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- Peg O' My Heart - 2/72 -
Charles Stuart Parnell. Already more than one prominent speaker had come into the little village and sown the seeds of temporal and spiritual unrest. Father Cahill opposed these men to the utmost of his power. He saw, as so many far-sighted priests did, the legacy of bloodshed and desolation that would follow any direct action by the Irish against the British Government. Though the blood of the patriot beat in Father Cahill's veins, the well-being of the people who had grown up with him was near to his heart. He was their Priest and he could not bear to think of men he had known as children being beaten and maimed by constabulary, and sent to prison afterwards, in the, apparently, vain fight for self-government.
To his horror that day he met Frank Owen O'Connell, one of the most notorious of all the younger agitators, in the main street of the little village.
O'Connell's back sliding had been one of Father Cahill's bitterest regrets. He had closed O'Connell's father's eyes in death and had taken care of the boy as well as he could. But at the age of fifteen the youth left the village, that had so many wretched memories of hardship and struggle, and worked his way to Dublin. It was many years before Father Cahill heard of him again. He had developed meanwhile into one of the most daring of all the fervid speakers in the sacred Cause of Liberty. Many were the stories told of his narrow escapes from death and imprisonment. He always had the people on his side, and once away from the hunt, he would hide in caves, or in mountains, until the hue and cry was over, and then appear in some totally unexpected town and call on the people to act in the name of Freedom.
And that was exactly what happened on this particular day. He had suddenly appeared in the town he was born in and called a meeting on St. Kernan's Hill that afternoon.
It was this meeting Father Cahill was determined to stop by every means in his power.
He could hardly believe that this tall, bronzed, powerful young man was the Frank O'Connell he had watched about the village, as a boy-- pale, dejected, and with but little of the fire of life in him. Now as he stood before Father Cahill and looked him straight through with his piercing eye, shoulders thrown back, and head held high, he looked every inch a born leader of men, and just for a moment the priest quailed. But only for a moment.
"Not a member of my flock will attend yer meetin' to-day. Not a door will open this day. Ye can face the constabulary yerself and the few of the rabble that'll follow ye. But none of my God-fearin' people will risk their lives and their liberty to listen to you."
O'Connell looked at him strangely. A far-away glint came into his eye, and the suspicion of a tear, as he answered:
"Sure it's precious little they'd be riskin', Father Cahill; havin' NO liberty and their lives bein' of little account to them."
O'Connell sighed as the thought of his fifteen years of withered youth in that poor little village came up before him.
"Let my people alone, I tell ye!" cried the priest. "It's contented they've been until the likes of you came amongst us."
"Then they must have been easily satisfied," retorted O'Connell, "to judge by their poor little homes and their drab little lives."
"A hovel may be a palace if the Divine Word is in it," said the priest.
"Sure it's that kind of tachin' keeps Ireland the mockery of the whole world. The Divine Word should bring Light. It's only darkness I find in this village," argued O'Connell.
"I've given my life to spreadin' the Light!" said the priest.
A smile hovered on O'Connell's lips as he muttered:
"Faith, then, I'm thinkin' it must be a DARK-LANTERN yer usin', yer riverence."
"Is that the son of Michael O'Connell talkin'?"
Suddenly the smile left O'Connell's lips, the sneer died on his tongue, and with a flash of power that turned to white heat before he finished, he attacked the priest with:
"Yes, it is! It is the son of Michael O'Connell who died on the roadside and was buried by the charity of his neighbours. Michael O'Connell, born in the image of God, who lived eight-and-fifty years of torment and starvation and sickness and misery! Michael O'Connell, who was thrown out from a bed of fever, by order of his landlord, to die in sight of where he was born. It's his son is talkin', Father Cahill, and it's his son WILL talk while there's breath in his body to keep his tongue waggin'. It's a precious legacy of hatred Michael O'Connell left his son, and there's no priest, no government, no policeman or soldier will kape that son from spendin' his legacy."
The man trembled from head to foot with the nervous intensity of his attack. Everything that had been outraged in him all his life came before him.
Father Cahill began to realise as he watched him the secret of the tremendous appeal the man had to the suffering people. Just for a moment the priest's heart went out to O'Connell, agitator though he was.
"Your father died with all the comforts of the Holy Church," said the priest gently, as he put his old hand the young man's shoulder.
"The comforts of the church!" scoffed O'Connell. "Praise be to heaven for that!" He laughed a grim, derisive laugh as he went on:
"Sure it's the fine choice the Irish peasant has to-day. 'Stones and dirt are good enough for them to eat,' sez the British government. 'Give them prayers,' say the priests. And so they die like flies in the highways and hedges, but with 'all the comforts of the Holy Church'!"
Father Cahill's voice thrilled with indignation as he said:
"I'll not stand and listen to ye talk that way, Frank O'Connell."
"I've often noticed that those who are the first to PREACH truth are the last to LISTEN to it," said the agitator drily.
"Where would Ireland be to-day but for the priest? Answer me that. Where would she be? What has my a here been? I accepted the yoke of the Church when I was scarcely your age. I've given my life to serving it. To help the poor, and to keep faith and love for Him in their hearts. To tache the little children and bring them up in the way of God. I've baptised them when their eyes first looked out on this wurrld of sorrows. I've given them in marriage, closed their eyes in death, and read the last message to Him for their souls. And there are thousands more like me, giving their lives to their little missions, trying to kape the people's hearts clean and honest, so that their souls may go to Him when their journey is ended."
Father Cahill took a deep breath as he finished. He had indeed summed up his life's work. He had given it freely to his poor little flock. His only happiness had been in ministering to their needs. And now to have one to whom he had taught his first prayer, heard his first confession and given him his first Holy Communion speak scoffingly of the priest, hurt him as nothing else could hurt and bruise him.
The appeal was not lost on O'Connell. In his heart he loved Father Cahill for the Christ-like life of self-denial he had passed in this little place. But in his brain O'Connell pitied the old man for his wasted years in the darkness of ignorance in which so many of the villages of Ireland seemed to be buried.
O'Connell belonged to the "Young Ireland" movement. They wanted to bring the searchlight of knowledge into the abodes of darkness in which the poor of Ireland were submerged. To the younger men it seemed the priests were keeping the people from enlightenment. And until the fierce blaze of criticism could be turned on to the government of cruelty and oppression there was small hope of freeing the people who had suffered so long in silence. O'Connell was in the front band of men striving to arouse the sleeping nation to a sense of its own power. And nothing was going to stop the onward movement. It pained him to differ from Father Cahill--the one friend of his youth. If only he could alter the good priest's outlook--win him over to the great procession that was marching surely and firmly to self-government, freedom of speech and of action, and to the ultimate making of men of force out of the crushed and the hopeless. He would try.
"Father Cahill," he began softly, as though the good priest might be wooed by sweet reason when the declamaory force of the orator failed, "don't ye think it would be wiser to attend a little more to the people's BODIES than to their SOULS? to their BRAINS rather than to their HEARTS? Don't ye?"
"No, I do NOT," hotly answered the priest.
"Well, if ye DID," said the agitator, "if more priests did, it's a different Ireland we'd be livin' in to-day--that we would. The Christian's heaven seems so far away when he's livin' in hell. Try to make EARTH more like a heaven and he'll be more apt to listen to stories of the other one. Tache them to kape their hovels clean and their hearts and lives will have a betther chance of health. Above all broaden their minds. Give them education and the Divine tachin' will find a surer restin' place. Ignorance and dirt fill the hospitals and the asylums, and it is THAT so many of the priests are fosterin'."
"I'll not listen to another wurrd," cried Father Cahill, turning away.
O'Connell strode in front of him.
"Wait. There's another thing. I've heard more than one priest boast that there was less sin in the villages of Ireland than in any other country. And why? What is yer great cure for vice? MARRIAGE--isn't it?"
"What are ye sayin'?"
"I'm sayin' this, Father Cahill. If a boy looks at a girl twice, what do ye do? Engage them to be married. To you marriage is the
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