The story I'm going to tell yous is not to be met every day. I heard little Tom Kennedy, the great schoolmaster of Rossard, say that he read, it in the history of Ireland, and that it happened before the people wor Christians. It is about a king that never let himself be docked only once a year. He lived in some ould city on the borders of Carlow and Kilkenny, and his name was a queer one--Lora Lonshach it was. So, as I said, he got his hair cut once a year; and tale or tidings was never after hard of the barber that done it; About seven unlucky fellows got the honour, and after that, dickens a barber would come for love or money within a hen's race of the castle. So the king made an Act of Parlement, that all the shavers through the country was to cast lots; and if any one that got the short straw daared say boo, down went his house. [a]
So the first lot came to the son of a poor widow woman, and the bellman proclaimed it through the town; and when the poor mother heard it she had like to fall out of her stanin'; but as that wouldn't save the poor fellow's life, she thought betther of it, and run up the street like wildfire, till she came to the palace gates. She broke through the guards (I don't think the old kings in Ireland took any trouble about mindin' the gates; for if they did, how could such crowds be always at the fastes withinside?)--She broke in, as I said, and came into the big stone hail, where the king was takin' his tay--if it's tay they used in them days.
"What brings this mad woman here?" says he, flying into a passion. "Go," says he to the butler, "and put the guards into the dungeon, for lettin' me be disturbed at my break'ast, and bid the drummer give 'em thirty lashes apiece wud the cat-o'-noine-taiis. What brings you here, ~ unfortunate ould sinner?" says he to the
Poor woman, that was sitten' an her heels, and puililuin' fit to blow the roof off o' 'the house.
"Oh, plase your noble majesty," says she, "don't take Thigueen from me. If you do, who'll I have to wake and bury me dacent?" "An' who is Thigueen?" says he; "an' what have I to say to him?" "Oh, an' isn't he the unfortunate disciple that's to clip your majesty to-morrow, an' sure after that I'll never see him again." "Call the butler here," says the king to the little page. "Plaze your majesty, he's gone to see the floggin'." "It doesn't plaze my majesty, I tell you, for him to take' the liberty. Call the footman." "Sir, he's gone to mind the butler." " Well, then, tundher and turf! call the coachman." "Sir, he said he'd go' have an eye on the other two, for fraid they'd go look at any one dhrinkin'." "Well, then, call in the 'guards." "Oh, sure, they're all gettin' the floggin'." "Cead millia mollaghart--Oh, tattheration to yez all; isn't this the purty way I'm circumvented! Begone, you oul' thief," says he to the poor woman, "since I can't give you the chastisement you desarve. You'll get your paustha (boy) back 'safe an' sound; but if ever I lay eyes on you again, I'll have you hung as high as Balife or Gildheroy." [b] "Oh, may heavens be your bed! May all the sowis that ever left you--" "Out o' my sight, you torment! My break'ast is spiled, an' I'll be all through other the whole day."
You may be sure the guards kep' an eye about 'em next day, till the king was done his break'ast; and then the poor barber came in, like a dog with a kittle under his tail. He stood, bowin', bowin', and 'all the blood in his body down in his brogues. So the king looked at him, an' says he, "My good fellow, you'll be at liberty to go where you please after cutting my hair; but you must first take your Bible oath--" Ah, that's true, they didn't know anything about the Bible; the oath he made him swear was Dar lamh an Righ (by the king's hand), that he'd never tell anything that had ears and tongue what he'd see that day.
So he sat down on his throne, took off his green birredh, with his eyes fixed on the barber; and when the cap was off, up flew two brown horse's ears (but they were as long as if they belonged to an ass), and bid Thigue fall on with his scissors.
The poor lad never could rightly tell how he got through the job. He had like once to cut the edge of one ear; but such a roar as the king let at him, while he put down one ear and cocked up the other, almost terrified him to death. He'd give the world to be away some place where he could faint, and be done with the business, head and pluck.
When he was over the job, the page handed him five guineas--if it's guineas they had; and says the king, "Now, my lad, if I ever hear the wind o' the word of this after you, if I don't hang you, or thransport you to Bottomy Bay, I'll do worse; I'll get you married to a tay-dhrinking bawrshuch (scold) of a woman, that'll make you wish you never was born before you're three months man and wife. I will do that, by this scepthre, an' there's both wood and stick in it [c]--so mind yourself."
The poor mother was there, looking over 'the half-door, seeing if her son 'ud ever come back to her; an' at last, bedad, there he was, comin' down the street, pullin' one leg after the other; and when he came in, he tumbled head and heels into his bed, without so much as blessing him'self. Ovoch, I'm always forgetting it's a hathen story I'm telling. The poor mother begged and beseecht him to tell her what ailded him, but dickens a word he let on about it. At last, after two days and nights, the doctor came; and as sure as he did, he bid Thigue put out his tongue, and let him feel his. pulse. "Docthor," says the poor fellow, "there's no use in sthrivin' to blindfold the divel in the dark: I have a saycret. If I can't tell it, I'll die; and if I do tell it, I'll not be allowed to live." "Sha gu dheine," says the doctor, "is that 'the way the wind blows?" When he heard that the people the secret was not to be told to were to have tongues and ears on 'em, says he to Thigue, "Go into the wood there below; make a split in the bark of one of the trees, tell your secret into the cut, and try how you'll feel after it."
The doctor was hardly out of the house when Thigue was up, and creeping off to the wood. He was afraid to stop, for fear he'd be seen, till he got into the heart of it, where two paths crossed one another. There was., a nice sally tree at the spot, and so Thigue went no farther; but cut the bark in a down gash, and stooped down, and whispered into it, "Da Chluais Chapail ar Labhhradth Loingseach." And the maning of them words is, "The two ears of a horse has Lora Lonshach."
Well, the poor fellow was hardly done whispering, when he felt as if a mountain was lifted off his back. He'd be out of the wood home again in three jumps, only for the wakeness of hunger that was on him, and that he never felt while the secret was troubling him. A neighbour, that was strainin' her dinner on the flags outside of her door, just as he got into the town, seem' him go by so miserable-lookin', made him come in,, and never did he enjoy such a dinner of good potatoes and milk before or since.
Well, with the joy, and the five guineas, and that, himself and his mother lived like fightin' cocks for a long time; but the day twelvemonth was drawing near, when he'd have to cut the king's long hair again, and his mornings began to grow very dismal on him. But, before the day come round, there was great coming and going; for the other four kings of Ireland were invited, along with all the lords and ladies that choose to travel so far, to listen to a great match of harp-playing between Craftine, the king's harper, and any one that had the consate to play again him.
Well and good, a week before the day appointed, the harper found some cracks or worm-holes, or sonic meea or other in his instrument, and so he went into the wood to look for the makings of a new one. Where should bad luck send him but to the very sally that Thigue told his secret to! He cut it down, and fashioned it into the finest harp that ever you see (an' the dickens a harp ever I saw but on a halfpenny); and when he tried it, he was enchanted himself, such beautiful music as it played!
So at last the great day came, and the streets wor filled with coaches and horses, and the big hall in the palace was crammed. The king was on his high throne, and the four other kings were before him, and behind him, and at one side of him, and at the other; and the great lords and ladies were round the open place in the centre where all the harpers were sitting; and all such people as you and me surrounded the quality, till you couldn't put the blade of a knife between the walls and themselves.
So the king gave 'the word of command, and up got Craftine, and the music he made was so mournful that those who couldn't cover their faces put a cross look on themselves to hide their grief. This didn't please the king; so he waved his hand, and Craftine struck up a jig, and so bothered were they all, gentle and simple, that they had no room for dancing,,that they shouted out for merriment, and any one that had a hat or a cap flung it up to the rafters. By,and by he, got afeared that they would all rush in on himself and the other harpers for dancing room, and he changed the air to "Brian Boru's March." Well, they were not so uproarious while it was playing; but the blood was galloping through their veins like mad. Every one that had room drew his sword, and waved it over his head (and such a clatter as these swords made striking one another!), and every one cried out the war-cry of his own chief or king. This wouldn't do at all for a continuance; so he changed his hand, and made such music as angels do when they are welcoming good souls to heaven. Every one shut their eyes and leaned back, and hoped that the beautiful tune would never come to an end.
But it was forced to come to an end, and the, harper let his arms fall on his knees, and every one sighed and groaned for being brought back to the world again. You may depend that Craftine was praised, and gold and silver was thrown in showers to him. Then the harpers of Leinster, Munster, Connaught, and Ulster tried their hands, and, sure enough, fine music flew out from under these hands; but all did not come within miles of Craftine's. So when they stopped, says the king to his harper,
"Give us one tune more to finish decently, and put all that we invited in good humour for their dinner. I'm afraid if you go on in this way the King of Greece or the Emperor of Moroco will be sending for you one of these clays." "By your hand, my king," says Craftine, "I'm afeard of the same harp. It wasn't my fingers at all that struck out that music; it was the music that stirred my fingers. There's some pishrogue on the instrument, and I'm in dread it will play us some trick." "Oh, trick be hanged!" says the king; "play away." "Well," says the other, " I must obey your majesty--why shouldn't I? Here goes!"
Well, his fingers hardly touched the strings, when they felt like sand-paper that was powdered with nettle-tops, and out they roared as if thunder was breaking over the roof, and a thousand men were smashing stones. Every one was going to stop his ears, but a loud voice began to shout out from the strings that were keeping hold of Craftine's fingers, "Da Chluais Chapail ar Labhradh Loingseach!"
Well, to be sure! how the people were frightened, and how they looked at the unfortunate sinner of a king, that didn't know whether he was standing on his feet or his head, and would give half Ireland to be ten miles under ground that, moment. He put up his poor hands to his head, not knowing what he was doing, and, bedad, in his fumbling he loosed the band of his birredh, and up flew the two long hairy ears. Oh, what a roar came from the crowd! Lora wasn't able to stand it; he fell in a stugue down from his' throne, and in a few minutes he had the hall to himself, barring his harper and some of his old servants.
They say that when he came to himself, he was very sorry for all the poor barbers that he put out of the way, and that he pensioned their wives and mothers; and when there was-no secret made of it, Thigueen made no more work about docking him than he would about you or me. Only for all the blood he got shed he'd never be made the holy show he was in the sight of people from all parts within the four seas of Ireland.
But for fear of being detected, we should willingly claim this as an original Celtic legend. But alas! the learned in classic mythology would soon humble our national vanity by quoting that troublesome old Midas of Asia Minor, renowned for the fatal pair of ass's ears bestowed on him by Apollo, the secret told to the reeds, the minstrel fashioning a Pandean pipe out of these reeds, and the treacherous miniature organ squeaking out, "King Midas has the ears of an ass!"
[a] Idiomatic for "being put to death."
[b] The biography of these unlucky heroes was to be found in the once familiar school-book--" The Adventures of the Irish Rogues and Rapparees" It has been a desideratum in our little collection these thirty years. We cannot bear the sight of the modem edition.
[c] The editor has not ventured to print this bizarre pleonasm without legitimate authority.