"Within a few years of the arrival of potatoes in Ireland, the people had discovered dozens of uses for every part of the plant. Their inventions included such things as spin-boiled fabric, used extensively in women's clothing, and which, when nibbled lovingly, caused the garment to disintegrate, exposing whatever lay beneath; fried buttons, which, when nibbled lovingly, etc.. They also discovered that potatoes could be eaten with (or without), other foods, and they quickly became a staple of the Irish diet. It was Shamus O'Russkie, however, who discovered that potatoes could be fermented and, in 1801, he began to produce and distribute a strong, clear liquor which he called O'Russkie's Variant Of Distinctive Killarney Alcohol.
O'Russkie's business grew rapidly, and he soon engaged a Dublin advertising agency to market the product abroad. Feeling that the name was too long, they abbreviated it to its acronym, and it became famous as O'Russkie's Vodka. "The potato famine of 1816 put an abrupt halt to production and in 1817, the distillery was sold to a Hungarian named Fleischmann, who reopened it in Minsk, under the name Smirnoff."
The old man's voice broke, and he sobbed uncontrollably. "Ah, I weep for the days gone by. I weep for the little people, turned out in the cold, forced into celibacy and sorrow, celibacy and death. I weep for the days before the ban, before the druid school committee ordered the publishers to stop producing bilingual textstones for, without our language, within two short generations our culture lay in runes.
But mostly, I weep for the lute - the Lute of the Fruim - which so sweetly accompanied the song which my foremothers had learned from their foremothers (or is it fivemothers?). Only with the lute could they understand the beautiful meaning of the glorious words:
One song in particular had struck my fancy: "The Kerry Dancers." The words held a logical fallacy. Observe:
While the rest may be true enough, "the piper's tune" has not ceased to ring in Ireland. Indeed, it is doubtful that it ever "rang" for, though pipes have been known to blow, trill, warble, and sometimes tootle, never, in the history of music, has a pipe rung. (Of course, there is always the possibility that ancient pipers did not blow into their pipes, but struck them, as bells or xylophones, in which case they might have rung, but this would have produced a pipers' "tone," rather than "tune.")
No, the only instruments which could have "rung" had to have been either bells or strings. The question then became: Were the Druids more likely to have banged or plucked? For the answer I turned to ancient Roman texts:
It was Briscoe who told me about O'Russkie, the tearful old man I was now attempting to interview. He had warned me to expect the ground to be muddy with tears, and I had brought, in addition to my bicycle, back-pack, sleeping bag and tape recorder, a large supply of towels and handkerchiefs, and a portable clothesline on which to dry them. Nevertheless, I was not prepared for the volume of salt water which poured from the old man's eyes. He wept for this and he wept for that. He wept for the Druids and he wept for the Romans. Indeed, he wept for everyone and everything which had ever, in any way, directly or indirectly influenced or been influenced by anything Irish. But mostly, he wept for this unknown instrument, this Lute, belonging to (or floating in), someone or something called "the Fruim."
Getting a coherent description was difficult, but I managed to piece together the following facts: The lute was ancient - it was found on Iona, lying on a large rock, when a group of fishing Druids was blown ashore in a storm. What attracted them to it was the mournful sound of the wind blowing across its strings. It could not be resisted, and they remained, transfixed, neither eating nor sleeping, until overwhelmed by the smell of the rotting fish on their boat. Not daring to touch the lute (apparently not one even looked at it), they carved a stone marker which said:
Unfortunately, they neglected to engrave their names, so when they returned with a contingent of very wise and noble Druids, their claim of discovery and ownership was disallowed, and Wise and Noble took possession. Noble then claimed that Wise, being a Jewish Druid (Drewish), was automatically disqualified and, discovering that the lute was only three inches long, put it in his pocket and returned to his Cairn, ostensibly for the purpose of offering it to the sun.
It took little time for young Noble to master the instrument, and he devoted the next years to rendering the entire history, knowledge and lore of his people into song. Generations passed, and with each, one member of the Noble family (usually the second son), was trained to be the past-master and keeper of the lute. It would be he who taught pieces of stories to each bard, and only he who knew enough to put the pieces together.
Meanwhile, the Wise family lived in anger and envy, knowing that they were due at least a half-interest, and that it was anti-semitism which, for almost a thousand years, had cost them this honor. Living up to his name, Solomon Wise devised a plan. His firstborn son, now two, would be taught Olde Englishe and, on his tenth birthday, would move to Olde Englande, where he would change his name and remain for five generations, getting very rich. Each of his firstborn sons would learn to speak, in addition to OE (and Hebrew, of course), fluent Druid (Fluid). The sixth generation firstborn would return to Ireland, claiming to be the descendant of the real son of the original Noble, kidnaped at birth by Picts, who substituted the child of the dread Scottish Captain, Kirk. As proof, he would invite everyone to witness the current Noble's absence of circumcision.
The plan worked beautifully. Druidic law forbade looking at genitalia so, unaware that they, too, were not circumcised, the Druidic council took the lute from Noble - whom they henceforward called Kirk - and handed it to the newcomer, who had not given his name, but whom they called Noble. Neither the stranger nor the lute were ever seen again.
I thanked the old man and, giving him the towels and handkerchiefs, returned to Dublin with a heavy heart and wet feet. Arriving at Briscoe's home, I was met at the door by a bearded man with long sideburns, clad in a black suit and prayer shawl. He asked what seemed a strange question: "B'nai Brith?" I pondered this for a while until, with a flash of light, I understood. "Yes," I answered, "Shall I prove it?" "You needn't," he replied, "Follow me."
The bookshelf moved aside to reveal a secret stairway. We entered and descended more steps than I had ever descended before. At the bottom, I was ushered into a room I can only describe as "velvet". Blue velvet covered the walls, maroon, the floor. The furniture was covered in velvet of all colors, and near the center, in a chair of gold velvet, in a robe of the blackest velvet, sat Briscoe. On his lap he held a red velvet box, from which emanated enough light to illuminate the room, and a sound so beautiful that I was not surprised when I later learned that Briscoe had not left this room for seventeen years. The man I had met, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, had been an android, created to permit the real man to remain here undisturbed.
And undisturbed he remained. When a period of time had passed - enough so he wouldn't be thought rude, my bearded guide said, "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Isaac Wise, of the ancient House of Wise. You are the first man ever permitted to see me in my native costume, my Wise guise. Please keep my secret." "And the box?" I asked. "The Lute of the Fruim," he replied, "It has been here for a thousand years. Briscoe and I are the only men on earth to have heard and understood the ancient songs. Only we know how they have been corrupted."
"No," I said, "You are not alone. The old man knows and weeps. It would be an act of kindness to bring him here. Do so. Let him live out his life in happiness." "Ah, I wish it was possible; it would be a mitzvah, but I cannot. He has wept on that spot for so many years that an entire ecology has developed around him. We cannot move him. Indeed, we are frantically training a replacement, for he will not live forever."
"And the Fruim?" I asked, "Who were they?" "All I know about them is that they were small. Very small. Very small.
Carl S. Kosof 3/11/2006
Copyright © 1995 Carl S. Kosof
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