CoTyroneHeadstone_logo (5K)
Click banner to submit/search the Project!

  • Home
  • >>
  • Legend of Knockmany

Legend of Knockmany

William CARLETON & The Legend of Knockmany (near Augher) County Tyrone

Heading towards Knockmany Hill

Now called ‘the secret jewel of the Clogher Valley’.

From my search into the well-known County Tyrone born William CARLETON, author & poet of “Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry” and others, which depict the customs, manners, and daily life, of the Irish people, ‘Knockmany’, the hills of his birth, were legendary long before, he made them so. They had become famous as early, if not before, 1741 for their archaeological discoveries.

A report in the 5th Dec. 1741, Newcastle Courant says – Letters from Dublin mention that on the great Mountain of Knockmany, in the County of Tyrone, near to a Cave, has lately been erected a Turret, joining to a Mount, supposed to be made by the Danes. And that on leveling of the Mount (as it obstructed the view of the Turret) they found near the Cave an instrument of Brass, about 6 Inches long, and about 2 Pounds weight, one end of which was like an Ax, and smaller towards the other end As also 3 earthen Pots or Urns, full of broken or burned Bones, each Urn containing about 2 quarts.

The Irish Academy reported on the finds at Rev. Francis Gervaise’ demesne on Knockmany, that besides 2 moats, there was a discovery of a ancient chamber 14 feet long by 7 wide, with upright flagstones about 6 feet high.

Knockmany was also made famous as it was the home of David CAIRNS, who had been born in 1645 and who is said, was among the 1st to arrive at Derry, at the now infamous ‘the seige of Derry’)

The inside view of the brurial chamber – Knockmany (Irish – Croc-mBaine) or Anya’s cove may mean the Hill of Baine, or possibly the hill of the Monks. By Kenneth Allen

Yet the focus of my attention is on the myth created by Carelton.

William CARLETON was born 4 March 1794 in the townland of Prolusk, (Prollisk), Parish of Clogher Co. Tyrone and died 30 January 1869 Sandford Rd, Ranelagh, Dublin. I have found conflicting reports of both his birth, said to be either 1794 or 1798, and the age at death of 71 or 75 years of age. He was born shrove-Tuesday 1798 according to the Londonderry Sentinel 8 Jan. 1841, yet from my own research, I believe that the correct year is 1794, as all reports of his death in 1869 quote his death age at 75 years.

Prolusk- Birthplace of William CARLETON

The following poem, and tale, thus contributed to create the legend of the Knockmany.

My Mountain Glens

Take, proud ambition, take thy fill
Of pleasures, won thro’ toil or crime;
Go, learning, climb thy rugged hill.
And give thy name to future time;
Philosophy, be keen to see
Whate’er is just, or false, or vain.
Take each thy meed; but oh! give me
To range my mountain glens again.

Pure was the breeze that fanned my cheek.
As o’er Knockmany’s brow I went.
When every lonely dell could speak
In airy music, vision sent; —
False world, I hate thy cares and thee.
I hate the treacherous haunts of men;
Give back my early heart to me,
Give back to me my mountain glen.

How light my youthful visions shone.
When spanned by Fancy’s radiant form;
But now the glittering- bow is gone,
And leaves me but the cloud and storm.
With wasted form and cheek all pale,
With heart long seared by grief and pain,
Dunroe, I’ll seek thy native gale,
I’ll tread my mountain glens again.

Thy breeze once more may fan my blood.
Thy valleys all are lovely still;
And I may stand where oft I stood,
In lonely musings on thy hill.
But. ah! the spell is gone,— no art.
In crowded town, or native plain.
Can teach a crushed and breaking heart
To pipe the song of youth again.


Portrait of William Carleton by John Slattery in the 1850’s

A Legend of Knockmany

What Irish, man, woman, or child, has not heard of our renowned Hibernian Hercules, the great and glorious Fin M’Coul?

Not one, from Cape Clear to the Giant’s Causeway, nor from that back again to Cape Clear. And by the way, speaking of the Giant’s Causeway brings me at once to the beginning of my story. Well, it so happened that Fin, and his gigantic relatives were all working at the Causeway, in order to make a bridge, or what was still better, a good stout pad road, across to Scotland; when Fin, who was very fond of his wife Oonagh, took it into his head that he would go home and see how the poor woman got on in his absence. To be sure, Fin was a true Irishman, and so the sorrow thing in life brought him back, only to see that she was snug and comfortable, and, above all things, that she got her rest well at night for he knew that the poor woman, when he was with her, used to be subject to nightly qualms and configurations, that kept him very anxious, decent man, striving to keep her up to the good spirits and health that she had when they were first married.

So, accordingly, he pulled up a fir tree, and, after lopping off the roots and branches, made a walking-stick of it and set out on his way to Oonagh.

Oonagh, or rather Fin, lived at this time on the very tip-top of Knockmany Hill, which faces a cousin of its own, called Cullamore, that rises up, half-hill, half-mountain, on the opposite side — east-east by south, as the sailors say, when they wish to puzzle a landsman. Now the truth is, for it must come out, that honest Fin’s affection for his wife, though cordial enough in itself, was by no manner or means the real cause of his journey home. There was at that time another giant named Cucullin — some say he was Irish, and some say he was Scotch; but whether Scotch or Irish, sorrow doubt of it but he was a targer. No other giant of the day could stand before him and such was his strength, that, when well vexed, he could give a stamp that shook the country about him.

The fame and name of him went far and near, and nothing in the shape of a man, it was said, had any chance with him in a fight. Whether the story is true or not, I cannot say, but the report went that, by one blow of his fist, he flattened a thunderbolt and kept it in his pocket in the shape of a pancake, to shew to his enemies when they were about to fight him. Undoubtedly he had given every giant in Ireland a considerable beating, barring Fin M’Coul himself; and he swore by the solemn contents of Moll Kelly’s Primer, that he would never rest, night or day, winter or summer, till he would serve Fin with the same sauce, if he could catch him. Fin, however, who no doubt was cock of the walk on his own dunghill, had a strong disinclination to meet a giant who could make a young earthquake, or flatten a thunderbolt when he was angry so he accordingly kept dodging about from place to place, not much to his credit as a Trojan to be sure, whenever he happened to get the hard word that Cucullin was on the scent of him. This, then, was the marrow of the whole movement, although he put it on his anxiety to see Oonagh, and I am not saying but there was some truth in that too. However, the short and the long of it was, with reverence be it spoken, that he heard Cucullin was coming to the Causeway to have a trial of strength with him; and he was naturally enough seized, in consequence, with a very warm and sudden fit of affection for his wife, poor woman, who was delicate in her health, and leading, besides, a very lonely uncomfortable life of it (he assured them), in his absence. He accordingly pulled up the fir-tree, as I said before, and having snedded it into a walking-stick, set out on his affectionate travels to see his darling Oonagh on the top of Knockmany, by the way. In truth, to state the suspicions of the country at the time, the people wondered very much why it was that Fin selected such a windy spot for his dwelling-house, and they even went so far as to tell him as much.

“What can you mane, Mr. M’Coul” said they “by pitching your tent upon the top of Knockmany, where you never are without a breeze, day or night, winter or summer, and where you’re often forced to take your nightcap without either going to bed or turning up your little finger ay, an’ where, besides, there’s the sorrow’s own want of water?”

“Why” said Fin “ever since I was the height of a round tower, I was known to be fond of having a good prospect of my own; and where the dickens, neighbours, could I find a better spot for a good prospect than the top of Knockmany? As for water, I am sinking a pump, and, plase goodness, as soon as the Causeway’s made, I intend to finish it.”

Now, this was more of Fin’s philosophy, for the real state of the case, was that he pitched on the top of Knockmany in order that he might be able to see Cucullin coming towards the house, and, of course, that he himself might go to look after his distant transactions in other parts of the country, rather than —but no matter — we do not wish to be too hard on Fin. All we have to say is, that if he wanted a spot from which to keep a sharp look-out and, between ourselves, he did want it grievously — barring Slieve Croob, or Slieve Donard, or its own cousin, Cullamore, he could not find a neater or more convenient situation for it in the sweet and sagacious province of Ulster.

“God save all here!” said Fin, good-humouredly, on putting his honest face into his own door. “Musha Fin, avick, an’ you’re welcome home to your own Oonagh, you darlin’ bully.”Here followed a smack that is said to have made the waters of the lake at the bottom of the hill curl, as it were, with kindness and sympathy. ” Faith” said Fin “beautiful, an’ how are you, Oonagh and how did you sport your figure during my absence, my bilberry “

“Never a merrier, as bouncing a grass widow as ever there was in sweet ‘ Tyrone among the bushes.’

Fin gave a short good humoured cough, and laughed most heartily, to shew her how much he was delighted that she made herself happy in his absence.

“An’ what brought you home so soon Fin?” said she

“Why, avourneen” said Fin, putting in his answer in the proper way “never the thing but the purest of love and affection for yourself. Sure you know that’s truth any how, Oonagh.”

Fin spent two or three happy days with Oonagh, and felt himself very comfortable considering the dread he had of Cucullin. This, however, grew upon him so much that his wife could not but perceive that something lay on his mind which he kept altogether to himself. Let a woman alone, in the meantime, for ferreting or wheedling a secret out of her good man, when she wishes. Fin was a proof of this.

“It’s this Cucullin” said he “that’s troubling me. When the fellow gets angry, and begins to stamp, he’ll shake you a whole townland and it’s well known that he can stop a thunderbolt, for he always carries one about him in the shape of a pancake, to shew to any one that might misdoubt it.”

As he spoke, he clapped his thumb in his mouth, which he always did when he wanted to prophecy, or to know any thing that happened in his absence ; and the wife, who knew what he did it for, said, very sweetly,

“Fin, darling, I hope you don’t bite your thumb at me, dear?”
“No,” said Fin; “but I bite my thumb, acushla” said he.
“Yes, jewel ; but take care and don’t draw blood” said she.
“Ah, Fin ! don’t, my bully — don’t.”
“He’s coming” said Fin “I see him below Dungannon”
“Thank goodness, dear! an’ who is it, avick? Glory be to God”

“That baste Cucullin” replied Fin “and how to manage I don’t know. If I run away, I am disgraced and I know that sooner or later I must meet him, for my thumb tells me so.”

“When will he be here ?” said she.
To-morrow, about two o’clock” replied Fin with a groan.

“Well, my bully, don’t be cast down” said Oonagh “depend on me and maybe I’ll bring you better out of this scrape than ever you could bring yourself, by your rule o’ thumb.”

This quieted Fin’s heart very much, for he knew that Oonagh was hand and glove with the fairies, and, indeed, to tell the truth, she was supposed to be a fairy herself. If she was, however, she must have been a kind-hearted one; for, by all accounts, she never did anything but good in the neighbourhood. Now, it so happened that Oonagh had a sister named Granua, living opposite them, on the very top of Cullamore, which I have mentioned already and this Granua was quite as powerful as herself. The beautiful valley that lies between them if, not more than about three or four miles broad, so that of a summer’s evening Granua and Oonagh were able to hold many an agreeable conversation across it, from the one hill-top to the other. Upon this occasion, Oonagh resolved to consult her sister as to what was best to be done in the difficulty that surrounded them.

“Granua” said she ” are you at home?”
“No” said the other ” I’m picking bilberries in Althadhawan” (Anglice, the Devil’s Glen)

“Well” said Oonagh “get up to the top of Cullamore, look about you and tell us what you see.”
“Very well” replied Granua, after a few minutes, “I am there now.”
“What do you see?” asked the other.

“Goodness be about us!” exclaimed Granua ” I see the biggest giant that ever was known, coming up from Dungannon.”

” Ay” said Oonagh “there’s our difficulty. That giant is the great Cucullin and he’s now comin’ up to leather Fin. What’s to be done?”

“I’ll call to him” she replied ” to come up to Cullamore, and refresh himself and maybe that will give you and Fin time to think of some plan to get yourself out of the scrape.

“But” she proceeded “I’m short of butter, having in the house only half a dozen firkins and as I’m to have a few giants and giantesses to spend the evenin’ with me, I’d feel thankful, Oonagh, if you’d throw me up fifteen or sixteen tubs, or the largest miscaun you have got and you’ll oblige me very much.”

“I’ll do that with a heart and a half” replied Oonagh” and indeed, Granua, I feel myself under great obligations to you for your kindness in keeping him off us, till we see what can be done for what would become of us all if any thing happened Fin, poor man?”

She accordingly got the largest miscaun of butter she had which might be about the weight of a couple dozen millstones, so that you may easily judge of its size — and calling up to her sister, “Granua” said she “are you ready? I’m going to throw you up a miscaun, so be prepared to catch it.”

“I will” said the other “a good throw now, and take care it does not fall short.”

Oonagh threw it; but in consequence of her anxiety about Fin and Cucullin, she forgot to say the charm that was to send it up, so that, instead of reaching Cullamore, as she expected, it fell about half way between the two hills, at the edge of the Broad Bog near Augher.

“My curse upon you!” she exclaimed “you’ve disgraced me. I now change you into a grey stone. Lie there as a testimony of what has happened; and may evil betide the first living man that will ever attempt to remove or injure you!”

And, sure enough, there it lies to this day, with the mark of the four fingers and thumb imprinted in it, exactly as it came out of her hand.

“Never mind,” said Granua; “I must only do the best I can with Cucullin. If all fail, I’ll give him a cast of heather broth to keep the wind out of his stomach, or a panada of oak-bark to draw it in a bit; but, above all things, think of some plan to get Fin out of the scrape he’s in, otherwise he’s a lost man. You know you used to be sharp and ready-witted and my opinion, Oonagh, is that it will go hard with you, or you’ll out do Cucullin yet.”

She then made a high smoke on the top of the hill, after which she put her finger in her mouth, and gave three whistles, and by that Cucullin knew he was invited to Cullamore — for this was the way that the Irish long ago gave a sign to all strangers and travellers, to let them know they were welcome to come and take share of whatever was going.

In the meantime, Fin was very melancholy, and did not know what to do, or how to act at all. Cucullin was an ugly customer, no doubt, to meet with; and moreover, the idea of the confounded “cake,” aforesaid, flattened the very heart within him. What chance could he have, strong and brave though he was, with a man who could, when put in a passion, walk the country into earthquakes and knock thunderbolts into pancakes ? The thing was impossible; and Fin knew not on what hand to turn him. Right or left — backward or forward — where to go he could form no guess whatsoever.

“Oonagh” said he “can you do nothing for me? Where’s all your invention? Am I to be skivered like a rabbit before your eyes, and to have my name disgraced for ever in the sight of all my tribe, and me the best man among them ? How am I to fight this man-mountain — this huge cross between an earthquake and a thunderbolt? — with a pancake in his pocket that was once”

“Be easy, Fin” replied Oonagh “troth, I’m ashamed of you. Keep your toe in your pump, will you?”

Talking of pancakes, maybe we’ll give him as good as any he brings with him thunderbolt or otherwise. If I don’t treat him to as smart feeding as he’s got this many a day, never trust Oonagh again. Leave him to me, and do just as I bid you.”

This relieved Fin very much for, after all, he had great confidence in his wife, knowing, as he did, that she had got him out of many a quandary before. The present, however, was the greatest of all but still he began to get courage, and was able to eat his victuals as usual. Oonagh then drew the nine woollen threads of different colours, which she always did to find out the best way of succeeding in any thing of importance she went about. She then platted them into three plats with three colours in each, putting one to her right arm, one round her heart, and the third round her right ankle, for then she knew that nothing could fail with her that she undertook. Having everything now prepared, she sent round to the neighbours and borrowed one-and-twenty iron griddles, which she took and kneaded into the heart of one-and-twenty cakes of bread, and these she baked on the fire in the usual way, setting them aside in the cupboard according as they were done. She then put down a large pot of new milk, which she made into curds and whey, and gave Fin due instructions how to use the curds when Cucullin should come. Having done all this, she sat down quite contented, waiting for his arrival on the next day about two o’clock, that being the hour at which he was expected — for Fin knew as much by the sucking of his thumb.

Now this was a curious property that Fin’s thumb had but, notwithstanding all the wisdom and logic he used to suck out of it, it never could have stood to him were it not for the wit of his wife. In this very thing, moreover, he was very much resembled by his great foe Cucullin for it was well known that the huge strength he possessed all lay in the middle finger of his right hand, and that, if he happened by any mischance to lose it, he was no more, notwithstanding his bulk, than a common man.

At length, the next day, he was seen coming across the valley, and Oonagh knew that it was time to commence operations. She immediately made the cradle, and desired Fin to lie down in it, and cover himself up with the clothes.

“You must pass for your own child,” said she, “so just lie there snug, and say nothing, but be guided by me.” This, to be sure, was wormwood to Fin — I mean going into the cradle in such a cowardly manner but he knew Oonagh well; and finding that he had nothing else for it, with a very rueful face he gathered himself into it, and lay snug as she had desired him

About two o’clock, as he had been expected, Cucullin came in. “God save all here” said he “is this where the great Fin M’Coul lives?”

“Indeed it is, honest man” replied Oonagh “God save you kindly, won’t you be sitting?”

“Thank you, ma’am” says he, sitting down “you’re Mrs. M’Coul, I suppose?”

“I am,” said she ” and I have no reason, I hope, to be ashamed of my husband.”

“No,” said the other “he has the name of being the strongest and bravest man in Ireland but for all that, there’s a man not far from you that’s very desirous of taking a shake with him. Is he at home?”

“Why, then, no,” she replied “and if ever a man left his house in a fury, he did. It appears that someone told him of a big basthoon of a giant called Cucullin being down at the Causeway to look for him and so he set out there to try if he could catch him. Troth, I hope, for the poor giant’s sake, he won’t meet with him, for if he does, Fin will make paste of him at once.”

“Well” said the other “I am Cucullin and I have been seeking him these twelve months, but he always kept clear of me and I will never rest night or day till I lay my hands on him.”

At this Oonagh set up a loud laugh, of great contempt, by the way, and looked at him as if he was only a mere handful of a man.

“Did you ever see Fin?” said she, changing her manner all at once.
“How could I?” said he “he always took care to keep his distance.”

“I thought so” she replied “I judged as much and if you take my advice, you poor-looking creature, you’ll pray night and day that you may never see him, for I tell you it will be a black day for you when you do. But, in the mean time, you perceive that the wind’s on the door, and as Fin himself is from home, maybe you’d be civil enough to turn the house, for it’s always what Fin does when he’s here.”

This was a startler even to Cucullin; but he got up, however, and after pulling the middle finger of his right hand until it cracked three times, he went outside, and getting his arms about the house, completely turned it as she had wished. When Fin saw this, he felt a certain description of moisture, which shall be nameless, oozing out through every pore of his skin but Oonagh, depending upon her woman’s wit, felt not a whit daunted.

“Arrah, then” said she “as you are so civil maybe you’d do another obliging turn for us, as Fin’s not here to do it himself. You see, after this long stretch of dry weather we’ve had, we feel very badly off for want of water. Now, Fin says there’s a fine spring well somewhere under the rocks behind the hill here below, an’ it was his intention to pull them asunder; but having heard of you, he left the place in such a fury, that he never thought of it. Now, if you try to find it, troth I’d feel it a kindness.”

She then brought Cucullin down to see the place, which was then all one solid rock and after looking at it for some time, he cracked his right middle finger nine times, and stooping down, tore a cleft about four hundred feet deep, and a quarter of a mile long, which has since been christened by the name of Lumford’s Glen. This feat nearly threw Oonagh herself off her guard but what won’t a woman’s sagacity and presence of mind accomplish?

“You’ll now come in” said she “and eat a bit of such humble fare as we can give you. Fin, even although he and you are enemies, would scorn not to treat you kindly in his own house and indeed, if I didn’t do it even in his absence, he would not be pleased with me.” She accordingly brought him in, and placing half a dozen of the cakes we spoke of before him, together with a can or two of butter, a side of boiled bacon, and a stack of cabbage, she desired him to help himself – for this, be it known, was long before the invention of potatoes. Cucullin, who, by the way was a glutton as well as a hero, put one of the cakes in his mouth to take a huge whack out of it, when both Fin and Oonagh were stunned with a noise that resembled something between a growl and a yell.

“Blood and fury!” he shouted; “how is this? Here are two of my teeth out! What kind of bread is this you gave me?”
“What’s the matter?” said Oonagh coolly.
“Matter!” shouted the other again “why, here are the two back teeth in my head gone!”

“Why” said she “that’s Fin’s bread — the only bread he ever eats when at home but, indeed, I forgot to tell you that nobody can eat it but himself, and that child in the cradle there. I thought, however, that as you were reported to be rather a stout little fellow of your size, you might be able to manage it, and I did not wish to affront a man that thinks himself able to fight Fin. Here’s another cake — maybe it’s not so hard as that.”

Cucullin at the moment was not only hungry but ravenous so he accordingly made a fresh set at the second cake and immediately another yell was heard twice as loud as the first.

“Thunder and giblets!” he roared “take your bread out of this, or I will not have a tooth in my head, there’s another pair of them gone!”

“Well, honest man” replied Oonagh “if you’re not able to eat the bread, say so quietly, and don’t be wakening the child in the cradle here. There, now, he’s awake upon me.”

Fin now gave a skirl that startled the giant as coming from such a youngster as he was represented to be. “Mother” said he “I’m hungry, get me something to eat.”

Oonagh went over, and putting into his hand a cake that had no griddle in it, Fin, whose appetite in the meantime was sharpened by what he saw going forward, soon made it disappear. Cucullin was thunderstruck and secretly thanked his stars that he had the good fortune to miss meeting Fin, for, as he said to himself, I’d have no chance with a man who could eat such bread as that, which even his son that’s but in his cradle can munch before my eyes.

I’d like to take a glimpse at the lad in the cradle” said he to Oonagh “for I can tell you that the infant who can manage that nutriment is no joke to look at, or to feed of a scarce summer.”

“With all the veins of my heart” replied Oonagh “Get up, acushla, and show this decent little man something that won’t be unworthy of your father Fin M’Coul” Fin, who was dressed for the occasion as much like a boy as possible, got up, and bringing Cucullin out “Are you strong ? said he

“Thunder an’ ounds!” exclaimed the other “what a voice in so small a chap”

“Are you strong?” said Fin again “are you able to squeeze water out of that white stone?” he asked putting one into Cucullin’s hand. The latter squeezed and squeezed the stone, but to purpose: he might pull the rocks of Lumford’s Glen asunder, and flatten a thunderbolt, but to squeeze water out of a white stone was beyond his strength. Fin eyed him with great contempt, as he kept straining and squeezing, and squeezing and straining, till he got black in the face with his efforts.

“Ah, you’re a poor creature!” said Fin “You a giant”

Give me the stone here, and when I’ll shew what Fin’s little son can do, you may then judge of what my daddy himself is.”

Fin then took the stone, and slyly exchanging it for the curds, he squeezed the latter until the whey, as clear as water, oozed out in a little shower from his hand. “I’ll now go in,” said he, “to my cradle, for I’d scorn to lose my time with any one that’s not able to eat my daddy’s bread, or squeeze water out of a stone. Bedad, you had better be off out of this before he comes back for if he catches you, it’s in flummery he’d have you in two minutes.”

Cucullin, seeing what he had seen, was of the same opinion himself, his knees knocked together with the terror of Fin’s return, and he accordingly hastened in to bid Oonagh farewell, and to assure her, that, from that day out, he never wished to hear of, much less to see, her husband. “I admit fairly that I’m not a match for him ” said he “strong as I am tell him I will avoid him as I would the plague and that I will make myself scarce in his part of the country while I live” Fin in the mean time, had gone into the cradle, where he lay very quietly, his heart in his mouth with delight that Cucullin was about to take his departure, without discovering the tricks that had been played off on him.

“It’s well for you” said Oonagh “that he doesn’t happen to be here, for it’s nothing but hawk’s meat he’d make of you”

“I know that” says Cucullin “divil a thing else he’d make of me but before I go, will you let me feel what kind of teeth they are that can eat griddle-bread like that?’ and he pointed to it as he spoke.

“With all pleasure in life” said she “only, as they’re far back in his head, you must put your finger a good way in”

Cucullin was surprised to find such a powerful set of grinders in one so young but he was still much more so on finding, when he took his hand from Fin’s mouth, that he had left the very finger upon which his whole strength depended, behind him. He gave one loud groan and fell down at once with terror and weakness. This was all Fin wanted, who now knew that his most powerful and bitterest enemy was completely at his mercy. He instantly started out of the cradle and in a few minutes the great Cucullin that was for such a length of time the terror of him and all his followers, lay a corpse before him. Thus did Fin, through the wit and invention of Oonagh, his wife, succeed in overcoming his enemy by stratagem, which he never could have done by force and thus also is it proved that the women, if they bring us into many an unpleasant scrape, can sometimes succeed in getting us out of others that are as bad.

Tales and Sketches, illustrating the character usages traditions sports and past-times of the Irish Peasantry By William CARLETON

His death was reported in the Saturday 6 Feb. 1869 edition of the Flag of Ireland;


William CARLETON died at 2 o’clock on Saturday. He was born 1794, in the parish of Clogher, county Tyrone. He was the youngest of 14 children. His father was a humble farmer, who managed a patch of 14 acres, so that one can readily resolve the wealth to which his youngest son was entitled. The family never held a greater farm than one of 18 acres, and William’s brothers aided in the cultivation of the soil and in the ordinary labours of the field. His father was a man of quick intelligence, and his son has told us of his extraordinary mnemonic power and the uncommon accuracy of his mental habits. He could repeat exactly the greater portion of the Scriptures, and never quoted a single passage but he gave the chapter and verse. He spoke the English and Irish tongues with equal facility, and no man ‘in the country round’ was as well stored with popular tradition, or possessed fuller knowledge of the customs of his countrymen. CARLETON’S mother (Mary KELLY) was of a higher and more poetic temperament. She was given to the wild melodies of the bleak hills, and the rich melancholy of the songs of hernative tongue. She was gifted with a voice of more than ordinary sweetness, and the mournful plaint and melting tenderness of the Irish were expounded with a truth and earnestness that quite subdued the listener. CARLETON tells us that the mourners ceased to “keen” when the thrilling solemnity of his mother’s voice rose above them all. She used to sing of an evening, with her youngest lad at her knee, while she spun at the wheel, and he many a time shrunk with timidity from the weird influence of her song. Such were CARLETON’S parents. From the one he gleaned his inexhaustible store of legendary, from the other that sympathy and innerness which have thrown magic spell round the creations of his brilliant and fruitful fancy.

His early education was gained at a hedge school, or rather at a series of such institutes, the chief instructor of his youth was the original Mat KAVANAGH, whom everybody must remember. When almost 14 years old CARLETON’S parents decided to send him to Munster ‘to be made a scholar.’ In these days, ‘hospitality’ – which, he has said himself, is not sentiment, but principle in the Irish heart was in its glory, and mere lads were wont to travel long distances to the great schools. The ‘poor scholar’ was entitled to the best fare the host could afford, every house was a home, and every human being “the stranger’s” friend. CARLETON had proceeded far as Granard, when a dream – the natural result of fatigue and excitement – so possessed him that he turned back. His parents had repented of their disposition of so young a lad, and gladly welcomed him. He remained for some 2 years reading in a desultory way every book be could obtain. The adventures of Le Sage’s hero of Santillane fired his imagination above all the rest; and the cotter’s son longed to be another Gil Blas, to see the great world and fight his way to fame. He had always been preserved from the menial duties of the farm, because his parents destined him for the Church, and Maynooth was just within reach of the lad when his father died and shattered his rising hopes. He immediately entered the school of the Rev. Dr. KEENAN, parish priest in the diocese of Down, and during stay of 2 years he added considerably to his knowledge of Latin and Greek. He then sought and obtained the office of tutor in the family of a well-to-do farmer in Louth. The house stood near the scene of the far-famed tragedy which afterwards gave name to 1 of his thrilling tales ‘The Burning of Wildgoose Lodge’. (unreadable), one of the men convicted of having closed and burned the house and roasted to death 11 persons inside, hung suspended in chains as CARLETON passed to his new home. Those who remember the story can bear testimony to the skill and power with which he has wrought out the dreadful details of the murder and conflagration. He remained in his situation but a short time. The old longings of shapeless but inciting ambition, the yearning for errantry and the wonderful, roused him so that he deliberately resigned his position and made his way to the metropolis. He entered the streets of Dublin a mere stripling, untutored in the ways of life, innocent of all design, firmly believing in the presence of that simple and kindly hospitality which he had experienced on his tedious journey. He had no luggage; he had 2 shillings and 9 pence in his pocket. And thus it was that William CARLETON began the world. He cast about for many days, ready for any employment, willing for any service. He tried to be everything and anything. His innocence amused all who met him. His singleness of thought won for him sympathy and friendship. He once applied to a bird stuffer for employment, and being questioned as to his skill and knowledge, readily replied in favour of potatoes and meal. For fattening a bird he relied with immovable faith on these condiments; but the bird-stuffer would have none of him. Pressed by privation, he determined to enlist, but unwilling to go to ruin abruptly, he addressed a letter, written in pretty good Latin, to the colonel of the regiment. We should like to have the gallant officer’s name. He replied in kindly terms, dissuading the young scholar from his purpose, and affording such substantial aid drove off the importunities of want. Chance flung him in the way of Caesar OTWAY, a man of genius and learning, prompted by nature to help the needy, and qualified by attainment to direct the steps of youth. CARLETON repeated to him casually his experiences of Lough Derg and OTWAY suggested that he should write out the story. He replied that “he might try.” He tried, and the sketch appeared in the Christian Examiner. We have nothing now to say to the sketch beyond that it was successful. “Father Butler” speedily followed, and the young author gained some repute. Meanwhile, he was engaged as tutor in some families in and near the city, and it was in this pursuit he met the lady who became his wife. He continued to write short sketches during the next 10 years, and when he was something over 30 the whole were republished in a volume, and entitled “Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry.” This collection ran through several editions in 3 years. Meantime, CARLETON continued to write a series of papers “ The Lough Derg Pilgrimage,” “The Midnight Mass,” “Phil Purcell, the Pig Driver,” “The Station,’’ “The Poor Scholar,” “The Battle of the Factions,” Larry MacFarland’s Lake,’’and a host of others. In 1834 a volume of these appeared under the title, Tales of Ireland.” One sketch in that volume deserves special notice. The Dream of a Broken Heart one of the purest and noblest stories of our literature. Full pathos and sweet beauty, charming in its simplicity and easiness of construction, it can never fade from the memory of the idlest of readers. Fame was busy with the young storyteller, who poured forth the rich treasures of memory with a fecundity and ready skill that astonished his readers. There were not wanting those who are ever ready to vilipend struggling ardent youth, men who strengthen themselves behind the barricades of negation, and assert nothing directly, and so defeat refutation. These critics hinted that a sustained story of interest, a construction showing intelligent design and methodical execution, a completely wrought set of characters with a happy finale, in fact a bonafide novel – that this was beyond CARLETON’S powers of imagination or workmanship. There was a short pause. The light and graphic pictures ceased. Suddenly ‘Fardarougha the Miser’ appeared. The success was instant, complete, unequivocal. His friends were less surprised than is foes. The book was a gallery of portraits. In the whole range of English literature there stands no bolder figure than that of the horrible miser: the outline is firm and full, the touches delicate and keen as those of master hand. Where shall we look for a character, if we do not find it in the faithful wife who trembled a lifetime between the promptings of her high soul and the suggestions of her affection? Una and her brother are lifelike in their reality, interesting in their speech, simple in their deeds. Nature runs through every line of the book. The breath of genius has wanned the page, and the feelings of the soul have been caught in tones that can never fade away. The dark pictures of conspiracy and the revealings of midnight gatherings cannot be forgotten while the history of Ireland lives as it does by the cold hearth of the peasant and the ruined cot of the starving serf. The effect produced in the Kingdom by this ambitious effort instantly won for CARLETON an acknowledged place amongst the writers of his day. The story was dramatised by Miss Anne Jane MAGRATH and produced at Calvert’s Theatre, Abbey street. It ran for some time with sufficient success to justify the play-wright’s assumption: but the dramatic version never pleased CARLETON, who was not consulted on the matter at all; and an unpleasant passage occurred between the lady and the novelist. “The Tithe Procter” subsequently strengthened his reputation. There are some fine scenes in this story – fine as CARLETON deserves the word; not laboured pages of uncouth verbosity, but simple unaffected description, written with case and perspicacity. When Mr. DUFFY started his Library of Ireland” our city boasted some eminently intellectual and imaginative minds. The series started with Gavan DUFFY’S ‘Ballad Poetry’, Father MEEHAN, who has since distinguished himself in national literature, was amongst the contributors; DAVIS did his work; and CARLETON was safely relied on. It was in 1845, and the coming month’s issue was announced from the pen of DAVIS. Sixteen pages of his story were in the press, when Death chilled for ever the warm heart of the noblest of nature’s gentlemen. There remained but 6 days in which to find an author for the “Library” series. CARLETON instantly came forward. In the grief which followed the loss of one of his earliest friends, he sat down to write. The printers had the copy as it fell from his ready hand: and long before the appointed hour the history of Paddy Go-Easy” was accomplished. There is something of extravagance in the sketch; a little of caricature; a wilful and knowing economy of truth. But we have the old humour, and if the satire be keen it is not unkind. Discuss Irish stories as we may, and cavil as we will, CARLETON was greatest where Lever and Lover, Criffin and Banim, Maria Edgeworth and “The Wild Irish Girl” were more than conquerors. He painted simply, gracefully, truthfully, without effort, without pain, the dark scenes in the history of our people; and mere literary skill in others could never compete with that personal knowledge and manifest sympathy which are stamped on his pages alone. CARLETON was not quite dependent on the changes and chances of literature in a country circumstanced as ours, and Lord John RUSSELL granted him pension of £200 per annum. He continued almost up to the last day of his long life to write brief sketches. Many collected editions of his works have issued from the press; and of late years Mr. DUFFY, ever ready to support home work, superintended most of his writings. Many of his more important works have been translated into German and French, and some into Italian, and thus the story of Ireland became known. Few English writers, except Lytton, have been thus redressed for Continental readers. It is one of the many tributes which Irish genius has won, CARLETON ever spoke in terms of warmth about his books. In the more recent edition of his Traits and Stories, dedicated almost affectionately to Isaac Butt, he says: “ I have endeavoured, with what success has been already determined by the voice of my own country, to give pictures of Irish life among the people and in doing this I claim that I have written honestly, and without reference to any creed or party.” The great Irishman lived almost in retirement for many years. Two of his sons left this country for New Zealand some few mouths since; he told us then with trembling and tearful agony “that the light of life was gone with his boys.” And so, indeed, it had. William CARLETON is no more. In his grave lies one who lighted up many a dark Irish home on the tempest riven hill, and faraway beyond the rolling ocean in ; one who has cheered the dull heart of the despairing serf and his ragged little ones; who has made them forget for a time in the light laugh and the joyful tears that deep-rooted and ineradicable sorrow which weighs upon the national heart. The remains of our “Walter Scott,” as O’CONNELL called him, were removed from his late residence, No. 2 Woodville, Sandford, at 9 o’clock on Wednesday morning, for interment in Mount Jerome Cemetery.

Report of his funeral procession

Yesterday morning the remains of this venerable and distinguished Irishman were removed from his late residence, Woodville, Sandford, for interment at Mount Jerome Cemetery, attended by a number of gentlemen who admired the genius of the author and who were his friends through a long series of years. The funeral of one so eminent in literature, and one so well known through his works, was as simple and unpretending as possible. But a peculiar feature of sad interest was attached to the melancholy procession by the presence in it of Mrs CARLETON, her 4 daughters and 5 grandchildren, as chief mourners, all of whom were entirely dependent for support on the deceased, who was no exception to the generality of authors, as he died extremely poor, and left the members of his family entirely unprovided for. The coffin containing the remains was composed of polished oak, with gilt mountings, and bearing the following inscription

William Carleton Died January 30th, 1869, Aged 75 years.

The funeral left Sandford shortly after 9 o’clock, and proceeded by Rathmines to Mount Jerome. Amongst those present in carriages;

Right Hon. the Lord Chancellor
Sir Wm Wilde
John Lentaigne, D. L.
Rev. Professor Ingram, F.T. C.D.
W. J. Fitzpatrick
Stephen Eirington
James Duffy
Rev.. T. Scott
Rev. A Leet
Rev. Packenham Walsh
Wm. Smyth
Dr Stannus Hughes
H. D. Byrnes
M. O’Reilly, &c.

The remains on arriving at the cemetery, were conveyed to the mortuary chapel where the burial service was read by the Rev. A LETT, assisted by the Rev. P. WALSH. At the conclusion of the service the last named reverend gentleman delivered an address, in which he paid a most graceful tribute to the genius of the departed, and expressed a hope that those in power would provide for the wife and children of the deceased author. The last prayers having been said over the grave by the Rev. A. LEET, all that was mortal of William CARLETON was consigned to the dust.

The Queen gave a small pension of £100 to the widow. (and had given one to William during his lifetime of £200)

As William’s father gave free rein to his son to explore his own future, it seems fitting to end this very brief look at CARLETON’S life, with the following plaque. Which, many thanks to Kennth Allen, says-

“This is a place of peace. In Memory of Lt. Col. & Mrs F.C. Tracey and in gratitude for all the kindness of the people of Augher 1994. Tread softly because because you tread on my dreams”

For more on Carleton

sources as reported throughout, page transcribed & compiled by Teena