Have you heard the one about the lawyer and the bible?
Despite the set up, it is no comedy, moreover, a poignant family tale from Victorian times.
Now I know I said in my last outing that it would be the final part of our “Tales from Carribee Island”, but whilst sorting through some documents in my proverbial “scrapbook”, I came across a very personal connection to the old neighbourhood. If you recall from my first story on the subject, my great Grandfather, Michael Egan, lived in the area.
A Field of Lawyers
The census of 1881 shows Michael Egan had found accommodation, at No. 7 Lawyers Field; a predominately Catholic area in between Stafford Street and North Street, which adjoined Charles Street and Middle Row.
Besides Michael and his wife “Fanny”, there are six children and a 63-year-old female lodger. My grandmother Catherine (Kate) Egan was their eighth child, born here in 1885.
At the time I left school in 1951, I still had one great Aunt – then in her eighties – living in Lawyers Field. We called her aunt Ash and her second husband – then deceased – was Samuel Bogie Ash. The hilly street known as Lawyer’s Field would have looked much the same then as it would as when my Aunt was a child. But it had changed in one respect – it no longer had that same vigorous, intense, sometimes lawless, vitality she would often describe to me.
A Family Heirloom
By 1950, an air of quiet desolation hung about Lawyers Field, almost as if it were patiently awaiting its hour of demolition. Here, just a few short years after the war, old folk, most in carpet-less rooms, with few possessions and amenities, worked away in these ancient thoroughfares, desperately trying to preserve at least some of the decencies of life.
After my aunt passed in 1951, a family bible was amongst the few worldly possessions she left behind. Upon opening the Bible, we find the year marked as 1866.
Inside the bible were a number of pamphlets and cuttings and I would like to share some with you.
“Will and May”
“CRIBBEY – ISLAND” the place is called, yet is no harbor seen; nor, save the songbirds patch of turf, a single blade of green.
Aloft, the tall roofs clustering round, shut out the summer sun, And down below, with mud and mire, the filthy gutters run.
The ways are foul, the walls are foul, and foul the heavy air; The place seems as if nothing pure. Could have its dwelling there.
You enter by a low browed gate that shuts the dark court in, A little world of human woe, and weariness and sin.
A bird sang on a window high, the sun was shining there, And trills of joyous music fell. A down the heavy air.”
“Below, two children on the ground Sat patiently and long And listened there with bated breath to hear the blackbirds song.
They thought of things they ne’er had heard, and sights they ne’er had seen, And sunny seas and sunny skies, and meadows fair and green.
A dark-haired girl, a blue-eyed boy, In childhood’s artless grace, So gentle and so fair the two seemed alien to this place.
And yet it was the only spot where they had ever been, Their parents, once in years gone by, far better days had seen.
But drunkenness had turned the man from virtues paths aside; The woman with a broken heart had lain her down and died.
She left the little ones she loved unto her mothers care, An aged dame with gentle eyes, and soft and silvery hair.
And May and Willie loved her well, their youth leaned on her age; Full often she had saved them from their drunken father’s rage
She taught them from the Holy Book, of love and grace and truth, and bade them pray to God that He, would guide them in their youth
And day by day she would to them some sacred story tell; Or teach them to repeat a verse Of the Psalm she loved so well.”
So did the children love this Psalm They dearly prized it all; And every day they would say and sing King David’s pastoral:-
“The Lord’s my shepherd; I’ll not want; He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me the quiet waters by.
“My soul He doth restore again, and me to walk doth make
within the paths of righteousness, even for His own namesake.
“Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale, yet will I fear none ill;
for Thou art with me; and Thy rod And staff me comfort still.
“ My table Thou hast furnished In presence of my foes;
My head with oil thou dost anoint and my cup overflows.
“Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me;
And in God’s house for evermore my dwelling place shall be.”
When May and Willie heard the song, they caught the sacred strain,
The old tune they’d heard many times, and sung it o’er again
And many a question Willie asked about the Shepherd good; And of the Heavenly Father’s house, and whereabouts it stood:
And where the blessed pastures were; And where the river flowed; And what the heavenly land was like, And did she know the road?
And would the angels care for him, and carry him someday To dwell within that holy land which is so far away?
Was mother too, with Jesus there, was she an angel now? And did she walk in robes of white’ a crown upon her brow?
And was she happy there with God, upon the heavenly shore? And did the people never sin, and never suffer more?
Would Willie’s cough get better there? and would Willie’s limbs be strong? And would he see the angels bright? and would he hear their song?
And did the people never sleep? and was it always day? And would the Lord let Willie go to live with him he’d say.
The good old dame would answer make, as best as she could devise, Unto the little child that looked with wide and wondering eyes,
Expectant almost that the heavens would flash forth on his sight, and he might see the hills of God all beautiful and bright;
And still again from hour to hour he would resume the theme, Until the evening came, and sleep, and then the child would dream;
Would dream of all the blessed things that filled his thoughts by day, And think himself within the land that yet was far away,
A happy lamb in Jesus’ fold, his head on Jesus’ breast, His hand clasped in his savior’s hand, his weary feet at rest.
Meanwhile, poor little Willie’s strength by slow degrees declined, As day by day, their father grew crueler and more unkind.
And grandmother, their only help, their only earthly friend, Was growing weaker every day and drawing near her end.
I soon must leave you, little ones, I’m going home to God; But you, I trust, will follow me upon the heavenly road.
“Seek Jesus Christ to be your guide, and then you cannot stray, For he will keep and care for you when I am far away.
“Knock at the gate and He will come, and He will take you in, And He will love you all your life and wash your souls from sin.
She ceased, but what her words might mean they scarcely understood, Except that they must Jesus seek, and he would make them good.
And that she whom they dearly loved was going far away To God’s own home, and that they were to follow her someday.
One morn the little children went and waited by her bed; They called her name, she heard them not; the good old dame was dead.
They could not understand why she so motionless should lie, Nor why, however much they called, she gave them no reply.
At last a kindly neighbor came, and to the children said, “Come with me, little ones, awhile; Your grandmother is dead.”
At last, they saw the sombre hearse drive to the door one day, And they were told it came to take Their grandmamma away.
They watched it for a little while till it was out of sight, And then the kindly neighbor said, they too must leave that night.
She should have liked to keep them, now the good old dame had gone, but she was very poor, and she had children of her own.
She said, their father having sold the things and gone away, The parish workhouse was the place where they would have to stay.
What sort of place the workhouse was the children did not know; But saw the woman pitied them because they had to go.
“Perhaps the people are unkind, perhaps they curse and swear, O Willie, dear, how much I wish we had not to go there.!”
They rose and wandered around the court, they looked along the road. Then little Willie said at last, “We’ll go where grandma go’ed.
On the Road
“She told us we must follow her, and knock on Jesus’ gate; Come, May, and we will go at once, I do not want to wait.
“I’m sure that I shall know the place, For Jesus, will be there, And he will let us in to walk In pastures green and fair.
“And He will lead us to His home where all His children stay, And I shall be His little Will, And you His little May!.
They turned their steps to go, the road, the hearse had gone before; Two simple little souls, they went to seek for Jesus’ door.
And thus the children hand – in – hand went on their quest alone, And some they met would look, and ask If they astray had gone.
But little Will would make reply; “Oh no, we’re not astray, There’s someone waiting at the gate; He waits for me and May.”
At The Gate
In truth it seemed a gate of gold, It’s gilded bars shone bright, And all the earth and all the air were filled with golden light.
They knocked; their knocking was in vain; How could the children tell, That those who wish the door unclosed. Must ring the porter’s bell?
A little gate that was beside, the children saw at last, It stood unfastened, and through it Into the grounds they passed.
“Oh Jesus is not here,” said Will. “Perhaps He could not wait; But he has told them not to shut The little children’s gate.
“And yet it all seems very strange. where are the angels gone, That little ones like me and May Must enter all alone?”
And then the children turned aside from of the graveled road, Across the beautiful greensward, to where the river flowed.
No doubt was in their simple minds this was the pasture green; It was God’s gate they had passed, God’s river they had seen.
God’s sky was gleaming in the west; God’s light was in their eyes; God’s love was in their simple hearts; They seemed in Paradise.
They sat them down on the turf and gazed upon the stream, Exceeding wonder filled their hearts, Like children in a dream.
“But, oh, I am so tired,” said Will, “I lay me down to sleep. Good-night, dear May, and now I pray. The Lord my soul to keep!”
With broken words and whispered prayer, The child soon sank to rest; His weary little head reclined Upon his sister’s breast.
And then he murmured in his sleep words of the Psalm he knew, Of waters still, and deaths dark vale, which he must travel through.
And of the gate which they had passed, and of the weary road, And then the voice was still; the child, Had gone to be with God.
The sister knew not he was dead; she waked at break of day, Then saw she from the pale cold cheek that he had passed away.
And there they were, those children two, One saw the sun arise, Awakening in a cold grey world, And one in Paradise.
Sweet faith and fancy of the child, Oh, ye were not deceived! For not in vain that little heart A savior’s word believed.
In other ways, it yet came true, the golden gate was passed, The little child who loved his God was with his God at last.
Smile not in pity, rather pray That faith to you be given, For of such trustful, simple hearts, The Kingdom is of Heaven.