In 1937, five of us, Father Pat, Arnold, Anne Crowley, Aloys and I were driving up the Goat's Pass at Sheep's Head, a long and steep hill at one of the furthermost ends of the Irish coast. Arnold suddenly became uneasy and kept looking at his watch. It was about 7.30. Sir Henry Wood was performing Arnold's Fourth Symphony for the first time at 8 o'clock, and would be “very annoyed if I didn't listen in.” We had no wireless with us at the time, and didn't see the BBC programmes. Arnold rarely if ever spoke about his own music; we hadn't known that a work of his was on that night.
We put on as much speed as we could, and came down at the other side of the hill on to a straight road, and entered the little village of Ahakista. There was no wireless in the village ‘pub’ nor in any of the houses where we enquired. Suddenly Father Pat had a brainwave. About a mile further on was the curate's house. He knew him, and knew that he had a wireless. As it was a misty night in late August it was already dusk when we arrived. We left the car at the entrance, and walked as quickly as we could up a long dark avenue overshadowed by trees. There was no light or smoke from the house. The priest was away on holidays! Father Pat and Anne climbed in the sitting room window, the only one that was open. They went round into the hall and opened the door for the rest of us to come in. Then Father Pat fumbled in the dark until he had found the wireless. He turned the knob, and the first sound to emerge was the first chord of Arnold's symphony!
During the slow movement footsteps were heard along the hall. The sitting room door was opened cautiously and somebody peeped in. We were all sitting around motionless, and as our clothing was dark, we must have looked like ghosts. Father Pat stood up quickly but noiselessly and waved his two long arms towards the figure in the doorway signifying it to go away. The door closed quietly.
After the last chord of the symphony had been played we broke the silence and talked. Suddenly the room was flooded with light. Somebody had switched on the light from outside. The door opened and in came a middle-aged woman with a tea-tray: lovely hot buttered scones and rich cake. She looked frightened and bewildered. Father Pat told her our story, which she understood and appreciated. The curate was away in France but she, his housekeeper, was living in the house.
Before leaving, I went into the kitchen to apologise for our intrusion and to thank her for the lovely tea. I said she must have got a fright when she saw people sitting around in the dark. She told me she had gone out to visit a neighbour and on her return was surprised to “see an abandoned car at the foot of the avenue”. She had got “a bit of a shock”. It reminded her of those ‘Black and Tan’ days of the Troubles. When she looked in through the sitting room door her nerves “nearly went”. She didn't know whether we were living or dead spirits.
Next to the sitting room there was a little Sacred Heart oratory. She went in and said a prayer. Then she made up her mind to become active. She would make scones and tea and the minute she heard a voice she would bring in the tray to the living or the dead.
Arnold spoke to Sir Henry Wood the next day telling him the story adding “this could happen nowhere but here”. He got a postcard in return saying Sir Henry was so glad Arnold had heard the symphony, which he thought went very well but that he was surprised to hear that Arnold had taken to burgling houses whilst in Ireland.
MIZEN HEAD LIGHTHOUSE
On one occasion in 1929, our friend J. J. Horgan drove Arnold, Mary Horgan, Aloys, Aloys Óg and myself to Mizen Head. We left the car a good bit further back and walked to where the suspension bridge is linked with the lighthouse on the other side. (We had all just read “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”). As soon as Arnold came near he turned back and left us, Aloys Óg following him. Arnold could never bear heights of any kind. Nobody would cross the bridge except myself. I stepped along gaily but half way over I looked down. My heart nearly stopped beating. There was a terrible chasm beneath with foam slashing waters and on the right side the precipitous cliffs looked black and frightening. Having gone so far I couldn't turn back. I simply ran to the other side without looking towards the right or left. Having got there I quickly crossed myself and thought: if you hesitate now you won't have the courage to go back at all. So I half closed my eyes, and raced over the bridge as quickly as my feet could carry me. I was greeted by the others with icy chilliness. Nobody said anything but my good husband's eyes looked daggers. We sauntered back to the car and on the way looked over the cliffs. Down below a huge monster was swimming in the water quite close to the rocks. He was about eight feet long and had his mouth wide open. The sun was shining on the water and his mouth looked like a big white basin. It never closed. A fisherman passing by said it was a tiger shark. None of us had ever seen one before. He had yellow stripes on his back, hence the name. He followed us all the way along to the car close under the cliffs. A horrid monster and somehow an uncanny sequel to our visit to the Mizen Head lighthouse. Afterwards John drove us to Crookhaven, a picturesque little village, where we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves wandering about, and watching tanks full of lobster and crayfish.
ILLNACULLEN - GARNISH ISLAND 1 May 1930
On a lovely May day the singer Maura O'Connor drove Arnold. Aloys, Aloys Óg and myself to Glengarriffe. Having crossed from there to Garnish in a little boat, we walked through the island to the other end where there was a grove of pine and fir trees. We sat down on the grass, which was exceedingly dry. There had been an unusual summer-like spring. Arnold and Aloys smoked their pipes and Maura lit a cigarette.
After some time I noticed a little puff of smoke issuing from the grass about two feet away. A few minutes later another little white puff, this time at a distance of about three feet. I became interested, and watched closely, not thinking of any danger. Suddenly a small flame shot up. I got to my feet and said: “The grass is on fire!” By this time, however, little flames were popping up all round. I ran away as fast as I could shouting: “Help, help, fire!” Fortunately I came across a gardener, who came running back with me. Terror! The whole place was ablaze.
The gardener shouted and called men, who came running up to where we were. There was a huge stack of dry boughs and thick pieces of wood nearby. We all, Arnold included, started beating the flames with sticks. Now a fir tree caught fire and it looked hopeless. The guests in the hotel at Glengarriffe had seen the fire by this time and boat after boat came over to help. Finally we conquered the fire but not before about ten lovely fir trees had been destroyed. Gradually everyone went away and we stood there speechless. I said we should go and see Mrs Bryce immediately and inform her of the dreadful happening. Arnold was as white as a sheet and terribly upset. Just then we saw two rather masculine ladies approaching. One, Mrs Bryce, called out before she was even near us, “Who set fire to this place? Do you not know that smoking is prohibited on the island?” We hadn't known. I went over to them and told them that we hadn't the faintest idea how it happened. She said, pointing to Arnold: “Who is that man over there?” – poor Arnold looked so guilty. I said: “He is Arnold Bax, our guest.” . The other lady, who had not spoken up to now, said: “Surely not Arnold Bax the composer?” I answered in the affirmative. “Oh!” she said, full of enthusiasm, “please introduce me to him. I heard his Third Symphony some months ago. It was simply marvellous.” So I brought Arnold over to her, but he had not yet recovered his speech and just muttered something. After some conversation Mrs Bryce invited us all to tea. But we were too upset, and gratefully declined. We went back to our car at Glengarriffe.
To this day we really don't know how it happened. Arnold said he thought it might have been when he was knocking the ashes out of his pipe on a little stone near where we were sitting that the grass first took fire. Actually we were very lucky. If I had not run away that time the whole grove might have been burnt out and perhaps the huts near it as well. They were full of dry wood.
Some days later a headline appeared in an English newspaper: “Labour Day, May 1st. Clifford Bax sets fire to Garnish Island”. Clifford Bax was raging and wrote an indignant letter to Arnold asking him what was the meaning of this shocking affair. Evidently some English guest at the hotel had written to the newspaper mistaking Arnold for his brother, the famous author.
On my return home, I wrote a letter of apology to Mrs Bryce, saying how terribly grieved we all were at what had happened, and offered to compensate her for the trees. She wrote a nice letter in return refusing my offer but caustically remarking “that one could not compensate for trees of fourteen years growth”. Years later we revisited the spot with Arnold, but somehow the old distress made itself manifest, and we left rather quickly. The black and charred appearance was gone - but so too were many lovely trees.
DINGLE PENINSULA (Nonet)
In the late Autumn of 1938, Arnold, Aloys, Aloys Óg and I were motoring with Arnold in the kingdom of Kerry. This time he told us early in the afternoon that he would like to hear the first broadcast performance of his Nonet. He was doubtful whether we could get any reception “so far west”. We arranged to be back in time. As far as I can remember the broadcast was at 9.30 pm. On our return journey, however, we lost our way and had no notion of where we were. It began to rain. The night became dark and stormy and it poured in torrents. After driving about for some time in and out of laneways that led to nowhere we saw lights shining through the trees at the end of an avenue. We drove up to the house and I rang the bell, (with fear and trepidation, I must confess). After some minutes a maid opened the door and I enquired if I might see the lady of the house. At that moment she came down the stairs. I told her our story. She invited us all in, but not without an air of uneasiness. And no wonder. We were all carelessly dressed and it was just not the time for a visit from complete strangers, the rain and the storm adding to the queer situation.
We were taken to the library, where there was a crystal set with earphones. As with the Fourth Symphony, we were just in time. The transmission could not have been better. It was as if the nine players were in the room. The atmosphere outside had evidently something to do with it. And what a lovely work it was: exquisite lyrical music. Arnold was delighted with the performance. We got up to leave immediately afterwards although the lady was kind enough to offer us food and drink. When we came into the hall two children came running down the stairs in flowing nightdresses with autograph books tucked under their arms. Their mother had evidently told them whose music we were listening in to. A gentleman also appeared: a parson, the lady's husband, for the house was a rectory. I told him we came from Cork. He said: “Perhaps you know my brother, the Rev Mr Hobson, head teacher at the grammar school.” I said: “Indeed we do. He lives quite near us.” He smiled and said: “When you meet him again greet him for me, and tell him of your adventure.” Which I did, to his great amusement and pleasure.
Many years ago, I think it was in 1931, Arnold, my husband, Aloys Óg and I were motoring in Kerry. En route we stayed at the Staiguefort Hotel near Sneem. We had not been there more than a few hours when a messenger arrived with a letter from the Hon Mrs Broderick (a sister of Lord Middleton) inviting us all to afternoon tea. Arnold hesitated to go, so I did not press him. And of course my husband, who loathes all kinds of parties, was only too delighted to have the excuse of having to keep Arnold company. So Aloys Óg and I sauntered forth alone. When we arrived at the hospital – a huge rather ugly structure, which Miss Broderick had built for wounded soldiers in 1914 – the big gate that led right into the kitchen was open. A long table surrounded by wooden chairs was set for tea. On it there were large mugs without handles, evidently some kind of Irish pottery; also wooden platters with lovely white and brown home-made bread.
There was no sign of our hostess or of anyone. We began to feel slightly embarrassed and wondered what we should do. We saw no bell or knocker anywhere. However after a little while our hostess appeared through a door in the kitchen and welcomed us very warmly indeed. She was dressed in the costume of a Princess Christian nurse and was very charming and simple, as most true aristocrats are. I thought she might have been in her middle fifties.
After a most delicious tea with home-made butter and heather honey Miss Broderick opened a drawer in the table and took out some pamphlets, which she handed us to read. It was Republican anti-treaty literature and written in the most violent language denouncing ‘traitors, cowards’ etc. She mentioned Michael Collins, the ‘arch-conspirator’. That gallant soldier had been ambushed and shot some time after the conclusion of the Treaty and I had felt terribly sorry for him. I said poor Michael Collins had to accept the Treaty to prevent his people being completely eliminated, and surely to goodness Ireland had suffered enough deaths having lost her noblest and best sons. Also that he probably accepted the Treaty as a stepping stone, hoping that in the years to come partition would be abolished. This brought forth some very heated remarks from Miss Broderick. She said she was greatly surprised to hear me talk like that. She had heard from Mary MacSwiney that I was a great friend of hers and Terence's – her brother the Lord Mayor of Cork, who had died on hungerstrike in Brixton Prison in 1920 – and that she had thought I was wholeheartedly with the cause. I answered that naturally every Irish woman would have sympathy with the ideals of Ireland's heroes and martyrs but personally I thought that there was nothing more tragic than fraternal strife and that when peace came I felt relieved.
I added that artists seldom take part or interest in politics; that they live principally for their work, that questions of nationality or politics didn’t interest them, that it was the individual and what he stood for that was of importance. After this Miss Broderick took her pamphlets from me and put them back into the drawer. From then onwards the atmosphere was a bit strained.
Suddenly there was a noise of wheels on the gravel outside, and in came a lady with a bicycle who might just have stepped out of Denis Johnston's play “Moon on the Yellow River”. She was of medium size, and had short clipped hair, wore dark glasses, was dressed in plain tailor-made tweed suit and spoke in a rather loud high-pitched voice, with a pronounced English accent. We were introduced. I don’t remember her name. She took little notice of us, and only spoke to Miss Broderick, who offered her a cup of tea. Shortly afterwards our party broke up, and Miss Broderick accompanied us up the hill outside the hospital. On the right there was a field with a ditch running up the whole way. When looking over there casually, I thought I saw rifles on the ditch. I looked more carefully, and to my amazement six or eight heads appeared on top, and the rifles were pointed at us. I laughed and said to Miss Broderick: “I hope they are not going to shoot us!” “Oh no,” said Miss Broderick seriously, “these men are always on the alert when any strangers appear. It is only a matter of practice for them.”
Returning to the hotel in a rather excited frame of mind, we were glad that Arnold and my husband had not come with us. I heard later that Miss Broderick had “gone native”. Hence the kitchen which served as reception and dining room. The chairs were very comfortable. I cannot remember now if they were the traditional sugan chairs made of woven straw. But the cups were impracticable: one couldn't drink hot tea without burning one's fingers. I was told too that Miss Broderick besides being “a great patriot” was the kindest and most charitable person that ever lived among those people. She had a little store near the village where only home-made goods were sold: hand knitted woollen articles, mugs, baskets, chairs, every kind of article made by the villagers and people in other parts of Ireland. This gave employment and encouraged people to stay at home. So we left Staiguefort full of admiration for Miss Broderick and felt rather sorry that she should have been so disappointed in us.
(c) Tilly Fleischmann
We gratefully acknowledge the very kind permission of Ruth Fleischmann to print her grandmother's memoirs.