The Party Fight And Funeral
by William Carleton
We ought, perhaps, to inform our readers that the connection between a
party fight and funeral is sufficiently strong to justify the author in
classing them under the title which is prefixed to this story. The one
being usually the natural result of the other, is made to proceed from it,
as is, unhappily, too often the custom in real life among the Irish.
It has been long laid down as a universal principle, that
self-preservation is the first law of nature. An Irishman, however, has
nothing to do with this; he disposes of it as he does with the other laws,
and washes his hands out of it altogether. But commend him to a fair,
dance, funeral, or wedding, or to any other sport where there is a
likelihood of getting his head or his bones broken, and if he survive, he
will remember you with a kindness peculiar to himself to the last day of
his life—will drub you from head to heel if he finds that any
misfortune has kept you out of a row beyond the usual period of three
months—will render the same service to any of your friends that
stand in need of it; or, in short, will go to the world's end, or fifty
miles farther, as he himself would say, to serve you, provided you can
procure him a bit of decent fighting. Now, in truth and soberness, it is
difficult to account for this propensity; especially when the task of
ascertaining it is assigned to those of another country, or even to those
Irishmen whose rank in life places them too far from the customs,
prejudices, and domestic opinions of their native peasantry, none of which
can be properly known without mingling with them. To my own knowledge,
however, it proceeds in a great measure from education. And here I would
beg leave to point out an omission of which the several boards of
education have been guilty, and which, I believe, no one but myself has
yet been sufficiently acute and philosophical to ascertain, as forming a
sine qua non in the national instruction of the lower orders of
The cream of the matter is this:—a species of ambition prevails in
the Green Isle, not known in any other country. It is an ambition of about
three miles by four in extent; or, in other words, is bounded by the
limits of the parish in which the subject of it may reside. It puts itself
forth early in the character, and a hardy perennial it is. In my own case,
its first development was noticed in the hedge-school which I attended. I
had not been long there, till I was forced to declare myself either for
the Caseys or the Murphys, two tiny factions, that had split the school
between them. The day on which the ceremony of my declaration took place
was a solemn one. After school, we all went to the bottom of a deep
valley, a short distance from the school-house; up to the moment of our
assembling there, I had not taken my stand under either banner: that of
the Caseys was a sod of turf, stuck on the end of a broken fishing-rod—the
eagle of the Murphy's was a Cork red potato, hoisted in the same manner.
The turf was borne by an urchin, who afterwards distinguished himself in
fairs and markets as a builla batthah (* cudgel player) of the
first grade, and from this circumstance he was nicknamed Parrah Rackhan.
(* Paddy the Rioter) The potato was borne by little Mickle M'Phauden
Murphy, who afterwards took away Katty Bane Sheridan, without asking
either her own consent or her father's. They were all then boys, it is
true, but they gave a tolerable promise of that eminence which they
When we arrived at the bottom of the glen, the Murphys and the Caseys,
including their respective followers, ranged themselves on either side of
a long line, which was drawn between the belligerent powers with the
but-end of one of the standards. Exactly on this line was I placed. The
word was then put to me in full form—"Whether will you side with the
dacent Caseys, or the blackguard Murphys?" "Whether will you side with the
dacent Murphys, or the blackguard Caseys?" "The potato for ever!" said I,
throwing up my caubeen, and running over to the Murphy standard. In the
twinkling of an eye we were at it; and in a short time the deuce an eye
some of us had to twinkle. A battle royal succeeded, that lasted near half
an hour, and it would probably have lasted above double the time, were it
not for the appearance of the "master," who was seen by a little
shrivelled vidette, who wanted an arm, and could take no part in the
engagement. This was enough—we instantly radiated in all possible
directions, so that by the time he had descended through the intricacies
of the glen to the field of battle, neither victor nor vanquished was
visible, except, perhaps, a straggler or two as they topped the brow of
the declivity, looking back over their shoulders, to put themselves out of
doubt as to their visibility by the master. They seldom looked in vain,
however, for there he usually stood, shaking at us his rod, silently
prophetic of its application on the following day. This threat, for the
most part, ended in smoke; for except he horsed about forty or fifty of
us, the infliction of impartial justice was utterly out of his power.
But besides this, there never was a realm in which the evils of a divided
cabinet were more visible: the truth is, the monarch himself was under the
influence of female government—an influence which he felt it either
contrary to his inclination or beyond his power to throw off. "Poor Norah,
long may you reign!" we often used to exclaim, to the visible
mortification of the "master," who felt the benevolence of the wish
bottomed upon an indirect want of allegiance to himself. Well, it was a
touching scene!—how we used to stand with the waistbands of our
small-clothes cautiously grasped in our hands, with a timid show of
resistance, our brave red faces slobbered over with tears, as we stood
marked for execution! Never was there a finer specimen of deprecation in
eloquence than we then exhibited—the supplicating look right up into
the master's face—the touching modulation of the whine—the
additional tightness and caution with which we grasped the waistbands with
one hand, when it was necessary to use the other in wiping our eyes and
noses with the polished sleeve-cuff—the sincerity and vehemence with
which we promised never to be guilty again, still shrewdly including the
condition of present impunity for our offence:—"this—one—time—
master, if ye plaise, sir;" and the utter hopelessness and despair which
were legible in the last groan, as we grasp the "master's" leg in utter
recklessness of judgment, were all perfect in their way. Reader, have you
ever got a reprieve from the gallows? I beg pardon, my dear sir; I only
meant to ask, are you capable of entering into what a personage of that
description might be supposed to feel, on being informed, after the knot
had been neatly tied under the left ear, and the cap drawn over his eyes,
that her majesty had granted him a full pardon? But you remember your own
schoolboy days, and that's enough.
The nice discrimination with which Norah used to time her interference was
indeed surprising. God help us! limited was our experience, and shallow
our little judgments, or we might have known what the master meant, when
with upraised arm hung over us, his eye was fixed upon the door of the
kitchen, waiting for Norah's appearance.
Long, my fair and virtuous countrywomen, I repeat it to you all, as I did
to Norah—may you reign in the hearts and affections of your husbands
(but nowhere else), the grace, ornaments, and happiness of their hearths
and lives, you jewels, you! You are paragons of all that's good, and your
feelings are highly creditable to yourselves and to humanity.
When Norah advanced, with her brawny, uplifted arm (for she was a powerful
woman) and forbidding aspect, to interpose between us and the avenging,
terrors of the birch, do you think that she did not reflect honor on her
sex and the national character! I sink the base allusion to the miscaun*
of fresh butter, which we had placed in her hands that morning, or the
dish of eggs, or of meal, which we had either begged or stolen at home, as
a present for her; disclaiming, at the same time, the rascally idea of
giving it as a bribe, or from any motive beneath the most lofty minded and
disinterested generosity on our part.
* A portion of butter, weighing from one pound to six or
eight, made in the shape of a prism.
Then again, never did a forbidding face shine with so winning and amicable
an expression as did hers on that merciful occasion. The sun dancing a
hornpipe on Easter Sunday morning, or the full moon sailing as proud as a
peacock in a new halo head-dress, was a very disrespectable sight,
compared to Norah's red beaming face, shrouded in her dowd cap with long
ears, that descended to her masculine and substantial neck. Owing to her
influence, the whole economy of the school was good; for we were permitted
to cuff one another, and do whatever we pleased, with impunity, if we
brought the meal, eggs, or butter; except some scapegoat who was not able
to accomplish this, and he generally received on his own miserable carcase
what was due to us all.
Poor Jack Murray! His last words on the scaffold, for being concerned in
the murder of Pierce the gauger, were, that he got the first of his bad
habits under Pat Mulligan and Norah—that he learned to steal by
secreting at home, butter and meal to paste up the master's eyes to his
bad conduct—and that his fondness for quarrelling arose from being
permitted to head a faction at school; a most ungrateful return for the
many acts of grace which the indulgence of Norah caused; to be issued in
I was but a short time under Pat, when, after the general example, I had
my cudgel, which I used to carry regularly to a certain furze bush within
fifty perches of the "seminary," where I hid it till after "dismiss.*"! I
grant it does not look well in me to become I my own panegyrist; but I can
at least declare, that there were few among the Gaseys able to, resist the
prowess of this right arm, puny as it was at the period in question. Our
battles were obstinate and frequent; but as the quarrels of the two
families and their relations on each side, were as bitter and pugnacious
in fairs and markets as ours were in school, we hit upon the plan of
holding our Lilliputian engagements upon the same days on which our
fathers and brothers contested. According to this plan, it very often
happened that the corresponding parties were successful, and as
frequently, that whilst the Caseys were well drubbed in the fair, their
sons were victorious at school, and vice versa.
For my part, I was early trained in cudgelling, and before I reached my
fourteenth year, could pronounce as sage and accurate an opinion upon the
merits of a shillelagh, as it is called, or cudgel, as a veteran of sixty
could at first sight. Our plan of preparing them was this: we sallied out
to any place where there was an underwood of blackthorn or oak, and,
having surveyed the premises with the eye of a connoisseur, we selected
the straightest root-growing piece which we could find: for if not
root-growing we did not consider it worth cutting, knowing from experience
that a mere branch, how straight and fair soever it might look, would be
apt to snap in the twist and tug of war. Having cut it as close to the
root as possible, we then lopped off the branches, and put it up the
chimney to season. When seasoned, we took it down, and wrapping it in
brown paper, well steeped in hog's lard or oil, we buried it in a horse
dunghill, paying it a daily visit for the purpose of making it straight by
doubling back the bends or angles across the knee, in a direction contrary
to their natural tendency. Having daily repeated this until we had made it
straight, and renewed the oil wrapping paper until the staff was perfectly
saturated, we then rubbed it well with a woollen cloth, containing a
little black-lead and grease, to give it a polish. This was the last
process, except that if we thought it too light at the top, we used to
bore a hole in the lower end with a red-hot iron spindle, into which we
poured melted lead, for the purpose of giving it the knock-down weight.
There were very few of Paddy Mulligan's scholars without a choice
collection of such cudgels, and scarcely one who had not, before his
fifteenth year, a just claim to be called the hero of a hundred fights,
and the heritor of as many bumps on the cranium as would strike both Gall
and Spurzheim speechless.
Now this, be it known, was, and in some districts yet is, an integral part
of an Irish peasant's education. In the northern parts of Ireland, where
the population of the Catholics on the one side, and of Protestant and
Dissenters on the other, is nearly equal, I have known the respective
scholars of Catholic and Protestant schools to challenge each other and
meet half-way to do battle, in vindication of their respective creeds; or
for the purpose of establishing the character of their respective masters
as the more learned man; for if we were to judge by the nature of the
education then received, we would be led to conclude that a more
commercial nation than Ireland was not on the face of the earth, it being
the indispensable part of every scholar's business to become acquainted
with the three sets of Bookkeeping.
The boy who was the handiest and the most daring with the cudgel at Paddy
Mulligan's school was Denis Kelly, the son of a wealthy farmer in the
neighborhood. He was a rash, hot-tempered, good-natured lad, possessing a
more than common share of this blackthorn ambition; on which account he
was cherished by his relations as a boy that was likely at a future period
to be able to walk over the course of the parish, in fair, market, or
patron. He certainly grew up a stout, able young fellow; and before he
reached nineteen years, was unrivalled at the popular exercises of the
peasantry. Shortly after that time he made his debut in a party-quarrel,
which took place in one of the Christmas Margamores, (* Big Markets) and
fully sustained the anticipations which were formed of him by his
relations. For a year or two afterwards no quarrel was fought without him;
and his prowess rose until he had gained the very pinnacle of that
ambition which he had determined to reach. About this time I was separated
from him, having found it necessity, in order to accomplish my objects in
life, to reside with a relation in another part of the country.
The period of my absence, I believe, was about fifteen years, during which
space I heard no account of him whatsoever. At length, however, that
inextinguishable attachment which turns the affections and memory to the
friends of our early days—to those scenes which we traversed when
the heart was light and the spirits buoyant—determined me to make a
visit to my native place, that I might witness the progress of time and
care upon those faces that were once so familiar to me; that I might again
look upon the meadows, and valleys, and groves, and mountains, where I had
so often played, and to which I still found myself bound by a tie that a
more enlightened view of life and nature only made stronger and more
enduring. I accordingly set off, and arrived late in the evening of a
December day, at a little town within a few miles of my native home. On
alighting from the coach and dining, I determined to walk home, as it was
a fine frosty night. The full moon hung in the blue unclouded firmament in
all her lustre, and the stars shone out with that tremulous twinkling
motion so peculiarly remarkable in frost. I had been absent, I said, about
fifteen years, and felt that the enjoyment of this night would form an era
in the records of my memory and my feelings. I find myself indeed utterly
incapable of expressing what I experienced; but those who have ever been
in similar circumstances will understand what I mean. A strong spirit of
practical poetry and romance was upon me; and I thought that a commonplace
approach in the open day would have rendered my return to the scenes of my
early life a very stale and unedifying matter. I left the inn at seven
o'clock, and as I had only five miles to walk, I would just arrive about
nine, allowing myself to saunter on at the rate of two miles and half per
hour. My sensations, indeed, as I went along, were singular; and as I took
a solitary road that went across the mountains, the loneliness of the
walk, the deep gloom of the valleys, the towering height of the dark
hills, and the pale silvery-light of a sleeping lake, shining dimly in the
distance below, gave me such a distinct notion of the sublime and
beautiful, as I have seldom since experienced. I recommend every man who
has been fifteen years absent from his native fields to return by
Well, there is a mystery yet undiscovered in our being, for no man can
know the full extent of his feelings or his capacities. Many a slumbering
thought, and sentiment, and association reposes within him, of which he is
utterly ignorant, and which, except he come in contact with those objects
whose influence over his mind can alone call them into being, may never be
awakened, or give him one moment of either pleasure or pain. There is,
therefore, a great deal in the position which we hold in society, and
simply in situation. I felt this on that night: for the tenor of my
reflections was new and original, and my feelings had a warmth and
freshness in them, which nothing but the situation in which I then found
myself could give them. The force of association, too, was powerful; for,
as I advanced nearer home, the names of hills, and lakes, and mountains,
that I had utterly forgotten, as I thought, were distinctly revived in my
memory, and a crowd of youthful thoughts and feelings, that I imagined my
intercourse with the world and the finger of time had blotted out of my
being, began to crowd afresh on my fancy. The name of, a townland would
instantly return with its appearance; and I could now remember the history
of families and individuals that had long been effaced from my
But what is even more singular is, that the superstitious terrors of my
boyhood began to come over me as formerly, whenever a spot noted for
supernatural appearances met my eye. It was in vain that I exerted myself
to expel them, by throwing the barrier of philosophic reasoning in their
way; they still clung to me, in spite of every effort to the contrary. But
the fact is, that I was, for the moment, the slave of a morbid and
feverish sentiment, that left me completely at the mercy of the dark and
fleeting images that passed over my fancy. I now came to a turn where the
road began to slope down into the depths of a valley that ran across it.
When I looked forward into the bottom of it, all was darkness
impenetrable, for the moon-beams were thrown off by the height of the
mountains that rose on each side of it. I felt an indefinite sensation of
fear, because at that moment I recollected that it had been, in my younger
days, notorious as the scene of an apparition, where the spirit of a
murdered pedlar had never been known to permit a solitary traveler to pass
without appearing to him, and walking cheek-by-jowl along with him to the
next house on the way, at which spot he usually vanished. The influence of
my feelings, or, I should rather say, the physical excitement of my
nerves, was by no means slight, as these old traditions recurred to me;
although, at the same time, my moral courage was perfectly unimpaired, so
that, notwithstanding this involuntary apprehension, I felt a degree of
novelty and curiosity in descending the valley: "If it appear," said I, "I
shall at least satisfy myself as to the truth of apparitions." My dress
consisted of a long, dark surtout, the collar of which, as the night was
keen, I had turned up about my ears, and the corners of it met round my
face. In addition to this I had a black silk handkerchief tied across my
mouth to keep out the night air, so that, as my dark fur traveling cap
came down over my face, there was very little of my countenance visible. I
now had advanced half way into the valley, and all about me was dark and
still: the moonlight was not nearer than the top of the hill which I was
descending; and I often turned round to look upon it, so silvery and
beautiful it appeared in the distance. Sometimes I stopped for a few
moments, admiring' its effect, and, contemplating the dark mountains as
they stood out against the firmament, then kindled into magnificent
grandeur by the myriads of stars that glowed in its expanse. There was
perfect silence and solitude around me; and, as I stood alone in the dark
chamber of the mountains, I felt the impressiveness of the situation
gradually supersede my terrors. A sublime sense of religious awe descended
on me; my soul kindled into a glow of solemn and elevated devotion, which
gave me a more intense perception of the presence of God than I had ever
before experienced. "How sacred—how awful," thought I, "is this
place!—how impressive is this hour!—surely I feel myself at
the footstool of God! The voice of worship is in this deep, soul-thrilling
silence, and the tongue of praise speaks, as it were, from the very
solitude of the mountains!" I then thought of Him who went up into the
mountain-top to pray, and felt the majesty of those admirable descriptions
of the Almighty, given in the Old Testament, blend in delightful harmony
with the beauty and fitness of the Christian dispensation, that brought
light and immortality to light. "Here," said I, "do I feel that I am
indeed immortal, and destined for scenes of a more exalted and
I then proceeded further into the valley, completely freed from the
influence of old and superstitious associations. A few porches below me a
small river crossed the road, over which was thrown a little stone bridge
of rude workmanship. This bridge was the spot on which the apparition was
said to appear; and as I approached it, I felt the folly of those terrors
which had only a few minutes before beset me so strongly. I found my moral
energies recruited, and the dark phantasms of my imagination dispelled by
the light of religion, which had refreshed me with a deep sense of the
Almighty presence. I accordingly walked forward, scarcely bestowing a
thought upon the history of the place, and had got within a few yards of
the bridge, when on resting my eye accidentally upon the little elevation
formed by its rude arch, I perceived a black coffin placed at the edge of
the road, exactly upon the bridge itself!
It may be evident to the reader, that, however satisfactory the force of
philosophical reasoning might have been upon the subject of the solitude,
I was too much the creature of sensation for an hour before, to look on
such a startling object with firm nerves. For the first two or three
minutes, therefore, T exhibited as finished a specimen of the dastardly as
could be imagined. My hair absolutely raised my cap some inches off my
head; my mouth opened to an extent which I did not conceive it could
possibly reach; I thought my eyes shot out from their sockets, and my
fingers spread out and became stiff, though powerless. The "obstupui"
was perfectly realized in me, for, with the exception of a single groan,
which I gave on first seeing the object, I found that if one word would
save my life, or transport me to my own fireside, I could not utter it. I
was also rooted to the earth, as if by magic; and although instant
tergiversation and flight had my most hearty concurrence, I could not move
a limb, nor even raise my eyes off the sepulchral-looking object which lay
before me. I now felt the perspiration fall from my face in torrents, and
the strokes of my heart fell audibly on my ear. I even attempted to say,
"God preserve me!" but my tongue was dumb and powerless, and could not
move. My eye was still upon the coffin, when I perceived that, from being
motionless, it instantly began to swing,—first in a lateral, then in
a longitudinal direction, although it was perfectly evident that no human
hand was nearer it than my own. At length I raised my eyes off it, for my
vision was strained to an aching intensity, which I thought must have
occasioned my eye-strings to crack. I looked instinctively about me for
assistance—but all was dismal, silent, and solitary: even the moon
had disappeared among a few clouds that I had not noticed in the sky.
As I stood in this state of indescribable horror, I saw the light
gradually fade away from the tops of the mountains, giving the scene
around me a dim and spectral ghastliness, which, to those who were never
in such a situation, is altogether inconceivable.
At length I thought I heard a noise as it Were of a rushing tempest,
sweeping from the hills down into the valley; but on looking up, I could
perceive nothing but the dusky desolation that brooded over the place.
Still the noise continued; again I saw the coffin move; I then felt the
motion communicated to myself, and found my body borne and swung backwards
and forwards, precisely according to the motion of the coffin. I again
attempted to utter a cry for assistance, but could not: the motion in my
body still continued, as did the approaching noise in the hills. I looked
up a second time in the direction in which the valley wound off between
them, but judge of what I must have suffered, when I beheld one of the
mountains moving, as it were, from its base, and tumbling down towards the
spot on which I stood! In the twinkling of an eye the whole scene, hills
and all, began to tremble, to vibrate, and to fly round me, with a rapid,
delirious motion; the stars shot back into the depths of heaven, and
disappeared; the ground on which I stood began to pass from beneath my
feet; a noise like the breaking of a thousand gigantic billows again burst
from every direction, and I found myself instantly overwhelmed by some
deadly weight, which prostrated me on the earth, and deprived me of sense
I know not how long I continued in this state; but I remember that, on
opening my eyes the first object that presented itself to me, was the sky
glowing as before with ten thousand stars, and the moon walking in her
unclouded brightness through the heavens. The whole circumstance then
rushed back upon my mind, but with a sense of horror very much diminished;
I arose, and on looking towards the spot, perceived the coffin in the same
place. I then stood, and endeavoring to collect myself, viewed it as
calmly as possible; it was, however, as motionless and distinct as when I
first saw it. I now began to reason upon the matter, and to consider that
it was pusillanimous in me to give way to such boyish terrors. The
confidence, also, which my heart, only a short time before this, had
experienced in the presence and protection of the Almighty, again
returned, and, along with it, a degree of religious fortitude, which
invigorated my whole system. "Well," thought I, "in the name of God I
shall ascertain what you are, let the consequence be what it may." I then
advanced until I stood exactly over it, and raising my foot gave it a
slight kick. "Now," said I, "nothing remains but to ascertain whether it
contains a dead body or not;" but on raising the end of it, I perceived by
its lightness, that it was empty. To investigate the cause of its being
left in this solitary spot was, however, not within the compass of my
philosophy, so I gave that up. On looking at it more closely, I noticed a
plate, marked with the name and age of the person for whom it was
intended, and on bringing my eyes near the letters, I was able, between
fingering and reading, to make out the name of my old cudgel-fighting
school-fellow, Denis Kelly.
This discovery threw a partial light upon the business; but I now
remembered to have heard of individuals who had seen black, unearthly
coffins, inscribed with the names of certain living persons; and that
these were considered as ominous of the death of those persons. I
accordingly determined to be certain that this was a real coffin; and as
Denis's house was not more than a mile before me, I decided on carrying it
that far, "If he be dead," thought I, "it will be all light, and if not,
we will see more about it." My mind, in fact, was diseased by terror. I
instantly raised the coffin, and as I found a rope lying on the ground
under it, I strapped it about my shoulders and proceeded: nor could I help
smiling when I reflected upon the singular transition which the man of
sentiment and sensation so strangely underwent;—from the sublime
contemplation of the silent mountain solitude and the spangled heavens to
the task of carrying a coffin! It was an adventure, however, and I was
resolved to see how it would terminate.
There was from the bridge an ascent in the road, not so gradual as that by
which I descended on the other side; and as the coffin was rather heavy, I
began to repent of having anything to do with it; for I was by no means
experienced in carrying coffins. The carriage of it was, indeed,
altogether an irksome and unpleasant concern; for owing to my ignorance of
using the rope that tied it skilfully, it was every moment sliding down my
back, dragging along the stones, or bumping against my heels: besides, I
saw no sufficient grounds I had for entering upon the ludicrous and odd
employment of carrying another man's coffin, and was several; times upon
the point of washing my hands out of it altogether. But the novelty of the
incident, and the mystery in which it was involved, decided me in bringing
it as far as Kelly's house, which was exactly on my way home.
I had yet half a mile to go; but I thought it would be best to strap it
more firmly about my body before I could start again: I therefore set it
standing on its end, just at the turn of the road, until I should breathe
a little, for I was rather exhausted by a trudge under it of half a mile
and upwards. Whilst the coffin was in this position, I standing exactly
behind it (Kelly had been a tall man, consequently it was somewhat higher
than I was), a crowd of people, bearing lights, advanced round the corner;
and the first object which presented itself to their vision, was the
coffin in, that position, whilst I was totally invisible behind it. As
soon as they saw it, there was an involuntary cry of consternation from
the whole crowd; at this time I had the coffin once more strapped firmly
by a running knot to my shoulders, so that I could loose it whenever I
pleased. On seeing the party, and hearing certain expressions which
dropped from them, I knew at once that there had been some unlucky blunder
in the business on their part; and I would have given a good deal to be
out of the circumstances in which I then stood. I felt that I could not
possibly have accounted for my situation, without bringing myself in for
as respectable a portion of rank cowardice as those who ran away from the
coffin; for that it was left behind in a fit of terror, I now entertained
no doubt whatever, particularly when I remembered the traditions connected
with the spot in which I found it.
"Manim a Yea agus a wurrah!"* exclaimed one of them, "if the black
man hasn't brought it up from the bridge! Dher a larna heena**, he
did; for it was above the bridge we first seen him: jist for all the world—the
Lord be about us—as Antony and me war coming out on the road at the
bridge, there he was standing—a headless man, all black, without
face or eyes upon him—and then we left the coffin and cut acrass the
* My soul to God and the Virgin.
** By the very book—meaning the Bible, which, in the
Irish, is not simply called the book, but the very
book, or the book itself.
"But where is he now, Eman?" said one of them, "are you sure you seen
"Seen him!" both exclaimed, "do you think we'd take to our scrapers like
two hares, only we did; arrah, bad manners to you, do you think the coffin
could walk up wid itself from the bridge to this, only he brought it?—isn't
"Thrue for yez," the rest exclaimed, "but what's to be done?"
"Why to bring the coffin home, now that we're all together," another
observed; "they say he never appears to more than two at wanst, so he
won't be apt to show himself now, when we're together."
"Well, boys, let two of you go down to it," said one of them, "and we'll
wait here till yez bring it up."
"Yes," said Eman Dhu, "do you go down, Owen, as you have the Scapular* on
you, and the jug of holy water in your hand, and let Billy M'Shane, here
repate the confeethurs (* The Confiteor) along wid you."
* The scapular is one of the highest religious orders,
and is worn by both priest and layman. It is considered
by the people a safeguard against evil both spiritual
"Isn't it the same thing, Eman," replied Owen, "if I shake the holy water
on you, and whoever goes wid you? sure you know that if only one dhrop of
it touched you, the devil himself couldn't harm you!"
"And what needs yourself be afraid, then," retorted Eman; "and you has the
Scapular on you to the back of that? Didn't you say, you war coming out,
that if it was the devil, you'd disparse him?"
"You had betther not be mintioning his name, you omadhaun," replied
the other; "if I was your age, and hadn't a wife and childre on my hands,
it's myself that would trust in God, and go down manfully; but the people
are hen-hearted now, besides what they used to be in my time."
During this conversation, I had resolved, if possible, to keep up the
delusion, until I could get myself extricated with due secrecy out of this
ridiculous situation; and I was glad to find that, owing to their
cowardice, there was some likelihood of effecting my design.
"Ned," said one of them to a little man, "go down and speak to it, as it
can't harm you."
"Why sure," said Ned, with a tremor in his voice, "I can speak to it where
I am, widout going within rache of it. Boys, stand close to me: hem—In
the name of—but don't you think I had betther spake to it in the
Latin I sarve mass* wid; it can't but answer that, for the sowl of it,
seeing it's a blest language?"
* The person who serves mass, as it is called, is he
who makes the responses to the priest during that
ceremony. As the mass is said in Latin the serving of
it must necessarily fall upon many who are ignorant of
that language, and whose pronunciation of it is, of
course, extremely ludicrous.
"Very well," the rest replied; "try that Ned; give it the best and
ginteelest grammar you have, and maybe it may thrate us dacent."
Now it so happened that, in my schoolboy days, I had joined a class of
young fellows who were learning what is called the "Sarvin' of Mass"
and had impressed it so accurately on a pretty retentive memory, that I
never forgot it. At length, Ned pulled, out his beads, and bedewed himself
most copiously with the holy water. He then shouted out, with a voice
which resembled that of a man in an ague fit, "Dom-i-n-us vo-bis-cum?" "Et
cum spiritu tuo," I replied, in a husky sepulchral tone, from behind the
coffin. As soon as I uttered these words, the whole crowd ran back
instinctively with fright; and Ned got so weak, that they were obliged to
"Lord have marcy on us!" said Ned; "hoys, isn't it an awful thing to speak
to a spirit? my hair is like I dunna what, it's sticking up so stiff upon
"Spake to it in English, Ned," said they, till we hear what it will say.
Ax it does anything trouble it; or whether its sowl's in Purgatory."
"Wouldn't it be betther," observed another, "to ax it who murthered it;
maybe it wants to discover that?"
"In the—na-me of Go-o-d-ness," said Ned, down to me, "what are you?"
"I'm the soul," I replied in the same voice, "of the pedlar that was
murdered on the bridge below."
"And—who—was—-it, sur, wid—submission, that—murdhered—you?"
To this I made no reply.
"I say," continued Ned, "in—the—name—of—G-o-o-d-ness—who
was it—that took the liberty of murdhering you, dacent man?"
"Ned Corrigan," I answered, giving his own name.
"Hem! God presarve us! Ned Corrigan!" he exclaimed. "What Ned, for there's
two of them—is it myself or the other vagabone?"
"Yourself, you murderer!" I replied.
"Ho!" said Ned, getting quite stout, "is that you, neighbor? Come, now,
walk out wid yourself out of that coffin, you vagabone you, whoever you
"What do you mane, Ned, by spaking to it that-a-way?" the rest inquired.
"Hut," said Ned, "it's some fellow or other that's playing a thrick upon
us. Sure I never knew either act nor part of the murdher, nor of the
murdherers; and you know, if it was anything of that nature, it couldn't
tell me a lie, and me a Scapularian along wid axing it in God's name, with
Father Feasthalagh's Latin."
"Big tare-an'-ouns;" said the rest; "if we thought it was any man making
fun of us, but we'd crop the ears off his head, to tache him to be
To tell the truth, when I heard this suggestion, I began to repent of my
frolic; but I was determined to make another effort to finish the
"Ned," said they, "throw some of the holy water on us all, and in the name
of St. Pether and the Blessed Virgin, we'll go down and examine it in a
This they considered a good thought, and Ned was sprinkling the water
about him in all directions, whilst he repeated some jargon which was
completely unintelligible. They then began to approach the coffin at
dead-march time, and I felt that this was the only moment in which my plan
could succeed; for had I waited until they came down all would have been
discovered. As soon, therefore, as they began to move towards me, I also
began, with equal solemnity, to retrograde towards them; so that, as the
coffin was between us, it seemed to move without human means.
"Stop, for God's sake, stop,"—shouted Ned; "it's movin'! It has made
the coffin alive; don't you see it thravelling this way widout hand or
foot, barring the boords?"
There was now a halt to ascertain the fact: but I still retrograded. This
was sufficient; a cry of terror broke from the whole group, and, without
waiting for further evidence, they set off in the direction they came
from, at full speed, Ned flinging the jug of holy water at the coffin,
lest the latter should follow, or the former encumber him in his flight.
Never was there so complete a discomfiture; and so eager were they to
escape, that several of them came down on the stones; and I could hear
them shouting with desperation, and imploring the more advanced not to
leave them behind. I instantly disentangled myself from the coffin, and
left it standing exactly in the middle of the road, for the next passenger
to give it a lift as far as Denis Kelly's, if he felt so disposed. I lost
no time in making the best of my way home; and on passing poor Denis's
house I perceived, by the bustle and noise within, that he was dead.
I had given my friends no notice of this visit; my reception was
consequently the warmer, as I was not expected. That evening was a happy
one, which I shall long remember. At supper I alluded to Kelly, and
received from my brother a full account, as given in the following
narrative, of the circumstances which caused his death.
"I need not remind you, Toby, of our schoolboy days, nor of the principles
usually imbibed at such schools as that in which the two tiny factions of
the Caseys and the Murphys qualified themselves, among the latter of whom
you cut so distinguished a figure. You will not, therefore, be surprised
to hear that these two factions are as bitter as ever, and that the boys
who at Pat Mulligan's school belabored each other, in imitation of their
brothers and fathers, continue to set the same iniquitous example to their
children; so that this groundless and hereditary enmity is likely to
descend to future generations; unless, indeed, the influence of a more
enlightened system of education may check it. But, unhappily, there is a
strong suspicion of the object proposed by such a system; so that the
advantages likely to result from it to the lower orders of the people will
be slow and distant."
"But, John," said I, "now that we are upon that subject, let me ask what
really is the bone of contention between Irish factions?"
"I assure you," he replied, "I am almost as much at a loss, Toby, to give
you a satisfactory answer, as if you asked me the elevation of the highest
mountain on the moon; and I believe you would find equal difficulty in
ascertaining the cause of their feuds from the factions themselves. I
really am convinced they know not, nor, if I rightly understand them, do
they much care. Their object is to fight, and the turning of a straw will
at any time furnish them with sufficient grounds for that. I do not think,
after all, that the enmity between them is purery personal: they do not
hate each other individually; but having originally had one quarrel upon
some trifling occasion, the beaten party cannot bear the stigma of defeat
without another trial of strength. Then, if they succeed, the onus of
retrieving lost credit is thrown upon the party that was formerly
victorious. If they fail a second time, the double triumph of their
conquerors excites them to a greater determination to throw off the
additional disgrace; and this species of alternation perpetuates the evil.
"These habits, however, familiarize our peasantry to acts of outrage and
violence—the bad passions are cultivated and nourished, until
crimes, which peaceable men look upon with fear and horror, lose their
real magnitude and deformity in the eyes of Irishmen. I believe this kind
of undefined hatred between either parties or nations, is the most
dangerous and fatal spirit which can pervade any portion of society. If
you hate a man for an obvious and palpable injury, it is likely that when
he cancels that injury by an act of subsequent kindness, accompanied by an
exhibition of sincere sorrow, you will cease to look upon him as your
enemy; but where the hatred is such that, while feeling you cannot, on a
sober examination of your heart, account for it, there is little hope that
you will ever be able to stifle the enmity that you entertain against him.
This, however, in politics and religion, is what is frequently designated
as principle—a word on which men, possessing higher and greater
advantages than the poor ignorant peasantry of Ireland, pride themselves.
In sects and parties, we may mark its effects among all ranks and nations.
I therefore, seldom wish, Toby, to hear a man assert that he is of this
party or that, from principle; for I am usually inclined to suspect that
he is not, in this case, influenced by conviction.
"Kelly was a man who, but for these scandalous proceedings among us, might
have been now alive and happy. Although his temperament was warm, yet that
warmth communicated itself to his good as well as to his evil qualities.
In the beginning his family were not attached to any faction—and
when I use the word faction, it is in contradistinction to the word party—for
faction, you know, is applied to a feud or grudge between Roman Catholics
exclusively. But when he was young, he ardently attached himself to the
Murphys; and, having continued among them until manhood, he could not
abandon them, consistently with that sense of mistaken honor which forms
so prominent a feature in the character of the Irish peasantry. But
although the Kellys were not faction-men, they were bitter party-men,
being the ringleaders of every quarrel Which took place between the
Catholics and Protestants, or, I should rather say, between the Orangemen
"From the moment Denis attached himself to the Murphys, until the day he
received the beating which subsequently occasioned his death, he never
withdrew from them. He was in all their battles; and in course of time,
induced his relations to follow his example; so that, by general consent,
they were nicknamed 'the Errigle Slashers.' Soon after you left the
country, and went to reside with my uncle, Denis married a daughter of
little Dick Magrath's, from the Race-road, with whom he got a little
money. She proved a kind, affectionate wife; and, to do him justice, I
believe he was an excellent husband. Shortly after his marriage his father
died, and Denis succeeded him in his farm; for you know that, among the
peasantry, the youngest generally gets the landed property—the elder
children being obliged to provide for themselves according to their
ability, as otherwise a population would multiply upon a portion of land
inadequate to its support.
"It was supposed that Kelly's marriage would have been the means of
producing a change in him for the better, but it did not. He was, in fact,
the slave of a low, vain ambition, which constantly occasioned him to have
some quarrel or other on his hands; and, as he possessed great physical
courage and strength, he became the champion of the parish. It was in vain
that his wife used every argument to induce him to relinquish such
practices; the only reply he was in the habit of making, was a
good-humored slap on the back and a laugh, saying,
"'That's it, Honor; sure and isn't that the Magraths, all over, that would
let the manest spalpeen that ever chewed cheese thramp upon them, without
raising a hand in their own defence; and I don't blame you for being a
coward, seeing that you have their blood in your veins—not but that
there ought to be something betther in you, afther all; for it's the
M'Karrons, by your mother's side, that had the good dhrop of their own in
them, anyhow—but you're a Magrath out and out.'
"'And, Denis,' Honor would reply, 'it would be a blessed day for the
parish, if all in it were as peaceable as the same Magraths. There would
be no sore heads, nor broken bones, nor fighting, nor slashing of one
another in fairs and markets, when people ought to be minding their
business. You're ever and always at the Magraths, bekase they don't join
you agin the Caseys or the Orangemen, and more fools they'd be to make or
meddle between you, having no spite agin either of them; and it would be
wiser for you to be sed by the Magraths, and red your hands
out of sich ways altogether. What did ever the Murphys do to sarve you or
any of your family, that you'd go to make a great man of yourself fighting
for them? Or what did the poor Caseys do to make you go agin the honest
people? Arrah, bad manners to me, if you know what you're about, or if sonse
(* Good Luck) or grace can ever come of it; and mind my words, Denis, if
God hasn't said it, you'll live to rue your folly for the same work.'
"At this Denis would laugh heartily. 'Well said, Honor Magrath, but
not Kelly, Well, it's one comfort that our childher aren't likely
to follow your side of the house, any way. Come here, Lanty; come over,
acushla, to your father! Lanty, ma bouchal, what 'ill you do when you grow
"'I'll buy a horse of my own to ride on, daddy.'
"'A horse, Lanty! and so you will, ma bouchal; but that's not it—sure
that's not what I mane, Lanty. What 'ill you do to the Caseys?"
"'Ho, ho! the Caseys! I'll bate the blackguards wid your blackthorn,
"'Ha, ha, ha! that's my stout man, my brave little soger! Wus dha lamh
avick!—give me your hand, my son! Here, Nelly,' he would say to
the child's eldest sister, 'give him a brave whang of bread, to make him
able to bate the Caseys. Well, Lanty, who more will you leather, ahagur?'
"'All the Orangemen; I'll kill all the Orangemen!'
"This would produce another laugh from the father, who would again kiss
and shake hands with his son, for these early manifestations of his own
"'Lanty, ma bouchal,' he would say, 'thank God, you're not a Magrath;
'tis you that's a Kelly, every blessed inch of you! and if you turn
out as good a buillagh balthah as your father afore you, I'll be
"'God forgive you, Denis,' the-wife would reply, 'it's long before you'd
think of larning him his prayers, or his cateehiz, or anything that's
good! Lanty, agra, come over to myself, and never heed what that man says;
for, except you have some poor body's blessing, he'll bring you to no
"Sometimes, however, Kelly's own natural good sense, joined with the
remonstrances of his wife, prevailed for a short time, and he would
withdraw himself from the connection altogether; but the force of habit
and of circumstances was too strong in him, to hope that he could ever
overcome it by his own firmness, for he was totally destitute of religion.
The peaceable intervals of his life were therefore very short.
"One summer evening I was standing in my own garden, when I saw a man
galloping up towards me at full speed. When he approached, I recognized
him as one of the Murphy faction, and perceived that he was cut and
"'Murphy,' said I, 'What's the matter!'
"'Hard fighting, sir,' said he, 'is the matter. The Caseys gathered all
their faction, bekase they heard that Denis Kelly has given us up, and
they're sweeping the street wid us. I'm going hot foot for Kelly, sir, for
even the very name of him will turn the tide in our favor. Along wid that,
I have sent in a score of the Duggans, and, if I get in Denis, plase God
we'll clear the town of them!'
"He then set off, but pulled up abruptly, and said,
"'Arrah, Mr. Darcy, maybe you'd be civil enough to lind me the loan of a
sword, or bagnet, or gun, or anything that way, that would be sarviceable
to a body on a pinch?'
"'Yes!' said I, 'and enable you to commit murder? No, no, Murphy; I'm
sorry it's not in my power to put a final stop to such dangerous
"He then dashed off, and in the course of a short time I saw him and
Kelly, both on horseback, hurrying into the town in all possible haste,
armed with their cudgels. The following day, I got my dog and gun, and
sauntered about the hills, making a point to call upon Kelly. I found him
with his head tied up, and his arm in a sling.
"'Well, Denis,' said I, 'I find you have kept your promise of giving up
"And so I did, sir,' said Denis; 'but, sure you wouldn't have me for to go
desart them, when the Caseys war three to one over them? No; God be
thanked, I'm not so mane as that, anyhow. Besides, they welted both my
brothers within an inch of their lives.'
"'I think they didn't miss yourself,' said I.
"'You may well say they did not, sir,' he replied: 'and, to tell God's
truth, they thrashed us right and left out of the town, although we
rallied three times, and came in agin. At any rate, it's the first time
for the last five years that they dare go up and down the street, calling
out for the face of a Murphy, or a Kelly; for they're as bitter now agin
us as agin the Murphys themselves.'
"'Well, I hope, Denis,' I observed, 'that what occurred yesterday will
prevent you from entering into their quarrels in future. Indeed, I shall
not give over, until I prevail on you to lead a quiet and peaceable life,
as the father of a rising family ought to do.'
"'Denis,' said the wife, when I alluded to the children, looking at him
with a reproachful and significant expression—'Denis, do you hear
that!—the father of a family, Denis! Oh, then, God look down on that
family; but it's—Musha, God bless you and yours, sir,' said she to
me, dropping that part of the subject abruptly; 'it's kind of you to
trouble yourself about him, at all at all: it's what them that has a
better right to do it, doesn't do.'
"'I hope,' said I, 'that Denis's own good sense will show him the folly
and guilt of his conduct, and that he will not, under any circumstances,
enter into their battles in future. Come, Denis, will you promise me
"'If any man,' replied Denis, 'could make me do it, it's yourself, sir, or
any one of your family; but if the priest of the parish was to go down on
his knees before me, I wouldn't give it up till we give them vagabone
Caseys one glorious battherin,' which, plase God, we'll do, and are well
able to do, before a month of Sundays goes over us. Now, sir, you needn't
say another word,' said he, seeing me about to speak; 'for by Him that
made me we'll do it! If any man, I say, could persuade me agin it, you
could; but, if we don't pay them full interest for what we got, why my
name's not Denis Kelly—ay, sweep them like varmint out of the town,
body and sleeves!'
"I saw argument would be lost on him, so I only observed, that I feared it
would eventually end badly.
"'Och, many and many's the time, Mr. Darcy,' said Honor, 'I prophesied the
same thing; and, if God hasn't said it, he'll be coming home a corpse to
me some day or other; for he got as much bating, sir, as would be enough
to kill a horse; and, to tell you God's truth, sir, he's breeding up his
"'Honor,' said Kelly, irritated, 'whatever I do, do I lave it in your
power to say that I'm a bad husband? so don't rise me by your talk, for I
don't like to be provoked. I know it's wrong, but what can I do? Would you
have me for to show the Garran-bane,* and lave them like a cowardly
thraitor, now that the other faction is coming up to be their match? No;
let what will come of it, I'll never do the mane thing—death before
* The white horse, i.e., be wanting in mettle.
Tradition affirms that James the Second escaped on a
white horse from the battle of the Boyne; and from this
circumstance a white horse has become the emblem of
"In this manner Kelly went on for years; sometimes, indeed, keeping quiet
for a short period, but eventually drawn in, from the apprehension of
being reproached with want of honor and truth, to his connection. This,
truly, is an imputation which no peasant could endure; nor, were he
thought capable of treachery, would he be safe from the vengeance of his
own party. Many a time have I seen Kelly reeling home, his head and face
sadly cut, the blood streaming from him, and his wife and some neighbor on
each side of him—the poor woman weeping and deploring the senseless
and sanguinary feuds in which her husband took so active a part.
"About three miles from this, down at the Long Ridge, where the Shannons
live, dwelt a family of the Grogans, cousins to Denis. They were anything
but industrious, although they might have lived very independently, having
held a farm on what they called an old take, which means a long lease
taken out when lands were cheap. It so happened, however, that, like too
many of their countrymen, they paid little attention to the cultivation of
their farm; the consequence of which neglect was, that they became
embarrassed, and overburdened with arrears. Their landlord was old Sam
Simmons, whose only fault to his tenants was an excess of indulgence, and
a generous disposition wherever he could possibly get an opportunity to
scatter his money about him, upon the spur of a benevolence which, it
would seem, never ceased goading him to acts of the most Christian
liberality and kindness. Along with these excellent qualities, he was
remarkable for a most rooted aversion to law and lawyers; for he would
lose one hundred pounds rather than recover that sum by legal proceedings,
even when certain that five Pounds would effect it; but he seldom or never
was known to pardon a breach of the peace.
"I have always found that an excess of indulgence in a landlord never
fails ultimately to injure and relax the industry of the tenant; at least,
this was the effect which his forbearance produced on them. But the most
extraordinary good-nature has its limits, and so had his; after repeated
warning, and the most unparalleled patience on his part, he was at length
compelled to determine on at once removing them from his estate, and
letting his land to some more efficient and deserving tenant. He
accordingly desired them to remove their property from the premises, as he
did not wish, he said, to leave them without the means of entering upon
another farm, if they felt so disposed. This they refused to do; adding,
that they would, at least, put him to the expense of ejecting them. He
then gave orders to his agent to seize; but they, in the mean time, had
secreted their effects by night among their friends and relations, sending
a cow to this one, and a horse to that; so that, when the bailiff came to
levy his execution, he found very little, except the empty walls. They
were, however, ejected without ceremony, and driven altogether off the
farm, for which they had actually paid nothing for the three preceding
years. In the mean time the farm was advertised to be let, and several
persons had offered themselves as tenants; but what appeared very
remarkable was, that the Roman Catholics seldom came a second time to make
any further inquiry about it; or, if they did, Simmons observed that they
were sure to withdraw their proposals, and ultimately decline having
anything to do with it.
"This was a circumstance which he could not properly understand; but the
fact was, that the peasantry were almost to a man members of a
widely-extending system of agrarian combination, the secret influence of
which intimidated such of their own religion as intended to take it, and
prevented them from exposing themselves to the penalty which they knew
those who should dare to occupy it must pay. In a short time, however, the
matter began to be whispered about, until it spread gradually, day after
day, through the parish, that those who already had proposed, or intended
to propose, were afraid to enter upon the land on any terms. Hitherto, it
is true, these threats floated about only in the vague form of rumor.
"The farm had been now unoccupied for about a year; party spirit ran very
high among the peasantry, and no proposals came in, or were at all likely
to come. Simmons then got advertisements printed, and had them posted up
in the most conspicuous parts of this and the neighboring parishes. It was
expected, however, that they would be torn down; but, instead of that,
there was a written notice posted up immediately under each, which ran in
the following words:—
"'Any man that'll dare to take the farm belonging to
smooth Sam Simmons, and sitivated at the long ridge,
will be flayed alive.
"' Mat Midnight.
"'B. N.—It's it that was latterrally occupied by the
"This occasioned Simmons and the other magistrates of the barony to hold a
meeting, at which they subscribed to the amount of fifty pounds as a
reward for discovering the author or authors of the threatening notice;
but the advertisement containing the reward, which was posted in the usual
places through the parish, was torn down on the first night after it was
put up. In the meantime, a man, nicknamed Vengeance—Vesey Vengeance,
in consequence of his daring and fearless spirit, and his bitterness in
retaliating injury—came to Simmons, and proposed for the farm. The
latter candidly mentioned the circumstances of the notice, and fairly told
him that he was running a personal risk in taking it.
"'Leave that to me, sir,' said Vengeance; 'if you will set me the farm at
the terms I offer, I am willing to become your tenant; and let them that
posted up the notices go to old Nick, or, if they annoy me, let them take
care I don't send them there. I am a true blue, sir—a purple man*—have
lots of fire-arms, and plenty of stout fellows in the parish ready and
willing to back me; and, by the light of day if they make or meddle with
me or mine, we will hunt them in the face of the world, like so many mad
dogs, out of the country: what are they but a pack of ribles, that would
cut our throats, if they dared?'
* These terms denote certain stages of initiation in
the Orange system
"'I have no objection,' said Simmons, 'that you should express a firm
determination to defend your life and protect your property; but I utterly
condemn the spirit with which you seem to be animated. Be temperate and
sober, but be firm. I will afford you every assistance and protection in
my power, both as a magistrate and a landlord; but if you speak so
incautiously, the result may be serious, if not fatal, to yourself.'
"Instead of that,' said Vengeance, 'the more a man appears to be afeard,
the more danger he is in, as I know by what I have seen; but, at any rate,
if they injure me, I wouldn't ask better sport than taking down the ribles—the
bloody-minded villains! Isn't it a purty thing that a man darn't put one
foat past the other only as they wish. By the light o' day, I'll pepper
"Shortly after this, Vengeance, braving all their threats, removed to the
farm, and set about its cultivation with skill and vigor. He had not been
long there, however, when, a notice was posted one night on his door,
giving him ten days to clear off from this interdicted spot, threatening,
in case of non-compliance, to make a bonfire of the house and offices,
inmates included. The reply, which Vengeance made to this was fearless and
characteristic. He wrote another notice, which he posted on the
chapel-door, stating that he would not budge an inch—recommending,
at the same time, such as intended paying him a nightly visit to be
careful that they might not chance to go home with their heels foremost.
This, indeed, was setting them completely at defiance, and would, no doubt
have been fatal to Vesey, were it not for a circumstance which I will now
relate:—In a little dell, below Vesey's house, lived a poor woman,
called Doran, a widow; she inhabited a small hut, and was principally
supported by her two sons, who were servants, one to a neighboring farmer,
a Roman Catholic, and the other to Dr. Ableson, rector of the parish. He
who had been with the rector lost his health shortly before Vengeance
succeeded the Grogans as occupier of the land in question, and was obliged
to come home to his mother. He was then confined to his bed, from which,
indeed, he never rose.
"This boy had been his mother's principal support—for the other was
unsettled, and paid her but little attention, being like most of those in
his situation, fond of drinking, dancing, and attending fairs. In short,
he became a Ribbonman, and consequently was obliged to attend their
nightly meetings. Now it so happened that for a considerable time after
the threatening notice had been posted on Vengeance's door, he received no
annoyance, although the period allowed for his departure had been long
past, and the purport of the paper uncomplied with. Whether this proceeded
from an apprehension on the part of the Ribbonmen of receiving a warmer
welcome than they might wish, or whether they deferred the execution of
their threat until Vengeance might be off his guard, I cannot determine;
but the fact is, that some months had elapsed and Vengeance remained
"During this interval the distress of Widow Doran had become known to the
inmates of his family, and his mother—for she lived with him—used
to bring down each day some nourishing food to the sick boy. In these kind
offices she was very punctual; and so great was the poverty of the poor
widow, and so destitute the situation of her sick son, that, in fact, the
burden of their support lay principally upon Vengeance's family.
"Vengeance was a small, thin man, with fair hair, and fiery eyes; his
voice was loud and shrill, his utterance rapid, and the general expression
of his countenance irritable. His motions were so quick, that he rather
seemed to run than walk. He was a civil, obliging neighbor, but performed
his best actions with a bad grace; a firm, unflinching friend, but a
bitter and implacable enemy. Upon the whole he was generally esteemed and
respected—though considered as an eccentric character, for such
indeed he was. On hearing of Widow Doran's distress, he gave orders that a
portion of each meal should be regularly sent down to her and her son; and
from that period forward they were both supported principally from his
"In this way some months had passed, and still Vengeance was undisturbed
in his farm. It often happened, however, that Doran's other son came to
see his brother; and during these visits it was but natural that his
mother and brother should allude to the kindness which they daily
experienced from Vesey.
"One night, about twelve o'clock, a tap came to Widow Doran's door, who
happened to be attending the invalid, as he was then nearly in the last
stage of his illness. When she opened it, the other son entered, in an
evident hurry, having the appearance of a man who felt deep and serious
"'Mother,' said he, 'I was very uneasy entirely about Mick, and just
started over to see him, although they don't know at home that I'm out, so
I can't stay a crack; but I wish you would go to the door for two or three
minutes, as I have something to say to him.'
"'Why, thin, Holy Mother!—Jack, a-hagur, is there anything the
matther, for you look as if you had seen something?'*
* This phrase means—you look as if you had seen a
ghost; it is a very common one.
"'Nothing worse than myself, mother,' he replied; 'nor there's nothing the
matther at all—only I have a few words to say to Mick here, that's
"The mother accordingly removed herself out of hearing.
"'Mick,' says the boy, 'this is a bad business—I wish to God I was
clear and clane out of it.'
"'What is it?' said Mick, alarmed. "' Murther, I'm afeard, if God doesn't
turn it off of them, somehow.
"'What do you mane, man, at all?' said the invalid, raising himself, in
deep emotion, on his elbow, from his poor straw bed.
"'Vengeance,' said he—'Vengeance, man—he's going to get it. I
was out with the boys on Sunday evening, and at last it's agreed on to
visit him to-morrow night. I'm sure and sartin he'll never escape, for
there's more in for him than taking the farm, and daring them so often as
he did—he shot two fingers off of a brother-in-law of Jem Reilly's
one night that they war on for threshing him, and that's coming home to
him along with the rest.'
"'In the name of God, Jack,' inquired Mick, 'what do they intend to do to
"' Why,' replied Jack, 'it's agreed to put a coal in the thatch, in the
first place; and although they were afeared to name what he's to get
besides, I doubt they'll make a spatchcock of himself. They won't meddle
with any other of the family, though—but he's down for it.'
"'Are you to be one of them?' asked Mick.
"'I was the third man named,' replied the other, 'bekase, they said, I
knew the place.'
"'Jack,' said his emaciated brother, with much solemnity, raising himself
up in the bed—'Jack, if you have act or part in that bloody
business, God in his glory you'll never see. Fly the country—cut off
a finger or toe—break your arm—or do something that may
prevent you from being there. Oh, my God!' he exclaimed, whilst the tears
fell fast down his pale cheeks—'to go to murder the man, and lave
his little family widout a head or a father over them, and his wife a
widow! To burn his place, widout rhime, or rason, or offince! Jack, if you
go, I'll die cursing you. I'll appear to you—I'll let you rest
neither night nor day, sleeping nor waking, in bed or out of bed. I'll
haunt you, till you'll curse the very hour you war born.'
"'Whist, Micky,' said Jack, 'you're frightening me: I'll not go—will
that satisfy you?'
"'Well, dhrop down on your two knees, there,' said Micky, 'and swear
before the God that has his eye upon you this minute, that you'll have no
hand in injuring him or his, while you live. If you don't do this, I'll
not rest in my grave and maybe I'll be a corpse before mornin.'
"'Well Micky, said Jack, who though wild and unthinking, was a lad whose
heart and affections were good, 'it would be hard for me to refuse you
that much, and you! not likely to be long wid me—I will;' and he
accordingly knelt down and swore solemnly, in words which his brother
dictated to him, that he would not be concerned in the intended murder.
"'Now, give me your hand, Jack,' said the invalid; 'God bless you—and
so He will. Jack, if I depart before I see you again, I'll die happy. That
man has supported me and my mother for near the last three months, bad as
you all think him. Why, Jack, we would both be dead of hunger long ago,
only for his family; and, my God! to think, of such a murdhering intention
makes my blood run cowld'—
"'You had better give him a hint, then,' said Jack, 'some way, or he'll be
done for, as sure as you're stretched on that bed; but don't mintion
names, if you wish to keep me from being murdhered for what I did. I must
be off now, for I stole out of the barn:* and only that Atty Laghy's gone
along wid the master to the —— fair, to help him to sell the
two coults, I couldn't get over at all.'
* Laboring servants in Ireland usually sleep in barns.
"'Well, go home, Jack, and God bless you, and so He will, for what you did
"Jack accordingly departed, after bidding his mother and brother farewell.
"When the old woman came in, she asked her son if there was anything wrong
with his brother, but he replied that there was not.
"'Nothing at all,' said he—'but will you get up airly in the
morning, plase God, and tell Vesey Johnston that I want to see him; and—that—I
have a great dale to say to him?'
"' To be sure I will, Micky; but, Lord guard us, what ails you, avourneen,
you look so frightened?'
"'Nothing at all, at all, mother; but will you go where I say airly
to-morrow, for me?'
"'It's the first thing I'll do, God willin',' replied the mother. And the
next morning Vesey was down with the invalid very early, for the old woman
kept her word and paid him a timely visit.
"'Well, Micky, my boy,' said Vengeance, as he entered the hut, 'I hope
you're no worse this morning.'
"'Not worse, sir,' replied Mick; 'nor, indeed, am I anything better
either, but much the same way. Sure it's I that knows very well that my
time here is but short.'
"'Well, Mick, my boy,' said Vengeance, 'I hope you're prepared for death—and
that you expect forgiveness, like a Christian. Look up, my boy, to God at
once, and pitch the priests and their craft to ould Nick, where they'll
all go at the long-run.'
"'I b'lieve,' said Mick, with a faint smile, 'that you're not very fond of
the priests, Mr. Johnston; but if you knew the power they possess as well
as I do, you wouldn't spake of them so bad, anyhow.'
"'Me fond of them!' replied the other;' 'why, man, they're a set of the
most gluttonous, black-looking hypocrites that ever walked on neat's
leather; and ought to be hunted out of the country—hunted out of the
country, by the light of day! every one of them; for they do nothing but
egg up the people against the Protestants.'
"'God help you, Mr. Johnston,' replied the invalid, 'I pity you from my
heart for the opinion you hould about them. I suppose if you were sthruck
dead on the spot wid a blast from the fairies, that you think a priest
couldn't cure you by one word's spaking?'
"'Cure me!' said Vengeance, with a laugh of disdain; 'by the light of day!
if I caught one of them curing me, I'd give him the purtiest chase you
ever saw in your life, across the hills.'
"'Don't you know,' said Mick, 'that priest Dannelly cured Bob Beaty of the
falling sickness—until he broke the vow that was laid upon him, of
not going into a church, and the minute he crossed the church-door, didn't
he dhrop down as bad as ever—and what could the minister do for
"'And don't you know,' rejoined Vengeance, 'that that's all a parcel of
the most lying stuff possible; lies—lies—all lies—and
vagabondism? Why, Mick, you Papishes worship the priests; you think they
can bring you to heaven at a word. By the light of day, they must have
good sport laughing at you, when they get among one another. Why don't
they teach you and give you the Bible to read, the ribelly rascals? but
they're afraid you'd know too much then.'
"'Well, Mr. Johnston,' said Mick, 'I b'lieve you'll never have a good
opinion of them, at any rate.'
"'Ay, when the sky falls,' replied Vengeance; 'but you're now on your
death bed, and why don't you pitch them to ould Nick, and get a Bible? Get
a Bible, man; there's a pair of them in my house, that's never used at all—except
my mother's, and she's at it night and day. I'll send one of them down to
you: turn yourself to God—to your Redeemer, that died on the mount
of Jehosha-phat, or somewhere about Jerusalem, for your sins—and
don't go out of the world from the hand of a rascally priest, with a band
about your eyes, as if you were at blind-man's-buff, for, by the light of
day, you're as blind as a bat in a religious way.'
"'There's no use in sending me a Bible,' replied the invalid, 'for I can't
read it: but, whatever you may think, I'm very willing to lave my
salvation with my priest.'
"'Why, man,' observed Vengeance, 'I thought you were going to have sense
at last, and that you sent for me to give you some spiritual consolation.'
"'No, sir,' replied Mick; 'I have two or three words to spake to you.'
"'Come, come, Mick, now that we're on a spiritual subject, I'll hear
nothing from you till I try whether it's possible to give you a trute
insight into religion. Stop, now, and let us lay our heads together, that
we may make out something of a dacenter creed for you to believe in than
the one you profess. Tell me the truth, do you believe in the priests?'
"'How?' replied Mick; 'I believe that they're holy men—but I know
they can't save me widout the Redeemer and His blessed mother,'
"'By the light above us, you're shuffling, Mick—I say you do believe
in them—now, don't tell me to the contrary—I say you're
shuffling as fast as possible.'
"'I tould you truth, sir,' replied Mick; 'and if you don't believe me, I
can't help it.'
"'Don't trust in the priests, Mick; that's the main point to secure your
"Mick, who knew his prejudices against the priests, smiled faintly, and
"'Why, sir, I trust in them as bein' able to make inthercession wid God
for me, that's all'
"'They make intercession! By the stool I'm sitting on, a single word from
one of them would ruin you. They, a set of ribles, to make interest for
you in heaven! Didn't they rise the rebellion in Ireland?—answer me
"'This is a subject, sir, we would never agree on,' replied Mick.
"'Have you the Ten Commandments?' inquired Vesey.
"'I doubt my mimory's not clear enough to have them in my mind,' said the
lad, feeling keenly the imputation of ignorance, which he apprehended from
Vesey's blunt observations.
"Vesey, however, had penetration enough to perceive his feelings, and,
with more delicacy than could be expected from him, immediately moved the
"'No matter, Mick,' said he, 'if you would give up the priests, we would
get over that point: as it is, I will give you a lift in the Commandments;
and, as I said a while ago,' if you take my advice, I'll work up a creed
for you that you may depend upon. But now, for the Commandments—let
"'First: Thou shalt have no other gods but me. Don't you see, man how that
peppers the priests?'
"'Second: Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day.'
"'Third: That shalt not make to thyself—no, hang it no!—I'm
out—that's the Second—very right. Third: Honor thy father and
thy mother—you understand that, Mick? It means that you are bound to—to—just
so—to honor your father and your mother, poor woman.'
"'My father—God be good to him!—is dead near fourteen years,
sir,' replied Mick.
"'Well, in that case, Mick, you see all that's left for you is to honor
your mother—although I'm not certain of that either; the
Commandments make no allowance at all for death, and in that case why,
living or dead, the surest way is to respect and obey them—that is,
if the thing were'nt impossible. I wish we had blind George M'Girr here,
Mick; although he's as great a rogue as ever escaped hemp, yet he'd beat
the devil himself at a knotty point.'
"'His breath would be bad about a dying man,' observed Mick.
"'Ay, or a living one,' said Vesey; 'however, let us get on—we were
at the Third. Fourth: Thou shalt do no murder.'
"At the word murder, Mick started, and gave a deep groan, whilst his eyes
and features assumed a gaunt and hollow expression, resembling that of a
man struck with an immediate sense of horror and affright.
"'Oh! for heaven's sake, sir, stop there,' said Doran, 'that brings to my
mind the business I had with you, Mr. Johnston.'
"'What is it about?' inquired Vengeance, in his usual eager manner.
"'Do you mind,' said Mick, 'that a paper was stuck one night upon your
door, threatening you, if you wouldn't lave that farm you're in?'.
"'I do, the blood-thirsty villains! but they knew a trick worth two of
coming near me.'
"'Well,' said Mick, 'a strange man, that I never seen before, came into me
last night, and tould me, if I'd see you, to say that you would get a
visit from the boys this night, and to take care of yourself.'
"'Give me the hand, Mick,' said Vengeance,—'give me the hand; in
spite of the priests, by the light of day you're an honest fellow. This
night you say, they're to come? And what are the bloody wretches to do,
Mick. But I needn't ask that, for I suppose it's to murder myself, and to
burn my place.
"'I'm afeard, sir, you're not far from the truth,' replied Mick; 'but, Mr.
Johnston, for God's sake don't mintion my name; for, if you do, I'll get
myself what they were laying out for you, be bumed in my bed maybe.'
"'Never fear, Mick,' replied Vengeance; 'your name will never cross my
"'It's a great thing,' said Mick, 'that would make me turn informer: but
sure, only for your kindness and the goodness of your family, the Lord
spare you to one another! mightn't I be dead long ago? I couldn't have one
minute's peace if you or yours came to any harm when I could prevint it.'
"'Say no more, Mick,' said Vengeance, taking his hand again; 'I know that,
leave the rest to me; but how do you find yourself, my poor fellow? You
look weaker than you did, a good deal.'
"'Indeed I'm going very fast, sir,' replied Mick; 'I know it'll soon be
over with me.'
"'Hut, no, man,' said Vengeance, drawing his hand rapidly across his eyes,
and clearing his voice, 'not at all—don't say so; would a little
broth serve you? or a bit of fresh meat?—or would you have a fancy
for anything that I could make out for you? I'll get you wine, if you
think it would do you good."
"'God reward you,' said Mick feebly—'God reward you, and open your
eyes to the truth. Is my mother likely to come in, do you think?'
"'She must be here in a few minutes,' the other replied; 'she was waiting
till they'd churn, that she might bring you down a little fresh milk and
"'I wish she was wid me,' said the poor lad, 'for I'm lonely wantin' her—her
voice and the very touch of her hands goes to my heart. Mother, come home,
and let me lay my head upon your breast, agra machree, for I think it will
be for the last time: we lived lonely, avourneen, wid none but ourselves—sometimes
in happiness, when the nabors 'ud be kind to us—and sometimes in
sorrow, when there 'ud be none to help us. It's over now, mother, and I'm
lavin' you for ever!'
"Vengeance wiped his eyes—'Rouse yourself, Mick,' said he, 'rouse
"'Who is that sitting along with you on the stool?' said Mick.
"'No one,' replied his neighbor; 'but what's the matter with you, Mick?—your
face is changed.'
"Mick, however, made no reply; but after a few slight struggles, in which
he attempted to call upon his mother's name, he breathed his last. When
Vengeance saw that he was dead—looked upon the cold, miserable hut
in which this grateful and affectionate young man was stretched—and
then reflected on the important service he had just rendered he could not
suppress his tears.
"After sending down some of the females to assist his poor mother in
laying him out, Vengeance went among his friends and acquaintances,
informing them of the intelligence he had received, without mentioning the
source from which he had it. After dusk that evening, they all flocked, as
privately as possible, to his house, to the number of thirty or forty,
well provided with arms and ammunition. Some of them stationed themselves
in the out-houses, some behind the garden edge, and others in the
When my brother had got thus far in his narrative, a tap came to the
parlor-door, and immediately a stout-looking man, having the appearance of
a laborer, entered the room. "Well, Lachlin," said my brother, "what's the
"Why, sir," said Lachlin, scratching his head, "I had a bit of a favor to
ax, if it would be plaisin' to you to grant it to me."
"What is that," said my brother. "Do you know, sir," said he, "I haven't
been at a wake—let us see—this two or three years, anyhow;
and, if you'd have no objection, why, I'd slip up awhile to Denis Kelly's;
he's a distant relation of my own, sir; and blood's thicker than wather
"I'm just glad you came in, Lachlin," said my brother, "I didn't think of
you; take a chair here, and never heed the wake to-night, but sit down and
tell us about the attack on Vesey Vengeance, long ago. I'll get you a
tumbler of punch; and, instead of going to the wake to night, I will allow
you to go to the funeral to-morrow."
"Ah, sir," said Lachlin, "you know whenever the punch is consarned, I'm
aisily persuaded; but not making little of your tumbler, sir," said the
shrewd fellow, "I would get two or three of them if I went to the wake."
"Well, sit down," said my brother, handing him one, "and we won't permit
you to get thirsty while you're talking, at all events."
"In troth, you haven't your heart in the likes of it," said Lachlin.
"Gintlemen, your healths—your health, sir, and we're happy to see
you wanst more. Why, thin, I remember you, sir, when you were a gorsoon,
passing to school wid your satchel on your back; but, I'll be bound you're
by no means as soople now as you were thin. Why, sir," turning to my
brother "he could fly or kick football with the rabbits.—Well, this
is raal stuff!"
"Now, Lachlin," said my brother, "give us an account of the attack you
made on Vesey Vengeance's house, at the Long Ridge, when all his party
were chased out of the town."
"Why, thin, sir, I ought to be ashamed to mintion it; but you see,
gintleman, there was no getting over being connected wid them; but I hope
your brother's safe, sir!"
"Oh, perfectly safe, Lachlin; you may rest assured he'll never mention
"Well, sir," said Lachlin, addressing himself to me, "Vesey Vengeance was—."
"Lachlin," said my brother, "he knows all about Vesey; just give an
account of the attack."
"The attack, sir! no, but the chivey we got over the mountains. Why, sir,
we met in, an ould empty house, you see, that belonged to the Farrells of
Ballyboulteen, that went over to America that spring. There war none wid
us, you may be sure, but them that war up;* and in all we might be about
sixty or seventy. The Grogans, one way or another, got it up first among
them, bekase they expected Mr. Simmons would take them back when he'd find
that no one else dare venther upon their land. There war at that time two
fellows down from the county Longford, in their neighborhood, of the name
of Collier—although that wasn't their right name—they were
here upon their keeping, for the murder of a proctor in their own part of
the country. One of them was a tall, powerful fellow, with sandy hair, and
red brows; the other was a slender chap, that must have been drawn into it
by his brother—for he was very mild and innocent, and always
persuaded us agin evil. The Grogans brought lashings of whiskey, and made
them that war to go foremost amost drunk—these war the two Colliers,
some of the strangers from behind the mountains, and a son of Widdy
Doran's, that knew every inch about the place, for he was bred and born
jist below the house a bit. He wasn't wid us, however, in regard of his
brother being under board that night; but, instid of him, Tim Grogan went
to show the way up the little glin to the house, though, for that matther,
the most of us knew it as well as he did; but we didn't like to be the
first to put a hand to it, if we could help it.
* That is, had been made members of a secret society.
"At any rate, we sot in Farrell's empty house, drinking whiskey, till they
war all gathered, when about two dozen of them got the damp soot from the
chimley, and rubbed it over their faces, making them so black, that their
own relations couldn't know them. We then went across the country in
little lots, of about six or ten, or a score, and we war glad that the
wake was in Widdy Koran's, seeing that if any one would meet we war going
to it you know, and the blackening of the faces would pass for a frolic;
but there was no great danger of being met for it was now long beyant
"Well, gintlemen, it puts me into a tremble, even at this time, to think
of how little we cared about doing what we were bent upon. Them that had
to manage the business war more than half drunk; and, hard fortune to me!
but you would think it was to a wedding they went—some of them
singing songs against the law—some of them quite merry, and laughing
as if they had found a mare's nest. The big fellow, Collier, had a dark
lanthern wid a half-burned turf in it to light the bonfire, as they said;
others had guns and pistols—some of them charged and some of them
not; some had bagnets, and ould rusty swords, pitchforks, and go on.
Myself had nothing in my hand but the flail I was thrashing wid that day;
and to tell the thruth, the divil a step I would have gone with them, only
for fraid of my health; for, as I said awhile agone, if any discovery was
made afterwards, them that promised to go, and turned tail, would be
marked as the informers. Neither was I so blind, but I could see that
there war plenty there that would stay away if they durst.
"Well, we went on till we came to a little dark corner below the house,
where we met and held a council of war upon what we should do. Collier and
the other strangers from behind the mountains war to go first, and the
rest were to stand round the house at a distance—he carried the
lanthern, a bagnet, and a horse-pistol; and half a dozen more war to bring
over bottles of straw from Vengeance's own haggard, to hould up to the
thatch. It's all past and gone now—but three of the Reillys were
desperate against Vesey that night, particularly one of them that he had
shot about a year and a half before—that is, peppered two of the
right-hand fingers of him, one night in a scuffle, as Vesey came home from
an Orange lodge. Well, all went on purty fair; we had got as far as the
out-houses,where we stopped, to see if we could hear any noise; but all
was quiet as you plase.
"'Now, Vengeance,' says Reilly, swearing a terrible oath out of him—'you
murdering Orange villain, you're going to get your pay,' says he.
"'Ay,' says Grogan, 'what he often threatened to others he'll soon meet
himself, plase God—come, boys,' says he, 'bring the straw and light
it, and just lay it up, my darlings, nicely to the thatch here, and ye'll
see what a glorious bonfire we'll have of the black Orange villain's
blankets in less than no time.'
"Some of us could hardly stand this: 'Stop, boys,' cried one of Dan
Slevin's sons—'stop, Vengeance is bad enough, but his wife and
children never offinded us—we'll not burn the place.'
"'No,' said others, spaking out when they heard any body at all having
courage to do so—'it's too bad, boys, to burn the place; for if we
do,' says they, 'some of the innocent may be burned before they get from
the house, or even before they waken out of their sleep.'
"'Knock at the door first,' says Slevin, 'and bring Vengeance out; let us
cut the ears off of his head and lave him.'
"'Damn him!' says another, 'let us not take the vagabone's life; it's
enough to take the ears from him, and to give him a prod or two of a
bagnet on the ribs; but don't kill him.'
"'Well, well,' says Reilly, 'let us knock at the door, and get himself and
the family out,' says he, 'and then we'll see what can be done wid him.'
"'Tattheration to me,' says the big Longford fellow, 'if he had sarved me,
Reilly, as he did you, but I'd roast him in the flames of his own house,'
"'I'd have you to know,' says Slevin, 'that you have no command here,
Collier. I'm captain at the present time,' says he; 'and more nor what I
wish shall not be done. Go over,' says he to the blackfaces, 'and rap him
"Accordingly they began to knock at the door, commanding Vengeance to get
up and come out to them.
"'Come, Vengeance,' says Collier, 'put on you, my good fellow, and come
out till two or three of your neighbors, that wish you well, gets a sight
of your purty face, you babe of grace!'
"'Who are you that wants me at all?' says Vengeance from within.
"'Come out, first,' says Collier; 'a few friends that has a crow to pluck
with you; walk out, avourneen; or if you'd rather be roasted alive, why
you may stay where you are,' says he.
"'Gentlemen,' says Vengeance, 'I have never, to my knowledge, offended any
of you; and I hope you won't be so cruel as to take an industrious,
hard-working man from his family, in the clouds of the night, to do him an
injury. Go home, gentlemen, in the name of God, and let me and mine alone.
You're all mighty dacent gentlemen, you know, and I'm determined never to
make or meddle with any of you. Sure, I know right well it's purtecting me
you would be, dacent gentlemen. But I don't think there's any of my
neighbors there, or they wouldn't stand by and see me injured.'
"'Thrue for you, avick,' says they giving, at the same time; a terrible
patterrara agin the door, with two or three big stones.
"'Stop, stop!' says Vengeance, 'don't break the door, and I'll open it. I
know you're merciful, dacent gentlemen—I know your merciful.'
"So the thief came and unbarred it quietly, and the next minute about a
dozen of them that war within the house let slap at us. As God would have
had it, the crowd didn't happen to be forenent the door, or numbers of
them would have been shot, and the night was dark, too, which was in our
favor. The first volley was scarcely over, when there was another slap
from the outhouse; and after that another from the gardens; and after
that, to be sure, we took to our scrapers. Several of them were very badly
wounded; but as for Collier, he was shot dead, and Grogan was taken
prisoner, with five more, on the spot. There never was such a chase as we
got; and only that they thought there was more of us in it, they might
have tuck most of us prisoners.
"'Fly, boys!' says Grogan as soon as they fired out of the house—'we've
been sould,' says he, 'but I'll die game, any how,'—and so he did,
poor fellow; for although he and the other four war transported, one of
them never sould the pass or stagged. Not but that they might have done
it, for all that, only that there was a whisper sent to them, that if they
did, a single soul belonging to one of them wouldn't be left living. The
Grogans were cousins of Denis Kelly's, that's now laid out there above.
"From the time this tuck place till after the 'sizes, there wasn't a stir
among them on any side; but when that war over, the boys began to prepare.
Denis, heavens be his bed, was there in his glory. This was in the spring
'sizes, and the May fair soon followed. Ah! that was the bloody sight, I'm
tould—for I wasn't at it—atween the Orangemen and them. The
Ribbonmen war bate though, but not till after there was a desperate fight
on both sides. I was tould that Denis Kelly that day knocked down
five-and-twenty men in about three-quarters of an hour; and only that long
John Grimes hot him a polthoge on the sconce with the butt-end of
the gun, it was thought the Orangemen would be beat. That blow broke his
skull, and was the manes of his death. He was carried home senseless."
"Well, Lachlin," said my brother, "if you didn't see it, I did. I happened
to be looking out of John Carson's upper window—for it wasn't
altogether safe to contemplate it within reach of the missiles. It was
certainly a dreadful and barbarous sight. You have often observed the
calm, gloomy silence that precedes a thunder-storm; and had you been there
that day, you might have witnessed its illustration in a scene much more
awful. The thick living mass of people extended from the corner-house,
nearly a quarter of a mile, at this end of the town, up to the parsonage
on the other side. During the early part of the day, every kind of
business was carried on in a hurry and an impatience, which denoted the
little chance they knew there would be for transacting it in the evening.
"Up to the hour of four o'clock the fair was unusually quiet, and, on the
whole, presented nothing in any way remarkable; but after that hour you
might observe the busy stir and hum of the mass settling down into a deep,
brooding, portentous silence, that was absolutely fearful. The females,
with dismay and terror pictured in their faces, hurried home; and in
various instances you might see mothers, and wives, and sisters, clinging
about the sons, husbands, and brothers, attempting to drag them by main
force from the danger which they knew impended over them. In this they
seldom succeeded: for the person so urged was usually compelled to tear
himself from them by superior strength.
"The pedlars and basket-women, and such as had tables and standings
erected in the streets, commenced removing them with all possible haste.
The shopkeepers, and other inhabitants of the town, put up their shutters,
in order to secure their windows from being shattered. Strangers, who were
compelled to stop in town that night, took shelter in the inns and other
houses of entertainment where they lodged: so that about five o'clock the
street was completely clear, and free for action.
"Hitherto there was not a stroke—the scene became even more silent
and gloomy, although the moral darkness of their ill-suppressed passions
was strongly contrasted with the splendor of the sun, that poured down a
tide of golden light upon the multitude. This contrast between the natural
brightness of the evening, and the internal gloom of their hearts, as the
beams of the sun rested upon the ever-moving crowd, would, to any man who
knew the impetus with which the spirit of religious hatred was soon to
rage among them, produce novel and singular sensations. For, after all
Toby, there is a mysterious connection between natural and moral things,
which often invest both nature and sentiment with a feeling that certainly
would not come home to our hearts if such a connection did not exist. A
rose-tree beside a grave will lead us from sentiment to reflection; and
any other association, where a painful or melancholy thought is clothed
with a garb of joy or pleasure, will strike us more deeply in proportion
as the contrast is strong. On seeing the sun or moon struggling through
the darkness of surrounding clouds, I confess, although you may smile,
that I feel for the moment a diminution of enjoyment—something
taken, as it were, from the sum of my happiness.
"Ere the quarrel commenced, you might see a dark and hateful glare
scowling from the countenances of the two parties, as they viewed and
approached each other in the street—the eye was set in deadly
animosity, and the face marked with an ireful paleness, occasioned at once
by revenge and apprehension. Groups were silently hurrying with an eager
and energetic step to their places of rendezvous, grasping their weapons
more closely, or grinding their teeth in the impatience of their fury. The
veterans on each side were surrounded by their respective followers,
anxious to act under their direction; and the very boys seemed to be
animated with a martial spirit, much more eager than that of those who had
greater experience in party quarrels.
"Jem Finigan's public-house was the head-quarters and rallying-point of
the Ribbonmen; the Orangemen assembled in that of Joe Sherlock, the master
of an Orange lodge. About six o'clock the crowd in the street began
gradually to fall off to the opposite ends of the town—the Roman
Catholics towards the north, and the Protestants towards the south.
Carson's window, from which I was observing their motions, was exactly
half way between them, so that I had a distinct view of both. At this
moment I noticed Denis Kelly coming forward from the closely condensed
mass formed by the Ribbonmen: he advanced with his cravat off, to the
middle of the vacant space between the parties, holding a fine oak cudgel
in his hand. He then stopped, and addressing the Orangemen, said,
"'Where's Vengeance and his crew now? Is there any single Orange villain
among you that dare come down and meet me here like a man? Is John Grimes
there? for if he is, before we begin to take you out of a face, to hunt
you altogether out of the town, ye Orange villains I would be glad that
he'd step down to Denis Kelly here for two or three minutes; I'll not keep
"There was now a stir and a murmur among the Orangemen, as if a rush was
about to take place towards Denis; but Grimes, whom I saw endeavoring to
curb them in, left the crowd, and advanced toward him.
"At this moment an instinctive movement among both masses took place; so
that when Grimes had come within a few yards of Kelly, both parties were
within two or three perches of them. Kelly was standing, apparently off
his guard, with one hand thrust carelessly into the breast pocket of his
waistcoat, and the cudgel in the other; but his eye was fixed calmly upon
Grimes as he approached. They were both powerful, fine men—brawny,
vigorous, and active; Grimes had somewhat the advantage of the other in
height; he also fought with his left hand, from which circumstance he was
nicknamed Kitlhouge. He was a man of a dark, stern-looking countenance;
and the tones of his voice were deep, sullen, and of appalling strength.
"As they approached each other, the windows on each side of the street
were crowded; but there was not a breath to be heard in any direction, nor
from either party. As for myself, my heart palpitated with anxiety. What
they might have felt I do not know: but they must have experienced
considerable apprehension; for as they were both the champions of their
respective parties, and had never before met in single encounter, their
characters depended on the issue of the contest.
"'Well, Grimes,' said Denis, 'sure I've often wished for this same
meetin,' man, betune myself and you; I have what you're goin' to get, in
for you this long time; but you'll get it now, avick, plase God—'
"'It was not to scould I came, you Popish, ribly rascal,' replied Grimes,
'but to give you what you're long—'
"Ere the word had been out of his mouth, however, Kelly sprung over to
him; and making a feint, as if he intended to lay the stick on his ribs,
he swung it past without touching him and, bringing it round his own head
like lightning, made it tell with a powerful back-stroke, right on
Grimes's temple, and in an instant his own face was sprinkled with the
blood which sprung from the wound. Grimes staggered forwards towards his
antagonist, seeing which, Kelly sprung back, and was again meeting him
with full force, when Grimes, turning a little, clutched Kelly's stick in
his right hand, and being left-handed himself, ere the other could wrench
the cudgel from him, he gave him a terrible blow upon the back part of the
head, which laid Kelly in the dust.
"There was then a deafening shout from the Orange party; and Grimes stood
until Kelly should be in the act of rising, ready then to give him another
blow. The coolness and generalship of Kelly, however, were here very
remarkable; for, when he was just getting to his feet, 'Look at your party
coming down upon me!' he exclaimed to Grimes, who turned round to order
them back, and, in the interim, Kelly was upon his legs.
"I was surprised at the coolness of both men; for Grimes was by no means
inflated with the boisterous triumph of his party—nor did Denis get
into a blind rage on being knocked down. They approached again, their eyes
kindled into savage fury, tamed down into the wariness of experienced
combatants; for a short time they stood eyeing each other, as if
calculating upon the contingent advantages of attack or defence. This was
a moment of great interest; for, as their huge and powerful frames stood
out in opposition, strung and dilated by the impulse of passion and the
energy of contest, no judgment, however experienced, could venture to
anticipate the result of the battle, or name the person likely to be
victorious. Indeed it was surprising how the natural sagacity of these men
threw their attitudes and movements into scientific form and symmetry.
Kelly raised his cudgel, and placed it transversely in the air, between
himself and his opponent; Grimes instantly placed his against it—both
weapons thus forming a St. Andrew's cross—whilst the men themselves
stood foot to foot, calm and collected. Nothing could be finer than their
proportions, nor superior to their respective attitudes; their broad
chests were in a line; their thick, well-set necks laid a little back, as
were their bodies, without, however, losing their balance; and their
fierce but calm features, grimly but placidly scowling at each other, like
men who were prepared for the onset.
"At length Kelly made an attempt to repeat his former feint, with
variations; for whereas he had sent the first blow to Grimes's right
temple, he took measures now to reach the left; his action was rapid, but
equally quick was the eye of his antagonist, whose cudgel was up in ready
guard to meet the blow. It met it; and with such surprising power was it
sent and opposed, that both cudgels, on meeting, bent across each other
into curves. An involuntary huzza followed this from their respective
parties—not so much on account of the skill displayed by the
combatants as in admiration of their cudgels, and of the judgment with
which they must have been selected. In fact, it was the staves, rather
than the men, that were praised; and certainly the former did their duty.
In a moment their shillelaghs were across each other once more, and the
men resumed their former attitudes; their savage determination, their
kindled eyes, the blood which disfigured the face of Grimes, and begrimed
also the countenance of his antagonist into a deeper expression of
ferocity, occasioned many a cowardly heart to shrink from the sight. There
they stood, gory and stern, ready for the next onset; it was first made by
Grimes, who tried to practise on Kelly the feint which Kelly had before
practised on him. Denis, after his usual manner, caught the blow in his
open hand, and clutched the staff, with an intention of holding it until
he might visit Grimes, now apparently unguarded, with a levelling blow;
but Grimes's effort to wrest the cudgel from his grasp, drew all Kelly's
strength to that quarter, and prevented him from availing himself of the
other's defenceless attitude. A trial of muscular power ensued, and their
enormous bodily strength was exhibited in the stiff tug for victory.
Kelly's address prevailed; for while Grimes pulled against him with all
his collected vigor, the former suddenly let go his hold, and the latter,
having lost his balance, staggered back; lightning could not be more quick
than the action of Kelly, as, with tremendous force, his cudgel rung on
the unprotected head of Grimes, who fell, or rather was shot to the
ground, as if some superior power had clashed him against it; and there he
lay for a short time, quivering under the blow he had received.
"A peal of triumph now arose from Kelly's party; but Kelly himself,
placing his arms a-kimbo, stood calmly over his enemy, awaiting his return
to the conflict. For nearly five minutes he stood in this attitude, during
which time Grimes did not stir; at length Kelly stooped a little, and
peering closely into his face, exclaimed—
"'Why, then, is it acting you are?—any how, I wouldn't put it past
you, you cunning vagabone; 'tis lying to take breath he is—get up,
man, I'd scorn to touch you till you're on your legs; not all as one, for
sure it's yourself would show me no such forbearance. Up with you, man
alive, I've none of your thrachery in me. I'll not rise my cudgel till
you're on your guard.'
"There was an expression of disdain, mingled with a glow of honest, manly
generosity on his countenance, as he spoke, which made him at once the
favorite with such spectators as were not connected with either of the
parties. Grimes arose, and it was evident that Kelly's generosity deepened
his resentment more than the blow which had sent him so rapidly to the
ground; however, he was still cool, but his brows knit, his eye flashed
with double fierceness, and his complexion settled into a dark blue shade,
which gave to his whole visage an expression fearfully ferocious. Kelly
hailed this as the first appearance of passion; his brow expanded as the
other approached, and a dash of confidence, if not of triumph, softened in
some degree the sternness of his features.
"With caution they encountered again each collected for a spring, their
eyes gleaming at each other like those of tigers. Grimes made a motion as
if he would have struck Kelly with his fist; and, as the latter threw up
his guard against the blow, he received a stroke from Grimes's cudgel in
the under part of the right arm. This had been directed at his elbow, with
an intention of rendering the arm powerless: it fell short, however, yet
was sufficient to relax the grasp which Kelly had of his weapon. Had Kelly
been a novice, this stratagem alone would have soon vanquished him; his
address, however, was fully equal to that of his antagonist. The staff
dropped instantly from his grasp, but a stout thong of black polished
leather, with a shining tassel at the end of it, had bound it securely to
his massive wrist; the cudgel, therefore, only dangled from his arm, and
did not, as the other expected, fall to the ground, or put Denis to the
necessity of stooping for it—Grimes's object being to have struck
him in that attitude.
"A flash of indignation now shot from Kelly's eye, and with the speed of
lightning he sprung within Grimes's weapon,—determined to wrest it
from him. The grapple that ensued was gigantic. In a moment Grimes's staff
was parallel with the horizon between them, clutched in the powerful grasp
of both. They stood exactly opposite, and rather close to each other;
their arms sometimes stretched out stiff and at full length, again
contracted, until their faces, glowing and distorted by the energy of the
contest, were drawn almost together. Sometimes the prevailing strength of
one would raise the staff slowly, and with gradually developed power, up
in a perpendicular position: again the reaction of opposing strength would
strain it back, and sway the weighty frame of the antagonist, crouched and
set into desperate resistance, along with it; whilst the hard pebbles
under their feet were crumbled into powder, and the very street itself
furrowed into gravel by the shock of their opposing strength. Indeed, so
well matched a pair never met in contest: their strength, their wind,
their activity, and their! natural science appeared to be perfectly equal.
"At length, by a tremendous effort, Kelly got the staff twisted nearly out
of Grimes's hand, and a short shout, half encouraging, half indignant,
came from Grimes's party. This added shame to his other passions, and
threw an impulse of almost superhuman strength into him: he recovered his
advantage, but nothing more; they twisted—they heaved their great
frames against each other—they struggled—their action became
rapid—they swayed each other this way and that—their eyes like
fire—their teeth locked, and their nostrils dilated. Sometimes they
twined about each other like serpents, and twirled round with such
rapidity, that it was impossible to distinguish them—sometimes, when
a pull of more than ordinary power took place, they seemed to cling
together almost without motion, bending down until their heads nearly
touched the ground, their cracking joints seeming to stretch by the
effort, and the muscles of their limbs standing out from the flesh, strung
into amazing tension.
"In this attitude were they, when Denis, with the eye of a hawk, spied a
disadvantage in Grimes's position; he wheeled round, placed his broad
shoulder against the shaggy breast of the other, and giving him what is
called an 'inside crook,' strained him, despite of every effort, until he
got him off his shoulder, and off the point of resistance. There was a cry
of alarm from the windows, particularly from the females, as Grimes's huge
body was swung over Kelly's shoulder, until it came down in a crash upon
the hard gravel of the street, while Denis stood in triumph, with his
enemy's staff in his hand. A loud huzzah followed this from all present
except the Orangemen, who stood bristling with fury and shame for the
temporary defeat of their champion.
"Denis again had his enemy at his mercy; but he scorned to use his
advantage ungenerously; he went over, and placing the staff in his hands—for
the other had got to his legs—retrograded to his place, and desired
Grimes to defend himself.
"After considerable manoeuvring on both sides, Denis, who appeared to be
the more active of the two, got an open on his antagonist, and by a
powerful blow upon Grimes's ear, sent him to the ground with amazing
force. I never saw such a blow given by mortal; the end of the cudgel came
exactly upon the ear, and as Grimes went down, the blood spurted out of
his mouth and nostrils; he then kicked convulsively several times as he
lay upon the ground, and that moment I really thought he would never have
"The shout was again raised by the Ribbonmen, who threw up their hats, and
bounded from the ground with the most vehement exultation. Both parties
then waited to give Grimes time to rise and renew the battle; but he
appeared perfectly contented to remain where he was: for there appeared no
signs of life or motion in him.
"'Have you got your gruel, boy?' said Kelly, going over to where he lay;—'Well,
you met Denis Kelly, at last, didn't you? and there you lie; but plase
God, the most of your sort will soon lie in the same state. Come, boys,'
said Kelly, addressing his own party, 'now for bloody Vengeance and his
crew, that thransported the Grogans and the Caffries, and murdered
Collier. Now, boys, have at the murderers, and let us have satisfaction
"A mutual rush instantly took place; but, ere the Orangemen came down to
where Grimes lay, Kelly had taken his staff, and handed it to one of his
own party. It is impossible to describe the scene that ensued. The noise
of the blows, the shouting, the yelling, the groans, the scalped heads,
and gory visages, gave both to the ear and eye an impression that could
not easily be forgotten. The battle was obstinately maintained on both
sides for nearly an hour, and with a skill of manoeuvring, attack, and
retreat, that was astonishing.
"Both parties arranged themselves against each other, forming something
like two lines of battle, and these extended along the town nearly from
one end to the other. It was curious to remark the difference in the
persons and appearances of the combatants. In the Orange line the men were
taller, and of more powerful frames; but the Ribbonmen were more hardy,
active, and courageous. Man to man, notwithstanding their superior bodily
strength, the Orangemen could never fight the others; the former depend
too much upon their fire and side-arms, but they are by no means so well
trained to the use of the cudgel as their enemies. In the district where
the scene of this fight is laid, the Catholics generally inhabit the
mountainous part of the country, to which, when the civil feuds of worse
times prevailed, they had been driven at the point of the bayonet; the
Protestants and Presbyterians, on the other hand, who came in upon their
possessions, occupy the richer and more fertile tracts of the land; being
more wealthy, they live with less labor, and on better food. The
characteristic features produced by these causes are such as might be
expected—the Catholic being, like his soil, hardy, thin, and capable
of bearing all weathers; and the Protestants, larger, softer, and more
"Their advance to the first onset was far different from a faction fight.
There existed a silence here, that powerfully evinced the inextinguishable
animosity with which they encountered. For some time they fought in two
compact bodies, that remained unbroken so long as the chances of victory
were doubtful. Men went down, and were up, and went down in all
directions, with uncommon rapidity; and as the weighty phalanx of
Orangemen stood out against the nimble line of their mountain adversaries,
the intrepid spirit of the latter, and their surprising skill and activity
soon gave symptoms of a gradual superiority in the conflict. In the course
of about half an hour, the Orange party began to give way in the northern
end of the town; and as their opponents pressed them warmly and with
unsparing hand, the heavy mass formed by their numbers began to break, and
this decomposition ran up their line until in a short time they were
thrown into utter confusion. They now fought in detached parties; but
these subordinate conflicts, though shorter in duration than the shock of
the general battle, were much more inhuman and destructive; for whenever
any particular gang succeeded in putting their adversaries to flight, they
usually ran to the assistance of their friends in the nearest fight—by
which means they often fought three to one. In these instances the persons
inferior in numbers suffered such barbarities, as it would be painful to
"There lived a short distance out of the town a man nicknamed Jemsy
Boccagh, on account of his lameness—he was also sometimes called
'Hop-an'-go-constant,' who fell the first victim to party spirit. He had
got arms on seeing his friends likely to be defeated, and had the
hardihood to follow, with charged bayonet, a few Ribbonmen, whom he
attempted to intercept, as they fled from a large number of their enemies,
who had got them separated from their comrades. Boccagh ran across a
field, in order to get before them in the road, and was in the act of
climbing a ditch, when one of them, who carried a spade-shaft, struck him
a blow on the head, which put an end to his existence.*
* Fact. The person who killed him escaped to America
where he got himself naturalized, and when the British
government claimed him, he pleaded his privilege of
being an American citizen, and he was consequently not
given up. Boccagh was a very violent Orangeman, and a
very offensive one.
"This circumstance imparted, of course, fiercer hatred to both parties,—triumph
inspiring the one, a thirst for vengeance nerving the other. Kelly
inflicted tremendous punishment in every direction; for scarcely a blow
fell from him which did not bring a man to the ground. It absolutely
resembled a military engagement, for the number of combatants amounted at
least to four thousand men. In many places the street was covered with
small pools and clots of blood, which flowed from those who lay insensible—while
others were borne away bleeding, groaning, or staggering, having been
battered into a total unconsciousness of the scene about them.
"At length the Orangemen gave way, and their enemies, yelling with madness
and revenge, began to beat them with unrestrained fury. The former,
finding that they could not resist the impetuous tide which burst upon
them, fled back past the church, and stopped not until they had reached an
elevation, on which lay two or three heaps of stones, that had been
collected for the purpose of paving the streets. Here they made a stand,
and commenced a vigorous discharge of them against their pursuers. This
checked the latter; and the others, seeing them hesitate and likely to
retreat from the missiles, pelted them with such effect, that the tables
became turned, and the Ribbonmen made a speedy flight back into the town.
"In the meantime several Orangemen had gone into Sherlock's, where a
considerable number of arms had been deposited, with an intention of
resorting to them in case of a defeat at the cudgels. These now came out,
and met the Ribbonmen on their flight from those who were pelting them
with the stones. A dreadful scene ensued. The Ribbonmen, who had the
advantage in numbers, finding themselves intercepted before by those who
had arms, and pursued behind by those who had recourse to the stones,
fought with uncommon bravery and desperation. Kelly, who was furious, but
still collected and decisive, shouted out in Irish, lest the opposite
party might understand him, 'Let every two men seize upon one of those who
have the arms.'
"This was attempted, and effected with partial success; and I have no
doubt but the Orangemen would have been ultimately beaten and deprived of
their weapons, were it not that many of them, who had got their pistols
out of Sherlock's, discharged them among their enemies, and wounded
several. The Catholics could not stand this; but wishing to retaliate as
effectually as possible, lifted stones wherever they could find them, and
kept up the fight at a distance, as they retreated. On both sides,
wherever a solitary foe was caught straggling from the rest, he was
instantly punished with a most cruel and blood-thirsty spirit.
"It was just about this time that I saw Kelly engaged with two men, whom
he kept at bay with great ease—retrograding, however, as he fought,
towards his own party. Grimes, who had for some time before this recovered
and joined the fight once more, was returning, after having pursued
several of the Ribbonmen past the market-house, where he spied Kelly thus
engaged. With a Volunteer gun in his hand, and furious with the
degradation of his former defeat, he ran-over and struck him with the
butt-end of it upon the temple—and Denis fell. When the stroke was
given, an involuntary cry of 'Murder,—foul, foul!' burst from those
who looked on from the windows; and long John Steele, Grimes's
father-in-law, in indignation, raised his cudgel to knock him down for
this treacherous and malignant blow;—but a person out of Neal
Cassidy's back-yard hurled a round stone, about six pounds in weight, at
Grimes's head, that felled him to the earth, leaving him as insensible,
and nearly in as dangerous a state as Kelly,—for his jaw was broken.
"By this time the Catholics had retreated out of the town, and Denis might
probably have received more punishment, had those who were returning from
the pursuit recognized him; but James Wilson, seeing the dangerous
situation in which he lay, came out, and, with the assistance of his
servant-man, brought him into his own house. When the Orangemen had driven
their adversaries off the field, they commenced the most hideous yellings
through the streets—got music, and played party tunes—offered
any money for the face of a Papist; and any of that religion who were so
unfortunate as to make their appearance, were beaten in the most
relentless manner. It was precisely the same thing on the part of the
Ribbonmen; if a Protestant, but above all, an Orangeman, came in their
way, he was sure to be treated with barbarity; for the retaliation on
either side was dreadfully unjust—the innocent suffering as well as
the guilty. Leaving the window, I found Kelly in a a bad state below
"'What's to be done?' said I to Wilson.
"'I know not,' replied he, 'except I put him between us on my jaunting
car, and drive him home.'
"This appeared decidedly the best plan we could adopt; so, after putting
to the horse, we placed him on the car, sitting one on each side of him,
and, in this manner, left him at his own house.
"'Did you run no risk,' said I, 'in going among Kelly's friends, whilst
they were under the influence of party feeling and exasperated passion?'
"'No,' said he; 'we had rendered many of them acts of kindness, and had
never exhibited any spirit but a friendly one towards them; and such
individuals, but only such, might walk through a crowd of enraged
Catholics or Protestants quite unmolested.'
"The next morning Kelly's landlord, Sir W. E———, and two
magistrates, were at his house, but he lay like a log, without sense or
motion. Whilst they were there, the surgeon arrived and, after examining
his head declared that the skull was fractured. During that and the
following day, the house was surrounded by crowds, anxious to know his
state; and nothing might be heard amongst most of them but loud and
undisguised expressions of the most ample revenge. The wife was frantic;
and, on seeing me, hid her face in her hands, exclaiming.
"'Ah, sir, I knew it would come to this; and you, too, tould him the same
thing. My curse and God's curse on it for quarrelling! Will it never stop
in the counthry till they rise some time and murdher one another out of
"As soon as the swelling in his head was reduced, the surgeon performed
the operation of trepanning, and thereby saved his life; but his strength
and intellect were gone, and he just lingered for four months, a feeble,
drivelling simpleton, until, in consequence of a cold, which produced
inflammation in the brain, he died, as hundreds have died before, the
victim of party spirit."
Such was the account which I heard of my old school-fellow, Denis Kelly;
and, indeed, when I reflected upon the nature of the education he
received, I could not but admit that the consequences were such as might
naturally be expected to result from it.
The next morning a relation of Mrs. Kelly's came down to my brother,
hoping that, as they wished to have as decent a funeral as possible, he
would be so kind as to attend it.
"Musha, God knows, sir," said the man, "it's poor Denis, heavens be his
bed! that had the regard and reverence for every one, young and ould, of
your father's family; and it's himself that would be the proud man, if he
was living, to see you, sir, riding after his coffin."
"Well," said my brother, "let Mrs. Kelly know that I shall certainly
attend, and so will my brother, here, who has come to puy me a visit. Why,
I believe, Tom, you forget him!"
"Your brother, sir! Is it Master Toby, that used to cudgel the half of the
counthry when he was at school? Gad's my life, Masther Toby (I was now
about thirty-six), but it's your four quarters, sure enough! Arrah, thin,
sir, who'd think it—you're grown so full and stout?—but, faix,
you'd always the bone in you! Ah, Masther Toby!" said he, "he's lying
cowld, this morning, that would be the happy man to lay his eyes wanst
more upon you. Many an' manys the winther's evening did he spind, talking
about the time when you and he were bouchals (* boys) together, and of the
pranks you played at school, but especially of the time you both leathered
the four Grogans, and tuck the apples from thim—my poor fellow—and
now to be stretched a corpse, lavin' his poor widdy and childher behind
I accordingly expressed my sorrow for Denis's death, which, indeed, I
sincerely regretted, for he possessed materials for an excellent
character, had not all that was amiable and good in him been permitted to
As soon as my trunk and traveling-bag had been brought from the inn, where
I had left them the preceding night, we got our horses, and, as we wished
to show particular respect to Denis's remains, rode up, with some of our
friends, to the house. When we approached, there were large crowds of the
country-people before the door of his well-thatched and
respectable-looking dwelling, which had three chimneys, and a set of
sash-windows, clean and well glazed. On our arrival, I was soon recognized
and surrounded by numbers of those to whom I had formerly been known, who
received and welcomed me with a warmth of kindness and sincerity, which it
would be in vain to look for among the peasantry of any other nation.
Indeed, I have uniformly observed, that when no religious or political
feeling influences the heart and principles of an Irish peasant, he is
singularly sincere and faithful in his attachments, and has always a bias
to the generous and the disinterested. To my own knowledge, circumstances
frequently occur, in which the ebullition of party spirit is, although
temporary, subsiding after the cause that produced it has passed away, and
leaving the kind peasant to the natural, affectionate, and generous
impulses of his character. But poor Paddy, unfortunately, is as
combustible a material in politics or religion as in fighting—thinking
it his duty to take the weak side*, without any other consideration than
because it is the weak side.
* A gentleman once told me an anecdote, of which he was
an eye-witness. Some peasants, belonging to opposite
factions, had met under peculiar circumstances; there
were, however, two on one side, and four on the other—
in this case, there was likely to be no fight; but, in
order to balance the number, one of the more numerous
party joined the weak side—"bekase, boys, it would be
a burnin' shame, so it would, for four to kick two;
and, except I join them, by the powers, there's no
chance of there being a bit of sport, or a row, at all
at all!" Accordingly, he did join them, and the result
of it was, that he and his party were victorious, so
honestly did he fight.
When we entered the house I was almost suffocated with the strong fumes of
tobacco-smoke, snuff, and whiskey; and as I had been an old school-fellow
of Denis's, my appearance was the signal for a general burst of grief
among his relations, in which the more distant friends and neighbors of
the deceased joined, to keep up the keening.
I have often, indeed always, felt that there! is something extremely
touching in the Irish cry; in fact, that it breathes the very spirit of
wild and natural sorrow. The Irish peasantry, whenever a death takes
place, are exceedingly happy in seizing upon any contingent circumstances
that may occur, and making them subservient to the excitement of grief for
the departed, or the exaltation and praise of his character and virtues.
My entrance was a proof of this—I had scarcely advanced to the
middle of the floor, when my intimacy with the deceased, our boyish
sports, and even our quarrels, were adverted to with a natural eloquence
and pathos, that, in spite of my firmness, occasioned me to feel the
prevailing sorrow. They spoke, or chaunted mournfully, in Irish; but the
substance of what they said was as follows:—
"Oh, Denis, Denis, avourneen! you're lying low, this morning of sorrow!—lying
low are you, and does not know who it is (alluding to me) that is standing
over you, weeping for the days you spent together in your youth! It's
yourself, acushla agus asthore machree (the pulse and beloved of my
heart), that would stretch out the right hand warmly to welcome him to the
place of his birth, where you had both been so often happy about the green
hills and valleys with each other! He's here now, standing over you; and
it's he, of all his family, kind and respectable as they are, that was
your own favorite, Denis, avourneen dhelish! He alone was the
companion that you loved!—with no other could you be happy!—For
him did you fight, when he wanted a friend in your young quarrels! and if
you had a dispute with him, were you not sorry for it? Are you not now
stretched in death before him, and will he not forgive you?"
All this was uttered, of course, extemporaneously, and without the least
preparation. They then passed on to an enumeration of his virtues as a
father, a husband, son, and brother—specified his worth as he stood
related to society in general, and his kindness as a neighbor and a
An occurrence now took place which may serve, in some measure, to throw
light upon many of the atrocities and outrages which take place in
Ireland. Before I mention it, however, I think it necessary to make a few
observations relative to it. I am convinced that those who are intimately
acquainted with the Irish peasantry will grant that there is not on the
earth a class of people in whom the domestic affections of
blood-relationship are so pure, strong, and sacred. The birth of a child
will occasion a poor man to break in upon the money set apart for his
landlord, in order to keep the christening, surrounded by his friends and
neighbors, with due festivity. A marriage exhibits a spirit of joy, an
exuberance of happiness and delight, to be found only in the Green Island;
and the death of a member of a family is attended with a sincerity of
grief, scarcely to be expected from men so much the creatures of the more
mirthful feelings. In fact, their sorrow is a solecism in humanity—at
once deep and loud—mingled up, even in its deepest paroxysms, with a
laughter-loving spirit. It is impossible that an Irishman, sunk in the
lowest depths of affliction, could permit his grief to flow in all its sad
solemnity, even for a day, without some glimpse of his natural humor
throwing a faint and rapid light over the gloom within him. No: there is
an amalgamation of sentiments in his mind which, as I said before, would
puzzle any philosopher to account for. Yet it would be wrong to say,
though his grief has something of an unsettled and ludicrous character
about it, that he is incapable of the most subtle and delicate shades of
sentiment, or the deepest and most desolating intensity of sorrow. But he
laughs off those heavy vapors which hang about the moral constitution of
the people of other nations, giving them a morbid habit, which leaves them
neither strength nor firmness to resist calamity—which they feel
less keenly than an Irishman, exactly as a healthy man will feel the pangs
of death with more acuteness than one who is wasted away by debility and
decay. Let any man witness an emigration, and he will satisfy himself that
this is true. I am convinced that Goldsmith's inimitable description of
one in his "Deserted Village," was a picture drawn from actual
observation. Let him observe the emigrant, as he crosses the Atlantic, and
he will find, although he joins the jest, and the laugh, and the song,
that he will seek a silent corner, or a silent hour, to indulge the sorrow
which he still feels for the friends, the companions, and the native
fields that he has left behind him. This constitution of mind is
beneficial: the Irishman seldom or never hangs himself, because he is
capable of too much real feeling to permit himself to become the slave of
that which is factitious. There is no void in his affections or
sentiments, which a morbid and depraved sensibility could occupy; but his
feelings, of what character soever they may be, are strong, because they
are fresh and healthy. For this reason, I maintain, that when the domestic
affections come under the influence of either grief or joy, the peasantry
of no nation are capable of feeling so deeply. Even on the ordinary
occasions of death, sorrow, though it alternates with mirth and
cheerfulness, in a manner peculiar to themselves, lingers long in the
unseen recesses of domestic life: any hand, therefore, whether by law or
violence, that plants a wound here, will suffer to the death.
When my brother and I entered the house, the body had just been put into
the coffin and it is usual after this takes place, and before it is nailed
down, for the immediate relatives of the family to embrace the deceased,
and take their last look and farewell of his remains. In the present
instance, the children were brought over, one by one, to perform that
trying and melancholy ceremony. The first was an infant on the breast,
whose little innocent mouth was held down to that of its dead father; the
babe smiled upon his still and solemn features, and would have played with
his grave-clothes, but that the murmur of unfeigned sorrow, which burst
from all present, occasioned it to be removed. The next was a fine little
girl, of three or lour years, who inquired where they were going to bring
her daddy, and asked if he would not soon come back to her.
"My daddy's sleeping a long time," said the child, "but I'll waken him
till he sings me 'Peggy Slevin.' I like my daddy best, bekase I sleep wid
him—and he brings me good things from the fair; he bought me this
ribbon," said she, pointing to a ribbon which he had purchased for her.
The rest of the children were sensible of their loss, and truly it was a
distressing scene. His eldest son and daughter, the former about fourteen,
the latter about two years older, lay on the coffin, kissing his lips, and
were with difficulty torn away from it.
"Oh!" said the boy, "he is going from us, and night or day we will never
see him or hear him more! Oh! father—father—is that the last
sight we are ever to see of your face? Why, father dear, did you die, and
leave us forever?—forever—wasn't your heart good to us, and
your words kind to us—Oh! your last smile is smiled—your last
kiss given—and your last kind word spoken to your children that you
loved, and that loved you as we did. Father, core of my heart, are you
gone forever, and your voice departed? Oh! the murdherers, oh! the
murdherers, the murdherers!" he exclaimed, "that killed my father; for
only for them, he would be still wid us: but, by the God that's over me,
if I live, night or day I will not rest, till I have blood for blood; nor
do I care who hears it, nor if I was hanged the next minute."
As these words escaped him, a deep and awful murmur of suppressed
vengeance burst from his relations. At length their sorrow became too
strong to be repressed; and as it was the time to take their last embrace
and look of him, they came up, and after fixing their eyes on his face in
deep affliction, their lips began to quiver, and their countenances became
convulsed. They then burst out simultaneously into a tide of violent
grief, which, after having indulged in it for some time, they checked. But
the resolution of revenge was stronger than their grief, for, standing
over his dead body, they repeated, almost word for word, the vow of
vengeance which the son had just sworn. It was really a scene dreadfully
and terribly solemn; and I could not avoid reflecting upon the mystery of
nature, which can, from the deep power of domestic affection, cause to
spring a determination to crime of so black a dye. Would to God that our
peasantry had a clearer sense of moral and religious duties, and were not
left so much as they are to the headlong impulse of an ardent temperament
and an impetuous character; and would to God that the clergy who
superintend their morals, had a better knowledge of human nature, and a
more liberal education!
During all this time the heart-broken widow sat beyond the coffin, looking
upon what passed with a stupid sense of bereavement; and when they had all
performed this last ceremony, it was found necessary to tell her that the
time was come for the procession of the funeral, and they only waited for;
her to take, as the rest did, her last look and embrace of her husband.
When she heard this, it pierced her like an arrow; she became instantly
collected, and her complexion assumed a dark shade of despairing anguish,
which it was an affliction even to look upon, one then stooped over the
coffin, and kissed him several times, after which she ceased sobbing, and
lay silently with her mouth to his.
The character of a faithful wife sorrowing for a beloved husband has that
in it which compels both respect and sympathy. There was not at this
moment a dry eye in the house. She still lay silent on the coffin; but, as
I observed that her bosom seemed not to heave as it did a little before, I
was convinced that she had become insensible. I accordingly beckoned to
Kelly's brother, to whom I mentioned what I had suspected; and on his
going over to ascertain the truth, he found her as I had said. She was
then brought to the air, and after some trouble—recovered; but I
recommended them to put her to bed, and not to subject her to any
unnecessary anguish, by a custom which was really too soul-piercing to
endure. This, however, was, in her opinion, the violation of an old rite,
sacred to her heart and affections—she would not hear of it for an
instant. Again she was helped out between her brother and brother-in-law;
and, after stooping down, and doing as the others had done—
"Now," said she, "I will sit here, and keep him under my eye as long as I
can—surely you won't blame me for it; you all know the kind husband
he was to me, and the good right I have to be sorry for him! Oh!" she
added, "is it thrue at all?—is he, my own Denis, the young husband
of my early—and my first love, in good airnest, dead, and going to
leave me here—me, Denis, that you loved so tindherly, and our
childher, that your brow was never clouded aginst? Can I believe myself or
is it a dhrame? Denis, avick machree! avick machree!* your hand was
dreaded, and a good right it had, for it was the manly hand, that was ever
and always raised in defence of them that wanted a friend; abroad, in the
faction-fight, against the oppressor, your name was ever feared, acushla?—but
at home—at home—where was your fellow Denis, agrah, do you
know the lips that's spaking to you?—your young bride—your
heart's light—Oh! I remimber the day you war married to me like
yesterday. Oh! avourneen, then and since wasn't the heart of your own
Honor bound up in you—yet not a word even to me. Well, agrah,
machree, 'tisn't your fault, it's the first time you ever refused to spake
to your own Honor. But you're dead, avourneen, or it wouldn't be so—you're
dead before my eyes—husband of my heart, and all my hopes and
happiness goes into the coffin and the grave along wid you, forever!"
* Son of my heart! Son of my heart!
All this time she was rocking herself from side to side, her complexion
pale and ghastly as could be conceived, and the tears streaming from her
eyes. When the coffin was about to be closed, she retired until it was
nailed down, after which she returned with her bonnet and cloak on her,
ready to accompany it to the grave. I was astonished—for I thought
she could not have walked two steps without assistance; but it was the
custom, and to neglect it, I found, would have thrown the imputation of
insincerity upon her grief. While they were preparing to bring the coffin
out, I could hear the chat and conversation of those who were standing in
crowds before the door, and occasionally a loud, vacant laugh, and
sometimes a volley of them, responsive to the jokes of some rustic wit,
probably the same person who acted master of the revels at the wake.
Before the coffin was finally closed, Ned Corrigan, whom I had put to
flight the preceding night, came up, and repeated the De Profundis, in
very strange Latin, over the corpse. When this was finished, he got a jug
of holy water, and after dipping his thumb in it, first made the sign of
the cross upon his own forehead, and afterwards sprinkled it upon all
present, giving my brother and myself an extra compliment, supposing,
probably, that we stood most in need, of it. When this was over, he
sprinkled the corpse and the coffin in particular most profusely. He then
placed two pebbles from Lough Derg* and a bit of holy candle, upon the
breast of the corpse, and having said a Pater and Ave, in which he was
joined by the people, he closed the lid and nailed it down.
* Those who make a station at Lough Derg are in the
habit of bringing home some of its pebbles, which are
considered to be sacred and possessed of many virtues.
"Ned," said his brother, "are his feet and toes loose?"
"Musha, but that's more than myself knows," replied Ned—"Are they,
Katty?" said he, inquiring from the sister of the deceased.
"Arrah, to be sure, avourneen!" answered Katty—"do you think we
would lave him to be tied that way, when he'd be risin' out of his last
bed at the day of judgment? Wouldn't it be too bad to have his toes tied
The coffin was then brought out and placed upon four chairs before the
door, to be keened; and, in the mean time, the friends and well-wishers of
the deceased were brought into the room to get each a glass of whiskey, as
a token of respect. I observed also, that such as had not seen any of
Kelly's relations until then, came up, and shaking hands with them, said—"I'm
sorry for your loss!" This expression of condolence was uniform, and the
usual reply was, "Thank you, Mat, or Jim!" with a pluck of the skirt,
accompanied by a significant nod, to follow. They then got a due share of
whiskey; and it was curious, after they came out, their faces a little
flushed, and their eyes watery with the strong, ardent spirits, to hear
with what heartiness and alacrity they entered into Denis's praises.
When he had been keened in the street, there being no hoarse, the coffin
was placed upon two handspikes, which were fixed across, but parallel to
each other under it. These were borne by four men, one at the end of each,
with the point of it crossing his body a little below his stomach; in
other parts of Ireland, the coffin is borne upon a bier on the shoulders,
but this is more convenient and less distressing.
When we got out upon the road, the funeral was of great extent—for
Kelly had been highly respected. On arriving at the merin which bounded
the land he had owned, the coffin was laid down, and a loud and wailing
keene took place over it. It was again raised, and the funeral proceeded
in a direction which I was surprised to see it take, and it was not until
an acquaintance of my brother's had explained the matter that I understood
the cause of it. In Ireland when a murder is perpetrated, it is sometimes
usual, as the funeral proceeds to the grave-yard, to bring the corpse to
the house of him who committed the crime, and lay it down at his door,
while the relations of the deceased kneel down, and, with an appaling
solemnity, utter the deepest, imprecations, and invoke the justice of
heaven on the head of the murderer. This, however, is generally omitted if
the residence of the criminal be completely out of the line of the
funeral, but if it be possible, by any circuit, to approach it, this dark
ceremony is never omitted. In cases where the crime is doubtful, or
unjustly imputed, those who are thus visited come out, and laying their
right hand upon the coffin, protest their innocence of the blood of the
deceased, calling God to witness the truth of their asseverations; but, in
cases where the crime is clearly proved against the murderer, the door is
either closed, the ceremony repelled by violence, or the house abandoned
by the inmates until the funeral passes.*
* Many of these striking and startling old customs have
nearly disappeared, and indeed it is better that they
The death of Kelly, however, could not be actually, or, at least, directly
considered a murder, for it was probable that Grimes did not inflict the
stroke with an intention to take away his life, and, besides, Kelly
survived it four months. Grimes's house was not more than fifteen perches
from the road: and when the corpse was opposite the little bridleway that
led up to it, they laid it down for a moment, and the relations of Kelly
surrounded it, offering up a short prayer, with uncovered heads. It was
then borne toward the house, whilst the keening commenced in a loud and
wailing cry, accompanied with clapping of hands, and every other symptom
of external sorrow. But, independent of their compliance with this
ceremony, as an old usage, there is little doubt that the appearance of
anything connected with the man who certainly occasioned Kelly's death,
awoke a keener and more intense sorrow for his loss. The wailing was thus
continued until the coffin was laid opposite Ghimes's door; nor did it
cease then, but, on the contrary, was renewed with louder and more bitter
As the multitude stood compassionating the affliction of the widow and
orphans, it was the most impressive and solemn spectacle that could be
witnessed. The very house seemed to have a condemned look; and, as a
single wintry breeze waved a tuft of long grass that grew on a seat of
turf at the side of the door, it brought the vanity of human enmity before
my mind with melancholy force. When the keening ceased, Kelly's wife, with
her children, knelt, their faces towards the house of their enemy, and
invoked, in the strong language of excited passion, the justice of heaven
upon the head of the man who had left her a widow, and her children
fatherless. I was anxious to know if Grimes would appear to disclaim the
intention of murder; but I understood that he was at market—for it
happened to be market-day.
"Come out!" said the widow—"come out, and look at the sight that's
here before you! Come and view your own work! Lay but your hand upon the
coffin, and the blood of him you murdhered will spout, before God and
these Christian people, in your guilty face! But, oh! may the Almighty God
bring this home to you!—May you never lave this life, John Grimes,
till worse nor has overtaken me and mine fall upon you and yours! May our
curse light upon you this day!—the curse, I say, of the widow and
the orphans, that your bloody hand has made us, may it blast you! May you,
and all belonging to you wither off of the 'airth! Night and day, sleeping
and waking—like snow off the ditch, may you melt, until your name
and your place be disremimbered, except to be cursed by them that will
hear of you and your hand of murdher! Amin, we pray God this day!—and
the widow and orphans' prayer will not fall to the ground while your
guilty head is above it! Childhre, do you all say it?"
At this moment a deep, terrific murmur, or rather ejaculation,
corroborative of assent to this dreadful imprecation, pervaded the crowd
in a fearful manner; their countenances darkened, their eyes gleamed, and
their scowling visages stiffened into an expression of determined
When these awful words were uttered, Grimes's wife and daughters
approached the window in tears, sobbing, at the same time, loudly and
"You're wrong," said the wife—"you're wrong, Widow Kelly, in saying
that my husband murdhered him:—he did not murdher him; for when you
and yours were far from him, I heard John Grimes declare before the God
who's to judge him, that he had no thought or intention of taking his
life; he struck him in anger, and the blow did him an injury that was not
intended. Don't curse him, Honor Kelly," said she, "don't curse him so
fearfully; but, above all, don't curse me and my innocent childher, for we
never harmed you, nor wished you ill! But it was this party work did it!
Oh, my God!" she exclaimed, wringing her hands in utter bitterness of
spirit, "when will it be ended between friends and neighbors, that ought
to live in love and kindness together instead of fighting in this
She then wept more violently, as did her daughters.
"May God give me mercy in the last day, Mrs. Kelly, as I pity from my
heart and soul you and your orphans," she continued; "but don't curse us,
for the love of God—for you know we should forgive our enemies, as
we ourselves, that are the enemies of God, hope to be forgiven."
"May God forgive me, then, if I have wronged you or your husband," said
the widow, softened by their distress; "but you know, that whether he
intended his life or not, the stroke he gave him has left my childher
without a father, and myself dissolate. Oh, heavens above me!" she
exclaimed, in a scream of distraction and despair, "is it possible—is
it thrue—that my manly husband—the best father that ever
breathed the breath of life—my own Denis, is lying dead—murdhered
before my eyes? Put your hands on my head, some of you—put your
hands on my head, or it will go to pieces. Where are you, Denis—where
are you, the strong of hand, and the tender of heart? Come to me, darling,
I want you in my distress. I want comfort, Denis; and I'll take it from
none but yourself, for kind was your word to me in all my afflictions!"
All present were affected; and, indeed, it was difficult to say, whether
Kelly's wife or Grimes's was more to be pitied at the moment. The
affliction of the latter and of her daughters was really pitiable; their
sobs were loud, and the tears streamed down their cheeks like rain. When
the widow's exclamations had ceased, or rather were lost in the loud cry
of sorrow which were uttered by the keeners and friends of the deceased—they,
too, standing somewhat apart from the rest, joined in it bitterly; and the
solitary wail of Mrs. Grimes, differing in character from that of those
who had been trained to modulate the most profound grief into strains of a
melancholy nature, was particularly wild and impressive. At all events,
her Christian demeanor, joined to the sincerity of her grief, appeased the
enmity of many; so true is it that a soft answer turneth away wrath. I
could perceive, however, that the resentment of Kelly's male relations did
not appear to be in any degree moderated.
The funeral again proceeded, and I remarked that whenever a strange
passenger happened to meet it, he always turned back, and accompanied it
for a short distance, after which he resumed his journey, it being
considered unlucky to omit this visage on meeting a funeral. Denis's
residence was not more than two miles from the churchyard, which was
situated in the town where he had received the fatal blow. As soon as we
had got on about the half of this way, the priest of the parish met us,
and the funeral, after proceeding a few perches more, turned into a green
field, in the corner of which stood a table with the apparatus for saying
mass spread upon it.
The coffin was then laid down once more, immediately before this temporary
altar; and the priest, after having robed himself, the wrong or the sable
side of the vestments out, as is usual in the case of death, began to
celebrate mass for the dead, the congregation all kneeling. When this was
finished, the friends of the deceased approached the altar, and after some
private conversation, the priest turned round, and inquired aloud—
"Who will give Offerings?"
The people were acquainted with the manner in which this matter is
conducted, and accordingly knew what to do. When the priest put the
question, Denis's brother, who Was a wealthy man, came forward, and laid
down two guineas on the altar; the priest took this up, and putting it on
a plate, set out among the multitude, accompanied by two or three of those
who were best acquainted with the inhabitants of the parish. He thus
continued putting the question, distinctly, after each man had paid; and
according as the money was laid down, those who accompanied the priest
pronounced the name of the person who gave it, so that all present might
hear it. This is also done to enable the friends of the deceased to know
not only those who show them this mark of respect, but those who neglect
it, in order that they may treat them in the same manner on similar
occasions. The amount of money so received is very great; for there is a
kind of emulation among the people, as to who will act with most decency
and spirit, that is exceedingly beneficial to the priest. In such
instances the difference of religion is judiciously overlooked; for
although the prayers of Protestants are declined on those occasions, yet
it seems the same objection does not hold good against their money, and
accordingly they pay as well as the rest. When the priest came round to
where I stood, he shook hands with my brother, with whom he appeared to be
on very friendly and familiar terms; he and I were then introduced to each
"Come," said he, with a very droll expression of countenance, shaking the
plate at the same time up near my brother's nose,—"Come, Mr. D'Arcy,
down with your offerings, if you wish to have a friend with St. Peter when
you go as far as the gates; down with your money, sir, and you shall be
remembered, depend upon it."
"Ah," said my brother, pulling out a guinea, "I would with the greatest
pleasure; but I fear this guinea is not orthodox. I'm afraid it has a
heretical mark upon it."
"In that case," replied his Reverence laughing heartily, "your only plan
is to return it to the bosom of the church, by laying it on the plate here—it
will then be within the pale, you know."
This reply produced a great deal of good-humor among that part of the
crowd which immediately surrounded them—not excepting his nearest
relations, who laughed heartily—
"Well," said my brother, as he laid it on the plate, "how many prayers
will you offer up in my favor for this?"
"Leave that to myself," said his Reverence, looking at the money; "it will
be before you, I say, when you go to St. Peter."
He then held the plate over to me in a droll manner; and I added another
guinea to my brother's gift; for which I had the satisfaction of having my
name called out so loud, that it might be heard a quarter of a mile off.
"God bless you, sir," said the priest, "and I thank you."
"John," said I, when he left us, "I think that is a pleasant and rather a
"He's as jovial a soul," replied my brother, "as ever gave birth to a
jest, and he sings a right good song. Many a convivial hour have he and I
spent together; and a more hospitable man besides, never yet existed.
Although firmly attached to his own religion, he is no bigot; but, on the
contrary, an excellent, liberal, and benevolent man."
When the offerings were all collected, he returned to the altar, repeated
a few additional prayers in prime style—as rapid as lightning; and
after hastily shaking the holy water on the crowd, the funeral moved oh.
It was now two o'clock, the day clear and frosty, and the sun unusually
bright for the season. During mass, many were added to those who formed
the funeral train at the outset; so that, when we got out upon the road,
the procession appeared very large. After this, few or none joined it; for
it is esteemed by no means "dacent" to do so after mass, because, in that
case, the matter is ascribed to an evasion of the offerings; but those
whose delay has not really been occasioned by this motive, make it a point
to pay them at the grave-yard, or after the interment, and sometimes even
on the following day—so jealous are the peasantry of having any
degrading suspicion attached to their generosity.
The order of the funeral now was as follows:—Foremost the women—next
to them the corpse, surrounded by the relations—the eldest son, in
deep affliction, "led the coffin," as chief mourner, holding in his hand
the corner of a sheet or piece of linen, fastened to the mort-cloth,
called moor-cloth. After the coffin came those who were on foot, and in
the rear were the equestrians. When we were a quarter of a mile from the
churchyard, the funeral was met by a dozen of singing-boys, belonging to a
chapel choir, which the priest, who was fond of music, had some time
before formed. They fell in, two by two, immediately behind the corpse,
and commenced singing the Requiem, or Latin hymn for the dead.
The scene through which we passed at this time, though not clothed with
the verdure and luxuriant beauty of summer, was, nevertheless, marked by
that solemn and decaying splendor which characterizes a fine country, lit
up by the melancholy light of a winter setting sun. It was, therefore,
much more in character with the occasion. Indeed—I felt it
altogether beautiful; and, as the "dying day-hymn stole aloft," the dim
sunbeams fell, through a vista of naked, motionless trees, upon the
coffin, which was borne with a slower and more funereal pace than before,
in a manner that threw a solemn and visionary light upon the whole
procession, this, however, was raised to something dreadfully impressive,
when the long train, thus proceeding with a motion so mournful, as seen,
each, or at least the majority of them, covered with a profusion of
crimson ribbons, to indicate that the corpse they bore—owed, his
death to a deed of murder. The circumstance of the sun glancing his rays
upon the coffin was not unobserved by the peasantry, who considered it as
a good omen to the spirit of the departed.
As we went up the street which had been the scene of the quarrel that
proved so fatal to Kelly, the coffin was again laid down on the spot where
he received his death-blow; and, as was usual, the wild and melancholy
keene was raised. My brother saw many of Grimes's friends among the
spectators, but he himself was not visible. Whether Kelly's party saw then
or not, we could not say; if they did, they seemed not to notice them, for
no expression of revenge or indignation escaped them.
At length we entered the last receptacle of the dead. The coffin was now
placed upon the shoulders of the son and brothers of the deceased, and
borne round the church-yard; whilst the priest, with his stole upon him,
preceded it, reading prayers for the eternal repose of the soul. Being
then laid beside the grave, a "De profundis" was repeated by the priest
and the mass-server; after which a portion of fresh clay, carried from the
fields, was brought to his Reverence, who read a prayer over it, and
consecrated it. This is a ceremony which is never omitted at the interment
of a Roman Catholic. When it was over, the coffin was laid into the grave,
and the blessed clay shaken over it. The priest now took the shovel in his
own hands, and threw in the three first shovelfuls—one in the name
of the Father, one in the name of the Son, and one in the name of the Holy
Ghost. The sexton then took it, and in a short time Denis Kelly was fixed
for ever in his narrow bed.
While these ceremonies were going forward, the churchyard presented a
characteristic picture. Beside the usual groups who straggle through the
place, to amuse themselves by reading the inscriptions on the tombs, you
might see many individuals kneeling on particular graves, where some
relation lay—for the benefit of whose soul they offered up their
prayers with an attachment and devotion which one cannot but admire.
Sometimes all the surviving members of the family would assemble, and
repeat a Rosary for the same purpose. Again, you might see an unhappy
woman beside a newly-made grave, giving way to lamentation and sorrow for
the loss of a husband, or of some beloved child. Here, you might observe
the "last bed" ornamented with hoops, decked in white paper, emblematic of
the virgin innocence of the individual who slept below;—there, a
little board-cross informing you that "this monument was erected by a
disconsolate husband to the memory of his beloved wife." But that which
excited greatest curiosity was a sycamore-tree, which grow in the middle
of the burying-ground.
It is necessary to inform the reader, that in Ireland many of the
church-yards are exclusively appropriated to the interment of Roman
Catholics, and, consequently, the corpse of no one who had been a
Protestant would be permitted to pollute or desecrate them. This was one
of them: but it appears that by some means or other, the body of a
Protestant had been interred in it—and hear the consequence! The
next morning heaven marked its disapprobation of this awful visitation by
a miracle; for, ere the sun rose from the east, a full-grown sycamore had
shot up out of the heretical grave, and stands there to this day, a
monument at once of the profanation and its consequence. Crowds wore
looking at this tree, feeling a kind of awe, mingled with wonder, at the
deed which drew down such a visible and lasting mark of God's displeasure.
On the tombstones near Kelly's grave, men and women were seated, smoking
tobacco to their very heart's content; for, with that profusion which
characterizes the Irish in everything, they had brought out large
quantities of tobacco, whiskey, and bunches of pipes. On such occasions it
is the custom for those who attend the wake or the funeral to bring a full
pipe home with them; and it is expected that, as often as it is used, they
will remember to say "God be merciful to the soul of him that this pipe
The crowd, however, now began to disperse; and the immediate friends of
the deceased sent the priest, accompanied by Kelly's brother, to request
that we would come in, as the last mark of respect to poor Denis's memory,
and take a glass of wine and a cake.
"Come, Toby," said my brother, "we may as well go in, as it will gratify
them; we need not make much delay, and we will still be at home in
sufficient time for dinner."
"Certainly you will," said the Priest; "for you shall both come and dine
with me to-day."
"With all my heart," said my brother; "I have no objection, for I know you
give it good."
When we went in, the punch was already reeking from immense white jugs,
that couldn't hold less than a gallon each.
"Now," said his Reverence, very properly, 'you have had a decent and
creditable funeral, and have managed every thing with great propriety; let
me request, therefore, that you will not get drunk, nor permit yourselves
to enter into any disputes or quarrels; but be moderate in what you take,
and go home peaceably."
"Why, thin, your Reverence," replied the widow, "he's now in his grave,
and, thank God, it's he that had the dacent funeral all out—ten good
gallons did we put over you, asthore, and it's yourself that liked the
dacent thing, any how—but sure, sir, it would shame him where he's
lyin', if we disregarded him so far as to go home widout bringing in our
friends, that didn't desart us in our throuble, an' thratin' them for
While Kelly's brother was filling out all their glasses, the priest, my
brother, and I, were taking a little refreshment. When the glasses were
filled, the deceased's brother raised his in his hand, and said,—
"Well, gintlemen," addressing us, "I hope you'll pardon me for not
dhrinking your healths first; but people, you know, can't break through an
ould custom, at any rate—so I give poor Denis's health that's in his
warm grave, and God be merciful to his sowl."
The priest now winked at me to give them their own way; so we filled our
glasses, and joined the rest in drinking "Poor Denis's health, that's now
in his warm grave, and God be merciful to his soul."
When this was finished, they then drank ours, and thanked us for our
kindness in attending the funeral. It was now past five o'clock; and we
left them just setting into a hard bout of drinking, and rode down to his
"I saw you smile," said he, on our way, "at the blundering toast of Mat
Kelly; but it would be labor in vain to attempt setting them right. What
do they know about the distinctions of more refined life? Besides, I
maintain, that what they said was as well calculated to express their
affection, as if they had drunk honest Denis's memory. It is, at least,
unsophisticated. But did you hear," said he, "of the apparition that was
seen last night, on the mountain road above Denis's?"
"I did not hear of it," I replied, equivocating a little.
"Why," said he, "it is currently reported that the spirit of a murdered
pedlar, which haunts the hollow of the road at Drumfurrar bridge, chased
away the two servant men as they were bringing home the coffin, and that
finding it a good fit, he got into it, and walked half a mile along the
road, with the wooden surtout upon him; and, finally, that to wind up the
frolic, he left it on one end half-way between the bridge and Denis's
house, after putting a crowd of the countrymen to flight. I suspect some
droll knave has played them a trick. I assure you, that a deputation of
them, who declared that they saw the coffin move along of itself, waited
upon me this morning, to know whether they ought to have put him into the
coffin, or gotten another."
"Well," said my brother, in reply to him, "after dinner we will probably
throw some light upon that circumstance; for I believe my brother here
knows something about it."
"So, sir," said the priest, "I perceive you have been amusing yourself at
I seldom spent a pleasanter evening than, I did with Father Miloy (so he
was called), who was, as my brother said, a shrewd, sensible man,
possessed of convivial powers of the first order. He sang us several good
songs; and, to do him justice, he had an excellent voice. He regretted
very much the state of party and religious feeling, which he did every
thing in his power to suppress. "But," said he, "I have little
co-operation in my efforts to communicate knowledge to my flock, and
implant better feelings among them. You must know," he added, "that I am
no great favorite with them. On being appointed to this parish by my
bishop, I found that the young man who was curate to my predecessor had
formed a party against me, thinking, by that means, eventually to get the
parish himself. Accordingly, on coming here, I found the chapel doors
closed on me: so that a single individual among them would not recognize
me as their proper pastor. By firmness and spirit, however, I at length
succeeded, after a long struggle against the influence of the curate, in
gaining admission to the altar; and, by a proper representation of his
conduct to the bishop, I soon made my gentleman knock under. Although
beginning to gain ground in the good opinion of the people, I am by no
means yet a favorite. This curate and I scarcely speak; but I hope that in
the course of time, both he and they will begin to find, that by kindness
and a sincere love for their welfare on my part, good-will and affection
will ultimately be established among us. At least, there shall be nothing
left undone, so far as I am concerned, to effect it."
It was now near nine o'clock, and my brother was beginning to relate an
anecdote concerning the clergyman who had preceded Father Molloy in the
parish, when a messenger from Mr. Wilson, already alluded to, came up in
breathless haste, requesting the priest, for God's sake, to go down into
town instantly, as the Kellys and the Grimeses were engaged in a fresh
"My God!" he exclaimed—"when will this work have an end? But, to
tell you the truth, gentlemen, I apprehended it; and I fear that something
still more fatal to the parties will yet be the consequence. Mr. D'Arcy,
you must try what you can do with the Grimeses, and I will manage the
We then proceeded to the town, which was but a very short distance from
the Priest's house; and, on arriving, found a large crowd before the door
of the house in which the Kellys had been drinking, engaged in hard
conflict. The priest was on foot, and had brought his whip with him, it
being an argument, in the hands of a Roman Catholic pastor, which tells so
home that it is seldom gainsaid. Mr. Molloy and my brother now dashed in
amongst them: and by remonstrance, abuse, blows, and entreaty, they with
difficulty succeeded in terminating the fight. They were also assisted by
Mr. Wilson and other persons, who dared not, until their appearance, run
the risk of interfering between them. Wilson's servant, who had come for
the priest, was still standing beside me, looking on; and, while my
brother and Mr. Molloy were separating the parties, I asked him how the
"Why, sir," said he, "it bein' market-day, the Grimeses chanced to be in
town, and this came to the ears of the Kellys, who were drinking in
Cassidy's here, till they got tipsy; some of them then broke out, and
began to go up and down the street, shouting for the face of a murdhering
Grimes. The Grimeses, sir, happened at the time to be drinking with a
parcel of their friends in Joe Sherlock's, and hearing the Kellys calling
out for them, why, as the dhrop, sir, was in on both sides, they were soon
at it. Grimes has given one of the Kelly's a great bating; but Tom Grogan,
Kelly's cousin, a little before we came down, I'm tould, has knocked the
seven senses out of him, with the pelt of a brick-bat in the stomach."
Soon after this, however, the quarrel was got under; and, in order to
prevent any more bloodshed that night, my brother and I got the Kellys
together, and brought them as far as our residence, on their way home. As
they went along, they uttered awful vows, and determinations of the
deepest revenge, swearing repeatedly that they would shoot Grimes from
behind a ditch, if they could not in any other manner have his blood. They
seemed highly intoxicated; and several of them were cut and abused in a
dreadful manner; even the women were in such a state of excitement and
alarm, that grief for the deceased was, in many instances, forgotten.
Several of both sexes were singing; some laughing with triumph at the
punishment they had inflicted on the enemy; others of them, softened by
what they had drunk, were weeping in tones of sorrow that might be heard a
couple of miles off. Among the latter were many of the men, some of whom,
as they staggered along, with their frieze big coats hanging off one
shoulder, clapped their hands, and roared like bulls, as if they intended,
by the loudness of their grief then, to compensate for their silence when
sober. It was also quite ludicrous to see the men kissing each other,
sometimes in this maudlin sorrow, and at others when exalted into the very
madness of mirth. Such as had been cut in the scuffle, on finding the
blood trickle down their faces, would wipe it off—then look at it,
and break out into a parenthetical volley of curses against the Grimeses;
after which, they would resume their grief, hug each other in mutual
sorrow, and clap their hands as before. In short, such a group could be
seen nowhere but in Ireland.
When my brother and I had separated from them, I asked him what had become
of Vengeance, and if he were still in the country.
"No," said he; "with all his courage and watchfulness, he found that his
life was not safe; he, accordingly, sold off his property, and collecting
all his ready cash, emigrated to America, where, I hear, he is doing
"God knows," I replied, "I shouldn't be surprised if one-half of the
population were to follow his example, for the state of society here,
among the lower orders, is truly deplorable."
"Ay, but you are to consider now," he replied, "that you have been looking
at the worst of it. If you pass an unfavorable opinion upon our countrymen
when in the public house or the quarrel, you ought to remember what they
are under their own roofs, and in all the relations of private life."
The "Party Fight," described in the foregoing sketch, is unhappily no
fiction, and it is certain that there are thousands still alive who have
good reason to remember it. Such a fight, or I should rather say battle—for
such in fact it was—did not take place in a state of civil society,
if I can say so, within the last half century in this country. The
preparations for it were secretly being made for two or three months
previous to its occurrence, and however it came to light, it so happened
that each party became cognizant of the designs of the other. This
tremendous conflict, of which I was an eye-witness,—being then but
about twelve years of age—took place in the town, or rather city, of
Clogher, in my native county of Tyrone. The reader may form an opinion of
the bitterness and ferocity with which it was fought on both sides when he
is informed that the Orangemen on the one side, and the Ribbonmen on the
other, had called in aid from the surrounding counties of Monaghan, Cavan,
Fermanagh, and Derry; and, if I mistake not, also from Louth. In numbers,
the belligerents could not have been less than from four to five thousand
men. The fair day on which it occurred is known simply as "the Day of the