A Batch Of Interesting Anecdotes

In his Personal Sketches, Sir Jonah Barrington gives us a portrait of

Father O'Leary:--

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.