George Birmingham, Spanish Gold ( 1908; 31 Methuen edns. to 1935)

Dram. pers.: Joseph John Meldon; Major Kent; Thomas O’Flaherty Pat; Mrs. O’Flaherty; Mary Kate; Higginbotham; Sir Giles Buckley; Chief Sec. Willoughby; A farcical tale of a treasure hunt on an Aran island - Inishgowlan - in which Meldon, the sporting Anglican curate, is pitched against the beastly Sir Giles Buckley, and supported by Major Kent, whose estate stands at risk to Buckley, with bit-parts by a cast of islanders and the government official, an earnest philanthropic Mr. Higginbotham, and a puzzled but sympathetic and admiring Chief Secretary for Ireland (arriving in a boat called Granuaile). Meldon’s eclectic knowledge and verbal wit occupies the foreground at all times. He is rewarded for his audacity by a Church living in a Yorkshire mining town, in the gift of a friend of the Chief Sec. Irish questions – the Land League, mainly – are dealt with comically, but not entirely flippantly; topography, Moy Bay, Ballymoy, ‘rich, like most West of Ireland towns, in public houses and ecclesiastical buildings [...] and nothing else. The Poll-na-Phuca. TOPICS: Church of Ireland; Land War; Aran Islands; Style; Colony; Law; Dublin Castle.

REV. MELDON: ‘Indeed, those who knew him well wondered at his being a curate at all. He was more at his ease in a smoking-room than a drawing room, and preferred a gun to a Sunday-school roll-book. He cared very little about his personal appearance, and considered he paid sufficient respect to the virtue of cleanliness if he washed every morning. He was physically strong, played most games well, had been distinguished as an athlete in college, smoked black tobacco, and was engaged to be married. Also, though no one ever gave him credit for being studious, he read a great many books. [3] a fluent liar, according to Major Kent.; not very arduous day’s work; Major Kent, family and history [7]; He was born too early to come under the spell of the Gaelic revival, and never felt the slightest inclination to write himself Seaghan Ceannt [...] [8]; he had the true Englishman’s respect for the law in spite of the fact that both him and his father had spent their lives in Ireland. The very thought of an unhallowed interference with property shocked him inexpressibly. [163]; Irish attitude to law, “I call this theft’, is his response to one of Meldon’s schemes. “You can call it arson if you like,” said Meldon, who had nothing but Irish blood in his veins, “or malicious injury or agrarian outrage, or intimidation. I don’t care if you call it cattle-driving or even boycotting. I’m going to stow the oars away all the same. I can’t have the owners of the curragh rowing off to the Aureole and putting Sir Giles on shore as soon as our back is turned.” [167]

NATIONALISM (IPP): Kent, ‘the nationalists are blackguards.’ [168]; JJ on building a round tower, a folly preferable to a pier; ‘I should have to get a site in someone’s field for my round tower, and I should probably have the land-league denouncing me for land-grabbing.’ [36]

CLERGY in Ireland, ‘that is the beauty of Ireland. The clergy are perfectly sage [from interference by the law]; A persistent theme is the amount of physical work done by the Irish peasantry in comparison with the leisured classes - either Meldon, with his unarduous Protestant clergyman’s duties, or Kent, ‘one of those fortunate gentlemen who have nothing particular to do in life.’ The work of the peasantry is revealed gradually and insistently, and with a good deal of conscious thematising. It becomes, in fact, a focus of awareness both for Kent and Meldon, while it also plays more widely on the consciousness of the reader as it arises of its own insistent pressure in the fabric of the story’

KELP-GATHERERS’ LABOUR: ‘A few hundred yards from the north end of the island there is a break in the cliffs. A narrow path, very steep and rough, has been made from the top of the tr[u]dge to the beach below. It is used during the kelp-burning season by men and girls, who climb down it, gather sea-wrack among the rocks, and toilsomely ascend again with dripping creels on their backs and soaked garments flapping round their legs.’ [66]; “I wouldn’t care much,’ said the Major, as they neared the top of the steep and slippery pathway, ‘to be climbing up this five or six times a day with a creel of seaweed on my back.” [81]; Mrs. O’Flaherty working at a churn; Meldon demonstrates his worth by offering to take over the ‘dash’ so Mrs F. can attend to the crying baby, ‘to stop at a certain stage of the process is fatal to the production of butter [... [...] ‘I know more than that [...] I know things that would surprise you now, wise as you are. Give me the dash, I say’; Meldon brought to realise ‘more and more clearly the strenuousness of a woman’s life’; feminist suggestions on the score of Suffrage, and getting the men to share the burden; Mrs. O’Flaherty indicates ‘himself has enough to do outdoors’; Mrs. Flaherty ‘pounding a mass of potatoes in a large tub’ for the pigs [79], ‘this isn’t the likes of the work that you’d be used to’; Mrs. ‘Flaherty looks after a ‘ravelling’ old mother, “ [...] and me with all the work to do [...] “ [130]; Meldon has remembered her request for ‘midicine’ to quieten the old lady, ‘mak[e] things easier for young Mrs. O’Flaherty [...] send a good stiff bottle off to the old woman [her mother, see 130] [...] on the whole, things look rosy for you and me [...] [171]

MELDON’S POLITICAL CREDO, ‘I’m not talking about these petty local squabbles [but about] the great stream of European thought, [...] the wide movements discernible among all civilised peoples.’ [168]; exchange between two crooks Buckley and Irish side-kick Langton, ‘Irishman – same thing [as Englishman] – not the same thing [193-4]; Meldon’s response, ‘anyone with any experience of this country knows where that sort of talk leads to. The Major can’t be expected to stand it. He’s a Unionist, one of the loyal and oppressed minority, and it isn’t right to outrage his feelings by introducing politics into what ought to be a simple business discussion.’ [194]

Meldon on the Chief Secretary: He’s far and away a bigger man than the Lord Lieutenant, although he doesn’t wear such good clothes or look so ornamental. He varies, of course, from time to time according to circumstances, that is to say, according to whether the English people think they’d like a Conservative or a Liberal Prime Minister. At present he’s a man called Willoughby [...] [200]

The Chief Secretary’s bewilderment [...] compared with his sensations in the House of Commons, ‘when Irish members of both parties asked questions on the same subject. He knew that his only chance was to ignore side-issues, however fascinating, and get back to the original point.’ [220]; Meldon’s justifies his lies, ‘the worst thing about you Englishmen is that you have such blunt minds. You don’t appreciate the lights and shades, the finer nuances, what I may perhaps describe as the chiaroscuro of things.’ [220]; Chief Sec. has ‘survived fiercest eloquence of the Members for Munster constituencies and survived the most searching catechisms of the men from Down and Antrim ...’ [223], but is beaten down by Meldon’s absurdly ‘pragmatic’ arguments; ‘[The Chief Sec.] stuck doggedly to his point. Just so his countrymen, though beaten by all the rules of war, have from time to time clung to positions which they ought to have evacuated.’ [225]; Meldon admonishes, ‘[you] come out here to an island which as far as I know no one invited you to visit [...] [Inishgowlan or Ireland?] [226]

NOTE, Uncleanliness is increasingly a mark of Meldon’s character [235]; O’Flaherty represented contradictorily in noble and ignoble attitudes, ‘His face had a look of dignity, of a certain calm and satisfied superiority. Men of this kind are to be met with here and there among the Connacht peasantry. There are in reality the children of a vanishing race, of a lost civilisation, of a bygone culture. They watch the encroachments of another race and new ideas with a sort of sorrowful contempt [...] as if, possessing a wisdom of their own, and aesthetic joy of which the modern world knows nothing, they are content to let both die with them rather than attempt to teach them to men of a wholly difference outlook upon life.’ [61]; Company of Meldon, Higginbotham, the Chief Sec., and the Parish Priest, each of which are capable of their own form of dignity, we hear that he ‘behaved in this company like a true aristocrat [...] fully conscious of a certain superiority in himself ..’.. gentle courtesy’ [240]

A BATTLE OF WITS, Fr. Mulcrone wins with his story of the bishop back from hell with a red hot ring; ‘You have me beat’, says Meldon. [The Chief Sec. is the witness of this; the victory goes to the RC, but the dignity of conceding it goes to the Anglican; while the Chief Sec. extends his humorous appreciation of their hyperbolic characters to each of them equally. Not the priest has not bludgeoned O’Flaherty into submission; 248]; Of course, O’Flaherty has the treasure hid! [252]; O’Flaherty says his daughter would steal the treasure off him as soon as anyone. Meldon, ‘I declare to goodness you have a pretty low opinion of your relatives and friends.’ [254]; O’Flaherty, explaining why he trusts Meldon with the treasure, ‘Sure I could see by the face of you [...] you were as simple and innocent and harmless as could be.’ [255].

NOTE that Horace’s Ode on the superiority of simple happiness to Sicilian banquets is discussed by Meldon; The inhabitants of the island now have enough to ‘buy out the entire island without asking a penny from the [Congested Districts] Board.[299]; Suffragette joke [296]; devolution, land, university [284; 296.]

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