IRISH PIPERS IN LITERATURE AND OTHER STORIES
IT was a belief of common acceptance among the people of Ireland in days gone by that inspiration was in some way to be derived from the fairies or other supernatural agencies, the composition ot the “Fairy Queen’ by Turlogh O’Carolan towards the end of the seventeenth century being a case in point.
The favored beneficiaries of fairy friendship seem to have been the pipers, but others who woo the muses were by no means neglected.
No doubt the superstitious musicians themselves did much to encourage this mysticism. To have dealings with the fairies incurred no loss of prestige. On the contrary, the piper or fiddler lucky enough to he conceded that coveted honor had a decided advantage over his fellows all the remaining days of his life.
How such persons could, with apparent sincerity, tell the most extravagant and improbable stories of their exploits and experiences is beyond comprehension, when we come to consider their normal mentality and behavior in the routine at everyday life.
A dual personality or the theory that those favorites of the fairies and the muses, in the exuberance of their conceit, may have become the victms of self-hypnosis, would account for much that suggests the question of their sanity.
The wonderful tales of enchantment in connection with pipers and the “good people” which find a place in Irish literature, as well as in oral tradition, are peculiar to the Gaelic race, for we find they are or were no less common in the Seottish highlands than in the “Land of Sweet Erin.” Raths and forts, which crown so many hilltops in the Green Isle, are held sacred to the memory of a hoary and mysterious past; and rash indeed would be the one who would deseerate their enclosed area, or mutilate their circular ramparts. As the reputed abodes of the fairies or “good people,” they are regarded with awe and even dread by a simple, imaginative peasantry.
In Irish Folk Lore it seems the fairy hosts evinced a decided preference for the music of the Union pipes at their underground entertainments. However that may be, the strains of the violin, when produced by a master hand, in the quaint, traditional style, are no less welcome to mortal ears, nor do they affect the emotions less profoundly than the dulcet tones of the charmed instrument, as the following recital will show:
Timothy M. Dillon, for many years an ofheial of the Department of Police, and an honored member of the once flourishing Irish Music Club of Chicago, was a native of that southwestern angle of Limerick which bounds both Cork and Kerry. The vales and glens in that picturesque and romantic spot were veritable nests of tradition in all that the word implies; and for that reason no one can deny that if we concede any truth in the potency of fairy inspiration, no member of the club could lay better claims to it than Mr. Dillon. When he adjusted his hddle under his chin and began to play, he was insensible to all surroundings, with upturned face and eyes staring blankly at nothing, it could well be imagined that his performance was affected by some occult influence.
“Many a time and oft’, has he crossed the Atlantic, but never without his beloved instrument, and it was his never-failing custom to enliven the passage with music every evening. On one of those voyages a rather shy but handsome young lady became noticeably interested in his nightly performance. She listened attentively while feasting her eager, yearning eyes on Mr. Dillon and his instrument. Night after night she sat entranced, almost within reach of his sweeping bow. Deliriously happy in his presence, and never left the deck while the voice of the violin vibrated in harmony with her heartstrings. The romanticism of moonlight on the ocean is not proof against the wooing of Morpheus, and for that reason Mr. Dillon's audience gradually grew less one night, until none but the fascinated maiden was left to admire his flow of melody.
Overcome, no doubt, by the charm of delightful strains, the demure damsel drew closer to the object of her adoration and, in a voice which betrayed the intensity of her emotions, whispered: “Oh, to bask in the presence of one’s cherished ideal, to listen to the music which thrills the soul, and to enjoy such companionship through life, would be happiness greater than heaven's delights.” Now, most men would be jumping with joy under the circumstances, because an avowal of that nature could only have come from a heart overflowing with love. Although her flattery was not distasteful (for Mr. Dillon knew he deserved it), he was proof against her blandishnients, so he divulged the fatal fact that much as he would be pleased to reciprocate the young lady's affection, there was one trifling impediment - he was a married man, with a healthy wife and a numerous family awaiting his return to Chicago. With one despairing shriek, the heartbroken maiden plunged over the ship’s side before he could prevent her, and disappeared from human sight forever.
There was no witness to this tragedy but the one who was the innocent cause of it. Mr. Dillon being a man of probity, and responsible for the story himself, we may as well accept it with possibly such mental reserve as the circumstances will warrant.
Mr. Dillon, as we may infer, was a man of unbounded liberality with his music, and nothing afforded him keener pleasure than contributing to the enjoyment of others while entertaining himself. One custom in particular which endeared him to his neighbors was that of fiddling on his front porch for hours at a time, when the weather was favorable. Although commendably modest and unassuming, our artist was by no means unconscious of his talents. Neither was it with any sense of egotism or vainglory that he confided to us the following story:
One morning, after a prolonged spell of jig and reel playing the evening before, his next-door neighbor, Professor Spieler, the violin teacher, paid him an unexpected visit. With the crestfallen demeanor of one whose pride and ambition had been rudely crushed, the professor presented his cherished instrument to the astonished Dillon, saying, with choking voice, “Mine friend and brother musicker, you must excuse me, I have brought you mine instrument. Keep it and play on it. I have no more use for it. Before I heard you I thought I was a musician; but now - I know vat I know, and I know vat I don’t know. I never will play no more.”
While the foregoing tales of Mr. Dillon's remarkable experiences may tax our credulity, it cannot be said that he was possessed of an over-developed sense of humor. Neither was there aught in his demeanor which would lead one to question his seriousness. Never boastful, seldom critical, he was not insensible to a little judicious praise, and although always protesting, he never failed to respond to an invitation to play.
At a friend’s house one evening he was rolling off a string of reels which he had arranged in a regular sequence, when his host remarked, “What a great lot of tunes you have, Mr. Dillon.” “Yes,” he replied, modestly, “I have so many that when I start to play I don’t know when to stop, as they would keep coming into my head all night.” “About how many tunes do you think you have, Mr. Dillon ?”- the present writer inquired. “Well, I really can’t say, Chief, but one night, when I was feeling pretty good, I started in gay and lively. After a while Mr. McFadden put his hand on my shoulder and said, `You'd better stop now, Tim.' Then he asked me how many tunes did I think I played. I told him I hadn’t the least idea.
`Well,’ says he, `I’ve been keeping tab on you, and you have just played 436 reels, not counting the others.’ “
From their peripatetic mode of life, and the circumstance that the nature of their calling brought them almost constantly in touch with cheerful company, pipers, fiddlers, and dancing masters of traditional times acquired an endless fund of anecdotes. Almost all were masters of story telling, and not a few were keen of wit and ready at repartee and rhyming.
Among the latter was a County Leitrim piper, commonly known as “Shaun Bacach” on account of his lameness. Much of his support was derived from playing the pipes at a “patron,” near a prominent cross-roads every Sunday afternoon. Whether it was the charm of his music, his pleasant ingratiating manner, or the opportunity for the young people to get better acquainted, or perhaps all combined, that attracted the large attendance, rumors of Shaun’s phenomenal prosperity eventually reached the ears of his reverence the pastor.
This happened of course before “patrons” and dancing fell into disfavor. Just out of curiosity, you know, the clergyman happened along one Sunday afternoon and by way of no harm stationed himself where he could keep an eye on the hole in the ground beside the piperys chair. Into this hole, in lieu of some other receptacle, the joyous swains generously pitched a coin or two after each dance.
The pastor soon was convinced that the stories of Shaun’s income had not been exaggerated. To his mind, this condition of affairs could not be permitted to continue. It was positively sinful to divert to frivolity so much money needed for more serious purposes; so stepping up to the astonished piper, he told him quietly but firmly that he would have to leave the parish.
“Yerra, Father, what have I done out of the way at all,” begged the now alarmed Shaun.
“Well, for one thing,” replied his reverence, “you’re taking in more money at this `patron’ than my offerings amount to, and there is not enough in the parish for both of us.”
“Sure, l’in not to blame for that,” protested Shaun. “ 'Twas your father’s fault.”
“My father’s fault,” repeated the pastor in surprise; “how could it be his fault. What had he to do with it, will you tell me?”
“He had everything to do with it, your reverence. He ought to have made a piper out of you instead of a priest!”
Wit and humor will often win where an appeal to reason is doomed to failure. A County Longford version of this story has it that the acute stage of the controversy between the priest and the piper had been reached at a wedding instead of a “patron.”
Liberality, no less than hospitality, is a dominant characteristic of the Irish race, and a wedding, particularly of the well-to-do, was sure to be an occasion for the display of this well known trait. The parties on “both sides of the house,” in this instance, were determined to be worthy of their people, and “not let it go with anyone” in the way of cleverness and flaithheamlacht (flahoolacht). So when a donation was taken up for the pastor, who graced the occasion with his presence, after the ceremony, you may depend on it that the amount was no “small penny.”
Without a piper to furnish fine music, of course, the festivities would be incomplete. And so when the “plate was passed around” for Shaun’s benefit later on, when all present were in a mellow and generous frame of mind, great was their astonishment to find that the piper’s pittance exceeded the pastor's purse! This unexpected denouement was considered an excellent joke by some, but according to my veracious informant, Mr. Gillan, it occasioned his reverence, the sagart, no little emharrassment. The interchange of compliments which followed between him and the piper is essentially the same in both cases.
More remarkable even than the experience of Turlogh McSweeney, “the Donegal Piper,” was the manner in which Tom O’Sullivan, “one of the best pipers in Kerry,” as his friends termed him, came to acquire his musical skill. When J. G. Kohl, the German traveler, made a tour of Ireland in the early forties of the last century, nothing astounded him so much as the universal belief in the fairies and their potent influence on the affairs of mortals.
“Oh, your honor don’t believe our fairy stories,” said one of the company who had observed him shaking his head at one of the marvelous tales. “Yet I’ll lay a wager there’s many a man now abroad to whom the strangest things have happened, and which we must believe, because they are plain, simple, indisputable facts. Now there’s `Tom' O’Sullivan, your honor, there he stands, and `Tom’s’ one of the best bagpipe players in Kerry. Well, ‘till after he was thirty `Tom’ had never handled a bag of pipes in his life. It happened however, one day, that he was wandering among the hills and lay down to sleep in a place that belonged to the `good people,’ and there are many such places in our country. Now when he was asleep the fairies appeared to him and played him a power of the most beautiful tunes upon the bagpipes, and then laid the bagpipes down by the side of him.
Well, when `Tom' awoke, he felt about in the grass and soon found the pipes, and when he took them up he was able to play off-hand and quite pat every one of the tunes that the fairies had taught him. Now that’s a fact, your honor.” “Is it so, Tom ?” inquired the traveler. “Indeed it is, your honor, and very pretty people they were that taught me And although 'tis now thirty years since they gave me the pipes, I have them still, and they play as beautifully now as the first day.” “There now, that's a fact, your honor,” interposed a listener.
By way of strengthening the evidence to convince the incredulous Mr. Kohl, “Torn” went on and told him of a yet more marvelous adventure of a friend of his, one “Phil” McShane, who had fought in the great battle on the side of the Kerry fairies against the Limerick fairies, and to reward his bravery the victors gave him a cap which, when worn, endowed him with the strength of any other seven men. “ `Phil’ has the cap still,” continued “Tom,” “and when he puts it on there’s not a man in the barony will affront him. Now that’s another fact, your honor, and when you come to Kerry l’ll show you my pipes and my friend `Phil’ will show you his cap.”
“I see, sir, yon don’t believe in ‘em,” interposed a young woman, meaning of course the fairies or “good people,” “and yet it’s a wonder you don't. Well, I’ve seen ‘em with my own eyes, dancing on the fairy grounds, and l’ve heard their music, too, with my own ears, and most beautiful it is. Not long ago, while coming across the bog of Ballinasloe with my husband, both of us well tired, and we laid down to rest by the side of a holy well. My husband fell asleep, but I didn’t, and soon I heard the most delightful music. I thought surely there must have been a piper near at hand and stood up to look about me, but as I saw nothing I waked my husband and bid him listen. `Let us go on,’ says he, `it’s the good people that’s playing., Your honor ought to know by this time that there’s fairies and plenty of them; yes, and they have pipers and dancers like us Christians, only better, and it isn’t lucky for anyone, gentle or simple, to be laughing at ‘em ayther.”
“Ye see, yer honors, Thady Connor (who was own brother of Maurice Connor that had the wonderful tune, hy the manes of which he married the grand saylady [Mermaid] of Trafraska) was the greatest piper in these parts and taught Mr. Gandsey a power of fine music; and the both of them, as well as Maurice, were stone-blind. Well, Thady’s pipes were ould and cracked and had a squeak in `em that bate the Mullinavat pig all hollow. The gentry were mighty fond of him and many a time said something about the new set they intended to get for him, but they always forgot to remimber their promise, so the dickens a dacent set Thady would ever own, but for the great O’Donoghue that gave `em to him in the ind, and the way of it was this:
“Thady, like his brother, loved a dhrop - and a big wan - and two dhrops better nor wan. And wan night he went to a wake, but went off airly, on account of a weddin' he had to be at, the morrow morning, a long way off among the Reeks.
So to be sure, he was overtaken with a powerful wakeness and an impression about his heart. `Arrah, what’s this?’ says he. `Sure it can't be the licker, and I after drinking no more than a dozen tumblers, though I often took more.` With that he sits down by the roadside and begins to play to keep himself from sinking to sleep. All of a sudden he hears a troop of horsemen riding past him. `A pretty set of boys ye must be,’ says Thady, `to be out this time o’ night,’ says he. `Fitther for ye to he in your dacent beds than gamboling about the counthry. I’ll go bail you’re all dhrunk,’ says he. Well, with that, up comes one of them and says, `Here's a piper, let’s have him with us.’ `Couldn't ye say by yer lave ?’ says Thady.
`Well then, by yer lave,’ says the horseman. `And that you won’t have, seeing I must be at Tim Mahony’s wedding by daybreak,` says Thady, `or I’ll lose my good seven thirteens., So without another word they claps hiin on a horse’s back and wan of ‘ein lays hould of him by the scruff of his neck, and away they rode like the March winds - aye, or faster. After a while they stopped. `And where am I at all, at all ?’ inquired Thady. `Open your eyes and see,’ says a voice, and so he did - the dark man that never saw the light till that blessed night; and meelya murther! If there wasn't troops of fine gentlemen and ladies, with swoords and feathers and spurs of goold and lashins of mate and dhrink upon tables, so broad and bright, and everything grand that the world contained since Adam was a gorsoon. `Ye’re welcome to the castle of the great O’Donoghue,’ says the voice again. `I often heard tell of it,’ says Thady, nothing daunted, `and is the prince to the fore ?’ `I’m here,' says the prince, himself coming forrid; and a nne portly man he was, sure enough, with a cocked hat and a coat of mail. `And here’s your health, Mr. Connor, and the health of all my descendants great and small,’ says he, `and when they're tired of the sod,’ says he, `they’ll know where to get the best entertainment for man and baste, every wan, that ever owned the name,’ says he.
“Well, after a while the dance began, and didn’t Thady play for the dear life `Jig Polthogue’ and `Planxty Moriarty’ and all the jigs that ever were invented by man or mortal. And the gintlemen and ladies danced with their hearts in their toes.
“‘Twas all very well till the ould ancient harper of the O’Donoghues asked for a trial aginst Thady, to see if he wouldn’t get louder music out of a handful of cats-guts; and Thady bate him to smithereens. When the consated harper found he was bate, he comes behind Thady, and with an ould knife or skian, rips open the bag, and lets out the wind that makes the music.
“ `I'm done for now,' says Thady, as he aims a wallop at the harper’s head that sent him reeling along the flure. Then all the company sets up a loud ulla-goane - the dance was over - and tells Thady he might as well go home. `And who’ll pay me for my pipes?’ says Thady, who was a cunning boy after all. `They were as good as new,’ says he, `and they aren’t worth minding now.' `Fair exchange is no robbery,’ says the prince, `and here’s a set that will make your fortune, so be on as fast as you can, for the harper is bringing up his faction, and he’ll sarve you as he did your pipes.' Well, Thady made a spring to get out of harm's way, and landed in a pool of water which tilled his eyes and ears, and he heard a voice after him that he thought was the harper’s, only it wasn’t, but it was his wife Biddy that was waking him, as she found him asleep under the very hedge where the O’Donoghue horsemen found him earlier in the night.
“And now, plase your honor, nobody misbelieved the story he told the neighbors, because ye see the bran new pipes were to the fore; for there he had 'em under his arm, and sure how would he get ‘em if `twasn’t from the great O’Donoghue himself.”
In the early years of the nineteenth century, when the world-renowned harpers had vanished like snow in spring from the land which their art had glorified, great performers on the melodious Union pipes nourished in goodly numbers. Like the harpers, not a few of them were attached to families of wealth and distinction, regardless of racial origin, while yet others - true minstrels - led a wandering life. They were in fact so much a part of the ordinary institutions of the country that but casual and meagre references, out of all proportion to their numbers, is to be found in Irish literature concerning them, from the early centuries to the present time; and that little which has been preserved to us in print we owe, in a great measure, to travelers and writers in whose veins flow the blood of the invader.
In those days, a traveler rambling through certain wild districts in the north-western part of the County of Cork, by a curious circumstance, had the pleasure of hearing some of the best Irish airs played on the best set of “organ” pipes, by the best piper in Munster - a rare treat, as he says in a communication to the editor of the Dublin Penny Journal, in October, 1834.
Seated on the rampart of a rath or fort, he fell to moralizing on the past, and the people who lived and loved and died and left not a trace behind of their identity in the glorious scene before him, where the light and shade of hill and vale were beautifully linked with the evening mist that curled along the banks of the winding Araglin. When he awoke from his reverie, it was too late to reach his destination before dark, so he gladly accepted the invitation of an intelligent herdsman to partake of his hospitality for the night. As a special inducement, he was promised a rare treat of national Irish music, from the chanter of Daniel O’Leary, the first piper of Munster, who luckily had paid them a visit.
When the traveler and his host entered the cozy cabin, right beside the cheerful fire sat the piper, a diminutive man, deformed in person, like Willie Wattle’s wife, who-
“Had a hump upon her breast
The twin of that upon her shoulder.”
He had a knowing cast of countenance and a keen, observant eye. After the customary “Cead mile failthe” and the ordinary exchange of compliments, O'Leary yoked on his pipes to do the stranger courtesy, and played “Eileen a Roon” and “O'Carolan’s Farewell to Music,” with exquisite taste and feeling. “I have listened to much music,” to quote the traveler's words, “but Jack Pigott’s `Cois na Breedha' and O’Leary’s `Humors of Glin’ are in my estimation the ne plus ultra of bagpipe melody.”
In the course of the night the hospitable herdsman, seeing how much pleased his guest was with O’Leary’s splendid performance, requested the piper to favor him with an account of his adventures with the “good people” at the fort of Doon.
“Ah !” said the piper, “this gentleman has read too much to credit such stories, though in the ancient times people saw strange sights, and seeing was believing.” As the traveler loved legendary lore nearly as well as music, he requested the piper to relate his story, which was to the following effect: One November afternoon, Daniel O’Leary was routed from his bed at his sister’s house in the town of Millstreet. He had retired to take a nap, for he had been engaged during the preceding night at the “Wallis Arms” playing for a party of gentlemen that dined there, and had scarcely fetched half a dozen snores when his repose was interrupted. It was a message from the squire of Kilmeen, com- manding his attendance at the Castle. He had a grand party, and though a fiddler or two were in requisition, Miss Julia Twomey, one of the young ladies invited, could abide no other music than O’Leary’s. In fact, the estimation in which a “dinner” or wedding was held in Duhallow was regulated by the circumstances of that piper’s absence or attendance there. Though our friend Daniel had no relish for the interruption of his much needed rest, he had too much respect for the squire to disregard his wishes.
After treating the messenger, he was about to mount the fine horse which the squire had sent for him, when a blue-eyed thuckeen from Knocknagrue, “an ould acquaintance’, of O’Leary’s, passed by, and he directed the squire's man to walk the horse slowly on before them, while he whispered a word or two to Nancy Walsh.
They entered the public house at the cross-road, and were so agreeably entertained with each other’s company, over a glass of punch, that it was dark night before they parted. At length, after taking a parting kiss, the piper pursued his way, in the hope of soon overtaking the man with the horse; but when he reached Finown, no servant lingered for him on the bank of the rapid water. Having made his way, with some difficulty, over the high stepping stones, he set forward with accelerated speed, in the hope of overtaking him before he reached Blackwater Bridge, for where the broad river rushes through the glen and sweeps the tall rock at “Justice’s Castle’, the scene is wild and lonely, and the neighborhood of that ancient building had, time out of mind, been deemed a favorite haunt of the “good people.”
As he approached the bridge, the moon was rising, and our friend O’Leary halted to hear if possible the friendly tramp of the horse’s hoofs. ‘Twas all in vain. He heard no sound, save the distant voice of the watchdog, and no object met his eyes by the ivied towers of the castle, surmounting the fir trees that crowned the rock, and flung their giant shadows athwart the stream beneath the pale moonbeams, that danced like things of life upon the water.
Though the Duhallow piper was “purty well, I thank ye,” yet the punch he quaffed in Nancy Walsh’s company could not make him scorn the dangers that superstition taught him to expect in this fairy haunt. Knowing the power of music on those occasions, he yoked on his pipes, intending to raise a sacred melody as a guard against the influence of any evil thing that might hover round his path; but owing to some unaccountable irregularity of idea, after many vain attempts, he could bring no other tune out of the chanter than O'Carolan’s “Receipt for Drinking Whiskey.”
This beautiful air rose sweetly on the night wind, as he journeyed along, and when the tune was nearly concluded, he thought he could distinguish the tramp of horses. He ceased his strain, thinking it was the servant that came trotting in the distance behind; but soon perceived the sound was multiplied by a hundred hoots along the road. He could now descry the dim figures of horsemen as they approached nearer and, supposing that he had fallen in with a party of Rockites, he withdrew a short distance from the road to the shelter of a furze bush. As the long procession moved onward, he thought he could distinguish among the horsemen the shape of persons whom he had known to be long dead, and who, he thought, were resting in their quiet graves. But his surprise was considerably increased to behold his friend “Tom” Tierney, who conversed with him, alive and well, that very evening in Millstreet, in the last rank that ended the cavalcade, and to complete his astonishment, the horse on which “Tom” rode was drowned in a bog hole, to O’Leary’s certain knowledge, about a fortnight before.
From these circumstances, the piper was now convinced that these horsemen were the slua shee or fairy host. “Tom” wore his usual broad-brimmed beaver, that saved his complexion from the summer’s sun, for he always shone as a rustic clanrly of the first water. The moon which emerged that moment from behind a cloud gleamed on the large gold ring that circled his forefinger, and which “Tom” on all occasions took no small pains to display, for it descended to him through a long line of ancestry from the sister of Dhonal Caum, whose descendent he was.
“A virrah dheelish! Is it dhramin’ I am, or are my eyes desaving me all out ?” says the astonished piper. “ `Tom’ Tierney, if it’s yourself that’s there, wouldn’t you spake to the son of your own blood relation and not lave him to die with the cowld without the benefit of the clargy by the roadside ?” “Ayeh! it's a bad day I wouldn't do more nor that,” says “Tom,” spurring his horse into the ditch to enable the piper to mount behind him with facility, and at that moment a peal of laughter ran through the whole troop. Had the explorer of an ancient catacornb heard the dead of a thousand years bid him welcome to their silent mansions, he could not have experienced greater fear than did O’Leary, when this wild burst of unnatural mirth rose from the ranks of the strange cavalcade upon his mortal ear.
After mounting, his fear was further increased to find that neither the horse nor the rider had the solidity ot frame common to mere matter; in short, they seemed to form an indefinable something between the shadow and substance of bodies.
When they came to the cross-road that led to the squire’s, the horsemen pursued the opposite direction; and when the piper either attempted to alight or expostulate with his friend “Tom,” he found both his limbs and tongue equally incapable of motion. They halted at the fort of Doon, near the river Araglin, Where rose a stately building, the brilliant lights of which put to shame the lustre of the stars and the clear full moon.
In the great hall appeared a splendid company of both sexes, listening to the music of the full orchestra, where sat musicians bearing instruments with which the piper was wholly unacquainted; and bards in white robes, whose long beards flowed across their tall harps. An elderly man, bearing a long white wand, announced “Daniel O'Leary, the Duhallow Piper,” and immediately three distinct rounds of cheering rose from the crowded assembly, till the fairy castle shook to the sound.
When the applause had subsided, a beautiful lady rose from her seat, and snatching a certain stringed instrument, sang to the music of its chords the following strain, addressed to the astounded piper:
Thy welcome, O’Leary, be joyous and high;
As this dwelling of fairy can echo reply,
The clarseach and crotal and loud bara-boo .
Shall sound not a note till we’ve music from you.
The bara-bools wildness is meet for the fray,
The crotal’s soft mildness for festival gay,
The clarseach is meeter for bower and hall;
But thy chanter sounds sweeter, far sweeter than all.
When thy lingers are flying the chanter along,
And the keys are replying in wildness of song;
The bagpipes are speaking such magical strain,
As minstrels are seeking to rival in vain.
Shall bards of this dwelling admire each sweet tune,
As thy war-notes are swelling that erst were their own;
Shall beauties of brightness, and chieftains of might,
To thy brisk lay of lightness dance lightly tonight?
Over harper and poet we’ll place thy high seat;
O’Leary, we owe it to piper so sweet;
And fairies are braiding (such favorite art thou),
Fresh laurel unfading, to circle thy brow.
Thy welcome, O'Leary, be joyous and high;
As the dwelling of fairy can echo reply;
The clarseach and crotal and loud bara-boo
Shall sound not a note till we've music from you.
Then a seat that glittered like a throne was prepared for the delighted O’Leary, and a band of beautiful damsels, with laughing blue eyes, placed a garland of shining laurel ‘round his head. The other performers were completely mute during the rest of the night. Fair ladies poured out the red wine and pressed the entranced piper to quaff the inspiring beverage. Every tune elicited fresh applause; and when the dancing ended the lords and ladies all declared that their hearts bounded lighter and their feet beat truer time to O’Leary's music than ever before.
At length, oppressed with wine, and intoxicated with the incense of applause, the piper sunk into profound repose. When he awoke in the morning he found himself reclining at the same bush to whose shelter he had retired to let the horse-men pass; the pipes were yoked and his left hand still grasped the chanter.
He at first conceived that the scenes of the preceding night, which began to assume a definite shape in his memory, were but the dream of imagination, heated by music, whiskey-punch and his conversation with Nancy Walsh; until he found the unfading wreath yet circling his brow. This wreath of laurel he had preserved and still exhibits as his fairy meed of musical excellence.
Such was the adventure of Daniel O’Leary; and the traveler from whose account of it we have liberally availed ourselves concludes: “Many are the opinions afloat concerning the truth of this narrative, but let skeptics examine, as I have done, this curious wreath of laurel, and consider its complicated braiding, and the pipers unimpeachable veracity in all other respects, before they presume to try this singular story by the test of their philosophy.”
(Translated from the Irish by Dr. Douglas Hyde)
In the old times there was a half fool living in Dunmore, in the County Galway, and although he was excessively fond of music, he was unable to learn more than one tune, and that was the “Black Rogue.” He used to get a good deal of money from the gentlemen, for they used to get sport out of him.
One night the piper was coining home from a house where there had been a dance, and he half drunk, when he came to a little bridge that was up by his mother’s house, he squeezed the pipes on, and began playing the “Black Rogue.” The Puca came behind him, and hung him on his own back. There were long horns on the Puca, and the piper got a good grip of them, and then he said: “Destruction on you, you nasty beast, let me home. I have a ten-penny piece in my pocket for my mother, and she wants snuff.”
“Never mind your mother,,’ said the Puca, “but keep your hold. It you fall, you will break your neck and your pipes.”
Then the Puca said to him, “Play up for me the `Shan Van Vocht.’ “
“I don’t know it,” said the piper.
“Never mind whether you do or you don’t,” said the Puca. “Play up and I’ll make you know.”
The piper put wind in his bag, and he played such music as made himself wonder.
“Upon my word, you’re a fine music master,” says the piper then; “but tell me where you’re for bringing me.”
“There’s a great feast in the house of the Banshee, on the top of Croagh Patric, tonight,” Says the Puca, “and I’m for bringing you there to play music and, take my word, you'll get the price for your trouble.” “By my word, you’ll ‘save me a journey, then,” says the piper, “for Father William put a journey to Croagh Patric on me, because I stole the white gander from him last Martinmas.”
The Puca rushed him across hills and bogs and rough places, till he brought him to the top of Croagh Patric. Then the Puca struck three blows with his foot, and a great door opened, and they passed in together into a fine room.
The piper saw a golden table in the middle of the room, and hundreds of old women sitting around it. The old women rose up and said: “A hundred thousand welcomes to you, you Puca of November. Who is this you have with you ?”
“The best piper in Ireland,” says the Puca.
One of the old women struck a blow on the ground, and a door opened in the side of the wall, and what should the piper see coming out, but the white gander which he had stolen from Father William.
“By my conscience, then,” says the piper, “myself and my mother ate every taste of that gander, only one wing, and I gave that to Moy-rua (Red Mary), and it’s she told the priest I stole his gander.”
The gander cleaned the table, and carried it away, and the Puca said: “Play up music for these ladies.”
The piper played up, and the old women began dancing, and they were dancing until they were tired.
Then the Puca said to “Pay the piper,” and every old woman drew out a gold piece, and gave it to him.
“By the tooth of Patric.” said he, “I'm as rich as the son of a lord.” “Come with me,” says the Puca, “and I’ll bring you home.”
They went out then, and just as he was going to ride on the Puca, the gander came up to him, and gave him a new set of pipes. The Puca was not long until he brought him to Dunmore, and he threw the piper off at the little bridge, and then he told him to go home, and said to him, “You have two things now that you never had before-you have sense and music.”
The piper went home, and he knocked at his mother's door, saying, “Let me in; I’rn rich as a lord, and I’m the best piper in Ireland.”
“You're drunk,” said the mother.
“No, indeed,” says the piper, “I haven’t drunk a drop.”
The mother let him in, and he gave her the gold pieces, and “Wait now,” says he, “till you hear the music I’ll play.”
He buckled on the pipes, but instead of music, there came a sound as if all the geese and ganders in Ireland were screeching together. He awakened the neighbors, and they were all mocking him, until he put on the old pipes, and then he played melodious music for them; and after that, he told them all he had gone through that night.
The next morning when his mother went to look at the gold pieces, there was nothing there but the leaves of a plant.
The piper went to the priest, and told him his story, but the priest would not believe a word from him, until he put the pipes on him, and then the screeching of the ganders and geese began.
“Leave my sight, you thief,” says the priest.
But nothing would do the piper till he would put the old pipes on him to show the priest that his story was true.
He buckled on the old pipes and he played melodious music, and from that day till the day of his death, there was never a piper in the County Galway as good as he was.
Many long years ago there lived in an obscure Galway village a piper nick-named “Donogh an Asal” on account of the ass or donkey which served him as a beast of burden in various capacities. Of course he was poor, like all of his tribe, but that did not deter a handsome young colleen from taking a liking to him in preference to many eligible young men of the parish, presumably on account of his musical talent - a not uncommon failing of her sex.
We all know what to expect from early marriages in Ireland, so we can understand that the poor piper had no easy time of it, providing for an increasing family, as he had no other means of supporting them than by his humble profession. Much as the peasantry all around admired and enjoyed his music, their own poverty kept a check on their generosity.
‘Twas with Donogh’s family as with many others. The eldest kept going away one by one, as the youngest arrived, and the time came when even the last one - a boy - made up his mind to leave home like his brothers and sisters and seek employment among strangers.
With all her children whom she nursed and tended with a mother’s self-sacrificing care, gone from her, it is little wonder that anxiety and grief soon undermined the health of Donogh’s wife, who did not long survive the departure of the last of her flock. The poor piper’s condition was now pitiable indeed, with his faithful and beloved wife dead in the house, and not a child of their’s in the country to attend the wake or funeral of their mother.
All Donogh possessed in the world besides his pipes and a few kippens of furniture was the donkey and cart, used mostly to haul home a crate of turf from the bog; and the poor beast, it must be admitted, was almost as tired of the world as his owner. The attendance at the wake was very disappointing to the bereaved piper, although, like all his race, he left nothing possible to him undone “to bury her dacent like her people before her.”
Barely enough men to convey the eofhn to the donkey cart came to the house on the morning of the funeral. The idea of having a hearse could not be entertained at all; but this he didn’t mind, if only the attendance came up to his expectations, for indeed a kind mother and a good neighbor deserved that much respect anyway.
A MUSICAL FUNERAL
As the funeral was just about ready to move, a most unexpected thing happened. Prompted by desperation, arising from his grief and humiliation, “Donogh an Asal” ran into the house for his pipes, mounted the cart, took his seat on the coffin, and buckling on his instrument, struck up a lamentation as weird and arresting as the ullagoane of the most renowned caoiner in the country.
The wailing of the pipes, besides affording the grief-stricken widower a means of giving vent to his feelings, naturally attracted every one within hearing. By the time they had reached the graveyard (which was over three miles from the house), with the piper still seated on the coffin playing with an elation of spirit superindueed by the constantly increasing attendance, the funeral turned out to be the largest which ever entered the gates of a graveyard in that part of the country. Such is the power of music.
The remarkable adventures of a piper in the tragic days of the Insurrection in ‘98 were so full of dramatic situations, that song writers and story tellers were by no means slow to avail themselves of such a suitable theme for the display of their talents. The anonymous poetaster whose effusion is entitled “The Cow That Ate the Piper,” introduces his hero as “Denny Byrne the Piper.” There being no occasion to make it conform to the necessities of rhyme, we may assume that name to be the true one.
Many years later Samuel Lover heard the story related by a gentleman, who told him he was not aware to whom the original story was attributable. The result was “Paddy the Piper,” a rather lengthy tale in the Irish vernacular which was included in his Legends and Stories of Ireland. A synopsis of the story in our own diction, though a little foreign to the scope of this chapter, may be excusable, as it is characteristic and undoubtedly founded on facts, which are presented in all versions with but little variation.
In the days of the ‘Insurrection in 1798 many a fine fellow's precious life was cut short by raison of the martial law. A fellow couldn’t go out in the evening, good or bad, and when the day’s work was done, divil a one dare go out to meet a friend or a colleen at a dance. No, they must shut themselves up, and not raise a latch or pull a bolt until daylight in the morning.
Following is how the song writer depicts the horrors of his time:
“In the year '98 when our troubles were great,
And 'twas treason to be a Milesian,
The black-whiskered set we will never forget,
Though history tells us they were Hessian.
In this trouhlesorne time, oh! 'twas a great crime,
And murder never was riper,
At the side of Glenshee not an acre from me
There lived one `Denny’ Byrne, a piper.
“Neither wedding nor wake would be worth a shake,
Where `Denny' was not first invited;
At squeezing the bags or emptying the kags,
He astonished as well as delighted;
In these times, poor `Denny’ could not earn a penny,
Martial law had him stung like a viper;
They kept him within, till the bones and the skin
Were grinning through the rags of the piper.”
While the praties were boiling for supper and the family was sitting around the fireplace, a knock came to one “Tint” Kennedy’s door, not far from Rathangan in the County Kildare. They were much alarmed, thinking it was the sojers who saw a light through a crack in the door. But as the woman of the house had taken the precaution to hang a petticoat over it, and an apron to hide the keyhole, it couldn’t be them. Another knock, and yet another, convinced the old man that it was no use to pretend they were already in bed, so he ordered his son Shemus to “see who was in it.”
“Who’s there ?” inquired Shemus timidly.
“It’s me,” came the answer.
“And who are you ?”
“A friend,” replied the voice outside.
“Baithershin; who are you at all ?” persisted Shemus.
“Ah sure, I'm ‘Denny the Piper.’ I want to get in.”
‘Twas no use to ask. The risk in opening the door was too great, although ‘twas a hanging matter for the piper to be caught out in the night in those times.
His pleading for admittance was in vain, but the hospitality of the cowshed was offered him for the night and finally accepted.
After sleeping in the straw under the manger for some hours, “Denny” woke up refreshed. And mistaking the moonlight for dawn, he started off across the fields, so as to he early at the fair; for being a first-rate piper, he hoped to earn a good penny that day. In rattling oft “Jenny Banged the Weaver” he had no equal, and to hear him play “The Hare in the Corn” you’d think you’d hear the very dogs and the horsemen in the chase.
As before stated, “Denny” Byrne was taking every short cut on his way, with the green bag under his arm, and while pushing his way through an intervening hedge, what should he do but run plump up against a corpse hanging from the branch of a tree.
“Oh, good morning to you,” exclaimed “Denny,” as soon as he could catch his breath “Faith. You took a start out of me anyhow.’, This politeness was lost on the gentleman, for such he was, evidently. His apparel indicated rank, and the elegant boots which encased the dangling limbs fascinated the piper’s covetous eye, particularly as his own footgear had seen their best days.
“Pon me sowl, then, but you have a beautiful pair of boots on you,” says he, “and it’s what I'm thinking you won’t have any great use for 'em anymore, and sure ‘tis a shame for the likes of me - the best piper in the county and the next one to it - to be thrampin’ in a pair of ould brogues not worth two thraneens.” With that “Denny” endeavored to pull the boots off the corpse, but between the swaying of the suspended body, and the stiffness of the feet, the attempt was a failure, and he was about to start off when a desperate idea entered his brain - no less, in fact, than to cut off the man's legs at the knee joints. Repellant as the idea was, the boots were too good to lose, and anyway, it couldn’t hurt a dead man. So when he had severed the limbs with the boots on, he tucked them under his other arm, ready for traveling. Just then the moon peeped out from behind a passing cloud, and the coward which at times lurks in all men’s natures, took the starch out of my brave “Denny.” Rather than run the risk of being treated himself as the corpse had been, seeing that it wasn't yet daylight, he turned back and hastened as fast as he could to “Tim” Kennedy’s cowshed; and, hiding the booted legs under the straw, went to sleep again for himself. The song has it:
“Then Denny did run for fear of being hung
Till he came to ‘Tim’ Kennedy’s cabin;
Says `Tim, from within, `I can’t let you in,
You’d be shot if you’re caught there a-rappin.’
He went to the shed where the cow was in bed
With a wisp he began for to wipe her;
They lay down together, on straw ‘stead of feathers,
And the cow fell to licking the piper.”
But guess what happened, above all the things in the world? The dickens a long “Denny” Byrne was there until the sojers came in airnest and carried him off with ‘em, pipes and all, and you may be sure after what he had done, ‘twas little back talk he gave ‘em ayther.
When morning came, his father sent Shemus out to the cowshed to call the piper in to his breakfast. He called him by name several times, but getting no answer, he went inside and shouted, “ `Denny,’ where are you at all ?” Still no answer. Seeing two legs sticking out from under a heap of straw, he added, “Wisha then, `Denny,’ you’re fond of a cozy corner, ain’t you, but all the same I must disturb your dhrames.’, With that he grabbed the legs and gave a good pull to frighten him, as he thought, and of course away went Shemus tumbling backwards against the wall. Nearly scared out of his wits, he dropped the legs and ran into the house bawling: “Oh, the unnatheral baste, the murtherin’ villan, the thievin’ cannable of a cow, to ate poor `Denny.’ Bad cess, to you. How dainty you are that nothin’ 'ud sarve you for supper, but to ate the best piper in Ireland.” “Arrah, be aisy,” said his father. “Oh, bad luck to the lie I tell ye. Divil a bit of him she has left but his two legs.” “And d’ye tell me she ate the pipes too ?” inquired Mr. Kennedy. “Begor, I believe so,” replied the son. “Oh, may the curse of the crows be on her,” cried the agonized father; “what a terrible taste she has for music - the ampalachaun.”
Although Mrs. Kennedy was as much shocked as anyone, she did not like to hear them cursing a cow, whatever her faults, that had furnished milk for her children; but after what the cow had done, they all agreed that she should be disposed of at once at any price, for not another day could she be allowed to remain on the premises.
Shemus, much against his will, was obliged to tackle the job of driving the man-eating cow to the fair of Rathangan, as his father positively declined the pleasure of her company. He ran no chance of being lonesome, however, as many others had the same destination in view, but that didn’t relieve his mind, much oppressed as he was with such an awful secret. “God save you, avic,” said a jobber sweetly to him on the road. “God save you kindly,” responded Shemus.
“That’s a fine baste you’re dhrivin’,” continued the jobber. “Is it to the fair you’re going?” Shemus, of course, told him it was, but when asked what he expected for her, he got out of it by saying, “Sure, no one can tell what a baste will bring until they get to the fair and see what price is going.” An Irish jobber on the lookout for a bargain seldom fails to return to the attack, and this one was no exception. He badgered poor Shemus, until in sheer desperation he offered to take “four pounds for the cow and no less.” As she was worth twice that amount, at least, the jobber, thinking there must be something wrong with her, remarked, “Maybe she’s gone off her milk in regard that she doesn’t feed well.” “Och, by this and by that,” protested Shemus, “in regard to feeding there’s not the likes of her in Ireland, so make your mind aisy on that score, and if you like her for the money, you may have her.” This liberal offer, however, did not satisfy the cautious jobber, so he sauntered away saying, “Oh, well, I’m not in a hurry, so I'll wait to see how they are going at the fair.”
At length they came to Rathangan, with its crowds, and its stands of ginger-bread and cakes and apples and gooseberries, and its games of pitch and toss, merry-go-rounds and tents, with eating and drinking in 'em, and the fiddlers playing for the bare life, to get everybody in humor for spending money. On this occasion the merriment and attractions had but little interest for Shemus, his only anxiety being to get rid of the ravenous cow as soon as possible, for, poor fellow, he felt like a criminal while she was on his hands.
As he pushed his way further into the middle of the fair, what should he hear at the door of a tent but a piper tearing away at “Tatter Jack Walsh.” The old cow was evidently not insensible to the music, for cocking her ears, she started towards it. “Oh murther, boys, hould her, hould her!” shouted Shemus. “She ate one piper already, the vagabone, and bad scran to her, she wants another now !” “Is it a cow to ate a piper?” exclaimed some one. “Divil a word of a lie in it, for I seen his corpse myself, and nothin’ left but the two legs,” admitted Shemus, “and it’s folly to be strivin’ to hide it, for I see she’ll never lave off, as poor `Denny’ Byrne knows to his cost, Lord be marciful to him.”
“Who’s that taking my name in vain ?” said a voice in the crowd, and with that, shoving the throng one side, who in the world should appear but “Denny” Byrne himself! Shemus, now terror-stricken, on sight of him, jumped behind some of the boys for protection, for he thought sure ‘twas “Denny’s” ghost. Hardly able to speak from fright, he told them all that occurred on the evening before, and how he found only the piper’s legs fresh and bloody in the straw in the morning.
When he heard the story “Denny” came near splitting his sides from laughing, but as soon as he could get over it, he up and told ‘em how it all happened, and maybe there wasn't fun made of Shemus and his cow after that, and it cost him a full gallon of spirits to square himself and drink long life to “Denny” Byrne and the slandered cow.
After being acquitted of the heinous crime of which she had been accused, the cow was driven home again, of course, and many’s the quiet day she enjoyed after that on “Tim” Kennedy’s farm.
But the longest life must come to an end. Drimin dhu dheelish eventually died, and her hide, after due process of tanning, was made into a showy pair of breeches for her owner, out of respect for her memory.
As was to be expected the breeches “wore like leather” and it was several generations before they were finally discarded. Yet though it was a very becoming and durable garment it possessed another remarkable and at times embarrassing peculiarity. Regardless of who chanced to wear them, that pair of breeches commenced twitching and jigging in the seat, the minute a piper struck up a tune within hearing, and never would keep still while there was a note in the chanter.
While speculating as to the probable site of the palace of Brian Born at Kincora, and calling up in her fancy a long array of “chiefs and ladies bright,” listening to the harp of the old minstrel, Mrs. S. C. Hall, who traveled extensively in Ireland early in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, tells in her writings how she was startled by the tones of the Irish bagpipes coming from Killaloe, nearly a mile distant.
It was a fair day in that ancient town, and after walking along with a gathering crowd she entered a tent from which the music proceeded and was introduced to the piper, familiarly known as “Rory Oge.”
“We found him,” she says, “very chatty and communicative, as we have found others of his class, and mourning over `ould times,’ as pathetically as did his great prototype, Mac Liag, over the downfall of Kincora. He was particularly wrathful upon two or three points - the decay of mountain stills, the decline of dancing, the departure of all spirit out of the hearts of 'the boys,' and above all the introduction of brass bands.” The amiable traveler found him so interesting and entertaining that she has immortalized him in her works.
“Rory Oge” or Young Rory, as he was always called, was as enthusiastic and yet knowing a piper as ever “blew music out of an empty bag.’, He was a large portly man with a bald high brow, framed in a quantity of greyish flaxen hair; his nose had a peculiar twist and his mouth was full of ready laughter.
Though blind from birth, he always jested about this infirmity, and he was in great request all over the country. Being even a better piper than his father, “Red Rory.” The latter never attempted other than the old established Irish tunes, while “Rory Oge” the son, who had visited Dublin and once heard Catalani sing, assumed the airs of a connoisseur and extolled his country’s music in a scientific way.
When he played some of the heart-moving Irish planxties, at the commencement of the movement he would endeavor to look grave and dignified; but before he was half through, his entire face expanded with merriment, and he would give “a whoop” with voice and fingers as it was concluded that manifested his genuine enthusiasm. Once in his life he had visited Dublin, expressly for the purpose of hearing Catalani, and when he was in the mood, to hear the recital of his interview with the “Queen of Song” was a source of much pleasure to his audience.
“You see,” he would commence, “I thought it was my duty to hear what sort of a voice she had; and on my way to the great city, in the cool of the evening, I sat myself and my little boy by the side of two strames-the `Meeting of the Waters’ they call it - and it wasn’t long till a thrush began to sing in a rowan tree on the opposite bank, and then another, and then a blackbird would give his tally-ho! Of a whistle high and above all the rest, and so they went on singing for ever so long. Then two or three would stop, and one great songster would have it all his own way for a while, and then when they would all start together a great flood of bird music would gush out again.”
“In the midst of it all the little gorsoon fell asleep, and I felt the tears come down my face just within thinking of the beautiful music the Almighty puts into the throats of them fluttering birds, and wondering if the furrin’ lady could bate the thrush in the rowan tree.
“In the afternoon of the next day, I was in Dublin, but not a bit of her was to tune up, till the night after; so I had to hould my patience another day. Why, God bless ye, the Dublineers were going just as mad about her singing as they are now about them nasty, braying brass bands, that has no more of the rale music in 'em than a drove of donkeys.
“Well dears, I’ll not be thinking of ‘em now putting me past my patience, only just come to the furriner, and more’s the pity she was one; so as I said, thinking as I was a born musicianer, and all my family for hundreds of years before me, I thought for the honor of the country I’d call upon her, for in troth I was just fairly ashamed of the fellows that were around her, from all I heard, giving her no iday of the rale music, only playing night alter night at the theatre `St. Patrick's Day,' as if there was ne'er another saint in the calendar, nor e’er another tune in the counthry.
“Well. I got my pipes claned, and my little guide boy a bran, new shoot of clothes, and, to be sure, meself was in the first fashion; and the lace ruffles round my wrists, that my father wore when he rattled the `Connachtman’s Rambles’ to the House of Commons there in College Green, and so I sent up my card, and, by the same token. It was on the back of the ten o’ diamonds I had it wrote; I knew the card by the ten punches of a nail `Jimmy’ Bulger put in it, for I always had great divarshun with the cards, through the invention of `Jimmy's' - rest his soul - giving me eyes, as I may say, in the tips of my fingers; and I got the man to write on it `Rory Oge, the piper of all Ireland and His Majesty, would be proud to insense Madame Catherlany into the beauties of Irish music.' Ye see, the honor of ould Ireland's melodies put heart into me, and I just went upstairs as bould as a rint agent, and before she could say a word I recited four varses of my own poethry that I composed on her.
“Oh, bedad! girls, you may wink and laugh; but I'll tell you what - that’s what she didn’t do, but she welcomed me in her broken English and was as kind as a born Irish. `Oh! Mr. Rori Ogeri, I'm so glad to see you,’ and a whole lot more nate compliments she paid me, and asked me to play her an lrish jig.
“So, before commencing, I just said a few words, by the way, to let her see that I wasn't a mere bog-throtting piper at all, but wan that could play anything from Handel to Peter Purcell, or any of the Parley voos; and, betwixt and be-tween them all, there isn’t a better air in any of their roratoryes than a march my own father played one day that restored an ould colonel officer to the use of his limbs - there was the power of music for you; and maybe she didn’t think so, and maybe she wasn’t delighted!
“Well, though I was consated enough to be proud at introjuicing to her my own family’s music, 'twas the music of my countary my heart bate to tache her; and so on afther a while I led on from wan fine ould ancient air to another - the glorious melodies of Ireland. Oh, but the wonder of the Irish music - do you see me now - is that its sweetness is never feeble, and its strength is never rude; it’s just a holy and wonderful thing, like the songs of the birds.
“Ah, then, jewel, Oge! maybe she didn’t drink them down. `Stop!’ she’d say, and then she’d tune them over, every note as clear and pure as the silver bell the fairies (God bless us) do be ringing of a midsummer night under the green hills; and then she’d say, `Play another,’ and in the midst of it all would have my little guide into the room and trated us like a queen (and that’s what she was) to fine ould wine. With that she says, `Now you've played for me, and I'll sing for you,' and – she – did - sing! And now you’ll think this hard to believe, but it's true - she put me out of consate with the pipes! she did, bedad! And it was as good as a week before I could bring myself to tatther a note out of ‘em, though I left myself a beggar going to hear her sing.”
In concluding her sketch, Mrs. Hall adds: “We left Rory in despair at the state of national music, and full of dread that, owing to the heresy of brass bands, he would be the last of the pipers.”
Strange, is it not, that nearly all the pipers who have found a place in Irish literature hailed from the southern provinces. Perhaps they possessed other qualifications of an attractive nature which gained for them more attention than persons of this class in other parts of Ireland.
Such, at least, was the case with Remmy Carroll of Fermoy, whose “father before him” was a piper. Standing six feet two in his vamps, a perfect Adonis in shape and beauty, he could outwalk, outrun, and outleap any man in the parish or barony, or the next barony to it for that matter. No wonder such a man, having the additional charm of being a splendid performer on the plaintive pipes, was such a favorite among the fair colleens of Clongibbons, and, regardless of the shabby attire, could “cut out” at pleasure farmers' sons and thriving shopkeepers. Shelton Mackenzie tells us that “Carroll’s performance could almost excite the very chairs, tables, and threedegged stools to dance.” Like a true minstrel of the olden time, he was an independent citizen of the world, without a permanent abode, for every door was open to him, from “Teddy” Mulcahy's humble bohaun to Bartley O’Mahony’s two-story slated house on a three-hundred-acre farm on the banks of the Blackwater.
His daughter, Mary, was an Irish beauty and no mistake-dark hair, fair skin, and violet eyes, and an heiress at that, having been left 5oo pounds by a maiden aunt. With all her “fortune” and good fortune, she had neither pride nor conceit, although being the greatest matrimonial catch in the country. Of course, Remmy Carroll, like all the young men, loved her, but knew enough to “suffer in silence.”
One Sunday, while returning from Mass, Mary and her cousin took the route along the river and across the helds on their way home. In attempting to jump across a small, deep stream, Mary was precipitated into the water. It was just the piper’s luck to he near enough to hear the scream as she fel1, to save her from drowning.
Mackenzie devotes pages of “fine writing” to the details of this incident and its resulting ernotions, upon which our theme will not permit us to dwell, except to state that from that day the current of Remmy’s life seemed changed.
In many respects he was above the generality of his class, for he had a tolerably good education, and not without a certain manly grace of manner. It must be understood that he was still a professional piper, but it was noticeable that his newly acquired habits of economy enabled him to dress quite tastily - in fact, to appear as a regular country beau.
“It is not now I'd be waiting to thank you, man alive,” said Mr. O'Mahony to him, one Sunday after Mass, “but Mary never let me know the danger she'd been in till this blessed morning, when her cousin, Nancy Doyle, told me about the ins and outs of the accident. But I do thank you, Remmy, and ‘twill go hard with me if I ean’t find a better way of showing it than by words, which are only breath as one may say.”
Then the rich farmer familiarly slapped the piper on the back and insisted that he should accompany them and have dinner.
Everyone knows what effect walking home with Mary had on Remmy’s smoldering love, and his frequent visits thereafter to see the “man of the house” never even roused a suspicion in the 1atter’s mind that there could be anything but formal friendship and gratitude between two socially so far apart.
How to reward the piper for his heroic act in saving the rich man’s daughter was a problem which O’Mahony solved by announcing that Mary should learn music and appointing Remmy to instruct her. But as he could play only upon one instrument, and that hardly suitable for a young lady, upon due consideration, the father decided to become the musical pupil himself.
At his age his progress was naturally slow, but that didn't matter as long as a legitimate way had been found to pnt money in Remmy Carroll’s pocket, for that worthy would not take it under any other condition.
However, if the pupil did not make good use of his time the teacher did, and hefore the end of the first quarter Mary had half confessed to her own heart with what aptitude she had taken lessons in the art of love.
Naney Doyle, her cousin, enjoyed the flirtation as being “fine fun,” but it came to a climax one day as they were walking in the meadows.
Poor Remmy declared his love, not with any hope of its being reciprocated, but because he had to tell it or burst. Being unable to endure hopeless love any longer, he told her he was going away. With fine, ambiguous phrases, Mary endeavored to convey the idea that the case was not so hopeless, but, overpowered as her lover was by emotion, he did not seem to understand.
“It’s no use trying to banish you from my mind. I`ve put a penance on myself for daring to think of yon, and it’s all no use. I try to forget you in the day, but I can’t, and when I sleep at night you come into my dreams. Wherever I am, or whatever I do, you are beside me with a kind, sweet smile. It's all no use - I will go for a soldier, and if I am killed in battle, as I hope I may be, they will find your name written on my heart.”
Who can blame Mary if she confessed her love under the circumstances. “Remmy! Dear Remmy, you must not leave me. If you go my heart goes with you, for I like you better than the richest lord in the land with his own weight of gold and jewels on his back.”
We will leave to the imagination of the reader how they parted. Mary went home, her heart torn by conflicting emotions, while Remmy Carroll returned to Fermoy, not knowing whether he stood on his head or his heels.
After resting at his friend Pat Minahan’s house for a few hours they set out about dusk for a farmer's house, where there was to be a wedding that night, for Remmy and his pipes were almost as indispensable as the priest or the bridegroom.
His mind was so preoccupied with the thought of Mary O’Mahony, the pearl of his heart, that Minahan’s stories of fairies and enchantment fell on dead ears until they reached their destination, where the celebrated piper received the very warmest of welcome.
To describe the “carryings on” at an Irish wedding would be superfluous to the majority of Irish readers, for the festivities are as much alike as one pea is the twin of another - ”a sort of mirthful madness,” as Mackenzie terms it.
In compliance with the custom at all wedding feasts, where whiskey-punch was as plenty as tea at an old maids' evening party, our piper drank a man’s share of the beverage of which it is boasted that “there’s not a headache in a hogshead of it.” Yet he had not exceeded the bounds of sobriety. His friend Minahan, who had indulged a little more freely, insisted on going home to Fermoy, although he had been proffered a bed in the barn.
So Carroll and Minahan left the house together, linked arm in arm, for the latter was a little wobbly in his gait. The next day Minahan was found lying fast asleep with a soft stone for a pillow, near the footpath at the base of Corran Thierna, but of the piper there was not a trace, as if the earth had swallowed him. His pipes were found on the ground near Minahan, and uninjured.
The whole district was alarmed, for the piper was very popular, so in the course of a few days Father “Tom” Barry, the parish priest, called on Minahan for an explanation.
Grief for the loss of his friend so affected the latter that, between that and the potheen he drank to drown it, Father Barry found him in bed. “Oh! Them fairies! Them thieves of fairies!” was all the reply he could make to his reverence when half aroused.
When he came to his senses, of which he had never a superfluity, and after he limbered his tongue with a “wetting.” he spun out a most weird and wonderful yarn about what befel himself and the piper when they came to the fairy ring on their way home.
Fairy music filled their ears, and a thousand lights suddenly glanced up from the said ring, like an illumination for some great victory. “Then came a thousand dawney fairies, who began dancing jigs as if there were springs in their heels, intermingling backwards and forwards, to and tro. At last one ot them came out of the ring and, making a leg and a bow as genteel as ould Lynch. The dancing master, said: `Mr. Carroll,’ says he. `would you he so kind and condescending and so darn'd disobliging as to oblige us and disoblige yerself and to give us a `chune'? 'Tis we'd like to foot it a step or two, `for.’ says he, ` ‘tis onrselves have often heard of your beautiful playing.’ Then the little mite of a fairy fixed his eyes upon Remmy, and that I mightn't ever if they didn't shine in his head like two coals of red fire, or a cat's eye under a blanket.
“Remmy told them modest enough that he was no player for the likes of them. Ah! they’d take no excuse, so, with their fine soothering talk and fixing a stone for a seat for him, he struck up `Garryowen’ in a way that would lift you off the floor. The way St. Vitus danced wasn’t a patch to the way they went at it.
“There was nothing slack or deficient about the way Remmy let them have it, until one of the `faymale’ fairies slipped undher his elbow and suggested, `Maybe, Mr. Carroll, you’d be dhry?’ The piper, seeing she was `purty,’ smiled sweetly, but the question being repeated, he said he had been to a wedding and wasn’t particularly dry, but he’d drink a good husband to her, soon, and many of them.”
Well, to make a long story short, Rennny drank out of the little morsel of a glass she gave him, something that was stronger than holy water. She kissed the glass as he took it, and as he appeared so much refreshed, Minahan, thinking some of the same cordial would be good for his own complaint, he called out to Remmy to save a drop for him. The words were hardly out of his mouth when - whoop! Away they vanished, just as Remmy threw his pipes to Minahan by way of a keepsake and dashed down through the earth with the rest of them!
“But, Minahan,” said Father Barry, “you certainly don't mean to pass off this wild story for fact?”
“But I do, your Reverence,” said Minahan, rather testily, “and that’s all I know about it.”
Slowly but surely does the tide of time carry year after year into the eternity of the past. Bartley O’Mahony met with a fatal accident; his daughter Mary, yet unmarried, mourned for her mysteriously missing sweetheart, whose disappearance for six long years was a subject for much speculation and the theme of many a tale.
Yet he returned, brawny and bearded, knowing nothing of what transpired during his absence, and when he disclosed his identity his loyal and constant Mary received him with open arms and, as in the conventional love stories, they were married and lived happy ever after.
The true story of Remmy Carroll's disappearance was scarcely less thrilling than Minahan’s supernatural tragedy.
It may be remembered that Remmy had acted as escort to Minahan on their return from that wedding at which the piper had officiated professionally. He had found much difficulty in piloting his companion along the high road from Rathcormac to Fermoy, and when they reached the mountain path Minahan insisted on throwing himself upon the heathy sward, where in a few minutes he was fast asleep. The piper, having seen him safe that far, didn’t like to leave him, so he sat down beside him. After a time he, too, very naturally became drowsy, and as a precaution against accident he placed his pipes on the ground some little distance from them and lay down to sleep.
His slumber must have been profound, for on awaking, to his amazement he found himself on a baggage cart, with his head reposing on the lap of a soldier’s wife for a pillow, while her husband occupied the driver’s seat. No explanations were offered until they reached Glanmire, when the sergeant in charge informed him that he was a duly enlisted recruit in his majesty’s service. His remonstrance was useless, for there was the “shilling” in his pocket, the silent but indisputable evidence that he had, all unbeknown to himself, become attached to the military service of “His Most Gracious Majesty, King George the Third.” His remonstrances, denials, and appeals to the officer in command were all in vain, and, as he was carefully watched, escape was impossible.
After the regiment had embarked for the Peninsula, the fierce sergeant told as a good joke how he came to be enlisted.
While the regiment was passing along by the foot of the mountain (Corran Thierna), one of the officers who rode above the highway had noticed Remmy and Minahan asleep, and, marking what an able soldier the former would make, he was picked up bodily and placed in one of the baggage carts without awakening him.
It was long before an opportunity was given him to write, and being afraid that a letter addressed to his heart’s idol, Mary O’l\/lahony, might fall into other hands and betray him, he did write to Minahan. The letter, if ever posted, never reached its destination, and thus for more than six years he was lost to the world at home.
What can’t be cured must be endured, so our hero philosophically followed the trade of a soldier, conducted himself admirably, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
He lost an arm at the battle of Waterloo. With a respectable pension and a handsome gratuity for the loss of a limb, and what he had already saved up, Remmy Carroll returned to Ireland in good circumstances.
Bronzed and bewhiskered as he was, Mary did not penetrate the disguise, but she was loyal to his memory and had remained unmarried. The wedding followed in due course, and was sure enough a notable event at Carrigbrack, but Minahan’s character for “truth and veracity’, fell very much into disrepute thereafter in that part of the country.
The fairy ring at the foot of Corran Thierna, it appears, was responsible for other mishaps, one of which at least terminated more disastrously than that which befel Remmy Carroll, according to that veracious chronicler Pat Minahan.
As those two worthies were passing along the soft path at the mountain base one night, the piper suddenly stopped - ”There’s music somewhere about here,” said he.
“Maybe ‘tis only a singin’ in your head,” observed Minahan. “I’ve known such things, ‘specially if one had been takin’ a dhrop exthra.” “Hush!” said Remmy, “I hear it again as distinctly as I ever heard the sound of my own pipes. There it is again.”
Minahan paused and listened. “Sure enough, then, there’s music in the air. Oh! Remmy Carroll, ‘tis you are the lucky boy, for this must be fairy music, and ‘tis said that whoever hears it as you did is surely born to good luck.” “Never mind the luck,” said Remmy, laughing, “there’s the fairy ring above there, and I’ll be bound that’s the place it comes from.” “Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t,” replied Minahan. “If you plase. l’d rayther move on, for it is getting dark. ‘Twas somewhere about here that Phil Connor the piper had a thrial of skill with the fairies, and they turned him into stone, pipes and all. Didn’t you ever hear of it ?”
Remmy said he didn’t, and if he did he wouldn’t believe it.
“Oh, then,” continued his companion, emphasizing his remarks with a nod. “ ‘tis all as true as that you are alive this minute. I heard my mother tell it, and she got it from a cousin, who had the story from good authority.
“Phil Conner was a piper. And a mighty fine player entirely. As he was coming home from a wedding at Rathcormac one fine moonlight night, who should come right forninst him on this very same mountain but a whole troop of fairies, singin’ and skippin’ and discoorsin’ like Christians. So they up and axed him as civil as you plase if he would favor them with a planxty on his pipes.
“Now, lettin’ alone that Phil was as courageous as a dog at his own dure, and wouldn’t mind facin’ even an angry woman, not to mention a lot of weeny hop-o’-my-thumb fairies, he never had the heart to say no when he was civilly axed to do anything.
“So Phil said he’d oblige them and welcome. With that he struck up that fine, lively, ould chune, the `Fox-hunters’ Jig,’ and, sure as I’m telling yon, no wan could play it better in them days.
“Yerra, the moment the fairies heard it, they all began to caper and dance backward and forward, to and fro, like midges of an evening in summer.
“At last Phil stopped suddenly, and they gother round him, to find out what was the matter. The piper towld them ‘twas dying with the druth he was, and that he must have something to wet his whistle.
“ `To be sure !’ said a knowledgeable ould fairy, `that’s onlv raisonable. Bring the gorsoon a drink of something good.’ So they handed Phil a fairy finger full of a drink that had a mighty pleasant smell. And they filled a hare-bell cup of the same for the ould fairy who it seems was the king. `Here’s to you,’ says he. `there’s not a headache in a hogshead of it, and not a gauger’s rod has ever come near it. I warrant ye, and ‘twas made in Araglin of mountain barley.’ “Well, with that he drank to Phil, and Phil raised the little weeny measure to his lips, and, though it wasn’t more than the size of a thimble, he drank at least a half pint out of it, and yet that I mightn’t if ‘twasn’t as full as ever.
“Arrah! man, it gave the piper the bouldness of a lion, that it did, and nothing would do the omadhann but challenge the whole box and dice of ‘em to equal him playing the pipes.
“Some of them who were tinderhearted advised him to keep quiet and not to try. But the more they persuaded, the more he insisted.
“At long last out of patience, the fairies’ piper came forward and took up the challenge.
“So at it they went, Phil Conner and the fairy piper, playing against each other until the cock in the nearest house crew, when the whole gang vanished into a cave in the hillside and whipped my brave Phil along with them, pipes and all.
“But that wasn't all of it. They were so downright mad because their musicianer couldn't get the best of Phil, they changed him into a stone statue, which remains in the cave to this day.
“And that’s what happened to Phil Conner in the end for offending the `good people.’ “
When Col. Charles McCarthy, the senior representative for Bandon, County of Cork, in King James the Second's parliament, seized that unfriendly town one Sunday morning early in 1690, a strong force took possession of Ballymodan and Kilhrogan churches. The soldiery which occupied the latter was accompanied by three warpipers.
One of them, according to Bennett, the historian of Bandon, impiously sat on the communion-table, where he struck up “The King Shall Enjoy His Own Again” in triumphant style, beating a tattoo by way of accompaniment upon the leaf of the table with his long hairy legs, and with just as much composure as if he were seated upon the edge of a bank and was playing a lament for the boys at the wake of some mutual friend.
Another fellow, squatted on the circular bench in front of the rail with his hat jauntily set on the side of his head and his eyes brimful of humor and fun, and played “Lillibullero” and the “Humors of Bandon.” The latter tune he seemed much to relish, dwelling upon some of the notes in a style peculiarly grotesque.
But the third, we are told, was the most amusing of the lot. He took up his station in front of the pulpit, and signified by squeezing the bag of his instrument what he thought of the discourse. If he had heard anything that pleased him, he’d make the pipes utter three or four jocular squeaks, musically intimating his satisfaction: if otherwise, he’d lower his tubes and give out a deep, melancholy groan of disapprobation.
The ultra-comic nature of the scene, which might have produced much merriment at any other time and place, naturally enough met with but scant encouragement under the circumstances.
Upon Colonel McCarthy’s appearance the pipers were ordered out of the church while the fortunes of war were being given effect within.
One of the pipers was subsequently arrested and brought before old John Nash, commonly called “Shaun Dearg,” but before the non-commissioned officer in whose custody he was had time to narrate even half the details connected with the arrest. The unfortunate man was on his way to the gallows.
In his history of the County of Cork, published about the year 1750, Dr. Smith says of Bandon: “There was not in this town a popish inhabitant, nor would the townsmen suffer one to dwell in it, nor a piper to play in the place, that being the music used formerly by the Irish in their Wars.’, This proscription of course has reference to the warpipes, which were similar to the Highland or Scottish pipes of the time, and from which had been developed the Irish Union pipes, one of the most melodious ofmusical instruments.
That its softness of tone and extended compass did not overcome the deep-rooted prejudice against pipe music in general is certain, for it is recorded that a wandering Union piper who strayed into this inhospitable town in later years, unaware of the hostility of the inhabitants, had his instrument smashed over his head, and he was glad to escape with his life.
It would appear that every piper christened in honor of Ireland’s patron saint came to be called “Paddy the Piper,” so fond are the Irish people of alliterative nicknames. Such was the case with the hero of this story.
He was a very remarkable old fellow, according to David O’Callanan, to whom we are indebted for an account of him. He was born blind, so there was no remembrance of the beauties of the visible world to trouble his merry spirit.
But his want of sight did not prevent his fingers from finding the stops, or the back of his palm from locating the brass keys on the regulators of his famous Union pipes.
A wondrously merry fellow was he. No frown ever beclouded his brow, but the laugh was constantly ringing on his lips. Fat, roundfaced, baldheaded, every inch of him seemed to dimple with fun, and his face was a study in drollery whenever he was playing his rollicking jigs or reels.
His blindness only served to sharpen his other faculties. His sense of hearing was singularly keen, and his touch so extremely fine that, incredible as it may seem, he had learned by touch to discriminate the colors of any material, hard or soft.
Yet another wonderful faculty he possessed and which he unconsciously demonstrated before wondering witnesses on several occasions. Warned by instinct or intuition, like the bats in their flight, he never collided with an obstruction in his pathway, but hesitated when within a few feet of a wall or other impassable barriers, and made his way safely around it or away from it.
It is stated that once in a fit of bravado “Paddy” walked from one end to the other of Six-Mile-Bridge, in the County of Cork - a feat which O’Callanan says sickened him, for had the piper stumbled or made a misstep he would have fallen a depth of eighty feet into the stony bed of the shallow, brawling stream below. A swift and tireless walker, he never took a guide with him wherever he went. “Sure,” he'd say, “don’t I know every foot of the road through Munster and Leinster? What do I want to be bothered with a guide.” Brallaghan was really a splendid performer on his remarkable instrument.
Sometimes it seemed as if he could make it speak; and when he played some such noble melody as the “Coolin” or the “Dear Irish Boy” or “Billy Byrne’s Lament,” a strange light appeared to spread over his face, and he looked like one inspired.
But you should have heard him play “The Fox Hunt”; that was a treat! While he played he would go on to tell you what the meaning of this singular piece of music was-conipounded of musical scraps of different centuries. “We’re mount- ing now,” he’d say, “and now ye see we’re going gently along to keep the horse’s wind fresh. Listen how the dogs are yelping, eager for the fun. And now - oh! bedad! they’ve unearthed him, and he’s off. Listen to the horns, how they roar, Tally-ho! Tally-ho! Tally-ho-o-o! There they go like divils. Och! 'Tis all up with poor Reynard - here’s our lament for the death of poor modhereen-rua.” Then he played a strange old dirge-like tune, but recovering his jollity he continues, referring to the hunting party: “Tut, tut, they’re tackling the mate and drink already, and they’re going to dance and want me to play for ‘em. Here goes lu and straightway he rattled up that lively slip-dance tune known as “The Fox-Hunters’ Jig.”
Another musical piece which Brallaghan played with wondrous effect was “Ollistrum's March,” [In Irish “Alastair”, corrupted to Ollistrum] a wild and weird composition so called after Alexander McDonnell of the Isles, brother of Colkitto, who followed the fortunes of the Stuarts into Ireland. This tune, which has almost a literature of its own, will be found discussed more fully in another chapter.
Brallaghan we are told attended the great annual horse-fair of Kilruddery, but he never played in any of your common tents - not he; ‘twould be beneath him. He was always installed in the largest tent in the best location at the edge of the fair ground where the gentry came to buy good hunters and the government funetionaries picked up troop-horses. With the dignity of an Irish bard of the olden time, the blind piper, changing his music from grave to gay according to fancy or request, delighted all who heard him, and you may be sure his pockets were not empty the next day.
Mr. O’Callanan, more interested in describing the blind piper’s courtship, leaves us without many important details of his life, so we must be content with the knowledge that his suit was successful and that he married Nancy Murray, a beautiful girl born blind like himself, who declared, “I'd rather sit by you and hear you play that heavenly music than be courted by the earl himself.”
Although “Paddy” - (as he preferred being called) was on the shady side of fifty, and Nancy, whom he had nursed as a baby on his knee, was less than half his age, they were linked by love as well as by wedlock, and maybe there wasn’t hilarity and dancing when he struck up “Haste to the Wedding” when they came back from the chapel.
But this was many a long day ago. “Paddy” and his loving Nancy now sleep under the green Irish sod, and their daughter is married to a rich farmer in one of the western states; while their son is a prosperous barrister in Australia, who still keeps his fathers Union pipes, and they say plays on them himself once in a while, in memory of old times.
By a peculiar combination of circumstances not a piper or fiddler was available to play at the Wedding of “Mickey” Donovan’s daughter “Biddy” to “Morty” Maguire, away back in the year 1840, when by unexpected good luck, who should come along but a strange piper. He was a thin, spare, plaintive-looking, under-sized man, much bent by age or sorrow, or perhaps by a mingling of both. Being stone blind, he was led by a pretty, sunny-haired little maiden not yet in her teens.
His opportune appearance was hailed with delight by every member of the family, busy though they were preparing for the next day's nuptials, for he carried his welcome with him in the bagpipes under his arm.
“What can you play sir, if you plase ?” questioned the pretty bride-to-be.
“ `Haste to the Wedding,’ or whatever you plase, miss,” answered the little girl, half shyly.
“And why can't your father answer for himself?” inquired “Biddy.”
“If you plase, miss, it's a vow that’s on him for a raison he has,” replied the child, “and so I’m his speech as well as his eyes myself, miss.”
“Oh, indeed !” “Poor man !” “See that now !” “A vow !” “Oh inusha, but sin is a shockin’ thing!” were the exclamations that followed.
“ ‘Tis no sin of his own,” observed the child; “only one he took upon himself, for one he loved.”
The Irish are a very inquisitive people, and though “Biddy” had too much delicacy to urge the little girl to betray the piper's secret, the other members of the family were in no way restrained by any such consideration.
After the strangers had been warmed and fed, and every one who could dance had “taken a turn on the flure” to the melodious piping of the old man, artful questioning elicited from the child the information that the blind piper was her father, and that her mother when dying “left a vow on him.” He had never spoken since. She did not care to say where they came from, and she could not tell where they were going to.
Kelly, the local piper whose instrument was out of commission, was obliged to confess on the wedding day that he wasn't fit to “hould a candle” to the “silent piper,” and everybody declared they had never heard such beautiful music. One or two very old people hinted that all was not right, for they had heard pipers and pipers in their youth, but such music as the newcomer played had never been heard before.
The fame of the “silent piper” reached the houses of the gentry, all who heard him were charmed by his wonderful performance. Liberal offers were made to the blind man if he would settle in the neighborhood; a cottage and garden would be given hiin, and all his wants supplied.
In reply he only shook his head and sighed and the little maid with tears in her eyes observed: “We have but a short time to stop now, as father seldom stayed more than a week in any one place.”
“Obligations” or “vows” were not uncommon among the Irish peasantry, but no one had ever heard of an instance like this. The little daughter by her winning ways had achieved as much popularity as her father, and there were very few who had not bestowed some gift or token of remembrance on both. However, the best of friends must part, so to signalize his leaving the old man played “O’Carolan’s Lament” until he drew tears from the eyes of many of his audience.
Many years afterwards, while visiting the ancient and picturesque town of Kinsale, Mrs. S. C. Hall, from whose writings this story has been abstracted, heard the sound of a bagpipe, and followed it to be nearer the player. Had a speetre risen from the earth she could not have been more astonished, for there after a lapse of nearly twenty years sat the “silent piper” with the very same blooming child at his knee!
He played again the bold brave notes of “Brian Boru's March,” and the women stamped their feet to the tune and hoisted their little ones in the air, and when he finished they gave so loud a cheer that it animated the old man to an encore of the national march, and all the time the famous author was deeply pondering at the marvel of finding the “silent piper” of Bannow, County Wexford, after a lapse of so many years in the town of Kinsale, County of Cork.
“Eh dear!” said the old man when questioned; “do I mind BannoW? To be sure I do; God be with it!”
“And you ?” to the girl half doubtingly.
“I never was there nor in the City of Cork either, ma'am.” she answered.
While the well-remembered bead necklace glittered in the sun, and the very same blue ribbon seemed to confine her fair hair.
“Ah. My dear lady,” pleasantly interposed the old piper, “that was her mother, God bless ye! Her own mother, my daughter Kathleen, who is the mother of a family now,” and while the good lady was smiling at her own absurdity the original Kathleen made her appearanee - a stout gleeful-looking woman with a mild bland laugh, but with twins in her arms, and twins at her side.
Certainly the realities of life sadly upset the imagination. How our mental pictures are shattered.
“Sure I have all the little keepsakes and tokens I got still,” she said with pride. “and the tears do be coming in my eyes when I think of them, and the penance my poor father took on himself that time; he’s half childish now and would be so entirely but for the music, and that is what mainly keeps up his interest in life.”
Whatever may be thought of the oft-told tale of the piper, whose repertory consisted of but two tunes, and who in a commendable spirit of accommodation, when asked to play, inquired “Which will ye have first ?” we feel no diffidence in presenting a sketch of Tiin Callaghan. The inimitable Union piper who made a fair living by diploinatically ringing the changes on three tunes within the limits of the baronies of Forth and Bargie, County Wexford.
As the Irish Penny Journal, which enjoyed a brief existence of less than one year some seventy years ago, is now decidedly scarce, and a volume inaccessible to most readers, we may be pardoned for quoting freely from its pages in telling the story of this rara avis.
According to his own account, Tim “sarved seven long years wid as fine a piper as ever put a bag ondher his arm or a chanter on his knee.” After the end of those years of assiduous study and practice, he began to enchant his countrymen with music, master of a splendid set of pipes and three whole tunes, barring a few odd turns here and there which he considered of little consequence - a golden store in his opinion.
“Ah then, Tim,” said Miss Edgeworth, when she was perfectly acquainted with himself and his musical merits, “what a pity that with your fine taste, and your superior set of pipes, you didn’t try to conquer the half a dozen at least.”
“Och musha!” quoth Tim, looking sulky and annoyed, “that same question has been put to me by dozens, and I hate to hear it! It was only yesterday a lady ast me that same. `Arrah, ma'am,’ says I, `did you ever play a thune on the pipes in yer life ?' `Never indeed,' says she, looking ashamed of her ignorance. `Because if you did,' says I again, `you’d soon say, “Bright was yerself, Tim Callaghan, to get over the three thunes daeintly widont axing people to do what’s unpossible,”' and now I appale to you, miss; what’s the use of boddherin’ people’s brains wid six or seven when three does my business just as well?”
As in duty bound Miss Edgeworth admitted that his argument was unanswerable, and thenceforward they were the best of friends.
Grateful for the lady’s patience and forbearance, he excruciatingly mangled the three unfortunate “thunes” for her special edification.
This eomplacent performer was a tall, stout, lazy-looking fellow with a pug nose and sleepy eyes; dragging his feet along like clogs; dawdling along the high-ways or lounging about a public house. Yet withal Tim Callaghan was a polite fellow, and these three tunes were expressly chosen and learned to win the favor of all denominations of Christian men.
Thus the “Boyne Water” was the propitiatory sacrifice at the Protestant’s door. “Patrick's Day” at that of the Roman Catholic, and when he was not sure of the creed of the party he wished to conciliate, such as Quakers, Methodists, Seekers and Jumpers, he gave them “God Save the King,” his third tune.
For many years he was content to give those favorite airs in their original simplicity, but some wicked wight, probably a gentleman piper, had at last persuaded him that his melodies would be altogether irresistible if he would introduce some ornamental variations - ”such as his own fine taste would suggest.” Poor Tim, unaccustomed to flattery and not suspecting the sincerity of his advisor, caught at the bright idea, and conquering his natural and acquired laziness, made the attempt. When he thought he had mastered the new difficulties, he played them for a friend, who was so amused at the “varry-a-shins” that he couldn’t muster up courage to tell the “composer” candidly what he thought of them.
When Tim arrived at a gentleman’s door his usual plan was to commence with the suitable serenade, and drone away until given the few pence expected. If detained too long, and his music (God save the mark) was unheeded, he became furious and rattled off that one of his three tunes which he supposed would be most disagreeable - ”Patrick’s Day” for an Orangeman, and the “Boyne Water” for a Catholic.
In such cases Tim threw his whole soul into his performance to emphasize his feelings.
Should he be asked for any favorite or fashionable air-and you might as well ask him to repeat a passage of Homer in the original Greek - his invariable reply was, “I haven’t that, but l'll give yez one as good.” Then one of the trio follows, of course, and if the impertinent seeker for novelties, in his ignorance of the piper’s limitations, persists in demanding more than is to be had, he is cut short, especially if not of superior rank, with, “Yerra, how bad ye are for sortins! Yer masther would be contint wid what I gave ye, and thankful into the bargain.”
Imagine if you can the ecstacy of the company in the house of a friend at a retired country place on hearing the inspiring tones of the Union pipes when anything in the “shape of music” would have been welcome.
The very servants even were delighted, and begged that the piper be brought into the house and entertained. Their request was granted and Tim, who needed no pressing, was soon planted in the hall.
At a glance he saw that the man of the house was a minister, and of course the “Boyne” as he called it for brevity, was played very sportively and accurately with the exception of a few notes that he omitted as troublesome and unnecessary, or as the servants supposed, in consequence of the cold in his fingers. So they escorted him to the kitchen and seated him before a blazing hre.
“Now he’ll play in airnest,’, said they joyfully as one and all gathered round him in expectation of a real musical treat.
Being now in the lower regions among the inferior gentry, and willing to please all orders and conditions, our piper began to consider whether to repeat the “Boyne” or commence the all-enlivening “Patrick's Day.” “`What religion is the sarvints of ?” he asked a little cowboy who was gaping with wonder at the grand ornaments of the pipes.
“They’re of all soarts, sur,” whispered “Tommy” in reply, and reddening all over at the great man’s notice.
“All soarts,” muttered Tim significantly. For a mixed audience nothing would be more appropriate and concilating than “God Save the King,” an air which he played with much strength of arm and conscious pride.
The butler listened a while with the sapient air of a judge. “You’re a capital performer, piper,” said he at length patronizingly, with a hand on each hip, “and that’s a fine piece of Hannibal's compersition, but it isn’t shutable for all occasions, and a livelier air would agree with our temperaments much better. Change it to something new.”
Tucking his apron aside he gallantly took the rosy tips of the housemaid’s fingers and led her out, while the gardener as politely handed forth the cook.
The piper looked sullen and still continued the English anthem, as if he knew what he was about and didn't need any advice. The butler’s dignity was plainly hurt.
“Railley, we are very loyal people hereabouts.’, he observed with a supercilious smile, “but at this particular moment we don’t want to join in a prayer for our savern’s welfare! Stop that solemcholy thing, man alive, and give us one of Jackson's jigs.”
“Out of fashion,” quoth Tim sullenly, “but I’ll give yez one as good,” and “Patrick’s Day” set them all in motion for a quarter of an hour.
“Oh! we’re quite tired of that.” at length exclaimed the housemaid. “Do, piper, give us a walse or a chodreel. Do you play `Tanty-polpitty ?’ `Jim’ Side-bottom used to dance it beautiful with me.”
“What do yez call it ?” asked Tim rather sneeringly.
“Tanty-polpitty”, replied the damsel, drawing herself up with an air fit to freeze him. E
“Phew!” returned the musician contemptuously, “that’s out of fashion entirely, but I’ll give yez one as good” and so the “Boyne” followed, neither faster nor slower than marching time, just as he had been taught it, to the no small annoyance of the dancers.
Jig after jig, and reel after reel, were named and demanded, but to all and each came the same response: “I haven’t that, but I’ll give yez one as good,” so the “King,” the “Boyne” and the “Day” followed each other in due succession.
Could anything be more provoking? Four active, eager votaries of Terpsichore anxiously awaiting appropriate dance music of their country from a professional piper. There stood the dancers looking beseeehingly at him and there sat the piper staring helplessly at them, wondering what the deuce they waited for, quite satisfied that they had got all which could reasonably be expected of him.
“An’ have ye nothin’ else in yer bag ?” demanded the butler, at last entirely out of patience.
“Arrah, how bad yez are for sortins,” retorted the piper. “Yer masther would be contint wid what I gave yez, and thankful into the bargain.” “By Jupiter Ammons!” exclaimed he of the white apron, “this bates all the playin’ I ever heard in my life. Arrah, do you ever attind the nobility's concerts? Ha-ha-ha !”
“ 'Pon my voracity,” cried the smiling housemaid, “I'm greatly afeerd he’d get more kicks than haypence if he did. Ha-ha-ha!” “And good enough for him,” added the gardener; “a fella that has but three half thunes in the world and nayther of ‘em right. Arrah, what’s yer name, avic ?”
“What’s that to you ?” growled the piper.
“Oh, nothin’, but I thought you might be the piper that played before Moses. Ha-ha-ha!”
“Oh, the world may wag
Since he got the green bag
With me right faladiddy I de o.”
sang the cook as she returned to her avocation, but the butler, as master of the ceremonies, showed his disappointment and displeasure in a summary ejection of the unhappy minstrel from the comforts of the fire and the shelter of the house altogether.
We cannot afford to dismiss from our consideration so abruptly a character so provokingly absurd as the inimitable Tim Callaghan. The profession, if so it may be designated, from the days of the harpers to the present writing abounded with quaint whimsical and even grotesque characters, yet our minstrel possessed a peculiar individuality for which history presents no prototype.
Subsequent to the incident before mentioned, a lady had assembled a number of young persons to a seaside dance one evening, but alas! Ere the hour of meeting arrived news came that the fiddler she expected was taken ill, and could not possibly be on hand.
What was to be done? Nothing!
When the guests arrived and learned of their host’s predicament the gentlemen inspite of themselves looked terrifically glum, as well they might with a dull evening in prospect. Little did they anticipate the treat in store for them.
The bright countenances of the ladies, God bless them, were also clouded with dismay, though as usual, sweet ereatures, they tried to look captivating under all visitations.
In this dilemma one of the beaux suddenly recollected that he had seen a piper sauntering into the village that evening, and he thought it was quite likely he would put up for the night at one of the public houses. Hope instantly illuminated all faces and a messenger was forthwith despatched for the man of music.
“What sort of a person is your piper ?” inquired Miss Edgeworth.
“A tall, stout, rather drowsy-looking fellow,” answered the gentleman who had seen him coming.
Unmistakably that was the description of our friend, the only Tim Callaghan.
The question naturally arose, “Was he a good performer?” Another person present besides the young lady who knew honest Timothy and his ways, with admirable composure answered that he must decline trumpeting the praise of any one because “whoever enters thus announced appears to disadvantage.”
Therefore we leave Tim Callaghan’s musical merit to speak for itself. No evasion could be better than this, and the effect Tim produced was correspondingly indescribable.
While the messenger was away in search of our piper, we may as well relate an anecdote of another servant - and a rustic one too, at that; sent on a similar errand.
John’s master had friends spending the evening with him, so he desired his servant to procure a musician for the young folks for love or money. In about half an hour, John returned after a fruitless search, and instead of saying in the usual style that he could not find one, he flung open the drawing room door and announced his ill success in the following impromptu:
“I searched the City’s circumference round,
And not a musician is there to be found;
I fear for music you’ll be at a loss,
For the fiddler has taken the road to Ross.”
The city, by the way, was a village of some half dozen houses. So much for ?olin - and now for Tim Callaghan.
When the identical Tim made his appearance he was placed in high state at the head of the room, with a degree of attention and respect commensurate with his importance. The very sight of him and the thought of his consummate assurance in attempting to play for dancing was irresistibly funny to one who was aware of his incapacity, but all outward symptoms of these were suppressed while eyes and ears were on the alert in expectation of what was to follow.
A bumper of his favorite punch was prepared for him, and while sipping it he cast an anxious and scrutinizing glance on the company, thinking how he should adjust his three tunes to their preferences. He had little time for speculation however, for a quadrille was immediately formed and he was called on to play! The sapient belles and beaux never dreamt that a modern piper might not be able to play quadrilles. There stood the eight elegantes ringleted, perfumed, white-gloved and refined, and there sat Tim Callaghan in all his native surly stupidity, dreadfully puzzled, humming and hawing and droning away, undecided as to which of his own tunes he should play first and heedless of their request.
The situation was ludicrous, and laughter could hardly be suppressed.
“A quadrille, Piper! The first of Montagues,” called out the leading gentleman.
`E-ah,” said Tim, opening his sleepy eyes, surprised into some little animation.
“The first of Montagues set of quadrilles,” repeated the beau.
“Och! Montycutes is out of fashion, but I’ll give yez one as good,” and the company being mixed, and of whose opinions he could not be sure, the set of dandies were astounded with “God Save the King” in most execrable style.
All stared and most laughed heartily, but what was of more consequence to Tin], his arm was fiercely seized, and thereby abruptly stopped short in saving the King, followed by an angry demand, “Can’t you play any quadrilles ?’ - a dozen of them and some few waltzes being named to him. He had never heard of them in all his days, so what could the poor minstrel do but give the “Boyne.” At this instant some one called the lady of the house; the name seemed to be a Catholic one. A sudden ray of joy shot through his frame to his fingers, and from them to his pipes, and the “Boyne’, promptly changed to “Patrick’s Day.” A kind of a jigging quadrille was danced by the least fastidious and best humored of the party, while a dandy from London and his perfumed partner retired to their seats with looks and gestures of disgust, quite unnoticed by Tim Callaghan, who bore himself with all the dignity of a household bard in the olden time, in his element playing his own favorite tunes, and the “quolity,” if you please, actually dancing to his music. It was a great day for the house of Callaghan and no mistake.
Well, as there seemed nothing better to be had, “Patrick’s Day” continued in requisition, now as a quadrille, and again as a country dance, by all who preferred motion to sitting still before and after supper, till at last every one was weary of it, and so they all agreed to take their chances on the “Boyne” and endeavor to move about to it as best they could.
Even the piper had played himself tired of the “Day,” so after having quaffed his fourth tumbler of punch he appeared to be rather inclined for a doze than a renewal of his melodies. But it was not to be, for the worthyphost, good gay cheerful old man, roused him. “For pity's sake, piper,” said he, “try to give us something that we can foot it to. I was not in the right mood for dancing till now.
If you be an lrishman, look at the pretty girl who is to be my partner at the next dance, and perhaps her eyes may inspire even you, you drowsy fellow, with momentary animation, and perform a miracle on your instrument!” Short as this address was, and gaily as it was uttered, it had no other effect than to increase Tim’s drowsiness, but a lively shaking roused him temporarily.
“What do yez want ‘, growled he at length. “What the divil do yez want ?” looking as if he would say:
“Now my weary eyes I close,
Leave me to my sweet repose.’!
“Music! Music!” said the host, laughing, “any sort of music, any sort of noise,” and he took his place among the dancers.
Poor Tim mechanically fumbled at the pipes, while the gentlemen busied themselves in procuring partners.
“Begin, piper!” called out the host.
“Out of fashion,” muttered Tim in broken, half-finished sentences, “but- I’-give-yez-one_as_good !”
A long loud reverberating snore made good his promise of music anyway, but they eouldn’t dance to it, although Tim’s music for some time previously wasn’t much better.
It would be futile to attempt to describe the confusion which followed. Some laughed, some frowned, while yet others had recourse to smelling salts and perfumed handkerchiefs.
When the excitement and laughter subsided and when all considered that their unrivaled musician had been sufficiently refreshed by slumber, he was once more aroused to receive his well-earned reward. The “man of the house,” curious to know more of this parody of a piper, asked,
“Pray what is your name ?”
“E-ah-why, Tim Callaghan, to be sure.”
“Ah! Tim Callaghan. I shall certainly remember the name. I suppose, Tim, you are quite celebrated.”
“I suppose you are very well known,” repeated the host.
“Why, those that knows me wanst, knows me again.” “I do believe so! I think I shall know you, at all events. Who taught you to play the pipes ?”
“One Tim Hartigan of the County Clare, sur.”
“Had he much trouble in teaching you ?”
“He trubble! I knows nothin’ of his trubble, but faix, I well remember my own! There’s lumps in me head to this very day from the unmarciful cracks he used to give it when I went asthray.”
“Ha! Ha! Ha! Poor fellow! Farewell, Tim Callaghan! Pleasant be your path through life, and may your fame spread throughout the thirty-two counties of Green Erin, till you die surfeited with glory.”
“Faith, I'd rayther be surfeited wid a good dinner,” was Tim’s unsentimental reply, as he passed out, in no wise flattered by his host’s fine language.
For a couple of years Tim was lost sight of, and Miss Edgeworth began to fear he had vanished from the earth altogether “without leaving a copy.” When lo! His orbit led in that direction again, and what was more, he was accompanied by a strapping wife, and a young Timotheus at his heels - a perfect replica of his father, nose, sleepy eyes, shovel feet and all, and subsisting, nay flourishing, on three tunes and their “varry-a-shins.”