The Donagh, or, the Horse Stealers
by William Carleton
Carnmore, one of those small villages that are to be found in the
outskirts of many parishes in Ireland, whose distinct boundaries are lost
in the contiguous mountain-wastes, was situated at the foot of a deep
gorge or pass, overhung by two bleak hills, from the naked sides of which
the storm swept over it, without discomposing the peaceful little nook of
cabins that stood below. About a furlong farther down were two or three
farm-houses, inhabited by a family named Cassidy, men of simple,
inoffensive manners, and considerable wealth. They were, however, acute
and wise in their generation; intelligent cattle-dealers, on whom it would
have been a matter of some difficulty to impose an unsound horse, or a cow
older than was intimated by her horn-rings, even when conscientiously
dressed up for sale by the ingenious aid of the file or burning-iron.
Between their houses and the hamlet rose a conical pile of rocks, loosely
leaped together, from which the place took its name of Carnmore.
About three years before the time of this story, there came two men with
their families to reside in the upper village, and the house which they
chose as a residence was one at some distance from those which composed
the little group we have just been describing. They said their name was
Meehan, although the general report went, that this was not true; that the
name was an assumed one, and that some dark mystery, which none could
penetrate, shrouded their history and character. They were certainly
remarkable men. The elder, named Anthony, was a dark, black-browed person,
stern in his manner, and atrociously cruel in his disposition. His form
was Herculean, his bones strong and hard as iron, and his sinews stood out
in undeniable evidence of a life hitherto spent in severe toil and
exertion, to bear which he appeared to an amazing degree capable. His
brother Denis was a small man, less savage and daring in his character,
and consequently more vacillating and cautious than Anthony; for the
points in which he resembled him were superinduced upon his natural
disposition by the close connection that subsisted between them, and by
the identity of their former pursuits in life, which, beyond doubt, had
been such as could not bear investigation.
The old proverb of "birds of a feather flock together," is certainly a
true one, and in this case it was once more verified. Before the arrival
of these men in the village, there had been two or three bad characters in
the neighborhood, whose delinquencies were pretty well known. With these
persons the strangers, by that sympathy which assimilates with congenial
good or evil, soon became acquainted; and although their intimacy was as
secret and cautious as possible, still it had been observed, and was
known, for they had frequently been seen skulking together at daybreak, or
in the dusk of evening.
It is unnecessary to say that Meehan and his brother did not mingle much
in the society of Carnmore. In fact, the villagers and they mutually
avoided each other. A mere return of the common phrases of salutation was
generally the most that passed between them; they never entered into that
familiarity which leads to mutual intercourse, and justifies one neighbor
in freely entering the cabin of another, to spend a winter's night, or a
summer's evening, in amusing conversation. Few had ever been in the house
of the Meehans since it became theirs; nor were the means of their
subsistence known. They led an idle life, had no scarcity of food, were
decently clothed, and never wanted money; circumstances which occasioned
no small degree of conjecture in Carnmore and its vicinity.
Some said they lived by theft; others that they were coiners; and there
were many who imagined, from the diabolical countenance of the older
brother, that he had sold himself to the devil, who, they affirmed, set
his mark upon him, and was his paymaster. Upon this hypothesis several
were ready to prove that he had neither breath nor shadow; they had seen
him, they said, standing under a hedge-row of elder—that unholy tree
which furnished wood for the cross, and on which Judas hanged himself—yet,
although it was noon-day in the month of July, his person threw out no
shadow. Worthy souls! because the man stood in the shade at the time. But
with these simple explanations Superstition had nothing to do, although we
are bound in justice to the reverend old lady to affirm that she was kept
exceedingly busy in Carnmore. If a man had a sick cow, she was elf-shot;
if his child became consumptive, it had been overlooked, or received a
blast from the fairies; if the whooping-cough was rife, all the afflicted
children were put three times under an ass; or when they happened to have
the "mumps," were led, before sunrise to a south-running stream, with a
halter hanging about their necks, under an obligation of silence during
the ceremony In short, there could not possibly be a more superstitious
spot than that which these men of mystery had selected for their
residence. Another circumstance which caused the people to look upon them
with additional dread, was their neglect of mass on Sundays and holydays,
though they avowed themselves Roman Catholics. They did not, it is true,
join in the dances, drinking-matches, football, and other sports with
which the Carnmore folk celebrated the Lord's day; but they scrupled not,
on the other hand, to mend their garden-ditch or mould a row of cabbages
on the Sabbath—a circumstance, for which two or three of the
Carnmore boys were, one Sunday evening when tipsy, well-nigh chastising
them. Their usual manner, however, of spending that day was by sauntering
lazily about the fields, or stretching themselves supinely on the sunny
side of the hedges, their arms folded on their bosoms, and their hats
lying over their faces to keep off the sun.
In the mean time, loss of property was becoming quite common in the
neighborhood. Sheep were stolen from the farmers, and cows and horses from
the more extensive graziers in the parish. The complaints against the
authors of these depredations were loud and incessant: watches were set,
combinations for mutual security formed, and subscriptions to a
considerable amount entered into, with a hope of being able, by the
temptation of a large reward, to work upon the weakness or cupidity of
some accomplice to betray the gang of villains who infested the
neighborhood. All, however, was in vain; every week brought some new act
of plunder to light, perpetrated upon such unsuspecting persons as had
hitherto escaped the notice of the robbers; but no trace could be
discovered of the perpetrators. Although theft had from time to time been
committed upon a small scale before the arrival of the Meehans in the
village, yet it was undeniable that since that period the instances not
only multiplied, but became of a more daring and extensive description.
They arose in a gradual scale, from the henroost to the stable; and with
such ability were they planned and executed, that the people, who in every
instance identified Meehan and his brother with them, began to believe and
hint that, in consequence of their compact with the devil, they had power
to render themselves invisible. Common Fame, who can best treat such
subjects, took up this, and never laid it aside until, by narrating
several exploits which Meehan the elder was said to have performed in
other parts of the kingdom, she wound it up by roundly informing the
Carnmorians, that, having been once taken prisoner for murder, he was
caught by the leg, when half through a hedge, but that; being most
wickedly determined to save his neck, he left the leg with the officer who
took him, shouting out that it was a new species of leg-bail; and yet he
moved away with surprising speed, upon two of as good legs as any man in
his majesty's dominions might wish to walk off upon, from the insinuating
advances of a bailiff or a constable!
The family of the Meehans consisted of their wives and three children, two
boys and a girl; the former were the offspring of the younger brother, and
the latter of Anthony. It has been observed, with truth and justice, that
there is no man, how hardened and diabolical soever in his natural temper,
who does not exhibit to some particular object a peculiar species of
affection. Such a man was Anthony Meehan. That sullen hatred which he bore
to human society, and that inherent depravity of heart which left the
trail of vice and crime upon his footsteps, were flung off his character
when he addressed his daughter Anne. To him her voice was like music; to
her he was not the reckless villain, treacherous and cruel, which the
helpless and unsuspecting found him; but a parent kind and indulgent as
ever pressed an only and beloved daughter to his bosom. Anne was handsome:
had she been born and educated in an elevated rank in society, she would
have been softened by the polish and luxury of life into perfect beauty:
she was, however, utterly without education. As Anne experienced from her
father no unnatural cruelty, no harshness, nor even indifference, she
consequently loved him in return; for she knew that tenderness from such a
man was a proof of parental love rarely to be found in life. Perhaps she
loved not her father the less on perceiving that he was proscribed by the
world; a circumstance which might also have enhanced in his eyes the
affection she bore him. When Meehan came to Carnmore, she was sixteen;
and, as that was three years before the incident occurred on which we have
founded this narrative, the reader may now suppose her to be about
nineteen; an interesting country girl, as to person, but with a mind
completely neglected, yet remarkable for an uncommon stock of good nature
About the hour of eleven o'clock, one winter's night in the beginning of
December, Meehan and his brother sat moodily at their hearth. The fire was
of peat which had recently been put down, and, from between the turf, the
ruddy blaze was shooting out in those little tongues and, gusts of sober
light, which throw around the rural hearth one of those charms which make
up the felicity of domestic life. The night was stormy, and the wind
moaned and howled along the dark hills beneath which the cottage stood.
Every object in the house was shrouded in a mellow shade, which afforded
to the eye no clear outline, except around the hearth alone, where the
light brightened into a golden hue, giving the idea of calmness and peace.
Anthony Meehan sat on one side of it, and his daughter opposite him,
knitting: before the fire sat Denis, drawing shapes in the ashes for his
"Bless me," said he, "how sthrange it is!"
"What is?" inquired Anthony, in his deep and grating tones.
"Why, thin, it is sthrange!" continued the other, who, despite of the
severity of his brother, was remarkably superstitious—"a coffin I
made in the ashes three times runnin'! Isn't it very quare, Anne?" he
added, addressing the niece.
"Sthrange enough, of a sartinty," she replied, being unwilling to express
before her father the alarm which the incident, slight as it was, created
in her mind; for she, like her uncle, was subject to such ridiculous
influences. "How did it happen, uncle?"
"Why, thin, no way in life, Anne; only, as I was thryin' to make a shoe,
it turned out a coffin on my hands. I thin smoothed the ashes, and began
agin, an' sorra bit of it but was a coffin still. Well, says I, I'll give
you another chance,—here goes one more;—an', as sure as gun's
iron, it was a coffin the third time. Heaven be about us, it's odd
"It would be little matther you were nailed down in a coffin," replied
Anthony, fiercely; "the world would have little loss. What a pitiful
cowardly rascal you are! Afraid o' your own shadow afther the 'sun goes
down, except I'm at your elbow! Can't you dhrive all them palavers out o'
your head? Didn't the sargint tell us, an' prove to us, the time we broke
the guardhouse, an' took Frinch lave o' the ridgment for good, that the
whole o' that, an' more along wid it, is all priestcraft?"
"I remimber he did, sure enough: I dunna where the same sargint is now,
Tony? About no good, any way, I'll be bail. Howsomever, in regard o' that,
why doesn't yourself give up fastin' from the mate of a Friday?"
"Do you want me to sthretch you on the hearth?" replied the savage, whilst
his eyes kindled into fury, and his grim visage darkened into a satanic
expression. "I'll tache you to be puttin' me through my catechiz about
aitin' mate. I may manage that as I plase; it comes at first-cost, anyhow:
but no cross-questions to me about it, if you regard your health!"
"I must say for you," replied Denis, reproachfully, "that you're a good
warrant to put the health astray upon us of an odd start: we're not come
to this time o' day widout carryin' somethin' to remimber you by. For my
own part, Tony, I don't like such tokens; an' moreover, I wish you had
resaved a thrifle o' larnin', espishily in the writin' line; for whenever
we have any difference, you're so ready to prove your opinion by settin'
your mark upon me, that I'd rather, fifty times over, you could write it
with pen an' ink."
"My father will give that up, uncle," said the niece; "it's bad for any
body to be fightin', but worst of all for brothers, that ought to live in
peace and kindness. Won't you, father?"
"Maybe I will, dear, some o' these days, on your account, Anne; but you
must get this creature of an uncle of yours, to let me alone, an' not be
aggravatin' me with his folly. As for your mother, she's worse; her
tongue's sharp enough to skin a flint, and a batin' a day has little
effect on her."
Anne sighed, for she knew how long an irreligious life, and the infamous
society with which, as her father's wife, her mother was compelled to
mingle, had degraded her.
"Well, but, father, you don't set her a good example yourself," said Anne;
"and if she scoulds and drinks now, you know she was a different woman
when you got her. You allow this yourself; and the crathur, the dhrunkest
time she is, doesn't she cry bittherly, remimberin' what she has been.
Instead of one batin' a day, father, thry no batin' a day, an' maybe it
'ill turn out betther than thump-in' an' smashin' her as you do."
"Why, thin, there's truth and sinse in what the girl says, Tony," observed
"Come," replied Anthony, "whatever she may say I'll suffer none of your
interference. Go an' get us the black bottle from the place; it'll soon be
time to move. I hope they won't stay too long."
Denis obeyed this command with great readiness, for whiskey in some degree
blunted the fierce passions of his brother, and deadened his cruelty; or
rather diverted it from minor objects to those which occurred in the
lawless perpetration of his villany.
The bottle was got, and in the meantime the fire blazed up brightly; the
storm without, however, did not abate, nor did Meehan and his brother wish
that it should. As the elder of them took the glass from the hands of the
other, an air of savage pleasure blazed in his eyes, on reflecting that
the tempest of the night was favorable to the execution of the villanous
deed on which they were bent.
"More power to you!" said Anthony, impiously personifying the storm; "sure
that's one proof that God doesn't throuble his head about what we do, or
we would not get such a murdherin' fine night as is in it any how. That's
it! blow and tundher away, an' keep yourself an' us, as black as hell,
sooner than we should fail in what we intend! Anne, your health, acushla!—Yours,
Dinny! If you keep your tongue off o' me, I'll neither make nor meddle in
regard o' the batin' o' you."
"I hope you'll stick to that, any how," replied Denis; "for my part I'm
sick and sore o' you every day in the year. Many another man would put
salt wather between himself and yourself, sooner nor become a
battin'-stone for you, as I have been. Few would bear it, when they could
"What's that you say?" replied Anthony, suddenly laying down his glass,
catching his brother by the collar, and looking him with a murderous scowl
in the face. "Is it thrachery you hint at?—eh? Sarpent, is it
thrachery you mane?" and as he spoke, he compressed Denis's neck between
his powerful hands, until the other was black in the face.
Anne flew to her uncle's assistance, and with much difficulty succeeded in
rescuing him from the deadly gripe of her father, who exclaimed, as he
loosed his hold, "You may thank the girl, or you'd not spake, nor dare to
spake, about crossin' the salt wather, or lavin' me in a desateful way
agin. If I ever suspect that a thought of thrachery comes into your heart,
I'll do for you; and you may carry your story to the world I'll send you
"Father, dear, why are you so suspicious of my uncle?" said Anne; "sure
he's a long time livin' with you, an' goin' step for step in all the
danger you meet with. If he had a mind to turn out a Judas agin you, he
might a done it long agone; not to mintion the throuble it would bring on
his own head seein' he's as deep in everything as you are."
"If that's all that's throubling you," replied Denis, trembling, "you may
make yourself asy on the head of it; but well I know 'tisn't that that's
on your mind; 'tis your own conscience; but sure it's not fair nor
rasonable for you to vent your evil thoughts on me!"
"Well, he won't," said Anne, "he'll quit it; his mind's throubled; an',
dear knows, it's no wondher it should. Och, I'd give the world wide that
his conscience was lightened of the load that's upon it! My mother's
lameness is nothin'; but the child, poor thing! An' it was only widin
three days of her lyin'-in. Och, it was a cruel sthroke, father! An' when
I seen its little innocent face, dead an' me widout a brother, I thought
my heart would break, thinkin' upon who did it!" The tears fell in showers
from her eyes, as she added, "Father, I don't want to vex you; but I wish
you to feel sorrow for that at laste. Oh, if you'd bring the priest, an'
give up sich coorses, father dear, how happy we'd be, an' how happy
yourself 'ud be!"
Conscience for a moment started from her sleep, and uttered a cry of guilt
in his spirit; his face became ghastly, and his eyes full of horror: his
lips quivered, and he' was about to upbraid his daughter with more
harshness than usual, when a low whistle, resembling that of a curlew, was
heard at a chink of the door. In a moment he gulped down another glass of
spirits, and was on his feet: "Go, Denis, an' get the arms," said he to
his brother, "while I let them in."
On opening the door, three men entered, having their great coats muffled
about them, and their hats slouched. One of them, named Kenny, was a short
villain, but of a thick-set, hairy frame. The other was known as "the Big
Mower," in consequence of his following that employment every season, and
of his great skill in performing it. He had a deep-rooted objection
against permitting the palm of his hand to be seen; a reluctance which
common fame attributed to the fact of his having received on that part the
impress of a hot iron, in the shape of the letter T, not forgetting to
add, that T was the hieroglyphic for Thief. The villain himself affirmed
it was simply the mark of a cross, burned into it by a blessed friar, as a
charm against St. Vitus's dance, to which he had once been subject. The
people, however, were rather sceptical, not of the friar's power to cure
that malady, but of the fact of his ever having moved a limb under it; and
they concluded with telling him, good-humoredly enough, that
notwithstanding the charm, he was destined to die "wid the threble of it
in his toe." The third was a noted pedlar called Martin, who, under
pretence of selling tape, pins, scissors, etc., was very useful in setting
such premises as this virtuous fraternity might, without much risk, make a
"I thought yez would out-stay your time," said the elder Meehan, relapsing
into his determined hardihood of character; "we're ready, hours agone.
Dick Rice gave me two curlew an' two patrich calls to-day. Now pass the
glass among yez, while Denny brings the arms. I know there's danger in
this business, in regard of the Cassidys livin' so near us. If I see
anybody afut, I'll use the curlew call: an' if not, I'll whistle twice on
the patrich (* partridge) one, an' ye may come an. The horse is worth
eighty guineas, if he's worth a shillin'; an' we'll make sixty off him
For some time they chatted about the plan in contemplation, and drank
freely of the spirits, until at length the impatience of the elder Meehan
at the delay of his brother became ungovernable. His voice deepened into
tones of savage passion, as he uttered a series of blasphemous curses
against this unfortunate butt of his indignation and malignity. At length
he rushed out furiously to know why he did not return; but, on reaching a
secret excavation in the mound against which the house was built, he
found, to his utter dismay, that Denis had made his escape by an
artificial passage, scooped out of it to secure themselves a retreat in
case of surprise or detection. It opened behind the house among a clump of
black-thorn and brushwood, and wis covered "with green turf in such a
manner as to escape the notice of all who were not acquainted with the
secret. Meehan's face on his return was worked up into an expression truly
"We're sould!" said he; "but stop, I'll tache the thraithur what revenge
In a moment he awoke his brother's two sons, and dragged them by the neck,
one in each hand, to the hearth.
"Your villain of a father's off," said he, "to betray us; go, an' folly
him; bring him back, an' he'll be safe from me: but let him become a slag
agin us, and if I should hunt you both into bowels of the airth, I'll send
yez to a short account. I don't care that," and he snapped his fingers—"ha,
ha—no, I don't care that for the law; I know how to dale with it,
when it comes! An' what's the stuff about the other world, but priestcraft
"Maybe," said the Big Mower, "Denis is gone to get the foreway of us, an'
to take the horse himself. Our best plan is to lose no time, at all
events; so let us hurry, for fraid the night might happen to clear up."
"He!" said Meehan, "he go alone! No; the miserable wretch is afeard of his
own shadow. I only wondher he stuck to me so long: but sure he wouldn't,
only I bate the courage in, and the fear out of him. You're right, Brian,"
said he upon reflection, "let us lose no time, but be off. Do ye mind?" he
added to his nephews; "Did ye hear me? If you see him, let him come back,
an' all will be berrid; but, if he doesn't, you know your fate!" Saying
which, he and his accomplices departed amid the howling of the storm.
The next morning, Carnmore, and indeed the whole parish, was in an uproar;
a horse, worth eighty guineas, had been stolen in the most daring manner
from the Cassidys, and the hue-and-cry was up after the thief or thieves
who took him. For several days the search was closely maintained, but
without success; not the slightest trace could be found of him or them.
The Cassidys could very well bear to lose him; but there were many
struggling farmers, on whose property serious depredations had been
committed, who could not sustain their loss so easily. It was natural
under these circumstances that suspicion should attach to many persons,
some of whom had but indifferent characters before as well as to several
who certainly had never deserved suspicion. When a fortnight or so had
elapsed, and no circumstances transpired that might lead to discovery, the
neighbors, including those who had principally suffered by the robberies,
determined to assemble upon a certain day at Cassidy's house, for the
purpose of clearing themselves, on oath, of the imputation thrown out
against some of them, as accomplices in the thefts. In order, however,
that the ceremony should be performed as solemnly as possible, they
determined to send for Father Farrell, and Mr. Nicholson, a magistrate,
both of whom they requested to undertake the task of jointly presiding
upon this occasion; and, that the circumstance should have every
publicity, it was announced from the altar by the priest, on the preceding
Sabbath, and published on the church-gate in large legible characters
ingeniously printed with a pen by the village schoolmaster.
In fact, the intended meeting, and the object of it, were already
notorious; and much conversation was held upon its probable result, and
the measures which might be taken against those who should refuse to
swear. Of the latter, description there was but one opinion, which was
that their refusal in such a case would be tantamount to guilt. The
innocent were anxious to vindicate themselves from suspicion: and, as the
suspected did not amount to more than a dozen, of course, the whole body
of the people, including the thieves themselves, who applauded it as
loudly as the other, all expressed their satisfaction at the measures
about to be adopted. A day was therefore appointed, on which the
inhabitants of the neighborhood, particularly the suspected persons,
should come to assemble at Cassidy's house, in order to have the
characters of the innocent cleared up, and the guilty, if possible, made
On the evening before this took place, were assembled in Meehan's cottage,
the elder Meehan, and the rest of the gang, including Denis, who had
absconded, on the night of the theft.
"Well, well, Denny," said Anthony, who forced his rugged nature into an
appearance of better temper, that he might strengthen the timid spirit of
his brother against the scrutiny about to take place on the morrow—perhaps,
too, he dreaded him—"Well, well. Denny, I thought, sure enough, that
it was some new piece of cowardice came over you. Just think of him," he
added, "shabbin' off, only because he made, with a bit of a rod, three
strokes in the ashes that he thought resembled a coffin!—ha, ha,
This produced a peal of derision at Denis's pusillanimous terror.
"Ay!" said the Big Mower, "he was makin' a coffin, was he? I wondher it
wasn't a rope you drew, Denny. If any one dies in the coil, it will be the
greatest coward, an' that's yourself."
"You may all laugh," replied Denis, "but I know such things to have a
manin'. When my mother died, didn't my father, the heavens be his bed! see
a black coach about a week before it? an' sure from the first day she tuck
ill, the dead-watch was heard in the house every night: and what was more
nor that, she kept warm until she went into her grave; * an' accordingly,
didn't my sisther Shibby die within a year afther?"
* It is supposed in Ireland, when a corpse retains, for
a longer space of time than usual, any thing like
animal heat, that some person belonging to the family
of the deceased will die within a year.
"It's no matther about thim things," replied Anthony; "it's thruth about
the dead-watch, my mother keepin' warm, an' Shibby's death, any way, But
on the night we tuck Cassidy's horse, I thought you were goin' to betray
us: I was surely in a murdherin' passion, an' would have done harm, only
things turned out as they did."
"Why," said Denis, "the truth is, I was afeard some of us would be shot,
an' that the lot would fall on myself; for the coffin, thinks I, was sent
as a warnin'. How-and-ever, I spied about Cassidy's stable, till I seen
that the coast was clear; so whin I heard the low cry of the patrich that
Anthony and I agreed on, I joined yez."
"Well, about to-morrow," observed Kenny—"ha, ha, ha!—there'll
be lots o' swearin'—Why the whole parish is to switch the primer;
many a thumb and coat-cuff will be kissed in spite of priest or
magistrate. I remimber once, when I was swearin' an alibi for long Paddy
Murray, that suffered for the M'Gees, I kissed my thumb, I thought, so
smoothly, that no one would notice it; but I had a keen one to dale with,
so says he, 'You know for the matther o' that, my good fellow, that you
have your thumb to kiss every day in the week,' says he, 'but you might
salute the book out o' dacency and good manners; not,' says he, 'that you
an' it are strangers aither; for, if I don't mistake, you're an ould hand
at swearin' alibis.'
"At all evints, I had to smack the book itself, and it's I, and Barney
Green, and Tim Casserly, that did swear stiffly for Paddy, but the thing
was too clear agin him. So he suffered, poor fellow, an' died right game,
for he said over his dhrop—ha, ha, ha!—that he was as innocent
o' the murder as a child unborn: an' so he was in one sinse, bein' afther
"As to thumb-kissin'," observed the elder Meehan; "let there be none of it
among us to-morrow; if we're caught at it 'twould be as bad as stayin'
away altogether; for my part, I'll give it a smack like a pistol-shot—ha,
"I hope they won't bring the priest's book," said Denis. "I haven't the
laste objection agin payin' my respects to the magistrate's paper, but
somehow I don't like tastin' the priest's in a falsity."
"Don't you know," said the Big Mower, "that with a magistrate's present,
it's ever an' always only the Tistament by law that's used. I myself
wouldn't kiss the mass-book in a falsity."
"There's none of us sayin' we'd do it in a lie," said the elder Meehan;
"an' it's well for thousands that the law doesn't use the priest's book;
though, after all, aren't there books that say religion's all a sham? I
think myself it is; for if what they talk about justice an' Providence is
thrue, would Tom Dillon be transported for the robbery we committed at
Bantry? Tom, it's true, was an ould offender; but he was innocent of that,
any way. The world's all chance; boys, as Sargint Eustace used to say, and
whin we die there's no more about us; so that I don't see why a man
mightn't as well switch the priest's book as any other, only that,
somehow, a body can't shake the terror of it off o' them."
"I dunna, Anthony, but you and I ought to curse that sargint; only for him
we mightn't be as we are, sore in our conscience, an' afeard of every fut
we hear passin'," observed Denis.
"Spake for your own cowardly heart, man alive," replied Anthony; "for my
part, I'm afeared o' nothin'. Put round the glass, and don't be nursin' it
there all night. Sure we're not so bad as the rot among the sheep, nor the
black leg among the bullocks, nor the staggers among the horses, any how;
an' yet they'd hang us up only for bein' fond of a bit o' mate—ha,
"Thrue enough," said the Big Mower, philosophizing—"God made the
beef and the mutton, and the grass to feed it; but it was man made the
ditches: now we're only bringin' things back to the right way that
Providence made them in, when ould times were in it, manin' before ditches
war invinted—ha, ha, ha!"
"'Tis a good argument," observed Kenny, "only that judge and jury would be
a little delicate in actin' up to it; an' the more's the pity. Howsomever,
as Providence made the mutton, sure it's not harm for us to take what he
"Ay; but," said Denis,
"'God made man, an' man made money;
God made bees, and bees made honey;
God made Satan, an' Satan made sin;
An' God made a hell to put Satan in.'
Let nobody say there's not a hell; isn't there it plain from Scripthur?"
"I wish you had the Scripthur tied about your neck!" replied Anthony. "How
fond of it one o' the greatest thieves that ever missed the rope is! Why
the fellow could plan a roguery with any man that ever danced the
hangman's hornpipe, and yet he be's repatin' bits an' scraps of ould
prayers, an' charms, an' stuff. Ay, indeed! Sure he has a varse out o' the
Bible, that he thinks can prevent a man from bein' hung up any day!"
While Denny, the Big Mower, and the two Meehans were thus engaged in
giving expression to their peculiar opinions, the Pedlar held a
conversation of a different kind with Anne.
With the secrets of the family in his keeping, he commenced a rather
penitent review of his own life, and expressed his intention of abandoning
so dangerous a mode of accumulating wealth. He said that he thanked heaven
he had already laid up sufficient for the wants of a reasonable man; that
he understood farming and the management of sheep particularly well: that
it was his intention to remove to a different part of the kingdom, and
take a farm; and that nothing prevented him from having done this before,
but the want of a helpmate to take care of his establishment: he added,
that his present wife was of an intolerable temper, and a greater villain
by fifty degrees than himself. He concluded by saying, that his conscience
twitched him night and day for living with her, and that by abandoning her
immediately, becoming truly religious, and taking Anne in her place, he
hoped, he said, to atone in some measure for his former errors.
Anthony, however, having noticed the earnestness which marked the Pedlar's
manner, suspected him of attempting to corrupt the principles of his
daughter, having forgotten the influence which his own opinions were
calculated to produce upon her heart.
"Martin," said he, "'twould be as well you ped attention to what we're
sayin' in regard o' the thrial to-morrow, as to be palaverin' talk into
the girl's ear that can't be good comin' from your lips. Quit it, I
say, quit it! Corp an duoiwol (* My body to Satan)!—I won't
allow such proceedins!"
"Swear till you blister your lips, Anthony," replied Martin: "as for me,
bein' no residenthur, I'm not bound to it; an' what's more, I'm not
suspected. 'Tis settin' some other bit o' work for yez I'll be, while
you're all clearin' yourselves from stealin' honest Cassidy's horse. I
wish we had him safely disposed of in the mane time, an' the money for him
an' the other beasts in our pockets."
Much more conversation of a similar kind passed between them upon various
topics connected with their profligacy and crimes. At length they
separated for the night, after having concerted their plan of action for
the ensuing scrutiny.
The next morning, before the hour appointed arrived, the parish,
particularly the neighborhood of Carnmore, was struck with deep
consternation. Labor became suspended, mirth disappeared, and every face
was marked with paleness, anxiety, and apprehension. If two men met, one
shook his head mysteriously, and inquired from the other, "Did you hear
"Ay! ay! the Lord be about us all, I did! an' I pray God that it may lave
the counthry as it came to it!"
"Oh, an' that it may, I humbly make supplication this day!"
If two women met, it was with similar mystery and fear. "Vread, (*
Margaret) do you know what's at the Cassidys'?"
"Whisht, ahagur, I do; but let what will happen, sure it's best for us to
"Say! the blessed Virgin forbid! I'd cut my hand off o' me, afore I'd
spake a word about it; only that—"
"Whisht! woman—for mercy's sake—don't——"
And so they would separate, each crossing herself devoutly.
The meeting at Cassidy's was to take place that day at twelve o'clock;
but, about two hours before the appointed time, Anne, who had been in some
of the other houses, came into her father's, quite pale, breathless and
"Oh!" she exclaimed, with clasped hands, whilst the tears fell fast from
her eyes, "we'll be lost, ruined; did yez hear what's in the neighborhood
wid the Cassidys?"
"Girl," said the father, with more severity than he had ever manifested to
her before, "I never yet riz my hand to you, but ma corp an duowol,
if you open your lips, I'll fell you where you stand. Do you want that
cowardly uncle o' yours to be the manes o' hanging your father? Maybe that
was one o' the lessons Martin gave you last night?" And as he spoke he
knit his brows at her with that murderous scowl which was habitual to him.
The girl trembled, and began to think that since her father's temper
deepened in domestic outrage and violence as his crimes multiplied, the
sooner she left the family the better. Every day, indeed, diminished that
species of instinctive affection which she had entertained towards him;
and this, in proportion as her reason ripened into a capacity for
comprehending the dark materials of which his character was composed.
Whether he himself began to consider detection at hand, or not, we cannot
say; but it is certain, that his conduct was marked with a callous
recklessness of spirit, which increased in atrocity to such a degree, that
even his daughter could,only not look on him with disgust.
"What's the matter now?" inquired Denis, with alarm: "is it anything about
"No, 'tisn't," replied the other, "anything about us! What 'ud it be about
us for? 'Tis a lyin' report that some cunnin' knave spread, hopin' to find
out the guilty. But hear me, Denis, once for all; we're goin' to clear
ourselves—now listen—an' let my words sink deep into you
heart: if you refuse to swear this day—no matther what's put into
your hand—you'll do harm—that's all: have courage, man; but
should you cow, your coorse will be short; an' mark, even if you escape
me, your sons won't: I have it all planned: an' corp an duowol!
thim you won't know from Adam will revenge me, if I am taken up through
"'Twould be betther for us to lave the counthry," said Anne; "we might
slip away as it is."
"Ay," said the father, "an' be taken by the neck afore we'd get two miles
from the place! no, no, girl; it's the safest way to brazen thim out. Did
you hear me, Denis?"
Denis started, for he had been evidently pondering on the mysterious words
of Anne, to which his brother's anxiety to conceal them gave additional
mystery. The coffin, too, recurred to him; and he feared that the death
shadowed out by it would in some manner or other occur in the family. He
was, in fact, one of those miserable villains with but half a conscience;—that
is to say, as much as makes them the slaves of the fear which results from
crime, without being the slightest impediment to their committing it. It
was no wonder he started at the deep pervading tones of his brother's
voice, for the question was put with ferocious energy.
On starting, he looked with vague terror on his brother, fearing, but not
comprehending, his question.
"What is it, Anthony?" he inquired. "Oh, for that matther," replied the
other, "nothin' at all: think of what I said to you any how; swear through
thick an' thin, if you have a regard for your own health, or for your
childher. Maybe I had betther repate it again for you?" he continued,
eyeing him with mingled fear and suspicion. "Dennis, as a friend, I bid
you mind yourself this day, an' see you don't bring aither of us into
There lay before the Cassidys' houses a small flat of common, trodden into
rings by the young horses they were in the habit of training. On this
level space were assembled those who came, either to clear their own
character from suspicion, or to witness the ceremony. The day was dark and
lowering, and heavy clouds rolled slowly across the peaks of the
surrounding mountains; scarcely a breath of air could be felt; and, as the
country people silently approached, such was the closeness of the day,
their haste to arrive in time, and their general anxiety, either for
themselves or their friends, that almost every man, on reaching the spot,
might be seen taking up the skirts of his "cothamore," or "big coat," (the
peasant's handkerchief), to wipe the sweat from his brow; and as he took
off his dingy woollen hat, or caubeen, the perspiration rose in strong
exhalations from his head.
"Michael, am I in time?" might be heard from such persons, as they
arrived: "did this business begin yit?"
"Full time, Larry; myself's here an hour ago but no appearance of anything
as yit. Father Farrell and Squire Nicholson are both in Cassidys' waitin'
till they're all gother, whin they'll begin to put thim through their
facins. You hard about what they've got?"
"No; for I'm only on my way home from the berril of a cleaveen of
mine, that we put down this mornin' in the Tullyard. What is it?"
"Why man alive, it's through the whole parish inready;"—he
then went on, lowering his voice to a whisper, and speaking in a tone
bordering on dismay.
The other crossed himself, and betrayed symptoms of awe and astonishment,
not un-mingled with fear.
"Well," he replied, "I dunna whether I'd come here, if I'd known that;
for, innocent or guilty, I would'nt wish to be near it. Och, may God pity
thim that's to come acrass it, I espishily if they dare to do it in a
"They needn't, I can tell yez both," observed a third person, "be a hair
afeard of it, for the best rason livin', that there's no thruth at all in
the report, nor the Cassidys never thought of sindin' for anything o' the
kind: I have it from Larry Cassidy's own lips, an' he ought to know best."
The truth is, that two reports were current among the crowd: one that the
oath was to be simply on the Bible; and the other, that a more awful means
of expurgation was resorted to by the Cassidys. The people, consequently,
not knowing which to credit, felt that most painful of all sensations—uncertainty.
During the period which intervened between their assembling and the
commencement of the ceremony, a spectator, interested in contemplating the
workings of human nature in circumstances of deep interest, would have had
ample scope for observation. The occasion was to them a solemn one. There
was little conversation among them; for when a man is wound up to a pitch
of great interest, he is seldom disposed to relish discourse. Every brow
was anxious, every cheek blanched, and every, arm folded: they scarcely
stirred, or when they did, only with slow abstracted movements, rather
mechanical than voluntary. If an individual made his appearance about
Cassidy's door, a sluggish stir among them was visible, and a low murmur
of a peculiar character might be heard; but on perceiving that it was only
some ordinary person, all subsided again into a brooding stillness that
was equally singular and impressive.
Under this peculiar feeling was the multitude, when Meehan and his brother
were seen approaching it from their own house. The elder, with folded
arms, and hat pulled over his brows, stalked grimly forward, having that
remarkable scowl upon his face, which had contributed to establish for him
so diabolical a character. Denis walked by his side, with his countenance
strained to inflation;—a miserable parody of that sullen effrontery
which marked the unshrinking miscreant beside him. He had not heard of the
ordeal, owing to the caution of Anthony: but, notwithstanding his effort
at indifference, a keen eye might have observed the latent anxiety of a
man who was habitually villanous, and naturally timid.
When this pair entered the crowd, a few secret glances, too rapid to be
noticed by the people, passed between them and their accomplices. Denis,
on seeing them present, took fresh courage, and looked with the heroism of
a blusterer upon those who stood about him, especially whenever he found
himself under the scrutinizing eye of his brother. Such was the horror and
detestation in which they were held, that on advancing into the assembly,
the persons on each side turned away, and openly avoided them: eyes full
of fierce hatred were bent on them vindictively, and "curses, not loud,
but deep," were muttered with indignation which nothing but a divided
state of feeling could repress within due limits. Every glance, however,
was paid back by Anthony with interest, from eyes and black shaggy brows
tremendously ferocious; and his curses, as they rolled up half smothered
from his huge chest, were deeper and more diabolical by far than their
own. He even jeered at them; but, however disgusting his frown, there was
something truly apalling in the dark gleam of his scoff, which threw them
at an immeasurable distance behind him, in the power of displaying on the
countenance the worst of human passions.
At length Mr. Nicholson, Father Farrell, and his curate, attended by the
Cassidys and their friends, issued from the house: two or three servants
preceded them, bearing a table and chairs for the magistrate and priests,
who, however, stood during the ceremony. When they entered one of the
rings before alluded to, the table and chairs were placed in the centre of
it, and Father Farrell, as possessing most influence over the people,
addressed them very impressively.
"There are," said he, in conclusion, "persons in this crowd whom we know
to be guilty; but we will have an opportunity of now witnessing the
lengths to which crime, long indulged in, can carry them. To such people I
would say beware! for they know not the situation in which they are
During all this time there was not the slightest allusion made to the
mysterious ordeal which had excited so much awe and apprehension among
them—a circumstance which occasioned many a pale, downcast face to
clear up, and resume its usual cheerful expression. The crowd now were
assembled round the ring, and every man on whom an imputation had been
fastened came forward, when called upon, to the table at which the priests
and magistrate stood uncovered. The form of the oath was framed by the two
clergymen, who, as they knew the reservations and evasions commonest among
such characters, had ingeniously contrived not to leave a single loophole
through which the consciences of those who belonged to this worthy
fraternity might escape.
To those acquainted with Irish courts of justice there was nothing
particularly remarkable in the swearing. Indeed, one who stood among the
crowd might hear from those who were stationed at the greatest distance
from the table, such questions as the following:—
"Is the thing in it, Art?"
"No; 'tis nothin' but the law Bible, the magistrate's own one."
To this the querist would reply, with a satisfied nod of the head, "Oh is
that all? I heard they war to have it;" on which he would push himself
through the crowd until he reached the table, where he took his oath as
readily as another.
"Jem Hartigan," said the magistrate to one of those persons, "are you to
"Faix, myself doesn't know, your honor; only that I hard them say that the
Cassidys mintioned our names along wid many other honest people; an' one
wouldn't, in that case, lie under a false report, your honor, from any
one, when we're as clear as them that never saw the light of anything of
The magistrate then put the book into his hand, and Jem, in return, fixed
his eye, with much apparent innocence, on his face: "Now, Jem Hartigan,"
etc, etc., and the oath was accordingly administered. Jem put the book to
his mouth, with his thumb raised to an acute angle on the back of it; nor
was the smack by any means a silent one which he gave it (his thumb).
The magistrate set his ear with the air of a man who had experience in
discriminating such sounds. "Hartigan," said he, "you'll condescend to
kiss the book, sir, if you please: there's a hollowness in that smack, my
good fellow, that can't escape me."
"Not kiss it, your honor? why, by this staff in my hand, if ever a man
"Silence! you impostor," said the curate; "I watched you closely, and am
confident your lips never touched the book."
"My lips never touched the book!—Why, you know I'd be sarry to
conthradict either o' yez; but I was jist goin' to obsarve, wid
simmission, that my own lips ought to know best; an' don't you hear them
tellin' you that they did kiss it?" and he grinned with confidence in
"You double-dealing reprobate!" said the parish priest, "I'll lay my whip
across your jaws. I saw you, too, an' you did not kiss the book."
"By dad, an' maybe I did not, sure enough," he replied: "any man may make
a mistake unknownst to himself; but I'd give my oath, an' be the five
crasses, I kissed it as sure as—however, a good thing's never the
worse o' bein' twice done, gintlemen; so here goes, jist to satisfy yez;"
and, placing the book near, his mouth, and altering his position a little,
he appeared to comply, though, on the contrary, he touched neither it nor
his thumb. "It's the same thing to me," he continued, laying down the book
with an air of confident assurance; "it's the same thing to me if I kissed
it fifty times over, which I'm ready to do if that doesn't satisfy yez."
As every man acquitted himself of the charges brought against him, the
curate immediately took down his name. Indeed, before the clearing
commenced, he requested that such as were to swear would stand together
within the ring, that, after having sworn, he might hand each of them a
certificate of the fact, which they appeared to think might be serviceable
to them, should they happen to be subsequently indicted for the same crime
in a court of justice. This, however, was only a plan to keep them
together for what was soon to take place.
The detections of thumb kissing were received by those who had already
sworn, and by several in the outward crowd, with much mirth. It is but
justice, however, to the majority of those assembled to state, that they
appeared to entertain a serious opinion of the nature of the ceremony, and
no small degree of abhorrence against those who seemed to trifle with the
solemnity of an oath.
Standing on the edge of the circle, in the innermost row, were Meehan and
his brother. The former eyed, with all the hardness of a stoic, the
successive individuals as they passed up to the table. His accomplices had
gone forward, and to the surprise of many who strongly suspected them in
the most indifferent manner "cleared" themselves in the trying words of
the oath, of all knowledge of, and participation in, the thefts that had
The grim visage of the elder Meehan was marked by a dark smile, scarcely
perceptible; but his brother, whose nerves were not so firm, appeared
somewhat confused and distracted by the imperturbable villany of the
At length they were called up. Anthony advanced slowly but collectedly, to
the table, only turning his eye slightly about, to observe if his brother
accompanied him. "Denis," said he, "which of us will swear first? you
may;" for, as he doubted his brother's firmness, he was prudent enough,
should he fail, to guard against having the sin of perjury to answer for,
along with those demands which his country had to make for his other
crimes. Denis took the book, and cast a slight glance at his brother as if
for encouragement; their eyes met, and the darkened brow of Anthony hinted
at the danger of flinching in this crisis. The tremor of his hand was not,
perhaps, visible to any but Anthony, who, however, did not overlook this
circumstance. He held the book, but raised not his eye to meet the looks
of either the magistrate or the priests; the color also left his face, as
with shrinking lips he touched the Word of God in deliberate falsehood.
Having then laid it down, Anthony received it with a firm grasp, and
whilst his eye turned boldly in contemptuous mockery upon those who
presented it, he impressed it with the kiss of a man whose depraved
conscience seemed to goad him only to evil. After "clearing" himself, he
laid the Bible upon the table with the affected air of a person who felt
hurt at the imputation of theft, and joined the rest with a frown upon his
countenance, and a smothered curse upon his lips.
Just at this moment, a person from Cassidy's house laid upon the table a
small box covered with black cloth; and our readers will be surprised to
hear, that if fire had come down visibly from heaven, greater awe and fear
could not have been struck into their hearts, or depicted upon their
countenances. The casual conversation, and the commentaries upon the
ceremony they had witnessed, instantly settled into a most profound
silence, and every eye was turned towards it with an interest absolutely
fearful. "Let," said the curate, "none of those who have sworn depart from
within the ring, until they once more clear themselves upon this;" and as
he spoke, he held it up—"Behold," said he, "and tremble—behold
A low murmur of awe and astonishment burst from the people in general,
whilst those within the ring, who with few exceptions, were the worst
characters in the parish, appeared ready to sink into the earth. Their
countenances, for the most part, paled into the condemned hue of guilt;
many of them became almost unable to stand; and altogether, the state of
trepidation and terror in which they stood, was strikingly wild and
The curate proceeded: "Let him now who is guilty depart; or if he wishes,
advance and challenge the awful penalty annexed to perjury upon this! Who
has ever been known to swear falsely upon the Donagh, without being
visited by a tremendous punishment, either on the spot, or in twenty-four
hours after his perjury? If we ourselves have not seen such instances with
our own eyes, it is because none liveth who dare incur such dreadful
penalty; but we have heard of those who did, and of their awful punishment
afterwards. Sudden death, madness, paralysis, self-destruction, or the
murder of some one dear to them, are the marks by which perjury upon the
Donagh is known and visited. Advance, now, ye who are innocent, but let
the guilty withdraw; for we do not desire to witness the terrible
vengeance which would attend a false oath upon the Donagh. Pause,
therefore, and be cautious! for if this grievous sin be committed, a heavy
punishment will fall, not only upon you, but upon the parish in which it
The words of the priest sounded to the guilty like the death-sentence of a
judge. Before he had concluded, all, except Meehan and his brother, and a
few who were really innocent, had slunk back out of the circle into the
crowd. Denis, however, became pale as a corpse; and from time to time
wiped the large drops from his haggard brow: even Anthony's cheek, despite
of his natural callousness, was less red; his eyes became disturbed; but
by their influence, he contrived to keep Denis in sufficient dread, to
prevent him from mingling, like the rest, among the people. The few who
remained along with them advanced; and notwithstanding their innocence,
when the Donagh was presented and the figure of Christ and the Twelve
Apostles displayed in the solemn tracery of its carving, they exhibited
symptoms of fear. With trembling hands they touched the Donagh, and with
trembling lips kissed the crucifix, in attestation of their guiltlessness
of the charge with which they had been accused.
"Anthony and Denis Meehan, come forward," said the curate, "and declare
your innocence of the crimes with which you are charged by the Cassidys
Anthony advanced; but Denis stood rooted to the ground; on perceiving
which, the former sternly returned a step or two, and catching him by the
arm with an admonitory grip, that could not easily be misunderstood,
compelled him to proceed with himself step by step to the table. Denis,
however, could feel the strong man tremble and perceive that although he
strove to lash himself into the energy of despair, and the utter disbelief
of all religious sanction, yet the trial before him called every
slumbering prejudice and apprehension of his mind into active power. This
was a death-blow to his own resolution, or, rather it confirmed him in his
previous determination not to swear on the Donagh, except to acknowledge
his guilt, which he could scarcely prevent himself from doing, such was
the vacillating state of mind to winch he felt himself reduced.
When Anthony reached the table, his huge form seemed to dilate by his
effort at maintaining the firmness necessary to support him in this awful
struggle between conscience and superstition on the one hand, and guilt,
habit, and infidelity on the other. He fixed his deep, dilated eyes upon
the Donagh, in a manner that betokened somewhat of irresolution: his
countenance fell; his color came and went, but eventually settled in a
flushed red; his powerful hands and arms trembled so much, that he folded
them to prevent his agitation from being noticed; the grimness of his face
ceased to be stern, while it retained the blank expression of guilt; his
temples swelled out with the terrible play of their blood-vessels, his
chest, too, heaved up and down with the united pressure of guilt, and the
tempest which shook him within. At length he saw Denis's eye upon him, and
his passions took a new direction; he knit his brows at him with more than
usual fierceness, ground his teeth, and with a step and action of
suppressed fury, he placed his foot at the edge of the table, and bowing
down under the eye of God and man, took the awful oath on the mysterious
Douagh, in a falsehood! When it was finished, a feeble groan broke from
his brother's lips. Anthony bent his eye on him with a deadly glare; but
Denis saw it not. The shock was beyond his courage,—he had become
Those who stood at the outskirts of the crowd, seeing Denis apparently
lifeless, thought he must have sworn falsely on the Donagh, and exclaimed,
"He's dead! gracious God! Denis Meehan's struck dead by the Donagh! He
swore in a lie, and is now a corpse!" Anthony paused, and calmly surveyed
him as he lay with his head resting upon the hands of those who supported
him. At this moment a silent breeze came over where they stood; and, as
the Donagh lay upon the table, the black ribbons with which it was
ornamented fluttered with a melancholy appearance, that deepened the
sensations of the people into something peculiarly solemn and
preternatural. Denis at length revived, and stared wildly and vacantly
about him. When composed sufficiently to distinguish and recognize
individual objects, he looked upon the gloomy visage and threatening eye
of his brother, and shrunk back with a terror almost epileptical. "Oh!" he
exclaimed, "save me! save me from that man, and I'll discover all!"
Anthony calmly folded one arm into his bosom, and his lip, quivered with
the united influence of hatred and despair.
"Hould him," shrieked a voice, which proceeded from his daughter, "hould
my father or he'll murdher him! Oh! oh! merciful Heaven!"
Ere the words were uttered she had made an attempt to clasp the arms of
her parent, whose motions she understood; but only in time to receive from
the pistol which he had concealed in his breast, the bullet aimed at her
uncle! She tottered! and the blood spouted out of her neck upon her
father's brows, who hastily put up his hand and wiped it away, for it had
actually blinded him.
The elder Meehan was a tall man, and as he stood, elevated nearly a head
above the crowd, his grim brows red with his daughter's blood—which,
in attempting to wipe away, he had deeply streaked across his face—his
eyes shooting fiery gleams of his late resentment, mingled with the
wildness of unexpected horror—as he thus stood, it would be
impossible to contemplate a more revolting picture of that state to which
the principles that had regulated his life must ultimately lead, even in
On perceiving what he had done, the deep working of his powerful frame was
struck into sudden stillness, and he turned his eyes on his bleeding
daughter, with a fearful perception of her situation. Now was the harvest
of his creed and crimes reaped in blood; and he felt that the stroke which
had fallen upon him was one of those by which God will sometimes bare his
arm and vindicate his justice. The reflection, however, shook him not: the
reality of his misery was too intense and pervading, and grappled too
strongly with his hardened and unbending spirit, to waste its power upon a
nerve or a muscle. It was abstracted, and beyond the reach of bodily
suffering. From the moment his daughter fell, he moved not: his lips were
half open with the conviction produced by the blasting truth of her death,
effected prematurely by his own hand.
Those parts of his face which had not been stained with her blood assumed
an ashy paleness, and rendered his countenance more terrific by the
contrast. Tall, powerful, and motionless, he appeared to the crowd,
glaring at the girl like a tiger anxious to join his offspring, yet
stunned with the shock of the bullet which has touched a vital part. His
iron-gray hair, as it fell in thick masses about his neck, was moved
slightly by the blast, and a lock which fell over his temple was blown
back with a motion rendered more distinct by his statue-like attitude,
immovable as death.
A silent and awful gathering of the people around this impressive scene,
intimated their knowledge of what they considered to be a judicial
punishment annexed to perjury upon the Donagh. This relic lay on the
table, and the eyes of those stood within view of it, turned from
Anthony's countenance to it, and again back to his blood-stained visage,
with all the overwhelming influence of superstitious fear. Shudderings,
tremblings, crossings, and ejaculations marked their conduct and feeling;
for though the incident in itself was simply a fatal and uncommon one, yet
they considered it supernatural and miraculous.
At length a loud and agonizing cry burst from the lips of Meehan—"Oh,
God!—God of heaven an' earth!—have I murdhered my daughter?"
and he cast down the fatal weapon with a force which buried it some inches
into the wet clay.
The crowd had closed upon Anne; but with the strength of a giant he flung
them aside, caught the girl in his arms, and pressed her bleeding to his
bosom. He gasped for breath: "Anne," said he, "Anne, I am without hope,
an' there's none to forgive me except you;—none at all: from God, to
the poorest of his creatures, I am hated an' cursed, by all, except you!
Don't curse me, Anne; don't curse me! Oh, isn't it enough, darlin', that
my sowl is now stained with your blood, along with my other crimes? In
hell, on earth, an' in heaven, there's none to forgive your father but
yourself!—none! none! Oh, what's comin' over me! I'm dizzy an'
shiverin'! How cowld the day's got of a sudden! Hould up, avourneen
machree! I was a bad man; but to you Anne, I was not as I was to every
one! Darlin', oh look at me with forgiveness in your eye, or any way don't
curse me! Oh! I'm far cowlder now! Tell me that you forgive me, acushla
oge machree!—Manim asthee ha, darlin', say it. I darn't look to
God! but oh! do you say the forgivin' word to your father before you die!"
"Father," said she, "I deserve this—it's only just: I have plotted
with that divilish Martin to betray them all, except yourself, an' to get
the reward; an' then we intended to go—an'—live at a distance—an'
in wickedness—where we—might not be known—he's at our
house—let him be—secured. Forgive me, father; you said so
often that there was no thruth in religion—that I began to—think
so. Oh!—God! have mercy upon me!" And with these words she expired.
Meehan's countenance, on hearing this, was overspread with a ghastly look
of the most desolating agony: he staggered back, and the body of his
daughter, which he strove to hold, would have fallen from his arms, had it
not been caught by the bystanders. His eye sought out his brother, but not
in resentment. "Oh! she died, but didn't say 'I forgive you!' Denis," said
he, "Denis, bring me home—I'm sick—very sick—oh, but
it's eowld—everything's reeling—how cowld—cowld it is!"—and
as he uttered the last words, he shuddered, fell down in a fit of
apoplexy, never to rise again; and the bodies of his daughter and himself
were both waked and buried together.
The result is brief. The rest of the gang were secured: Denis became
approver, by whose evidence they suffered that punishment decreed by law
to the crimes of which they had been guilty. The two events which I we
have just related, of course added to the supernatural fear and reverence
previously entertained for this terrible relic. It is still used as an
ordeal of expurgation, in cases of stolen property; and we are not wrong
in asserting, that many of those misguided creatures, who too frequently
hesitate not to swear falsely on the Word of God, would suffer death
itself sooner than commit a perjury on the Donagh.
The story of the Donagh, the Author has reason to believe, was the means
of first bringing this curious piece of antiquity into notice. There is
little to be added here to what is in the sketch, concerning its influence
over the people, and the use of it as a blessed relic sought for by those
who wished to apply a certain test of guilt or innocence to such well
known thieves as scrupled not to perjure themselves on the Bible. For this
purpose it was a perfect conscience-trap, the most hardened miscreant
never having been known to risk a false oath upon it. Many singular
anecdotes are related concerning it.
The Author feels great pleasure in subjoining two very interesting letters
upon the subject—one from an accomplished scholar, the late Rev. Dr.
O'Beirne, master of the! distinguished school of Portora at Enniskillen;
the other from Sir William Betham, one of the soundest and most learned of
our Irish Antiquaries. Both gentlemen differ in their opinion respecting
the antiquity of the Donagh; and, as the author is incompetent to decide
between them, he gives their respective letters to the public.
""Portora, August 15, 1832.
""My Dear Carleton.—It is well you wrote to me about the Dona. Your
letter, which reached me this day, has proved that I was mistaken in
supposing that the promised drawing was no longer necessary. I had
imagined, that as you must have seen the Dona with Mr. Smith, any
communication from me on the subject must be superfluous. And now that I
have taken up my pen in compliance with your wish, what can I tell you
that you have not perhaps conveyed to yourself by ocular inspection, and
better than I can detail it?
""I accompanied Mr. S. to Brookborough, and asked very particularly of the
old woman, late the possessor of the Dona, what she knew of its history;
but she could say nothing about it, only that it had belonged to 'The Lord
of Enniskillen.' This was the Fermanagh Maguire, who took an active part
in the shocking rebellion of 1641, and was subsequently executed. His
castle, the ruins of which are on the grounds of Portora, was stormed
during the wars of that miserable time. When I entered on my inquiries for
you, I anticipated much in the way of tradition, which, I hoped, might
prove amusing at least; but disappointment met me on every hand. The old
woman could not even detail distinctly how the Dona had come into her
possession: it was brought into her family, she said, by a priest. The
country people had imagined wonders relative to the contents of the box.
The chief treasure it was supposed to contain was a lock of the Virgin
""After much inquiry, I received the following vague detail from a person
in this country; and let me remark, by the by, that though the possession
of the Dona was matter of boast to the Maguires, yet I could not gain the
slightest information respecting it from even the most intelligent of the
name. But now for the detail:—
""Donagh O'Hanlon, an inhabitant of the upper part of this country
(Fermanagh), went, about 600 years ago (longer than which time, in the
opinion of a celebrated antiquary, the kind of engraving on it could not
have been made), on a pious pilgrimage to Rome. His Holiness of the
Vatican, whose name has escaped the recollection of the person who gave
this information, as a reward for this supererogatory journey, presented
him with the Dona. As soon as Donagh returned, the Dona was placed in the
monastery of Aughadurcher (now Aughalurcher). But at the time, when
Cromwell was in this country, the monastery was destroyed, and this Ark
of the Covenant hid by some of the faithful at a small lake, named
Lough Eye, between Lisbellaw and Tempo. It was removed thence when peace
was restored, and again placed in some one of the neighboring chapels,
when, as before in Aughalurcher, the oaths were administered with all the
superstition that a depraved imagination could, invent, as "that their
thighs might rot off," "that they might go mad," etc., etc.
""When Kings James and William made their appearance, it was again
concealed in Largy, an old Castle at Sir H. Brooke's deer-park. Father
Antony Maguire, a priest of the Roman Church, dug it up from under the
stairs in this old castle, after the battle of the Boyne, deposited it in
a chapel, and it was used as before.
""After Father Antony's death it fell into the possession of his niece,
who took it over to the neighborhood of Florence-court. But the Maguires
were not satisfied that a thing so sacred should depart from the family,
and at their request it was brought back."
"For the confirmation of the former part of this account, the informant
refers you to Sir James Ware. I have not Ware's book, and cannot therefore
tell you how much of this story, is given by him, or whether any. In my
opinion there is nothing detailed by him at all bearing on the subject.
The latter part of this story rests, we are told, on tradition.
"As I confess myself not at all versed in Irish antiquities, it may appear
somewhat presumptuous in me to venture an opinion respecting this box and
its contents, which is, I understand, opposed to that of our spirited and
intelligent antiquary, Sir Wm. Betham. I cannot persuade myself that
either the box or the contained MSS. were of such an age as he claims for
them. And, first, of the box:—
"At present the MSS. are contained in a wooden box; the wood is, I
believe, yew. It cannot be pronounced, I think, with any certainty,
whether the wooden box was originally part of the shrine of the precious
MSS. It is very rude in its construction, and has not a top or lid. Indeed
it appears to me to have been a coarse botched-up thing to receive the
MSS. after the original box, which was made of brass, had fallen to
"The next thing that presents itself to us is the remnant of a brass box,
washed with Silver, and rudely ornamented with tracery. The two ends and
the front are all that remain of the brass box.
"You may then notice what was evidently an addition of later times, the
highly ornamented gilt-silver work, made fast on the remains of the brass
box, and the chased compartments, which seem to have formed the top or lid
of the box. But, as you have seen the whole, I need not perhaps have
troubled you with this description. I shall only direct your attention to
the two inscriptions. In the chasing you will see that they are referred
to their supposed places.
"The upper inscription, when deciphered, is—
"'Johannes: O'Karbri: Comorbanus: S. Tignacii: Pmisit.' For S. Tigcnaii I
would conjecture St. Ignacii: P, I should conjecture to be Presbyterus. On
this I. should be very glad to have Sir William's opinion. I cannot
imagine, if P stands part of a compound with misit, what it can mean. I
would read and translate it thus—'John O'Carbery, coadjutor, priest,
of the order of St. Ignatius, sent it.'
"This inscription, is on a narrow slip of silver, and is presumed to have
formed part of the under edge of the upper part of the back of the box.
The lower inscription is—;
"'Johannes O'Barrdan fabricavit.'
"This also is on a slip of silver, and appears to have fitted into a space
on the upper surface which is supposed to have been the top, and to have
lain in between the two square compartments on the left hand: this is
marked in the drawing. I have expressed myself here in the language of
doubt, for the box is all in confusion.
"Now, on the inscriptions, I would say, that they indicate to me a date
much later than some gentlemen who have seen the box are willing to
ascribe to it. In the island of Devenish, in our lake (Lough Erne), is an
inscription, that was discovered in the ruins (still standing) of a
priory, that was built there A. D. 1449. The characters in this
inscription are much more remote from the Roman character in use among us
than those used in the inscriptions on the box. The letters on the box
bespeak a later period, when English cultivation had begun to produce some
effect in our island, and the Roman character was winning its way into
general use. I shall probably be able to let you see the Devenish
inscription, and ajuxta position of it and the others will satisfy you, I
think, on this point. In my opinion, then, the box, with all its
ornaments, must have been made at some time since the year 1449. I cannot
think it reasonable to suppose that an inscription, containing many
letters like the Roman characters, should be more ancient than one not
only having fewer letters resembling them, but also having the letters
that differ differing essentially."
Now for the MSS.
"I am deficient in antiquarian lore: this I have already confessed; but
perhaps I want also the creative fancy and devoted faith of the genuine
antiquary. I cannot, for example, persuade myself, that a MS. written in a
clear, uniform, small character of the Roman form, could have been written
in remote times, when there is reason to think that MSS. were written in
uncial characters only, without stops, and with few or no divisions into
words, sentences, or paragraphs. The palimpsest MS. examined by Dr.
Barrett is in uncial characters, and is referred by him to the 6th or 7th
century. Cic. de Republica, published by Angelo Mai, is assigned to
much the same period. Small letters, and the distinctions above mentioned,
were the invention of later times. I cannot therefore persuade myself that
this MS. is of so early an age as some would ascribe to it, though I will
not take it upon me to assign the precise time in which, it was written.
The characters are decidedly and distinctly those now called the Roman:
they have not many abbreviations, as far as I could judge, and they are
written with much clearness and regularity. They are not the literae
cursivae, or those used in writing for the sake of facility and
connection: they seem rather formed more in imitation, of printed letters.
SECUNDUM—This imperfect attempt to present one of the words, will
explain my meaning. But I had better not weary you any more with my crude
notions. I shall be very glad to hear your opinion, or that of Sir William
Betham, to whom I should bow with all the respect due to talent and worth.
I must avow my distrust of Irish antiquities; yet, allow me to add, that
there is no man more willing to be converted from my heresy, if you would
call it so, than
"My dear Carleton,
"Your friend and servant,
"Stradbrook House, October, 1832.
"Dear Sir,—I have read Dr. O'Beirne's important letter on the Dona:
the account he has collected of its recent history is full of interest,
and for the most part, I have no doubt correct. His speculations
respecting its antiquity I cannot give my adhesion to, not feeling a doubt
myself on the subject. When I have time to investigate it more fully, I am
satisfied that this box, like the others, of which accounts have already
been published, will be found mentioned in the Irish Annals. The
inscriptions, however, fully identify the MS. and the box, and show that
antiquaries, from the execution of the workmanship and figures on these
interesting reliques, often underrate their antiquity—a fault which
the world are little inclined to give them credit for, and which they fall
into from an anxiety to err on what they consider the side which is least
likely to produce the smile of contempt or the sneer of incredulity,
forgetting that it is the sole business of an antiquarian and historian to
speak the truth, disregarding even contempt for so doing.
"I had been somewhat lengthy in my description of the Dona, and from
habit, entered into a minute account of all its parts, quite forgetting
that you, perhaps, do not possess an appetite for antiquarian detail, and
therefore might be better pleased to have a general outline than such a
recital. I therefore proceed to give it as briefly as possible, not,
however, omitting any material points.
"The Irish word Domnach, which is pronounced Dona, means the Lord's day,
or the first day in the week, sanctified or consecrated to the service of
the Lord. It is also in that sense used for a house, church, or chapel.
Donayhmore means the great church or chapel dedicated to God. This box,
being holy, as containing the Gospels, and having the crucifix thereon,
was dedicated or consecrated to the service of God. Like the Caah, the
Meeshach, and Dhimma's box, it is of brass, covered with plates of silver,
and resembles the two former in having a box of yew inside, which was the
original case of the MS. and became venerated so much, on that account, as
to be deemed worthy of being inclosed with it in the shrine made by
permission of John O'Carberry, Abbot of Clonmacnois, in the 14th century.
"The top of the Dona is divided by a cross, on the lower arm of which is a
figure of the Savior; over his head is a shield, divided per pale,
between two crystal settings; on the dexter is a hand holding a scourge or
whip of three thongs, and on a chief a ring; on the sinister, on a chief
the same charge and three crucifixion nails. In the first compartment, or
quarter of the cross, are representations of St. Columbkill, St. Bridget,
and St. Patrick. In the second, a bishop pierced with two arrows, and two
figures of St. Peter and St. Paul. In the third, the Archangel Michael
treading on the dragon, and the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus. In the
fourth, St. Tigemach handing to his successor, St. Sinellus, the Dona; and
a female figure, perhaps Mary Magdalen.
"The front of the Dona is ornamented with three crystal settings,
surmounted by grotesque figures of animals. Between these are four
horsemen with swords drawn, in full speed.
"The right hand end has a figure of St. Tigemach, and St. John the
Baptist. The left hand end a figure of St. Catherine with her wheel.
"The Dona is nine inches and a half long, seven wide, and not quite four
"So far I have been enabled to describe the Dona from the evidently
accurate and well executed drawings you were so good as to present to me.
Why the description is less particular than it should have been, I shall
take another opportunity of explaining to you.
"There are three inscriptions on the Dona: one on a scroll from the hand
of the figure of the Baptist, of ECCE AGNUS DEI. The two others are on
plates of silver, but their exact position on the box is not marked in the
drawing, but may be guessed by certain places which the plates exactly
fit. "The first is—
"JOHANNES: OBARRDAN: FABRICAVIT.
"JOHS: OKARBRI: COMORBANVS: S. TIGNACH: PMISIT."
"'John O'Barrdan made this box by the permission of John O'Carbry,
successor of St. Tigermach.'
"St. Tierny, or St. Tigernach was third Bishop of Clogher, having
succeeded St. Maccartin in the year 506. In the list of bishops, St.
Patrick is reckoned the first, and founder of the see. Tigernach died the
4th of April, 548.
"John O'Carbry was abbott of Clones, or Clounish, in the County of
Monoghan, and as such was comorb, or corb*—i. e.,
successor—of Tigernach, who was founder of the abbey and removed the
episcopal seat from Clogher to Clounish. Many of the abbots Were also
bishops of the see. He died in 1353. How long he was abbot does not
appear; but the age of the outside covering of the Dona is fixed to the
* All the successors of the founder saints were called
by the Irish comorbs or corbs. The reader Will perceive
that O'Carbry was a distant but not we immediate successor
of St. Tigernach.
"Since the foregoing was written I have seen the Dona, which was exhibited
at the last meeting of the Royal Irish Academy. it has been put together
at a guess, but different from the drawing. There is inside O'Barrdan's
case another of silver plates some centuries older, and inside that the
yew box, which originally contained the manuscripts, now so united by damp
as to be apparently inseparable, and nearly illegible; for they have lost
the color of vellum, and are quite black, and very much decayed. The old
Irish version of the New Testament is well worthy of being edited; it is,
I conceive, the oldest Latin version extant, and varies much from the
Vulgate or Jerome's.
"The MS. inclosed in the yew box appears from the two membranes handed me
by your friend Mr. ———, to be a copy of the Gospels—at
least those membranes were part of the two first membranes of the Gospel
of St. Matthew, and, I would say, written in the 5th or 6th century; were,
probably, the property of St. Tigernach himself, and passed most likely to
the abbots of Clounish, his successors, as an heirloom, until it fell into
the hands of the Maguires, the most powerful of the princes of the country
now comprising the diocese of Clogher. Dr. O'Beirne's letter I trust you
will publish. I feel much indebted to the gentleman for his courteous
expressions towards me, and shall be most happy to have the pleasure of
being personally known to him.
"You must make allowance for the hasty sketch which is here given. The
advanced state of your printing would not allow me time for a more
"Believe me, my dear sir,
"Very sincerely yours,
We cannot close the illustrations of this ancient and venerable relic
without adding an extract from a most interesting and authentic history of
it contributed by our great Irish antiquarian, George Petrie, Esq.,
R.H.A., M.R.I.A, to the 18th vol. of the Transactions of the Royal Irish
Academy, together with an engraving of it taken from a drawing made by the
same accomplished artist.
"I shall endeavor to arrange these evidences in consecutive order.
"It is of importance to prove that this cumdach, or reliquary, has
been from time immemorial popularly known by the name of Domnach,
or, as it is pronounced, Donagh, a word derived from the Latin Dominicus.
This fact is proved by a recent popular tale of very great power, by Mr.
Carleton, called the 'Donagh,' in which the superstitious uses to which
this reliquary has been long applied, are ably exhibited, and made
subservient to the interests of the story. It is also particularly
described under this name by the Rev. John Groyes in his account of the
parish of Errigal-Keeroch in the third volume of Shaw Mason's Parochial
Survey, page 163, though, as the writer states, it was not actually
preserved in that parish.
"2. The inscriptions on the external case leave no doubt that the Domnach
belonged to the monastery of Clones, or see of Clogher. The John O'Karbri,
the Comharb, or successor of St. Tighernach, recorded, in one of
those inscriptions as the person at whose cost, or by whose permission,
the outer ornamental case was made, was, according to the Annals of the
Pour Masters, Abbot of Clones, and died in the year 1353. He is properly
called in that inscription Comorbanus, or successor of Tighernach,
who was the first Abbot and Bishop of the Church of Clones, to which
place, after the death of St. Mac-Carthen, in the year 506, he removed the
see of Clogher, having erected a new church, which he dedicated to the
apostles Peter and Paul. St. Tighernach, according to all our ancient
authorities, died in the year 548.
"3. It appears from a fragment of an ancient life of St. Mac-Carthen,
preserved by Colgan, that a remarkable reliquary was given by St Patrick
to that saint when he placed him over the see of Clogher.
"'Et addidit, [Patricius] Accipo, inquit, baculum itineris mei, quo ego
membra mea sustento et scrinium in quo de sanctorum Apostolorum reliquiis,
et de sanctae Mariae capillis, et sancta Grace Domini, et sepulchro ejus,
et aliis reliquiis sanctis continentur. Quibus dictis dimisit cum osculo
pacis paterna fultum benedictione.'—Colgan, Vit. S. Macaerthenni
(24 Mart.) Acta SS. p. 738.
"From this passage we learn one great-cause of the sanctity in which this
reliquary was held, and of the uses of the several recesses for reliques
which it presents. It also explains the historical rilievo on the
top—the figure of St. Patrick presenting the Domnach to St.
"4. In Jocelyn's Life of St. Patrick (cap. 143) we have also a notice to
the same effect, but in which the Domnach is called a Chrismatorium,
and the relics are not specified—in all probability because they
were not then appended to it.
"In these authorities there is evidently much appearance of the Monkish
frauds of the middle ages; but still they are evidences of the tradition
of the country that such a gift had been made by Patrick to Mac-Carthen.
And as we advance higher in chronological authorities, we find the notice
of this gift stripped of much of its acquired garb of fiction, and related
with more of the simplicity of truth.
"5. In the life of St. Patrick called the Tripartite, usually ascribed to
St. Evin, an author of the seventh century, and which, even in its present
interpolated state, is confessedly prior to the tenth, there is the
following remarkable passage (as translated by Colgan from the original
Irish) relative to the gift of the Domnach from the Apostle of Ireland to
St. Mac-Carthen, in which it is expressly described under the very same
appellation which it still bears.
"' Aliquantis ergo evolutis diebus Mac-Caertennum, sive Caerthennum
Episcopuin prsefecit sedi Episcopali Clocherensi, ab Ardmacha regni
Metropoli haud multum distanti: et apud eum reliquit argenteum quoddam
reliquiarium Domnach-airgidh vulgo nuncupatum; quod viro Dei, in
Hiberniam venienti, ccelitus missum erat.'—VII. Vita S. Patricii,
Lib. in. cap. 3, Tr. Th. p. 149.
"This passage is elsewhere given by Colgan, with a slight change of words
in the translation.
"In this version, which is unquestionably prior to all the others, we find
the Domnach distinguished by the appellation of Airgid—an
addition which was applicable only to its more ancient or silver plated
case, and which could not with propriety be applied to its more recent
covering, which in its original state had the appearance of being of gold.
"On these evidences—and more might probably be procured if time had
allowed—we may, I think, with tolerable certainty, rest the
"1. That the Domnach is the identical reliquary given by St. Patrick to
"2. As the form of the cumdach indicates that it was intended to receive a
book, and as the relics are all attached to the outer and the least
ancient cover, it is manifest that the use of the box as a reliquary was
not its original intention. The natural inference therefore is, that it
contained a manuscript which had belonged to St. Patrick; and us a
manuscript copy of the Gospels, apparently of that early age, is found
within it, there is every reason to believe it to be that identical one
for which the box was originally made, and which the Irish apostle
probably brought with him on his mission into this country. It is indeed,
not merely possible, but even probable, that the existence of this
manuscript was unknown to the Monkish biographers of St. Patrick and St.
Mac-Carthen, who speak of the box as a scrinium or reliquary only. The
outer cover was evidently not made to open; and some, at least, of the
relics attached to it were not introduced into Ireland before the twelfth
century. It will be remembered also that no superstition was and is more
common in connection with the ancient cumdachs than the dread of their
"These conclusions will, I think, be strengthened considerably by the
facts, that the word Domnach, as applied either to a church, as
usual, or to a reliquary, as in this instance, is only to be found in our
histories in connection with St. Patrick's time; and, that in the latter
sense—its application to a reliquary—it only once occurs in
all our ancient authorities, namely, in the single reference to the gift
to St. Mac-Carthen; no other reliquary in Ireland, as far as can be
ascertained, having ever been known by that appellation. And it should
also be observed, that all the ancient reliques preserved in Ireland,
whether bells, books, croziers, or other remains, have invariably and
without any single exception, been preserved and venerated only as
appertaining to the original founders of the churches to which they
There is very little to be added, except that the Donagh was purchased for
a few pounds from the old woman who owned it, by Mr. George Smith, of the
house of Hodges and Smith, of College Green, Dublin, who very soon sold it
for a large sum to the Honorable Mr. Westenra, in whose possession I
presume it now is.