Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter XXI. Lachrymae Hibernicae.
'What ails you, Sister Erin, that your face Is, like your mountains, still bedewed with tears? . . . . . . . Forgive! forget! lest harsher lips should say, Like your turf fire, your rancour smoulders long, And let Oblivion strew Time's ashes o'er your wrong.' Alfred Austin.
At tea-time, and again after our simple dinner--for Bridget Thunder's repertory is not large, and Benella's is quite unsuited to the Knockcool markets--we wend our way to a certain house that stands by itself on the road to Lisdara. It is only a whitewashed cabin with green window trimmings, but it is a larger and more comfortable one than we commonly see, and it is the perfection of neatness within and without. The stone wall that encloses it is whitewashed too, and the iron picket railing at the top is painted bright green; the stones on the posts are green also, and there is the prettiest possible garden, with nicely cut borders of box. In fine, if ever there was a cheery place to look at, Sarsfield Cottage is that one; and if ever there was a cheerless gentleman, it is Mr. Jordan, who dwells there. Mrs. Wogan Odevaine commended him to us as the man of all others with whom to discuss Irish questions, if we wanted, for once in a way, to hear a thoroughly disaffected, outraged, wrong-headed, and rancorous view of things.
"He is an encyclopaedia, and he is perfectly delightful on any topic in the universe but the wrongs of Ireland," said she; "not entirely sane and yet a good father, and a good neighbour, and a good talker. Faith, he can abuse the English government with any man alive! He has a smaller grudge against you Americans, perhaps, than against most of the other nations, so possibly he may elect to discuss something more cheerful than our national grievances; if he does, and you want a livelier topic, just mention--let me see--you might speak of Wentworth, who destroyed Ireland's woollen industry, though it is true he laid the foundation of the linen trade, so he wouldn't do, though Mr. Jordan is likely to remember the former point and forget the latter. Well, just breathe the words 'Catholic Disqualification' or 'Ulster Confiscation,' and you will have as pretty a burst of oratory as you'd care to hear. You remember that exasperated Englishman who asked in the House why Irishmen were always laying bare their grievances. And Major O'Gorman bawled across the floor, "Because they want them redressed!"
Salemina and I went to call on Mr. Jordan the very next day after our arrival at Knockcool. Over the sitting-room or library door at Sarsfield Cottage is a coat of arms with the motto of the Jordans, 'Percussus surgam'; and as our friend is descended from Richard Jordan of Knock, who died on the scaffold at Claremorris in the memorable year 1798, I find that he is related to me, for one of the De Exeter Jordans married Penelope O'Connor, daughter of the king of Connaught. He took her to wife, too, when the espousal of anything Irish, names, language, apparel, customs, or daughters, was high treason, and meant instant confiscation of estates. I never thought of mentioning the relationship, for obviously a family cannot hold grievances for hundreds of years and bequeath a sense of humour at the same time.
The name Jordan is derived, it appears, from a noble ancestor who was banner-bearer in the Crusades and who distinguished himself in many battles, but particularly in one fought against the infidels on the banks of the River Jordan in the Holy Land. In this conflict he was felled to the ground three times during the day, but owing to his gigantic strength, his great valour, and the number of the Saracens prostrated by his sword, he succeeded in escaping death and keeping the banner of the Cross hoisted; hence by way of eminence he was called Jordan; and the motto of this illustrious family ever since has been, 'Though I fall I rise.'
Mr. Jordan's wife has been long dead, but he has four sons, only one of them, Napper Tandy, living at home. Theobald Wolfe Tone is practising law in Dublin; Hamilton Rowan is a physician in Cork; and Daniel O'Connell, commonly called 'Lib' (a delicate reference to the Liberator), is still a lad at Trinity. It is a great pity that Mr. Jordan could not have had a larger family, that he might have kept fresh in the national heart the names of a few more patriots; for his library walls, 'where Memory sits by the altar she has raised to Woe,' are hung with engravings and prints of celebrated insurgents, rebels, agitators, demagogues, denunciators, conspirators,--pictures of anybody, in a word, who ever struck a blow, right or wrong, well or ill judged, for the green isle. That gallant Jacobite, Patrick Sarsfield, Burke, Grattan, Flood, and Robert Emmet stand shoulder to shoulder with three Fenian gentlemen, names Allan, Larkin, and O'Brien, known in ultra-Nationalist circles as the 'Manchester martyrs.' For some years after this trio was hanged in Salford jail, it appears that the infant mind was sadly mixed in its attempt to separate knowledge in the concrete from the more or less abstract information contained in the Catechism; and many a bishop was shocked, when asking in the confirmation service, "Who are the martyrs?" to be told, "Allan, Larkin, and O'Brien, me lord!"
Francesca says she longs to smuggle into Mr. Jordan's library a picture of Tom Steele, one of Daniel O'Connell's henchmen, to whom he gave the title of Head Pacificator of Ireland. Many amusing stories are told of this official, of his gaudy uniform, his strut and swagger, and his pompous language. At a political meeting on one occasion, he attacked, it seems, one Peter Purcell, a Dublin tradesman who had fallen out with the Liberator on some minor question. "Say no more on the subject, Tom," cried O'Connell, who was in the chair, "I forgive Peter from the bottom of my heart."
"You may forgive him, liberator and saviour of my country," rejoined Steele, in a characteristic burst of his amazingly fervent rhetoric. "Yes, you, in the discharge of your ethereal functions as the moral regenerator of Ireland, may forgive him; but, revered leader, I also have functions of my own to perform; and I tell you that, as Head Pacificator of Ireland, I can never forgive the diabolical villain that dared to dispute your august will."
The doughty Steele, who appears to have been but poorly fitted by nature for his office, was considered at the time to be half a madman, but as Sir James O'Connell, Daniel's candid brother, said, "And who the divil else would take such a job?" At any rate, when we gaze at Mr. Jordan's gallery, imagining the scene that would ensue were the breath of life breathed into the patriots' quivering nostrils, we feel sure that the Head Pacificator would be kept busy.
Dear old white-haired Mr. Jordan, known in select circles as 'Grievance Jordan,' sitting in his library surrounded by his denunciators, conspirators, and martyrs, with incendiary documents piled mountains high on his desk--what a pathetic anachronism he is after all!
The shillelagh is hung on the wall now, for the most part, and faction fighting is at an end; but in the very last moments of it there were still 'ructions' between the Fitzgeralds and the Moriartys, and the age-old reason of the quarrel was, according to the Fitzgeralds, the betrayal of the 'Cause of Ireland.' The particular instance occurred in the sixteenth century, but no Fitzgerald could ever afterward meet any Moriarty at a fair without crying, "Who dare tread on the tail of me coat?" and inviting him to join in the dishcussion with shticks. This practically is Mr. Jordan's position; and if an Irishman desires to live entirely in the past, he can be as unhappy as any man alive. He is writing a book, which Mrs. Wogan Odevaine insists is to be called The Groans of Ireland; but after a glance at a page of memoranda pencilled in a collection of Swift's Irish Tracts that he lent to me (the volume containing that ghastly piece of irony, The Modest Proposal for Preventing the Poor of Ireland from being a Burden to their Parents and Country), I have concluded that he is editing a Catalogue of Irish Wrongs, Alphabetically Arranged. This idea pleased Mrs. Wogan Odevaine extremely; and when she drove over to tea, bringing several cheerful young people to call upon us, she proposed, in the most light-hearted way in the world, to play what she termed the Grievance Game, an intellectual diversion which she had invented on the instant. She proposed it, apparently, with a view of showing us how small a knowledge of Ireland's ancient wrongs is the property of the modern Irish girl, and how slight a hold on her memory and imagination have the unspeakably bitter days of the long ago.
We were each given pencil and paper, and two or three letters of the alphabet, and bidden to arrange the wrongs of Ireland neatly under them, as we supposed Mr. Jordan to be doing for the instruction and the depression of posterity. The result proved that Mrs. Odevaine was a true prophet, for the youngest members of the coterie came off badly enough, and read their brief list of grievances with much chagrin at their lack of knowledge; the only piece of information they possessed in common being the inherited idea that England never had understood Ireland, never would, never could, never should, never might understand her.
Rosetta Odevaine succeeded in remembering, for A, F, and H, Absenteeism, Flight of the Earls, Famine, and Hunger; her elder sister, Eileen, fresh from college, was rather triumphant with O and P, giving us Oppression of the Irish Tenantry, Penal Laws, Protestant Supremacy, Poynings' Law, Potato Rot, and Plantations. Their friend, Rhona Burke, had V, W, X, Y, Z, and succeeded only in finding Wentworth and Woollen Trade Destroyed, until Miss Odevaine helped her with Wood's Halfpence, about which everybody else had to be enlightened; and there was plenty of laughter when Francesca suggested for V, Vipers Expelled by St. Patrick. Salemina carried off the first prize; but we insisted C and D were the easiest letters; at any rate, her list showed great erudition, and would certainly have pleased Mr. Jordan. C, Church Cess, Catholic Disqualification, Crimes Act of 1887, Confiscations, Cromwell, Carrying Away of Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny) from Tara. D, Destruction of Trees on Confiscated Lands, Discoverers (of flaws in Irish titles), Debasing of the Coinage by James I.
Mrs. Odevaine came next with R and S. R, Recall of Lord Fitzwilliams by Pitt, Rundale Land Tenure, Rack-Rents, Ribbonism. S, Schism Act, Supremacy Act, Sixth Act of George I.
I followed with T and U, having unearthed Tithes and the Test Act for the first, and Undertakers, the Acts of Union and Uniformity, for the second; while Francesca, who had been given I, J, K, L, and M, disgraced herself by failing on all the letters but the last, under which she finally catalogued one particularly obnoxious wrong in Middlemen.
This ignorance of the past may have its bright side, after all, though to speak truthfully, it did show a too scanty knowledge of national history. But if one must forget, it is as well to begin with the wrongs of far-off years, those 'done to your ancient name or wreaked upon your race.'