Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492

Originally appearing in 1830 in The Dublin Literary Gazette as “Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman,” the story was retitled “Wildgoose Lodge” in the second series of William Carleton’s Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (1830-1833). Although Carleton was not actually present at the atrocity, in the last paragraph, he...

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Originally appearing in 1830 in The Dublin Literary Gazette as “Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman,” the story was retitled “Wildgoose Lodge” in the second series of William Carleton’s Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry (1830-1833). Although Carleton was not actually present at the atrocity, in the last paragraph, he addresses the reader directly, saying that a few months later he saw the bodies of the Captain and all those actively involved in the massacre hanging from a gibbet near the scene of the horror. In a final footnote, he says, “This tale of terror is, unfortunately, too true.” He explains that the reason for the punishment was that shortly before the fatal night, the murdered family accused and convicted some of their fellow Ribbonmen of theft and assault. “Wildgoose Lodge” is therefore not a story of Irish sectarian conflict; both the murderers and the murdered family are Catholic. Carleton’s purpose in this story is not to make a political point but rather to horrify the reader by combining an account of actual events with the conventions of the nineteenth century tale of terror.

Carleton creates a thematically appropriate atmosphere surrounding the events by describing the day as gloomy and tempestuous. Moreover, the fact that the meeting in which the murders are planned takes place in a church and involves ceremonies of brotherhood is perceived to be bitterly ironic to the narrator. This ironic contrast between the church and the men is further emphasized when the narrator describes the devilish malignancy of the Ribbonmen captain as “demon-like,” “Satanic,” “supernatural,” and “savage.” When the Captain slams his fist down on the altar Bible to swear an oath, a sound of rushing wings fills the church. Although the sound of wings has a natural explanation—pigeons in the rafters frightened by the leader’s striking the Bible—the act communicates a sense of mockery of Christian values. The ironic contrast between brotherhood and barbarity persists throughout the story.

The actual scene of the revenge murders is described symbolically, for the torrential rains have created a lake in the meadow where the house lies, isolating it on a small island in the middle so that the Ribbonmen have to create a human bridge over which they can travel to reach it. The description of the murders is graphic and horrifying. When a woman leans out the window and cries for mercy, her hair aflame, she is “transfixed with a bayonet and a pike” so that the word “mercy” is divided in her mouth. When another woman tries to put her baby out the window to safety, the Ribbonmen Captain uses his bayonet to thrust it into the flames. The story ends with the narrator affirming that although the language of the story is partly fictitious, the facts are close to those revealed at the trial of the murderers, which resulted in between twenty-five and twenty-eight men being hanged in different parts of County Louth.

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