Portrait of an Irish Character
This is a genuine portrait of an Irish piper, for the face of the man, and the instrument on which he is playing, are both characteristic of our Nation, genuine Irish. In the well-proportioned oval face you can recognise his years of wisdom, good sense, and gentleness, which is a common trait found among the ordinary people of Ireland, in town or countryside. As for the bagpipes, they are of the most approved Irish kind, beautifully finished, and from which we hear the delicious, relaxing strains traditional Irish music in these modern times of electric guitars and computerised tunes. Pipes such as these have been handed down from generation to generation unto the present time. As a family heirloom they are treated well, taken good care of, and used in a manner that does justice to their powers.
The cause of this apparent deficiency of feeling or talent, many believe, is due to the fact that Paddy, a genuine musical genius, never had the opportunity of hearing any of the great performers of the past and, therefore, had not the chance of improving his considerable talents further. Those whom he did hear he can imitate and outplay very successfully, but in every Irish County there is always one musician of one instrument or another more eminent than the rest, who is recognised as the best in his locality.
In this work we only wish to present a few traits in the character of an individual Irish Piper, which after all relate more to the man than the musician. At the same time, we want let our foreign readers and lovers of Ireland to realise that the true Irish Pipers are not at all like the story of the piper who made his living with only three tunes that he played for the farmers in the land for Paddy could play not three tunes, but three thousand. When he played, they say that your feet could not keep still and your spirit would rise in great joy as the strains of the Irish jig, the reel, and the country dance. This was the way it was in days past, and is slowly becoming so once again, and thank God for it.
But Paddy was more than just an exceptional piper, for he was also a very exceptional man, made even more exceptional when we are told that he had been deprived of his eyesight. He was still a kind and caring person whose path through life was marked by the regard that others felt for him, for he was respected. We had heard enough of the qualities that he had and which had gained him this respect, independently of his musical renown, before we had met with him, to make us want to get to know him better. It was while we were on a visit to Galway with some friends last summer that we tried for two or three days to get him to our hotel for an evening, but in vain. He was away from his playing his music in various locations and could not be found until, on making our way towards Connemara, we met a blind man coming along the road, whom we immediately thought was the ‘Galway Piper’, and discovered we were correct. It was Paddy Connolly himself, who had returned home for a change of clothes, and was on his way back to Galway to spend the evening with a party of gentlemen by whom he had been employed to play during the Regatta. It was not convenient for us to return to the city with him, and so we very wisely decided to carry him off with us. After we seized his pipes from him the rest was easy to do by first taking his pipes, after which we soon had him, a quiet though for a while an upset captive. “Oh! in the name of God, what will Mr Kennedy and the gentlemen think of me at all at all?” exclaimed Paddy.
“Never mind, Paddy,” we told him, “they can hear you often, but we may never have another opportunity of doing so again. So, come along with us, and rest assured that you will be as happy with us as you would have been with those gentlemen at the Regatta.” Only a few minutes later, we had Paddy crooning old Irish songs for us, and pointing out all the objects of any interest or beauty on either side of the road, and this with a correctness and accuracy which perfectly astounded us.
We kept Paddy with us for two weeks before we brought him back safely to Galway. But, during that time, as well as since, we had many opportunities to. But of all his talents, Paddy’s greatest asset was his constant benevolence toward others. There are many examples of this characteristic, which his friends and neighbours will eagerly tell you about his efforts to assist those who are poorer than himself. In his home village, about two miles from Galway, we asked him about the poverty in which his neighbours lived. “Poor? Indeed they are, Sir, very,” he replied, “they have been very badly off this year because of the wet weather, the want of heat, and the high price of potatoes.”
“And how,” I asked, “have they managed to keep body and soul together?”
“Ah, sure, just with the help of those who are a little better off than themselves.”
Paddy never said that he was the person who helped them willingly, but when he was asked was he able to give them any help he confessed that he had, saying he had lent thirty shillings to one family so they could buy seed for their bit of ground, ten shillings to another to buy meal, and so on. “And will they ever pay you back, Paddy?” he was asked.
“Och! they will, to be sure, Sir,” Paddy replied in an unconvincing manner, adding, “if they can, and if they can’t, Sir, why, please God, I’ll get over it. Sure, one couldn’t see the creatures starve!”
Then, we heard that Paddy’s turf had been stolen from him, perhaps by some of the very people whom he had helped and we were curious to ascertain how he took his loss. So, he was asked, “How were you off for turf last winter, Paddy?”
“And how did it happen that you had no turf of your own?”
“Because, Sir, it was all stolen from me, after I had paid two pounds for cutting and drying it.”
“Did you ever,” he was asked, “discover who were the robbers?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied.
“And could you prove the theft against them?”
“I could, to be sure.”
“Did you prosecute them?”
“Sure, what good would that do me?” and Paddy added, in a tone of pity, “the creatures! Sure, they were poor rogues, or they would not have taken every bit away.”
“Well, then, Paddy, did you ever speak to them about it?”
“I did, indeed.”
“And what was their answer?”
“They said, that they wouldn’t have touched it if they had known it was mine.”
“Did they ever return any of it?”
Paddy replied with a laugh, “Oh, no!”
Another story tells that one day, while Paddy was stopping at Mr O’Flaherty’s, who was blind in one eye, was walking two horses, one of which was also similarly disabled, and the other completely blind. A man who was present remarked that here were four animals, two men and two horses, that had but two eyes among them, and he proposed a race, to which Paddy and O’Flaherty agreed. Paddy was placed upon the horse which could see a little, and O’Flaherty got up on the blind one. Off they started with whip and spur, and to his great delight, Paddy won, and he was delighted at having achieved this feat.
Another day, we were standing in the kitchen, listening to Paddy telling his stories to a happy group of young people, when he was spoken to by a middle-aged woman, who, from her lack of English, misunderstood what he was saying, and imagined that he was making a pass at a lovely young girl, representing himself as an unmarried man. Paddy, therefore, was very surprised to hear himself attacked viciously in Irish and broken English, about his terrible conduct. Before the woman had stopped her tirade, Paddy’s face showed that the man would now carry on this joke. So, when he was allowed to reply, he in turn scolded her for being stupid in supposing that she knew him, denied having ever seen her before, and declared that he was not Paddy Connolly at all, and never had heard of or seen such a person. He further added, that “it was a shame for a woman with her two eyes to be so foolish.” The woman could only look at him in mute bewilderment, and actually seemed to doubt her own senses. But she gradually became satisfied as to his identity, and, excited into a virtuous rage, she rushed out of the house, declaring that she would never stop until she told his wife of his misconduct, and she kept her word.
Yes, Paddy was like many others in the county, an ardent lover of field sports. Sitting at breakfast in the local hotel our peace and quiet was suddenly disturbed by a loud din of barking dogs and shouting men. From the main window we could see the road beyond the bridge fore a mile or more and you can imagine our astonishment at seeing Paddy Connolly and Paddy McKee hand in hand and running at top speed, both shouting joyfully and accompanied by a host of greyhounds and terriers barking in chorus, and quickly racing out of sight. Looking at the hotel manager we asked, ” What in the world is the meaning of that?“
“It’s Paddy and McKee going off to course, after borrowing my dogs.”
When all is said and done we must state Paddy was both a temperate and prudent man. He was asked once, “You don’t drink hard, Paddy?”
In conclusion we will admit that Paddy appears to be in comfortable circumstances, farming a bit of ground. His cottage is neat and tidy, and he has a high opinion and decent pride in his own undoubted musical talents. He only plays for the gentry or for the more comfortable farmers. He will not lower his professional standards to play in the pubs for the ordinary folks, except on rare occasions, when he does it for free and for the sole pleasure of making them happy.