Tuesday, 31 May 2016

To Ships and Men in War

Peace washes silent o'er the ocean bed,
  It sweeps both time and substance in its path.
The years roll forward, pass and make no scar
  Upon the toll of conflict's aftermath.

Gaunt timbers, rusted steel, encrusted chains
  Stand not as relics of a wanton life,
But serve as carven crosses in a world
  As yet untouched by needless human strife.

Here lie no marble vaults nor granite tombs,
  Sharp rock and silver sand serve in their stead,
No hymnals sound nor choristers are heard
  To chant in requiem for the turmoil's dead.

Destruction cries from every strangled spar,
  Brutality from every jagged plate,
And yet the deep remoulds and softens all
  The viciousness that man saw fit to sate.

A quiet hovers here, elsewhere unfound,
  And blesses with its touch and precious grace
The scaffold-skeletons of ships and dust of men
  Who, unknown, lie in this last resting place.

by A. R. Rogers

This poem is taken from Voices from the Sea : Poems by Merchant Seamen, edited by Ronald Hope and published in 1977 by Harrap (London) in association with the Marine Society.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Madman's Grave

IN the year 1793, an unknown maniac, whose dress and figure bore the vestiges of a once better lot, wandered to Ballycastle, a beautiful village on the shore of the county of Antrim. He was sullen, melancholy, and incommunicative; his days and nights were spent among the wild and lofty rocks in the neighbourhood of the bay, and his food was the shell-fish, or the sea-weed that was washed in by the tide. A life of such hardship and privation would have soon terminated the existence of one endued with unimpaired reason; but insanity hardens the constitution, by depriving it of a sense of its affliction, and by diverting the mind from real sorrow to imaginary objects. At certain periods of the month his sullenness was changed to frenzy, he then would groan and shriek as if suffering from excessive anguish, and although the neighbouring peasantry were frequently disturbed by his nightly moanings, yet, as he never attempted any act of violence, they suffered him unrestrained to indulge his misery. For several weeks he thus continued alternately melancholy or outrageous, until one night in the latter end of July, when the neighbouring cottagers were awakened by the loudness and horror of his shrieks. For a while they continued violent, then grew fainter, and at length sunk in total silence. Early the following morning a fisherman arose to examine a kelp-kiln which he had lit the night before, when the shocking spectacle of the half-consumed maniac met his sight. The wretched sufferer, while wandering on the projecting ledge of a steep cliff, had missed his footing, tumbled down the precipice, and rolled into the blazing kiln, which burned at the base of the rock! His mutilated remains were enveloped in a piece of sail-cloth, and buried in a little green recess at the foot of the precipice from which he fell. The verdure of this spot is rendered more lively by being contrasted with the grey tints of the surrounding rocks; it is adorned by sea pinks and other marine dowers, and on no part of the romantic shores of Antrim does the traveller of taste feel emotions more varied, or sensations more interesting, than on the spot where heaves the Madman's Grave.


Where Rathlin's fierce contending tides,
      In storms and calms incessant roar,
And rudely lash the moss-grown sides
      Of Ballycastle's rock-bound shore.
Where western winds for age prevail
      And chide the weary wanderers stay,
Who crowd the heaven aspiring sail,
      And swiftly fly the dangerous bay.*
Where the dark mine of old so fam'd,†
      Now echoes to the tempest's moan —
By song of poets never nam'd,
      Unmark'd by any sculptur'd stone.
'Tis there beneath the rock's bold brow,
      And lash'd by every foaming wave,
The child of sorrow's eyes may view,
      The poor deserted madman's grave.—
The sea-pink droops its feeble head,
      The lonely night-hawk screaming flies
Above the spot where low and dead,
      The maniac's form for ever lies.
No plated mockery held his frame,
      No train of friends wept o'er his bier;
No child sobb'd loud a father's name,
      Or kiss'd a speechless mother's tear.
Long, long beside the dangerous shore
      Beneath the wint'ry blast he stray'd,
And mingled with the ocean's roar
      The dreadful cries he nightly made.
His feet by every rough rock torn,
      Through snares of death he urg'd his way;
With him despair rose every morn,
      And clos'd each sad and cheerless day.
Yet dark oblivion's gloomy veil.
      O'er all his senses was not flung —
The midnight wanderer heard the tale,
      Of deep distress flow from his tongue.
Remembrance rack'd his tortur'd brain —
      Where hope has fled, a dreadful guest,
And incoherence mark'd the strain,
      Which sighs convey'd from misery's breast.
Dire was the night, when his last cry
      Pierc'd sad and oft the troubled air:
The sun rose o'er the Fairhead high
      But shone upon no maniac there.
The storm may raise the troubled sea,
      The wild winds o'er the mountain rave;
The maniac's soul from pain is free —
      He sleeps in yonder nameless grave.
Oh God of heaven! on me look down;
      Though dark distress be ever mine,
Let reason still maintain her throne,
      And I will bear, and not repine.
With reason all my steps to guide
      My soul shall shine supremely brave, —
When mercy shuns the vault of pride,
      And peace wide opens misery's grave.
M. B.

* Ballycastle bay is formed by the promontories of Fairhead and Bengore: it is very unsafe from the prevalence of westerly winds.
† A mine was discovered near the Fairhead, which had been worked some hundred years since.

Story from the Belfast Monthly Magazine, 1st December 1808.
Poem from the Analectic Magazine, August 1818.
Image: Ballycastle Strand by JP Rooney.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Light Cruisers (Old)

When you've marshalled your navies and gloried your fill
In the latest they show of invention and skill,
The lion in strength and the lizard in speed,
The watchful in waiting, the present in need,
The great Super-Dreadnoughts gigantic and grim,
The thirty-knot cruisers both subtle and slim,
The weight and the range of each wonderful gun —
Remember the cruisers, the out-of-date cruisers,
The creaky old cruisers whose day, is not done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.

You may look to the South, you may seek in the North,
You may search from the Falklands as far as the Forth —
From Pole unto Pole all the oceans between,
Patrolling, protecting, unwearied, unseen,
By night or by noonday the Navy is there,
And the out-of-date cruisers are doing their share!
Yes, anywhere, everywhere, under the sun,
You will find an old cruiser, an off-the-map cruiser,
An out-of-date cruiser whose work's never done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.

It may be you'll meet with her lending a hand
In clearing a way for the soldiers to land —
Escorting an army, and feeding it too,
Or sinking a raider (and saving her crew),
Blockading by sea or attacking by dry land,
Bombarding a coast or annexing an island;
Where there's death to be daring or risk to be run
You may look for the cruiser, the out-of-date cruiser.
The creaky old cruiser that harries the Hun
(Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one).

In wild nights of Winter, when warmly you sleep,
She is plugging her way through the dark and the deep,
With death in the billows which endless do roll,
And the wind blowing cold with the kiss of the Pole,
While seas slopping over both frequent and green
Call forth on occasion expressions of spleen.
Of all the old kettles award we the bun
To the out-of-date cruiser, the obsolete cruiser,
The creaky old cruiser whose work's never done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.

And when the Day breaks for whose smoke-trail afar
We scan the grey waters by sunlight and star,
The day of great glory — the splendour, the gloom,
The lightning, the thunder, the judgment, the doom,
The breaking of navies, the shaking of kings,
When the Angel of Battle makes night with his wings . . .
Oh, somewhere, be sure, in the thick o' the fun
You will find an old cruiser, a gallant old cruiser,
A creaky old cruiser whose day is not done,
Built some time before Nineteen-hundred-and-one.

Poem: Punch, 18th August 1915
Image: HMS Gladiator (1896) IWM Q021285

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

On Witchcraft (1812)

"What silly notions crowd the clouded mind,
"That is through want of education blind."

I SHALL not attempt, in the present essay, to trace the origin of witchcraft, from a belief that it is more than probable its antiquity would frustrate all inquiry. It therefore is only necessary to observe, that it was doubtless early formed among other superstitions, and since has been always more or less believed, as the people were well or ill informed. By numerous unquestionable authorities, it appears, that persons who possessed considerable learning were formerly believed to be magicians;1 and hence it seems reasonable to suppose arose druids, conjurors, sooth-sayers, magi, and many others of the same family.

Anciently we find the scotch calling such persons weirds; and the Danes, and other northerns, naming all males that were supposed to possess this occult art, wizards; the females, wicces, or witches, that is, wise women. At the same time we find the priesthood sanctioning such belief's, which they appear to have converted into a powerful engine to answer their turn, as those who dissented or disbelieved any of the church canons, were immediately accused of being wizards, or witches, and generally suffered as such.

In 1484, these opinions appear to have become very general; and the same year they received not a little confirmation from a bull issued by Pope Innocent the VIII. to the inquisitors of Almain, empowering them to proceed against such as had dealings with devils. The substance of the bull is as follows — "Pervenit ad auditum nostrum, &c." "It is come to our ears, that great numbers of both sexes, are not afraid to abuse their own bodies with devils. And with their enchantments, charms, and sorceries, to vex and afflict man and beast, with inward and outward pains and tortures; they destroy the human offspring, and the increase of cattle; they blast the corn of the ground, the grapes of the vines, the fruit of the trees, and the grass and herbs of the fields, &c. Therefore with the authority apostolic, we give power to the inquisitors, &c. to convict, imprison, and punish, &c."

For several years after the issuing of this bull, witches, and their executions, considerably increased; and about this time, a Jesuit, called Debrio, wrote a book, in which many reasons were given why Protestants were so much in the power of the devil; adding, that witchcraft goes along with heresy, as madness with a fever! This plainly shows to what good account the clergy had turned this superstition.

Until the reign of Henry VIII., we hear little of witchcraft in England; but in 1541, Lord Hungerford consulting some reputed witches, to know how long Henry VIII. would live, was discovered and beheaded for it; soon after, two acts were passed against witchcraft and sorcery. In 1562, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the Countess of Lenox, and four others, were condemned, because they had consulted wizards how long the Queen would live; the same year a new statute was enacted against witchcraft. So much did the belief of witches prevail at this time, that the learned Bishop Jewel, in a sermon which he preached before Queen Elizabeth, prays "that the laws against witches and sorcerers be put in execution, as they were grown so numerous."

In the following reign, these opinions increased much; James even wrote a work on this subject called Deamonologie, first published in Edinburgh, and afterwards in London. Reading this book, and approving its doctrine, is said to have been a sure way to gain his favour. It was asserted in this book that swimming was a fair trial for a witch; alleging as a reason, that as such persons had renounced their baptism by water, that the water refused to receive them! The parliament seems to have instantly caught the infection, as in the first year of his reign the act of Queen Elizabeth against witchcraft, was repealed, as too mild, and one more strict passed, entitled, "An act against conjuration, witchcraft, and dealing with evil and wicked spirits;" which act established those opinions so fully, that it is said to have become unfashionable to doubt them!

This general infatuation soon became such, that in some villages ia Britain, the witches were said to have been fully as numerous as the other persons; for as a late author has justly observed, "prodigies are always seen in proportion as they are expected." It was during this reign that the present translation of the bible appeared; from which circumstance it is asserted, and with some likelihood, that several phrases were adopted, that favour the vulgar notions of witchcraft, much more than the old translations.

It is worthy of remark that France, Sweden, and most European countries, were under the same strange infatuation about this time.

About this period we read of persons who perambulated the country, to discover witches, called witch-finders, one of whom, Matthew Hopkins, witch-finder-general, of the County Essex, in 1614, caused sixty reputed witches to be hanged, for which he received twenty shillings a head! The persons who were accused of being wizards, or witches, had commonly to go through a water ordeal; first having their thumbs and toes tied across one another, after which they were thrown into a deep river or pool; if they sunk and were drowned, they were considered to have been innocent: but if they swam or sprawled out, as was sometimes the case, it was looked on as a sufficient proof of their guilt, and they usually suffered accordingly. In 1647, the said Hopkins published a book on the subject of witchcraft, in which he mentions twelve signs by which witches are to be known.2

To such an alarming degree did this witch-finding system increase, that it is computed between two and three thousand persons suffered death for witchcraft, in England and Scotland, between the years 1640, and 1661. Several of the persons who suffered, confessed they were wizards, or witches; this, however, is not strange, when we consider the barbarous usage they received, after being accused; for if not thrown into a pool, they were neither suffered to eat, drink, nor sleep, but walked constantly between two persons, who never permitted their devoted victims to sit down, until they confessed, which they generally did, either from being delirious, or weary of their lives. In either case, they were usually questioned about causing the death of some person or persons, who had died lately, under what was deemed suspicious circumstances; and some have been known to confess they had killed people, who were then alive and well; yet, strange to tell, none of these blunders appear to have operated the least in their favour, though such incongruous expressions was an undoubted proof of their insanity.

Scotland was perhaps the last country in which such scenes were legally acted. In East Lothian, in Scotland, there is an eminence called "Spott Law;" in the parish register of which place, is the following memorandum:— "October, 1705, many witches burnt on the top of Spott Law."

As mankind became informed, the belief of witches, and witchcraft vanished; and at length the legislature, on the 24th March, 1736, gave the finishing blow, by repeating those acts against witchcraft, which had so long disgraced our statute books; since which period a gradual decrease has been observable. At present we scarcely hear any thing of this mystic art — except now and then some old woman losing the milk, or butter of her cow.

S.S. B.Clare.

[1] Pythagoras, an eminent philosopher, who flourished A.M. 3420, was accused of magic; and in A.D. 1254; the learned Roger Bacon was twice cited to Rome for crimes in this way, and acquitted himself both times, with much applause for his learning. So late as 1489, George Ripley, and William Blackney, two distinguished mathematicians, were believed to be necromancers. Within these forty years, a decent old woman was accused of being a witch, because she had more butter on her cow's milk, than some of her neighbours.

[2] Hopkins carried on this horrid trade for many years, till some gentlemen, shocked at his barbarities, caught him, and tied his thumbs and toes together, as he had done many others, and in this state threw him into the water, where he swam. It does not appear, by the accounts that have reached us, that he suffered death from this circumstance; but it had one good effect, it cleared the country of him, and ruined his business.

Text from the Belfast Monthly Magazine, September 1812.
Image top: Witches by Hans Baldung. Woodcut, 1508.
Image middle: Title page of Daemonologie, in forme of a dialogue, James I.
Image bottom: Etching of a Ducking Stool.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

"Old Q" – An Irish Character Sketch

By Precentor Courtenay Moore, M.A.

The "Old Q" of this paper has no connection whatever, except in title, with "Old Q" of more infamous than famous memory.

My "Old Q" belonged to a class of Irishmen not much exploited in literature; he was in no sense a "Stage Irishman": he never tried to amuse people, though he did amuse "an audience fit though few," very much. He was by nature sour and severe, he had none of the sparkling fun connected with the typical Paddy, far otherwise, his reputation was mainly founded on his facility for making "pinitrative remarks." When I made his acquaintance he represented like Charles Lamb, "Retired Leisure"; but, unfortunately, unlike Lamb, without a pension. He was one of a family of small farmers, and had received a fairly good education. He had a working knowledge of Latin, and was also a fairly good Gaelic scholar. He had been "a guardian of Her Majesty's public revenues," like Mr. Bardell, but for some reason sufficient, or insufficient, his services had been dispensed with, and alas without a pension. Perhaps, or probably in his own estimation, it was "an Irish grievance." Be that as it may, when I knew him first he was what is called in Ireland, "a walking gentleman" – a gentleman at large.

He was then turned sixty, "a grey and gap-toothed man," our intimacy rapidly ripened. Primate Alexander, who was a great master of epigrams, described Bishop Reichel as "an acidulated draught from the Diocese of Meath," and this phrase very happily hits off my "Old Q." He seldom or never smiled, and never laughed; he was always acidulated, sarcastic, caustic, always making "pinitrative remarks." His conversation was also remarkable for his choice of language, he used a good deal, indeed a great deal of what we call in Ireland "Dictionary English," interspersed with strong epithets in Gaelic, which gave it an added flavour. Poor man, "he lived very near his timper," so people used to describe him. Over his official life he drew a decent veil, probably wisely; he had served in England and Scotland, but as a rule never intimated that he had "been foreign." Having no occupation except "caring" a public building, he had much spare time on his hands, and like every Irishman he was a born politician. Friends supplied him with newspapers, and he went by the name of "the pocket o' papers." Descriptive titles of their kind are very common in Ireland. Having much spare time on hands he often paid me a visit to enable him to pass it. He regarded himself as a public censor of morals, not that he was encouraged in this tone and temper of mind, but he had always a grievance, "what harm," he said, a favourite Irish form of expression, "what harm if I wasn't always trying to put people right, and do them good  –  and this is the return they make me"! He was like Corney Delaney in Jack Hinton, "Ugh, the haythens, the Turks." "Old Q's" formula was, "I declare to God I'd rather live among the Kurds of Armenia" – pronounced Armainia – "than be with them – Goths and Vandals! Goths and Vandals"! He had only a few intimate friends, who, partly from pity, and partly for the amusement they found in his society patronized him. "Mr. Bill," a local notable of joking and generous nature, and he had been great allies, and "shone well," as the saying goes, for a time, but "Mr. Bill" deserted him at a crisis, and "Old Q," who required absolute obedience, "Love me all in all or not at all," never forgave this defection.

"Mr. Bill," he used to say with great emphasis, "Mr. Bill made a holocaust of me, but I'll be his Nemesis." This remark was carried to "Mr. Bill" who inquired, "would you give me small change for that, laddy boy." "Mr. Bill" had a great reputation of his own for conversational powers, he was said "to talk like a threshing machine"; it was a good description!

In the course of time "Old Q" got to be described as "the Bodyguard" as well as "the Pocket of Papers," in consequence of his personal attendance on myself. He used to spring out from side streets and back streets on me as I went about the Parish, and accompany me in my walks, giving me some lessons in conversational Gaelic, which were very useful, I had by no means the worst of the intimacy. Every Sunday he had a happy day, for he spent it with a relative, a comfortable farmer in the district. This habit was well known, and got to be described in an amusing way, viz.:–"'Mr. Q' takes a country life every Sunday." It sounds very bloody, but it did not mean that he committed a murder every Sunday, only that he spent it in the country. He had only three or four intimate friends. There was an old woman in the Parish at the time who had an equally limited circle, she used to say to me, "well, I've just the three 'frinds,' God Almighty, yer Reverence, an' 'Mr. Bill'" – the "Mr. Bill" aforesaid. "Old Q" was not so pious, he did not introduce much of religious phraseology into his conversation. His "pinitrative remarks" have been already illustrated. On a certain occasion he followed some young children, who had annoyed him, home to their mother's house, and addressed her as follows:– "My good woman, I'm not certain that your children will end their days on the gallow's, but I'm sure they will in good time appear in the dock." Naturally he was not generally popular, he plentifully showered about such contemptuous Gaelic terms as "bosthoon," "cauboge," "omad-haun," etc., at all and sundry of the lower order who annoyed him. He was wonderfully susceptible of flattery, and one of his friends was in the habit of "bringing him forth butter in a lordly dish." It was most amusing to see and to hear this, the flatterer arranged his attitude, bending his knees, spreading his hands on his thighs, and gazing with the most rapt attention and even devotion into "Old Q's" face, as the latter described how in his earlier days he would clear a street with a "boscaun soggart," literally "death without the priest" – i.e., a stout blackthorn – and how he would glory to do it again. Reader have you ever seen an Irish listener of this type? If not, you don't know Irish life yet – he or she is like Tennyson's nun –
"Breathless with adoration."

Under the influence of Dan K.'s worship "Old Q" waxed warm, grasped his blackthorn by the middle, making it flourish round his head after the fashion which the French call faire le moulinet, like the Miller when preparing to fight with Gurth, as described in Ivanhoe – like Goldsmith's broken soldier he –
"Shouldered his crutch and showed how fields were won."

Poor man, unfortunately for himself he lived before the period of Old Age Pensions. He was miserably poor; his financial backbone was a small weekly allowance of outdoor relief. Then there was the country life which he took every Sunday. This implied a good dinner with roast goose, roast beef or roast mutton, and whiskey punch. The taking of the country life also meant a large loaf of home-made bread and a jar of cream which he carried back with him every Sunday night. Still, even with all these little extras he had a hard time of it, and lived a very Spartan life. He had not the usual religious consolation which Irish people as a rule have, not that they were in any sense denied him, but he had not the temperament to enjoy them. "The iron had entered into his soul"; he was "one writ in sour misfortune's book." He spoke of devotees as "craw-thumpers" and schamers – more of his "pinitrative remarks." He could and would and did point out concrete instances of such. He once came in a very angry and unsettled state of mind to complain of one of his own clergy who, he said, had declared that he was selling himself to me as a convert, and that I was buying him. The report was absolutely baseless, and was probably circulated only to annoy him. But, said he, "I'll let him see he can't villify me with impunity." It was a case of:–
"Nemo impune me lacesset."

"If necessary I'll carry him to his Bishop, and if necessary from his Bishop to the Court of Rome and lay his misconduct before his Holiness the Pope himself."

Fortunately, this extreme course did not become necessary. By degrees his health failed, "sharp misery had worn him to the bone." As long as he "could take a country life every Sunday" he took it, but, alas, in time strength failed him. He was obliged to take refuge in the Union Hospital, it was practically the only resource open to him. Naturally he did not like the surroundings and associations. He missed the loose leg, the open air, the blue or grey sky, the green fields, the lofty mountains, the Sunday dinner on roast goose and whiskey punch – all these exchanged for the hospital ward and the companionship of a class which he disliked. Still, he would never say die. I saw him occasionally as a friend before the end came – our friendship continued unbroken and unabated to the last, as might naturally have been expected. He used to say to me when I asked him how he was – "Fauga me shood moratasha" – i.e., leave it alone, leave it as it is; in other words let us be patient – a very philosophic and Christian maxim. Poor man, he went through fire and water in this world, let us hope that God brought him to a wealthy place. I have known many specimens of the Irish character, yet never one quite like him or almost in any degree like him. He had no Irish fun in him, no Irish geniality, little or nothing of what we are accustomed to regard as typically Irish. Yet he was absolutely un-English. If you had met him at the North Pole you would have known him at once to be Irish by his face. Misfortune no doubt sorely tried him. He knew a good deal of old interesting local history, and from him I learned an account of the last duel fought in the Co. Cork, which I contributed to the Cork Historical and Archaeological Journal, then he was a fairly good Gaelic scholar; indeed, take him all round he had a very fairly furnished mind, he was rather, on the whole, an exceptional type of Irishman, he had little or no Blarney, little or no soft sawder, he was too fond of "pinitrative temarks," and he had to take the consequences, which were often anything but pleasant, but, no doubt, he comforted, or tried to comfort himself by saying, "Liberavi animan mean," or, "Fauga me shood moratasha." Another Irish proverb of which he was very fond was, "One must cut the gad nearest the throat." The root idea of this is you must release yourself by ridding yourself of the most choking stricture. Poor "Old Q" was trying to cut the gad nearest the throat all the time I knew him, and if I in any degree helped him in the painful effort I feel thankful, and I readily confess that I owe as much or more to him than he did to me. How can anyone be lonely, even in the country, with such society. There was another great oddity in the parish at the same period, a retired Protestant clergyman – an excellent English scholar, whose favourite authors were Shakespeare and Shelley. He was quite at home with both. He, too, had a great selection of Dictionary English. Take a specimen. He had a vivid imagination. He contemplated long and costly foreign tours, and often talked much of publishing a volume of poems. One day he dropped in and said – "I have been to the railway station inquiring the price of tickets en route to the Continent, and as I crossed the lawn I could not help thinking with what contempt the great Condor of the Andes, and the Albatross that sleeps upon the wing must regard the poor human biped that is compelled to travel with a railway ticket"!

I versified this sentence soon after in order to preserve it:–
O mighty Condor I often ponder,
And think with wonder,
On thy powers of flight
Whilst mine are slight.
And thou O mighty Albatross,
Who art of birds a boss,
Canst sleep upon the wing,
While I a poor weak thing
Must travel with a railway ticket,
And let the guard and porter nick it.

Text: The Church of Ireland Gazette, 22nd April 1914.
Image: Old Tramp, a painting in oils by Laszio Mednyanszky.