The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Aran Islands, by John M. Synge
#8 in our series by John M. Synge
Edited by Charles Aldarondo



Part II

THE evening before I returned to the west I wrote to Michael--who
had left the islands to earn his living on the mainland--to tell him
that I would call at the house where he lodged the next morning,
which was a Sunday.

A young girl with fine western features, and little English, came
out when I knocked at the door. She seemed to have heard all about
me, and was so filled with the importance of her message that she
could hardly speak it intelligibly.

'She got your letter,' she said, confusing the pronouns, as is often
done in the west, 'she is gone to Mass, and she'll be in the square
after that. Let your honour go now and sit in the square, and Michael
will find you.'

As I was returning up the main street I met Michael wandering down
to meet me, as he had got tired of waiting.

He seemed to have grown a powerful man since I had seen him, and was
now dressed in the heavy brown flannels of the Connaught labourer.
After a little talk we turned back together and went out on the
sandhills above the town. Meeting him here a little beyond the
threshold of my hotel I was singularly struck with the refinement of
his nature, which has hardly been influenced by his new life, and
the townsmen and sailors he has met with.

'I do often come outside the town on Sunday,' he said while we were
talking, 'for what is there to do in a town in the middle of all the
people when you are not at your work?'

A little later another Irish-speaking labourer--a friend of
Michael's--joined us, and we lay for hours talking and arguing on
the grass. The day was unbearably sultry, and the sand and the sea
near us were crowded with half-naked women, but neither of the young
men seemed to be aware of their presence. Before we went back to the
town a man came out to ring a young horse on the sand close to where
we were lying, and then the interest of my companions was intense.

Late in the evening I met Michael again, and we wandered round the
bay, which was still filled with bathing women, until it was quite
dark, I shall not see him again before my return from the islands,
as he is busy to-morrow, and on Tuesday I go out with the steamer.

I returned to the middle island this morning, in the steamer to
Kilronan, and on here in a curagh that had gone over with salt fish.
As I came up from the slip the doorways in the village filled with
women and children, and several came down on the roadway to shake
hands and bid me a thousand welcomes.

Old Pat Dirane is dead, and several of my friends have gone to
America; that is all the news they have to give me after an absence
of many months.

When I arrived at the cottage I was welcomed by the old people, and
great excitement was made by some little presents I had bought
them--a pair of folding scissors for the old woman, a strop for her
husband, and some other trifles.

Then the youngest son, Columb, who is still at home, went into the
inner room and brought out the alarm clock I sent them last year
when I went away.

'I am very fond of this clock,' he said, patting it on the back; 'it
will ring for me any morning when I want to go out fishing. Bedad,
there are no two clocks in the island that would be equal to it.'

I had some photographs to show them that I took here last year, and
while I was sitting on a little stool near the door of the kitchen,
showing them to the family, a beautiful young woman I had spoken to
a few times last year slipped in, and after a wonderfully simple and
cordial speech of welcome, she sat down on the floor beside me to
look on also.

The complete absence of shyness or self-consciousness in most of
these people gives them a peculiar charm, and when this young and
beautiful woman leaned across my knees to look nearer at some
photograph that pleased her, I felt more than ever the strange
simplicity of the island life.

Last year when I came here everything was new, and the people were a
little strange with me, but now I am familiar with them and their
way of life, so that their qualities strike me more forcibly than

When my photographs of this island had been examined with immense
delight, and every person in them had been identified--even those
who only showed a hand or a leg--I brought out some I had taken in
County Wicklow. Most of them were fragments, showing fairs in
Rathdrum or Aughrim, men cutting turf on the hills, or other scenes
of inland life, yet they gave the greatest delight to these people
who are wearied of the sea.

This year I see a darker side of life in the islands. The sun seldom
shines, and day after day a cold south-western wind blows over the
cliffs, bringing up showers of hail and dense masses of cloud.

The sons who are at home stay out fishing whenever it is tolerably
calm, from about three in the morning till after nightfall, yet they
earn little, as fish are not plentiful.

The old man fishes also with a long rod and ground-bait, but as a
rule has even smaller success.

When the weather breaks completely, fishing is abandoned, and they
both go down and dig potatoes in the rain. The women sometimes help
them, but their usual work is to look after the calves and do their
spinning in the house.

There is a vague depression over the family this year, because of
the two sons who have gone away, Michael to the mainland, and
another son, who was working in Kilronan last year, to the United

A letter came yesterday from Michael to his mother. It was written
in English, as he is the only one of the family who can read or
write in Irish, and I heard it being slowly spelled out and
translated as I sat in my room. A little later the old woman brought
it in for me to read.

He told her first about his work, and the wages he is getting. Then
he said that one night he had been walking in the town, and had
looked up among the streets, and thought to himself what a grand
night it would be on the Sandy Head of this island--not, he added,
that he was feeling lonely or sad. At the end he gave an account,
with the dramatic emphasis of the folk-tale, of how he had met me on
the Sunday morning, and, 'believe me,' he said, 'it was the fine
talk we had for two hours or three.' He told them also of a knife I
had given him that was so fine, no one on the island 'had ever seen
the like of her.'

Another day a letter came from the son who is in America, to say
that he had had a slight accident to one of his arms, but was well
again, and that he was leaving New York and going a few hundred
miles up the country.

All the evening afterwards the old woman sat on her stool at the
corner of the fire with her shawl over her head, keening piteously
to herself. America appeared far away, yet she seems to have felt
that, after all, it was only the other edge of the Atlantic, and now
when she hears them talking of railroads and inland cities where
there is no sea, things she cannot understand, it comes home to her
that her son is gone for ever. She often tells me how she used to
sit on the wall behind the house last year and watch the hooker he
worked in coming out of Kilronan and beating up the sound, and what
company it used to be to her the time they'd all be out.

The maternal feeling is so powerful on these islands that it gives a
life of torment to the women. Their sons grow up to be banished as
soon as they are of age, or to live here in continual danger on the
sea; their daughters go away also, or are worn out in their youth
with bearing children that grow up to harass them in their own turn
a little later.

There has been a storm for the last twenty-four hours, and I have
been wandering on the cliffs till my hair is stiff with salt.
Immense masses of spray were flying up from the base of the cliff,
and were caught at times by the wind and whirled away to fall at
some distance from the shore. When one of these happened to fall on
me, I had to crouch down for an instant, wrapped and blinded by a
white hail of foam.

The waves were so enormous that when I saw one more than usually
large coming towards me, I turned instinctively to hide myself, as
one blinks when struck upon the eyes.

After a few hours the mind grows bewildered with the endless change
and struggle of the sea, and an utter despondency replaces the first
moment of exhilaration.

At the south-west corner of the island I came upon a number of
people gathering the seaweed that is now thick on the rocks. It was
raked from the surf by the men, and then carried up to the brow of
the cliff by a party of young girls.

In addition to their ordinary clothing these girls wore a raw
sheepskin on their shoulders, to catch the oozing sea-water, and
they looked strangely wild and seal-like with the salt caked upon
their lips and wreaths of seaweed in their hair.

For the rest of my walk I saw no living thing but one flock of
curlews, and a few pipits hiding among the stones.

About the sunset the clouds broke and the storm turned to a
hurricane. Bars of purple cloud stretched across the sound where
immense waves were rolling from the west, wreathed with snowy
phantasies of spray. Then there was the bay full of green delirium,
and the Twelve Pins touched with mauve and scarlet in the east.

The suggestion from this world of inarticulate power was immense,
and now at midnight, when the wind is abating, I am still trembling
and flushed with exultation.

I have been walking through the wet lanes in my pampooties in spite
of the rain, and I have brought on a feverish cold.

The wind is terrific. If anything serious should happen to me I
might die here and be nailed in my box, and shoved down into a wet
crevice in the graveyard before any one could know it on the

Two days ago a curagh passed from the south island--they can go out
when we are weather-bound because of a sheltered cove in their
island--it was thought in search of the Doctor. It became too rough
afterwards to make the return journey, and it was only this morning
we saw them repassing towards the south-east in a terrible sea.

A four-oared curagh with two men in her besides the rowers--
probably the Priest and the Doctor--went first, followed by the
three-oared curagh from the south island, which ran more danger.
Often when they go for the Doctor in weather like this, they bring
the Priest also, as they do not know if it will be possible to go
for him if he is needed later.

As a rule there is little illness, and the women often manage their
confinements among themselves without any trained assistance. In
most cases all goes well, but at times a curagh is sent off in
desperate haste for the Priest and the Doctor when it is too late.

The baby that spent some days here last year is now established in
the house; I suppose the old woman has adopted him to console
herself for the loss of her own sons.

He is now a well-grown child, though not yet able to say more than a
few words of Gaelic. His favourite amusement is to stand behind the
door with a stick, waiting for any wandering pig or hen that may
chance to come in, and then to dash out and pursue them. There are
two young kittens in the kitchen also, which he ill-treats, without
meaning to do them harm.

Whenever the old woman comes into my room with turf for the fire, he
walks in solemnly behind her with a sod under each arm, deposits
them on the back of the fire with great care, and then flies off
round the corner with his long petticoats trailing behind him.

He has not yet received any official name on the island, as he has
not left the fireside, but in the house they usually speak of him as
'Michaeleen beug' (i.e. 'little small-Michael').

Now and then he is slapped, but for the most part the old woman
keeps him in order with stories of 'the long-toothed hag,' that
lives in the Dun and eats children who are not good. He spends half
his day eating cold potatoes and drinking very strong tea, yet seems
in perfect health.

An Irish letter has come to me from Michael. I will translate it

DEAR NOBLE PERSON,--I write this letter with joy and pride that you
found the way to the house of my father the day you were on the
steamship. I am thinking there will not be loneliness on you, for
there will be the fine beautiful Gaelic League and you will be
learning powerfully.

I am thinking there is no one in life walking with you now but your
own self from morning till night, and great is the pity.

What way are my mother and my three brothers and my sisters, and do
not forget white Michael, and the poor little child and the old grey
woman, and Rory. I am getting a forgetfulness on all my friends and
kindred.--I am your friend ...

It is curious how he accuses himself of forgetfulness after asking
for all his family by name. I suppose the first home-sickness is
wearing away and he looks on his independent wellbeing as a treason
towards his kindred.

One of his friends was in the kitchen when the letter was brought to
me, and, by the old man's wish, he read it out loud as soon as I had
finished it. When he came to the last sentence he hesitated for a
moment, and then omitted it altogether.

This young man had come up to bring me a copy of the 'Love Songs of
Connaught,' which he possesses, and I persuaded him to read, or
rather chant me some of them. When he had read a couple I found that
the old woman knew many of them from her childhood, though her
version was often not the same as what was in the book. She was
rocking herself on a stool in the chimney corner beside a pot of
indigo, in which she was dyeing wool, and several times when the
young man finished a poem she took it up again and recited the
verses with exquisite musical intonation, putting a wistfulness and
passion into her voice that seemed to give it all the cadences that
are sought in the profoundest poetry.

The lamp had burned low, and another terrible gale was howling and
shrieking over the island. It seemed like a dream that I should be
sitting here among these men and women listening to this rude and
beautiful poetry that is filled with the oldest passions of the

The horses have been coming back for the last few days from their
summer's grazing in Connemara. They are landed at the sandy beach
where the cattle were shipped last year, and I went down early this
morning to watch their arrival through the waves. The hooker was
anchored at some distance from the shore, but I could see a horse
standing at the gunnel surrounded by men shouting and flipping at it
with bits of rope. In a moment it jumped over into the sea, and some
men, who were waiting for it in a curagh, caught it by the halter
and towed it to within twenty yards of the surf. Then the curagh
turned back to the hooker, and the horse was left to make its own
way to the land.

As I was standing about a man came up to me and asked after the
usual salutations:--

'Is there any war in the world at this time, noble person?' I told
him something of the excitement in the Transvaal, and then another
horse came near the waves and I passed on and left him.

Afterwards I walked round the edge of the sea to the pier, where a
quantity of turf has recently been brought in. It is usually left
for some time stacked on the sandhills, and then carried up to the
cottages in panniers slung on donkeys or any horses that are on the

They have been busy with it the last few weeks, and the track from
the village to the pier has been filled with lines of
red-petticoated boys driving their donkeys before them, or cantering
down on their backs when the panniers are empty.

In some ways these men and women seem strangely far away from me.
They have the same emotions that I have, and the animals have, yet I
cannot talk to them when there is much to say, more than to the dog
that whines beside me in a mountain fog.

There is hardly an hour I am with them that I do not feel the shock
of some inconceivable idea, and then again the shock of some vague
emotion that is familiar to them and to me. On some days I feel this
island as a perfect home and resting place; on other days I feel
that I am a waif among the people. I can feel more with them than
they can feel with me, and while I wander among them, they like me
sometimes, and laugh at me sometimes, yet never know what I am

In the evenings I sometimes meet with a girl who is not yet half
through her teens, yet seems in some ways more consciously developed
than any one else that I have met here. She has passed part of her
life on the mainland, and the disillusion she found in Galway has
coloured her imagination.

As we sit on stools on either side of the fire I hear her voice
going backwards and forwards in the same sentence from the gaiety of
a child to the plaintive intonation of an old race that is worn with
sorrow. At one moment she is a simple peasant, at another she seems
to be looking out at the world with a sense of prehistoric
disillusion and to sum up in the expression of her grey-blue eyes
the whole external despondency of the clouds and sea.

Our conversation is usually disjointed. One evening we talked of a
town on the mainland.

'Ah, it's a queer place,' she said: 'I wouldn't choose to live in
it. It's a queer place, and indeed I don't know the place that

Another evening we talked of the people who live on the island or
come to visit it.

'Father is gone,' she said; 'he was a kind man but a queer man.
Priests is queer people, and I don't know who isn't.'

Then after a long pause she told me with seriousness, as if speaking
of a thing that surprised herself, and should surprise me, that she
was very fond of the boys.

In our talk, which is sometimes full of the innocent realism of
childhood, she is always pathetically eager to say the right thing
and be engaging.

One evening I found her trying to light a fire in the little side
room of her cottage, where there is an ordinary fireplace. I went in
to help her and showed her how to hold up a paper before the mouth
of the chimney to make a draught, a method she had never seen. Then
I told her of men who live alone in Paris and make their own fires
that they may have no one to bother them. She was sitting in a heap
on the floor staring into the turf, and as I finished she looked up
with surprise.

'They're like me so,' she said; 'would anyone have thought that!'

Below the sympathy we feel there is still a chasm between us.

'Musha,' she muttered as I was leaving her this evening, 'I think
it's to hell you'll be going by and by.'

Occasionally I meet her also in the kitchen where young men go to
play cards after dark and a few girls slip in to share the
amusement. At such times her eyes shine in the light of the candles,
and her cheeks flush with the first tumult of youth, till she hardly
seems the same girl who sits every evening droning to herself over
the turf.

A branch of the Gaelic League has been started here since my last
visit, and every Sunday afternoon three little girls walk through
the village ringing a shrill hand-bell, as a signal that the women's
meeting is to be held,--here it would be useless to fix an hour, as
the hours are not recognized.

Soon afterwards bands of girls--of all ages from five to
twenty-five--begin to troop down to the schoolhouse in their reddest
Sunday petticoats. It is remarkable that these young women are
willing to spend their one afternoon of freedom in laborious studies
of orthography for no reason but a vague reverence for the Gaelic.
It is true that they owe this reverence, or most of it, to the
influence of some recent visitors, yet the fact that they feel such
an influence so keenly is itself of interest.

In the older generation that did not come under the influence of the
recent language movement, I do not see any particular affection for
Gaelic. Whenever they are able, they speak English to their
children, to render them more capable of making their way in life.
Even the young men sometimes say to me--

'There's very hard English on you, and I wish to God I had the like
of it.'

The women are the great conservative force in this matter of the
language. They learn a little English in school and from their
parents, but they rarely have occasion to speak with any one who is
not a native of the islands, so their knowledge of the foreign
tongue remains rudimentary. In my cottage I have never heard a word
of English from the women except when they were speaking to the pigs
or to the dogs, or when the girl was reading a letter in English.
Women, however, with a more assertive temperament, who have had,
apparently, the same opportunities, often attain a considerable
fluency, as is the case with one, a relative of the old woman of the
house, who often visits here.

In the boys' school, where I sometimes look in, the children
surprise me by their knowledge of English, though they always speak
in Irish among themselves. The school itself is a comfortless
building in a terribly bleak position. In cold weather the children
arrive in the morning with a sod of turf tied up with their books, a
simple toll which keeps the fire well supplied, yet, I believe, a
more modern method is soon to be introduced.

I am in the north island again, looking out with a singular
sensation to the cliffs across the sound. It is hard to believe that
those hovels I can just see in the south are filled with people
whose lives have the strange quality that is found in the oldest
poetry and legend. Compared with them the falling off that has come
with the increased prosperity of this island is full of
discouragement. The charm which the people over there share with the
birds and flowers has been replaced here by the anxiety of men who
are eager for gain. The eyes and expression are different, though
the faces are the same, and even the children here seem to have an
indefinable modern quality that is absent from the men of Inishmaan.

My voyage from the middle island was wild. The morning was so
stormy, that in ordinary circumstances I would not have attempted
the passage, but as I had arranged to travel with a curagh that was
coming over for the Parish Priest--who is to hold stations on
Inishmaan--I did not like to draw back.

I went out in the morning and walked up the cliffs as usual. Several
men I fell in with shook their heads when I told them I was going
away, and said they doubted if a curagh could cross the sound with
the sea that was in it.

When I went back to the cottage I found the Curate had just come
across from the south island, and had had a worse passage than any
he had yet experienced.

The tide was to turn at two o'clock, and after that it was thought
the sea would be calmer, as the wind and the waves would be running
from the same point. We sat about in the kitchen all the morning,
with men coming in every few minutes to give their opinion whether
the passage should be attempted, and at what points the sea was
likely to be at its worst.

At last it was decided we should go, and I started for the pier in a
wild shower of rain with the wind howling in the walls. The
schoolmaster and a priest who was to have gone with me came out as I
was passing through the village and advised me not to make the
passage; but my crew had gone on towards the sea, and I thought it
better to go after them. The eldest son of the family was coming
with me, and I considered that the old man, who knew the waves
better than I did, would not send out his son if there was more than
reasonable danger.

I found my crew waiting for me under a high wall below the village,
and we went on together. The island had never seemed so desolate.
Looking out over the black limestone through the driving rain to the
gulf of struggling waves, an indescribable feeling of dejection came
over me.

The old man gave me his view of the use of fear.

'A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned,' he said,
'for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't. But we do be afraid
of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.'

A little crowd of neighbours had collected lower down to see me off,
and as we crossed the sandhills we had to shout to each other to be
heard above the wind.

The crew carried down the curagh and then stood under the lee of the
pier tying on their hats with strings and drawing on their oilskins.

They tested the braces of the oars, and the oarpins, and everything
in the curagh with a care I had not seen them give to anything, then
my bag was lifted in, and we were ready. Besides the four men of the
crew a man was going with us who wanted a passage to this island. As
he was scrambling into the bow, an old man stood forward from the

'Don't take that man with you,' he said. 'Last week they were taking
him to Clare and the whole lot of them were near drownded. Another
day he went to Inisheer and they broke three ribs of the curagh, and
they coming back. There is not the like of him for ill-luck in the
three islands.'

'The divil choke your old gob,' said the man, 'you will be talking.'

We set off. It was a four-oared curagh, and I was given the last
seat so as to leave the stern for the man who was steering with an
oar, worked at right angles to the others by an extra thole-pin in
the stern gunnel.

When we had gone about a hundred yards they ran up a bit of a sail
in the bow and the pace became extraordinarily rapid.

The shower had passed over and the wind had fallen, but large,
magnificently brilliant waves were rolling down on us at right
angles to our course.

Every instant the steersman whirled us round with a sudden stroke of
his oar, the prow reared up and then fell into the next furrow with
a crash, throwing up masses of spray. As it did so, the stern in its
turn was thrown up, and both the steersman, who let go his oar and
clung with both hands to the gunnel, and myself, were lifted high up
above the sea.

The wave passed, we regained our course and rowed violently for a
few yards, then the same manoeuvre had to be repeated. As we worked
out into the sound we began to meet another class of waves, that
could be seen for some distance towering above the rest.

When one of these came in sight, the first effort was to get beyond
its reach. The steersman began crying out in Gaelic, 'Siubhal,
siubhal' ('Run, run'), and sometimes, when the mass was gliding
towards us with horrible speed, his voice rose to a shriek. Then the
rowers themselves took up the cry, and the curagh seemed to leap and
quiver with the frantic terror of a beast till the wave passed
behind it or fell with a crash beside the stern.

It was in this racing with the waves that our chief danger lay. If
the wave could be avoided, it was better to do so, but if it
overtook us while we were trying to escape, and caught us on the
broadside, our destruction was certain. I could see the steersman
quivering with the excitement of his task, for any error in his
judgment would have swamped us.

We had one narrow escape. A wave appeared high above the rest, and
there was the usual moment of intense exertion. It was of no use,
and in an instant the wave seemed to be hurling itself upon us. With
a yell of rage the steersman struggled with his oar to bring our
prow to meet it. He had almost succeeded, when there was a crash and
rush of water round us. I felt as if I had been struck upon the back
with knotted ropes. White foam gurgled round my knees and eyes. The
curagh reared up, swaying and trembling for a moment, and then fell
safely into the furrow.

This was our worst moment, though more than once, when several waves
came so closely together that we had no time to regain control of
the canoe between them, we had some dangerous work. Our lives
depended upon the skill and courage of the men, as the life of the
rider or swimmer is often in his own hands, and the excitement was
too great to allow time for fear.

I enjoyed the passage. Down in this shallow trough of canvas that
bent and trembled with the motion of the men, I had a far more
intimate feeling of the glory and power of the waves than I have
ever known in a steamer.

Old Mourteen is keeping me company again, and I am now able to
understand the greater part of his Irish.

He took me out to-day to show me the remains of some cloghauns, or
beehive dwellings, that are left near the central ridge of the
island. After I had looked at them we lay down in the corner of a
little field, filled with the autumn sunshine and the odour of
withering flowers, while he told me a long folk-tale which took more
than an hour to narrate.

He is so blind that I can gaze at him without discourtesy, and after
a while the expression of his face made me forget to listen, and I
lay dreamily in the sunshine letting the antique formulas of the
story blend with the suggestions from the prehistoric masonry I lay
on. The glow of childish transport that came over him when he
reached the nonsense ending--so common in these tales--recalled me
to myself, and I listened attentively while he gabbled with
delighted haste: 'They found the path and I found the puddle. They
were drowned and I was found. If it's all one to me tonight, it
wasn't all one to them the next night. Yet, if it wasn't itself, not
a thing did they lose but an old back tooth '--or some such

As I led him home through the paths he described to me--it is thus
we get along--lifting him at times over the low walls he is too
shaky to climb, he brought the conversation to the topic they are
never weary of--my views on marriage.

He stopped as we reached the summit of the island, with the stretch
of the Atlantic just visible behind him.

'Whisper, noble person,' he began, 'do you never be thinking on the
young girls? The time I was a young man, the devil a one of them
could I look on without wishing to marry her.'

'Ah, Mourteen,' I answered, 'it's a great wonder you'd be asking me.
What at all do you think of me yourself?'

'Bedad, noble person, I'm thinking it's soon you'll be getting
married. Listen to what I'm telling you: a man who is not married is
no better than an old jackass. He goes into his sister's house, and
into his brother's house; he eats a bit in this place and a bit in
another place, but he has no home for himself like an old jackass
straying on the rocks.'

I have left Aran. The steamer had a more than usually heavy cargo,
and it was after four o'clock when we sailed from Kilronan.

Again I saw the three low rocks sink down into the sea with a moment
of inconceivable distress. It was a clear evening, and as we came
out into the bay the sun stood like an aureole behind the cliffs of
Inishmaan. A little later a brilliant glow came over the sky,
throwing out the blue of the sea and of the hills of Connemara.

When it was quite dark, the cold became intense, and I wandered
about the lonely vessel that seemed to be making her own way across
the sea. I was the only passenger, and all the crew, except one boy
who was steering, were huddled together in the warmth of the

Three hours passed, and no one stirred. The slowness of the vessel
and the lamentation of the cold sea about her sides became almost
unendurable. Then the lights of Galway came in sight, and the crew
appeared as we beat up slowly to the quay.

Once on shore I had some difficulty in finding any one to carry my
baggage to the railway. When I found a man in the darkness and got
my bag on his shoulders, he turned out to be drunk, and I had
trouble to keep him from rolling from the wharf with all my
possessions. He professed to be taking me by a short cut into the
town, but when we were in the middle of a waste of broken buildings
and skeletons of ships he threw my bag on the ground and sat down on

'It's real heavy she is, your honour,' he said; 'I'm thinking it's
gold there will be in it.'

'Divil a hap'worth is there in it at all but books,' I answered him
in Gaelic.

'Bedad, is mor an truaghe' ('It's a big pity'), he said; 'if it was
gold was in it it's the thundering spree we'd have together this
night in Galway.'

In about half an hour I got my luggage once more on his back, and we
made our way into the city.

Later in the evening I went down towards the quay to look for
Michael. As I turned into the narrow street where he lodges, some
one seemed to be following me in the shadow, and when I stopped to
find the number of his house I heard the 'Failte' (Welcome) of
Inishmaan pronounced close to me.

It was Michael.

'I saw you in the street,' he said, 'but I was ashamed to speak to
you in the middle of the people, so I followed you the way I'd see
if you'd remember me.'

We turned back together and walked about the town till he had to go
to his lodgings. He was still just the same, with all his old
simplicity and shrewdness; but the work he has here does not agree
with him, and he is not contented.

It was the eve of the Parnell celebration in Dublin, and the town
was full of excursionists waiting for a train which was to start at
midnight. When Michael left me I spent some time in an hotel, and
then wandered down to the railway.

A wild crowd was on the platform, surging round the train in every
stage of intoxication. It gave me a better instance than I had yet
seen of the half-savage temperament of Connaught. The tension of
human excitement seemed greater in this insignificant crowd than
anything I have felt among enormous mobs in Rome or Paris.

There were a few people from the islands on the platform, and I got
in along with them to a third-class carriage. One of the women of
the party had her niece with her, a young girl from Connaught who
was put beside me; at the other end of the carriage there were some
old men who were talking Irish, and a young man who had been a

When the train started there were wild cheers and cries on the
platform, and in the train itself the noise was intense; men and
women shrieking and singing and beating their sticks on the
partitions. At several stations there was a rush to the bar, so the
excitement increased as we proceeded.

At Ballinasloe there were some soldiers on the platform looking for
places. The sailor in our compartment had a dispute with one of
them, and in an instant the door was flung open and the compartment
was filled with reeling uniforms and sticks. Peace was made after a
moment of uproar and the soldiers got out, but as they did so a pack
of their women followers thrust their bare heads and arms into the
doorway, cursing and blaspheming with extraordinary rage.

As the train moved away a moment later, these women set up a frantic
lamentation. I looked out and caught a glimpse of the wildest heads
and figures I have ever seen, shrieking and screaming and waving
their naked arms in the light of the lanterns.

As the night went on girls began crying out in the carriage next us,
and I could hear the words of obscene songs when the train stopped
at a station.

In our own compartment the sailor would allow no one to sleep, and
talked all night with sometimes a touch of wit or brutality and
always with a beautiful fluency with wild temperament behind it.

The old men in the corner, dressed in black coats that had something
of the antiquity of heirlooms, talked all night among themselves in
Gaelic. The young girl beside me lost her shyness after a while, and
let me point out the features of the country that were beginning to
appear through the dawn as we drew nearer Dublin. She was delighted
with the shadows of the trees--trees are rare in Connaught--and
with the canal, which was beginning to reflect the morning light.
Every time I showed her some new shadow she cried out with naive

'Oh, it's lovely, but I can't see it.'

This presence at my side contrasted curiously with the brutality
that shook the barrier behind us. The whole spirit of the west of
Ireland, with its strange wildness and reserve, seemed moving in
this single train to pay a last homage to the dead statesman of the

End of the Project Gutenberg Etext of The Aran Islands, by John M. Synge