The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

April 2, 2016

April 2, 1902

We share the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article for Anna MacManus (December 3, 1866 to April 2, 1902), an Irish writer.  First though a brief story she wrote. 

From The Passionate Hearts we quote a short story, a few pages, written by an Irish patriot at the end of the 19th century. Sad, very Irish, and not inappropriate this centenary year of 2016. 


HIS cabin stood by the side of a burn into which the sally-trees drooped from either side, making a thick fringe of green that met overhead and cast dappled shadows on the clear water when the sun stood high and fierce in the heavens. Little ripples broke in white bubbles around the stones that made the crossing-places, and the speckled trout darted like tiny silver spears through their haunts below the overhanging banks.

It was a tranquil, lonely spot; eerie, too, in the autumn twilight, when the slow-creeping mists rose up from the bog for miles around, and many were the tales told of an evening, by the folk living on the high land, of lights that flashed all over the bog at the very moment that Jamie Boyson set his candle in his cottage window to guide the Wee Gray Woman up the rugged loaning to her seat in the chimney corner.

Once it happened that the wild young fellows of Glenwherry came in the dead of night to play a trick on Jamie. They stole over the stepping-stones ...and noiselessly reached the one-paned window, half hidden by thatch, in which the light gleamed. A red turf fire blazing on the hearth lit up the interior of the old man's kitchen; it shone on the battered ancient dresser, and on the store of carefully-kept delf that had been his mother's. For Jamie had the name of being cleanly and thrifty in his ways. The hearth was carefully swept, the flat stones at front and sides whitened by a practised hand, and no ragged streaks wandered over the edges on to the clay floor beyond. A threelegged stool stood in front of the fire, placed there for the convenience of the unearthly visitant who, Jamie said, came nightly to sit and rest herself by the
 greesaugh until the black cock should crow in the rafters above the settle-bed, invariably awaking him at the same moment that the Wee Gray Woman got warning to leave. That was why he could never get a right look at her, he lamented. Sometimes he opened his eyes in time to see the flutter of her gray cloak as she passed out of his door, and once he caught a gleam of red. It was a red hood she wore, not like anything that mortal ever saw before, but just as if a big scarlet tulip had been crushed down over her head with all the leaves sticking out round her face. And his blood always curdled when she gave a cry going over the threshold, as if she was being dragged away into some dreaded torment from which she had had a respite.

"It would break the heart in yer breast to hear it, just for all the worl' like the whine of a dog when there's death aroun'," he would say.

But no one could get him to commit himself as to a theory about the comings and goings of the Wee Woman. Whether he fancied her a friendly denizen of fairyland, or a poor wandering ghost dreeing her purgatory for her own sake or the sake of some one loved and living, the inquisitive people of the bog-side could never learn, yet night after night the hearth was swept, and the stool placed that she might have her rest until dawn broke in a flame of gold and pale chilly green over the hill-tops.

So the ghostly story spread, as such stories will, through the country, finding by turns sympathiser and sceptic alike, who yearned, though fear of the supernatural kept most of them away, for a peep through Jamie's window before the black cock gave the signal. But the young fellows from Glenwherry, daring and mischievous as they were, had made up their minds to solve the mystery, and nothing daunted, holding their breath steadily, they drew close to the little window, and out of the thick blackness of the last night-hour glared into the haunted kitchen.

The firelight flickered fitfully at first, so that their eyes, half blinded with the darkness, saw nothing save shadows; then, suddenly, a gleam shot from the heart of the dying turf, and showed a vision that drove them back from the window, saddened and ashamed.

It was only the old man asleep in his settle-bed, his thin, wrinkled profile outlined like a cameo against the background of dark wood, and the patient old hands, that were so gentle and capable, folded upon his breast, as when he had lain down to sleep.

After that the Wee Gray Woman might come and go, without dread of being watched for, or disturbed, and among the Glenwherry lads Jamie found a set of stalwart partisans, whose judgment in his favour dare not be gainsaid.

He was not altogether devoid of occupation and amusement in his lonely existence. The little one-roomed cabin was tidy as a woman might have kept it. And though he harboured neither cat nor dog, during one winter at least—the severest winter known for many years in that locality—he had a pet, and the pet was a cricket. Imported from a neighbouring fireside, he had trained it with the utmost patience and skill until the diminutive dusty-looking object learned to jump out from behind the big pot in the chimney-corner at his call. The story of his having accomplished such a marvel scarcely gained credence; it was not to he compared to that of his ghostly guest; but the country children cherished it and repeated it in wide-eyed wonder, when tbey gathered round their elders' knees before the unwelcome bedtime; while the more superstitious asserted that it was the Wee Gray Woman come to bide with Jamie Boyson by day in another guise. It certainly looked uncanny enough, hop-hopping over the floor, chirruping in a shrill, faint treble to his deeper intonation, and, when he lifted it, creeping into the shelter of his hand, as a home bird might that has known and loved and trusted in the kind guardianship.

But once upon a time Jamie Boyson had need of neither ghost nor cricket for company. That was in the days of his early manhood, when, stalwart, supple, and strong, he led the boys of Crebilly to victory on many a hard-fought field of a Sunday, proving himself a champion to be proud of, in throwing the shoulder-stone, and wielding the camdn against the athletic Glenwherry lads, with big Dan O'Hara at their head. Then, where was his equal to be found at dance or christening? Why, half the girls in the country were in love with him, and hopelessly, too, as they learned to admit to their own sad hearts, that fluttered so uncomfortably under the Sunday 'kerchiefs when he passed, his black head erect, and his shoulders squared like a militia major's, without a look at one of them, up the chapel aisle to his seat next his mother in the old family pew.

The family pew held something else besides his mother; something the very sight of which was enough to bring the red blood in a rush to the roots of his curly dark hair, and make his heart almost leap out of hia breast for gladness; something that was small, and fair, and blue-eyed, half-hiden behind his mother's ample form, and scarcely lifting her white lids from the beads she was passing through her fingers.

She was no stranger to him; he had many opportunities of watching her pale sweetness by his own fireside at night, without embarrassing her with that burning gaze of his under the disapproving eyes of all the congregation; but he was wont to say to himself, as a sort of justification, that little Rosie at her prayers taught him more about heaven and holiness than the priest could do with all his preaching.

His brother Hugh used to joke him often and often about his fancy for the little orphan girl whom his mother had saved from the poorhouse, and Jamie's brow would glow with the angry red that warned Hugh's tongue to stop, and the laughter to die out of his merry brown face. There were only the two of them left to his mother, and one took little Rosie into his life as a sister, while to the other she, whom the country lads in general had called " a poor, pale wisp o' a thing," became his all, his world, his gateway of Paradise. How the love for her grew up in his heart was a mystery to him. Perhaps it took root when as a little child—the evening she came heme to them—she laid her flaxen head on the bashful lad's broad shoulder and would not be parted from him until sleep stole on her unawares and released the tiny hands from their grasp on his strong ones. Or perhaps it came later as he learned to watch delightedly her deft, gentle household ways, and heard her crooning to herself over her flowering, in the rare leisure moments the active, bustling mother allowed.

There was an old song he was very fond of singing about " Lord Edward "—an old song she loved to listen to—and he was always sure of a grateful glance from the
shy eyes, when of a winter's night he favoured the little circle around the hearth of Lisnahilt with the stanzas set to an air that was very popular in the district: —

"The day that traitors sold him an' enemies bought him,

The day that the red gold and red blood was paid;

Then the green turned pale and trembled like the dead leaves in autumn, An' the heart an' hope of Ireland in the cold grave was laid.

"The day I saw you first, with the sunshine fallin' round ye.

My heart fairly opened with the grandeur of the view; For ten thousand Irish boys that day did surround ye, An' I swore to stand by them till death, an' fight for you.

"Ye wor the bravest gentleman an' the best that ever stood,

An' yer eyelids never trembled for danger nor for dread,

An' nobleness was flowin' in each stream of your blood— My blessin' on ye day and night, an' Glory be your bed.

"My black and bitter curse on the head an' heart an' hand

That plotted, wished, an' worked tne fall of this Irish hero bold,

God's curse upon the Irishman that sould his native land, And hell consume to dust the hand that held the traitor's gold."

Sometimes tired with the day's hard work, she would rest her head against the wall with a low sigh of weariness. She must often be tired, he thought; those little feet had run about so nimbly since early morning, and the little red hands had washed and baked, without a moment's pause; but, please God, that would be all ended soon, when his wife should reign over a home of her own, and he had taken her into the shelter of his strong arms for evermore.

Yet no word of this crossed his lips, though the desire that filled his heart beat like a strong ceaseless wave within his breast, giving him an almost unbearable pain, and he never dreamt but that she knew. In the very effort to control himself, his voice was, curiously, harsh when he spoke to her; and while the poor child trembled at the rude accents, her faltering reply aroused in the big, tender-hearted fellow a wild feeling that was half exquisite pity, and half hate. Ah! if he had only spoken tben, the grim tragedy of his life might have been spared him.

One bleak night in autumn a sound outside drew him to the door, and opening it, he stood listening.

"John Conan's calves are in the clover-field," he said; "go and put them out."

Rose lifted her timid blue eyes to him questioningly.

"Do you hear me?" he asked.

"But I'm afraid," she murmured; "it's so dark,

He pointed his finger to the open door and the black stormy night outside.

"Go," he repeated fiercely, turning to his chair, and lifting his pipe off the shelf, and the girl passed into the darkness without another word.

What madness was on him that he had spoken to the little girl, and sent her on such an errand ? he asked himself when she had gone. He had been conscious of a strange, sore sensation all day, since at C'rebilly Fair, that forenoon, Tom M'Mullan had proposed a match between her and his son Jack, one of the wildest young scamps in the whole countryside, and the unreasoning jealousy grew and grew until he had wreaked his pain in vengeance on his poor Rosie's unoffending head.

"Oh! amn't I the queer, ungrateful fool," he muttered, " to trate the wee lass this way."

An hour passed, he waiting every moment to hear her footfall on the threshold, and his mother speculating comfortably that she had gone in for a gossip to John Conan's. At last he could bear his regret and the suspense no longer, and went out to seek her.

It was only a step or two to the clover-field, and reaching the low stone wall he called to her eagerly in the darkness. The startled calves, still enjoying their forbidden banquet, lowed back in answer.

He vaulted the gate, every step of the way familiar to him by night as by noon, and called anxiously and long. Then he remembered his mother's surmise, and turned across the field to Conan's.

There was no little Rosie sitting with the laughing girls grouped together in the corner, over a quilting frame, and in response to his husky demand a couple of Conan's young sons volunteered to accompany him on his search—Hugh, his brother, being away for the night in a market town many miles off.

He walked on, quickly, in the direction of the bog, guided only by his intimate knowledge of the treacherous path that wound like a serpent across the marshy windswept surface. He heard the small waves beat against each other with a faint sad sound, while overhead not one solitary star glimmered, to light his heart with hopefulness. Through the terrible night, and into the dawn, his frantic search continued, calling her name in a hoarse agony that wrung the souls of those who heard him.

"Rosie, Rosie, my little girl, it's Jamie's callin.' Ah! come, can't ye, an' don't be hidin' there. Don't ye hear me darlin', it's Jamie, an' the supper's waitin' on us.

Let Conan's calves go they're always a trouble to

somebody, but you come home. Here, take my han' "— stretching out his arms into the empty shadows—" take it, love, an' don't be afeard, nothin' can touch ye, pulse o' my heart, when I'm beside ye, Rosie! Rosie!"

And so on through the dreary hours, over the wild bogland, his voice rang in pitiful entreaty, until jagged streaks of golden red flamed like trailing banners in the East, and the birds, wide-awake, took up in a chorus, clear-tongued and grateful, the morning song; but alas! for him, whose song-bird had flown afar, and for whom the dawn henceforth should hold no radiance, nor the rose-flushed mellow evening any passion.

Yet his frantic cry broke in upon the happy choir, and the blackbird and thrush, from hedge and beechentree, watched him staggering home in the sunshine, murmuring through lips that scarcely knew the words they uttered—" Rosie, Rosie, girl dear, come home."

Some hours later a turf-cutter, crossing the burn to his work, caught a gleam of something bright under the cold running water. It was little Rosie's fair head lying against the stones in the shade of the drooping sallytrees, whither through the darkness, blinded by her sorrow, she had wandered to her death.

Jamie Boyson aged suddenly after that. When the friends of his boyhood had grown into sturdy, middleaged men, strong and hearty, he was already old, with a gloom upon him that no smile was ever known to lighten. In time, when his mother died, and Hugh had married, he grew unable to bear the sound of children's chatter through the rooms where he had once hoped to see his own little ones at play, and came to live his life alone in the cabin by the burnside, from whence he could watch the very spot where poor Rosie's gentle head had lain under the clear cold ripples.

So the country folk, noting his absent dim blue eyes, and wandering talk about the Wee Gray Woman, grew to believe that it was little Rosie's ghost come to bear him company until the call should sound for him, and his broken and desolate heart should find peace.

That was many, many years ago; and, perhaps, they have met long since in heaven, where Jamie Boyson, young, and straight, and strong again, with all the bitterness gone from his heart, has taken little Rosie in his arms and told her the truth at last.

Below an account of the life of Anna MacManus and we learn that the centenary SHE celebrated was that of 1898, remembering the Irish uprising of 1798.

MacManus [née Johnston], Anna Isabel [pseud. Ethna Carbery], poet and journalist, was born in Ballymena, co. Antrim, .... the elder daughter of the two daughters and one son of Robert Johnston (1836-1937), a wealthy timber merchant and prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The family later lived in Donegall Park, Belfast. Anna Johnston had begun to publish poetry under her own name by 1886, contributing to nationalist journals and newspapers including the Irish Monthly and United Ireland. She also established contacts with literary and nationalist circles in Dublin, in particular the circle around Katharine Tynan. In October 1895 she co-founded a radical journal, the Northern Patriot, with her friend the poet and nationalist Alice Milligan (1866-1953); however they lost editorial control in December 1895 after a disagreement with the Belfast Workingmen's Club, the journal's sponsor. The friends then founded a rival journal, the republican Shan Van Vocht, which ran from January 1896 to April 1899. The editors supplied much as Iris Olkyrn and Ethna Carbery (Anna Johnston contributed over forty signed poems and stories) and they were also responsible for production and distribution. The Shan Van Vocht provided a digest of Irish radical and cultural nationalist activities in the period; it published early writings by James Connolly. The literary content was also impressive, including poetry by Lionel Johnson, Douglas Hyde, and Nora Hopper.

Anna Johnston was a sincere nationalist, but, unlike Alice Milligan, was opposed to amnesty for dynamitards. She had links with the Irish National Alliance, a revolutionary movement, and was a member of the Ulster '98 Centenary Committee: in 1899 Dublin Castle linked her to anti-recruiting groups in Ireland. Anna Johnston's most conspicuous contribution to Irish cultural nationalism was in 1899, when she played Princess Eithne in the first Irish-language play performed in Ireland. At the time of her death she was vice-president of Inghinidhe n hEireann, the Irish women's organization.

An early and regular contributor to the Shan Van Vocht was Seamus MacManus (1869-1960), a Donegal schoolmaster from a farming background, who, as Mac of Glen Ainey, had begun to publish verse and folk sketches in the Donegal Vindicator. MacManus rapidly became a friend of both women and his aggressive nationalism gave him easy entry to Anna Johnston's home. In early September 1899 she went on a political-cultural propaganda tour of Donegal with Alice Milligan and other nationalists, including MacManus, with whom she had fallen in love. She was profoundly shocked to discover that he was about to emigrate to the United States. MacManus left Ireland in late September 1898, and subsequently claimed that he had been financed by the French government to raise Irish-American support for a war against Great Britain. MacManus made good use of his time in the United States, placing his folk tales and Donegal anecdotes in magazines and securing book contracts. He returned to Ireland in spring 1899 and by then was probably aware of Anna Johnston's feelings, already expressed in 'Paistin Fionn', published by 'E. D. M.' in the Shan Van Vocht on 7 November 1898. They married in spring 1901 and lived at Mount Revelinn House, Revlin, co. Donegal, where Anna MacManus died of gastritis on 2 April 1902; she was buried two days later in the Catholic churchyard at Frosses, co. Donegal. Her death was deemed to be 'almost a national calamity' ...and nationalist papers printed lengthy eulogies of Ethna Carbery.

Anna MacManus's writing focused on the Irish past, on folklore and mythology, although she also published political verse, such as 'The Suppliant', an attack on Queen Victoria's visit to Ireland, published in the United Irishman in April 1900. Her verse is most successful when she works within a folk tradition; her love poems addressed to Seamus MacManus, such as 'Mo Bhuachaill Cael-Dubh' and 'Paistin Fionn' follow folk-song models, but infuse them with fresh emotion. Her mythological-historical poems influenced by Sir Samuel Ferguson, such as 'Niall Glondubh to Gormlai', and her historical-patriotic poems influenced by Thomas Davis, such as 'The Erin's Hope', are less compelling. Seamus Macmanus collected her poems as
The Four Winds of Eirinn in 1902. The volume was remarkably successful, going through ten editions in 1902 and fifteen editions by 1905-Anna MacManus's melancholy looks and her early death enhanced her stature. MacManus skilfully managed her reputation, enlarging the volume, adding a highly charged memoir to the 1918 edition and family photographs to the 1934 edition. MacManus collected his wife's historical and legendary fictions as In the Celtic Past (1904) and her love stories, influenced by 'Fiona MacLeod', as The Passionate Hearts (1903).

MacManus's assertion that 'Ethna Carbery' was 'the Irish poet of ... the Revival period ... she reached the Irish heart as it has not been reached by any Irish poet in a century' (Four Winds, 158-9) is not just a widower's piety. Mary Colum summed up Anna MacManus's popularity:

Every one of the numerous mothers who had a son or daughter in America was pierced to the heart by her... she was probably the most widely read poet in Ireland, and I should not be surprised if her death was not more mourned throughout the country than the death of Yeats. ....

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