The historical vignettes of Harry Griffin’s examination for Fellowship and the thieving ponies in coal pits provide glimpses into the lives of people and animals during times gone by. These tales, nostalgic and amusing, remind us of the common bonds and shared experiences that connect generations across time and remind us of the importance of perseverance and determination, as well as the extraordinary intelligence of the animal kingdom.
In the early 19th century, Harry Griffin was a young man preparing for his Fellowship examination. He would ultimately go on to become the Bishop of Limerick, but at the time, his future remained uncertain. His anxious aunt attended a dinner at Dr Leney’s, which was hosted in honour of the examination. Among the guests was the Provost of Trinity College, Thomas Elrington, who would later become the Bishop of Ferns.
Over dinner, the aunt questioned Provost Elrington about her nephew’s progress in the examination. Elrington encouraged her and praised Harry’s performance. He assured her that if Harry performed well on the final subject of the examination the following day, he would likely secure his Fellowship. Curious, the aunt inquired about the remaining subject, which Elrington revealed to be ethics. Upon learning that the final subject was focused on morals, the worried aunt cried out in despair, lamenting the imminent downfall of her beloved nephew. While the story is humorous, it highlights the importance of moral character in the past’s pursuit of education and the high standards set for aspiring fellows.
In contrast to the story of Harry Griffin, a group of thieving ponies in coal pits showcased the exceptional intelligence and adaptability of the animal kingdom. At the Aitken Pit, forty ponies, many of which hailed from Norway, spent their days working in darkness, trotting through rough and treacherous terrain within the pit. Thanks to their intelligence, they developed a keen understanding of the roads and were capable of navigating the mine at a brisk pace, occasionally breaking into a gallop. As they descended into the pit, they were expertly trained to leap aside at just the right moment, allowing heavy loads to pass by without injuring themselves.
Perhaps most astonishing, these ponies displayed an affinity for food and drink that led them to become notorious as thieves. They learned to open the miner’s pieceboxes, devouring the bread, jam, and cheese contained within. Some ponies even went so far as to uncork flasks and drain them entirely, much to the amazement and disbelief of the pit workers who were initially incredulous upon hearing tales of these thieving ponies.
The skeptical miners soon had to confront the reality of these thieving ponies’ antics when one man lost his piecebox and went home hungry, accusing his coworkers of playing cruel practical jokes. However, the next day, a pony was spotted leaving its stall with an empty piece box, which it promptly dropped at the location where the beleaguered victim had left his breakfast the previous day. With this conclusive evidence, the doubters were forced to confront the remarkable thieving abilities of these ponies and the extraordinary intelligence they displayed in their actions.
Both of these tales, while seemingly unrelated, underscore the significance of determination and perseverance in the face of adversity. Harry Griffin overcame the concerns of his anxious aunt, demonstrating a strong moral character and securing his future as both a Fellow and a Bishop of Limerick. Meanwhile, the thieving ponies showcased their resourcefulness and resilience in surviving the dark confines of the coal pit.
Yet, these stories offer more than just a nostalgic glimpse into times gone by; they also remind us of the shared experiences and common bonds that unite generations across time. In recognizing the struggles and triumphs of our predecessors, we become more connected to our history and gain a better understanding of our own place within it. So, as we reflect on the journey of Harry Griffin and the cunning exploits of the thieving ponies, let us remember the lessons they teach us about resilience, determination, and the exceptional abilities of both humans and animals alike.
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Thursday 09 January 1902