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

chapter 9

The Fair

  • 1] Ere yet the sun has dried on hedge and furze
    Their silver veils of dewy gossamers,
    Along the winding road to Lisnamoy
    The drover trudges and the country boy,
    5] With cows that fain would crop its fringe of sward,
    And pigs, their hindfoot jerking in a cord,
    And bleating sheep; the farmer jogs his way,
    Or plies his staff, and legs of woollen gray;
    The basket-bearing goodwives slowly move,
    10] White-capp'd, with coloured kerchief tied above,
    On foot, or in the cart-front placed on high


    To jolt along in lumbering luxury;
    Men, women, pigs, cows, sheep, and horses tend
    One way, and to the Harvest Fair they wend;
    15] Jack Doran with the rest, with sorry cheer,
    Condemned at Pigot's Office to appear,—
    To him a place of awe, and doubt, and fear.
  • 'Tis where the road-side rivulet expands,
    And every stone upon its image stands,
    20] The country maidens finish their attire,
    Screen'd by the network of a tangled briar;
    On grassy bank their shapely limbs indue
    With milk-white stocking and the well-black'd shoe,
    And court that mirror for a final grace
    25] With dazzling ribbons nodding round their face.
    Behold our Bridget tripping to the fair;
    Her shawl is splendid, but her feet are bare;
    Till, quick the little bundle here untied,
    The shoes come forth, the skirts are shaken wide,
    30] And Biddy enters Lisnamoy in pride;


    Nor be it long ere Denis she espies,
    To read her triumph in his joyful eyes.
  • But first of all, with calm submissive face,
    Beads in her hand, within the Holy Place
    35] She kneels, among the kneelers who adore
    In silent reverence on that mystic floor;
    Then with a curtsey, and with symbol meet
    On brow and breast, returning to the street.
  • Crowds push through Lisnamoy, shop, street, and lane,
    40] Archway, and yard, corn-store, and butter-crane.
    Say, as we push, could anywhere be found
    A Town more ugly, ev'n on Irish ground?—
    With dwellings meanly low or meanly tall,
    With ragged roads, and harsh straight workhouse wall,
    45] With foul decrepit huts, and here and there
    A roof half-stript and smoky rafters bare;
    With churches that on rival mounts encamp,


    One praised for neatness, one admired for pomp;
    This, which combines the gaudy and the mean,
    50] (Alas! the white old chapel on its green)
    With misplaced ornament that leads your eye
    To note the baldness, like a wig awry;
    That, less prodigious, odious not the less,
    All prim, and trim in tidy ugliness,
    55] A square box with a tall box at the end,
    While through the wall a stove-pipe's arms extend.
    What more? these gates are wide, the passing pray'r
    Finds when it will a solemn welcome there;
    Those gates are lock'd, the sexton lets you through,
    60] And shows for sixpence every empty pew;
    Here climbs a gilded cross above the roof,
    There turns a glittering weathercock aloof;
    Here, every day, the watchful power of Rome,
    The English rite on Sundays there at home.
    65] Clean police-barrack perch'd a-top the hill,
    At foot the dusty slating of a mill,
    Townhall betwixt, with many a broken pane,


    A squat Wesleyan chapel down a lane,
    Make up the total—which, though you despise,
    70] Kindles admiring awe in rustic eyes.
    Mud hovels fringe the ‘Fair-green’ of this town,
    A spot misnamed, at every season brown,
    O'erspread with countless man and beast to-day,
    Which bellow, squeak, and shout, bleat, bray, and neigh.
    75] The ‘jobbers’ there, each more or less a rogue,
    Noisy or smooth, with each his various brogue,
    Cool wiry Dublin, Connaught's golden mouth,
    Blunt Northern, plaintive sing-song of the South,
    Feel cattle's ribs, or jaws of horses try
    80] For truth, since men's are very sure to lie,
    And shun with parrying blow and practised heed
    The rushing horns, the wildly prancing steed.
    The moisten'd penny greets with sounding smack
    The rugged palm, which smites the greeting back;
    85] Oaths fly, the bargain like a quarrel burns,


    And oft the buyer turns, and oft returns;
    Now mingle Sassenach and Gaelic tongue;
    On either side are slow concessions wrung;
    An anxious audience interfere; at last
    90] The sale is closed, and whiskey binds it fast,
    In cave of quilting upon oziers bent,
    With many an ancient patch and breezy rent.
    This afternoon, within the largest tent
    Our Bridget sat, with Denis by her side,
    95] A burly boy in youth's full strength and pride;
    A froth of poetry his ale-cup bore,
    For Bridget's sake he fierier draughts forswore;
    Love over whiskey joying to prevail,
    She sipp'd a cordial, and he quaff'd strong ale.
    100] Her lover's trade was weekly to escort
    Dead pigs and butter to an eastern port,
    To glut the maw of England. ‘Could we keep’
    ‘All food at home, our food would then be cheap,’
    Dan Mullan cried in oratoric flow,—


    105] ‘The very eggs we lay to England go!’
    But Denis meanwhile profited, and crept
    From less to more while patriots groan'd and slept;
    Three busy carts and horses of his own
    Along the fifty miles of road were known,
    110] And village after village on the route
    Heard his loud whip fire off a gay salute;
    Farmer and housewife trusted him to sell,
    He sold and traded for himself as well;
    A sturdy generous nature, noway mean,
    115] All saw in him—'tis ever gladly seen.
    Children love truth, and men, though train'd to lie,
    Confess the glowing power of honesty.
  • Thus let them rest in comfort, happy pair,
    While pedlars, tinkers, gamblers, ‘work the fair’,
    120] Merchants of apples, cakes, and spoleen beef,
    Most eloquent old-clothesman, silent thief;
    And beggars, thrusting out a blind man's chin,
    Or hideous crooked arm or leg, begin,


    ‘In Jesus', Mary's, and Saint Joseph's name,’
    125] ‘Bestow your charitee! I ax the same’
    ‘For your dear father's sowl, for your dear mother's,’
    ‘If they have parted you—and for your brother's’
    ‘And for your sister's sowl; and that it may’
    ‘Appear before the throne o' God this day’
    130] ‘To draw thim out o' Purgathory's flame!’
    ‘I ax it in the Holy Vargin's name!’
    ‘I pray that all your sins may be forgiven!’
    ‘And may the comfort and the light of Hiven’
    ‘Resave you and your people!’—few would miss
    135] For one poor ha'p'ny such a prayer as this.
    Murder, and love, and treason, chanted strong
    By voices hoarsen'd with perpetual song
    Draw each its group; and ere the rustic buys,
    With open mouth to catch the strain he tries,
    140] Then pushing in a rudely bashful fist,
    Crumples the ill-spelt paper. Who'll enlist?
    Make way! the Queen's recruiting party come,
    Red fluttering flag, assiduous fife and drum,


    The haughty sergeant with drawn sword upright,
    145] And two bold swains, their caps with ribbons dight.
    Now pass the Showmen, with a stronger noise
    Of music, and a greater rush of boys,
    To mount anew the platform, and invite
    Our tardy pence with all their main and might;
    150] The small boy bangs the loud big drum again,
    The wheezy pipes renew their shrill refrain,
    The shining ladies waltz with wondrous grace,
    Loud laughs Tom Fool, and twists his painted face,
    Till Irish Damon and his Phillis do
    155] ‘Walk up’ at last. In turn, well pleased, we view
    The Peepshow, Nut-gun, Loop, and Fortune's Wheel,
    We daff away young chapmen's fly-like zeal,
    Whips, pins, bootlaces, crying shrill and loud,
    And slowly penetrate th' increasing crowd,
    160] To that worst corner of the noisy Fair
    In which the furious Tinkers thump and swear.
  • Who lays thick cudgel upon ass's hide?


    Who shouting gallops, leg on either side
    Grazing the ground? his head behind is shorn,
    165] Thin curls the lean and cunning cheek adorn;
    Short coat of frieze, cord breeches to the knee,
    A low-crown'd hat, a shirt-neck flying free,
    Declare the Tinker, gipsy of our isle,
    Tramping with rude black budget many a mile;
    170] His tribe a partner yields; his donkey bears
    At need his children, furniture, and wares;
    Donkeys at many a fair he buys and sells,
    And here, among his like, swears loud and yells.
    Beyond them are the horses; there, sweet kine;
    175] There, flocks of sheep; there, fulsome-smelling swine.
  • Observe Neal Doran. Two in pushing past
    Give signal due; the dreadful day runs fast.
    He knows the torture now which books reveal;
    Thus, thus it is that malefactors feel;
    180] Weak, angry, full of fears, condemn'd to know
    Himself his own inexorable foe.


    In front he sees thick tempest, and behind,
    The sunny country of his peace of mind,
    As from dark billows a receding shore;
    185] The simple busy days, now his no more,
    The perfect slumber in a tranquil bed,
    The conscience free of guile and free of dread,
    The heart that look'd on every face with love,
    The soul that childlike turn'd to God above.
    190] With downcast or unquiet eyes he slinks
    Among the crowd; in tent and tavern drinks
    Unusual draughts; then to the Fair-green strides,
    Regardless of th' opposing human tides,
    To mark the bludgeon's victim, Jemmy Burke,
    195] Most Judas-like: ‘the boys will do their work.’
  • The horse-fair Neal is bound for, and his road
    Lies through the tinkers, where to shout and goad
    The dullest ass his lazy hooves must ply.
    'Tis three o'clock; each noble tinker's eye
    200] Is wet; the trim shillelaghs wave on high;


    Woe to the skull of him who now offends!
    In harsh and high-strung temper Doran wends
    Amid the tumult; jostled there, he smites
    The intrusive donkey; fervent word excites
    205] A sharp retort; all turn to watch the fun;
    ‘Come, hit me!’—'tis no sooner said than done.
    Our Youth ('tis all a dream) with rapid blow
    And cunning fence, stands foe at face with foe,
    Nor, peaceful though his life, unskill'd to wield
    210] The Paddy's wooden pistol, sword, and shield.
    With planted feet the men are in the lists,
    The blackthorns twirl around their nimble wrists,
    The meeting weapons play, crick-crack, crick-crack;
    Whilst all push forward, all exclaim ‘Stand back!’—
    215] More tinkers join; Neal's partisans pour in;
    A wider conflict rages; fierce the din,
    Loud the men's oaths, and sharp the women's screams;
    The general fair to this mad whirlpool streams.


    At first the tinkers have it all their way;
    220] Till carman Denis flings apart like spray
    The clustering mob, and two tremendous blows
    Whirls right and left at Neal's two foremost foes;
    On either hand, to earth a tinker goes.
    Then shouted Doran's party, pressing on;
    225] Then shrunk the tinker band, their leaders gone;
    Nor had they not been routed, man and ass,
    Save for a new event that came to pass.
    Lo! the tall green-coat Guardians of the Law
    Wedge through the fight, which feels a sudden awe,
    230] And force away six prisoners to the cells,
    Deaf to entreaties, protestations, yells,
    Regardless of the mob whose stumbling paces
    Trot alongside with eager half-turn'd faces.
    One tinker's faithful wife pursues their track,
    235] A dirty baby on her dirty back,
    The bright tin porringers that round her cling
    Clashing and flashing gaily as they swing.
    She's used to scenes like this; but not so Neal


    And Denis. What a black disgrace they feel,
    240] In marching thus along the public street!
    Their misery, for the moment, is complete.
  • Since Neal is Pigot's man, the Justice sends
    For him; the brother Justice quick attends;
    Pigot is at his office in the town,
    245] And gladly comes, for reasons of his own.
    ‘Receive the tinkers' bail;—detain these two.’
    ‘I'll show you grounds enough for what we do.’
    —‘Your Worship, why keep Denis Coyle and me.’
    —‘Drunk, drunk, you're drunk, sir,’ says the old J.P.
    250] ‘Lock, lock them up!’ and jerks his bunch of seals.
    They go; th' untiring rabble at their heels.
  • In Pigot's gig came Bloomfield to the fair.
    ‘Evictions please me little, I declare,’
    Says Pigot; ‘but if men won't pay the rent,’
    255] ‘Or fix conditions, forcing our consent;’


    ‘Claiming, when once let in, a better right’
    ‘Than ours, for ever, in the law's despite;’
    ‘If still you find to cheat and overreach’
    ‘The study, the delight, of all and each;’
    260] ‘A servile, plausible, and lying brood,’
    ‘Devoid of honesty, of gratitude;’
    ‘If among people ignorant and misled’
    ‘Worse lawlessness begins to grow and spread,’
    ‘Till from chicane to murder they aspire,’
    265] ‘And all the foolish mass is catching fire;’
    ‘What then? are we to sit with folded hands,’
    ‘And yield ourselves to Captain Rock's commands?—’
    ‘Though Tullagh was a sad affair, I know,’
    ‘'Twill do great good. Your lands of Meenabo’
    270] ‘Must follow next. These Dorans, whom you praise,’
    ‘I once thought well of, till I knew their ways.’
    ‘I'll show you at the office now (as far’
    ‘As may be quickly shown) how these things are;’
    ‘A certain List you also shall peruse,’


    275] ‘The which I only bide my time to use.’
    ‘To manage folk like these is hard indeed;’
    ‘'Tis well for you, sir, that escape the need!’
  • Pigot's fast mare by thickening crowds restrain'd
    By slow degrees the office-door has gain'd;
    280] ‘Room!’ cries the stable-boy, and backward tread
    Th' obsequious throng, hats fly off every head;
    But ere a tenant's foot may pass the door
    The private talk endures an hour or more.
    Outside, old Paudheen waits to say his say;
    285] A short thick man, with sleek head wiry-gray,
    Projecting underlip, and stunted nose,
    Whereon the huge horn-spectacles repose,
    When to the service of a writ he swears,
    Or ‘copy’ with ‘original’ compares;
    290] A sneaking, dauntless man, who disregards
    Menace or flattery, smoothly plays his cards,
    And might perhaps have soar'd, in wider sphere,
    Lord Chancellor, Archbishop, or Premier,


    But now, victorious in a meaner form,
    295] Has built a nest, and works to line it warm.
  • 'Tis Paudheen carries in the message sent
    By brother Justice. Bloomfield's ear is bent
    To Pigot's statements; and he understands
    This chiefly—plotting heads and violent hands,
    300] Mad folly, discontentment, fear and hate,
    In servile seeming, on their footsteps wait.
  • In public-house, upon an upper floor,
    A thin keen watchful man and some few more
    Sit round their drink, but not with laugh or song.
    305] The Parish-Master's summons through the throng
    Is flitting darkly up and down the street,
    And one by one he sees his best men meet;
    The sign said urgent business. No delay
    A certain case admits of—not one day.
    310] ‘Let Jemmy Burke go home; far higher game’
    ‘Our sportsmen mark,—with license for the same,’


    ‘The young bird promised fair and smooth at first;’
    ‘But he can't change things—won't, in case he durst.’
    ‘And now the old one's up—has all our names,’
    310] ‘The List lies in his pocket. Burning flames’
    ‘To bed the traitor!—that comes by-and-by.’
    Glasses were fill'd, refill'd, the quart ran dry;
    Then fist caught fist, and eye shot flame to eye,
    ‘Bail, too, for Coyle and Doran they refuse!’
    310] ‘If we're for action, there's no time to lose.’
    ‘Well said, my boys! for though the hazard's great,’
    ‘The ball's with Pigot if we hesitate.’
    ‘They came to Lisnamoy, but don't go home’
    ‘Together; Minor Bloomfield's horse is come.’
    310] ‘Bill keeps our friend in talk. I understand’
    ‘Grimes has his noble Honour's gig in hand,—’
    ‘Some twist—the patent axle to unscrew—’
    ‘A job 'twill take him just an hour to do.’
    ‘'Tis four at present. To your places, boys!’
    310] The whisper done, they vanish without noise.

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