This will be one of our longest editions in awhile, awash with Story, Poetry and Information. One of my great joys has been to reconnect with the reading of poetry daily in putting together Turfing. I think one should hear or read it daily. It speaks to us, to the heart and soul of us.
We have another story about our relatives this time from Ireland….
We follow up with poetry of Fred Johnston, a poet, teacher, musician from Ireland, living in Galway. I think you might enjoy his work, as I have.
Our Art today is from Edward Robert Hughes… Highly enjoyable and recognizable. A nice article about him ties it up at the end of this entry…
Have a brilliant day, and a great weekend.
The Shee an Gannon and the Grugach Gaire
The Poetry of Fred Johnston: From Belfast To Galway…
A note on the Artist…
Art: Edward Robert Hughes
The Shee an Gannon and the Grugach Gaire
THE Shee an Gannon [in Gaelic “Sighe an Gannon,” the fairy of the Gannon.] was born in the morning, named at noon, and went in the evening to ask his daughter of the king of Erin.
“I will give you my daughter in marriage,” said the king of Erin; “you won’t get her, though, unless you go and bring me back the tidings that I want, and tell me what it is that put a stop to the laughing of the Gruagach Gaire [the laughing Gruagach.], who before this laughed always, and laughed so loud that the whole world beard him. There are twelve iron spikes out here in the garden behind my castle. On eleven of the spikes are the heads of kings’ sons who came seeking my daughter in marriage, and all of them went away to get the knowledge I wanted. Not one was able to get it and tell me what stopped the Gruagach Gaire from laughing. I took the heads off them all when they came back without the tidings for which they went, and I ‘m greatly in dread that your head’ll be on the twelfth spike, for I’ll do the same to you that I did to the eleven kings’ sons unless you tell what put a stop to the laughing of the Gruagach.”
The Shee an Gannon made no answer, but left the king and pushed away to know could he find why the Gruagach was silent.
He took a glen at a step, a hill at a leap, and travelled all day till evening. Then he came to a house. The master of the house asked him what sort was he, and he said: ” A young man looking for hire.”
“Well,” said the master of the house, “I was going to-morrow to look for a man to mind my cows. If you’ll work for me, you’ll have a good place, the best food a man could have to eat in this world, and a soft bed to lie on.”
The Shee an Gannon took service, and ate his supper. Then the master of the house said: “I am the Gruagach Gaire; now that you are my man and have eaten your supper, you’ll have a bed of silk to sleep on.”
Next morning after breakfast the Gruagach said to the Shee an Gannon: ” Go out now and loosen my five golden cows and my bull without horns, and drive them to pasture; but when you have them out on the grass, be careful you don’t let them go near the land of the giant.”
The new cowboy drove the cattle to pasture, and when near the land of the giant, he saw it was covered with woods and surrounded by a high wall. He went up, put his back against the wall, and threw in a great stretch of it; then he went inside and threw out another great stretch of the wall, and put the five golden cows and the bull without horns on the land of the giant.
Then he climbed a tree, ate the sweet apples himself, and threw the sour ones down to the cattle of the Gruagach Gaire.
Soon a great crashing was heard in the woods, – the noise of young trees bending, and old trees breaking. The cowboy looked around, and saw a five-headed giant pushing through the trees; and soon he was before him.
Poor miserable creature ” said the giant; but weren’t you impudent to come to my land and trouble me in this way? You ‘re too big for one bite, and too small for two. I don’t know what to do but tear you to pieces.”
“You nasty brute,” said the cowboy, coming down to him from the tree, ” ‘t is little I care for you; ” and then they went at each other. So great was the noise between them that there was nothing in the world but what was looking on and listening to the combat.
They fought till late in the afternoon, when the giant was getting the upper hand; and then the cowboy thought that if the giant should kill him, his father and mother would never find him or set eyes on him again, and he would never get the daughter of the king of Erin. The heart in his body grew strong at this thought. He sprang on the giant, and with the first squeeze and thrust he put him to his knees in the hard ground, with the second thrust to his waist, and with the third to his shoulders.
“I have you at last; you ‘re done for now! ” said the cowboy. Then he took out his knife, cut the five heads off the giant, and when he had them off he cut out the tongues and threw the heads over the wall.
Then he put the tongues in his pocket and drove home the cattle. That evening the Gruagach couldn’t find vessels enough in all his place to hold the milk of the five golden cows.
After supper the cowboy would give no talk to his master, but kept his mind to himself, and went to the bed of silk to sleep.
Next morning after breakfast the cowboy drove out his cattle, and going on farther than the day before, stopped at a high wall. He put his back to the wall, threw in a long stretch of it, then went in and threw out another long stretch of it.
After that he put the five golden cows and the bull without horns on the land, and going up on a tree, ate sweet apples himself, and threw down the sour ones to the cattle.
Now the son of the king of Tisean set out from the king of Erin on the same errand, after asking for his daughter; and as soon as the cowboy drove in his cattle on the second day, he came along by the giant’s land, found the five heads of the giant thrown out by the cowboy the day before, and picking them up, ran off to the king of Erin and put them down before him.
“Oh, you have done good work! ” said the king. “You have won one third of my daughter.”
Soon after the cowboy had begun to eat sweet apples, and the son of the king of Tisean had run off with the five heads, there came a great noise of young trees bending, and old trees breaking, and presently the cowboy saw a giant larger than the one he had killed the day before.
“You miserable little wretch! ” cried the giant; “what brings you here on my land?”
“You wicked brute! ” said the cowboy, “I don’t care for you; ” and slipping down from the tree, he fell upon the giant.
The fight was fiercer than his first one; but towards evening, when he was growing faint, the cowboy remembered that if he should fall, neither his father nor mother would see him again, and he would never get the daughter of the king of Erin.
This thought gave him strength; and jumping up, he caught the giant, put him with one thrust to his knees in the hard earth, with a second to his waist, with a third to his shoulders, and then swept the five heads off him and threw them over the wall, after he had cut out the tongues and put them in his pocket.
Leaving the body of the giant, the cowboy drove home the cattle, and the Gruagach had still greater trouble in finding vessels for the milk of the five golden cows.
After supper the cowboy said not a word, but went to sleep.
Next morning he drove the cattle still farther, and came to green woods and a strong wall. Putting his back to the wall, he threw in a great piece of it, and going in, threw out another piece. Then he drove the five golden cows and the bull without horns to the land inside, ate sweet apples himself, and threw down sour ones to the cattle.
The son of the king of Tisean came and carried off the heads as on the day before.
Presently a third giant came crashing through the woods, and a battle followed more terrible than the other two.
Towards evening the giant was gaining the upper hand, and the cowboy, growing weak, would have been killed; but the thought of his parents and the daughter of the king of Erin gave him strength, and he swept the five heads off the giant, and threw them over the wall after he had put the tongues in his pocket.
Then the cowboy drove home his cattle; and the Gruagach didn’t know what to do with the milk of the five golden cows, there was so much of it.
But when the cowboy was on the way home with the cattle, the son of the king of Tisean came, took the five heads of the giant, and hurried to the king of Erin.
“You have won my daughter now,” said the king of Erin when he saw the heads; ” but you’ll not get her unless you tell me what stops the Gruagach Gaire from laughing.”
On the fourth morning the cowboy rose before his master, and the first words he said to the Gruagach were:
“What keeps you from laughing, you who used to laugh so loud that the whole world heard you?”
“I’m sorry,” said the Gruagach, ” that the daughter of the king of Erin sent you here.”
“If you don’t tell me of your own will, I’ll make you tell me,” said the cowboy and he put a face on himself that was terrible to look at, and running through the house like a madman, could find nothing that would give pain enough to the Gruagach but some ropes made of untanned sheepskin hanging on the wall.
He took these down, caught the Gruagach, fastened his two hands behind him, and tied his feet so that his little toes were whispering to his ears. When he was in this state the Gruagach said:
“I’ll tell you what stopped my laughing if you set me free.”
So the cowboy unbound him, the two sat down together, and the Gruagach said: -”I lived in this castle here with my twelve sons. We ate, drank, played cards, and enjoyed ourselves, till one day when my sons and I were playing, a wizard hare came rushing in, jumped on our table, defiled it, and ran away.
“On another day e came again: but if he did, we were ready for him, my twelve sons and myself. As soon as he defiled our table and ran off, we made after him, and followed him till nightfall, when he went into a glen. We saw a light before us. I ran on, and came to a house with a great apartment, where there was a man with twelve daughters, and the hare was tied to the side of the room near the women.
“There was a large pot over the fire in the room, and a great stork boiling in the pot. The man of the house said to me: ‘There are bundles of rushes at the end of the room, go there and sit down with your men!’
He went into the next room and brought out two pikes, one of wood, the other of iron, and asked me which of the pikes would I take. I said, ‘I’ll take the iron one ‘ for I thought in my heart that if an attack should come on me, I could defend myself better with the iron than the wooden pike.
“The man of the house gave me the iron pike, and the first chance of taking what I could out of the pot on the point of the pike. I got but a small piece or the stork, and the man of the house took all the rest on his wooden pike. We had to fast that night; and when the man and his twelve daughters ate the flesh of the stork, they hurled the bare bones in the faces of my sons and myself.
“We had to stop all night that way, beaten on the faces by the bones of the stork.
“Next morning, when we were going away, the man of the house asked me to stay a while; and going into the next room, he brought out twelve loops of iron and one of wood, and said to me:
‘Put the heads of your twelve sons into the iron loops, or your own head into the wooden one; and l said: ‘I’ll put the twelve heads of my sons in the iron loops, and keep my own out of the wooden one.’
“He put the iron loops on the necks of my twelve sons, and put the wooden one on his own neck. ‘then he snapped the loops one after another, till he took the heads off my twelve sons and threw the heads and bodies out of the house; but he did nothing to hurt his own neck.
“When he had killed my sons he took hold of me and stripped the skin and flesh from the small of my back down, and when he had done that he took the skin of a black sheep that had been hanging on the wall for seven years and clapped it on my body in place of my own flesh and skin; and the sheepskin grew on me, and every year since then I shear myself, and every bit of wool I use for the stockings that I wear I clip off my own back.”
When he had said this, the Gruagach showed the cowboy his back covered with thick black wool.
After what he had seen and heard, the cowboy said: “I know now why you don’t laugh, and small blame to you. But does that hare come here still to spoil your table?”
“He does indeed,” said the Gruagach.
Both went to the table to play, and they were not long playing cards when the hare ran in; and before they could stop him he was on the table, and had put it in such a state that they could not play on it longer if they had wanted to.
But the cowboy made after the hare, and the Gruagach after the cowboy, and they ran as fast as ever their legs could carry them till nightfall; and when the hare was entering the castle where the twelve sons of the Gruagach were killed, the cowboy caught him by the two hind legs and dashed out his brains against the wall; and the skull of the hare was knocked into the chief room of the castle, and fell at the feet of the master of the place.
“Who has dared to interfere with my fighting pet? ” screamed he.
“I,” said the cowboy: ” and if your pet had had manners, he might be alive now.”
The cowboy and the Gruagach stood by the fire. A stork was boiling in the pot, as when the Gruagach came the first time. The master of the house went into the next room and brought out an iron and a wooden pike, and asked the cowboy which would he choose.
“I’ll take the wooden one,” said the cowboy; “and you may keep the iron one for yourself.”
So he took the wooden one; and going to the pot, brought out on the pike all the stork except a small bite, and he and the Gruagach fell to eating, and they were eating the flesh of the stork all night. The cowboy and the Gruagach were at home in the place that time.
In the morning the master of the house went into the next room, took down the twelve iron loops with a wooden one, brought them out, and asked the cowboy which would he take, the twelve iron or the one wooden loop.
“What could I do with the twelve iron ones for myself or my master? I’ll take the wooden one.”
He put it on, and taking the twelve iron loops, put them on the necks of the twelve daughters of the house, then snapped the twelve heads off them, and turning to their father, said: ” I’ll do the same thing to you unless you bring the twelve sons of my master to life, and make them as well and strong as when you took their heads,”
The master of the house went out and brought the twelve to life again; and when the Gruagach saw all his sons alive and as well as ever, he let a laugh out of himself, and all the Eastern world heard the laugh.
Then the cowboy said to the Gruagach: “It’s a bad thing you have done to me, for the daughter of the king of Erin will be married the day after your laugh is heard.”
“Oh! then we must be there in time,” said the Gruagach; and they all made away from the place as fast as ever they could, the cowboy, the Gruagach, and his twelve sons.
On the road they came to a woman who was crying very hard.
“What is your trouble?” asked the cowboy.
You need have no care,” said she, “for I will not tell you.”
You must tell me,” said he, “for I’ll help you out of it.”
“Well,” said the woman, “I have three sons, and they used to play hurley with the three sons of the king of the Sasenach, [English] and they were more than a match for the king’s sons. And it was the rule that the winning side should give three wallops of their hurleys to the other side; and my sons were winning every game, and gave such a beating to the king’s sons that they complained to their father, and the king carried away my sons to London, and he is going to hang them there to-day.”
“I’ll bring them here this minute,” said the cowboy.
“You have no time,” said the Gruagach.
“Have you tobacco and a pipe?” asked the cowboy of the Gruagach.
“I have not,” said he.
“Well, I have,” said the cowboy; and putting his hand in his pocket, he took out tobacco and a pipe, gave them to the Gruagach, and said:
“I’ll be in London and back before you can put tobacco in this pipe and light it.”
He disappeared, was back from London with the three boys all safe and well, and gave them to their mother before the Gruagach could get a taste of smoke out of the pipe.
“Now come with us,” said the cowboy to the woman and her sons, “to the wedding of the daughter of the king of Erin.”
They hurried on; and when within three miles of the king’s castle there was such a throng of people that no one could go a step ahead. “We must clear a road through this,” said the cowboy.
“We must indeed,” said the Gruagach; and at it they went, threw the people some on one side and some on the other, and soon they had an opening for themselves to the king’s castle.
As they went in, the daughter of the king of Erin and the son of the king of Tisean were on their knees just going to be married. The cowboy drew his hand on the bridegroom, and gave a blow that sent him spinning till he stopped under a table at the other side of the room.
“What scoundrel struck that blow?” asked the king of Erin.
“It was I,” said the cowboy.
“What reason had you to strike the man who won my daughter?”
“It was I who won your daughter, not he; and if you don’t believe me, the Gruagach Gaire is here himself. He’ll tell you the whole story from beginning to end, and show you the tongues of the giants.”
So the Gruagach came up and told the king the whole story, how the Shee an Gannon had become his cowboy, had guarded the five golden cows and the bull without horns, cut off the heads of the five-headed giants, killed the wizard hare, and brought his own twelve sons to life. “And then,” said the Gruagach, “he is the only man in the whole world I have ever told why I stopped laughing, and the only one who has ever seen my fleece of wool.”
When the king of Erin heard what the Gruagach said, and saw the tongues of the giants fitted into the heads, he made the Shee an Gannon kneel down by his daughter, and they were married on the spot.
Then the son of the king of Tisean was thrown into prison, and the next day they put down a great fire, and the deceiver was burned to ashes.
The wedding lasted nine days, and the last day was better than the first.
The Poetry of Fred Johnston: From Belfast To Galway…
Out of a time of storms
a quiet season. A ship
breaking sudden ice, a
fragmentary trespass on a springtime sea.
And in your mind’s eye
bills of lading.
May pack ice drifts, slides,
slices Southwards in a tight
enclosing shift. Green fire
ghosts in the frozen spars:
without sail, almost still.
The compass deceives
True North is a mystery
and the stars can be misread:
blowing into cupped hands
the first pull of fear.
An Eskimo cradles a sealskin
canoe on his back, skirts the ice floe
at a walking pace, hurrying against the sun.
And you watch him
while the men make tea:
glance at the circling sun
the fallacy of miracles,
the accuracy of death
in a land without darkness.
I sighted a whale (you record)
this day at noon. Fast in Baffin Bay,
no thaw. Men fidget without pipe-tobacco:
one man has a melodeon;
last night I saw God’s face
in the frozen palm of my hand.
We are driven
like a nail
into the ice.
What is faith
or trust in a god
when ice makes its own rules:
men freeze and sleep, then fade
under the incredibly blank gaze
of a godless sky.
I would give
to be rid of the burden
A shore of blue ice
and where your foot falls,
The compass deceives
True North is a mystery
And the stars can be misread:
A passage can not exist.
If you walk
You can keep warm.
The North Remembered
Sundays were different, a week’s slowing.
I’d walk to visit cousins, shortbread fingers
On the rim of a saucer, tea spilling over with dignity
White-gloved, they sat on the edges of chairs
Waiting for something, a signal, a door opening
And the parlour moved around them into afternoon
Envious, unsure, I picked up what was left
Of all that promised future and abandoned them,
Dragging a lumped sack of smugness after me
Into exile. One gets older, needs more, sees
The significance in what that ordered primness owned:
To be two-hearted is no simple island matter –
When we sit and break out those syllables again
Those arched wee churchy consonants and line’s end rise
I circle back to what makes up my other half
Splice the severed ends of distancing and time
Connect and insome small way balance out
What’s been fragmented, cowped off-centre, set on edge.
Hes taken for a novelty now,
But he wasnt always
Back in the bad days
He ran the place. His word
Was our law. And no harm, either:
The soft welter of him now, youd
Think hed never
Been a clever
Man, but he was. He cant sing
Now, but he could, back then.
Only the young can mock like that,
Urging him on
And his voice gone
Hes a fool to himself, feeling
The young girls slim backs
And thinking what was naughty
Forty years ago is naughty now
I am his son,
I am the one
Who waits while he pisses himself:
I am the one who carries this old Christ
Up the hill to his bed of skulls
I am the one who rolls the stone over his grave.
To a Country Journalist
There can only be so many small importances,
Or street gods giving bounty from neon thrones
There is an end to soft politenesses on phones.
A time comes when the nib defies the distances
From margin to margin and goes mad on truth
Like a child re-finding language and its worth.
The careful windows stare down at instances
Of ordinary news, the small things making sin
Go where things and sin are greater, and begin.
Fred Johnston was born in Belfast in 1951. He was educated in Belfast and in Toronto, Canada. His early prose was published in The Irish Press literary pages, edited by David Marcus. In 1972 he received a Hennessy Literary Award for prose. For some years he worked as a full-time journalist, and has spent time in Public Relations. In the mid-seventies, together with Neil Jordan and Peter Sheridan, he founded the Irish Writers’ Co-operative. In the late Seventies he moved to Galway where, in 1986, he founded the annual Cúirt Festival of Literature. Most recently, he has established the Western Writers’ Centre, Galway city’s first centre for those interested in creative writing. A reviewer of new poetry for a number of journals, he has gained a reputation as a thorough and principled reviewer. From an early age he has been interested in folk music, and in the nineties he formed the group Parson’s Hat which produced two albums, Cutty Wren and The Better Match. Earlier this year his solo album, Get You, was produced. He has travelled widely, especially in France, where he has read his work and lectured. For a time he lived in Algeria, North Africa. Some of his prose and poetry are influenced by contemporary French writing. He teaches Creative Writing at Galway University as part of the Adult and Continued Learning programme.
A note on the Artist: Edward Robert Hughes (1849 – 1914)
Edward Robert Hughes was born in the Clerkenwell district of London on November the 5th 1849, the only child of Edward Hughes, and Harriet, nee Foord. The Hughes family was Welsh, and seems to have been in the habit of marrying into the Foord family, as Arthur Hughes the painter, Edwards uncle married one Trypheena Foord. Young Ted seems to have been drawn to his artistic uncle, who had a family of five, forming a social family circle for their solitary cousin. He shared Arthur Hughes artistic leanings, and his rather gentle retiring nature.
Edward Hughes entered the Royal Academy Schools, and also seems to have had active encouragement from Uncle Arthur. He was a conscientious hardworking student, who adopted a rigorous and thorough approach to his training. He became a member of an informal group of fellow students, who admired the watercolours of Edward Burne-Jones and wanted to emulate them. This group included Robert Bateman, Walter Crane, and Edward Clifford. Hughes also became close to Charles Fairfax Murray, who had initially trained to be an architectural draughtsman. Murray, who became a studio assistant to Burne-Jones, made an eloquent portrait drawing of his seventeen year old friend.
Edward Hughes started exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1872, by which time he had a studio in Beaufort Street Chelsea, and at this time met Edward Burne-Joness. Hughes also met the poet George MacDonald, and became engaged to one of his daughters, who unhappily died before the wedding could take place-at this point we should all be thankful for subsequent medical advances. He took a considerable time to recover from this loss, and did not exhibit at the Royal Academy at this time. In 1883, however, Hughes exhibited a painting of Mrs George MacDonald, who would under happier circumstances have been his mother-in-law. The same year he married Emily Eliza Davies. Hughes then resumed exhibiting at the Royal Academy, virtually all the paintings being portraits. He must have had a considerable output of portraits during the course of his artistic career. Hughes also regularly exhibited at the Royal Watercolour Society, the British Institution, and the Grosvenor Gallery. At these venues he showed a much more Pre-Raphaelite and symbolist type of picture. He was very much attracted to paintings on themes from Italian literature, with diaphanous drapery, his characteristic shades of blue, in combination with gold, and an atmosphere of mysticism. In the 1890s, the Royal Watercolour Society was his prime exhibition arena.
The art of Edward Hughes was appreciated in other countries, particularly Austria and Germany, whose public collections have some important examples of his work. In 1895 he achieved further international recognition at the Venice Biennale, with a painting called Biancabella and Samaritana. Like a number of his nudes, this picture has strong erotic undertones. Hughes was proud of his expertise as a painter of the nude. He became an Associate of the Royal Watercolour Society in 1891, and full RWS in 1895. Like so many other Victorian artists he was a painstaking perfectionist, making many meticulous preparatory studies. In view of the quality of his work, perhaps I do not need to say this-it is self-evident. Hughes continued to produce portraits, and also worked on Shakespearean themes. Hughes as an individual seems to have lacked personal vanity, and as an established rather celebrated artist was content to work as a studio assistant to Holman Hunt, whose eyesight was failing; their relationship seems to have been based on mutual respect. He worked under the direction of Hunt on his final, and largest version of The Light of the World, now in St Pauls Cathedral. In 1906 Hunt exhibited his celebrated picture The Lady of Shalott, the product of years of labour. Unfortunately by this time his eyesight had declined to such an extent that he again used Hughes as his assistant to finally complete this great painting. The city fathers of Manchester declined to buy this painting, because in their gritty Northern way, they were suspicious of its genuineness, thus depriving Manchester of one of the greatest of all Pre-Raphaelite paintings. In the obituary of Hunt in The Times, Edward Hughes was described as Hunts Son In Art. Hughes was close to the whole Hunt family, painting portraits of the son Hilary, daughter Gladys, and a final portrait of Edith for her dying husband in 1909.
Edward Hughes was a sociable popular man, and was Vice president of the Royal Watercolour Society from 1901-1903. His kindness to young painters was well-known, and he was a much- loved and highly respected lecturer for the London County Council. In 1913 he moved to St Albans, and died on April 23rd 1914 following an unsuccessful operation. Friends of the artist formed a Memorial Committee, bought his famous painting Night and her Train of Stars, and presented it to Birmingham Art Gallery. To
Have A Lovely Time!