Jonah Barrington, Recollections, intro. by George Birmingham [1918 Edn.]

[ Bibliographical details: Jonah Barrington, Recollections, intro. by George Birmingham (Dublin: Talbot Press; London: Fisher Unwin [1918]) [Every Irishman’s Library; Gen. Ed., A. P. Graves; William Magennis, Douglas Hyde], port. ]

CONTENTS, Chaps: My Family Connexions [1]; Elizabeth Fitzgerald [18]; Irish Gentry and their Retainers [29]; My Education [34]; Irish Dissipation in 1778 [43]; My Brother’s Hunting Lodge [51]; Choice of Profession [58]; Murder of Captain O’Flaherty [63]; Adoption of the Law [74]; Irish Beauties [79]; Patricians and Plebians [90]; Irish Inns [97]; Fatal Duel of my Brother [101]; Entrance into Parliament [112]; Singular Customs in the Irish Parliament [121]; The Seven Baronets [128]; Entrance into Office [139]; Dr. Achmet Borumborad [145]; Aldermen of Skinner’s Alley [154]; Procession of the Trades [161]; Irish Rebellion [166]; Wolfe Tone [173]; Dublin Election [177]; Election for County Wexford [187]; Wedded Life [195]; Duke of Wellington and Marquess of London-derry [201]; Lord Norbury [210]; Henry Grattan [218]; Lord Aldborough [227]; John Philpot Curran [231]; The Law of Libel [238]; Pulpit, Bar, and Parliamentary Eloquence [253]; Queen Caroline [257]; Anecdotes of Irish Judges [261]; The Fire Eaters [278]; Duelling Extraordinary [296]; Hamilton Rowan and the Bar [315]; Father O’Leary [322]; Death of Lord Rossmore [326]; Theatrical Recollections [335]; Mrs. Jordan [346]; Mrs. Jordan in France [365]; Scenes at Havre de Grace [373]; Commencement of the Hundred Days [388]; The English in Paris [398]; Inauguration of the Emperor [406]; Promulgation of the Constitution [422]; Last Days of the Imperial Government [432]; Detention at Villette [443]; Projected Escape of Napoleon [450]; Battles of Sevres and Issy [456]; Capitulation of Paris [465]; The Catacombs and Pere La Chaise [471]; Pedigree Hunting [474]. [See full-text version of George Birmingham's Introduction in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics” > George Birmingham, attached.]

Chapter 1: My Family Connexions
‘I was born at Knapton, near Abbeyleix, in the Queen’s County, at that time the seat of my father, but now of Sir George Pigott. I am the third son and fourth child of John Barrington, who had himself neither brother nor sister; and at the period of my birth my immediate connexions were thus circumstanced.

My family, by ancient patents, by marriages, and by inheritance from their ancestors, possessed very extensive landed estates in Queen’s County, and had almost unlimited influence over its population, returning two members to the Irish parliament for Ballynakill, then a close borough.

Cullenaghmore, the mansion where my ancestors had resided from the reign of James the First, was then occupied by my grandfather, Colonel Jonah Barrington. He had adopted me as soon as I was born, brought me to Cullenaghmore, and with him I resided until his death.

That old mansion, the Great House, as it was called, exhibited altogether an uncouth mass, warring with every rule of symmetry in architecture. The original castle had been demolished, and its materials converted to a much worse purpose; the front of the edifice which succeeded it was particularly ungraceful - a Saracen’s head, our crest [1; &c.]


At the Great House all disputes amongst the tenants were then settled-quarrels reconciled - old debts arbitrated: a kind Irish landlord reigned despotic in the ardent affection of the tenantry, their pride and pleasure being to obey and to support him.

But there existed a happy reciprocity of interests. The landlord of that period protected the tenant by his influence - any wanton injury to a tenant being considered as an insult to the lord; and if either of the landlord’s sons were grown up, no time was lost by him in demanding satisfaction from any gentleman for maltreating even his father’s blacksmith.

No gentleman of this degree ever distrained a tenant for rent: indeed, the parties appeared to be quite united and knit together. The greatest abhorrence, however, prevailed as to tithe-proctors, coupled with no great predilection for the clergy who employed them. These latter certainly were, in principle and practice, the real country tyrants of that day, and first caused the assembling of the White Boys.

I have heard it often said that, at the time I speak of, every estated gentleman in the Queen’s County was honoured by the gout. I have since considered that its extraordinary prevalence was not difficult to be accounted for, by the disproportionate quantity of acid contained in their seductive beverage, called rum-shrub, which was then universally drunk in quantities nearly incredible, generally from suppertime till morning, by all country gentlemen, as they said, to keep down their claret.

My grandfather could not refrain, and, therefore, he suffered well; he piqued himself on procuring, through the interest of Batty Lodge (a follower of the family who had married a Dublin grocer’s widow), the very first importation of oranges and lemons to the Irish capital every season. Horse-loads of these, packed in boxes, were immediately sent to the Great House of Cullenaghmore; and no sooner did they arrive than the good news of fresh fruit was communicated to the colonel’s neighbouring friends, accompanied by the usual invitation.

Night after night the revel afforded uninterrupted pleasure to the joyous gentry : the festivity being subsequently renewed at some other mansion, till the gout thought proper to put the whole party hors de combat - having the satisfaction of making cripples for a few months such as he did not kill.

Whilst the convivials bellowed with only toe or finger agonies it was a mere bagatelle; but when Mr. Gout marched up the country and invaded the head or the stomach, it was then called no joke; and Drogheda usquebaugh, the hottest-distilled drinkable liquor ever invented, was applied to for aid, and generally drove the tormentor in a few minutes to his former quarters. It was, indeed, counted a specific ; and I allude to it the more particularly, as my poor grandfather was finished thereby.

It was his custom to sit under a very large branching baytree in his arm-chair, placed in a fine sunny aspect at the entrance of the garden. I particularly remember his cloak, for I kept it twelve years after his death: it was called a cartouche cloak, from a famous French robber who, it was said, invented it for his gang for the purposes of evasion. It was made of very fine broad-cloth, of a bright blue colour on one side and a bright scarlet on the other, so that on ‘ being turned it might deceive even a vigilant pursuer.

There my grandfather used to sit of a hot sunny day, receive any rents he could collect, and settle any accounts which his indifference on that head permitted him to think of. [p.6; &c.].

Chapter III: Irish Gentry and their Retainers
The numerous and remarkable instances which came within my own observation of mutual attachment between th Irish peasantry and their landlords in former times would fill volumes. A few only will suffice, in addition to what has already been stated, to shew the nature of that reciprocal good-will which on many occasions was singularly useful to both: and in selecting these instances from such as occurred in my own family, I neither mean to play the vain egotist nor to determine generals by particulars, since good landlords and attached peasantry were then spread over the entire face of Ireland, and bore a great proportion to the whole country.

I remember that a very extensive field of corn of m father’s had once become too ripe, inasmuch as all the reapers in the country were employed in getting in thei own scanty crops before they shedded. Some of the servants had heard my father regret that he could not by possibility get in his reapers without taking them from these little crops, and that he would sooner lose his own.

This field was within full view of our windows. My father had given up the idea of being able to cut his corn in due time. One morning, when he rose, he could no believe his sight - he looked, rubbed his eyes, called the servants and asked them if they saw anything odd in the field - they certainly did -  for, on our family retiring to rest the night before, the whole body of the peasantry of the country, after their hard labour during the day, had come upon the great field and had reaped and stacked it, - before dawn! None of them would even tell him who had a hand in it. Similar instances of affection repeatedly took place; and no tenant on any of the estates of my family was ever distrained, or even pressed for rent. Their gratitude for this knew no bounds; and the only individuals who ever annoyed them were the persons by their proctors, and the tax-gatherers for heartt-money; and though hard cash was as scant with both landlord and tenant, and no small banknotes had got into circulation, provisions were plentiful and but little inconvenience was experienced by the peasantry from want of a circulating medium. There was constant residence and work: no banks and no machinery, and though the people might not be quite so refined, most undoubtedly they were vastly happier.

But a much more characteristic proof than the foregoing of the extraordinary devotion of the lower to the higher orders in Ireland in former times occurred in my family, and is on record.

My grandfather, Mr. French, of County Galway, was a remarkably small, nice little man, but of an extremely irritable temperament. He was an excellent swordsman; and, as was often the case in that county, proud to excess.

Some relics of feudal arrogance frequently set the neighbours and their adherents together by the ears. My grandfather had conceived a contempt for and antipathy to a sturdy half-mounted gentleman, one Mr. Dennis Bodkin, who, having an independent mind, entertained an equal aversion to the arrogance of my grandfather, and took every possible opportunity of irritating and opposing him.

My grandmother, an O’Brien, was high and proud - steady and sensible; but disposed to be rather violent at times in her contempts and animosities, and entirely agreed with her husband in his detestation of Mr. Dennis Bodkin.

On some occasion or other Mr. Dennis had outdone Ills usual outdoings, and chagrined the squire and his [30] lady most outrageously. A large company dined at my grandfather’s, and grandmother launched out in her abuse of Dennis, concluding her exordium by an hyperbole of hatred expressed, but not at all meant, in these words :- “I wish the fellow’s ears were cut off! that might quiet him.”

It passed over as usual: the subject was changed, and all went on comfortably till supper; at which time, when everybody was in full glee, the old butler, Ned Regan, who had drunk enough, came in - joy was in his eye; and whispering something to his mistress which she did not comprehend, he put a large snuff-box into her hand. Fancying it was some whim of her old domestic, she opened the box and shook out its contents - when lo ! a considerable portion of a pair of bloody ears dropped on the table! The horror and surprise of the company may be conceived: upon which old Ned exclaimed - “Sure, my lady, you wished that Dennis Bodkin’s ears were cut off; so I told old Gahagan, the gamekeeper, and he took a few boys with him and brought back Dennis Bodkin’s ears, and there they are and I hope you are plazed, my lady !”

The scene may be imagined, but its results had like to have been of a more serious nature. The sportsman and the boys were ordered to get off as fast as they could; but my grandfather and grandmother were held to heavy bail, and were tried at the ensuing assizes at Galway. The evidence of the entire company, however, united in proving that my grandmother never had an idea of any such order, and that it was a mistake on the part of the servants. They were, of course, acquitted. The sportsman never reappeared in the county till after the death of Dennis Bodkin, which took place three years subsequently.

This anecdote may give the reader an idea of the devotion, of servants in those days to their masters. The order of things is now reversed, and the change of times cannot he better proved than by the propensity servants now have [31] to rob, and, if convenient, murder the families from whom they derive their daily bread. Where the remote error lies I know not, but certainly the ancient fidelity of domestics seems to be totally out of fashion with those gentry at present.

A more recent instance of the same feeling as that illustrated by the two former anecdotes -  namely, the devotion of the country people to old settlers and families -  occurred to myself, which, as I am upon the subject, I will now mention. I stood a contested election in the year 1790 for the borough of Ballynakill, for which my ancestors had returned two members to Parliament during nearly 200 years. It was usurped by the Marquis of Drogheda, and I contested it. On the day of the election, my eldest brother and myself being candidates, and the business preparing to begin, a cry was heard that the whole colliery was coming over from Donane, about ten miles off. The returning office, Mr. French, lost no time: six voters were polled against me; mine were refused generally in mass; the books were repacked, and the poll declared -  the election ended, and my opponents just retiring from the town, when seven or eight hundred colliers entered it with colours flying and pipers playing; their faces were all blackened, and a more tremendous assemblage was scarce ever seen. After the usual shoutings, etc., the chief captain came up to me:- “Counsellor, dear!” said he, “we’re all come from Donane to help your honour against the villains that oppose you. We’re the boys that can titivate! -  Barrington for ever hurra !” Then coming close to me, and lowering his he added -  ”Counsellor, jewel ! which of the villains we settle first?

To quiet him I shook his black hand, told him nobody should be hurt, and that the gentlemen had all left the town. [32]

“Why, then, counsellor,” said he, “ we’ll be after overtaking them. Barrington for ever! -  Donane, boys!”

I feared that I had no control over the riotous humour of the colliers, and knew but one mode of keeping them quiet. I desired Billy Howard, the innkeeper, to bring out all the ale he had and having procured many barrels in addition, together with all the bread and cheese in the place, I set them at it as hard as might be. I told them I was sure of being elected in Dublin, and “to stay azy” (their own language), and in a little time I made them as tractable as lambs. They made a bonfire in the evening, and about ten o’clock I left them as happy and merry a set of colliers as ever existed. Such as were able strolled back in the night, and the others next morning, and not the slightest injury was done to anybody or anything.

This was a totally unexpected and voluntary proof of the disinterested and ardent attachment of the Irish country people to all whom they thought would protect or procure them justice. [CH. END; 33]

Duelling Extraordinary
Leonard M’Nally, well known both at the English and Irish bars, and in the dramatic circles, as the author of that popular little piece Robin Hood, etc., was one of the strangest fellows in the world. His figure was ludicrous; he was very short, and nearly as broad as long; his legs were of unequal length, and he had a face which no washing could clean; he wanted one thumb, the absence of which gave rise to numerous expedients on his part; and he took great care to have no nails, as he regularly ate every morning the growth of the preceding day; he never wore a glove, lest he should appear to be guilty of affectation in concealing his deformity. When in a hurry he generally took two thumping steps with the short leg to bring up the space made by the long one, and the bar, who never missed a favourable opportunity of nicknaming, called him accordingly” one pound two.” He possessed, however, a fine eye, and by no means an ugly countenance, a great deal of middling intellect, a shrill, full, good bar voice, great quickness at cross examination, with sufficient adroitness at defence, and in Ireland was the very staff and standing-dish of the criminal jurisdictions. In a word, M’Nally was a good-natured, hospitable, talented, dirty fellow, and had by the latter qualification so disgusted the circuit bar that they refused to receive him at their mess, a cruelty I set my face against, and every summer circuit endeavoured to vote him into the mess, but always ineffectually, his neglect of his person, the shrillness of his voice, and his frequenting low company being assigned as reasons which never could be set aside.

M’Nally had done something in the great cause of Napper and Dutton, which brought him into still further disrepute with the bar. Anxious to regain his station by some act equalising him with his brethren, he determined to offend or challenge some of the most respectable members of the profession, who, however, shewed no inclination to oblige him in that way. He first tried his hand with Counsellor Henry Deane Grady, a veteran, but who upon this occasion refused the combat. M’Nally, who was as intrepid as possible, by no means despaired ; he was so obliging as to honour me with the next chance, and in furtherance thereof, on very little provocation, gave me the retort not courteous in the court of King’s Bench.

I was well aware of his object, and not feeling very comfortable under the insult, told him, taking out my watch, “M’Nally, you shall meet me in the park in an hour.”

The little fellow’s eyes sparkled with pleasure at the invitation, and he instantly replied, “In half an hour, if you please,” comparing at the same moment his watch with mine. “I hope you won’t disappoint me,” continued he, as that - Grady did.”

”Never fear, Mac,” answered I; there’s not a gentleman at the bar but will fight you to-morrow, provided you live so long, which I can’t promise.”

We had no time to spare, so parted to get ready. The first man I met was Mr. Henry Harding, a huge, wicked, [308] fighting King’s County attorney. I asked him to come out with me. To him it was fine sport. I also summoned Rice Gibbon, a surgeon, who, being the most ostentatious fellow imaginable, brought an immense bag of surgical instruments, etc., from Mercer’s Hospital. In forty-five minutes we were regularly posted in the middle of the review ground in the Phoenix Park; and the whole scene to any person not so seriously implicated must have been irresistibly ludicrous. The sun shone brightly, and Surgeon Gibbon, to lose no time in case of a hit, spread out all his polished instruments on the grass, glittering in the light on one side of me. My second having stepped nine paces, then stood at the other side, handed me a case of pistols, and desired me to “work away by J - s.” M’Nally stood before me, very like a beer-barrel on its stifling, and by his side were ranged three unfortunate barristers, who were all soon afterwards hanged and beheaded for high treason -  namely, John Sheers, who was his second, and had given him his point-blanks, with Henry Sheers and Bagenal Harvey, who came as amateurs. Both of the latter, I believe, were amicably disposed, but a negotiation could not be admitted, and to it we went. M’Nally presented so coolly that I could plainly see I had but little chance of being missed, so I thought it best to lose no time on my part. The poor fellow staggered, and cried out, “I am hit!” and I found some twitch myself at the moment which I could not at the time account for. Never did I experience so miserable a feeling. He had received my ball directly in the curtain of his side. MY doctor rushed at him with the zeal and activity of a dissecting surgeon, and in one moment, with a long knife, which he thrust into his waist-band, ripped up his clothes, and exposed his naked carcass to the bright sun.

The ball appeared to have hit the buckle of his gallows (yclept suspenders), by which it had been partially impeded, and had turned round instead of entering his body. Whilst [309] I was still in dread as to the result, my second, after seeing that he had been so far protected by the suspenders, inhumanly exclaimed, “ By J - s, Mac! you are the only rogue I ever knew that was saved by the gallows.”

On returning home, I found I had not got off quite so well as I had thought; the skirt of my coat was perforated on both sides, and a scratch, just enough to break the skin, had taken place on both my thighs. I did not know this whilst on the ground, but it accounts for the twitch I spoke of.

My opponent soon recovered, and after the precedent of being wounded by a King’s Counsel, no barrister could afterwards decently refuse to give him satisfaction. He was, therefore, -  no longer insulted, and the poor fellow has often told me since that my shot was his salvation. He subsequently got Curran to bring us together at his house, and a more -  zealous friendly partisan I never had than M’Nally proved himself on my contest for the city of Dublin.

Leonard was a great poetaster; and having fallen in love with a Miss Janson, daughter of a very rich attorney, of Bedford Row, London, he wrote on her the celebrated song of “The Lass of Richmond Hill” - her father had a lodge there. She could not withstand this, and returned his flame. This young lady was absolutely beautiful, but quite a slattern in her person. She likewise had a turn for versifying, and was, therefore, altogether well adapted to her lame lover, particularly as she never could spare time from her poetry to wash her hands -  a circumstance in which M’Nally was sympathetic. The father, however, notwithstanding all this, refused his consent; and, consequently, M’Nally took advantage of his dramatic knowledge by adopting the precedent of Barnaby Brittle, and bribed a barber to lather old Janson’s eyes as well as his chin, and with something rather sharper too than Windsor soap. Slipping out of the [310] room whilst her father was getting rid of the lather and the smart, this Sappho, with her limping Phaon, escaped, and were united in the holy bands of matrimony the same evening; and she continued making and M’Nally correcting verses, till it pleased God to call them away. This curious couple conducted themselves, both generally and towards each other, extremely well after their union. Old Janson partly forgave them, and made some settlement upon their children.

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