THE history of Morty Sullivan ought to be a warning to
all young men to stay at home, and to live decently and soberly if they can,
and not to go roving about the world. Morty, when he had just turned of
fourteen, ran away from his father and mother, who were a mighty respectable
old couple, and many and many a tear they shed on his account. It is said they
both died heartbroken for his loss: all they ever learned about him was that
he went on board of a ship bound to America.
Thirty years after the old couple had been laid
peacefully in their graves, there came a stranger to Beerhaven enquiring after
them - it was their son Morty; and, to speak the truth of him, his heart did
seem full of sorrow when he heard that his parents were dead and gone ; - but
what else could he expect to hear? Repentance generally comes when it is too
Morty Sullivan, however, as an atonement for his sins,
was recommended to perform a pilgrimage to the blessed chapel of Saint
Gobnate, which is in a wild place called Ballyvourney.
This he readily undertook; and willing to lose no time,
commenced his journey the same afternoon. He had not proceeded many miles
before the evening came on: there was no moon, and the starlight was obscured
by a thick fog, which ascended from the valleys. His way was through a
mountainous country, with many cross-paths and by-ways, so that it was
difficult for a stranger like Morty to travel without a guide. He was anxious
to reach his destination, and exerted himself to do so; but the fog grew
thicker and thicker, and at last he became doubtful if the track he was in led
to the blessed chapel of Saint Gobnate. But seeing a light which he imagined
not to be far off, he went towards it, and when he thought himself close to it
the light suddenly seemed at a great distance, twinkling dimly through the
fog. Though Morty felt some surprise at this he was not disheartened, for he
thought that it was a light sent by the holy Saint Gobnate to guide his feet
through the mountains to her chapel.
And thus did he travel for many a mile, continually, as
he believed, approaching the light, which would suddenly start off to a great
distance. At length he came so close as to perceive that the light came from a
fire; seated beside which be plainly saw an old woman ;- then, indeed, his
faith was a little shaken, and much did he wonder that both the fire and the
old woman should travel before him, so many weary miles, and over such uneven
"In the holy names of the pious Gobnate, and of her
preceptor Saint Abban," said Morty, "how can that burning fire move
on so fast before me, who can that old woman be sitting beside the moving
These words had no sooner passed Morty's lips than he
found himself, without taking another step, close to this wonderful fire,
beside which the old woman was sitting munching her supper. With every wag of
the old woman's jaw her eyes would roll fiercely upon Morty, as if she was
angry at being disturbed; and he saw with more astonishment than ever that her
eyes were neither black, nor blue, nor gray, nor hazel, like the human eye,
but of a wild red colour, like the eye of a ferret. If before he wondered at
the fire, much greater was his wonder at the old woman's' appearance; and
stout-hearted as he was, he could not but look upon her with fear - judging,
and judging rightly, that it was for no good purpose her supping in so
unfrequented a place, and at so late an hour, for it was near midnight. She
said not one word, but munched and munched away, while Morty looked at her in
silence. - " What's your name?" at last demanded the old hag, a
sulphurous puff coming out of her mouth, her nostrils distending, and her eyes
growing redder than ever, when she had finished her question.
Plucking up all his courage, "Morty Sullivan,"
replied he, "at your service;" meaning the latter words only in
."Ubbubbo !" said the old woman,
"we'll soon see that;" and the red fire of her eyes turned into a
pale green colour. Bold and fearless as Morty was, yet much did he tremble at
hearing this dreadful exclamation: he would have fallen down on his knees and
prayed to Saint Gobnate, or any other saint, for he was not particular; but he
was so petrified with horror, that he could not move in the slightest way,
much less go down on his knees.
"Take hold of my hand, Morty," said the old
woman: "I'll give you a horse to ride that will soon carry you to your
journey's end." So saying, she led the way, the fire going before them ;
- it is beyond mortal knowledge' to say how, but on it went, shooting out
bright tongues of flame, and flickering fiercely.
Presently they came to a natural cavern in the side of
the mountain, and the old hag called aloud in a most discordant voice for her
horse! In a moment a jet-black steed started from its gloomy stable, the rocky
floor whereof rung with a sepulchral echo to the clanging hoofs.
"Mount, Morty, mount !" cried she, seizing him
with supernatural strength, and forcing him upon the back of the horse. Morty
finding human power of no avail, muttered, " O that I had spurs!"
and tried to grasp the horse's mane; but he caught at a shadow; it
nevertheless bore him up and bounded forward with him; now springing down a
fearful precipice, now clearing the rugged bed of a torrent, and rushing like
the dark midnight storm' through the mountains.
The following morning Morty Sullivan was discovered by
some pilgrims (who came that way after taking their rounds at Gougane Barra)
lying on the flat of his back, under a steep cliff, down which he had been
flung by the Phooka. Morty was severely bruised
by the fall, and he is said to have sworn on the spot, by the hand of
O'Sullivan - and that is no small oath ("Nulla manus, Tam liberalis,
Atque generalis, Atque universalis, Quam Suilivanis."), never again
to take a full quart bottle of whisky with him on a pilgrimage.
Thomas Crofton Croker 1825