Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916)

By "THE MAN IN THE STREET."

I.

Fifty years seem an eternity to youth, but only a brief breathing time to age. I have spent the last fifty years of my life (save two) in Belfast, and at times it seems but yesterday since I first set foot on its hospitable streets, and found kindness and friendship from its people. Many of the events and persons of those days are fresher in my memory than those of yester-year, and when I awake from a reverie I almost feel like a Rip Van Winkle among strange scenes and strange people. I remember with what awe and admiration I made my first visit to the town, and contrasted its life, splendour, and activity with that of my dear Derry, where my boyhood had been spent. In those early days we youths of Derry regarded Belfast with respect and reverence, and imagined its streets as paved with gold and its inhabitants going about dressed in purple and fine linen. But when I visited it I did not find any gold in the streets, and discovered that my silver was swallowed up as the Scotchman found his sixpences swallowed up in London.

I propose now, by the favour of my readers, to repay back part of the kindness Belfast has bestowed on me by recalling such of the leading incidents, characteristics, and personages as I can remember, and give the men of the present generation some idea of the life, times, and characteristics of their fathers.

Perhaps nothing could better illustrate the changes of fifty years than Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" and his "Locksley Hall Sixty Years Afterwards." When the poet wrote the first poem the poet was young, ardent, fiery, and his poetry breathed in every line the spirit of youth; when he wrote the second fifty years had passed, and the poet had mellowed and his fire was subdued. The characteristics of the poet were manifested in the characteristics of his hero.

Fifty years ago the first poem was still a favourite reading of all elocutionists, and a gathering of an elocutionary, character was never regarded as complete without it. I remember one elocutionist who was known as "Locksley Hall" from the frequency with which he recited it. The poet and his hero had the fire of youth, and it kept burning. When the sequel was published the old men of the time did not take the poem as their own as the young men of half a century before did, and I do not remember hearing it even once read in public. Whether the fire had died out of the poet or out of the public I cannot say, but the second poem never acquired the popularity of the first.

This came into my mind as I was cogitating about the changes the last fifty years had wrought. To accept the illustration literally would mean that 1866 was full of the fire and ardour of youth, and 1916 was getting cold and mellow, without fire and without spirit. But I am afraid if I made such a suggestion I would have all the youth and all the spirit of the age against me; and, I would admit, with justification. The Belfast of to-day is not a city worn out by age, but one that every year is renewing its strength like the eagle, running without being weary, walking without being faint. It is quite true that when I first set eyes on Belfast and settled down in it I did not think there could be a finer town in the world – it had not risen to the dignity of a city in those days. And I suppose I would not have thought a greater possible if I had never seen other cities.

But that is the worst even of moderate travel. It may improve one's sense of proportion, but it is calculated to lower his self-esteem. I remember about fifty years ago, when the late Mr. W. D. Henderson, one of my earliest and best friends in Belfast, was advising me to see Paris and live – it was at the time of the Exhibition of 1878, the first after the great and desolating war – he said if a man never goes out of Belfast he will think John Macnaughtan's church a great cathedral. I doubt, even without travelling, I would have regarded that church as a great cathedral, but whatever my visit may have done in extending my knowledge of cathedrals, it never modified my opinion as to the excellence of Rosemary Street Presbyterian Church as a centre of vigorous life and power, or my high appreciation of the occupants of the pulpit or of the pew, past and present.

While I am prepared to make the concession to the present that in life and activity, hustle and bustle, go and dash, energy and prosperity, the Belfast of to-day far transcends that of fifty years ago, yet when I look back upon it all I must say that in all that makes for comfort and happiness, and relative prosperity, the Belfast of fifty years ago, for its time and opportunities, was as much deserving of praise and honour as the Belfast of to-day. It had many disadvantages, and when I think of the many things it lacked that it now has, I sometimes wonder how it was able to exist at all. I remember once hearing of a sermon preached by a well-known divine of the last half century on the importance of the study of the Scriptures. He told his hearers that Timothy and Paul had studied the Scriptures, and went over the long line of New and Old Testament saints who, he said, had all studied the Scriptures. At last he reached Abraham, and he told his hearers the limited Scripture he had to be content with – he had only the first eleven chapters of Genesis.

Now when I think of what Belfast had not then that it has now, I imagine that it would have been as ill supplied with the necessaries of life and enjoyment as, according to this divine, Abraham was with the Scriptures. Yet with all his disability Abraham seems to have done very well, and became the father of the faithful. With all its disabilities Belfast of fifty years ago did well, and laid strong and deep the foundations on which the city of the present has been built. We had no trams or motor cars in those old days. Those of us who could not afford a carriage or a ride on a hackney car had to walk to or from our business, a mile or two, be the same more or less. And yet we never grumbled or growled. We felt that feet were made for walking and time for slaves. Now we regard a walk of a mile or two as a Sabbath day's journey, and would regard it almost as a breach of the Sabbath to indulge in it. We must have our tram or our motor to take us to our own street, and grumble when the tram does not take us to our own door. Not only were we willing to tramp home for our meals, but we took time to consume our victuals in a leisurely and rational way, which all medical authorities tell us is the way to health. We were never on the strain or rush as we are now when we gobble up our chop in mid-day, grudging the time that it occupies. We were content to wait in those days, and our patient waiting did not seem to bring much loss, if we consider that at any rate comparative prosperity and content that existed.

We had no telephones or cheap telegrams in those days. Our merchants had to wait on their customers in a double sense, and the customers to wait on the merchants. Then an hour or a day was a mere speck in time; now an hour is an eternity. We were content to possess our souls in patience for forty-eight hours to await a reply to our business communications from London; but now we are in a fidget if we do not get a reply within an hour. In the old days the Commercial Newsroom was the centre of business exchange and activity, and on many a day I have seen the large building filled with merchants and customers, and humming with conversation, and many buyers and sellers crowded out into the street. Now what was the busy newsroom is no more, and its spacious hall is used as an auction mart, in which the periodical cry of "Going, going, gone" of the auctioneer tells the tale in a double sense of the departure of ancient glories.

We had no Royal Avenue in those days, but we had got a Victoria Street brand new, which it was expected would attract the trade from the centre of the city. But it did not, even though one of our leading banks took up its quarters in the new thoroughfare. We had not a City Hall. We had not even a Town Hall, though what was in the interval made into one has now become the old Town Hall, and the centre of a new form of activity that was not dreamed of in those days. We had a building that was called a Town Hall, no doubt in irony, as Mark Twain says St. Paul spoke of the street called Straight in Damascus. No doubt our small band of Corporators met in a building in Victoria Square which had neither dignity nor accommodation, though the officials of the body at the time thought it was much too good for them as many think the City Hall is now for the men who occupy it. That building has now been converted to a better purpose – namely, Messrs. Cantrell & Cochrane's mineral water manufacture. There is just this connection between the two, that the utilisation of gas is a feature of the new as it was of the old possessors.

We had no Lord Mayor; no High Sheriff. We had a Town Clerk, it is true, the late Mr. Joseph Guthrie, who was as particular as the present Town Clerk, Mr. Meyer, is popular, but he managed to drive two horses going in opposite direction as well as any of his successors. We had no Technical Schools, no Free Libraries, no Police Courts or Barracks worthy the name, no electric works to generate strife, and no abattoir to generate sound and safe meat; no Public Baths to promote cleanliness, and no public parks to promote health – and taxes; no palatial hospitals for old or young, no Picture Houses, no golf, no football, no Flag Days, no Rotary Clubs, no Home Rule, and no dirt destroyer.

We could not boast of the greatest shipbuilding yards in the world, the greatest ropeworks in the world, the greatest tobacco factory in the world, the greatest distilleries in the world; but we had, as we still have, and long may it remain, the greatest spinning mill in the world. At that time Harland & Wolff's works were in their infancy, and Workman & Clark's hardly in embryo. I well remember when much of what is now a hive of industry in the Queen's Island was simply a mass of grass and wild wood, and when the affairs of the firm that has removed everything green from the spot were conducted in what was simply a wooden Hut, a shed, instead of now in one of the most palatial set of offices in the kingdom.

We had not as many palatial public-houses as we have now. In those days, though, perhaps we did our share of drinking, but we or the trade were modest at the time, and did not flaunt it. The public-houses of the time were largely in entries or side streets. We had not the attraction of glaring glass and the inevitable barmaids, which seem to draw our young men, and some of our old ones, too, as by an invisible cord. I do not suggest that there was not a good deal of drinking in those old days; but think there was less among the young than in the present. And yet while that is true, the public sentiment is more temperance, I will add more teetotal than it was in those days; and I must say the war and the limitations it has imposed on the trade has led to a more healthful tone. But while I am sure the people are not perishing for lack of liquor, the liquor sellers are not perishing for lack of customers.

Now, when they think of what we lacked fifty years ago, that we have come to regard as necessities now, the young of to-day nay be inclined to wonder how or why their fathers lived. The majority of us today would regard life as hardly worth living if they were deprived of any one of their pleasures or luxuries of which their fathers knew nothing, and for which they would have cared little even if they had them. And yet, on the whole, they lived well and comfortably. If they did not live to work, they worked in those old days to live. It may be that because they had not so many opportunities to spend, they did more to save, and many of the fortunes and businesses that the present generation enjoy were built up under conditions in which the absence of rush did not lead to rust, leisurely movements did not lead to lackadaisical indifference, and the absence of means, if not taste, for spending money prevented waste. So that for myself in beginning my contemplations and recollections of the past, while I am happy to be alive in the present, I look back to the good old times of the past with thankfulness that I lived in them, and with grateful remembrance of the time and the men of the time.

To be continued...


From The Witness, 23rd June 1916.

The "Man in the Street"was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.



Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Merchant Seamen


I've read about soldiers and sailors,
    Of infantry, airmen and tanks,
Of battleships, corvettes, and cruisers,
    Of Anzacs, and Froggies, and Yanks:
But there's one other man to remember
    Who was present at many a fray;
He wears neither medals or ribbons
    And derides any show or display.

I'm talking of A.B.'s and firemen,
    Of stewards and greasers and cooks
Who manned the big steamers in convoy
    (You won't read about them in books).
No uniform gay were they dressed in,
    Nor marched with their colours unfurled:
They steamed out across the wide oceans
    And travelled all over the world.

Their history goes back through the ages –
    A record of which to be proud –
And the bones of their forefathers moulder
    With naught but the deep for a shroud.
For armies have swept on to victory
    O'er the bodies of those who have died;
'Tis thus that the nations do battle
    For country, and freedom, and pride.

In thousands they sailed from the homeland,
    From Liverpool, Hull, and the Clyde;
To London, and Bristol, and Cardiff
    They came back again on the tide.
An old 'four-point-seven' their safeguard –
    What nice easy pray for the Huns
Who trailed them with bombers and U-boats
    And sank them with 'tin fish' and guns.

The epic of gallant 'Otaki',
    That grim forlorn hope 'Jervis Bay',
Who fought to the last and were beaten –
    But they joined the illustrious array
Whose skeletons lie 'neath the waters,
    Whose deeds are remembered today,
And their glory will shine undiminished
    Long after our flesh turns to clay.

They landed the Anzacs at Suvla
    And stranded the old 'River Clyde',
Off Dunkirk they gathered the remnants
    (And still they were not satisfied),
They battled their way through to Malta
    And rescued the troops from Malay;
They brought back the Eighth Army munitions
    And took all their prisoners away.

And others 'signed on' in the tankers
    And loaded crude oil and octane –
The lifeblood of warships and engines,
    Of mechanised transport and plane.
But these were the U-boat's chief victims;
    What death they were called on to face
As men were engulfed by infernos
    In ships that were 'sunk without trace.'

They were classed a non-combatant service –
    Civilians who fought without guns –
And many's the time they'd have welcomed
    A chance of a crack at the Huns.
But somehow in spite of this drawback
    The steamers still sailed and arrived,
And they fed fifty millions of people –
    And right to the end we survived.

And now that the turmoil is ended,
    Our enemies vanquished and fled,
We'll pray that the living will foster
    The spirit of those who are dead.
When the next generation takes over,
    This country we now hold in lease
Will be theirs – may they cherish its freedom
    And walk down the pathways of peace.

When the Master of Masters holds judgment
    And the Devil's dark angels have flown,
When the dark of the heavenly council
    Decrees that the names shall be shown,
They will stand out in glittering letters
    Inscribed with the blood they have shed:
Names of ships – and the seamen who manned them:
    Then the ocean can give up its dead.

by Edward Carpenter


This poem is taken from Voices from the Sea : Poems by Merchant Seamen, edited by Ronald Hope and published in 1977 by Harrap (London) in association with the Marine Society.




Tuesday, 31 May 2016

To Ships and Men in War


Peace washes silent o'er the ocean bed,
  It sweeps both time and substance in its path.
The years roll forward, pass and make no scar
  Upon the toll of conflict's aftermath.

Gaunt timbers, rusted steel, encrusted chains
  Stand not as relics of a wanton life,
But serve as carven crosses in a world
  As yet untouched by needless human strife.

Here lie no marble vaults nor granite tombs,
  Sharp rock and silver sand serve in their stead,
No hymnals sound nor choristers are heard
  To chant in requiem for the turmoil's dead.

Destruction cries from every strangled spar,
  Brutality from every jagged plate,
And yet the deep remoulds and softens all
  The viciousness that man saw fit to sate.

A quiet hovers here, elsewhere unfound,
  And blesses with its touch and precious grace
The scaffold-skeletons of ships and dust of men
  Who, unknown, lie in this last resting place.

by A. R. Rogers


This poem is taken from Voices from the Sea : Poems by Merchant Seamen, edited by Ronald Hope and published in 1977 by Harrap (London) in association with the Marine Society.



Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Madman's Grave


IN the year 1793, an unknown maniac, whose dress and figure bore the vestiges of a once better lot, wandered to Ballycastle, a beautiful village on the shore of the county of Antrim. He was sullen, melancholy, and incommunicative; his days and nights were spent among the wild and lofty rocks in the neighbourhood of the bay, and his food was the shell-fish, or the sea-weed that was washed in by the tide. A life of such hardship and privation would have soon terminated the existence of one endued with unimpaired reason; but insanity hardens the constitution, by depriving it of a sense of its affliction, and by diverting the mind from real sorrow to imaginary objects. At certain periods of the month his sullenness was changed to frenzy, he then would groan and shriek as if suffering from excessive anguish, and although the neighbouring peasantry were frequently disturbed by his nightly moanings, yet, as he never attempted any act of violence, they suffered him unrestrained to indulge his misery. For several weeks he thus continued alternately melancholy or outrageous, until one night in the latter end of July, when the neighbouring cottagers were awakened by the loudness and horror of his shrieks. For a while they continued violent, then grew fainter, and at length sunk in total silence. Early the following morning a fisherman arose to examine a kelp-kiln which he had lit the night before, when the shocking spectacle of the half-consumed maniac met his sight. The wretched sufferer, while wandering on the projecting ledge of a steep cliff, had missed his footing, tumbled down the precipice, and rolled into the blazing kiln, which burned at the base of the rock! His mutilated remains were enveloped in a piece of sail-cloth, and buried in a little green recess at the foot of the precipice from which he fell. The verdure of this spot is rendered more lively by being contrasted with the grey tints of the surrounding rocks; it is adorned by sea pinks and other marine dowers, and on no part of the romantic shores of Antrim does the traveller of taste feel emotions more varied, or sensations more interesting, than on the spot where heaves the Madman's Grave.
L.
Ballycastle.


      THE MADMAN'S GRAVE.


Where Rathlin's fierce contending tides,
      In storms and calms incessant roar,
And rudely lash the moss-grown sides
      Of Ballycastle's rock-bound shore.
Where western winds for age prevail
      And chide the weary wanderers stay,
Who crowd the heaven aspiring sail,
      And swiftly fly the dangerous bay.*
Where the dark mine of old so fam'd,†
      Now echoes to the tempest's moan —
By song of poets never nam'd,
      Unmark'd by any sculptur'd stone.
'Tis there beneath the rock's bold brow,
      And lash'd by every foaming wave,
The child of sorrow's eyes may view,
      The poor deserted madman's grave.—
The sea-pink droops its feeble head,
      The lonely night-hawk screaming flies
Above the spot where low and dead,
      The maniac's form for ever lies.
No plated mockery held his frame,
      No train of friends wept o'er his bier;
No child sobb'd loud a father's name,
      Or kiss'd a speechless mother's tear.
Long, long beside the dangerous shore
      Beneath the wint'ry blast he stray'd,
And mingled with the ocean's roar
      The dreadful cries he nightly made.
His feet by every rough rock torn,
      Through snares of death he urg'd his way;
With him despair rose every morn,
      And clos'd each sad and cheerless day.
Yet dark oblivion's gloomy veil.
      O'er all his senses was not flung —
The midnight wanderer heard the tale,
      Of deep distress flow from his tongue.
Remembrance rack'd his tortur'd brain —
      Where hope has fled, a dreadful guest,
And incoherence mark'd the strain,
      Which sighs convey'd from misery's breast.
Dire was the night, when his last cry
      Pierc'd sad and oft the troubled air:
The sun rose o'er the Fairhead high
      But shone upon no maniac there.
The storm may raise the troubled sea,
      The wild winds o'er the mountain rave;
The maniac's soul from pain is free —
      He sleeps in yonder nameless grave.
Oh God of heaven! on me look down;
      Though dark distress be ever mine,
Let reason still maintain her throne,
      And I will bear, and not repine.
With reason all my steps to guide
      My soul shall shine supremely brave, —
When mercy shuns the vault of pride,
      And peace wide opens misery's grave.
M. B.


* Ballycastle bay is formed by the promontories of Fairhead and Bengore: it is very unsafe from the prevalence of westerly winds.
† A mine was discovered near the Fairhead, which had been worked some hundred years since.


Story from the Belfast Monthly Magazine, 1st December 1808.
Poem from the Analectic Magazine, August 1818.
Image: Ballycastle Strand by JP Rooney.



Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Light Cruisers (Old)


When you've marshalled your navies and gloried your fill
In the latest they show of invention and skill,
The lion in strength and the lizard in speed,
The watchful in waiting, the present in need,
The great Super-Dreadnoughts gigantic and grim,
The thirty-knot cruisers both subtle and slim,
The weight and the range of each wonderful gun —
Remember the cruisers, the out-of-date cruisers,
The creaky old cruisers whose day, is not done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.

You may look to the South, you may seek in the North,
You may search from the Falklands as far as the Forth —
From Pole unto Pole all the oceans between,
Patrolling, protecting, unwearied, unseen,
By night or by noonday the Navy is there,
And the out-of-date cruisers are doing their share!
Yes, anywhere, everywhere, under the sun,
You will find an old cruiser, an off-the-map cruiser,
An out-of-date cruiser whose work's never done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.

It may be you'll meet with her lending a hand
In clearing a way for the soldiers to land —
Escorting an army, and feeding it too,
Or sinking a raider (and saving her crew),
Blockading by sea or attacking by dry land,
Bombarding a coast or annexing an island;
Where there's death to be daring or risk to be run
You may look for the cruiser, the out-of-date cruiser.
The creaky old cruiser that harries the Hun
(Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one).

In wild nights of Winter, when warmly you sleep,
She is plugging her way through the dark and the deep,
With death in the billows which endless do roll,
And the wind blowing cold with the kiss of the Pole,
While seas slopping over both frequent and green
Call forth on occasion expressions of spleen.
Of all the old kettles award we the bun
To the out-of-date cruiser, the obsolete cruiser,
The creaky old cruiser whose work's never done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.

And when the Day breaks for whose smoke-trail afar
We scan the grey waters by sunlight and star,
The day of great glory — the splendour, the gloom,
The lightning, the thunder, the judgment, the doom,
The breaking of navies, the shaking of kings,
When the Angel of Battle makes night with his wings . . .
Oh, somewhere, be sure, in the thick o' the fun
You will find an old cruiser, a gallant old cruiser,
A creaky old cruiser whose day is not done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.



Poem: Punch, 18th August 1915
Image: HMS Gladiator (1896) IWM Q021285




Wednesday, 11 May 2016

On Witchcraft (1812)

"What silly notions crowd the clouded mind,
"That is through want of education blind."

I SHALL not attempt, in the present essay, to trace the origin of witchcraft, from a belief that it is more than probable its antiquity would frustrate all inquiry. It therefore is only necessary to observe, that it was doubtless early formed among other superstitions, and since has been always more or less believed, as the people were well or ill informed. By numerous unquestionable authorities, it appears, that persons who possessed considerable learning were formerly believed to be magicians;1 and hence it seems reasonable to suppose arose druids, conjurors, sooth-sayers, magi, and many others of the same family.

Anciently we find the scotch calling such persons weirds; and the Danes, and other northerns, naming all males that were supposed to possess this occult art, wizards; the females, wicces, or witches, that is, wise women. At the same time we find the priesthood sanctioning such belief's, which they appear to have converted into a powerful engine to answer their turn, as those who dissented or disbelieved any of the church canons, were immediately accused of being wizards, or witches, and generally suffered as such.

In 1484, these opinions appear to have become very general; and the same year they received not a little confirmation from a bull issued by Pope Innocent the VIII. to the inquisitors of Almain, empowering them to proceed against such as had dealings with devils. The substance of the bull is as follows — "Pervenit ad auditum nostrum, &c." "It is come to our ears, that great numbers of both sexes, are not afraid to abuse their own bodies with devils. And with their enchantments, charms, and sorceries, to vex and afflict man and beast, with inward and outward pains and tortures; they destroy the human offspring, and the increase of cattle; they blast the corn of the ground, the grapes of the vines, the fruit of the trees, and the grass and herbs of the fields, &c. Therefore with the authority apostolic, we give power to the inquisitors, &c. to convict, imprison, and punish, &c."

For several years after the issuing of this bull, witches, and their executions, considerably increased; and about this time, a Jesuit, called Debrio, wrote a book, in which many reasons were given why Protestants were so much in the power of the devil; adding, that witchcraft goes along with heresy, as madness with a fever! This plainly shows to what good account the clergy had turned this superstition.

Until the reign of Henry VIII., we hear little of witchcraft in England; but in 1541, Lord Hungerford consulting some reputed witches, to know how long Henry VIII. would live, was discovered and beheaded for it; soon after, two acts were passed against witchcraft and sorcery. In 1562, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Countess of Lenox, and four others, were condemned, because they had consulted wizards how long the Queen would live; the same year a new statute was enacted against witchcraft. So much did the belief of witches prevail at this time, that the learned Bishop Jewel, in a sermon which he preached before Queen Elizabeth, prays "that the laws against witches and sorcerers be put in execution, as they were grown so numerous."

In the following reign, these opinions increased much; James even wrote a work on this subject called Deamonologie, first published in Edinburgh, and afterwards in London. Reading this book, and approving its doctrine, is said to have been a sure way to gain his favour. It was asserted in this book that swimming was a fair trial for a witch; alleging as a reason, that as such persons had renounced their baptism by water, that the water refused to receive them! The parliament seems to have instantly caught the infection, as in the first year of his reign the act of Queen Elizabeth against witchcraft, was repealed, as too mild, and one more strict passed, entitled, "An act against conjuration, witchcraft, and dealing with evil and wicked spirits;" which act established those opinions so fully, that it is said to have become unfashionable to doubt them!

This general infatuation soon became such, that in some villages ia Britain, the witches were said to have been fully as numerous as the other persons; for as a late author has justly observed, "prodigies are always seen in proportion as they are expected." It was during this reign that the present translation of the bible appeared; from which circumstance it is asserted, and with some likelihood, that several phrases were adopted, that favour the vulgar notions of witchcraft, much more than the old translations.

It is worthy of remark that France, Sweden, and most European countries, were under the same strange infatuation about this time.

About this period we read of persons who perambulated the country, to discover witches, called witch-finders, one of whom, Matthew Hopkins, witch-finder-general, of the County Essex, in 1614, caused sixty reputed witches to be hanged, for which he received twenty shillings a head! The persons who were accused of being wizards, or witches, had commonly to go through a water ordeal; first having their thumbs and toes tied across one another, after which they were thrown into a deep river or pool; if they sunk and were drowned, they were considered to have been innocent: but if they swam or sprawled out, as was sometimes the case, it was looked on as a sufficient proof of their guilt, and they usually suffered accordingly. In 1647, the said Hopkins published a book on the subject of witchcraft, in which he mentions twelve signs by which witches are to be known.2



To such an alarming degree did this witch-finding system increase, that it is computed between two and three thousand persons suffered death for witchcraft, in England and Scotland, between the years 1640, and 1661. Several of the persons who suffered, confessed they were wizards, or witches; this, however, is not strange, when we consider the barbarous usage they received, after being accused; for if not thrown into a pool, they were neither suffered to eat, drink, nor sleep, but walked constantly between two persons, who never permitted their devoted victims to sit down, until they confessed, which they generally did, either from being delirious, or weary of their lives. In either case, they were usually questioned about causing the death of some person or persons, who had died lately, under what was deemed suspicious circumstances; and some have been known to confess they had killed people, who were then alive and well; yet, strange to tell, none of these blunders appear to have operated the least in their favour, though such incongruous expressions was an undoubted proof of their insanity.

Scotland was perhaps the last country in which such scenes were legally acted. In East Lothian, in Scotland, there is an eminence called "Spott Law;" in the parish register of which place, is the following memorandum:— "October, 1705, many witches burnt on the top of Spott Law."

As mankind became informed, the belief of witches, and witchcraft vanished; and at length the legislature, on the 24th March, 1736, gave the finishing blow, by repeating those acts against witchcraft, which had so long disgraced our statute books; since which period a gradual decrease has been observable. At present we scarcely hear any thing of this mystic art — except now and then some old woman losing the milk, or butter of her cow.

S.S. B.Clare.

[1] Pythagoras, an eminent philosopher, who flourished A.M. 3420, was accused of magic; and in A.D. 1254; the learned Roger Bacon was twice cited to Rome for crimes in this way, and acquitted himself both times, with much applause for his learning. So late as 1489, George Ripley, and William Blackney, two distinguished mathematicians, were believed to be necromancers. Within these forty years, a decent old woman was accused of being a witch, because she had more butter on her cow's milk, than some of her neighbours.

[2] Hopkins carried on this horrid trade for many years, till some gentlemen, shocked at his barbarities, caught him, and tied his thumbs and toes together, as he had done many others, and in this state threw him into the water, where he swam. It does not appear, by the accounts that have reached us, that he suffered death from this circumstance; but it had one good effect, it cleared the country of him, and ruined his business.



Text from the Belfast Monthly Magazine, September 1812.
Image top: Witches by Hans Baldung. Woodcut, 1508.
Image middle: Title page of Daemonologie, in forme of a dialogue, James I.
Image bottom: Etching of a Ducking Stool.




Thursday, 5 May 2016

"Old Q" – An Irish Character Sketch

By Precentor Courtenay Moore, M.A.

The "Old Q" of this paper has no connection whatever, except in title, with "Old Q" of more infamous than famous memory.

My "Old Q" belonged to a class of Irishmen not much exploited in literature; he was in no sense a "Stage Irishman": he never tried to amuse people, though he did amuse "an audience fit though few," very much. He was by nature sour and severe, he had none of the sparkling fun connected with the typical Paddy, far otherwise, his reputation was mainly founded on his facility for making "pinitrative remarks." When I made his acquaintance he represented like Charles Lamb, "Retired Leisure"; but, unfortunately, unlike Lamb, without a pension. He was one of a family of small farmers, and had received a fairly good education. He had a working knowledge of Latin, and was also a fairly good Gaelic scholar. He had been "a guardian of Her Majesty's public revenues," like Mr. Bardell, but for some reason sufficient, or insufficient, his services had been dispensed with, and alas without a pension. Perhaps, or probably in his own estimation, it was "an Irish grievance." Be that as it may, when I knew him first he was what is called in Ireland, "a walking gentleman" – a gentleman at large.

He was then turned sixty, "a grey and gap-toothed man," our intimacy rapidly ripened. Primate Alexander, who was a great master of epigrams, described Bishop Reichel as "an acidulated draught from the Diocese of Meath," and this phrase very happily hits off my "Old Q." He seldom or never smiled, and never laughed; he was always acidulated, sarcastic, caustic, always making "pinitrative remarks." His conversation was also remarkable for his choice of language, he used a good deal, indeed a great deal of what we call in Ireland "Dictionary English," interspersed with strong epithets in Gaelic, which gave it an added flavour. Poor man, "he lived very near his timper," so people used to describe him. Over his official life he drew a decent veil, probably wisely; he had served in England and Scotland, but as a rule never intimated that he had "been foreign." Having no occupation except "caring" a public building, he had much spare time on his hands, and like every Irishman he was a born politician. Friends supplied him with newspapers, and he went by the name of "the pocket o' papers." Descriptive titles of their kind are very common in Ireland. Having much spare time on hands he often paid me a visit to enable him to pass it. He regarded himself as a public censor of morals, not that he was encouraged in this tone and temper of mind, but he had always a grievance, "what harm," he said, a favourite Irish form of expression, "what harm if I wasn't always trying to put people right, and do them good  –  and this is the return they make me"! He was like Corney Delaney in Jack Hinton, "Ugh, the haythens, the Turks." "Old Q's" formula was, "I declare to God I'd rather live among the Kurds of Armenia" – pronounced Armainia – "than be with them – Goths and Vandals! Goths and Vandals"! He had only a few intimate friends, who, partly from pity, and partly for the amusement they found in his society patronized him. "Mr. Bill," a local notable of joking and generous nature, and he had been great allies, and "shone well," as the saying goes, for a time, but "Mr. Bill" deserted him at a crisis, and "Old Q," who required absolute obedience, "Love me all in all or not at all," never forgave this defection.

"Mr. Bill," he used to say with great emphasis, "Mr. Bill made a holocaust of me, but I'll be his Nemesis." This remark was carried to "Mr. Bill" who inquired, "would you give me small change for that, laddy boy." "Mr. Bill" had a great reputation of his own for conversational powers, he was said "to talk like a threshing machine"; it was a good description!

In the course of time "Old Q" got to be described as "the Bodyguard" as well as "the Pocket of Papers," in consequence of his personal attendance on myself. He used to spring out from side streets and back streets on me as I went about the Parish, and accompany me in my walks, giving me some lessons in conversational Gaelic, which were very useful, I had by no means the worst of the intimacy. Every Sunday he had a happy day, for he spent it with a relative, a comfortable farmer in the district. This habit was well known, and got to be described in an amusing way, viz.:–"'Mr. Q' takes a country life every Sunday." It sounds very bloody, but it did not mean that he committed a murder every Sunday, only that he spent it in the country. He had only three or four intimate friends. There was an old woman in the Parish at the time who had an equally limited circle, she used to say to me, "well, I've just the three 'frinds,' God Almighty, yer Reverence, an' 'Mr. Bill'" – the "Mr. Bill" aforesaid. "Old Q" was not so pious, he did not introduce much of religious phraseology into his conversation. His "pinitrative remarks" have been already illustrated. On a certain occasion he followed some young children, who had annoyed him, home to their mother's house, and addressed her as follows:– "My good woman, I'm not certain that your children will end their days on the gallow's, but I'm sure they will in good time appear in the dock." Naturally he was not generally popular, he plentifully showered about such contemptuous Gaelic terms as "bosthoon," "cauboge," "omad-haun," etc., at all and sundry of the lower order who annoyed him. He was wonderfully susceptible of flattery, and one of his friends was in the habit of "bringing him forth butter in a lordly dish." It was most amusing to see and to hear this, the flatterer arranged his attitude, bending his knees, spreading his hands on his thighs, and gazing with the most rapt attention and even devotion into "Old Q's" face, as the latter described how in his earlier days he would clear a street with a "boscaun soggart," literally "death without the priest" – i.e., a stout blackthorn – and how he would glory to do it again. Reader have you ever seen an Irish listener of this type? If not, you don't know Irish life yet – he or she is like Tennyson's nun –
"Breathless with adoration."

Under the influence of Dan K.'s worship "Old Q" waxed warm, grasped his blackthorn by the middle, making it flourish round his head after the fashion which the French call faire le moulinet, like the Miller when preparing to fight with Gurth, as described in Ivanhoe – like Goldsmith's broken soldier he –
"Shouldered his crutch and showed how fields were won."

Poor man, unfortunately for himself he lived before the period of Old Age Pensions. He was miserably poor; his financial backbone was a small weekly allowance of outdoor relief. Then there was the country life which he took every Sunday. This implied a good dinner with roast goose, roast beef or roast mutton, and whiskey punch. The taking of the country life also meant a large loaf of home-made bread and a jar of cream which he carried back with him every Sunday night. Still, even with all these little extras he had a hard time of it, and lived a very Spartan life. He had not the usual religious consolation which Irish people as a rule have, not that they were in any sense denied him, but he had not the temperament to enjoy them. "The iron had entered into his soul"; he was "one writ in sour misfortune's book." He spoke of devotees as "craw-thumpers" and schamers – more of his "pinitrative remarks." He could and would and did point out concrete instances of such. He once came in a very angry and unsettled state of mind to complain of one of his own clergy who, he said, had declared that he was selling himself to me as a convert, and that I was buying him. The report was absolutely baseless, and was probably circulated only to annoy him. But, said he, "I'll let him see he can't villify me with impunity." It was a case of:–
"Nemo impune me lacesset."

"If necessary I'll carry him to his Bishop, and if necessary from his Bishop to the Court of Rome and lay his misconduct before his Holiness the Pope himself."

Fortunately, this extreme course did not become necessary. By degrees his health failed, "sharp misery had worn him to the bone." As long as he "could take a country life every Sunday" he took it, but, alas, in time strength failed him. He was obliged to take refuge in the Union Hospital, it was practically the only resource open to him. Naturally he did not like the surroundings and associations. He missed the loose leg, the open air, the blue or grey sky, the green fields, the lofty mountains, the Sunday dinner on roast goose and whiskey punch – all these exchanged for the hospital ward and the companionship of a class which he disliked. Still, he would never say die. I saw him occasionally as a friend before the end came – our friendship continued unbroken and unabated to the last, as might naturally have been expected. He used to say to me when I asked him how he was – "Fauga me shood moratasha" – i.e., leave it alone, leave it as it is; in other words let us be patient – a very philosophic and Christian maxim. Poor man, he went through fire and water in this world, let us hope that God brought him to a wealthy place. I have known many specimens of the Irish character, yet never one quite like him or almost in any degree like him. He had no Irish fun in him, no Irish geniality, little or nothing of what we are accustomed to regard as typically Irish. Yet he was absolutely un-English. If you had met him at the North Pole you would have known him at once to be Irish by his face. Misfortune no doubt sorely tried him. He knew a good deal of old interesting local history, and from him I learned an account of the last duel fought in the Co. Cork, which I contributed to the Cork Historical and Archaeological Journal, then he was a fairly good Gaelic scholar; indeed, take him all round he had a very fairly furnished mind, he was rather, on the whole, an exceptional type of Irishman, he had little or no Blarney, little or no soft sawder, he was too fond of "pinitrative temarks," and he had to take the consequences, which were often anything but pleasant, but, no doubt, he comforted, or tried to comfort himself by saying, "Liberavi animan mean," or, "Fauga me shood moratasha." Another Irish proverb of which he was very fond was, "One must cut the gad nearest the throat." The root idea of this is you must release yourself by ridding yourself of the most choking stricture. Poor "Old Q" was trying to cut the gad nearest the throat all the time I knew him, and if I in any degree helped him in the painful effort I feel thankful, and I readily confess that I owe as much or more to him than he did to me. How can anyone be lonely, even in the country, with such society. There was another great oddity in the parish at the same period, a retired Protestant clergyman – an excellent English scholar, whose favourite authors were Shakespeare and Shelley. He was quite at home with both. He, too, had a great selection of Dictionary English. Take a specimen. He had a vivid imagination. He contemplated long and costly foreign tours, and often talked much of publishing a volume of poems. One day he dropped in and said – "I have been to the railway station inquiring the price of tickets en route to the Continent, and as I crossed the lawn I could not help thinking with what contempt the great Condor of the Andes, and the Albatross that sleeps upon the wing must regard the poor human biped that is compelled to travel with a railway ticket"!

I versified this sentence soon after in order to preserve it:–
O mighty Condor I often ponder,
And think with wonder,
On thy powers of flight
Whilst mine are slight.
And thou O mighty Albatross,
Who art of birds a boss,
Canst sleep upon the wing,
While I a poor weak thing
Must travel with a railway ticket,
And let the guard and porter nick it.

Text: The Church of Ireland Gazette, 22nd April 1914.
Image: Old Tramp, a painting in oils by Laszio Mednyanszky.