A Scrap of Irish Folklore – Rosa Mulholland (1894)

December 1894

“If you pick up one of the old Christmas numbers you will always find a good sprinkling of ghost stories among the contents, and even to day, the tradition has not died out though there is less room in our busy world of spooks and amusements for them

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0854, Page 032” by Dúchas
© National Folklore Collection, UCD is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.

I was resting in the grass on a summer evening when the following little story dropped down upon me.

“Whisht, honey! Don’t let the waft of such a word pass your lips to the child!”

Image from page 88 of “Irish ways” (1909) by Jane Barlow. Internet Archive Book Images

The speaker was an old woman in a blue hooded cloak and white cap, and was sitting on a bank of fox-gloves in a green dell of Wicklow. Beside her was the stick that had helped her out to enjoy the sweet after-coolness of the remnant of a day in July. Along the sky, behind, spread a lake of gold which the darkening oak-trees made a serrated shore; opposite to her the summer night was creeping leisurely up the dewy shamrock pastures.

A triplet of little grey cabins with their snubby chimneys emitting peat-smoke, fragrant as incense, were huddled together a few perches away in the twilight, and out of one of them had come the neighbour whose rude words to the child on her arm had called forth the aged grandame’s remonstrance.

“You mane no harm, Nora honey, no more than I did meself whin my Larry came back from the other world to check me!” Nora sat down with a shiver on the bank, caressing her child’s little sleepy head against her shoulder.

“Is it a ghost you’re talkin’ about, granny?”

“He died whin we were both young,” continued the old woman, “and left me with three o’ them, and hard-set I was to keep the life in them.

Many’s the time whin my body was tired and my heart sore, I did let out an impatient word at the childher. I didn’t mane any harm by it. Only a bad habit I had.

“Wan night I was, sayin’ my prayers down on my knees at the ould broken chair, and Johnny the eldest (him that wint to say) was answerin’ the prayers with me. I looked up and I seen that the door I thought barred was open, and I said to Johnny out o’ the prayers, to stand up and shut it for me. Whin I turned my head again, it was open still, and I spoke sharp to the boy to get up off his knees and do what I had bid him to do.

The child declared he had done it, and he upped and wint to do it again, but, whin I lifted my head after sayin’ the Litany, my word to you but the door was as wide open still as if I had set it that way a-purpose, to give a good airin’ to the place. I was tired and I was cross (God forgive me, and me at my prayers!) and I let a bit of a curse at the boy.

“Bad luck to you, Johnny!’ I said, ‘have you no hands on you at all that you make three tries at a door and can’t manage to shut it?’

“The child cried and crept into bed and fell asleep, and whin I had well barred the door, meself turned in after him. But before I settled rightly to my rest I took a back-glance at the door: and there it was standin’ open as wide, like as it was rale politeness to somebody that was just expected.

“I jumped out of bed in a passion, but before I reached the door there was some wan standin’ in it – Larry, my husband, and he carryin’ a child on each arm, the two that was buried with him in the graveyard at the Kill.

“The sweat teemed off my face, and my tongue dried up, but he looked in my eyes so kind-like that at last I gother up my courage to spake to him.

“’Larry,’ I said, ‘will you sit down at your own fireside, and I’ll make up a fire; for you look cowld and pale,’ says I, ‘and so does the childher that I niver thought to see again. Give me little Mary into my arms, that I may comb here yellow hair,’ says I. ‘an give her a sup of milk to bring the rosy colour that she used to have, back into her cheeks. And let me wake up Dermot that I may see his blue eyes that were the light of our first wedded years, my husband,’ says I. For a sort of madness had come over me at seein’ them, and I seemed to think they were rale livin’ again, and come back to me to stay.

“‘I can’t, my woman,’ says Larry, says he, ‘for I only came to you on a God’s-errand. And I brought the childher with me for a warnin’ to you. Don’t let the waft of a curse iver pass your lips any more to thim you have still with you, my girl,’ says he.

‘Oh Molly, don’t curse the childher! Look at theses two on my arms,’ he says. ‘These little innocent childher with their love and their prayers have been my salvation. Your curse will poison their innocence,’ says he, ‘and you’ll have to answer for it.’

“’I’ll never do it again, Larry,’ says I, ‘but will you put them childher into my arms for a minute, and will you give me wan kiss, as it’s yourself that used to know how to do it without asking?”

“Well, he came near me and let the childher in me arms, and he leaned over and put his lips upon my own, and oh, the cowld of them! – the dead cowld of the little cratures on my breast, and the ice of himself’s face agin’ mine – they wint through and through me, and froze me up and killed me. And I cried out loud like a mad woman, and fell down on the flure in a hape. And whin I came to meself, there was nothin’ but the stars shinin’ through the open door where he had left it open for a sign. I heart a big sigh and a couple of little twitters like the young birds at the dawn, as if him and the childher had been watchin’ till they seen I was better, and only passed away whin I came back to my sinces.”

“Maybe you dhreamt it all,” said Nora, whose sun-burnt cheeks had been growing paler as the story approached its climax.

“No.” said the granny, “for as if like a kind of token, my lips where himself kissed them was iver and always after that the colour of blue purple, like the lips of a body that does be froze with the cold. And I have two white marks on my breast where the heads of the little dead childher lain, same as if the chill had druv the blood out o’ that part o’ my bosom back into my heart, druv it so hard that it never could return.”

She ceased, and I, the eaves-dropper, had no mind to rise up and try to argue the old woman out of her faith. She remained sitting on the bank after Nora had gone away to put her sleeping child in its nest under the poor cabin thatch. Presently the aged seer drew forth some large rosary beads and began to pray out loud in a continuous murmur.

The greys of the landscape deepened; the green-purple of the trees sank into gulfs of black all around; a few poplars beyond the cabins stirred faintly in the sky, and the white-blossomed boughs of an alder-tree glimmered out of the deepest darkness down the vanishing road, and suggested the hovering nearness, yet aloofness of a reserve of sympathetic and vigilant spirits.

A Note on the Text: This version of Mulholland’s “A Scrap of Irish Folklore” first appeared in The Irish Monthly: A Magazine of General Literature. Ed. Rev. Matthew Russell. Vol XXII, No. 256. Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, O Connell Street. London: Burns and Oates, Simpkin, Marshall and Co. 1894: (615-617). Digitized by Google. Public Domain Work.

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