After my brother left school he started a Debating Society called ‘The New Ireland Literary Society.’ He was elected President and many a fine lecture he gave to an admiring audience.
On one occasion he organised a Social and asked me to be the accompanist for the evening. Shakespearian recitals and some recitations were also included in the programme.
The recitals from Shakespeare were really quite good, Pat, as Hamlet, being especially dramatic and convincing, despite the fact that he wore ordinary evening dress, and acted on a small platform without even a back-cloth.
There was sheer tragedy in his low, horrified exclamation:
O my prophetic soul!
and intense shuddering fury and hatred in the muttered soliloquy:
My tables, my tables—meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.
And then came one of his bewilderingly quick changes, this time from horror and hot anger to a bitter, cold sneer:
At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark.
In the scene where his companions tried to prevent Hamlet from following the Spirit of his beloved father, Pat was tremendously effective.
His young voice was vibrant with love and gracious reverence as he addressed the strange spectre:
I’ll call thee Hamlet,
King, Father, Royal Dane: O, answer me!
Then, turning like a fury on his friends, he flung them off, his voice ringing with noble scorn:
Unhand me, gentlemen;
By heaven, I’ll make a ghost of him that lets me.
But his anger died again as the figure beckoned him, and nothing but triumph and profound pity remained.
It waves me still.
Go on; I’ll follow thee.
If the musical part of the entertainment had been as good as the dramatic portion, it would have been very good indeed. Unfortunately, however, my brother’s musical knowledge was extremely vague, and this was the cause of my being greatly mortified.
I asked him, very naturally, to tell me the keys in which the singers intended having their songs played. Pat appeared surprised.
‘Have they no music?’ I wanted to know then, more surprised than he.
No, they had no music. I sighed, for that meant merely vamping, and I was only about fourteen at the time.
‘Well, then,’ I said, ‘what key will they sing in?’
‘Oh, the common or garden key!’ replied my brother with great cheerfulness, but little sense.
‘But,’ I insisted, appalled at such a statement, ‘there is no such key as “the common or garden key”! Can’t you see into the thing? Some people have high voices, and some low, and others medium! They couldn’t all sing in the same key! The pitch would be different.’
‘Oh!’ he replied, quite light-heartedly, ‘these fellows all sing in the medium voice! The common or garden key, you know!’
‘I don’t know!’ I wailed. ‘Even the medium voices sing in different keys.’
‘Quite so,’ he agreed; ‘the common or garden key.’
I almost wept at his inability to understand, and blissfully unconscious of his absurdity, he left me.
On the night of the entertainment, before it had begun, I managed to get the principal singer over to the piano, and told him to hum the song as he would sing it. He did so, and I found he had a nice voice. Afterwards his song would also have been very nice if he had only remained in the one key, instead of roaming through about six! For three verses of ‘The Risin’ of the Moon’ I chased him madly all over the piano, wondering which of us would break down first. By the time the moon had fully risen the piano part was ended, and I was a complete wreck! Pat’s ‘common or garden key’ seemed to have rather an elastic compass!
Yet, in later years, Pat went to every opera that came to Dublin, Wagner’s heavy works being his particular favourites. He saw the famous ‘Ring’ operas in Germany, whither he had gone to study the language, and to learn all that was possible about modern education.
Our very dear old friend Miss Byrne, who nursed Pat when he was a baby, tells us how he used to coax his step-sister Emily to sing a certain song which had caught his baby attention.
He would toddle over to her and entreat her eagerly: ‘Sing “In the goamey, O me dahey!”’ which translated, means: ‘In the gloaming, O my darling!’
By this it would appear that Pat, when a wee boy, recognised the difference between the airs and had special favourites. Yet he never, by any chance, was able to sing more than two notes in a scale. I used to try him with the scale sometimes, and the result was always excruciatingly funny!
He would start off with a most tremendous seriousness and intone in rather a wavering manner: ‘Doh!’ More quaveringly still, and very much out of tune, would come ‘Ray!’ Then, with an appalling suddenness, he would go completely off the scale, and his ‘Me!’ would be at least five notes too high! It was really rather odd, as he could distinguish false notes when others sang them, and could appreciate music well sung.
Pat learnt the piano for some time, but he never made much progress. In fact, he never went beyond ‘Vesper Hymn’ and ‘Nelly Bly,’ very easily arranged. Even now, if I hear the old tune ‘Nelly Bly,’ I think of Pat and of our old house at Brunswick Street.
Both Maggie and Pat were taught dancing by a Madame Lawton, whilst they were attending Miss Murphy’s private school, Pat was a good dancer, being exceedingly light and graceful. The dances taught then were the beautiful old-fashioned dances, such as the mazurka, the gavotte, the polka, the waltz, properly danced, and the quadrilles. Miss Byrne and my brother were almost always partners in the waltz and quadrilles.
Afterwards Pat essayed the Irish dances and learnt the ‘Rinnce Fada’ and ‘The Walls of Limerick.’ He never managed really elaborate Irish dances, however.
A favourite indoor pastime with my brother was draughts; and another pleasing game called ‘Dick Turpin’s Ride from London to York.’ But I always felt that Pat had a sneaking sympathy with the bold outlaw Dick, even though he used to play the soldiers who were chasing Dick, and play them remarkably cleverly.
Both my brothers were very fond of boating, a liking which was shared with equal fervour by Alfred and myself. Unfortunately, however, Pat was a very poor sailor, always becoming ill the moment our small craft crossed the Bar and left the shelter of Kingstown Harbour. But on the Liffey, out at beautiful Chapelizod, where the waters are smooth and calm, he was in his element, although his powerful, vigorous style of rowing was more suitable for the sea than for the river.
His strokes were strong and determined—an index to his dominant character; oars were better in his hands than light sculls. But he could make a boat fly over the water with his powerful, if somewhat uneven strokes. I never went with the trio on the river; but they used to tell me all about their exploits.
Neither Pat nor Willie could swim at that time; but Alfred tells us how in later years they learnt to do so, for diverse reasons.
‘Pat, though studious, and far from athletic in his young days,’ writes Alfred, ‘made up his mind that it is a duty on the part of man to be physically as well as mentally fit: so he determined to become so.
He learnt to swim in two months when he was thirty years of age. I remember he and Willie and I used to go over to the North Bull to swim. On one occasion, when Willie was leaving the water he lost his balance, and spluttered and struggled for a considerable time in two feet of water before he could stand up again. Pat and I stood by laughing at him, when we saw the reproachful look he cast at us. Indeed, I don’t think that I ever heard Pat laugh so heartily. He knew, of course, as I did, that Willie was not in the least danger.’
I myself remember that the three of them bought some sort of curious-looking wings, which were guaranteed to save the most clumsy novice from drowning. I imagine, however, that the swimmers must have looked extremely odd with the little wings sprouting from their backs.*
Sometimes Pat would take up some hobby, and then drop it. I remember that he and Willie once took it into their heads to become vegetarians—just exactly why, I really cannot say. In the beginning Pat said that it was because it was cruel to eat the flesh of living beings. But when I pointed out to him that if I had not killed scores of living beings—to wit, greenflies and caterpillars—he would not be eating such delicious lettuce and radishes, he became thoughtful and evidently pondered over the matter.
After that he casually remarked that it was more healthy not to eat meat; and he and Willie used to go to the Vegetarian Restaurant, in College Street, and take most of their principal meals there. However, it is my belief that their lives became a misery to them, as vegetable diet was not strong enough for their vigorous constitutions. So they very quietly and unobtrusively dropped this practice, and began to take ordinary food again.
Pat was a passionate lover of beautiful scenery; and trees were a sheer delight to him. He liked flowers, of course; but he simply worshipped trees! And I thoroughly understand him on that point. But many a time he and I had stiff arguments on the relative beauty of the various counties of Ireland.
I maintained—as I still maintain—that Killarney is unsurpassed for sheer beauty; he would have it that ‘The Twelve Pins’ in his beloved Connemara district beat the Long Range, Killarney—ay, and even the Gap of Dunloe—hollow! I was not convinced; so he took me to Connemara, and showed me the wild, wonderful loveliness of the West.
But it was just a bit too wild for my liking, and too desolate—with no bird voices, and little verdure—so I was still true to my first ideal. Then Pat capped the climax by contemptuously declaring that St Stephen’s Green was far and away more beautiful than Killarney! I was so indignant that I refuse to discuss the subject any more.
But—I have not been in the Green since the fateful year of 1916! I passed it by on that tragic Easter Monday and wondered why the Volunteers were holding it; but I little dreamed why! I wonder if my brother thought how strange it was to be encamped in the old familiar gardens where he had so often played in childhood!
* Cartlann note: The word ‘backs’ is a guess as the entire line was blank in our copy. If you happen to know for certain the conclusion of this sentence please contact us on our social media or at [email protected]