and the Monaghan connection
Described by many writers and historians as The Walter
Scott of Irish Literature, William Carleton was born
at Prillisk, near Clogher in Co. Tyrone, on Shrove Tuesday
1794, the youngest of fourteen children. His mother was
both a lovely singer and a fluent Irish speaker and, from
her, Carleton learned many of the old Irish love-songs and
tragedies of his native land. He also learned and could
converse fluently in Irish but, strangely, would use little
of the native tongue in his later writings.
Carleton would eventually become one of the greatest Irish
writers of the 19th century and was described thus by Sir
Shane Leslie: - Of all the Irish novelists Carleton
survives supreme. In language, molten and style-less, he
describes what was then no doubt the worlds finest
peasantry. He was the Walter Scott of the humble Irish peasant.
Professor York Powell thought that in many passages he surpassed
Sir Walter by sheer sublimity of gloom and grandeur. His
Traits and Stories delineate inimitably the
customs and humours and dialects of his time.
From an early age Carleton was intended for the priesthood
and, at age fifteen, he set off on foot from Aughnacloy,
heading for Munster and a classical education that would
enable him to later enter Maynooth. He got as far as Granard
in Co. Longford where he found lodgings for the night but,
following a dreadful nightmare in which he saw himself being
gored by a massive bull, he wakened up in a dreadful sweat
and the following morning, instead of continuing his journey
to Munster, headed back to Clogher and home. For some reason
he took this as a sign that he was not meant for the priesthood
but he still lodged for a classical education.
After a few years at home doing as little as possible, he
discovered that there was a classical teacher named Fr.
John Keenan, who ran a classical school at Glennan, between
Emyvale and Glaslough in Co. Monaghan. What was even better,
this priest was actually a distant relation of his own.
He immediately set out for Glennan where he met Fr. Keenan
and arranged to become one of his pupils. Interestingly,
in his Autobiography he describes his meeting with Fr. Keenan,
stating that the priest treated him - to a bumper
of as a good poteen as ever ran through the eye of a still.
My beloved Co. Monaghan
Carleton spent three years, 1811 to 1814, under the tuition
of Fr. Keenan, a period which he later described in a letter
to his sister, written a short time before his death. thus:
- had my beloved Co. Monaghan been as full as local
songs as it was of religious and political songs, I would
never have left it.
It was also during his period in North Monaghan that he
got the inspiration for one of his best known stories The
fair of Emyvale. In that same novel, he nick-named
the old Monaghan jail, which stood where Monaghan Courthouse
now stands as Johnny Shorts Hotel, a name
that would stick for many years thereafter. Johnny Short
had been the prison governor, who also had a unique arrangement
with his inmates - he would release the thieves and pick-pockets
on fair days and market-days, when the rich farmers from
the surrounding countryside would all be in town, on condition
that they would share their spoils with him on their return
in the evenings. Apparently, the arrangement worked well
as there are no records of any prisoners absconding while
being accorded this privilege.
While in the North Monaghan area also, Carleton became familiar
with the stories of the notorious land-agent named Dacre
Hamilton, and his cruelty to tenants on estates in the vicinity
of the town. Carleton would use this in his story Valentine
McClutchy, his pseudonym for the detested Hamilton.
In 1814 Fr Keenan left Co. Monaghan to open a much larger
school in Dundalk, and Carleton completed his classical
education with a Fr. Thomas Campbell in Errigal Truagh parish.
He then decided to leave for Dublin where he might be employed
as a teacher. In his autobiography he writes, describing
his departure: - I never slackened by pace till I
had gone a distance of more than twenty-five miles, some
miles indeed beyond the town of Castleblayney. Near Castleblayney
a widow kept a carmans inn for many years.
I had also been told that there was a distant relationship
between our families and hers. I knew, besides, that a niece
of hers with whom I was well acquainted had been residing
with her and I resolved to call with them. I did so, and
nothing could be more affectionate or hospitable than their
He slept in Blayneys Bed
Surprisingly, the woman of the house told him that he would
not sleep there that night but would instead sleep in a
fine dwelling nearby. Pointing it out to Carleton, she said:
- thats Lord Blayneys Shooting Lodge and
youll have the honour of sleeping in his bed this
night, which Carleton duly did and which he thus describes
in his autobiography - and rightly soundly I slept
The following day Carleton proceeded to a house in the parish
of Killanny, most of which lies in Co. Monaghan, but portion
of which is also in Co. Louth. A former school-friend of
his, Edward McArdle, was now Parish Priest of Killanny and
resided there with a family called Cassidy. The house was
situated about three miles from Carrickmacross and also
a short distance from the celebrated Wildgoose Lodge
which had been the scene of a dreadful tragedy the previous
year, when a family named Lynch had been burnt in their
home by a band of Ribbonmen. Carleton, who met some of those
involved would later write an account of this outrage in
this tragic story of the same name - Wildgoose Lodge.
The inspiration for this story came to Carleton one day
while he was in Killanny and had gone out for a walk to
the small village of Corcreagh in South Monaghan, only to
come across a number of soldiers and what he describes as
a tar sack dangling from a high beam of wood ... the
sack kept gently dangling backward and forward in obedience
to the wind and I could perceive lone drops of slime shining
in the light, and dangling from the bottom. He was
informed that this was a gibbet and that the pitched sack
contained the body of a man named Paddy Devaun, one of those
accused of the murder of the family in Wildgoose Lodge.
The scene had a traumatic effect on Carleton - hence one
of his best known stories.
This, however, was not the only gibbet Carleton would see
in the parish of Killanny. He would later record: - Sometimes
two bodies, or rather two sacks, might be seen hanging after
the manner of Devaun. On more that one occasion I have seen
four. The gibbets were set up near the residences of those
who had been convicted of the crime.
Getting a lift in a herse
Carleton then found employment as a tutor to the children
of the family of a Mr. Pierse Murphy, also in Killanny parish.
There he would get the inspiration for yet another of his
wonderful stories, and the very large Murphy farm he later
described as belonging to the Bodagh Buie OBrien
in his story The Miser. Here too, Carleton frequented
a respectable public house in Corcreagh, owned by a Peter
Byrne and his brothers. While drinking there he met a bling
piper named Gaynor, whom he later called Talbot
in the Gunn and Camerons Journal. He also
describes many of the house dances that he attended in this
South Monaghan parish and where he joined in the local dances,
describing his own dancing prowess thus - In reel,
jig or hornpipe, I was unapproachable, for which he
was duly rewarded with a bottle of the hard stuff from a
Carleton eventually decided to leave Killanny and head for
Dublin. Following receipt of his first quarter salary from
the Murphys he went to Carrickmacross where he bought
some new clothes. He then travelled to Dundalk, getting
a lift to that town in the back of a hearse. Arriving at
the house of his former tutor Fr. John Keenan who had been
extremely ill for a period previously, the ailing priest
saw him arrive in the hearse and taking umbrage at what
he perceived as a Carleton insult to his state of health,
refused to let him enter. Peace soon prevailed however,
and Carleton got lodgings for the night and set off for
Dublin the next morning, thus ending his connection with
Co. Monaghan for good.
These are just some of the Co. Monaghan connections and
stories that figure prominently in Carletons writings.
The novels are included in his truly magnificent Traits
and Stories of the Irish Peasantry. His first ever
story The Freeholders of Derrygola is a Monaghan
story, while his poem The Churchyard Bride tells
the story of the legendary ghost that was reputed to haunt
old graveyard at Errigal near the Blackwater in North Monaghan.
No wonder that this great writer was much admired by Patrick
Kavanagh of Inniskeen, and many would say that he was even
imitated by that great Co. Monaghan writer of the modern
Taken from Monaghan's Match