IRISH ECCENTRICS by Peter Sommerville-Large


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When Dean Swift was making up his will he left money to found a madhouse in Ireland because, he said, ""no nation needs it so much."" If one was mad and wealthy, however, ""eccentric"" was the more usual designation--leading the author to the observation that whereas the poor Celts were pronounced ""looney,"" the Anglo--Irish upper crust was unusually well supplied with eccentrics. There were indeed an enormous number of strange fish in Ireland at all times though the 18th century seems to have been particularly ripe. There was the lady whom Dubliners called The Female Oddity of whom it was said that ""a fricassee of frogs and mice is her delight""; there were the three Barrymore brothers: Newgate, Cripplegate and Hellgate; the inventor Richard Pokrich who dreamed of turning the Irish bogs into vineyards and anticipated the day when every Irishman would be provided with a pair of wings, which would be ordered custom-made much like boots. Being holy, and famed for her scholars and saints, Ireland produced a veritable epidemic of mad monks though not all were as kind as St. Kevin who prayed so long that a blackbird built her nest and hatched her eggs in his cupped hands before he moved. More typical was Judge Norbury who let a guilty murderer go because, as he said, ""I hanged six men at last Tipperary assizes who were innocent, so I'll let off this poor devil now to square matters,"" Sommerville-Large stops just short of the 20th century--probably due to an embarras de richesses. A charming book--but just a bit peculiar.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row