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Music and the passion for Whisky -- were, perhaps, at their strongest in his death. He was always a magnificent drinker. He composed his music with a bottle and cup at his elbow. He would drink 'whole pints of usquebaugh' at a sitting. Not long before his death his physician frighted him into sobriety; but the abstinence produced a melancholy, to relieve which he returned to the bottle. But his 'Liquor of Life' was a liquor of death to him. When on his deathbed, with a knowledge of the near approach of the end, he called for his harp, and crowned a life of song with a wild and touching 'Farewell to Music,' which, it is said, drew tears from the listeners. It is further narrated by Goldsmith that in his last moments he called for a bowl of usquebaugh, or whisky — essayed to drink and failed; but he kissed the bowl lovingly, saying, 'It is hard that two such good old friends should part without a kiss,' and fell back and expired. A death-scene thoroughly characteristic! A subject for a painting! Somehow, notwithstanding the drunkenness (which was the only fault of this genial genius), one must like the old man, and leave him with kindly feelings, with perhaps a tender regret. He was an Irishman of the traditional type, who for his age and country, and with his opportunities, deserves to be regarded as a star in Irish literature, and to be seated in no mean seat amongst the immortals.
OF Matthew Concanen's parentage, of the time or place of his birth, of his earlier years, absolutely nothing is known. It is conjectured that he was of the province of Connaught; and as he afterwards became AttorneyGeneral of Jamaica, it is apparent that he was educated for the law and called to the Bar. It is certain that he was an Irishman of Irish descent. The name means, we are told, 'the head of a hound'-a nickname which became a surname. He went to London early in life, and lived by political writings which appeared in the London Journal, the British Journal, and the Speculatist; he wrote against Pope and Pope's friend Bolingbroke not only in journalistic papers, but published a pamphlet, 'A Supplement to the Profound,' in which he vilified the poet, retailing all the malicious gossip concerning him, and imputing to him conduct most dishonourable and disgraceful.
For his latter adventures in literature he was installed in a niche in the 'Dunciad,' and 'damned to everlasting fame.' Amongst those who entered on the 'Dunciad' diving contest where the reward was to be obtained by him who “the most in love of dirt excelled,' and 'who flings most filth and wide pollutes the stream,' Concanen, "author of several dull and dead scurrilities,' had a prominent place and a fair chance of a prize :
• True to the bottom, see Concanen creep,
A cold, long-winded native of the deep. His abilities as a political writer obtained for him, from the Duke of Newcastle, the Attorney-Generalship of Jamaica, whither he went in 1731; and for seventeen years he discharged the duties of the office with credit and integrity. Here he realised a large fortune, upon which it was his intention to live out his days in his native country. To this end he returned from Jamaica and arrived in London, en route to Ireland, in January, 1749, where after a few weeks' illness he died of consumption on the 22nd of January, 1749.
The immortality conferred on him by the 'Dunciad,' and by Warburton's letter upon him, would never have been his on account of his own political and dramatic writings. Some of his songs, however, have the elements of popularity in them, and deserve to be reprinted. His play of Wexford Wells' can still be read, and his ballad-opera “The Jovial Crew,' adapted from Broome's play, enjoyed a considerable success in his day. When he was still a very young man, apparently, he wrote a large number of songs, of various degrees of merit, which were published in 1724, with poems by others, in a volume entitled 'Miscellaneous Poems by Several Hands.' He is humorous and satirical, witty and boisterous, with little pathos, and less grace. He is hardly Celtic in the quality of his attributes, but worse songs than his are unforgotten.
HARDIMAN pronounces John MacDonnell, called Claragh, as a poet to be the equal of Pope-a verdict as unjust and derogatory to MacDonnell as it well could be. Pope was at best a cold blooded philosopher, moralist, and satirist in verse; MacDonnell was full of the pathos and fancy and fire of impetuous poetic genius. In him all the distinguishing characteristics of the Celtic genius abound. He loves his 'Old Erin' with melancholy, passionate affection, because Fate has oppressed her, and she is beautiful. He says:
• The very waves that kiss the caves
Clap their huge hands in glee,
As Erin by the sea.'
He was a Jacobite, not so much because the Pretender claimed or deserved his homage, but rather because the Pretender and himself were objects of the relentless hate of the common persecutor : a common sorrow begot sympathy. Thus his lament for ‘My Hero! my Cæsar! my Chevalier! though it represents in rich hyperbole a whole nation's grief for the youth of their love,' the keynote of the lament is that he should be banished by a rightless foe.' In the Pretender there were some faint hopes of a possible freedom. He was against the rightless foe, and so were all the children of Old Erin by the sea.' With him they were ready to make common cause against the common oppressor; partly from an exaggerated idea of his prowess as a military leader and his personal lovableness, but chiefly because in him lay the sole hope of Erin's return to a state of happiness and content, such as she enjoyed ere her warlike sons betrayed her, when she knew not the yoke of the foreign tyrant. An ardent Jacobite, a bard inspiring a dispirited race in whom the down-trodden fire of rebellion was ever ready to blaze out, he was an object for exceptional suppression by the English, and had frequently to fly for his life, and roam amongst his native mountains.
He was born near Charleville, in the county Cork, in 1691, and he died in 1754, and was buried in the churchyard of Ballyslough, near where he was born. He was known as MacDonnell Claragh (because, according to some, this was the name of his ancestor's homestead, but rather from the broad cast of his features, for which peculiarity 'claragh' is the Irish expression), and he is, after Carolan, one of the most eminent names amongst the later Irish minstrels. He commenced a translation into Irish of Homer's “Iliad,' but did not live to finish it; he amassed materials for a ‘History of Ireland,' and
began the work, but never completed it; he was a man of great erudition, and a profound Irish antiquarian,' He was most popular throughout Munster, and to this day is not forgotten there. He was the last, or one of the last, who maintained the ancient practice of holding Bardic Conventions. He sung more than patriotic wails and Jacobite laments. He looked back at what his country was in old days, and saw what she was in his day, and his heart took fire, and he cried out for the sword, and called on his countrymen to unite in valorous fight for the land that gave them birth.' But their spirit is cold, and they have not in their veins the blood of their fathers, who were men.'
And so MacDonnell Claragh, with the language and fervour of a poet, and the soul of a warrior, would fain have made a stroke for Freedom with the soldier lad, young James, with his depressed and degraded fellow-bondsmen, with anyone, under any conditions—but all in vain ; and himself, hunted and oppressed, goes down to the grave with his works unfinished, his hopes unfulfilled.
JOHN CUNNINGHAM is one of the many whom Fame has treated hardly, and rewarded niggardly. His epitaph records that "his works will remain a monument for ages' -a prediction as yet unfulfilled, though his ballads, it is said, are even at present, after a lapse of more than a century, sung in the streets of Dublin, and his name is never heard as the author. A farce, written while he still was in his teens, gave Garrick matter for the ‘Lying Valet ;' but the 'Lying Valet' is remembered, and Cunningham and his 'Love in a Mist' are forgotten. A