Donegal Character - Irish Pictures (1888)

From Irish Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil (1888) by Richard Lovett

Chapter VIII: The Donegal Higlands … continued

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As a good illustration of the ready wit and shrewdness of the Donegal character, we quote the following story about a 'natheral'—a term connoting very often as much knave as fool—named Jemmy. Jemmy had been brought up before the magistrate on a charge of poaching, only too well-founded. Once, when carrying two fine hares in a bag, a magistrate known as 'owld Alick' met him, and on Jemmy's assurance that the bag contained a fine fox, wished to see him. 'Well, ye may be sure I was sore put to it, how to keep him from catching me with the hares, and me coming aff his land; but says I, "He's sthrong enough, dear knows; but he's as wicked as a tithe proctor, and if I take him out of the bag, I wouldn't put it past him to make his escape from both of us; but I'll tell ye what we'll do, I'll howld the bag for ye, and ye can put in won of yer hands and feel him;" and I held the mouth of the bag till him. "Will he bite?" says he. "Troth," says I, "ye'll have to find that out for yerself. How do I know what he will do? I'm no prophet, only I know he has nigh hand taken two of the fingers aff me. But then there's a wide differ between a poor craythur like me, and a magisthrate like yer honour." When owld Alick heerd tell of biting, he wasn't so aiger for putting in his hand; and the more he held back the more I held forrard the mouth of the bag. At last says he, "Jemmy, ye may take away yer fox, and here's sixpence for ye," says he, "to drink my health in." Och, he's an amadhaun, that owld Alick, any way.'

On the other occasion Jemmy was summoned to the Dunfanaghy Petty Sessions. 'When I came into the court house where the magisthrates were setting, there was old Stodart, that's always hawing and humming as if he had a bitther bad cold; and Captain Gibbs, that's still cutting pens with a wee knife, and letting on to mend them, so as to save the throuble of taking notes of the thrials; and young John Nelson, that nivir laves off talking, only to put carrs (grimaces) on his face that would frighten an owl; and the clerk fella, Moran, that swears the witnesses and taches the magisthrates what they have to do.' Jemmy's defence was that he was not sure of a fair hearing, and hence would say nothing. This led the magistrates into the somewhat rash promise that they would hear whatever he wished to say without interrupting him. Jemmy affirms that the poaching was done by 'a fella they call Johnny Magrory, a poaching vagabone that lodged awhile back with Widda McCann at the cross roads, that was married to Hudy McCann, that was son to him at the Marble Hill gate lodge, that Misther Stodart there, at the head of the honourable binch, fined for obsthructing the police. For sure Hudy angered Mr. Stodart by telling on him what was his rayson for opposing the setting up of the Government milestones along the roads—that it was to save money out of the car-drivers; for sure he knew that he couldn't bate them down in their charge for the dhriving, if they had the English milestones there to back them. And—och! yer honours, says I, don't let Misther Stodart look that way at me; for sure it wasn't me that towld of him at all, but Hudy McCann that he turned aff from keeping the gate lodge; and then she took in lodgers. And 'deed the worst lodger iver she took in was Johnny Magrory, that was no betther nor a born divil for poaching and telling lies all over the counthry. He wears a blue coat, and brass buttons on the knees of his breeches; and he towld Sally Divvor that there was no use in her going to ask Captain Gibbs for any help, for that he found it came chaper to him to swear at the people that asked for help, nor to help them; and he set his dogs on two owld weemen that came till hall dhoor to—Och! gentlemen dear, says I, don't let Captain Gibbs look that way at me, for it wasn't me that towld a word about him, but it was Johnny Magrory; and 'deed I don't belave it meself, for Captain Gibbs niver set his dogs on me at all, barring wonst that he was thrying to jump his horse over a rail, and he tumbled off in the shough—and that was enough to anger any one —and he wouldn't let me rub him down with my caubeen of a hat that I offered to clane him with; for, says he, "I saw ye laughing at me, ye blaggard." Ye mind, Captain? And the rid dog tore off the tail of me coat that was give me by yer honour, Misther John Nelson, when it was too rotten for ye to wear it any longer yerself. And that lying vagabone, Johnny Magrory, said ye gave it to save giving me a sixpence at an odd time, because it would be aisy for ye to say, "Have ye no conscience, Jemmy Canny, asking me again for money, and me gave ye all that good clothing a wee while ago?" And—och! yer honour, Misther Nelson, says I, don't look like that at me; for sure ye know I towld ye it wasn't me at all that said it, but that vagabone Johnny Magrory. Sure he niver tells a word of truth; and I don't know why yer honours would think that I would be setting wires and gassicks in Misther Stodart's lands, when it was Johnny Magrory done it, and not me at all.

'Well, I went on threeping (insisting) that way on the magisthrates about Johnny Magrory; and first won would get angered with me, and the others would laugh at him; and then another would get angered, and they would laugh at him; and when any of them would thry to stop me, I would just say, honour bright, yer honours, ye promised to hear me out. And then they couldn't help themselves, for their word was passed to hear me to the ind. And at last owld Stodart says, "We're only making a laughing-stock of ourselves, letting this fellow keep on." "But ye promised," says I; and then they all put their heads thegither, and afther awhile old Stodart says to me, "Defindant," says he, "the binch have consinted to discharge ye this time; but mind ye're niver caught poaching again, or it'll be worse for ye. Now be aff." So says I, "Sure I'll give that vagabone, Johnny Magrory, yer message, yer honours: I'll tell the poaching vagabone all ye say." And then I came away, and left them laughing at won another, and the police laughing at them all, and the people that was waiting for justice, and ivery won. They'se amadhauns, them magisthrates anyway.'[2]


[2] Memoirs of a Month among the 'Mere Irish,' pp. 290-296. This little book gives a capital notion of the life, habits, surroundings and superstitions of the Donegal natives. It is published by Kegan Paul & Co.

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