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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Samuel Lover (1797–1868)

The King and the Bishop

From “Legends and Stories of Ireland”

THE BOATMAN told me that “there was a mighty quare story” about the last king that ruled Clonmacnoise. I, having expressed an eager desire to hear the quare story, he seemed quite happy at being called on to fulfil the office of chronicler; and pulling his oar with an easier sweep, lest he might disturb the quiet hearing of his legend by the rude splash of the water, he prepared to tell his tale, and I, to “devour up his discourse.”

“Well, sir, they say there was a king wanst lived in the palace beyant and a sportin’ fellow he was, and Cead mile failte was the word in the palace, for no one kem but was welkim; and I go bail no one left it without the parting cup. Well, to be sure, the king av coorse had the best of eatin’ and drinkin’, and there was bed and boord for the stranger, let alone the welkim for the neighbour—and a good neighbour he was, by all accounts, until, as bad luck would have it, a crass ould bishop—the saints forgi’ me for saying the word—kem to rule over the churches. Now, you must know, the king was a likely man, and, as I said already, he was a sportin’ fellow, and by coorse a great favourite with the women; he had a smile and a wink for the crathurs at every hand’s turn, and the soft word, and the—the short and the long of it is, he was the divil among the girls.

“Well, sir, it was all mighty well, untell the ould bishop I mentioned arrived at the churches; but whin he kem, he tuck great scandal at the goings-an of the king, and he detarmined to cut him short in his coorses all at wanst, so with that whin the king wint to his duty, the bishop ups and he tells him that he must mend his manners and all to that; and when the king said that the likes o’ that was never tould him afore by the best priest o’ them all, ‘More shame for them that wor before me,’ says the bishop.

“But to make a long story short, the king looked mighty black at the bishop, and the bishop looked twice blacker at him again, and so on, from bad to worse, till they parted the bittherest of inimies; and the king, that was the best o’ friends to the churches afore, swore be this and be that, he’d vex them for it, and that he’d be even with the bishop afore long.

“Now, sir, the bishop might jist as well have kept never mindin’ the king’s little kimneens with the girls, for the story goes that he had a little failin’ of his own in regard of a dhrop, and that he knew the differ betune wine and wather, for, poor ignorant crathurs, it’s little they knew about whisky in them days. Well, the king used often to send lashins o’ wine to the churches, by the way, as he said, that they should have plinty of it for celebrating the mass—although he knew well that it was a little of it went far that-a-way, and that their riverinces was fond of a hearty glass as well as himself. And why not, sir?—if they’d let him alone; for, says the king, as many a one said afore, and will again, I’ll make a child’s bargain with you, says he: do you let me alone, and I’ll let you alone; manin’ by that, sir, that if they’d say nothin’ about the girls, he would give them plinty of wine.

“And so it fell out a little before he had the scrimmage with the bishop, the king promised them a fine store of wine that was comin’ up the Shannon in boats, sir, and big boats they wor, I’ll go bail—not all as one as the little wren of a thing we’re in now, but nigh-hand as big as a ship; and there was three of these fine boats-full comin’—two for himself and one for the churches; and so says the king to himself, ‘The divil receave the dhrop of that wine they shall get,’ says he, ‘the dirty beggarly neygars; bad cess to the dhrop,’ says he, ‘my big-bellied bishop, to nourish your jolly red nose. I said I’d be even with you,’ says he, ‘and so I will; and if you spoil my divarshin, I’ll spoil yours, and turn about is fair play, as the divil said to the smoke-jack.’ So with that, sir, the king goes and he gives ordhers to his sarvants how it wid be when the boats kem up the river with the wine—and more especial to one in partic’lar they called Corny, his own man, by raison he was mighty stout, and didn’t love priests much more nor himself.

“Now Corny, sir, let alone bein’ stout, was mighty dark, and if he wanst said the word, you might as well sthrive to move the rock of Dunamaise as Corny, though without a big word at all at all, but as quite as a child. Well, in good time, up kem the boats and down runs the monks, all as one as a flock o’ crows over a corn-field to pick up whatever they could for themselves; but troth the king was afore them, for all his men was there with Corny at their head.

“‘Dominus vobiscum’—which manes, God save you, sir—says one of the monks to Corny, ‘we kem down to save you the throuble of unloading the wine, which the king, God bless him, gives to the Church.’

“‘Oh, no throuble in life, plaze your riverince,’ says Corny; ‘we’ll unload it ourselves, your riverince,’ says he.

“So with that they began unloading, first one boat, and then another; but sure enough, every individual cashk of it went up to the palace, and not a one to the churches. So whin they seen the second boat a’most empty, quare thoughts began to come into their heads, for, before this offer, the first boatload was always sent to the bishop afore a dhrop was taken to the king, which, you know, was good manners, sir; and the king, by all accounts, was a gintleman, every inch of him. So, with that, says one of the monks:

“‘My blessin’ an you, Corny, my son,’ says he, ‘sure it’s not forgettin’ the bishop you’d be, nor the churches,’ says he, ‘that stand betune you and the divil.’

“Well, sir, at the word divil, ’twas as good as a play to see the look Corny gave out o’ the corner of his eye at the monk.

“‘Forget yez!’ says Corny; ‘throth it’s long afore me or my masther,’ says he, nodding his head a bit at the word, ‘will forget the Bishop of Clonmacnoise. Go an with your work, boys,’ says he to the men about him, and away they wint, and soon finished unloadin’ the second boat; and with that they began at the third.

“‘God bless your work, boys,’ says the bishop; for, sure enough, ’twas the bishop himself kem down to the river side, having got the hard word of what was goin’ an. ‘God bless your work,’ says he, as they heaved the first barrel of wine out of the boat. ‘Go, help them, my sons,’ says he, turnin’ round to half a dozen strappin’ young priests as was standing by.

“‘No occasion in life, plaze your riverince,’ says Corny. ‘I’m intirely obleeged to your lordship, but we’re able for the work ourselves,’ says he. And without sayin’ another word, away went the barrel out of the boat, and up an their shoulders, or whatever way they wor takin’ it, and up the hill to the palace.

“‘Hillo!’ says the bishop, ‘where are yiz goin’ with that wine?’ says he.

“‘Where I tould them,’ says Corny.

“‘Is it to the palace?’ says his riverince.

“‘Faith, you jist hit it,’ says Corny.

“‘And what’s that for?’ says the bishop.

“‘For fun,’ says Corny, no way frikened at all by the dark look the bishop gave him. And sure it’s a wondher the fear of the Church didn’t keep him in dread—but Corny was the divil intirely.

“‘Is that the answer you give your clargy, you reprobate?’ says the bishop. ‘I’ll tell you what it is, Corny,’ says he, ‘as sure as your standin’ there I’ll excommunicate you, my fine fellow, if you don’t keep a civil tongue in your head.’

“‘Sure it wouldn’t be worth your riverince’s while,’ says Corny, ‘to excommunicate the likes o’ me,’ says he, ‘while there’s the king my masther to the fore, for your holiness to play bell, book, and candle-light with.’

“‘Do you mane to say, you scruff o’ the earth,’ says the bishop, ‘that your masther, the king, put you up to what you’re doing?’

“‘Divil a thing else I mane,’ says Corny.

“‘You villian!’ says the bishop, ‘the king never did the like.’

“‘Yes, but I did though,’ says the king, puttin’ in his word fair and aisy; for he was lookin’ out o’ his dhrawin’-room windy, and run down the hill to the river, when he seen the bishop goin’, as he thought, to put his comether upon Corny.

“‘So,’ says the bishop, turnin’ round quite short to the king—‘so, my lord,’ says he, ‘am I to understand this villian has your commands for his purty behavor?’

“‘He has my commands for what he done,’ says the king, quite stout; ‘and more to be token, I’d have you to know he’s no villian at all,” says he, ‘but a thrusty sarvant, that does his masther’s biddin’.’

“‘And don’t you intind sendin’ any of this wine over to my churches beyant?’ says the bishop.

“‘Bad luck to the dhrop,’ says the king.

“‘And what for?’ says the bishop.

“‘Bekase I’ve changed my mind,’ says the king.

“‘And won’t you give the Church wine for the holy mass?’ says the bishop.

“‘The mass!’ says the king, eyein’ him mighty sly.

“‘Yes, sir—the mass,’ says his riverince, colouring up to the eyes—‘the mass.’

“‘Oh, baithershin!’ says the king.

“‘What do you mane?’ says the bishop; and his nose got blue with fair rage.

“‘Oh, nothin’,’ says the king, with a toss of his head.

“‘Are you a gintleman?’ says the bishop.

“‘Every inch o’ me,’ says the king.

“‘Then sure no gintleman goes back of his word,’ says the other.

“‘I won’t go back o’ my word, either,’ says the king. ‘I promised to give wine for the mass,’ says he, ‘and so I will. Send to my palace every Sunday mornin’, and you shall have a bottle of wine, and that’s plinty; for I’m thinkin’,’ says the king, ‘that so much wine lyin’ beyant there is neither good for your bodies nor your sowls.’

“‘What do you mane?’ says the bishop in a great passion, for all the world like a Turkey-cock.

“‘I mane, that when your wine-cellar is so full,’ says the king, ‘it only brings the fairies about you, and makes away with the wine too fast,’ says he, laughin’; ‘and the fairies to be about the churches isn’t good, your riverince,’ says the king; ‘for I’m thinkin’,’ says he, ‘that some of the spiteful little divils has given your riverince a blast, and burnt the ind of your nose.’

“With that, my dear, you couldn’t hould the bishop, with the rage he was in; and says he, ‘You think to dhrink all that wine, but you’re mistaken,’ says he. ‘Fill your cellars as much as you like,’ says the bishop, ‘but you’ll die in drooth yit.’ And with that he went down on his knees and cursed the king—God betune us and harm!—and shakin’ his fist at him, he gathered all his monks about him, and away they wint home to the churches.

“Well, sir, sure enough, the king fell sick of a suddent, and all the docthors in the country round was sent for. But they could do him no good at all at all, and day by day he was wastin’ and wastin’, and pinin’ and pinin’, till the flesh was worn off his bones, and he was as bare and yallow as a kite’s claw; and then, what would you think, but the drooth came an him sure enough, and he was callin’ for dhrink every minit, till you’d think he’d dhrink the say dhry.

“Well, when the clock struck twelve that night, the drooth was an him worse nor ever, though he dhrunk as much that day—aye, troth, as much as would turn a mill; and he called to his servants for a dhrink of grule.

“‘The grule’s all out,’ says they.

“‘Well, then give me some whay,’ says he.

“‘There’s none left, my lord,’ says they.

“‘Then give me a dhrink of wine,’ says he.

“‘There’s none in the room, dear,’ says the nurse-tindher.

“‘Then go down to the wine-cellar,’ says he, ‘and get some.’

“With that, they wint to the wine-cellar—but jew’l machree! they soon run back into his room, with their faces as white as a sheet, and tould him there was not one dhrop of wine in all the cashks in the cellar.

“‘Oh, murther! murther!’ says the king. ‘I’m dyin’ of drooth,’ says he.

“And then, God help iz! they bethought themselves of what the bishop said, and the curse he laid an the king.

“‘You’ve no grule?” says the king.

“‘No,’ says they.

“‘Nor whay?’

“‘No,’ says the servants.

“‘Nor wine?’ says the king.

“‘Nor wine, either, my lord,’ says they.

“‘Have you no tay?’ says he.

“‘Not a dhrop,’ says the nurse-tindher.

“‘Then,’ says the king, ‘for the tindher marcy of heaven, gi’ me a dhrink of wather.’

“And what would you think, sir, but there wasn’t a dhrop of wather in the place.

“‘Oh, murther! murther!’ says the king. ‘Isn’t it a poor case, that a king can’t get a dhrink of wather in his own house? Go then,’ says he, ‘and get me a jug of wather out of the ditch.’

“For there was a big ditch, sir, all round the palace. And away they run for wather out of the ditch, while the king was roarin’ like mad for the drooth, and his mouth like a coal of fire. And sure, sir, as the story goes, they couldn’t find any wather in the ditch!

“‘Millia murther! millia murther!’ cries the king. ‘Will no one take pity an a king that’s dyin’ for the bare drooth?’

“And they thrimbled again with the fair fright, when they heerd this, and thought of the ould bishop’s prophecy.

“‘Well,’ says the poor king, ‘run down to the Shannon,’ says he, ‘and sure, at all events, you’ll get wather there,’ says he.

“Well, sir, away they run with pails and noggins, down to the Shannon, and—God betune us and harm!—what would you think, sir, but the river Shannon was dhry! So, av coorse, when the king heerd the Shannon was gone dhry, it wint to his heart; and he thought o’ the bishop’s curse an him, and, givin’ one murtherin’ big screech, that split the walls of the palace, as may be seen to this day, he died, sir—makin’ the bishop’s words good, that ‘he would die of drooth yet!’

“And now, sir,” says my historian, with a look of lurking humour in his dark gray eye, “isn’t that mighty wonderful—iv it’s thrue?”