THOUGH the sources whence these Stories are derived are open to every one, yet chance or choice may prevent thousands from making such sources available; and though the village crone and mountain guide have many hearers, still their circle is so circumscribed, that most of what I have ventured to lay before my reader is for the first time made tangible to the greater portion of those who do me the favour to become such.
Many of them were originally intended merely for the diversion of a few friends round my own fireside;--there, recited in the manner of those from whom I heard them, they first made their début, and the flattering reception they met on so minor a stage, led to their appearance before larger audiences;--subsequently, I was induced to publish two of them in the Dublin Literary Gazette, and the favourable notice from contemporary prints, which they received, has led to the publication of the present volume.
I should not have troubled the reader with this account of the "birth, parentage, and education" of my literary bantlings, but to have it understood that some of them are essentially oral in their character, and, I fear, suffer materially when reduced to writing. This I mention en passant to the critics; and if I meet but half as good-natured readers as I have hitherto found auditors, I shall have cause to be thankful. But, previously to the perusal of the following pages, there are a few observations that I feel are necessary, and which I shall make as concise as possible.
Most of the stories are given in the manner of the peasantry; and this has led to some peculiarities that might be objected to, were not the cause explained--namely, frequent digressions in the course of the narrative, occasional adjurations, and certain words unusually spelt. As regards the first, I beg to answer, that the stories would be deficient in national character without it; the Irish are so imaginative that they never tell a story straightforward, but constantly indulge in episode; for the second, it is only fair to say, that in most cases the Irish peasant's adjurations are not meant to be in the remotest degree irreverent, but arise merely from the impassioned manner of speaking which an excitable people are prone to; and I trust that such oaths as "thunder-and-turf," or maledictions, as "bad cees to you," will not be considered very offensive.
Nay, I will go further, and say, that their frequent exclamations of "Lord be praised,"--"God betune us and harm," etc., have their origin In a deeply reverential feeling and a reliance on the protection of Providence. As for the orthographical dilemmas into which an attempt to spell their peouliar pronunciation has led me, I have ample and most successful precedent in Mr. Banim's works. Some general observations, however, it may not be irrelevant to introduce here, on the pronunciation of certain sounds In the English language by the Irish peasantry. And here I wish to be distinctly understood, that I speak only of the midland and western district of Ireland--and chiefly of the latter.
They are rather prone to curtailing their words; of, for instance, is very generally abbreviated into o' or i', except when a succeeding vowel demands a consonant; and even in that case they would substitute v. The letters d and t as finals, they scarcely ever sound; for example, pond, hand, slept, kept, are pronounced pon, han, slep, kep. These letters, when followed by a vowel, are sounded as if the aspirate h intervened, as tender, letter--tindher, letther. Some sounds they sharpen, and vice versa. The letter e, for instance, is mostly pronounced like i in the word litter, as lind for lend, mind for mend, etc.; but there are exceptions to this rule--Saint Kevin, for example, which they pronounce Kavin. The letter o they sound like a in some words, as off, aff or av--thus softening f into v; beyond, beyant--thus sharpening the final d to t, and making an exception to the custom of not sounding d as a final; in others they alter it to ow--as old, owld. Sometimes o is even converted into I - as spoil, spile. In a strange spirit of contrariety, while they alter the sound of e to that of i, they substitute the latter for the former sometimes--as hinder, hendher--cinder, cendher; s they soften into z--as us, us. There are other peculiarities which this is not an appropriate place to dilate upon. I have noticed the most obvious. Nevertheless, even these are liable to exceptions, as the peasantry are quite governed by ear--as in the word of, which is variously sounded o', i', ov, av, or iv, as best suits their pleasure.
It is unnecessary to remark how utterly unsystematic I have been in throwing these few remarks together. Indeed, to classify (if it were necessary) that which has its birth in ignorance would be a very perplexing undertaking. But I wished to notice these striking peculiarities of the peasant pronunciation, which the reader will have frequent occasion to observe in the following pages; and, as a further assistance, I have added a short glossary.