From my childhood my brother was always exceedingly studious, which accounts perhaps for his being grave and quiet beyond his years. One seldom saw him without a book open before him, or tucked away under his arm. Books concerning Ireland were, of course, first favourites; but he was always wonderfully interested in nature studies and children’s stories. Pat inherited this taste for literature from our father, who was not only a widely-read man, but also a very able writer.
As Pat grew older, his zest for children’s stories increased, and his great love for children manifested itself very clearly. At one time a very fine English magazine, call St Peter’s, made its appearance over here. It was a Catholic publication, and was packed with splendid stories, articles, and puzzles. Its children’s pages were especially attractive, so my brother bought the first copy. As both of us liked it so much, he continued buying the magazine.
He used to purchase any and every book for me if I only expressed a wish for it. He procured Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Sylvia and Bruno, The Wallypug of Why, and a delightful story called Prince Boohoo. I have this still, as it was my very own, and I always treasure my books. He also bought The Swiss Family Robinson as a birthday present for a little chum of his, whom he had met and petted in the Christian Brothers’ School, Westland Row. I think that Pat and I enjoyed the book more than the little boy himself!
My brother had favourite characters in the children’s stories; and a particular hero of his was the White Knight in Through the Looking Glass. He used to get the Strand Magazine because of the very fine children’s stories, by Nesbit, which it contained. I remember ‘The Railway Children,’ which Pat and I revelled in. Pat loved railways, and liked to live within the cheery sound of the trains.
My elder brother and I had another bond of sympathy between us besides that of literary taste and aspirations. Both of us shared a keen pleasure in all sorts of quaint or pretty little toy animals. If they were elegant and lovely, we delighted in them and admired them; but if they were fanciful, singular, or unique we loved them whole-heartedly and petted them fondly. Pat was always bringing me home dainty and lovable toys—principally toy animals, of course, to please my childish fancy, and to while away many a weary hour of loneliness and pain.
I have one or two of these little articles yet—a delicately-formed wee swan, fashioned from celluloid, and a most quaint pen-wiper consisting of three cheerful-looking pigs, all smiling broadly—the mother pig and her two babies! They are the funniest trio imaginable, for they are all sitting up on their haunches and ‘taking notice’ in a most un-pig-like manner. I wouldn’t part with them on any account—indeed, they have travelled with me many a time!
When Pat was only a mere lad he ran—or should I say edited?—a paper once a week, all of which was written by himself—articles, jokes, puzzles, sketches, and a serial story entitled ‘Pat Murphy’s Pig’—a humorous story, as its name implies. I used to look forward to the night when the Weekly came out. It was just an ordinary exercise book, closely filled with the author’s small neat writing. At that time Pat used to take The Shamrock, one of the few Irish weeklies then published. There always has been—and will be, I’m afraid—a great dearth of Irish literary papers for children or adults.
My brother’s love for, and interest in, everything relating to ‘Stageland’ were evident from a very early age. He retained these characteristics all his life, as his splendid work at St Enda’s has verified. The beautiful plays which he wrote for his boys, and which he taught them to act so finely, are eloquent testimony to his ability and earnestness in this respect.
Pat began to write plays at the remarkably early age of nine, or thereabouts. More amazing still, these plays dealt with the romantic passions of love and jealousy! Yet both these themes are almost entirely absent from his later and more mature works. That a grave little boy, who had read only simple childish matter suitable to his years, could have imagined such strangely un-childlike themes and woven them into plays, is scarcely credible. Yet the fact remains: and I am sure that my readers will be interested in such descriptions as I can give of these plays, and in the few fragmentary passages which are all I can remember.
The young author had a ready and very enthusiastic helper in myself, for I was as keen on the business as he, although I was only about six years old! Our ‘Theatre’ was that ‘bright room with great spaces of floor,’ which Pat remembered so faithfully; the stage was that part of the room which took in the fireplace; and the audience (not very many) sat near the door at the other end. We had not many stage properties; but I have a hazy sort of recollection that for our second play Pat managed to contrive a back-cloth representing a wood. I think that he and Willie painted it themselves, and I seem to remember how the place reeked of the smell of paint!
Our stage costumes were not very elaborate, nor very many. My sister and I used to get some simple dresses, blue and pink, made of book muslin; but the actors were not so easily provided for. However, Pat solved the difficulty in a very adroit manner. He used calmly to rifle our mother’s ragbag, or even her wardrobe, blissfully aware that she would never say a reproving word to him. Indeed, if she missed anything in the way of clothing she always knew where to find it—amongst her hopeful son’s stage properties. It is my private belief that if Pat had annexed her priceless seal coat, or her best silk gown, she would have merely smiled, and shaken her head at him in half-comical reproof.
Pat was the leading incentive and presiding spirit of our small company. Yet he never domineered over us or worried us in any way. Quite the contrary! It was a delight to work with him—or under him, which means a great deal more! He managed everything and everybody with a quiet force mingled with an intense, happy earnestness, wonderfully pleasant and effective. He was ever the gentlest, and kindest, and most patient teacher. He always seemed to understand each one’s special difficulty, and would strive to overcome it.
Thinking over these things now, I realise he must have always possessed, in abundance, every attribute of the perfect teacher. He was a teacher in the truest sense—a ‘fosterer,’ as he would say himself. And when he reached manhood this gift from God found expression in the establishing of St Enda’s College. I can imagine how the boys under him must have worshipped this beautiful understanding spirit in their beloved Head.
But to return to our plays!
I do not remember very much about our first production, as I could not have been more than five years old, and I cannot boast of a long memory such as my brother had. I am afraid that this play was a rather desultory and fragmentary affair. But the name was quite striking. It was The Rival Lovers—and my brothers were the diminutive lovers and rivals! Both were very fiercely in love with the same fair lady. From what I can remember, Willie was false to me, for he cast me off contemptuously in a very thrilling scene. The rivals resolved to have a duel, and whoever won was to claim the lady’s hand—which was rather hard on the damsel, who favoured her first lover, my brother Pat.
I remember falling on Willie’s neck, and wailing out in a most imploring manner: ‘O Fred, dear, for my sake, don’t do it!’—it being the duel. But the heartless youth pushed me roughly from him, saying harshly: ‘I will! I will! Go away!’ Then I fell back gracefully into Pat’s arms in a dead faint, as Pat had taught me to do; whilst he sternly rebuked his rival, saying in cold measured accents: ‘Now see what you’ve done!’
Then our cousin Mary Kate, who was cast for the part of my mother, rushed forward and flung herself upon me, exclaiming wildly: ‘Alas! You’ve killed my child!’ But her child recovered; and my faithless Fred still repudiating me, I accepted my sad fate, and fell on my knees, crying out: ‘Very well! I’ll live and die an old maid!’ After this trying scene came a truly awful duel between the rivals: which duel used to strike terror into the hero’s mother. That anxious lady suffered from the painful apprehension that her darling sons would get maimed, or even shot! As the weapons were only toy pistols loaded with peas, the danger was not very great. I forget the end of the play, however, or who won the duel.