Francis A. Fahy – Kinvara
Mr Francis A. Fahy, Kinvara. Photo: Connacht Tribune 8th March 1924 p14

Mr Francis A. Fahy, Kinvara.
Photo: Connacht Tribune 8th March 1924 p14

The Ould Plaid Shawl

Not far from old Kinvara, in the merry month of May,
When birds were singing cheerily, there came across my way,
As if from out the sky above an angel chanced to fall,
A little Irish cailín in an ould plaid shawl.

She tripped along right joyously, a basket on her arm;
And, O ! her face, and, O ! her grace, the soul of saint would charm;
Her brown hair rippled o’er her brow, but greatest charm of all
Was her modest blue eyes beaming ‘neath her ould plaid shawl.

I courteously saluted her -” God save you, miss, says I;
“God save you. kindly, sir,” said she, and shyly passed me by;
Off went my heart along with her, a captive in her thrall,
Imprisoned in the corner of the ould plaid shawl.

Enchanted with her beauty rare, I gazed in pure delight,
Till round an angle of the road she vanished from my sight;
But ever since I sighing say, as I that scene recall,
“The grace of God about you and your ould plaid shawl.”

They may talk of highway robbers that, with pistols and with knives,
Make trembling travellers yield them up their money or their lives,
But think of me that handed out my heart and head and all
To a simple little cailín in an ould plaid shawl !

O! graceful the mantillas that the signorinas wear,
And tasteful are the bonnets of Parisian ladies fair,
But never cloak, or hood, or robe, in palace, bow’r, or hall
Clad half such witching beauty as that ould plaid shawl.

O! some men sigh for riches, and some men live for fame,
And some on history’s pages hope to win a glorious name;
My aims are not ambitious, and my wishes are but small –
You might wrap them all together in an ould plaid shawl.

I’ll seek her all through Galway, and I’ll seek her all through Clare,
I’ll search for tale or tidings of my traveller everywhere,
For peace of mind I’ll never find until my own I call
That little Irish cailín in an her plaid shawl.

Excerpt from NEW ZEALAND TABLET Friday March 16,1894.
Dublin notes
(From the Weekly Freeman p.21.)

Mr Francis A. Fahy’s new song, “The Little Red Fox,” is now admitted by the best critics to be one of the real lyrical successes of the season. Audiences at St James’s Hall and elsewhere have borne flattering testimony to its merits. It is a remarkably tuneful and fanciful lyric, with a genuinely Irish ring and spirit. Its rendering by Mr Plunket Greene is excellent. How much more interesting our Irish concerts would be if the songs and recitations were frequently varied. In that case some of Mr Fahy’s lyrics should become favourites. It were well if someone would make out for the branches a long list of the best songs and recitations since the publication of the’ Spirit of the Nation’, noting, of course, where they could be most readily obtained. Returning to Mr Fahy, l am glad to know that he has several other songs in contemplation.

Nation 8th January, 1870 p.7
KINVARA AMATEUR THEATRICALS – THE POLITICAL PRISONERS
(from a correspondent.)
On Monday evening the gentlemen of the above amateur company gave a dramatic entertainment at the courthouse, Kinvara, for the benefit of the wives and families of the political prisoners, which brought together a large and respectable audience to witness the production of a new piece, “The Last of the O’Learys,” specially written for the occasion by master Francis A. Fahy, a young gentleman only just attained the age of fifteen, whose extraordinary talent foreshadows a brilliant and successful future.

The temporary theatre was handsomely decorated, and the scenery and other properties, including dresses, were quite in keeping with the taste and judgment with which the pieces were put upon the stage. The young gentlemen who took part in the representation displayed a far more than adequate conception of the role entrusted to them, and acquitted themselves in a manner that elicited continuous and well-merited applause. As “The O’Leary,” Master Francis Fahy’s acting displayed a considerable amount of skill and histrionic merit, and repeatedly brought down the house. “Irelington,” and English adventurer, possessing the confiscated patrimony of the “O’Learys,” was admirably personated by Mr St. George Joyce; while “Bill Scratch,” his friend and accomplice, was as equally well delineated by Mr Joseph Fahy. The impersonation of “Larry Duggan,” by Mr H. Kilkelly, was rendered with much effect. Mr J.P.Linane, as “Captain Harly,” was most happy in his selection of the rollicking, swaggering English officer; as was also Mr T.F. O’Gorman, in the character of “Terry,” his valet. The other characters were equally well sustained. The amusements concluded with a laughable farce, entitled “The Spectre Bridegroom,” so that a pleasant and entertaining evening, in every sense, was enjoyed by those present; and we have only to add that the gentlemen who cater for the public amusement with such a noble object, are deserving of a meed of praise for their patriotism and public spirit. We understand the company propose giving a series of Irish entertainments.

——————————-

Nation 29th December 1888 p.3

Francis A. Fahy Commemorative Plaque

Francis A. Fahy
Commemorative Plaque

IRISH LITERARY CELEBRITIES
NO VII – Francis A. Fahy

Mr Fahy belongs to the young generation of Irish poets – having been born in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He first saw the light in Kinvara, a pleasant spot situated on the shores of Galway Bay, and is a member of a family well-known in the West for its unflinching devotion to the national cause. His father was the proprietor of the only hotel in that little town, where in times gone by, in the stormy period of ’48 as well as in the dark days of 1867, many a hunted rebel found shelter and generous hospitality. Mr Fahy received his primary training at the National School of Kinvara; but practically he is a self-educated man. In 1870, and when he was only fifteen years of age, he wrote a play entitled “The Last of the O’Learys,” which was performed under the auspices of the Amateur Dramatic Club of the town in aid of the fund which was being raised at the time for the wives and families of the Fenian prisoners. The Nation of the 8th of January, 1870, alluding to the juvenile playwright in a manner that must at this date be considered truly prophetic indeed observes; “The play was written by Master Francis A Fahy, a young gentleman who has only just attained the age of fifteen, whose extraordinary talent foreshadows a brilliant and successful future. Other bards as a rules make their debut in penning versicles to “Sol’s refulgent beams,” or to the blue eyes of imaginary nymphs; but Mr Fahy’s venture was, as may be seen, of a far more daring character. Fortune favoured Mr Fahy, for we find the budding minstrel’s name in the Nation for the first time on the 24th of December 1879, with a very promising poem, entitled “In Exile.”

Francis A. Fahy's birthplace. Photo: EO'D

Birthplace of Francis A. Fahy
Kinvara, Co. Galway
Photo: EO’D

Like John Boyle O’Reilly, William Collins, John Locke, Fanny Forrester, and many others of our poets, Mr Fahy has not laid eyes on his native land for many a year. In 1873, when he had attained his eighteenth Summer, he went to London, where he obtained employment as a clerk, and since then Ireland has been seen by him only in the fairy world of his own poetic dreams. For a long time he lived the life of a solitary in the big bustling Babylon on the banks of the Thames. It might be truly said of him that he was alone in the world. His solitude, however, was not that of a misanthrope, but of a scholar. He spent his leisure hours in the museums, reading and studying the standard works of English literature, and devoting much of his time to foreign languages, several of which he succeeded in mastering without the aid of a teacher. It was also during this period that he became thoroughly acquainted with the Irish tongue. Mr Fahy was over six years in London before he made a friend. There were no Irishmen of congenial spirits in the office where he was employed; and it was not until he formed the acquaintance of some of his compatriots, on Sundays, after attending Mass at the St. George’s Cathedral, that much of his country shyness wore off and he began to mix with the world.

In 1889 Mr Fahy, assisted by a few other enthusiastic Irishmen, started a branch of the Home Rule Confederation of Great Britain. His old love of theatricals having asserted itself once more, Mr Fahy instituted in this association a dramatic class; and amateur performances, in which he took a leading part, become some of the chief attractions of the society. This association afterwards became the Southwark Land League, and in due course of time the Southwark National League.

Postcards from home.

Postcards from home.

While assisting the political movement with his usual energy, Mr Fahy devoted most of his attention to its purely educational aspect. Rightly believing that knowledge was freedom’s best hope and guarantee, he founded, in 1882, the Southwark Junior Irish Literary Club, the object of which was to counteract the un-Irish training of Irish children, and to instruct them in all matters appertaining to the land of their forefathers. In this laudable enterprise he was ably seconded by Mrs A.M. Sullivan, Mrs C.J.A. Roe, Miss Thompson (“Meluisne”) and others. Meetings of this club were held on every Sunday, when from sixty to eighty Irish children were instructed in Irish song and story. To this good work Mr Fahy gladly gave up his Sunday afternoons, and his exertions were much appreciated by the Irish parents of South London. He, moreover, wrote for the use of these classes an Irish History in Rhyme, and compiled the Child’s First Songbook in three parts, all of which publications were very warmly commended by the Irish Press at the time.

From 1879 to 1882 Mr Fahy’s muse was mute. The author was apparently engaged in bracing himself up for the work before him. During this interval he was going through his literary novitiate. In August 1882, he contributed to Pat, a Dublin national comic, a humorous skit entitled “Political Economy, ” in which one readily discerns that favourite turn of mind which created in after years such side-splitting pieces as “Scarecrows” and the “Hottentots.” In January, 1883, the Southwark Irish Literary Club was established, mainly through his agency, and became the focus of Irish national literary talent in the British metropolis. The Southwark Club well merits the encomium of being called the first of Irish Literary Societies. Its members are not only assiduous students of Irish history, but firm believers in the cause of Irish nationality. Some of its older associates, such as John Augustus O’Shea and Halliday Sparling, made their literary reputations before it was started; but it can boast of having given birth to and nursed many valuable talents. Thanks to its fostering influence, it has added, and will add, no small number to the ranks of Irish litterateurs, historians and novelists, poets and essayists. Among the bright young spirits who promise to make their mark in Irish literature, and who may be aptly called the alumni, we may mention Messrs. John T. Kelly, W. P.Ryan, David J. O’Donoghue, and J.G.O’Keefe. Our own columns bear testimony from week to week of the good work that is being done by this literary and patriotic society. “Original Nights,’ we might observe, are a leading feature in the programme of this club, and it was for such occasions that Mr Fahy wrote the larger number of his poetical effusions.

An Dreolín or, the Wren - nom de plume of Francis A Fahy Eurasian-Wren Photo: Andreas Trepte  Wikimedia Commons

An Dreolín – the Wren – Francis A Fahy’s nom de plume
Photo: Andreas Trepte
Wikimedia Commons

Mr. Fahy was a constant contributor to the Weekly News from 1883 to 1887. He was also a contributor to The Nation, the Irish Fireside, the Liverpool Nationalist, and Young Ireland, in the columns of the last of which periodicals we find one of his longer poems, entitled “Eamon-an-Teanga.” The first – which we hope will be far from being the last – selection of his poems was published by the well-known firm of Gill and Son in January, 1887. Reviewing this volume, The Nation happened to state;

In the art of love, if we are to judge by his songs, Mr Fahy is a most accomplished proficient, though, it must be admitted, a sad flirt, for he addresses verses to Molly and Kitty and Norah that must have proved quite irresistible.

To this damning accusation the volatile bard responded with a metrical remonstrance, in which he vindicated his character for constancy in such sparkling style that the editor was forced to append to it the following crumb of comfort;

The foregoing poem, as partaking of the nature of an advertisement for a wife, would more suitable appear in our advertising columns; but inasmuch as we called attention to the susceptible poet’s wandering fancy, and thereby may, as he complains, have damaged his reputation as a faithful lover, we are willing to make him all the reparation in our power by assisting him to fix his hitherto unsettled affections.

In justice to ourselves, however, we must say that a perusal of Mr Fahy’s poems would lead the generality of people to fancy that he is not altogether a paragon of constancy in his devotion to the members of the fair sex. It may be that the subjects of his lyrics, Maureen, Nora, Irish Molly, Little Mary Cassidy, the Linnet of Killiney, and Kitty may be the phantoms of the poet’s fancy; or it may be that he is forced to console himself over the loss of one by writing love songs to all, but it is no less true that Mr Fahy has left himself open to the charge of being eager enough like another poet to wish that the entire sex had only one mouth in order that he might “kiss them all from North to South!”

Turning, however, from gay to grave – if, indeed, a critic can be grave in dealing with effusions so humerous as his we must observe that on the whole Mr Fahy is a genuine Irish Poet. There is nothing alien or foreign in his poems. He is preeminently kindly Irish of the Irish. Although the language in which he interprets the emotions of his soul is English, it is so only so far as the mere words are concerned. Mr Fahy gives us as faithful pictures of the modern Irish as Sir Samuel Ferguson gave of their Pagan forefathers. As Mr Halliday Sparling so justly observed speaking on this subject:
“There is always in Mr Fahy’s poems a sub-tone or minor chord of Gaelic sound – a characteristic which makes him one of the most Irish songwriters of the present day.” It is the possibility of producing such lyrics as Mr Fahy’s which creates the possibility of a modern Irish literature thoroughly racy of the soil.

Green Road, Kinvara Photo: EO'D

Green Road, Kinvara
Photo: EO’D

Mr Fahy has all the modesty of true talent. In one of his best poems, entitled “Dreolin” – the nom-de-plume, by-the-bye, over which he generally contributes to the Irish press – he says that he is the smallest of all the birds that sing on an Irish hillside – his lays being of land, of light, of life, of love. Then, in a few graphic strophes, he tells us what his aim would be. He would try to sing the hopes of a resurgent nation; he would hail the new light that is to dawn on a risen land; he would chaunt outlawed love, the forgotten famine graves, the dismantled ruins, the fireless hearths, and the wrecks and desolation of the past. But, he continues;

Blithe is my song to-day, for the volume is closed for aye,
The pages of grief and wrong thick-clotted with blood and tears,
And the story whose leaves unfold, its lines are of light and gold,
And tell of a life and hope to grow with the growing years.

And I see o’er the Eastern hills the flush of the dawning glow,
Whose glory shall fill the isle from centre to bounding sea,
Whose light from our shores shall chase the spectre of want and woe,
Whose radiance shall never fade while time on the earth shall be!

Canon's Lawn, Kinvara Photo: EO'D

Canon’s Lawn, Kinvara
Photo: EO’D

If we compare this lyric with the last in the volume, entitled, “I wish I were a Poet,” and if we take into consideration the fact that the author is personally of a most unassuming disposition, we cannot come to any other conclusion than that Mr Fahy errs on the side of what may be called self-effacement, and never does justice to his own talents. Although most of his poems are light, witty, and humorous, it must not be thought that he lacks pathos or earnestness. Like the race of which he is such a typical representative, one can detect the tear as well as the smile in his eye; for when, as in his “Home Longings,” in “Exile,” and in others of his productions, he mourns over the land of his dreams, or bewail his sad lot far from her rushing streams, he touches a chord in every Irishman’s heart that must respond under such subtle manipulation. Mr Fahy’s poems are, however, more the chaunts of hope than the caonis of despair. His muse is intensely national – so national, in fact, that one of the Unionist organs, referring to his recent volume, dubbed it “a shilling’s worth of sedition.” To give an instance of the hot, fiery ardour of his national poetic temperament, we cannot do better than quote in its entirety that ringing historical poem, entitled “Shaun O’Neill’s Defiance”;

gravestone

“And gird us round with fire and steel” Photo: EO’D

She offers pardon, friendship, grace,
If we now come before her throne,
And bend the knee in homage base,
And all our ancient rights disown;
But if that we refuse to kneel,
She’ll loose the vials of her wrath,
And gird us round with fire and steel,
And sweep us from her royal path.

If hate could kill, if will could win,
Then Shane were slain, Tir-Eoghain lost;
But proudly still, on fort and hill,
The Red Hand dares the foreman’s host;
And Shane still lives, and holds his own,
And ere his heart or hatred fail,
Or earth shall hear his dying groan
His sword shall widow half the Pale.

Forgets this keen she-fox the day,
In Bally-London’s royal place,
When, ‘midst her pomp and bright array,
We stood and met her face to face.
Her silken lords our bearing mocked,
And smiled askance, but held their breath;
We gripped our skians, it little lacked
The knaves had grinned the grin of death.

Kinvara Twilight Photo: Norma Scheibe

Kinvara Twilight
Photo: Norma Scheibe

I told her then, I tell her now –
O’Neills were monarchs of the North
Ere guilt sat throned on Norman brow,
Or hell yet spewed a Saxon forth;
Lords not by English grace or law,
But by a tenure centuries old –
Their clansmen’s love, their foemen’s awe,
The sword to win, the wit to hold.

What though, in shame to Niall’s race,
My father kissed her father’s hands,
And bend his neck for titles base,
And yielded up his tribal lands.
He took what it were shame to wear –
He gave what was not his to yield –
And, by the Cross his son shall dare
To mend his fault in town and field.

Her Grace was kind, she talked and smiled,
And vowed us friendship, honours, place –
But woe to Irish heart beguiled
To trust in one of Saxon race.
By secret ways she sought my life,
And ill defence her pledges fine,
Had I but met her hireling’s knife,
Or drank too deep of Essex’ wine.

Photo: EO'D

Photo: EO’D

Against us march her veterans old,
Thicker than leaves in Truich’s wood
And round us, primed with English gold,
Press hard her tools of Irish blood.
Traitors, who tighter forge your thrall!
Dogs, whom our lash has often cowed!
Our strong right hand shall speed ye all
To howl in hell for Shane the Proud.

Ay, “Proud” to-day, as in the hour
When through Ardmacha’s gates we burst,
And in the blaze of church and tower
Trampled in gore her flag accurst;
Made of the Pale a wailing waste,
Swept Uriel of Saxons free,
And Essex and his redcoats chased
Like hunted hares to Athacliath.

Likes she our speech! Faugh! words are wind
Bear thou my tale, good axe of mine,
Whose keen tongue oft has told my mind,
Cleaving thy way from crest to chine.
And see, where o’er Drumsaileach’s height,
Troops to his doom the welcome foe –
Fly out, Red Hand! ere falls the night
Our blades shall shame thy crimson glow!

Down the Glebe Photo: EO'D

Down the Glebe
Photo: EO’D

Francis A. Fahy is quite at home in his domestic effusions. Although many years have passed since he joined in the moneen in the cross-road dances or figured at a Galway pattern, the scenes of former days start-up ever vividly before his gaze. The enchantment which distance lends to the view may have thrown a glamour over these early memories of his. In any case, it is a recognised fact that exiled poets sing more captivatingly of their native land than those who have never left its shores. Ovid never spoke of the Roman renegades so touchingly as when he apostrophized them hundreds of miles away. Heinrich Heine, though he detested the Government of Germany, wept in Paris whenever he took up his pen to write of the Vaterland. Exile evokes the purest feelings of the heart and in most cases gives a powerful impetus to the inspiration of the poet. Time has by no means dimmed Mr Fahy’s recollections of the ways of Irish life. He knows to-day as much of the habits and characteristics of the peasants as if he never turned his back on dear old Kinvara. The following poem will enable the reader to judge of Mr Fahy’s knowledge in this department, for it gives us a beautiful but, nevertheless, a strikingly faithful picture of that kindly Irish hospitality which centuries of oppression could never banish from even the humblest of Irish homes;

The Claddagh Photo: EO'D

The Claddagh
Photo: EO’D

If you would like to see the height of hospitality,
The cream of kindly welcome, and core of cordiality;
Joys of old times are you wishing to recall again?
Oh! come down to Donovan’s, and there you’ll meet them all again.
Chorus:-
Cead mile failte they’ll give you down at Donovan’s,
As cheery as the springtime and Irish as the canabhan;
The wish of my heart is, if ever I had any one –
That every luck in life may linger with the Donovans.
Chorus:-
Soon as you lift the latch, little ones are meeting you;
Soon as you’re ‘neath the thatch, kindly looks are greeting you;
Scarce have you time to be holding out the fist to them,
Down by the fireside you’re sitting in the midst of them.
Chorus.
There sits the gray old man so flaithcamhail and so handsome,
There stand his sturdy sons, well worth a monarch’s ransom;
Songs the night long you may hear your heart’s delight of them.
Tales of old times they will tell you till you tire of them.
Chorus.
There bustles round the room the “lanhee-est” of vanithees,
Fresh as in her young bloom, and trying all she can to please;
In vain to maintain you won’t have a deorin more again
She’ll never let you rest till your glass is brimming o’er again.
Chorus.
There smiles the cailin deas – where on earth’s the peer of her?
The modest face, the sweet grace, the humour and the cheer of her!
Eyes like the skies when but twin stars beam above in them –
Oh! proud may be the boy that’s to light the lamp of love in them.
Chorus.
Then when you rise to go, ’tis “Ah then, now, sit down again!”
“Isn’t it the hast ye’re in?” and “Won’t you come round soon again?”
Your cothamor and had you’d better put astray from them,
The hardest job in life is to tear yourself away from them.
Chorus.

Downtown Kinvara Photo: EO'D

Downtown Kinvara
Photo: EO’D


Such a poem as this aptly illustrates Mr Fahy’s powers as a song writer. In fact, nearly all Mr Fahy’s effusions ring with the sweetest of melody. His mastery over rhyme and rhythm is unquestionable; and his love for “flowing measure” is so strong that we do not believe that he ever wrote as much as one line of blank verse. As a love-minstrel our author has all the cerre and flavour of the true Troubadour. If he had lived in the Middle Ages he would probably be found turning his guitar in a serenade to the divinities of his heart; but in this old prozy age of ours he must be content to salute his darlings through the pages of the press – a far less agreeable pastime than the other, but the only one available under the circumstances. In speaking of his love lays, however, we must add that there is nothing of the Swinburne school in them. They are free from all sensuousness or tawdry sentimentality. They are as pure and chaste as any lyric ever penned by Gerald Griffin or J.K. Casey. Our space unfortunately precludes the possibility of our giving the reader more than one of Mr Fahy’s amatory idyls. It is addressed to the favourite of his ladye-loves, “Kitty,” whom he appropriately terms the “Flower of the Flock”;

The Quay, Kinvara Photo: EO'D

The Quay, Kinvara
Photo: EO’D

Maid of all maids – and the wide earth is full of them,
Tender and witching, and slender and tall –
I know a maid takes the shine of the whole of them;
Kitty, agra, you outrival them all.
Pretty and sweet are you, neat and complete are you,
Type of the grace of an old Irish stock;
Rich are you, rare are you, fresh are you, fair are you –
Kitty, agra, you’re the flower of the flock.

All the long days at you, love I could gaze at you,
Lost in amaze as you slide through the dance,
Tripping it, skipping it, stepping it, keeping it –
Little feet, peeping, retire and advance.
Bright are the eyes of you, sare they tell lies of you,
If you could e’er at a poor fellow mock;
Tender each glance in them, little loves dance in them,
Looking askance at me, flower of the flock.

Theme of your gushing songs – Erin, her rights and wrongs;
Soaring you sing like a lark on the wing;
Waking the smile or sigh, making me laugh or cry,
Playing on my heart like an old fiddle-string.
Gate of my heart for you, opens apart for you,
Leaps out to meet you with joy when you knock;
Birds in the tree of you, jealous might be of you,
Stoirin imo chriodhe, of you, flower of the flock.

The Square, Kinvara Photo: EO'D

The Square, Kinvara
Photo: EO’D

When I kneel down at Mass, where are my thoughts, alas!
Nought but the light of a bright face I see;
All that my praying is, all that i’m saying is,
“God bless sweet Kitty, and keep her for me.”
Hourly I sigh for you , proudly I’d die for you,
Joyfully lay down my life on the black;
King on his throne for you, true love might own for you,
Reigning alone for you, flower of the flock.

Maid of all maidens, my life is entwined in thine,
Turning to three like the flowers to the sun;
Tell me, oh! tell me, thy heard is enshrined in mine –
Tell me, asthore, we had better be one.
Come with me, roam with me, over the foam with me,
Come to my home with me, near Carrig rock
Light of my life to be, sweetheart and wife to be,
Free from all strife to be, flower of the flock.

Public opinion has already done justice to Mr Fahy’s talents as an Irish poet. A competent critic in The Irish Monthly, speaking of his recent volume, says;

“It has many of the elements of popularity besides its cheapness. …He has resided for many years in London, though a native of that ‘dear old Kinvara,’ affectionately commemorated in his verses, “Who Can Dwell Among Icebergs and not Grow Chill?” This young poet’s Celtic spirit has evidently not been chilled by residence among the Saxons. With a very ardent Irish heart he has got a very lyrical tongue.”

The Pall Mall Gazette said of him;
“The author of ‘Irish Songs and Poems’ is evidently qualifying to serve as the Laureate of Liberated Erin.” We could quote similar testimony from similarly eminent authorities; but cvi bono, Mr Fahy needs no introduction to the Irish public. He is already favourable known to his fellow-countrymen, all of whom wish him continued success in his literary career. In a word, Mr Fahy is not only an Irish poet, but a sterling nationalist as well – one of those minstrels who are devout and ardent believers in the gospel of Irish nationality.

————————–

Connacht Tribune 8th March 1924, p 14.

Corpus Christi Procession Kinvara c 1950 Photo: Cresswell archives

Corpus Christi Procession
Kinvara c 1950
Photo: Cresswell archives

In old Kinvara – by Francis A. Fahy, Author of The Ould Plain Shawl

In a pocket of Galway Bay, three miles from the Clare border, lies Kinvara, its Gaelic name, Ceann-mhara, or “head of the sea,” indicating, like Kenmare, the furthest reach of the sea at that place.

The country around is a portion of the great limestone plain that covers like a grey sheet the centre and west of Ireland, and the first sight of which to one unaccustomed to such a type of scenery is strangely disturbing and depressing. As far as the eye can reach spreads a stretch of rock fields – dazzling white in summer sunshine, greyish-blue in winter rains, fields covered with blocks of stone, mostly level, divided form one another by unmortared walls of stone that form a network running in all directions, and enclose diminutive fields whose outcrop of rock mocks the use of the plough, or larger areas the labour involved in whose clearance is shown in the piled-up cairns like the graves of old-time chieftains that here and there constitute their boundaries.

Between these rocks are spaces from one to several feet deep, where collects a rich mould, nourishing choice ferns, and furnishing sheep and cattle with the choicest grazing.

"Sweet and green the grass between" Photo: EO'D

“Sweet and green the grass between”
Photo: EO’D

Oh, grey and bleak by shore and creek the rugged rocks abound,
But sweet and green the grass between as grows on Irish ground;
So friendship fond, all wealth beyond, and love that lives always,
Bless each poor home beside your foam,
My dear old Galway Bay.

Just over the Clare border the limestone rises into the Burren hills from 800 to 1,000 feet high, once covered with forests, but so early denuded that nearly 300 years ago the Cromwellian General Ludlow wrote of the district as not having “water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang a man, or soil enough to bury him.” Here are steep cliffs overlooking shadowy glens and descending to the sea in a succession of giant staircases with seaward, magnificent view of Galway Bay, the Aran Island lying in its midst, and the Twelve Pins of Connemara, showing exquisitely blue in the far distance. A feature of the limestone plain is its underground rivers, due to the carbon of the lime dissolving in water and perforating and undermining the rocks. One of these rivers comes underground from Coole Lake for six miles, and only appears as it enters the sea at Kinvara, near Dunguaire Castle.

Everywhere, however, throughout this country of rock fields are oases of vivid verdancy. Such as Coole Wood, where Lady Gregory lives, and her young guest, W.B.Yeats, found inspiration for many of his poems; Tullyra, the home of the late Edward Martyn, and the gem of all the district, Lough Cutra demesne, with its lovely woods and eight square miles of lakes covered with islands verdant with various trees and rich in antiquities, and its splendid castle, the showpiece of South Galway, built early in the last century by Lord Gort, and Anti-Union peer, at a cost of 50,000, from designs by Nash, the architect of Windsor Castle.

Blue Gentian Photo: EO'D

Blue Gentian
Photo: EO’D

Wherever shelter from the north winds is provided, or nature otherwise helped by the hand of man, the result is wonderful. The mild climate favours the growth of semi-tropical plants and rare species not found elsewhere in these islands. The bog-myrtle, the sundew, juniper and gentian grow in the Burren Hills as also the Mediterranean heath, and other plants typical of Southern Europe. For the antiquarian and historian, as well as for the botanist and geologist, the district is of especial interest.

The history of Ireland may be read in its ruins, and we have them here go leor, such as cromlechs of unwritten age, like those at Doire-da-both, now Chevy Chase, near Gort, said to be one of the places where Diarmuid and Grainne fled from the wrath of Fionn MacCumhail; cahers or stone forts like that at Garryland, with walls 194 yards round, 13 feet broad and 13 to 18 feet high, enclosing a number of ruins and early Christian remains like Kilmacduagh, the most varied groups of ecclesiastical ruins in Ireland, comprising a cathedral 100 feet long, an abbey church, with lovely arches and moulding, as fresh as modern work, several small churches, and a perfect Round Tower, 100 feet high, and 50 in circumference, said to be one of 35 erected by Brian Borumhe to check the inroads of the Danes.

In the heart of Kinvara town is a ruined church 500 years old, built on the site of an ancient one of the patron Saint Colman, and for a long time in its graveyard were interred only members of the chief clans of the district, the O’Hynes, O’Shaughnesseys and O’Kellys.

Of later date and more numerous are the castles that dot the district. They meet the eye everywhere, some reduced by war and time or by pilfering for building purposes, to mere stumps or shells; some in perfect condition; some standing out in grim contrast to a smiling landscape, others blending with it so as to seem an outcrop of the grey limestone rather than the work of man. Memorials all of a troubled past, there hangs around them traditions of internecine strife, of unbending pride and stubborn rivalry that make our annals such painful reading. This little district being the borderland and highway between Connacht and Thomond suffered in an intense degree in the tribal dissentions of olden days, and over and over again is Kinvara and the country round recorded as having been raided, plundered and sacked.

Dunguaire Castle Kinvara

Dunguaire Castle
Kinvara

The district of Hy Fiacrach Aidne, or South Galway, was named after Fiacrach, son of Dathi, of whose clan were the O’Heynes, who had castle at Dun Guaire, Ardrahan and elsewhere. They were stubbornly anti-English and preferred to intercourse with the stranger, the outlawry and confiscation that in the end awaited them. The name is still widespread and held in high esteem. The O’Shaughnessys were a distinguished local clan, and related to Saint Colman, of whose crozier and girdle they were hereditary guardians. These precious relics are now in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy. The O’Shaughnessys had castles at Gort, Fiddane, Ardamelivan and later at Dunguaire. One of the chieftains submitted to Henry VIII but did not apostatise. A descendant of his, Sir Roger O’Shaughnessy, took the side of the Stuarts, and after the Boyne battle was outlawed and his estates conferred on one Prendergast, and informer, later Lord Clonmell. Not a single member of the family now exists.

Other notable Irish clans of the district were the O’Deas, Kilkellys, O’Dalys, O’Brennans, O’Clerys, MacGeoghegans, Geraghtys and O’Fahys and their descendants are still numerous there.

The Anglo-Irish families were not less in evidence, the most famous being the De Burgos, or Burkes, descended from William FitzAdelm De Burgo, a twelfth century invader, “astute, ambitious, cruel and false but founder of a powerful house which even gave to the Irish cause some able supporters and to the Irish church many distinguished ornaments. Their castles were everywhere, at Ballylee, Rahealy, Tullyra, Ballinamantan, etc. Ulick Burke, the Spanish historian; Father Tom Burke, the Dominican preacher, General Burke, Augustus Burke, the painter, were Galway men of this patronymie. Other notable Anglo-Norman families were the Blakes, Frenchs, Binghams, Forsters, etc to whose attenuated estates have succeeded later comers – Eyres, Martyns, Gregorys, and Skerrits, or fortunate representatives of long dispossessed Gaelic clans.

Church of England Graveyard, The Glebe, Kinvara Photo: EO'D

Church of England Graveyard, The Glebe,
Kinvara
Photo: EO’D

Limits of space forbid lingering over later years. Years they were of light and shadow. Civil war and disorder alternated with periods of peace and trade development. The years of a native parliament brought here as elsewhere an increase of well-being and domestic comfort, but with the passing of the Union the shadows fell again on the land. The propertied class, sport loving, extravagant, and neglectful of their duties, were beggared, and their lands fell into the hands of indifferent strangers and their rapacious agents; famine and famine fever decimated the people, emigration and wholesale clearances desolated the countryside. In the thirty years from 1841 to 1871 the population of Ireland fell from 8 millions to 5 and a half millions, and that of our little town of Kinvara from 1,800 families to 680.

I left Kinvara in ’73, a youth of 19. Its scenes, its people, their customs, sports, recreations, their kindliness and affection, their good humour and light heartedness, their abiding faith in God, are as fresh in my memory after 50 years of exile as things of yesterday, and have ever been the inspiration of my songs. I thank God that I have lived to see the first hues of a new dawn brighten over my native hills.

I am weary and sick of the sights of the town,
Though haughty its mansions and high its renown,
Oh, if some good fairy would but set me down
On an old Irish hill in the morning!

"My soul ever sighs for the sight of the sea" The Quay, Kinvara Photo: EO'D

“My soul ever sighs for the sight of the sea”
The Quay, Kinvara
Photo: EO’D

My soul ever sighs for a sight of the see
By dear old Kinvara, or down by Kilkee,
Or where Moher Cliffs in their majesty free,
Fling back ocean billows in scorning.

An old Irish hill where the crag is so steep,
The air is so sweet and the heather so deep,
Oh, lightly I’d labour and soundly I’d sleep,
On an old Irish hill in the morning.

F.A.Fahy

———————————————

Irish Independent 9th of April, 1935 p.8
Memories of Frank Fahy by Alphonsus St.J. O’Dea (abridged)

Francis Fahy is remembered in Kinvarra as a rather small, sharp-featured youth with fair curly hair, full of fun and mischief. He was noted in the district for his studiousness, which, however, did not interfere with his sense of humour. His love for Irish was remarkable even in his early days and woe betide anyone who belittled in any way the Irish language or literature.

Fair day, Kinvara c1950 Photo: Cresswell Archives

Fair day, Kinvara c1950
Photo: Cresswell Archives

So well-known did his songs become that now Kinvarra, bathing in reflected glory, is known “far and wide” as the town of “The Ould Plaid Shawl,” and the people of the town take a pardonable pride in the success of the very illustrious “Last of the O’Learys.”
When he was but fifteen years old and a “monitor” in the National School, a company of travelling players entertained the townspeople with “The Last of the Mohicans.” Some weeks later Frank Fahy delighted his schoolmates by presenting them with “The Last of the O’Learys,” which, after weeks of enthusiastic rehearsal, they presented to an appreciative audience in the Courthouse at Kinvarra. If, in the excitement of the “first night,” some of the players – whose first appearance it was on any kind of stage – became slightly muddled and tongue-tied, to the despair of the young author, who shall blame them? However, before the night was out, one of the players made ample reparation for previous mistakes by giving the wits of the town material for innumerable jokes, which the company of players and the unfortunate author took months to live down.

This player was acting in the sketch – also written by Francis Fahy – which was being presented in conjunction with “The Last of the O’Learys”. Her part in the play necessitated her entry with the suggestion, “Let us put him between two feather beds and smother him” – whoever “he” was! Imagine the consternation of the author and the delight of the audience when this player rushed in crying, “Let us put him between two smother-beds and feather him”! “Feathering” and “The Last of the O’Learys” have passed into the language of the district, and will survive when most of Frank Fahy’s contemporaries will be forgotten.

His father, Thomas Fahy, kept a drapery business and post office, and also a hotel and posting establishment. This house passed out of his hands, but some time later was bought by his cousin. It is still a hotel. The room in which Francis Fahy studied is still intact and is pointed out with pride, while the whole house has recently been repaired and renovated – but not altered – by a cousin of Francis Fahy’s.

Information about Francis A. Fahy and his work can be accessed at;

http://www.kinvara.com/francisfahy/biography.html

—————————————

Irish Press 31st July, 1961 p 8 (abridged)
Tom Quinn ran a number of hackney cars conveying visitors to Lisdoonvarna, to Doolin Point, to the cliffs of Moher and to the other beauty spots of Clare’s coast and interior. He was the friend of all the visitors who came that way, gentle and simple alike, renowned for his stories, his good spirits and his wit. Among his friends was Francis A. Fahy, the Poet, who wrote “The Ould Plaid Shawl.”
When I was in Corofin I was happy to meet Bofey Quinn, or, Mrs Clune, as she is now, a daughter of Tom Quinn’s. She was good enough to show me a most interesting original manuscript of Francis Fahy’s.

It was a verse letter from Fahy to Tom Quinn paying tribute to their friendship, and to Tom Quinn’s well-merited popularity. It was full of references to the holiday spirits of those days and to add to the interest the letter was illustrated with some very amusing pen and ink sketches by Fahy illustrating the life in Corofin, the picnics, the musical evenings and some of the practical jokes in which Tom Quinn has been concerned.
With Mrs. Clune’s permission I am quoting some lines of this amusing, warm-hearted poem by Francis A. Fahy. The lines are from the final page of the letter;

Goodbye, Tom Quinn, of Corofin,
I think I see your face again
Coming along down Grogan’s glen,
Beaming the hardest heart to harden,
Through Patrick Kelly’s flower garden,
By Doolin’s rocky wave washed shores
Watching the billows break and roar,
Searching his “F-Whip” along the strand;
Watching “Imperials” acting grand.

Having talked of Francis Fahy, the poet of Kinvara, in Corofin I find on my return more talk of him in the handsome souvenir programme put out for the opening of Faitche Padraic, the handsome new G.A.A. sports grounds in Kinvara.
My thanks to Mr T. Donlon, the editor, for his kind though in sending me a copy. I have enjoyed reading about Kinvara’s sporting tradition, its storied past and its famous men and I particularly enjoyed his own brief and useful piece on Francis A. Fahy.
Patrick Lagan

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