Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Upton's Wolves - A Tale of Lisnagarvey. (part 3)



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A Tale of Lisnagarvey.


"'Tis them, sir," said Ruairi. "tháim cinnte!"

"Enough, man," said the Squire, "enough -- no time for talking." And he dug his spurs viciously.
They were now on the descent of the mountain. Not a light could be seen over the whole extent of the great Massereene Valley. All was shrouded in darkness. But as they rounded a projecting whinstone spur and its cap of dwarf sloebushes they could discern a faint glimmer at the north "Foot."

"Yon's the house," cried the Squire joyfully. "Bill, the lad, is waiting on us, true to his tryst!"
In about half an hour of steady descent Upton and his friend, the torie from Kerry, arrived at the white farmhouse, were by appointment of the previous night the boy Bill was to meet them with the dogs, leashed for their work. Bill and the man of the house were in the air without, awaiting the Squire's arrival; for they had espied him and his companion as they zig-zagged down the mountainside, sometimes sillouetted against the moonlight, which now shone with all the frosty clearness of a fine autumn night. The dogs crooned joyously from the kitchen within, and a heartsome odour of frying meat met the nostrils of the travellers as they approached, promising a substantial meal, for which, in all truth, they were ready.

"Welcom', kin'ly welcom', hame," said the boy Bill, grasping his master heartily by the hand as he dismounted. "Yo'd a long ridse, sar?"

"Ay, son," returned Upton, much pleased with the ingeniousness of the youth's greeting. "Are the dogs ready? They have their work cut out for them this night, I'm thinking. Come, man," he said to Ruairi Carrach, who, strange thing for him, was inclined to hang back. "Look to Kettledrum, Bill, he's footsore and hungry."

Bill led the poor brute off to the clustering outhouses in the rear, while the Squire himself and Ruairi Carrach, at the goodman's invitation, entered the big farm-kitchen. The hounds bounding to greet them as they crossed the threshold, almost upsetting the goodwife who came "ben" from the low room, jug in hand, wreathed in hissing steam and smiles of welcome.

"They're in fine twist for their work," said the Squire to the goodman. And he laughed for sheer good-humour and satisfaction with himself -- a thing he but seldom did.

The meal was got through pretty rapidly, every man of them there doing justice to his bit. There was little or no time for fireside cracking, for the wolves, as the Squire had arranged, were to be tackled "out of hand." So, thanking the goodwige for her hospitality, the hunting party rose to go. Ruairi Carrach had charge of the hounds and general direction of the hunt. Bill went on as guide, for there was not a clodding-stone of that country but he knew like an old friend. And the Squire was there as adventurer and presiding genius of the business. The goodman, John-Gilpen-like, "followed after," with a blunderbuss and each shoulder and a plentiful supply of powder and shot in horns slung on the service-belt at either side of him. At Bill's suggestion they struck up by a large stone-built sheepfold that stood on the north shoulder of Divs Mountain, and dominated the Cúm "hollow," wherein Ruairi Carrach knew the wolves lay hidden, lost in fog. This fold was used by Lochside farmers, who had wool out pasturing on the sweet herbage of the mountain; and it had been entered by the pack four nights before, and fifteen head of sheep, penned there, eaten alive. There was accommodation for a shepherd inside the fold, and one was watching on this particular night. But at the first onslaught of the grey marauders he had fled, leaving his bleating charge to their tender mercies. No one since that night had ventured near the building. Nor was it known that the wolves had left it or its immediate neighbourhood; the eating it offered being to fat, and the protection it afforded -- perched thus on the mountain-top -- too secure. When the hunting-party had reached the ridge of the mountain, after a long and fatiguing climb, they skirted round to the north-east side, and in due time came on the fold, sitting grey and solitary over at the surrounding country, now wrapt in the darkness and silence of sleep. Ruairi Carrach found it hard enough work holding the dogs, for they were chaffing on their collars with restraint, and perhaps already scented out their game. The Cúm "hollow" still held its coverlet of mist, but no sound came from it. The pack may have taken off over the hills since they were last located; but, as Ruairi Carrach predicted, they would soon return again. The party entered the fold, headed by Ruairi and the dogs, and followed up by Bill with a stable-lantern, which he had now lit, for the place was pitch-dark within. Hardly had the dogs crossed the doorway when they dragged the torie roughly to his knees, and, snapping their bans, bounded from him with an impetuous yell. They were on top of a half-grown cub bitch that stood skulking over a putrid sheep-carcase, and had apparently remained feeding behind while its fellows went for a scurry across country as digester after their share of the surfeit. There was a mad growl, a shriek, a whine, and the carrion rogue was done for! The dogs seemed heartily pleased with themselves, as in the dim latern light they speered round their first "kill," smelling it suspiciously. Ruairi relieved them of the broken leading-strings, and the Squire gave orders for a watch to be set instantly. "They may return," he said, "any minute; and we must be found prepared. Look at you -- Lord, what a sight!" -- and he pointed to a corner of the fold, where, huddled together, lay ten or twelve sheep, all torn and blood-besprent. It was a sickening sight.  The poor frightened brutes had evidently been driven back here at the first onslaught of the wolves, and ha been devoured literally as they stood.

"Set a watch instantly!" cried the Squire. "This is their calf-ground, and they will come back before the night is much older. Set a watch!"

Ruairi was ready at his work. He went about things with the air of an old hand at the game. He was taking the fulll of his eyes of everything -- measuring the strategical methods of the pack, and preparing his defences accordingly. There were two entrances to the fold, he noticed -- one to the north (by which they had entered), low and broad; the other facing opposite, high and rather narrower. In his opinion there were not more than seven wolves, at most, in the whole pack. They had made their first attack by the north door; the position of the dead sheep as they lay huddled together on the south angle justified this view. But when their assault succeeded and they had practically the place to themselves they paddled in and out of either dooe, just as their convenience warranted of the fancy took them.

"They may enter either side," said Rauiri to the Squire, who had snatched the lantern from Bill's hand, and, with the hounds at his heels, was now ferreting round the fold -- after nothing! "I will leave you and the dog-boy to guard this door, while I and the goodman go on the other. Your choice of dogs, sir? Well, you can have Hector, here, as he seems to be your favourite. Watch the rascals. This steal on you with all the caution of wild-cats. Nor will you hear them. But dog will, and positively will go the leader his first fall.  If therefore, sir, you are not active when he is down he may escape, and the others with him. Or he may rise up and kill both you and the dog -- which heaven forfend! Here is a knife, sir," said Rauiri, undoing a short hunters "gully" from his shirt-belt. "You have 'Silver Toe' as it is, and here is a gun, sir. Goodman, where's the gun?"

The goodman handed a blunderbuss to the Squire, ready loaded with powder-horn, shot-case, colfin, and calfin-rammer.

"Good luck to you, man," returned Upton, as he took the knife from the wolf-huters hand. "Here, Bill, son, hold the dog -- I'll look to the gun. Good luck, man Ruairi. We'll do what we can -- depend on't!"

Ruairi Carrach and the goodman now departed for their own station, while Squire Upton and his dog-boy Bill crouched down behind the south gate, with the faithful Hector in leash beside them. The cold was intense, and the early morning darkness which accentuated in the shadow of the high walls of the fold. The wait was long and monotonous, for not a word could be spoken. Often in the night Upton was tempted to sleep; he was travel-tired and weary. But the excitement of the situation, and the odd stir-up from Bill, kept him from dozing off altogether. There was a grey clearing in the East --

"Eist!" whispered Ruairi Carrach, creeping out from his hiding-place to the north-side opening.

There was no unusual sound that an ordinary ear would detect; only the distant morning crowing of the cocks and farmyards of Massereene.

"Eist!" said Ruairi again, starting to his feet. "They're coming. Block that gate, a mhic o," he shouted to the dog-boy. "Hold the dogs!"

Hardly was the word out of his mouth when the wolves were on them and into the fold -- ten big grey dogs, no less, long-legged and white-fanged. They came swooping in by Ruairi Carrach's end, front-full and unsuspecting. Little did they think what awaited them. The wolf-dogs left their slips with a mighty roar, and in a trice were among the carrion. Ruairi Carrach accounted for two with his hunting-gully before they were right in of the door-jambs. Stone dead they fell, for Ruairi had tickled them just in the proper spot. A shot from Upton's blunderbuss disabled a couple more, and nearly took the leg off poor Bill, who, slips in hand, stood sideways to the charge. The dogs had worried three to the point of collapse, and Ruairi Carrach's little hunting-knife neatly finished their work. Three got clear away, clambering madly over the high grey walls of the fold. But Ruairi and the dogs were after them. It was a hot chase. They ran into the Cúm "hollow," already clear of its fog coverlet in the grey daylight.  The dogs anticipated the move and endeavoured to circumvent them.

"Fire, sir, fire!" yelled Ruairi to the Squire, who now came up for him with the blunderbuss, blowing like a storm through the Windy-Gap. The old gun rang out as he spoke, startling the silence of the hills into a thousand echoes. The shot miscarried, and Upton stumbled in a whin bush under the repay kick.

"Go mar'ighidh se thu!" snarled the wolf-hunter. "Leave them to the dogs -- and me. I'll finish them when my hand's in."

The chase was a beautiful one. The wolves were a trifle heavy after their three days' gorb, but ran gamely, if somewhat clumsiliy. The dogs seemed almost to understand this failing of weight, and kept them in the "hollow" tight up to their work.

"Feuch! feuch!" cried Ruairi to the Squire, who advanced picking the whin-spines out of his flesh. "Hector's only warming to his quarry. See! He hopes to wind them; and, that done, why his work's done. Beautiful! beautiful!" the torie shouted, unable to restrain himself for administration.

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It would be wearisome to you, reader, to follow the story in detail further. Suffice it to relate that, as the old school-master Compton tells us in that little book of his with the big title, "A Compendious System of Chronology," published in Belfast about the year 1823, the three wolves were killed in this "valley betwixt the hills," and by Irish wolf-dogs, the property of Clotworthy Squire Upton, to wit, of Castle-Upton, Templepatrick, in the County Antrim. That was in the third year of the reign of Dutch William, as the same pedantic authority takes care to further inform us in the same book. These wolves were supposed to have been the last of their kind in Erin. But this is not fact, as those who read history may find out for themselves. They were the last in Ulster, though; and Squire Upton got fame over the budsiness that reached far beyond the mere marches of the Fighting Province.

It is not known what became of Ruairi after. Some say he went back to his ranting, roving torie-life, on the principle that there's no corner so warm to a body as his own. Others say he married, settling down as a keeper on the Squire's estate at Ballyutog; that he lived to be as old as a wee field, and in the end had to be shot with a sixpence. Some of his name and breed, they tell me, are to be found in the Molusk lowlands to this day, and they can be distinguished from the Tamsons and the Rabisons and the Kells and the Barnes of those parts by their name, their colour, their manner, and their language. But that I cannot vouch for: I simply tell you what I heard told me. And if there is any among you, readers, who may think I am drawing on my imagination for my facts, or who would be inclined at all to doubt the veracity of the story of "Upton's Wolves," let him go down to the linen village of Ligoniel and ask a native -- "What is the name of that hill yonder, to the north?" He will answer, "Squire's Hill." "And what is the name of that high, heather-grown hill over the village?" He will answer, "Wolf Hill." And what is the name of the eminence behind it again to the east?" He will answer, "Aghabrack," which is a Gaelic name, and signifies the Field of the Wolves. It was in the valley betwixt those two hills, as I have before explained at length, that the last wolves in Ulster were killed by Squire Upton's dogs. And the Templepatrick bodies say that the heads of three wolves were long seen mounted on the hall walls of Castle-Upton, with a neat brass plate to each. inscribed with the day, date, and mannerof its capture.

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(Compiled by F. J. Bigger.)

The names of places and expressions in "Upton's Wolves" are here given in the Gaelic with their English equivalents and in so far as possible the meaning of the Gaelic terms.

Anahilt -- Enach-eilte -- Marsh of does.
Aghabrack -- Achadh-na-breac -- Field with wolves.
Aghalee -- Achadh-laeg -- Calves' field.
Antrim -- Aondruim -- One ridge.
Ballylesson -- Baile-Liosain -- Little fort, village.
Ballinderry -- Baile-an Doire -- Oakwood town.
Belfast -- Beul-Fearsat -- Mouth of River.
Carnmoney -- Carn-Muine -- Shrubbery carn.
Carngreine -- Carn-greine -- Sunny carn.
Connaught -- Connacht --
Cromac -- Cromog -- Sloping place.
Croob -- Crub -- Hoof.
Crumlin -- Crum-glinn -- Crooked glen.
Dundrod -- Dun-droiched -- Bridge fort.
Divis -- Dubh-ais -- Rough mountain.
Dunmurry -- Dun-muireadhaigh -- Murray's fort.
Drumbo -- Drum-bo -- The cow's ridge.
Drumahaire -- Druim-aedhaire -- The ridge of the two air demons.
Duneane -- Dun-ean -- Bird's fort.
Derry -- Doire -- An oak grove.
Beurla -- English.
Erin -- Eire -- A woman.
Finaghy -- Fionn-achadh -- White field.
Farranfuar -- Fearann-fuar -- Cold land.
Glendaragh -- Gleann-darach -- Oak glen.
James -- Seumas --
Killimoney -- Coill-a-mona -- Wood of the moan.
Kerry -- Ciarraidhe --
Killead -- Cill-fhadh -- Long church.
Legoniel -- Liag-ua-niall -- O'Neill's Hollow.
Lambeg -- Lamh-beag -- Little church.
Lisnagarvey -- Lios-na-goearrbhach -- Gambler's Fort.
Massereene -- Mas-a-rioghan -- Queen's hill.
Malone -- Magh-luan -- Fat lamb's plain.
Moy -- Magh -- A plain.
Magheragall -- Machaire-geal -- White plain.
Molusk -- Maghloisgthe -- Burnt plain.
Mucamore — Maig-cumair -- Two waters meet.
Round Tower -- Cloic-teach -- Bell-house.
Randalstown -- Baile-Randhaill -- Town of Randall (MacDonnell).
Shankill -- Sean-cill -- Old Church.
Trummery -- Tromaire -- Where elders grow.
Templepatrick -- Teampull-Padraig -- St. Patrick's Church.
Ulster -- Uladh --
William -- Liam --
Raparies -- Outlaws --
Imthigh-libh -- Be off with you.
Cum -- A hollow.
Eist -- Be silent.
Na-breacha is eadh iadh -- The wolves they are.
Taim Cinnte -- I'm certain.
A mhic O' -- My boy O!
Feuc -- Look! See!
Go mar ighidh se thu -- May you wear it.

(Hearth-money Rolls, 1669, next week.)

(This article was originally published in the Lisburn Standard on 27 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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