It’s in yon little house you see in the glen below you, and you going down the road from Gortmore to Inver, that my Priest lives. Himself and his mother, and his little sister, and his little, small wee brother, – those are the family in it. The father died before Taimeen, the youngest child of them, was born. There’s no time I do be in Rossnageeragh but I spend an evening or two along with them, for the Priest and Maireen (the little sister) and Taimeen are the dearest friends I have. A soft, youngish-looking woman the Priest’s mother is; she’s a bit headstrong, maybe, but if she is itself she’s as kind-hearted a woman as is living, after that. ‘Twas she told me this story one evening that I was on a visit to her. She was washing the Priest, meanwhile, before the fire; a big tub of water laid on the floor beside her, the Priest and his share of clothes stripped from him, and she rubbing and scrubbing every inch of his body. I have my doubts that this work agreed too well with the Priest, for now and again he’d let a screech out of him. With every screech his mother would give him a little slap, and after that she’d kiss him. It’s hard for a mother to keep her hand off a child when she has him bare; and ‘twould be harder than that for a mother, as loving as this mother, to keep her mouth from a wee, red moutheen as sweet as Paraig’s (Paraig’s my Priest’s name, you know). I ought to say that the Priest was only eight years old yet. He was a lovely picture, standing there, and the firelight shining on his well-knit body and on his curly head, and dancing in his grey, laughing eyes. When I think on Paraig, it’s that way I see him before me, standing on the floor in the brightening of the fire.
But in regard to the story. About a year before this it is it fell out. Nora (the mother) was working about the house. Maireen and Taimeen were amusing themselves on the floor. ‘Fromsó Fromsó’ they had going on. Maireen was trying to teach the words to Taimeen, a thing that was failing on her, for Taimeen hadn’t any talk yet. You know the words, I suppose? – they’re worth learning, for there’s true poetry in them:
‘Fromsó Fromsó, –
A woman dancing,
That would make sport,
That would drink ale,
That would be in time
Here in the morning!’
Nora wanted a can of water to make tea. It was supper-time.
‘Where’s Paraig, Maireen?’, says she. ‘He’s lost this half-hour.’
‘He went into the room, mameen.’
‘Paraig!’, says the mother, calling loudly.
Not a word from within.
‘Do you hear, Paraig?’
Never a word.
‘What’s wrong with the boy? Paraig, I say!’, says she, as loud as it was in her head.
‘I’ll be out presently, mama,’ says a voice from the room.
‘Hurry with you, son. It’s tea-time, and devil a tear of water have I in the house.’
Paraig came out of the room.
‘You’re found at last. Push on down with you, – but what’s this? Where did you get that shirt, or why is it on you? What were you doing?’
Paraig was standing in the door, like a stake. A shirt was fastened on him over his little coat. He looked down on himself. His face was red-burning to the ears.
‘I forgot to take it off me, mama,’ says he.
‘Why is it on you at all?’
‘Sport I was having.’
‘Take it off you this minute! The rod you want, yourself and your sport!’
Paraig took off the shirt without a word and left it back in the room.
‘Brush down to the well now and get a can of water for me, pet.’ Nora already regretted that she spoke as harshly as that. It’s a woman’s anger that isn’t lasting.
Paraig took the can and whipped off with it. Michileen Enda, a neighbour’s boy, came in while he was out.
‘It beats me, Michileen,’ says Nora, after a spell, ‘to make out what Paraig does be doing in that room the length of the evening. No sooner has he his dinner eaten every day than he clears off in there, and he’s lost till supper-time.’
‘Some sport he does have on foot,’ says Michileen.
‘That’s what he says himself. But it’s not in the house a lad like him ought to be stuck on a fine evening, but outside in the air, tearing away.’
‘A body’s will is his delight,’ says Michileen, reddening his pipe.
‘One apart is Paraig, anyhow,’ says Nora. ‘He’s the most contrary son you ever saw. Times, three people wouldn’t watch him, and other times you wouldn’t feel him in the house.’
Paraig came in at this, and no more was said on the question. He didn’t steal away this time, but instead of that he sat down on the floor, playing ‘Fromsó Fromsó’ with Maireen and Taimeen.
The dinner was on the table when Paraig came home from school the next evening. He ate his share of stirabout and he drank his noggin of milk, thankfully and with blessing. As soon as he had eaten and drunk, he took his satchel of books and west with him into the room, as was his habit.
The mother didn’t let on that she was giving any heed to him. But, after a couple of minutes, she opened the door of the room quietly, and stuck the tip of her nose inside. Paraig didn’t notice her, but she had a view of everything that was going on in the room.
It was a queer sight. Paraig was standing beside the table and he dressed in the shirt again. Outside of this, and back over his shoulders, he was fixing a red bodice of his mother’s, that she had hanging on the wall. When he had this arranged properly, he took out the biggest book he had in his satchel – the ‘Second Book’ it was, I believe – he opened it, and laid it before him on the table, propped against the looking-glass.
It’s then began the antics in earnest. Paraig stood out opposite the table, bent his knee, blessed himself, and began praying loudly. It’s not well Nora was able to understand him, but, as she thought, he had Latin and Gaelic mixed through other, and an odd word that wasn’t like Latin or Gaelic. Once, it seemed to her, she heard the words ‘Fromsó Fromsó,’ but she wasn’t sure. Whatever wonder was on Nora at this, it was seven times greater the wonder was on her when she saw Paraig genuflecting, beating his breast, kissing the table, letting on he was reading Latin prayers out of the ‘Second Book,’ and playing one trick odder than another. She didn’t know rightly what he was up to, till he turned round and said:
‘God save us!’, says she to herself when she saw this. ‘He’s pretending that he’s a priest and he reading Mass! That’s the Mass vestment he’s wearing, and the little Gaelic book is the book of the Mass!’
It’s no exaggeration to say that Nora was scared. She came back to the kitchen and sat before the fire. She didn’t know what she ought to do. She was between two advices, which of them would be seemliest for her – to put Paraig across her knee and give him a good whipping, or to go on her two knees before him and beg his blessing!
‘How do I know,’ says she to herself, ‘that it’s not a terrible sin for me to let him make a mimic of the priest like that? But how do I know, after that, that it’s not a saint out of heaven I have in the house? And, sure, it would be a dreadful sin to lay hand on a saint! May God forgive it to me, it’s often I laid the track of my fingers on him already! I don’t know either way. I’m in a strait, surely!’ Nora didn’t sleep a wink that night with putting this question through other.
The next morning, as soon as Paraig was cleared off to school, Nora put the lock on the door, left the two young children under the care of Michileen’s mother, and struck the road to Rossnageeragh. She didn’t stop till she came to the parish priest’s house and told her story to Father Ronan from start to finish. The priest only smiled, but Nora was with him till she drew a promise from him that he’d take the road out to her that evening. She whipped home then, satisfied.
The priest didn’t fail her. He struck in to her in the evening. Timely enough, Paraig was in the room ‘reading Mass.’
‘On your life, don’t speak, Father!’, says Nora. ‘He’s within.’
The two stole over on their tiptoes to the room door. They looked inside. Paraig was dressed in the shirt and bodice, exactly as he was the day before that, and he praying piously. The priest stood a spell looking at him.
At last my lad turned round, and setting his face towards the people, as it would be:
‘Orate, fratres,’ says he, out loud.
While this was saying, he saw his mother and the priest in the door. He reddened, and stood without a stir.
‘Come here to me,’ says Father Ronan.
Paraig come over timidly.
‘What’s this you have going on?’, says the priest.
‘I was reading Mass, Father,’ says Paraig. He said this much shyly, but it was plain he didn’t think that he had done anything out of the way – and, sure, it’s not much he had. But poor Nora was on a tremble with fear.
‘Don’t be too hard on him, Father,’ says she. ‘He’s only young.’
The priest laid his hand lightly on the white head of the little lad, and he spoke gently and kindly to him.
‘You’re too young yet, Paraigeen,’ says he, ‘to be a priest, and it’s not granted to anyone but to God’s priest to say the Mass. But whisper here to me. Would you like to be serving Mass on Sunday?’
Paraig’s eyes lit up and his cheek reddened again, not with shyness this time but with sheer delight.
‘Ora, I would, Father,’ says he; ‘I’d like nothing at all better.’
‘That will do,’ says the priest. ‘I see you have some of the prayers already.’
‘But, Father, a mhuirnin’—says Nora, and stopped like that, suddenly.
‘What’s on you now?’, says the priest.
‘Breeches nor brogues he hasn’t worn yet!’, says she. ‘I think it early to put breeches on him till—’
The priest burst out laughing.
‘I never heard,’ says he, ‘that there was call for breeches. We’ll put a little cassock out over his coat, and I warrant it’ll fit him nicely. As for shoes, we’ve a pair that Martin the Fisherman left behind him when he went to Clifden. We’ll dress you right, Paraig, no fear,’ says he. And like that it was settled.
When the priest was gone, the mother stooped down and kissed her little son.
‘My love you are!’, says she.
Going to sleep that night, the last words she said to herself were: ‘My little son will be a priest! And how do I know,’ says she, closing her eyes, ‘how do I know that it’s not a bishop he might be by-and-by?’