Tag Archives: Sheridan Le Fanu

Ireland’s Huguenots (Dublin Review of Books)

The Irish Huguenots were originally French Calvinists who, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, departed from France rather than convert to Catholicism. The Dublin writer Charles Maturin, who it was said used to sit in Marsh’s Library with a host pasted on his forehead to indicate that he was composing and should not be disturbed, was from a Huguenot family. The practice may also have served to demonstrate his low opinion of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. It was a point he laboured at some length in his celebrated Sermons on the Errors of the Roman Catholic Church, published in 1824, in the course of which he denounced transubstantiation as “absurd in point of reason”.

At the time Scripture was treated by Anglicans engaged in attacks on Catholicism as having an almost scientific validity and as something to be held up and valued in stark contrast to Rome’s dependence on tradition, irrationality, superstition and the like. A few decades later the discoveries of French geologists were to leave claims for the Bible as a source of objective and historical truth in shreds. Both Maturin’s son and grandson were to respond to the increasing impossibility of rational Protestantism in different but related ways in the course of the following century, ways which would have alarmed the author of The Milesian Chief, a novel written by Maturin under the pseudonym Denis Jasper Murphy.

In all about forty thousand Huguenots settled in England, with perhaps a quarter of that number coming to Ireland. The literary impact of the Irish Huguenots in their host country was significant in relation to their overall numbers, especially in the nineteenth century. The English Huguenots barely registered in the area of literary production over their first two centuries in England. Daphne du Maurier, who published in the twentieth century, is that community’s most notable literary figure.

On arrival in Ireland many if not most Huguenots conformed to the Established Church, as was expected of them by the authorities, and a good number of them prospered within the politically and economically dominant world of Irish Protestantism. The name La Touche is long associated with banking in Dublin. The original David La Touche fought with King William at the Boyne and later laid the basis of his fortune through astute land purchases in the St. Stephen’s Green and Aungier Street areas of the city. D’Olier Street is named after Jeremiah D’Olier, a Huguenot who was High Sheriff in Dublin and a founder of the Bank of Ireland. Thomas Lefroy, who was to become Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, was another. Lefroy is more famous to-day as the man who flirted with, and may have even toyed with the feelings of, the incomparable Jane Austen. Austen was working on Pride and Prejudice when she knew Lefroy. Some say Darcy is modelled on Lefroy while others maintain it is the character of Elizabeth Bennett that is based on the quick-witted Anglo-Irish Huguenot.

The Church offered other possibilities for Irish Huguenots. They were warmly welcomed by Church of Ireland luminaries conscious of the demographic challenge in Ireland: Jonathan Swift himself preached to the émigrés in their own tongue. Gabriel Jacques Maturin became Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral following Swift’s death in 1745. Maturin’s own father had been Dean of Killala in Mayo, later the site of a military engagement in which French troops, supporting Irish rebels, played a small part. The grandson of Swift’s successor was Charles Robert Maturin, Dubliner and author of the classic Gothic terror novel Melmoth the Wanderer, generally recognised as a late Gothic masterpiece.

Maturin’s father — unlike his son and his forebears — did not take Holy Orders. Rather he held a position in the General Post Office, which was then located on Fishamble Street, close to the grocery shop run by the parents of the poet James Clarence Mangan who, as a young man, greatly admired Charles Robert and observed him closely when the former worked as a scrivener a few doors from the Gothic novelist’s house on York Street. Around 1808 things took a turn for the worse in the Maturin household; the father lost his position in the Post Office, having been accused of malversation, which means having one’s hand in the till or comparable corruption. Thereafter the burden of supporting the family fell on the shoulders of the young Maturin, who can thus be counted among that considerable number of Dublin writers whose male progenitors failed to provide. (It has been said that the father was later found innocent but, if this is so, he does not appear to have been reinstated.)

Maturin’s financial difficulties further increased when he stood bond for a man (thought to be his brother) who subsequently went bankrupt, leaving the author to bear his debts. As a result of these burdens, financial worry was Charles Maturin’s constant companion for the remainder of his days, an unfortunate fate for one who, more than most, enjoyed a life of parties, wine and above all dancing. (Evidently the French Calvinist heritage had largely washed out by this time! Indeed in his sermons on the errors of Rome he took a well-aimed side swipe at the Calvinists.) His love of entertainments and parties was widely known. In 1804 he had married the acclaimed singer Henrietta Kingsbury and it is said that notwithstanding his wife’s high colour the clergyman insisted on her wearing rouge, such was his love of gaiety. Taking the wider view, perhaps we should be grateful to those who contributed to his financial woes considering that he turned to writing primarily in the hope of relieving them.

Charles Robert Maturin had been ordained in 1803 and after a period in Loughrea became curate in St. Peter’s Church on Aungier Street. St. Peter’s, which was one of largest Church of Ireland parishes in Dublin at the time, had been built on lands forfeited by the Whitefriars at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. The Whitefriars had come to Dublin in the wake of the Norman Invasion, settling on what was probably a Celtic Christian site. John Fitzgibbon the Earl of Clare, known as the Black Earl to many, and whose property-owning Catholic family conformed to the Established Church some time in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, was buried there. While en route to an engagement Fitzgibbon had developed a nose bleed in his carriage from which he eventually expired. It is said that his symptoms were consistent with cirrhosis, which may well be true as the diminutive earl was well known to enjoy a drink. The Black Earl, who had a fearsome reputation, was not at all popular with the plain people of the city and it is said that his funeral resembled a carnival, with dead cats and other noxious debris being flung at the cortège as it made its way to St. Peter’s. Actually, Fitzgibbon was buried twice. The second time was in 1983, which occasion was also signally deficient in dignity.

The graveyard to the side of St. Peter’s was used as a burial ground by sections of the city’s Huguenot community. Indeed this association may have assisted Maturin in gaining his appointment. James Clarence Mangan witnessed Maturin preach at several funerals held in St. Peter’s and found him impressive in the performance of his duties. The church itself was demolished in 1983 — the site is now occupied by a Y.M.C.A. hostel and gym advertising ballet sculpt classes among other services. At the time of the demolition the mortal remains of the Huguenots were moved to a mass grave in Mount Jerome. Fitzgibbon was dumped in along with the others.

Property speculation in the area, which has clearly continued into contemporary times, began with the activities of David La Touche, who had begun his commercial life in Dublin with a poplin shop on High Street. La Touche developed residential sites on Aungier Street and in the Liberties. Indeed his impact is still evident on the street, which contains some of the city’s oldest residential buildings; some of these date from the early seventeenth century and probably have a La Touche connection.

Just a short distance away and on the opposite side from St. Peter’s stood the grocery shop run by Thomas Moore’s family — now J.J.’s public house. That building, or an earlier version, might also have a La Touche connection. Young Tom shared a small room upstairs with one of the shop’s curates. Another upstairs room, the parlour, housed a pianoforte, where the future Bard of Erin’s parents entertained their friends with patriotic songs of their country’s woes at the end of a hard week behind the counter. It was also where the young Tom Moore performed to delighted guests. Moore, in adult life, went on to form the closest of bonds with Lord Byron who, as it happens along with Sir Walter Scott, held the highest opinion of Maturin’s writing. When Coleridge criticised Maturin’s play Bertram, Scott advised him not to respond as Coleridge would soon be forgotten!

The politics Moore imbibed on Aungier Street were national, and the young man, as a first year student in Trinity College, supported the 1798 cause. Following the defeat of the rebels, the Lord Chancellor, John Fitzgibbon, was determined to weed out any students sympathetic to the rebel cause and personally interrogated suspects, including the young Moore. In his answers Tom was somewhat Jesuitical or, as we say nowadays, economical with the truth and happily he survived to complete his degree.

Maturin’s grandnephew by marriage was one Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde who, during his last broken days in Paris, discarded his family name and, in a reference to his relation’s great work, took on the name Sebastian the Wanderer. Maturin’s wife, Henrietta Kingsbury, was a sister of Sarah Kingsbury who married Charles Elgee. Their daughter, Jane Francesca Wilde (née Elgee), was Oscar’s mother. She was also Speranza of The Nation, author of stirring national verse celebrated in Ireland and abroad and especially in the United States throughout the nineteenth century. Indeed when Wilde went on a speaking tour in the U.S. it was often this connection — which he learned to push — more than interest in the Æsthete movement for which he was ambassador, that drew an audience. Oscar was not the only member of the family to lecture in the United States. Maturin’s grandson — and Wilde’s second cousin, who like his grandfather was also a clergyman — preached in the United States. Indeed he drowned returning from a visit in 1915 when the Lusitania was torpedoed off the Old Head of Kinsale.

The drowned man’s father and Maturin’s son was William Basil Maturin, an Irish Anglican clergyman with Tractarian tendencies, which is to say he had drifted towards Newman’s crypto-Catholic Oxford Movement. His son (Maturin’s grandson) was Father Basil William Maturin (1847-1915). Like his father and grandfather he was originally an Anglican minister but with similar religious tendencies to his father. In due course, and like Newman himself, Basil William “swam the Tiber” and converted to Rome. His body was recovered at sea and identified. The funeral Mass was held at the famous Brompton Oratory in Kensington, the London centre of Newman’s followers.

Returning to the history of the Irish Huguenots, if many from this community conformed to the Established Church on arrival in Ireland some declined to do so on principle, drifting instead towards the more doctrinally congenial Presbyterian Church. There was an element — to say the least — of political expediency in the Huguenot willingness to conform to the Anglican Church given that its episcopal structure stood in sharp contrast to the democratic Calvinist model over which the Huguenots had made a principled stand in France. Perhaps they were just tired of making principled stands.

Of course, not all French Huguenots became religious refugees. Many were pragmatic and, as it were, took the soup and simply converted to Catholicism with its hierarchical model and other features unattractive to Calvinist Protestants. For them, it seems, property and position were “worth a Mass”. A similar trend existed in Ireland and many property-owning Catholics, such as Lord Clare’s family, conformed to the Established Church in order to maintain property and position. The family of Edmund Burke offers another example. Indeed throughout the eighteenth century several thousand property-owning Catholic families, in the language of Leopold Bloom, crossed the street to the other shop.

Nevertheless, the situation for refugee Huguenots in Ireland conforming to a hierarchical Anglican model must have been psychologically difficult. After all, there was in the Presbyterian Church a non-hierarchical Protestant church to hand. It is hardly surprising there were some tensions in the refugee community between those who conformed and those who did not. These tensions, like the speaking of French and other Gallic traits, largely disappeared in the course of the eighteenth century. But again it would hardly be surprising if there was within the Anglican Huguenot community a less than complete identity with the values and interests of the Ascendancy. The Irish Ascendancy had a specific origin in the Williamite and Cromwellian confiscations, a formative event which was the ultimate source of that community’s cohesive energy. The Huguenots were for the most part late arrivals who purchased whatever property they had and were therefore at a remove from the Ascendancy’s expropriation-based self-understanding.

It may not be entirely fanciful to suggest that, at least at an emotional level, a certain reserve regarding the Anglican Establishment continued to characterise Irish Huguenot thinking. In any event, when in the nineteenth century that Establishment was forced to face existential questions regarding its purpose and future, two Dublin writers of Huguenot origin — while maintaining an external loyalty — depicted indirectly and allegorically in their fiction the position of Irish Protestantism as impossible and even indefensible. These were Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Charles Robert Maturin.

Maturin was one of the first Protestant Romantic authors who struggled to square the circle of a rational and desirable Palladian social order and a native population which had to be included on its own terms. The exotic worlds which the Gothic offered had the advantage of removal from the identifiable politics of the day and allowed the author to struggle with deep and troubling matters through allegory and metaphor. In Maturin’s case it is the struggle that is illuminating; there is no resolution. Indeed in Melmoth, it seems, the more he struggled for resolution the more chapters and subplots he added. We witness authorially desired but impossible and unequal marriages between natives and settlers in remote parts. The more he endorses the ideologies of the settler figures, the more he gives moral authority and virtue to the native. Reconciliation and harmony remain permanently elusive.

In public Maturin pursued the official anti-Catholic position. His sermons on the errors of popery are good examples of a genre ubiquitous in the 1820s. By then he really had few hopes of advancement in the Establishment. He had turned to writing to improve his financial lot. (His position in St. Peter’s earned him a modest income of around £80 a year.) However, in 1816 his play Bertram was a great success, earning him around a thousand pounds. Some thought it atheistic in tendency and Coleridge — still busy sliding away from earlier opinions — denounced it for its Jacobinism. It was not calculated to please the Irish Church authorities and unfortunately he had to acknowledge authorship in order to collect his earnings. Thereafter his hopes of preferment in the Church were at an end.

There were huge divisions in his life: he was in the Church but denied advancement there, he was of the Ascendancy but an outsider, he was on the side of the colonised but virulently anti-Catholic, he was attached to good living but was permanently short of money. It seems these divisions had their equivalent at a sartorial level. He was known as something of a dandy at parties yet on the street he was a dowdy and eccentric dresser. Mangan saw in him a Romantic hero, and followed him several times:

The second time I saw Maturin he had been just officiating, as on the former occasion, at a funeral. He stalked along York Street with an abstracted, or rather distracted air, the white scarf and hat-band which he had received remaining still wreathed round his beautifully shaped person, and exhibiting to the gaze of the amused and amazed pedestrians whom he almost literally encountered in his path, a boot upon one foot and a shoe on the other. His long pale, melancholy Don Quixote, out-of-the-world face would have inclined you to believe that Dante, Bajazet, and the Cid had risen together from their sepulchres, and clubbed their features for the production of an effect. But Maturin’s mind was only fractionally pourtrayed, so to speak, in his countenance. The great Irishman, like Hamlet, had that within him which passed show, and escaped far and away beyond the possibility of expression by the clay lineament. He bore the “thunderscars” about him, but they were graven, not on his brow but on his heart.
The third and last time that I beheld this marvellous man I remember well. It was some time before his death, on a balmy autumn evening, in 1824. He slowly descended the steps of his own house, which, perhaps, some future Transatlantic biographer may thank me for informing him was at No. 42 York Street, and took his way in the direction of Whitefriar Street, into Castle Street, and passed the Royal Exchange into Dame Street, every second person staring at him and the extraordinary double-belted and treble-caped rug of an old garment — neither coat nor cloak — which enveloped his person. But here it was that I, who had tracked the footsteps of the man as his shadow, discovered that the feeling to which some individuals, rather over sharp and shrewd, had been pleased to ascribe this “affectation of singularity,” had no existence in Maturin. For, instead of passing along Dame Street, where he would have been “the observed of all observers,” he wended his way along the dark and forlorn locality of Dame Lane, and having reached the end of this not very classical thoroughfare, crossed over to Anglesea Street, where I lost sight of him. Perhaps he went into one of those bibliopolitan establishments wherewith that Paternoster Row of Dublin then abounded. I never saw him afterwards … An inhabitant of one of the stars dropped upon our planet could hardly feel more bewildered than Maturin habitually felt in his consociation with the beings around him. He had no friend, no companion, brother: he and the “Lonely Man of Shiraz” might have shaken hands and then — parted. He — in his own dark way — understood many people; but nobody understood him in any way.

The description of Maturin’s appearance may be substantially accurate but in Mangan’s speculations regarding the author’s lonely soul it is clear that James Clarence is really talking about himself. Mangan was given to extraordinary flights of romantic fancy and regularly described oppressions visited upon him that were hardly possible. His description of conditions at the York Street attorney’s where he was employed as a scrivener make those experienced by Bob Cratchit in Scrooge’s office seem positively cushy, and Mangan’s unending accounts of his tortured soul make the Young Werther seem like a trainee accountant. Yet his account of Maturin is valuable and, of course, there is the wonderful poetry in which he rejects the rational in all its pretentions.

’Tis idle:— we exhaust and squander
The glittering mine of thought in vain;
All-baffled reason cannot wander
Beyond her chain.
The flood of life runs dark — dark clouds
Make lampless night around its shore;
The dead, where are they? In their shrouds —
Man knows no more.


Correction:  Charles Maturin’s father did not work in Fishamble Street. The Post Office moved from that location in 1709. It had previously been located on High Street. After Fishamble Street it moved to Sycamore Alley and in 1755 to Fownes Court. In 1783 it moved to a five storey building in College Green. This was probably where Maturin senior was employed. In 1818 the G.P.O. moved to its present location on Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street.

[The essay above was composed by a contributor to the Dublin Review of Books, Issue 49, 2014]






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The Child That Went with the Fairies

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu ~ a tale of horror


(Pronounced “LEFF-uh-new”, the surname Le Fanu is Huguenot in origin ; Sheridan Le Fanu —a great nephew of the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan— was the author of Carmilla, the blood-chilling story of a she-vampire in Styria that anticipates by twenty-five years a more famous Gothic creation of his fellow Dubliner, Bram Stoker — namely, the novel Dracula. Le Fanu set the present tale among the peat bogs of the West of Ireland, developing from local lore its horripilating theme of the stolen child so as to play very cunningly upon the Victorian reader’s broadest social anxieties. It first appeared in Charles Dickens’s magazine All the Year Round in 1870.) ~Q~

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Eastward of the old city of Limerick, about ten Irish miles under the range of mountains known as the Slieveelim hills, famous as having afforded Sarsfield a shelter among their rocks and hollows, when he crossed them in his gallant descent upon the cannon and ammunition of King William, on its way to the beleaguering army, there runs a very old and narrow road. It connects the Limerick road to Tipperary with the old road from Limerick to Dublin, and runs by bog and pasture, hill and hollow, straw-thatched village, and roofless castle, not far from twenty miles.

Skirting the heathy mountains of which I have spoken, at one part it becomes singularly lonely. For more than three Irish miles it traverses a deserted country. A wide, black bog, level as a lake, skirted with copse, spreads at the left, as you journey northward, and the long and irregular line of mountain rises at the right, clothed in heath, broken with lines of grey rock that resemble the bold and irregular outlines of fortifications, and riven with many a gully, expanding here and there into rocky and wooded glens, which open as they approach the road.

A scanty pasturage, on which browsed a few scattered sheep or kine, skirts this solitary road for some miles, and under shelter of a hillock, and of two or three great ash-trees, stood, not many years ago, the little thatched cabin of a widow named Mary Ryan.

Poor was this widow in a land of poverty. The thatch had acquired the grey tint and sunken outlines, that show how the alternations of rain and sun have told upon that perishable shelter.

But whatever other dangers threatened, there was one well provided against by the care of other times. Round the cabin stood half a dozen mountain ashes, as the rowans, inimical to witches, are there called. On the worn planks of the door were nailed two horse-shoes, and over the lintel and spreading along the thatch, grew, luxuriant, patches of that ancient cure for many maladies, and prophylactic against the machinations of the evil one, the house-leek. Descending into the doorway, in the chiar’ oscuro of the interior, when your eye grew sufficiently accustomed to that dim light, you might discover, hanging at the head of the widow’s wooden-roofed bed, her beads and a phial of holy water.

Here certainly were defences and bulwarks against the intrusion of that unearthly and evil power, of whose vicinity this solitary family were constantly reminded by the outline of Lisnavoura, that lonely hill-haunt of the “Good people,” as the fairies are called euphemistically, whose strangely dome-like summit rose not half a mile away, looking like an outwork of the long line of mountain that sweeps by it.

It was at the fall of the leaf, and an autumnal sunset threw the lengthening shadow of haunted Lisnavoura, close in front of the solitary little cabin, over the undulating slopes and sides of Slieveelim. The birds were singing among the branches in the thinning leaves of the melancholy ash-trees that grew at the roadside in front of the door. The widow’s three younger children were playing on the road, and their voices mingled with the evening song of the birds. Their elder sister, Nell, was “within in the house,” as their phrase is, seeing after the boiling of the potatoes for supper.

Their mother had gone down to the bog, to carry up a hamper of turf on her back. It is, or was at least, a charitable custom — and if not disused, long may it continue — for the wealthier people when cutting their turf and stacking it in the bog, to make a smaller stack for the behoof of the poor, who were welcome to take from it so long as it lasted, and thus the potato pot was kept boiling, and hearth warm that would have been cold enough but for that good-natured bounty, through wintry months.

Moll Ryan trudged up the steep “bohereen” whose banks were overgrown with thorn and brambles, and stooping under her burden, re-entered her door, where her dark-haired daughter Nell met her with a welcome, and relieved her of her hamper.

Moll Ryan looked round with a sigh of relief, and drying her forehead, uttered the Munster ejaculation:

“Eiah, wisha! It’s tired I am with it, God bless it. And where’s the craythurs, Nell?”

“Playin’ out on the road, mother; didn’t ye see them and you comin’ up?”

“No; there was no one before me on the road,” she said, uneasily; “not a soul, Nell; and why didn’t ye keep an eye on them?”

“Well, they’re in the haggard, playin’ there, or round by the back o’ the house. Will I call them in?”

“Do so, good girl, in the name o’ God. The hens is comin’ home, see, and the sun was just down over Knockdoulah, an’ I comin’ up.”

So out ran tall, dark-haired Nell, and standing on the road, looked up and down it; but not a sign of her two little brothers, Con and Bill, or her little sister, Peg, could she see. She called them; but no answer came from the little haggard, fenced with straggling bushes. She listened, but the sound of their voices was missing. Over the stile, and behind the house she ran — but there all was silent and deserted.

She looked down toward the bog, as far as she could see; but they did not appear. Again she listened — but in vain. At first she had felt angry, but now a different feeling overcame her, and she grew pale. With an undefined boding she looked toward the heathy boss of Lisnavoura, now darkening into the deepest purple against the flaming sky of sunset.

Again she listened with a sinking heart, and heard nothing but the farewell twitter and whistle of the birds in the bushes around. How many stories had she listened to by the winter hearth, of children stolen by the fairies, at nightfall, in lonely places! With this fear she knew her mother was haunted.

No one in the country round gathered her little flock about her so early as this frightened widow, and no door “in the seven parishes” was barred so early.

Sufficiently fearful, as all young people in that part of the world are of such dreaded and subtle agents, Nell was even more than usually afraid of them, for her terrors were infected and redoubled by her mother’s. She was looking towards Lisnavoura in a trance of fear, and crossed herself again and again, and whispered prayer after prayer. She was interrupted by her mother’s voice on the road calling her loudly. She answered, and ran round to the front of the cabin, where she found her standing.

“And where in the world’s the craythurs — did ye see sight o’ them anywhere?” cried Mrs. Ryan, as the girl came over the stile.

“Arrah! mother, ’tis only what they’re run down the road a bit. We’ll see them this minute coming back. It’s like goats they are, climbin’ here and runnin’ there; an’ if I had them here, in my hand, maybe I wouldn’t give them a hiding all round.”

“May the Lord forgive you, Nell! the childhers gone. They’re took, and not a soul near us, and Father Tom three miles away! And what’ll I do, or who’s to help us this night? Oh, wirristhru, wirristhru! The craythurs is gone!”

“Whisht, mother, be aisy: don’t ye see them comin’ up?”

And then she shouted in menacing accents, waving her arm, and beckoning the children, who were seen approaching on the road, which some little way off made a slight dip, which had concealed them. They were approaching from the westward, and from the direction of the dreaded hill of Lisnavoura.

But there were only two of the children, and one of them, the little girl, was crying. Their mother and sister hurried forward to meet them, more alarmed than ever.

“Where is Billy — where is he?” cried the mother, nearly breathless, so soon as she was within hearing.

“He’s gone — they took him away; but they said he’ll come back again,” answered little Con, with the dark brown hair.

“He’s gone away with the grand ladies,” blubbered the little girl.

“What ladies — where? Oh, Leum, asthora! My darlin’, are you gone away at last? Where is he? Who took him? What ladies are you talkin’ about? What way did he go?” she cried in distraction.

“I couldn’t see where he went, mother; ’twas like as if he was going to Lisnavoura.”

With a wild exclamation the distracted woman ran on towards the hill alone, clapping her hands, and crying aloud the name of her lost child.

Scared and horrified, Nell, not daring to follow, gazed after her, and burst into tears; and the other children raised high their lamentations in shrill rivalry.

Twilight was deepening. It was long past the time when they were usually barred securely within their habitation. Nell led the younger children into the cabin, and made them sit down by the turf fire, while she stood in the open door, watching in great fear for the return of her mother.

After a long while they did see their mother return. She came in and sat down by the fire, and cried as if her heart would break.

“Will I bar the doore, mother?” asked Nell.

“Ay, do — didn’t I lose enough, this night, without lavin’ the doore open, for more o’ yez to go; but first take an’ sprinkle a dust o’ the holy waters over ye, acuishla, and bring it here till I throw a taste iv it over myself and the craythurs; an’ I wondher, Nell, you’d forget to do the like yourself, lettin’ the craythurs out so near nightfall. Come here and sit on my knees, asthora, come to me, mavourneen, and hould me fast, in the name o’ God, and I’ll hould you fast that none can take yez from me, and tell me all about it, and what it was — the Lord between us and harm — an’ how it happened, and who was in it.”

And the door being barred, the two children, sometimes speaking together, often interrupting one another, often interrupted by their mother, managed to tell this strange story, which I had better relate connectedly and in my own language.

The Widow Ryan’s three children were playing, as I have said, upon the narrow old road in front of her door. Little Bill or Leum, about five years old, with golden hair and large blue eyes, was a very pretty boy, with all the clear tints of healthy childhood, and that gaze of earnest simplicity which belongs not to town children of the same age. His little sister Peg, about a year older, and his brother Con, a little more than a year elder than she, made up the little group.

Under the great old ash-trees, whose last leaves were falling at their feet, in the light of an October sunset, they were playing with the hilarity and eagerness of rustic children, clamouring together, and their faces were turned toward the west and storied hill of Lisnavoura.

Suddenly a startling voice with a screech called to them from behind, ordering them to get out of the way, and turning, they saw a sight, such as they never beheld before. It was a carriage drawn by four horses that were pawing and snorting, in impatience, as if just pulled up. The children were almost under their feet, and scrambled to the side of the road next their own door.

This carriage and all its appointments were old-fashioned and gorgeous, and presented to the children, who had never seen anything finer than a turf-car, and once, an old chaise that passed that way from Killaloe, a spectacle perfectly dazzling.

Here was antique splendour. The harness and trappings were scarlet, and blazing with gold. The horses were huge, and snow white, with great manes, that as they tossed and shook them in the air, seemed to stream and float sometimes longer and sometimes shorter, like so much smoke — their tails were long, and tied up in bows of broad scarlet and gold ribbon. The coach itself was glowing with colours, gilded and emblazoned. There were footmen in gay liveries, and three-cocked hats, like the coachman’s; but he had a great wig, like a judge’s, and their hair was frizzed out and powdered, and a long thick “pigtail,” with a bow to it, hung down the back of each.

All these servants were diminutive, and ludicrously out of proportion with the enormous horses of the equipage, and had sharp, sallow features, and small, restless fiery eyes, and faces of cunning and malice that chilled the children. The little coachman was scowling and showing his white fangs under his cocked hat, and his little blazing beads of eyes were quivering with fury in their sockets as he whirled his whip round and round over their heads, till the lash of it looked like a streak of fire in the evening sun, and sounded like the cry of a legion of “fillapoueeks” in the air.

“Stop the princess on the highway!” cried the coachman, in a piercing treble.

“Stop the princess on the highway!” piped each footman in turn, scowling over his shoulder down on the children, and grinding his keen teeth.

The children were so frightened they could only gape and turn white in their panic. But a very sweet voice from the open window of the carriage reassured them, and arrested the attack of the lackeys.

A beautiful and “very grand-looking” lady was smiling from it on them, and they all felt pleased in the strange light of that smile.

“The boy with the golden hair, I think,” said the lady, bending her large and wonderfully clear eyes on little Leum.

The upper sides of the carriage were chiefly of glass, so that the children could see another woman inside, whom they did not like so well.

This was a black woman, with a wonderfully long neck, hung round with many strings of large variously-coloured beads, and on her head was a sort of turban of silk striped with all the colours of the rainbow, and fixed in it was a golden star.

This black woman had a face as thin almost as a death’s-head, with high cheekbones, and great goggle eyes, the whites of which, as well as her wide range of teeth, showed in brilliant contrast with her skin, as she looked over the beautiful lady’s shoulder, and whispered something in her ear.

“Yes; the boy with the golden hair, I think,” repeated the lady.

And her voice sounded sweet as a silver bell in the children’s ears, and her smile beguiled them like the light of an enchanted lamp, as she leaned from the window with a look of ineffable fondness on the golden-haired boy, with the large blue eyes; insomuch that little Billy, looking up, smiled in return with a wondering fondness, and when she stooped down, and stretched her jewelled arms towards him, he stretched his little hands up, and how they touched the other children did not know; but, saying, “Come and give me a kiss, my darling,” she raised him, and he seemed to ascend in her small fingers as lightly as a feather, and she held him in her lap and covered him with kisses.

Nothing daunted, the other children would have been only too happy to change places with their favoured little brother. There was only one thing that was unpleasant, and a little frightened them, and that was the black woman, who stood and stretched forward, in the carriage as before. She gathered a rich silk and gold handkerchief that was in her fingers up to her lips, and seemed to thrust ever so much of it, fold after fold, into her capacious mouth, as they thought to smother her laughter, with which she seemed convulsed, for she was shaking and quivering, as it seemed, with suppressed merriment; but her eyes, which remained uncovered, looked angrier than they had ever seen eyes look before.

But the lady was so beautiful they looked on her instead, and she continued to caress and kiss the little boy on her knee; and smiling at the other children she held up a large russet apple in her fingers, and the carriage began to move slowly on, and with a nod inviting them to take the fruit, she dropped it on the road from the window; it rolled some way beside the wheels, they following, and then she dropped another, and then another, and so on. And the same thing happened to all; for just as either of the children who ran beside had caught the rolling apple, somehow it slipt into a hole or ran into a ditch, and looking up they saw the lady drop another from the window, and so the chase was taken up and continued till they got, hardly knowing how far they had gone, to the old cross-road that leads to Owney. It seemed that there the horses’ hoofs and carriage wheels rolled up a wonderful dust, which being caught in one of those eddies that whirl the dust up into a column, on the calmest day, enveloped the children for a moment, and passed whirling on towards Lisnavoura, the carriage, as they fancied, driving in the centre of it; but suddenly it subsided, the straws and leaves floated to the ground, the dust dissipated itself, but the white horses and the lackeys, the gilded carriage, the lady and their little golden-haired brother were gone.

At the same moment suddenly the upper rim of the clear setting sun disappeared behind the hill of Knockdoula, and it was twilight. Each child felt the transition like a shock — and the sight of the rounded summit of Lisnavoura, now closely overhanging them, struck them with a new fear.

They screamed their brother’s name after him, but their cries were lost in the vacant air. At the same time they thought they heard a hollow voice say, close to them, “Go home.”

Looking round and seeing no one, they were scared, and hand in hand — the little girl crying wildly, and the boy white as ashes, from fear, they trotted homeward, at their best speed, to tell, as we have seen, their strange story.

Molly Ryan never more saw her darling. But something of the lost little boy was seen by his former playmates.

Sometimes when their mother was away earning a trifle at hay-making, and Nelly washing the potatoes for their dinner, or “beatling” clothes in the little stream that flows in the hollow close by, they saw the pretty face of little Billy peeping in archly at the door, and smiling silently at them, and as they ran to embrace him, with cries of delight, he drew back, still smiling archly, and when they got out into the open day, he was gone, and they could see no trace of him anywhere.

This happened often, with slight variations in the circumstances of the visit. Sometimes he would peep for a longer time, sometimes for a shorter time, sometimes his little hand would come in, and, with bended finger, beckon them to follow; but always he was smiling with the same arch look and wary silence — and always he was gone when they reached the door. Gradually these visits grew less and less frequent, and in about eight months they ceased altogether, and little Billy, irretrievably lost, took rank in their memories with the dead.

One wintry morning, nearly a year and a half after his disappearance, their mother having set out for Limerick soon after cock-crow, to sell some fowls at the market, the little girl, lying by the side of her elder sister, who was fast asleep, just at the grey of the morning heard the latch lifted softly, and saw little Billy enter and close the door gently after him. There was light enough to see that he was barefoot and ragged, and looked pale and famished. He went straight to the fire, and cowered over the turf embers, and rubbed his hands slowly, and seemed to shiver as he gathered the smouldering turf together.

The little girl clutched her sister in terror and whispered, “Waken, Nelly, waken; here’s Billy come back!”

Nelly slept soundly on, but the little boy, whose hands were extended close over the coals, turned and looked toward the bed, it seemed to her, in fear, and she saw the glare of the embers reflected on his thin cheek as he turned toward her. He rose and went, on tiptoe, quickly to the door, in silence, and let himself out as softly as he had come in.

After that, the little boy was never seen any more by any one of his kindred.

“Fairy doctors,” as the dealers in the preternatural, who in such cases were called in, are termed, did all that in them lay — but in vain. Father Tom came down, and tried what holier rites could do, but equally without result. So little Billy was dead to mother, brother, and sisters; but no grave received him. Others whom affection cherished, lay in holy ground, in the old church-yard of Abington, with headstone to mark the spot over which the survivor might kneel and say a kind prayer for the peace of the departed soul. But there was no landmark to show where little Billy was hidden from their loving eyes, unless it was in the old hill of Lisnavoura, that cast its long shadow at sunset before the cabin-door; or that, white and filmy in the moonlight, in later years, would occupy his brother’s gaze as he returned from fair or market, and draw from him a sigh and a prayer for the little brother he had lost so long ago, and was never to see again.




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The ten most read Irish authors [part 1]

(according to The Washington Post and Questia)

In The Washington Post back in March (“just in time for St. Patrick’s Day”, as they put it) one columnist compiled a list of ten names (see below) representing the ten “most read Irish authors”.


.No, Flann O’Brien was not favoured with a place amongst the Post‘s Top 10, not this year nor any, perhaps. Sweet symmetries of justice, honour and reward had eluded him in the merit of the case. ‘Twas surely ever thus since 1939 when the author’s international literary début was overshadowed by the distractions of the War’s outbreak. Copies of his novel At Swim-Two-Birds lay stacked by the thousands in a London warehouse to await shipping. There was the advance disappointment of mixed reviews (“a general odour of spilt Joyce”, sniffed Sean Ó Faoláin, while Dylan Thomas exclaimed, “This is just the book to give your sister– if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl”). That was but a prelude to real disaster : the Luftwaffe flew over London and obliterated the book, bombing both stock and store into oblivion. Daresay there are a good many folk, even now, who imagine “Flann O’Brien” is some unattainable custard served up at the Gresham of a Sunday.


.Still and all, the Washington Post gave us an excellent list to be going on with, for what it was (a statistically conjured arts feature, and thoughtfully Questia-linked, though Seán O’Casey’s entry has been mislinked) ; yet it is worth remembering some other such great names that might at least qualify in the top one hundred : Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (CarmillaUncle Silas), James Clarence Mangan (Dark RosaleenPompeii), Charles Maturin (Bertram ; or, The Castle of St. AldobrandMelmoth the Wanderer), Flann O’Brien (At Swim-Two-BirdsThe Third Policeman), Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy A Sentimental Journey), Bram Stoker (Dracula The Lair of the White Worm), John Millington Synge (The Playboy of the Western World Riders to the Sea*), William Butler Yeats (The Green Helmet and Other Poems The Celtic Twilight).

As the reader might suspect, that little litany is a packed gallery of peculiar favourites. Others that might well bear mentioning —in no particular order and with many inexcusable omissions, no doubt— are Patrick McGinley (BogmailThe Trick of the Ga Bolga), Roddy Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha), Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl), Sebastian Barry (The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty), Geoffrey Squires (Untitled III), Cecil Day-Lewis, Daniel Corkery, Anthony Raftery, John B. Keane (The Field), Walter Macken (Seek the Fair Land),  John Banville (The Book of Evidence), Mervyn Wall, Colm Tóibín, Frank Delaney, Neil Jordan, Micheál Mac Liammóir (Enter A Goldfish), Joseph Plunkett, James Stephens (The Crock of Gold), Oliver St. John Gogarty (As I Was Going Down Sackville Street), Pádraic Colum (The Children’s Homer), Speranza (Oscar Wilde’s mother), Dion Boucicault (The Colleen Bawn — The Octoroon; or, Life in LouisianaThe Corsican Brothers), Seamus Heaney, Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan, Ulick O’Connor (All the Olympians), Conor Cruise O’Brien, Mary Lavin, Edna O’Brien (The Country Girls), Frank O’Connor, Liam O’Flaherty, Sean O’Faolain (or Seán Ó Faoláin, though he was born John Whelan), Hugh Leonard (Da), George Russell (writing as “Æ”), George Moore (A Mummers WifeModern Painting), Denis Johnston, Maeve Binchy, Molly Keane (as “M. J. Farrell”), Edith Somerville with Violet Florence Martin (“Martin Ross”) writing together as “Somerville and Ross”, Charles J. Kickham (Knocknagow), William Carleton (Fardorougha, the Miser), Francis Ledwidge (Songs of the Fields), Lord Dunsany (The King of Elfland’s Daughter) and Richard Brinsley Sheridan (who was Sheridan Le Fanu’s great-uncle).

AND MONK GIBBON !!! (Sorry.)

* set as an opera by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1927


Here is a very handy resource to learn of Ireland’s writers, incidentally :


This was the list in the Post :

James Joyce: An Irish novelist and poet, Joyce was one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century. He is best known for his work Ulysses, in which the events of Homer’s Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles. [“Dubliners Celebrate James Joyce 100 Years after He Wrote ‘Ulysses’”. Shawn Pogatchnik]
Oscar Wilde: Wilde may be remembered for his career as a playwright, but the writer’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray has become a classic reference in the mainstream media. [“Oscar Wilde Our Contemporary”. Nils Clausson]
George Bernard Shaw: A playwright, Shaw wrote more than 60 plays throughout his life. He examined social problems such as education, marriage, religion, government, health care and class privilege through his work, incorporating comedy into the stark themes. [George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century. Archibald Henderson]
C. S. Lewis: A novelist, poet, academic medievalist, literary critic and essayist, to name a few, Lewis is known for both his fictional and non-fictional pieces. His works have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. [Teaching C. S. Lewis: A Handbook for Professors, Church Leaders, and Lewis Enthusiasts. Ronald Coy]
Samuel Beckett: Widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century, Beckett’s works often offered a bleak tragicomic outlook on human nature, usually coupled with dark comedy and gallows humor. [The Critical Response to Samuel Beckett. Cathleen Culotta Andonian]
Jonathan Swift: Although portions of his work were published under aliases or anonymously, Swift is considered the foremost prose satirist in the English language. In fact, he is known for being a master of two styles of satire; the Horatian and Juvenalian styles. [Jonathan Swift and the Vested Word. Deborah Baker Wyrick]
Edmund Burke: An Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, Burke has generally been viewed as the founder of modern conservatism as well as a representative of classic liberalism. [“Edmund Burke and Ireland: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Colonial Sublime.”  Victoria Myers]
Brian Friel: Hailed by the English-speak[ing] world as “the universally accented voice of Ireland,” Friel’s career as a dramatist has generated classic plays such as “Philadelphia, Here I Come!” and “Dancing at Lughnasa.” [Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Bernice Schrank, William W. Demastes]
Sean O’Casey: One of the first Irish playwrights to write about the Dublin working class, O’Casey was involved in groups such as the Gaelic League and the Irish Republican Brotherhood to represent the interests of unskilled laborers. [The Voice of Nation[al]ism: One Hundred Years of Irish Theat[re]. Stephen Watt]
Oliver Goldsmith: An Anglo-Irish writer and poet, Goldsmith is well-known for his novel The Vicar of Wakefield as well as numerous poems. He is also thought to be the source of the phrase “goody-two-shoes.” [The Poems of Oliver Goldsmith. Austin Dobson]



Not the least of my duties is keeping an eye on the Editor
of this newspaper and rebutting, for the benefit of our simpler
readers, the various heresies propounded in his leading articles.

Brian Ó Nualláin, alias Brian Nolan, alias Flann O’Brien, alias Myles na Gopaleen, alias George Knowall, alias Lir O’Connor, & alii.



To the collection of names above we may justifiably add those of Lady Morgan, Lady Gregory, Dominic Behan (Brendan’s brother and biographer), Malachy McCourt, and Terence Alan Patrick Seán “Spike” Milligan. Born in India to an Irish father (a British Army officer from County Sligo) and an English mother (née Kettleband), and then schooled in Burma, Spike Milligan was eventually declared stateless by the British Government, and fondly adopted as a citizen of Ireland. As the author of Puckoon, his first novel (and a shagging panic to read), he definitely earned the status of Irish artiste.

It was a high, crisp, starry night, lovers were locked warmly in their doorways, noiseless was the moon-mad sea. Merrily the five followed the road to Puckoon that streamed silver ahead of them. Goldstein clung to O’Mara, O’Mara to Rafferty, Rafferty to O’Brien and O’Brien on to Milligan and his bike. This inebriated daisy chain stumbled forward. Although the general direction seemed to be forward, a lot of the time was taken in falling backwards and sideways; however, they were gradually making progress in all directions. Flanking the road was the dank dark of the Puckoon Woods. ‘This is just the night for poaching,’ said Rafferty. ‘Come with me.’






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