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About the Author
Gerald Griffin (18031840) was an Irish novelist, poet, and playwright. Robert Giddings is an eminent literary critic who reviews for such publications as the Guardian, the New Statesman, and the Sunday Times.
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How Garryowen Rose, and How it Fell
The little ruined outlet, which gives its name to one of the most popular national songs of Erin, is situate on the acclivity of a hill near the city of Limerick, commanding a not uninteresting view of that fine old town, with the noble stream that washes its battered towers, and a richly cultivated surrounding country. Tradition has preserved the occasion of its celebrity, and the origin of its name, which appears to be compounded of two Irish words signifying 'Owen's garden.' A person so called was the owner, about half a century since, of a cottage and plot of ground on this spot, which from its contiguity to the town, became a favourite holiday resort with the young citizens of both sexes – a lounge presenting accommodations somewhat similar to those which are offered to the London mechanic by the Battersea tea-gardens. Owen's garden was the general rendezvous for those who sought for simple amusement or for dissipation. The old people drank together under the shade of trees – the young played at ball, goal, or other athletic exercises on the green; while a few lingering by the hedge-rows with their fair acquaintances, cheating the time with sounds less boisterous, indeed, but yet possessing their fascination also.
The festivities of our fathers, however, were frequently distinguished by so fierce a character of mirth, that, for any difference in the result of their convivial meetings, they might as well have been pitched encounters. Owen's garden was soon as famous for scenes of strife, as it was for mirth and humour; and broken heads became a staple article of manufacture in the neighbourhood.
This new feature in the diversions of the place, was encouraged by a number of young persons of a rank somewhat superior to that of the usual frequenters of the garden. They were the sons of the more respectable citizens, the merchants and wholesale traders of the city, just turned loose from school with a greater supply of animal spirits than they had wisdom to govern. Those young gentlemen, being fond of wit, amused themselves by forming parties at night, to wring the heads off all the geese, and the knockers off all the hall doors in the neighbourhood. They sometimes suffered their genius to soar as high as the breaking of a lamp, and even the demolition of a watchman; but perhaps this species of joking was found a little too serious to be repeated over frequently, for few achievements of so daring a violence are found amongst their records. They were obliged to content themselves with the less ambitious distinction of destroying the knockers and store-locks, annoying the peaceable inmates of the neighbouring houses with long continued assaults on the front doors, terrifying the quiet passengers with every species of insult and provocation, and indulging their fratricidal propensities against all the geese in Garryowen.
The fame of the 'Garryowen boys' soon spread far and wide. Their deeds were celebrated by some inglorious minstrel of the day in that air which has since resounded over every quarter of the world; and even disputed the palm of national popularity with 'Patrick's day.' A string of jolly verses were appended to the tune which soon enjoyed a notoriety similar to that of the famous 'Lilliburlero, bullen-a-la' which sung King James out of his three kingdoms. The name of Garryowen was as well known as that of the Irish Numantium, Limerick, itself, and Owen's little garden became almost a synonym for Ireland.
But that principle of existence which assigns to the life of man its periods of youth, maturity, and decay, has its analogy in the fate of villages, as in that of empires. Assyria fell, and so did Garryowen! Rome had its decline, and Garryowen was not immortal. Both are now an idle sound, with nothing but the recollections of old tradition to invest them with an interest. The still notorious suburb is little better than a heap of rubbish, where a number of smoked and mouldering walls, standing out from the masses of stone and mortar, indicate the position of a once populous row of dwelling houses. A few roofs yet remain unshaken, under which some impoverished families endeavour to work out a wretched subsistence by maintaining a species of huckster trade, by cobbling old shoes, and manufacturing ropes. A small rookery wearies the ears of the inhabitants at one end of the outlet, and a rope-walk which extends along the adjacent slope of Gallows Green (so called for certain reasons) brings to the mind of the conscious spectator associations that are not calculated to enliven the prospect. Neither is he thrown into a more jocular frame of mind as he picks his steps over the insulated paving stones that appear amid the green slough with which the street is deluged, and encounters at the other end an alley of coffin-makers' shops, with a fever hospital on one side, and a churchyard on the other. A person who was bent on a journey to the other world could not desire a more expeditious outfit than Garryowen could now afford him: nor a more commodious choice of conveyances, from the machine on the slope above glanced at, to the pest-house at the farther end.
But it is ill talking lightly on a serious subject. The days of Garryowen are gone, like those of ancient Erin; and the feats of her once formidable heroes are nothing more than a winter's evening tale. Owen is in his grave, and his garden looks dreary as a ruined church-yard. The greater number of his merry customers have followed him to a narrower play-ground, which, though not less crowded, affords less room for fun, and less opportunity for contention. The worm is here the reveller, the owl whoops out his defiance without an answer (save the echo's), the best whiskey in Munster would not now 'drive the cold out of their hearts;' and the withered old sexton is able to knock the bravest of them over the pate with impunity. A few perhaps may still remain to look back with a fond shame to the scene of their early follies, and to smile at the page in which those follies are recorded.
Still, however, there is something to keep the memory alive of those unruly days, and to preserve the name of Garryowen from utter extinction. The annual fair which is held on the spot presents a spectacle of gaiety and uproar which might rival its most boisterous days; and strangers still enquire for the place with a curiosity which its appearance seldom fails to disappoint. Our national lyrist has immortalized the air by adapting to it one of the liveliest of his melodies; the adventures, of which it was once the scene, constitute a fund of standing joke and anecdote which are not neglected by the neighbouring story-tellers; and a rough voice may still occasionally be heard by the traveller who passes near its ruined dwellings at evening, to chaunt a stanza of the chorus which was once in the mouth of every individual in the kingdom: –
''Tis there we'll drink the nut-brown ale An pay the reck'nin' on the nail No man for debt shall go to jail From Garryowen a gloria.'
How Eily O'Connor Puzzled All the Inhabitants of Garryowen
But while Owen lived, and while his garden flourished, he and his neighbours were as merry together as if death could never reach the one, nor desolation waste the other. Among those frequenters of his little retreat whom he distinguished with an especial favour and attention, the foremost was the handsome daughter of an old man who conducted the business of a rope-walk in his neighbourhood, and who was accustomed on a fine Saturday evening to sit under the shade of a yellow osier that stood by his door, and discourse of the politics of the day – of Lord Halifax's administration – of the promising young patriot Mr Henry Grattan – and of the famous Catholic concession of 1773. Owen, like all Irishmen, even of the humblest rank, was an acute critic in female proportions, and although time had blown away the thatching from his head, and by far the greater portion of blood that remained in his frame had colonized about his nose, yet the manner in which he held forth on the praises of his old friend's daughter was such as put to shame her younger and less eloquent admirers. It is true, indeed, that the origin of the suburban beauty was one which, in a troubled country like Ireland, had little of agreeable association to recommend it; but few even of those to whom twisted hemp was an object of secret terror, could look on the exquisitely beautiful face of Eily O'Connor, and remember that she was a rope-maker's daughter; few could detect beneath the timid, hesitating, downcast gentleness of manner, which shed an interest over all her motions, the traces of a harsh and vulgar education. It was true that she sometimes purloined a final letter from the King's adjectives, and prolonged the utterance of a vowel beyond the term of prosodaical orthodoxy, but the tongue that did so seemed to move on silver wires, and the lip on which the sound delayed
'long murmuring, loth to part'
imparted to its own accents an association of sweetness and grace that made the defect an additional allurement. Her education in the outskirts of a city had not impaired the natural tenderness of her character; for her father, who all rude as he was, knew how to value his daughter's softness of mind, endeavoured to foster it by every indulgence in his power. Her uncle, too, who was now a country parish priest, was well qualified to draw forth any natural talent with which she had been originally endowed. He had completed his theological education in the famous university of Salamanca, where he was distinguished as a youth of much quietness of temper and literary application, rather than as one of those furious gesticulators, those 'figures Hibernoises,' amongst whom Gil Blas, in his fit of logical lunacy, could meet his only equals. At his little lodging, while he was yet a curate at St John's, Eily O'Connor was accustomed to spend a considerable portion of her time, and in return for her kindness in presiding at his simple tea-table, Father Edward undertook to bestow a degree of attention on her education, which rendered her, in a little time, as superior in knowledge as she was in beauty to her female associates. She was remarked likewise at this time as a little devotee, very regular in her attendance at chapel, constant in all the observances of her religion, and grave in her attire and discourse. On the coldest and dreariest morning in winter, she might be seen gliding along by the unopened shopwindows to the nearest chapel, where she was accustomed to hear an early mass, and return in time to set everything in order for her father's breakfast. During the day she superintended his household affairs, while he was employed upon the adjacent rope-walk; and, in the evening, she usually slipped on her bonnet, and went across the street to Father Edward's, where she chatted away until tea was over. If he happened to be engaged in reading his daily office, she amused herself with a volume of moral entertainment, such as Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia, or Mr Addison's Spectator, until he was at leisure to hear her lessons. An attachment of the purest and tenderest nature was the consequence of those mutual attentions between the uncle and niece, and it might be said that if the former loved her not as well, he knew and valued her character still better than her father.
Father Edward however was appointed to a parish, and Eily lost her instructor. It was for her a severe loss, and most severe in reality when its effect upon her own spirits began to wear away. For some months after his departure, she continued to lead the same retired and unobtrusive life, and no eye, save that of a consummate observer, could detect the slightest alteration in her sentiments, the least increase of toleration for the world and worldly amusements. That change however had been silently effected in her heart. She was now a woman – a lovely, intelligent, full grown woman – and circumstances obliged her to take a part in the little social-circle which moved around her. Her spirits were naturally light, and, though long repressed, became readily assimilated to the buoyant tone of the society in which she happened to be placed. Her father, who, with a father's venial vanity, was fond of showing his beautiful child among his neighbours, took her with him one evening to Owen's garden, at a time when it was unusually gay and crowded, and from that evening might be dated the commencement of a decided and visible change in the lovely Eily's character.
As gradual as the approach of a spring morning, was the change from grave to gay in the costume of this flower of the suburbs. It dawned at first in a handsome bow-knot upon her head-dress, and ended in the full noontide splendor of flowered muslins, silks, and sashes. It was like the opening of the rose-bud, which gathers around it the winged wooers of the summer meadow. 'Lads, as brisk as bees,' came thronging in her train, with proffers of 'honourable love and rites of marriage;' and even among the youths of a higher rank, whom the wild levity of Irish blood and high spirits sent to mingle in the festivities of Owen's garden, a jealousy prevailed respecting the favour of the handsome rope-maker's daughter. It was no wonder that attentions paid by individuals so much superior to her ordinary admirers should render Eily indifferent to the sighs of those plebeian suitors. Dunat O'Leary, the hair-cutter, or Foxy Dunat, as he was named in allusion to his red head, was cut to the heart by her utter coldness. Myles Murphy, likewise, a good natured farmer from Killarney, who travelled through the country selling Kerry ponies, and claiming relationship with every one he met, claimed kindred in vain with Eily, for his claim was not allowed. Lowry Looby too, the servant of Mr Daly, a wealthy middleman who lived in the neighbourhood, was suspected by many to entertain delusive hopes of Eily O'Connor's favour – but this report was improbable enough, for Lowry could not but know that he was a very ugly man; and if he were as beautiful as Narcissus, Mihil O'Connor would still have shut the door in his face for being as poor as Timon. So that though there was no lack of admirers, the lovely Eily, like many celebrated beauties in a higher rank, ran, after all, a fair chance of becoming what Lady Mary Montague has elegantly termed 'a lay nun.' Even so a book-worm, who will pore over a single volume from morning till night if turned loose into a library, wanders from shelf to shelf, bewildered amid a host of temptations, and unable to make any election until he is surprised by twilight, and chagrined to find that with so much happiness within his grasp, he has spent, nevertheless, an unprofitable day.
But accident saved Eily from a destiny so deeply dreaded and so often lamented as that above alluded to – a condition which people generally agree to look upon as one of utter desolation, and which, notwithstanding, is frequently a state of greater happiness than its opposite. On the eve of the seventeenth of March, a day distinguished in the rope-maker's household not only as the festival of the national Saint, but as the birth-day of the young mistress of the establishment; on this evening, Eily and her father were enjoying their customary relaxation at Owen's garden. The jolly proprietor was seated as usual, with his rope-twisting friend, under the yellow osier, while Myles Murphy, who had brought a number of his wild ponies to be disposed of at the neighbouring fairs, had taken his place at the end of the table, and was endeavouring to insinuate a distant relationship between the Owens of Kilteery, connections of the person whom he addressed, and the Murphys of Knockfodhra, connections of his own. A party of young men were playing fives at a ball alley on the other side of the green; and another, more numerous and graced with many female figures, were capering away to the tune of the fox-hunter's jig on the short grass. Some poor old women, with baskets on their arms, were endeavouring to sell off some Patrick's crosses for children, at the low rate of one halfpenny a piece, gilding, paint, and all. Others, fatigued with exertion, were walking under the still leafless trees, some with their hats, some with their coats off, jesting, laughing, and chatting familiarly with their female acquaintances.
Mihil O'Connor, happening to see Lowry Looby among the promenaders, glancing now and then at the dance, and whistling Patrick's day, requested him to call his daughter out of the group, and tell her that he was waiting for her to go home. Lowry went, and returned to say that Eily was dancing with a strange young gentleman in a boating dress, and that he would not let her go until she had finished the slip jig.
It continued a sufficient time to tire the old man's patience. When Eily did at last make her appearance, he observed there was a flush of mingled weariness and pleasure on her cheek, which showed that the delay was not quite in opposition to her own inclinations. This circumstance might have tempted him to receive her with a little displeasure, but that honest Owen at that moment laid hold on both father and daughter, insisting that they should come in and take supper with his wife and himself.
Excerpted from "The Collegians"
Copyright © 2008 Robert Giddings.
Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. How Garryowen Rose, and How it Fell,
2. How Eily O'Connor Puzzled All the Inhabitants of Garryowen,
3. How Mr Daly the Middleman Sat Down to Breakfast,
4. How Mr Daly the Middleman Rose Up from Breakfast,
5. How Kyrle Daly Rode Out to Woo, and How Lowry Looby Told Him Some Stories on the Way,
6. How Kyrle Daly was More Puzzled by a Piece of Paper, than the Abolishers of the Small-note Currency Themselves,
7. How Kyrle Daly Discovers That All the Sorrow Under the Sun Does Not Rest Upon His Shoulders Alone,
8. How the Reader, Contrary to the Declared Intention of the Historian, Obtains a Description of Castle Chute,
9. How Myles Murphy is Heard on Behalf of His Ponies,
10. How Kyrle Daly Sped in His Wooing,
11. How Kyrle Daly Has the Good Luck to See a Staggeen-Race,
12. How Fortune Brings Two Old Friends Together,
13. How the Two Friends Hold a Longer Conversation Together than the Reader May Probably Approve,
14. How Lowry Becomes Philosophical,
15. How Hardress Spent His Time While Kyrle Daly was Asleep,
16. How the Friends Parted,
17. How Hardress Learned a Little Secret from a Dying Huntsman,
18. How the Gentlemen Spent the Evening, Which Proved Rather Warmer than Hardress Expected,
19. How Hardress Met an Old Friend and Made a New One,
20. How Hardress Had a Strange Dream of Eily,
21. How Hardress Met a Strange Trial,
22. How the Temptation of Hardress Proceeded,
23. How an Unexpected Visitor Arrived in Eily's Cottage,
24. How Eily Undertakes a Journey in the Absence of Her Husband,
25. How Eily Fared in her Expedition,
26. How Hardress Consoled Himself During His Separation from Eily,
27. How Hardress Answered the Letter of Eily,
28. How the Little Lord Put His Master's Wishes into Action,
29. How Hardress Lost an Old Acquaintance,
30. How Hardress Got His Hair Dressed in Listowel, and Heard a Little News,
31. How Kyrle Daly Hears of the Handsome Conduct of his Friend Hardress,
32. How Kyrle Daly's Warlike Ardour was Checked by an Untoward Incident,
33. How Hardress Met a Friend of Eily's at the Wake,
34. How the Wake Concluded,
35. How Hardress at Length Received Some News of Eily,
36. How Hardress Made a Confidant,
37. How Hardress Found that Conscience is the Sworn Foe of Valour,
38. How the Situation of Hardress Became More Critical,
39. How the Danger to the Secret of Hardress was Averted by the Ingenuity of Irish Witnesses,
40. How Hardress Took a Decisive Step for His Own Security,
41. How the Ill-Temper of Hardress Again Brought Back His Perils,
42. How Mr Warner Was Fortunate Enough to Find a Man That Could and Would Speak English,
43. How the Bride was Startled by an Unexpected Guest,
44. How More Guests Appeared at the Wedding Than Had Been Invited,
45. How the Story Ended,