The Great Day on the Bog – Lá na Móna
Taken from Catholic Bulletin, Vol. 24, May 1934, p424-427
THE great plain, stretching westwards some thirty miles from Dublin is probably the district of all Ireland least known to city folk. Dublin men, who will discuss familiarly with you such places as Rosslare or Mullingar, are puzzled at the mention of Clane, Allenwood or Timahoe. So often has the fertile territory been ravaged by Norsemen and Normans and Ironsiders, and worse still, cleared after the Great Famine by the Planters, that the very tradition of the old race, the regional lore, is broken and almost lost. Literary folk who have tramped Iveragh and Erris and Tirconaill for live tradition could scarcely point out on a map the location of Jigginstown, where the old scoundrel the Earl of Stafford resided, and where the Confederate Catholics held their conference for a whole year, lashed therein as they were for their gullibility by the great Rinuccini. How few will tell you of the great Synod of Clane-then an important town-held just before the Normans came to civilise us. Read a list of the names of the new lords and officials all through the period down from Henry II to Queen Victoria-you will find many such in the Kildare Archaeological Journal-and you will meet scarcely one of the old Gaelic stock. To these new lords, who looted the generous land, the high deeds of Fionn and Oisin, of the Fiana encamped on the hill on the "Island of Allen"-Almhuin leathan-mhór Laighean-was a closed book, though the Ossianic literature was a source of inspiration to others. Yet, Napoleon always brought with him a copy of the echoed poems of Oisin, and O'Connell speaks of the Ossianic grandeur that seized his youthful soul when coursing through the mountain glens of his native Iveragh. From the Fiana that trained on these Almhuin hills over the great plain of Leinster, the Fenian volunteers of post-Famine days took their inspiration and their title.
It would be a fine gesture on the part of the Minister for Defence to select the historic hill as a training ground for his new volunteers, whose members made such a favourable impression on la baint na móna.
The Dublin road to "wide-Leinster" Allen passes the ruined mills of Cill an Droichid, or Celbridge, which once gave employment to 700 hands. It skirts on the north side the wooded knoll of Newcastle-Lyons, the seat of the Lawlesses, whose head is Lord Cloncurry. It is seldom worth while referring to those colourless magnates whom the officers of Owen Roe O'Neill scornfully designated "the pale-blooded lords of the Pale". The Cloncurry family, however, is honourably remembered for noble deeds, and more especially for the fact that it produced one of the most eminent Anglo-Irish poets of the last generation. A fine indignation breathes through many of Emily Lawless's songs, more particularly through those depicting the high temper, the longing for home, of those Irish "war-battered dogs" who followed their captains through the battle-fields of Europe, from Dunkirk to Belgrade. Her Sean-bhean bhocht sings in noble pride of the exile soldier boys who never lost heart:
She said, ten times they fought for me,
Ten times they strove with might and main,
Ten times I saw them beaten down,
Ten times they rose and fought again.
Well did the poet see through the carefully designed programme of Empire to govern the recalcitrant subject Gaels by peaceful starvation by closing the ports against our trade:
You swept them vacant! Your decree
Bid all her subject commerce cease,
You drove them from your subject sea
To starve in peace!
And the seer's eye saw that the day of reckoning was dawning:
A day will come before you, guess,
A day when men with clearer light
Will rue that deed beyond redress.
Will loathe that sight.
“She was a grand body," said an old lady in a cottage to us, "a grand body, surely, was Lady Emily. She'd come in and sit there on that chair and talk and talk and sympathise with us, just as if we had all gone together to the same school. God rest her soul."
Much credit is due to the members of the Garda who kept such admirable order all along the road from Lucan to Allen, and for the efficient and good-natured assistance tendered by them to the organisers of the gala hosting. Colonel Broy himself attended. The crossroads are frequent -along the route and the signboards often difficult to read, but a swing of the arm of the conspicuous Garda indicated the way. Country folk who were assembling to welcome and cheer the President were carefully disciplined, and kept on the grassy marges of the road. Even when a young Garda assumed a power not warranted by Dail or Seanad and threatened to inflict a month's hard labour on the bog on an overenthusiastic follower of a certain team who saw nothing but awkwardness in the handling of sleaghan or barrow by his rudely trained opponents the man of the law could not quite conceal his good nature. "Which of them was the nearest to the other, the Rathmeague man or the Rathdangan man, before they started the argument? " queried a young officer in separating two stalwart tikes whose shoulders were in dangerous juxtaposition. And sentence was pronounced sharp and sudden and irrevocable: "You tramp straight home this minute, and you wait till you get permission to go, mind that, now."
Folk came from all directions by car and bus; and gaily-bedecked canal boats bore hosts of visitors from east and west. The houses along the way, more especially those beside the bog, gave evidence of recent decoration. Allenwood meeting was like a great pattern in Gaeldom. A part of the bog was levelled out as a fine lawn covered with a carpet of heather. Here were pitched the marquees for shelter and for refreshment purposes. At one end was erected a platform for oratory and afterwards for music and dancing.
There was no mistaking the cheerful note of hope and enthusiasm in speech and action. "Enthusiasms whencesoever they blow, are the fresh winds of the soul.” It needed no professional commentator to interpret the lesson of the entire Drama. Here were the Ministers of the most Catholic and democratic government in Europe visiting, as brothers and as equals, the hitherto most sorely tried and impoverished body of workers in .the land. The hopeful words of President De Valera, who was enthusiastically welcomed, went to their very hearts. Your work will be an inspiration to others: we want your co-operation in developing the resources of the country: we will assist you in getting employment and in disposing of your produce: we thank the generous firms that presented valuable cups for competition: we thank the others for their splendid organization and their presence. Such is a precis of the President's speech.
The men of Kildare are slow to rise to high temperature on occasions of carnival, but there was no concealing the emotion thrilling the hosting at Allenwood. The historical and topographical setting was perfect. During the dark centuries of penal conditions these bogs and woods were a refuge for the remnants of the broken Gaels. It was from them that the last skirmishes were made by flying columns of the broken armies of the Gaelic lords. It was back to them that the refugees retreated for shelter. During the worst of the penal days a famous Bishop of Kildare, Dr. Gallagher, escaped the grip of the law in these friendly bogs. He wrote a well-known book of Gaelic sermons. He is referred to by the poet Tomas Ruadh as Doctuir aluinn Gallachoir.
Here were assembled to-day in friendly concourse the leading members of a Government chosen by the people themselves, men who a few years ago had a price on their heads by the Foreigners or by the Deputies of the Foreigners. Beside Allenwood is the high camping-ground of the Fiana and the scene of many a tough encounter, as, for instance, where in 718. A.D. the Leinstermen, armed to the number of 9,000, finally decided that never again would they pay cow-tribute to any power. A little to the south-west on the sombre slope of the historic hill were situated the shrines and holy wells of the "Mary of the Gael," Brigid of the white-cloaked nuns, who forever is pleading in her high place in heaven for justice and fair play for her sorely tried nation.
It was heartening to watch rival teams in competition, including men from Offaly and from far away Kilkenny, and to hear the comments of the tough sinewy veterans of the bogland. "Give me a sleaghan, will anyone give me a sleaghan ?" pleaded an old Nestor or rather an old Oisin returned from the Land of Youth, " till I show these lads how to give direction to the sod. Am I late yet to enter? O, boys, O, watch young men wearing coats at work when they should wear only breeches and shirts. Wonder they didn’t bring top-hats and umbrellas with them, like the townies of Dublin." Cruel was the decision of the adjudicators in refusing to allow the cheering followers of a team to pass on much-needed stimulants to perspiring competitors.
No doubt, the workers should go back to lighter and better ventilated woollen garments, and herein also should the Government come to their aid. Wool is plentiful and no wool is as suitable as Irish wool for our climate. Small mills should be erected here and there through the country-as near Killarney-to turn it into cloth. A well-known Co. Mayo doctor of long experience used to state that well ventilated garments of pure wool, such as bainini were necessary clothing in the case of those who perspired much, or who worked under rain. He could prove that a good deal of pulmonary diseases could be traced to poor closely-woven cloth containing a large mixture of cotton. It is to be hoped that we shall see the day when Ireland can clothe herself as of old.
The improvised songs of the afternoon told of:
“The Curragh of Kildare And the boys will all be there With their sleaghans in good repair, And what should the (dash) (dash) do But throw off the black and blue, And swear that they'll be true To the Sean bhean bhocht!"
The unknown visitor who moves among the masses in places like Allenwood on a day of festivities receives a valuable education-if he wants to. The tale was unfolded that in a neighbouring district of Clonyroe a poster calling for the redistribution of the ranches wound up with
THE LAND-FOR-THE PEOPLE!
During the night the followers of a certain organization pasted a slip underneath that line, announcing
AND THE BOG FOR THE CLONYROES!
Over this line our Clonyroe hopefuls pasted during the next night
AND THE PLOW FOR THE RANCHES!
Thus is education spreading and at little cost!
One heard such remarks as "This Government, no doubt, is with the poor, and the Opposition with the snobs at the Races-all on the turf." "Look at Father X.Y. how far he travelled-always, where a priest ought to be, with the poor."
Paddy O'B----, whose wide address is the Bog of Allen, and who pulls (not cuts) and dresses the best blackthorns in the wide world, plied his trade to much advantage.· He had selected a specially tough and smokedried plant to present to the President of the Saorstat and had little difficulty in finding a scholar on the turf bank to translate into Irish and write in legible lettering a motto of Paddy's own composition to affix to the stick-Irish was not taught in his youth, he stressed. The motto, "To ROUT THE SENATE" was accordingly changed (to Paddy's satisfaction) before presenting the many-thorned weapon to CHUN NA SEANAIDE DO RUAGAIRT.