Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (Author: William Allingham)

chapter 7

Tenants at Will.

  • The steady world pursued its common way
    Yet some good luck, before that evil day,
    Might intercept the hand outstretch'd to tear
    Those cottage roofs, and leave their hearthstones bare.
    5] If coming ills be distant half a mile,
    Poor Paddy can forget, and gaily smile,
    From carelessness, or fatalism, or sense
    Profound of overruling Providence.
  • But Pigot's ruddy cheek and sharp black eye
    10] Display no softer hint, as months go by;


    And now the trembling tenants whisper sad,—
    ‘O Queen of Heaven! and would he be so bad?’
    ‘And will they send us begging, young and old,’
    ‘And seize the fields, and make the firesides cold,’
    15] ‘Where, God's our witness, poor enough we live,’
    ‘But still content with what the Lord may give,’
    ‘Our hearts with love and veneration tied’
    ‘To where our fathers' fathers lived and died?’
    Or else more fiercely,—‘'Tis our native land!’
    20] ‘But cruel tyrants have us at command,’
    ‘To let us grow, if best it serves their needs,’
    ‘Or tear and cast us forth like poison-weeds.’
    ‘The law's their implement: who make the law?’
    ‘The rich men for the rich, and leave no flaw.’
    25] ‘And what's the poor man's part? to drudge and sweat’
    ‘For food and shelter. Does the poor man get’
    ‘Bare food and shelter?—praties, cabin, rags.’
    ‘Now fling him out to famish—or he drags’
    ‘His weary body to that gaol and grave’


    30] ‘The Poorhouse;—he must live and die a slave,’
    ‘Toil; starve, and suffer, creep, and crouch, and crawl,’
    ‘Be cursed and trampled, and submit to all,’
    ‘Without one murmur, one rebellious trace’
    ‘Among the marks of misery on his face!’

  • 35]
  • Each tongue around old Oona feared to tell
    The great misfortune, worse than yet befell
    In all her length of journey. When they tried
    To move her—‘Would they take her life?’ she cried;
    At which it rested, hap what happen might.
    40] And scarcely one, in truth, prepared for flight;
    Contempt of prudence, anger, and despair,
    And vis inertiae, kept them as they were;
    ‘God and the world will see it,’ so they said,
    ‘Let all the wrong be on the doer's head!’

  • 45]
  • In early morning twilight, raw and chill,
    Damp vapours brooding on the barren hill,
    Through miles of mire in steady grave array


    Threescore well-arm'd police pursue their way;
    Each tall and bearded man a rifle swings,
    50] And under each greatcoat a bayonet clings;
    The Sheriff on his sturdy cob astride
    Talks with the Chief, who marches by their side,
    And, creeping on behind them, Paudeen Dhu
    Pretends his needful duty much to rue.
    55] Six big-boned labourers, clad in common frieze,
    Walk in the midst, the Sheriff's staunch allies;
    Six crow-bar-men, from distant county brought,—
    Orange, and glorying in their work, 'tis thought,
    But wrongly,—churls of Catholics are they,
    60] And merely hired at half-a-crown a day.
  • The Hamlet clustering on its hill is seen,
    A score of petty homesteads, dark and mean;
    Poor always, not despairing until now;
    Long used, as well as poverty knows how,
    65] With life's oppressive trifles to contend.
    This day will bring its history to an end.


    Moveless and grim against the cottage walls
    Lean a few silent men: but some one calls
    Far off; and then a child ‘without a stitch’
    70] Runs out of doors, flies back with piercing screech,
    And soon from house to house is heard the cry
    Of female sorrow, swelling loud and high,
    Which makes the men blaspheme between their teeth.
    Meanwhile, o'er fence and watery field beneath,
    75] The little army moves through drizzling rain;
    A ‘Crowbar’ leads the Sheriff's nag; the lane
    Is enter'd, and their plashing tramp draws near;
    One instant, outcry holds its breath to hear;
    ‘Halt!’—at the doors they form in double line,
    80] And ranks of polish'd rifles wetly shine.
  • The Sheriff's painful duty must be done;
    He begs for quiet—and the work's begun.
    The strong stand ready; now appear the rest,
    Girl, matron, grandsire, baby on the breast,
    85] And Rosy's thin face on a pallet borne;


    A motley concourse, feeble and forlorn.
    One old man, tears upon his wrinkled cheek,
    Stands trembling on a threshold, tries to speak,
    But, in defect of any word for this,
    90] Mutely upon the doorpost prints a kiss,
    Then passes out for ever. Through the crowd
    The children run bewilder' d, wailing loud;
    Where needed most, the men combine their aid;
    And, last of all, is Oona forth convey'd,
    95] Reclined in her accustom'd strawen chair,
    Her aged eyelids closed, her thick white hair
    Escaping from her cap; she feels the chill,
    Looks round and murmurs, then again is still.
  • Now bring the remnants of each household fire;
    100] On the wet ground the hissing coals expire;
    And Paudeen Dhu, with meekly dismal face,
    Receives the full possession of the place.
  • Whereon the Sheriff, ‘We have legal hold.’


    ‘Return to shelter with the sick and old.’
    105] ‘Time shall be given; and there are carts below’
    ‘If any to the workhouse choose to go.’
    ‘A young man makes him answer, grave and clear,’
    ‘We're thankful to you! but there's no one here’
    ‘Going back into them houses: do your part.’
    110] ‘Nor we won't trouble Pigot's horse and cart.’
    At which name, rushing into th' open space,
    A woman flings her hood from off her face,
    Falls on her knees upon the miry ground,
    Lifts hands and eyes, and voice of thrilling sound,—
    115] ‘Vengeance of God Almighty fall on you,’
    ‘James Pigot!—may the poor man's curse pursue,’
    ‘The widow's and the orphan's curse, I pray,’
    ‘Hang heavy round you at your dying day!’
    Breathless and fix'd one moment stands the crowd
    120] To hear this malediction fierce and loud.
  • Meanwhile (our neighbour Neal is busy there)
    On steady poles be lifted Oona's chair,


    Well-heap'd with borrow'd mantles; gently bear
    The sick girl in her litter, bed and all;
    125] Whilst others hug the children weak and small
    In careful arms, or hoist them pick-a-back;
    And, 'midst the unrelenting clink and thwack
    Of iron bar on stone, let creep away
    The sad procession from that hill-side gray,
    130] Through the slow-falling rain. In three hours more
    You find, where Ballytullagh stood before,
    Mere shatter'd walls, and doors with useless latch,
    And firesides buried under fallen thatch.
  • The Doran household, shadow'd with dismay,
    135] Can still perform a pious part to-day;
    Jack Doran's mother, now deceased a year,
    Was Oona's cousin; Oona's welcomed here;
    Nor will her grandson in his duty fail,
    Though now across the sea compell'd to sail.


    140] ‘Man, woman, child,—they're gone, dear!’ Mary said,
    ‘And here we sit and mourn them like the dead.’
    ‘It falls like death, as cowld upon the heart,’
    ‘For kin and kindly neighbours thus to part.’
    ‘There won't be one face left we used to know,’
    145] ‘Not one companion out of long-ago.’
    ‘The good oul' people!—why should this befall?’
    ‘Och, murneen15 boys and girls, where are ye all?’
    ‘Through the wide world they're scatter'd, fareer gair!’16
    ‘Sarch for them, barrin' Ireland, everywhere.’
    150] ‘Sure Ireland once was blest,—and was she curst’
    ‘Since then? or what has made her last and worst?’
    ‘The Heretics that robb'd the Church, some say:’
    ‘But glory be to God, amin, this day!’—
    For gentle Maureen seldom said so much;
    155] And this was theme too perilous to touch.

  • p.146

  • So was the little Hamlet's crowd at last
    Whirl'd off like leaves before misfortune's blast.
    Some from a seaport, and their lot the best,
    On Neptune's Highway followed, east or west,
    160] The myriads of their kindred gone before,—
    If Irish still, yet Ireland's nevermore.
    Some wander'd through the country; some went down,
    Like Rose, to back-lane lodgings in the Town;
    And some to those high-built repulsive walls
    165] Where Doctor Larmour paid his daily calls.
    Dispensary and workhouse own'd his care,
    An Antrim Presbyterian, short and spare,
    Quick, busy, cool; with lancet or with pill
    Acknowledged first in Aesculapian skill.
    170] Catholicism he openly despised,
    But ailing Papists cleverly advised,
    And men of every creed his talent prized.
    Him Bloomfield knew. For Ballytullagh's fall
    The Doctor's pity, Bloomfield found, was small.


    175] ‘They lived in filth, perpetual sickness bred,’
    ‘Lazy of hand, and obstinate of head;’
    ‘Gave rent too much for all they really made,’
    ‘Being well-nigh savage in the farming trade,’
    ‘Too small for what they wasted and o'erran.’
    180] ‘At risk of bloodshed let another plan’
    ‘Improvement, lawful owner though he be,—’
    ‘Mere owner! what the devil right has he?’
    ‘Poorer, of course, they could not fail to grow;’
    ‘But humble, willing to be taught? O no!’
    185] ‘See vice and crime and folly now array'd’
    ‘Conspirators, in ragged masquerade;’
    ‘Erin-go-bragh!—yet, scoundrels ten times worse,’
    ‘And more deserving the true patriot's curse’
    ‘Than these poor scurvy rogues, are some who claim’
    190] ‘With public voice the patriot's lofty name;’
    ‘That mimber, soaring on the rabble's yell;’
    ‘This journalist, his rotten page to sell;’
    ‘Or briefless barrister, whose frantic word,’
    ‘A cry for victuals, must and will be heard.’

  • p.148

  • ‘Ireland, forsooth, a nation once again!’
    ‘If Ireland was a nation, tell me when?’
    ‘For since the civil modern world began’
    ‘What's Irish History? Walks the child a man?’
    ‘Or strays he still perverse and immature,’
    200] ‘Weak, slothful, rash, irresolute, unsure;’
    ‘Right bonds rejecting, hugging rusty chains,’
    ‘Nor one clear view, nor one bold step attains?’
    ‘What Ireland might have been, if wisely school'd,’
    ‘I know not: far too briefly Cromwell ruled.’
    205] ‘We see the melting of a barbarous race,’
    ‘Sad sight, I grant, sir, from their ancient place;’
    ‘But always, everywhere, it has been so;’
    ‘Red-Indians, Bushmen, Irish, they must go!’
  • The Doctor harshly spoke; yet did his best
    210] To cure the sick, and comfort the distress'd;
    And tended Rosy kindly,—to whose aid
    A rill of Bloomfield's bounty he convey'd.


    Those, too, with less to spare, and those with nought,
    To this poor girl their friendly succour brought.
    215] Here in a neighbouring house, but whence no noise
    Can reach her, some well-wishing girls and boys
    Have clubb'd their moneys, raffling for a shawl;
    Of Rose's other shreds the pawn has all.
    Three simple pence entitle to a throw;
    220] Down on a slate the names and numbers go;
    The wooden cubes mark'd with a red-hot wire
    (No better dice or dice-box they require)
    In old tin porringer flung rattling fast,
    A warmer interest watches every cast;
    225] ‘Follie' your han'!’ ‘You're lucky, throw for me!’
    ‘More power!’ ‘Tim Ryan has it—fifty-three!’
    Then silver, copper, mix'd, a bulky pound
    Makes haste to Rosy, feebly turning round
    With grateful smile; and back the shawl comes too,
    230] The winner swearing 'twas for her he threw.

  • p.150

  • Meanwhile, no raffle ends without a dance:
    My boy, choose out a partner, and advance
    To ask the fiddler for her favourite tune,
    Slipping into his hand the penny boon;
    235] Polthoge, or Washerwoman, let him play,
    Heart of my Kitty, or The Fields in May;
    She makes a pretty quibbling with her toes,
    But he his agile power untiring shows
    In many a double-shuffle, stamp and fling;
    240] Nor slack in praises are the crowded ring,—
    ‘Success to both!—my boul' you wor'!—ay that!
    ‘Don't spare him, Peggy dear!—Hurroo for Pat!’
    They meet, change sides, the rapid steps renew,
    A second wind inspires the fiddler too,
    245] Till Colleen Dhas, well-flush'd in cheek, but grave
    As courtly dames in minuets behave,
    Signals; when hand in hand the two give o'er,
    Bow to the music, and resign the floor;
    Where other pairs achieve with equal zeal
    250] The busy jig, or winding four-hand reel.


    The dance-house, all the better for being bare,
    Its broken roof admitting fresher air,
    This poor and merry company befits;
    With jest and mimicry and clash of wits
    255] Con ‘Pastime’ keeps them, laughing long and loud;
    Sweethearts draw close together in the crowd;
    Gay groups of damsels, gathered near the door
    Banter to death each awkward bachelor,
    And dart some flying jokes at Denis Coyle,
    260] Whose travell'd wit such weapons well can foil,
    For, do their utmost, Denis will not dance,
    And slips away upon the earliest chance.
  • But all is not amusement. Near to these
    Stands one at watch; and ever when he sees
    265] A man expected, pushing through the line,
    By look or touch conveys a rapid sign.
    As Denis goes, the grip salutes his hand
    Which greets a Brother of the Midnight Band;
    And soon the whisper none may safely slight


    270] Commands his presence on to-morrow night
    With hour and place; for Neal and Denis both
    Have sworn the Ribbonman's unlawful oath.
  • The dark and lonely street young Denis treads,
    With mind confused, and fill'd with shapeless dreads;
    275] Where Doctor Larmour's lamp shoots forth a ray,
    He shuns the light, and slinks across the way.

  • p.153