HERE’S IRELAND (1925)
353 pgs; 12 plates of Speakman’s paintings,
plus several caricatures by “Mac” of Dublin;
Dodd, Mead & Co.
“Between Joseph Conrad on the Torrens and Pierre Loti on the Redoubtable there are many degrees of literary latitude. These writers, one may say, have charted the farthest practicable courses into the cold and the heat.
Others of us who attempt a book beyond our native horizons will do very well, I believe, to give an occasional thought to those early explorers. Otherwise – though we sail quite serenely out over the edges of our map – we may shortly lose ourselves in a welter of spouting whales and pale shadows and sexities, becoming engaged from that time forth in a sort of myth of ourselves in which we are the fancy-man of sixteen shiny Nubian ladies, or in which we slaughter one thousand and two terrific Tartars from Tibet every morning before breakfast.
These things are not so bad at their inception, but they must be simply hellish to live up to. What could be more horrid – when you are feeling a bit lily-pale and grippish, with a headache and a cold in the nose – than to have someone come reminding you of the sixteen bulbous Nubian ladies or the one thousand and two bloody Tartars!
Of course to get readers – gentle readers, rough readers, or even proof readers – a writer might be quite willing to “do such”, even in Mr. Kipling’s use of the term.
On the other hand, there is something, which, for want of a better word, is called integrity. What it is we hardly know. We recognize it only as a rare and beautiful thing toward which we grope quite blindly, trying to catch some slight reflection of its depth and richness into our eyes and heart.
Men may be found who will explain with words just what integrity is, particularly, what literary integrity is. But for all that, the best writers of to-day, judged in the light of a thousand years hence, will perhaps have come no nearer to comprehending it than little children who keep pronouncing over and over some old and wise saying which they have heard but which they do not understand.
The great and comforting answer is that all of us – those of low degree as well as high – may keep on. Certainly for all who write, integrity is a thing to strive for and fight for, and perhaps, when no one else is about, even to pray for.
But sometimes, on rare and happy occassions, the subject to be written about is so vital, so salutary, and at the same time so colorful that veracity is preserved as naturally as the stamen is held and preserved by the petals of a flower. When futhermore, the subject is one which keeps the tears never very far from the eyes, nor laughter from the lips, nor frowns from the brow, and which keeps the blood of life racing through the arteries, then the writing becomes a benediction and joy.
It is therefore with a full smile without and a full heart within that I begin putting together these notes on that magnificent, good-natured, angry, laughter-loving, whimsical country called Ireland.
As to the book itself, there will be very few bedads and begobs and begorrahs herein, for there are infinately fewer in Ireland than some of our romancers would have us believe. When you find one in these pages, you may give it the full value of its rotundity, for it will be fresh from the lips of a living man. There is of course, the Irish idiom, varying somewhat throughout the country, and this must be attempted (not however, by marked changes in the spelling such as “th’ thrile iv th’ haynious murtherer iv his childer” for such a book would not only be a monumental bore, but it would give a false impression of Ireland).
Nearly all the paintings were made “between-showers” as stated on the title page and described in the text, during a journey through the wettest Irish summer in nearly fifty years. The incisive caricatures in black and white, which need no such apology, appear through the generosity of my loyal friend “Mac” of Dublin.
There will be found in this book the opinions of Irishmen of various creeds, classes, localities and traditions. Some of these opinions are exaggerated and distorted, for it is the nature of many people to distort and exaggerate; but it is by the reproduction of these very exaggerations that the picture becomes true. The reader with clear eyes will understand these things.
Here will be found very little about politics, so little that someone may say, “This man has not penetrated to the political values of Ireland.” My answer is, that I have tried to penetrate to those values of life which I sincerely believe lie closer to humanity than political values.
This may be added – that if, in our time of accelerated travel, I started out on my journey with a donkey, it was not through any eccentricity, or any craving for sensation, but as simply as the result of a wish to come as near as I could to the land and the people of the land. I purposely carried no letters of introduction to Ireland, I did not know a soul in the country, north or south; yet in this book will be found many men and women whom one would hardly expect to chance upon with a donkey.
How is this explained? By some particular virtue on the part of the writer? Dear veritas – NO! It has nothing to do with the writer at all – or at most in only this: that he found no appreciable flaw, either high or low, in the fine spirit of Irish hospitality, and that through this same hospitality, and the kindness of Ireland as a whole, he has come by material for laughter and gravity and tears which, (St. Patrick willing) he will fashion into the pages of this book.” – Harold Speakman
Excerpt Page 2 (Arrival at Cork):
“Then counteracting these memories came another – the memory of a returned, fatted prodigal, holding forth in a raucous trumpet voice to a group of friendly souls who had wished to pledge his health after the custom of the land.
‘It’s the law in my country,’ he ranted, ‘that we must not drink alcoholic liquor. No-siree! And if the law says that, it means it abroad as well as at home. And I say that a man is not a good citizen of our country if he takes a drink when he is out of that country either.’ He looked about him like a smug angel about to fasten the fiery sword to the golden gate. Even if he were right, his righteousness made him wrong. One preferred, like Aucassin, to be in hell with better company. I started to move away, but he caught me with terrible eye. ‘You’re an American like myself. Don’t you say so too?’ he asked in a large, pious voice.
‘No,’ I said with some heat. ‘I’m just going out for a drink.'”
Excerpt Page 110:
Meanwhile Herself [the donkey, Grania] was being well cared for in the best hostelry in Limerick, which was no more than she deserved. But it was a little expensive. Four shillings a day for a donkey which cost forty, filled the eleventh day of one’s saty with a vague sense that something was economically wrong. Nevertheless, I would no more have parted with her for economic reasons than I would have parted with an old and tried friend. We were now quite familiar with each other’s faults and virtues. She made no comment on mine, but hers I made into a list:
1. She would invariably stop before every public house along the road.
2. Rain reduced her speed at least forty per cent.
3. She preferred raisin bread to plain bread.
4. If I were eating an apple, she demanded the core as her right.
5. A three minutes’ roll on the road gave her a new lease on life.
6. She would drink only the purest water, from well or spring or mountain brook.
7. Oats, mixed with a little crushed corn and bran were best.
8. It usually took a full hour on the road in the morning and sometimes a good thwack before she awakened to the serious nature of our undertaking.
Excerpt Page 113:
“Killaloe…is a difficult place to describe. It is separated from the Shannon by a road and a canal with canal boasts, both of which lie parallel to the river. A railroad runs along the opposite bank with a ribbon of woods beyond. When one looks out of the window of the Shannon View Hotel directly across the long bridge, one sees a strip of sky for the birds, a breadth of woods for the animals, a flashing line of railroad for those in a hurry, a width of river for the salmon, a quiet band of canal for the slow cargo boats, and a white streak of road for those who go on foot.
The principal street of the town with its small, color-washed houses, runs steeply up a hill beyond the highroad like a street in Naples – a Naples, however, scrubbed within an inch of its life.
At the far end of the village, I came upon a little old cottage with so much whitewash and plaster gone from its stone walls that the brown, time-darkened field-stones and motar showed through in a pattern more naive and beautiful than could come out of any architect’s draughting room in the world. There was a crumbling stone shed beside it – leaning against it, in fact – and both house and shed had roofs of rough slate with cushions of yellow moss growing between the slates. A cottage this, about which could be woven a thousand dreams and a thousand gentle fantasies; a cottage like that in the Land of Memory where the grandparents of Mytyl and Tyltyl in Maeterlinck’s Bluebird lived.
As I stood before it in deep and sincere admiration, an old woman in a cap came to the door. It was clear by the expression of her face that she misunderstood my attention.
‘Why should he, who is young and rich and healthy and finely dressed be scorning and disrepecting that which is already old and withered and melting piece by piece into the ground?’
I could see these thoughts written so plainly on her face that there rose in me an instant desire to speak. I was not very young nor rich nor well, and as for my clothes, there were spots where they were very thin; and I had not been distaining her little house at all, but had been wishing with all my heart that I could take it up bodily and set it down again in a place called Union Square in a long ugly city among a young, restless hard-eyed people to show them how a house might grow old beautifully.
But before I could find words to say these things, she had shut the door. And I went on a little sadly, knowing that I too, and all of us, have so often misunderstood our fellows and have drawn away into the darkness of ourselves, closing many doors behind.