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The Feast Of O'rourke

Irish Humour Home

Swift had been heard to say more than once that he should like to pass a
few days in the county of Leitrim, as he was told that the native Irish
in that part were so obstinately attached to the rude manners of their
ancestors, that they could neither be induced by promises, nor forced
by threats, to exchange them for those of their neighbors. Swift, no
doubt, wished to know what they would get by the exchange. Mr. Core was
resolved that the Dean should be indulged to the fullest extent of his
wish; for this purpose he had a person posted in Cavan, who was to give
him immediate notice when the Dean arrived in that town, which he
usually did once a year, and where he remained a day or two or longer,
if the weather was not fair enough to travel. The instant Mr. Gore was
informed of the Dean's arrival, he called and invited him to pass a few
days at a noble mansion which he had just finished on a wing of his own
estate in that county. The Dean accepted the invitation; and, as the
season was fine, every thing as he advanced excited his attention; for,
like other men, he was at times subject to the skyey influence, and
used to complain of the winds of March, and the gloom of November.

Mr. Gore had heard so much of Swift's peculiar manners that he was
determined he should have his way in every thing; but was resolved,
however, that he should be entertained in the old Irish style of
hospitality, which Mr. Gore always kept up to such a degree, that his
house might be called a public inn without sign. The best pipers and
harpers were collected from every quarter, as well as the first singers,
for music is an essential ingredient in every Irish feast. The Dean was
pleased with many of the Irish airs, but was peculiarly struck with the
Feast of O'Rourke, which was played by Jeremy Dignum, the Irish
Timotheus, who swept the lyre with flying fingers, when he was told that
in the judgment of the Dean, he carried off the spolia opima from all
the rest of the musical circle. The words of the air were afterwards
sung by a young man with so much taste and execution, that the Dean
expressed a desire to have them translated into English. Dr. Gore told
him that the author, a Mr. Macgowran, lived at a little distance, and
that he would be proud to furnish a literal translation of his own
composition either in Latin or English, for he was well skilled in both
languages. Mr. Gore accordingly sent for the bard, the Laureate of the
Plains, as he called himself, who came immediately. I am very well
pleased, said the Dean, with your composition. The words seem to be
what my friend Pope calls 'an echo to the sense.' I am pleased and
proud, answered Macgowran, that it has afforded you any amusement: and
when you, Sir, addressing himself to the Dean, put all the strings of
the Irish harp in tune, it will yield your Reverence a double pleasure,
and perhaps put me out of my senses with joy. Macgowran, in a short
time, presented the Dean with a literal translation, for which he
rewarded him very liberally, and recommended him to the protection of
Mr. Gore, who behaved with great kindness to him as long as he lived.
To this incident we are indebted for the translation of a song or poem,
which may be called a true picture of an Irish feast, where every one
was welcome to eat what he pleased, to drink what he pleased, to say
what he pleased, to sing what he pleased, to fight when he pleased, to
sleep when he pleased, and to dream what he pleased; where all was
native--their dress the produce of their own shuttle--their cups and
tables the growth of their own woods--their whiskey warm from the still
and faithful to its fires! The Dean, however, did not translate the
whole of the poem; the remaining stanzas were translated some years
since by Mr. Wilson, as follow:--

Who rais'd this alarm?
Says one of the clergy,
And threat'ning severely,
Cease fighting, I charge ye.

A good knotted staff,
The full of his hand,
Instead of the Spiradis,
Back'd his command.

So falling to thrash,
Fast as he was able,
A trip and a box
Stretch'd him under the table.

Then rose a big friar,
To settle them straight,
But the back of the fire
Was quickly his fate.

From whence he cried out,
Do you thus treat your pastors!
Ye that scarcely were bred
To the sewn wise masters;

That when with the Pope
I was getting my lore,
Ye were roasting potatoes
At the foot of Sheemor.

Next: Swift's Behavior At Table

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