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´╗┐Title: The Aran Islands
Author: Synge, J. M. (John Millington), 1871-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Aran Islands" ***

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The geography of the Aran Islands is very simple, yet it may need a
word to itself. There are three islands: Aranmor, the north island,
about nine miles long; Inishmaan, the middle island, about three
miles and a half across, and nearly round in form; and the south
island, Inishere--in Irish, east island,--like the middle island but
slightly smaller. They lie about thirty miles from Galway, up the
centre of the bay, but they are not far from the cliffs of County
Clare, on the south, or the corner of Connemara on the north.

Kilronan, the principal village on Aranmor, has been so much changed
by the fishing industry, developed there by the Congested Districts
Board, that it has now very little to distinguish it from any
fishing village on the west coast of Ireland. The other islands are
more primitive, but even on them many changes are being made, that
it was not worth while to deal with in the text.

In the pages that follow I have given a direct account of my life on
the islands, and of what I met with among them, inventing nothing,
and changing nothing that is essential. As far as possible, however,
I have disguised the identity of the people I speak of, by making
changes in their names, and in the letters I quote, and by altering
some local and family relationships. I have had nothing to say about
them that was not wholly in their favour, but I have made this
disguise to keep them from ever feeling that a too direct use had
been made of their kindness, and friendship, for which I am more
grateful than it is easy to say.

Part I

I am in Aranmor, sitting over a turf fire, listening to a murmur of
Gaelic that is rising from a little public-house under my room.

The steamer which comes to Aran sails according to the tide, and it
was six o'clock this morning when we left the quay of Galway in a
dense shroud of mist.

A low line of shore was visible at first on the right between the
movement of the waves and fog, but when we came further it was lost
sight of, and nothing could be seen but the mist curling in the
rigging, and a small circle of foam.

There were few passengers; a couple of men going out with young pigs
tied loosely in sacking, three or four young girls who sat in the
cabin with their heads completely twisted in their shawls, and a
builder, on his way to repair the pier at Kilronan, who walked up
and down and talked with me.

In about three hours Aran came in sight. A dreary rock appeared at
first sloping up from the sea into the fog; then, as we drew nearer,
a coast-guard station and the village.

A little later I was wandering out along the one good roadway of the
island, looking over low walls on either side into small flat fields
of naked rock. I have seen nothing so desolate. Grey floods of water
were sweeping everywhere upon the limestone, making at limes a wild
torrent of the road, which twined continually over low hills and
cavities in the rock or passed between a few small fields of
potatoes or grass hidden away in corners that had shelter. Whenever
the cloud lifted I could see the edge of the sea below me on the
right, and the naked ridge of the island above me on the other side.
Occasionally I passed a lonely chapel or schoolhouse, or a line of
stone pillars with crosses above them and inscriptions asking a
prayer for the soul of the person they commemorated.

I met few people; but here and there a band of tall girls passed me
on their way to Kilronan, and called out to me with humorous wonder,
speaking English with a slight foreign intonation that differed a
good deal from the brogue of Galway. The rain and cold seemed to
have no influence on their vitality and as they hurried past me with
eager laughter and great talking in Gaelic, they left the wet masses
of rock more desolate than before.

A little after midday when I was coming back one old half-blind man
spoke to me in Gaelic, but, in general, I was surprised at the
abundance and fluency of the foreign tongue.

In the afternoon the rain continued, so I sat here in the inn
looking out through the mist at a few men who were unlading hookers
that had come in with turf from Connemara, and at the long-legged
pigs that were playing in the surf. As the fishermen came in and out
of the public-house underneath my room, I could hear through the
broken panes that a number of them still used the Gaelic, though it
seems to be falling out of use among the younger people of this

The old woman of the house had promised to get me a teacher of the
language, and after a while I heard a shuffling on the stairs, and
the old dark man I had spoken to in the morning groped his way into
the room.

I brought him over to the fire, and we talked for many hours. He
told me that he had known Petrie and Sir William Wilde, and many
living antiquarians, and had taught Irish to Dr. Finck and Dr.
Pedersen, and given stories to Mr. Curtin of America. A little after
middle age he had fallen over a cliff, and since then he had had
little eyesight, and a trembling of his hands and head.

As we talked he sat huddled together over the fire, shaking and
blind, yet his face was indescribably pliant, lighting up with an
ecstasy of humour when he told me anything that had a point of wit
or malice, and growing sombre and desolate again when he spoke of
religion or the fairies.

He had great confidence in his own powers and talent, and in the
superiority of his stories over all other stories in the world. When
we were speaking of Mr. Curtin, he told me that this gentleman had
brought out a volume of his Aran stories in America, and made five
hundred pounds by the sale of them.

'And what do you think he did then?' he continued; 'he wrote a book
of his own stories after making that lot of money with mine. And he
brought them out, and the divil a half-penny did he get for them.
Would you believe that?'

Afterwards he told me how one of his children had been taken by the

One day a neighbor was passing, and she said, when she saw it on the
road, 'That's a fine child.'

Its mother tried to say 'God bless it,' but something choked the
words in her throat.

A while later they found a wound on its neck, and for three nights
the house was filled with noises.

'I never wear a shirt at night,' he said, 'but I got up out of my
bed, all naked as I was, when I heard the noises in the house, and
lighted a light, but there was nothing in it.'

Then a dummy came and made signs of hammering nails in a coffin. The
next day the seed potatoes were full of blood, and the child told
his mother that he was going to America.

That night it died, and 'Believe me,' said the old man, 'the fairies
were in it.'

When he went away, a little bare-footed girl was sent up with turf
and the bellows to make a fire that would last for the evening.

She was shy, yet eager to talk, and told me that she had good spoken
Irish, and was learning to read it in the school, and that she had
been twice to Galway, though there are many grown women in the place
who have never set a foot upon the mainland.

The rain has cleared off, and I have had my first real introduction
to the island and its people.

I went out through Killeany--the poorest village in Aranmor--to a
long neck of sandhill that runs out into the sea towards the
south-west. As I lay there on the grass the clouds lifted from the
Connemara mountains and, for a moment, the green undulating
foreground, backed in the distance by a mass of hills, reminded me
of the country near Rome. Then the dun top-sail of a hooker swept
above the edge of the sandhill and revealed the presence of the sea.

As I moved on a boy and a man came down from the next village to
talk to me, and I found that here, at least, English was imperfectly
understood. When I asked them if there were any trees in the island
they held a hurried consultation in Gaelic, and then the man asked
if 'tree' meant the same thing as 'bush,' for if so there were a few
in sheltered hollows to the east.

They walked on with me to the sound which separates this island from
Inishmaan--the middle island of the group--and showed me the roll
from the Atlantic running up between two walls of cliff.

They told me that several men had stayed on Inishmaan to learn
Irish, and the boy pointed out a line of hovels where they had
lodged running like a belt of straw round the middle of the island.
The place looked hardly fit for habitation. There was no green to be
seen, and no sign of the people except these beehive-like roofs, and
the outline of a Dun that stood out above them against the edge of
the sky.

After a while my companions went away and two other boys came and
walked at my heels, till I turned and made them talk to me. They
spoke at first of their poverty, and then one of them said--'I dare
say you do have to pay ten shillings a week in the hotel?' 'More,'
I answered.




'More still.'

Then he drew back and did not question me any further, either
thinking that I had lied to check his curiosity, or too awed by my
riches to continue.

Repassing Killeany I was joined by a man who had spent twenty years
in America, where he had lost his health and then returned, so long
ago that he had forgotten English and could hardly make me
understand him. He seemed hopeless, dirty and asthmatic, and after
going with me for a few hundred yards he stopped and asked for
coppers. I had none left, so I gave him a fill of tobacco, and he
went back to his hovel.

When he was gone, two little girls took their place behind me and I
drew them in turn into conversation.

They spoke with a delicate exotic intonation that was full of charm,
and told me with a sort of chant how they guide 'ladies and
gintlemins' in the summer to all that is worth seeing in their
neighbourhood, and sell them pampooties and maidenhair ferns, which
are common among the rocks.

We were now in Kilronan, and as we parted they showed me holes in
their own pampooties, or cowskin sandals, and asked me the price of
new ones. I told them that my purse was empty, and then with a few
quaint words of blessing they turned away from me and went down to
the pier.

All this walk back had been extraordinarily fine. The intense
insular clearness one sees only in Ireland, and after rain, was
throwing out every ripple in the sea and sky, and every crevice in
the hills beyond the bay.

This evening an old man came to see me, and said he had known a
relative of mine who passed some time on this island forty-three
years ago.

'I was standing under the pier-wall mending nets,' he said, 'when
you came off the steamer, and I said to myself in that moment, if
there is a man of the name of Synge left walking the world, it is
that man yonder will be he.'

He went on to complain in curiously simple yet dignified language of
the changes that have taken place here since he left the island to
go to sea before the end of his childhood.

'I have come back,' he said, 'to live in a bit of a house with my
sister. The island is not the same at all to what it was. It is
little good I can get from the people who are in it now, and
anything I have to give them they don't care to have.'

From what I hear this man seems to have shut himself up in a world
of individual conceits and theories, and to live aloof at his trade
of net-mending, regarded by the other islanders with respect and
half-ironical sympathy.

A little later when I went down to the kitchen I found two men from
Inishmaan who had been benighted on the island. They seemed a
simpler and perhaps a more interesting type than the people here,
and talked with careful English about the history of the Duns, and
the Book of Ballymote, and the Book of Kells, and other ancient
MSS., with the names of which they seemed familiar.

In spite of the charm of my teacher, the old blind man I met the day
of my arrival, I have decided to move on to Inishmaan, where Gaelic
is more generally used, and the life is perhaps the most primitive
that is left in Europe.

I spent all this last day with my blind guide, looking at the
antiquities that abound in the west or north-west of the island.

As we set out I noticed among the groups of girls who smiled at our
fellowship--old Mourteen says we are like the cuckoo with its
pipit--a beautiful oval face with the singularly spiritual
expression that is so marked in one type of the West Ireland women.
Later in the day, as the old man talked continually of the fairies
and the women they have taken, it seemed that there was a possible
link between the wild mythology that is accepted on the islands and
the strange beauty of the women.

At midday we rested near the ruins of a house, and two beautiful
boys came up and sat near us. Old Mourteen asked them why the house
was in ruins, and who had lived in it.

'A rich farmer built it a while since,' they said, 'but after two
years he was driven away by the fairy host.'

The boys came on with us some distance to the north to visit one of
the ancient beehive dwellings that is still in perfect preservation.
When we crawled in on our hands and knees, and stood up in the gloom
of the interior, old Mourteen took a freak of earthly humour and
began telling what he would have done if he could have come in there
when he was a young man and a young girl along with him.

Then he sat down in the middle of the floor and began to recite old
Irish poetry, with an exquisite purity of intonation that brought
tears to my eyes though I understood but little of the meaning.

On our way home he gave me the Catholic theory of the fairies.

When Lucifer saw himself in the glass he thought himself equal with
God. Then the Lord threw him out of Heaven, and all the angels that
belonged to him. While He was 'chucking them out,' an archangel
asked Him to spare some of them, and those that were falling are in
the air still, and have power to wreck ships, and to work evil in
the world.

From this he wandered off into tedious matters of theology, and
repeated many long prayers and sermons in Irish that he had heard
from the priests.

A little further on we came to a slated house, and I asked him who
was living in it.

'A kind of a schoolmistress,' he said; then his old face puckered
with a gleam of pagan malice.

'Ah, master,' he said, 'wouldn't it be fine to be in there, and to
be kissing her?'

A couple of miles from this village we turned aside to look at an
old ruined church of the Ceathair Aluinn (The Four Beautiful
Persons), and a holy well near it that is famous for cures of
blindness and epilepsy.

As we sat near the well a very old man came up from a cottage near
the road, and told me how it had become famous.

'A woman of Sligo had a son who was born blind, and one night she
dreamed that she saw an island with a blessed well in it that could
cure her son. She told her dream in the morning, and an old man said
it was of Aran she was after dreaming.

'She brought her son down by the coast of Galway, and came out in a
curagh, and landed below where you see a bit of a cove.

'She walked up then to the house of my father--God rest his
soul--and she told them what she was looking for.

'My father said that there was a well like what she had dreamed of,
and that he would send a boy along with her to show her the way.

"There's no need, at all," said she; "haven't I seen it all in my

'Then she went out with the child and walked up to this well, and
she kneeled down and began saying her prayers. Then she put her hand
out for the water, and put it on his eyes, and the moment it touched
him he called out: "O mother, look at the pretty flowers!"'

After that Mourteen described the feats of poteen drinking and
fighting that he did in his youth, and went on to talk of Diarmid,
who was the strongest man after Samson, and of one of the beds of
Diarmid and Grainne, which is on the east of the island. He says
that Diarmid was killed by the druids, who put a burning shirt on
him,--a fragment of mythology that may connect Diarmid with the
legend of Hercules, if it is not due to the 'learning' in some
hedge-school master's ballad.

Then we talked about Inishmaan.

'You'll have an old man to talk with you over there,' he said, 'and
tell you stories of the fairies, but he's walking about with two
sticks under him this ten year. Did ever you hear what it is goes on
four legs when it is young, and on two legs after that, and on three
legs when it does be old?'

I gave him the answer.

'Ah, master,' he said, 'you're a cute one, and the blessing of God
be on you. Well, I'm on three legs this minute, but the old man
beyond is back on four; I don't know if I'm better than the way he
is; he's got his sight and I'm only an old dark man.'

I am settled at last on Inishmaan in a small cottage with a
continual drone of Gaelic coming from the kitchen that opens into my

Early this morning the man of the house came over for me with a
four-oared curagh--that is, a curagh with four rowers and four oars
on either side, as each man uses two--and we set off a little before

It gave me a moment of exquisite satisfaction to find myself moving
away from civilisation in this rude canvas canoe of a model that has
served primitive races since men first went to sea.

We had to stop for a moment at a hulk that is anchored in the bay,
to make some arrangement for the fish-curing of the middle island,
and my crew called out as soon as we were within earshot that they
had a man with them who had been in France a month from this day.

When we started again, a small sail was run up in the bow, and we
set off across the sound with a leaping oscillation that had no
resemblance to the heavy movement of a boat.

The sail is only used as an aid, so the men continued to row after
it had gone up, and as they occupied the four cross-seats I lay on
the canvas at the stern and the frame of slender laths, which bent
and quivered as the waves passed under them.

When we set off it was a brilliant morning of April, and the green,
glittering waves seemed to toss the canoe among themselves, yet as
we drew nearer this island a sudden thunderstorm broke out behind
the rocks we were approaching, and lent a momentary tumult to this
still vein of the Atlantic.

We landed at a small pier, from which a rude track leads up to the
village between small fields and bare sheets of rock like those in
Aranmor. The youngest son of my boatman, a boy of about seventeen,
who is to be my teacher and guide, was waiting for me at the pier
and guided me to his house, while the men settled the curagh and
followed slowly with my baggage.

My room is at one end of the cottage, with a boarded floor and
ceiling, and two windows opposite each other. Then there is the
kitchen with earth floor and open rafters, and two doors opposite
each other opening into the open air, but no windows. Beyond it
there are two small rooms of half the width of the kitchen with one
window apiece.

The kitchen itself, where I will spend most of my time, is full of
beauty and distinction. The red dresses of the women who cluster
round the fire on their stools give a glow of almost Eastern
richness, and the walls have been toned by the turf-smoke to a soft
brown that blends with the grey earth-colour of the floor. Many
sorts of fishing-tackle, and the nets and oil-skins of the men, are
hung upon the walls or among the open rafters; and right overhead,
under the thatch, there is a whole cowskin from which they make

Every article on these islands has an almost personal character,
which gives this simple life, where all art is unknown, something of
the artistic beauty of medieval life. The curaghs and spinning-wheels,
the tiny wooden barrels that are still much used in the place of
earthenware, the home-made cradles, churns, and baskets, are all
full of individuality, and being made from materials that are common
here, yet to some extent peculiar to the island, they seem to exist
as a natural link between the people and the world that is about them.

The simplicity and unity of the dress increases in another way the
local air of beauty. The women wear red petticoats and jackets of
the island wool stained with madder, to which they usually add a
plaid shawl twisted round their chests and tied at their back. When
it rains they throw another petticoat over their heads with the
waistband round their faces, or, if they are young, they use a heavy
shawl like those worn in Galway. Occasionally other wraps are worn,
and during the thunderstorm I arrived in I saw several girls with
men's waistcoats buttoned round their bodies. Their skirts do not
come much below the knee, and show their powerful legs in the heavy
indigo stockings with which they are all provided.

The men wear three colours: the natural wool, indigo, and a grey
flannel that is woven of alternate threads of indigo and the natural
wool. In Aranmor many of the younger men have adopted the usual
fisherman's jersey, but I have only seen one on this island.

As flannel is cheap--the women spin the yarn from the wool of their
own sheep, and it is then woven by a weaver in Kilronan for
fourpence a yard--the men seem to wear an indefinite number of
waistcoats and woollen drawers one over the other. They are usually
surprised at the lightness of my own dress, and one old man I spoke
to for a minute on the pier, when I came ashore, asked me if I was
not cold with 'my little clothes.'

As I sat in the kitchen to dry the spray from my coat, several men
who had seen me walking up came in to me to talk to me, usually
murmuring on the threshold, 'The blessing of God on this place,' or
some similar words.

The courtesy of the old woman of the house is singularly attractive,
and though I could not understand much of what she said--she has no
English--I could see with how much grace she motioned each visitor
to a chair, or stool, according to his age, and said a few words to
him till he drifted into our English conversation.

For the moment my own arrival is the chief subject of interest, and
the men who come in are eager to talk to me.

Some of them express themselves more correctly than the ordinary
peasant, others use the Gaelic idioms continually and substitute
'he' or 'she' for 'it,' as the neuter pronoun is not found in modern

A few of the men have a curiously full vocabulary, others know only
the commonest words in English, and are driven to ingenious devices
to express their meaning. Of all the subjects we can talk of war
seems their favourite, and the conflict between America and Spain is
causing a great deal of excitement. Nearly all the families have
relations who have had to cross the Atlantic, and all eat of the
flour and bacon that is brought from the United States, so they have
a vague fear that 'if anything happened to America,' their own
island would cease to be habitable.

Foreign languages are another favourite topic, and as these men are
bilingual they have a fair notion of what it means to speak and
think in many different idioms. Most of the strangers they see on
the islands are philological students, and the people have been led
to conclude that linguistic studies, particularly Gaelic studies,
are the chief occupation of the outside world.

'I have seen Frenchmen, and Danes, and Germans,' said one man, 'and
there does be a power a Irish books along with them, and they
reading them better than ourselves. Believe me there are few rich
men now in the world who are not studying the Gaelic.'

They sometimes ask me the French for simple phrases, and when they
have listened to the intonation for a moment, most of them are able
to reproduce it with admirable precision.

When I was going out this morning to walk round the island with
Michael, the boy who is teaching me Irish, I met an old man making
his way down to the cottage. He was dressed in miserable black
clothes which seemed to have come from the mainland, and was so bent
with rheumatism that, at a little distance, he looked more like a
spider than a human being.

Michael told me it was Pat Dirane, the story-teller old Mourteen had
spoken of on the other island. I wished to turn back, as he appeared
to be on his way to visit me, but Michael would not hear of it.

'He will be sitting by the fire when we come in,' he said; 'let you
not be afraid, there will be time enough to be talking to him by and

He was right. As I came down into the kitchen some hours later old
Pat was still in the chimney-corner, blinking with the turf smoke.

He spoke English with remarkable aptness and fluency, due, I
believe, to the months he spent in the English provinces working at
the harvest when he was a young man.

After a few formal compliments he told me how he had been crippled
by an attack of the 'old hin' (i.e. the influenza), and had been
complaining ever since in addition to his rheumatism.

While the old woman was cooking my dinner he asked me if I liked
stories, and offered to tell one in English, though he added, it
would be much better if I could follow the Gaelic. Then he began:--

There were two farmers in County Clare. One had a son, and the
other, a fine rich man, had a daughter.

The young man was wishing to marry the girl, and his father told him
to try and get her if he thought well, though a power of gold would
be wanting to get the like of her.

'I will try,' said the young man.

He put all his gold into a bag. Then he went over to the other farm,
and threw in the gold in front of him.

'Is that all gold?' said the father of the girl.

'All gold,' said O'Conor (the young man's name was O'Conor).

'It will not weigh down my daughter,' said the father.

'We'll see that,' said O'Conor.

Then they put them in the scales, the daughter in one side and the
gold in the other. The girl went down against the ground, so O'Conor
took his bag and went out on the road.

As he was going along he came to where there was a little man, and
he standing with his back against the wall.

'Where are you going with the bag?' said the little man. 'Going
home,' said O'Conor.

'Is it gold you might be wanting?' said the man. 'It is, surely,'
said O'Conor.

'I'll give you what you are wanting,' said the man, 'and we can
bargain in this way--you'll pay me back in a year the gold I give
you, or you'll pay me with five pounds cut off your own flesh.'

That bargain was made between them. The man gave a bag of gold to
O'Conor, and he went back with it, and was married to the young

They were rich people, and he built her a grand castle on the cliffs
of Clare, with a window that looked out straight over the wild

One day when he went up with his wife to look out over the wild
ocean, he saw a ship coming in on the rocks, and no sails on her at
all. She was wrecked on the rocks, and it was tea that was in her,
and fine silk.

O'Conor and his wife went down to look at the wreck, and when the
lady O'Conor saw the silk she said she wished a dress of it.

They got the silk from the sailors, and when the Captain came up to
get the money for it, O'Conor asked him to come again and take his
dinner with them. They had a grand dinner, and they drank after it,
and the Captain was tipsy. While they were still drinking, a letter
came to O'Conor, and it was in the letter that a friend of his was
dead, and that he would have to go away on a long journey. As he was
getting ready the Captain came to him.

'Are you fond of your wife?' said the Captain.

'I am fond of her,' said O'Conor.

'Will you make me a bet of twenty guineas no man comes near her
while you'll be away on the journey?' said the Captain.

'I will bet it,' said O'Conor; and he went away.

There was an old hag who sold small things on the road near the
castle, and the lady O'Conor allowed her to sleep up in her room in
a big box. The Captain went down on the road to the old hag.

'For how much will you let me sleep one night in your box?' said
the Captain.

'For no money at all would I do such a thing,' said the hag.

'For ten guineas?' said the Captain.

'Not for ten guineas,' said the hag.

'For twelve guineas?' said the Captain.

'Not for twelve guineas,' said the hag.

'For fifteen guineas?' said the Captain.

'For fifteen I will do it,' said the hag.

Then she took him up and hid him in the box. When night came the
lady O'Conor walked up into her room, and the Captain watched her
through a hole that was in the box. He saw her take off her two
rings and put them on a kind of a board that was over her head like
a chimney-piece, and take off her clothes, except her shift, and go
up into her bed.

As soon as she was asleep the Captain came out of his box, and he
had some means of making a light, for he lit the candle. He went
over to the bed where she was sleeping without disturbing her at
all, or doing any bad thing, and he took the two rings off the
board, and blew out the light, and went down again into the box.

He paused for a moment, and a deep sigh of relief rose from the men
and women who had crowded in while the story was going on, till the
kitchen was filled with people.

As the Captain was coming out of his box the girls, who had appeared
to know no English, stopped their spinning and held their breath
with expectation.

The old man went on--

When O'Conor came back the Captain met him, and told him that he had
been a night in his wife's room, and gave him the two rings. O'Conor
gave him the twenty guineas of the bet. Then he went up into the
castle, and he took his wife up to look out of the window over the
wild ocean. While she was looking he pushed her from behind, and she
fell down over the cliff into the sea.

An old woman was on the shore, and she saw her falling. She went
down then to the surf and pulled her out all wet and in great
disorder, and she took the wet clothes off her, and put on some old
rags belonging to herself.

When O'Conor had pushed his wife from the window he went away into
the land.

After a while the lady O'Conor went out searching for him, and when
she had gone here and there a long time in the country, she heard
that he was reaping in a field with sixty men.

She came to the field and she wanted to go in, but the gate-man
would not open the gate for her. Then the owner came by, and she
told him her story. He brought her in, and her husband was there,
reaping, but he never gave any sign of knowing her. She showed him
to the owner, and he made the man come out and go with his wife.

Then the lady O'Conor took him out on the road where there were
horses, and they rode away.

When they came to the place where O'Conor had met the little man, he
was there on the road before them.

'Have you my gold on you?' said the man.

'I have not,' said O'Conor.

'Then you'll pay me the flesh off your body,' said the man. They
went into a house, and a knife was brought, and a clean white cloth
was put on the table, and O'Conor was put upon the cloth.

Then the little man was going to strike the lancet into him, when
says lady O'Conor--

'Have you bargained for five pounds of flesh?'

'For five pounds of flesh,' said the man.

'Have you bargained for any drop of his blood?' said lady O'Conor.

'For no blood,' said the man.

'Cut out the flesh,' said lady O'Conor, 'but if you spill one drop
of his blood I'll put that through you.' And she put a pistol to his

The little man went away and they saw no more of him.

When they got home to their castle they made a great supper, and
they invited the Captain and the old hag, and the old woman that had
pulled the lady O'Conor out of the sea.

After they had eaten well the lady O'Conor began, and she said they
would all tell their stories. Then she told how she had been saved
from the sea, and how she had found her husband.

Then the old woman told her story; the way she had found the lady
O'Conor wet, and in great disorder, and had brought her in and put
on her some old rags of her own.

The lady O'Conor asked the Captain for his story; but he said they
would get no story from him. Then she took her pistol out of her
pocket, and she put it on the edge of the table, and she said that
any one that would not tell his story would get a bullet into him.

Then the Captain told the way he had got into the box, and come over
to her bed without touching her at all, and had taken away the

Then the lady O'Conor took the pistol and shot the hag through the
body, and they threw her over the cliff into the sea.

That is my story.

It gave me a strange feeling of wonder to hear this illiterate
native of a wet rock in the Atlantic telling a story that is so full
of European associations.

The incident of the faithful wife takes us beyond Cymbeline to the
sunshine on the Arno, and the gay company who went out from Florence
to tell narratives of love. It takes us again to the low vineyards
of Wurzburg on the Main, where the same tale was told in the middle
ages, of the 'Two Merchants and the Faithful Wife of Ruprecht von

The other portion, dealing with the pound of flesh, has a still
wider distribution, reaching from Persia and Egypt to the Gesta
Rornanorum, and the Pecorone of Ser Giovanni, a Florentine notary.

The present union of the two tales has already been found among the
Gaels, and there is a somewhat similar version in Campbell's Popular
Tales of the Western Highlands.

Michael walks so fast when I am out with him that I cannot pick my
steps, and the sharp-edged fossils which abound in the limestone
have cut my shoes to pieces.

The family held a consultation on them last night, and in the end it
was decided to make me a pair of pampooties, which I have been
wearing to-day among the rocks.

They consist simply of a piece of raw cowskin, with the hair
outside, laced over the toe and round the heel with two ends of
fishing-line that work round and are tied above the instep.

In the evening, when they are taken off, they are placed in a basin
of water, as the rough hide cuts the foot and stocking if it is
allowed to harden. For the same reason the people often step into
the surf during the day, so that their feet are continually moist.

At first I threw my weight upon my heels, as one does naturally in a
boot, and was a good deal bruised, but after a few hours I learned
the natural walk of man, and could follow my guide in any portion of
the island.

In one district below the cliffs, towards the north, one goes for
nearly a mile jumping from one rock to another without a single
ordinary step; and here I realized that toes have a natural use, for
I found myself jumping towards any tiny crevice in the rock before
me, and clinging with an eager grip in which all the muscles of my
feet ached from their exertion.

The absence of the heavy boot of Europe has preserved to these
people the agile walk of the wild animal, while the general
simplicity of their lives has given them many other points of
physical perfection. Their way of life has never been acted on by
anything much more artificial than the nests and burrows of the
creatures that live round them, and they seem, in a certain sense,
to approach more nearly to the finer types of our aristocracies--who
are bred artificially to a natural ideal--than to the labourer or
citizen, as the wild horse resembles the thoroughbred rather than
the hack or cart-horse. Tribes of the same natural development are,
perhaps, frequent in half-civilized countries, but here a touch of
the refinement of old societies is blended, with singular effect,
among the qualities of the wild animal.

While I am walking with Michael some one often comes to me to ask
the time of day. Few of the people, however, are sufficiently used
to modern time to understand in more than a vague way the convention
of the hours, and when I tell them what o'clock it is by my watch
they are not satisfied, and ask how long is left them before the

The general knowledge of time on the island depends, curiously
enough, on the direction of the wind. Nearly all the cottages are
built, like this one, with two doors opposite each other, the more
sheltered of which lies open all day to give light to the interior.
If the wind is northerly the south door is opened, and the shadow of
the door-post moving across the kitchen floor indicates the hour; as
soon, however, as the wind changes to the south the other door is
opened, and the people, who never think of putting up a primitive
dial, are at a loss.

This system of doorways has another curious result. It usually
happens that all the doors on one side of the village pathway are
lying open with women sitting about on the thresholds, while on the
other side the doors are shut and there is no sign of life. The
moment the wind changes everything is reversed, and sometimes when I
come back to the village after an hour's walk there seems to have
been a general flight from one side of the way to the other.

In my own cottage the change of the doors alters the whole tone of
the kitchen, turning it from a brilliantly-lighted room looking out
on a yard and laneway to a sombre cell with a superb view of the

When the wind is from the north the old woman manages my meals with
fair regularity; but on the other days she often makes my tea at
three o'clock instead of six. If I refuse it she puts it down to
simmer for three hours in the turf, and then brings it in at six
o'clock full of anxiety to know if it is warm enough.

The old man is suggesting that I should send him a clock when I go
away. He'd like to have something from me in the house, he says, the
way they wouldn't forget me, and wouldn't a clock be as handy as
another thing, and they'd be thinking of me whenever they'd look on
its face.

The general ignorance of any precise hours in the day makes it
impossible for the people to have regular meals.

They seem to eat together in the evening, and sometimes in the
morning, a little after dawn, before they scatter for their work,
but during the day they simply drink a cup of tea and eat a piece of
bread, or some potatoes, whenever they are hungry.

For men who live in the open air they eat strangely little. Often
when Michael has been out weeding potatoes for eight or nine hours
without food, he comes in and eats a few slices of home-made bread,
and then he is ready to go out with me and wander for hours about
the island.

They use no animal food except a little bacon and salt fish. The old
woman says she would be very ill if she ate fresh meat.

Some years ago, before tea, sugar, and flour had come into general
use, salt fish was much more the staple article of diet than at
present, and, I am told, skin diseases were very common, though they
are now rare on the islands.

No one who has not lived for weeks among these grey clouds and seas
can realise the joy with which the eye rests on the red dresses of
the women, especially when a number of them are to be found
together, as happened early this morning.

I heard that the young cattle were to be shipped for a fair on the
mainland, which is to take place in a few days, and I went down on
the pier, a little after dawn, to watch them.

The bay was shrouded in the greys of coming rain, yet the thinness
of the cloud threw a silvery light on the sea, and an unusual depth
of blue to the mountains of Connemara.

As I was going across the sandhills one dun-sailed hooker glided
slowly out to begin her voyage, and another beat up to the pier.
Troops of red cattle, driven mostly by the women, were coming up
from several directions, forming, with the green of the long tract
of grass that separates the sea from the rocks, a new unity of

The pier itself was crowded with bullocks and a great number of the
people. I noticed one extraordinary girl in the throng who seemed to
exert an authority on all who came near her. Her curiously-formed
nostrils and narrow chin gave her a witch-like expression, yet the
beauty of her hair and skin made her singularly attractive.

When the empty hooker was made fast its deck was still many feet
below the level of the pier, so the animals were slung down by a
rope from the mast-head, with much struggling and confusion. Some of
them made wild efforts to escape, nearly carrying their owners with
them into the sea, but they were handled with wonderful dexterity,
and there was no mishap.

When the open hold was filled with young cattle, packed as tightly
as they could stand, the owners with their wives or sisters, who go
with them to prevent extravagance in Galway, jumped down on the
deck, and the voyage was begun. Immediately afterwards a rickety old
hooker beat up with turf from Connemara, and while she was unlading
all the men sat along the edge of the pier and made remarks upon the
rottenness of her timber till the owners grew wild with rage.

The tide was now too low for more boats to come to the pier, so a
move was made to a strip of sand towards the south-east, where the
rest of the cattle were shipped through the surf. Here the hooker
was anchored about eighty yards from the shore, and a curagh was
rowed round to tow out the animals. Each bullock was caught in its
turn and girded with a sling of rope by which it could be hoisted on
board. Another rope was fastened to the horns and passed out to a
man in the stem of the curagh. Then the animal was forced down
through the surf and out of its depth before it had much time to
struggle. Once fairly swimming, it was towed out to the hooker and
dragged on board in a half-drowned condition.

The freedom of the sand seemed to give a stronger spirit of revolt,
and some of the animals were only caught after a dangerous struggle.
The first attempt was not always successful, and I saw one
three-year-old lift two men with his horns, and drag another fifty
yards along the sand by his tail before he was subdued.

While this work was going on a crowd of girls and women collected on
the edge of the cliff and kept shouting down a confused babble of
satire and praise.

When I came back to the cottage I found that among the women who had
gone to the mainland was a daughter of the old woman's, and that her
baby of about nine months had been left in the care of its

As I came in she was busy getting ready my dinner, and old Pat
Dirane, who usually comes at this hour, was rocking the cradle. It
is made of clumsy wicker-work, with two pieces of rough wood
fastened underneath to serve as rockers, and all the time I am in my
room I can hear it bumping on the floor with extraordinary violence.
When the baby is awake it sprawls on the floor, and the old woman
sings it a variety of inarticulate lullabies that have much musical

Another daughter, who lives at home, has gone to the fair also, so
the old woman has both the baby and myself to take care of as well
as a crowd of chickens that live in a hole beside the fire, Often
when I want tea, or when the old woman goes for water, I have to
take my own turn at rocking the cradle.

One of the largest Duns, or pagan forts, on the islands, is within a
stone's throw of my cottage, and I often stroll up there after a
dinner of eggs or salt pork, to smoke drowsily on the stones. The
neighbours know my habit, and not infrequently some one wanders up
to ask what news there is in the last paper I have received, or to
make inquiries about the American war. If no one comes I prop my
book open with stones touched by the Fir-bolgs, and sleep for hours
in the delicious warmth of the sun. The last few days I have almost
lived on the round walls, for, by some miscalculation, our turf has
come to an end, and the fires are kept up with dried cow-dung--a
common fuel on the island--the smoke from which filters through into
my room and lies in blue layers above my table and bed.

Fortunately the weather is fine, and I can spend my days in the
sunshine. When I look round from the top of these walls I can see
the sea on nearly every side, stretching away to distant ranges of
mountains on the north and south. Underneath me to the east there is
the one inhabited district of the island, where I can see red
figures moving about the cottages, sending up an occasional fragment
of conversation or of old island melodies.

The baby is teething, and has been crying for several days. Since
his mother went to the fair they have been feeding him with cow's
milk, often slightly sour, and giving him, I think, more than he

This morning, however, he seemed so unwell they sent out to look for
a foster-mother in the village, and before long a young woman, who
lives a little way to the east, came in and restored him to his
natural food.

A few hours later, when I came into the kitchen to talk to old Pat,
another woman performed the same kindly office, this time a person
with a curiously whimsical expression.

Pat told me a story of an unfaithful wife, which I will give further
down, and then broke into a moral dispute with the visitor, which
caused immense delight to some young men who had come down to listen
to the story. Unfortunately it was carried on so rapidly in Gaelic
that I lost most of the points.

This old man talks usually in a mournful tone about his ill-health,
and his death, which he feels to be approaching, yet he has
occasional touches of humor that remind me of old Mourteen on the
north island. To-day a grotesque twopenny doll was lying on the
floor near the old woman. He picked it up and examined it as if
comparing it with her. Then he held it up: 'Is it you is after
bringing that thing into the world,' he said, 'woman of the house?'

Here is the story:--

One day I was travelling on foot from Galway to Dublin, and the
darkness came on me and I ten miles from the town I was wanting to
pass the night in. Then a hard rain began to fall and I was tired
walking, so when I saw a sort of a house with no roof on it up
against the road, I got in the way the walls would give me shelter.

As I was looking round I saw a light in some trees two perches off,
and thinking any sort of a house would be better than where I was, I
got over a wall and went up to the house to look in at the window.

I saw a dead man laid on a table, and candles lighted, and a woman
watching him. I was frightened when I saw him, but it was raining
hard, and I said to myself, if he was dead he couldn't hurt me. Then
I knocked on the door and the woman came and opened it.

'Good evening, ma'am,' says I.

'Good evening kindly, stranger,' says she, 'Come in out of the
rain.' Then she took me in and told me her husband was after dying
on her, and she was watching him that night.

'But it's thirsty you'll be, stranger,' says she, 'Come into the
parlour.' Then she took me into the parlour--and it was a fine clean
house--and she put a cup, with a saucer under it, on the table
before me with fine sugar and bread.

When I'd had a cup of tea I went back into the kitchen where the
dead man was lying, and she gave me a fine new pipe off the table
with a drop of spirits.

'Stranger,' says she, 'would you be afeard to be alone with himself?'

'Not a bit in the world, ma'am,' says I; 'he that's dead can do no
hurt,' Then she said she wanted to go over and tell the neighbours
the way her husband was after dying on her, and she went out and
locked the door behind her.

I smoked one pipe, and I leaned out and took another off the table.
I was smoking it with my hand on the back of my chair--the way you
are yourself this minute, God bless you--and I looking on the dead
man, when he opened his eyes as wide as myself and looked at me.

'Don't be afraid, stranger,' said the dead man; 'I'm not dead at all
in the world. Come here and help me up and I'll tell you all about

Well, I went up and took the sheet off of him, and I saw that he had
a fine clean shirt on his body, and fine flannel drawers.

He sat up then, and says he--

'I've got a bad wife, stranger, and I let on to be dead the way I'd
catch her goings on.'

Then he got two fine sticks he had to keep down his wife, and he put
them at each side of his body, and he laid himself out again as if
he was dead.

In half an hour his wife came back and a young man along with her.
Well, she gave him his tea, and she told him he was tired, and he
would do right to go and lie down in the bedroom.

The young man went in and the woman sat down to watch by the dead
man. A while after she got up and 'Stranger,' says she, 'I'm going
in to get the candle out of the room; I'm thinking the young man
will be asleep by this time.' She went into the bedroom, but the
divil a bit of her came back.

Then the dead man got up, and he took one stick, and he gave the
other to myself. We went in and saw them lying together with her
head on his arm.

The dead man hit him a blow with the stick so that the blood out of
him leapt up and hit the gallery.

That is my story.

In stories of this kind he always speaks in the first person, with
minute details to show that he was actually present at the scenes
that are described.

At the beginning of this story he gave me a long account of what had
made him be on his way to Dublin on that occasion, and told me about
all the rich people he was going to see in the finest streets of the

A week of sweeping fogs has passed over and given me a strange sense
of exile and desolation. I walk round the island nearly every day,
yet I can see nothing anywhere but a mass of wet rock, a strip of
surf, and then a tumult of waves.

The slaty limestone has grown black with the water that is dripping
on it, and wherever I turn there is the same grey obsession twining
and wreathing itself among the narrow fields, and the same wail from
the wind that shrieks and whistles in the loose rubble of the walls.

At first the people do not give much attention to the wilderness
that is round them, but after a few days their voices sink in the
kitchen, and their endless talk of pigs and cattle falls to the
whisper of men who are telling stories in a haunted house.

The rain continues; but this evening a number of young men were in
the kitchen mending nets, and the bottle of poteen was drawn from
its hiding-place.

One cannot think of these people drinking wine on the summit of this
crumbling precipice, but their grey poteen, which brings a shock of
joy to the blood, seems predestined to keep sanity in men who live
forgotten in these worlds of mist.

I sat in the kitchen part of the evening to feel the gaiety that was
rising, and when I came into my own room after dark, one of the sons
came in every time the bottle made its round, to pour me out my

It has cleared, and the sun is shining with a luminous warmth that
makes the whole island glisten with the splendor of a gem, and fills
the sea and sky with a radiance of blue light.

I have come out to lie on the rocks where I have the black edge of
the north island in front of me, Galway Bay, too blue almost to look
at, on my right, the Atlantic on my left, a perpendicular cliff
under my ankles, and over me innumerable gulls that chase each other
in a white cirrus of wings.

A nest of hooded crows is somewhere near me, and one of the old
birds is trying to drive me away by letting itself fall like a stone
every few moments, from about forty yards above me to within reach
of my hand.

Gannets are passing up and down above the sound, swooping at times
after a mackerel, and further off I can see the whole fleet of
hookers coming out from Kilronan for a night's fishing in the deep
water to the west.

As I lie here hour after hour, I seem to enter into the wild
pastimes of the cliff, and to become a companion of the cormorants
and crows.

Many of the birds display themselves before me with the vanity of
barbarians, performing in strange evolutions as long as I am in
sight, and returning to their ledge of rock when I am gone. Some are
wonderfully expert, and cut graceful figures for an inconceivable
time without a flap of their wings, growing so absorbed in their own
dexterity that they often collide with one another in their flight,
an incident always followed by a wild outburst of abuse. Their
language is easier than Gaelic, and I seem to understand the greater
part of their cries, though I am not able to answer. There is one
plaintive note which they take up in the middle of their usual
babble with extraordinary effect, and pass on from one to another
along the cliff with a sort of an inarticulate wail, as if they
remembered for an instant the horror of the mist.

On the low sheets of rock to the east I can see a number of red and
grey figures hurrying about their work. The continual passing in
this island between the misery of last night and the splendor of
to-day, seems to create an affinity between the moods of these
people and the moods of varying rapture and dismay that are frequent
in artists, and in certain forms of alienation. Yet it is only in
the intonation of a few sentences or some old fragment of melody
that I catch the real spirit of the island, for in general the men
sit together and talk with endless iteration of the tides and fish,
and of the price of kelp in Connemara.

After Mass this morning an old woman was buried. She lived in the
cottage next mine, and more than once before noon I heard a faint
echo of-the keen. I did not go to the wake for fear my presence
might jar upon the mourners, but all last evening I could hear the
strokes of a hammer in the yard, where, in the middle of a little
crowd of idlers, the next of kin laboured slowly at the coffin.
To-day, before the hour for the funeral, poteen was served to a
number of men who stood about upon the road, and a portion was
brought to me in my room. Then the coffin was carried out sewn
loosely in sailcloth, and held near the ground by three cross-poles
lashed upon the top. As we moved down to the low eastern portion of
the island, nearly all the men, and all the oldest women, wearing
petticoats over their heads, came out and joined in the procession.

While the grave was being opened the women sat down among the flat
tombstones, bordered with a pale fringe of early bracken, and began
the wild keen, or crying for the dead. Each old woman, as she took
her turn in the leading recitative, seemed possessed for the moment
with a profound ecstasy of grief, swaying to and fro, and bending
her forehead to the stone before her, while she called out to the
dead with a perpetually recurring chant of sobs.

All round the graveyard other wrinkled women, looking out from under
the deep red petticoats that cloaked them, rocked themselves with
the same rhythm, and intoned the inarticulate chant that is
sustained by all as an accompaniment.

The morning had been beautifully fine, but as they lowered the
coffin into the grave, thunder rumbled overhead and hailstones
hissed among the bracken.

In Inishmaan one is forced to believe in a sympathy between man and
nature, and at this moment when the thunder sounded a death-peal of
extraordinary grandeur above the voices of the women, I could see
the faces near me stiff and drawn with emotion.

When the coffin was in the grave, and the thunder had rolled away
across the hills of Clare, the keen broke out again more
passionately than before.

This grief of the keen is no personal complaint for the death of one
woman over eighty years, but seems to contain the whole passionate
rage that lurks somewhere in every native of the island. In this cry
of pain the inner consciousness of the people seems to lay itself
bare for an instant, and to reveal the mood of beings who feel their
isolation in the face of a universe that wars on them with winds and
seas. They are usually silent, but in the presence of death all
outward show of indifference or patience is forgotten, and they
shriek with pitiable despair before the horror of the fate to which
they are all doomed.

Before they covered the coffin an old man kneeled down by the grave
and repeated a simple prayer for the dead.

There was an irony in these words of atonement and Catholic belief
spoken by voices that were still hoarse with the cries of pagan

A little beyond the grave I saw a line of old women who had recited
in the keen sitting in the shadow of a wall beside the roofless
shell of the church. They were still sobbing and shaken with grief,
yet they were beginning to talk again of the daily trifles that veil
from them the terror of the world.

When we had all come out of the graveyard, and two men had rebuilt
the hole in the wall through which the coffin had been carried in,
we walked back to the village, talking of anything, and joking of
anything, as if merely coming from the boat-slip, or the pier.

One man told me of the poteen drinking that takes place at some

'A while since,' he said, 'there were two men fell down in the
graveyard while the drink was on them. The sea was rough that day,
the way no one could go to bring the doctor, and one of the men
never woke again, and found death that night.'

The other day the men of this house made a new field. There was a
slight bank of earth under the wall of the yard, and another in the
corner of the cabbage garden. The old man and his eldest son dug out
the clay, with the care of men working in a gold-mine, and Michael
packed it in panniers--there are no wheeled vehicles on this
island--for transport to a flat rock in a sheltered corner of their
holding, where it was mixed with sand and seaweed and spread out in
a layer upon the stone.

Most of the potato-growing of the island is carried on in fields of
this sort--for which the people pay a considerable rent--and if the
season is at all dry, their hope of a fair crop is nearly always

It is now nine days since rain has fallen, and the people are filled
with anxiety, although the sun has not yet been hot enough to do

The drought is also causing a scarcity of water. There are a few
springs on this side of the island, but they come only from a little
distance, and in hot weather are not to be relied on. The supply for
this house is carried up in a water-barrel by one of the women. If
it is drawn off at once it is not very nauseous, but if it has lain,
as it often does, for some hours in the barrel, the smell, colour,
and taste are unendurable. The water for washing is also coming
short, and as I walk round the edges of the sea, I often come on a
girl with her petticoats tucked up round her, standing in a pool
left by the tide and washing her flannels among the sea-anemones and
crabs. Their red bodices and white tapering legs make them as
beautiful as tropical sea-birds, as they stand in a frame of
seaweeds against the brink of the Atlantic. Michael, however, is a
little uneasy when they are in sight, and I cannot pause to watch
them. This habit of using the sea water for washing causes a good
deal of rheumatism on the island, for the salt lies in the clothes
and keeps them continually moist.

The people have taken advantage of this dry moment to begin the
burning of the kelp, and all the islands are lying in a volume of
grey smoke. There will not be a very large quantity this year, as
the people are discouraged by the uncertainty of the market, and do
not care to undertake the task of manufacture without a certainty of

The work needed to form a ton of kelp is considerable. The seaweed
is collected from the rocks after the storms of autumn and winter,
dried on fine days, and then made up into a rick, where it is left
till the beginning of June.

It is then burnt in low kilns on the shore, an affair that takes
from twelve to twenty-four hours of continuous hard work, though I
understand the people here do not manage well and spoil a portion of
what they produce by burning it more than is required.

The kiln holds about two tons of molten kelp, and when full it is
loosely covered with stones, and left to cool. In a few days the
substance is as hard as the limestone, and has to be broken with
crowbars before it can be placed in curaghs for transport to
Kilronan, where it is tested to determine the amount of iodine
contained, and paid for accordingly. In former years good kelp would
bring seven pounds a ton, now four pounds are not always reached.

In Aran even manufacture is of interest. The low flame-edged kiln,
sending out dense clouds of creamy smoke, with a band of red and
grey clothed workers moving in the haze, and usually some
petticoated boys and women who come down with drink, forms a scene
with as much variety and colour as any picture from the East.

The men feel in a certain sense the distinction of their island, and
show me their work with pride. One of them said to me yesterday,
'I'm thinking you never saw the like of this work before this day?'

'That is true,' I answered, 'I never did.'

'Bedad, then,' he said, 'isn't it a great wonder that you've seen
France and Germany, and the Holy Father, and never seen a man making
kelp till you come to Inishmaan.'

All the horses from this island are put out on grass among the hills
of Connemara from June to the end of September, as there is no
grazing here during the summer.

Their shipping and transport is even more difficult than that of the
homed cattle. Most of them are wild Connemara ponies, and their
great strength and timidity make them hard to handle on the narrow
pier, while in the hooker itself it is not easy to get them safely
on their feet in the small space that is available. They are dealt
with in the same way as for the bullocks I have spoken of already,
but the excitement becomes much more intense, and the storm of
Gaelic that rises the moment a horse is shoved from the pier, till
it is safely in its place, is indescribable. Twenty boys and men
howl and scream with agitation, cursing and exhorting, without
knowing, most of the time, what they are saying.

Apart, however, from this primitive babble, the dexterity and power
of the men are displayed to more advantage than in anything I have
seen hitherto. I noticed particularly the owner of a hooker from the
north island that was loaded this morning. He seemed able to hold up
a horse by his single weight when it was swinging from the masthead,
and preserved a humorous calm even in moments of the wildest
excitement. Sometimes a large mare would come down sideways on the
backs of the other horses, and kick there till the hold seemed to be
filled with a mass of struggling centaurs, for the men themselves
often leap down to try and save the foals from injury. The backs of
the horses put in first are often a good deal cut by the shoes of
the others that arrive on top of them, but otherwise they do not
seem to be much the worse, and as they are not on their way to a
fair, it is not of much consequence in what condition they come to

There is only one bit and saddle in the island, which are used by
the priest, who rides from the chapel to the pier when he has held
the service on Sunday.

The islanders themselves ride with a simple halter and a stick, yet
sometimes travel, at least in the larger island, at a desperate
gallop. As the horses usually have panniers, the rider sits sideways
over the withers, and if the panniers are empty they go at full
speed in this position without anything to hold to.

More than once in Aranmor I met a party going out west with empty
panniers from Kilronan. Long before they came in sight I could hear
a clatter of hoofs, and then a whirl of horses would come round a
corner at full gallop with their heads out, utterly indifferent to
the slender halter that is their only check. They generally travel
in single file with a few yards between them, and as there is no
traffic there is little fear of an accident.

Sometimes a woman and a man ride together, but in this case the man
sits in the usual position, and the woman sits sideways behind him,
and holds him round the waist.

Old Pat Dirane continues to come up every day to talk to me, and at
times I turn the conversation to his experiences of the fairies.

He has seen a good many of them, he says, in different parts of the
island, especially in the sandy districts north of the slip. They
are about a yard high with caps like the 'peelers' pulled down over
their faces. On one occasion he saw them playing ball in the evening
just above the slip, and he says I must avoid that place in the
morning or after nightfall for fear they might do me mischief.

He has seen two women who were 'away' with them, one a young married
woman, the other a girl. The woman was standing by a wall, at a spot
he described to me with great care, looking out towards the north.

Another night he heard a voice crying out in Irish, 'mhathair ta me
marbh' ('O mother, I'm killed'), and in the morning there was blood
on the wall of his house, and a child in a house not far off was

Yesterday he took me aside, and said he would tell me a secret he
had never yet told to any person in the world.

'Take a sharp needle,' he said, 'and stick it in under the collar of
your coat, and not one of them will be able to have power on you.'

Iron is a common talisman with barbarians, but in this case the idea
of exquisite sharpness was probably present also, and, perhaps, some
feeling for the sanctity of the instrument of toil, a folk-belief
that is common in Brittany.

The fairies are more numerous in Mayo than in any other county,
though they are fond of certain districts in Galway, where the
following story is said to have taken place.

'A farmer was in great distress as his crops had failed, and his cow
had died on him. One night he told his wife to make him a fine new
sack for flour before the next morning; and when it was finished he
started off with it before the dawn.

'At that time there was a gentleman who had been taken by the
fairies, and made an officer among them, and it was often people
would see him and him riding on a white horse at dawn and in the

'The poor man went down to the place where they used to see the
officer, and when he came by on his horse, he asked the loan of two
hundred and a half of flour, for he was in great want.

'The officer called the fairies out of a hole in the rocks where
they stored their wheat, and told them to give the poor man what he
was asking. Then he told him to come back and pay him in a year, and
rode away.

'When the poor man got home he wrote down the day on a piece of
paper, and that day year he came back and paid the officer.'

When he had ended his story the old man told me that the fairies
have a tenth of all the produce of the country, and make stores of
it in the rocks.

It is a Holy Day, and I have come up to sit on the Dun while the
people are at Mass.

A strange tranquility has come over the island this morning, as
happens sometimes on Sunday, filling the two circles of sea and sky
with the quiet of a church.

The one landscape that is here lends itself with singular power to
this suggestion of grey luminous cloud. There is no wind, and no
definite light. Aranmor seems to sleep upon a mirror, and the hills
of Connemara look so near that I am troubled by the width of the bay
that lies before them, touched this morning with individual
expression one sees sometimes in a lake.

On these rocks, where there is no growth of vegetable or animal
life, all the seasons are the same, and this June day is so full of
autumn that I listen unconsciously for the rustle of dead leaves.

The first group of men are coming out of the chapel, followed by a
crowd of women, who divide at the gate and troop off in different
directions, while the men linger on the road to gossip.

The silence is broken; I can hear far off, as if over water, a faint
murmur of Gaelic.

In the afternoon the sun came out and I was rowed over for a visit
to Kilronan.

As my men were bringing round the curagh to take me off a headland
near the pier, they struck a sunken rock, and came ashore shipping a
quantity of water, They plugged the hole with a piece of sacking
torn from a bag of potatoes they were taking over for the priest,
and we set off with nothing but a piece of torn canvas between us
and the Atlantic.

Every few hundred yards one of the rowers had to stop and bail, but
the hole did not increase.

When we were about half way across the sound we met a curagh coming
towards us with its sails set. After some shouting in Gaelic, I
learned that they had a packet of letters and tobacco for myself. We
sidled up as near as was possible with the roll, and my goods were
thrown to me wet with spray.

After my weeks in Inishmaan, Kilronan seemed an imposing centre of
activity. The half-civilized fishermen of the larger island are
inclined to despise the simplicity of the life here, and some of
them who were standing about when I landed asked me how at all I
passed my time with no decent fishing to be looking at.

I turned in for a moment to talk to the old couple in the hotel, and
then moved on to pay some other visits in the village.

Later in the evening I walked out along the northern road, where I
met many of the natives of the outlying villages, who had come down
to Kilronan for the Holy Day, and were now wandering home in
scattered groups.

The women and girls, when they had no men with them, usually tried
to make fun with me.

'Is it tired you are, stranger?' said one girl. I was walking very
slowly, to pass the time before my return to the east.

'Bedad, it is not, little girl,' I answered in Gaelic, 'It is lonely
I am.'

'Here is my little sister, stranger, who will give you her arm.'

And so it went. Quiet as these women are on ordinary occasions, when
two or three of them are gathered together in their holiday
petti-coats and shawls, they are as wild and capricious as the women
who live in towns.

About seven o'clock I got back to Kilronan, and beat up my crew from
the public-houses near the bay. With their usual carelessness they
had not seen to the leak in the curagh, nor to an oar that was
losing the brace that holds it to the toll-pin, and we moved off
across the sound at an absurd pace with a deepening pool at our

A superb evening light was lying over the island, which made me
rejoice at our delay. Looking back there was a golden haze behind
the sharp edges of the rock, and a long wake from the sun, which was
making jewels of the bubbling left by the oars.

The men had had their share of porter and were unusually voluble,
pointing out things to me that I had already seen, and stopping now
and then to make me notice the oily smell of mackerel that was
rising from the waves.

They told me that an evicting party is coming to the island tomorrow
morning, and gave me a long account of what they make and spend in a
year and of their trouble with the rent.

'The rent is hard enough for a poor man,' said one of them, 'but
this time we didn't pay, and they're after serving processes on
every one of us. A man will have to pay his rent now, and a power of
money with it for the process, and I'm thinking the agent will have
money enough out of them processes to pay for his servant-girl and
his man all the year.'

I asked afterwards who the island belonged to.

'Bedad,' they said, 'we've always heard it belonged to Miss--and she
is dead.'

When the sun passed like a lozenge of gold flame into the sea the
cold became intense. Then the men began to talk among themselves,
and losing the thread, I lay half in a dream looking at the pale
oily sea about us, and the low cliffs of the island sloping up past
the village with its wreath of smoke to the outline of Dun Conor.

Old Pat was in the house when I arrived, and he told a long story
after supper:--

There was once a widow living among the woods, and her only son
living along with her. He went out every morning through the trees
to get sticks, and one day as he was lying on the ground he saw a
swarm of flies flying over what the cow leaves behind her. He took
up his sickle and hit one blow at them, and hit that hard he left no
single one of them living.

That evening he said to his mother that it was time he was going out
into the world to seek his fortune, for he was able to destroy a
whole swarm of flies at one blow, and he asked her to make him three
cakes the way he might take them with him in the morning.

He started the next day a while after the dawn, with his three cakes
in his wallet, and he ate one of them near ten o'clock.

He got hungry again by midday and ate the second, and when night was
coming on him he ate the third. After that he met a man on the road
who asked him where he was going.

'I'm looking for some place where I can work for my living,' said
the young man.

'Come with me,' said the other man, 'and sleep to-night in the barn,
and I'll give you work to-morrow to see what you're able for.'

The next morning the farmer brought him out and showed him his cows
and told him to take them out to graze on the hills, and to keep
good watch that no one should come near them to milk them. The young
man drove out the cows into the fields, and when the heat of the day
came on he lay down on his back and looked up into the sky. A while
after he saw a black spot in the north-west, and it grew larger and
nearer till he saw a great giant coming towards him.

He got up on his feet and he caught the giant round the legs with
his two arms, and he drove him down into the hard ground above his
ankles, the way he was not able to free himself. Then the giant told
him to do him no hurt, and gave him his magic rod, and told him to
strike on the rock, and he would find his beautiful black horse, and
his sword, and his fine suit.

The young man struck the rock and it opened before him, and he found
the beautiful black horse, and the giant's sword and the suit lying
before him. He took out the sword alone, and he struck one blow with
it and struck off the giant's head. Then he put back the sword into
the rock, and went out again to his cattle, till it was time to
drive them home to the farmer.

When they came to milk the cows they found a power of milk in them,
and the farmer asked the young man if he had seen nothing out on the
hills, for the other cow-boys had been bringing home the cows with
no drop of milk in them. And the young man said he had seen nothing.

The next day he went out again with the cows. He lay down on his
back in the heat of the day, and after a while he saw a black spot
in the north-west, and it grew larger and nearer, till he saw it was
a great giant coming to attack him.

'You killed my brother,' said the giant; 'come here, till I make a
garter of your body.'

The young man went to him and caught him by the legs and drove him
down into the hard ground up to his ankles.

Then he hit the rod against the rock, and took out the sword and
struck off the giant's head.

That evening the farmer found twice as much milk in the cows as the
evening before, and he asked the young man if he had seen anything.
The young man said that he had seen nothing.

The third day the third giant came to him and said, 'You have killed
my two brothers; come here, till I make a garter of your body.'

And he did with this giant as he had done with the other two, and
that evening there was so much milk in the cows it was dropping out
of their udders on the pathway.

The next day the farmer called him and told him he might leave the
cows in the stalls that day, for there was a great curiosity to be
seen, namely, a beautiful king's daughter that was to be eaten by a
great fish, if there was no one in it that could save her. But the
young man said such a sight was all one to him, and he went out with
the cows on to the hills. When he came to the rocks he hit them with
his rod and brought out the suit and put it on him, and brought out
the sword and strapped it on his side, like an officer, and he got
on the black horse and rode faster than the wind till he came to
where the beautiful king's daughter was sitting on the shore in a
golden chair, waiting for the great fish.

When the great fish came in on the sea, bigger than a whale, with
two wings on the back of it, the young man went down into the surf
and struck at it with his sword and cut off one of its wings. All
the sea turned red with the bleeding out of it, till it swam away
and left the young man on the shore.

Then he turned his horse and rode faster than the wind till he came
to the rocks, and he took the suit off him and put it back in the
rocks, with the giant's sword and the black horse, and drove the
cows down to the farm.

The man came out before him and said he had missed the greatest
wonder ever was, and that a noble person was after coming down with
a fine suit on him and cutting off one of the wings from the great

'And there'll be the same necessity on her for two mornings more,'
said the farmer, 'and you'd do right to come and look on it.'

But the young man said he would not come.

The next morning he went out with his cows, and he took the sword
and the suit and the black horse out of the rock, and he rode faster
than the wind till he came where the king's daughter was sitting on
the shore. When the people saw him coming there was great wonder on
them to know if it was the same man they had seen the day before.
The king's daughter called out to him to come and kneel before her,
and when he kneeled down she took her scissors and cut off a lock of
hair from the back of his head and hid it in her clothes.

Then the great worm came in from the sea, and he went down into the
surf and cut the other wing off from it. All the sea turned red with
the bleeding out of it, till it swam away and left them.

That evening the farmer came out before him and told him of the
great wonder he had missed, and asked him would he go the next day
and look on it. The young man said he would not go.

The third day he came again on the black horse to where the king's
daughter was sitting on a golden chair waiting for the great worm.
When it came in from the sea the young man went down before it, and
every time it opened its mouth to eat him, he struck into its mouth,
till his sword went out through its neck, and it rolled back and

Then he rode off faster than the wind, and he put the suit and the
sword and the black horse into the rock, and drove home the cows.

The farmer was there before him and he told him that there was to be
a great marriage feast held for three days, and on the third day the
king's daughter would be married to the man that killed the great
worm, if they were able to find him.

A great feast was held, and men of great strength came and said it
was themselves were after killing the great worm.

But on the third day the young man put on the suit, and strapped the
sword to his side like an officer, and got on the black horse and
rode faster than the wind, till he came to the palace.

The king's daughter saw him, and she brought him in and made him
kneel down before her. Then she looked at the back of his head and
saw the place where she had cut off the lock with her own hand. She
led him in to the king, and they were married, and the young man was
given all the estate.

That is my story.

Two recent attempts to carry out evictions on the island came to
nothing, for each time a sudden storm rose, by, it is said, the
power of a native witch, when the steamer was approaching, and made
it impossible to land.

This morning, however, broke beneath a clear sky of June, and when I
came into the open air the sea and rocks were shining with wonderful
brilliancy. Groups of men, dressed in their holiday clothes, were
standing about, talking with anger and fear, yet showing a lurking
satisfaction at the thought of the dramatic pageant that was to
break the silence of the seas.

About half-past nine the steamer came in sight, on the narrow line
of sea-horizon that is seen in the centre of the bay, and
immediately a last effort was made to hide the cows and sheep of the
families that were most in debt.

Till this year no one on the island would consent to act as bailiff,
so that it was impossible to identify the cattle of the defaulters.
Now however, a man of the name of Patrick has sold his honour, and
the effort of concealment is practically futile.

This falling away from the ancient loyalty of the island has caused
intense indignation, and early yesterday morning, while I was
dreaming on the Dun, this letter was nailed on the doorpost of the

'Patrick, the devil, a revolver is waiting for you. If you are
missed with the first shot, there will be five more that will hit

'Any man that will talk with you, or work with you, or drink a pint
of porter in your shop, will be done with the same way as yourself.'

As the steamer drew near I moved down with the men to watch the
arrival, though no one went further than about a mile from the

Two curaghs from Kilronan with a man who was to give help in
identifying the cottages, the doctor, and the relieving officer,
were drifting with the tide, unwilling to come to land without the
support of the larger party. When the anchor had been thrown it gave
me a strange throb of pain to see the boats being lowered, and the
sunshine gleaming on the rifles and helmets of the constabulary who
crowded into them.

Once on shore the men were formed in close marching order, a word
was given, and the heavy rhythm of their boots came up over the
rocks. We were collected in two straggling bands on either side of
the roadway, and a few moments later the body of magnificent armed
men passed close to us, followed by a low rabble, who had been
brought to act as drivers for the sheriff.

After my weeks spent among primitive men this glimpse of the newer
types of humanity was not reassuring. Yet these mechanical police,
with the commonplace agents and sheriffs, and the rabble they had
hired, represented aptly enough the civilisation for which the homes
of the island were to be desecrated.

A stop was made at one of the first cottages in the village, and the
day's work began. Here, however, and at the next cottage, a
compromise was made, as some relatives came up at the last moment
and lent the money that was needed to gain a respite.

In another case a girl was ill in the house, so the doctor
interposed, and the people were allowed to remain after a merely
formal eviction. About midday, however, a house was reached where
there was no pretext for mercy, and no money could be procured. At a
sign from the sheriff the work of carrying out the beds and utensils
was begun in the middle of a crowd of natives who looked on in
absolute silence, broken only by the wild imprecations of the woman
of the house. She belonged to one of the most primitive families on
the island, and she shook with uncontrollable fury as she saw the
strange armed men who spoke a language she could not understand
driving her from the hearth she had brooded on for thirty years. For
these people the outrage to the hearth is the supreme catastrophe.
They live here in a world of grey, where there are wild rains and
mists every week in the year, and their warm chimney corners, filled
with children and young girls, grow into the consciousness of each
family in a way it is not easy to understand in more civilised

The outrage to a tomb in China probably gives no greater shock to
the Chinese than the outrage to a hearth in Inishmaan gives to the

When the few trifles had been carried out, and the door blocked with
stones, the old woman sat down by the threshold and covered her head
with her shawl.

Five or six other women who lived close by sat down in a circle
round her, with mute sympathy. Then the crowd moved on with the
police to another cottage where the same scene was to take place,
and left the group of desolate women sitting by the hovel.

There were still no clouds in the sky and the heat was intense. The
police when not in motion lay sweating and gasping under the walls
with their tunics unbuttoned. They were not attractive, and I kept
comparing them with the islandmen, who walked up and down as cool
and fresh-looking as the sea-gulls.

When the last eviction had been carried out a division was made:
half the party went off with the bailiff to search the inner plain
of the island for the cattle that had been hidden in the morning,
the other half remained on the village road to guard some pigs that
had already been taken possession of.

After a while two of these pigs escaped from the drivers and began a
wild race up and down the narrow road. The people shrieked and
howled to increase their terror, and at last some of them became so
excited that the police thought it time to interfere. They drew up
in double line opposite the mouth of a blind laneway where the
animals had been shut up. A moment later the shrieking began again
in the west and the two pigs came in sight, rushing down the middle
of the road with the drivers behind them.

They reached the line of the police. There was a slight scuffle, and
then the pigs continued their mad rush to the east, leaving three
policemen lying in the dust.

The satisfaction of the people was immense. They shrieked and hugged
each other with delight, and it is likely that they will hand down
these animals for generations in the tradition of the island.

Two hours later the other party returned, driving three lean cows
before them, and a start was made for the slip. At the public-house
the policemen were given a drink while the dense crowd that was
following waited in the lane. The island bull happened to be in a
field close by, and he became wildly excited at the sight of the
cows and of the strangely-dressed men. Two young islanders sidled up
to me in a moment or two as I was resting on a wall, and one of them
whispered in my ear--'Do you think they could take fines of us if we
let out the bull on them?'

In face of the crowd of women and children, I could only say it was
probable, and they slunk off.

At the slip there was a good deal of bargaining, which ended in all
the cattle being given back to their owners. It was plainly of no
use to take them away, as they were worth nothing.

When the last policeman had embarked, an old woman came forward from
the crowd and, mounting on a rock near the slip, began a fierce
rhapsody in Gaelic, pointing at the bailiff and waving her withered
arms with extraordinary rage.

'This man is my own son,' she said; 'it is I that ought to know him.
He is the first ruffian in the whole big world.'

Then she gave an account of his life, coloured with a vindictive
fury I cannot reproduce. As she went on the excitement became so
intense I thought the man would be stoned before he could get back
to his cottage.

On these islands the women live only for their children, and it is
hard to estimate the power of the impulse that made this old woman
stand out and curse her son.

In the fury of her speech I seem to look again into the strangely
reticent temperament of the islanders, and to feel the passionate
spirit that expresses itself, at odd moments only, with magnificent
words and gestures.

Old Pat has told me a story of the goose that lays the golden eggs,
which he calls the Phoenix:--

A poor widow had three sons and a daughter. One day when her sons
were out looking for sticks in the wood they saw a fine speckled
bird flying in the trees. The next day they saw it again, and the
eldest son told his brothers to go and get sticks by themselves, for
he was going after the bird.

He went after it, and brought it in with him when he came home in
the evening. They put it in an old hencoop, and they gave it some of
the meal they had for themselves;--I don't know if it ate the meal,
but they divided what they had themselves; they could do no more.

That night it laid a fine spotted egg in the basket. The next night
it laid another.

At that time its name was on the papers and many heard of the bird
that laid the golden eggs, for the eggs were of gold, and there's no
lie in it.

When the boys went down to the shop the next day to buy a stone of
meal, the shopman asked if he could buy the bird of them. Well, it
was arranged in this way. The shopman would marry the boys'
sister--a poor simple girl without a stitch of good clothes--and get
the bird with her.

Some time after that one of the boys sold an egg of the bird to a
gentleman that was in the country. The gentleman asked him if he had
the bird still. He said that the man who had married his sister was
after getting it.

'Well,' said the gentleman, 'the man who eats the heart of that bird
will find a purse of gold beneath him every morning, and the man who
eats its liver will be king of Ireland.'

The boy went out--he was a simple poor fellow--and told the shopman.

Then the shopman brought in the bird and killed it, and he ate the
heart himself and he gave the liver to his wife.

When the boy saw that, there was great anger on him, and he went
back and told the gentleman.

'Do what I'm telling you,' said the gentleman. 'Go down now and tell
the shopman and his wife to come up here to play a game of cards
with me, for it's lonesome I am this evening.'

When the boy was gone he mixed a vomit and poured the lot of it into
a few naggins of whiskey, and he put a strong cloth on the table
under the cards.

The man came up with his wife and they began to play.

The shopman won the first game and the gentleman made them drink a
sup of the whiskey.

They played again and the shopman won the second game. Then the
gentleman made him drink a sup more of the whiskey.

As they were playing the third game the shopman and his wife got
sick on the cloth, and the boy picked it up and carried it into the
yard, for the gentleman had let him know what he was to do. Then he
found the heart of the bird and he ate it, and the next morning when
he turned in his bed there was a purse of gold under him.

That is my story.

When the steamer is expected I rarely fail to visit the boat-slip,
as the men usually collect when she is in the offing, and lie
arguing among their curaghs till she has made her visit to the south
island, and is seen coming towards us.

This morning I had a long talk with an old man who was rejoicing
over the improvement he had seen here during the last ten or fifteen

Till recently there was no communication with the mainland except by
hookers, which were usually slow, and could only make the voyage in
tolerably fine weather, so that if an islander went to a fair it was
often three weeks before he could return. Now, however, the steamer
comes here twice in the week, and the voyage is made in three or
four hours.

The pier on this island is also a novelty, and is much thought of,
as it enables the hookers that still carry turf and cattle to
discharge and take their cargoes directly from the shore. The water
round it, however, is only deep enough for a hooker when the tide is
nearly full, and will never float the steamer, so passengers must
still come to land in curaghs. The boat-slip at the corner next the
south island is extremely useful in calm weather, but it is exposed
to a heavy roll from the south, and is so narrow that the curaghs
run some danger of missing it in the tumult of the surf.

In bad weather four men will often stand for nearly an hour at the
top of the slip with a curagh in their hands, watching a point of
rock towards the south where they can see the strength of the waves
that are coming in.

The instant a break is seen they swoop down to the surf, launch
their curagh, and pull out to sea with incredible speed. Coming to
land Is attended with the same difficulty, and, if their moment is
badly chosen, they are likely to be washed sideways and swamped
among the rocks.

This continual danger, which can only be escaped by extraordinary
personal dexterity, has had considerable influence on the local
character, as the waves have made it impossible for clumsy,
foolhardy, or timid men to live on these islands.

When the steamer is within a mile of the slip, the curaghs are put
out and range themselves--there are usually from four to a dozen--in
two lines at some distance from the shore.

The moment she comes in among them there is a short but desperate
struggle for good places at her side. The men are lolling on their
oars talking with the dreamy tone which comes with the rocking of
the waves. The steamer lies to, and in an instant their faces become
distorted with passion, while the oars bend and quiver with the
strain. For one minute they seem utterly indifferent to their own
safety and that of their friends and brothers. Then the sequence is
decided, and they begin to talk again with the dreamy tone that is
habitual to them, while they make fast and clamber up into the

While the curaghs are out I am left with a few women and very old
men who cannot row. One of these old men, whom I often talk with,
has some fame as a bone-setter, and is said to have done remarkable
cures, both here and on the mainland. Stories are told of how he has
been taken off by the quality in their carriages through the hills
of Connemara, to treat their sons and daughters, and come home with
his pockets full of money.

Another old man, the oldest on the island, is fond of telling me
anecdotes--not folktales--of things that have happened here in his

He often tells me about a Connaught man who killed his father with
the blow of a spade when he was in passion, and then fled to this
island and threw himself on the mercy of some of the natives with
whom he was said to be related. They hid him in a hole--which the
old man has shown me--and kept him safe for weeks, though the police
came and searched for him, and he could hear their boots grinding on
the stones over his head. In spite of a reward which was offered,
the island was incorruptible, and after much trouble the man was
safely shipped to America.

This impulse to protect the criminal is universal in the west. It
seems partly due to the association between justice and the hated
English jurisdiction, but more directly to the primitive feeling of
these people, who are never criminals yet always capable of crime,
that a man will not do wrong unless he is under the influence of a
passion which is as irresponsible as a storm on the sea. If a man
has killed his father, and is already sick and broken with remorse,
they can see no reason why he should be dragged away and killed by
the law.

Such a man, they say, will be quiet all the rest of his life, and if
you suggest that punishment is needed as an example, they ask,
'Would any one kill his father if he was able to help it?'

Some time ago, before the introduction of police, all the people of
the islands were as innocent as the people here remain to this day.
I have heard that at that time the ruling proprietor and magistrate
of the north island used to give any man who had done wrong a letter
to a jailer in Galway, and send him off by himself to serve a term
of imprisonment.

As there was no steamer, the ill-doer was given a passage in some
chance hooker to the nearest point on the mainland. Then he walked
for many miles along a desolate shore till he reached the town. When
his time had been put through he crawled back along the same route,
feeble and emaciated, and had often to wait many weeks before he
could regain the island. Such at least is the story.

It seems absurd to apply the same laws to these people and to the
criminal classes of a city. The most intelligent man on Inishmaan
has often spoken to me of his contempt of the law, and of the
increase of crime the police have brought to Aranmor. On this
island, he says, if men have a little difference, or a little fight,
their friends take care it does not go too far, and in a little time
it is forgotten. In Kilronan there is a band of men paid to make out
cases for themselves; the moment a blow is struck they come down and
arrest the man who gave it. The other man he quarreled with has to
give evidence against him; whole families come down to the court and
swear against each other till they become bitter enemies. If there
is a conviction the man who is convicted never forgives. He waits
his time, and before the year is out there is a cross summons, which
the other man in turn never forgives. The feud continues to grow,
till a dispute about the colour of a man's hair may end in a murder,
after a year's forcing by the law. The mere fact that it is
impossible to get reliable evidence in the island--not because the
people are dishonest, but because they think the claim of kinship
more sacred than the claims of abstract truth--turns the whole
system of sworn evidence into a demoralising farce, and it is easy
to believe that law dealings on this false basis must lead to every
sort of injustice.

While I am discussing these questions with the old men the curaghs
begin to come in with cargoes of salt, and flour, and porter.

To-day a stir was made by the return of a native who had spent five
years in New York. He came on shore with half a dozen people who had
been shopping on the mainland, and walked up and down on the slip in
his neat suit, looking strangely foreign to his birthplace, while
his old mother of eighty-five ran about on the slippery seaweed,
half crazy with delight, telling every one the news.

When the curaghs were in their places the men crowded round him to
bid him welcome. He shook hands with them readily enough, but with
no smile of recognition.

He is said to be dying.

Yesterday--a Sunday--three young men rowed me over to Inisheer, the
south island of the group.

The stern of the curagh was occupied, so I was put in the bow with
my head on a level with the gunnel. A considerable sea was running
in the sound, and when we came out from the shelter of this island,
the curagh rolled and vaulted in a way not easy to describe.

At one moment, as we went down into the furrow, green waves curled
and arched themselves above me; then in an instant I was flung up
into the air and could look down on the heads of the rowers, as if
we were sitting on a ladder, or out across a forest of white crests
to the black cliff of Inishmaan.

The men seemed excited and uneasy, and I thought for a moment that
we were likely to be swamped. In a little while, however I realised
the capacity of the curagh to raise its head among the waves, and
the motion became strangely exhilarating. Even, I thought, if we
were dropped into the blue chasm of the waves, this death, with the
fresh sea saltness in one's teeth, would be better than most deaths
one is likely to meet.

When we reached the other island, it was raining heavily, so that we
could not see anything of the antiquities or people.

For the greater part of the afternoon we sat on the tops of empty
barrels in the public-house, talking of the destiny of Gaelic. We
were admitted as travellers, and the shutters of the shop were
closed behind us, letting in only a glimmer of grey light, and the
tumult of the storm. Towards evening it cleared a little and we came
home in a calmer sea, but with a dead head-wind that gave the rowers
all they could do to make the passage.

On calm days I often go out fishing with Michael. When we reach the
space above the slip where the curaghs are propped, bottom upwards,
on the limestone, he lifts the prow of the one we are going to
embark in, and I slip underneath and set the centre of the foremost
seat upon my neck. Then he crawls under the stern and stands up with
the last seat upon his shoulders. We start for the sea. The long
prow bends before me so that I see nothing but a few yards of
shingle at my feet. A quivering pain runs from the top of my spine
to the sharp stones that seem to pass through my pampooties, and
grate upon my ankles. We stagger and groan beneath the weight; but
at last our feet reach the slip, and we run down with a half-trot
like the pace of bare-footed children.

A yard from the sea we stop and lower the curagh to the right. It
must be brought down gently--a difficult task for our strained and
aching muscles--and sometimes as the gunnel reaches the slip I lose
my balance and roll in among the seats.

Yesterday we went out in the curagh that had been damaged on the day
of my visit to Kilronan, and as we were putting in the oars the
freshly-tarred patch stuck to the slip which was heated with the
sunshine. We carried up water in the bailer--the 'supeen,' a shallow
wooden vessel like a soup-plate--and with infinite pains we got free
and rode away. In a few minutes, however, I found the water spouting
up at my feet.

The patch had been misplaced, and this time we had no sacking.
Michael borrowed my pocket scissors, and with admirable rapidity cut
a square of flannel from the tail of his shirt and squeezed it into
the hole, making it fast with a splint which he hacked from one of
the oars.

During our excitement the tide had carried us to the brink of the
rocks, and I admired again the dexterity with which he got his oars
into the water and turned us out as we were mounting on a wave that
would have hurled us to destruction.

With the injury to our curagh we did not go far from the shore.
After a while I took a long spell at the oars, and gained a certain
dexterity, though they are not easy to manage. The handles overlap
by about six inches--in order to gain leverage, as the curagh is
narrow--and at first it was almost impossible to avoid striking the
upper oar against one's knuckles. The oars are rough and square,
except at the ends, so one cannot do so with impunity. Again, a
curagh with two light people in it floats on the water like a
nut-shell, and the slightest inequality in the stroke throws the
prow round at least a right angle from its course. In the first
half-hour I found myself more than once moving towards the point I
had come from, greatly to Michael's satisfaction.

This morning we were out again near the pier on the north side of
the island. As we paddled slowly with the tide, trolling for
pollock, several curaghs, weighed to the gunnel with kelp, passed us
on their way to Kilronan.

An old woman, rolled in red petticoats, was sitting on a ledge of
rock that runs into the sea at the point where the curaghs were
passing from the south, hailing them in quavering Gaelic, and asking
for a passage to Kilronan.

The first one that came round without a cargo turned in from some
distance and took her away.

The morning had none of the supernatural beauty that comes over the
island so often in rainy weather, so we basked in the vague
enjoyment of the sunshine, looking down at the wild luxuriance of
the vegetation beneath the sea, which contrasts strangely with the
nakedness above it.

Some dreams I have had in this cottage seem to give strength to the
opinion that there is a psychic memory attached to certain

Last night, after walking in a dream among buildings with strangely
intense light on them, I heard a faint rhythm of music beginning far
away on some stringed instrument.

It came closer to me, gradually increasing in quickness and volume
with an irresistibly definite progression. When it was quite near
the sound began to move in my nerves and blood, and to urge me to
dance with them.

I knew that if I yielded I would be carried away to some moment of
terrible agony, so I struggled to remain quiet, holding my knees
together with my hands.

The music increased continually, sounding like the strings of harps,
tuned to a forgotten scale, and having a resonance as searching as
the strings of the cello.

Then the luring excitement became more powerful than my will, and my
limbs moved in spite of me.

In a moment I was swept away in a whirlwind of notes. My breath and
my thoughts and every impulse of my body, became a form of the
dance, till I could not distinguish between the instruments and the
rhythm and my own person or consciousness.

For a while it seemed an excitement that was filled with joy, then
it grew into an ecstasy where all existence was lost in a vortex of
movement. I could not think there had ever been a life beyond the
whirling of the dance.

Then with a shock the ecstasy turned to an agony and rage. I
Struggled to free myself, but seemed only to increase the passion of
the steps I moved to. When I shrieked I could only echo the notes of
the rhythm.

At last with a moment of uncontrollable frenzy I broke back to
consciousness and awoke.

I dragged myself trembling to the window of the cottage and looked
out. The moon was glittering across the bay, and there was no sound
anywhere on the island.

I am leaving in two days, and old Pat Dirane has bidden me goodbye.
He met me in the village this morning and took me into 'his little
tint,' a miserable hovel where he spends the night.

I sat for a long time on his threshold, while he leaned on a stool
behind me, near his bed, and told me the last story I shall have
from him--a rude anecdote not worth recording. Then he told me with
careful emphasis how he had wandered when he was a young man, and
lived in a fine college, teaching Irish to the young priests!

They say on the island that he can tell as many lies as four men:
perhaps the stories he has learned have strengthened his
imagination. When I stood up in the doorway to give him God's
blessing, he leaned over on the straw that forms his bed, and shed
tears. Then he turned to me again, lifting up one trembling hand,
with the mitten worn to a hole on the palm, from the rubbing of his

'I'll not see you again,' he said, with tears trickling on his face,
'and you're a kindly man. When you come back next year I won't be in
it. I won't live beyond the winter. But listen now to what I'm
telling you; let you put insurance on me in the city of Dublin, and
it's five hundred pounds you'll get on my burial.'

This evening, my last in the island, is also the evening of the
'Pattern'--a festival something like 'Pardons' of Brittany.

I waited especially to see it, but a piper who was expected did not
come, and there was no amusement. A few friends and relations came
over from the other island and stood about the public-house in their
best clothes, but without music dancing was impossible.

I believe on some occasions when the piper is present there is a
fine day of dancing and excitement, but the Galway piper is getting
old, and is not easily induced to undertake the voyage.

Last night, St. John's Eve, the fires were lighted and boys ran
about with pieces of the burning turf, though I could not find out
if the idea of lighting the house fires from the bonfires is still
found on the island.

I have come out of an hotel full of tourists and commercial
travelers, to stroll along the edge of Galway bay, and look out in
the direction of the islands. The sort of yearning I feel towards
those lonely rocks is indescribably acute. This town, that is
usually so full of wild human interest, seems in my present mood a
tawdry medley of all that is crudest in modern life. The nullity of
the rich and the squalor of the poor give me the same pang of
wondering disgust; yet the islands are fading already and I can
hardly realise that the smell of the seaweed and the drone of the
Atlantic are still moving round them.

One of my island friends has written to me:--

DEAR JOHN SYNGE,--I am for a long time expecting a letter from you
and I think you are forgetting this island altogether.

Mr.--died a long time ago on the big island and his boat was on
anchor in the harbour and the wind blew her to Black Head and broke
her up after his death.

Tell me are you learning Irish since you went. We have a branch of
the Gaelic League here now and the people is going on well with the
Irish and reading.

I will write the next letter in Irish to you. Tell me will you come
to see us next year and if you will you'll write a letter before
you. All your loving friends is well in health.--Mise do chara go

Another boy I sent some baits to has written to me also, beginning
his letter in Irish and ending it in English:--

DEAR JOHN,--I got your letter four days ago, and there was pride and
joy on me because it was written in Irish, and a fine, good,
pleasant letter it was. The baits you sent are very good, but I lost
two of them and half my line. A big fish came and caught the bait,
and the line was bad and half of the line and the baits went away.
My sister has come back from America, but I'm thinking it won't be
long till she goes away again, for it is lonesome and poor she finds
the island now.--I am your friend. ...

Write soon and let you write in Irish, if you don't I won't look on

Part II

THE evening before I returned to the west I wrote to Michael--who
had left the islands to earn his living on the mainland--to tell him
that I would call at the house where he lodged the next morning,
which was a Sunday.

A young girl with fine western features, and little English, came
out when I knocked at the door. She seemed to have heard all about
me, and was so filled with the importance of her message that she
could hardly speak it intelligibly.

'She got your letter,' she said, confusing the pronouns, as is often
done in the west, 'she is gone to Mass, and she'll be in the square
after that. Let your honour go now and sit in the square, and Michael
will find you.'

As I was returning up the main street I met Michael wandering down
to meet me, as he had got tired of waiting.

He seemed to have grown a powerful man since I had seen him, and was
now dressed in the heavy brown flannels of the Connaught labourer.
After a little talk we turned back together and went out on the
sandhills above the town. Meeting him here a little beyond the
threshold of my hotel I was singularly struck with the refinement of
his nature, which has hardly been influenced by his new life, and
the townsmen and sailors he has met with.

'I do often come outside the town on Sunday,' he said while we were
talking, 'for what is there to do in a town in the middle of all the
people when you are not at your work?'

A little later another Irish-speaking labourer--a friend of
Michael's--joined us, and we lay for hours talking and arguing on
the grass. The day was unbearably sultry, and the sand and the sea
near us were crowded with half-naked women, but neither of the young
men seemed to be aware of their presence. Before we went back to the
town a man came out to ring a young horse on the sand close to where
we were lying, and then the interest of my companions was intense.

Late in the evening I met Michael again, and we wandered round the
bay, which was still filled with bathing women, until it was quite
dark, I shall not see him again before my return from the islands,
as he is busy to-morrow, and on Tuesday I go out with the steamer.

I returned to the middle island this morning, in the steamer to
Kilronan, and on here in a curagh that had gone over with salt fish.
As I came up from the slip the doorways in the village filled with
women and children, and several came down on the roadway to shake
hands and bid me a thousand welcomes.

Old Pat Dirane is dead, and several of my friends have gone to
America; that is all the news they have to give me after an absence
of many months.

When I arrived at the cottage I was welcomed by the old people, and
great excitement was made by some little presents I had bought
them--a pair of folding scissors for the old woman, a strop for her
husband, and some other trifles.

Then the youngest son, Columb, who is still at home, went into the
inner room and brought out the alarm clock I sent them last year
when I went away.

'I am very fond of this clock,' he said, patting it on the back; 'it
will ring for me any morning when I want to go out fishing. Bedad,
there are no two clocks in the island that would be equal to it.'

I had some photographs to show them that I took here last year, and
while I was sitting on a little stool near the door of the kitchen,
showing them to the family, a beautiful young woman I had spoken to
a few times last year slipped in, and after a wonderfully simple and
cordial speech of welcome, she sat down on the floor beside me to
look on also.

The complete absence of shyness or self-consciousness in most of
these people gives them a peculiar charm, and when this young and
beautiful woman leaned across my knees to look nearer at some
photograph that pleased her, I felt more than ever the strange
simplicity of the island life.

Last year when I came here everything was new, and the people were a
little strange with me, but now I am familiar with them and their
way of life, so that their qualities strike me more forcibly than

When my photographs of this island had been examined with immense
delight, and every person in them had been identified--even those
who only showed a hand or a leg--I brought out some I had taken in
County Wicklow. Most of them were fragments, showing fairs in
Rathdrum or Aughrim, men cutting turf on the hills, or other scenes
of inland life, yet they gave the greatest delight to these people
who are wearied of the sea.

This year I see a darker side of life in the islands. The sun seldom
shines, and day after day a cold south-western wind blows over the
cliffs, bringing up showers of hail and dense masses of cloud.

The sons who are at home stay out fishing whenever it is tolerably
calm, from about three in the morning till after nightfall, yet they
earn little, as fish are not plentiful.

The old man fishes also with a long rod and ground-bait, but as a
rule has even smaller success.

When the weather breaks completely, fishing is abandoned, and they
both go down and dig potatoes in the rain. The women sometimes help
them, but their usual work is to look after the calves and do their
spinning in the house.

There is a vague depression over the family this year, because of
the two sons who have gone away, Michael to the mainland, and
another son, who was working in Kilronan last year, to the United

A letter came yesterday from Michael to his mother. It was written
in English, as he is the only one of the family who can read or
write in Irish, and I heard it being slowly spelled out and
translated as I sat in my room. A little later the old woman brought
it in for me to read.

He told her first about his work, and the wages he is getting. Then
he said that one night he had been walking in the town, and had
looked up among the streets, and thought to himself what a grand
night it would be on the Sandy Head of this island--not, he added,
that he was feeling lonely or sad. At the end he gave an account,
with the dramatic emphasis of the folk-tale, of how he had met me on
the Sunday morning, and, 'believe me,' he said, 'it was the fine
talk we had for two hours or three.' He told them also of a knife I
had given him that was so fine, no one on the island 'had ever seen
the like of her.'

Another day a letter came from the son who is in America, to say
that he had had a slight accident to one of his arms, but was well
again, and that he was leaving New York and going a few hundred
miles up the country.

All the evening afterwards the old woman sat on her stool at the
corner of the fire with her shawl over her head, keening piteously
to herself. America appeared far away, yet she seems to have felt
that, after all, it was only the other edge of the Atlantic, and now
when she hears them talking of railroads and inland cities where
there is no sea, things she cannot understand, it comes home to her
that her son is gone for ever. She often tells me how she used to
sit on the wall behind the house last year and watch the hooker he
worked in coming out of Kilronan and beating up the sound, and what
company it used to be to her the time they'd all be out.

The maternal feeling is so powerful on these islands that it gives a
life of torment to the women. Their sons grow up to be banished as
soon as they are of age, or to live here in continual danger on the
sea; their daughters go away also, or are worn out in their youth
with bearing children that grow up to harass them in their own turn
a little later.

There has been a storm for the last twenty-four hours, and I have
been wandering on the cliffs till my hair is stiff with salt.
Immense masses of spray were flying up from the base of the cliff,
and were caught at times by the wind and whirled away to fall at
some distance from the shore. When one of these happened to fall on
me, I had to crouch down for an instant, wrapped and blinded by a
white hail of foam.

The waves were so enormous that when I saw one more than usually
large coming towards me, I turned instinctively to hide myself, as
one blinks when struck upon the eyes.

After a few hours the mind grows bewildered with the endless change
and struggle of the sea, and an utter despondency replaces the first
moment of exhilaration.

At the south-west corner of the island I came upon a number of
people gathering the seaweed that is now thick on the rocks. It was
raked from the surf by the men, and then carried up to the brow of
the cliff by a party of young girls.

In addition to their ordinary clothing these girls wore a raw
sheepskin on their shoulders, to catch the oozing sea-water, and
they looked strangely wild and seal-like with the salt caked upon
their lips and wreaths of seaweed in their hair.

For the rest of my walk I saw no living thing but one flock of
curlews, and a few pipits hiding among the stones.

About the sunset the clouds broke and the storm turned to a
hurricane. Bars of purple cloud stretched across the sound where
immense waves were rolling from the west, wreathed with snowy
phantasies of spray. Then there was the bay full of green delirium,
and the Twelve Pins touched with mauve and scarlet in the east.

The suggestion from this world of inarticulate power was immense,
and now at midnight, when the wind is abating, I am still trembling
and flushed with exultation.

I have been walking through the wet lanes in my pampooties in spite
of the rain, and I have brought on a feverish cold.

The wind is terrific. If anything serious should happen to me I
might die here and be nailed in my box, and shoved down into a wet
crevice in the graveyard before any one could know it on the

Two days ago a curagh passed from the south island--they can go out
when we are weather-bound because of a sheltered cove in their
island--it was thought in search of the Doctor. It became too rough
afterwards to make the return journey, and it was only this morning
we saw them repassing towards the south-east in a terrible sea.

A four-oared curagh with two men in her besides the rowers--
probably the Priest and the Doctor--went first, followed by the
three-oared curagh from the south island, which ran more danger.
Often when they go for the Doctor in weather like this, they bring
the Priest also, as they do not know if it will be possible to go
for him if he is needed later.

As a rule there is little illness, and the women often manage their
confinements among themselves without any trained assistance. In
most cases all goes well, but at times a curagh is sent off in
desperate haste for the Priest and the Doctor when it is too late.

The baby that spent some days here last year is now established in
the house; I suppose the old woman has adopted him to console
herself for the loss of her own sons.

He is now a well-grown child, though not yet able to say more than a
few words of Gaelic. His favourite amusement is to stand behind the
door with a stick, waiting for any wandering pig or hen that may
chance to come in, and then to dash out and pursue them. There are
two young kittens in the kitchen also, which he ill-treats, without
meaning to do them harm.

Whenever the old woman comes into my room with turf for the fire, he
walks in solemnly behind her with a sod under each arm, deposits
them on the back of the fire with great care, and then flies off
round the corner with his long petticoats trailing behind him.

He has not yet received any official name on the island, as he has
not left the fireside, but in the house they usually speak of him as
'Michaeleen beug' (i.e. 'little small-Michael').

Now and then he is slapped, but for the most part the old woman
keeps him in order with stories of 'the long-toothed hag,' that
lives in the Dun and eats children who are not good. He spends half
his day eating cold potatoes and drinking very strong tea, yet seems
in perfect health.

An Irish letter has come to me from Michael. I will translate it

DEAR NOBLE PERSON,--I write this letter with joy and pride that you
found the way to the house of my father the day you were on the
steamship. I am thinking there will not be loneliness on you, for
there will be the fine beautiful Gaelic League and you will be
learning powerfully.

I am thinking there is no one in life walking with you now but your
own self from morning till night, and great is the pity.

What way are my mother and my three brothers and my sisters, and do
not forget white Michael, and the poor little child and the old grey
woman, and Rory. I am getting a forgetfulness on all my friends and
kindred.--I am your friend ...

It is curious how he accuses himself of forgetfulness after asking
for all his family by name. I suppose the first home-sickness is
wearing away and he looks on his independent wellbeing as a treason
towards his kindred.

One of his friends was in the kitchen when the letter was brought to
me, and, by the old man's wish, he read it out loud as soon as I had
finished it. When he came to the last sentence he hesitated for a
moment, and then omitted it altogether.

This young man had come up to bring me a copy of the 'Love Songs of
Connaught,' which he possesses, and I persuaded him to read, or
rather chant me some of them. When he had read a couple I found that
the old woman knew many of them from her childhood, though her
version was often not the same as what was in the book. She was
rocking herself on a stool in the chimney corner beside a pot of
indigo, in which she was dyeing wool, and several times when the
young man finished a poem she took it up again and recited the
verses with exquisite musical intonation, putting a wistfulness and
passion into her voice that seemed to give it all the cadences that
are sought in the profoundest poetry.

The lamp had burned low, and another terrible gale was howling and
shrieking over the island. It seemed like a dream that I should be
sitting here among these men and women listening to this rude and
beautiful poetry that is filled with the oldest passions of the

The horses have been coming back for the last few days from their
summer's grazing in Connemara. They are landed at the sandy beach
where the cattle were shipped last year, and I went down early this
morning to watch their arrival through the waves. The hooker was
anchored at some distance from the shore, but I could see a horse
standing at the gunnel surrounded by men shouting and flipping at it
with bits of rope. In a moment it jumped over into the sea, and some
men, who were waiting for it in a curagh, caught it by the halter
and towed it to within twenty yards of the surf. Then the curagh
turned back to the hooker, and the horse was left to make its own
way to the land.

As I was standing about a man came up to me and asked after the
usual salutations:--

'Is there any war in the world at this time, noble person?' I told
him something of the excitement in the Transvaal, and then another
horse came near the waves and I passed on and left him.

Afterwards I walked round the edge of the sea to the pier, where a
quantity of turf has recently been brought in. It is usually left
for some time stacked on the sandhills, and then carried up to the
cottages in panniers slung on donkeys or any horses that are on the

They have been busy with it the last few weeks, and the track from
the village to the pier has been filled with lines of
red-petticoated boys driving their donkeys before them, or cantering
down on their backs when the panniers are empty.

In some ways these men and women seem strangely far away from me.
They have the same emotions that I have, and the animals have, yet I
cannot talk to them when there is much to say, more than to the dog
that whines beside me in a mountain fog.

There is hardly an hour I am with them that I do not feel the shock
of some inconceivable idea, and then again the shock of some vague
emotion that is familiar to them and to me. On some days I feel this
island as a perfect home and resting place; on other days I feel
that I am a waif among the people. I can feel more with them than
they can feel with me, and while I wander among them, they like me
sometimes, and laugh at me sometimes, yet never know what I am

In the evenings I sometimes meet with a girl who is not yet half
through her teens, yet seems in some ways more consciously developed
than any one else that I have met here. She has passed part of her
life on the mainland, and the disillusion she found in Galway has
coloured her imagination.

As we sit on stools on either side of the fire I hear her voice
going backwards and forwards in the same sentence from the gaiety of
a child to the plaintive intonation of an old race that is worn with
sorrow. At one moment she is a simple peasant, at another she seems
to be looking out at the world with a sense of prehistoric
disillusion and to sum up in the expression of her grey-blue eyes
the whole external despondency of the clouds and sea.

Our conversation is usually disjointed. One evening we talked of a
town on the mainland.

'Ah, it's a queer place,' she said: 'I wouldn't choose to live in
it. It's a queer place, and indeed I don't know the place that

Another evening we talked of the people who live on the island or
come to visit it.

'Father is gone,' she said; 'he was a kind man but a queer man.
Priests is queer people, and I don't know who isn't.'

Then after a long pause she told me with seriousness, as if speaking
of a thing that surprised herself, and should surprise me, that she
was very fond of the boys.

In our talk, which is sometimes full of the innocent realism of
childhood, she is always pathetically eager to say the right thing
and be engaging.

One evening I found her trying to light a fire in the little side
room of her cottage, where there is an ordinary fireplace. I went in
to help her and showed her how to hold up a paper before the mouth
of the chimney to make a draught, a method she had never seen. Then
I told her of men who live alone in Paris and make their own fires
that they may have no one to bother them. She was sitting in a heap
on the floor staring into the turf, and as I finished she looked up
with surprise.

'They're like me so,' she said; 'would anyone have thought that!'

Below the sympathy we feel there is still a chasm between us.

'Musha,' she muttered as I was leaving her this evening, 'I think
it's to hell you'll be going by and by.'

Occasionally I meet her also in the kitchen where young men go to
play cards after dark and a few girls slip in to share the
amusement. At such times her eyes shine in the light of the candles,
and her cheeks flush with the first tumult of youth, till she hardly
seems the same girl who sits every evening droning to herself over
the turf.

A branch of the Gaelic League has been started here since my last
visit, and every Sunday afternoon three little girls walk through
the village ringing a shrill hand-bell, as a signal that the women's
meeting is to be held,--here it would be useless to fix an hour, as
the hours are not recognized.

Soon afterwards bands of girls--of all ages from five to
twenty-five--begin to troop down to the schoolhouse in their reddest
Sunday petticoats. It is remarkable that these young women are
willing to spend their one afternoon of freedom in laborious studies
of orthography for no reason but a vague reverence for the Gaelic.
It is true that they owe this reverence, or most of it, to the
influence of some recent visitors, yet the fact that they feel such
an influence so keenly is itself of interest.

In the older generation that did not come under the influence of the
recent language movement, I do not see any particular affection for
Gaelic. Whenever they are able, they speak English to their
children, to render them more capable of making their way in life.
Even the young men sometimes say to me--

'There's very hard English on you, and I wish to God I had the like
of it.'

The women are the great conservative force in this matter of the
language. They learn a little English in school and from their
parents, but they rarely have occasion to speak with any one who is
not a native of the islands, so their knowledge of the foreign
tongue remains rudimentary. In my cottage I have never heard a word
of English from the women except when they were speaking to the pigs
or to the dogs, or when the girl was reading a letter in English.
Women, however, with a more assertive temperament, who have had,
apparently, the same opportunities, often attain a considerable
fluency, as is the case with one, a relative of the old woman of the
house, who often visits here.

In the boys' school, where I sometimes look in, the children
surprise me by their knowledge of English, though they always speak
in Irish among themselves. The school itself is a comfortless
building in a terribly bleak position. In cold weather the children
arrive in the morning with a sod of turf tied up with their books, a
simple toll which keeps the fire well supplied, yet, I believe, a
more modern method is soon to be introduced.

I am in the north island again, looking out with a singular
sensation to the cliffs across the sound. It is hard to believe that
those hovels I can just see in the south are filled with people
whose lives have the strange quality that is found in the oldest
poetry and legend. Compared with them the falling off that has come
with the increased prosperity of this island is full of
discouragement. The charm which the people over there share with the
birds and flowers has been replaced here by the anxiety of men who
are eager for gain. The eyes and expression are different, though
the faces are the same, and even the children here seem to have an
indefinable modern quality that is absent from the men of Inishmaan.

My voyage from the middle island was wild. The morning was so
stormy, that in ordinary circumstances I would not have attempted
the passage, but as I had arranged to travel with a curagh that was
coming over for the Parish Priest--who is to hold stations on
Inishmaan--I did not like to draw back.

I went out in the morning and walked up the cliffs as usual. Several
men I fell in with shook their heads when I told them I was going
away, and said they doubted if a curagh could cross the sound with
the sea that was in it.

When I went back to the cottage I found the Curate had just come
across from the south island, and had had a worse passage than any
he had yet experienced.

The tide was to turn at two o'clock, and after that it was thought
the sea would be calmer, as the wind and the waves would be running
from the same point. We sat about in the kitchen all the morning,
with men coming in every few minutes to give their opinion whether
the passage should be attempted, and at what points the sea was
likely to be at its worst.

At last it was decided we should go, and I started for the pier in a
wild shower of rain with the wind howling in the walls. The
schoolmaster and a priest who was to have gone with me came out as I
was passing through the village and advised me not to make the
passage; but my crew had gone on towards the sea, and I thought it
better to go after them. The eldest son of the family was coming
with me, and I considered that the old man, who knew the waves
better than I did, would not send out his son if there was more than
reasonable danger.

I found my crew waiting for me under a high wall below the village,
and we went on together. The island had never seemed so desolate.
Looking out over the black limestone through the driving rain to the
gulf of struggling waves, an indescribable feeling of dejection came
over me.

The old man gave me his view of the use of fear.

'A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned,' he said,
'for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't. But we do be afraid
of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.'

A little crowd of neighbours had collected lower down to see me off,
and as we crossed the sandhills we had to shout to each other to be
heard above the wind.

The crew carried down the curagh and then stood under the lee of the
pier tying on their hats with strings and drawing on their oilskins.

They tested the braces of the oars, and the oarpins, and everything
in the curagh with a care I had not seen them give to anything, then
my bag was lifted in, and we were ready. Besides the four men of the
crew a man was going with us who wanted a passage to this island. As
he was scrambling into the bow, an old man stood forward from the

'Don't take that man with you,' he said. 'Last week they were taking
him to Clare and the whole lot of them were near drownded. Another
day he went to Inisheer and they broke three ribs of the curagh, and
they coming back. There is not the like of him for ill-luck in the
three islands.'

'The divil choke your old gob,' said the man, 'you will be talking.'

We set off. It was a four-oared curagh, and I was given the last
seat so as to leave the stern for the man who was steering with an
oar, worked at right angles to the others by an extra thole-pin in
the stern gunnel.

When we had gone about a hundred yards they ran up a bit of a sail
in the bow and the pace became extraordinarily rapid.

The shower had passed over and the wind had fallen, but large,
magnificently brilliant waves were rolling down on us at right
angles to our course.

Every instant the steersman whirled us round with a sudden stroke of
his oar, the prow reared up and then fell into the next furrow with
a crash, throwing up masses of spray. As it did so, the stern in its
turn was thrown up, and both the steersman, who let go his oar and
clung with both hands to the gunnel, and myself, were lifted high up
above the sea.

The wave passed, we regained our course and rowed violently for a
few yards, then the same manoeuvre had to be repeated. As we worked
out into the sound we began to meet another class of waves, that
could be seen for some distance towering above the rest.

When one of these came in sight, the first effort was to get beyond
its reach. The steersman began crying out in Gaelic, 'Siubhal,
siubhal' ('Run, run'), and sometimes, when the mass was gliding
towards us with horrible speed, his voice rose to a shriek. Then the
rowers themselves took up the cry, and the curagh seemed to leap and
quiver with the frantic terror of a beast till the wave passed
behind it or fell with a crash beside the stern.

It was in this racing with the waves that our chief danger lay. If
the wave could be avoided, it was better to do so, but if it
overtook us while we were trying to escape, and caught us on the
broadside, our destruction was certain. I could see the steersman
quivering with the excitement of his task, for any error in his
judgment would have swamped us.

We had one narrow escape. A wave appeared high above the rest, and
there was the usual moment of intense exertion. It was of no use,
and in an instant the wave seemed to be hurling itself upon us. With
a yell of rage the steersman struggled with his oar to bring our
prow to meet it. He had almost succeeded, when there was a crash and
rush of water round us. I felt as if I had been struck upon the back
with knotted ropes. White foam gurgled round my knees and eyes. The
curagh reared up, swaying and trembling for a moment, and then fell
safely into the furrow.

This was our worst moment, though more than once, when several waves
came so closely together that we had no time to regain control of
the canoe between them, we had some dangerous work. Our lives
depended upon the skill and courage of the men, as the life of the
rider or swimmer is often in his own hands, and the excitement was
too great to allow time for fear.

I enjoyed the passage. Down in this shallow trough of canvas that
bent and trembled with the motion of the men, I had a far more
intimate feeling of the glory and power of the waves than I have
ever known in a steamer.

Old Mourteen is keeping me company again, and I am now able to
understand the greater part of his Irish.

He took me out to-day to show me the remains of some cloghauns, or
beehive dwellings, that are left near the central ridge of the
island. After I had looked at them we lay down in the corner of a
little field, filled with the autumn sunshine and the odour of
withering flowers, while he told me a long folk-tale which took more
than an hour to narrate.

He is so blind that I can gaze at him without discourtesy, and after
a while the expression of his face made me forget to listen, and I
lay dreamily in the sunshine letting the antique formulas of the
story blend with the suggestions from the prehistoric masonry I lay
on. The glow of childish transport that came over him when he
reached the nonsense ending--so common in these tales--recalled me
to myself, and I listened attentively while he gabbled with
delighted haste: 'They found the path and I found the puddle. They
were drowned and I was found. If it's all one to me tonight, it
wasn't all one to them the next night. Yet, if it wasn't itself, not
a thing did they lose but an old back tooth '--or some such

As I led him home through the paths he described to me--it is thus
we get along--lifting him at times over the low walls he is too
shaky to climb, he brought the conversation to the topic they are
never weary of--my views on marriage.

He stopped as we reached the summit of the island, with the stretch
of the Atlantic just visible behind him.

'Whisper, noble person,' he began, 'do you never be thinking on the
young girls? The time I was a young man, the devil a one of them
could I look on without wishing to marry her.'

'Ah, Mourteen,' I answered, 'it's a great wonder you'd be asking me.
What at all do you think of me yourself?'

'Bedad, noble person, I'm thinking it's soon you'll be getting
married. Listen to what I'm telling you: a man who is not married is
no better than an old jackass. He goes into his sister's house, and
into his brother's house; he eats a bit in this place and a bit in
another place, but he has no home for himself like an old jackass
straying on the rocks.'

I have left Aran. The steamer had a more than usually heavy cargo,
and it was after four o'clock when we sailed from Kilronan.

Again I saw the three low rocks sink down into the sea with a moment
of inconceivable distress. It was a clear evening, and as we came
out into the bay the sun stood like an aureole behind the cliffs of
Inishmaan. A little later a brilliant glow came over the sky,
throwing out the blue of the sea and of the hills of Connemara.

When it was quite dark, the cold became intense, and I wandered
about the lonely vessel that seemed to be making her own way across
the sea. I was the only passenger, and all the crew, except one boy
who was steering, were huddled together in the warmth of the

Three hours passed, and no one stirred. The slowness of the vessel
and the lamentation of the cold sea about her sides became almost
unendurable. Then the lights of Galway came in sight, and the crew
appeared as we beat up slowly to the quay.

Once on shore I had some difficulty in finding any one to carry my
baggage to the railway. When I found a man in the darkness and got
my bag on his shoulders, he turned out to be drunk, and I had
trouble to keep him from rolling from the wharf with all my
possessions. He professed to be taking me by a short cut into the
town, but when we were in the middle of a waste of broken buildings
and skeletons of ships he threw my bag on the ground and sat down on

'It's real heavy she is, your honour,' he said; 'I'm thinking it's
gold there will be in it.'

'Divil a hap'worth is there in it at all but books,' I answered him
in Gaelic.

'Bedad, is mor an truaghe' ('It's a big pity'), he said; 'if it was
gold was in it it's the thundering spree we'd have together this
night in Galway.'

In about half an hour I got my luggage once more on his back, and we
made our way into the city.

Later in the evening I went down towards the quay to look for
Michael. As I turned into the narrow street where he lodges, some
one seemed to be following me in the shadow, and when I stopped to
find the number of his house I heard the 'Failte' (Welcome) of
Inishmaan pronounced close to me.

It was Michael.

'I saw you in the street,' he said, 'but I was ashamed to speak to
you in the middle of the people, so I followed you the way I'd see
if you'd remember me.'

We turned back together and walked about the town till he had to go
to his lodgings. He was still just the same, with all his old
simplicity and shrewdness; but the work he has here does not agree
with him, and he is not contented.

It was the eve of the Parnell celebration in Dublin, and the town
was full of excursionists waiting for a train which was to start at
midnight. When Michael left me I spent some time in an hotel, and
then wandered down to the railway.

A wild crowd was on the platform, surging round the train in every
stage of intoxication. It gave me a better instance than I had yet
seen of the half-savage temperament of Connaught. The tension of
human excitement seemed greater in this insignificant crowd than
anything I have felt among enormous mobs in Rome or Paris.

There were a few people from the islands on the platform, and I got
in along with them to a third-class carriage. One of the women of
the party had her niece with her, a young girl from Connaught who
was put beside me; at the other end of the carriage there were some
old men who were talking Irish, and a young man who had been a

When the train started there were wild cheers and cries on the
platform, and in the train itself the noise was intense; men and
women shrieking and singing and beating their sticks on the
partitions. At several stations there was a rush to the bar, so the
excitement increased as we proceeded.

At Ballinasloe there were some soldiers on the platform looking for
places. The sailor in our compartment had a dispute with one of
them, and in an instant the door was flung open and the compartment
was filled with reeling uniforms and sticks. Peace was made after a
moment of uproar and the soldiers got out, but as they did so a pack
of their women followers thrust their bare heads and arms into the
doorway, cursing and blaspheming with extraordinary rage.

As the train moved away a moment later, these women set up a frantic
lamentation. I looked out and caught a glimpse of the wildest heads
and figures I have ever seen, shrieking and screaming and waving
their naked arms in the light of the lanterns.

As the night went on girls began crying out in the carriage next us,
and I could hear the words of obscene songs when the train stopped
at a station.

In our own compartment the sailor would allow no one to sleep, and
talked all night with sometimes a touch of wit or brutality and
always with a beautiful fluency with wild temperament behind it.

The old men in the corner, dressed in black coats that had something
of the antiquity of heirlooms, talked all night among themselves in
Gaelic. The young girl beside me lost her shyness after a while, and
let me point out the features of the country that were beginning to
appear through the dawn as we drew nearer Dublin. She was delighted
with the shadows of the trees--trees are rare in Connaught--and
with the canal, which was beginning to reflect the morning light.
Every time I showed her some new shadow she cried out with naive

'Oh, it's lovely, but I can't see it.'

This presence at my side contrasted curiously with the brutality
that shook the barrier behind us. The whole spirit of the west of
Ireland, with its strange wildness and reserve, seemed moving in
this single train to pay a last homage to the dead statesman of the

Part III

A LETTER HAS come from Michael while I am in Paris. It is in

MY DEAR FRIEND,--I hope that you are in good health since I have
heard from you before, its many a time I do think of you since and
it was not forgetting you I was for the future.

I was at home in the beginning of March for a fortnight and was very
bad with the Influence, but I took good care of myself.

I am getting good wages from the first of this year, and I am afraid
I won't be able to stand with it, although it is not hard, I am
working in a saw-mills and getting the money for the wood and
keeping an account of it.

I am getting a letter and some news from home two or three times a
week, and they are all well in health, and your friends in the
island as well as if I mentioned them.

Did you see any of my friends in Dublin Mr.--or any of those
gentlemen or gentlewomen.

I think I soon try America but not until next year if I am alive.

I hope we might meet again in good and pleasant health.

It is now time to come to a conclusion, good-bye and not for ever,
write soon--I am your friend in Galway.

Write soon dear friend.

Another letter in a more rhetorical mood.

MY DEAR MR. S.,--I am for a long time trying to spare a little time
for to write a few words to you.

Hoping that you are still considering good and pleasant health since
I got a letter from you before.

I see now that your time is coming round to come to this place to
learn your native language. There was a great Feis in this island
two weeks ago, and there was a very large attendance from the South
island, and not very many from the North.

Two cousins of my own have been in this house for three weeks or
beyond it, but now they are gone, and there is a place for you if
you wish to come, and you can write before you and we'll try and
manage you as well as we can.

I am at home now for about two months, for the mill was burnt where
I was at work. After that I was in Dublin, but I did not get my
health in that city.--Mise le mor mheas ort a chara.

Soon after I received this letter I wrote to Michael to say that I
was going back to them. This time I chose a day when the steamer
went direct to the middle island, and as we came up between the two
lines of curaghs that were waiting outside the slip, I saw Michael,
dressed once more in his island clothes, rowing in one of them.

He made no sign of recognition, but as soon as they could get
alongside he clambered on board and came straight up on the bridge
to where I was.

'Bhfuil tu go maith?' ('Are you well?') he said. 'Where is your

His curagh had got a bad place near the bow of the steamer, so I was
slung down from a considerable height on top of some sacks of flour
and my own bag, while the curagh swayed and battered itself against
the side.

When we were clear I asked Michael if he had got my letter.

'Ah no,' he said, 'not a sight of it, but maybe it will come next

Part of the slip had been washed away during the winter, so we had
to land to the left of it, among the rocks, taking our turn with the
other curaghs that were coming in.

As soon as I was on shore the men crowded round me to bid me
welcome, asking me as they shook hands if I had travelled far in the
winter, and seen many wonders, ending, as usual, with the inquiry if
there was much war at present in the world.

It gave me a thrill of delight to hear their Gaelic blessings, and
to see the steamer moving away, leaving me quite alone among them.
The day was fine with a clear sky, and the sea was glittering beyond
the limestone. Further off a light haze on the cliffs of the larger
island, and on the Connaught hills, gave me the illusion that it was
still summer.

A little boy was sent off to tell the old woman that I was coming,
and we followed slowly, talking and carrying the baggage.

When I had exhausted my news they told me theirs. A power of
strangers--four or five--a French priest among them, had been on the
island in the summer; the potatoes were bad, but the rye had begun
well, till a dry week came and then it had turned into oats.

'If you didn't know us so well,' said the man who was talking,
'you'd think it was a lie we were telling, but the sorrow a lie is
in it. It grew straight and well till it was high as your knee, then
it turned into oats. Did ever you see the like of that in County

In the cottage everything was as usual, but Michael's presence has
brought back the old woman's humour and contentment. As I sat down
on my stool and lit my pipe with the corner of a sod, I could have
cried out with the feeling of festivity that this return procured

This year Michael is busy in the daytime, but at present there is a
harvest moon, and we spend most of the evening wandering about the
island, looking out over the bay where the shadows of the clouds
throw strange patterns of gold and black. As we were returning
through the village this evening a tumult of revelry broke out from
one of the smaller cottages, and Michael said it was the young boys
and girls who have sport at this time of the year. I would have
liked to join them, but feared to embarrass their amusement. When we
passed on again the groups of scattered cottages on each side of the
way reminded me of places I have sometimes passed when travelling at
night in France or Bavaria, places that seemed so enshrined in the
blue silence of night one could not believe they would reawaken.

Afterwards we went up on the Dun, where Michael said he had never
been before after nightfall, though he lives within a stone's-throw.
The place gains unexpected grandeur in this light, standing out like
a corona of prehistoric stone upon the summit of the island. We
walked round the top of the wall for some time looking down on the
faint yellow roofs, with the rocks glittering beyond them, and the
silence of the bay. Though Michael is sensible of the beauty of the
nature round him, he never speaks of it directly, and many of our
evening walks are occupied with long Gaelic discourses about the
movements of the stars and moon.

These people make no distinction between the natural and the

This afternoon--it was Sunday, when there is usually some
interesting talk among the islanders--it rained, so I went into the
schoolmaster's kitchen, which is a good deal frequented by the more
advanced among the people. I know so little of their ways of fishing
and farming that I do not find it easy to keep up our talk without
reaching matters where they cannot follow me, and since the novelty
of my photographs has passed off I have some difficulty in giving
them the entertainment they seem to expect from my company. To-day I
showed them some simple gymnastic feats and conjurer's tricks, which
gave them great amusement.

'Tell us now,' said an old woman when I had finished, 'didn't you
learn those things from the witches that do be out in the country?'

In one of the tricks I seemed to join a piece of string which was
cut by the people, and the illusion was so complete that I saw one
man going off with it into a corner and pulling at the apparent
joining till he sank red furrows round his hands.

Then he brought it back to me.

'Bedad,' he said, 'this is the greatest wonder ever I seen. The cord
is a taste thinner where you joined it but as strong as ever it

A few of the younger men looked doubtful, but the older people, who
have watched the rye turning into oats, seemed to accept the magic
frankly, and did not show any surprise that 'a duine uasal' (a noble
person) should be able to do like the witches.

My intercourse with these people has made me realise that miracles
must abound wherever the new conception of law is not understood. On
these islands alone miracles enough happen every year to equip a
divine emissary Rye is turned into oats, storms are raised to keep
evictors from the shore, cows that are isolated on lonely rocks
bring forth calves, and other things of the same kind are common.

The wonder is a rare expected event, like the thunderstorm or the
rainbow, except that it is a little rarer and a little more
wonderful. Often, when I am walking and get into conversation with
some of the people, and tell them that I have received a paper from
Dublin, they ask me--'And is there any great wonder in the world at
this time?'

When I had finished my feats of dexterity, I was surprised to find
that none of the islanders, even the youngest and most agile, could
do what I did. As I pulled their limbs about in my effort to teach
them, I felt that the ease and beauty of their movements has made me
think them lighter than they really are. Seen in their curaghs
between these cliffs and the Atlantic, they appear lithe and small,
but if they were dressed as we are and seen in an ordinary room,
many of them would seem heavily and powerfully made.

One man, however, the champion dancer of the island, got up after a
while and displayed the salmon leap--lying flat on his face and then
springing up, horizontally, high in the air--and some other feats of
extraordinary agility, but he is not young and we could not get him
to dance.

In the evening I had to repeat my tricks here in the kitchen, for
the fame of them had spread over the island.

No doubt these feats will be remembered here for generations. The
people have so few images for description that they seize on
anything that is remarkable in their visitors and use it afterwards
in their talk.

For the last few years when they are speaking of any one with fine
rings they say: 'She had beautiful rings on her fingers like
Lady--,' a visitor to the island.

I have been down sitting on the pier till it was quite dark. I am
only beginning to understand the nights of Inishmaan and the
influence they have had in giving distinction to these men who do
most of their work after nightfall.

I could hear nothing but a few curlews and other wild-fowl whistling
and shrieking in the seaweed, and the low rustling of the waves. It
was one of the dark sultry nights peculiar to September, with no
light anywhere except the phosphorescence of the sea, and an
occasional rift in the clouds that showed the stars behind them.

The sense of solitude was immense. I could not see or realise my own
body, and I seemed to exist merely in my perception of the waves and
of the crying birds, and of the smell of seaweed.

When I tried to come home I lost myself among the sandhills, and the
night seemed to grow unutterably cold and dejected, as I groped
among slimy masses of seaweed and wet crumbling walls.

After a while I heard a movement in the sand, and two grey shadows
appeared beside me. They were two men who were going home from
fishing. I spoke to them and knew their voices, and we went home

In the autumn season the threshing of the rye is one of the many
tasks that fall to the men and boys. The sheaves are collected on a
bare rock, and then each is beaten separately on a couple of stones
placed on end one against the other. The land is so poor that a
field hardly produces more grain than is needed for seed the
following year, so the rye-growing is carried on merely for the
straw, which is used for thatching.

The stooks are carried to and from the threshing fields, piled on
donkeys that one meets everywhere at this season, with their black,
unbridled heads just visible beneath a pinnacle of golden straw.

While the threshing is going on sons and daughters keep turning up
with one thing and another till there is a little crowd on the
rocks, and any one who is passing stops for an hour or two to talk
on his way to the sea, so that, like the kelp-burning in the
summer-time, this work is full of sociability.

When the threshing is over the straw is taken up to the cottages and
piled up in an outhouse, or more often in a corner of the kitchen,
where it brings a new liveliness of colour.

A few days ago when I was visiting a cottage where there are the
most beautiful children on the island, the eldest daughter, a girl
of about fourteen, went and sat down on a heap of straw by the
doorway. A ray of sunlight fell on her and on a portion of the rye,
giving her figure and red dress with the straw under it a curious
relief against the nets and oilskins, and forming a natural picture
of exquisite harmony and colour.

In our own cottage the thatching--it is done every year--has just
been carried out. The rope-twisting was done partly in the lane,
partly in the kitchen when the weather was uncertain. Two men
usually sit together at this work, one of them hammering the straw
with a heavy block of wood, the other forming the rope, the main
body of which is twisted by a boy or girl with a bent stick
specially formed for this employment.

In wet weather, when the work must be done indoors, the person who
is twisting recedes gradually out of the door, across the lane, and
sometimes across a field or two beyond it. A great length is needed
to form the close network which is spread over the thatch, as each
piece measures about fifty yards. When this work is in progress in
half the cottages of the village, the road has a curious look, and
one has to pick one's steps through a maze of twisting ropes that
pass from the dark doorways on either side into the fields.

When four or five immense balls of rope have been completed, a
thatching party is arranged, and before dawn some morning they come
down to the house, and the work is taken in hand with such energy
that it is usually ended within the day.

Like all work that is done in common on the island, the thatching is
regarded as a sort of festival. From the moment a roof is taken in
hand there is a whirl of laughter and talk till it is ended, and, as
the man whose house is being covered is a host instead of an
employer, he lays himself out to please the men who work with him.

The day our own house was thatched the large table was taken into
the kitchen from my room, and high teas were given every few hours.
Most of the people who came along the road turned down into the
kitchen for a few minutes, and the talking was incessant. Once when
I went into the window I heard Michael retailing my astronomical
lectures from the apex of the gable, but usually their topics have
to do with the affairs of the island.

It is likely that much of the intelligence and charm of these people
is due to the absence of any division of labour, and to the
correspondingly wide development of each individual, whose varied
knowledge and skill necessitates a considerable activity of mind.
Each man can speak two languages. He is a skilled fisherman, and can
manage a curagh with extraordinary nerve and dexterity He can farm
simply, burn kelp, cut out pampooties, mend nets, build and thatch a
house, and make a cradle or a coffin. His work changes with the
seasons in a way that keeps him free from the dullness that comes to
people who have always the same occupation. The danger of his life
on the sea gives him the alertness of the primitive hunter, and the
long nights he spends fishing in his curagh bring him some of the
emotions that are thought peculiar to men who have lived with the

As Michael is busy in the daytime, I have got a boy to come up and
read Irish to me every afternoon. He is about fifteen, and is
singularly intelligent, with a real sympathy for the language and
the stories we read.

One evening when he had been reading to me for two hours, I asked
him if he was tired.

'Tired?' he said, 'sure you wouldn't ever be tired reading!'

A few years ago this predisposition for intellectual things would
have made him sit with old people and learn their stories, but now
boys like him turn to books and to papers in Irish that are sent
them from Dublin.

In most of the stories we read, where the English and Irish are
printed side by side, I see him looking across to the English in
passages that are a little obscure, though he is indignant if I say
that he knows English better than Irish. Probably he knows the local
Irish better than English, and printed English better than printed
Irish, as the latter has frequent dialectic forms he does not know.

A few days ago when he was reading a folk-tale from Douglas Hyde's
Beside the Fire, something caught his eye in the translation.

'There's a mistake in the English,' he said, after a moment's
hesitation, 'he's put "gold chair" instead of "golden chair."'

I pointed out that we speak of gold watches and gold pins.

'And why wouldn't we?' he said; 'but "golden chair" would be much

It is curious to see how his rudimentary culture has given him the
beginning of a critical spirit that occupies itself with the form of
language as well as with ideas.

One day I alluded to my trick of joining string.

'You can't join a string, don't be saying it,' he said; 'I don't
know what way you're after fooling us, but you didn't join that
string, not a bit of you.'

Another day when he was with me the fire burned low and I held up a
newspaper before it to make a draught. It did not answer very well,
and though the boy said nothing I saw he thought me a fool.

The next day he ran up in great excitement.

'I'm after trying the paper over the fire,' he said, 'and it burned
grand. Didn't I think, when I seen you doing it there was no good in
it at all, but I put a paper over the master's (the school-master's)
fire and it flamed up. Then I pulled back the corner of the paper
and I ran my head in, and believe me, there was a big cold wind
blowing up the chimney that would sweep the head from you.'

We nearly quarrelled because he wanted me to take his photograph in
his Sunday clothes from Galway, instead of his native homespuns that
become him far better, though he does not like them as they seem to
connect him with the primitive life of the island. With his keen
temperament, he may go far if he can ever step out into the world.

He is constantly thinking.

One day he asked me if there was great wonder on their names out in
the country.

I said there was no wonder on them at all.

'Well,' he said, 'there is great wonder on your name in the island,
and I was thinking maybe there would be great wonder on our names
out in the country.'

In a sense he is right. Though the names here are ordinary enough,
they are used in a way that differs altogether from the modern
system of surnames.

When a child begins to wander about the island, the neighbours speak
of it by its Christian name, followed by the Christian name of its
father. If this is not enough to identify it, the father's
epithet--whether it is a nickname or the name of his own father--is

Sometimes when the father's name does not lend itself, the mother's
Christian name is adopted as epithet for the children.

An old woman near this cottage is called 'Peggeen,' and her sons are
'Patch Pheggeen,' 'Seaghan Pheggeen,' etc.

Occasionally the surname is employed in its Irish form, but I have
not heard them using the 'Mac' prefix when speaking Irish among
themselves; perhaps the idea of a surname which it gives is too
modern for them, perhaps they do use it at times that I have not

Sometimes a man is named from the colour of his hair. There is thus
a Seaghan Ruadh (Red John), and his children are 'Mourteen Seaghan
Ruadh,' etc.

Another man is known as 'an iasgaire' ('the fisher'), and his
children are 'Maire an iasgaire' ('Mary daughter of the fisher'),
and so on.

The schoolmaster tells me that when he reads out the roll in the
morning the children repeat the local name all together in a whisper
after each official name, and then the child answers. If he calls,
for instance, 'Patrick O'Flaharty,' the children murmur, 'Patch
Seaghan Dearg' or some such name, and the boy answers.

People who come to the island are treated in much the same way. A
French Gaelic student was in the islands recently, and he is always
spoken of as 'An Saggart Ruadh' ('the red priest') or as 'An Saggart
Francach' ('the French priest'), but never by his name.

If an islander's name alone is enough to distinguish him it is used
by itself, and I know one man who is spoken of as Eamonn. There may
be other Edmunds on the island, but if so they have probably good
nicknames or epithets of their own.

In other countries where the names are in a somewhat similar
condition, as in modern Greece, the man's calling is usually one of
the most common means of distinguishing him, but in this place,
where all have the same calling, this means is not available.

Late this evening I saw a three-oared curagh with two old women in
her besides the rowers, landing at the slip through a heavy roll.
They were coming from Inishere, and they rowed up quickly enough
till they were within a few yards of the surf-line, where they spun
round and waited with the prow towards the sea, while wave after
wave passed underneath them and broke on the remains of the slip.
Five minutes passed; ten minutes; and still they waited with the
oars just paddling in the water, and their heads turned over their

I was beginning to think that they would have to give up and row
round to the lee side of the island, when the curagh seemed suddenly
to turn into a living thing. The prow was again towards the slip,
leaping and hurling itself through the spray. Before it touched, the
man in the bow wheeled round, two white legs came out over the prow
like the flash of a sword, and before the next wave arrived he had
dragged the curagh out of danger.

This sudden and united action in men without discipline shows well
the education that the waves have given them. When the curagh was in
safety the two old women were carried up through the surf and
slippery seaweed on the backs of their sons.

In this broken weather a curagh cannot go out without danger, yet
accidents are rare and seem to be nearly always caused by drink,
Since I was here last year four men have been drowned on their way
home from the large island. First a curagh belonging to the south
island which put off with two men in her heavy with drink, came to
shore here the next evening dry and uninjured, with the sail half
set, and no one in her.

More recently a curagh from this island with three men, who were the
worse for drink, was upset on its way home. The steamer was not far
off, and saved two of the men, but could not reach the third.

Now a man has been washed ashore in Donegal with one pampooty on
him, and a striped shirt with a purse in one of the pockets, and a
box for tobacco.

For three days the people have been trying to fix his identity. Some
think it is the man from this island, others think that the man from
the south answers the description more exactly. To-night as we were
returning from the slip we met the mother of the man who was drowned
from this island, still weeping and looking out over the sea. She
stopped the people who had come over from the south island to ask
them with a terrified whisper what is thought over there.

Later in the evening, when I was sitting in one of the cottages, the
sister of the dead man came in through the rain with her infant, and
there was a long talk about the rumours that had come in. She pieced
together all she could remember about his clothes, and what his
purse was like, and where he had got it, and the same for his
tobacco box, and his stockings. In the end there seemed little doubt
that it was her brother.

'Ah!' she said, 'It's Mike sure enough, and please God they'll give
him a decent burial.'

Then she began to keen slowly to herself. She had loose yellow hair
plastered round her head with the rain, and as she sat by the door
sucking her infant, she seemed like a type of the women's life upon
the islands.

For a while the people sat silent, and one could hear nothing but
the lips of the infant, the rain hissing in the yard, and the
breathing of four pigs that lay sleeping in one corner. Then one of
the men began to talk about the new boats that have been sent to the
south island, and the conversation went back to its usual round of

The loss of one man seems a slight catastrophe to all except the
immediate relatives. Often when an accident happens a father is lost
with his two eldest sons, or in some other way all the active men of
a household die together.

A few years ago three men of a family that used to make the wooden
vessels--like tiny barrels--that are still used among the people,
went to the big island together. They were drowned on their way
home, and the art of making these little barrels died with them, at
least on Inishmaan, though it still lingers in the north and south

Another catastrophe that took place last winter gave a curious zest
to the observance of holy days. It seems that it is not the custom
for the men to go out fishing on the evening of a holy day, but one
night last December some men, who wished to begin fishing early the
next morning, rowed out to sleep in their hookers.

Towards morning a terrible storm rose, and several hookers with
their crews on board were blown from their moorings and wrecked. The
sea was so high that no attempt at rescue could be made, and the men
were drowned.

'Ah!' said the man who told me the story, 'I'm thinking it will be a
long time before men will go out again on a holy day. That storm was
the only storm that reached into the harbour the whole winter, and
I'm thinking there was something in it.'

Today when I went down to the slip I found a pig-jobber from
Kilronan with about twenty pigs that were to be shipped for the
English market.

When the steamer was getting near, the whole drove was moved down on
the slip and the curaghs were carried out close to the sea. Then
each beast was caught in its turn and thrown on its side, while its
legs were hitched together in a single knot, with a tag of rope
remaining, by which it could be carried.

Probably the pain inflicted was not great, yet the animals shut
their eyes and shrieked with almost human intonations, till the
suggestion of the noise became so intense that the men and women who
were merely looking on grew wild with excitement, and the pigs
waiting their turn foamed at the mouth and tore each other with
their teeth.

After a while there was a pause. The whole slip was covered with a
mass of sobbing animals, with here and there a terrified woman
crouching among the bodies, and patting some special favourite to
keep it quiet while the curaghs were being launched.

Then the screaming began again while the pigs were carried out and
laid in their places, with a waistcoat tied round their feet to keep
them from damaging the canvas. They seemed to know where they were
going, and looked up at me over the gunnel with an ignoble
desperation that made me shudder to think that I had eaten of this
whimpering flesh. When the last curagh went out I was left on the
slip with a band of women and children, and one old boar who sat
looking out over the sea.

The women were over-excited, and when I tried to talk to them they
crowded round me and began jeering and shrieking at me because I am
not married. A dozen screamed at a time, and so rapidly that I could
not understand all that they were saying, yet I was able to make out
that they were taking advantage of the absence of their husbands to
give me the full volume of their contempt. Some little boys who were
listening threw themselves down, writhing with laughter among the
seaweed, and the young girls grew red with embarrassment and stared
down into the surf.

For a moment I was in confusion. I tried to speak to them, but I
could not make myself heard, so I sat down on the slip and drew out
my wallet of photographs. In an instant I had the whole band
clambering round me, in their ordinary mood.

When the curaghs came back--one of them towing a large kitchen table
that stood itself up on the waves and then turned somersaults in an
extraordinary manner--word went round that the ceannuighe (pedlar)
was arriving.

He opened his wares on the slip as soon as he landed, and sold a
quantity of cheap knives and jewellery to the girls and the younger
women. He spoke no Irish, and the bargaining gave immense amusement
to the crowd that collected round him.

I was surprised to notice that several women who professed to know
no English could make themselves understood without difficulty when
it pleased them.

'The rings is too dear at you, sir,' said one girl using the Gaelic
construction; 'let you put less money on them and all the girls will
be buying.'

After the jewellery' he displayed some cheap religious
pictures--abominable oleographs--but I did not see many buyers.

I am told that most of the pedlars who come here are Germans or
Poles, but I did not have occasion to speak with this man by

I have come over for a few days to the south island, and, as usual,
my voyage was not favourable.

The morning was fine, and seemed to promise one of the peculiarly
hushed, pellucid days that occur sometimes before rain in early
winter. From the first gleam of dawn the sky was covered with white
cloud, and the tranquillity was so complete that every sound seemed
to float away by itself across the silence of the bay. Lines of blue
smoke were going up in spirals over the village, and further off
heavy fragments of rain-cloud were lying on the horizon. We started
early in the day, and, although the sea looked calm from a distance,
we met a considerable roll coming from the south-west when we got
out from the shore.

Near the middle of the sound the man who was rowing in the bow broke
his oar-pin, and the proper management of the canoe became a matter
of some difficulty. We had only a three-oared curagh, and if the sea
had gone much higher we should have run a good deal of danger. Our
progress was so slow that clouds came up with a rise in the wind
before we reached the shore, and rain began to fall in large single
drops. The black curagh working slowly through this world of grey,
and the soft hissing of the rain gave me one of the moods in which
we realise with immense distress the short moment we have left us to
experience all the wonder and beauty of the world.

The approach to the south island is made at a fine sandy beach on
the north-west. This interval in the rocks is of great service to
the people, but the tract of wet sand with a few hideous fishermen's
houses, lately built on it, looks singularly desolate in broken

The tide was going out when we landed, so we merely stranded the
curagh and went up to the little hotel. The cess-collector was at
work in one of the rooms, and there were a number of men and boys
waiting about, who stared at us while we stood at the door and
talked to the proprietor.

When we had had our drink I went down to the sea with my men, who
were in a hurry to be off. Some time was spent in replacing the
oar-pin, and then they set out, though the wind was still
increasing. A good many fishermen came down to see the start, and
long after the curagh was out of sight I stood and talked with them
in Irish, as I was anxious to compare their language and temperament
with what I knew of the other island.

The language seems to be identical, though some of these men speak
rather more distinctly than any Irish speakers I have yet heard. In
physical type, dress, and general character, however, there seems to
be a considerable difference. The people on this island are more
advanced than their neighbours, and the families here are gradually
forming into different ranks, made up of the well-to-do, the
struggling, and the quite poor and thriftless. These distinctions
are present in the middle island also, but over there they have had
no effect on the people, among whom there is still absolute

A little later the steamer came in sight and lay to in the offing.
While the curaghs were being put out I noticed in the crowd several
men of the ragged, humorous type that was once thought to represent
the real peasant of Ireland. Rain was now falling heavily, and as we
looked out through the fog there was something nearly appalling in
the shrieks of laughter kept up by one of these individuals, a man
of extraordinary ugliness and wit.

At last he moved off toward the houses, wiping his eyes with the
tail of his coat and moaning to himself 'Ta me marbh,' ('I'm
killed'), till some one stopped him and he began again pouring out a
medley of rude puns and jokes that meant more than they said.

There is quaint humour, and sometimes wild humour, on the middle
island, but never this half-sensual ecstasy of laughter. Perhaps a
man must have a sense of intimate misery, not known there, before he
can set himself to jeer and mock at the world. These strange men
with receding foreheads, high cheekbones, and ungovernable eyes seem
to represent some old type found on these few acres at the extreme
border of Europe, where it is only in wild jests and laughter that
they can express their loneliness and desolation.

The mode of reciting ballads in this island is singularly harsh. I
fell in with a curious man to-day beyond the east village, and we
wandered out on the rocks towards the sea. A wintry shower came on
while we were together, and we crouched down in the bracken, under a
loose wall. When we had gone through the usual topics he asked me if
I was fond of songs, and began singing to show what he could do.

The music was much like what I have heard before on the islands--a
monotonous chant with pauses on the high and low notes to mark the
rhythm; but the harsh nasal tone in which he sang was almost
intolerable. His performance reminded me in general effect of a
chant I once heard from a party of Orientals I was travelling with
in a third-class carriage from Paris to Dieppe, but the islander ran
his voice over a much wider range.

His pronunciation was lost in the rasping of his throat, and, though
he shrieked into my ear to make sure that I understood him above the
howling of the wind, I could only make out that it was an endless
ballad telling the fortune of a young man who went to sea, and had
many adventures. The English nautical terms were employed
continually in describing his life on the ship, but the man seemed
to feel that they were not in their place, and stopped short when
one of them occurred to give me a poke with his finger and explain
gib, topsail, and bowsprit, which were for me the most intelligible
features of the poem. Again, when the scene changed to Dublin,
'glass of whiskey,' 'public-house,' and such things were in English.

When the shower was over he showed me a curious cave hidden among
the cliffs, a short distance from the sea. On our way back he asked
me the three questions I am met with on every side--whether I am a
rich man, whether I am married, and whether I have ever seen a
poorer place than these islands.

When he heard that I was not married he urged me to come back in the
summer so that he might take me over in a curagh to the Spa in
County Glare, where there is 'spree mor agus go leor ladies' ('a big
spree and plenty of ladies').

Something about the man repelled me while I was with him, and though
I was cordial and liberal he seemed to feel that I abhorred him. We
arranged to meet again in the evening, but when I dragged myself
with an inexplicable loathing to the place of meeting, there was no
trace of him.

It is characteristic that this man, who is probably a drunkard and
shebeener and certainly in penury, refused the chance of a shilling
because he felt that I did not like him. He had a curiously mixed
expression of hardness and melancholy. Probably his character has
given him a bad reputation on the island, and he lives here with the
restlessness of a man who has no sympathy with his companions.

I have come over again to Inishmaan, and this time I had fine
weather for my passage. The air was full of luminous sunshine from
the early morning, and it was almost a summer's day when I set sail
at noon with Michael and two other men who had come over for me in a

The wind was in our favour, so the sail was put up and Michael sat
in the stem to steer with an oar while I rowed with the others.

We had had a good dinner and drink and were wrought up by this
sudden revival of summer to a dreamy voluptuous gaiety, that made us
shout with exultation to hear our voices passing out across the blue
twinkling of the sea.

Even after the people of the south island, these men of Inishmaan
seemed to be moved by strange archaic sympathies with the world.
Their mood accorded itself with wonderful fineness to the
suggestions of the day, and their ancient Gaelic seemed so full of
divine simplicity that I would have liked to turn the prow to the
west and row with them for ever.

I told them I was going back to Paris in a few days to sell my books
and my bed, and that then I was coming back to grow as strong and
simple as they were among the islands of the west.

When our excitement sobered down, Michael told me that one of the
priests had left his gun at our cottage and given me leave to use it
till he returned to the island. There was another gun and a ferret
in the house also, and he said that as soon as we got home he was
going to take me out fowling on rabbits.

A little later in the day we set off, and I nearly laughed to see
Michael's eagerness that I should turn out a good shot.

We put the ferret down in a crevice between two bare sheets of rock,
and waited. In a few minutes we heard rushing paws underneath us,
then a rabbit shot up straight into the air from the crevice at our
feet and set off for a wall that was a few feet away. I threw up the
gun and fired.

'Buail tu e,' screamed Michael at my elbow as he ran up the rock. I
had killed it.

We shot seven or eight more in the next hour, and Michael was
immensely pleased. If I had done badly I think I should have had to
leave the islands. The people would have despised me. A 'duine
uasal' who cannot shoot seems to these descendants of hunters a
fallen type who is worse than an apostate.

The women of this island are before conventionality, and share some
of the liberal features that are thought peculiar to the women of
Paris and New York.

Many of them are too contented and too sturdy to have more than a
decorative interest, but there are others full of curious

This year I have got to know a wonderfully humorous girl, who has
been spinning in the kitchen for the last few days with the old
woman's spinning-wheel. The morning she began I heard her exquisite
intonation almost before I awoke, brooding and cooing over every
syllable she uttered.

I have heard something similar in the voices of German and Polish
women, but I do not think men--at least European men--who are always
further than women from the simple, animal emotions, or any speakers
who use languages with weak gutturals, like French or English, can
produce this inarticulate chant in their ordinary talk.

She plays continual tricks with her Gaelic in the way girls are fond
of, piling up diminutives and repeating adjectives with a humorous
scorn of syntax. While she is here the talk never stops in the
kitchen. To-day she has been asking me many questions about Germany,
for it seems one of her sisters married a German husband in America
some years ago, who kept her in great comfort, with a fine 'capull
glas' ('grey horse') to ride on, and this girl has decided to escape
in the same way from the drudgery of the island.

This was my last evening on my stool in the chimney corner, and I
had a long talk with some neighbours who came in to bid me
prosperity, and lay about on the floor with their heads on low
stools and their feet stretched out to the embers of the turf. The
old woman was at the other side of the fire, and the girl I have
spoken of was standing at her spinning-wheel, talking and joking
with every one. She says when I go away now I am to marry a rich
wife with plenty of money, and if she dies on me I am to come back
here and marry herself for my second wife.

I have never heard talk so simple and so attractive as the talk of
these people. This evening they began disputing about their wives,
and it appeared that the greatest merit they see in a woman is that
she should be fruitful and bring them many children. As no money can
be earned by children on the island this one attitude shows the
immense difference between these people and the people of Paris.

The direct sexual instincts are not weak on the island, but they are
so subordinated to the instincts of the family that they rarely lead
to irregularity. The life here is still at an almost patriarchal
stage, and the people are nearly as far from the romantic moods of
love as they are from the impulsive life of the savage.

The wind was so high this morning that there was some doubt whether
the steamer would arrive, and I spent half the day wandering about
with Michael watching the horizon.

At last, when we had given her up, she came in sight far away to the
north, where she had gone to have the wind with her where the sea
was at its highest.

I got my baggage from the cottage and set off for the slip with
Michael and the old man, turning into a cottage here and there to
say good-bye.

In spite of the wind outside, the sea at the slip was as calm as a
pool. The men who were standing about while the steamer was at the
south island wondered for the last time whether I would be married
when I came back to see them. Then we pulled out and took our place
in the line. As the tide was running hard the steamer stopped a
certain distance from the shore, and gave us a long race for good
places at her side. In the struggle we did not come off well, so I
had to clamber across two curaghs, twisting and fumbling with the
roll, in order to get on board.

It seemed strange to see the curaghs full of well-known faces
turning back to the slip without me, but the roll in the sound soon
took off my attention. Some men were on board whom I had seen on the
south island, and a good many Kilronan people on their way home from
Galway, who told me that in one part of their passage in the morning
they had come in for heavy seas.

As is usual on Saturday, the steamer had a large cargo of flour and
porter to discharge at Kilronan, and, as it was nearly four o'clock
before the tide could float her at the pier, I felt some doubt about
our passage to Galway.

The wind increased as the afternoon went on, and when I came down in
the twilight I found that the cargo was not yet all unladen, and
that the captain feared to face the gale that was rising. It was
some time before he came to a final decision, and we walked
backwards and forwards from the village with heavy clouds flying
overhead and the wind howling in the walls. At last he telegraphed
to Galway to know if he was wanted the next day, and we went into a
public-house to wait for the reply.

The kitchen was filled with men sitting closely on long forms ranged
in lines at each side of the fire. A wild-looking but beautiful girl
was kneeling on the hearth talking loudly to the men, and a few
natives of Inishmaan were hanging about the door, miserably drunk.
At the end of the kitchen the bar was arranged, with a sort of
alcove beside it, where some older men were playing cards. Overhead
there were the open rafters, filled with turf and tobacco smoke.

This is the haunt so much dreaded by the women of the other islands,
where the men linger with their money till they go out at last with
reeling steps and are lost in the sound. Without this background of
empty curaghs, and bodies floating naked with the tide, there would
be something almost absurd about the dissipation of this simple
place where men sit, evening after evening, drinking bad whisky and
porter, and talking with endless repetition of fishing, and kelp,
and of the sorrows of purgatory.

When we had finished our whiskey word came that the boat might

With some difficulty I got my bags out of the steamer and carried
them up through the crowd of women and donkeys that were still
struggling on the quay in an inconceivable medley of flour-bags and
cases of petroleum. When I reached the inn the old woman was in
great good humour, and I spent some time talking by the kitchen
fire. Then I groped my way back to the harbour, where, I was told,
the old net-mender, who came to see me on my first visit to the
islands, was spending the night as watchman.

It was quite dark on the pier, and a terrible gale was blowing.
There was no one in the little office where I expected to find him,
so I groped my way further on towards a figure I saw moving with a

It was the old man, and he remembered me at once when I hailed him
and told him who I was. He spent some time arranging one of his
lanterns, and then he took me back to his office--a mere shed of
planks and corrugated iron, put up for the contractor of some work
which is in progress on the pier.

When we reached the light I saw that his head was rolled up in an
extraordinary collection of mufflers to keep him from the cold, and
that his face was much older than when I saw him before, though
still full of intelligence.

He began to tell how he had gone to see a relative of mine in Dublin
when he first left the island as a cabin-boy, between forty and
fifty years ago.

He told his story with the usual detail:--

We saw a man walking about on the quay in Dublin, and looking at us
without saying a word. Then he came down to the yacht. 'Are you the
men from Aran?' said he.

'We are,' said we.

'You're to come with me so,' said he. 'Why?' said we.

Then he told us it was Mr. Synge had sent him and we went with him.
Mr. Synge brought us into his kitchen and gave the men a glass of
whisky all round, and a half-glass to me because I was a boy--though
at that time and to this day I can drink as much as two men and not
be the worse of it. We were some time in the kitchen, then one of
the men said we should be going. I said it would not be right to go
without saying a word to Mr. Synge. Then the servant-girl went up
and brought him down, and he gave us another glass of whisky, and he
gave me a book in Irish because I was going to sea, and I was able
to read in the Irish.

I owe it to Mr. Synge and that book that when I came back here,
after not hearing a word of Irish for thirty years, I had as good
Irish, or maybe better Irish, than any person on the island.

I could see all through his talk that the sense of superiority which
his scholarship in this little-known language gave him above the
ordinary seaman, had influenced his whole personality and been the
central interest of his life.

On one voyage he had a fellow-sailor who often boasted that he had
been at school and learned Greek, and this incident took place:--

One night we had a quarrel, and I asked him could he read a Greek
book with all his talk of it.

'I can so,' said he.

'We'll see that,' said I.

Then I got the Irish book out of my chest, and I gave it into his

'Read that to me,' said I, 'if you know Greek.'

He took it, and he looked at it this way, and that way, and not a
bit of him could make it out.

'Bedad, I've forgotten my Greek,' said he.

'You're telling a lie,' said I. 'I'm not,' said he; 'it's the divil
a bit I can read it.'

Then I took the book back into my hand, and said to him--'It's the
sorra a word of Greek you ever knew in your life, for there's not a
word of Greek in that book, and not a bit of you knew.'

He told me another story of the only time he had heard Irish spoken
during his voyages:--

One night I was in New York, walking in the streets with some other
men, and we came upon two women quarrelling in Irish at the door of
a public-house.

'What's that jargon?' said one of the men.

'It's no jargon,' said I.

'What is it?' said he.

'It's Irish,' said I.

Then I went up to them, and you know, sir, there is no language like
the Irish for soothing and quieting. The moment I spoke to them they
stopped scratching and swearing and stood there as quiet as two

Then they asked me in Irish if I wouldn't come in and have a drink,
and I said I couldn't leave my mates.

'Bring them too,' said they.

Then we all had a drop together.

While we were talking another man had slipped in and sat down in the
corner with his pipe, and the rain had become so heavy we could
hardly hear our voices over the noise on the iron roof.

The old man went on telling of his experiences at sea and the places
he had been to.

'If I had my life to live over again,' he said, 'there's no other
way I'd spend it. I went in and out everywhere and saw everything. I
was never afraid to take my glass, though I was never drunk in my
life, and I was a great player of cards though I never played for

'There's no diversion at all in cards if you don't play for money'
said the man in the corner.

'There was no use in my playing for money' said the old man, 'for
I'd always lose, and what's the use in playing if you always lose?'

Then our conversation branched off to the Irish language and the
books written in it.

He began to criticise Archbishop MacHale's version of Moore's Irish
Melodies with great severity and acuteness, citing whole poems both
in the English and Irish, and then giving versions that he had made

'A translation is no translation,' he said, 'unless it will give you
the music of a poem along with the words of it. In my translation
you won't find a foot or a syllable that's not in the English, yet
I've put down all his words mean, and nothing but it. Archbishop
MacHale's work is a most miserable production.'

From the verses he cited his judgment seemed perfectly justified,
and even if he was wrong, it is interesting to note that this poor
sailor and night-watchman was ready to rise up and criticise an
eminent dignitary and scholar on rather delicate points of
versification and the finer distinctions between old words of

In spite of his singular intelligence and minute observation his
reasoning was medieval.

I asked him what he thought about the future of the language on
these islands.

'It can never die out,' said he, 'because there's no family in the
place can live without a bit of a field for potatoes, and they have
only the Irish words for all that they do in the fields. They sail
their new boats--their hookers--in English, but they sail a curagh
oftener in Irish, and in the fields they have the Irish alone. It
can never die out, and when the people begin to see it fallen very
low, it will rise up again like the phoenix from its own ashes.'

'And the Gaelic League?' I asked him.

'The Gaelic League! Didn't they come down here with their organisers
and their secretaries, and their meetings and their speechifyings,
and start a branch of it, and teach a power of Irish for five weeks
and a half!' [a]

'What do we want here with their teaching Irish?' said the man in
the corner; 'haven't we Irish enough?'

'You have not,' said the old man; 'there's not a soul in Aran can
count up to nine hundred and ninety-nine without using an English
word but myself.'

It was getting late, and the rain had lessened for a moment, so I
groped my way back to the inn through the intense darkness of a late
autumn night.

[a] This was written, it should be remembered, some years ago.

Part IV

No two journeys to these islands are alike. This morning I sailed
with the steamer a little after five o'clock in a cold night air,
with the stars shining on the bay. A number of Claddagh fishermen
had been out all night fishing not far from the harbour, and without
thinking, or perhaps caring to think, of the steamer, they had put
out their nets in the channel where she was to pass. Just before we
started the mate sounded the steam whistle repeatedly to give them
warning, saying as he did so--

'If you were out now in the bay, gentlemen, you'd hear some fine
prayers being said.'

When we had gone a little way we began to see the light from the
turf fires carried by the fishermen flickering on the water, and to
hear a faint noise of angry voices. Then the outline of a large
fishing-boat came in sight through the darkness, with the forms of
three men who stood on the course. The captain feared to turn aside,
as there are sandbanks near the channel, so the engines were stopped
and we glided over the nets without doing them harm. As we passed
close to the boat the crew could be seen plainly on the deck, one of
them holding the bucket of red turf, and their abuse could be
distinctly heard. It changed continually, from profuse Gaelic
maledictions to the simpler curses they know in English. As they
spoke they could be seen writhing and twisting themselves with
passion against the light which was beginning to turn on the ripple
of the sea. Soon afterwards another set of voices began in front of
us, breaking out in strange contrast with the dwindling stars and
the silence of the dawn.

Further on we passed many boats that let us go by without a word, as
their nets were not in the channel. Then day came on rapidly with
cold showers that turned golden in the first rays from the sun,
filling the troughs of the sea with curious transparencies and

This year I have brought my fiddle with me so that I may have
something new to keep up the interest of the people. I have played
for them several tunes, but as far as I can judge they do not feel
modern music, though they listen eagerly from curiosity. Irish airs
like 'Eileen Aroon' please them better, but it is only when I play
some jig like the 'Black Rogue'--which is known on the island--that
they seem to respond to the full meaning of the notes. Last night I
played for a large crowd, which had come together for another
purpose from all parts of the island.

About six o'clock I was going into the schoolmaster's house, and I
heard a fierce wrangle going on between a man and a woman near the
cottages to the west, that lie below the road. While I was listening
to them several women came down to listen also from behind the wall,
and told me that the people who were fighting were near relations
who lived side by side and often quarrelled about trifles, though
they were as good friends as ever the next day. The voices sounded
so enraged that I thought mischief would come of it, but the women
laughed at the idea. Then a lull came, and I said that they seemed
to have finished at last.

'Finished!' said one of the women; 'sure they haven't rightly begun.
It's only playing they are yet.'

It was just after sunset and the evening was bitterly cold, so I
went into the house and left them.

An hour later the old man came down from my cottage to say that some
of the lads and the 'fear lionta' ('the man of the nets'--a young
man from Aranmor who is teaching net-mending to the boys) were up at
the house, and had sent him down to tell me they would like to
dance, if I would come up and play for them.

I went out at once, and as soon as I came into the air I heard the
dispute going on still to the west more violently than ever. The
news of it had gone about the island, and little bands of girls and
boys were running along the lanes towards the scene of the quarrel
as eagerly as if they were going to a racecourse. I stopped for a
few minutes at the door of our cottage to listen to the volume of
abuse that was rising across the stillness of the island. Then I
went into the kitchen and began tuning the fiddle, as the boys were
impatient for my music. At first I tried to play standing, but on
the upward stroke my bow came in contact with the salt-fish and
oil-skins that hung from the rafters, so I settled myself at last on
a table in the corner, where I was out of the way, and got one of
the people to hold up my music before me, as I had no stand. I
played a French melody first, to get myself used to the people and
the qualities of the room, which has little resonance between the
earth floor and the thatch overhead. Then I struck up the 'Black
Rogue,' and in a moment a tall man bounded out from his stool under
the chimney and began flying round the kitchen with peculiarly sure
and graceful bravado.

The lightness of the pampooties seems to make the dancing on this
island lighter and swifter than anything I have seen on the
mainland, and the simplicity of the men enables them to throw a
naive extravagance into their steps that is impossible in places
where the people are self-conscious.

The speed, however, was so violent that I had some difficulty in
keeping up, as my fingers were not in practice, and I could not take
off more than a small part of my attention to watch what was going
on. When I finished I heard a commotion at the door, and the whole
body of people who had gone down to watch the quarrel filed into the
kitchen and arranged themselves around the walls, the women and
girls, as is usual, forming themselves in one compact mass crouching
on their heels near the door.

I struck up another dance--'Paddy get up'--and the 'fear lionta' and
the first dancer went through it together, with additional rapidity
and grace, as they were excited by the presence of the people who
had come in. Then word went round that an old man, known as Little
Roger, was outside, and they told me he was once the best dancer on
the island.

For a long time he refused to come in, for he said he was too old to
dance, but at last he was persuaded, and the people brought him in
and gave him a stool opposite me. It was some time longer before he
would take his turn, and when he did so, though he was met with
great clapping of hands, he only danced for a few moments. He did
not know the dances in my book, he said, and did not care to dance
to music he was not familiar with. When the people pressed him again
he looked across to me.

'John,' he said, in shaking English, 'have you got "Larry Grogan,"
for it is an agreeable air?'

I had not, so some of the young men danced again to the 'Black
Rogue,' and then the party broke up. The altercation was still going
on at the cottage below us, and the people were anxious to see what
was coming of it.

About ten o'clock a young man came in and told us that the fight was

'They have been at it for four hours,' he said, 'and now they're

Indeed it is time they were, for you'd rather be listening to a man
killing a pig than to the noise they were letting out of them.'

After the dancing and excitement we were too stirred up to be
sleepy, so we sat for a long time round the embers of the turf,
talking and smoking by the light of the candle.

From ordinary music we came to talk of the music of the fairies, and
they told me this story, when I had told them some stories of my

A man who lives in the other end of the village got his gun one day
and went out to look for rabbits in a thicket near the small Dun. He
saw a rabbit sitting up under a tree, and he lifted his gun to take
aim at it, but just as he had it covered he heard a kind of music
over his head, and he looked up into the sky. When he looked back
for the rabbit, not a bit of it was to be seen.

He went on after that, and he heard the music again.

Then he looked over a wall, and he saw a rabbit sitting up by the
wall with a sort of flute in its mouth, and it playing on it with
its two fingers!

'What sort of rabbit was that?' said the old woman when they had
finished. 'How could that be a right rabbit? I remember old Pat
Dirane used to be telling us he was once out on the cliffs, and he
saw a big rabbit sitting down in a hole under a flagstone. He called
a man who was with him, and they put a hook on the end of a stick
and ran it down into the hole. Then a voice called up to them--

'"Ah, Phaddrick, don't hurt me with the hook!"

'Pat was a great rogue,' said the old man. 'Maybe you remember the
bits of horns he had like handles on the end of his sticks? Well,
one day there was a priest over and he said to Pat--"Is it the
devil's horns you have on your sticks, Pat?" "I don't rightly know"
said Pat, "but if it is, it's the devil's milk you've been drinking,
since you've been able to drink, and the devil's flesh you've been
eating and the devil's butter you've been putting on your bread, for
I've seen the like of them horns on every old cow through the

The weather has been rough, but early this afternoon the sea was
calm enough for a hooker to come in with turf from Connemara, though
while she was at the pier the roll was so great that the men had to
keep a watch on the waves and loosen the cable whenever a large one
was coming in, so that she might ease up with the water.

There were only two men on board, and when she was empty they had
some trouble in dragging in the cables, hoisting the sails, and
getting out of the harbour before they could be blown on the rocks.

A heavy shower came on soon afterwards, and I lay down under a stack
of turf with some people who were standing about, to wait for
another hooker that was coming in with horses. They began talking
and laughing about the dispute last night and the noise made at it.

'The worst fights do be made here over nothing,' said an old man
next me. 'Did Mourteen or any of them on the big island ever tell
you of the fight they had there threescore years ago when they were
killing each other with knives out on the strand?'

'They never told me,' I said.

'Well,' said he, 'they were going down to cut weed, and a man was
sharpening his knife on a stone before he went. A young boy came
into the kitchen, and he said to the man--"What are you sharpening
that knife for?"'

'"To kill your father with," said the man, and they the best of
friends all the time. The young boy went back to his house and told
his father there was a man sharpening a knife to kill him.

'"Bedad," said the father, "if he has a knife I'll have one, too."

'He sharpened his knife after that, and they went down to the
strand. Then the two men began making fun about their knives, and
from that they began raising their voices, and it wasn't long before
there were ten men fighting with their knives, and they never
stopped till there were five of them dead.

'They buried them the day after, and when they were coming home,
what did they see but the boy who began the work playing about with
the son of the other man, and their two fathers down in their

When he stopped, a gust of wind came and blew up a bundle of dry
seaweed that was near us, right over our heads.

Another old man began to talk.

'That was a great wind,' he said. 'I remember one time there was a
man in the south island who had a lot of wool up in shelter against
the corner of a wall. He was after washing it, and drying it, and
turning it, and he had it all nice and clean the way they could card
it. Then a wind came down and the wool began blowing all over the
wall. The man was throwing out his arms on it and trying to stop it,
and another man saw him.

'"The devil mend your head!" says he, "the like of that wind is too
strong for you."

'"If the devil himself is in it," said the other man, "I'll hold on
to it while I can."

'Then whether it was because of the word or not I don't know, but
the whole of the wool went up over his head and blew all over the
island, yet, when his wife came to spin afterwards she had all they
expected, as if that lot was not lost on them at all.'

'There was more than that in it,' said another man, 'for the night
before a woman had a great sight out to the west in this island, and
saw all the people that were dead a while back in this island and
the south island, and they all talking with each other. There was a
man over from the other island that night, and he heard the woman
talking of what she had seen. The next day he went back to the south
island, and I think he was alone in the curagh. As soon as he came
near the other island he saw a man fishing from the cliffs, and this
man called out to him--

'"Make haste now and go up and tell your mother to hide the
poteen"--his mother used to sell poteen--"for I'm after seeing the
biggest party of peelers and yeomanry passing by on the rocks was
ever seen on the island." It was at that time the wool was taken
with the other man above, under the hill, and no peelers in the
island at all.'

A little after that the old men went away, and I was left with some
young men between twenty and thirty, who talked to me of different
things. One of them asked me if ever I was drunk, and another told
me I would be right to marry a girl out of this island, for they
were nice women in it, fine fat girls, who would be strong, and have
plenty of children, and not be wasting my money on me.

When the horses were coming ashore a curagh that was far out after
lobster-pots came hurrying in, and a man out of her ran up the
sandhills to meet a little girl who was coming down with a bundle of
Sunday clothes. He changed them on the sand and then went out to the
hooker, and went off to Connemara to bring back his horses.

A young married woman I used often to talk with is dying of a
fever--typhus I am told--and her husband and brothers have gone off
in a curagh to get the doctor and the priest from the north island,
though the sea is rough.

I watched them from the Dun for a long time after they had started.
Wind and rain were driving through the sound, and I could see no
boats or people anywhere except this one black curagh splashing and
struggling through the waves. When the wind fell a little I could
hear people hammering below me to the east. The body of a young man
who was drowned a few weeks ago came ashore this morning, and his
friends have been busy all day making a coffin in the yard of the
house where he lived.

After a while the curagh went out of sight into the mist, and I came
down to the cottage shuddering with cold and misery.

The old woman was keening by the fire.

'I have been to the house where the young man is,' she said, 'but I
couldn't go to the door with the air was coming out of it. They say
his head isn't on him at all, and indeed it isn't any wonder and he
three weeks in the sea. Isn't it great danger and sorrow is over
every one on this island?'

I asked her if the curagh would soon be coming back with the priest.
'It will not be coming soon or at all to-night,' she said. 'The wind
has gone up now, and there will come no curagh to this island for
maybe two days or three. And wasn't it a cruel thing to see the
haste was on them, and they in danger all the time to be drowned

Then I asked her how the woman was doing.

'She's nearly lost,' said the old woman; 'she won't be alive at all
tomorrow morning. They have no boards to make her a coffin, and
they'll want to borrow the boards that a man below has had this two
years to bury his mother, and she alive still. I heard them saying
there are two more women with the fever, and a child that's not
three. The Lord have mercy on us all!'

I went out again to look over the sea, but night had fallen and the
hurricane was howling over the Dun. I walked down the lane and heard
the keening in the house where the young man was. Further on I could
see a stir about the door of the cottage that had been last struck
by typhus. Then I turned back again in the teeth of the rain, and
sat over the fire with the old man and woman talking of the sorrows
of the people till it was late in the night.

This evening the old man told me a story he had heard long ago on
the mainland:--

There was a young woman, he said, and she had a child. In a little
time the woman died and they buried her the day after. That night
another woman--a woman of the family--was sitting by the fire with
the child on her lap, giving milk to it out of a cup. Then the woman
they were after burying opened the door, and came into the house.
She went over to the fire, and she took a stool and sat down before
the other woman. Then she put out her hand and took the child on her
lap, and gave it her breast. After that she put the child in the
cradle and went over to the dresser and took milk and potatoes off
it, and ate them. Then she went out. The other woman was frightened,
and she told the man of the house when he came back, and two young
men. They said they would be there the next night, and if she came
back they would catch hold of her. She came the next night and gave
the child her breast, and when she got up to go to the dresser, the
man of the house caught hold of her, but he fell down on the floor.
Then the two young men caught hold of her and they held her. She
told them she was away with the fairies, and they could not keep her
that night, though she was eating no food with the fairies, the way
she might be able to come back to her child. Then she told them they
would all be leaving that part of the country on the Oidhche
Shamhna, and that there would be four or five hundred of them riding
on horses, and herself would be on a grey horse, riding behind a
young man. And she told them to go down to a bridge they would be
crossing that night, and to wait at the head of it, and when she
would be coming up she would slow the horse and they would be able
to throw something on her and on the young man, and they would fall
over on the ground and be saved.

She went away then, and on the Oidhche Shamhna the men went down and
got her back. She had four children after that, and in the end she

It was not herself they buried at all the first time, but some old
thing the fairies put in her place.

'There are people who say they don't believe in these things,' said
the old woman, 'but there are strange things, let them say what they
will. There was a woman went to bed at the lower village a while
ago, and her child along with her. For a time they did not sleep,
and then something came to the window, and they heard a voice and
this is what it said--

'"It is time to sleep from this out."

'In the morning the child was dead, and indeed it is many get their
death that way on the island.'

The young man has been buried, and his funeral was one of the
strangest scenes I have met with. People could be seen going down to
his house from early in the day, yet when I went there with the old
man about the middle of the afternoon, the coffin was still lying in
front of the door, with the men and women of the family standing
round beating it, and keening over it, in a great crowd of people. A
little later every one knelt down and a last prayer was said. Then
the cousins of the dead man got ready two oars and some pieces of
rope--the men of his own family seemed too broken with grief to know
what they were doing--the coffin was tied up, and the procession
began. The old woman walked close behind the coffin, and I happened
to take a place just after them, among the first of the men. The
rough lane to the graveyard slopes away towards the east, and the
crowd of women going down before me in their red dresses, cloaked
with red pethcoats, with the waistband that is held round the head
just seen from behind, had a strange effect, to which the white
coffin and the unity of colour gave a nearly cloistral quietness.

This time the graveyard was filled with withered grass and bracken
instead of the early ferns that were to be seen everywhere at the
other funeral I have spoken of, and the grief of the people was of a
different kind, as they had come to bury a young man who had died in
his first manhood, instead of an old woman of eighty. For this
reason the keen lost a part of its formal nature, and was recited as
the expression of intense personal grief by the young men and women
of the man's own family.

When the coffin had been laid down, near the grave that was to be
opened, two long switches were cut out from the brambles among the
rocks, and the length and breadth of the coffin were marked on them.
Then the men began their work, clearing off stones and thin layers
of earth, and breaking up an old coffin that was in the place into
which the new one had to be lowered. When a number of blackened
boards and pieces of bone had been thrown up with the clay, a skull
was lifted out, and placed upon a gravestone. Immediately the old
woman, the mother of the dead man, took it up in her hands, and
carried it away by herself. Then she sat down and put it in her
lap--it was the skull of her own mother--and began keening and
shrieking over it with the wildest lamentation.

As the pile of mouldering clay got higher beside the grave a heavy
smell began to rise from it, and the men hurried with their work,
measuring the hole repeatedly with the two rods of bramble. When it
was nearly deep enough the old woman got up and came back to the
coffin, and began to beat on it, holding the skull in her left hand.
This last moment of grief was the most terrible of all. The young
women were nearly lying among the stones, worn out with their
passion of grief, yet raising themselves every few moments to beat
with magnificent gestures on the boards of the coffin. The young men
were worn out also, and their voices cracked continually in the wail
of the keen.

When everything was ready the sheet was unpinned from the coffin,
and it was lowered into its place. Then an old man took a wooden
vessel with holy water in it, and a wisp of bracken, and the people
crowded round him while he splashed the water over them. They seemed
eager to get as much of it as possible, more than one old woman
crying out with a humorous voice--

'Tabhair dham braon eile, a Mhourteen.' ('Give me another drop,

When the grave was half filled in, I wandered round towards the
north watching two seals that were chasing each other near the surf.
I reached the Sandy Head as the light began to fail, and found some
of the men I knew best fishing there with a sort of dragnet. It is a
tedious process, and I sat for a long time on the sand watching the
net being put out, and then drawn in again by eight men working
together with a slow rhythmical movement.

As they talked to me and gave me a little poteen and a little bread
when they thought I was hungry, I could not help feeling that I was
talking with men who were under a judgment of death. I knew that
every one of them would be drowned in the sea in a few years and
battered naked on the rocks, or would die in his own cottage and be
buried with another fearful scene in the graveyard I had come from.

When I got up this morning I found that the people had gone to Mass
and latched the kitchen door from the outside, so that I could not
open it to give myself light.

I sat for nearly an hour beside the fire with a curious feeling that
I should be quite alone in this little cottage. I am so used to
sitting here with the people that I have never felt the room before
as a place where any man might live and work by himself. After a
while as I waited, with just light enough from the chimney to let me
see the rafters and the greyness of the walls, I became
indescribably mournful, for I felt that this little corner on the
face of the world, and the people who live in it, have a peace and
dignity from which we are shut for ever.

While I was dreaming, the old woman came in in a great hurry and
made tea for me and the young priest, who followed her a little
later drenched with rain and spray.

The curate who has charge of the middle and south islands has a
wearisome and dangerous task. He comes to this island or Inishere on
Saturday night--whenever the sea is calm enough--and has Mass the
first thing on Sunday morning. Then he goes down fasting and is
rowed across to the other island and has Mass again, so that it is
about midday when he gets a hurried breakfast before he sets off
again for Aranmore, meeting often on both passages a rough and
perilous sea.

A couple of Sundays ago I was lying outside the cottage in the
sunshine smoking my pipe, when the curate, a man of the greatest
kindliness and humour, came up, wet and worn out, to have his first
meal. He looked at me for a moment and then shook his head.

'Tell me,' he said, 'did you read your Bible this morning?'

I answered that I had not done so.

'Well, begod, Mr. Synge,' he went on, 'if you ever go to Heaven,
you'll have a great laugh at us.'

Although these people are kindly towards each other and to their
children, they have no feeling for the sufferings of animals, and
little sympathy for pain when the person who feels it is not in
danger. I have sometimes seen a girl writhing and howling with
toothache while her mother sat at the other side of the fireplace
pointing at her and laughing at her as if amused by the sight.

A few days ago, when we had been talking of the death of President
McKinley, I explained the American way of killing murderers, and a
man asked me how long the man who killed the President would be

'While you'd be snapping your fingers,' I said.

'Well,' said the man, 'they might as well hang him so, and not be
bothering themselves with all them wires. A man who would kill a
King or a President knows he has to die for it, and it's only giving
him the thing he bargained for if he dies easy. It would be right he
should be three weeks dying, and there'd be fewer of those things
done in the world.'

If two dogs fight at the slip when we are waiting for the steamer,
the men are delighted and do all they can to keep up the fury of the

They tie down donkeys' heads to their hoofs to keep them from
straying, in a way that must cause horrible pain, and sometimes when
I go into a cottage I find all the women of the place down on their
knees plucking the feathers from live ducks and geese.

When the people are in pain themselves they make no attempt to hide
or control their feelings. An old man who was ill in the winter took
me out the other day to show me how far down the road they could
hear him yelling 'the time he had a pain in his head.'

There was a great storm this morning, and I went up on the cliff to
sit in the shanty they have made there for the men who watch for
wrack. Soon afterwards a boy, who was out minding sheep, came up
from the west, and we had a long talk.

He began by giving me the first connected account I have had of the
accident that happened some time ago, when the young man was drowned
on his way to the south island.

'Some men from the south island,' he said, 'came over and bought
some horses on this island, and they put them in a hooker to take
across. They wanted a curagh to go with them to tow the horses on to
the strand, and a young man said he would go, and they could give
him a rope and tow him behind the hooker. When they were out in the
sound a wind came down on them, and the man in the curagh couldn't
turn her to meet the waves, because the hooker was pulling her and
she began filling up with water.

'When the men in the hooker saw it they began crying out one thing
and another thing without knowing what to do. One man called out to
the man who was holding the rope: "Let go the rope now, or you'll
swamp her."

'And the man with the rope threw it out on the water, and the curagh
half-filled already, and I think only one oar in her. A wave came
into her then, and she went down before them, and the young man
began swimming about; then they let fall the sails in the hooker the
way they could pick him up. And when they had them down they were
too far off, and they pulled the sails up again the way they could
tack back to him. He was there in the water swimming round, and
swimming round, and before they got up with him again he sank the
third time, and they didn't see any more of him.'

I asked if anyone had seen him on the island since he was dead.

'They have not,' he said, 'but there were queer things in it. Before
he went out on the sea that day his dog came up and sat beside him
on the rocks, and began crying. When the horses were coming down to
the slip an old woman saw her son, that was drowned a while ago,
riding on one of them, She didn't say what she was after seeing, and
this man caught the horse, he caught his own horse first, and then
he caught this one, and after that he went out and was drowned. Two
days after I dreamed they found him on the Ceann gaine (the Sandy
Head) and carried him up to the house on the plain, and took his
pampooties off him and hung them up on a nail to dry. It was there
they found him afterwards as you'll have heard them say.'

'Are you always afraid when you hear a dog crying?' I said.

'We don't like it,' he answered; 'you will often see them on the top
of the rocks looking up into the heavens, and they crying. We don't
like it at all, and we don't like a cock or hen to break anything in
the house, for we know then some one will be going away. A while
before the man who used to live in that cottage below died in the
winter, the cock belonging to his wife began to fight with another
cock. The two of them flew up on the dresser and knocked the glass
of the lamp off it, and it fell on the floor and was broken. The
woman caught her cock after that and killed it, but she could not
kill the other cock, for it was belonging to the man who lived in
the next house. Then himself got a sickness and died after that.'

I asked him if he ever heard the fairy music on the island.

'I heard some of the boys talking in the school a while ago,' he
said, 'and they were saying that their brothers and another man went
out fishing a morning, two weeks ago, before the cock crew. When
they were down near the Sandy Head they heard music near them, and
it was the fairies were in it. I've heard of other things too. One
time three men were out at night in a curagh, and they saw a big
ship coming down on them. They were frightened at it, and they tried
to get away, but it came on nearer them, till one of the men turned
round and made the sign of the cross, and then they didn't see it
any more.'

Then he went on in answer to another question:

'We do often see the people who do be away with them. There was a
young man died a year ago, and he used to come to the window of the
house where his brothers slept, and be talking to them in the night.
He was married a while before that, and he used to be saying in the
night he was sorry he had not promised the land to his son, and that
it was to him it should go. Another time he was saying something
about a mare, about her hoofs, or the shoes they should put on her.
A little while ago Patch Ruadh saw him going down the road with
brogaarda (leather boots) on him and a new suit. Then two men saw
him in another place.

'Do you see that straight wall of cliff?' he went on a few minutes
later, pointing to a place below us. 'It is there the fairies do be
playing ball in the night, and you can see the marks of their heels
when you come in the morning, and three stones they have to mark the
line, and another big stone they hop the ball on. It's often the
boys have put away the three stones, and they will always be back
again in the morning, and a while since the man who owns the land
took the big stone itself and rolled it down and threw it over the
cliff, yet in the morning it was back in its place before him.'

I am in the south island again, and I have come upon some old men
with a wonderful variety of stories and songs, the last, fairly
often, both in English and Irish, I went round to the house of one
of them to-day, with a native scholar who can write Irish, and we
took down a certain number, and heard others. Here is one of the
tales the old man told us at first before he had warmed to his
subject. I did not take it down, but it ran in this way:--

There was a man of the name of Charley Lambert, and every horse he
would ride in a race he would come in the first.

The people in the country were angry with him at last, and this law
was made, that he should ride no more at races, and if he rode, any
one who saw him would have the right to shoot him. After that there
was a gentleman from that part of the country over in England, and
he was talking one day with the people there, and he said that the
horses of Ireland were the best horses. The English said it was the
English horses were the best, and at last they said there should be
a race, and the English horses would come over and race against the
horses of Ireland, and the gentleman put all his money on that race.

Well, when he came back to Ireland he went to Charley Lambert, and
asked him to ride on his horse. Charley said he would not ride, and
told the gentleman the danger he'd be in. Then the gentleman told
him the way he had put all his property on the horse, and at last
Charley asked where the races were to be, and the hour and the day.
The gentleman told him.

'Let you put a horse with a bridle and saddle on it every seven
miles along the road from here to the racecourse on that day,' said
Lambert, 'and I'll be in it.'

When the gentleman was gone, Charley stripped off his clothes and
got into his bed. Then he sent for the doctor, and when he heard him
coming he began throwing about his arms the way the doctor would
think his pulse was up with the fever.

The doctor felt his pulse and told him to stay quiet till the next
day, when he would see him again.

The next day it was the same thing, and so on till the day of the
races. That morning Charley had his pulse beating so hard the doctor
thought bad of him.

'I'm going to the races now, Charley,' said he, 'but I'll come in
and see you again when I'll be coming back in the evening, and let
you be very careful and quiet till you see me.'

As soon as he had gone Charley leapt up out of bed and got on his
horse, and rode seven miles to where the first horse was waiting for
him. Then he rode that horse seven miles, and another horse seven
miles more, till he came to the racecourse.

He rode on the gentleman's horse and he won the race.

There were great crowds looking on, and when they saw him coming in
they said it was Charley Lambert, or the devil was in it, for there
was no one else could bring in a horse the way he did, for the leg
was after being knocked off of the horse and he came in all the

When the race was over, he got up on the horse was waiting for him,
and away with him for seven miles. Then he rode the other horse
seven miles, and his own horse seven miles, and when he got home he
threw off his clothes and lay down on his bed.

After a while the doctor came back and said it was a great race they
were after having.

The next day the people were saying it was Charley Lambert was the
man who rode the horse. An inquiry was held, and the doctor swore
that Charley was ill in his bed, and he had seen him before the race
and after it, so the gentleman saved his fortune.

After that he told me another story of the same sort about a fairy
rider, who met a gentleman that was after losing all his fortune but
a shilling, and begged the shilling of him. The gentleman gave him
the shilling, and the fairy rider--a little red man--rode a horse
for him in a race, waving a red handkerchief to him as a signal when
he was to double the stakes, and made him a rich man.

Then he gave us an extraordinary English doggerel rhyme which I took
down, though it seems singularly incoherent when written out at
length. These rhymes are repeated by the old men as a sort of chant,
and when a line comes that is more than usually irregular they seem
to take a real delight in forcing it into the mould of the
recitative. All the time he was chanting the old man kept up a kind
of snakelike movement in his body, which seemed to fit the chant and
make it part of him.


  My horse he is white,
  Though at first he was bay,
  And he took great delight
  In travelling by night
    And by day.

  His travels were great
  If I could but half of them tell,
  He was rode in the garden by Adam,
  The day that he fell.

  On Babylon plains
  He ran with speed for the plate,
  He was hunted next day
  By Hannibal the great.

  After that he was hunted
  In the chase of a fox,
  When Nebuchadnezzar ate grass,
  In the shape of an ox.

We are told in the next verses of his going into the ark with Noah,
of Moses riding him through the Red Sea; then

  He was with king Pharaoh in Egypt
  When fortune did smile,
  And he rode him stately along
  The gay banks of the Nile.

  He was with king Saul and all
  His troubles went through,
  He was with king David the day
  That Goliath he slew.

For a few verses he is with Juda and Maccabeus the great, with
Cyrus, and back again to Babylon. Next we find him as the horse that
came into Troy.

  When ( ) came to Troy with joy,
  My horse he was found,
  He crossed over the walls and entered
  The city I'm told.

  I come on him again, in Spain,
  And he in full bloom,
  By Hannibal the great he was rode,
  And he crossing the Alps into Rome.

  The horse being tall
  And the Alps very high,
  His rider did fall
  And Hannibal the great lost an eye.

Afterwards he carries young Sipho (Scipio), and then he is ridden by
Brian when driving the Danes from Ireland, and by St. Ruth when he
fell at the battle of Aughrim, and by Sarsfield at the siege of

  He was with king James who sailed
  To the Irish shore,
  But at last he got lame,
  When the Boyne's bloody battle was o'er.

  He was rode by the greatest of men
  At famed Waterloo,
  Brave Daniel O'Connell he sat
  On his back it is true.

  * * * * * * *

  Brave Dan's on his back,
  He's ready once more for the field.
  He never will stop till the Tories,
  He'll make them to yield.

Grotesque as this long rhyme appears, it has, as I said, a sort of
existence when it is crooned by the old man at his fireside, and it
has great fame in the island. The old man himself is hoping that I
will print it, for it would not be fair, he says, that it should die
out of the world, and he is the only man here who knows it, and none
of them have ever heard it on the mainland. He has a couple more
examples of the same kind of doggerel, but I have not taken them

Both in English and in Irish the songs are full of words the people
do not understand themselves, and when they come to say the words
slowly their memory is usually uncertain.

All the morning I have been digging maidenhair ferns with a boy I
met on the rocks, who was in great sorrow because his father died
suddenly a week ago of a pain in his heart.

'We wouldn't have chosen to lose our father for all the gold there
is in the world,' he said, 'and it's great loneliness and sorrow
there is in the house now.'

Then he told me that a brother of his who is a stoker in the Navy
had come home a little while before his father died, and that he had
spent all his money in having a fine funeral, with plenty of drink
at it, and tobacco.

'My brother has been a long way in the world,' he said, 'and seen
great wonders. He does be telling us of the people that do come out
to them from Italy, and Spain, and Portugal, and that it is a sort
of Irish they do be talking--not English at all--though it is only a
word here and there you'd understand.'

When we had dug out enough of roots from the deep crannies in the
rocks where they are only to be found, I gave my companion a few
pence, and sent him back to his cottage.

The old man who tells me the Irish poems is curiously pleased with
the translations I have made from some of them.

He would never be tired, he says, listening while I would be reading
them, and they are much finer things than his old bits of rhyme.

Here is one of them, as near the Irish as I am able to make it:--


  I put the sorrow of destruction on the bad luck,
  For it would be a pity ever to deny it,
  It is to me it is stuck,
  By loneliness my pain, my complaining.

  It is the fairy-host
  Put me a-wandering
  And took from me my goods of the world.

  At Mannistir na Ruaidthe
  It is on me the shameless deed was done:
  Finn Bheara and his fairy-host
  Took my little horse on me from under the bag.

  If they left me the skin
  It would bring me tobacco for three months,
  But they did not leave anything with me
  But the old minister in its place.

  Am not I to be pitied?
  My bond and my note are on her,
  And the price of her not yet paid,
  My loneliness, my pain, my complaining.

  The devil a hill or a glen, or highest fort
  Ever was built in Ireland,
  Is not searched on me for my mare;
  And I am still at my complaining.

  I got up in the morning,
  I put a red spark in my pipe.
  I went to the Cnoc-Maithe
  To get satisfaction from them.

  I spoke to them,
  If it was in them to do a right thing,
  To get me my little mare,
  Or I would be changing my wits.

  'Do you hear, Rucard Mor?
  It is not here is your mare,
  She is in Cnoc Bally Brishlawn
  With the fairy-men these three months.'

  I ran on in my walking,
  I followed the road straightly,
  I was in Glenasmoil
  Before the moon was ended.

  I spoke to the fairy-man,
  If it was in him to do a right thing,
  To get me my little mare,
  Or I would be changing my wits.

  'Do you hear Rucard Mor?
  It is not here is your mare,
  She is in Cnoc Bally Brishlawn
  With the horseman of the music these three months.'

  I ran off on my walking,
  I followed the road straightly,
  I was in Cnoc Bally Brishlawn
  With the black fall of the night.

  That is a place was a crowd
  As it was seen by me,
  All the weavers of the globe,
  It is there you would have news of them.

  I spoke to the horseman,
  If it was in him to do the right thing,
  To get me my little mare,
  Or I would be changing my wits.

  'Do you hear, Rucard Mor?
  It is not here is your mare,
  She is in Cnoc Cruachan,
  In the back end of the palace.'

  I ran off on my walking,
  I followed the road straightly,
  I made no rest or stop
  Till I was in face of the palace.

  That is the place was a crowd
  As it appeared to me,
  The men and women of the country,
  And they all making merry.

  Arthur Scoil (?) stood up
  And began himself giving the lead,
  It is joyful, light and active,
  I would have danced the course with them.

  They drew up on their feet
  And they began to laugh,--
  'Look at Rucard Mor,
  And he looking for his little mare.'

  I spoke to the man,
  And he ugly and humpy,
  Unless he would get me my mare
  I would break a third of his bones.

  'Do you hear, Rucard Mor?
  It is not here is your mare,
  She is in Alvin of Leinster,
  On a halter with my mother.'

  I ran off on my walking,
  And I came to Alvin of Leinster.
  I met the old woman--
  On my word she was not pleasing.

  I spoke to the old woman,
  And she broke out in English:
  'Get agone, you rascal,
  I don't like your notions.'

  'Do you hear, you old woman?
  Keep away from me with your English,
  But speak to me with the tongue
  I hear from every person.'

  'It is from me you will get word of her,
  Only you come too late--
  I made a hunting cap
  For Conal Cath of her yesterday.'

  I ran off on my walking,
  Through roads that were cold and dirty.
  I fell in with the fairy-man,
  And he lying down in the Ruadthe.

  'I pity a man without a cow,
  I pity a man without a sheep,
  But in the case of a man without a horse
  It is hard for him to be long in the world.'

This morning, when I had been lying for a long time on a rock near
the sea watching some hooded crows that were dropping shellfish on
the rocks to break them, I saw one bird that had a large white
object which it was dropping continually without any result. I got
some stones and tried to drive it off when the thing had fallen, but
several times the bird was too quick for me and made off with it
before I could get down to him. At last, however, I dropped a stone
almost on top of him and he flew away. I clambered down hastily, and
found to my amazement a worn golf-ball! No doubt it had been brought
out in some way or other from the links in County Glare, which are
not far off, and the bird had been trying half the morning to break

Further on I had a long talk with a young man who is inquisitive
about modern life, and I explained to him an elaborate trick or
corner on the Stock Exchange that I heard of lately. When I got him
to understand it fully, he shouted with delight and amusement.

'Well,' he said when he was quiet again, 'isn't it a great wonder to
think that those rich men are as big rogues as ourselves.'

The old story-teller has given me a long rhyme about a man who
fought with an eagle. It is rather irregular and has some obscure
passages, but I have translated it with the scholar.


  On my getting up in the morning
  And I bothered, on a Sunday,
  I put my brogues on me,
  And I going to Tierny
  In the Glen of the Dead People.
  It is there the big eagle fell in with me,
  He like a black stack of turf sitting up stately.

  I called him a lout and a fool,
  The son of a female and a fool,
  Of the race of the Clan Cleopas, the biggest rogues in the land.
  That and my seven curses
  And never a good day to be on you,
  Who stole my little cock from me that could crow the sweetest.

  'Keep your wits right in you
  And don't curse me too greatly,
  By my strength and my oath
  I never took rent of you,
  I didn't grudge what you would have to spare
  In the house of the burnt pigeons,
  It is always useful you were to men of business.

  'But get off home
  And ask Nora
  What name was on the young woman that scalded his head.
  The feathers there were on his ribs
  Are burnt on the hearth,
  And they eat him and they taking and it wasn't much were thankful.'

  'You are a liar, you stealer,
  They did not eat him, and they're taking
  Nor a taste of the sort without being thankful,
  You took him yesterday
  As Nora told me,
  And the harvest quarter will not be spent till I take a tax of you.'

  'Before I lost the Fianna
  It was a fine boy I was,
  It was not about thieving was my knowledge,
  But always putting spells,
  Playing games and matches with the strength of Gol MacMorna,
  And you are making me a rogue
  At the end of my life.'

  'There is a part of my father's books with me,
  Keeping in the bottom of a box,
  And when I read them the tears fall down from me.
  But I found out in history
  That you are a son of the Dearg Mor,
  If it is fighting you want and you won't be thankful.'

  The Eagle dressed his bravery
  With his share of arms and his clothes,
  He had the sword that was the sharpest
  Could be got anywhere.
  I and my scythe with me,
  And nothing on but my shirt,
  We went at each other early in the day.

  We were as two giants
  Ploughing in a valley in a glen of the mountains.
  We did not know for the while which was the better man.
  You could hear the shakes that were on our arms under each other,
  From that till the sunset,
  Till it was forced on him to give up.

  I wrote a 'challenge boxail' to him
  On the morning of the next day,
  To come till we would fight without doubt at the dawn of the day.
  The second fist I drew on him I struck him on the hone of his jaw,
  He fell, and it is no lie there was a cloud in his head.

  The Eagle stood up,
  He took the end of my hand:--
  'You are the finest man I ever saw in my life,
  Go off home, my blessing will be on you for ever,
  You have saved the fame of Eire for yourself till the Day of the Judgment.'

  Ah! neighbors, did you hear
  The goodness and power of Felim?
  The biggest wild beast you could get,
  The second fist he drew on it
  He struck it on the jaw,
  It fell, and it did not rise
  Till the end of two days.

Well as I seem to know these people of the islands, there is hardly
a day that I do not come upon some new primitive feature of their

Yesterday I went into a cottage where the woman was at work and very
carelessly dressed. She waited for a while till I got into
conversation with her husband, and then she slipped into the corner
and put on a clean petticoat and a bright shawl round her neck. Then
she came back and took her place at the fire.

This evening I was in another cottage till very late talking to the
people. When the little boy--the only child of the house--got
sleepy, the old grandmother took him on her lap and began singing to
him. As soon as he was drowsy she worked his clothes off him by
degrees, scratching him softly with her nails as she did so all over
his body. Then she washed his feet with a little water out of a pot
and put him into his bed.

When I was going home the wind was driving the sand into my face so
that I could hardly find my way. I had to hold my hat over my mouth
and nose, and my hand over my eyes while I groped along, with my
feet feeling for rocks and holes in the sand.

I have been sitting all the morning with an old man who was making
sugawn ropes for his house, and telling me stories while he worked.
He was a pilot when he was young, and we had great talk at first
about Germans, and Italians, and Russians, and the ways of seaport
towns. Then he came round to talk of the middle island, and he told
me this story which shows the curious jealousy that is between the

Long ago we used all to be pagans, and the saints used to be coming
to teach us about God and the creation of the world. The people on
the middle island were the last to keep a hold on the fire-worshipping,
or whatever it was they had in those days, but in the long run a saint
got in among them and they began listening to him, though they would
often say in the evening they believed, and then say the morning after
that they did not believe. In the end the saint gained them over and
they began building a church, and the saint had tools that were in use
with them for working with the stones. When the church was halfway up
the people held a kind of meeting one night among themselves, when the
saint was asleep in his bed, to see if they did really believe and no
mistake in it.

The leading man got up, and this is what he said: that they should
go down and throw their tools over the cliff, for if there was such
a man as God, and if the saint was as well known to Him as he said,
then he would be as well able to bring up the tools out of the sea
as they were to throw them in.

They went then and threw their tools over the cliff.

When the saint came down to the church in the morning the workmen
were all sitting on the stones and no work doing.

'For what cause are you idle?' asked the saint.

'We have no tools,' said the men, and then they told him the story
of what they had done.

He kneeled down and prayed God that the tools might come up out of
the sea, and after that he prayed that no other people might ever be
as great fools as the people on the middle island, and that God
might preserve theft dark minds of folly to them fill the end of the
world. And that is why no man out of that island can tell you a
whole story without stammering, or bring any work to end without a
fault in it.

I asked him if he had known old Pat Dirane on the middle island, and
heard the fine stories he used to tell.

'No one knew him better than I did,' he said; 'for I do often be in
that island making curaghs for the people. One day old Pat came down
to me when I was after tarring a new curagh, and he asked me to put
a little tar on the knees of his breeches the way the rain wouldn't
come through on him.

'I took the brush in my hand, and I had him tarred down to his feet
before he knew what I was at. "Turn round the other side now," I
said, "and you'll be able to sit where you like." Then he felt the
tar coming in hot against his skin and he began cursing my soul, and
I was sorry for the trick I'd played on him.'

This old man was the same type as the genial, whimsical old men one
meets all through Ireland, and had none of the local characteristics
that are so marked on lnishmaan.

When we were tired talking I showed some of my tricks and a little
crowd collected. When they were gone another old man who had come up
began telling us about the fairies. One night when he was coming
home from the lighthouse he heard a man riding on the road behind
him, and he stopped to wait for him, but nothing came. Then he heard
as if there was a man trying to catch a horse on the rocks, and in a
little time he went on. The noise behind him got bigger as he went
along as if twenty horses, and then as if a hundred or a thousand,
were galloping after him. When he came to the stile where he had to
leave the road and got out over it, something hit against him and
threw him down on the rock, and a gun he had in his hand fell into
the field beyond him.

'I asked the priest we had at that time what was in it,' he said,
'and the priest told me it was the fallen angels; and I don't know
but it was.'

'Another time,' he went on, 'I was coming down where there is a bit
of a cliff and a little hole under it, and I heard a flute playing
in the hole or beside it, and that was before the dawn began.
Whatever anyone says there are strange things. There was one night
thirty years ago a man came down to get my wife to go up to his
wife, for she was in childbed.

'He was something to do with the lighthouse or the coastguard, one
of them Protestants who don't believe in any of these things and do
be making fun of us. Well, he asked me to go down and get a quart of
spirits while my wife would be getting herself ready, and he said he
would go down along with me if I was afraid.

'I said I was not afraid, and I went by myself.

'When I was coming back there was something on the path, and wasn't
I a foolish fellow, I might have gone to one side or the other over
the sand, but I went on straight till I was near it--till I was too
near it--then I remembered that I had heard them saying none of
those creatures can stand before you and you saying the De
Profundis, so I began saying it, and the thing ran off over the sand
and I got home.

'Some of the people used to say it was only an old jackass that was
on the path before me, but I never heard tell of an old jackass
would run away from a man and he saying the De Profundis.'

I told him the story of the fairy ship which had disappeared when
the man made the sign of the cross, as I had heard it on the middle

'There do be strange things on the sea,' he said. 'One night I was
down there where you can see that green point, and I saw a ship
coming in and I wondered what it would be doing coming so close to
the rocks. It came straight on towards the place I was in, and then
I got frightened and I ran up to the houses, and when the captain
saw me running he changed his course and went away.

'Sometimes I used to go out as a pilot at that time--I went a few
times only. Well, one Sunday a man came down and said there was a
big ship coming into the sound. I ran down with two men and we went
out in a curagh; we went round the point where they said the ship
was, and there was no ship in it. As it was a Sunday we had nothing
to do, and it was a fine, calm day, so we rowed out a long way
looking for the ship, till I was further than I ever was before or
after. When I wanted to turn back we saw a great flock of birds on
the water and they all black, without a white bird through them.
They had no fear of us at all, and the men with me wanted to go up
to them, so we went further. When we were quite close they got up,
so many that they blackened the sky, and they lit down again a
hundred or maybe a hundred and twenty yards off. We went after them
again, and one of the men wanted to kill one with a thole-pin, and
the other man wanted to kill one with his rowing stick. I was afraid
they would upset the curagh, but they would go after the birds.

'When we were quite close one man threw the pin and the other man
hit at them with his rowing stick, and the two of them fell over in
the curagh, and she turned on her side and only it was quite calm
the lot of us were drowned.

'I think those black gulls and the ship were the same sort, and
after that I never went out again as a pilot. It is often curaghs go
out to ships and find there is no ship.

'A while ago a curagh went out to a ship from the big island, and
there was no ship; and all the men in the curagh were drowned. A
fine song was made about them after that, though I never heard it

'Another day a curagh was out fishing from this island, and the men
saw a hooker not far from them, and they rowed up to it to get a
light for their pipes--at that time there were no matches--and when
they up to the big boat it was gone out of its place, and they were
in great fear.'

Then he told me a story he had got from the mainland about a man who
was driving one night through the country, and met a woman who came
up to him and asked him to take her into his cart. He thought
something was not right about her, and he went on. When he had gone
a little way he looked back, and it was a pig was on the road and
not a woman at all.

He thought he was a done man, but he went on. When he was going
through a wood further on, two men came out to him, one from each
side of the road, and they took hold of the bridle of the horse and
led it on between them. They were old stale men with frieze clothes
on them, and the old fashions. When they came out of the wood he
found people as if there was a fair on the road, with the people
buying and selling and they not living people at all. The old men
took him through the crowd, and then they left him. When he got home
and told the old people of the two old men and the ways and fashions
they had about them, the old people told him it was his two
grandfathers had taken care of him, for they had had a great love
for him and he a lad growing up.

This evening we had a dance in the inn parlour, where a fire had
been lighted and the tables had been pushed into the corners. There
was no master of the ceremonies, and when I had played two or three
jigs and other tunes on my fiddle, there was a pause, as I did not
know how much of my music the people wanted, or who else could be
got to sing or play. For a moment a deadlock seemed to be coming,
but a young girl I knew fairly well saw my difficulty, and took the
management of our festivities into her hands. At first she asked a
coastguard's daughter to play a reel on the mouth organ, which she
did at once with admirable spirit and rhythm. Then the little girl
asked me to play again, telling me what I should choose, and went on
in the same way managing the evening till she thought it was time to
go home. Then she stood up, thanked me in Irish, and walked out of
the door, without looking at anybody, but followed almost at once by
the whole party.

When they had gone I sat for a while on a barrel in the public-house
talking to some young men who were reading a paper in Irish. Then I
had a long evening with the scholar and two story-tellers--both old
men who had been pilots--taking down stories and poems. We were at
work for nearly six hours, and the more matter we got the more the
old men seemed to remember.

'I was to go out fishing tonight,' said the younger as he came in,
'but I promised you to come, and you're a civil man, so I wouldn't
take five pounds to break my word to you. And now'--taking up his
glass of whisky--'here's to your good health, and may you live till
they make you a coffin out of a gooseberry bush, or till you die in

They drank my health and our work began.

'Have you heard tell of the poet MacSweeny?' said the same man,
sitting down near me.

'I have,' I said, 'in the town of Galway.'

'Well,' he said, 'I'll tell you his piece "The Big Wedding," for
it's a fine piece and there aren't many that know it. There was a
poor servant girl out in the country, and she got married to a poor
servant boy. MacSweeny knew the two of them, and he was away at that
time and it was a month before he came back. When he came back he
went to see Peggy O'Hara--that was the name of the girl--and he
asked her if they had had a great wedding. Peggy said it was only
middling, but they hadn't forgotten him all the same, and she had a
bottle of whisky for him in the cupboard. He sat down by the fire
and began drinking the whisky. When he had a couple of glasses taken
and was warm by the fire, he began making a song, and this was the
song he made about the wedding of Peggy O'Hara.'

He had the poem both in English and Irish, but as it has been found
elsewhere and attributed to another folk-poet, I need not give it.

We had another round of porter and whisky, and then the old man who
had MacSweeny's wedding gave us a bit of a drinking song, which the
scholar took down and I translated with him afterwards:--

'This is what the old woman says at the Beulleaca when she sees a
man without knowledge--

'Were you ever at the house of the Still, did you ever get a drink
from it? Neither wine nor beer is as sweet as it is, but it is well
I was not burnt when I fell down after a drink of it by the fire of
Mr. Sloper.

'I praise Owen O'Hernon over all the doctors of Ireland, it is he
put drugs on the water, and it lying on the barley.

'If you gave but a drop of it to an old woman who does be walking
the world with a stick, she would think for a week that it was a
fine bed was made for her.'

After that I had to get out my fiddle and play some tunes for them
while they finished their whisky. A new stock of porter was brought
in this morning to the little public-house underneath my room, and I
could hear in the intervals of our talk that a number of men had
come in to treat some neighbors from the middle island, and were
singing many songs, some of them in English or of the kind I have
given, but most of them in Irish.

A little later when the party broke up downstairs my old men got
nervous about the fairies--they live some distance away--and set off
across the sandhills.

The next day I left with the steamer.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Aran Islands" ***

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