Old Deruane

 Old Deruane lived in the middle island of Aran, Inish-maan, where I have stayed more than once. He was one of the evening visitors to the cottage I stayed in, when the fishers had come home and had eaten, and the fire was stirred and flashed on the dried mackerel and conger eels hanging over the wide hearth, and the little vessel of cod oil had a fresh wick put in it and lighted.

The men would sit in a half-circle on the floor, passing the lighted pipe from one to another; the women would find some work with yarn or wheel. The talk often turned on the fallen angels or the dead, for the dwellers in those islands have not been moulded in that dogma which while making belief in the after-life an essential, makes belief in the shadow-visit of a spirit yearning after those it loved a vanity, a failing of the great essential, common sense, and sets down one who believes in such things as what Burton calls in his Anatomy "a melancholy dizzard."

I was told by Old Deruane:
I was born and bred in the North Island, and ten old fathers mine are buried there.

I can speak English, because I went to earn in England in the hard times, and I was for five quarters in a country town called Manchester; and I have threescore and fifteen years.

I knew two fine young women were brought away after childbirth, and they were seen after in the North Island going about with them. One of them I saw myself there, one time I was out late at night going to the east village. I saw her pattern walking on the north side of the wall, on the road near me, but she said nothing.

 And my body began to shake, and I was going to get to the south side of the wall, to put it between us; but then I said, "Where is God?" and I walked on and passed her, and she looked aside at me but she didn't speak.  And I heard her after me for a good while, but I never looked back, for it's best not to look back at them.

And there was another woman had died, and one evening late I was coming from the schoolmaster, for he and I are up to one another, and he often gives me charity. And then I saw her or her pattern walking along that field of rock you passed by just now. But I stopped and I didn't speak to her, and she went on down the road, and when she was about forty fathoms below me I could hear her abusing some one, but no one there.

 I thought maybe it was that she was vexed at me that I didn't question her. She was a young woman too. I'll go bail they never take an old man or woman - what would they do with them? If by chance they'd come among them they'd throw them out again.

Another night I was out and the moon shining, I knew by the look of it the night was near wore away. And when I came to the corner of the road beyond, my flesh began to shake and my hair rose up, and every hair was as stiff as that stick. So I knew that some evil thing was near, and I got home again.

 This island is as thick as grass with them, or as sand; but good neighbours make good neighbours, and no woman minding a house but should put a couple of the first of the potatoes aside on the dresser, for there's no house but they'll visit it some time or other. Myself, I always brush out my little tent clean of a night before I lie down, and the night I'd do it most would be a rough night. How do we know what poor soul might want to come in?

I saw them playing ball one day when the slip you landed at was being made, and I went down to watch the work. There were hundreds of them in the field at the top of it, about three feet tall, and little caps on them; but the men that were working there, they couldn't see them.  And one morning I went down to the well to leave my pampooties in it to soak - it was a Sabbath morning and I was going to Mass - and the pampooties were hard and wore away my feet, and I left them there. And when I came back in a few minutes they were gone, and I looked in every cleft, but I couldn't find them.

And when I was going away, I felt them about me, and coming between my two sticks that I was walking with. And I stopped and looked down and said, "I know you're there," and then I said, "Gentlemen, I know you're here about me," and when I said that word they went away. Was it they took my pampooties? Not at all - what would they want with such a thing as pampooties? It was some children must have taken them, and I never saw them since.

One time I wanted to settle myself clean, and I brought down my waistcoat and a few little things I have, to give them a rinse in the sea-water, and I laid them out on a stone to dry, and I left one of my sticks on them.  And when I came back after leaving them for a little time, the stick was gone.

And I was vexed at first to be without it, but I knew that they had taken it to be humbugging me, or maybe for their own use in fighting.  For there is nothing there is more fighting among than them.  So I said, "Welcome to it, Gentlemen, may it bring you luck; maybe you'll make more use of it than ever I did myself."

One night when I was sleeping in my little tent, I heard a great noise of fighting, and I thought it was down at Mrs. Jordan's house, and that maybe the children were troublesome in the bed, she having a great many of them.

And in the morning as I passed the house I said to her, "What was on you in the night?" And she said there was nothing happened there, and that she heard no noise.  So I said nothing but went on; and when I came to the flag-stones beyond her house, they were covered with great splashes and drops of blood. So I said nothing of that either, but went on. What time of the year? Wait till I think, it was this very same time of the year, the month of May.

One time I was out putting seed in the ground, and the ridges all ready and the seaweed spread in them; and it was a fine day, but I heard a storm in the air, and then I knew by signs that it was they were coming. And they came into the field and tossed the seaweed and the seed about, and I spoke to them civil and then they went into a neighbour's field and from that down to the sea, and there they turned into a ship, the grandest that ever I saw.

There was a man was passing by that Sheogney place below, fishing in his curragh, and when they were about a mile out they saw a ship coming towards them, and when they looked again, instead of having three masts she had none, and just when they were going to take up the curragh to bring it ashore, a great wave came and turned it upside down. And the man that owned her got such a fright that he couldn't walk, and the other two had to hold him under the arms to bring him home. And he went to his bed, and within a week after, he was dead.

One night I heard a crying down the road, and the next day, there was a child of Tom Regan's dead.  And it was a few months after that, that I heard a crying again. And the next day another of his children was gone.

There was a fine young man was buried in the graveyard below, and a good time after that, there was work being done in it, and they came on his coffin, and the mother made them open it, and there was nothing in it at all but a broom, and it tied up with a bit of a rope.

There was a man was passing by that Sheogney place below, "Breagh" we call it. And he saw a man come riding out of it on a white horse. And when he got home that night there was nothing for him or for any of them to eat, for the potatoes were not in yet. And in the morning he asked the wife was there anything to eat, and she said a neighbour had sent in a pan of meal.

 So she made that into stirabout, and he took but a small bit of it out of her hand to leave more for the rest.  And then he took a sheet, and bid her make a bag of it, and he got a horse and rode to the place where he saw the man ride out, for he knew he was the master of them.

And he asked for the full of the bag of meal, and said he'd bring it back again, when he had it. And the man brought the bag in, and filled it for him and brought it out again. And when the oats were ripe, the first he cut, he got ground at the mill and brought it to the place and gave it in.  And the man came out and took it, and said whatever he'd want at any time, to come to him and he'd get it.

In a bad year they say they bring away the potatoes and that may be so. They want provision, and they must get them at one place or another.

Mr. McArdle joins in and says:
This I can tell you and be certain of, and I remember well that the man in the third house to this died after being sick a long time. And the wife died after, and she was to be buried in the same place, and when they came to the husband's coffin they opened it, and there was nothing in it at all, neither brooms nor anything else.

There's a boy, I know him well, that was up at that forth above the house one day, and a blast of wind came and blew the hat off him. And when he saw it going off in the air he cried out, "Do whatever is pleasing to you, but give me back my cap!" And in the moment it was settled back again on to his head.

Old Deruane goes on:
There are many can do cures, because they have something walking with them, what one may call a ghost from among the Sheogue.  A few cures I can do myself, and this is how I got them. I told you that I was for five quarters in Manchester, and where I lodged were two old women in the house, from the farthest end of Mayo, for they were running from Mayo at the time because of the hunger.

 And I knew that they were likely to have a cure, for St. Patrick blessed the places he was not in more than the places he was in, and with the cure he left and the fallen angels, there are many in Mayo can do them.

Now it's the custom in England never to clean the table but once in the week and that on a Saturday night. And on that night all is set out clean, and all the crutches of bread and bits of meat and the like are gathered together in a tin can, and thrown out in the street, and women that have no other way of living come round then with a bag that would hold two stone, and they pick up all that's thrown out in the street, and live on it for a week. And often I didn't eat the half of what was before me, and I wouldn't throw it out, but I'd bring it to the two old women that were in the house, so they grew very fond of me.

Well, when the time came that I thought to draw towards home, I brought them one day to a public-house and made a drop of punch for them, and then I picked the cure out of them, for I was wise in those days.

Those that get a touch I could save from being brought away, but I couldn't bring back a man that's away, for it's only those that have been living among them for a while that can do that. There was a neighbour's child was sick, and I got word of it, and I went to the house, for the woman there had showed me kindness.

And I went in to the cradle and I lifted the quilt off the child's face and you could see by it, and I knew the sign, that there was some of their work there. And I said, "You are not likely to have the child long with you, Ma'am." And she said, "Indeed I know I won't have him long."

 So I said nothing but I went out, and whatever I did, and whatever I got there, I brought it again and gave it to the child, and he began to get better. And the next day I brought the same thing again, and gave it the child, and I looked at it and I said to the mother, "He'll live to comb his hair grey." And from that time he got better, and now there's no stronger child in the island, and he the youngest in the house.

After that the husband got sick, and the woman said to me one day, "If there's anything you can do to cure him, have pity on me and on my children, and I'll give you what you'll wish." But I said, "I'll do what I can for you, but I'll take nothing from you except maybe a grain of tea or a glass of porter, for I wouldn't take money for this, and I refused 2 one time for a cure I did."

So I went and I brought back the cure, and I mixed it with flour and made it into three little pills that it couldn't be lost, and gave them to him, and from that time he got well.

There's a woman lived down the road there, and one day I went in to the house, when she was after coming from Galway town, and I asked charity of her. And it was in the month of August when the bream fishing was going on, and she said, "There's no one need be in want now, with fresh fish in the sea and potatoes in the gardens"; and gave me nothing. But when I was out the door she said, "Well, come back here." And I said, "If you were to offer me all you brought from Galway, I wouldn't take it from you now."

And from that time she began to pine and to wear away and to lose her health, and at the end of three years, she walked outside her house one day, and when she was two yards from her own threshold she fell on the ground, and the neighbour's came and lifted her up on a door and brought her into the house, and she died.

I think I could have saved her then - I think I could, when I saw her lying there. But I remembered that day, and I didn't stretch out a hand and I spoke no word.

I'm going to rise out of the cures and not to do much more of them, for they have given me a touch here in the right leg, so that it's the same as dead. And a woman of my village that does cures, she is after being struck with a pain in the hand.

Down by the path at the top of the slip from there to the hill, that's the way they go most nights, hundreds and thousands of them. There are two old men in the island got a beating from them; one of them told me himself and brought me out on the ground, that I'd see where it was. He was out in a small field, and was after binding up the grass, and the sky got very black over him and very dark. And he was thrown down on the ground, and got a great beating, but he could see nothing at all. He had done nothing to vex them, just minding his business in the field.

And the other was an old man too, and he was out on the roads, and they threw him there and beat him that he was out of his mind for a time.

One night sleeping in that little cabin of mine, I heard them ride past, and I could hear by the feet of the horses that there was a long line of them.

This is a story was going about twenty years ago. There was a curate in the island, and one day he got a call to the other island for the next day. And in the evening he told the servant maid that attended him to clean his boots good and very good, for he'd be meeting good people where he was going.

And she said, "I will, Holy Father, and if you'll give me your hand and word to marry me for nothing, I'll clean them grand." And he said "I will; whenever you get a comrade I'll marry you for nothing, I give you my hand and word."

So she had the boots grand for him in the morning. Well, she got a sickness after, and after seven months going by, she was buried. And six months after that, the curate was in his parlour one night and the moon shining, and he saw a boy and a girl outside the house, and they came to the window, and he knew it was the servant girl that was buried.

And she said, "I have a comrade now, and I came for you to marry us as you gave your word." And he said, "I'll hold to my word since I gave it," and he married them then and there, and they went away again.

Source: Lady Augusta Gregory - Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland.  first published 1920.

republished by Colin Smythe Ltd. 1992.


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