As these excerpts from the Notre Dame Scholastic indicate, Seumas MacManus frequently visited Notre Dame and often told stories instead of lecturing. The student reviewers sometimes seem to regard the Irish fairy tales he told as a bit too childish for them. Their professors probably enjoyed them more.
One can get an idea of what sort of stories he told by reading his collection of Donegal Fairy Stories. For an idea of how he felt about Notre Dame, one can read his comments on the silver jubilee of the university. But to find out what the students thought of him, one must read the reviews they wrote.
Notre Dame Scholastic, 6 February 1904 (37:307).
Seumas MacManus from Donegal, the author of several volumes of stories and a frequent contributor to many of the leading American magazines, addressed the students last Wednesday in Washington Hall. His subject, "Irish Wit and Humor," seldom has received happier treatment. He took us for an hour or more to Mount Charles, Donegal, introducing us the while to "Father Dan," "Hughey McGarrity," "The Postmistress" and the simple, happy peasantry and fisherfolk that dwell around Inver Bay. We also made a short stay with him at the wake, dance, and wedding, and our guide was so well informed and the excursion so enjoyable that the time seemed to pass with dying feet.
A story-teller and proud of it is Seumas MacManus. He has lived in Donegal all his life. As a boy he attended the village school, and later, before publishers smiled on him, he taught in the same sacred institution. He is a young, athletic-looking man with a healthy glow on his cheeks and the peculiar Ulster brogue. He has a fine stage presence, makes no attempt at oratory, but talks in a lively conversational strain, illustrating his remarks by story and incident of which he seems to have an inexhaustible supply.
In the course of his address he said that Ireland is both metaphorically and literally a country of smiles and tears. The people in general are not rich, but they are not unhappy, and God has blessed them with great faith and ever present hope. The locality where he lived and the pursuits and pastimes of its inhabitants he portrayed very graphically. There the people follow agriculture, or depend on the sea for a living and in the evening gather at a dance or sing songs or tell stories at the fireside. He soon gave us the impression that the happy moments in their lives far outnumbered the sad ones, for his stories of their everyday doings were blended with sunshine and evoked many a laugh from the audience. He took advantage of the opportunity to correct the too prevalent and mistaken opinion that the people of Ulster are torn by religious dissension, and showed that except in a few localities at certain periods of the year Ulster men were good friends. The old hates and feuds are rapidly becoming extinct and the day is not far off when members of all creeds will be bound in good fellowship and love for Ireland. From his own experience of the Donegal folk he gave capital examples of wit and humor, all of which were keenly relished by his listeners. His address furnished amusement and instruction to the entire audience, while it was a rare treat to those of Irish birth or sympathy.
In conversation Mr. MacManus is genial, interesting and unaffected. He talks in an easy, fluent manner, his chief charm obviously being that he is a part of the life he so well describes. He is enthusiastic in his reference to the work of the Gaelic League, and though he modestly disclaims his right to any share of the credit due that body, his unstinted praise of Douglas Hyde, Lady Gregory, Dr. Sigerson, W. B. Yeats and other tireless workers dear to the Irish heart, won our silent admiration.
In the bit of personal history which we induced him to give us we learned that at eighteen he began to write for the Dublin magazines. His first book appeared in '93, and since then he has published numerous volumes. For the most part his writings in prose and verse reflect the quaint and pathetic folklore which he absorbed at the wakes, weddings and patterns in "droll Donegal." Happy for him and for his readers that the spiritual enters so largely into his work. He has nothing to do with the brutal materialism found among the very poor and vicious in great cities which too often furnish morbid story-tellers with an excuse to cry out their wares. The simple, almost sinless lives of his own people in the highlands of Donegal, their struggles, stories, smiles and sighs are his theme.
Like most people, Seumas MacManus has had a measure of sorrow. In '93 he gave up teaching for story-telling, his favorite art, and sometime later married the gifted and beautiful Miss Anna Johnson who, with another talented Belfast lady, Miss Alice Milligan, edited for some years the foremost national literary magazine in Ulster. Mrs. MacManus, who is best known to the public by her pen-name, "Ethna Carbery," and by her two charming volumes of verse, "The Passionate Heart" and "The Four Winds of Erin," died in 1902. Her death blighted the life of her husband and brought grief and void to the ranks of Irish literati. And so Seumas MacManus, like his native land, has known both smiles and tears.
Patrick J. MacDonough. Scholastic.
Notre Dame Scholastic, 23 March 1904 (37:423).
THE atmosphere wherein is nourished the recently rejuvenated Irish litterateurs is truly lifting the fogs that have long denied Ireland all literary refraction, the sparkle and vivacity of Irish personality. The Irish tale, no less than the Irish poem, has grown as the rose in the night scattering its fragrance on the four winds and leading the lovers of freshness, tint and perfection to a satisfaction afforded by no other garden of the world. Ireland is the land of tales as America is the home of the anecdote; its people is a taletelling race whose environments create a key that lends itself readily to the imaginative and writer of natural fantasies. The Irish have ever rocked the cradle of the fanciful and stood sponsors to the natural touch of fiction. Thatched roofs and smoke-stained rooms have ever been those of castles wherein rainbowed sprites, whom the heaviest heel of oppression could not crush, have plucked the chords of "Inspiration's Lyre."
In every nook and turn of life; each crag and cranny; every natural phenomenon and unnatural belief, has its poetic aspect which appeals to the Irish imagination. Fairy songs ride the evening breezes, and the Banshee's cry dispels the clouds of night.
History, biography, oratory and, in fact, the truth, beautiful though solid, have their advocates who would scarcely free fiction from that Puritanical criticism which to-day begins to weaken. But ever have we been attracted towards the lighter vein, the brighter strata in the mines of literature, and it is natural then that we are attracted to Mr. Seumas MacManus, whose tales, bubbling over with the songsters of the air and beauties of the field and laughter of the simple country folk, have aroused the "Sleeping Beauty" from a neglected and overgrown palace.
With the re-entry of the "old muse," as Mr. Yeats would have it, the tale-teller and his accompaniments have become a factor in the field of art. Neither the drama nor yet the novel or romance completely covers the domain of tale-teller; it is distinctly Irish tale-telling such as a reading people tends to obliterate and such as a theatrical mind dispels. The tale-teller of Donegal wins our admiration, not because he has offered us many Irish sketches and touches of folklore. We complain rather that his pen is still too unworn. Mr. MacManus' strong point does not lie in the quantity or variety of his tales nor in the originality of his truly Irish imagination; neither indeed does he attribute his army of followers to his verse -- and some of the verse is pretty and musical. What we consider more vitally essential than these natal attributes is that Mr. MacManus gives us a tale in the simplicity of realness, emitting the vapors of the Irish heath, even when the last drop of oil climbs the wick of the late-burning kitchen lamp. Naturalness, simplicity and truth welded in humor's closest bonds hinges that swung open the door of foreign recognition -- are what made MacManus the teller of Irish tales that he is. These are the qualities that render his children's tales with their fairies and goblins interesting to the old and his character sketches and verses, intended for maturer minds, readable on the rug before the hearth.
His printed volumes are not many. The first widely recognized one bore his name into the arena in 1893. "Through the Turf Smoke," though comparatively young is as well known as many age-stained classics; while "A Lad of the O'Friels" is perhaps the most popular on account of its consistency of character no less than the high tide of unity, humor and animation.
Dinny O'Friel, whose line of life ran in channel, other than did those of the other mountain lads, is the centre around whom swing the varied proofs of the author's power of characterization. "Toal a-Gallagher," the "Widow's Pat" and "Corney Higerty" are unrivalled by the Mulvaney Trio. They run through the book like the tinkle of sleighbells through the night; Toal, his wife and apprentice, Bill Brogan, the Widow's Pat and his charge Nuala, whose gentleness opposes to a point characters that differ from one another in that indefinable mannerism which compels them to step out of the page when the leaf is ttirned, and Corney Higerty, the pensioner, petted and pestered, the envy of all on pension day, lead the attention captive through the series of continuous tales.
Mr. Macmanus' style, after a personal chat, impresses its spontaniety more forcibly than does the mere perusal of his writings. He writes as he talks: easy and fluent, careful in detail and accurate in description. "The Road to the Fair," "Corney's Pension," "The Big Fair" and its dissipation raise themselves on the merits of naturalness above the other tales that make up the book. Perhaps he reaches his real level when he combines the attributes of all his tales in that of "The Priest's Boy."
Like Dinny O'Friel, Mr. MacManus was always an "eager auditor when the affairs of the nation or 'Knockagar' were discussed." So truly has he given us the lore of these folk; so naturally has he portrayed their history and so interestingly has he told their tales that in him has come true the prediction that Ellen Burns made of Dinny O'Friel, that he was such a dreamer of dreams that Knockagar would some day be proud of him.
His latest book, "The Red Poacher," strengthens his lease on the tale-teller's sceptre which he has swayed since, as a young neophyte, he turned over the "key" to contribute his share towards making Donegal an attractive beam in the reader's eye. With the advent of his promised book of poems, poems so musical, natural and entertaining that they seem to rush one another into your heart, he will claim as his realm two thrones in the hearts of a nature-loving, spiritual-seeking reading public.
Notre Dame Scholastic, 13 April 1907 (40:447).
On Thursday, April 4th, we again had the privilege of listening to the famed author and lecturer from Donegal, Seumas MacManus. This gifted writer and brilliant conversationalist -- for Mr. MacManus makes no attempt at oratory -- was with us three years ago, and charmed his hearers then, as well as convulsed them with laughter, by his delightful discourse on the wit and humor of his people. The subject of his recent talk was on the "Fairy Tales and Folklore of Ireland." In these no people are richer than the Irish. No one could better unfold the hearts of the simple peasant people of Donegal and Inver Bay than did Mr. MacManus. Under his masterly power of portrayal the existence of these "gentle folk," as the Irish peasantry love to call the nymphs and fairies, become almost real. On the following day he gave an informal lecture to the collegiate students of English on the poets of Ireland. He varied his discourse by reading one or two of the best poems composed by the persons of whom he spoke. his own poetic abilities rendered his readings doublv interesting and appreciated. In his conversation, Mr. MacManus is genial, interesting and unaffected. He deeply loves his people, and his principal charm, obviously, is that he is part of the life he so well describes.
Notre Dame Scholastic, 10 October 1908 (42:76).
Mr. Senmas MacManus, whose droll tales of Irish folklore need no comment, is to have charge of our English classes for one month. He will take the following subjects for his talks:
As Mr. MacManus has himself done distinguished work in the short story, the play and the poem, this series of lectures ought to prove interesting. When Mr. MacManus talks in his slipper, so to speak, it is expected he will be more charming than he was last year. The course will begin with three sessions next week, after which there will be a lapse before the rest of the program is resumed.
... Seumas MacManus gave the last lecture of his course yesterday afternoon. He has been delivering them at the rate of three a week for the last month, using his own field of literature chiefly as subject-matter. Throughout the program the personal eleinent in the man himself and that air of fresh simplicity which always marks the cultured Irishman, were most pronounced, and added not a little to the enjoyment of his talks. Each evening for an hour and a half he has kept the members of the collegiate English department listening to his discourses, and now that he is soon to leave for new fields, he may rest assured that, although he is gone, his name will long be remembered in the hearts of those who heard him, and that he will bear with him the gratitude of all who attended the lectures.
Notre Dame Scholastic, 12 February 1910 (43:309).
Mr. Seumas MacManus, the popular Irish littérateur and lecturer, who was with the English classes for a series of lectures last year, visited the University and lectured on Ireland and Irish scenery last Tuesday, Feb. 8. The lecture was illustrate'd with views of Ireland's lakes and vales, the beauty' spots of the Green Isle that have made it the inspired dream of poets through the centuries. The charm of intimacy made the lecture doubly worth while. To those who are familiar with Mr. MacManus' work it suffices to say that this lecture was pronounced the most entertaining that he has ever delivered at the University. We hope to greet him soon again.
Notre Dame Scholastic, 4 February 1911 (44:275).
Mr. Seumas MacManus told some wild and wonderful tales that tested the credulity of a rather slim audience Thursday evening, January 20. The Carrollites proved the best listeners and seemed to enjoy the tales very much. The older members of the audience were inclined to take the tales too literally, and appeared to question seriously a number of statements. . . .
Notre Dame Scholastic, 17 May 1919 (52:480).
Mr. Seumas MacManus, LL.D., '17, writes: "I am putting before me the task of compiling in popular form "The Story of the Irish Race," a book that will be both a history of Ireland and a history of the race. I want to try to make it attractive, as history is too often unattractive, to make it (what it really is), more readable, more interesting, more gripping, even to the average reader, than any novel." The SCHOLASTIC wishes the noted writer abundant success in his noble undertaking and hopes that his forthcoming book will be a "best-seller." It will not be published, we understand, before next fall.
Notre Dame Scholastic, 7 December 1934 (68:11:2).
"Ireland is the greatest story-telling country in the world" -- thus did Seumas MacManus, famed Irish lecturer and author, preface his talk in the Engineering Building, on December 3.
His opening statement was proven in a most delightful and interesting manner by the recitation of a few typical folk-tales, which, he said, "have been transmitted through thousands of years by word of mouth, from generation to generation." Proof of their antiquity lies in their coincidence all over the world.
Mr. MacManus disclosed that he has been a shanachie, or story-teller, since he was seven years old. He accumulated his rich store of legends by listening to the old shanachies of his birthplace, County Donegal. On winter nights, the people gathered in cottages, by a peat fire, and regaled one another with ancient stories. It was from these assemblies that Mr. MacManus acquired his fund of tales.
A sentimental, deep-rooted account of the presence of fairies, or 'gentle people,' as they are called in Ireland, was given by the speaker, who repeated the belief of the Irish that the sprites are angels who were neutral during the conflict between Lucifer and Michael the Archangel; the fairies could neither be punished nor rewarded at the end of the battle, so they were exiled from Heaven. They chose Ireland as the next best dwelling-place.
"At times of story-telling," said Mr. MacManus, "all Irish people are children -- from the age of four to fourscore." No matter how often a tale has been repeated, neither the listeners nor the story-teller ever lose their interest or enjoyment. The explanation is simple: with the Irish. story-telling is an art that has been fostered and developed for centuries.
As Mr. MacManus regretfully admitted, "The world lost something that it may never recover when it lost the art of story-telling."