Old Moore’s Almanac is a very important part of Irish history, and hopefully always will be.
The story below has been reprinted from the Comet newspaper (circa 1833) and relates to the mystical birth of Theophilus Moore. It seems to be a variant of a recognised folk-tale, and may be the same one collected in the Blasket Islands by Dr. Kenneth Jackson of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and published in the Journal of the Folklore Society of Ireland (vol. viii, no. r, June, 1938).
The story of Old Moore may be accounted for by the well-known human tendency to attribute extraordinary adventures and experiences to popular heroes and persons in the public eye. So read this story of the beginnings of Theophilus Moore, and make up your own mind….
In the Autumn of 1723, an English tourist named Halleck was taking his observations in Ireland. This man was of strange scientific mould, an astronomer and an astrologer, a Newtonian of his day, a disciple of that man Newton who could glance from earth to heaven and embody the shapes and signs of Creation. He was passing through the localities of the King’s and Queen’s counties which at one time belonged to the family of O’Moore.
Night closed heavily round this stranger and the darkness of a starless night left no trace of light to mark his path. A death-gloom seemed to hang over drowsy nature; besides heavy rain poured its torrents with fury upon the earth. The tourist found shelter within the porch of an Irish farmer’s dwelling which had once been the abode of greatness, but was then fast dwindling to decay. The stranger was secured from the rain which was being accompanied by a wild storm; the midnight hour had passed, still those inside the house were awake and in bustling motion.
Suddenly, the door opened and a man wrapped in a frieze coat, with hurried steps, dashed through, without observing the stranger. His speedy disappearance indicated the urgency of his mission; he returned in a few moments with a companion of particular importance, an old woman whose gentle influence it was to increase the dignity of that household—a midwife, who passed in, while the good man himself, for certain reasons, remained in the porch, and for the first time beheld the stranger whom he accosted with Irish urbanity and suavity of disposition.
Their conversation turned on the momentous event in process of realisation, and the stranger with some emotion and hesitation predicted the destiny of the child about to enter the arena of time, this mysterious world constantly slipping away from under our feet. ‘ The child that will be born,’ said he ‘shall perish at 21 years of age; the influence of an evil star presides over its creation I—I do not ask you to believe me, but I make this assertion from scientific knowledge, which belongs only to astrological science. Therefore, I augur that a stroke of lightning will kill this child in the dawn of manhood. However, I would warn you not to disclose this to mother or child; bestow all the education in your power on the boy (as I presume it shall be) and as some men are masters of fate, perhaps through the gist of learning, he may be able to divine futurity and learn a decree which ignorance would obscure.’
With this extraordinary prelude, the birth of a child was announced, the rain and storm had abated, the stranger departed and with this revelation of ill omen, Theophilus Moore the astronomer and mathematician dotted the surface of creation. “In obedience to the stranger’s counsel the father educated his son as far as his means afforded, and intended him for the priesthood, in which course he was baffled for want of sufficient wealth to send the boy to France, which was incumbent on him, in the penal days, to complete the studies of an Irishman who was restricted by law at home.
Thus Moore was disappointed and instead of becoming an ecclesiastic, he became a tutor or philomath in which capacity he fulfilled half the term of his life. But, returning to the destiny that awaited him, in his 21st year, as his birthday approached, the father of Theophilus, in earnest regard for the safety of his son, had an iron chest prepared and sunk in the earth on a part of his little farm, in which he pro-posed to enclose the young man at the eventful hour. In the meantime he never divulged to anyone the secret of fate, which clung to hint, as it were, like the last gift in Pandora’s box. He still had hope, through the perplexing maze of fortune.
The week in which his son was to be 21 years old a very strange feature dawned on the visionary mind of old Moore. He observed his son busy in preparation for some coming event. He ventured to ask why he was concerned so particularly about the arrangement of his affairs. And the son told him with a pensive air that according to his knowledge of the planetary system something serious was to happen him on his next birthday, and he determined not to be unprepared for any contingency. The father then rightly understood the priceless treasure of education and science which disembowels the earth of its precious substances and draws lightning down from heaven to speed the progress of civilisation.
The father, in that moment, revealed to his son the predictions of the stranger who kept the porch on the morning of his birth, and also that he had an iron box to screen hint from penetrating fate. The son smiled at the simplicity of the father, but not to lessen the merit or thwart the desire of his parent to save him, he went to the place which contained the chest at the anniversary of his birth.
The father urged him to be enclosed in it, but he would not; he remained exposed beneath the firmament, kneeling in the presence of God with confidence. His brow bared against the sky, he awaited the result of capricious fortune. It was a dark hour—wild and dismal too, like that in which he was born. But suddenly the Heavens were unrolled and the crystal stars shot their lively glances through the density of gloom, to the very depths. A shaft of lightning rent the sphere, and quivering for an instant over the head of the kneeling child of science, the rapid tongue of flame pierced through the iron chest into the bosom of the earth and Theophilus Moore, by his knowledge of attraction and confidence in God, was saved and destiny averted.