“My Grandfather was Irish”, in The Penguin New Writing, ed. John Lehmann, No. 19 (Oct.-Dec. 1944), pp.55-63.

Source: The story has no great merit and numerous faults but seems very interesting as an insight into the mentality of the son of an Easter-rising martyr who has assumed a definite kind of nationalism which still tussles over the legacy of revolutionary and, earlier still, agrarian violence - for which the “murder” in the story seems like an allegorical figure - and a still-persisting need to demonstrate the civility of the Irish in relation to the wider English-speaking world (here signified by the concern with accent) while at the same time reaching an accommodation between Anglo-Irish, Irish and British polities considered as contexts for education and culture.
 It seems to be that, in annotating the story fully, one could draw in a sketch of Irish society in its whole historical relation to Great Britain and, more especially, in the period of national separatism, cultural revival and independent stateship - a period marked by contradicions especially for the middle class whose story this is, from an allegorical standpoint. Particularly hilarious and, to some extent, inept, is the presentation of the Irish rural paterfamilias who serves as a narrator with a son called Claude - presumably so-named by his genteel mother - and that son's adherence to an English schoolboy vocabulary which involves such turns of phrase as “perfectly ripping”, which the father naturally ridicules.
 But why did he acquiesce in their education by Jesuits, either in Ireland or, more likely in England (viz., Ampleforth or Beaumont College). In terms of the social life of the Catholic haut bourgeoisie in the 1940s and for some years after, this is no mystery: the “better” families did indeed send their boys to English Catholic public schools, as George Moore had been sent to one a generation or two earlier. Yet in the interim Donagh MacDonagh's father had virtually invented the concept of Irish ltierature in English and had been executed for his part in a nationalist rebellion.
 While the father of the story cannot by an stretch of the imagination be Thomas MacDonagh, the “Grandfather” might easily be his forebear. In that sense the story hovers been autobiography and a fictional representation of some form of Irish social lineage which the author might consider typical - a lineage involving the rapid ascent of a talented family through the classes, their capture of an Anglo-Irish “big house” and their eventual emergence in the ranks of the liberal professional tier of Irish and/or British society which, in the story's projected version of authorship and audience, is the actual society of the author's peers. It's all very odd ...
  I found the story in among a set of copies of New Writing issues which came into my hands in antique-cum-junkstore in Coleraine, Co. Derry in about 1997.

GRANDFATHER was a quiet man to the day of his death, and a man form whom I always had a great respect. He wore a beard and a half-tall hat, and when her walked through the town everybody saluted him and said: ‘Grand day, Mr. Gallagher.’
I never knew my Grandfather very well because my father had married out and had gone to live about fifteen miles away, but often on a Sunday he would yoke up the trap after dinner and set off for a visit. He nearly always loaded a sack of potatoes and turnips or a couple of chickens into the trap to take along as a present, the fact that Grandfather had plenty of all these necessaries detracting nothing from the generosity of his gesture. When everything was ready he would send me off to open the yard gate and to close it after he had passed through. He would have my mother and y two brothers sitting safely in the trap and the door open waiting for my arrival. As soon as I securely bolted the gate after us I would jump in and my father would bang the door of the trap shut and then rattle the handle to make sure it was properly closed. He always took his time on the road, believing firmly that he had more time than money, so it usually took us the best part of two hours, or even two and a half, to cover the fifteen miles of road.
Grandfather had a fine, big, ugly house with half a mile of drive leading up to it and maybe fifty trees of various kinds planted all around it; his whole estate was surrounded by high stone walls built by one of the old landlords who believed that privacy was one of the first perquisites of an Irish country gentleman. As we drove up through the leafy avenue, my father skilfully avoiding the pot-holes which experience had taught him to expect, the dogs, of which my Grandfather kept an inordinate number, would bark and run besides us, anxious to be first with the news of our arrival; so that by the time the mare was resting outside the front door Grandfather would be standing there reading to receive us, his stick in his hand and a fine smile of welcome on his peaceful face. [55]
We would all troop into the room and he would take down a bottle of whisky for father and himself and a bottle of sherry, which, on mother’s polite refusal, he would replace without a sigh. After a few minutes of sitting on the stiff horsehair sofa, the spring hair cutting our legs and the leisurely conversation wearing our patience, my brothers and I would slip quietly through the door and off out into the yard.
That is almost all I know about Grandfather. We hardly ever spoke two words together, and if he had met me on the road he might easily have passed me by unnoticed. He never did meet me on the road, but when we were leaving for home he always slipped a half-crown into my hand, and if I watched carefully I would see him do the same for my brothers. At Christmas he gave us a sovereign apiece.
As we grew older, mother sent us to school to be educated, as she said, like gentlemen, so that we soon became distressed at Grandfather’s lamentable use of what we had come to know as the King’s English. His pronunciation often left us puzzled and disturbed, while his command of the elements of grammar was far from perfect. ‘And how is every bit of yis this fine summer evening?’ he would ask, a question which struck our Jesuit-educated ears as a distinct solecism. We could not help wondering what our school friends might think. What the boys at school might think seemed a matter of considerable importance.
As we might have foreseen, had we looked so far ahead, Grandfather died one fine day and we were all brought back from school for the funeral. There were priests there from every diocese in Ireland, lawyers, farmers, merchants, and even a baronet, and we felt that the funeral was one of which the school might be proud. The coffin was lowered into the earth amidst a storm of prayers to heaven, and afterwards some of the most distinguished figures in the county returned to Grandfather’s house to drink his whisky and to speak nothing but good of the deceased.
 ‘Your father was a strange man,’ said my mother as we jogged home in the trap, ‘and a very strange man,’ she added. My father nodded his head, gave a pull at the reins and smiled round at all of use.
 ‘Strange isn’t the word,’ he said, ‘you don’t know the half of it!’
 ‘He was always terribly decent to us,’ said Claude. ‘I think the way he used to send us pocket-money to school was perfectly ripping.’
 ‘He was a decent old skin all right,’ said my father, ‘but you don’t know the half of it. No, nor the quarter. Would you believe, Claude’ - he never liked that name - ‘would you believe it, if your grandfather hadn’t murdered a man in the height of his fury you wouldn’t know to-night that there was such a word in the English language as “ripping”. ‘Ripping,’ I could hear him mutter, half vexed. ‘Ripping, perfectly ripping! I say, old boy!’ The wind blew the sweetish smell of whisky back to me as he mimicked Claude’s high-class accent. ‘He was a great oul fella all right, but a red-handed murderer into the bargain.’
 ‘Please remember what you are saying,’ said my mother, speaking with great decision and force. ‘There is a time and a place for everything.’
 ‘They may as well know it now as any time,’ he said, ‘and better from me than from a stranger, and the sooner the better. It will be awfully ripping for them to know all about it.’ And he let out a big shout of laughter and gave the reins a another pull. it was a cloudy, squally evening in late December with night just coming on. My father had lit the candles in the two lamps and they were beginning to throw a little light around the trap. I could see dimly his laughing face and his eyes twinkling with malice. ‘It may come as a surprise to you boys to know,’ he said, ‘that the oul boy was a murderer, ay! a real out and out murderer, and no hanky-panky about it. The real Alley Daly.
 ‘I just can’t believe it,’ said Claude, and that was enough to set my father going.
 ‘My father,’ he said, ‘stood in a court of justice charged with the awful crime of murder. And he did it, too. Aye, he did! He did. Do you want to know what happened?’ He stuffed tobacco into his pipe, handing the reins to me to hold while he did it; then he leant forward and lit a match in his cupped hand, his face lighting up as he puffed at the pipe. He sat back, took the reins and gave a sign. ‘Do you want to know what happened?’ he repeated, and as he spoke his accent became broader with every sentence, the slight American inflection falling away. It was like hearing Grandfather himself.
 ‘My father, your Grandfather, the old fellow we’ve just left in his lonely grave, was a smallholder in his young days, not two miles from here. Above opposite the churchyard. He had a five acre farm and a little cottage and damn the thing else only a couple of cows, a pig or two, and a few chickens. Himself and my mother were married three or four years, and though they the grandest-looking pair in the country they hadn’t a sign of a family. Nobody could understand it al all. When the farm work wasn’t too hard he used to do a bit of work on the roads, breaking stones, or spreading them, or clearing ditches and the like. I believe he was a fair devil for stonebreaking and a great man at the game. He had a pal called Peter Joyce, a fellow abut the same age as himself, who used to be on the road with him. A great man for the beer he was. Of course my fad used to have a great mouth on him for it too before he got married, but after that he laid off it all right. Barring, of course, the occasional pint.
 ‘Well, one fine night anyway,’ me bould Peter Joyce, Josie Conway and a lad called Jack Taylor were out on a terrible skite down the local pub - Mulcahy’s it was, we’ll pass it a bit up the road here. They rambled in there about five in the evening with five or six shillings each in their pockets, - that was a lot of money in those days. They started drinking porter and they drank till it came out in their eyes. They were sitting there drinking and talking and singing, telling stories and cutting the bowels out of every mother’s son in the ten parishes. There wasn’t a girl in the county could escape their tongues, and to hear them talking you’d think they’d seduced every woman this side of the Shannon.
 ‘Jack!’ said my mother. ‘Remember the children’.
 ‘Ah, children hell!’ said my father, and grunted. ‘Right devils and wild characters they were though they, afraid of neither God nor man, ready to fight the whole British nation and lepping to have a crack at it. A couple of times Josie Conway and Jack Taylor started off to have a sparring match, throwing their caps on the floor and preparing to have a right set-to, but Peter Joyce and the barman managed to pacify them, and they’d start singing and drinking again. A decent poor slop the same Peter Joyce by all accounts, a quiet, decent man that never wanted to pick a fight with any man. All he wanted was to have his jar in peace and quiet with a bit of ree-raw [58] to keep his heart up. A great man to sing a ballad he was, and a topping step-dancer. Bedamn it! I believe he was fit to lick the champion of Ireland at step-dancing, but it didn’t get him very far in the heel of the hunt. Are you asleep there, Janey?’ He never called my mother Janey except when he had had a few drinks, so she said in a very cold kind of voice.
 ‘As if I could get to sleep with all that silly talk.’
 ‘Wrap yourself well up there, and we’ll be home in no time.’
 ‘I wish you’d hurry, father,’ said Claude, ‘it is getting a trifle chilly.’
‘Chilly,’ said my father, ‘chilly is it? What you want is a good bellyful of porter under your belt to keep you warm. Chilly is it? Man dear, I’m like a furnace. Feel that hand!’ And he put his large, hard hand against Claude’s cheek. ‘Nothing chilly about that! Ah, dear God, it’ll be many a long day till we see men again like my poor dead father that’s lying cold in Coolnamara graveyard this night, may the Lord Almighty have mercy on his good-humoured soul! He was a great man if you like. A great earner and a great spender, and a great man to down a bottle of whisky. A man after my own heart, and he never crossed the threshold of a boarding school in all his days. But do you know where he got his education? In the great University of life. And it’ll be many a long and weary day till any of you fine gentlemen get even a pass degree out of that institution.’ I could see that the good humour was beginning to die in him, so I said quickly:
 ‘But tell us, da, what happened to Peter Joyce and his pals?’ Claude always infuriated him by calling him ‘Father,’ and once, after a long term at school, he tried ‘Pater.’ He got a back-hander that time that he didn’t forget in a long while.
 ‘Oh, Peter Joyce, the very man!’ said my father. ‘Now there was a man for you. A man that might be alive to-day only for the company he kept. He got into a drinking march with Josie Conway and Jack Taylor in Mulcahy’s below here. I don’t think we can have passed it yet. There they were sitting drinking the whole evening, drinking and chatting and telling stories and singing.’
 ‘This begins to sound painfully familiar,’ said my mother.
 ‘Fair enough! Fair enough!’ said my father with some [59] annoyance. ’Maybe you’d like to finish the story yourself?’ And he began clucking to the horse and sucking his pipe very fiercely.
 ‘I would never have started it in the first place,’ said my mother, ‘let the dead bury dead, is what I say.’
 ‘Who’s stopping them?’ my father. That’s what I want to know, who’s stopping them ? But about Peter-Joyce. The late Peter Joyce! In the course of all the discussion that was going on in Mulcahy’s pub didn’t the name of my poor father come up for review. He was married just about four years and had neither chick nor child to show for it. “What kind of a man is he at all,”, said Josie Conway, that couldn’t be better than that?” And one word borrowed another till nobody could find a good word to say about the poor man, though he was a friend of them all. “He’s wasting his time properly, says Jack Taylor “breaking stones on the highway instead of tilling his own patch. Does he need a handy-man, do you thin?” And with that he called for another round and they all roared laughing, thinking it funnier than the Empire Theatre in Dublin.
 ‘Anyway the time finally came when they all had to go home, and a terrible job Mulcahy had getting them out. They staggered into the fresh air and stood for a long time up against the gable-end of the house laughing and talking and singing and telling each other what fine characters they were, till Mulcahy his head out of the window and told them he’d call have to go for the Polis unless they moved off out of that. Well, at last they got under way and off they went on the road home, singing at the tops of their voices, shouting in at every house they passed by, and trying to pick a fight with anyone they met on the road. As they came towards my poor father’s house, they began to remember all their talk about him, and they started to shout all kinds of dirty remarks when they saw a light in the window. My father was off down at the end of the haggard feeding a sick calf, but when he heard the commotion he came running up to see what was going on.
 ‘Is it a man you are at all, Gallagher,’ Conway was shouting, ‘or a sheep in sheep’s clothing?’ Would you be needing any skilled labour in there do you think?’ And they’d all roar laughing.
 ‘Well, my father was a quiet, decent sort of a man that [60] never raised his hand to anyone or ever got in a fight, but when he heard all this dirty blackguarding and knew that my mother could hear it inside, he caught Conway the father and mother of a clout in the puss, that landed him on the other side of the road. ‘Take that, you loud-mouthed drunken eejit!’ says he, turning to look for the next man. It was black dark by this time and he could just see a figure in front of him, so he let out an almighty swipe at him, that landed him on the back of his head against the stone wall. Off run the others like the hammers of hell, and down goes your man with the devil of a crack. There isn’t another sound out of him only he groaning something terrible and shouting mile murder. He doesn’t make any attempt to get up, so my father gets a fright and goes over to him and strikes a match. He sees that it’s Peter Joyce, and his head all covered with blood where he struck a sharp stone. ‘God, I’m murdered,’ says Peter to father, so he starts trying to pull him to his feet, but every time he lifts him he falls back again. After a bit my father starts to shout to the others to come back for God’s sake, there’s a man dying, and at last they do. The fighting and night air have almost sobered them, but when they see the cut of poor Joyce they get sober as a couple of Supreme Court judges in about five seconds.
 ‘They all life him and carry him into my father’s house and try to bandage him up as best they can, my mother heating water and crying. They put him lying on the bed and in next to no time the whole place is swimming in blood. There’s the unfortunate fellow delirious with drink and the crack on the head, shouting and roaring that he wants to go home to his da to die decent in his own bed. Instead of getting him comfortable and sending for the doctor, what do these born eejits do only hoist him up on a bicycle that’s in my father’s house, and wheel him home. Up they drag poor Joyce on to the saddle, and with the one of them on each side and my father darting round like a sheepdog after a flock of sheep, they set off for Joyce’s, a matter of a mile or so down the road. Can you imagine that procession of fools? The dying man perched up on the saddle, two half-drunken clowns pushing him along by the light of the lantern, and my father running round in small circles, seeing the hangman’s noose dangling before his eyes at every step he took. [61]
 ‘They dragged along; with Joyce getting weaker and weaker, till finally they turned in his own gate and got the unfortunate father out of his bed. The poor man let one screech out of him when he saw what they had,. and they started off to apologise; but that was a lot of use to the man and his son half dead on him, with the blood dripping down the back of his neck on to the floor. Of course, Conway and Taylor were half dead themselves by this time, with the dint of the drink and the fight and the sleep, so as soon as they dumped their pal on the bed they packed up, and off with them home.’
 ‘I’m sure we’ve missed the road home,’ said my mother sleepily, opening her eyes and closing them again quickly.
 ‘And the devil I care.’ said my father, ‘if I’ve missed the road to heaven. Well, Joyce’s father lit the death candle and himself and my father sat beside Peter all the night long, not but it was nearly the dawn by that time. Peter was hardly breathing at all, so as soon as it was day my father went off to get the priest and the doctor and the Polis. When he told his story in the barracks the Sergeant put him under arrest, just to make sure.
 ‘Well, poor Peter Joyce died and there was a great to-do about the whole thing, and whatever mix-up there was my father was brought off to Green Street Courthouse in Dublin to be tried for murder. But as soon as the jury heard the story and all the dirty language that had been going on, and all the surrounding circumstances, they acquitted him right away without a second thought. He had all the cuttings about the trial put away in a big scrapbook somewhere. I must show it to you some time.
 ‘The cottage where my father and mother lived was right across the road from the churchyard there, and what does he find when he comes home after the trial only a bloody big tombstone that the Joyces of all Ireland have subscribed for stuck right outside his own front door. Now my father was always, as I said, a quiet, peaceable man who never meddled in any trouble, but the sight of that stone used to infuriate him beyond words. Every time he put his head outside the door there it was mocking him, and every time he’d see it it would put him in mind of the trial and the fight, and above all of the dirty words that Conway and Taylor and Joyce were going on with that night. So one fine day himself and my mother up anchor and off with them to America. As soon as ever he gets there his luck changes, he gets a job as a sandhogger under the Hudson River, and pretty soon he’s a builder’s foreman, and then a builder, and that’s how he started and made all that money.
 ‘And you’re an American then?’ I said.
 ‘Me an American, is it?’ My father spat rudely into the dark. ‘I was born here and I hope to die here But I did go to America when I was only a couple of months old. And that’s a strange thing! Whatever queer way the whole thing affected my father and my mother, they started in to have a family almost as soon as the trial was over. Six sons they had and five daughters. So maybe it was a lucky thing for all of us that those three boys got all that drink taken in Mulcahy’s bar. Only for that none of us might be here in this trap to-night. And wouldn’t that be a sad thing now?’
We all sat silent for a. while thinking of that possibility, listing to the leisurely trot of the mare. Suddenly my mother noticed the silence and sat up straight.
 ‘Are we nearly home yet?’ she asked.
 ‘No,’ said my father, ‘but we’re just about to pass Mulcahy’s pub, the scene of our nativity.’

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