William Carleton Bicentenary 1794 – 1869

From:
Clann MacKenna Family History Society – Book 4
Published in
Article No: 11 – Page: 48

This volume is still for sale Get Order Form

Carleton’s books give a picture of life in MacKenna Country over 100 years ago.

We have now reached 1994, the bi-centenary of the birth of Tyrone’s greatest son William Carleton, that well-known man whom William Butler Yeates described his as “the best author that ever looked through Irish eyes”.

William Carleton, writer and storyteller, was born in Prillisk in 1794. His father was a small farmer who shared the hardships of many of his class in prefamine Ireland. The family moved several times — to Townagh, Nurchasy (in Aghintaine) and Springtown, where Carleton’s house can still be seen. Carleton was a native Irish speaker who was educated in local ‘hedge’ schools in Clogher: in Townagh, in a barn in Cavanacark, in a sod house in Skelgagh – which had a fire in the center, a hole in the roof for the smoke and round stones for seats in a barn in Tullanavert and in a classical school in Glennan in the parish of Donagh. He moved to Dublin in 1819 where he began writing about the countryside and communities of his youth.

Carleton’s writings represent an authentic record of Clogher and the surrounding districts in the years before the Famine when the population was teeming through the countryside, when Irish was still widely spoken in the area, when sectarian violence was widespread and poverty was endemic. In his youth Carleton moved freely throughout the Clogher Valley, and his knowledge of both the Roman Catholic and Protestant faiths placed him in a unique position to write on 19th Century Irish famines. Carleton’s journalistic and literary works such as ‘The Very Genius of Famine’ from The Black Prophet (1846) and ‘The Agent of Doom’ from Valentine McClutchy (1845) portray more vividly than most the effects of the failure of the potato upon ‘the Peasantry’ through his vivid descriptions and characterisation. His works portray not only political and social insight into the period, but a literary genius, exemplified by his use of pivotal figures. Carleton bridges both the local and national communities to reinforce his arguments. Many obvious parallels can be drawn between famine in Carleton’s time and the modern plight of many hunger stricken countries of the third World.

WILLIAM CARLETON AND THE IRISH LITERARY TRADITION

Although he lived and worked for most of his adult life in Dublin, William Carleton is best remembered for his evocation of the way of life which he experienced in his early days in the Clogher Valley. He portrayed the people, his own neighbours at Pro1osk, Towney and Springtown, in their many moods and engaged in a range of activities, with a liveliness in which homor and pathos, if not tragedy, were often set side by side. His most celebrated work remains his collections of tales published in 1830 and 1833, Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry. Carleton witnessed the effects of the Famine on the people and recalled what things were like before the Famine, in the Valley he knew as a youth. Carleton’s language in his stories is a stirabout of tongues, a mixture of Irish, bog-Latin, English and Ulster dialect. His stories portray the energy, color and honor Of rural Ireland in the early nineteenth century_ He retained the innocence and wonder of his childhood and through wonder and exaggeration graphically described the things he saw.

HOW WRITERS VIEW CARLETON

Carleton’s picture of life in Ulster is the only genuine record of the period: we see him robbing an Orange orchard, following Anne Duffy home after chapel, performing remarkable feats of strength, like throwing the weight higher over the beam than the big muscled local miller, Frank Farrell. Irish peasant life was at its most lively, before the dark plunge downwards of the famine years, and Carleton, a born mimic and sensitive, gathered his material instinctively, as a bee secrets honey John Montague (1952). Drawing on his vivid memories of his childhood in County Tyrone, Carleton presents with Chaucerian largesse a great gallery of lively country characters, pouring forth a memorable series of portraits of hedge school-masters, faction fighters, dancing masters, ‘poor scholars’, country fiddlers, and setting the country folk of his youth to their favorite activities at fairs and weddings, at wakes and pilgrimages.John Cronin (1984).

No Irish Novelist, and few elsewhere, has so crammed the landscape of his imagination with lively, laughing, tragic inhabitants. Other writers have left us neater, better documented accounts of great events in our history, but none has given us such vivid report and recreation of the life of the Irish peasant. – John Hewitt (1974). Though there is a dark side to Carleton, a part of him seems often to have been tortured almost beyond bearing by the perennial murderous ferocity of the human heart, beyond and perhaps above this is a delight in the re-creation of a world which to him, after all, was really the ordinary one? — Anthony Cronin (1962). All Carleton’s best work is true to that medieval texture of Irish Catholic life, where the same breath that utters a Hail Mary suffices to shoo the chickens off the floor or the cat from the jug of cream. — Patrick Kavanagh (1945). William Carleton was a great Irish historian. The history of a nation is not parliaments and battlefields but in what the people say to each other on fair days and high days, and in how they farm, and quarrel and go on pilgrimage. These things has Carleton recorded. — W. B. Yeats (1889).

THE OLD WAYS

ln 1930 Rose Shaw said that many of the customs, stories and past-times in the area were the same as in Carleton’s time a century before: “The homes of the people were warm and comfortable. A turf fire burns on the hearth and above it hangs the big iron pot full of potatoes or stirabout. The old bread-iron for toasting oat cake and the ‘tilly’ lamp have their places on the wall. In some houses the potatoes, when boiled, are turned out on a Hat home-made basket – a ‘scrahag’ – which is placed on a pail in the middle of the floor. The family sit around it on stools, each with a noggin of buttermilk in his hand to ‘kitchen’ the repast . . . In the long winter evenings the oats may be threshed with flails on the hard earthen floor of the house, or perhaps some of the neighbours may ‘happen in’ on their ‘kailyee’ (céili) and there will be fiddling and dancing and old songs and stories”. ln the twenty years following, however, great changes occurred in Ireland and the Clogher Valley, and many would agree that Rose Shaw’s timeless romantic view in the 1930s took little account of the poverty that prevailed and was hinted at in her photographs of barefoot women in their farmyards.

THE MASS GARDEN

“Within my own memory, there was nothing in existence for the Catholics for the worship of God except the mere altar, covered with a little open roof to protect the priest from the rain, which it was incapable of doing. In my early life, three such ‘altars’ were the only substitutes for chapels in my native parish which is one of the largest in the diocese. There was always a little plot of green sward allowed to be annexed to the altar, on which the congregation could kneel; and as these plots and little altars were always on the roadside, they presented something very strange and enigmatical to such as did not understand their meaning, for the following reason. During the winter months and wet weather in general, those of both sexes who attended worship were obliged to bring with them small trusses of either hay or straw on which to kneel, as neither man nor woman could kneel on a wet sward, through which the moist yellow clay was oozing, without soiling or disfiguring their dress, or catching cold from the damp. These small trusses were always left on the place of worship, lying within a foot of each other . . . “(William Carleton).


From:
Clann MacKenna Family History Society – Book 4
Published in
Article No: 11 – Page: 48
This volume is still for sale Get Order Form
Please Register or Login

Comments are closed.