Thursday 30 October 2014

The Tale of Teeling's Ghost

It was the night of the festival of All Hallows, when every peasant implicitly believes that the fairies and other supernatural beings have double power over the destinies of mortals; I had been out shooting during the day, and was invited by a small farmer, whose cabin was situated near the top of the long mountain at Glen Cullen, to "cum up in the evenin' an' look at the boys an colleens divartin' themselves;" and of course accepted of his invitation. The principal room, which usually served as kitchen, was the spot where the fun was held; and as I entered, a fine handsome-looking youth, with strong athletic limbs, and a good-humoured blue-eyed girl were dancing away on the door, which was taken off the hinges, and elevated on four sods of turf, as a place "fur footin' id:" all round the room were seats of various kinds, from the high-backed chair of the grandfather, to the three-legged stool of the youngest son; and many "a dacint boy" was seated on the bare earth beside the boss occupied by his "own little colleen," rather than by accepting of a seat be removed to a distance from her, "an' he not knowin' what design the fairies might have on her." -- Large jugs of "raal mountain dew," mixed into punch for the ladies, stood smoking on a table at one extremity, and at the other was the peat fire, blazing brightly, assisted by an occasional poke of granny's crutch, who quietly sucked her "ould pipe," and looked on with much good humour at the pranks of the youngsters. Beside her was seated a thin, pale girl, whose black hair was combed completely back, and fastened with a piece of ribband, and whose brilliant eyes were intently watching two nuts that she had placed in the fire, to burn, as she said, "just for the sake ov thryin' iv her sweetheart id lave her or not." A fair-haired, healthy-looking youth, who was crouched behind her so that she was unaware of bis presence, tried in vain to suppress a laugh, as he saw the motionless eagerness with which she watched their blazing; and when the stiffed "ha, ha, ha," made his presence known, she turned round and laughed too, while a crimson blush, that was doubly vivid from her paleness of feature, mantled o'er her face and neck. When the couple who were dancing on my entrance grew tired, these two took their places, and though I have often seen the jig danced, never did I see any thing like their style: ease, and grace, and activity, all were united and combined in their movements, and the shouts of applause -- the "bravo Larry" -- success, Peggy, asthore -- it's yerself that can do id," that burst from ail those who were standing round, spoke well for the judgment of the lookers-on. By degrees they began to droop, and their place was not taken by another couple when they at length ceased, for the boys then began to help the apples and nuts, with the squares of sweet oaten cake, and the glasses of hot punch, and a cheerful, good-humoured contest took place to determine from whom Peggy, the belle of the room, should take the first apple: but it was soon ended -- for Larry, the handsome youth with whom she had been dancing, was the successful aspirant, and the sweetness with which she received it, and the good-natured smile that sat upon her lips, made her look, as one of those present declared, "as purty, ay an purthier, nor the queen o' beauty."

"Shure, then, Peggy, avourneen," said the aged host, who was father to the youth called Larry, and a famous story-teller, "bud id's yerself needn't be ashamed of showin' thim little pins ov your's on any boord in this counthry side, anyhow; a if I think, whin yer one ov us, between yerself an' Larry, an' the sisthers, they'll want a fine back that 'ill bate us at the dancin'."

Peggy blushed at his allusion to her approaching union with his son, and smiled when she felt her hand softly pressed by his as he sat at her side.

"She's the purthiest heel an' toe step I ever seen wid any one, barrin' Biddy Daly beyant in the glin," quietly remarked an old man, who was sitting by the fire; upon which Larry, fancying this deteriorated from her merit, hastily exclaimed --

"Shure enough, thin, Misthur Cullen, I'll back Peggy any day to tire down an' bate out a dozen Biddy Daly's."

A smile mantled on the father's features at the son's warmth; and, plucking his pipe from his mouth, and depositing it carefully in his waistcoat pocket, he exclaimed,

"Why, thin, Larry, agra, bud I believe you have a dhrop ov the ould hot blood in you afther all. I myself was just such another at the time I met with Teeling's ghost below at the river."

"Whin was that -- tell us about, Sur -- do Misthur Mullen," here simultaneously exclaimed all, both boys and girls, and the aged host drew closer to the fire, and every one having given their seat a chuck in, after the fashion of playing the interesting game of cutchecutchoo, he laid his brawny hands on his knees, and looking complacently on his circle of listeners, commenced.

"Yez must know, boys and girls, that ould Teeling had possession of this house an' bit o' land afore I cum to take id, an' it was said that he berred money some where hereabouts, bud that's more nor I believe; fur why id a man die as he did in this very room (many a head here looked suspiciously round; and they closed in with one accord to a smaller circle) athout lavin' not only as much as id give him a dacint berrin, an all that, bud also what id get a few pipes an a taste o' whiskey, wid a thrifle of baccy, an' so forth, for his sorrowing neighbours. -- Well, whin I cum to take the land, be shure I was tould on all sides that the house wasn't quiet, bud sorra bit of me ever seen a ghost since I cum to the place."

"Did you ever see one before in the house, daddy?" interrupted an inquisitive scion of the house of Mullen, greatly to his father's annoyance, as he was trying to gloss over that part, as if there was foundation in the report: however this was a poser, so he answered --

"Why no, Tom, a hagur, I can't say exactly that I did, bud they spoke ov id anyhow, an' it was generally believed; bud that's naither here nor there as far as is consarnin' the present story. One evenin' about dusk I was lavin' the fair ov Rafarnam, intendin' to walk home quietly through the mountains, whin I met a frind who insisted on my goen in to take a sup wid him afore I'd start. -- Well, sorra one of my whole breed, seed, or gineration evir had the black drop in thim, in the regard o' the licker, an so be coorse I couldn't refuse, an' I went in, an' we had a naggin -- quiet; you young rascal -- don't be pullin' your brother's hair;" this last order was addressed to the same snub nosed urchin who had a moment before been so inquisitive, and who was now industriously employed in chucking single hairs out of his brother's head, who lay asleep in his mother's lap. Well, where was I?" continued the veracious narrator -- "oh, ay, we finished our dhrop, an' parted wid a warm shake of the hand; fur he was a chap I had a regard for; his sowl's in glory now I hope; an' off I sets by myself, wid the moon shinin' brightly on the path, and the stars twinklin' an brilliant as diamonds. It's no thrifle of a step, as yez all know, from the fair green to where you enthir on the path through the valley, near where you go up to Misthur White's, an' besides it's all up hill, bud I was young an' active thin, an' didn't mind it, no more nor iv id had been only a couple o' parches. I was whistling cheerily as I wint along beside ov the little throut-strame, an' saw nothin' fur a man to dhread till I cum betune the two great hills where the goiants used to be playin' quoits long ago (They show a spot on the mountain top here, where they say the giants used to play quoits to the opposite hill) thin it grew mighty dark all ov a suddent, fur a big, ugly black cloud slipped across the moon, an' hid her silver face, an' it was only be the light of the stars I was guided, an' that was no great shakes; an' jist as I was steppin' across an ould wall, what did I see on the other side bud the ghost of ould Teeling, wid a face like milk, an two blazin' eyes, and a horrid grinnin' mouth -- "

"Mercy on us," shudderingly exclaimed one or two of his auditors, while the others listened without daring to breathe.

"He was mounted on his ould black mare, that died long afore him, an' the baste didn't look like the ghost of itself at all at all, fur its skip was smooth, an' it was fatther nor evir. Well, I didn't know what to say or do, fur the tongue o' me stuck to my cheek, and my heart kep' rappin' an hammerin' away as iv id wanted to brake out, bud at last I plucked up courage, an', sis I, --

"Thin you spoke to id, did you?" interrupted his son.

"Yis, indeed, Larry a hagur, there was no manner of use in standin' there, glowerin' at him, fur bad cess to the taste of a step he seemed inclined to stir, an' so I made bould, an', sis I,

"'Misthur Teelin', sis I, 'iv you'd be plazed to let me pass,' sis I, 'I'd feel particularly obleeged to you.' sis I.

"Wid that, Sur, he gives the ould mare a skelp ov his naked fist, an' id rattled like a hape of bones, an' up she jumps, an' stands on the side ov the hill, tin feet above the path.

"'Thank you, Sur,' sis I, well pleased at seein' him so condiscindin', bud wondherin', at the same time, that he didn't spake to me at all, an' thin turnin' round, an' takin' off me hat, I made a low bow, an', sis I.

"'Good night, Misthur Teelin', an' safe home to you, Sur,' sis I, an' set off as fast as my two good legs could carry, an' as the crooked, dangerous road id suffer. Well, all was right till I got within about fifty yards ov me own house, whin I dunna what prompted me to turn round, bud, anyhow, I did so, an' there, close behind me, was ould Teelin' again, an' his mare, who was followin' me all the way, though I nevir heerd the fall ov her hoofs. Sorra a use there was in any further parley thin, fur I seen he was about somethin' that wasn't good; so seein' I was so near home, though my heart was all thrimblin' like a lafe in a high wind, I makes a sudden dart off, wishin' sweet bad luck to his dirty ould bones, that wouldn't rest quietly in the grave, bud should be comin' up agin to plague an' tormint honest people, who did him no manner ov harm. At this the baste let a murdherin' big shout or screech out of her, the like ov which I nevir heerd before fur curdlin' the blood, an' though I couldn't hear her runnin' I knew she was afther me like the wind. Every step I tuk was twist as long as I could at any other time; but, howsomdever, jist as I got to my own doore, I feels the cowld hand ov the ghost grippin' me by the neck, an' he lifted me up as iv I wor a child, an flung me down on my face, an' vanished in a flash of lightning. Afther this I was so stunned an' stupified wid fear that I lost all recollection, an' whin I woke there was no mare, nor sign ov one present, an' the sun was shinin' like goold upon the glin, an' me ould dog here lickin' my face; bud the wondher-fullest thing of all was that me ould woman here never heerd the noise, an' thought I had stopped at the fair all the night."

When Mullen had concluded his story, he looked complacently round, as much as to say, "had any o' yez an adventure to bate out that:" and took the various shrugs or wonder with the air of a man who feels certain that he has deserved applause. His pipe was also a second time replenished, and he puffed away with much self-satisfaction, amid the wondering and fearful looks of the superstitious persons who surrounded him.

"Well, Peggy, my darlin'," said his son Larry to the pretty girl at his side, "in all your born days did you evir hear the aquil ov that?"

"Never, indeed, Larry," was the answer; "bud maybe it's not all thrue."

"Not thrue," reiterated his father, getting angry at having his veracity for an instant doubted; "it's as thrue as yer sittin' beside ache other this blessed minute; fur didn't I go in the mornin' to the spot where I furst seen thim, an' climb up to the place where the mare jumped whin I civilly axed him to lave the way, an wasn't the grass all scorched an' withered up, let alone bein' thrampled; an' can't I show yez it any time at all, as id never grew green from that day to this, an' its twenty-five good years sence, an' more, an' iv that's not a convincin' proof, an' you refuse to believe id, why put me down as bein' dotin', that's all."

If there were any persons in the group that had an instant's doubt, this positive proof soon banished it, and the aged hero of the tale was viewed with double respect and awe.

By and by various harmless tricks were played off at each other's expense; all the innocent spells too were put into requisition, and the kale stalks were pulled, and much laughter caused by those who were so unfortunate as to get a crooked one.

When the plates containing salt and sand, and pure water, and one a ring, were brought out, much bustle and mystery took place. The maidens tried to find the ring, but did not succeed; and the youths tried sedulously to avoid the sand or earth, as if their lives really depended on it. When it came to Peggy's turn, her hand, as if by some spell, went straight into the plate that contained the ring; and oh Larry also advancing, his did the same. -- This was instantly prophesied into their being united before the year would be out, and displayed considerable foresight, and prophetic powers on the part of the soothsayers, as the day had been already appointed, and was not more than three weeks oft.

None of those charms which are wrought in the name of the Devil were attempted, for though they are often spoken of as being effected, I think they are seldom tried, as the majority of the Irish peasantry have an awe of those conjurations, which nothing can remove. It was morning ere we parted, and the genuine "good wishes" which followed me on my retirement, came more gratefully to my heart than all the courtly phrases that politeness has invented to take place of sincerity; The pleasure was considerably enhanced from having, thus had an opportunity of witnessing the manner in which an evening, pregnant with so much of merriment and sport in the "Land of Cakes," is spent by the Irish peasant.


The text of this article was originally published under the title of 'The Irish Peasants: Halloween' in the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 3, No. 121 (Oct. 25, 1834), pp. 129-131.

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