[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
The Irish question, in one shape or another, has been before the nation as far back as my memory serves me. It can truly be said of this perennial difficulty, as of the poor, that it is always with us. Grattan appealed, O'Connell threatened, and Parnell boycotted, and worse; and I will venture to predict that when the proverbial New Zealander sits comfortably ensconced upon the last of the ruined arches of, what will then be, the remnant of London Bridge, the first thing he will hear will be a wild Irish Patriot, addressing his countrymen upon the wrongs of " Ould Ireland," and the tyranny of the Saxons.
One Summer Vacation years ago, my old friend, the late Mr. Ridgway Harrison, a respected member of the Manx Bar, and I, paid a visit to the worse and wildest part of this distressful countryCounty Galway. On our way there we spent a few days in Dublin. Here I had my first experience of the nature of the lowerclass Irishman.
It was the anniversary of the fall of Sevastopol, and the Square, in which the Naval and Military Club was situated, was brilliantly illuminated, and the Club side of it densely packed, the Mounted Police being in the middle, but unable to move. I picked out a fair average tattered and torn Irish car-driver. He had holes in his elbows, the top of his hat was half off, his face and figure were the type of the real thing. " Pat," said I. " I want you to drive me as hard as the grey mare will go, through yonder Square, on the Club side, are you up' To it?" " Och !sure yer honour, jump up and I'll show you what the little mare can do." With that up I scrambled. Pat, in place of sitting on the driving seat, fairly stood up just on the car end of the shafts and with a sort of Red Indian war-whoop, jerked the reins, and set the animal off at a gallop. He literally ploughed his way through the crowd, shouting and shrieking by way of making bystanders clear out of the way. The Mounted Police were unable to interfere being fast in the centre; and the people shouted and swore and threatened. Pat only lashed the old mare the harder and shouted the louder, and finally, in some way, got through the crowd. Just then one of the fellows whose shoulder was grazed by the side of the car shouted, "Och! ye blackguard yer, what do yer mane, ye spalpeen ? "
"Och! sure. yer honour," said Pat to me; " just houd the reins till I jump down and thrash that dirty baste ! "
" No! No! Pat, stay where you are, and drive out of this or the Police will have us." I had the greatest difficulty in, at length, persuading him to go on, he, all the while protesting that he had plenty of time to thrash " the 'cratur " and get away before the Police could be after him, in that crowd. All this was pure unadulterated fun to Pat. He did not, as would an English cabby, ask for an extra fare; he took in the whole thing as an ordinary bit of frolic. I gave him a glass of " John Jamieson," and when we parted he said, " Bless yer honour! It's aisy to be seen that it's a rate gintleman, and one of the old stock ye are; and God save yer! " When would you find a " cabby" of anv other nation indulging in a like devil-me-care adventure and at the end of it giving you his blessing?
On the next daySundaywe attended service in the celebrated St. Patrick's Cathedral, where, through the kind influence of my old friend, the late Dr. Fleming, we obtained seats in the stalls. It was a crowded church the aisles being packed by visitors, who were compelled to stand through the entire service. The music, always magnificent in St. Patrick's, was, on that occasion, absolutely divine. The two Doctors of Music, the late Frank Robinson and his brother, sang in the choir. The words of the anthem were "I beheld, and lo! a great company which no man could number." The effect was indescribable. The voice of Frank Robinson was that of an angel; it has a sensitiveness, a touching tear in it, which brought two big ones into my eyes; but the effect was almost painful, as one felt that the voice was that of a delicate, finely-strung nature which might easily he shattered and become a mental wreck; and so alas! it subsequently did. Earth will never be thrilled by that voice again, until we hear it joining in the Heavenly Choir who will sing the final great Amen! But the service was not yet over. The then Bishop of Oxford Wilberforcepreached. It was a splendid effort of the highest art. Voice, manner, appearance, all were in his favour, besides which he was a master of rhetoric and elocution, and possessing, as he did, a richly endowed mind and a brilliant imagination, the " tout ensemble" was wonderfully fine. Never again can I expect to take part in a service so grand, in a cathedral so beautiful, and so richly associated with such thrilling memories of the past.
But I must not linger; our Galway reminiscences would fill a small volume in themselves; chiefest among them being an Irish wake, to which I went, in company with the Landlord of a small Inn, in the little village of Cong.