his own learning, and
in recounting the number of his religious and literary disputations.
One day, soon after the visit of the gentlemen above mentioned, two
strange men came into Mat's establishment—rather, as Mat thought, in
an unceremonious manner.
"Is your name Matthew Kavanagh?" said one of them.
"That is indeed the name that's upon me," said Mat, with rather an infirm
voice, whilst his face got as pale as ashes.
"Well," said the fellow, "we'll just trouble you to walk with us a bit."
"How far, with submission, are yez goin' to bring me?" said Mat.
"Do you know Johnny Short's hotel?"*
* The county jail.—Johnny Short was for many years the
Governor of Monaghan jail. It was to him the Mittimus
of "Fool Art," mentioned in Phelim O'Toole's Courtship,
was directed. If the reader will suspend his curiosity,
that is, provided he feels any, until he comes to the
sketch just mentioned, he will get a more ample account
of Johnny Short.
"My curse upon you, Findramore," exclaimed Mat, in a paroxysm of anguish,
"every day you rise! but your breath's unlucky to a schoolmaster; and it's
no lie what was often said, that no schoolmaster ever thruv in you, but
something ill came over him."
"Don't curse the town, man alive," said the constable, "but curse your own
ignorance and folly; any way, I wouldn't stand in your coat for the wealth
of the three kingdoms. You'll undoubtedly swing, unless you turn king's
evidence. It's about Moore's business, Mr. Kavanagh."
"Damn the bit of that I'd do, even if I knew anything about it; but, God
be praised for it, I can set them all at defiance—that I'm sure of.
Gentlemen, innocence is a jewel."
"But Barny Brady, that keeps the shebeen house—you know him—is
of another opinion. You and some of the Pindramore boys took a sup in
Barny's on a sartin night?"
"Ay, did we, on many a night, and will agin, plase Providence—no
harm in takin' a sup any how—by the same token, that may be you and
yer friend here would have a drop of rale stuff, as a thrate from me?"
"I know a thrick worth two of that," said the man; "I thank ye kindly, Mr.
One Tuesday morning, about six weeks after this event, the largest crowd
ever remembered in that neighborhood was assembled at Findramore Hill,
whereon had been erected a certain wooden machine, yclept—a gallows.
A little after the hour of eleven o'clock two carts were descried winding
slowly down a slope in the southern side of the town and church, which I
have already mentioned, as terminating the view along the level road north
of the hill. As soon as they were observed, a low, suppressed ejaculation
of horror ran through the crowd, painfully perceptible to the ear—in
the expression of ten thousand murmurs all blending into one deep groan—and
to the eye, by a simultaneous motion that ran through the crowd like an
electric shock. The place of execution was surrounded by a strong
detachment of military; and the carts that conveyed the convicts were also
As the prisoners approached the fatal spot, which was within sight of the
place where the outrage had been perpetrated, the shrieks and lamentations
of their relations and acquaintances were appalling indeed. Fathers,
mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins, and all persons to the most remote
degree of kindred and acquaintanceship, were present—all excited by
the alternate expression of grief and low-breathed vows of retaliation;
not only relations, but all who were connected with them by the bonds of
their desperate and illegal oaths. Every eye, in fact, coruscated with a
wild and savage fire, that shot from under brows knit in a spirit that
deemed to cry out Blood, vengeance—blood, vengeance! The expression
was truly awful; all what rendered it more terrific was the writhing
reflection, that numbers and physical force were unavailing against a
comparatively small body of armed troops. This condensed the fiery impulse
of the moment into an expression of subdued rage, that really shot like
livid gleams from their visages.
At length the carts stopped under the gallows; and, after a short interval
spent in devotional exercise, three of the culprits ascended the platform,
who, after recommending themselves to God, and avowing their innocence,
although the clearest possible evidence of guilt had been brought against
them, were launched into another life, among the shrieks and groans of the
multitude. The other three then ascended; two of them either declined, or
had not strength to address the assembly. The third advanced to the edge
of the boards—it was Mat. After two or three efforts to speak, in
which he was unsuccessful from bodily weakness, he at length addressed
them as follows:—
"My friends and good people—In hopes that you may be all able to
demonstrate the last proposition laid down by a dying man, I undertake to
address you before I depart to that world where Euclid, De Cartes, and
many other larned men are gone before me. There is nothing in all
philosophy more true than that, as the multiplication-table says, 'two and
two makes four;' but it is equally veracious and worthy of credit, that if
you do not abnegate this system that you work the common rules of your
proceedings by—if you don't become loyal men, and give up burnin'
and murdherin', the solution of it will be found on the gallows. I
acknowledge myself to be guilty, for not separatin' myself clane from yez;
we have been all guilty, and may God forgive thim that jist now departed
wid a lie in their mouth."
Here he was interrupted by a volley of execrations and curses, mingled
with "stag, informer, thraithor to the thrue cause!" which, for some time,
compelled him to be silent.
"You may curse," continued Mat; "but it's too late now to abscond the
truth—the sum of my wickedness and folly is worked out, and
you see the answer. God forgive me, many a young crathur I enticed
into the Ribbon business, and now it's to ind in Hemp. Obey
the law; or, if you don't you will find a lex talionis the
construction of which is, that if a man burns or murdhers he won't miss
hanging; take warning by me—by us all; for, although I take God to
witness that I was not at the perpetration of the crime that I'm to be
suspinded for, yet I often connived, when I might have superseded the
carrying of such intuitions into effectuality. I die in pace wid all the
world, save an' except the Findramore people, whom, may the maledictionary
execration of a dying man follow into eternal infinity! My manuscription
of conic sections—" Here an extraordinary buz commenced among the
crowd, which rose gradually into a shout of wild, astounding exultation.
The sheriff followed the eyes of the multitude, and perceived a horseman
dashing with breathless fury up towards the scene of execution. He carried
and waved a white handkerchief on the end of a rod, and made signals with
his hat to stop the execution. He arrived, and brought a full pardon for
Mat, and a commutation of sentence to transportation for life for the
other two. What became of Mat I know not; but in Findramore he never dared
to appear, as certain death would have been the consequence of his not
dying game. With respect to Barny Brady, who kept the shebeen, and
was the principal evidence against those who were concerned in this
outrage, he was compelled to enact an ex tempore death in less than
a month afterwards; having been found dead, with a slip of paper in his
mouth, inscribed—"This is the fate of all Informers."
(Note to page 834.)
The Author, in order to satisfy his readers that the character of Mat
Kavanagh as a hedge schoolmaster is not by any means overdrawn, begs to
subjoin (verbatim) the following authentic production of one, which will
sufficiently explain itself, and give an excellent notion of the mortal
feuds and jealousies which subsist between persons of this class:—
"To the Public.—Having read a printed Document, emanating, as it
were, from a vile, mean, and ignorant miscreant of the name of ———,
calumniating and vituperating me; it is evidently the production of a
vain, supercilious, disappointed, frantic, purblind maniac of the name of
———, a bedlamite to all intents and purposes, a demon in
the disguise of virtue, and a herald of hell in the paradise of innocence,
possessing neither principle, honor, nor honesty; a vain and vapid
creature whom nature plumed out for the annoyance of ———
and its vicinity.
"It is well known and appreciated by an enlightened and discerning public,
that I am as competently qualified to conduct the duties of a Schoolmaster
as any Teacher in Munster. (Here I pause, stimulated by dove-eyed
humility, and by the fine and exalted feelings of nature, to make a few
honorable exceptions, particularly when I memorize the names and immortal
fame of a Mr. ———, a Mr.————-, a
Mr. ————-, a Mr.————-, a
Mr. ————-, a Mr. ————,
————-; a Mr. Matt. ————-,
————-; a Mr.————-, ————-;
and many other stars of the first magnitude, too numerous for insertion).
"The notorious impostor and biped animal already alluded to, actuated by
an overweening desire of notoriety, and in order to catch the applause of
some one, grovelling in the morasses of insignificance and vice, like
himself, leaves his native obscurity, and indulges in falsehood, calumny,
and defamation. I am convinced that none of the highly respectable
Teachers of ———— has had any participation in this
scurrilous transaction, as I consider them to be sober, moral, exemplary
well-conducted men, possessed of excellent literary abilities; but this
expatriated ruffian and abandoned profligate, being aware of the marked
and unremitting attention which I have heretofore invariably paid to the
scholars committed to my care, and the astonishing proficiency which,
generally speaking, will be an accompaniment of competency, instruction,
assiduity and perseverance, devised this detestable and fiendish course in
order to tarnish and injure my unsullied character, it being generally
known and justly acknowledged that I never gave utterance to an unguarded
word—that I have always conducted myself as a man of inoffensive,
mild, and gentle habits, of unblemished moral character, and perfectly
sensible of the importance of inculcating on the young mind, moral and
religious instruction, a love of decency, cleanliness, industry, honesty,
and truth—that my only predominant fault some years ago, consisted
in partaking of copious libations of the 'Moantain Dew,' which I shall for
ever mourn with heartfelt compunction.—But I return thanks to the
Great God, for more than eighteen months my lips have not partaken of that
infuriating beverage to which I was unfortunately attached, and my
habitual propensity vanished at the sanctified and ever-memorable sign of
the cross—the memento of man's lofty destination, and miraculous
injunction, of the great, illustrious, and never-to-be-forgotten Apostle
of Temperance. I am now an humble member of this exemplary and excellent
society, which is engaged in the glorious and hallowed cause of promoting
Temperance, with the zealous solicitude of parents.—I am one of
these noble men, because they are sober men, who have triumphed over their
habits, conquered their passions, and put their predominant propensities
to flight; yes, kind-hearted, magnanimous, and lofty high, minded
conqueror, I have to announce to you that I have gained repeated
victories, and consigned to oblivion the hydra-headed monster,
Intemperance; and in consequence of which, have been consigned from
poverty and misery, to affluence and happiness, possessing 'ready rino,'
or ample pecuniary means to make one comfortable and happy thereby
enjoying 'the feast of reason and the flow of soul,' i.e.,—an
honest, cozy warm, comfortable cup of tea, to consign my drooping, sober,
and cheerful spirits into the flow of soul, and philosophy of pleasure. I,
therefore, do feel I hid no occasion to speak a word in vindication of my
conduct and character. A conspiracy in embryo, formed by a triumvirate,
was brought to maturity by as experienced a calumniator, as Canty, the
Hangman from Cork, was in the discharge of his functions, when in the
situation of municipal officer; and the hoary-headed cadman and
crack-brained Pedagogue was appointed a necessary evil vehicle for
industriously circulating said maniac calumny. Why did not this base
Plebeian, anterior to his giving publicity to the tartaric nausea that
rankled at his gloomy heart, forward the corroding philippic, and bid
defiance to my contradiction? No, no; he knew full well that with his
scanty stock of English ammunition scattered over the sterile floor of his
literary magazine, he could not have the effrontery, impudence, or
presumption to enter the list of philosophical and scientific disputation
with one who has traversed the thorny paths of literature, explored its
mazy windings, and who is thoroughly and radically fortified, as being
encompassed with the impenetrable shield of genuine science. This red,
hot, fiery, unguarded locust, in the inanity of his mind's
incomprehensibleness, has not only incurred my displeasure by his
satirical dogged Lampoons, etc., but the abhorrence, animosity, and holy
indignation of many who move in the high circle, as well as the ineffable
contempt of the majority of those good and useful members of society, who
are engaged in the glorious and delightful task of 'teaching the young
idea how to shoot,' and forming the mind to rectitude of conduct; and
whose labors are tremendous—I speak from long and considerable
experience in scholastic pursuits. I am as perfectly aware as any man of
the friendly intercourse, urbanity, and social reciprocation of kindness
and demeanor that ought to exist among Teachers;—and, in a word,
that they should be like the sun and moon—receptacles of each
other's light. But these malicious, ignorant, callous-hearted traducers
finding it perfectly congenial to their usual habits, and perhaps feeling
no remorse of conscience in departing from those principles which must
always accompany men of education, carry into effect their scheme of
wanton, atrocious, and deliberate falsehood. And accordingly, in pursuance
of their infernal piece of villainy, one of them being sensible of being
held in contempt and ridicule by an enlightened public—whose
approbation alone is the true criterion by which Teachers ought to be
sanctioned, countenanced, and patronized—incited, ordered, and
directed, the aforesaid Lampooner—a reckless, heartless, illiterate,
evil-minded ghost, yes my friends an evil-spirit, created by the wrath of
God—to pour out the rigmarole effusions of his silly and
contemptible lucubrations. It is a well-known fact, that this vile
calumniator is the shame, the disgrace, the opprobrium, and brand of
detestation; the sacrilegious and perjured outcast of society, who would
cut any man's throat for one glass of the soul-destroying beverage. This
accursed viper and well-known hobgoblin, labors under a complication of
maladies: at one time you might see him leaving the Court-house of with
the awful crime of perjury depicted in capital letters on his forehead,
and indelibly engraven in the recesses of his heart, considering that
every tongueless object was eloquent of his woe, and at periods laboring
under a semi-perspicuous, semi-opaque, gutta-serena, attended with an
acute palpitation of his pericranium, and a most tormenting delirium of
intellects from which he finds not the least mitigation until he
consopiates his optics under the influence of Morpheus. There are ties of
affinity and consanguinity existing between this manfacturer of atrocious
falsehoods and barefaced calumnies, and a Jack-Ass, which ties cannot be
easily dissolved, the affinity or similitude is perceptible to an
indifferent observer in the accent, pronunciation, modulation of the voice
of the biped animal, and in the braying of the quadruped. This Jack-Ass
you might also behold perambulating the streets of ———,
a second Judas Iscariot—a houseless, homeless, penniless, forlorn
fugitive, like Old Nick or Beelzebub, seeking whom he might betray and
injure in the public estimation, in rapacity, or in discharging a
blunderbuss full of falsehood against the most pure and unimpeachable
Member of society! Is it not astonishing this wretched, braying,
incorrigible mendicant does not put on a more firm and unalterable
resolution of taking pattern by, and living in accordance with the
laudable and exemplary habits of members of the Literatii, the ornament of
which learned body is the Rev. Dr. King, of Ennis College, a gentleman by
birth, by principles, and more than all, a gentleman by education; whose
mind is pregnant with inexhaustible stores of classical and mathematical
lore, entertainment and knowledge; whose learning and virtues have shed a
lustre on the human kind; a gentleman possessing almost superhuman
talents. No, he must persevere and run in his accustomed old course of
abomination, slander, iniquity, and vice.
"In conclusion, to the R. C. Clergymen of ———, and the
respectable portion of the laity, I return my ardent heartfelt thanks—to
the former, who are the pious, active, and indefatigable instructors of
the peasantry, their consolers in affliction, their resource in calamity,
their preceptors and models in religion, the trustees of their interest,
their visitors in sickness, and their companions on their beds of death;
and from the latter I have experienced considerable gratitude in unison
with all the other fine qualities inherent in their nature; while neither
time nor place shall ever banish from my grateful I heart, their urbanity,
hospitality, munificence, and kindness to me on every occasion.
"I have the honor to be their very devoted, much obliged, and grateful
"The itinerant cosmopolite, to use his own phraseology, accuses me with
being lame—I reply, so was Lord Byron; and why not a 'Star from
Dromcoloher' be similarly honored, for
If God, one member has oppress'd,
He has made more perfect all the rest.
"The following poetic lines are to be inserted in reply to the doggerel
composition of the equivocating and hoary champion of wilful and
deliberate falsehood, and a compound of knavery, deception, villainy, and
dissimulation, wherever he goes:—
"O'Kelly's my name,
I think it no shame,
Of sempiternal fame in that line,
As for my being lame,
The rest of my frame,
Is somewhat superior to thine.
These addled head swains,
Of paralyzed brains,
Who charge me with corrupting youth,
Are a perjuring pair,
In Belzebub's chair,
Stamped with disgrace and untruth."
We are obliged to omit some remarks that accompanied the following
"A book to the blind signifies not a feather,
Whose look and whose mind chime both together,
Boreas, pray blow this vile rogue o'er the terry,
For he is a disgrace and a scandal to Kerry."
The writer of this, after passing the highest eulogium on the Rev. Mr.
O'Kelly, P.P., Kilmichael, in speaking of him, says,
"In whom, the Heavenly virtues do unite,
Serenely fair, in glowing colors bright,
The shivering mendicant's attire,
The stranger's friend, the orphan's sire,
Benevolent and mild;
The guide of youth,
The light of truth,
By all condignly styl'd."
A gentleman having applied for a transcript of this interesting document
for his daughter, Mr. O'Kelly says, "This transcript is given with perfect
cheerfulness, at the suggestion of the amiable, accomplished,
highly-gifted, original genius, Miss Margaret Brew, of ————,
to whom, with the most respectful deference, I take the liberty of
applying the following most appropriate poetic lines:—
"Kilrush, a lovely spot of Erin's Isle,
May you and your fair ones in rapture smile,
By force of genius and superior wit,
Any station in high life, they'd lit.
Raise the praise worthy, in style unknown,
Laud her, who has great merit of her own.
Had I the talents of the bards of yore,
I would touch my harp and sing for ever more,
Of Miss Brew, unrivaled, and in her youth,
The ornament of friendship, love and truth.
That fair one, whose matchless eloquence divine,
Finds out the sacred pores of man sublime,
Tells us, a female of Kilrush doth shine.
In point of language, eloquence, and ease,
She equals the celebrated Dowes now-a-days,
A splendid poetess—how sweet her verse,
That which, without a blush, Downes might rehearse;
Her throbbing breast the home of virtue rare,
Her bosom, warm, loving and sincere,
A mild fair one, the muses only care,
Of learning, sense, true wit, and talents rare;
Endless her fame, on golden wings she'd fly,
Loud as the trumpet of the rolling sky.
"I avail myself of this opportunity, in the most humble posture, the
pardon and indulgence of that nobleman of the most profound considerable
talents, unbounded liberality, and genuine worth, Crofton M. Yandeleur,
Esq., for the culpable omission, which I have incautiously and inadvertly
made, in not prior to, and before all, tendered his honor, my warm hearted
and best acknowledgments, and participating in the general joy, visible
here on every countenance, occasioned by the restoration to excellent
health, which his most humane, truly charitable, and illustrious beloved
patroness of virtue and morality, Lady Grace T. Yandeleur, now enjoys May
they very late, when they see their children, as well as their numerous,
happy and contented tenantry, flourish around them in prosperity, virtue,
honor, and independence—may they then resign their temporal care, to
partake of the never-ending joys, glory, and felicity of Heaven; these are
the fervent wishes and ardent prayers of their ever grateful servant,
"O rouse my muse and launch in praise forth,
Dwell with delight, with extasy on worth;
In these kind souls in conspicuous flows,
Their liberal hands expelling-human woes.
Tell, when dire want oppressed the needy poor,
They drove the ghastly spectre from the door.
Such noble actions yield more pure content,
Than thousands squander'd or in banquets spent.
"I hope, kind and extremely patient reader, you will find my piece
humorous, interesting, instructive, and edifying. In delineating and
drawing to life the representation of my assailant, aggressor, and
barefaced calumniator. I have preferred the natural order, free, and
familiar style, to the artificial order, grave, solemn, and antiquated
style; and in so doing, I have had occasion to have reference to the vocal
metaphrase of some words. With a due circumspection of the use of their
synonymy, taking care that the import and acceptation of each phrase and
word should not appear frequently synonymous. Again. I have applied the
whip unsparingly to his back, and have given him such a laudable
castigation, as to compel him to comport himself in future with propriety
and politeness; yes, it is quite obvious that I have done it, by an
appropriate selection of catogoramatic and cencatogoramatic terms and
words. I have been particularly careful to adorn it with some poetic
spontaneous effusions, and although I own to you, that I have no
pretensions to be an adept in poetry, as I have only moderately sipped of
the Helicon Fountain; yet from my knowledge of Orthometry I can prove the
correctness of it; by special and general metric analysis. In conclusion,
I have not indulged in Rhetorical figures and Tropes, but have rigidly
adhered to the use of figurative and literal language; finally I have used
a concatination of appropriate mellifluous epithets, logically and
philosophically accurate, copious, sublime, eloquent, and harmonious.
"Adieu! Adieu! Remember, JOHN O'KELLY, Literary Teacher, And a native of
"The author of this extempore production of writing a Treatise on Mental
Calculations, to which are appended more than three hundred scientific,
ingenious, and miscellaneous questions, with their solutions.
"Mental calculations for the first time are simplified, which will prove a
grand desideratum and of the greatest importance in mercantile affairs.
"You will not wonder when I will ye,
You have read some pieces from 0' Kelly;
Halt he does, but 'tis no more
Than Lord Byron did before;
Read his pieces and you'll find
There is no limping in his mind;
Reader, give your kind subscription,
Of you, he will give a grand description.
Price 2s., to be paid in advance,
"There are Sixty-eight Subscribers to the forthcoming work, gentlemen of
considerable Talents, Liberality, and worth;—who, with perfect
cheerfulness, have evinced a most laudable disposition to foster,
encourage, and reward, a specimen of Irish Manufacture and Native Talent,
in so humble a person as their extremely grateful, much obliged, and