At the age of seven, I was brought home to my father and mother in Ross, to be sent to school, and prepared for Confirmation and Communion. I had received those sacraments of the Church before I was nine years of age. Confirmation day, the boys were lined along the chapel aisle in couples, the boy who was my comrade going up to the altar was Patrick Regan, and it was a singular coincidence that nine years before that, he and I were baptized the same day in the same chapel. And we went through school in the same class.
That time, when I was only a very little boy, I must have been a very big sinner, for I remember the day of my first confession, when I came out the chapel door, relieved of the weight of my sins, and faced the iron gate that stood between me and the main road, I felt as though I could leap over that gate.
If you at any time notice that I occasionally wander away from the main road of my narrative in these “Recollections,” and run into byroads or bohreens, or take a leap of fifty years in advance, from the days of my boyhood to the present days, I have high and holy authority for doing that. Father Brown, of Staten Island reading the Epistle of the day at mass yesterday (Feb. 16, 1896) read these words: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
I am speaking as a child, so far, and very likely my words will give less offense than the words I will have to say, when I grow up, and speak as a man.
In preparing for confirmation, the school broke up about noon on Saturdays, and the boys were led by the master to the chapel, which was near by. There, were Father Jerrie Molony, and his nephews, Michael and Jerrie Molony, who were home from college on vacation, and Tead Red, to help our master in instructing us in our catechism. Tead Red was the instructor in the Irish language. He had a class of his own. I saw Father Molony take hold of a boy in my class one day, and take him over to the class of Tead Red, telling him it was in the Irish language he should learn his catechism. How often here in America have I thought of Father Molony, when I met priests from the most Irish-speaking part of Ireland, who could not speak the Irish language. No wonder that our nationality should become diluted and corrupted, no wonder it should become poisoned with—Trust in the English to free Ireland for us.
But, my schoolmaster! How can I speak of him! He is dead. God be good to him. I often wonder how he got his schooling. I often wonder how the people of Ross of my early days got their schooling, for they spoke the English language more correctly than it is spoken by many of the people of this day who are called educated; and, with that, they naturally spoke the Irish language. The priests used to preach in the Irish language.
I say I wonder how the people of Ross in the generation of my father’s boyhood got their education, for they were born in a time when education was banned in Ireland. The schools that are called National schools were not established till I was born. The hedge-schools and hedge-schoolmasters were around in the generations that preceded my time. In the summer time, the children assembled in the shade of the hedges and trees, and the masters taught them their lessons. In the winter time the hedge-school was in the shelter of some farmhouse. As it was in the schooling of the Irish people, so it was in their religion. That was under a ban too; the priests were boycotted as well as the people. Yes, for two hundred years after the English religion was introduced into Ireland, any priest caught saying mass was subject to a fine; caught a second time, it was fine and imprisonment, and caught a third time it was banishment or death. Any Irishman caught attending mass was heavily fined; caught a second time, was doubly fined, and when the fines increased and were not paid, the lands of the people were confiscated, and sold out by the English. That is how the tradition is implanted in the minds of many exiled Irish men and women to-day—that their people lost their lands in Ireland on account of sticking to their religion.
There were two of the old-time schoolmasters in Ross when I was a child. Daniel Herlihy was one, and Daniel Hegarty the other. I remember being at the house of each; but it was only for a few days, or a few weeks. They had their schools in their own houses, and they turned out good scholars, too; scholars that knew Latin and Greek.
But ’tis to John Cushan that I give the credit for my schooling. When I went to his National school, I wasn’t much beyond my A-B-C, if I was out of it at all; because I recollect one day that I was in his class, and the master teaching us. He had a rod called a pointer, and he was telling a little boy from Maoil what to call the letters. The little boy could not speak any English; he knew nothing but Irish, and the master, putting the tip of the pointer to the letter A on the board, would say to him, “Glao’g A air sin,” then he’d move the pointer to B, and say, “Glao’g B air sin,” and so on to the end of the lesson.
Another recollection satisfies me I had not much learning when I went to John Cushan’s school. I was in my class one day, that one of the monitors had charge of it. All the small classes were up in the hallways around the school, reading their lessons off the boards that hung on the walls. It was a day that the Inspector visited the school, and with the Inspector was the priest, Father Ambrose. Each boy in my class was to read one sentence of the lesson, until the lesson was ended; then the next boy would commence again, at the top of the card. It came to my turn to commence, and after commencing I did not stop at the end of the first sentence. I read on—
“John threw a stone down the street. He did not mean to do any harm. But just as the stone slipped out of his hand, an old man came in the way, and it struck his head and made him bleed.”
I read on to the end of that lesson, which is about the last one in the A-B-C book, or “First Book of Lessons of the National Schools.” I forgot myself; I was thinking of birds’ nests, or marbles, or something else; when I got out of my reverie, there were the boys tittering, and the master and the priest and the Inspector looking at me with a smile-turn on their faces.
My memory would do those times what I cannot get it to do now. It would get into it by heart, and retain it for some time—a pretty long time indeed—every lesson I got to learn. Those lessons hold possession of it to-day, to the exclusion, perhaps, of memories that are more needed. Yet, I find them no load to carry, and I use them occasionally, too, to some effect. A year ago in giving some lectures to my people in Ireland and England, I made audiences laugh heartily, by telling them how much they needed learning some of the lessons I learned at school. They’d understand the application of my words, when I’d repeat for them these lines that were in my second book at John Cushan’s school:
“Whatever brawls disturb the street,
There should be peace at home,
Where sisters dwell and brothers meet
Quarrels should never come.
“Birds in their little nests agree,
And ’tis a shameful sight,
When children of one family
Fall out and chide and fight.”
The men who were in those audiences, to whom I spoke, were divided. Thirty years ago, I knew them to be united. Thirty years ago, they had no trust in the English parliament to free Ireland for them. Last year, all their trust for Ireland’s Freedom seemed to be in that parliament. This one little story will enable my readers to clearly understand me:
Last May, I was in London. One day, passing by the office of the Land League rooms there, I called in to see the Secretary, James Xavier O’Brien. I had known O’Brien long ago. I and my wife had slept a night at his house in Cork city in the year 1864. I had traveled with him among his friends in Waterford in the year 1864. He and I were in the prison of Millbank, London, in the year 1867. We tried to write letters to each other; the letters were caught; we were punished; I was transferred to the Chatham Prison.
When in London in 1895, I thought I would like to look at O’Brien and have a little talk with him about those old times. I went into his office. We recognized each other. After the first salutation, the first words he said, and he said them soon enough, were:
“Rossa, I can’t do anything for you in regard to your lectures.”
“Stop, now,” said I, “Stop. Never mind the lectures. I called in to see you, just to look at you; to have one word with you, for old times’ sake; if I had passed your door, or that you had heard I passed your door without calling in, wouldn’t people think that we were mad with each other for something; wouldn’t we be giving scandal?”
He smiled, and we talked on. But again, he spoke of not being able to do anything for my lectures, and again I stopped him; and a third time he brought the matter up, and a third time I had to stop him, and tell him it was not to talk of lectures I came in, but to have a look at himself. In traveling through England and Scotland and Wales after that day, I learned that part of the duties of his office in London was, to write to the McCarthy party clubs telling them the lectures of O’Donovan Rossa were not officially recognized by the confederation; but that individual members were not prohibited from attending them, as individuals, if they desired to attend.
I will now take myself back to school again.
I spoke of getting all my lessons by heart in short time. That’s true. They are in my head still. One of them tells me not to believe in dreams; that—
“Whang, the miller, was naturally avaricious. Nobody loved money more than he, or more respected those who had it. When any one would talk of a rich man in company, Whang would say, ‘I know him very well; he and I are intimate.’”—And so on.
But Whang did not know poor people at all; he hadn’t the least acquaintance with them. He believed in dreams, though; he dreamed, three nights running, that there was a crock of gold under the wall of his mill; digging for it, he loosened the foundation stones; the walls of his mill fell down, and that was the last of my Whang, the miller.
Many lessons were in the schoolbooks of my day that are not in the schoolbooks to-day. “The Exile of Erin” was in the Third book in my day; ’tisn’t in any of the books to-day. “The Downfall of Poland,” in which “Freedom shrieked as Kosciusko fell,” was in one of the books in my day. ’Tisn’t in any of the books to-day. England is eliminating from those Irish national schoolbooks every piece of reading that would tend to nurse the Irish youth into a love of country, or a love of freedom, and she is putting into them pieces that make the Irish children pray to God to make them happy English children.
But apart from politics, there were some good lessons in those books that have remained living in my mind all through my life. This is a good one—
I would not enter on my list of friends,
Though graced with polished manners and fine sense,
Yet, wanting sensibility—the man
Who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.
An inadvertent step may crush the snail
That crawls at evening in the public path,
But he that hath humanity, forewarned
Will step aside, and let the reptile live.
The creeping vermin, loathsome to the sight,
And charged with venom, that intrudes—
A visitor, unwelcome unto scenes
Sacred to nature and repose:—the bower,
The chamber, or the hall—may die;
A necessary act incurs no blame.
Not so, when held within their proper bounds,
And guiltless of offense, they range the air,
Or take their pastimes in the spacious field,
There they are privileged.
And he that hurts or harms them thereIs guilty of a wrong; disturbs the economy
Of nature’s realm; who, when she formed them,
Designed them an abode. The sum is this: If man’s convenience, health or safety interferes,
His rights and claims are paramount, and must extinguish theirs;
Else, they are all, the meanest things that are,
As free to live, and to enjoy that life,
As God was free to form them at first—
Who, in His sovereign wisdom made them all,
Ye, therefore, who love mercy,
Teach your sons to love it too.
The springtime of our years is so dishonored and defiled, in most,
By budding ills that ask a prudent hand to check them.
But, alas! none sooner shoots, if unrestrained,
Into luxuriant growth, than cruelty,
Most devilish of them all.
Mercy to him
Who shows it is the rule, and righteous limitation of its act
By which heaven moves, in pardoning guilty man;
And he who shows none, being ripe in years,
And conscious of the outrage he commits,
Shall seek it, and not find it, in return.
That poem is in my mind, whenever I step aside, lest I tread upon a worm or a fly in my path. And here, from my school-book are—
THE SIGNS OF RAIN
The hollow winds begin to blow,
The clouds look black, the glass is low,
The soot falls down, the spaniels sleep,
And spiders from their cobwebs creep.
Hark! how the chairs and tables crack,
Old Betty’s joints are on the rack;
Loud quack the ducks, the peacocks cry,
The distant hills are looking nigh,
How restless are the snorting swine.
The busy fly disturbs the kine,
“Puss,” on the hearth with velvet paws,
Sits wiping o’er her whiskered jaws.
Through the clear streams the fishes rise
And nimbly catch the incautious flies.
The frog has changed his yellow vest,
And in a russet coat is drest,
My dog, so altered in his taste,
Quits mutton bones, on grass to feast,
And see yon rooks—how odd their flight,
They imitate the gliding kite.
And headlong, downwards, seem to fall,
As if they felt the piercing ball.
’Twill surely rain; I see, with sorrow
Our jaunt must be put off to-morrow.
Then, there is the little busy bee:—
How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower.
How skilfully she builds her nest,
How neat she spreads the wax
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.
In works of labor, or of skill,
I must be busy too;
For idle hands, some mischief still
Will ever find to do.
Those poems may not be exactly word for word as they are printed in the books; but I am not going to look for the books, to see if they are correct. That would be a desecration of myself and my story, as I have told my readers I am taking my writings from the stores of my memory.
Nor, must I run away from school either—to tell stories outside of school. I ran ahead in my classes when I was at school. The master would have a patch of one of our fields every year, to sow potatoes in. My father, on some business of his, took me with him to the master’s house one night; the master had two little girls, daughters; he was telling my father that I was getting on well at school, and that if I continued to be good ’till I grew up to be a big boy, he’d give me his Mary Anne for a little wife.
My grandfather and grandmother would come to mass every Sunday. They’d come to our place first, and let the horse be put in the stable till mass was over. I was that time such a prodigy of learning, that my innocent Nannie feared the learning would rise in my head.
I was put sitting up on the counter one day to read a lesson for her, and after I had finished reading, I heard her say to my mother, “Nellie, a laodh! coimead o scoil tamal e; eireog a leighean ’n a cheann”—“Nellie, dear! keep him from school a while; the learning will rise in his head.” Oh, yes; I was a prodigy of learning that time. My learning ran far and away ahead of my understanding. I was in my class one day, reading from the little book of “Scripture lessons,” and I read aloud that the mother of Jacob and Esau “bore twines”—“What’s that? What’s that?” said the master, smiling, and I again read that that lady of the olden time “bore twines.” I did not know enough to pronounce the word “twins,” and probably did not know at the time what “twins” meant. If the schoolmaster was teaching me my natural language—the Irish, and if I had read from the book—“do bidh cooplee aici,” I would readily understand that she had a couple of children together at the one lying-in.
My master often slapped me on the hand with his wooden slapper, but he never flogged me; though I must have suffered all the pains and penalties of flogging from him one time, for, before he struck me at all, I screeched as if he had me half-killed.
I was put into the vestry-room one evening, with five or six other boys, to be flogged, after the rest of the scholars had left school.
The master came in and locked the door, and gave the orders to strip. I unbuttoned my trousers from my jacket, and let them fall down. I commenced screeching, and I’d emphasize with a louder screech every lash of the cat-o’-nine tails that every little boy would get. I was left for the last. He caught me by the shoulder. “Now,” said he, “will you be late from school any more?” “Oh, sir, oh, sir, I’ll never be late any more.” “You’ll keep your promise—sure?” “Oh, yes, yes, sir; I’ll never be late anymore.” Then, with cat-o’-nine tails lifted in his hand, he let me go without striking me.
This school I was at was called the Old-Chapel school. It was built on the top of the hill field, and on the top of the Rock. Very likely it was built in the days of the persecution of the church, when it was a crime for the priest to say mass, and a crime for the people to attend mass. From the location of it, any one coming toward it from the north, east, south or west, could be seen. The watchman in the belfry house on the tiptop of the rock could see all around him. “The Rock” is a seashore hamlet, inhabited chiefly by fishermen. The hill field was one of my father’s fields, and often I went over the wall on a Sunday morning to look at Corly Keohane ringing the bell for mass. I had to be up early those mornings to keep the Rock hens out of the cornfield; often and often the bedclothes were pulled off me at daybreak.