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DEAN SWIFT'S GHOST
Two or three miles from the city of Dublin flows the river Tolka, which takes its course through Finglas, through Glasnevin, Drumcondra, and Richmond, and finally mingles its waters with those of the sea where it emerges from beneath Ballybough-bridge. What wonderful memories does not the name conjure up ! The wild doings of the rollicking Tolka Club, and the traditions of the orgies of the still more formidable and famous Hell-Fire Club (which latter held its meetings in a lonely house amongst the marshes near the mouth of the river), yet furnish tales which are told around many a winter's fire. The marshes have long since been reclaimed, and streets and manufactories flourish there now. The Dublin and Drogheda Railway runs not a stone's throw from the identical spot where the Hell-Fire Club-house once stood; and not very many years ago we assisted at a house-warming' in its vicinity, where the marvellous legends concerning the club-told by an old gentleman who, when a boy, had bathed in the sea, which used to flow where we were then sitting-were only equalled by the avidity with which we listened to them.
The right royal Tolka,' associated with the classic name of Furlong the poet, who sleeps his last in Drumcondra churchyard; with the names of Sheridan, of Tickell, of Parnell; of Addison, who, in sight of the river, composed Cato whilst walking up and down the yew-tree walk, in what are now the Botanic-gardens; the favourite haunt of good old Doctor Delaney; and last and chiefly, sacred from associations with Doctor Jonathan Swift, and the Stella whose name he has rendered immortal.
Barring the public-house as you cross the bridge-we do not mean Mary White's-there is no fashionable or even very modern architecture in all Glasnevin. Although so near the metropolis, it is about one of the most primitive and characteristic Irish villages you could wish to see. Standing on Glasnevin-bridge with your back to Dublin, the Botanic-gardens lie to the left; beyond them the great national cemetery, where the chaste and noble monument to the memory of the Liberator' rears its imposing head. To the right lies Drumcondra; whilst straight before you, and half-way up in the village street, stands the house that was once the residence of Esther Johnson, i.e. Stella. See, the huge wooden gates are open, and afford a good view of the house. It is simply an old-fashioned country residence, slightly modernised. Beneath are cellars, in which tradition says the Drapier Letters'
were first privately printed. The loving passionate heart that ached and broke there has long since mouldered away; but the memory of her pathetic and unhappy life yet lingers in the minds of many of the inhabitants.
It cannot but be admitted that an Irishman almost invariably looks at only one side of a question. As a general rule, his judgment may be said to be of the feminine gender; for in ninetynine cases out of one hundred, it is biassed by his feelings. Keeping this estimate in view, it is not to be wondered at that the popular idea of Dean Swift's conduct with reference to Stella is, that it was one unbroken career of unmitigated villany. Few take the trouble, or are indeed capable, of looking beyond the surface, therefore they fail to detect that it is not improbable that, in the subtle workings of his wondrous mind, there were deeper depths of love for her than even she could fathom. The possible knowledge and consequent horror of his impending madness ought to be sufficient apology for any eccentricities. And he, in his deep love for Stella, and his stern sense of justice towards humanity, would not incur the probability of embittering her life by an outbreak of his malady, nor would he run the risk of entailing the curse upon future generations.
Be all that as it may, you would hardly find one of the 'ould residenthers' in or about Glasnevin to give heed unto you. So that when it was generally reported that the ghost of Dean Swift was to be seen every night, taking the air upon the high bank of the Tolka, between Glasnevin and Drumcondra, and in the fields at the back of Stella's former residence, why the story was implicitly believed in by a large majority; and the current opinion was, that his reverence's ghost was thus doomed to perambulate the neighbourhood as a punishment for his cruel conduct towards his ladylove.
The then sexton of Drumcondra was a very knowledgeable man.' Of incalculable years, even middle-aged people could scarcely remember when Michael Kelly's white head had not been associated in their minds with the sleepy, droning service of Drumcondra church. Ah, Michael Kelly! does not thy name recall the bygone days, when we sat in the old-fashioned square pew, with its high, narrow, uncomfortable seats, from which our legs dangled ungracefully; when we used to munch dry bread whilst the collection was being made! Our pew was near the little tank in which Michael sat, and whence he kept a watchful eye upon us youngsters, occasionally shaking his head and frowning ominously when our risibles defied all control, and a suppressed giggle went round the pew as some one of his peculiar modes of reading the responses struck us as being irresistibly comic. In his own opinion Michael was a very important person indeed, and when in conversation
with a stranger, he seldom failed to tell that he had, in his youth, been a sweetheart of Catherine Hayes's mother's; and, consequently, My dear sir, I was within an ace of being the father of the Swan of Erin!'*
To Michael then, in deference to his reputed learning, was the matter of the ghost referred one afternoon in the Glasnevin Botanicalgardens. The June roses were flinging their fragrance upon the sultry summer air, already laden with the burden of a thousand other sweet odours. A group of gardeners were working lazily a little apart from the space appropriated to the medicinal herbs, and near this latter place sauntered a young girl, the brightest blossom in the whole Botanical-gardens - merry, laughing Annie MacDermott. Nominally, Annie was studying botany under the superintendence of Tom Pearson, a tall good-looking young fellow of about seven-and-twenty who walked beside her. He was a clerk in Dublin Castle, and being an enthusiastic botanist and very much in love, the greater portion of his spare time was spent in the gardens, where he cultivated science and Annie MacDermott's acquaintance at the same time. We shall not intrude upon their studies at present, but approach the gardeners, and hear what Michael Kelly has to say about the ghost.
'I'm greatly exercised in me mind consarnin' it,' said Michael. I've been forty-five years livin' in the na'borhood, an' I never heerd tell av the like before.'
'An' d'ye think it's a raal live ghost, Misther Kelly?' inquired a gardener's man. 'Yeh have the larnin', an' ought t' know betther nor the likes av uz.'
'That's a logical question,' replied Michael, with an expression of preternatural gravity; an' only reducible an' deducible be the laws o' logic. Me sintimints wid regard t' the supernathral visithor wud purtake av the nathur av an hypothesis, an', such bein' the case, cudn't possibly lade t' a verification or idintification.'
Tundher-an-ouns! Misther Kelly, av yeh wor t' go an' meet the ghost, an' say all thim grand hard words t' him, why yeh'd be the ruination av him complately! The priest himself cudn't bate yeh.'
I wish some wan 'ud sind the sperrit t' the right-about!' exclaimed another man. 'Me ould woman sez she seen it the other night, an' ever sence she's afeard av findin' herself dead in her bed in the mornin'.'
They say it's no less nor the immortal remains av ould Dane Swift,' said the first speaker. He put his commedher an' a young woman that lived beyant there in the town, an' thin thrated
* We are perfectly aware that this bull has been cribbed and confined in other pastures; but to Michael Kelly the honour of being its originator we maintain. -E. O. B.
her very onhan'some; so the pinance he's condimmed t' do is to come back and hear what people sez about him.'
The Dane was a powerful clever man,' sententiously remarked Michael, with the air of an appreciative sympathiser with genius. Another grate pote called Shakespeare was discribin' the way the Dane praiched wanst, an' he said:
"The pulpit, dhrum ecclesiastic,
He bet wid his fist, instid iv a stick."
'Well, now, only listen t' that!' admiringly exclaimed one of his auditors. Bud here's another larned gintleman-Misther Pearson; maybe he can tell us somethin' about it.'
Tom Pearson, whose lady-love had gone off with some friends, now joined the group, his hands full of botanical specimens. The question of the ghost being referred to him, he laughed heartily, and addressing a quiet-looking gardener who had not yet spoken, he said:
'Jack Cassidy, you live up on the Tolka bank; you ought to be able to tell us something about this ghost. Have you ever seen it?' " Yes, sir, often and often! An' be me word, it isn't me that's consaited av th' acquaintance aither! There he goes, meandherin' about wid his black cassock, an' his black heart too; that ye can see in his ugly face.'
Are you not afraid of the ghost, Jack?'
'Yeh may well ax that, sir. The sorra dhry schreed there's an me sometimes wid the pasp'ration! Me business brings me out at ontimely hours, an' only I'm dhruv to it, the sorra bit o' me 'ud go in the way av seein' the ould naygar!' And Jack put his working implements into the barrow and wheeled it away, thereby avoiding any farther conversation. Tom Pearson was farthermore informed that there was not a boy' in or about Glasnevin who would venture alone along the Tolka bank after nightfall.
Sure enough, in a few days Tom found that all the barony was talking about the ghost, and the united testimony of the district went to confirm the report that a supernatural visitor of some kind or other haunted the Tolka bank. He was told this one evening as he came home from Dublin on the top of the omnibus; but the subject soon dropped out of his mind, for he was on his way to take tea at Drumcondra, where he expected to meet Annie MacDermott. Yes, Annie was there, looking distractingly pretty in a thick white piqué dress. According to her wont, she snubbed Tom most unmercifully; laughed at him when he recounted the latest intelligence concerning the ghost; and succeeded in putting him into such a whirl of alternate despair and delight, that when the hour for departure came, and her brother had not arrived to take her home, his happiness was consummated by her graciously accepting his escort to Glasnevin.
It was a sultry night, and Annie wore no wrappings save a white, cloud-like woollen shawl. The moon shone clearly, revealing every object as distinctly as in the noonday. When they came
to the corner, Annie said:
'I wish you would come home by the Tolka bank; it is by far the shorter way; moreover, we might have a chance of seeing Dean Swift's ghost.'
Now, it was all very well for lively Annie to make such a suggestion, but some people are nervous where the supernatural is in question, and Tom was one of these unfortunates. He was truly in a dilemma. Should he face the probabilities of meeting the ghost, or run the gauntlet of Annie's quizzing? Somehow or other he had an instinctive feeling that women despised cowards, so mustering up all his courage, he said bravely:
By all means! let us go that way.'
They walked along for a little time, chatting gaily, and at last Annie remarked:
'That stupid old ghost! I wonder he does not join us. sure it would be far more pleasant than going about by himself.'
Tom, whose head was as soft as his heart, was incoherently muttering some sentimental reply as to the pleasure of their being only in each other's company, when his companion grasped his arm tightly, and, with a gasp, exclaimed hoarsely :
'Good heavens! Tom, there IT is!'
They were standing just behind a little belt of pines, from whence they could see without being seen. The girl trembled violently. Tom, paralysed with terror, stood grasping her hand; neither could move.
On it came a rather tall figure walking slowly and deliberately. By the clear moonlight, the watchers were enabled to distinguish every detail distinctly-the white stern face; the shovelhat; the long, old-fashioned, clerical coat; the knee-breeches and gaiters; the shoes with buckles; the book which it carried, and which it was, to all appearance, intently perusing. It was within a yard of the corner where Tom and Annie stood, when the latter, unable to control her over-wrought feelings, gave a faint moan, just as the ghost came face to face with her.
Strange, most strange, but O, most true! The ghost dropped its book, its teeth chattered audibly, its knees knocked together, and it exclaimed in a rich brogue:
'Och, holy St. Dinis! what's this for at-all-at-all ! Here's a raal ghost comin' t' take me aff fur purtindin' t' be wan av his fambily! Och, shure, av it's jealous yeh are, I'll nivir come here agin!'
'Jack Cassidy!' ejaculated Annie.
'Jack Cassidy!' ejaculated Tom. And they both came forward.