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by Tilly Fleischmann


Last Modified September 1, 2000

We got up quickly to get into the launch and in the hurry and confusion I forgot all about the Holy Well. All were in the boat again including myself with one exception: Arnold. He remained standing at the well. "Tilly," he said, "you have forgotten the holy water." He took off his hat as at Gougane Barra and held out his hands in the same reverent childlike manner.

When we were half way home to Foynes, the storm grew violent. The waves were actually two to three feet high. Had we not all been wrapped up in oilskins, which Lord Monteagle evidently always kept in his launch, we would have been drenched to the skin. None of us thought that such an innocent looking river could behave like the sea.

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.

On one occasion in 1929, our friend J. J. Horgan drove Arnold, Mary Horgan, Aloys, Aloys Og 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 Og 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.

On a lovely May day the singer Maura O'Connor drove Arnold. Aloys, Aloys Og 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.


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