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Yet, if peace be thy delight,
Wine the fiercest strife can end:
And once more embrace thy friend.
Let him drink (in moderation).
Wine 's a certain inspiration.
I will ne'er such folly show.
BY P. M‘TEAGUE, ESQ.
It is perhaps easier to imagine than define what superstition actually is, where it begins, or where it ends; but this I believe we may say, that superstition is the offspring of ignorance, and that people are credulous in proportion to the weakness of their brains. As an indolent mind finds ease in drawing its conclusions from hearsay, so does cunning gather strength; and crafty inventors having once succeeded in lowering the standard of intelligence, can always take further liberties with their prostrate captives. An intelligent and active capacity will be contented with nothing short of the most perfectly attainable evidence of facts. We are happily approaching the age of PROOFS everything shows it-the minds of men are hungering and thirsting after them; and though numbers are impatient, and think that we should discard all out-of-the-way customs, beliefs, and prejudices, at once-bundle them up, in short, and throw them overboard in a lump, I am not sure that this would be altogether so well; the vessel might then be too light, and upset; and I would rather see people convinced than drowned. In the latter case, too, I should lose my gardener, Timothy Cormick, whose ghost-stories have so often amused me; and the more so, as he being an implicit believer in giants, witches, fairies, devils, and hobgoblins of every shape and size, perfect beings, whether from thirty feet in height, down to the thirtieth part of an inch, can enter into minutiae and descriptions which are perfectly astonishing. When or how he has imbibed these strange vagaries I never could find out. Previous, perhaps, to his taking the temperance pledge from Father Mathew, whiskey might have had something to do with it; as of all other spirits this was the decided leader in bothering our poor people, blinding some, and with others establishing a second sight, by making them see double. Be this as it may, all I know is, that Tim's father, and probably his grandfather and great-grandfather, lived with the O'Neills,-a family once great and powerful enough, but now, at least in this country, nearly extinguished. It so happens that my present residence is near the last remains of an old house which the O'Neills inhabited, after being driven from one of their strongest castles by Ingoldsby's forces, and now nearly obliterated. A few sheep or cattle find an occasional shelter within the bare deserted walls of what was once a banqueting room,-a pig or two may be occasionally seen rooting among earth and stones, where, at a happier period, ancient lawns and pleasure grounds afforded relaxation to the young, the gay, and the light-hearted. Of the orchard, so celebrated even in Tim's remembrance, not a tree remains. In short, the branches of this ancient family, whose pride could not brook any diminution of those luxuries in which their forefathers had indulged, were doomed to wither one by one; and there stand the miserable remnants of their possessions, falling away year after year, stone after stone,— attesting that
'to provide and give great gifts, And all out of an empty coffer,'
is, even in this ingenious country, a vain effort!
It is among these ruins that Tim often walks and meditates, taking special care, however, never to approach them after sunset. Now this man is clever enough in his occupation, a good gardener, and faithful sort of fellow; yet all the logic in the world would not reason him out of his belief in supernatural appearances and events. He can remember the family coach and four, the appearance of his old master, the coachman and the footman behind; and insists upon it, that the ancient equipage may still be occasionally heard rattling down the avenue. Indeed, upon one occasion, seeing him considerably excited, I with some difficulty got from him the following account.
'Why, plase yer honor, if I must tell yer honor the thruth, I seen the ould master last night, and was wondering yer honor hadn't heerd the noise.'
'What, Tim,' I said, ' did your old master make a noise?'
'Oh, no, by no manes, yer honor. The ould master wouldn't make a noise, by rason he had no head; but I'll engage he sot boult upright, an' I knew him in a minute, an' counted five gentlemen sitting with him within in the coach, an' the coachman drivhin' an the box, an' the footman houlding an behind, an' not one av them had a head! So, plase yer honor, how could I be mistaken, an' not a bit frightened? Sure I knew the carriage as well as when I was a little boy, an' so I pulled off my hat, as I used to do, when the ould master would smile an' give me a nod, an' sometimes throw a penny, or maybe an odd sixpence, out of the windy. But av' coorse nothin' kem this turn, not even a nod from one o' them; for how could they nod without ther heads? But, praise be to God, they didn't beckon me
'Perhaps that was lucky, Tim. You mean, I suppose, if they had beckoned you, it would have been an evil sign.'
Troth, for the matter o' that, yer honor, it would have been a warning to quit, yer honor, an' that's what I wouldn't like to do if I could help it. Next turn, maybe, I'll be better prepared.'
I tried, of course, to reason Tim out of this phantasy. I desired him to recollect that the night he described, though light, had been stormy, and that there had been some thunder and lightning; but all would not do. He persisted in his story, as if it would have been madness to disbelieve it, and cut me vexatiously short by saying,
'Sure yer honor wouldn't have me to disbelieve what I seen with my own two eyes as plain as I see this spade in my hand! An' by the same token, whin the master passed me quite fair an' asy in the coach, ould Corney gave a crack wid his whip that wint aff like the shot of a pistle; an' away wint the four black horses, an' the coach after thim, as quick as the wind, an' down the avenue wid 'em like a flash of lightning, an' through the first big gate, tho' meself had put an the chain an' padlock only a minute or two before, an' not a bar broke. An' thin I heerd such whippin' an' crackin', an' seen the fire an' shmoke flying out of the horses' mouths, an' such a racket with their shoes they made! An' in one minute it was all quite and still as before-the Lord be praised!'
Now, though perfectly able to trace the combinations which produced this effect on Tim's intellect, I might as well have tried to move a mountain as stir his belief,-a belief not formed alone on that which he fancied he had seen, but grafted on the ancient superstitions attached to the house, and probably (in a greater or less degree) upon the minds of all that had dwelt there for a hundred years before.
Neither will I go so far as to affirm that the whole of my people and neighbours believe this tale, though pretty sure that too many of them do; and that, upon the whole, Tim is infinitely more successful in making converts to his belief than I to mine. And this I can further state, that almost as many believe in the existence of witches, and many more in fairies, whose power they consider to be unlimited.
Let us just hear the following account of the misfortunes of Peggy Grady, as related by my neighbour Billy Donellan; only premising how extremely dangerous it is generally considered to be even to think of the good people,' as they are called, with the slightest disrespect.
Oh ay, indeed! Peggy Grady, God help her! that wanst made game o' the good people, an' said she didn't care that for the fairies! An' thin what kem av Peggy afther that "harrang" I wonder? But wasn't she next dure all 's one as dhrown'd in the bog hole, you rimimber-I mane when they sed she overritched hersilf afther her ould kittle? Well, that was jist to begin wid her thrubbles-an' thin didn't she lose her two front teeth in a skrimmidge, and sarve her right? An' thin whin the divil (the Lord save us !) druv her into the sup o' dhrink, wasn't she turn'd into a HARE? An' a mad hare she was! An' by the same token, wasn't it Micky Miligan first saw her, an' he wondering how in the world a hare could milk a cow! An' there he seen her, milking his red cow he had turned out there beyant an the crags, wid her two fore-paws, an' she standin' up an the two hind legs av her, an' looking over her bit of a tail, wid the ears an' eyes av her turn'd back-an' when she caught the laste taste in life of Micky's face, aff she set wid hersilf, tearin' away, an' Micky afther her in no time, an' away to her ould cummerade Molly Dowling, an' jumped up over the half dure, an' into the cabin wid hersilf, an' thried bitther hard to hide hersilf undher Molly's bed, in a dark corner there was. But all her mannewvers wouldn't serve her turn, an' Micky up wid a flail, an' hot her a side pelt, an' broke one of her milking paws, an' thin when he considherd he had the hare all as one for himsilf, an' wint down upon his hands an' knees to rech her out av that, who should he see but Peggy Grady hersilf, rowlin' about in her ould red petticoat, bawlin' out murder for the broken arm she'd got, an' skreetchin' for the bone setther-Glory be to God!'
In this tale, which I have actually heard thus related, and which all my humble neighbours are in the habit of hearing, and many, I fear, of believing, one can trace no mitigating cause for the invention, or excuse for credulity, the whole thing being a tissue of falsehood and improbability; but admitting it to be so, does it therefore follow that no other people deal in such superstitions? I for one can declare that I have heard in my youth things quite as strange and improbable in many parts of England; and in Germany I once lodged twelve months in a clergyman's family, all the servants of which believed in witchcraft, and on stormy moonlight nights would often ook out for witches riding in the air on broomsticks to the Hartz mountains. They would also affirm to the truth of a devil, who, in the likeness of a trumpeter, in the Saxon Switzerland, flew clean off with one hundred and thirty little children in one night, their cradles being all found empty the next morning! Think of one hundred and thirty little empty cradles, and one hundred and thirty unhappy mothers, all crying and wringing their hands at the same time!
So much in excuse for my dear countrymen, though dearer by far
will they be to me, should I live to see their superstitions extinguished, together with all those trains of exaggeration and blarney, which are such appropriate companions to them. Thank God! I have seen Ireland emancipated from the horrors of intoxication; and as sober people are not generally superstitious, I shall not despair of the rest. Truth, industry, and sobriety are seldom long or widely separated! In the mean time, while children are silly, we must do our best to make them wiser, and as it is written,
Qui parcit virgam odit filium,'
administer even the rod, if nothing else will do; but I prefer laughing at them, and by and by, when they begin to laugh at themselves, the business will be done.
As for Tim Cormick's witches, they are for the most part disturbers of dairies, spoilers of cream and butter, stealers of milk, and au thors of such misfortunes as cows are subject to. Tim is therefore always appealed to in cases of mishap, and, without intending it by any means, can generally contrive to shelter negligence, or even theft, under the convenient mantle of superstition. He is, I do believe, the last man who would do so, were not his mind so decidedly made up. But then mark how others may profit by him-a cunning thief, for instance; an idle herdsman, or a lazy dairymaid! To such people about a house, Tim Cormick would be worth any money-as for example
'Oh, then, yer honor, nothin' surer at any rate but them ould hags o' witches can charm the butther, ay, an' the cows likewise when they please for thimsilves; an' thin what soort o' milk can any one expect? I declare I never seen them so busy wid their ugly goin's an as last May was three years; but they're a little quieter now, praise be to God! by rason they're gettin' terr'ble feared av the clergy, that sets thimsilves agen em, and since ould Father Morony-God be merciful to him! whipp'd them seven hags o' witches that lived together in the one house there beyant in Bally Cluney. An' if he did, he whipped 'em round an' round the shapple, an' didn't lave a dhrop in their carcass, for being goin' an wid all sorts of divilments an' misfortunes on his rivirinc's parrishoners intirely, so he did!
'Well, plase yer honor, all thim same ould hags liv'd, as I was sain,' in Bally Cluney, an' every May day all the people, the Lucy's an' the Morrissy's, an' the Dillons, an' the Hanrahans, wor all av' em obleeged to get up at the hour o' midnight, an' go into the fields, an' watch close enough, sir, I tell you, for fear'd any of the witches'ud come unknownst an' sharm the butther out av the new milk; and no one knew what them same hags (the thieves!) done wid the butther: for tho' it wint clane out of the milk, they could never see any of it wid 'em by any chance; an' before what I'm tellin' yer honor happened, them same hags wasn't known to be witches at that time, but oftherwards!
'Well, now, I'll tell yer honor wan thing, an' indeed indeed, that I mightn't sin, but it's as thrue as I'm tellin' it to yer honor, an' just as I heerd it meself, an' Mick Milligan's father towlt it to me the same morning it happened. Well, he was comin' down the Borheen that lades the way down to Bally Cluney, an' it was at the fursht 'cockbawl,' (that's the time they does be doing thim things,' an' he turnin' the corner in the ould wall in his haggard, who shud he see but wan iv the ould hags sittin' a near the wall, an' she had a great big brown shtone before her, out, and an' a cow's "spancel" (hay rope) tied