How Eily O'Connor Puzzled All the Inhabitants of Garryowen

BUT WHILE Owen lived, and while his garden flourished, he and his neighbours were as merry together, as if death could never reach the one, nor desolation waste the other. Among those frequenters of his little retreat whom he distinguished with an especial favour and attention, the foremost was the handsome daughter of an old man who conducted the business of a rope-walk in his neighbourhood, and who was accustomed on a fine Saturday evening to sit under the shade of a yellow osier that stood by his door, and discourse of the politics of the day—of Lord Halifax's administration—of the promising young patriot Mr. Henry Grattan—and of the famous Catholic concession of 1773. Owen, like all Irishmen, even of the humblest rank, was an acute critic in female proportions, and although time had blown away the thatching from his head, and by far the greater portion of blood that remained in his frame had colonized about his nose, yet the manner in which he held forth on the praises of his old friend's daughter was such as put to shame her younger and less eloquent admirers. It is true, indeed, that the origin of the suburban beauty was one which, in a troubled country like Ireland, had little of agreeable association to recommend it; but few even of those to whom twisted hemp was an object of secret terror, could look on the exquisitely beautiful face of Eily O'Connor, and remember that she was a rope-maker's daughter; few could detect beneath the timid, hesitating, downcast gentleness of manner, which shed an interest over all her motions, the traces of a harsh and vulgar education. It was true that she sometimes purloined a final letter from the King's adjectives, and prolonged the utterance of a vowel beyond the term of prosodaical orthodoxy, but the tongue that did so seemed to move on silver wires, and the lip on which the sound delayed

"long murmuring, loth to part"

imparted to its own accents an association of sweetness and grace, that made the defect an additional allurement. Her education in the outskirts of a city had not impaired the natural tenderness of her character; for her father, who all rude as he was, knew how to value his daughter's softness of mind, endeavoured to foster it by every indulgence in his power. Her uncle, too, who was now a country parish priest, was well qualified to draw forth any natural talent with which she had been originally endowed. He had completed his theological education in the famous university of Salamanca, where he was distinguished as a youth of much quietness of temper and literary application, rather than as one of those furious gesticulators, those "figures Hibernoises," amongst whom Gil Blas, in his fit of logical lunacy, could meet his only equals. At his little lodging, while he was yet a curate at St. John's, Eily O'Connor was accustomed to spend a considerable portion of her time, and in return for her kindness in presiding at his simple tea- table, father Edward undertook to bestow a degree of attention on her education, which rendered her, in a little time, as superior in knowledge, as she was in beauty, to her female associates. She was remarked likewise at this time, as a little devotee, very regular in her attendance at chapel, constant in all the observances of her religion, and grave in her attire and discourse. On the coldest and dreariest morning in winter, she might be seen gliding along by the unopened shop- windows to the nearest chapel, where she was accustomed to hear an early mass, and return in time to set every thing in order for her father's breakfast. During the day she superintended his household affairs, while he was employed upon the adjacent rope-walk; and, in the evening, she usually slipped on her bonnet, and went across the street to father Edward's, where she chatted away until tea was over; if he happened to be engaged in reading his daily office, she amused herself with a volume of moral entertainment, such as Rasselas Prince of Abyssinia, or Mr. Addison's Spectator, until he was at leisure to hear her lessons. An attachment of the purest and tenderest nature was the consequence of those mutual attentions between the uncle and niece, and it might be said that if the former loved her not as well, he knew and valued her character still better than her father.

     Father Edward however was appointed to a parish, and Eily lost her instructor. It was for her a severe loss, and most severe in reality when its effect upon her own spirits began to wear away. For some months after his departure, she continued to lead the same retired and unobtrusive life, and no eye, save that of a consummate observer, could detect the slightest alteration in her sentiments, the least increase of toleration for the world and worldly amusements. That change however had been silently effected in her heart. She was now a woman—a lovely, intelligent, full grown woman—and circumstances obliged her to take a part in the little social circle which moved around her. Her spirits were naturally light, and, though long repressed, became readily assimilated to the buoyant tone of the society in which she happened to be placed. Her father, who, with a father's venial vanity, was fond of showing his beautiful child among his neighbours, took her with him one evening to Owen's garden, at a time when it was unusually gay and crowded, and from that evening might be dated the commencement of a decided and visible change in the lovely Eily's character.

     As gradual as the approach of a spring morning, was the change from grave to gay in the costume of this flower of the suburbs. It dawned at first in a handsome bow-knot upon her headdress, and ended in the full noontide splendour of flowered muslins, silks, and sashes. It was like the opening of the rose-bud, which gathers around it the winged wooers of the summer meadow. "Lads, as brisk as bees," came thronging in her train, with proffers of "honourable love and rites of marriage;" and even among the youths of a higher rank, whom the wild levity of Irish blood and high spirits, sent to mingle in the festivities of Owen's garden, a jealousy prevailed respecting the favour of the handsome rope-maker's daughter. It was no wonder that attentions paid by individuals so much superior to her ordinary admirers, should render Eily indifferent to the sighs of those plebeian suitors. Dunat O'Leary the hair-cutter, or Foxy Dunat, as he was named in allusion to his red head, was cut to the heart by her utter coldness. Myles Murphy, likewise, a good natured farmer from Killarney, who travelled through the country selling Kerry ponies, and claiming relationship with every one he met, claimed kindred in vain with Eily, for his claim was not allowed. Lowry Looby too, the servant of Mr. Daly, a wealthy middleman who lived in the neighbourhood, was suspected by many to entertain delusive hopes of Eily O'Connor's favour—but this report was improbable enough, for Lowry could not but know that he was a very ugly man; and if he were as beautiful as Narcissus, Mihil O'Connor would still have shut the door in his face for being as poor as Timon. So that though there was no lack of admirers, the lovely Eily, like many celebrated beauties in a higher rank, ran, after all, a fair chance of becoming what Lady Mary Montague has elegantly termed "a lay nun." Even so a bookworm, who will pore over a single volume from morning till night, if turned loose into a library, wanders from shelf to shelf, bewildered amid a host of temptations, and unable to make any election until he is surprised by twilight, and chagrined to find, that with so much happiness within his grasp, he has spent, nevertheless, an unprofitable day.

     But accident saved Eily from a destiny so deeply dreaded and so often lamented as that above alluded to,—a condition which people generally agree to look upon as one of utter desolation, and which, notwithstanding, is frequently a state of greater happiness than its opposite. On the even of the seventeenth of March, a day distinguished in the rope-maker's household, not only as the festival of the national Saint, but as the birth-day of the young mistress of the establishment; on this evening, Eily and her father were enjoying their customary relaxation at Owen's garden. The jolly proprietor was seated as usual, with his rope-twisting friend, under the yellow osier, while Myles Murphy, who had brought a number of his wild ponies to be disposed of at the neighbouring fairs, had taken his place at the end of the table, and was endeavouring to insinuate a distant relationship between the Owens of Kilteery, connections of the person whom he addressed, and the Murphys of Knockfodhra, connections of his own. A party of young men were playing fives at a ball alley, on the other side of the green; and another, more numerous, and graced with many female figures, were capering away to the tune of the fox-hunter's jig, on the short grass. Some poor old women, with baskets on their arms, were endeavouring to sell off some Patrick's crosses for children, at the low rate of one halfpenny a piece, gilding, paint, and all. Others, fatigued with exertion, were walking under the still leafless trees, some with their hats, some with their coats off, jesting, laughing, and chatting familiarly with their female acquaintances.

     Mihil O'Connor, happening to see Lowry Looby among the promenaders, glancing now and then at the dance, and whistling Patrick's day, requested him to call his daughter out of the group, and tell her that he was waiting for her to go home. Lowry went, and returned to say, that Eily was dancing with a strange young gentleman in a boating dress, and that he would not let her go until she had finished the slip jig.

     It continued a sufficient time to tire the old man's patience. When Eily did at last make her appearance, he observed there was a flush of mingled weariness and pleasure on her cheek, which showed that the delay was not quite in opposition to her own inclinations. This circumstance might have tempted him to receive her with a little displeasure, but that honest Owen at that moment laid hold on both father and daughter, insisting that they should come in and take supper with his wife and himself.

     This narrative of Eily's girlhood being merely introductory, we shall forbear to furnish any detail of the minor incidents of the evening, or the quality of Mrs. Owen's entertainment. They were very merry and happy; so much so, that the Patrick's eve approached its termination, before they arose to bid their host and hostess a good night. Owen advised them to walk on rapidly in order to avoid the "Pathrick's boys" who would promenade the streets after twelve, to welcome in the mighty festival with music and uproar of all kinds. Some of the lads he said, "might be playen' their thricks upon Miss Eily."

     The night was rather dark, and the dim glimmer of the oil-lamps which were suspended at long intervals over the street doors tended only in a very feeble degree to qualify the gloom. Mihil O'Connor and his daughter had already performed more than half their journey, and were turning from a narrow lane at the head of Mungret-street, when a loud and tumultuous sound broke with sudden violence upon their hearing. It proceeded from a multitude of people who were moving in confused and noisy procession along the street. An ancient and still honoured custom summons the youthful inhabitants of the city on the night of this anniversary to celebrate the approaching holiday of the patron Saint and apostle of the island, by promenading all the streets in succession, playing national airs, and filling up the pauses in the music with shouts of exultation. Such was the procession which the two companions now beheld approaching.

     The appearance which it presented was not altogether destitute of interest and amusement. In the midst were a band of musicians who played alternately "Patrick's day," and "Garryowen," while a rabble of men and boys pressed round them, thronging the whole breadth and a considerable portion of the length of the street. The men had got sprigs of shamrock in their hats, and several carried in their hands lighted candles protected from the wasting night-blast by a simple lamp of whited brown paper. The fickle and unequal light which those small torches threw over the faces of the individuals who held them, afforded a lively contrast to the prevailing darkness.

     The crowd hurried forward singing, playing, shouting, laughing, and indulging, to its full extent, all the excitement which was occasioned by the tumult and the motion. Bedroom windows were thrown up as they passed, and the half dressed inmates thrust their heads into the night air to gaze upon the mob of enthusiasts. All the respectable persons who appeared in the street as they advanced, turned short into the neighbouring by-ways to avoid the importunities which they would be likely to incur by a contact with the multitude.

     But it was too late for our party to adopt this precaution. Before it had entered their minds, the procession (if we may dignify it by a name so sounding) was nearer to them than they were to any turn in the street, and the appearance of flight with a rabble of men, as with dogs, is a provocation of pursuit. Of this they were aware—and accordingly instead of attempting a vain retreat, they turned into a recess formed by one of the shop doors, and quietly awaited the passing away of this noisy torrent. For some moments they were unnoticed; the fellows who moved foremost being too busy in talking, laughing, and shouting, to pay any attention to objects, not directly in their way. But they were no sooner espied than the wags assailed them with that species of wit, which distinguishes the inhabitants of the back lanes of a city, and forms the terror of all country visitors. These expressions were lavished upon the rope-maker and his daughter, until the former, who was as irritable an old fellow as Irishmen generally are, was almost put out of patience.

     At length, a young man observing the lamp shine for a moment on Eily's handsome face, made a chirp with his lips as he passed by, as if he had a mind to kiss her. Not Papirius himself, when vindicating his senatorial dignity against the insulting Gaul, could be more prompt in action than Mihil O'Connor. The young gentleman received in return for his affectionate greeting a blow over the temple which was worth five hundred kisses. An uproar immediately commenced, which was likely to end in some serious injury to the old man and his daughter. A number of ferocious faces gathered round them uttering sounds of harsh rancour and defiance; which Mihil met with equal loudness and energy. Indeed all that seemed to delay his fate and hinder him from sharing in the prostration of his victim was the conduct of Eily, who flinging herself in bare armed beauty before her father defended him for a time against the upraised weapons of his assailants. No one would incur the danger of harming, by an accidental blow, a creature so young, so beautiful, and so affectionate.

     They were at length rescued from this precarious condition by the interposition of two young men in the dress of boatmen who appeared to possess some influence with the crowd, and who used it for the advantage of the sufferers. Not satisfied with having brought them safely out of all immediate danger, the taller of the two conducted them to their door, saying little on the way and taking his leave as soon as they were once in perfect safety. All that Mihil could learn from his appearance was, that he was a gentleman, and very young—perhaps not more than nineteen years of age. The old man talked much and loudly in praise of his gallantry, but Eily was altogether silent on the subject.

     A few days after, Mihil O'Connor was at work upon the ropewalk, going slowly backward in the sunshine, with a bundle of hemp between his knees, and singing "Maureen Thierna."* A hunch- backed little fellow in a boatman's dress, came up, and saluting him in a sharp city brogue, reminded the old rope-maker that he had done him a service a few evenings before. Mihil professed his acknowledgements, and with true Irish warmth of heart, assured the little boatman that all he had in the world was at his service. The hunch-back however only wanted a few ropes and blocks for his boat and even for those he was resolute in paying honourably. Neither did he seem anxious to satisfy the curiosity of old Mihil with respect to the name and quality of his companion; for he was inexorable in maintaining that he was a turf boatman from Scagh who had come up to town with him to dispose of a cargo of fuel at Charlotte's Quay. Mihil O'Connor referred him to his daughter for the ropes, about which he said she could bargain as well as himself, and he was unable to leave his work until the rope he had in hand should be finished. The little deformed, no way displeased at this intelligence, went to find Eily at the shop, where he spent a longer time than Mihil thought necessary for his purpose.

     From this time forward the character of Eily O'Connor seemed to have undergone a second change. Her former gravity returned, but it did not re-appear under the same circumstances as before. In her days of religious retirement, it appeared only in her dress, and in her choice of amusements. Now, both her recreations and her attire were much gayer than ever, so much so as almost to approach a degree of dissipation, but her cheerfulness of mind was gone, and the sadness which had settled on her heart, like a black reef under sunny waters, was plainly visible through all her gaiety. Her father was too much occupied in his eternal rope-twisting to take particular notice of this change, and, besides, it is notorious that one's constant companions are the last to observe any alteration in one's manner or appearance.

     One morning, when Mihil O'Connor left his room, he was surprized to find that the breakfast table was not laid as usual, and that his daughter was not in the house. She made her appearance, however, while he was himself making the necessary arrangements. They exchanged a greeting somewhat colder on the one side, and more embarrassed on the other, than was usual at the morning meetings of the father and daughter. But when she told him, that she had been only to the chapel, the old man was perfectly satisfied, for he knew that Eily would as readily think of telling a falsehood to the priest, as she would to her father. And when Mihil O'Connor heard that people were at the chapel, he generally concluded (poor old man!) that it was only to pray they went there.

     In the meantime Myles Murphy renewed his proposals to Eily, and succeeded in gaining over the father to his interests. The latter was annoyed at his daughter's obstinate rejection of a fine fellow like Myles, with a very comfortable property, and pressed her either to give consent to the match or a good reason for her refusal. But this request, though reasonable, was not complied with: and the rope-maker, though not so hot as Capulet, was as much displeased at the contumacy of his daughter. Eily, on her part, was so much afflicted at the anger of her only parent, that it is probable her grief would have made away with her if she had not prevented that catastrophe by making away with herself.

     On the fair day of Garryowen, after sustaining a long and distressing altercation with her father and her mountain suitor, Eily O'Connor threw her blue cloak over her shoulders and walked into the air. She did not return to dinner, and her father felt angry at what he thought a token of resentful feeling. Night came, and she did not make her appearance. The poor old man in an agony of terror reproached himself for his vehemence, and spent the whole night in recalling with a feeling of remorse every intemperate word which he had used in the violence of dispute. In the morning, more like a ghost than a living being, he went from the house of one acquaintance to another to enquire after his child. No one however had seen her, except Foxy Dunat, the haircutter, and he had only caught a glimpse of her as she passed his door on the previous evening. It was evident that she was not to return. Her father was distracted. Her young admirers feared that she had got privately married, and run away with some shabby fellow. Her female friends insinuated that the case might be still worse, and some pious old people shook their heads when the report reached them, and said they knew what was likely to come of it, when Eily O'Connor left off attending her daily mass in the morning, and went to the dance at Garryowen.


* Little Mary Tierney.