The Priest’s displeasure
During my long sojourn in Ireland and, living among a people whose lives to a very great extent were adjusted to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church as administered by the priesthood in that country, by the following incident that came under my notice, I was most profoundly impressed with the influence and control of the parish priest over his flock.
In a certain town there was a fine strong young fellow living with his widowed mother who together carried on a very good business. Such a thing as a young man making his own choice of a wife was very rare. And, according to custom, a young man of his social standing – whose mother would in all probability arrange a match for her son – would marry a young woman whose parents would be in a position to give their daughter a substantial fortune of several hundreds of pounds.
A certain dignitary, with his wife and family taking up his residence in this town, brought with them a rather attractive young woman. With the arrival of a fresh and charming young person in a small town, although contrary to custom, this young fellow became infatuated. On the mother becoming acquainted with the fact that her son was paying attention to the fair one, thus jeopardising her privilege of arranging a match with a suitable young woman bringing a good fortune, her opposition and incense knew no bounds. Notwithstanding the opposition of the fond mother, her son’s attention to the new arrival continued.
‘Company keeping’, as customary in England, is firmly discouraged by the church and almost unknown. Be it said to the honour of the boys and girls, their moral behaviour under the chaste influence of the clergy is irreproachable.
After a time, something of a very rare occurrence happened. The youth being responsible, in that the girl found herself in a certain condition. On the mother becoming aware of this and the question arising of playing the man, redeeming the girl’s character and giving her expected child an honourable name by marriage, her incense and opposition was increased tenfold. This girl was penniless, whereas her son should be matched with a girl bringing a substantial fortune. It was impossible for her to give her consent and blessing on any such marriage. The youth was torn between his moral duty, the opposition of his mother, and the strongly expressed wish, or rather command, of his priest to do the right and marry the girl.
For some weeks he was undecided and hovering between the influence of his church and the adamant attitude of the mother who held the purse strings and refused for one moment to consider the sanctioning of such a marriage for her son. The priest was equally adamant and determined that the girl should not be left in the lurch to bring disgrace on his church and his flock. He, disregarding the priest and, still refusing to lead the young woman to the altar, at last the time arrived when she must go home and await the arrival of the baby.
The priest, a very determined man with a strong personality, to be thus thwarted by one of his flock and, considering his duty in the matter, was not in the most charitable frame of mind. The day eventually arrived when the Holy Father performed a duty that, for him, must have been a most painful ordeal. Standing before the altar in the presence of a full congregation, in plain and unmistakable language he denounced the conduct of the youth, expressing the greatest displeasure of the church and his excommunication from the flock.
As a blight felleth on a green plant, causing it to wither, so the displeasure of the Holy Father fell on this sturdy growth. Being under the shadow of mother church and the frown of the priest, he withered away, becoming the shadow of his former self. The villagers declared that: ‘he would be afther having no luck. How could he be having any luck shure and he afther doing such a mane thing wid the girl? Indade and Father ** wuz mad wid him interaly, and fain, didn’t he spake him off the altar’. And so the village gossips wagged their tongues until the youth could stand it no longer and he decided to leave the country until the matter should die down and be forgotten.
After an elapse of about two years, during which time the mother had missed the help of her son and, knowing that with no church, no religion, no priest to hear a confession or give him absolution, his soul was in dire peril, and her own mind not at ease. When he returned pressure was again brought to bear by the priest to play the man, but the mother still thinking of a fortune for her son by marriage was still unbending. At last she could no longer bear to see her son an outcast from his church and found herself compelled to yield, in order that he might be restored to the safety of the fold. This could only happen on one condition, on which the Holy Father was unbending. Play the man, make confession, lead the girl to the altar and receive the absolution and blessing of the priest and restoration to the flock.
Having had a stern lesson and the mother now somewhat softened, the youth took the necessary course as proposed by his priest and, to all appearance, settled down to a happily married future.
A foolish curate
Those persons wearing the garb of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church are usually the objects of much saluting and salaaming by the peasants but changed into any other dress they become plain Mr Citizen.
Quite near to one of my stations there had been recently built a Roman Catholic chapel in charge of which an energetic young priest had been appointed. He was a ‘hail fellow, well met’ jovial kind of young man and very much appreciated by the peasants and fishermen to have such a jolly priest in the new chapel all their own and close to their doors.
His bishop, having approved of his taking a short holiday, he arranged to cross over and spend it in England. After completing the first part of his journey, he crossed the country and arrived at Kingstown from which port all passengers between England and Ireland were now embarked and disembarked, there to find a crowd consisting of naval and military men, wives of the naval and military and civilians in general, all pushing and jostling at the barrier, anxious to get on board the mail boat. The ship’s officer checked the numbers as they passed on board in order that the specified compliment should not be exceeded.
All civilians were plied with certain questions including nationality. When the jovial young priest reached the barrier and was questioned as to his nationality, his wit and humour no doubt overcoming his discretion, he replied “German”. ”Stand on one side” said the officer curtly at the same time summoning the military police. “This gentleman has declared himself a German”, said he. “Place him under detention”.
Much to the chagrin of the priest, there was no possibility of explaining away the joke and reluctantly he was marched away to explain himself before a higher authority. Even then, his explanation was not readily accepted. His identity as a priest of the Holy Roman Church had to be verified. This entailed certain correspondence with his bishop, swallowing up a few days of his holiday. Eventually his credentials having been vouched for and the military authorities having satisfied themselves that he was not a dangerous enemy alien at large, he was liberated and allowed to proceed. No doubt a sad but wiser man having paid to learn that jesting in wartime with the wrong people is not always a wise or safe procedure.
An excited priest
With the ever-growing demand for recruits and more recruits for our fighting forces and Ireland where, according to the late John Redmond, two hundred thousand volunteers had been raised, had hundreds of thousands still untouched by conscription. The government, still being reluctant to apply conscription to the youth of Ireland, decided on making a special effort in order to induce the enlistment of more volunteers, making a personal appeal by sending a circular letter to every man of military age in the country calling on them to come forward and so help to win the war.
The morning that these letters were delivered in West Clare, Mc came along to take me to Loop Head. He appeared to be unusually excited, informing me that his two sons had each received a letter to join the soldiers. He certainly did not quite understand the purpose of these circular letters. I was therefore unable to make much head or tail out of his story.
When we got as far as the village of Cross the postman was delivering the mails. As we pulled up to give the horse a breather, seeing a young man whom I knew well enough to speak to coming along with a circular letter in his hand, and being curious to know what it was all about, I asked him if he would allow me to read it. This he readily consented to do. I found there was no pressure but just an appeal to young men to come along and help to win the war.
At that instant the young priest, leader of the local Sinn Fein organisation (mentioned earlier), came toward me, where I was standing, with a circular letter in his hand. Thinking it strange that a priest should receive one of these letters I casually remarked: “Surely they have not sent you one of these letters Father?”
Quite the wrong thing for me to have said, knowing his feelings in respect to the English government of Ireland and seeing that by a mistake on the part of the government department sending out the circular letters, copies had been addressed to quite a number of the young clergy. He had received one of the letters which he held in his hand and was consequently very angry.” It’s ** impudence of the government to send these letters to the bhoys. Shure and what have we to do with the war?” He then slipped into a house close by. I was rather taken aback and feeling sorry that I had spoken. Mc standing by heard this and was quite upset to think that one of the clergy should have been so rude to me. (Be it said rudeness by priest or peasant was seldom or never met with). He was sure that Father Nolan, my neighbour, would not like to hear of that – smoothing Mc over – I did not enlarge on the incident, allowing Mc to express himself in his own fashion.
By a remark later from the priest, my neighbour, I think that Mc must have told him that the priest at Cross was ’after being rude to the Captain’. On this remark I failed to enlarge. Needless to say, under the influence of the young priest, there were no volunteers from that district. He was only following the example of his bishop who, when asked to use his influence in recruiting, declared that the war was not worth a row of pins to Ireland.
Such was the influence of this young priest. On one occasion in conversation with him, he told me that a neighbouring farmer – a Protestant with who I was on good terms – with an extensive holding employing a great number of men and highly respected by the peasants, could easily be squeezed out of his farm, if he became in any way objectionable, by withholding the necessary labour. Certainly not an enviable – and by no means uncommon – position. And pity the poor farmer just allowed to keep going by the good will of a priest holding, as it were, the countryside in the hollow of his hand.
As mentioned earlier, matrimony is very rarely the outcome of young people being drawn together by love at first sight, or even by mutual attraction leading onto affection and mutual consent. Among the peasant class, marriages are usually arranged between the parents of eligible young men and young women; very often a proposed match failing to mature on the question of the fortune which the young woman’s father would be prepared to give with his daughter.
Take the case of Mr A – a farmer with a daughter now of marriageable age to whom he must be prepared to give a fortune on marrying. At the fair he may meet – possibly by intent – Mr B, who has a son for whom he is desirous of finding a wife with a suitable fortune. They converse and eventually the conversation will lead to the question of making a match between Pat and Mary.
According to his social standing and banking account Mr B has a sum fixed in his own mind as the amount of the fortune that Mary must bring in order to arrange a match with his son Patrick. The business is conducted very much the same as bargaining with a dealer over the sale of a heifer. And so the preliminaries are discussed with a view to a match being made for the son and daughter. Presuming the preliminaries to have been promising, the next step is Mr B will bring along his son for an introduction to Mary whom he has possibly never met before.
While the parents are discussing the more important question of the fortune, the young people, shy and awkward, are allowed time to take each other’s measure and decide in their own minds if there is any reasonable objection to a match. In any case, if there is no objection on the part of Pat, it is usually useless for Mary to object to any arrangements made by her parents. Presuming the amount of the fortune that is to be given with Mary is arranged to the satisfaction of both parties, the match is notified. It will sometimes happen, even then, that the youth will object. There may be something about the fair one that does not please, or some other cause, that he will not agree to proceed to the altar in which case his father must try elsewhere.
In the matter of the fortune that Mary may bring, it is not in every case that Pat is benefited, but rather that the fortune is handed over to Mr B who will make use of the money as a fortune for his own daughter.
I think that it is generally agreed that marriages arranged in this manner are, as a general rule, quite successful and that the system has its merits.
Mr Mc was the proud father of three daughters for whom a fortune must be provided, let the sum be little or much. One of the girls, young, vivacious and attractive, had caught the eye of young Shamus O’Sullivan, the son of Farmer O’Sullivan. Having two separate holdings and selling his produce at war time prices, he was rapidly adding to his banking account.
Although contrary to custom, and discouraged by the priesthood, young Shamus became so infatuated that it was noticed that a mild flirtation was going on between himself and Bridget; that they were walking out together or, in other words, company keeping. Mc, who viewed the prospects of his daughter as being rosy, raised no objection. It would save him the bother of making a match and possibly that of providing a fortune for her.
After this had been going on for a while, and had become common knowledge, Farmer O’Sullivan becoming aware of the admiration of his son for Mr Mc’s daughter, providing the usual fortune was forthcoming, placed no obstruction in the way. After the elapse of a reasonable time he decided that he must now seek an interview with Mc in order – if possible – to arrange the match and the fortune. Farmer O’Sullivan living only a few miles in the country, himself and Mc were well-known to each other.
The day eventually arrived when Mr O’Sullivan set out for an interview with Mr Mc. After conversing for a time on the usual subjects of cattle, horses and the soaring prices, the question of making the match between Shamus and Bridget was mentioned. Mr O’Sullivan, sounding the praises of his son, and adding that he would be after giving one of the farms to himself as soon as he was married.
Mc, a wily old fox, listened to all the flattery from Mr O’Sullivan, knowing that the next item would be that of the fortune. Mr O’Sullivan, politely leading Mc up to this question, enquired of him: “What would ye be afther giving Mr Mc?” Mc on his guard replied: “That he must be afther spaking to herself” (his wife).
“Would ye be afther giving two hundred poonds?” enquired Mr O’Sullivan. Mc, not easily drawn, replied: “Where the divil would I be gittin the big money?” Shure, the Lord save us. Ye’s know I haven’t two hundred poonds”.
“Would ye be afther giving the colleen a hundred and fifty?” asked Mr O’Sullivan.
Mc, declaring that he did not possess such an amount, and Mr O’Sullivan finding him rather tight and difficult over the fortune, took his departure, feeling rather disappointed that the match could not be arranged between his son and the maiden fair of his choice. He would be after giving the son a farm and its his wife that must be having a good fortune! He could not give his consent on any other terms.
O’Sullivan junior, hearing from his father that in his interview with Mc, he had failed to arrange the match and the amount of the fortune was not to be so easily daunted or deprived of the girl of his choice by the trifling question of a fortune. Thinking the matter over, he decided on a method of his own in order to get over this little obstacle that now stood in his way. He devised a plan to find fifty pounds, hand it over to Mr Mc, then speak to his father and persuade him that fifty pounds would be a good fortune if Mr Mc would be after giving that same?
With the next cattle fair at Kilrush, his father would be after sending him to sell two fat bullocks. He would keep fifty pounds and place the balance in the bank.
On the day of the monthly fair, away he started with the fat bullocks, his father telling him that after selling the cattle to place the money in the bank as usual. The cattle realised a good price – sixty seven pounds ten shillings. Placing seventeen pounds ten shillings in the bank, he kept back fifty pounds for his own purpose. Returning that evening and informing his father of the good price received for the cattle Mr O’Sullivan was more than satisfied and well-pleased with the thought of the swelling of his banking account by this substantial sum.
The following day Shamus decided to pay a visit to Mr Mc to pay his respects and reveal his plan to satisfy his father in the matter of a fortune for Bridget. It was one of those days with the rain sheeting down as it is apt to do in West Clare. Arriving at the cottage and greeting Mc with the familiar salutation: “Good morrow sorr. It’s a fine soft morning. Glory be to God’”.
“Good morrow to yerself. It’s welcome ye are”, replied Mc. After entering the cottage and the exchange of a few casual remarks Mc enquired “And was it a great fair ye were having yesterday?”
“Faise, it was the divil’s own fair and great money interaly” replied Shamus.
“And were ye afther selling any yerself?” asked Mc.
“It was meself that was sent to sell two foine fat bullocks”.
“The Lord bless us” said Mc. “It’s the big money with the war, Begorra. It’s fifty poonds I was afther laving fur the grey mare that’s beyond in the haggard” (small field).
“Is it the same big money ye were afther laving”, asked Shamus?
“In troth it’s the same I was afther giving to Paddy O’Flynn. The divil’s own schemer that he is”.
“It was yesterday the dalers wur talking, they wur. Ye must be afther havin’ great money fur the bullocks” remarked Mc.
“Yes” said Shamus. “Mike Conner from Limerick took thim off me. Bedad and it’s a decant man he is. And its sixty sivin poonds tin shillings I was afther having!”
Having prepared the way, the young lover is now about to speak of the fortune for Bridget.
“Himsilf” (his father) “is afther asking ye fur a fortune fur Bridget” said he “and phwat is yer father afther saying?” enquired Mc.
“He tould me that ye couldna give the fortune and that he couldna make the match wid ye”.
“One hunderd a fifty poonds” exclaimed Mc! “Indade I hav’na the money”.
“Ara wisha Mr Mc, I’ll be tillin me father that fifty poonds is a good fortune sorr. When me father comes to ye, be telling him that fifty poonds is the fortune ye can be giving”.
Putting his hand into his pocket he drew forth a bundle of notes. Handing them to Mc he said “Here is the fifty poonds fur ye”.
“Glory be to God” exclaimed Mc, taken by surprise. “Phwats the meaning of this?”
“It’s me own money I am afther getting at the fair. And ye can be giving it to me father whin he comes to ye. And I’ll be afther felling him that fifty poonds is a good fortune”.
Mc after hearing the story of raising the fifty pounds although unprepared for such an unusual proposal was not slow in closing with the offer. Knowing that this banking account would remain intact he accepted it as the good luck brought to him by the good fairies.
After a couple of days Mr O’Sullivan set out for a further interview with Mr Mc.
“Good morrow Mr Mc”.
“Good morrow to yersilf sorr” replied Mc. “It’s a foine soft morning. Glory to be to God”.
“It is thank God” replied Mr O’Sullivan.
“It’s meself, is afther spaking to herself about the two farms we are having this long toime”, said he, “and herself is afther saying that the won pharm is enough fur meself”.
“Indade Mr Mc. It’s herself was saying that Bridget is a foine ghirl, God bless her. And, if we could make the match, we would be giving him the big pharm fur himself. Have ye been thinking of the fortune ye should be giving?”
“God save us” replied Mc. “It’s no hundred and fifty poonds I have”.
“Will ye be afther giving her a hundred Mr Mc?”
“It’s robbing meself interaly ye are and laving me without a pinny in the bank”.
“Faise Mr Mc, the Lord save us, its meself would not be robbing ye, at all, at all. Phwat would ye be afther giving?”
“Mesilf and herself have been spaking of the fortune. And herself is afther saying it’s fifty poonds we can be giving”.
“Arrah wisha Mr Mc” said Farmer O’Sullivan, “it’s the hundred poonds ye should be laving wid Bridget”.
“And it’s ruined I’ll be, wid niver a pinny fur mesilf” replied Mc.
Following the usual custom of splitting the difference Mr O’Sullivan suggests “Let it be seventy five poonds”
“Sorra a pinny hae I more thin fifty” said Mc.
After a little further argument on the part of Farmer O’Sullivan in pressing his claim for seventy five and hesitation on the part of Mc to raise on the figure now offered, Mr O’Sullivan is reluctantly heard to say “Thin, let it be the fifty”. They shake hands, the match is made and the good news conveyed to Bridget and O’Sullivan junior.
The boy has manoeuvred the match to his own satisfaction. The holy father is informed, giving his approval and blessing on the match. An early date is fixed and the wedding arranged, the priest’s fee being fixed in proportion to the amount of the fortune.
On the wedding day the McGinties and the O’Sullivans with their friends all meeting together made up a jovial wedding party with an extra glass of ‘mountain dew’ (potheen) to keep the ‘bhoys lively and in good heart’ and thus starting the young couple in their married life with greater good luck than many others, they having a farm to themselves.
Mc, when relating this story, appeared to be in great form and more than pleased with the good luck that Shamus had brought with him and the unique method of raising the fortune without disturbing his own banking account.
A pettifogging officer
In passing through the service and having had the opportunity of noting the varied type of officers met with, the following are my impressions of the last of my superiors to whom I was immediately responsible. In no sense could it be said that he was a harsh type of man, but on the other hand, through his petty humbug, was sometimes most irritating. Possibly he may have suffered from indigestion or some other malady which had the effect of producing petty fault finding, mean decisions and meaner actions.
In making his periodical visits a word would reach the Divisional Officer giving the day and date that he might be expected. Now, the Divisional Officer was expected – although there was no direct order – to keep this strictly to himself and on no account let it be known to the Station Officer or others. The object of this secrecy was in order that his visit should be in the nature of a surprise, with the possibility of finding someone off their guard, or something not exactly in accordance with his standard, thus affording the opportunity for administering an irritating snub to the Divisional Officer.
It had been known for him to ask a station officer or even a seaman: “Did you know that I was coming?” but not one was ever known to answer in the affirmative. In this manner, probing about for a reason to get one across at the Divisional Officer, the question having being put to me: “Did the Station Officer know that I was coming?” I had to reply that I did not think so. He, emphatically: “There are two answers: yes or no”.
From this same mean spirit came the question to one of my station officers: “Does the Divisional Officer ever visit these cliffs?” – a stiff climb that would take two or three hours. That question had been anticipated and one day I said to the station officer: “I will visit the cliffs” and out we set to make the attempt. It must be confessed that I did not get to the top but it furnished the station officer with his reply: “Yes sir, and the last time he was winded before reaching the top”. All this making me feel like my neighbour, the curate, who said of his bishop: “A very nice man but thank God when he is gone”.
Those men who were engaged for hostilities only, when given a few days, were allowed a free railway pass to reach their homes and back. This officer was mean enough to give a verbal order that any of the permanent ratings were not to have a pass but were to pay their own fare. It was my duty to sign the passes and this order was not in every case strictly complied with.
In connection with the coast watching: information had reached the commander-in-chief that suspicious lights had been observed in West Clare, presumably coming from ‘Atlantic House’ near Spanish Point. It so happened there was also an ‘Atlantic House’ at Kilkee overlooking the bay. Although these suspicious lights were supposed to be showing in my division, yet quite unknown to me, a patrol vessel was sent to look out for these suspicious lights and to report accordingly. When the officer in command of this craft arrived off West Clare, in consulting the chart, noted more than one Atlantic House, so he fixed on the one at Kilkee instead of the suspected house near Spanish Point. Quite near to Atlantic House, Kilkee – which had no windows facing seaward – there stood a house with a large window facing seaward. On the principle of one seeing that for which one is looking, the commander of the patrol vessel saw the suspicious lights from Atlantic House, Kilkee and reported accordingly.
The gallant officer, under whom I had the honour of serving, who was responsible for the coast watching and had been called on for a report, instead of following the usual custom of calling on the Divisional Officer for an enquiry and a report, without giving me any chance whatever came himself, taking me unawares and demanding an explanation. Although I was certain there were no unusual lights showing, I was at a loss to suggest as to what lights had been seen by the patrol vessel and, not being ready with a suggestion, in a most unreasonable manner he said suspicious lights had been sighted and that I should know that I was neglectful in my duty and had failed in keeping a vigilant coast watch. At this time we had two coast watchers only, a coastguard and a man retired from the coastguard Service; insufficient for the purpose of keeping a constant night and day watch.
This imaginary neglect of duty on my part did not appear to be sufficient, something more must be found. After the Sergeant of the Royal Irish Constabulary had been sent for and questioned and who, like myself, could furnish no information, this pettifogging officer said that he would visit the coast guard station after lunch.
There was one coastguard living at the station who, having kept the morning watch, was off duty that afternoon. The second man was out on the western cliffs. Meeting the gallant one and his coast watching commander – a fine type of officer mentioned earlier – we set out for the coastguard station on the opposite side of the bay. On reaching the path leading to the station – which stood on rising ground – without comment he passed on, making a detour, wheeling around to the back of the station, climbing over the boundary wall, followed by the Commander and myself. Clearly this was done for the purpose of a surprise on the coast watcher.
This coastguard not being one of the regular crew was living in the watch room. On entering the watch room the man was found in his hammock resting.
“Why are you in your hammock?”
“My watch off sir”.
“You have no business in your hammock”.
Commander ventures a word of explanation.
To me: “Why is this man in his hammock?”
“The man kept the morning watch sir”.
“Where is the second coast watcher?”
“Out on the Western Cliffs, sir”.
This could not be said to be quite out of order; further questions to the man on the orders given by me. I had taken the precaution to give the orders in writing with the commander’s signature in approval closing any loophole in that direction. To finish this little visit he decided, contrary to all naval usage, that I was in the wrong and the statement of the man perfectly correct.
I can safely say, from a point of manners on the part of an officer, I had never met with anything approaching this during my long service career. The general run of officers, if not in every case ‘gentle’ men, is usually in the broad sense men without meanness. In due course I received a reprimand in writing, my words being said to be disproved on the word of a seaman. Two more coast watchers were ordered to be taken on and a constant watch established.
I eventually discovered that the light sighted by the patrol vessel was from the house with the large window facing seaward. They had a lamp with a red shade and people in the room moving between the light and the window gave it the appearance of being intermittent.
In my garden at the back of my house I kept a few bee hives; the bees in which on being disturbed were not always partial to strangers. The gallant one, sauntering through the garden, remarked that he would like to see the bees. Anticipating the consequence I replied: “come this way sir; you can see them at work”. Standing by the hive, I lifted off the cover and gently drew back the quilt. There were the bees at work but, resenting this disturbance, a certain number took to their wings. A couple – he having no cap on – promptly settled on his bald patch, at the same moment making use of their bayonets. Of course it would be undignified of a naval officer to make any comment on such a trifling matter but some weeks after he informed me that on his last visit the bees caused a little tickling sensation on his head. Hearing this I could not help but smile inwardly.
After the close of the war and the day drew near for retirement, it became necessary to look out for a house in which to settle down. Hearing of a house for sale that I thought I might purchase, I made the request for seven days leave, giving my reasons. This unreasonable officer replied that, as I would be placed on the retired list very soon, giving me ample time to find a house, my application was not approved. I concluded that of all the meanness this capped the lot.
As mentioned earlier, the Coastguard was frequently called on to represent various public departments other than that of the Admiralty and Customs. Now and again disputes were apt to arise in connection with the foreshore where the Board of Trade would be referred to as to the rights or wrongs of the contending parties. The Divisional Officer, representing the Board of Trade, would then be called on to visit the spot, make an enquiry as to the cause of such dispute and to report accordingly.
On the occasion of a farmer removing rocks from the foreshore, thus reducing the natural barrier of his neighbour’s land, a dispute arose on which I was called on for a report. Proceeding to the scene of the dispute with the object of interviewing the contending parties, it was found that heated feelings prevailed on both sides, requiring a little diplomacy on my part if I was to arrive at anything like a fair judgment to lay before the Board of Trade officials, who would then give a ruling obviating the necessity of one of the contending parties ‘having the law’ on the other, as they are so apt to do, over quite trivial disputes.
After interviewing the one and then the other, the two of them were invited to accompany me to the spot from whence the rocks were removed. After asking a few questions, and taking a few notes, the warm Celtic blood of the contestants very soon reached boiling point. By this time, another neighbour appeared on the scene and endeavoured to bring them to reason and give the officer a fair hearing. His words did not appear to make any impression and there was every likelihood of a free fight. This placed me in a rather awkward predicament. Not wishing to see the fellows come to blows I stepped between them, saying in a firm tone ‘stop this’. This sudden and unexpected move on my part – although I had no right to intervene – had the desired and instant effect. Probably it was the King’s uniform that did it. Now with a few reasonable remarks on the folly of making enemies of each other they soon cooled down giving me such information as I required. The Board of Trade cautioned the aggressor against removing any more rocks from the foreshore which came under its jurisdiction thus disposing of this one case. (This little incident is related just to show the varied duties which one was called on to perform).
A trawler patrol
No matter under what conditions a man may be called on to serve, or however disagreeable his job may be, he can always think of the other person with whom he could not be induced to exchange on any consideration. Such were the men manning the trawler patrol of the western shores of Kerry and the turbulent waters at the mouth of the Shannon, facing its discomforts week in and week out all though the Great War.
Our men at the War Signal Station at Loop Head, two hundred and eighty feet above the sea level, after collecting a few magazines and papers would sometimes signal for the patrol vessel to send a boat to the landing place – approachable only in a smooth sea – to get the papers. The men in the boat were sometimes apt to remark on the discomfort of our men: ‘yours is a lonely monotonous job stuck in that hut all the time, miles from the nearest town, we don’t know how you can stick it’; ‘you have a rotten job up on that headland, half the time covered in cloud and drizzly rain. We feel sorry for you chaps anyway. Our job is bad enough but yours is a thundering sight worse’. And that from men rolling and pitching about in the Atlantic swell with seldom an hour on an even keel. Sorry for the men with the solid rock under their feet and miles of country over which they could stretch their legs. Truly said, after all, man is a creature of circumstances.
Killing a Peeler
In every town, and in many villages, there was found a police barracks with a sergeant and four to six men of the Royal Irish Constabulary who were not always regarded with favour by the general community, in particular the lawless and those favouring banned societies and such like. They were always looked on with suspicion and regarded more or less as spies acting in the interest of the detested English government and anyone thwarting the Constabulary in any way was regarded as a person to be admired and supported.
This is borne out by the following incident. In a small village through which I frequently passed there was a family brawl in one of the cottages. A young man, a son of the house, assuming such a threatening attitude, that a messenger was sent to the barracks asking that a constable might be sent to the house. Before the arrival of the constable, the young man had left the house. When he did arrive on the scene he entered the house to make enquiry and obtain the particulars. In the meantime, this young fellow obtained a fork, such as that used in agricultural work, and lying in wait outside of the house, as soon as the constable appeared, he thrust the fork into him causing such injuries that he very soon died. Consequently he was arrested and charged with the crime of murder. The first jury disagreed and the second were to all appearance more or less difficult and in sympathy with the accused. He therefore got away with a term of penal servitude.
After the war had been on for a couple of years, and every man wanted, like many others doing time, he was liberated on condition that he served in the armed forces. I happened to be in the village on the day of his first return home on short leave and saw him step out of the train. The whole village, regarding him as somewhat of a hero, turned out in full numbers to give him a real welcome such as only the Irish could give and such as might have been extended to anyone bringing honour and credit to their native town, thus showing their approval of this action in dealing with one of the detested peelers.
Victims of a submarine
Our shipping, now crossing the Atlantic under convoy, was attended with general success but, now and then, a ship was apt to be unsuccessful in reaching her destination. One such ship proceeding under convoy and bound for Limerick, when about forty miles to the westwards of Cape Clare, was detached and ordered to proceed on her voyage alone. Having reached the vicinity of the river Shannon, the day far spent and daylight fading, she unfortunately was sighted by an enemy submarine who, without warning, fired a torpedo scoring a hit and causing such damage that the ship very soon commenced to settle down; the chief mate, the chief engineer and several of the crew getting away in one of the boats landed the following day on the coast of Kerry.
The captain, second mate, boatswain and carpenter with five others got away on a raft drifting helplessly with the tide through the night and the next day. In the afternoon they were close enough to Kerry Head to see a man moving about but failed to attract his attention. The second night on the raft the weather became boisterous and one man, a Spaniard, finished by leaping into the sea. The younger men – those under thirty – were the first to succumb to the hunger, cold and exposure, four of them dying during the night. The boatswain and carpenter, men over fifty years of age, a seaman about forty-five and the captain, age twenty-seven – the latter not able to stand when the raft was sighted in the mouth of the Shannon by one of the patrol vessels after forty hours exposure and constantly washed by the sea, were still alive but too feeble to throw the bodies of their dead shipmates into the sea. They were put to bed and cared for on board of the patrol vessel and eventually landed at Kilrush. The captain, needing careful nursing for a few days, was taken to the local hospital to be cared for by the nursing nuns. I took him up on the side-car, carried him up the stairs on my back and placed him on the bed, the nuns expressing their thanks for my help.
Now came the arrangements for the funerals of the men who had died from the exposure. The undertaker, no doubt taking advantage of wartime prices, although I had done my best to keep expenditure low, when the account was tendered, the economical cheese-paring rear admiral considered the cost excessive and I had to go and plead with the undertaker to reduce his charges – a duty not very much appreciated by myself.
While the bodies were resting in the coastguard watch-house, the inspector of police placed a constable on guard and, when I complained that my waterproof coat had been stolen from under the constable’s eyes, he had the effrontery to tell me that was no part of the constable’s duty, which struck me as a bit of Irishism.
The West Clare railway
During the Chief Secretary-ship of Mr Balfour, a scheme for opening up the backward and congested districts in the west of Ireland by the construction of light railways was conceived and carried into effect, thereby bringing such districts into touch with the county and market towns enabling the smallholder to market his produce at much better advantage than hitherto. These railways were of a miniature pattern with first and third class accommodation, the first class fare corresponding to the usual second class. The first were provided with cushions and the third plain wood benches. In some instances, in order to avoid expensive cuttings, the rails ran along on the side of the common highway, then branching off traversing the foot of a mountain – opening up most picturesque scenery – and thus avoiding bridging the deep valley.
The system was worked in a very leisurely fashion and with the frequent stopping places, the journeys were covered at an average speed of twelve to fifteen miles an hour. West Clare was opened up in this way with a line running from the county town of Ennis to the port of Kilrush and the holiday resort of Kilkee. The total distance of forty miles was covered – all things being favourable – in three hours. With the constant wear and tear on the rolling stock and not the best attention given to repairs, care and maintenance, the engine was apt to squeak and grind its way along, not infrequently coming to a standstill on the journey. The term applied, that of ‘light railways’, was certainly correct as there was not much weight in the carriages and on the West Clare, where the train was much exposed, in order to prevent the carriages blowing off the rails – which actually happened on one occasion – it was customary to place a number of fifty-six pound weights on board, thus giving stability and steadiness during strong westerly gales.
The person appointed as manager of this line was a man without any previous experience in railway work and his unsuitability for the job was summed up in very plan and forceful language by a priest sharing a compartment with me one evening when the train came to a standstill, causing a delay of several hours leading us far into the night. It was a day service only.
In the comparatively short distance from Kilkee to Ennis there were quite a number of level crossings and gate-keepers. These gate-keepers demanding a rise of pay which was refused decided on a strike refusing to open and close the gates. The manager, not to be flouted in this manner, and in order to keep the train service running, caused all the gates to be removed with the consequence that wayside donkeys and cattle wandered on the line. The timetable was disregarded and the train crawled forth and back at the best speed obtainable under the circumstances, occasionally stopping while the guard drove the cattle off the line.
The train at the best of times was never very punctual and once I heard a woman at Ennis ask the guard: ‘What time the train would start?’ when he politely replied: ‘Shure and this train will start when it is ready mam’. Another time there was undue delay at a station when a commercial who wanted to go on remonstrated with an official. He got his reply: ‘How devilish fast ye want to be afther travelling’.
The late noted humourist, Percy French, the writer of a humorous song on the West Clare Railway has a stanza somewhat thus:
‘Are you right there Michael, are you right?
Do you think that we’ll be there before the night?
It all depends on whether the old engine holds together
Shure we might then Michael, shure we might’.
The missionary visit
It is no uncommon thing among Christian communities, when a little falling off in numbers may occur, for the cleric leading such a community to hold a rally stimulated by the presence of a missioner. The parish priest, in all probability, having come to the conclusion that some of his flock were becoming a little slack and indifferent in the matter of attention to their religious duties, decided on holding a mission at his chapel under the guidance of two Franciscan friars from one of the monasteries.
The missioners, as customary, brought with them a quantity of religious emblems that had been blessed by a dignitary of the church. These emblems were laid out on a stall for sale and, in some instances, were said to bestow on the possessor of such, immunity from certain dangers such, for instance, as when a man got into difficulties when bathing and when rescued by another man taking risks, a bystander remarking that it was the blessed emblem that the man had hung around his neck that saved him.
The object of the mission was quite commendable – an endeavour to awaken the people to a more religious and sober life and, it must be admitted that in many an instance after such a mission, much good influence was seen to have been wrought, changing the lives of men and women to a permanently higher religious standard. For instance: under the persuasive influence of the friars, many of those who had become too fond of the glass gave it up, signing the pledge, some for six months, some for a year and others without time limit. Certainly, after the mission, there was a much better attendance at the Sunday mass.
After this particular mission there was a most remarkable change brought about in one man in particular – a tailor by trade, who had sunk rather low through drink, neglecting his home, his wife and his children. One day, his boy came to my door and, seeing his clothing so ragged, I was moved to compassion, brought him inside and passed a tape measure over him, telling him to come back again in a day or two. Taking a cast-off suit, I cut it down, my wife re- stitched it, thus re-clothing the youth and affording him protection from the elements for a time. As soon as he was of age he became a volunteer soldier, developing into a fine young man, and in France played the part of a runner, often under a shower of bullets and shrapnel.
The father, under the influence of the missioners, decided to turn over a new leaf, signed the pledge and from that time forth became a sober, industrious and religious man, attending to his religious duties with great regularity. If only this one man was influenced for good, the mission was well worthwhile.
The method adopted by the missioners to influence the people was this: while one of them was conducting a service in the chapel, the other would go into the street and persuade the absentees to attend. After this manner, the chapel was filled to capacity every evening.
Feeling somewhat interested in the mission, I decided to attend one of the lectures and hear the discourse as presented by the friar speaking on that particular evening. He was a tall well-developed man, a powerful and fluent speaker with an irresistible personality and influence of his own. His address came under three headings: the sin of non-attendance at mass; the evils of strong drink and thirdly company keeping.
He enlarged at great length on the enormity of the sin of absenting themselves from the mass on Sundays. And that this almost unpardonable neglect of their religious duties would very soon sink them to a most deplorable state of degradation fit only to become outcasts from the church. His sentences were couched in strong and forceful language piercing to the bone and marrow, conveying the most severe rebuke, condemnation and displeasure of the church at these shortcomings and lack of loyalty to their priest.
Secondly, he went on to speak on the evils following over-indulgence in strong drink. It may be mentioned that in Ireland the Sunday closing act was in force – four cities excepted – consequently the surreptitious sale of liquor on a Sunday was by no means unusual. On this question he addressed his listeners; in particular those keepers of licenced premises who had, no doubt, been guilty of this illicit traffic. Leading on to publicans in general, he worked himself up to a pitch of fiery eloquence continuing the onslaught on publicans, likening them to anything and everything except that of decent and respectable citizens. The choice of his numerous comparisons was amazing and his utterances partook of a vitriolic character. It is difficult to conceive of any person denouncing the actions of one section of the community in such stern language as that used by the holy father. It is further very questionable if it could have been done – without comment – in any other place than that of a Roman Catholic chapel in Ireland.
His third point was company keeping; a custom firmly discouraged by the priesthood. Rather were they in favour of bringing the young people together, arranging a match, and marrying them while young, with the prospect of a large family. It was evident that company keeping had become more apparent than was pleasing to the priest and this afforded an opportunity of having it denounced from the pulpit.
After enlarging on this evil with the dangers and possible consequences that might arise from such a practice he ridiculed the idea of young people meeting in the byways and indulging in familiarities permissible only after marriage. It was a departure from the customs and traditions of the Irish youth which had been handed down to them through many generations. He demanded that the nefarious practice should be discontinued from this time forward, finally remarking that in England every boy had his girl and while you copy the evil example of your enemies you avoid the copying of their virtues.
During the time in which the evening mission service was taking place at the chapel, the friar, who was out rounding up those who were neglectful and indifferent to these matters, met with a man, Paddy by name, a small wiry built man with a pleasant and commendable manner and a good worker; but, like many others, over-fond of a glass of Guinness. No matter to what extent he had imbibed, no-one would ever be so unkind as to say that Paddy was drunk. Only in a kindly manner, one might be heard to say ‘arrah wisha, the poor fellow. He has a dhrop taken’.
Many years before the commencement of the Great War, he had been committed to prison for a few days for assaulting the members of a German band. On the declaration of war he decided that now was his chance to have his own back and, without hesitation, enlisted, making one of Kitchener’s first hundred thousand. After completing his training and now an efficient soldier he was sent to France where he took part in severe fighting in the front-line trenches, eventually being severely injured by the caving in of a trench, killing many of his fellows.
At the time of this mission he was at home on sick leave. The friar, out looking up the neglectful ones, meeting with Paddy, questioned him as to his absence from the chapel and his reason for not attending the mission, first trying persuasively to induce him to put in an appearance. But Paddy was obstinate; nothing would induce him to comply with the wishes of the missioner or to respond to his persuasions or threats.
It is a well-known fact that there is a good deal of superstition among the Irish (we have it more or less everywhere) and sometimes an acceptance of the impossible. I have heard a sceptic say of a co-religionist ‘arrah that fellow, he’d believe that the priest could turn him into a goat’. The friar, failing to move Paddy, half in jest and half in earnest launched his final thrust: “If you refuse to attend the mission we will turn you into a goat”. Paddy, equal to the occasion, replied: “Begorra Father, ye’r riverince will soon be glad to turn me back agin for I’ll go up and eat all Father O’Connor’s cabbages”.
Notwithstanding the attitude of Paddy toward the mission, after the close of the war and he had returned once again to his civilian occupation, it was evident that he was now of a more religious turn of mind and might be seen of a Sunday, brushed up with his prayer book in his hand, wending his way to the chapel to join in the worship of the Sunday mass.
A last word from Mc
On my return journey, after a night visit to Kilrush station, Mc remarked: “That bog is a queer sphot interaly”. Knowing Mc’s method of introducing a story, I questioned “Why is that so Mc?” He then proceeded: “Whin me mother was alive sorr (the Lord rest her soul) and meself jist afther marrying me wife, a gintleman, it’s down from Dublin he was sorr, and it’s out on the Diamond Rocks he’d be with a table and he sitting here with his little brushes and it’s pictures of George’s Head and the Dugenna Rocks he’d be afther making, and the bhoys all there and thimsilves afther watching him. Indade and it’s a foine gintleman he was sorr, a great gintleman interaly, God bless him.
“It’s afther wanting the car he was sorr and meself to dhrive him to Kilrush. It’s the grey mare he would be having, wid the side-car and whin we got to Mayashe, he tould meself to be afther making a stop at Murphy’s, jist to give the mare a rest sorr, and be afther coming inside yerself, sez he. Bedad sorr. He was afther ordering a sup of whiskey for himself and Mc, sez he, will ye be afther taking a sup? Plaze ye’r honour, sez I.’ This is a foine dhrop of whiskey’ sez the gintleman. Where would ye be afther getting that same Murphy? It is, yer honour, sez Murphy, the same as one Father himsilf was afther keeping (the Lord rest his soul), it’s a dhrop for a gintleman loike yer honour, we have. ‘Do ye be afther having any poteen (illicit whiskey) here?’ sez he. Murphy, the schemer – giving me the wink – indade, sez he, the divil a dhrop have I set me two eyes on since the peelers were afther coming on the bhoys in the cabin out in the bog beyond, and it’s the fear they have in thim iver since. It’s the divil he was, the same Murphy, and only afther giving the right word would he be giving ye a dhrop of poteen. (How did the goat lose his horns Murphy?)
“And now to be afther driving on, sez the gintleman. It’s to Madigan’s in the square I must be leading him. A dacent gintleman he was sorr, jist the same as yer honour. ‘Mc’, sez he, ‘be afther coming in and leave the mare to eat her mait.’ And who was there sorr before me own two eyes but Paddy Rafferty and Mike O’Brien? Its back from Ameriky they were and thimsilves having a sup wid the bhoys. ‘Are ye Rusty McGusty?’ sez they. ‘I am’ sez I, ‘God bless us’. Its spaking all about Ameriky they were afther and phwat a foine country it is sorr. Sez Mike O’Brien, ‘Mc’ sez he, ‘it’s bin years since I was afther seeing yer. It’s a sup ye must be taking. It was a dhrop of whiskey sorr, and good luck to the ould country, sez Mike, and good luck to yourself, sez I. It was a great toime interaly we were afther having wid the bhoys, coming in for a sup.
“It was dark soon and me wife would be afther having one half ready for me. I’ll be afther laving ye now bhoys, sez I. Dark it is, sez Rafferty, and the little people (fairies) – God bless us – may be peeping out at ye at the Magasta bog. ‘Arrah wisha don’t be afther spaking about thim Rafferty,’ sez I. Meself afther getting into the safe on the car sorr. Paddy Rafferty, sez he: ‘It’s all right ye are now Mc and God speed ye’ and ‘God bless yourself,’ sez I. Indade sorr, it’s through the town we were afther and out on the Mayasha Road. The Lord save us, afther that it’s lost I was. It must have been the same fairies that took the mare into the bog sorr and the baste couldna find the road again. When looking out agin I was, sorr, it was daylight. The car and meself sitting on the sale was in the bog. Shure the night was dark interaly and it’s the little people (God bless us) that were afther taking me into the bog.
“Bedad sorr, herself (his wife) and me mother (the Lord rest her soul) out in the night looking afther me, they were, and whin I was afther coming back to the cabin, ’phwats wrang wid ye?’ sez they. ‘Wrang wid me?’ sez I. And thin I toild thim. Upon my soul, it’s in the bog I was, and that the fairies (God bless us) was afther taking me there. Indede, sez they. Shure it’s the little people, God help, us that took ye into the bog and it’s the way out ye couldna find agin. Ye must be afther going to the praysh. I was afther telling his riverence and Mc, sez he, ye should niver go out of a morning without a sup of holy water and a little prayer to protect ye. And now sorr, I am niver afther going out without a sup of holy water and meself saying a little prayer”.
From Mc’s concluding remark there is certainly a lesson worthy of emulation, although one is not fully satisfied that the little people were wholly responsible for his night in the bog.
As the war continued month by month and year by year, with the wartime round of visits keeping the coast watchers on the alert, periodical visits from the officer responsible for the coast watching in Southern Ireland and the restlessness of the Republican element by which one was surrounded, all had a tendency to keep one wide awake to the various happenings from day to day.
As the food in England became scarce, with a lack of potatoes, meat, butter and other necessary articles of diet, it was not altogether a disadvantage to be living in Ireland where beef, potatoes, milk, eggs and poultry were on sale as usual, although, when nearing the end of the war, dealers were scouring the countryside buying up all the poultry and butter and paying five shillings per dozen for eggs, sugar was scarce and tea not too plentiful, but taking it on the whole, there was very little to complain about where the necessaries of life were concerned.
All those with anything to sell were obtaining wartime prices, growing rich, and increasing their banking account day by day. With the great number of men who had volunteered for service in the navy and army, with the family allowance, separation allowance and half pay coming into the country, money was freely circulated as never experienced before. Speaking to a priest on this subject, he said there are many among the agricultural community who had amassed such riches (comparative) that the families would never be poor again.
There was evidence all though the war – although there was no love for John Bull – of a desire that the allies would be victorious in the end. Even the irreconcilables had no desire to see English rule in Ireland changed for that of German, knowing full well that such might possibly be the case if Germany succeeded in winning the war. There were exceptions, and I heard one man say ‘shure and phwat will be the difference? It will only be a change of masters for us.’
When the news came that the enemy had asked for an armistice, there was a feeling of general satisfaction and pleasure that the allies were on top, that the Germans were not the victors and therefore no possibility of German rule being imposed on Ireland, which rule had been visualized had Germany won the war.
Within a very few weeks the coastguards were returning to their stations one by one, the coast watchers were disbanded, the Royal Naval reserve men returning to their homes, the wartime wireless and signal stations closed and, finally, one became acquainted with the date of being placed on the retired list. Seeing that the troubles in Ireland were by no means finished, the day for retirement one could contemplate with pleasure and satisfaction to know that there would then be no further question of a brush with the Irish Republican Army.
Looking back over my sojourn in Ireland, one has many pleasant recollections of a kind-hearted people, always hospitable to strangers and ready to render a service without counting the reward and usually satisfied with any little remuneration.
It has been said that the Irish have a greater influence in absorbing any stranger dwelling in their midst than any other people in the world and, during the latter part of my time there, I felt that influence at work and that I too was being gradually absorbed, taking on the outlook of the people with whom one came into contact day by day and, when returning to England, one felt that the Irish character was rather better understood than that of one’s own nationality.
On the first of June 1919 I was ordered to report myself at the office in Queenstown for a final settlement, being placed on the retired list from that date with the rank of lieutenant. Failing to meet the gallant one in his office, he being desirous of a parting word with his officer, made his way to the railway station to bid me a final farewell. Remarking, in jest, I hoped in the next war I would have the pleasure of serving under him again, he forced a smile, no doubt like myself never for a moment thinking that we should see another European conflict. My retirement was a most welcome respite from naval discipline after a service of forty years and seven months and thus I draw to a close my feeble efforts to leave on record the experience of a cutters man.