There are few people who have not
heard of the Mac Carthys - one of the real old Irish families, with the true
Milesian blood running in their veins, as thick as buttermilk. Many were the
clans of this family in the south; as the Mac Carthy-more - and the Mac
Carthy-reagh - and the Mac Carthy of Muskerry; and all of them were noted for
their hospitality to strangers, gentle and simple.
But not one of that name, or of any other, exceeded
Justin Mac Carthy, of Ballinacarthy, at putting plenty to eat and drink upon
his table; and there was a right hearty welcome for every one who would share
it with him. Many a wine-cellar would be ashamed of the name if that at
Ballinacarthy was the proper pattern for one; large as that cellar was, it was
crowded with bins of wine, and long rows of pipes, and hogsheads, and casks,
that it would take more time to count than any sober man could spare in such a
place, with plenty to drink about him, and a hearty welcome to do so.
There are many, no doubt, who will
think that the butler would have little to complain of in such a house;
and the whole country round would have agreed with them, if a man could be
found to remain as Mr. Mac Carthy's butler for any length of time worth
speaking of; yet not one who had been in his service gave him a bad word.
"We have no fault," they would say, "to
find with the master, and if he could but get any one to fetch his wine from
the cellar, we might every one of us have grown gray in the house, and have
lived quiet and contented enough in his service until the end of our
" 'Tis a queer thing that, surely," thought
young Jack Leary, a lad who had been brought up from a mere child in the
stables of Ballinacarthy to assist in taking care of the horses, and had
occasionally lent a hand in the butler's pantry : - " 'tis a mighty queer
thing, surely, that one man after another cannot content himself with
the best place in the house of a good master, but that every one of
them must quit, all through the means, as they say, of the wine-cellar. If the
master, long life to him I would but make me his butler, I warrant never the
word more would be heard of grumbling at his bidding to go to the
Young Leary accordingly watched for what he conceived to
be a favourable opportunity of presenting himself to the notice of his master.
A few mornings after, Mr. Mac Carthy went into his
stable-yard rather earlier than usual, and called loudly for the groom to
saddle his horse, as he intended going out with the hounds. But there was no
groom to answer, and young Jack Leary led Rainbow out of the stable.
"Where is William?" enquired Mr. Mac Carthy.
"Sir? said Jack and Mr. Mac Carthy repeated the
"Is it William, please your honour?" returned
Jack; "why, then, to tell the truth, he had just one
drop too much last night."
"Where did he get it?" said Mr. Mac Carthy;
"for since Thomas went away, the key of the wine-cellar has been in my
pocket, and I have been obliged to fetch what was drank myself."
"Sorrow a know I know," said Leary,
"unless the cook might have given him the least
taste in life of whiskey. But," continued he, performing a low
bow by seizing with his right hand a lock of hair, and pulling down his head
by it, whilst his left leg, which had been put forward, was scraped back
against the ground, " may I make so bold as just to ask your honour one
"Speak out, Jack," said Mr, Mac Carthy.
"Why, then, does your honour want a butler?"
"Can you recommend me one," returned his
master, with the smile of good-humour upon his countenance, " and one who
will not be afraid of going to my wine-cellar?"
"Is the wine-cellar all the matter?" said young
Leary; "devil a doubt I have of myself then for that."
"So you mean to offer me your services in the
capacity of butler?" said Mr. Mac Carthy, with some surprise.
"Exactly so," answered Leary, now for the first
time looking up from the ground.
"Well, I believe you to be a good lad, and no
objection to give you a trial."
"Long may your honour reign over us, and the Lord
spare you to us!" ejaculated Leary, with another national bow, as his
master rode off; and he continued for some time to gaze after him with a
vacant stare, which slowly and gradually assumed a look of importance.
"Jack Leary," said he at length, "Jack -
is it Jack?" in a tone of wonder; "faith, 'tis not Jack now, but Mr.
John, the butler ;" and with an air of becoming consequence he strided
out of the stable-yard towards the kitchen.
It is of little purport to my story, although it may
afford an instructive lesson to the reader, to depict the sudden transition of
nobody into somebody. Jack's former stable
companion, a poor superannuated hound named Bran, who had been accustomed to
receive many an affectionate pat on the head, was spurned from him with a kick
and an" Out of the way, sirrah." Indeed, poor Jack's memory seemed
sadly affected by this sudden change of situation. What established the point
beyond all doubt was his almost forgetting the pretty face of Peggy, the
kitchen wench, whose heart he had assailed but the preceding week by the offer
of purchasing a gold ring for the fourth finger of her right hand, and a lusty
imprint of good-will upon her lips.
When Mr. Mac Carthy returned from hunting, he sent for
Jack Leary - so he still continued to call his new butler. "Jack,"
said he, "I believe you are a trustworthy lad, and here are the keys of
my cellar. I have asked the gentlemen with whom I hunted
to-day to dine with me, and I hope they may be satisfied at the way in which
wait on them at table; but above all, let there be no want of wine after
Mr. John having a tolerably quick eye for such and being
naturally a handy lad, spread cloth accordingly, laid his plates and knives
forks in the same manner be had seen his predecessors in office perform these
mysteries, really, for the first time, got through attendance on dinner very
It must not be forgotten, however, that it was at
the house of an Irish country squire, who was entertaining a company of
booted and spurred fox-hunters, not very particular about what are considered
matters of infinite importance under other circumstances and in other
For instance, few of Mr. Mac Carthy's guests, (though all
excellent and worthy men in their way,) cared much whether the punch produced
after soup was made of Jamaica or Antigua rum ; some even would not have been
inclined to question the correctness of good old Irish whiskey; and, with the
exception of their liberal host himself, every one in company preferred the
port which Mr. Mac Carthy put on his-table to the less ardent flavour of
claret, - a choice rather at variance with modern sentiment.
It was waxing near midnight, when Mr. Mac Carthy rang the
bell three times. This was a signal for more wine; and Jack proceeded to the
cellar to procure a fresh supply, but it must be confessed not without some
The luxury of ice was then unknown in the south of
Ireland; but the superiority of cool wine had been acknowledged by all men of
sound judgement and true taste.
The grandfather of Mr. Mac Carthy, who had built the
mansion of Ballinacarthy upon the site of an old castle which had belonged to
his ancestors, was fully aware of this important fact; and in the construction
of his magnificent wine-cellar had availed himself of a deep vault, excavated
out of the solid rock in former times as a place of retreat and security. The
descent to this vault was by a flight of steep stone stairs, and here and
there in the wall were narrow passages - I ought rather to call them crevices;
and also certain projections, which cast deep shadows, and looked very
frightful when any one went down the cellar stairs with a single light:
indeed, two lights did not much improve the matter, for though the breadth of
the shadows became less, the narrow crevices remained as dark, and darker than
Summoning up all his resolution, down went the new
butler, bearing in his right hand a lantern and the key of the cellar, and in
his left a basket, which he considered sufficiently capacious
to contain an adequate stock for the remainder of the evening: he
arrived at the door without any interruption whatever; but when he put the
key, which was of an ancient and clumsy kind - for it was before the days of
Bramah's patent, - and turned it in the lock, he thought he heard a strange
kind of laughing within the cellar, to which some empty bottles that stood
upon the floor outside vibrated so violently, that they struck against each
other: in this he could not be mistaken, although he may have been deceived in
the laugh, for the bottles were just at his feet, and he saw them in motion.
Leary paused for a moment, and looked about him with
becoming caution. He then boldly seized the handle of the key, and turned it
with all his strength in the lock, as if he doubted his own power of doing so;
and the door flew open with a most tremendous crash, that, if the house had
not been built upon the solid rock, would have shook it from the foundation.
To recount what the poor fellow saw would be impossible,
for he seems not to know very clearly himself: but what he told the cook the
next morning was, that he heard a roaring and bellowing like a mad bull, and
that all the pipes and hogsheads and casks in the cellar went rocking
backwards and forwards with so much force, that he thought every one would
have been staved in, and that he should have been drowned or smothered in
When Leary recovered, he made his way back as well as he
could to the dining-room, where he found his master and the company very
impatient for his return.
"What kept you?" said Mr. Mac Carthy in an
angry voice; "and where is the wine ? I rung for it half an hour since.
" The wine is in the cellar, I hope, sir," said
Jack, trembling violently; " I hope 'tis not all lost."
"What do you mean, fool?" exclaimed
Mr. Mac Carthy in a still more angry
tone: ".why did you not fetch some with you?"
Jack looked wildly about him, and only uttered a deep
"Gentlemen," said Mr. Mac Carthy to his guests,
"this is too much. When I next see you to dinner, I hope it will be in
another house, for it is impossible I can remain longer in this, where a man
has no command over his own wine-cellar, and cannot get a butler to do his
duty. I have long thought of moving from Ballinacarthy; and I am now
determined, with the blessing of God, to leave it to-morrow. But wine shall
you have, were I to go myself to the cellar for it." So saying, he rose
from table, took the key and lantern from his half stupefied servant, who
regarded him with a look of vacancy, and descended the narrow stairs, already
described, which led to his cellar.
When he arrived at the door, which he found open, he
thought he heard a noise, as if of rats or mice scrambling over the casks, and
on advancing perceived a little figure, about six inches in height, seated
astride upon the pipe of the oldest port in the place, and bearing a spigot
upon his shoulder. Raising the lantern, Mr. Mac Carthy contemplated the little
fellow with wonder: he wore a red nightcap on his head; before him was a short
leather apron, which now, from his attitude, fell rather on one side; and he
had stockings of a light blue colour, 'so long as nearly to cover the entire
of his legs; with shoes, having huge silver buckles in them, and with high
heels (perhaps out of vanity to make him appear taller). His face was like a
withered winter apple; and his nose, which was of a bright crimson colour,
about the tip wore a delicate purple bloom, like that of a plum: yet his eyes
"like those mites
Of candied dew in moony nights -
and his mouth twitched up at one side with an arch grin.
"Ha, scoundrel !" exclaimed Mr. Mac Carthy,
"have I found you at last? disturber of my cellar -what are you doing
"Sure, and master," returned the little fellow,
looking up at him with one eye, and with the other throwing a sly glance
towards the spigot on his shoulder, "a'n' t we going to move to-morrow?
and sure you would not leave your own little Cluricaune Naggeneen behind
"Oh !" thought Mr. Mac Carthy, "if you are
to follow me, master Naggeneen, I don't see much use in quitting
Ballinacarthy." So filling with wine the basket which young Leary in his
fright had left behind him, and locking the cellar door, he rejoined his
For some years after Mr. Mac Carthy had always to fetch
the wine for his table himself, as the little Cluricaune Naggeneen seemed to
feel a personal respect towards him. Notwithstanding the labour of these
journeys, the worthy lord of Ballinacarthy lived in his paternal mansion to a
good round age, and was famous to the last for the excellence of his wine, and
the conviviality of his company; but at the time of his death, that same
conviviality had nearly emptied his wine-cellar; and as it was never so well
filled again, nor so often visited, the revels of master Naggeneen became less
celebrated, and are now only spoken of amongst the legendary lore of the
country. It is even said that the poor little fellow took the declension of
the cellar so to heart, that he became negligent and careless of himself, and
that he has been sometimes seen going about with hardly a skreed to cover him.
Some, however; believe that he turned brogue maker, and
assert that they have seen him at his work, and heard him whistling as merry
as a blackbird on a May morning, under the shadow of a brown jug of foaming
ale bigger - aye bigger than himself; decently dressed enough they say; - only
looking mighty old. But still 't is clear he has his wits about him, since no
one ever had the luck to catch him, or to get hold of the purse he has with
him, which they call spré-na-skiIlinagh, and 't said is never without
a shilling in it.