As a child, my brother was extremely fond of sweet things—jam, sugar, honey, and the like. This ‘sweet tooth’ was sometimes the cause of his getting into mischief.
I remember on one occasion, when we were living in Brunswick Street, that a landing-window pane was badly cracked. Our father—pending the time when he could have the pane replaced—patched up the cracks by putting on little flat gelatine sweets, which adhered quite closely. Every day, however, to father’s mystification, one sweet after the other disappeared off the pane.
The thing was inexplicable, for the sweets which remained were sticking quite firmly. Perhaps, however, father would not have been so much amazed if he had seen a small, serious-faced youth surreptitiously taking a sweet every evening as he passed that particular window on his way up from the hall after coming from school. At last, however, there were no more sweets left to stick, and the irate householder was obliged to get the pane inserted. He was exceedingly annoyed when he came across his hopeful son blissfully enjoying the fruits (or should I say ‘sweets’?) of his wrong-doing. Only father’s keen sense of the ridiculous saved the culprit from chastisement.
Pat had a particularly ‘strong weakness’ for currants, raisins, and candied peel, such as are used in rich cakes and Christmas puddings. Every Christmas Eve our mother collected the various ingredients for a mighty Christmas pudding, assembled her flock of youngsters round the table, and allotted to each a certain portion of work.
I was usually given the suet to chop, as I had a light, deft wrist, and was exceedingly conscientious; to my sister would be given the bread to crumble and grate; Willie would be made happy with the egg beater (we all loved that powerful machine!) when he would blissfully beat up golden eggs into a lovely frothy foam; whilst the heir of the family would gravely take upon himself the task of stoning the delicious fat raisins.
This was rather a sticky job, but the industrious young chef never heeded such a trifling inconvenience, for many of the luscious fruits found their way into his mouth. I used to be very indignant, and always told him exactly what I thought of him, which was far from being complementary; but my rantings never had the least effect on him.
When my mother would come bustling back from the kitchen to see how the work was progressing, she would invariably find a most remarkable shrinkage in the amount of fruit for her pudding. (Unlike my father, however, she was never in the least surprised at any such occurrence). She knew perfectly well that her seraphic-looking eldest son, whose grey eyes were fixed on her with melting tenderness, was responsible for the shortage. Gently, but firmly, therefore, she would shift her too zealous helper to another job, which was usually that of slicing the candied peels. Of course, the same thing happened. Much of the candied peel soon became conspicuous by its absence, this dainty being a special favourite of the young epicure.
In view of the fact that a pudding was absolutely necessary for Christmas Day, the harassed housewife would be obliged to banish her son altogether from the table. Pat would then stretch himself on the sofa, and start a most dismal and discordant racket which he called ‘singing.’ He would drone out (for he had absolutely no ear for music, although he was very fond of it) some curious ballads. One was about a strange individual called ‘Brian O’Lynn,’ the other about an amazing female named ‘Kitty.’ The verses ended like this:
For me heart was heavy and me pocket was light,
And how could I go to the ball that night?
Then came a devastating chorus, running as follows:—
Kitty, fol lol, fol lol, fol lol!
Kitty, fol lol, fol li doh!
This peculiarly enlivening performance only terminated when our father’s sharp knock at the hall-door would send the minstrel and his little brother, the industrious egg beater, scurrying upstairs to bed, where they both should have been hours before.
My elder brother was also particularly fond of nuts, almonds and coconuts being his favourites. On Hallow Eve he relished the coconuts extremely. But this taste for nuts always led to trouble: for my mother—not for Pat! Whenever she bought a rich cake, with chopped almonds on the top, and inadvertently left it about, she always found it later bereft of its nutty covering. Pat, seeming to know by instinct that there was almond cake around, would carefully pick all the nuts off the top, leaving it quite bare and ugly looking. It seemed as if he could not resist these delectable tit-bits! He had the most beautiful strong, even teeth, and could crack the hardest nut with perfect ease. Pat retained his ‘sweet tooth’ all his life, and could always enjoy a stick of sugar barley or Turkish delight as well as any schoolboy.
He also retained another proclivity which he had when he was a child: namely, that of dressing up and masquerading as different, strange, rather eccentric people—principally females. He would frequently dress himself in any old clothes he could rummage out, and present himself at the hall-door, disguised as a woman in motley garb. The servants were always quite deceived, and would go up to tell the ‘mistress’ that a strange person wanted to see her. But this ‘strange person’ would have decamped by the time my mother arrived at the door. Pat was really very clever at ‘making up,’ and was able to disguise even his boyish treble, making it appear old and cracked. He and Mary Kate, our cousin, were incessantly playing pranks of this sort. Even now she remembers them very well.
I remember (she writes) that on one occasion Pat dressed up in Maggie’s clothes, and we walked along Amiens Street inquiring at various shops if a ‘Mrs Brady’ lived there. Eventually we found in one place where a good lady of that name really did reside. We were considerably disturbed, and had to beat a hasty retreat whilst the person in the shop went to tell Mrs Brady that we wanted to see her.
Personally, I think it would have been poetic justice if the two jokers had been caught.
My nephew Alfred, who lived with us for a long time and helped Pat when he was producing his plays, has many interesting stories to tell about him. Among other things he has told me that when my brother was a man—just before he founded St Enda’s, in fact—he used to masquerade as a poor person. His object was to find out, by experience, how it felt to beg.
He and Alfred went out more than once around the roads in Donnybrook, where we were living at the time, and asked for alms. They were dressed in their oldest clothes, and it was dusk when they started their experiment. Curiously enough, Alfred says that he received nothing, but that my brother was more successful. One kindly old lady gave him a sixpence, saying whilst she tendered it: ‘Here you are, my poor fellow! If it were the last sixpence I had I’d give it to you willingly.’ I do like that dear lady.
Another time, Alfred tells me, Pat donned his roughest and shabbiest clothes (whilst he was in Connemara), procured a stout stick, refrained from shaving, and started off to tramp the country roads as ‘a man of the road.’ No one knew who he was, of course, which is what he wished, for he could mix quite freely with the country folk as one of themselves, and sit at their homely, hospitable turf-fires, drinking in all their beautiful stories and exquisite music to his heart’s content. I suppose it was thus he found out so much about the lives and customs of the people in his beloved West.
I think it must have been because Pat himself had such a fondness for practical jokes that he always felt a sneaking sympathy with other practical jokers.
There is a little anecdote which my nephew has told me about Pat, demonstrating that determination of character which was so marked in him. He was only nine years of age, or thereabouts, and he, Willie, and Maggie were visiting our half-sister. The children were all out in a field behind the house, playing tennis, when the landlord arrived on the scene, and curtly ordered them off. Our little niece Emily (now a nun in Texas) told him that he had promised to allow them to use the field.
Pat was on his mettle immediately. He listened; looked straight at the angry landlord, and calmly remarked: ‘Then we will play!’ and they did. Young as Pat was, he felt that a promise ought to be kept, and he refused to be bullied. The landlord, routed, beat a hasty retreat, leaving my small brother victorious, and the tennis players in undisputed possession of the field.