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"On August 6, 1846-I shall not readily forget the day-I rode op as usual to my mountain property, and my feelings may be imagined when, before I saw the crop, I smelt the fearful stench, now 80 well known and recognised as the death-sign of each field of potatoes. I was dismayed indeed, but I rode on; and as I wound down the newly engineered road, running through the heart of the farm, and which forms the regular approach to the steward's house, I could scarcely bear the fearful and strange smell, which came up 80 rank from the luxuriant crop then growing all around; no perceptible change, except the smell, had as yet come upon the apparent prosperity of the deceitfully luxuriant stalks, but the experience of the past few days taught me that all was gone, and the crop was utterly worthless.” (pp. 101, 102.)
The disastrous results of this unprecedented stroke on the great staple food of the poorer classes throughout Ireland, are recorded with much intelligence and feeling ; but as this is rather a matter of general history than more immediately and specially connected with the author's personal recollections of the “realities of Irish life,” we pass on to a subject altogether of a different kind, after just pointing out that the narrative on this topic, as bearing on one district, that of Schull, in the county of Cork, is again resumed in the Appendix, with a notice of the self-denying, generous, and devoted efforts of two Protestant clergymen in behalf of the sick, starving, and dying multitudes. The two honoured names are the Rev. F. F. Trench, then of Cloghjordan, now of Kells, and the present Archbishop of Dublin, then Rector of Itchen-Stoke, Hants, who went over to Schull on this mission of Christian love and benevolence, not without suffering to himself, as the Irish fever tracked him to England, and he was laid up for some time in considerable danger of life.
We believe that this is our author's first publication. Like the poet, an author of such a book as this exemplifies the truth of the old saying, “Nascitur non fit.” The volume is in itself a kind of drama or prose epic; and, just as Shakespeare and Walter Scott, and other writers of true genius and power, ever mingle the grave and the gay, their tragic and their gentler passages, so it is in the work before us. Now appears a certain amount of relief for the strained and excited feelings with which so large a portion of these narratives must be read. There are two others of the same character, interspersed, in due season and place, with the more appalling and public revelations of these pages ; viz., the 14th chapter, entitled, “ Alice McMahon," and the 19th, called “Patsy McDermott.” For these private histories of Irish peasant life-all very touching and truthful-we reserve some future observations.
The ninth chapter is entitled “Mary Shea," and is thus introduced :
haiprdan, now names are the hand dying
“Incidents of a touching and sometimes of an almost romantic character came frequently before me in my official capacity during the course of those trying years. One of these I particularly remember, and as I had an opportunity of tracing out the tale from the commencement to the end, I will give it a separate chapter." (p. 135.)
“Mary Shea” is the account of a young girl of Kenmare, on Lord Lansdowne's property, in the county of Kerry, where Mr. Trench had undertaken the agency still carried on by him. The scene described was one of many, in connexion with the personal and domestic history of the sufferers by famine and of their emigration, stranger far than fiction, but not on that account less true. At this time the utmost desire for emigration prevailed; and such was the necessity of the case and the difficulty in providing means, on the part of the landlord and agent, for all the requisite expenditure and arrangement, that, in spite of all assiduity and labour, it was difficult to meet and respond to all applications. Mary Shea took her own measures to obtain her own object at the time—not that of emigration, but that of retaining the miserable patch or “holding," as it is sometimes called-on which she still lived, if life it could be called, rather than, more truly and literally, starvation.
Mary Shea was an orphan, and a girl of much beauty-also of that propriety of conduct which is such a general characteristic of the young Irish peasant girls. Partly from the difficulty of obtaining full time to tell her story in the more public and regular way at the Office, and perhaps still more from a natural feeling of delicacy in connexion with her chief purpose, she hid herself among the bushes of the shrubbery in Lord Lansdowne's domain, where Mr. Trench took a little recreation and exercise after his exhausting work. Coming out unexpectedly, she appeared before him, as he describes it, in her * Spanish beauty,” with “large soft eyes, beautiful dark downy eye-lashes, the mouth well formed, and cheek of classic mould.” He speaks of her figure as “perfect in its sym. metry,” erect, active, and exhibiting “a lightness of step and grace of motion which can rarely be attained but by constant practice in walking over the mountains. ..... She was clean and neat in her person, though her clothes were of the coarsest kind.”
Mary Shea told her tale. It was that of one, now an orphan, still dwelling in the cabin where her father and mother had died, from the sufferings brought on by the famine of the “hungry year,” as she pathetically termed it, and acknowledging God's hand all the time and in all with the utmost submission and reverence. The description of her father's illness and death can scarcely be contracted, and though the
passage is of some length, we are well assured that our readers will only wish that the extract was longer still:
"Well, ye see we lived far up in the mountains, and no meal or anything could be got there, except what I brought myself—and it was ten long miles from Kenmare. “But still,” says I, “I won't let father die if I can help it !” So we had a few hives of honey which the gentlemen liked, because the bees made it all on the heather; and I used to slip over to Kenmare, now and then, with a hive, and bring back a little meal to father-we had no cow, as the place was too small to rear one. And I won't tell your honour a lie when I say that sorra ha’porth we had to live on except just the few hives of honey; and I knew when they were out, and I had no money to buy meal, we might just lie down and die. However, I said nothing to father about this, for I was only a slip of a girl ; but I thought it for all that.
“. Well, sure enough, after a time the honey was all sold, and I smothered the last bee I had—though in troth I was sorry to do so, as I had reared them all myself, and I think they knew me, as they never once stung me, though I used to sit close to the hive watching them. However, I knew well it was better for them to die than father, so I had to smother them; and I went down to Kenmare with a sorrowful heart and got 15s. for the hive. Well, with that I fed father and myself for another weary month : and when the meal was out, father says to me-“Mary dear, it's no use striving any longer against the hunger. I can't stand it. I'm weak and faint, and not able to go out to the public works, and I might as well die in the house as on the roads; and now mind, Mary dear, when I die, bury me beside your mother in the garden, and don't be making any noise about it --calling a wake or a funeral, for all has enough to do these hard times for themselves.” “Oh, father dear, don't talk that way,” says I, “I'll just go out and see if I can't get something that will keep the life in ye yet. So father said nothing, but just lay down on the bed, as if to wait till I came home. Well, I had some strength and spirit in me yet. And as Eugene and I had known each other since we were little children, I thought I would just go to him and see if he could help me. But when I went to his house he was far away on the public works. So I had • no more heart nor strength to go any further, and I had enough to do to get home. But oh! sorrow came heavy on me then : for when I called on father as I came in to ask him if God had sent him any food, he did not answer; and when I came to his bed, and put my hand upon his forehead, I found that he was dead and cold, and I was left alone in the world.'” (pp. 140, 141.)
But now Eugene appears-Eugene himself. “You have mentioned Eugene once or twice—who is Eugene?” said Mr. Trench. On this Eugene also immediately issues from the holly bush. Eugene was her lover. Eugene was the one who had pitied and succoured her in her hour of distress, and now there was the deepest mutual love between them. Mary Vol. 68.-No. 378.
Shea's petition was for a continuance of the cottage and land to Eugene and her as tenants; and little had they either thought of the impossibility of life and maintenance on the small patch of worthless heather for which she was making her eloquent and urgent address, as if failure in her purpose would be death and sorrow to them both, but success nothing less than life and happiness.
Whatever our readers may do as to the more appalling parts of this volume, let them at all events, the first opportunity they have, read for themselves this beautiful little episode in Irish domestic history during a time of trial and affliction. They will, we doubt not, be happy to hear that all ended well. Instead of settling down on the barren heather, and going on in a state of semi-starvation, nakedness, and misery, as might have been their lot still, arrangements were before long made for Eugene's emigration to America, to try his fortunes there, and speedily return for Mary Shea as his bride. Kind and judicious assistance was given him. “I'll go," said he, “and seek my fortune in America; and, please God, I'll surely succeed ; and I'll come back for my own darling, and take her out along with me. For God's sake, master, let us be quick; for I dar'nt rest or think of leaving Mary, or maybe I couldn't go out at all. Mary threw her arms round Eugene's neck-and, utterly regardless of my presence, sobbed and wept like a little child."
“Eugene,' said she, 'I know well I need not fear for your love if you were ten thousand miles away. Ye have proved it too often for me to doubt it for a moment now. Go, and God be with you ; but-mind you come back within the year, whether ye be rich, or whether ye be poor—if rich, ye will be welcome; and if poor, ye will then be doubly welcome to your own darlin' Mary. Never forget that.'
“She then turned to me, and-holding out her hand as a countess might have done-she continued,
«• Thank your honour much for your kindness; I'll never forget it, either in this world or the next.”” (p. 148.)
The narrative ends most beautifully and prosperously. Eugene went to America-speedily returned-was married to Mary Shea at Cork, and took her to his own “fine place, his twenty acres of good land, and his grand wooden house." We hope that they are still enjoying all that happiness which no two lovers in reality or fiction seem to have better deserved.
Passing over the next chapter, entitled the “ Seal Hunt," with its most picturesque account of an almost unique sporting adventure in the wild coast of Kerry, but quite independent of the general character and tone of the volume, we again find the author engaged, with his usual boldness and fidelity to his profession, in the county of Monaghan, as agent to the Marquis
of Bath. The condition of the estate corresponded in many respects with that of Mr. Shirley, to which allusion has already been made, and where Mr. Trench had to encounter the strange scene of violence and peril already described. The property had fallen into a most desperate state. Vast arrears had accumulated, and “many of the tenants had not paid any rent whatever for periods varying from two to six years." The history of one among them, who appeared resolutely and systematically determined to hold on his tenancy without paying for it, is selected as an illustration of the general state of affairs.
His name was Joey M-Key, “the acknowledged leader of all the recusants over a large district of the estate.” Many had “bound themselves to act as he did; and, in short, unless Joey M-Key was put down or overcome, the district would hold out in defiance both of law and order,” and Mr. Trench's first step was to “issue a warrant against him for debt, and to offer £50 to any man who would arrest him.” No one, however, would undertake the perilous office and responsibility, and the author found that if the thing was to be done at all he must do it himself.
Accordingly he rode up alone to his dwelling, and after some parleying outside was admitted by Joey himself into the lion's den.
It is quite impossible to do justice to the interview and scene which ensued between these two very bold and determined men. Each knew his own danger—the one from personal violence, the other from the prospect of losing his holding and prestige, as the champion of lawlessness among the surrounding tenantry. But each seemed to respect the courage and the strong energy of the other. The narrative is illustrated by two very graphic sketches. One is that of Joey M‘Key and his associates engaged in distilling poteen-i.e. native and illicit whiskey; the other is precisely the same as that on the cover of the book, already noticed. For some time it seemed very doubtful who would gain the victory : but in the end all success attended the union of tact, courage, sense of duty, and a certain confidential generosity of dealing, on the part of Mr. Trench, with his wild antagonist. Joey M Key surrendered himself; gave up all his lawless and rebellious claims; and then returned for a season to his home, in prospect of arrangements for emigration to America, and with full promise of provision for his establishment in that country. But he never reached that land. He fell sick soon after the interview described, and died of a rapid decline. Our author went to see him on hearing of his illness, but on that very morning he had departed. “He was a noble fellow in his way,” said