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In Honor of General Regan

BY GEORGE A. BIRMINGHAM

THE fair green in Ballyguthrie stood empty in a blaze of August sunshine. The shops were open. Their windows were decked with goods—inappropriate oilskin coats, cheap corsets, and rolls of flannellet in the drapery stores; whiskey, tobacco, and advertisements of transatlantic steamers in those of the grocers—but there were no customers to buy anything. Nor were customers expected. On Saturday, which is market day, and on fair days the town does business. At other times its inhabitants enjoy the abundant leisure of a wealthy aristocracy.

At twelve o'clock, just as the angelus bell was ringing, a motor-car drove into the town and stopped at the door of the hotel: Mr. Michael O'Clery's hotel, advertised as "The Imperial" in the railway guide. A gentleman, alert-looking, well dressed, of middle height, stepped from the car and entered the hotel. A few minutes later the chauffeur followed him, carrying a couple of bags. The car, a large and opulent-looking vehicle painted bright yellow, was left standing in the street. Two policemen emerged from the barrack at the opposite side of the fair green and contemplated the car from a distance, stately and dispassionate observers. The owners of the various shops, drapers and publicans, appeared at their doors and stared at the car. Three small boys, eying the police dubiously, approached the car and prodded its tires with their fingers. Father Cassidy, a book in his hand, left the presbytery, walked slowly past the hotel, and inspected the rugs which littered the tonneau. Mr. Patsy Flanagan, chairman of the Urban District Council and proprietor of the Connaught Democrat, came out of the office of his paper and turned into the Imperial Hotel. He found Mr. O'Clery behind the bar, and was immediately served with a pint of porter.

"Is it the Lord Lieutenant you have within?" he asked, casually.

"It is not," said Mr. O'Clery; "nor yet the Chief Secretary."

"It might be the President of the Congested Board, then, or maybe one of the Land Commissioners."

"It is not,"

"It's a high-up man, anyway. It isn't everybody would go driving round the country in the like of that." He nodded toward the window, through which the yellow motor-car was visible.

"I wouldn't wonder," said Mr. O'Clery, "but he might be an American gentleman. The first words he says to me was that the town and the surrounding district looked mighty sleepy. 'It would be a good thing,' said he, 'if somebody'd wake the whole lot of you up with a start. I'd like to try and do it myself,' says he."

"Let him be damn!" said Mr. Flanagan. "It's a returned Yank he is, and I don't hold with them ones, coming back here and insulting the country that gave birth to them, rising the minds of the people and encouraging emigration, which is the curse of Ireland."

"He's no returned Yank, but an American gentleman. Didn't he ask for a bath the minute he came inside the house—a bath with warm water in it, no less? Would a returned Yank be wanting the like? Tell me that, now."

"Be damn!" said Mr. Flanagan.

The evidence of the bath was conclusive against his hypothesis. He took a second pint of porter and threw out suggestions about the nature of the American gentleman's business in Ballyguthrie. Lingering over a third pint, he was gratified, as he hoped he would be, by the appearance of the stranger, who seemed an affable and friendly man.

"I'll have some lunch," he said to Mr. O'Clery, "as soon as you can get it ready. After that I'd like to go round and see your interesting town and neighborhood."

Mr. O'Clery opened a door at the back of the bar and shouted:

"Bridgy! Bridgy Ryan! are you listening to me? Let you run across to your aunt's and get a couple of chops, and when you have them got put them down in the pan for the gentleman's lunch."

"My name," said the stranger, "is Joseph Prince Caledon. I am a citizen of the United States of America, and when I tell you that I'm deeply interested in the republic of Bolivia you'll be able to guess what it is brings me to Ballyguthrie."

Neither Mr. O'Clery nor Mr. Flanagan knew of any connection between Bolivia and Ballyguthrie which gave a clew to the purpose of Mr. Caledon's visit. In the back of both their minds there was an idea that Bolivia was in South America, and South America, they knew, was interested in the cattle trade. Ballyguthrie was also interested in the cattle trade. It was just possible that Mr. Caledon had come to buy bullocks. If so, he ought to be encouraged. Mr. O'Clery nodded intelligently. Mr. Flanagan, who was accustomed to public speaking, ventured a remark.

"I mightn't be far out," he said, "if I was to make a guess at the nature of the business that brings you here."

"You'd hit it first time for certain," said Mr. Caledon. "I'm engaged at present in writing the life of General John Regan, and naturally Ballyguthrie was the first place I wanted to visit when I set foot on this side of the Atlantic."

"Of course," said Mr. Flanagan. "Where else would you go?"

He had never heard of General John Regan, nor, it appeared afterward, had Mr. O'Clery.

"I want," said Mr. Caledon, "to see his birthplace. I want to collect such local traditions as may survive about his family."

"It's lucky, as it turns out," said Mr. O'Clery, "that Mr. Flanagan happens to be here this morning. Let me introduce yez. Mr. Flanagan, J.P.—Mr. Caledon. Mr. Caledon—Mr. Flanagan, J.P."

Both men bowed.

"There isn't in Ballyguthrie," said Mr O'Clery, "nor yet in the whole of Connaught, a man that's better up in local traditions than Mr. Flanagan, J.P. He's the proprietor of the Connaught Democrat and the chairman of the District Council."

"A prominent citizen," said Mr. Caledon. "Pleased to meet you, sir."

"If your business engagements will permit," said Mr. O'Clery to Mr. Flanagan, "I'd look on it as a personal favor if you'd take Mr. Caledon round this afternoon and show him the birthplace of General John Regan."

"I'll do that," said Mr. Flanagan, "and whatever there is to be discovered about the ancestors of the Regan family I'll see that it's forthcoming."

At two o'clock, having eaten Bridgy Ryan's aunt's chops and drunk some of Mr. O'Clery's bottled stout, Mr. Caledon called at the office of the Connaught Democrat and picked up Mr. Flanagan. The departure of the Chairman of the Urban District Council with a distinguished stranger in a motor-car caused considerable excitement in the town. It was generally believed, though Father Cassidy discouraged the idea, that arrangements were being made for an immediate grant of home rule to Ireland.

Mr. Flanagan, who had never been in a motor-car before, enjoyed his drive and took care that it should be a long one. He directed the chauffeur to go along various execrable by-roads, and at the end of an hour had made two wide circles round the town of Ballyguthrie. At length he gave orders to stop.

"That," he said, "is the spot where the General was born."

At first Mr. Caledon saw nothing except a large field—apparently an inferior kind of field, for the grass was coarse and there were numerous patches of rushes.

"Where?" he said.

"There," said Mr. Flanagan, "you see before you the ruins of the house that sheltered the General in his infancy, from which the family of the Regans, the industrious and hard-working father, the tender mother with the baby at her breast, was cruelly and heartlessly evicted by the tyranny of the landlord, and their happy home laid in ashes before their eyes, with it snowing heavy at the time."

"A striking fact," said Mr. Caledon, taking a note-book from his pocket. "Can you give me the date?"

"It was," said Mr. Flanagan, "at the time of the Clearances, and the people have been kept off the land ever since. But please God it won't be so for long."

Mr. Caledon descended from the car and stood bareheaded beside a small pile of gray stones which lay together in a corner of the field. Mr. Flanagan, who was beginning to feel a considerable respect for General John Regan, also got out of the car, took off his hat, and stood staring at the stones.

"So it was here," said Mr. Caledon—"here that he first saw the light! Have you a photograph of the spot?"

"I have not," said Mr. Flanagan, "but it could be got. There's Dennis O'Clery, that's nephew to the proprietor of the Imperial Hotel, does the like beautiful."

"The General!" murmured Mr. Caledon. "The hero-statesman of Bolivia!"

"You may say that," said Mr. Flanagan, with deep feeling. "You may well say that."

"Are there any of the family left in the neighborhood? I should like to shake the hand of a relative, even a distant cousin, of the illustrious General."

"There is not," said Flanagan. "Devil the Regan there is about the country now." Then noticing an expression of disappointment on Mr. Caledon's face, he added, "Unless it might be young Mrs. O'Clery, the wife of the boy that takes the photographs, who's related to the Regans through her mother."

"Take me to see her."

"It's herself," said Mr. Flanagan, "that 'll be sorry when she hears of your wanting to see her and to be talking to her about the General—but—there's no use in telling you lies about it—it can't be done."

"Why not? Surely—"

"Are you a married man?"

"A widower," said Mr, Caledon.

"Then you'll understand me when I tell you that you can't see young Mrs. O'Clery, because it was only yesterday that it happened. It was twins," he added, with a view to demonstrating the impossibility of the lady's receiving a visitor.

Mr. Caledon, with a deep sigh, got into the motor-car again. Mr. Flanagan followed him. He felt that he had successfully avoided a serious difficulty. It would not have been easy, in the presence of Mr. Caledon, to convey to young Mrs. O'Clery an intimation of the fact that she was the only surviving relative of the famous General John Regan.

"I'm surprised," said Mr. Caledon, "that there's no public memorial in Ballyguthrie to the honor of the General."

"Faith, I've often wondered at that same myself."

"The town can't boast of many more famous men, I should think."

"Devil the one. And believe you me, if there isn't a statue of the General in the fair green it isn't because the people isn't proud of him; for they are. There isn't an old woman in the place but when a boy's going off to America will be saying to him, 'Thomas,' says she, or, 'Michael Pat, let you do as well for the old country as General John Regan did, and we'll be proud of you.’"

"Quite so," said Mr. Caledon; "a very proper feeling; but all the same I think there ought to be a memorial to him."

"A statue?"

"Yes, a statue, or a drinking-fountain, or a public library—something."

"It was a statue we were thinking of," said Mr. Flanagan.

"The matter is under consideration, then?"

"It was discussed at the last meeting of the District Council," said Flanagan, "although, owing to the pressure on our space, it wasn't reported in our paper. We were thinking of getting up a public meeting, with Father Cassidy in the chair, and raising a subscription."

"I hope," said Mr. Caledon, "that you will permit me to contribute to the fund."

"We will, of course. Why not? And what's more, we'll feel obliged to you if you'll make a speech on the occasion. It will be a source of gratification and pride to the inhabitants of Ballyguthrie, young and old, to give you a hearty welcome in our midst."

"Let me know the date of the meeting," said Mr. Caledon, "and if it's any time within the next fortnight I'll attend it."

Mr. Flanagan guided the motor-car back to Ballyguthrie by the shortest route and saw Mr. Caledon safely into the commercial-room of the hotel. Then he sought out Mr. O'Clery, who led him from the bar to a private room at the back of the premises.

"I'm of opinion," said Mr. Flanagan, "that a public meeting ought to be held in the town to raise funds for the erection of a statue to the memory of General John Regan."

"Is it him the American gentleman was talking about?"

"The same. And it's a crying shame and a scandal that there's no kind of a memorial to him in the town."

"We've done well enough without a statue up to this."

"Listen to me, now, Michael O'Clery. When the American gentleman is willing to subscribe as much as will pretty near pay for the statue, what harm can it do us to have it? Isn't it no more than right that we should do honor to the most famous man that ever came out of Ballyguthrie?"

"It is surely. And when will the meeting be?"

"I was thinking," said Mr. Flanagan, "that if it suited Father Cassidy, we might have it on Monday next, that same being a fair day when the country people will be in town."

"You're right," said Mr. O'Clery; "but tell me this, now, are you sure it was Ballyguthrie where the General was born? I never heard tell of a Regan about these parts, good nor bad."

"Didn't the gentleman say. it was? And didn't I see him standing by the side of Jamesy Killeen's field beyond, with the tears running down his two cheeks at the thought, and him talking to himself the same as if he'd be making a public speech about the land? 'The patriot,' says he, 'the poet, the soldier of liberty, the mighty statesman!' Be damn, but we ought to be proud of him!"

"It's a queer thing that I never heard tell of him, if so be he's all you say."

He's more," said Mr. Flanagan, "and if you haven't heard of him, which is what I can hardly believe of you, Michael O'Clery, you ought to have heard of him. Anyway, by next Monday night there won't be a man within five miles of Ballyguthrie but will be proud to call himself the fellow countryman of General John Regan."

 

The printing-press of the Connaught Democrat turned out a number of imposing green placards, which Carey, the town bill-sticker, posted on all the walls likely to catch the eye of any one coming into the town to attend the fair. They summoned all faithful Irishmen to attend a meeting to be held at three o'clock in the afternoon to honor the memory of General John Regan. They promised that Father Cassidy would take the chair, and that the principal speaker would be the Right Hon. Joseph P. Caledon. Mr. Flanagan prefixed the Right Hon. on his own authority, and substituted the initial "P" for the name "Prince," because anything which savors of royalty excites prejudice in the west of Ireland. Speculation was rife during the morning as to who General John Regan might be. Some ardent politicians claimed him as a Member of Parliament who had fought against the English in the Boer war. Others thought he was a friend of Wolfe Tone, and went so far as to assert that he had commanded the French forces at the battle of Castlebar. A third school of historians maintained that he was the leader of the American Fenians and had invaded Canada. The attendance at the meeting was very large, because there was a good deal of betting about the General, and every one wanted the question of who he was decided one way or another.

Father Cassidy opened the proceedings with what Mr. Flanagan afterward described in the Connaught Democrat as "a few well-chosen words." He said that the first duty of a living nation was to honor its dead heroes, and hinted that subscriptions must be liberal if a creditable statue was to be erected. He then introduced Mr. Caledon as a distinguished American, deeply interested in Bolivia, the author of the forthcoming life of General John Regan. Mr. Caledon said that he would not insult the audience he saw before him by recapitulating the facts of the life of General John Regan—facts as well, perhaps better, known to them than to him. He spoke, amid thunders of applause, of the glorious liberty enjoyed by the people of Bolivia—liberty won, as all liberty must be won, with the sword. He quoted a poem, which the audience understood to have been specially written in honor of General John Regan, about men who

 

"Departing leave behind them
Footsteps on the sands of time."

 

He concluded by announcing that he would give five hundred dollars to the statue fund. Father Cassidy and Mr. O'Clery of the hotel did sums rapidly on the backs of envelopes with pencils. Mr. O'Clery, who adopted the simple expedient of dividing the five hundred by five, arrived at his answer first, and proclaimed in a loud voice one hundred pounds. Father Cassidy, a more conscientious man, entangled himself with a number of detached pence and farthings. It was only at the end of ten minutes that he was able to correct Mr. O'Clery and announce that the subscription really amounted to £102 3s. 1d.

It was not until the cheering which greeted this announcement had subsided that the audience realized that they did not yet know who General John Regan was. They were not enlightened by Mr. Flanagan, who proposed a vote of thanks to Father Cassidy for presiding. He had, contrary to his usual custom, prepared his speech beforehand. He began by saying that it was unnecessary for him to add anything to the masterly sketch of the dead patriot's career which had fallen from the lips of the learned gentleman who that day graced Ballyguthrie with his presence. He estimated the cost of a good statue, made in Ireland, out of Irish stone, at two hundred pounds. He promised to subscribe two pounds himself, and to take part in a house-to-house collection to secure the rest of the money. He proposed that Father Cassidy, Mr. Caledon, Mr. O'Clery, and (in a modest aside) Mr. Flanagan should form a committee and ask for estimates from all the firms of statue-manufacturers in Dublin.

The audience dispersed, still inclined to wrangle over bets, but convinced that whoever General John Regan might be, he deserved the best memorial that could be erected to him. Mr. Caledon left Ballyguthrie the next day in his motor-car, promising to return for the unveiling of the statue.

By dint of unremitting exertions on the part of Mr. Flanagan a sum of £27 4s. 3d. collected in cash and promises. Negotiations were entered into with a gentleman in Dublin who described himself on his business cards as a mortuary sculptor. He seemed, as General John Regan was understood to be dead, exactly the kind of man wanted for the statue. He agreed to carve, mount on a pedestal, and erect on the middle of the fair green in Ballyguthrie a figure of the General eight feet high. He sent down to the committee a number of designs. It was decided to adopt one which represented the General with a drawn sword in one hand and a roll of parchment in the other. The sword, so the mortuary sculptor said, represented liberty; the parchment, constitutional right. The question of the inscription for the base of the pedestal next engaged the attention of the committee.

"I propose," said Mr. Flanagan, "that Father Cassidy be empowered to draw up the inscription, and I take this opportunity of saying that there's not a man in Connaught better able to do the same, nor one that would do it in more appropriate language."

"I second that," said Mr. O'Clery.

Father Cassidy excused himself. He said that he was quite unused to drawing up inscriptions for the bases of statues, and that in any case the job was one which Mr. Flanagan, with his experience as a newspaper editor, could do in ten minutes.

"All you've got to do," said Father Cassidy, "is to put, 'Erected by the people of Baliyguthrie in memory of their illustrious fellow countryman, General John Regan—' and then put the date of his birth and a short list of his principal achievements."

Mr. Flanagan definitely declined to undertake the task. Father Cassidy was equally firm. Mr. O'Clery, by way of an escape from an impasse, suggested that Mr. Caledon should be written to and asked to do it.

"It 'll be no good writing to him," said Mr. Flanagan. "He told me himself that he'd be touring the continent of Europe for six months after him leaving this, searching the libraries for documents and such that might have a bearing on the life of General John Regan, and he said that letters wouldn't be forwarded to him."

"Let yez write," said Father Cassidy, "to the librarian of the National Library in Dublin and tell him to look out the facts of the General's life and make a note of them on a slip of paper, and let the man that's doing the statue call and get them. That 'll save all the trouble."

Three days later Mr. Flanagan received a letter which startled him. It came from the librarian of the National Library. It ran:

 

"Dear Sir: In reply to your inquiry I beg to inform you that so far as I have been able to ascertain there never was a General John Regan of Bolivia. I am therefore unable to supply the maker of his tombstone with any facts regarding his life. I am, sir, yours truly, etc."

 

Mr. Flanagan carried the letter across to the Imperial Hotel and spread it on the table of Mr. O'Clery's private room.

"Read that," he said.

Mr. O'Clery read it.

"Well," he said, "I'm damned! But you have his subscription, anyway."

"I have yours," said Mr. Flanagan, "and I have Father Cassidy's, and I have my own. But if it's Mr. Caledon's you mean, I haven't got it."

"And why not?"

"Because he said he'd send it as soon as ever the accounts for the statue came in. That's why I haven't got it."

"Nor you won't get it," said Mr. O'Clery, pessimistically.

"I will not. I know that. But if ever I lay hands on that fellow Caledon it's not crying over the birthplace of dead generals he'll be, but over what 'll hurt him a deal more."

"He did say," said Mr. O'Clery, meditatively, "the first day ever I set eyes on him and the yellow motor-car—he did say that the town was half asleep, and that himself would like to have a try at wakening it up a bit."

Mr. Flanagan brought his fist down with a crash on the table.

"Be damn!" he said.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1950, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.