Yeats' The Celtic Twilight
THE THICK SKULL OF THE FORTUNATE
Once a number of Icelandic
peasantry found a very thick skull in the cemetery
where the poet Egil was buried. Its great thickness made them feel certain it
was the skull of a great man, doubtless of Egil himself. To be doubly sure they
put it on a wall and hit it hard blows with a hammer. It got white where the
blows fell but did not break, and they were convinced that it was in truth the
skull of the poet, and worthy of every honour. In Ireland we have much kinship
with the Icelanders, or 'Danes' as we call them and all other dwellers in the
Scandinavian countries. In some of our mountainous and barren places, and in our
seaboard villages, we still test each other in much the same way the Icelanders
tested the head of Egil. We may have acquired the custom from those ancient
Danish pirates, whose descendants the people of Rosses tell me still remember every field and
hillock in Ireland which once belonged to their forebears, and are able to
describe Rosses itself as well as any native. There is one seaboard district
known as Roughley, where the men are never known to shave or trim their wild red
beards, and where there is a fight ever on foot. I have seen them at a boat-race
fall foul of each other, and after much loud Gaelic, strike each other with
oars. The first boat had gone aground, and by dint of hitting out with the long
oars kept the second boat from passing, only to give the victory to the third.
One day the Sligo people say a man from Roughley was tried in Sligo for breaking
a skull in a row, and made the defence not unknown in Ireland, that some heads
are so thin you cannot be responsible for them. Having turned with a look of
passionate contempt towards the solicitor who was prosecuting, and cried, 'that
little fellow's skull if ye were to hit it would go like an egg-shell,'
he beamed upon the judge, and said in a wheedling voice, 'but a man might
wallop away at your lordship's for a fortnight.'
I wrote all this years ago, out
of what were even then old memories. I was in
Roughley the other day, and found it much like other desolate places. I may have
been thinking of Moughorow, a much wilder place, for the memories of one's
childhood are brittle things to lean upon.