My brother was only about twelve years of age when he evinced quite a remarkable aptitude for lecturing. This talent was developed and greatly encouraged in rather unusual circumstances. Of course, we had all known that Pat was very fond of, and clever at, delivering little sermons; but lectures were rather an innovation.
One day the small boy was seized with a longing for a toy magic lantern, which, I fancy, he must have seen alluringly displayed in one of our great toy shops. Whatever my brother wanted, he always made up his mind to have; so he began to save up carefully and thriftily—though not meanly—most of his slender pocket money: ‘Saturday money,’ as we used to call our weekly pennies.
At length the small hoarder had sufficient money to buy the coveted article, and he and Willie went off to purchase it. Proudly they returned with the pretty little toy, and started to work it according to directions. But, alas! Its prettiness was only on the surface, for it had no working value whatsoever. It was perfectly useless; and poor Pat was deeply disappointed and chagrined. Our father, hearing of the catastrophe, was so sorry that he at once resolved to buy a proper magic lantern for his small son’s next birthday.
To the great joy and astonishment of us all, therefore, a most perfect lantern arrived home, with dozens of the loveliest slides imaginable. Of course, we had a show straight away; and after that it somehow came about that Pat began to lecture on the splendidly assorted slides at each succeeding exhibition.
In the commencement, our lantern was lighted only by oil; but father was not satisfied, and soon he had the brilliant limelight instead. Then we had really first-rate shows, and first-rate lectures! These lectures were finely delivered, and were both instructive and entertaining. They were certainly tremendously appreciated by those privileged to hear them. At that time there were no cinemas, and very few panoramas; so a really good up-to-date lantern was counted a treasure and cherished accordingly.
It was father’s custom to have a lantern show about twice a year for ourselves and a few very special friends in the dear old room at Brunswick Street. At these little festive gatherings of congenial souls, Pat’s happy knack of lecturing made half the pleasure of the evening. At least eighty slides—generally more than that!—would be shown, all dealing with many different subjects: yet for every one of them the clever boy lecturer found something worth saying.
It was quite remarkable that so young a lad could have gathered such a fund of useful and reliable knowledge. The style of his compositions and the delivery of them were admirable. Father, a keen and honest critic, was always thoroughly pleased with his son’s efforts, and not a little proud of ‘Paddy,’ as he sometimes affectionately called him. At these little socials Willie acted as Father’s aide-de-camp, helping with the slides and the manipulation of the lantern. And very efficient help it was, too.
However, as Pat grew older, his school-work became heavier and claimed almost all his attention; and after a time he was obliged, through the high pressure of work, to relinquish almost entirely this delightful hobby of lecturing at home. He was obliged, also, to give up his long hours of reading for me, which, naturally, was a great sorrow to me. But my brother would often read aloud passages from old Irish books which he chanced to be studying at the time. My first glimpse into old Irish heroic tales came through Pat reading them aloud.
He had a fine collection of the old sagas; and he was a fluent translator at sight; it made no difference to him whether the stories were in Gaelic or English. The Flight of Diarmuid and Grainne, The Fight of Ferdia and Cuchulain at the Ford, with its pathetic ending; the game of chess under the quicken tree—all these quaint heroic tales I heard beautifully spoken by my brother’s lips. It was he, by the way, who explained to me that the quicken tree is the rowan tree, popularly called ‘mountain ash.’
Yet, despite Pat’s constant hard work at his own studies, he found a little time to help me with Irish; and it was he who set me my first Irish copybook.
In later years my brother became wildly enthusiastic over a phonograph which he purchased and brought home without the slightest warning. As well as I can remember, it was just before Sgoil Éanna was started; but he was as delighted with the novelty and as interested in it as any schoolboy. I really believe, however, that most of the pleasure he derived from his new purchase was the making of records. It was a machine which made good records in wax; and sometimes, when the humour came over him, Pat would spend hours at the business, extracting the most exquisite pleasure from his attempt at record-making.
He would keep Alfred and Willie at it, too; and even I was inveigled into trying what I could do. We made a record of the first scene of Macbeth, and immediately rubbed it off again. In fact, we were constantly making records and rubbing—or paring—them off!
Pat used to glory in ridiculous records, such as comic interviews between great celebrities and some business managers. I remember one particularly funny one supposed to take place between Madame Pati and a business agent. My brother as a comic ‘star’ was a ‘scream.’
Another record which he made—a serious one—is, I think, still up in the Hermitage. My mother said that she could not bear to hear it, as Pat’s voice would awaken too many poignantly sad memories. Alfred very kindly wrote it out for me, as I could not recollect it properly myself.
It is a short address about Ireland; and I am not sure whether he really delivered it during some lecture, or simply composed it especially for the phonograph. However, I know that my readers will appreciate it, so I am giving the text, just as my brother spoke it into his phonograph:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
If you ask me what the Gaelic League stands for, I answer that it stands for the old, old ideal of Ireland a nation!’
(Alfred, Willie, and I, as the audience): ‘Hear! Hear!’
Lecturer: ‘Why do we seek to preserve the living Irish language? Not because it is an ancient and venerable language; not because it is a rich and beautiful language; not because it enshrines a valuable and unique literature; not for any of these reasons—though all these reasons might be urged with perfect justice. Not, I say, for any of these reasons, but simply and solely because it is the Irish language! Because—’
Audience (wildly): ‘Hear, hear!’
Lecturer: ‘Because it is our language; bone of our bone; flesh of our flesh; which has grown with our growth, and which is part and parcel of ourselves. We—’
Audience (with great gusto): ‘Hear, hear! Good man!’
Lecturer: ‘We seek, then, to preserve this language because we believe it to be an integral part of Irish nationality!’
Audience (becoming rather rowdy): ‘He-ar! He-ar!’
Lecturer: ‘Nationality is a very complex thing. It consists of many elements. We do not claim that language is nationality. Be we do claim—and we think we can prove—that language is an essential element in the compound nationality; and, therefore, without an Irish language we can have no Irish nation!’
Here, I think, the record was used up, and the lecturer paused, very breathless, between laughter and the hot smell of the wax. Making records on our make of phonograph was rather exhausting work, as the wax had a choking effect on the throat and voice.
Although my brother always retained his boyishness, he grew up sooner than any of us! I well remember how surprised I was—and rather contemptuous, I fear—when I first heard him call ‘mother’ instead of ‘mama,’ as we all used to before! Afterwards came a queer feeling of blankness as I began to realise that Pat was rapidly becoming—a man!
He went on a visit to Aran—a boy; and, to my profound astonishment, he returned—a man! Even his boyish treble had changed to the deeper tones of manhood. But my brother still had his boyish eagerness of manner and his beautiful gentleness. He was still passionately attached to home and to his beloved ‘Little Mother.’
Writing of his visits to Aran reminds me of a comical incident connected with them. Like all men, Pat objected to writing letters when he was on holidays. He said it spoilt the holidays, which ought to be a complete change from ordinary life. But, like all women, especially mothers, our mother wanted to hear from her son as often as possible!
‘It’s just that I want to know you are well and safe!’ she told him in a pathetic manner. ‘When you don’t write, I keep thinking all sorts of horrors, and worrying over you, fearing you are sick.’
Pat smiled placidly, and promised to let her know that he was safe and well. He did so in his own dry humorous manner. By the first possible post an anxious lady received the promised message—short and to the point. It consisted of a sheet of paper with the one word ‘Pearse,’ written boldly across the top! Our mother’s face was a study; but she knew that Pat was safe, and was obliged to be content!
Pat’s letters were not always as brief as this, however. Our cousin Mary Kate has sent me a copy of a letter which he once wrote to her when she was at a boarding-school. She still has the original and treasures it highly. Writing to me about this memoir, she says:—
‘While I was at school Pat wrote me a letter which I carried about with me for four years and read daily. It was my most cherished possession! I enclose you a copy; and if it is the sort of thing you want, you may use it.’
The following is the letter, which, I am sure, will interest my readers:—
25th December, 1895.
My dear Mary Kate,
They tell me you are anxious to receive a letter from me, and I should be just as anxious to send you one if I only knew what to say. Two girls, when they write to each other, are never at a loss for things to talk about; but it is natural for a boy to feel a little embarrassed when writing to one of the opposite sex—even though she is his cousin.
It is a long time now since I have seen you—I think, over a year. Believe me, it is not for want of will that I do not go out to see you. I really haven’t had the time.
I often think of the jolly times we spent at Grandfather’s—playing in the hay loft, swinging in the yard, and hiding in the bedrooms. Those days I reckoned among the happiest of my life.
I want you to do me a favour, and that is—to say a ‘Hail! Mary’ for me whenever you think of it—and I am sure you will think of it often.
It is almost unnecessary for me to wish you a happy Christmas—for you know yourself that I wish you as many of the happiest possible Christmasses and brightest possible New Years that you can ever hope to enjoy.
Believe me, then, my dear Mary Kate,
With renewed good wishes,
Your affectionate cousin,
I can well understand how that letter warmed the young heart of the schoolgirl, recalling as it did the halcyon days of childhood and the faithfulness of her boy chum!