Wednesday 20 July 2011

Upton's Wolves - A Tale of Lisnagarvey. (part 2)



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A Tale of Lisnagarvey.


Next morning Upton was astir with the sun. He partook of a hearty breakfast, for he had an eventful day's work before him, as he laid out for himself. His business to Lambeg was in connection with the preservation of the peace of the baronies marching on Belfast. The lieutenants were to meet there in session to consider the recent importation of beggar companies, and such like strollers, driven north through stress of war in other parts of the kingdom. Lambeg was selected as proximity to the Gamester's Moat at Lisnagarvey, where numbers of these undesirables were known to frequent and hover. The rogues were to be confronted, as it were with the majesty of the law, to be taught to render its officers the respect owed them in virtue of their position, and to learn due appreciation of its penalties. Rab Castlaw had the Squire's favourite hackney, Kettledrum, groomed and onsaddled before the door. Upton mounted, riding out unattended, but with a brace of pisto;s in his sword-belt, the pans primed and ready for rude assault. His way took him by Molusk, the Cave-Hill, Biggerstown, and Old Park into Belfast, through the town by Cromac Springs, on south-wards, past the Five Beeches at Malone, and thence by the Lagan Valley, Giant's Ring, Ballylesson, and Drumbo to Lambeg, where he duly arrived for the [-- ? --] with time and to spare. He fell in with many gentlemen on the road, all riding with their servants by horseback and coach to the same trysting. Upton could have made as brave a show as the bluest-blooded among them, but he preferred for reasons which my readers will understand to go alone on this occasion, besides being a man of hard and simple tastes. Few country people were about, for it was the hind-harvest, and they were busied in the haggards. But the beggars were there in force, displaying the rouges' effrontery to the full, hirpling after the cavalcades, loudly craving halfpence and compassion.

With the meeting we have no concern, other than to make mention of the purport and holding. Business was got through in good time; and Upton, when he had regaled himself on the cold punch and cheese sandwiches packed in his holsters, mounted horse and pushed rapidly ahead towards Lisnagarvey, where he hoped to secure his man -- the outlaw from Kerry. Two gentlemen from The Moy side rode with him. But he parted their company at a farm "loaney" turning to the left, about a furlong this side of the Gamesters' Moat, saying that he was going visiting a ploughhand engaged at the place who had wrought to him some years back, and in whose welfare he was interested. With the road all to himself, then, he made a detour by the fields, his dignified Kettledrum taking to the fences like a two-year-old, and in due time came on the entry to the Moat.

The Moat stood to the north-east of the town of Lisnagarvey, not very far from the mouldering round-tower on Drumbo Hill, and save on the north side, where it was girt in with a dense growth of wood, commanded a wide and splendid prospect. Sou'-westward stretched the fertile Valley of Lagan, delightful in dark wood and fair fields, most of the latter green and shorn of their golden harvest-crop, but a laggard few still yellow in waving wheat and corn. Here and there the river could be seen in tantalising glimpses, with the brown firwoods that marked its course darkening over its ribbon of gleaming waters. In the southern distance, far beyond the rich Vale of Crumlin and the prosperous uplands of the Annahilt and Drumahaire, the blue peak of Croob could be seen rising faintly to the sky. Eastward the view was bounded in by the nearer heights of Drumbo and Blackrock, pale-red in fallow and worn pasture-land. Westward lay the fields of Magheragall, with the ancient ruined Round Tower of Trummery among them, and, beyond, Aghalee and Ballinderry, and the faint waters of Lough Neigh, beautiful in mist and legend. The Moat was originally a "lios" or "rath," built by the devoted hands of early settlers in Erin, and owned its commanding site. I would think, to the keen instinct of self-preservation that dwelt in the breast of primitive man. Our forefathers, as every schoolboy knows, were great cattle-keepers. These rings of earth were thrown up by them to serve as pounds or "closes," inside which their herds were driven at night, or when disturbed from the lower pastures by the cattle-spoilers and torie-tongues -- then, as now, pretty numerous in the kingdom. The height at which raths were built enabled the watching herdsmen to see far over the surrounding country; and, besides, it rendered them more immune from risk of attack. When the Irish took seriously to war as a business and gave up the more peaceable keeping of cattle the raths were given over to the faeries and the thimble men; not, indeed, solely because of the fine prospects they commanded, or of the comparative safety they secured, but also because of their loneliness sitting up on those green hills, so grey and solitary. It was never known that this particular rath was a haunt of the good-people.  But it certainly is known that it was a haunt of the rogues; and that is how it came to get its present curious name -- Lisnagarvey, the Forth of the Carrowes, or Card-Men. Hither came the freefoots of the whole kingdom "to playe at cardes and dice," as one old writer puts it. The vagabonds of one generation handed it down in tail to the knifie-boys of another, till in time's course the very place-name became synonomous for black disreputableness. No person who valued his character as something, to be treasured as sacred would venture within seven fields of the Gamester's Moat at Lisnagarvey.

Upton approached from the north side, where it was closed in with wood. He could hear the music of a bag-pipe played from within the Forth, and the sound of many voices in merriment. But till now he could see nothing. He advanced at a walking pace, urging Kettledrum slowly over the undergrowth which grew lavishly on either hand and impeded his free movement. Suddenly he came on an opening in the thicket which led into an open "green," over which many people were scattered sitting in groups. The "mount proper, moated about" rose to the left of this "green;" and it was from within its walls that the pipe-music and the sounds of vigorous merriment proceeded. He dismounted silently and tethered his horse-bridle to a sapling growing on the outer side of the narrow approach. From his position now he could see that the people seated on the "green" were not the carrowes proper, but poor back-gone country-folk, mostly from Louth and other southern and western counties, who followed the rogues for protection.

At Upton's approach the party loitering nearest to him fled precipitately, and giving the cue in a series of wild Gaelic yells to their fellows, the hive was soon in a hub-bub of dread and consternation. What errand had the stranger there, armed and in gentleman's guise? Such broadcloth intrusion was most unusual. Few from the world who valued their lives or their characters dared to break in upon the Moat's ancient privacy. The poor people scattered, not indeed that they had much to fear. But they were taken unawares and moreover, they were soulless and dispirited after so many months of effort and so many of failure, and the Damocles-doom of death and eternal slavery hanging over their heads by a hair. Upton, though a brave and venturesome man, was himself afraid. Here he was, Williamite captain, alone, far from home, and but meanly armed, in the stronghold of venemous Jacobitism. The pipe-music had ceased; the sounds of bumptious merriment were stilled; and already twenty pairs of wild glibbed eyes peered gaping on him from the Fort-top. The position was sufficient to test the nerves of a stronger men than Upton. But his head was in, as they say; and the devil himself would not get it out again.

While debating within himself whether to push on or whether to flee, a carrowe emerged from the gapped entry to the Moat, and advancing to where Upton stood, addressed him pleasantly, first in liquid Gaelic, then in sturdy deliberate english, as if that language were strange and foreign to him. He was a tall man, tough as a window-watcher, spare in flesh, but muscularly formed, with the blue eyes, matted yellow hair, flowing habiliments, and brazen manner of his caste. Upton was a little taken aback at the fine freedom of his address. But when he invited him pleasantly to have a game upon the green, only, he said, "wishing his honour's company to hold them sport," his dourness relaxed considerably, and he stepped forward to comply with his request.

"Good," said the carrowe, when Upton had told him the nature of his business thither. "Only give me five guineas down in gold, and a pass of safe conduct through, and I'm your man. Any work comes easy to my hand, sir -- I just wag as the bush wags. My name, sir? Ruairi Carrach, the wolf-hunter, of the mountain parish of Farranfaur, in Kerry. Wolves, sir? G--d, I've a hundred heads to my account in a tithe as many years at the work sir; and there's not a man living can say better. No, sir!" And he swore a full-mouthed oath in Gaelic as, arm-in-arm, they entered the Moat together.

The sight that greeted Upton's eyes as he entered the enclosure was certainly a novel one. Gathered here and there in strange motely groups sat the carrowes at their dice-throwing and carding. They were so different in every way to the poor folk who first confronted his wondering gaze. Their very look spoke the "sore-legs," the professional strollers; their manner, the buckle-beggars who know no timidity and no shame; their speech, the loud-mouthed adventurers. Apart from the gaming groups sat the piper of the company, the wild versatile man who supplied the music for the dance and the motive for the onset. He was viciously pock-marked, glibbed, rug-bearded, and apparently blind, judging from the way in which he stared into the sky-space like a dreamer inspired; timing his melody with traditional beats of his right foot as he turned the pipes on in lively salute to the stranger. The grass on all sides was littered over with old torie-cloaks multi-hued as your beggars' bags and ragged uniforms, many of them bloodstained, telling of service in the recent wars, or, it might be, in some less glorious midnight sheep-slaying. A tripod of stakes -- ash saplings with their bark on them -- stood in the farthermost angle of the Moat, and slung on it a sheep's carcase, fobbed probably from a cote near-by, and the life-blood of which might have stained many of the garments just now spoken of. A new fire of wood crackled merrily at hand, and with bright promise for the roasting.

At the invitation of the group nearest him Upton sat down, and good-humouredly joined in the game -- "spoil five" it was, Erin;s national card-game. Ruairi Carrach, who was apparently the man in authority here, ordered a member of the group to set about preparing the dinner. He skulked off to his task, sullenly enough it must be said, and Upton took his place without disturbing the "loo ob." Considering that he was no great hand at the cards, and that he was practically in the grip of a gang of professional sharpe and "cunning-men," innocent all as pet-foxes, he did uncommonly well at the game. He played with steadiness and precision, using his English powers of judgement to good account; and when he rose at the call for dinner, if he was nothing much in as winners, he was, at all events, no great money out. He thanked the Lord silently in his heart for his good fortune so far, and with appetite quickened by his long ride and the ordeal he had just faced so resolutely, proceeded to his meal. It was served in rough alfresco fashion; but the mutton being young and well hung, it tasted well in spite of the vicious scamming it had suffered at the hands of torie-cook and wreathing fire combined. A pot of red ale was served out to him as compliment to the stranger. For, be it borne in mind, whatever other faults these wild men could be accused of -- and the bead-roll was a long one in all conscience! -- yet they had hearts, and could never be brought to book on the score of inhospitality to the stranger. Numerous stories were told and jokes bandied, both in English and in the gaelic, and snatches of old Jacobite songs sung.

When the repast was over it was falling grey dusk. Upton rose to go. His horse stood on-saddled for the road, ready watered and fothered, and fifty poor "Peg Straws," if there was one, holding on to the bridle-reins in the off-chance of getting a dole before the "kind gentleman" went off. He mounted. Ruairi Carrach was up in a trice behind him, with a gesture to the mob to stand off.

"Imthigh libh! Imthigh Libh!" he shouted.

There was a momentary sway back of the crowd, only for it to close in again with renewed pressure and persistency. Upton put his hand in his pocket and sent a shower of silver flying over their heads. The shower was a magical one, like your proverbial "shower of sixpences." The people scattered all roads in a mad scramble, pulling at each others's wools and screaming wildly. Upton took advantage of the distraction to get away, and at Ruairi Carrach's suggestion put spurs to his mount and was soon clattering down the high road next Lambeg. For half a mile on their course they could still hear the sound of the shouting in the darkness, for the evening was a still one and what slight breath of wind there was blowing happened to be in their direction. Their course lay by Dunmurry and The Finaghy to Stockman's Loaney, where they drew rein at the "Hanging Ash" Smithy to have the clinching of their off fore-shoe attended to. or

"For want of a nail the shoe was lost."

Then they pushed on through The Falls to Ligoniel, avoiding the town, and up the steep ascent through the old linen village to the hills. In the window of the last house on the road a glimmer was burning. Upton felt thirsty, and dismounted for a drink. Besides, his poor mount Kettledrum was winded and weary after its long drag uphill from Shankill, and it wanted a breather badly. Ruairi Carrach was not ill-off, being used to such sudden spells and long inured to hardships. Upton rapped at the door of the house with his crop-handle. The knock was answered by Andy M'Bride in his shirt-sleeves, who seemed somewhat taken aback when he saw who he had.

"Maister Upton?" he queried, peering uncannily into the Squire's face.

"Yes, my good man. Can I have a drink?"

"Och, surely, Maister Upton, surely," said the man of the house. And he called to his "guidwife Tibbie" to "cam' ben wi' a sup o' new mulk for Maister Upton."

"Oh, water will do me," said the Squire. "I'm dry, and want the drink."

"Watter, Tibbie, guid-wumman," called the man of the house. "The Maister's drouthy an' wants the dhrink. Watter, well-watter, 'll dae, guid-wumman -- an' a sup i' the pail for the puir baste oz' weal! -- ye're for the hills the nicht, Maister Upton?" he said to the Squire. "It's nae sae aft we see ye this road."

"Yes," returned the Squire. "I've taken this road home. It's a roundabout. But what matters -- that's my way."

"Ye ha'e nae heard o' the wolves, then?" ventured the man of the house.

"The what?" cried the Squire, feigning blissful ignorance of the existence even of such things in the Province.

"The wulves, then, Maister Upton!" said the man of the house deliberately.

"N-no," stuttered Upton, cleverly drawing his game.

"G--d, an' it's weel ye stappit, so," said the man of the house. "The hills hereaboots 're nigh over-run wi' them. An' me up o' nichts, this ane lang week back, wi' lichts a-glimmer a' sides o' the hoose, stack-stanes an' windie-stool, an' barely a breath i' me for fear. They're wrocht sad wark doon by Dundrod saide, there -- sheep a-liftin', an' lambs ate b' the fauld-full. It's a caution, Maister Upton -- whatever they're cam' frae. 'Sang it is!"

Tibbie here cme "ben" with the drink in a beechwood noggib, holding the light of a rush-dip in the face of the Squire as he quaffed off the cool draught, and peering out into the night, with the curiosity of her kind, to see who the weary his honour's companion might be. He wasn't of her country, anyway -- not a Killmoney man. She could see that by his gab.

"Why, man," said the Squire when he had recovered breath and smacked his lips volubly, "and it's strange I never heard as much as a word of them."

"Unco' strange," said the man of the house. "And if ye're for the hills this nicht ye'd dae worse nor luk tae yer gun primins. Ah see ye ha'e 'A'ld Siller-Toe'wi' ye, Maister Upton."

"Yes, man," said the Squire, drawing forth his pistol "Silver Toe" and examining the pan critically in the goodwife's rush-light to see that all was right. "I seldom fare out wanting her. We'll be off now," he said to Ruairi Carrach, who stood by Kettledrum's head in the darkness of the roadway. "There can be no great danger, if, indeed, any at all, We'll push ahead and trust to luck and 'Silver Toe.' Good-night!"

And, so saying, he thrust a coin in the goodwife's ready hand as "greaser" for her civility, and mounting horse, with Ruairi up behind him, rode rapidly away and was soon lost in the gloom of fog that had descended as they spoke. The road was none too clear, but Upton trusted to his great knowledge of it and pushed on. By the time they had reached the "gap," where they turned off into the mountain path, the dense weight of the fog had lifted, and already the moon was beginning to show her silvery white head in the blue of the heavens over them. Very soon there was no mist at all, save in the Cúm "Hollow," over which it hung like the white waters of a highland tarn, and the glimmering moon's wake shining on them. But as the track kept high, leading over the mountain ridge, our wayfarers did not mind much, everything showing clear and sharp-defined before them. They were plodding slowly ahead through the heather when suddenly Ruairi Carrach dug Upton in the short-rib and whispered "Eist!"

There was a low growl, as of dogs, from the Cúm "bottom."

"Na bréacha is eadh iad!" whispered Ruairi in his mother tongue. "The wolves! the wolves!"

He lept lightly from his seat on the pillion as he spoke, and creeping low in the heather, listened.

"'Tis them," he whispered; "'tis them;"

Upton, brave-heart and all that he was, felt a cold tremor running down his backbone. His mount snorted and shied, pawing the ground uneasily, and it took all his fine powers of horsemanship to keep him up to his bit.

"Mount, man, mount!" he cried to Ruairi. "We'll ride forward. MArk the snarling, man. We're no earthly use as we are. We'll ride down to Dundrod Foot, where I've trysted with Dan Bill, the dog-boy, to have the dogs. There'll be a warm bite in the farmhouse waiting for us to the bargain. I'm half-famished as it is, and you must be starving. Mount, man!"

Ruairi jumped into his place, and Kettledrum started forward nervously.

(To be continued.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 20 July 1917 as part of a series which ran in that paper each week through 1917. The text along with other extracts can be found on my website Eddies Extracts.)

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