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Henry Masterman Mist Diaries and Prisoners Pie Magazine

Diaries of Heny Masterman Mist and a copy of Prisoners’ Pie, the Ruhleben Camp magazine. Learn more.

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BC Archives MS-2570

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Old Irish Humour.

Irish humour is proverbial wherever the English language is spoken and even the rest of the world has come to appreciate it, as the popularity of G. Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde testifies. Misconceived as it sometimes is by those who seem to think that its most charac- teristic expression is the amusing absurdity commonly known as the "bull" and fiercely satirical as we wee it e. g. in the savage irony of a Swift, there is yet no doubt that it exists as a distinct species of its own, being easily distinguished alike from the genial if sometimes broad humour of the Englishman or the American, the razor-keen esprit of the Frenchman or the pawkiness of the Lowland Scot. Whatever be the determining cause of it -- "the soft moist air|, the "white springy roads, the misty rushes and brown bogs, the hillsides of granite rocks and magenta heather" in which according to G. B. S., "your wits can't thicken", the racial strain in the Irishman's physical and mental composition, or, as the Milesian himself would probably suggest, the national reputation for wit that he must keep up willy-nilly -- "It's a foine thing to have a good reputation, but it's a divil of a business to live up to it": -- we all know that it is there and even the venerable Mother of Parliaments has come to know it.

But we need not look only to modern time and modern writers for instances of it. It is to be met with in the very oldest Irish literature, a little crude perhaps and of a kind calculated to startle rather than to amuse the present-day reader, but still the thing itself, while later Old and Middle Irish writings are permeated by it. Its earliest forms, such as we get them in the primitive sagas of the North of Ireland, struke us as mere humorous exaggeration, if indeed they be not the last remnant of prehistoric superstition or myth, -- certainly it is a far cry from them to "The Importance of Being Earnest".

Such is the description of the boy-hero Cuchulin, the Achilles of Ulster, whose exploits exceeded those of most ordinary mortals. He was nicknamed "The Distorted" on account of the convulsions into which he was wont to fall when enraged. On one of these occasions, we are told "his hair seemed driven into his head as by a hammer and stood erect in short bristles, with a spark of fire on each of them. He closed one eye until it was smaller than the eye of a needle. The other he opened until it was larger than the rim of a mead goblet. He laid bare his teeth from his jaw to his ear. He also opened his mouth until his gullet was visible and the battle-light rose on his forhead".

Slightly barbarous perhaps, but no mean example of hyperbole. The same primitive humour but also already a distinct touch of esprit and repartee appears in the story of the Pig of Mac Da Tho. This famous animal, the pride of Leinster, over the division of which the heroes of two provinces, Ulster and Connaught, came to blows at a banquet in the palace of its owner, was of truly enormous proportions. Sixty young milch-cows had been required to feed it until it was seven

BC Archives, MS-2570 Box 1 File 6 MIST, Henry Masterman Ruhleben magazine, Prisoners’ Pie, 1916

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