Wednesday 11 October, 2017

Philosophy on the Bog

Taken from: Caltholic Bulletin, Vol.25, June 1935, p.472-478

See Through The Telescope Of History

“To see Ireland as it ought to be seen,” wrote Nevinson, “one must do so through the eye of the historian.” In mapping out his survey he took the year 1200 A.D. as a dividing line, working backwards and forwards some 700 years from that line, hooking on his newly-acquired knowledge to such well-defined epochal lines as 1600, 1650, 1700, 1750 and 1800. This method will be attempted in dealing with the region of which Portarlington is the capital.

The Dublin-Naas-Portarlington road to Walsh Island bog frequently coincides with the SLIGHE DALA or Great Road planned out by King Cormac Mac Art from Tara to the port of Limerick.

Friendly as well as hostile nations tramped along that road on every convulsion in Irish history, leaving behind them well preserved land­marks of human activities. Existing place-names along the way proclaim the forcefulness of their founders, and it is to the credit of the early Gaels that their capitals read off like a litany of saints, such as Cill, Cilldara, Cillmeague, Cilleóg, Cillcullen, Cillashee, the Monastery of Tulach Fobhair and the Monastery of Emhin (Monasterevan). History or human evolution is learnt thoroughly only by visiting scenes where the growth of the arts of life is most marked, or the arenas where the clash and conflict of rival nationalities have left their scars.

The Watershed of the Liffey

The rolling plain of Magh Life has at all times attracted hungry hordes to its rich bosom, and towns sprang up and vanished beside the great road even during the past century. Kill or Cillcorban was the sepulchral keep of the kings of Leinster up to the middle of the Norse period. Henry VIII bestowed it on his trusty liege Thomas Allen to secure the plains against the incursions of “the Irish enemies, the Tholes (O’Tooles) where resistance and defence are necessary.” In this parish of Kill is Bodenstown where Davis met the old man teaching the children to revere the memory of their great neighbour, Wolfe Tone. So is Lyons, the seat of the Cloncurrys, whose young lord got himself incarcerated for two long years in London Tower for taking the side of his neighbours Tone, Fitzgerald, Patrick Lattin and a host of others in their fight for fair play. He breathed the breath of his fine spirit into the youthful soul of his distinguished grand-daughter, Emily Lawless, whose songs of indignation have fired a generation. She would have no communion with “the vast imperial mart of furious rivals.” She prayed for the simplicity of rural life, and looking into the future, got a glimpse of the Eire of her songs:

I see her in those coming days, Still young, still gay: her unbound hair Crowned with a crown of starlike rays, Serenely fair.

Elizabethan Leix

In the conflict of nationalities plainsmen cannot hold out indefinitely against superior armaments. Friendly mountain fastnesses are wanting for shelter, retreat and sallying forth.

In stark outline against the western skies the rock fortress of Dunamase, some half a dozen miles from Portarlington, recalls an occupation of a long 1300 years by scions of the race of Conal Cearnach-the O’Moores and six other minor septs. In Elizabeth’s time, aided by James Fitzgerald of Desmond and Donal MacCarthy of Killarney, they smashed to pieces the flower of the Tudor ‘army under Essex at the Pass of the Plumes; and in Naas and other cities of the Pale the whisper of the name of Rory Og and ,Cathaoir na gCapall scared unruly children, whose fathers paid these chiefs Dubh Mal or Black Rent for security.

But the cutting of the great forests, the last security of the native race, broke the strength of the seven septs of Leix, and the survivors of their leaders were marked out and forced to migrate to North Kerry, where their more servile chroniclers, the MacCrossans, oscillated from one religious tenet to another as conditions favoured. Changing their names to Crosby and their language to English they crept into high place and for generations ate of the fat of the land of the brave Kerry lords who backed James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald and his cousin the great Earl of Desmond in the Holy War against Elizabeth.

Cromwellian O Failghe

After the Cromwellian era the vast territory of the O’Dempseys, whose principal strongholds were about Portarlington, were forfeited and handed over to the English Home Secretary, Sir Henry Bennet. It was a characteristically astute move of the powerful Butlers of Ormond to carry out this successful swindle, fearing that the vacillating Stuart king, Charles, when restored to power might insist on the restoration of their property to his Irish friends who assisted him in his day of need. No doubt it required very little persuasion to induce Home Secretary Bennet to hold on to his 11,000 acres of loot. He in return would naturally persuade Charles to let bygones be bygones so far as allowing the Cromwellian freebooters to retain their stolen property. Bennet, who possessed some land in Middlesex known as Arlington, took the .title of Lord Arlington, and prefixing the first syllable of the name of the neighbouring capital of the O’Moores-Portlaoighise-he changed the old Irish place-name Cul an tsudaire (Coolatoodaira) to Portarlington. Having no delusions as to the wavering character of Stuart friendship, Arlington sold his illgotten estates to a Dingle merchant, Sir Patrick Trant, who in his turn lost all for supporting James at the Boyne.

William, who was generous in giving away Irish land, handed over the O’Dempsey patrimony to one of his French generals, Ruvigney, who assumed the title of Lord Galway. It was this general who planted the interesting colony of French Huguenot (or Calvinist) refugees in the town of Portarlington, some 130 families, with the hope (it is on record) of improving the dull, dispossessed, disloyal natives in matters of manners and religion. But the disloyal native-as happened before in Cromwellian times offered higher rents to the altruistic Calvinistic lord, and we read the sorry fact that the Blancs, Beauchamps, Boisrands and Bostaquets-to mention only a few of those who had settled on promise of patronage-complained of their hard lot, though they held arable land at 2S. 6d. per acre, and as much bog land as they desired, free of rent. For over 120 years French was the language in church and school in Cul an tsudaire. King William, who knew that “attending Divine Service in French was the best method of preserving the language,” encouraged that speech in this isolated colony. They had plans for keeping out the inroads of English into their schools. In every class hung an old iron key which was forced into the hand of a pupil who was heard speaking the language of the Arlingtons. This signum of ignominy was held by the culprit until his watchful ear caught the sound of the despised speech in the mouth of some other unwary youth, when the key was passed on with the sentence of doom : Englishman, take the key. Punishment was meted out in the evening to the last unwilling holder of the mark of degradation. The colony changed its religion from Calvinism to Episcopacy in the course of time; and quite a large number, marrying into the long-enduring Gaelic clans, came back to the religion which their forefathers had abandoned in France.

Afterwards the looted property of the O’Dempseys was seized by the Hollow Sword Blade Co” a Welsh concern to whom William III owed vast sums of money for the armaments supplied by them for attacking his royal father-in-law at the Boyne; and from the association of officials of this Company with their new estates in Offaly we have the name WALSH ISLAND, where the fine hosting of Gaels was held on May 4th at the turf-cutting competition.

A goodly gathering on the bog was that of Laoghis and O’Failghe men, who impressed the visitors by their athletic build and manly bearing. It was a gala festival and in glorious weather. Competitors from various parishes followed by cheering crowds displayed their skill and prowess at slane (sleaghan) and barrow-some 500 in all competed.

Apart from the utilitarian object of the promoters, it was refreshing to see the governors and the governed mingling as they did on that day in Catholic camaraderie. “Blessed are they that understand concerning the poor,” sang the Psalmist, and it is creditable to the entourage of the present Government that-outside a few exceptions-they have not thrown the dark shadow of vulgar display over the poor of the land, the poor who have placed them in power. In this telling example of Gaelic Christianity most people will bless the modest example set by the family of the President.

The poor in a conquered country are too frequently depressed by the weight of their own superinduced inferiority, and we have not yet quite shaken ourselves free from the inheritance of the domineering foreign land magnate and his entourage. “It is a pity,” said Napoleon with a grin to Irish soldiers in Paris-natives of Magh Life too, General Lawless and Wolf Tone-” it is a pity that so fine a country as yours

should be so horribly infested with wolves.” The wolves are largely gone, but the Gaelic tribute to fill their maws is still being forcibly exacted. A holiday of this nature has a bracing influence on all. The great Kildare bishop J. K. L. in a letter to another Lawless-Lord Cloncurry­some hundred years ago, wrote: “Frequent holidays … contribute not a little to produce and preserve that gay, cheerful, friendly, strong and athletic race of men which by and bye will be nowhere to be found in Ireland.” ‘Ecclesiastics with the tradition of that fearless bishop were to be seen everywhere mingling with the masses on the bog, giving a tone of grace and suavity to the proceedings. Father Michael Kennedy, P.P., like Oisin from Tir na n-Og, was welcomed by the pleasant folk whom he baptised a generation ago. “The blessing of God on you, Father Michael,” was frequently heard, ” ’tis yourself that never gev in.” How the Irish people love a priest who is prepared to sacrifice all on their behalf! And here are Father Burbage with lines of thought on his countenance, and Father Campion and Father Tierney and our own good Parish Priest, and a host of others, all where they ought to be, with their poor loyal lay folk.” “I love the priest,” said Lacordaire in one of his great sermons, “who is kind of heart and empty of pocket, I love the priest concerning whom the humblest cottier (chaumier) in France will say to his wife, ‘ Marie, there goes a great man and as poor as ourselves.” I think the famous French Dominican could have met many objects of love on this bog on this May day. The local curate welcomed the visitors in Irish as mellow as that of the Connamara youths yonder, who competed for and won a £10 prize for their dexterity at slane and barrow.

“Do you understand them, Kate, a chroidhe?” inquired a fond mother of a gaily-dressed little girl who with others listened with wonder to the easeful Gaelic of the competitors from Oughterard. “Some of it, mother, but they are talking Sixth Book Irish and I’m only in Fifth Book.” “And how are you getting on ? ” inquired Father Michael of a pleasant matron whose twelfth and youngest boy mewled on her arm. “Never better, Father Michael; I am finding it easier to rear this young rogue than the first whom you baptised. As long as Jim got l8d. a creel for turf we never wanted, and now, thanks be to the good God and to De Valera, we are getting whole fishtfuls of money for the clamps.”

Ned, the hefty tinsmith, and his band, all the way from the West, took in the entertainment on their way home from Punchestown. Ned and his friends could not afford to miss from Dublin to Galway a Races or any gathering savouring of entertainment. He claimed an easy suzerainty over a field where motors were parked, aided and advised the owners as to the selection of a safe bank, and would refuse anything like payment only that he had been a bit unlucky, not in Punchestown but afterwards in the various towns of the Pale and the Gael on the way home. He made a fortune, in fact no less than £50 13s. 4d. by an extra­ordinary piece of good luck in acting on the advice of his son Lucky Larry on a double event. The money was fairly divided, the women getting half for domestic purposes, and when the men’s share was gone, as the excitement of falling in for such a windfall was too much for human nature and called for copious tonics in the form of overtaxed alcohol, made a rapid inroad into their gains-they appealed in vain to the females of their species for a loan, even at a usurious rate of interest, but their appeal fell on deaf ears, and stony hearts. The good natured Sergeant turned his back while they were levying toll for the use of the field. No, never would expert artisans and sportsmen like them be caught competing at a slane. Certain drinks at l8d. a glass were too expensive to be easily lost in perspiration.

Mr. De Valera, who was enthusiastically received, spoke words of wisdom. There must be no grounds for complaints as regards condition and quality of the turf. It is only by strict honesty, keeping to bargains and fulfilling contracts that any industry can hope to succeed. He appealed to the teachers present to instil these fundamental commercial principles into the minds of the children. Major de Courcy Wheeler hoped that in any evolution of turf winning, the man would never be ousted by the machine, He was repeating the advice of Kropotkin.

It is a spiritual as well as a bodily airing to a man living in the charged atmosphere of government and commercial office to move freely among a hosting who ask only for their daily bread, and to hear unedited the vox populi which is proverbially the vox Dei or voice of God. “We are prepared to fight on and suffer more and more, but there ought to be a fair distribution of rewards and a just bearing of the burdens.” “Aye, when the Dublin newspaper strike was on the – -, a Munster paper, was distributed in Portarlington, which called out to us every day to surrender. Why doesn’t the Government silence that voice?” In another group grave and reverend seigniors argued as to the best way of appropriating the great bogs. “They whose fathers were hunted to them, and who sheltered the ould stock on the run have the first rights to them. Main roads ought to be planned out through them, and the fuel supply of future generations not lost sight of.”

A Swedish University student who spends his summer holidays working on a small tillage farm at home, stated that in his country the cut-away bogs when treated with lime and sand and sheltered by belts of wood make splendid tillage land. On a farm of some 20 acres they produce plenty of rye for excellent bread, peas and beans dried for winter use, and plenty of pork. The women shook their head when he added in reply to a question that he never saw tea or coffee at home. “The women brew a splendid drink from oatmeal, and from a species of heather decoction sweetened with honey.” It was a sorry day for us when our English masters trained us to drink the brew of weeds from their Indian colonies! “Shouldn’t all good folk think of the future as well as of the past,” remarked an old man; “didn’t the O’Moores smuggle home printing presses from Spain to produce books here, lest we should fall into darkness and ignorance.” Similar philosophy, unlearnt of books, has marvellously guided the Irish people on the ways of prudence and rectitude, when their masters declared that they did not as much as exist. The closer the governors of our own day keep to this counsel the better.

“I get the best philosophy,” writes the best of French Catholic philosophers, Jacques Chevalier, “not from Plato, not from Aristotle, but in the homes of the country folk, labourers, fishermen, artisans and small tillage farmers, men in direct communion with the multifarious activities of God’s dispensation.” “Why have you no police in this town?” he inquired of a Breton seaman. “Because,” the fisherman replied, “we love each other here, for we all love Jesus Christ.”

Another group on the bog discussed migration of people, and not too favourably. “It takes £1,000 to migrate a Kerry family down here to Kildare. Wouldn’t it be better spent on the reclaiming of and adding on, say, 10 acres of bottoms to each of ten holdings in Kerry or in Kildare? Such reclamation would give local employment instead of doles and demoralization, and help to produce economic holdings.” “Even if turf is too expensive, isn’t it better to give the overpayment to the Raheen man and the Monavan man than to force him away to quarry coal in South Wales or Whitehaven?” Like M.orrough under the cloak of enchantment at Clontarf, some high magnates of the Land Commission walked incognito on the bog and heard much unedited and not unjust criticism of the working of their Department. “Only the people themselves know the just value of land, and all Commissioners should have worked a tillage farm, and show us how to work it better than we ourselves. What could you expect of Commissioner X. Y. who hunts with ranchers when at home,” and we learnt of a snobby fashionably-dressed towny from Dublin, a convert of course to Fianna Fail who was holding out on the propriety of tillage and nothing but tillage. “And where shall we get the manure?” asked a sharp-featured tyke from the old ecclesiastical capital of O Failghe (Killeigh). “The day is fast coming,” retorted the land expert from the classroom, “when you can carry the manure for an acre of land in your waistcoat pocket.” “Quite so,” was the quiet retort of the Killeigh man, “and you can bring home the crop in the other pocket.”

“Did you hear what Colonel A. B. and Sir Betrand C. D. said the other· day at the Blue-look-out meeting, namely, that the present government is out for nothing but Confiscation” “Aye, didn’t we? And all their breed for nine generations-the great land sharks-battening on the confiscated territory of the Lalors and O’Connor Failghes! They are the boyos that are judges of Confiscation and that are cal1ing De Valera a black haythen for taking some of the loot from them to give pensions to the widows of the O’Dunnes and O’Dempseys.”

A Kerry proverb proclaims that a week in Prior parish is better than a year at a college: so is a day on Monavan or Allenwood something like a postgraduate course.  Whoever looks for new themes for Irish song should betake himself to the wooded bog.

“Fast the woods are falling,

Hark, the foe is calling,

Scenes and sights appalling

Disturb my hapless gaze! “lamented Scan O’Dubhir an Ghleanna when he found the old foe cutting roads through his ancient fastnesses. It was then only that he felt compelled to cross the waters: “Nois ta an choill da gearradh, Triallfaimid thar chaladh, Is a Sheain Ui Dhuibhir an Ghlcanna, Ta tu gan reim!”

Bishop Doyle (J. K. L.) already mentioned in this paper, more than once paid a pilgrim’s visit to Allenwood bog where the turf carnival was held last year. He did so, he tells us, in order to commune with the spirits of his great predecessors who, on their keeping, administered the historic Diocese from the morasses. How he wept at the tales of the old denizens of the bog, whose long tradition had preserved a hundred incidents of devotion and sacrifice. “Bishop N. would go away from us in disguise for whole months at a time; and how we watched and prayed for him, and our joy on the day of his return! He was like St. Patrick himself.” “Bishop James Gallagher (ob. I75I) lived over there in a mud hut.” He wrote books of sermons that are still looked upon as models of classical Irish. The great O’Connell used to read them at bedtime. J. K. L. refers to the blessings which the merits of these devoted bishops have obtained for their flock. “And what a reproach,” he adds with apostolic humility, he whose denunciation of Ascendancy rule, entrenched in Dublin, shook tyranny to its foundations, “what a reproach to my own sloth, sensuality and pride.”

One other lesson we learnt on the bog and I am done. It has a fine spiritual bearing on all the work of all who are aiming at the uplifting of the broken-down Gaelic people. The patron saint of Monavan is Saint Bercan of the Prophecies. His beautiful Litany from the LEABHAR BREAC was graciously indulgenced by His Holiness Pope Pius IX in I862. It begins (I am translating): “O Great Mary: O Mary, greatest of all Marys: O Mary, greatest of all women: O Queen of the Angels: Hear the petitions of the poor; Spurn not the wounds and groans of the miserable: Raise the fallen and the debilitated and the fettered:

Allow us not for mercy sake to be carried off from thee with the spoils of the enemies.”

When we see the Bennets and the Ruvigneys, and the Hollow Sword Blade folk and others of their ilk cleared out, and the children of the dispossessed saved from the spoils of the enemies, and animated with new hope as on the bog of Monavan, can we deny that the fervent prayer of Saint Bercan has been heard by the greatest of all Marys?