A Batch Of Interesting Anecdotes
In his Personal Sketches, Sir Jonah Barrington gives us a portrait of
I frequently had an opportunity of meeting at my father-in-law Mr.
Grogan's, where he often dined, a most worthy priest, Father O'Leary,
and have listened frequently, with great zest, to anecdotes which he
used to tell with a quaint yet spirited humor, quite unique. His manner,
his air, his countenance, all bespoke wit
talent, and a good heart. I
liked his company excessively, and have often regretted I did not
cultivate his acquaintance more, or recollect his witticisms better. It
was singular, but it was a fact, that even before Father O'Leary opened
his lips, a stranger would say, 'That is an Irishman,' and, at the same
time, guess him to be a priest.
One anecdote in particular I remember. Coming from St. Omers, he told
us, he stopped a few days to visit a brother-priest in the town of
Boulogne-sur-Mer. Here he heard of a great curiosity, which all people
were running to see--curious bear that some fishermen had taken at sea
out of a wreck; it had sense, and attempted to utter a sort of lingo,
which they called patois, but which nobody understood.
O'Leary gave his six sous to see the wonder which was shown at the port
by candle-light, and was a very odd kind of animal, no doubt. The bear
had been taught a hundred tricks, all to be performed at the keeper's
word of command. It was late in the evening when O'Leary saw him, and
the bear seemed sulky; the keeper, however, with a short spike fixed at
the end of a pole, made him move about briskly. He marked on sand what
o'clock it was, with his paw; and distinguished the men and women in a
very comical way: in fact, our priest was quite diverted. The beast at
length grew tired--the keeper hit him with the pole--he stirred a
little, but continued quite sullen; his master coaxed him--no! he would
not work! At length, the brute of a keeper gave him two or three sharp
pricks with the goad, when he roared out most tremendously, and rising
on his hind-legs, swore at his tormentors in very good native Irish.
O'Leary waited no longer, but went immediately to the mayor, whom he
informed that the blackguard fishermen had sewed up a poor Irishman in a
bear's-skin, and were showing him about for six sous! The civic
dignitary, who had himself seen the bear, would not believe our friend.
At last, O'Leary prevailed on him to accompany him to the room. On their
arrival, the bear was still on duty, and O'Leary stepped up to him,
says:--'Cianos tha'n thu, a Phadhrig?' (How d'ye do, Pat?) 'Slan, go
raimh math agut!' (Pretty well, thank you,) says the bear. The people
were surprised to hear how plainly he spoke--but the mayor ordered him
directly to be ripped up; and after some opposition, and a good deal of
difficulty, Pat stepped forth stark naked out of the bear's-skin wherein
he had been fourteen or fifteen days most cleverly stitched. The women
made off--the men stood astonished--and the mayor ordered his keepers to
be put in goal unless they satisfied him; but that was presently done.
The bear afterwards told O'Leary that he was very well fed, and did not
care much about the clothing; only they worked him too hard: the
fishermen had found him at sea on a hencoop, which had saved him from
going to the bottom, with a ship wherein he had a little venture of
dried cod from Dungarvan, and which was bound from Waterford to Bilboa.
He could not speak a word of any language but Irish, and had never been
at sea before: the fishermen had brought him in, fed him well, and
endeavored to repay themselves by showing him as a curiosity.
O'Leary's mode of telling this story was quite admirable. I never heard
any anecdote (and I believe this one to be true) related with such
genuine drollery, which was enhanced by his not changing a muscle
himself, while every one of his hearers was in a paroxysm of laughter.
Another anecdote he used to tell with incomparable dramatic humor. By
the bye, all his stories were somehow national; and this gives me
occasion to remark, that I think Ireland is, at this moment, as little
known in many parts of the Continent as it seems to have been then. I
have myself heard it more than once spoken of as an English town. At
Nancy, where Father O'Leary was travelling, his native country happened
to be mentioned when one of the party, a quiet French farmer of
Burgundy, asked, in an unassuming tone, 'If Ireland stood encore?'
'Encore,' said an astonished John Bull, a courier coming from
Germany--'encore! to be sure she does; we have her yet, I assure you,
monsieur.' 'Though neither very safe, nor very sound,' interposed an
officer of the Irish Brigade, who happened to be present, looking very
significantly at O'Leary, and not very complacently at the courier. 'And
pray, monsieur,' rejoined John Bull to the Frenchman, 'why encore?'
'Pardon, monsieur,' replied the Frenchman, 'I heard it had been worn
out (fatigue) long ago, by the great number of people that were living
in it.' The fact is, the Frenchman had been told, and really understood,
that Ireland was a large house, where the English were wont to send
their idle vagabonds, and from whence they were drawn out again, as they
were wanted, to fill the ranks of the army.