In a Manuscript in the Royal Irish Academy (23 G., 21), there is a peculiar reminiscence purportedly written by Egan O’Rahilly, the last of Gaelic Ireland’s dynastic poets and great bard of “heroic desolation and grandeur.” Written in Gaelic, the translation of the title of the stanzas is given as follows:—
“On finding some Protestant (or Englishman) hanging from a tree in the wood of Killarney.”
“The last word is misspelled, but no doubt it is Killarney that is meant. If we accept the description given of the place as accurate, it is probable that the tree in question is none other than the venerable yew tree which grows in the middle of the cloister of Muckross Abbey, or, as our poet elsewhere calls it, “Mainistir Locha Lein.” There is no doubt that the Mainistir has ever been regarded with peculiar veneration by the natives, so many generations of whom are buried beside it; and the yew tree that overshadows their graves is itself looked upon as almost sacred. There seems no doubt that the yew tree is as old as the abbey itself, and many are the legends concerning it that are widely circulated. It was long regarded as impious to touch a leaf or branch of this tree; and if we believe the legends, all such desecrations have been visited with signal vengeance. See one of these legends in “Ireland: its Scenery and Antiquities,” pp. 23 et seq. In view of this mass of popular tradition, the story here recorded is quite intelligible, but still there is a heartlessness about some of the details that makes one suspect that many of them have been invented. The story as given here is taken from O’Kearney’s MS. in the Royal Irish Academy. I have not seen any other version of it in this form. There is no well in the neighbourhood of this tree; but the well and other details are probably invented by the writer.” (Dineen)
¶ A beautiful, precious, green-boughed tree had been growing for ages beside a church which the wicked Cromwell had despoiled, above a well overflowing with cold bright water on a green-swarded plain, which a rapacious minister had torn from a nobleman of the Gaels, who was sent over the wild raging sea through treachery and not at the edge of the sword. This lubberly, stocking-stomached, wicked minister was desirous to cut down a green, limber limb of this tree to make house furniture of it. But none of the carpenters or other workmen would meddle with the beautiful bough, since it lent them a lovely shade to hide them while they mourned in heart-broken sorrow over their fair champions who lay beneath the sod. “I will cut it down,” exclaimed a gawky, bandy-legged, thinthighed son of this sleek minister’s, “and get a hatchet for me at once.”
¶ The thick-witted churl climbed up the tree, as a cat steals up when fleeing from a cry of hounds, and reached a point where two small branches crossed one another. He tried to separate them by the strength of his arms; but, in the twinkling of an eye, they slipped from his grasp, and closing on his neck held him suspended high between heaven and hell. Then was the confounded Sassenach dangling his feet in the dance of the bough, while he stood on “nothing,” and his black-bladed tongue protruded a stick’s length, as if in mockery of his father.
¶ The minister screamed and bawled like a pig in a bag or as a goose gripped beneath a gate (and no wonder) while the workmen were getting ladders to take him down. Egan O’Rahilly from Sliabh Luachra of the heroes was present, attending on the villain of the hemp, and he chanted this song :—
“Good is thy fruit, O tree,
May every branch bear such good fruit.
Alas! that the trees of Innisfail
Are not full of thy fruit each day.”
“What is the poor wild Irish devil saying?” said the minister.
“He is lamenting your darling son,” replied a wag who stood beside him.
“Here is two pence for you to buy tobacco,” said the sleek badger of a minister.
“Thank ‘ee, Minister of the Son of Malediction” (i.e. the devil), replied Egan; and he chanted this ode :—
“Huroo! O minister, who didst give me thy two pence
For chanting a lament for thy child;
May the fate of this child attend the rest of them
Back to the tail and all round.”