Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter V. The Wearing of the Green.
'Sir Knight, I feel not the least alarm, No son of Erin will offer me harm- For tho' they love woman and golden store, Sir Knight, they love honour and virtue more!' Thomas Moore.
"This is an anniversary," said Salemina, coming into the sitting- room at breakfast-time with a book under her arm. "Having given up all hope of any one's waking in this hotel, which, before nine in the morning, is precisely like the Sleeping Beauty's castle, I dressed and determined to look up Brian Boru."
"From all that I can recall of him he was not a person to meet before breakfast," yawned Francesca; "still I shall be glad of a little fresh light, for my mind is in a most chaotic state, induced by the intellectual preparation that you have made me undergo during the past month. I dreamed last night that I was conducting a mothers' meeting in Ronald's new parish, and the subject for discussion was the Small Livings Scheme, the object of which is to augment the stipends of the ministers of the Church of Scotland to a minimum of 200 pounds per annum. I tried to keep the members to the point, but was distracted by the sudden appearance, in all corners of the church, of people who hadn't been 'asked to the party.' There was Brian Boru, Tony Lumpkin, Finn McCool, Felicia Hemans, Ossian, Mrs. Delany, Sitric of the Silken Beard, St. Columba, Mickey Free, Strongbow, Maria Edgeworth, and the Venerable Bede. Imagine leading a mothers' meeting with those people in the pews,--it was impossible! St. Columbkille and the Venerable Bede seemed to know about parochial charges and livings and stipends and glebes, and Maria Edgeworth was rather helpful; but Brian and Sitric glared at each other and brandished their hymn-books threateningly, while Ossian refused to sit in the same pew with Mickey Free, who behaved in an odious manner, and interrupted each of the speakers in turn. Incidentally a group of persons huddled together in a far corner rose out of the dim light, and flapping huge wings, flew over my head and out of the window above the altar. This I took to be the Flight of the Earls, and the terror of it awoke me. Whatever my parish duties may be in the future, at least they cannot be any more dreadful and disorderly than the dream."
"I don't know which is more to blame, the seed that I sowed, or the soil on which it fell," said Salemina, laughing heartily at Francesca's whimsical nightmares; "but as I said, this is an anniversary. The famous battle of Clontarf was fought here in Dublin on this very day eight hundred years ago, and Brian Boru routed the Danes in what was the last struggle between Christianity and heathenism. The greatest slaughter took place on the streets along which we drove yesterday from Ballybough Bridge to the Four Courts. Brian Boru was king of Munster, you remember" (Salemina always says this for courtesy's sake), "or at least you have read of that time in Ireland's history when a fair lady dressed in fine silk and gold and jewels could walk unmolested the length of the land, because of the love the people bore King Brian and the respect they cherished for his wise laws. Well, Mailmora, the king of Leinster, had quarrelled with him, and joined forces with the Danish leaders against him. Broder and Amlaff, two Vikings from the Isle of Man, brought with them a 'fleet of two thousand Denmarkians and a thousand men covered with mail from head to foot,' to meet the Irish, who always fought in tunics. Joyce says that Broder wore a coat of mail that no steel would bite, that he was both tall and strong, and that his black locks were so long that he tucked them under his belt,--there's a portrait for your gallery, Penelope. Brian's army was encamped on the Green of Aha-Clee, which is now Phoenix Park, and when he set fire to the Danish districts, the fierce Norsemen within the city could see a blazing, smoking pathway that reached from Dublin to Howth. The quarrel must have been all the more virulent in that Mailmora was Brian's brother-in-law, and Brian's daughter was the wife of Sitric of the Silken Beard, Danish king of Dublin."
"I refuse to remember their relationships or alliances," said Francesca. "They were always intermarrying with their foes in order to gain strength, but it generally seems to have made things worse rather than better; still I don't mind hearing what became of Brian after his victory; let us quite finish with him before the eggs come up. I suppose it will be eggs?"
"Broder the Viking rushed upon him in his tent where he was praying, cleft his head from his body, and he is buried in Armagh Cathedral," said Salemina, closing the book. "Penelope, do ring again for breakfast, and just to keep us from realising our hunger read 'Remember the Glories of Brian the Brave.'"
We had brought letters of introduction to a dean, a bishop, and a Rt. Hon. Lord Justice, so there were a few delightful invitations when the morning post came up; not so many as there might have been, perhaps, had not the Irish capital been in a state of complete dementia over the presence of the greatest Queen in the world.* Privately, I think that those nations in the habit of having kings and queens at all should have four, like those in a pack of cards; then they could manage to give all their colonies and dependencies a frequent sight of royalty, and prevent much excitement and heart- burning.
*Penelope's experiences in Scotland, given in a former volume, ended, the meticulous proof-reader will remember, with her marriage in the year of the Queen's Jubilee. It is apparent in the opening chapters of this story that Penelope came to Ireland the following spring, which, though the matter is hardly important, was not that of the Queen's memorable visit.
The Irish experiences are probably the fruit of several expeditions, and Penelope has chosen to include this vivid impression of Her Majesty's welcome to Ireland, even though it might convict her of an anachronism. Perhaps as this is not an historical novel, but a 'chronicle of small beer,' the trifling inaccuracy may be pardoned.- -K. D. W.
It was worth something to be one of the lunatic populace when the little lady in black, with her parasol bordered in silver shamrocks, drove along the gaily decorated streets, for the Irish, it seems to me, desire nothing better than to be loyal, if any persons to whom they can be loyal are presented to them.
"Irish disaffection is, after all, but skin-deep," said our friend the dean; "it is a cutaneous malady, produced by external irritants. Below the surface there is a deep spring of personal loyalty, which needs only a touch like that of the prophet's wand to enable it to gush forth in healing floods. Her Majesty might drive through these crowded streets in her donkey chaise unguarded, as secure as the lady in that poem of Moore's which portrayed the safety of women in Brian Boru's time. The old song has taken on a new meaning. It begins, you know,-
'Lady, dost thou not fear to stray So lone and lonely through this dark way?'
and the Queen might answer as did the heroine,
'Sir Knight, I feel not the least alarm, No son of Erin will offer me harm.'"
It was small use for the parliamentary misrepresentatives to advise treating Victoria of the Good Deeds with the courtesy due to a foreign sovereign visiting the country. Under the miles of flags she drove, red, white, and blue, tossing themselves in the sweet spring air, and up from the warm hearts of the surging masses of people, men and women alike, Crimean soldiers and old crones in rags, gentry and peasants, went a greeting I never before heard given to any sovereign, for it was a sigh of infinite content that trembled on the lips and then broke into a deep sob, as a knot of Trinity College students in a spontaneous burst of song flung out the last verse of 'The New Wearing of the Green.'**
'And so upon St. Patrick's Day, Victoria, she has said Each Irish regiment shall wear the Green beside the Red; And she's coming to ould Ireland, who away so long has been, And dear knows but into Dublin she'll ride Wearing of the Green.'
**Alfred Perceval Graves.
The first cheers were faint and broken, and the emotion that quivered on every face and the tears that gleamed in a thousand eyes made it the most touching spectacle in the world. 'Foreign Sovereign, indeed!' She was the Queen of Ireland, and the nation of courtiers and hero worshippers was at her feet. There was the history of five hundred years in that greeting, and to me it spoke volumes.
Plenty of people there were in the crowd, too, who were heartily 'agin the Government'; but Daniel O'Connell is not the only Irishman who could combine a detestation of the Imperial Parliament with a passionate loyalty to the sovereign.
There was a woman near us who 'remimbered the last time Her Noble Highness come, thirty-nine years back,--glory be to God, thim was the times!'--and who kept ejaculating, "She's the best woman in the wurrld, bar none, and the most varchous faymale!" As her husband made no reply, she was obliged in her excitement to thump him with her umbrella and repeat, "The most varchous faymale, do you hear?" At which he retorted, "Have conduct, woman; sure I've nothin' agin it."
"Look at the size of her now," she went on, "sittin' in that grand carriage, no bigger than me own Kitty, and always in the black, the darlin'. Look at her, a widdy woman, raring that large and heavy family of children; and how well she's married off her daughters (more luck to her!), though to be sure they must have been well fortuned! They do be sayin' she's come over because she's plazed with seein' estated gintlemen lave iverything and go out and be shot by thim bloody Boers, bad scran to thim! Sure if I had the sons, sorra a wan but I'd lave go! Who's the iligant sojers in the silver stays, Thady? Is it the Life Guards you're callin' thim?"
There were two soldiers' wives standing on the pavement near us, and one of them showed a half-sovereign to the other, saying, "'Tis the last day's airnin' iver I seen by him, Mrs. Muldoon, ma'am! Ah, there's thim says for this war, an' there's thim says agin this war, but Heaven lave Himself where he is, I says, for of all the ragin' Turcomaniacs iver a misfortunate woman was curst with, Pat Brady, my full private, he bates 'em all!"
Here the band played 'Come back to Erin,' and the scene was indescribable. Nothing could have induced me to witness it had I realised what it was to be, for I wept at Holyrood when I heard the plaintive strains of 'Bonnie Charlie's noo Awa' floating up to the Gallery of Kings from the palace courtyard, and I did not wish Francesca to see me shedding national, political, and historical tears so soon again. Francesca herself is so ardent a republican that she weeps only for presidents and cabinet officers. For my part, although I am thoroughly loyal, I cannot become sufficiently attached to a president in four years to shed tears when I see him driving at the head of a procession.