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The Purcell Papers
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Pages (PDF): 286
Publication Date: 1880
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The Purcell Papers are a collection of thirteen Gothic, supernatural, historical and humorous short stories. Included are: The Ghost and the Bone-Setter; The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh; The Last Heir of Castle Connor; The Drunkard's Dream; Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess; The Bridal of Carrigvarah; Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter; Scraps of Hibernian Ballads; Jim Sulivan's Adventures in the Great Snow; A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family; An Adventure of Hardress Fitzgerald, a Royalist Captain; The Quare Gander; and, Billy Maloney's Taste of Love and Glory.
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In looking over the papers of my late valued and respected friend, Francis Purcell, who for nearly fifty years discharged the arduous duties of a parish priest in the south of Ireland, I met with the following document. It is one of many such; for he was a curious and industrious collector of old local traditions — a commodity in which the quarter where he resided mightily abounded. The collection and arrangement of such legends was, as long as I can remember him, his hobby; but I had never learned that his love of the marvellous and whimsical had carried him so far as to prompt him to commit the results of his inquiries to writing, until, in the character of residuary legatee, his will put me in possession of all his manuscript papers. To such as may think the composing of such productions as these inconsistent with the character and habits of a country priest, it is necessary to observe, that there did exist a race of priests — those of the old school, a race now nearly extinct — whose education abroad tended to produce in them tastes more literary than have yet been evinced by the alumni of Maynooth.
It is perhaps necessary to add that the superstition illustrated by the following story, namely, that the corpse last buried is obliged, during his juniority of interment, to supply his brother tenants of the churchyard in which he lies, with fresh water to allay the burning thirst of purgatory, is prevalent throughout the south of Ireland.
The writer can vouch for a case in which a respectable and wealthy farmer, on the borders of Tipperary, in tenderness to the corns of his departed helpmate, enclosed in her coffin two pair of brogues, a light and a heavy, the one for dry, the other for sloppy weather; seeking thus to mitigate the fatigues of her inevitable perambulations in procuring water and administering it to the thirsty souls of purgatory. Fierce and desperate conflicts have ensued in the case of two funeral parties approaching the same churchyard together, each endeavouring to secure to his own dead priority of sepulture, and a consequent immunity from the tax levied upon the pedestrian powers of the last-comer. An instance not long since occurred, in which one of two such parties, through fear of losing to their deceased friend this inestimable advantage, made their way to the churchyard by a short cut, and, in violation of one of their strongest prejudices, actually threw the coffin over the wall, lest time should be lost in making their entrance through the gate. Innumerable instances of the same kind might be quoted, all tending to show how strongly among the peasantry of the south this superstition is entertained. However, I shall not detain the reader further by any prefatory remarks, but shall proceed to lay before him the following:
Extract from the MS. Papers of the late Rev. Francis Purcell, of Drumcoolagh.
I tell the following particulars, as nearly as I can recollect them, in the words of the narrator. It may be necessary to observe that he was what is termed a well-spoken man, having for a considerable time instructed the ingenious youth of his native parish in such of the liberal arts and sciences as he found it convenient to profess — a circumstance which may account for the occurrence of several big words in the course of this narrative, more distinguished for euphonious effect than for correctness of application. I proceed then, without further preface, to lay before you the wonderful adventures of Terry Neil.
‘Why, thin, ’tis a quare story, an’ as thrue as you’re sittin’ there; and I’d make bould to say there isn’t a boy in the seven parishes could tell it better nor crickther than myself, for ’twas my father himself it happened to, an’ many’s the time I heerd it out iv his own mouth; an’ I can say, an’ I’m proud av that same, my father’s word was as incredible as any squire’s oath in the counthry; and so signs an’ if a poor man got into any unlucky throuble, he was the boy id go into the court an’ prove; but that doesn’t signify — he was as honest and as sober a man, barrin’ he was a little bit too partial to the glass, as you’d find in a day’s walk; an’ there wasn’t the likes of him in the counthry round for nate labourin’ an’ baan diggin’; and he was mighty handy entirely for carpenther’s work, and men din’ ould spudethrees, an’ the likes i’ that. An’ so he tuk up with bone-settin’, as was most nathural, for none of them could come up to him in mendin’ the leg iv a stool or a table; an’ sure, there never was a bone-setter got so much custom-man an’ child, young an’ ould — there never was such breakin’ and mendin’ of bones known in the memory of man. Well, Terry Neil — for that was my father’s name — began to feel his heart growin’ light, and his purse heavy; an’ he took a bit iv a farm in Squire Phelim’s ground, just undher the ould castle, an’ a pleasant little spot it was; an’ day an’ mornin’ poor crathurs not able to put a foot to the ground, with broken arms and broken legs, id be comin’ ramblin’ in from all quarters to have their bones spliced up. Well, yer honour, all this was as well as well could be; but it was customary when Sir Phelim id go anywhere out iv the country, for some iv the tinants to sit up to watch in the ould castle, just for a kind of compliment to the ould family — an’ a mighty unplisant compliment it was for the tinants, for there wasn’t a man of them but knew there was something quare about the ould castle. The neighbours had it, that the squire’s ould grandfather, as good a gintlenlan — God be with him — as I heer’d, as ever stood in shoe-leather, used to keep walkin’ about in the middle iv the night, ever sinst he bursted a blood vessel pullin’ out a cork out iv a bottle, as you or I might be doin’, and will too, plase God — but that doesn’t signify. So, as I was sayin’, the ould squire used to come down out of the frame, where his picthur was hung up, and to break the bottles and glasses — God be marciful to us all — an’ dthrink all he could come at — an’ small blame to him for that same; and then if any of the family id be comin’ in, he id be up again in his place, looking as quite an’ as innocent as if he didn’t know anything about it — the mischievous ould chap.
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