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George Head

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A Coffee-room—A Dinner in Galway—A Bacchanalian Party—An accomplished Waiter—Personal Appearance—Moral Qualities—Evening Capability—Nightly Festivity—Morning Graces—Departure from Galway.

ALTOGETHER we made a prosperous journey from Athlone to Galway, where the hotel stands in the open square, and the name of the host, though I never saw his face, is I believe Kilroy. My principal dealings were with the head man or waiter, a busy active fellow, mighty civil and communicative withal, whom every body called by the name of Mick; in fact nobody there shouted rudely "waiter," but all addressed him as I said before by the name of Mick, in a friendly way; wherefore, in order to be like other people, and particularly since my interest lay the same way, I called him Mick too. It were well to wave ceremony at first sight, since I had occasion for his services, in the way of procuring a lively young turbot, of which in the season there are plenty in Galway, as well as of most other sorts of fine fish, for dinner. Therefore "Mick," said I, coming at once to the point, " what can I have for dinner?" "Sin-," replied Mick, without a moment's hesitation, "any thing you'll be plased to minshin and you'll have it immediantly." Whereupon I rejoined, giving him to understand I should content myself with a small delicate turbot, or a couple of fried soles, and take my chance for the rest according to the state of the larder. A good natured smile now passed across Mick's countenance, as he merely remarked the day was hot, and he felt "extramely wake;" at the same time perspiring rather copiously; in point of fact evidently suffering from the effects of whiskey, drunk either the day before, or on the same morning; and finally, after enumerating various other articles, none of which I succeeded in obtaining, I was obliged to remain satisfied with the usual every-day fare of the traveller in most of the inns in Ireland; that is to say, of the conge d'elire which Mick in full confidence proposed in the beginning of our conference, came in the end, a couple of chickens not a great deal bigger than larks, and a dish of dry, hard, black mutton chops.

Abundance of company just now occupied this said coffee-room in Galway, a greater influx of persons than usual being inclined to festivity, and though the hour was not later than five o'clock, the jingling of teaspoons and ringing of glasses betokened business of the evening speedily about to commence. As the parties sat at small tables in different parts of the room, besides at one large one spread in the middle, 1 had soon an opportunity of witnessing the ability and nimbleness wherewith Mick acquitted himself in satisfying the wants of various people who would fain have obliged him to move at the same moment in many different directions. Preferring for the present a walk on the sea-shore to an atmosphere becoming more and more charged every moment with spirituous exhalations, I extended my ramble to a period beyond sunset, and having left the inn soon after I had hastily dispatched my dinner, returned merely with the object of retiring early to rest in order to proceed farther on my journey the next morning.

During my absence an ample gathering of the votaries of Bacchus were collected in the coffee-room; the apartment was in fact as full as it could conveniently hold of people, who for the most part had rallied round the large table, the centre of argument and vociferation, where many an elbow was raised in obeisance to the jolly god, the ladle continually saluted the punch-bowl, clouds of smoke rolled from the pipes and cigars, and Mick's figure appeared preeminent in the foreground, as busy as a red headed midshipman in a general engagement. When emerging from a pillar of vapour he stood with a complacent sleepy smile ready to do my bidding, from causes external and internal he had become heated within and without, his face was as red as a salamander, and his nose, to use a common phrase, would have burnt the toes of a mosquito; having on the present occasion stood fire long and gallantly till he had arrived at last at a certain critical point of capability, when in point of fact he was able to do just nothing at all. In personal appearance he was a fair complexioned man, with extremely light blue bloodshot eyes, thin flaxen hair, and tender skin; so that the latter more visibly betokened mischief brewing within, being on his forehead and cheeks, in some parts red, in others white, the cuticle peeling away in the red parts, in film, like the ashes of burnt paper. But his moral qualities most deserve the attention of the reader, since on a short acquaintance, and from all I could thereby learn, Mick had contrived to obtain and preserve the respect of the world, though by no means a perfect man, and moreover possessed of one very material failing. Whether owing to the effect of a too open heart or a too open throat, or, floating strongly on his native country, he bore a still stronger attachment to her island produce, so it did happen that, somehow or other, he swallowed every day a larger portion of whiskey, strictly speaking, than as in duty bound, and became even an Irishman. One gave him a "dthrop," and t'other gave him a "dthrop," out of civility, or respect to his vocation, and one drop after another, allowing time enough, as the poet says, makes a hole in a stone; and the road from the stomach to Mick's brains, in like manner, by dint of traffic and hard usage, became at last wofully out of repair. Had a stronger head than his own been screwed on his shoulders, it were altogether another affair; but just as things stood, at the close of every day he invariably parted with his five senses, one after another. A twilight of instinct survived the demise of reason, that carried him through his business hours; and though, since one eye would shut, and the second followed the example of its brother, he was unable cleverly to navigate across the room, he always distinguished his own from another body's name, and said, "Coming your honor," all in one syllable, in a way peculiar to himself, blurting out the words together in a lump. Moral excellence in the end prevailed over physical frailties, and Mick not only preserved his situation, but, as I hinted before, held the world in perfect good humour; since he made it a rule at all times and seasons, rather than offend a friend by refusing a glass when offered, to convert every square inch of his person to a Solfatara, and give every body a civil answer just so long as, drunk or sober, he was able to speak at all. Social qualities like these gained Mick universal popularity,—day after day, he thus performed with eclat his duty,—and every night retired to rest with the reputation of a very "ixcillint waither," if not all over the kingdom of Ireland, at least in the town of Galway.

When I entered the coffee-room, about to go to rest, Mick, his faculties having long since passed the meridian, was doubly anxious, and quite unable to render any body assistance, and for the same identical reason, more determined that no other body should render assistance to him. With extreme kindliness of countenance he prevented me from lighting my own candle, fortunately at last succeeding, after making several ineffectual lounges, to hit the flame. Striving to maintain a decorous perpendicularity, he then extended the same towards me with the grave air of a land surveyor looking across his stakes, still pertinaciously holding fast the candlestick, till, his senses subsiding lethargically, I took it from his hand. Startled by this latter action, he looked surprised at the ends of his fingers, finding the candle gone. By a muscular effort of his forehead, with difficulty opening his eyes, his wits meanwhile abroad in pursuit of lost recollections; up went one leg toward the ceiling, as if about to go he knew not where, when his head at the same time receiving a bias from the jingling glasses, he wheeled round to the company, and before I again attracted his notice, I was out of the room.

I had scarcely dropped asleep when I was awakened by a tremendous and most unusual noise; such was the roaring and clattering among contending parties below stairs, that it appeared to me actually as if all the furniture in the house was being thrown out of the windows. Besides, there was racing along the passages; people continually ran to every part of the house, first up stairs and then down again; and I distinctly heard, in the apartment immediately adjoining my own, the voices of persons whispering, as if in consultation with one another. Thinking these deliberations were the consequence of some quarrel, and bore reference to preliminaries with which I had nothing to do, I consequently took the precaution of immediately locking my door, leaving the bacchanalians to settle matters in any way they chose; nevertheless the whispering and clattering continued as before for the full space of half an hour, and how much longer I am unable to say, for I fell into a sleep so sound, that it was past eight o'clock before 1 awakened in the morning.

Even at this late hour, in the middle of summer, not a single soul, when I got up, was stirring in the inn at Galway; the doors and shutters were closed, and silence now reigned as of a deserted dwelling, or a city of the plague. The debauchery of the preceding night was followed by the stillness of the grave. A solitary cat rubbed her sides against my legs; the sand on the boards grated under my shoes; I walked along the corridors, and called again and again, but nobody rose at the summons from their heavy slumbers. I knocked at doors, rang bells, made a serious disturbance wherever I went, and reiterated the name of Mick as loud I was able.

I had arrived at a pestiferous region, pregnant with the smell of stale tobacco-smoke, where bits of lemon-peel and the burnt ends of cigars lay profusely scattered on the ground, still shouting the name of Mick as I walked, with incessant clamour. The creaking of a small door at last caught my attention, and the next moment I saw a red nose, the property of Mick himself, protruding from a sort of hole in the wall, or den, or sty, or small apartment, or whatever appellative may be proper to apply to his dormitory; from whence as he emerged in inelegant dishabille, words are wanting to describe the spectral image of habitual intemperance that then stood before me.

"His eyes with scalding rheum were galled and red."

So far may be cited true to the letter; not so of" cold palsy shook his limbs," for he was in a burning fever.

"Obstupuit, steteruntquie comae, et vox faucibus haesit."

"Stupid as an owl, hair all on end, and throat as dry as a brick-bat."

This might be literally quoted of his miserable condition. "Mick," said T, "pray give me my bill;" whereat Mick yawned drowsily, and uttering a sound between a sigh and a groan, with either hand rubbed mercilessly both his eyes, and yawned again. Again he essayed to speak and failed, made another effort, was still silent; till finding it as indispensable to stimulate the organs of speech as to resin a fiddle, he set matters to rights by taking a dram. A full hour elapsed before I procured my bill; in the mean time Mick was sufficiently recovered to unravel the mystery of the last night's proceedings. I asked him the meaning of the terrible noise. "Noise!" said he, "sure and twas an iligant ball." "Ball!" said I, "and the ladies, whence came they?" "We had no ladies at all at all, divil the one," said Mick. "No ladies, and a ball, a ball without ladies! impossible," said I in an incredulous tone. "Ah now!" said Mick, "sure and we had the cook and the howl of the maids, and the boys sint for the piper, and all got partners apace."

*     *     *     *    *

I paid my bill, and my jaunting-car was at the door. I joyfully took my seat, Mick threw in my portmanteau, and waved his hand in token of adieu.

Once more clear of the town, I blessed my stars to find myself on the king's highway, sitting sidewise, back to back, driver and traveller, jiggling along, over the rough stones, on the road to Ennis, about to visit, by the way of Limerick and Tralee, the lakes of Killarney.

[The remainder of the book covers the Channel Isles and Ireland, the next chapter being about Guernsey.]

George Head, A Home Tour through various parts of the United Kingdom (London: John Murray, 1837) Conversion to HTML and placename mark-up by Humphrey Southall, 2012.

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