Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s a little wearing’ o’ the green in Boston and Blue Hill and an affectionate look at Emilie Loring’s memorable, Irish characters.
“I’m Bridie, the head chambermaid, Miss… Sure an’ ye’ll like it here, fine. I come to this house as a gur-rl more’n twenty-five years ago, an’ I ain’t never felt no desire to leave it except to go see my folks in Ireland.”
“Ireland is beautiful, Bridie. I spent months there not so long ago. Talk about horse-racing. They do it well in Dublin.”
The conversation went smoothly after that, slurring its Irish way over dropped d’s and throaty ye’s, getting more brogueish with every reminiscence, cementing friendship by love and admiration of the same places in the same country. The maid’s eyes were soft with memory as she hung the last frock in the wardrobe, placed the last pair of gold sandals on the shelf.
“Anything more I can do for ye, Miss?”
“Nothing, thank you. You have done more than unpack for me. You have cheered me unbelievably. I’m on the crest of the wave now.”
“Sure an’ you look it. Your eyes are as sparklin’ as a still Irish lake reflectin’ stars in an Irish night sky.”
Emilie’s Irish characters are invariably dear, young or old, and their advice is heeded, from Mrs. Bunthorne, “Bunny,” who advises Lord Trent-Gowan to let Constance return to Peter in High of Heart, to Nora, the maid in Gay Courage:
The tray the entering maid carried followed the law of gravitation as she flung up her hands in surprise;
“The Saints be praised! If it ain’t Master Geoff!”
Hilliard bent and kissed her ruddy cheek as she caught his two hands in her rough ones. She had been a maid at Valleyview when he had made his entrance into the world…
“I’ve been around the world three times and I’ve never tasted anything so good as your scones, Nora.” He heaped a crisp, flaky morsel with comb which oozed golden honey.
“An’ I’ll bet every time yer want round yer kissed the blarney-stone, me boy. Go way wid yer! Flatterin’ an ould woman like me. Save that fer Miss Nancy. There’s a gurl for ye. Don’t yer let her throw herself away on thet spalpeen Luke Small.”
[I hope you appreciate my efforts in typing these for you. Spell-check definitely does not understand Irish dialect!]
Emilie worked carefully to capture her characters’ Irish accents, and she had a good model. Her father wrote for the stage, where actors needed to be able to speak their Irish lines believably. Movie actors now study with coaches to accomplish that, and there are voice recordings to make that easier. In the nineteenth century, though, there were no such conveniences, so George M. Baker provided books of readings in many of the dialects of Boston, including Baker’s Irish Dialect Recitations (Lee & Shepard, 1888). I dare you not to be tempted by “The Last of the Sarpints” or “Why Biddy and Pat Got Married,” but here is a poem especially suited to the day:
The Birth of St. Patrick
On the eighth day of March it was, some people say,
That Saint Patrick at midnight he first saw the day;
While others declare ’twas the ninth he was born,
And ’twas all a mistake between midnight and morn,–
For mistakes will occur in a hurry and shock,–
And some blamed the babby, and some blamed the clock;
Till with all their cross-questions sure no one could know
If the child was too fast, or the clock was too slow.
Now the first faction fight in old Ireland, they say,
Was all on account of Saint Patrick’s birthday!
Some fought for the eighth–for the ninth more would die;
And who wouldn’t see right, sure they blackened his eye!
At last both the factions so positive grew,
That each kept a birthday; so Pat then had two,
Till Father Mulcahy, who showed them their sins,
Said “No one could have two birthdays, but a twins.”
Says he, “Boys, don’t be fighting’ for eight or for nine,
Don’t be always dividin’, but sometimes combine.
Combine eight with nine, and seventeen is the mark,
So let that be his birthday.”–“Amen,” says the clerk,
“If he wasn’t a twins, sure our history will show
That, at least, he’s worth any two saints that we know!”
Then they all got blind dhrunk–which completed their bliss,
And we kept up the practice from that day to this.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone!