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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.


William Butler Yeats