Thursday 16 July 2015

King O'Toole and St. Kevin - A Legend of Glendalough

"By that lake, whose gloomy shore
Sky-lark never warbles o'er.
Where the cliff hangs high and steep
Young St. Kevin stole to sleep. – Moore.

Who has not read of St. Kevin, celebrated as he has been by Moore in the melodies of his native land, with whose wild and impassioned music he has so intimately entwined his name? Through him, in the beautiful ballad, whence the epigraph of this story is quoted, the world already knows that the sky-lark, through the intervention of the saint, never startles the morning with its joyous note in the lonely valley of Glendalough. In the same ballad, the unhappy passion which the saint inspired, and the "unholy blue" eyes of Kathleen, and the melancholy fate of the heroine, by the saint's being "unused to the melting mood," are also celebrated; as well as the superstitious finale of the legend, in the spectral appearance of the love-lorn maiden.
"And her ghost was seen to glide
Gently o'er the fatal tide."
Thus has Moore given, within the limits of a ballad, the spirit of two legends of Glendalough, which otherwise the reader might have been put to the trouble of reaching after a more round-about fashion. But luckily for those coming after him, one legend he has left to be
"------ touched by a hand more unworthy" –
and instead of a lyrical essence, the raw material in prose is offered, nearly verbatim as it was furnished to me by that celebrated guide and bore, Joe Irwin, who traces his descent in a direct line from the old Irish kings, and warns the public in general that "there's a power of them spalpeens sthravaigin' about, 'sthrivin' to put their comether upon the quality, [quality – the Irish gentry generally call the higher orders 'quality,'] and callin' themselves Irwin, (knowin', the thieves o' the world, how his name had gone far and near, as the rale guide,) for to deceive dacent people; but never to b'lieve the likes – for it was only mulvatherin people they wor." For my part, I promised never to put faith in any but himself; and the old rogue's self-love being satisfied, we set out to explore the wonders of Glendalough. On arriving at a small ruin, situated on the south-eastern side of the lake, my guide assumed an air of importance, and led me into the ivy-covered remains, through a small square door-way, whose simple structure gave evidence of its early date; a lintel of stone lay across two upright supporters, after the fashion of such religious remains in Ireland.

"This, Sir," said my guide, puttiug himself into an attitude, "is the chapel of King O'Toole – av coorse y'iv often heerd o' King O'Toole, your honor?"

"Never," said I.

"Musha, thin, do you tell me so?" said he, "I thought all the world far and near, heerd o' KiDg O'Toole – well, well!! but the darkness of mankind is ontellible! Well, Sir, you must know, as you didn't hear it afore, that there was wonst a king, called King O'Toole, who was a fine ould king in the ould ancient times, long ago; and it was him that ownded the churches in the airly days."

"Surely," said I, "the churches were not in King O'Toole's time?"

"Oh, by no manes, yer honour – troth, it's yourself that's right enough there; but you know the place is called 'The Churches,' bekase they wor built afther by St. Kavin, and wint by the name o' the churches iver more; and therefore, av coorse, the place bein' so called, I say that the king ownded the churches – and why not Sir, seein' 'twas his birth-right, time out o' mind, beyant the flood? Well, the king you see was the right sort – he was the rale boy, and loved sport as he loved his life, and huntin' in partic'lar; and from the risin' o' the sun, up he got, and away he wint over the mountains beyant afther the deer: and the fine times them wor; for the deer was as plinty thin, aye throth, far plintyer than the sheep is now; and that's the way it was with the king, from the crow o' the cock to the song o' the redbreast."

"In this counthry, Sir," added he, speaking parenthetically in an under tone, "we think it onlooky to kill the redbreast, for the robin is God's own bird."

Then, elevating his voice to its former pitch he proceeded. –

"Well, it was all mighty good, as long as the king had his health; but, you see, in coorse o' time, the king grewn owld, by raison he was stiff in his limbs, and when he got sthricken in years, his heart failed him, and he was lost intirely for want o' divarshin, bekase he couldn't go a huntin', no longer; and, by dad, the poor king was obleeged at last for to get a goose to divart him."

Here an involuntary smile was produced by this regal mode of recreation, "the royal game of goose."

"Oh, you may laugh, if you like," said he, half affronted, "but it's truth I'm tellin' you; and the way the goose diverted him was this-a-way: you see, the goose used for to swim across the lake, and go down divin' for throut, (and not finer throut in all Ireland than the same throut,) and cotch fish an a Friday for the king, and flew every other day round about the lake, divartin' the poor king, that you'd think he'd break his sides laughin' at the frolicksome tricks av his goose; so in coorse o' time the goose was the greatest pet in the counthry, and the biggest rogue, and diverted the king to no end, and the poor king was as happy as the day was long. So that's the way it was; and all went on mighty well, antil, by dad, the goose got sthricken in years, as well as the king, and grewn stiff in his limbs, like her masther, and could'nt divert him no longer; and then it was that the poor king was lost complete, and did'nt know what in the wide world to do, seein' he was done out of all divarshin, by raison that the goose was no more in the flower of her blume.

"Well; the king was nigh hand broken hearted, and melancholy intirely, and was walkin' one mornin' by the edge of the lake, lamentin' his cruel fate, an' thiukin' o' drownin' himself, that could'nt got no divarshin in life, when all of a suddint, turnin' round the corner beyant, who should he meet but a mighty dacent young man comin' up to him.

"'God save you,' says the king (for the king was a civil-spoken gintleman, by all accounts,) 'God save you,' says he to the young man.

"'God save you, kindly,' says the young man to him, back again, 'God save you,' says he, 'King O'Toole.'

"'Thrue for you,' says the king, 'I am King O'Toole,' says he, 'prince and plennypounytinchery o' these parts,' says he; 'but how kem you to know that?' says he.

"'O, never mind,' says Saint Kavin.

"For you see," said old Joe, in his under tone again, and looking very knowingly, "it was Saint Kavin, sure enough – the saint himself in disguise, and no body else.' 'Oh, never mind,' says he, 'I know more than that,' says he, 'nor twice that.'

"'And who are you?' said the king, 'that makes so bowld – who are you at all at all?'

"'Oh never you mind,' says Saint Kavin, 'who I am; you'll know more o' me before we part, King O'Toole,' says he.

"'I'll be proud o' the knowledge o' your acquaintance, sir,' says the king, mighty polite.

"'Troth you may say that,' says Saint Kavin. 'And, now, may I make bowld to ax, how is your goose, King O'Toole?" says he.

"'Blur-an-agers, how kem you to know about my goose?" says the king.

"'O, no matther; I was given to undherstand it,' says Saint Kavin.

"'Oh, that's a folly to talk,' says the king; 'bekase myself and my goose is private frinds,' says he; 'and no one could tell you,' says he, 'barrin the fairies.'

"'Oh thin, it was'nt the fairies,' says Saint Kavin; 'for I'd have you to know,' says he, 'that I don't keep the likes of sitch company.'

"'You might do worse then, my gay fellow,' says the king; 'for it's they could show you a crock o' money, as aisy as kiss hand; and that's not to be sneezed at,' says the king, 'by a poor man,' says he.

"'Maybe I've a betther way of making money myself,' says the saint.

"'By gor,' says the king, 'barrin' you're a coiner,' says he, 'that's impossible!'

"'I'd scorn to be the like, my lord!' says Saint Kavin, mighty high, 'I'd scorn to be the like,' says he.

"'Then, what are you?' says the king, 'that makes money so aisy, by your own account.'

"'I'm an honest man,' says Saint Kavin.

"'Well, honest man,' says the king, 'and how is it you make your money so aisy?'. -

"'By makin' ould things as good as new,' says Saint Kavin.

"'Blur-an-ouns, is it a tinker you are?' says the king.

"'No,' says the saint, 'I'm no tinker by thrade, King O'Toole; Ive a betther thrade than a tinker,' says he 'what, would you say,' says he, 'if I made your ould goose as good as new.'

"My dear, at the word o'mankin' his goose as good as new, you'd think the poor ould king's eyes was ready to jump out iv his head, 'and,' says he – 'troth thin I'd give you more money nor you could count,' says he, 'if you did the like: and I'd be behoulden to you into the bargain.'

"'I scorn your dirty money,' says Saint Kavin.

"'Faith then, I'm thinkin' a thrifle o' change would do you no harm,' says the king, lookin' up sly at the ould caubeen that Saint Kavin had an him.

"'I have a vow agin it,' says the Saint; and I am book sworn,' says he, 'never to have goold, silver, or brass in my company.'

"'Barrin' the thrifle you can't help,' says the king, mighty cute, and looking him straight in the face.

"'You just hot it,' says Saint Kavin; 'but though I can't take money,' says he, 'I could take a few acres o' land, if you'd give them to me.'

"'With all the veins o' my heart,' says the king, 'if you can do what you say.'

"'Thry me!' says Saint Kavin. 'Call down your goose here,' says he, 'and I'll see what I can do for her.'

"With that, the king whistled, and down kem the poor goose, all as one as a hound, waddlin' up to the poor ould cripple, her masther, and as like him as two pups. The minute the saint clapped his eyes on the goose, 'I'll do the job for you,' says he, 'King O'Toole!'

"'By Jaminee," says King O'Toole, 'if you do, but I'll say you're the cleverest fellow in the sivin parishes.'

"'Oh, by dad,' says Saint Kavin, 'you must say more nor that – my horn's not so soft all out,' says he, 'as to repair your ould goose' for nothin'; what'll you gi' me, if I do the job for you? – that's the chat,' says St. Kavin.

"'I'll give you whatever you ax,' says the king; 'isn't that fair?'

"'Divil a fairer,' says the saint; 'that's the way to do business. Now,' says he, 'this is the bargain I'll make with you, King O'Toole; will you gi' me all the ground the goose flies over, the first offer afther I make her as good as new?'

"'I will,' says the king.

"'You won't go back o' your word,' says Saint Kavin.

"'Honor bright!' says King O'Toole, howldin' out his fist.

"'Honor bright,' says Saint Kavin, back agin, 'its a bargin.' says he. 'Come here!' says he to the poor ould goose – 'come here you unfortunate ould cripple,' says he, 'and its I that 'ill make you the sportin' bird.'

"With that, my dear, he tuk up the goose by the two wings – 'criss o' my crass an you,' says he, markin' her to grace with the blessed sign at the same minute – and throwin' her up in the air, 'whew!' says he, jist givin' her a blast to help her: and with that, my jewel, she took to her heels, fly-in' like one o' the aigles themselves, and cuttin' as many capers as a swallow before a shower of rain. Away she wint down there, right foreninst you, along the side o' the clift, and flew over St. Kavin's bed, (that is where St. Kavin's bed is now, but was not thin, by raison it was'nt made, but was conthrived after by Saint Kavin himself, that the women might lave him alone,) and on with her under Lugduff, and round the end iv the lake there, far beyant where you see the watherfall, (though indeed it's no watherfall at all now, but only a poor dhribble iv a thing; but if you seen it in the winther, it id do your heart good, and it roaring like mad, and as white as the dhriven snow, and rowlin' down the big rocks before it, all as one as childher playing marbles,) – and on with her thin right over the lead mines o' Luganure, (that is where the lead mines is now, but was not thin, by raison they wor'nt discovered, but was all goold in Saint Kanin's time.) Well over the ind o' Luganure she flew, stout and sturdy, and round the other ind ay the little lake, by the churches, (that is, av coorse where the churches is now, but was not thin, by raison they wor not built, but aftherwards by Saint Kavin,) and over the big hill here over your head, where you see the big clift; (and that clift in the mountain was made by Fin Ma Cool, where he cut it across with a big sword, that he got made a purpose by a blacksmith out o' Rathdrum, a cousin av his own, for to fight a joyant [giant] that darr'd him an the Curragh o' Kildare; and he thried the sword first an the mountain, and cut it down into a gap, as is plain to this day; and faith, sure enough, it's the same sauce he sarv'd the joyant, soon and suddent, and chopped him in two like a pratie, for the glory of his sowl and owld Ireland;) well, down she flew over the clift, and fluttherin' over the wood there at Poulanass, (where I showed you the purty watherfall; and by the same token, last Thursday, was a twelve-month sence, a young lady, Miss Rafferty by name, fell into the same watherfall, and was nigh hand drownded; and indeed would be to this day, but for a young man that jumped in afther her; indeed a smart slip iv a young man he was; he was out o' Francis-street, I hear, and coorted her sence, and they wor married, I'm given to undherstand; and indeed a purty couple they wor.) Well, as I said, afther flutterin' over the wood a little bit, to place herself, the goose flew down, and lit at the fut o' the king, as fresh as a daisy, afther flyin' roun' his dominions, just as if she had'nt flew three perch. Well, my dear, it was a beautiful sight to see the king standin' with his mouth open, lookin' at his poor ould goose flyin' as light as a lark, and betther nor ever she was; and when she lit at his fut, he patted her an' the head, and 'ma vourneen,' says he, 'but you are the darlint o' the world.'

"'And what do you say to me,' says Saint Kavin, 'for makin' her the like?' 'I say,' says the king, 'that nothin' bates the art o' man, burrin' the bees.' 'And do you say no more nor that?' says St. Kavin. 'And that I'm behoulden to you,' says the king. 'But will you gie me all the ground the goose flewn over?' says St. Kavin. 'I will,' says King O'Toole, 'and you're welkim to it,' says he, 'though it's the last acre I have to give.' 'It's well for you,' says St. Kavin, mighty sharp, 'for if you did'nt say that word, the devil receave the bit o' your goose id ever fly again!' says St. Kavin.

"Well, whin the king was as good as his word, St. Kavin was plazed with him, and says he, 'King O'Toole, you're a dacent man, I only came here to thry you. You don't know me,' says he, 'I'm deceavin' you all out, I'm not myself at all!' 'Blur-an-agers thin,' says the king, 'if you are not yourself, who are you?' 'I'm Saint Kavin,' said the saint, blessin' himself. 'Oh, queen iv heaven,' says the king, makin' the crass betume his eyes, and fallin' down an his kness before the saint, 'is it the great Saint Kavin,' says he, 'that I've been discoorsin' all this time, without knowing it,' says he, 'all as one as if he was a lump iv a gossoon? and so you're a saint,' says the king. 'I am,' says Saint Kavin, 'the greatest of all the saints!' For Saint Kavin, you must know, Sir,' said Joe, 'is counted the greatest of all the saints, bekase he went to school with the prophet Jeremiah.

"Well, my dear, that's the way that the place came all at wanst into the hands of Saint Kavin; for the goose flewn round every individyal acre o' King O'Toole's property, bein' let into the saycret by St. Kavin, who was mighty cute; and the king had his goose as good as new, and the saint supported him, afther he kern into his property, antil the day av his death; and when he was gone, Saint Kavin gave him an illigant wake and a beautiful berrin;' and more betoken, he said mass for his sowl, an' tuk care av his goose."

Source: The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jun. 30, 1832)
Image: St. Kevin’s Bed and the Church of the Rock, Upper Lake Glendalough

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