It may be doubted that I remember things that happened to me when I was at my mother’s breast, or when I was three years old; but I have no doubt on that matter. Prominent in my forehead is a scar. I got that scar this way: The girl whose chief duty was to mind me had me on her back one day. I was slipping off; she bounced herself, to raise me up on her shoulders, and she threw me clear over her head, on the street. My forehead came on a stone, and from the cut I got remains the scar. I could to-day point out the spot where I got that toss—between Billy O’Hea’s house and Beamish’s gate. I got it before I went to my grandfather’s. I did not come back to town till I was seven years old—the time I began my schooling.
Those four years I spent in a farmhouse photographed my memory with all the pictures of Irish life, and fashioned my tongue to carry the Irish language without any strain. Some say I have a “brogue.” I have. I am proud I have, and I will never endeavor to have any other kind of tongue. I gave a lecture in Detroit one night; coming out the main doorway, there was a crowd, and behind me coming down the steps I heard one lady say to another: “What a terrible brogue he has!”
Every allowance is made by English-speaking society for the man of every other nationality on earth speaking broken English, except for the Irishman. The Dutchman, the German, the Frenchman, the Russian, the Italian, can speak broken English, and it won’t be said he speaks it with a brogue, and is, consequently, illiterate; but the Irishman who speaks it—a language as foreign to his nationality as it is to the nationality of any of the others—is met immediately with ridicule and contempt. But—’tis part of the price or penalty of slavery, and until Irishmen have manhood to remove that slavery, the name of their language or their land will not have a respected place among the nations. We may bravely fight all the battles of all the peoples of the earth, but while Ireland’s battle for Ireland’s freedom remains unsuccessfully fought—while England continues to rule Ireland—all the historical bravery of our race in every land, and in every age will not save us from the slur of the unfriendly chronicler who writes that we fight well as “mercenaries,” that we fight bravely the battles of every land on earth, except the battle of our own land.
The Irish language was the language of the house at my grandfather’s place. It was the language of the table, the language of the milking barn, the language of the sowing and the reaping, the language of the mowing, the “mihal” and the harvest-home. The English language may be spoken when the landlord or English-speaking people came the way, but the language natural to every one in the house was Irish, and in the Irish language I commenced to grow. The household of Renascreena consisted of my grandfather Cornelius O’Driscoll, my grandmother Anna-ni-Laoghaire, my aunts, Nance, Johanna, Bridget, Anna; my uncles, Denis, Conn and Michael. Michael was the youngest of the family. He keeps the old homestead now (1896). Last year, when I was in Ireland, he drove into Clonakilty to meet me, looking tall and straight. I asked him his age. He said seventy-five. All the others—aunts and uncles—are dead, except Aunt Bridget, who lives at No. 11 Callowhill, Philadelphia, the wife of Patrick Murray. In the family, had been four more daughters. Mary, married to John O’Brien; Margaret, married to Jer. Sheehan, of Shanava; Kate, married to Martin O’Donovan-Ciuin, of Sawroo, whose son is Martin O’Donovan of San Francisco; and Nellie, the oldest of the children, married, at the age of fifteen, to Denis O’Donovan Rossa, of Carrig-a-grianaan, whose son I am.
Yes, married at the age of fifteen my mother was, and born thirteen years after she was married, was I. There isn’t much of a courtship story, as far as I could hear. This is how I heard it: My father was riding his horse home from the fair of Ross one evening. The girls at the roadside well, there in the valley of the Renascreena road, stopped his horse and challenged him for a “faireen.” He gave them a guinea; my mother was the recipient of the gold piece. After that, came a proposal of marriage. My mother’s people visited at the house of my father’s people at Carrig-a-grianaan, one mile to the north, to know if the place was a suitable one. All seemed right, and the marriage came off. But a story is told about there being some angry words between my two grandfathers after the marriage. My father’s father kept a bleachery on his farm, and the day my mother’s father visited the place, the storehouse of that bleachery was well packed with the “pieces” of bleached linen, which were looked upon as belonging to the stock of the house. But, when, after the marriage, the people who sent the pieces in to be bleached took them away, Grandfather O’Driscoll charged that everything was not represented fairly to him; he talked angrily, and said he’d drown himself: “Baithfid me fein, baithfid me fein”—“I’ll drown myself, I’ll drown myself.”
“Oh,” said the other grandfather, “bidheach ciall agat; ba ghaire do’n fhairge Donal O’Donobhue ’na thusa, as nior bhathaig se e fein”—“Oh, have sense; Daniel O’Donoghue was nearer to the sea than you, and he didn’t drown himself.”
Daniel O’Donoghue was after giving his daughter in marriage to my uncle, my father’s brother Conn, a short time before that.
There were always in my grandfather’s house at Renascreena a couple of servant girls and a couple of servant boys; twenty cows had to be milked, and horses and goats, pigs, poultry and sheep had to be attended to. And what a bright picture remains in my memory in connection with the milking time in the barn field back of the house! The cows, munching their bundles of clover and looking as grave as Solomons, the milking maids softly singing while stealing the milk from them into their pails; the sweet smell of the new milk and the new clover; the larks singing in the heavens overhead, as if keeping time with the joyous voices on earth.
That was the time when everything in the world around me had a golden hue. I was the pet of the house. And, how I’d bustle around on a Sunday morning, giving orders to the boys to get the black horse with the white face ready for mass! and when the horse was ready, how I’d run through the bohreen into the main road to look at my granddaddie riding out, the big buckle in the collar of his great coat shining like gold, with my Nannie in her side-saddle behind him!
A small kitchen-garden orchard separated the house and outhouses from the other family homesteads on that hillside slope. They were the homesteads of my grandfather’s two brothers, Patrick and Denis. As each of the three homesteads was well populated, the population of the three of them made a little village, and when the neighboring boys came around at night to see the girls, there was sport enough for a village. There were fairies in Ireland then, and I grew up there, thinking that fairy life was something that was inseparable from Irish life. Fairy stories would be told that were to me and to those around me as much realities of Irish life as are the stories that I now read in books called “Realities of Irish Life.” I grew up a boy, believing that there were “good people” in this world, and I grew up in manhood, or grow down, believing there are bad people in it, too. When I was in Ireland lately the population wasn’t half what it was when I was a boy. I asked if the fairies had been exterminated, too, for there seemed to be none of the life around that abounded in my time. Yes, English tyranny had killed out the “good people,” as well as the living people.
The O’Driscolls did not own the townland of Renascreena themselves, though the three families of them occupied nearly the whole of it. The O’Driscolls did own it at one time, and other lands around it, but the English came over to Ireland in strong numbers; they coveted the lands of the Irish; they overran the country with fire and sword; they beat the Irish; they killed many of them; they banished many of them; and they allowed more of them to remain in the land, on the condition that they would pay rent to the English, and acknowledge them as their landlords. That is how the old Irish, on their own lands, all over Ireland to-day are called tenants, and how the English in Ireland are called landlords. The landlord of Renascreena in my day was Thomas Hungerford, of Cahirmore. The landlord to-day is his son Harry Hungerford, a quiet kind of a man, I understand. The father was a quiet kind of a man, too. He was, in a small way, a tenant to my father. My father had the marsh field on the seashore. Tom Hungerford rented from him a corner of it, out of which to make a quay on which the boatmen would land sand for his tenants. My father would give me a receipt for a pound every gale-day to go up with it to Cahirmore. Giving me the pound one day the big man said:
“If I was so strict with the tenants as to send for the rent to them the day it fell due, what a cry would be raised against me.” I told him the rent in this case wasn’t going to beggar him, and as he was prospering on the estate, it wasn’t much matter to him paying it. He smiled. He is gone; God be good to him; he was not, that I know of, one of those evicting landlords that took pleasure in the extermination of the people.
The Irish people learn through oral tradition what many people learn from book history. Before I ever read a book, before I ever went to school, I got into my mind facts of history which appeared incredible to me. I got into my mind from the fireside stories of my youth that the English soldiers in Clonakilty, convenient to where I was born, used to kill the women, and take the young children, born and unborn, on the points of their bayonets, and dash them against the walls, and that the soldiers at Bandon Bridge used to tie men in couples with their hands behind their backs, and fling them into the river.
Those very two atrocious acts are, I find, in Daniel O’Connell’s “Memoirs of Ireland,” recorded this way:
“1641. At Bandon Bridge they tied eighty-eight Irishmen of the said town back to back, and threw them off the bridge into the river, where they were all drowned.—Coll. p. 5.”
“County Cork, 1642. At Cloghnakilty about 238 men, women and children were murdered, of which number seventeen children were taken by the legs by soldiers, who knocked out their brains against the walls. This was done by Phorbis’s men and the garrison of Bandon Bridge.”
O’Connell’s Memoirs give accounts of similar atrocities in every county of Ireland, and his accounts are taken from Englishmen writers of Irish history. In the fireside history of my childhood home, I learned that the English soldiers in Clonakilty took some of the infants on the points of their bayonets and dashed them against the walls.
At a flax-mihal, or some gathering of the kind at my grandfather’s, one night that some of the neighboring girls were in, they and my aunts were showing presents to each other—earrings, brooches, rings and little things that way. One of them showed a brooch which looked like gold, but which probably was brass, and wanted to make much of it. “Nach e an volumus e!” said one of my aunts. “What a molamus it is.” That was making little of it. Perhaps the boy who made a present of it was “pulling a string” with the two girls. The word “volumus” is Latin, but the Irish language softens it into “molamus,” and uses it as a name for anything that is made much of, but is really worth very little. You will see in Lingard’s history of Ireland how the two words came into the Irish language. After the time of the Reformation, when England formulated the policy and practice of expelling from Ireland all the Irish who would not turn Sassenach, and all particularly who had been plundered of their lands and possessions, she passed laws decreeing that it was allowable for landlords and magistrates to give “permits” to people to leave the country, and never come back. But, that the person leaving, should get a pass or permit to travel to the nearest seaport town to take shipping. And if a ship was not leaving port the day of his arrival at the port, he, to give assurance of his desire to leave the country, should wade into the sea up to his knees every day till a ship was ready. There were printed forms of such permits; and the first word in those forms, printed in very large letters, was the Latin word “Volumus,” which meant: We wish, or we desire, or it is our pleasure, that the bearer be allowed to leave Ireland forever. A royal permit to exile yourself, to banish yourself from your native land forever! Nach e an volumus e! What a molamus it is!
A political lesson was graven on my mind by the Irish magpies that had their nests in the big skehory tree on the ditch opposite the kitchen door. I had permission to go through the tree to pick the skehories, but I was strictly ordered not to go near the magpies’ nest, or to touch a twig or thorn belonging to it.
If the magpies’ nest was robbed; if their young ones were taken away from them, they would kill every chicken and gosling that was to be found around the farmyard. That is the way my grandfather’s magpies would have their vengeance for having their homes and their families destroyed; and it made every one in my grandfather’s house “keep the peace” toward them. I have often thought of my grandfather’s magpies in connection with the destruction of the houses and families of the Irish people by the English landlords of Ireland. Those magpies seemed to have more manly Irish spirit than the Irish people themselves. But there is no use of talking this way of his childhood’s recollections. I’ll stop. If childhood has pleasure in plenty, I had it in this house of my grandfather, from the age of three to the age of seven.
I am publishing a newspaper called The United Irishman. In it, I printed the two preceding chapters.
Ex-Congressman John Quinn, whom I have spoken of in them, sends me the following letter:
Dear Rossa—I read with delight in the last issue of your truly patriotic journal what to me is the most interesting of all stories; namely, “Rossa’s Recollections.”
The traveling along with you, as it were, carries me back to the early morning of my life in that dear land beyond the sea, and I feel that I hear over again the tales as told by a fond mother to her listening, her wondering children, of saintly Ross Carbery, and the wild, the grand country from there to Bantry Bay.
Yes, I have heard her tell of the miracles which were performed at the tomb of Father John Power, and, I feel that if ever the afflicted were healed of their infirmities on any part of this earth, they were, at the grave of that saintly priest.
I was not born in that county, for “under the blue sky of Tipperary” my eyes first saw the light of day, but, as you say, my mother was born in Ross Carbery; and where is the son who does not love the spot where his mother was born? I do, with a fondness akin to veneration.
Oh, what memories you will call up in those recollections of yours! How the hearts of the sons and daughters of Ireland will throb as they feel themselves carried back in spirit to the abbeys, the raths and, alas! the ruins, around which in infancy their young feet wandered. For to no people on earth are the loved scenes of childhood half so dear as they are to the sons and daughters of our Green Isle.
It is very interesting to me to have brought to my mind once more the dear old names from whence I’ve sprung. And, you ask, “Would John Quinn care to know that the Kanes, the Shanahans, the Coxes, of Rochester; the O’Regans, of South Brooklyn, and the children of the exiles, are cousins of his and mine?” Why, Rossa; I certainly would be more than delighted to know of them, and to meet any of them; the more so, as leaving Ireland with my parents immediately after the “Rebellion” of ’48, I never had much of an opportunity of meeting any of them, or knowing of their whereabouts. No matter where they are, or what their lot might be, they would be to me as dear as kindred could be.
When first I learned that the same blood, through the Shanahan line, flowed through your veins and mine, I seemed to draw you the more closely to me.
I had long admired you for your devotion to motherland. I have in other days wept as I read of your sufferings in British dungeons; when, with hands tied behind your back, you were compelled, for days at a time, to lap up the miserable food given you. I did not know that we were united by ties of kinship then, but I felt bound to you by the strongest ties of country and of home, for I recognized in you a son of the Gael who, no matter what your sufferings might be, had vowed to keep the old flag flying; to keep the torch blazing brightly to the world, proclaiming that all the power of perfidious England could not quench the fires of faith and Fatherland in Ireland.
Yes, you proclaimed, not only from the hilltops and the valleys of our native land, but also from the cells of an English jail, that Ireland was not dead, but would yet live to place her heel on the neck of England.
For this, every Irishman should admire, should honor you. Your paper and your “Recollections” should be in the hands of every true Irishman. The reading of such stories will keep alive the faith of our fathers, faith in the sacred cause; yes, and make hearts feel young again as they read of those grand old hills and valleys of holy Ireland.
And those noble, those prominent figures, the sons and daughters of other days, who played their various parts in the great drama of Irish life and patriotism—we shall read of them, and though of many, very many, we must feel that in this world we shall never meet again, yet we know that in leaving, they have but gone a short time before us to enjoy in heaven that reward, which hearts so good and pure as theirs were, shall surely receive.
Wishing you success in your “Recollections,” your United Irishman, and all your undertakings. I am,