Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Miserly Landlord.

The Miserly Landlord.

Once upon a time there was a very wealthy landlord that lived in the west of Ireland.  He was extremely miserable because he was always watching his money fearing that everyone was plotting ways to steal it from him.  He had hundreds of thousands of pounds although today he would county his money in euros, ask him to spend a pound and he would go into a rage.

Like most misers he had no friends for he believed that having friends cost money. However, those who knew him suggested that if he took himself a bride he would at least have someone to look after him and give him a bit of company in his old age.  He thought about this for all of ten seconds but quickly decided that a wife would expect housekeeping money and he began to shiver and shake all over in panic and fright.

He just as quickly decided that it would be a lot cheaper to remain a bachelor for the rest of his life. However, he did think that having someone to look after him and keep him company wasn’t such a bad idea so he found himself a poor orphan lad and offered him a corner to lie in and scraps off the table in exchange for housekeeping services.  The poor servant boy had to do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry and any other job the miserly landlord could think of.  This now allowed the landlord the free time to make unexpected visits on his tenants, squeezing every spare penny out of them and evicting those who couldn’t pay their rent on time.  It became obvious to all concerned that although he did not like spending money he was becoming more dependent upon his servant.

As the years passed the landlord grew older, eventually he became ill as he refused to spend money on fuel and the cold, damp winters we all know so well in the west of Ireland began to take their toll upon him.  He called his servant to him and said,

 “I’ve looked after you all your life and now you must look after me: I need you to answer a question, how sick do you think I am?”

The servant told the miserly landlord that he thought he was very sick indeed and that he should allow him to call for a doctor.  The miser thought about this for about ten seconds (for he was a quick thinker) then said to the servant,

“If I call for a doctor he will charge me a fee, but if I don’t call for him then people will say that I am a stupid man more worried about money when he could be dying”.

The servant told the landlord that by the look of him he could well be dying and he should call for the doctor straight away or it may be too late.

The landlord replied,

“If I’m that bad then I have a further suggestion to make. Go to the undertaker and ask him what his fee will be when I die, and then you must go to the doctor and ask him what his fee will be to make me better”.

The servant did as he was told, the undertaker told him that his lowest fee was €110; he then went to the doctor who told him that his lowest fee would be €150.  The servant returned to the landlord and told him what he had learned; the miserly landlord quickly made a decision and said to his servant.

“Well the best thing to do is to take me to the undertaker for the doctor’s cure is far too expensive”.

The old skinflint of a landlord refused to spend the extra forty euro on a cure and so shortly afterwards he died.  The servant paid the undertaker his €110 fee and as the landlord had no relatives, or none that came forward to claim his riches, all the rest of the landlords money went to his long suffering servant. 

The landlord’s attachment to his money was the thing that killed him in the end because he chose the undertaker over the doctor.  By choosing the cheaper option he hoped to save a few euros little realising that once he died he would lose all his money anyway for you cannot take it with you.  He would now be remembered for being a tight fisted old skinflint, hated by everyone.  A miser who thought of no one but himself, had he given just a little of what he had to charity or some good cause, had he thought of his tenants difficulties instead of grasping at pennies he would have been remembered fondly by all those he could have helped.

The servant became a millionaire overnight, will he now believe that others will exploit him for his money or will he choose to use his new found wealth for good?  Some say that money is like manure; it can only do good if it is spread around helping things to grow.  In many ways this could have been the landlord’s legacy; it could have been his path to immortality.  Instead he will simply be remembered as the selfish, miserly little man that he was.

I wonder which path the servant will choose, I wonder which path you would choose?

(Adapted from an Indian story).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Druids Ghost.

A Druids Ghost.

There is a passage tomb somewhere in the west of Ireland where druids buried their dead in stone containers, is it possible that one of their number protects their sleep?

There is a story told of a figure that looks human that has been seen at night.  It has been described by those who have seen it as “having a face that no human ever had”. It has terrified locals for generations; those who have attempted to speak to it only see it disappear.  Records tell us that it was first seen around the 15th century when a hunting party came upon a strange creature outside the entrance to the passage tomb, as they fired at it with their bows it just vanished into thin air.  Within one month of seeing the creature each member of the hunting party met with a fatal accident.

The first records of people actually being attacked by the spirit concern the occupants of a cottage that had been built a short walk from the tomb.  It was around the beginning of the 19th century.  The cottage was rented by Padraic MacLoughlainn and his family that worked for a local landlord.  They were an ordinary hard working family and well liked by their neighbours. It was shortly after they had moved in that they heard scratching and chewing noises from outside their cottage door, it sounded like some large animal trying to get in.  Padraic picked up his slash hook, opened the door slowly and looked outside; there was nothing there and not a mark on the door.  This happened each night and yet nothing was ever seen, after two weeks the noises ended without warning.

It remained quiet for a while and the MacLoughlainn’s thought that it may have been some of the young men of the area just trying to scare them a little, maybe playing a silly prank on the ‘blow ins’, the newcomers and having tired of their nightly game had now decided to go back to their normal business.  It wasn’t going to be that easy.  One night when the children were all fast asleep and Padraic and his wife were sat by the fire they heard whispering, checking to see if it was one of the children they found them fast sleep. Over the next couple of nights the whispering became more intense and was followed by groans. One night the blankets were pulled from the children’s bed and one of them screamed in terror, she had been slapped by an invisible hand and this was followed by strange laughing noises. Padraic went to the local priest and even though he feared retribution from the landlord he told the priest about the nightly visits and how one of the children had been attacked.  The priest agreed to go to the cottage and say a mass.  It was to go quiet once more.

However, as before it was not to last.  Padraic became ill, he had difficulty swallowing, he couldn’t talk or eat and he became very pale.  The local fairy doctor (herbalist) gave him a few herbs and he slowly recovered. A week later he was to develop other symptoms, this time he had severe stomach pains, he couldn’t sleep and he had difficulty working, this was a great worry for without work they would be evicted from their home.  It seemed as if the family was under some kind of curse. Padraic called for the priest once again but it seemed to make matters worse.  The attacks increased and even the priest began to avoid the family.

In desperation Padraic went to the landlord and begged him for help.  Surprisingly the landlord agreed to send his agent to the cottage with instructions to spend the night there. Padraic did not know that the landlord was fully aware of what had been happening and unlike Padraic who was unaware of the druids spirit the landlord knew the history only too well.  The agent arrived that evening and was given the use of the MacLoughlainn’s bed and whatever they could provide in hospitality.  He sat in the best seat by the fire and began to make light of the MacLoughlainn’s nightly visitor. This made things worse, for the first time the druid was heard to speak; it mimicked the voice of the agent and threw him from his seat.  The agent screamed out and fled from the cottage as if the devil himself was chasing him.

The whole parish began to talk about the druid’s spirit and the terrified family; people began to point at the MacLoughlainn’s and whisper.  No one wanted to visit the cottage anymore and if anyone had to pass by they were seen to make the sign of the cross and the sign of the evil eye.  The MacLoughlainn’s felt all alone, even the children were shunned.  It wasn’t to end there, the MacLoughlainn’s were accused of committing minor crimes in the area and although they were found to be innocent of all charges they felt more and more isolated and alone.

The parish had abandoned their neighbours hoping that by distancing themselves from the MacLoughlainn’s they would be protected from what had now become known as the druids curse.  It was not to be.  The whispering of the druid began in the streets of the parish, in the blacksmiths forge, in the local shop, even in the church.  What made it worse for the people of the parish was that their private thoughts concerning their neighbours were somehow revealed to each other even the landlord became aware of what people truly thought of him and his agent.

The curse was to eventually take a life, that of Padraic MacLoughlainn.  The sickness that he suffered from kept returning.  The priest and the local fairy doctor could do nothing and he began to sink lower and lower.  The priest was kneeling by his bedside one night when he heard a whisper, it was the voice he had heard before and he recognised it as belonging to the spirit.  It was to tell him that all the prayers to his new god would do him no good that MacLoughlainn would die as he had committed crimes against the sacred site of the druids. It transpired that Padraic had visited the passage tomb and found items that the druids had upon their person when they were interred within, thinking them to be of value he had removed them and sold them for a few penny’s to help with the rent.  One week later Padraic MacLoughlainn sat up in his bed and with a look of terror he was said to have pointed his finger at some invisible presence, fell back onto his pillow and died. A look of absolute despair upon his face.  The people present heard a strange sound like a low wind followed by whispering.

The family held a wake but very few people would spend the night with the corpse, they simply offered their sympathies and excused themselves.  He was buried within two days which was unusual at the time as a body would be waked for a week. As the body was lowered into the ground there was heard a sound of laughter but no one knew from where.  The family were unable to pay the rent as the head of the house was gone so as was the practice of the day the remaining family, mother and children were evicted.  The landlord could find none willing to live in the cottage and so he ordered it to be razed to the ground and all sign that it had ever been there to be removed.

That should have been an end to it; the druid had been avenged so all should have returned to normal. However, the spirit was seen many times down through the years by people who ventured too near to the passage tomb.  It was said that a group of English soldiers that had camped nearby and had entered the tomb in order to spend the night out of the rain suffered injuries by an unseen assailant, one of their number was to die of his injuries and those that survived were never the same again refusing to talk of what they had seen that night.

Some say that the ghost of Padraic MacLoughlainn is seen searching the area as if he is looking for something.  He has a look of sadness upon his face.  Some have even reported seeing various men dressed in the clothes of soldiers, some in chain mail, some in early twentieth century uniform, they all look lost as if they are searching for something also.

The location of the passage tomb has remained a secret now for close on two hundred years.  It is by having a family connection that you hear some of the tales but if you are an outsider then you will never be included in the telling of those tales.  You can try to find the passage tomb on old maps but you won’t be successful and maybe that’s a good thing because those who have found it before have lived to regret it.  Or maybe not?  The passage tomb was closed by the present landlords ancestors in the 1920s, the entrance concealed under tons of earth.  The druids of old have returned to their sleep and as for their protector, well if at night you pass by a certain place in the west of Ireland and hear a whisper keep walking, if you hear the wind and the sound of low laughter walk a little faster.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Irish Lunatic Asylums.

‘I am monarch of all I survey,

I am lord of the fool and the brute,

From the centre all round to the sphere,

My rite there is none to dispute.’

“We're Lost and Everything is Dirty”.

During the early days of the Lunatic Asylums they were the scenes of terrible acts of cruelty, tragedy and death, sanctioned by the church and the state.  In many ways these buildings could be described as castles of despair and the history that surrounds them is enough to make the hair rise on the back of your neck.  It is no wonder that the poor desperate souls that were condemned to live out their lives in these institutions were surrounded by such a feeling of hopelessness and abandonment that their spirits were trapped within those terrifying walls.

In the mid nineteenth century, pauper lunatics were dealt with under the poor law, criminal law or vagrancy law.  They invariably ended up in the workhouse, prison or houses of correction.  In 1808, the County Asylums Act was passed by parliament and it encouraged local magistrates to build county lunatic asylums to house pauper lunatics in their county.  In 1845, this became compulsory.  The Lunacy Act of 1890 widened the role of the Asylums and patients with financial means began to be admitted to them.

However, what was the role of the lunatic asylums?  Before the advent of psychiatric drugs people that were deemed mentally ill were housed in asylums.  They often contained hundreds of patients ranging from people who may have disagreed with powerful members of a family, unmarried girls that had become pregnant (even through rape), disabled people, alcoholics, homeless people, people suffering from depression, full blown psychotics, attempted suicides, children and the elderly all thrown in together.  These places were often huge buildings with hundreds of wards and treatment rooms, some were humane and offered what treatments they thought appropriate, however, there were some that were places of indescribable cruelty with sinister reputations and ‘treatments’ that can only be described as barbaric.

In Clonmel Asylum for example, according to Department of Health files there were lines of naked people, faeces covering the floors, food served up with pitchforks, and people kept like animals.  Not exactly what you might expect to read from official files.  As late as 1958 Ireland led the world in locking up its citizens in mental institutions, at this time it was reported that more than 21,000 people were held behind the walls of these institutions, on a per capita basis it was even ahead of the old Soviet Union.  If you were to compare prison numbers, in the 1950s prisoner numbers rarely exceeded 600, in 1958 the number stood at 369.  However, in Clonmel Asylum alone, 900 patients were locked up, and unlike prisoners these poor unfortunates had no right to a trial, no legal representation, no appeal, and no end to a sentence for which they had committed no crime. Stripped of their rights, their dignity, and their hope they were condemned to suffer for years in conditions that were so bad that even the Department of Health officials were shocked by the abysmally low standards of Clonmel.  However, Clonmel was not unique; the same story was played out across the country.

In 1959 it was decided to send out a circular to the 20 or so institutions medical supervisors or chief psychiatrists to ask how they felt things could be improved.  Six did not bother to reply, and the rest were defensive.  All the more shocking when you consider that these doctors were charged with the well being and treatment of their patients.  According to one senior psychiatrist mental patients had no feelings, were oblivious to their surroundings and led little more that a vegetable existence.  Could it be that it was the environment that they were forced to endure that reduced them to this type of existence?

Some of the treatments were beyond belief, lobotomy and insulin coma therapy was common.  By injecting people with enough insulin to put them into a hypoglycaemic coma it was supposed to cure them of mental illness, and these types of treatments continued into the mid 1900s until they were discredited and eventually abandoned. As for the practice of lobotomy, this left people so damaged that they became incapable of normal independent living, or even using a toilet.

Why did we have so many people in these places anyway? 

The reasons were often related to social conditions rather than medical reasons.  The personal possessions of patients long dead are now being examined by historians.  When these people died thay were buried in unmarked mass graves and their few modest belongings were stored in the attics or damp basements of many of these institutions.  Many of these have now been rescued and are in the process of cataloguing and it is hoped that they will provide a unique social record of a sad time in our history.

However, have attitudes changed regarding mental illness.  Are we still trapped within a system where doctors and psychiatrists are still all powerful?  Where managers control the budgets and the patients have neither any say or control over their lives or their treatment?  We should always remember that patients will remain vulnerable because they are powerless while under the control of the powerful.  It is up to each and every one of us to change our attitudes towards mental illness, depression and suicide.  Unless and until it stops being considered a taboo subject we are all in danger of becoming a fly trapped within a web for who knows when or if it will visit someone within our family or circle of friends.

 Some of the language used in this article was representative of the time and does not reflect modern terminology.
Top Image: I apologise to the person who painted this as I have forgotten their name.  However, if they get in touch with me I would be extremely grateful as I believe it perfectly represents depression, and I would be delighted to put their name to their painting.
Bottom Image: Castlebar District Lunatic Asylum County Mayo.  It is now the home of G.M.I.T. College.  I have just finished my degrees there.  However, I never came across anything unusual (not related to the otherworld anyway).  I'm not going to mention some of the oddities walking the corridors today.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Lighthouse Keeper.

The Lighthouse Keeper.

Lighthouses are lonely places, places of desolation, solitude and danger.  Those who live or sometimes just exist within that environment are trapped by some of the harshest conditions on earth.  Some lighthouse keepers were allowed to be accompanied by their wife and children, sometimes with tragic results as children were swept from the rocks by an unexpected wave, to join other lost souls drowned at sea.  Some keepers were condemned to work with assistants they may not have liked or even grew to hate, for long periods of time. 
Can you imagine being trapped in such circumstances, slowly driven mad, the waves crashing up onto the rocks, no access to the mainland for extended periods of time?  None of the modern conveniences that we have today and in cramped dark conditions often damp and uncomfortable, is it any wonder that the spirit of the lighthouse keeper, their families and even those souls that were lost at sea remain behind to haunt the place that was responsible for their unhappiness. 
There are many stories that have been told over the years, of jealousy, tragedy and despair. Were they stories based on true events or were they just made up by lonely or bored keepers for their own amusement?  We will never really know.

            One such story concerns a lighthouse perched high upon a desolate piece of rock off the west coast of Ireland.  It was almost impossible to get to the island during the long winter months and once there it became your prison until the boat from the mainland arrived in the spring.  The story concerns Fergal O’Malley who was found guilty of poaching by the local magistrate who was also the local landowner.  He was given the option of transportation for life or the job of Keeper of the Lighthouse where he would remain for the rest of his days.  O’Malley chose the latter stupidly believing that it couldn’t be as bad as people made it out to be and as he had recently married he could take the wife with him so he’d have a bit of company.

The following day O’Malley and his young wife were taken by boat to the island, they were allowed to take with them only what they could carry, together with the supplies provide by the landlord.  O’Malley knew his wife would feel lonely on the island so he brought with him a tin whistle for her to play a bit of a tune.  He was unable to read music but his wife was better educated and she was able to read music so he presented her with the whistle and a sheet of music that had upon it just the one tune.  She was delighted and having settled in and lit a fire they began to feel quite happy with themselves and she played her tin whistle much to O’Malley’s delight. 
The late summer turned into autumn and the nights grew longer, the weather began to turn and stormy nights kept them imprisoned within the stone walls of the Lighthouse.  O’Malley’s young wife played her tin whistle, over and over again, the same grinding tune slowly driving him insane even when he suggested to her that she played something different she continued to play the same tune over and over again.
Eventually he could take no more, reaching for the axe he used to chop wood for the fire he tore the whistle from her hands and smashed it to pieces.  She screamed in protest and turned upon him in desperation trying to wrench the whistle from him, in a rage he hit her with the axe, again and again to the tune he could hear in his head he brought the axe down upon her.  As his rage began to leave him he realised what he had done but by then it was too late, she lay upon the stone floor her eyes staring up at him as though accusing him in death.  He went up to the lighthouse platform and taking down one of the ropes that hung upon the wall he fashioned a noose, placing it around his neck he stepped over the edge and hung himself. 

A couple of days passed and the people of the mainland noticed that the light had gone out and realising something was wrong they went to the local landlord, he ordered that on the first calm day a boat should be sent to the island to find out why O’Malley was failing to carry out his duties.  As they approached the island they saw his partly decomposed body swinging in the wind, inside they found his wife lay where he had killed her.  

The Lighthouse is no longer in use, it is now a bird sanctuary and tourists are taken over to the island by arrangement with tour guides on the mainland.  It is said that on quiet nights when the winds are silent if you listen carefully you can hear the sound of a tin whistle playing a soulful tune, or could it just be the sound of far off sea birds?  I’ll let you decide.

My exams are now complete and I await the results sometime around the 17th June.  Thank you for your good wishes

Tadgh Dall O'Huigínn. The Matchstick Man of Straide ?

Tadgh Dall O’Huigínn.  The Matchstick Man of Straide.

Tadgh Dall O’Huigínn was a bardic poet and scholar that came from a long line of distinguished Irish poets.  He received his training within his family and may also have received training in the bardic school in Ceall Cluaine (in County Galway) where a number of his family had been trained.  The attachment of ‘Dall’ to his name suggests that he had a visual impairment and he may have been blind in one or both eyes although it has been suggested that he may not have been completely blind.

Tadgh was a wealthy man by today’s standards and he owned land and property throughout Sligo and Mayo that amounted to hundreds of acres and he enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle.  As a poet of note he was welcomed in all the great houses of Ireland where he spent many weeks being wined and dined by his hosts.  It was the custom in ancient Ireland for the poets to compose poems that spoke of the hospitality and nobility of the nobility, these poems could make or break the reputation of the ruling chieftains so poets were treated extremely well.  The treatment of the bard would then be reflected in what he wrote and the reputation of the chieftain would be enhanced in the eyes of all through the public reading of the poetry or verse.  This made Tadgh an extremely powerful man in the Ireland of his day in much the same way as a highly influential journalist would be considered in the Ireland of today.

However, Tadgh was also said to have a sharp tongue and the gift of satire and it was this that cost him his life. Tadgh was murdered in Banada at Corpus Christi Friary on a Sunday afternoon in 1591.  Tadgh visited Cormac O’Hara of the O’Hara Bui (yellow); he received such a welcome and was treated so well that he wrote a poem that praised the O’Hara Bui to the highest.  The poem became the talk of Connacht and made the O’Hara Bui famous for their prowess in battle, their lineage and genealogy and their magnificent hospitality.

In Connacht there was another branch of the O’Hara.  They were known as O’Hara Rua (Red) and when they heard of this they were extremely displeased.  They were already in contention with O’Huigínn regarding the title to some land and this insult to their line just heightened their intense dislike of him and they decided to seek retribution.  One night, when Tadgh was away on his travels the O’Hara Rua decided to pay a visit to his house.  Six of the O’Hara Rua broke in and stole food and drink before leaving. Tadgh was to return and found his house in a mess that he had to clean up.  This led to great animosity between the O’Hara Rua and the O’Huigínn and the greatest fear the O’Hara Rua had was that O’Huigínn would write a poem ridiculing them for the actions of the six.  In a time when there were no televisions or newspapers the poetry of the bard’s was eagerly awaited by the people and a few well written lines could make you either a hero or a laughing stock and the O’Hara Rua knew that their reputation could be ruined by O’Huigínn.
This is exactly what happened, a poem was written about the six that made them the laughing stock of the countryside, no matter where they went people pointed and sniggered.  At last they could take no more and they decided to kill Tadgh O’Huigínn.  They hatched a plan, they set an ambush and lay in wait for him one Sunday as he was returning home, he managed to escape and fled on horseback to the nearby Friary of Corpus Christi and here he claimed sanctuary believing that this would give him the protection of god’s house.  Unfortunately for Tadgh, the Prior of the Friary was an O’Hara that was related to the O’Hara Rua and he just turned his back on O’Huigínn and refused to help him.  Tadgh was pulled from the Friary and died a horrifying death.  The O’Hara Rua cut out his tongue then slit his throat; they also gave orders that his wife and child were to be murdered at the same time. 
The O’Hara Rua responsible for these horrendous acts were eventually captured and taken to Sligo were they were tried for the murders in 1593 but due to the apparent lack of witnesses and evidence they were released.  Tradition suggests that Tadgh Dall O’Huigínn was buried in the grounds of Straide Friary in County Mayo and it is his grave that is marked by the grave marker that shows a carving of a matchstick man.  Is it Tadgh ?  I cannot say for there is no name on the marker so I'll leave it for you to decide.  Keep smiling.

The source used for some of this information was,    As the Waters Flow - Banada Through the Ages by Séan Owens.