nicholson, belle chauffeuse
William Nicholson, "La Belle Chauffeuse", 1904
Chapter 1 — Section 3
Pages 25-3129-3420-25
POVEveline MacMurrough
WhereBallygihen House
WhenWednesday midday, May 5 1915
Renoir, in the woods
... fairy light of arching trees
Renoir, "In The Woods", ca 1880

The sleek green motor cleared the feeble rise, haughty jerk as it jumped the tramlines, swept through the gates, gravel flittering with road-dust in its wake. Past the lodge, empty these years, least so by day, under the fairy light of arching trees, to emerge at its stabling where it shuddered in quiet triumph before a gauntleted glove that had stroked its wheel reached down to cut the engine.

Silence then, a world at rest. Not the antithesis of dust, of speed, but its complement. The gloved hand ungloved its partner which in turn ungloved its mate. Fingers untied her chiffon and felt for hair under her hat. Strays tidied behind her ears. The chiffon became a scarf, her hands reawoke the wide sloping brim of her hat. Gradually the earth too rewoke. Hedges chirruped to life, a crow bickered above, the sea resumed its reverend tide. Her hat was hopelessly démodé but the fashion was too ridiculous: she refused to wear flower-pots, and would have nothing to do with feathery things she had not shot herself.

vauxhall prince henry
Vauxhall "Prince Henry"

Eveline MacMurrough slid to the passenger side, shifted her skirt over the low door. One leg, two legs, she steadied on the running-board, then slipped to the ground. The hand that held her gloves patted the coachwork, patted the trim. My Prince Henry. And they had thought to requisition you for an ambulance at the Front. Les brutes anglaises.

There was no one to see to her entrance, only the skivvy from the kitchen whom she had scarcely begun to civilize. This skin of jitters received her gloves, her chiffon, hat; Eveline allowed the dustcoat to be eased from her shoulders. L’idiote. “Not through the hall, child,” she said. “Outside and shake the dust.” In the stand glass she reviewed her visage. The wind-screen had not been a total success. Then again goggles did leave such hideous lines. Perhaps it must be the veil after all. Though she did so resent the implication of purdah. Toilet water, a good scrub, then hot damp towels.

Servant Girl
Modigliani, "Portrait of a Chambermaid", 1916

“Is old Moore about?”

“Would he not be in the garden, mam?”

Peasant insistence on interrogative response. It rather appealed to Eveline. Yes, she rather believed she liked it. “When you find him, tell him the motor-car wants cleaning. Lamps too, I dare say. Cook?”

“Hasn’t she taken the morning to visit her sister in St. Michael’s that’s poorly?”

Defensive really: none of my doing, as though to say. “Are we to starve so?”

“No, mam. She left a cold dinner prepared.”

“Lunch,” said Eveline.

“Lunch, mam.”

separataion allowences 1915
Separation allowances, March 1915

There was a quick call through the staff roll. Bootman repairing a leak in the attic, meaning presumably he was high; parlour maids called back to the registry, replacements not turned up. Really she must see to appointing new people, a housekeeper at the very least. So trying with the war on. Rush to the altar to avail of the separation allowances. It was something her nephew might take in hand. “And my nephew?”

“I’m not sure, mam”—flush in her cheeks—“if he hasn’t gone bathing.”

Eveline had completed her inspection at the hall stand. The child waited by the pass door, hands by her sides like a board-school girl. Itching to be below stairs out of harm’s way. Pauvre ingénue. Eveline smiled and ordered hot water and towels to her dressing-room. Even the imbécile might manage that.

st Joseph's glasthule
St Joseph's Church, Glasthule, with the priests' house beside
photographed pre-1914

While she sponged her cheeks with water of roses, she considered her interview with the new curate at St. Joseph’s, Glasthule. Naturally, it was the canon she had called upon, some invitation to decline, but a young priest had received her, offering regrets at the canon’s indisposition. The canon’s health was neither here nor there to Eva, her confessor being of the Jesuits at Gardiner Street, but the young man made such parade of hospitality, she had quickly perceived her demurs would serve but to encourage his insistence.

Perry, Cup of Tea
Lilla Cabot Perry, 1848-1933, "A Cup of Tea"

She had accepted tea in best blue china. The curate gave his name—unless she misheard, Father Amen O’Toiler, which sounded a sermon in itself. He fingered her card, then, still fidgeting, stood to make his say. “I cannot tell you, Madame MacMurrough, what pleasure it is to greet a scion of your famous name.” Her famous name was given its due, which she heard as a type of Cook’s tour of Irish history. Bridges taken, fords crossed, the sieges broken, battles lost, long valiant retreats—and not a one but a MacMurrough had been to the fore.

It was a familiar account and she had waited politely, seated at the edge of an aged Biedermeier whose stuffing was gone. Absently she wondered which charity the curate had in mind and what donation might eventually suffice.

MacMurrough arms
MacMurrough arms
gules, lion rampant argent

Legion d'honneur
Légion d'Honneur
Order of St Gregory
Order of St Gregory the Great

The priest had continued his progress round the sunless parlour, chilly yet fuming from an ill-ventilated fire. Every few paces he referred to her card, as though the heads of his argument had been pencilled thereon, as onwards he passed through the dark centuries, the long night of Ireland’s woe. Yet night, he averred, not so dark as to blind, for in every generation a light had sparked, betimes no more than a flash on the hillside, moretimes a flame to set the age afire. And not once in all the years but the cry had gone out: MacMurrough! The name was imperishable, ineradicable, sempiternal, a lodestar in the Irish firmament that had blazed to its zenith, as many believed (and not least the curate himself, if he might make so bold), in the brilliant, some might say heliacal, career of Madame MacMurrough’s late revered regretted father, Dermot James William MacMurrough, Queen’s Counsellor, quondam Lord Mayor and Chief Magistrate of our great metropolis, freeman of the cities of Waterford, Cork, New York and Boston, Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Gregory the Great, Member for the Borough of Ferns.

... alien heretical beast
Parnell addressing a meeting, ca. 1881

“And there at the moment of her direst need”—the curate’s voice had strained as he came to the crux of his tale—“when sacred Ireland stood upon the edge, at the very brink of extinction, who stood forth to show the way? Who but your father saw through the genteel broadcloth, the polished suaviloquence, to the degenerate soul within? Who was it saved Ireland from the alien heretical beast?”

Yes, Eveline thought now, before her dressing-table glass, her father had been first to denounce Parnell. Though it had been a close race, so fierce the stampede.


Perfume bottles, phials of scent, Gallé and Lalique; a porcelain shepherdess proffered tiny sugared treats on a tray, offered them twice, for the toilet glass reviewed her, stretching through the bottles, a child sinking through coloured viscous water. Eveline chose a bon-bon, sucked it thoughtfully.

Fenian Volunteer 1866
"The Fenian Volunteer", book illustration, 1866

There was more to this curate than at first she had suspected. More than once he had made allusion to the Fenians. His face had pecked in the intervals after, seeking collusion. She had nodded, blinked with charming detachment. Then taking her leave she had felt his high neck bend toward her. That odour of carbolic and abstinence so readily in the mind confused with mastery. The priest whispered in her ear: “The sword of light is shining still. England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity.” The formula was stale, let alone the notion, but it had sounded singular on the lips of a priest. If this now was the teaching of the seminaries, change most certainly was in the air. Poor old Parnell—the Chosen Man, the Chief, the Uncrowned King of Ireland, adulterer, fornicator, the Lost Leader—it would be the supreme irony: to have terrified the Church into Irish Ireland.

Roger Casement, 1905
... he is far from the land
Roger Casement, bookplate, 1905

She rose now from her dressing-table and approached the garden window. She turned the hasp and the casement opened. She inhaled the breath from the sea. Casement, how very beautiful was the word. She spoke it softly. A decidedly beautiful name, Casement. “He is far from the land,” she softly hummed.

A trundle on the stairs and the child came in with towels and steaming water. At the washstand she ventured to say, “There was a delivery while you was out, mam.”

Eveline nodded.

“Only stockings, mam. Was I right to leave them in the library like you said?”

Stockings, yes. She must see to them directly her toilet was done.

One more bon-bon from the porcelain shepherdess. It was evident the maids—the few were left her—had been at her supply. “When you have finished whatever you are doing below, go down to Glasthule. The confectioner’s will know my order.”

Mount Leinster
Eugene Conway, "Mount Leinster", contemporary

As she came down to the library she saw through the open door the gardener and the gardener’s boy and the gardener’s boy’s boy all greedily washing her Prince Henry. It was the one chore she might charge them to perform. Her mind drifted to a time late last summer when she had motored over the hills to the old demesne near Ferns. With her had travelled two gentlemen of the press and a representative of the Irish Automobile Club. Her intention had been to astonish the world by ascending and descending Mount Leinster, whose track, winding to the summit, had in parts a gradient steeper than one in three. This feat would prove not only the motor’s magnificent pedigree but her own accomplishment, representative of all Irish womanhood’s, in handling it.

The Times, front page August 5, 1914

And indeed she had carried the day. The motor performed superbly, the IAC man figured and stamped in his book, the newspapermen assured her of a prominent notice. She had expected at the least a Johnsonian quip—the wonder being not in her exploit, but in a lady’s wish to stage such performance. But the next day’s newspapers gave no mention of her. The August bank holiday had passed and while she had been conquering Mount Leinster Great Britain had declared war on Germany.

Irish revival, 1903
... Remember Ireland!
Weekly Freeman, "Irish Revival", 1903

At her library desk, begloved once more, this time in creamy four-button mochas, she opened the brown-papered parcel of stockings. Plain-knit, rough-textured stuff. Queer specimen down Glasthule had suggested the arrangement. She might not approve of enlistment in the tyrant’s yeomanry, but she did not see why Irish soldiers should suffer cold feet. Besides, the soul had grown soft since Parnell, with the English and their ploys, killing home rule with kindness. A reacquaintance with arms might prove useful, indeed requisite, in the coming times.

For she too felt the change in the air. Last August, while she motored home alone through the acetylene-lit gloom, the twilight had forced itself upon her. But this was not the evening twilight of the foolish poets. It was the half-light before dawn, the morning of a new Ireland. For indeed it was true: England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity. And she, a MacMurrough born to lead, knew well where lay her duty.

Inside the foot of each stocking she inserted a slip of paper. Green paper whose script proclaimed: “Remember Ireland!”