Sketches of Irish Life




Amongst the variety of “professors” that practise on the Irish peasantry in the shape of horse and cow doctors, bone-setters, and fairy men, perhaps there is not a more distinguished individual than the Hedge Schoolmaster.


Educated in a seminary similar to that in which he presides, having there acquired all his former preceptor’s knowledge, he has either stepped into his shoes on his demise, or set up an establishment on his own account, trusting his success to the favourable opinion the neighbours had formed of his abilities during his years of probation. The Hedge Schoolmaster is, therefore, greatly respected by the peasantry whose children he has undertaken to educate; he is ever a welcome guest at their homes, gets the best “bit and sup” and the warmest corner at their firesides. Here he seems as much at home and more at his ease than the hospitable owner of the domicile he has condescended to visit, and whom he repays by astonishing with his intimate knowledge of past events, gleaned generally from antiquated newspapers: he can even tell of things to come, in a style equal, if not superior, to the prophetic pages of Moore’s Almanack, which popular annual he is seldom or ever known to agree with. He is generally, too, a proficient in music, and on Sunday evenings, in the summer time, gives the boys and girls an opportunity of enjoying themselves on “the green” in a jig or country dance to the sounds of his violin. But as human nature is never perfect, even in the wisest of mankind, there is one failing inseparably allied with the hedge Schoolmaster– he is a little too fond of “the drop;” his indulgence in which, though it occasionally mars his dignity in some respects, is amply atoned for in others; for, as the spirit of the glass ascends to his head, the pent-up larning as quickly escapes from that abode in “words of learned length and thundering sound.”

Now there may be, as is often the case, a rival schoolmaster in the adjacent village, and he too, either by accident or design, might be present on one of those festive occasions. The meeting of those worthies is as “Greek to Greek.” No two gamecocks could regard each other more fiercely, and the encounter of wits is often as decisive and deadly. Here lies the Hedge Schoolmaster’s real danger. If in the opinion of the excited company he is put down in the discussion, even on such a point as the “Irish tutor” puzzled the great Dr. O’Toole, when he asked him the exact position Ballyragget occupied on the globe, his fame is gone. The cry is up through the country, “The master was beat in the ‘larnin’;'” and in a day or two the schoolmaster is literally “abroad,” his grove deserted, and his pupils fled to his more witty or accomplished rival.



CowDoctorTo give a general idea of the cow-doctor, he is invariably an old bachelor, had once upon a time been the sporteen (a gay fellow) of some village, and attended all the dances and hurling matches for miles round the country. No meeting of any kind was complete without his presence. How it was that he neglected the matrimonial yoke is difficult to determine; whether it was that his admiration of the fair sex was so great that he was loth to offend all, by a “single selection of one,” or that he feared by such selection he might regret his choice, if afterwards he became acquainted with one of more superior attractions. Meantime, in giving this important question too much consideration, he neglects his small “holding,” has become reduced in circumstances, and as he lives on through years of misfortune a change gradually comes “o’er the spirit of his dream,” for, as “experience teacheth,” the experiments he had formerly practised on his own cattle have converted him from an eccentric into a scientific, and if not a sad, at least a wise man. He is now recognised by the farmers of his district as the cow-doctor, from the skill he exercises i curing their distempered cattle, when all the resources they had previously adopted proved unavailing. The home of the cow-doctor is not the most delectable. Unlike the generality of mankind, he much more prefers the hearths of his neighbours to his own fireside, which is seldom graced by his presence, unless when he cannot possibly avoid it. As he is in great demand through the country, he always contrives to make his visits visitations, and the entertainment he receives from the owner of his patient is all he expects directly to gain for his professional services. There are few professions in life to which there are not some perquisites attached, and in being bestowed are generally considered and taken as compliments; but that system is quite the reverse with the cow-doctor; for, not being encumbered with a medicine-chest, he is often obliged to visit the nearest apothecary’s shop, having been previously supplied with money to purchase the necessary drugs, which he compounds with great secrecy; and, knowing that a professional is always supplied at a very low figure, he considers the balance his own property– the farmer meantime paying him a high compliment, and bearing his services in grateful remembrance.