Corkstown (feat. Mother McGinty)

25 Nov

From Recollections of Bytown and its Old Inhabitants, by William Pittman Left (1874)

CORKSTOWN.

Entrance_of_the_Rideau_Canal,_Bytown,_Upper_Canada_(Ottawa)

“Mother McGinty won’t forget
To keep the tally mark.”
(Old Song.)

In days of yore, within a call
Of where stands now the City Hall,
A village built of mud and wood,
In all its glory, Corkstown stood,
Two rows of cabins in the swamp—
Begirt by ponds and vapors damp
And aromatic cedar trees
Who’s branches caught the passing breeze—
Stretched upward on the western side
Of the “Deep Cut,” where then were plied
The spade and pickaxe side by side;
For, by the shade of Colonel By,
Who shaped this city’s destiny!
There delved full many a hard case in,
That channel to the Canal Basin.
There, then dwelt many a sturdy blade,
Adepts at handling the spade,
And bruisers at the wheeling trade,
As witness the vast mounds of clay
Remaining on the banks to-day.
Lovers of poteen strong and clear,
In preference to rum or beer,
Sons of the sod who’d knock you down
For half a word ‘gainst Cork’s own town,
And kick you then for falling too,
To prove that the old mountain dew
Had frolic in it raw and strong,
As well as music, love and song.
And there in whitewashed shanty grand,
With kegs and bottles on each hand,
Her face decked with a winning smile,
Her head with cap of ancient style,
Crowned arbiter of frolic’s fate,
Mother McGinty sat in state,
And measured out the mountain dew
To those whom strong attraction drew
Within the circle of her power,
To while away a leisure hour.
She was the hostess and the host,
She kept the reckoning, ruled the roast,
And swung an arm of potent might
That few would dare to brave in fight;
Yet was she a good-natured soul,
As ever filled the flowing bowl;
In sooth she dealt in goodly cheer,
Half-pints of whiskey, quarts of beer,
Strong doses of sweet peppermint,
Fine old Jamaica without stint,
And shrub—a cordial then well known—
Her thirsty customers poured down,
Nor dreamed of headaches, or of ills,
For nought killed then, but doctors’ pills!
The song, the dance, and glass went round,
The precincts of that classic ground;
And when bent on a tearing spree,
Filled full of grog and jollity,
The bacchanalian rant they made
Would please even old Anacreon’s shade,
While o’er them the athletic charms
Of the stern hostess’s bare arms,
Struck terror and kept order in
The revel’s hottest, wildest din!
For cash or credit bartered she,
The prime ingredients of a spree;
And he stood always above par
Who never stone threw at the bar;
And when a man had spent his all,
She chalked the balance on the wall.
Figures or letters she knew not,
But what a customer had got
By hieroglyphics well she knew,
For there exposed to public view
Each debtor’s tally great and small
Appeared upon the bar-room wall.
A short stroke for a half-pint stood,
A longer for a quart was good,
While something like an Eagle’s talon
Upon her blackboard was a gallon.
And woe to him, who soon or late
His tally did not liquidate;
For when her goodly company
Were all assembled for a spree,
She read off each delinquent’s score,
And at his meanness loudly swore,
And threatened when he next appeared,
Unless the entry all was cleaed,
To lay on future drinks a stricture,
And photograph, perhaps, his picture
In pewter, for the unpaid tally,
As given, I think, in C. O’Malley.
Old Corkstown was a merry place
On pay-day, when the soaking race
Assembled full of fun and glee
At Mother McGinty’s for a spree,
No total abstinence was known
In those days in that little town,
Nor many nasal organs tainted
For lack of time to get them painted;
No moderate drinker showed his face
Within that much resorted place,
For temperance had not then began
To trench upon the rights of man,
Sure had he trod on danger’s edge
Who dared there to propose the pledge.
Such monstrous doctrine there had been
Followed by “wigs upon the green.”
None there refused the offered glass,
Or dared to let the bottle pass
For, casus belli this was strong,
Unless with a good roaring song
The recreant could in his defence
Atone for such most strange offence.
Sometimes, nay oft, upon the street
Antagonistic friends would meet
By chance, or by some other charm,
To try each other’s strength of arm,
And without legal process settle
Disputes, like men of taste and mettle;
And while strict “Fair Play” ruled the fight,
It was a sort of rough delight
For youthful souls while hanging round
That ancient famous battle ground,
To note who first the claret drew—
who first down his opponent threw—
Who first produced the limner’s dyes
Beneath his neighbor’s damaged eyes,
Or sowed the trodden ground beneath
With smashed incisors, like the teeth,
The dragon’s tusks of ancient ken
From which sprung hosts of armed men.
Such pastime was a frequent thing,
The entertainment of the ring,
Without equestrian or clown
Was often seen in Cork’s own town,
And best, for impecunious boys
Who boasted few of modern joys,
Who daily went to see the play
Had no admission fee to pay.
But gone is Corkstown, vanished too
The whitewashed shanty from our view,
Where once the minstrel’s youthful eyes
Beheld strange orgies with surprise.
In dust its stalwart hostess now,
Reposes, placid is the brow
That once frowned terror o’er the throng
While revelling in the dance and song,
Gone with them are the fading dyes
Which tinged fair childhood’s happy skies,
The brilliant firmament of youth
Has vanished, and but leaves the truth
Written wherever mortals range
That things below are doomed to change.

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