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Page 21 of 32
The Tale of an Old Man

Abbey Assaroe. August 8, 1597. "Take away their food. Take away their drink. Take away their horses' food. Take away their horses' drink." That's what I told him.

So I'm not limber. So I'm stiff in my joints, and have shortage of breath. So maybe I stumble once in a while. And I don't see as well as I should.

But please remember this. There's nothing wrong with the noggin.

Young people, and Red Hugh is still young--to me anyone under fifty is young--the ladies like that when I say it--I'm talking of their mothers now--maybe their grandmothers, too. As I always say, young people see white hair, rheumy eyes, a hairy nose, and say, "He's past it. He's over the hill and will never come back. What can he teach me?"

To them I say, "The teaching is easy. It's the learning that's hard. Takes a whole lifetime, it does."

I've been reading all my life. First our own books. Our own poets. Then church books. Foreign books. Latin books and Greek books. Every monastery, every church, every scriptorium, every brehon's library, wherever manuscripts abound, I've been there, read that.

No wonder my eyes are dim. No wonder I've a crick in my neck. No wonder there's arthritis in my bones.

Precious books. Kept in cold rooms. Away from heat. Away from flame. That I learned, long ago.

The battles of Caesar in Gaul. That was it. That very book. Not easy to translate. I'd rather have the Greek. Somehow there's a better affinity. The Irish mind and the Greek mind. Now there's a question to ponder. Maybe tomorrow.

'Twas the Roman himself, sir, who said it. Food. The first essential for an army in the field. Take away its food and it soon becomes a rabble.

"The Governor," says I, "is exposed. Most of his stores are on Inis Saimer. Cut him off from Saimer, and watch him wilt. Watch him dry up like a dew on the grass."

Red Hugh, I say, was a young man. But he had some sense. Sense enough to listen. Sense enough to learn. And the annalists themselves record the outcome.

"On this occasion Maguire (Hugh, the son of Cuconnaught, son of Cuconnaught) and O'Rourke (Brian Oge, the son of Brian, son of Brian Ballagh) came to join him with their forces; and after the chiefs had assembled together they allowed the Lord Justice and his army neither cease nor rest, for they carried on skirmishing and firing, conflict, assault, and onslaught, on the camp, every day during the three days that they continued battering the castle. O'Donnell's army frequently drove those who were on the outskirts of the Connaught camp into the very centre of it, and those who were in the centre to the outskirts; and they did not permit their horses or other cattle to go forth outside the boundary camp to graze, nor did they permit hay or corn (to be carried) into them. The Governor and his army were thus reduced to great distress and extremities, for, though they should wish to depart, they could not approach any common ford on the Erne from Cael-Uisce to Ath-Seanaigh."
    (The Annals of the Four Masters).

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