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Grania, The Story of an Island; vol. 1/2

Grania, The Story of an Island; vol. 1/2
Title: Grania, The Story of an Island; vol. 1/2
Release Date: 2018-12-09
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 30
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By the same Author

HURRISH: a Study
IRELAND (Story of the Nations Series)

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[All rights reserved]


To M. C.

This story was always intended to be dedicated to you. It could hardly,in fact, have been dedicated to anyone else, seeing that it was with youit was originally planned; you who helped out its meagre scraps ofGaelic; you with whom was first discussed the possibility of an Irishstory without any Irish brogue in it—that brogue which is a tiresomenecessity always, and might surely be dispensed with, as we both agreed,in a case where no single actor on the tiny stage is supposed to utter aword of English. For the rest, they are but melancholy places, theseAran Isles of ours, as you and I know well, and the following pages havecaught their full share—something, perhaps, more than their fullshare—of that gloom. That this is an artistic fault no one can doubt,yet there are times—are there not?—when it does not seem so very easyto exaggerate the amount of gloom which life is any day and every dayquite willing to bestow.

Several causes have delayed the little book’s appearance until now, buthere it is, ready at last, and dedicated still to you.

E. L.

Lyons, Hazlehatch:
January, 1892.




A mild September afternoon, thirty years ago, in the middle of GalwayBay.

Clouds over the whole expanse of sky, nowhere showing any immediatedisposition to fall as rain, yet nowhere allowing the sky to appeardecidedly, nowhere even becoming themselves decided, keeping everywherea broad indefinable wash of greyness, a grey so dim, uniform, andall-pervasive, that it defied observation, floating and melting awayinto a dimly blotted horizon, an horizon which,{2} whether at any givenpoint to call sea or sky, land or water, it was all but impossible todecide.

Here and there in that wide cloud-covered sweep of sky a sort of breakor window occurred, and through this break or window long shafts ofsunlight fell in a cold and chastened drizzle, now upon the bluishlevels of crestless waves, now upon the bleak untrodden corner of someportion of the coast of Clare, tilted perpendicularly upwards; nowperhaps again upon that low line of islands which breaks the outermostcurve of the bay of Galway, and beyond which is nothing, nothing, thatis to say, but the Atlantic, a region which, despite the ploughing ofinnumerable keels, is still given up by the dwellers of those islands toa mystic condition of things unknown to geographers, but too deeplyrooted in their consciousness to yield to any mere reports fromwithout.{3}

One of these momentary shafts of light had just caught in its passageupon the sails of a fishing smack or hooker, Con O’Malley’s hooker, fromthe middle isle of Aran. It was an old, battered, much-enduring sail ofindeterminate hue, inclining to coffee colour, and patched towards thetop with a large patch of a different shade and much newer material. Thehooker itself was old, too, and patched, but still seaworthy, and, asthe only hooker at that time belonging to the islands, a source, as allInishmaan knew, of unspeakable pride and satisfaction to its owner.

At present its only occupants were Con himself and his littleeleven-year-old daughter, Grania. There was, however, a smaller boatbelonging to it a few yards away, which had been detached a short whilebefore for the convenience of fishing. The occupants of this smallerboat were two{4} also, a lad of about fourteen, well grown, light haired,fairly well to do, despite the raggedness of his clothes, which inIreland is no especial test of poverty. The other was a man of abouttwenty-eight or thirty, the raggedness of whose clothes was of theabsolute rather than comparative order. The face, too, above the ragswas rather wilder, more unsettled, more restless than even WestConnaught recognises as customary or becoming. Nay, if you chose toconsider it critically, you might have called it a dangerous face, notugly, handsome rather, as far as the features went, and lit by a pair ofeyes so dark as to be almost black, but with a restlessly moving lowerjaw, a quantity of hair raked into a tangled mass over an excessivelylow brow, and the eyes themselves were sombre, furtive, menacing—theeyes of a wolf or other beast of prey—eyes which by moments{5} seemed toflash upon you like something sinister seen suddenly at dead of night.Shan Daly, or Shan-à-vehonee—‘Shan the vagabond’—he was commonlycalled by his neighbours, and he certainly looked the character.

Even this man’s fashion of fishing had something in it of the samefurtive and predatory character. Fishing, no doubt, is a predatorypursuit; still, if any predatory pursuit can be said to be legalised orsanctified, it surely is. Shan Daly’s manner of fishing, however,carried no biblical suggestions with it. Every time his line neared thesurface with a fish attached, he clutched at it with a sudden clawinggesture, expressive of fierce, hungry desire, his lips moving, his eyesglittering, his whole face working. Even when the fish had been clearedfrom the line and lay in a scaly heap at the bottom of the boat, hislooks still followed them with the{6} same peculiarly hungry expression.Watching him at such a moment you would hardly have been surprised hadyou seen him suddenly begin to devour them, then and there, scales andall, as an otter might have done.

For more than an hour the light western breeze which had carried thehooker so rapidly to Ballyvaughan that morning, with its load of kelp,had been gradually dying away, until now it was all but gone. Far andwide, too, not a sign of its revival appeared. Schools of gulls rose anddipped in circles here and there upon the surface of the water, theirscreams, now harsh and ear-piercing, now faint and rendered almostinaudible by distance. A few other fishing boats lay becalmed at widelyseparated points in the broad circumference, and, where the two lines ofcoast, converging rapidly towards one another, met at Galway, a bigmerchantman was seen slowly moving into{7} harbour in the wake of a smalltug, the trail of whose smoke lay behind it, a long coal-black threadupon the satiny surface.

Leaning against the taffrail of his vessel, Con O’Malley puffed lazilyat his pipe, and watched the smoke disappearing in thin concentriccircles, his brawny shoulders, already bent, less from age than from aninveterate habit of slouching and leaning showing massively against thatwatery background. Opposite, at the further end of the boat, the littlered-petticoated figure of his daughter sat perched upon the top of aheap of loose stones, which served for the moment as ballast. The day,as has been said, was calm, but the Atlantic is never an absolutelypassive object. Every now and then a slow sleepy swell would come andlift the boat upon its shoulders, up one long green watery slope anddown another, setting the heap of stones rolling and grinding oneagainst the{8} other. Whenever this happened the little figure upon theballast would get temporarily dislodged from its perch, and sentrolling, now to one side, now to the other, according as the boat moved,or the loose freight shifted its position. The next moment, however,with a quick scrambling action, like that of some small marmoset orsquirrel, it would have clambered up again to its former place; its feetwould have wedged themselves securely into a new position against thestones, the small mouth opening to display a row of white teeth with alaugh of triumphant glee at its own achievement.

A wild little face, and a wild little figure! Bare-headed, with unkempthair tossing in a brown mane over face and neck; a short red flannelpetticoat barely reaching to the knees; another, a whitish one, tied bythe strings cloak-fashion about the shoulders, and tumbling backwards{9}with every movement. One thing would probably have struck a stranger asincongruous, and that was the small feet and legs were not, as mighthave been expected, bare, but clad in comfortable thick knittedstockings, with shoes, or rather sandals, of the kind known aspampooties, made of cow’s skin, the hair being left on, the upperportion sewn together and tied with a wisp of wool in more or lessclassical fashion across the two small insteps.

Seen against that indeterminate welter of sea and sky, the little brownface with its rapidly moving glances, strongly marked brows, vividlytinted colouring, might have brought southern suggestions to your mind.Small Italian faces have something of that same outline, that flash,that vividness of colouring: gipsies too. Could the child by any chance,you might have asked yourself, be a gipsy? But no: a moment’sreflection{10} would have told you it was impossible, for there are nogipsies, never have been any, in Ireland.

Of course, the real explanation would soon have presented itself to yourmind. It lay in that long-unrenewed, but still-to-be-distinguishedstreak of Spanish blood, which comes out, generation after generation,in so many a West Irish face, a legacy from the days when, to allintents and purposes, yonder little town was a beleaguered fortress,dependent for daily necessities upon its boats and the shifting capriceof the seas; the landways between it and the rest of the island being asimpracticable for all ordinary purposes and ordinary travellers as anysimilar extent of mid-Africa to-day.

Hours pass unobserved in occupations which are thoroughly congenial toour temperaments, and it would have been difficult to hit upon one morecongenial to such a tempera{11}ment as Con O’Malley’s than that in which hewas at that moment engaged. Had wind, sky, and other conditionscontinued unchanged, he would in all probability have maintained thesame attitude, smoked his pipe with the same passive enjoyment, watchedthe horizon with the same vaguely scrutinising air, till darkness drovehim home to supper and Inishmaan. An interruption, however, came, asinterruptions are apt to come when they are least wanted. The fishingthat afternoon had been unusually good, and for a long time past the twooccupants of the smaller boat had been too busily occupied pulling intheir lines to have time for anything else. It was plain, however, thatstrict harmony was not reigning there. Now and then a smotheredejaculation might have been heard from the elder of the two fishermendirected against some proceeding on the part of the younger one.Presently this would die{12} away, and silence again set in, broken only bythe movements of the fishers, the whisper of the water, the far-offcries of the gulls, and the dull sleepy croak with which the old hookerresponded to the swell, which, lifting it upon its shoulders up onesmooth grey incline, let it drop down again with a stealthy rockingmotion the next moment upon the other.

Suddenly a loud burst of noise broke from the curragh. It was less likethe anger of a human being than like the violent jabbering, the harsh,inarticulate cries of some infuriated ape. Harsher and harsher, louderand louder still it grew, till the discord seemed to fill the wholehitherto peace-enveloped scene; the very gulls wheeling overheadsweeping away in wider circles as the clamour reached their ears.

Con O’Malley roused himself, lifted his gaze from the horizon, took thepipe out of his mouth, and, standing erect, flung an{13} angry glance atthe curragh, which was only separated from his own boat by some

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