While out walking Donegal Town”s “Bank Walk” last Sunday I passed by the former residence of the great Irish author, poet & storyteller Seumas Mac Manus. It is a house I had seen many times as we pass it on each cruise of the Donegal Bay Waterbus. The door of the house has been green since the 1800″s when MacManus wrote a poem called “The Green Door” (No. It has no relevance to the Shakin” Stevens song of the 1980″s. We are asked this regularly on the waterbus trips). The title of this page “Many a man”s tongue broke his nose.” is one of MacManus”s best known sayings and a very true one at that.
Here is his own words is a short history of his life. He died in 1960 at the ripe old age of 90
Seumas MacManus (1869-1960)
I FIRST OPENED MY EYES IN DONEGAL,IRELAND”S NORTH WEST corner stone. It is the wildest, most remote, most rugged and mountainous, the most barren and the most beautiful, as well as the most Irish territory in Ireland.
I am of the mountain people. As a buachaill of a boy I herded on the hills, spaded on the farm, dallied to the mountain school where I got the daub of schooling that is mine. At night I moved from cottage to cottage, squatted in the groups that always surrounded the big, blazing turf-fires, hearkening to the women telling their fairy stories and the old men reciting ancient folk tales, singing the old songs, or chanting some thousand-year-old poem.
Ere I crept out of childhood I was myself a shanachie- carried in mind and could tell a sheaf of the old tales, as I had learned them by a hundred firesides. I told the tales to the lads who companied me to the herding, the lads who with me scudded three miles over the hills to Mass on Sunday, to the lads who loitered with me to the little school. Many of my tales I gathered in that little school _for oftentimes when the master looked pleasedly on five or six small students with heads together, puzzling (as he thought) over a mathematical problem or posed on some other noxious subject, we, the boys from five to six mountain glens, were, each in turn, telling the best story he had heard the night before. Or we were communing over the latest fairy escapade-for the Donegal hills are, perhaps more than any other part of Ireland, favored of the Gentle Folk.
During my boyhood, I devoured every book that was to be found within a six-mile radius, altogether as many as thirteen or fourteen or fifteen.
At the age of sixteen I began verse-making-made songs while I herded or plied the spade on my father”s hillside- chiefly, songs that dealt with Ireland”s struggle for freedom, and with the heroes who had fought and died for love of Shiels Ni Gara. Within a year I was publishing prose and verse in the Tir-Conaill Vindicator, the little weekly paper of our county, published in Belashanny. I filled the columns of this paper every week-songs, sketches, stories, news-reports-written in school copybooks, on my knee, at the fireside after my day”s work was finished. At the end of three years” contributing I got my first pay from good John MacAidan-a check for ten shillings, almost two and a half dollars. And I was indeed a proud man as well as a rich one. Then he printed for me my first book of poems, with the Irish title Shuilers, meaning Vagrants. Twelve hundred copies of it were bought at a shilling each -making me a millionaire.
But to wealth I had now become no stranger, for I had been appointed master of our mountain school, teaching sixty to seventy boys in a room that was nearly thirty feet long by fifteen feet wide-for a great salary of three pounds, or fourteen dollars, a month, as well as a school penny which every scholar brought me each Monday morning.
Now also The Shamrock, a penny weekly story paper in Dublin, ordered from me a series of nine stories at two and a half dollars each-which I did in nine days in school copybooks, on my knee, at my father”s kitchen fireside at night.
Hearing that American story papers would pay more than two and a half dollars a story, I wrote a bagful of them and, closing my school, with the bursting bag sailed for America in the steerage of a big liner. Arrived in New York I asked the names of magazines that wouldpay well for stories, and was told that Harper”s and The Century were the wealthiest. I brought to Harper”s seven of the copybooks, and kind old Mr. Alden, the editor, deeply interested in the mountain boy dressed in homespun, read the stories himself, and kept six of them. And to my dumfounding, gave me one hundred dollars and upward for each of them.
I went to The Century with ten stories, and they bought eight. With other stories, then, I tried the other seven or eight magazines that America knew at that time-and every one of them bought stories.
I arrived in America in September, and sailed back to Donegal the following May, with a fortune-wherewith I bought a fairy hill of which I had always been enamored.
I returned to America the next Fall, with a new bag of stories, and carried home in the following Spring three times as big a fortune as that of twelve months before. My Donegal neighbors, knowing that anyone who wished could shovel up bags full of such stories among our hills, could hardly credit the gullibility of the American people!
American publishers began putting out my books, not only folk-tale books, like Donegal Fairy Stories (Doubleday, 1900), In Chimney-Corners (id., 1899), The Donegal Wonder-Book (Stokes, 1926), and The Well o” the World”sEnd (Macmillan, 1939), but also novels like A Lad of the O”Friels (Irish Pub. Co., 1903), and original stories of Irish life, as well as Irish history, The Story of the Irish Race (Devin-Adair, 4th ed., 1944).
And I, who had never seen a college before I came to America, found a fruitful field lecturing and telling folktales to the big American universities, as well as to the big Clubs. This I have been doing for many, many winters. But for my summers I always go back to my own Donegal hills and my own Donegal people and my own Donegal fairies.
Under the ocean, off the coast of Donegal, lies a fairy paradise, Tir na”n Og, the Land of Perpetual Youth, which, on beautiful summer eves, is often seen by our fishermen, rising over the waters, afar off. It is a special province of heaven set apart by the good Lord for His favorites, the Irish, whose bliss He desires and safeguards from the intrusion of Americans and other common peoples of earth- and there I hope to go when I die.
That is, if I die
Should you wish to read some of Seumas”s work here”s a link to a couple of his books
Seumas was married to another famous Irish author, Eithne Carberry, who will feature in a future post.