Hall’s Ireland: Mr & Mrs Hall’s Tour of 1840 [abridged 2-vol. edn., ed. Michael Scott] (London: Sphere Books 1984)

Preface
The introduction of steam has made the islands of Ireland and England one island as it were, and the voyage now, either from Liverpool to Dublin, or from Bristol to Waterford or Cork is far more comfortable and less fatiguing than a journey to York. The steam boats that ply between the two countries have, in fact, facilitated intercourse almost as much as a bridge across St George’s Channel would have done. The elegance with which they are fitted up, the moderate fares and the attention to comfort has made the journey from England to Ireland an excursion of pleasure instead of a weary, dangerous, prolonged and expensive voyage, which it was heretofore aboard the sailing packets.

The sailing packet was a small trader - a schooner or sloop - the cabin of which was usually of very limited extent, lined with berths and with but a curtain partitioning off those that were appointed to ladies. In the centre was a table, which was seldom used, since the formality of dinner was a rare event. The steward was invariably an awkward boy, whose only recommendation was the activity with which he answered the calls of unhappy sufferers, and the voyage across was a kind of purgatory to be endured only in the case of absolute necessity. But it was not alone the miserable accommodation and utter indifference to the comfort of the passengers that made the voyage an impossible evil; before the application of steam made its duration a matter of certainty, the voyage, which usually occupied but three or four days, could occupy three or four weeks. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that comparatively little intercourse existed between the two countries and that they were as much strangers to each [xviii] other as if the channel that divided them had actually been impassable.

Sixteen years ago the St George Steam Company established packets between the port of Cork, and the ports of Dublin, Liverpool and Bristol, and more recently London.

The immediate result was that the value of the poor man’s property was augmented. Previously he was at the mercy of agents who purchased his produce at fairs, compelling him to sell it at the prices they dictated, or to return home with it, which was frequently a distance of twenty miles. The old saying that ’the pig paid the rent’ was literally true, and the fair-day was always rent day. But now the farmer is very frequently his own export agent and accompanies his half score of pigs, crate of fowl or his hamper of eggs to England.

A material change for the better has therefore taken place throughout Ireland, which is perceptible even in the remotest districts, but very apparent in the seaport towns. The peasantry are better clad than they formerly were, their cottages much more decent and their habits far less uncivilised - although the very lowest classes, perhaps, have not yet felt the full benefit of this movement. Undoubtedly the most beneficial changes may be dated from the introduction of steam into commerce inasmuch as it has largely contributed to develop and increase the resources of the country and to improve the moral and social conditions of the people.

Hitherto, although steam has so largely assisted in inducing visitors from Ireland to England, visitors from England have not, in the same ratio, increased. Happily, many of the causes that evil exist no longer and others are rapidly disappearing. It will be the leading object in this publication to induce the English to see and judge for themselves a country which holds out to them every temptation the traveller can need: scenery abundant in the wild and beautiful, a people rich in original character, a cordial and hearty welcome for the stranger and a degree of safety and security in his journeyings such as he can meet with in no other portion of the globe. [xix]

In all our tours, we not only never encountered the slightest stay or insult, but we never heard of a traveller who had been subjected to either; and although we were sufficiently heedless in locking up our boxes at inns, in no instance did we ever sustain a loss by our carelessness.

We may add that travelling in Ireland and the charges connected with it are so moderate that a month at Killarney shall cost less than would be spent, during the same time, at Ramsgate or Cheltenham, including the cost of the journey from London .

The usual routes to Ireland are either from Bristol to Cork or Waterford, or from Liverpool to Dublin . The voyage across to Cork generally occupies twenty-four hours; to Waterford, twenty hours, and from Liverpool to Dublin, twelve hours - although it is frequently made in less time. The shortest sea-passage is between Holyhead and Dublin, which is usually made in six hours. [End]


Cork
Our work commences with Cork.

The distant appearance of Cork harbour from the seaward Approach is gloomy, rocky and inhospitable. But as the entrance between the two bold headlands - scarcely half a mile apart, and crowned by fortifications - opens upon the view, its character undergoes a complete change.

The town of Cove, with the island of Spike which forms a sort of natural breakwater, and several smaller islands, give interest and variety to a noble expanse of sea that spreads out like a luxuriant lake to welcome the visitor. The harbour is one of the most secure, capacious and beautiful in the kingdom and is said to In. large enough to contain the whole navy of Great Britain. It is diversified by other islands beside that of Spike; one of which, Haulbowline, is the depot for naval stores. Another, Rocky Island, is the government depot for gunpowder, the store rooms for which are excavated from solid rock and communicate with each other by apertures in the sides.

Passing Monkstown and Passage, two pretty and picturesque villages which, together with the town of Cove, we shall presently describe, the vessel proceeds from the latter place to the quay of Cork, which lies at a distance of about ten miles.

The moment the voyager lands, he is impressed with a conviction that the natural advantages of Cork have been turned to good use. There is bustle on the quays; carriages and carts of all classes are waiting to convey passengers or merchandise to their destination, and an air of prosperity cheers him as he disembarks.

Unhappily however, the first peculiarity that strikes a stranger upon landing here, or indeed in any part of Ireland, is the multiplicity of beggars. Their wit and wisdom are as proverbial as their rags and wretcl.edness, and both too frequently excite a laugh at the cost of serious reflection upon their misery and the means by which it might be lessened. Age, decrepitude, imbecility and disease surround the car the moment it stops.

‘Good luck to yer ladyship’s happy face this morning - sure ye’ll lave a light heart in me bussom before ye go?’

‘Oh then, look at the poor that can’t look at you, my lady, for the dark man [blind man] can’t see if yer beauty is like yer sweet voice.’

‘‘Darling gintelman, the heavens be yer bed, and give us something?’

‘Oh then, won’t yer ladyship buy a dying woman’s prayers - chape?’

In the small town of Macroom, about which we walked one evening, desiring to examine it undisturbed, we had refused in positive terms to relieve any applicant, but promised however to bestow a halfpenny upon each who might ask of it the following morning. Next day it cost us exactly three shillings and tenpence to redeem the pledge we had given. no fewer than ninety-two having assembled at the inn gate.

And it was in Macroom that we noted a fair-haired girl amongst a group of beggars. There was something so sad, so shy and yet so earnest, in her entreaty for, ’charity, for the love of God,’ that we would have at once bestowed it had not a thin, pallid woman, whose manner was evidently superior to those around her and whose tatters bore a character of old decency, made her way through the crowd and, struggling with excited feelings, forced the girl from our side.

‘My name’s MacSweeny,’said the woman somewhat proudly, after a few preliminary questions, ’and I am a lone widow, with five of these craythurs depending upon my four bones. God knows, I tis hard I work for the bit and the sup to give them, and ’tis poor we are and always have been, but none of my family ever took to the road or begged from any Christian - ’ill this bad girleen disgraced them.’ [3]

The mother was by now sobbing like a child and so was her girleen.

‘Mother,’ said the girl, ’sure little Timsy was hungry, and the gentleman wouldn’t miss it.’

Our car was waiting, we had far to go that day and we were impelled to leave without hearing what, we were sure, would have been a touching story. But we left the widow less brokenhearted than we found her.

As contrast to this let us relate an incident that occurred in Cork here, by the way, the beggars seldom appear in public until nearly mid-day.

We were sitting at the window of our hotel (The Imperial, which for elegance and comfort may vie with any hotel in the kingdom). Our attention had been frequently called from the book we were reading by the querulous whine of a beggar who uttered at ntervals the customary salutation of ’Good luck to ye,’and then the usual accompaniment of ’Lave us a ha’penny for God’s sake; for the lone widdy and her five fatherless childer.’ As we had heard but few blessings following the appeal, we concluded that her efforts were unsuccessful, the more especially as at times her prayer ended with an undefined growl. Still, she kept her position directly beneath our window.

We had seen her there all morning; her tattered grey cloak falling back from her long, lean throat, her dirty cap so torn as to be insufficient to conceal her tangled tresses, her right hand supported by her left so as to stand out in the most imploring posture - the sad picture of confirmed and hardened beggary.

As the evening was closing in. we were wondering how much longer she would remain in the same spot when a very loud double knock echoed from the opposite side of the street, followed almost immediately by the woman’s strenuously repeated petition, with the addition of, ’Do, dear, handsome, honourable young gentleman, bestow a ha’penny on a pore lone widdy, with seven small starving little childer, that haven’t broke their fast this blessed day.’

We looked out the window and saw that she had crossed over and was urging her request most emphatically, while the young [3] man thundered again at the knocker.

‘Why then, more power to yer elbow, and it’s yerself that’s strong enough in the wrist anyhow; God keep it to ye, sir, and lave the little token of a ha’penny with the lone widdy and her seven fatherless childer.’

‘I really have not any silver about me,’ drawled out the young man.

‘Bedad,’ replied the beggar, ’I did not ax ye for silver nor gold, but for one ha’penny for the broken hearted widdy and her poor naked fatherless childer.’

‘I tell you I’ve no halfpence,’ he replied, losing what people never should in Ireland - his temper - seeing that the loss is immediately taken advantage of.

‘Why then, bad luck to ye,’ she exclaimed, setting her arms akimbo, and looking a fury. ’Then why did ye bring me from my comfortable seat across the street wid such a knock as that, if ye hidn’t any money in yer pocket - ye poor, half-starved, wheyfaced gossoon.’

§

On the subject of beggars; the beggars in the various towns have their distinctive characters and they differ essentially from those who beg in the country. In the towns it is usually a ’profession’ and they are very jealous of interlopers, unless good cause can shown for additions to the ’craft’. In Dublin they are exceedingly insolent and repulsive; in Cork merry and good-humoured, but most provokingly clamorous; in Waterford their petitions were preferred more by looks than words and a refusal was at once taken. In Clonmel - we were there during a season of frightful want - they appeared too thoroughly depressed and heart-broken to utter even a sentence of appeal. In Killarney they seemed trusting to their utter wretchedness and filth of apparel to contrast with the surprising grace and beauty of nature all around them. And in Wicklow, where we encountered far fewer than we expected - always excepting Glendalough - they laboured to earn money by tendering something like advice as to the route that [4] should be taken by those in search of the picturesque.

In the country, where passers-by are not numerous, the aged or bed-ridden beggar is frequently placed in a sort of handbarrow and laid at morning by the roadside, and not unfrequently their business is conducted on the backs of donkeys, often drawn about by some neighbour’s child. (pp.1-5.)

[...; regards the jails of Cork as models of management, cleanliness and order’ but regrets that a ‘ grievous want of classification’ such that ‘atrocious criminals and petty offenders are mixed together - viz, an ‘elderly and respectable-looking man ... confined for drunkenness’ beside another ‘tried for sheep-stealing [who] has previously been in custody on suspicion of murder.’ Speaks of current improvements in this regard. (p.9.)]

The most remarkable and, to a stranger, the most interesting of the public institutions of Cork is the lunatic asylum of the county and city. The latest return - dated March 1840 - gives the amount of patients at 406: 200 males and 206 females.

§

The national customs that prevail among the people of Cork are common to other parts of Ireland with one exception and, although it is partially found elsewhere - in the isle of Man, for instance - it is certainly confined to the southern parts of Ireland.

For some weeks preceding Christmas, crowds of village boys may be seen peering into the hedges in search of the tiny wren, and when one is discovered the whole assembly eagerly give chase until they have caught and killed it. In the hunt the utmost excitement Prevails: shouting, screeching and rushing, and all sorts of missiles are flung at the puny mark and, not unfrequently, they light upon the head of some less innocent being. From bush to bush, from hedge to hedge, the wren is pursued and bagged with as much pride and pleasure as the more ambitious sportsman bags the cock of the woods. The stranger is utterly at a loss to conceive the cause of this hubbub or the motive for so much energy expended in pursuit of such small game. On the anniversary of St Stephen (the 26th December) the enigma is explained.

Attached to a large holly bush, which is elevated on a pole, the bodies of several little wrens are borne about. The bush is an object of admiration in proportion to the number of dependent birds, and is carried through the streets in procession by a troop of boys, among whom may usually be found ‘children of a larger growth’ shouting and roaring as they proceed along, and every now and again stopping before some popular house (such as that of Mr Olden, the distinguished inventor of Evkerogenion, a liquid soap) and singing the wren boy’s song.

Of course contributions are levied in many quarters and the evening is, or rather was, occupied in drinking out the sum total of the day’s collection.

This is, we believe, the only Christmas gambol remaining in [10] in Ireland of the many that in the middle ages were so numerous and dangerous as to call for the intervention of the law. As to the origin of the whimsical, but absurd and cruel custom, we have no information, but there is a legend still current among the peasantry which may serve in some degree to elucidate it.

In a grand assembly of all the birds of the air it was determined that the sovereignty of the feathered tribe should be conferred upon the one who would fly highest. The favourite was of course the eagle, who at once commenced his flight towards the sun. When he had vastly outdistanced his competitors he proclaimed with a mighty voice his monarchy over all things that had wings. Stiddenly however the wren, who had secreted himself under the feathers of the eagle’s crest, popped out from his hiding place, flew a few inches upwards and chirped out as loudly as he could, ‘birds, look up and behold your king.’

There is also a tradition that in ‘ould ancient times’ when the native Irish were about to catch their Danish enemies asleep, a wren perched upon a drum and woke the slumbering Danish sentinels with its tapping just in time to save the whole army, in consequence of which the little bird was proclaimed traitor and ontlawed, with his life declared forfeit wherever he was thenceforth encountered.

Another old custom prevails to some extent. May Eve, the last day of April, is called Nettlemas Night. Boys parade the streets with large bunches of nettles, stinging their friends and occasionally bestowing a sly touch upon strangers who come in their way. Young and merry maidens too not unfrequently avail themselves of the privilege to ‘sting’ their lovers, and the laughter in the streets is often echoed in the drawing room. These are the only customs peculiar to Cork. (pp.10-11.)

§

[Calls Cork ‘the great outlet of emigrants from the south of Ireland and gives account of emigrants bound for Australia via Falmouth separating from their families: pp.12-13.]

On the deck of th steamer there was less confusion than might have been expected. The hour of departure was at hand, the police had torn asunder several who at the last would not be separated, and as many as could find room were leaning over the side of the craft speechless, yet eloquent in gesture, expressing their adieus to their friends and relatives on shore [...]

It is impossible to describe the final part. Shrieks and prayers, blessings and lamentations mingled in one great cry from those on the quay and those on shipboard until a band stationed in the forecastle stuck up “St Patrick’s Day”. The communicating plank was withdrawn, and the steamer moved majestically forward on her way. Some, overcome with emotion, fell down upon the deck, others waved hats, handerchiefs and hands to their friends and the band played louder. (p.12.)

§

To the city of Cork belongs the honour of forwarding and establishing one of the most extraordinary moral revolutions which the history of the world records: the Temperance Movement, at the head of which is the Very Rev Theobald Mathew, a Capuchin friar, and superior of the order.

For centuries past, drunkenness was the shame and bane of Ireland; an Irishman, without reference to his rank in society, from the highest to the lowest, had become proverbial for intoxication, and to picture an Irishman truly, either in words or on canvas, or to represent him accurately on the stage, it was considered indispensable that he should be drunk.

A manifest improvement has of late years taken place among the higher classes; we are ourselves old enough to recollect when a host would have been scouted as mean and inhospitable if he had suffered his guests to leave his table sober. Ingenious devices were invented for compelling intoxication: glasses and bottles so formed that they could not stand and must be emptied before they could be laid on the table - the object being to pass the wine around rapidly. If a guest were able to mount his horse unassisted in the ‘good old times’ he was presented with a ‘deoch an durass’ (drink at the door) which he was forced, seldom against his will, to drink at the door. The glass used for this occasion usually held a quart, and was terminated by a globe which of itself contained a ‘drop’ sufficient to complete the business of the night.

This degradation was looked upon as a distinction; an Irishman drunk was an Irishman ‘in all his glory’ and a strong head was considered an enviable possession. Many years ago we were acquainted with a gentleman at Ross-Carbery whose daily stint was fi ve-aiid~ twenty tumblers of whisky punch of the ordinary strength.

Among the gentry, however, this most pernicious practice had been latterly not only in disuse, but treated as disreputable and [14; facing fig.: “The Cork River (from below the Glanmire Road)”; verso blank] disgracefull and gentlemen after dinner have ceased to be disgusting in the drawing-room.

Yet the middle and humbler classes had undergone little or no change. The vigilance of the excise men and a large reduction of the tax on spirits, had indeed destroyed the illicit trade in whisky And made the private poteen still a rarity, but it was so cheap that any man might drink himself into a state of insanity for fourpence. In the towns and villages every other house was ‘licensed to sell spirits’ - or sold them without a licence. Fairs, wakes and funerals were scenes of frightful excess; in the former, men seldom met without a fight; at the latter, the merriment excited by the drink was unnatural and revolting, and very often the year’s produce of the small farmer was consumed in a night.

In brief, wherever twenty persons assembled within reach of spirits, nineteen of them were certain to be drunk. It is unnecessary to add that nearly all the outrages that were committed were the results of intoxication, or rather that drink was the preparation for every atrocity.

All attempts to check the progress of intemperance were fruitless; it had long been the custom indeed to take oaths to abstain from drink for a season, but if kept, they produced no permanent good, and the tricks and shifts to evade them were generally successful. We recollect a man swearing that he would not drink for a month and so he soaked bread in spirits and ate; another, who swore he would not touch liquor while he stood on earth, but who got drunk amidst the branches of a tree; another, who swore he would not touch a drop in doors or out, and who therefore strode across his threshold, placing one leg inside and the other outside, and so drank until he fell; another, who bound himself not to touch liquor in the parish, but who brought a sod of i kirf from the distance and placed his foot upon it when he resolved to drink.

To make the Irish abstain, even to a moderate extent, was therefore considered a hopeless task.

On the 20th August, 1829, the Rev George Carr, a clergyman of the Established Church established the first Temperance Society [17] of Ireland in the town of New Ross. He had read some American newspapers which contained encouraging accounts of the progress the principle was making in the New World, and saw at once that there was no country where it was so much needed as Ireland. For several years however, little way was made, and the advocates of temperance were exposed to contempt and laughter. A coffee tent, which they erected at fairs, was an object of ridicule, and although they had not abandoned hope their efforts were comparatively fruitless, and even the most optimistic amongst them indulged in no idea of large success.

Shortly afterwards a temperance society was formed in Cork, the example of New Ross having, by the way, been followed in many other towns. Among its leading members were the Rev Nicholas Dunscombe, Mr William Martin, a Quaker, and two tradesmen, Mr Olden, a slater and Mr Connell, a tailor. They conceived the idea of consigning the important task into the hands of the Rev Mr Mathew, then highly popular in the city and respected by all classes. He met these gentlemen, seriously pondered their plans and probabilities of succeeding, and ultimately - though not immediately - joined them, ‘hand and heart’.

On the 10th April, 1838, the Cork Total Abstinence Society was formed. It is certain that Mr Mathew never for a moment anticipated the wonderful results that were to follow its establishment, and was probably as much astonished as any person in the kingdom when he found not only thousands, but millions, entering into a compact with him to ‘abstain from the use of all intoxicating drinks’ - and keeping it! His Cork society was joined by members from the very distant parts - from the mountains of Kerry, from the wild sea-cliffs of Clare, from the banks of the Shannon, and from places still further off. He had travelled through nearly every district of Ireland, held meetings in nearly every town, and on the 10th October, 1840, his list of members contained upwards of two millions five hundred and thirty thousand names.

In reference to the extent to which sobriety has spread, it will be [18] almost sufficient to state that during our recent stay in Ireland, we saw but six persons intoxicated, and that for the first thirty days we encountered none. In the course of that month we had travelled from Cork to Killarney - round the coast and returning by the inland route, not along the mall-coach roads, but on a jaunting car through rough byways as well as highways, visiting small villages and populous towns, driving through fairs, attending wakes and funerals (returning from one of which, between Glengariff and Kenmare at nightfall, we met at least a hundred mounted farmers); in short, herever crowds were assembled and we considered it likely that we might gather information as to the state of the country and character of its people.

We repeat, we did not meet a single individual who appeared to have tasted spirits, and we do not hesitate to express our conviction that two years ago, in the same places and during the fame time, we should have encountered many thousand drunken men.

From first to last we employed about fifty car-drivers, and we never found one to accept a drink. The boatmen of Killarney, proverbial for drunkenness, insubordination and recklessness of life, declined the whisky we had taken with us, and after hours of hard labour, dipped a can into the lake and refreshed themselves from its waters.

The whisky shops are closed or converted into coffee-houses; the distillers have, for the most part, ceased to work, and the breweries are barely able to maintain a trade sufficient to prevent entire stoppage. There are but two distilleries at work in the whole county of Cork, and at the late fair of Ballinasloe - the great cattle-fair of Ireland - there were but eight gallons of whisky consumed; the average consumption heretofore being between seven and eight puncheons - 800 gallons. (pp.14-19.)

§

The immediate outlets of Cork possess considerable interest, and their natural beauties are perhaps not exceeded by those of any city in the kingdom. [19]

The river Lee above and below the bridges, the alternate hill and dale, the high state of cultivation, the number of fine seats and pretty cottages and the abundance of trees and evergreens are objects that meet the eye in every direction around Cork and seem to justify the title bestowed upon it by the natives, and assented to by all visitors, ‘The Beautiful City’.

On one side is Sunday’s Well, from the height of which there is a magnificent view of the river and the landscape for many miles around it. Sunday’s Well derives its name from one of those sacred fountains which abound in every part of Ireland, where devotees assemble at particular periods under the belief that the water is blessed and cures all disorders.

On the same side of the river are the Upper and Lower Glanmire Roads - not long since solitary walks, but now a busy and populous district. The Lower conducts to the wharfs and timber yards and skirts the river, and the Upper to the barracks, and both roads terminate in scenery of great beauty.

Few places in Ireland are more familiar to English ears than Blarney; the notoriety is attributable first to the marvellous qualities of the famous stone and next to the extensive popularity of the song, “The Groves of Blarney”.

When or how the stone obtained its singular reputation is difficult to determine, and the exact position amongst the ruins of the castle is also a matter of doubt, since the peasant-guides humour the visitor and direct him who desires to ‘greet it with a holy kiss’ either to the summit or the base, according to his capacity for climbing.

It is certain that to no particular stone of the ancient structure is the marvellous quality exclusively attributed; but in order to make it as difficult as possible to attain the enviable gift, it had long been the custom to point out a stone which jutted out a few feet from below the battlements and which only the very daring would run the hazard of touching with their lips. The attempt to do so was indeed so dangerous that a few years ago Mr Jeffreys, the present owner, had it removed from the wall and placed on the highest point of the building where the visitor might greet it with little [21] risk. It is about two feet square and contains the date 1703, with a portion of the arms of the jeffreys family, but the date at once negates its claim to be considered the true marvel of Blarney.

A few days before our visit a madman made his way to the top of the castle and, after dancing around it for some hours - his escape from death being almost miraculous - he flung this stone from the tower. It was broken by the fall and now, as the guide stated to us, the ‘three halves’ must receive three distinct kisses to be in any degree effective.

He who has kissed the Blarney stone is assumed to be endowed with a fluent and persuasive tongue, although it may be associated with insincerity, the term ‘blarney’ generally being used to characterise words that are meant neither to be ‘honest nor true’.

The stronghold of Blarney was erected about the middle of the fifteenth century by Cormac MacCarthy, surnamed Laider or the Strong, whose ancestors had been chieftains in Munster from a period long before the English invasion and whose descendants, as Lords of Muskerry and Clancarty, retained a considerable portion of their power and estates until the year 1689, when their immense possessions were confiscated and the last earl became an exile, like the monarch whose cause he had supported. The castle, village, mills, fairs and customs of Blarney, with the land and park belonging thereunto, containing 1400 acres were ‘set up by cant’ in the year 1702, purchased by Sir Richard Pyne, Lord Chief justice for three thousand pounds and disposed of by him the following year to General Sir James Jeffreys, in whose family the propert~ continues. Although the walls of the castle are still strong, many of the outworks have long since been levelled with the earth, the plough passed over their foundations and the stones of which the were built have been used in repairing the turnpike roads.

The fate of the once formidable clan of the MacCarthy is similar to that of nearly all the ancient families of Ireland. The descendants in direct line may often be found working as day labourers around the ruins of castles where their forefathers had ruled and, in many cases, a period of little more than a century and a half has passed between their grandeur and their degradation. [21]

The small village of Blarney is about four miles north-west of Cork. A few years ago it was remarkably clean, neat and thriving, its prosperity having resulted from the establishment of several linen and cotton factories, the whole of which have now been swept away, and the hamlet is now, like the castle, an assemblage of ruins. In the vicinity however, there is yet a woollen manufactory and a paper-mill both in full work. The scenery in the neighbourhood is agreeable, but the grounds that immediately surround the castle are of exceeding beauty.

The sweet Rock-close is a small dell in which evergreens grow luxuriantly, and is completely shaded with magnificent trees. At its termination are the Witches Stairs, a series of rugged stone steps which lead down through a passage in the rock to a charming spot of greensward forming the banks of a clear rivulet and where some singular masses appear to have been the work of ‘druid hands of old’.

We visited the Rock-close during a sunny day in June, and we can never forget the fragrant shade afforded by the luxuriant evergreens which seemed rooted in the limestone rock. The little river Comane is guarded by a natural terrace, fringed by noble trees; several of the spaces between are natural grottos, some with seats where, undoubtedly, many a love tale of old has been told. it is indeed a spot of singular beauty and exceeding wildness. At some particular points you catch a glimpse of the castle, the river and the mysterious entrance to the Witches Stairs. Still, notwithstanding the variety of these objects, and a cave moreover, where some beautiful princess of old went through a long enchantment, the character of the Rock-close is one of deep shadow. Occasionally a sunbeam struggles through the gloom and points out a bed of richest moss, or a grey stone winged with waving fern.

We wandered from the shade of the Rock-close across the green and richly wooded pastures that lead to the lake, which is a fine expanse of water about a quarter of a mile from the castle. The scenery here is more English than Irish, but every step is hallowed by legend; it is implicitly believed that the last Earl of Clancarty [22] who inhabited the castle committed the keeping of his gold plate to the deepest waters of the lake, and that it will never be recovered until a MacCarthy be lord of Blarney. On midsummer night enchanted cows dispute the pasture with those of the present possessor, and many an earthly bull has been worsted in the contest. As to fairies, their rings are upon the grass from early summer to the last week in harvest.

Our attention was somewhat drawn to the multitude of lilies that floated on the waters of the lake, rendering it near to the shore a mass of living gold. We never saw the flower in such abundance or perfection. One which we gathered contained within its calyx a small green lizard that came creeping forth, its fixed and jet-like eyes staring us out of countenance until we transferred it to another home. A most delightful day did we spend amongst those ruins of art and beauties of nature. We sat beneath the shadow of the old ward tower to partake of some refreshment and the children of the dairy farm close to the castle brought us a plate piled with potatoes and enveloped in a warm white cloth.

Those who visit Blarney would be repaid for their trouble by extending their drive through a secluded glen in which the Awmartin descends into the valley. This neighbourhood has many circular raths and some square entrenchments with the usual subterranean cells. The road wanders through the beautiful pass almost as wildly as the river, and at its extremity the Rev Mathew Horgan is erecting a round tower close to his chapel with a view to get even with his ancestors and to puzzle posterity! (pp.19-23.)

§

[...] the small town of Cloyne, a bishop’s see, founded in the sixth century, by St Colman. The cathedral is a low cruciform structure. The last bishop of Cloyne was Brinkey, the profund mathematician and eminent astronomer, who was consecrated in 1826 and died in 1835, when the see was merged into that of Cork and Ross.

At Cloyne there is one of those singular round towers which for so long a period have excited the curiosity of antiquaries: but its conical stone roof was destroyed by lightning in the year 1749. The neighbourhood of Cloyne abounds with natural caves in the limestone rock; one of which, in the episcopal grounds, is “of unknown length and depth, branching to a great distance under the earth and sanctified by a thousand wild traditions.”

At Castle Mary, a fine seat not far from Cloyne, may be seen one of those ponderous masses of stone supported by smaller stones which are popularly termed Druid’s Altars or “cromleachs” and close to it is another, smaller one. The alter stone of the great cromleach measures fifteen feet in length and is about eight feet wide and three and a half feet thick. The position of both is inclined, form whcih it is ocnjectured the name of cromleach, “the bending stone”, is derived. Similar rude monuments are found in all parts of Ireland.”

The most remarkable seat in the vicinity of Cloyne is Rostellan, the mansion of the Marquis of Thomond. It is modern but occupies the site of an ancient castle of the Fitzgeralds, seneschals of [27] Imokilly. In 1648 the notorious Lord Inchiquin - famous or infamous, according to the views of the historian - obtained a grant of the estate, which grant was further confirmed to him in the eighteenth year of Charles II.’ (p.27-28.)

§

Before we proceed further upon our journey, and describe the northern division of the country, it will be well to picture the vehicles, on one or other of which the tourist will have to travel. We shall first, however, advise him to lay in both a stock of good humour - for petty annoyance will frequently occur - and a plentiful supply of waterproof clothing, for sunny June is no more to be trusted than showery April. Someone has said that the only. day on which you can be certain to escape a wetting is the 3oth February - a day which never comes. This is undoubtedly a sad drawback upon pleasure; the humidity of the atmosphere is a continual affliction to those who are not used to it, and is very insufficiently compensated for by the fact that the grass in Ireland is e vergreen. Yet the evil is one that can always be guarded against.

Machines for travelling in Ireland are, some of them at least, peculiar to the country. The stage-coaches are precisely similar to those in England and travel at as rapid a rate. They of course run upon all the great roads and are constructed with due regard to safety and convenience.

The public cars of Mr Bianconi have, however, to a large extent, displaced the regular coaches and are to be encountered in every district in the south of Ireland. In form they resemble the common outside jaunting car, but are calculated to hold twelve, fourteen or sixteen persons. They are well horsed, have cautious and experienced drivers, are generally driven with three horses and usually travel at the rate of seven Irish miles an hour, the fares averaging about twopence per mile. They are open cars, but a huge apron of leather affords considerable protection against rain, and they may be described in all respects as very comfortable and convenient vehicles. [29]

Post-chaises are now very seldom used; they are to be had in the larger towns and are generally cleanly and well arranged, very different in form from what they were when the caricature pictured them as thatched with straw, and from the bottom of which the travellers’ legs protruded.

The cars are of three kinds: the covered car, the inside jaunting car and the outside jaunting car - with the latter being the one most generally in use and the only one employed in posting. The two former, indeed, can seldom be procured except in large towns. The covered car is a comparatively recent introduction, its recommendation being that it is weather-proof, but it effectually prevents a view of the country, except through the two little peep hole windows in the front or by tying back the oil-skin curtains behind. Our longer journeys were made in this machine; it preserved us from many a wetting and we endeavoured to remedy the evil of confinement by stopping at every promising spot and either getting out or making the driver turn his vehicle around, so that from the back we might command the prospect we desired. This class of car has of late multiplied greatly in all the larger towns and they are in Ireland what the hackney-coaches and cabriolets are in England. We hired this car in Cork for twenty days at the rate of ten shillings a day, expenses of man and horse included, and for two persons it is a very desirable mode of of travelling.

The inside jaunting car is not often to be hired; it is usually it is usually private property and is perhaps the most comfortable as well as the elegant of the vehicles of the country.

The outside jaunting car is that to which especial reference is made when speaking of the ‘Irish’ car. It is exceedingly light, presses very little upon the horse, and is safe as well as convenient. It iis always driven with a single horse. The driver occupies the front seat and the travellers sit back to back, the space between occupied by the well, which is a sort of boot for luggage. But when there is only one passenger the driver usually places himself on the opposite seat to balance the car. The footboard is generally of iron and is made to move on hinges so that it may be turned up to [29] protect the cushions during rain.

The private cars of this description are, of course, neatly and carefully made, and have a character of much elegance, but those which are hired are, in general, badly built, dirty and uncomfortable. Yet in nine places out of ten the traveller has no chance of obtaining a vehicle of any other description and will often find even in a populous town that if the car is out, he must wait until its return. He will never have any difficulty in procuring a horse, and as to drivers, any boy will answer for the nonce, but one car generally suffices for a town. In New Ross, for example, we were detained two hours before we could proceed on our road to Wexford.

A car therefore is usually hired for a journey, changing horse on the route. The charge for posting is sixpence a mile for two persons and eightpence a mile if the travellers exceed two. This is the rule all over the country, except in the county of Wicklow, where the rate is eightpence a mile; the consequence has been that the greater number of tourists hire a machine in Dublin and are not customers at the inns on the road.

The car, or rather cars, used by the peasantry require so notice.

Flat boards are placed across a frame and upon these straw often a feather bed is laid. These vehicles have old-fashion wheels cut out of a solid piece of wood and are now, however, nearly obsolete. We met but few of them on our latest journey, their unfitness having been at last understood, and they have give way before modern improvement.

The miles are now generally measured as English miles, and in posting, are charged for accordingly. The reader will bear in mind that eleven Irish miles are equivalent to fourteen English. At present this causes some confusion, the natives being as yet unable to comprehend how it is that familiar places have moved further from each other. We asked one of them the distance from Cork Kinsale.

‘Troth sir,’ he answered, ‘It’s hard to say. Not long ago ’twas twelve miles, but they’ve been flinging stones at each other (fixing [30] milestones) and Kinsale is druv a good step further from Cork. It’s English roads they’ve made of them; wisha bad luck to them - it’s everything Irish they’re taking from us ... except the poverty and the sod.’

Persons who have never travelled in Ireland can have but a very inadequate idea of the wit and humour of the Irish cab drivers. They are, for the most part, a thoughtless and reckless set of men, living upon chance, always ‘taking the world aisy’, having no care for the morrow and seldom being owners of a more extensive wardrobe than the nondescript mixture they carry about their persons. They are the opposites in every respect of the English postillions - the latter do their duty, but seldom familiarise their to the sound of their voices, and the traveller never exchanges a word with his post-boy. A touch of the hat acknowledges the gratuity when the stage is ended, and the driver, having consigned his charge to his successor, departs. He neither knows, nor cares, aught for their concerns, except that he is to advance so many miles upon such a road according to the instructions of his employer.

The Irish driver, on the contrary, will ascertain during your progress where you came from, where you are going and, very often, what you are going about. He has a hundred ways of willing himself into your confidence, and is sure to put in a word or two at every available opportunity - yet in such a manner as to render it impossible for you to subject him to the charge of impertinence.

For example, we engaged one at Closheen.

‘Ah then is it to Cahir ye’re going sir - and it’s from Lismore ye’re coming, I’ll go bail?’

‘You’ve made a good guess.’

‘Maybe it’s to my lord’s I’ll be driving ye?’

’Not so lucky this time.’

‘To Mr Grubbs’ then did ye say sir?’

‘No.’

‘Well then, it’s to Mr Fennells’ yer honour’ll be telling me to ye?’

‘Yes’. [31]

‘Is it Mr Joe Fennells’, or Mr Jonas Fennells’ or Mr Fennells of the cottage?’ And then came a long history of all of the name who dwell in or near one of the prettiest and cleanest towns in Ireland.

We encountered one of the richest characters of the class on the road from Ross to Wexford, and he told us how he had got his first position.

’The master - a mighty pleasant man who loved a joke - had two beautiful English horses, and he wanted a careful man to drive them. Well there was as many as fifteen after the place and to the first that went up to him, he said, “Well my man, tell me, how near the edge of a precipice would you undertake to drive my carriage?”

‘So the boy considered and he says, says he, “within a foot, plaze yer honour, and no harm.”

‘So the next came up, and he says he’d be bound to carry them within a half a foot, and the next said five inches, and another - a dandified chap intirely - was so mighty nice, that he would drive it within “three inches and a half. he’d so bail.”

‘Well, at last my turn came and when his honour axed me how nigh I would drive his carriage to the precipice, I said, sez I, “Plaze yer honour, I’d keep as far off it as I could.”

‘“Very well, Mr Byrne”, says he, “you’re my coachman.” (pp.29-32.)

§

[...] Close to this tower [in Youghall] is a piece of land in which it is said Sir Walter Raleigh planted the first potatoes that were grown in Ireland; the honour however is disputed by the garden which adjoins the house in which he lived [i.e., Myrtle Grove]

[35; ...]

There is little doubt that the first potatoes grown in the British Empire were planted at Youghall - probably in 1586 - by Sir Walter Raleigh, who became a mayor of the town in 1588. For a long period however, the potato was cultivated in gardens as a rarity and did not become general food.

It is uncertain when the potato became an article of general food in Ireland, and it is more probable that, as in England, they had long been considered ‘conserves, toothsome and daintle’, before they were in common use. It is generally believed, however, that the potato celebrated in the Elizabethan age, is ‘not the same root as that now commonly known by that name’.

It is unnecessary to state that, for above a century and a half, the potato has been almost the only food of the peasantry of Ireland. They raise corn, wheat, barley and oats in abundance, but it is for export and - although the assertion may startle many - we have no hesitation in saying that there are hundreds in the less civilised districts of the country who have never tasted bread. Whether the Irish have to bless or ban the name of Sir Walter Raleigh is a matter still in dispute, but it is generally admitted that a finer or hardier race of peasantry cannot be found in the world, and although it is considered that their strength falls them at a comparatively early age, it is impossible to deny the nutritive qualities of the root upon which so many millions have thriven and increased.

But there can be as little doubt that the ease with which the means of existence are procured has been the cause of evil; a very limited portion of land, a few days of labour, and a small amount of manure will create a stock upon which a family may exist for twelve months. Also, the periods between exhausting the old stock and digging the new are seasons of great want, if not of absolute famine. If the season is propitious the peasant digs day after day the produce of his plot of ground and, before the winter sets in, places the residue in a pit to which he has access when his wants demand a [37] supply. Every cottage has a garden of an acre or half-acre attached, and as the cultivation requires but a very small proportion of the peasant’s time and still less of his attention, his labour remains to be disposed of, or his time may be squandered in idleness. He can live if his crops do not fail, and he can pay his rent if his pig - fed like himself out of the garden - does not die, but to decency of clothing and to any of the luxuries that make life something more than mere animal existence, he is too often a stranger.

The peasant usually has three meals - one at eight in the morning, at noon, and at seven or eight in the evening when his work is done. The potatoes are boiled in an iron pot and strained in the basket from which they are thrown upon the table - seldom without a cloth - and around which the family sit on stools and bosses (the boss is a low seat made of straw). The usual drink is buttermilk when it can be had, and it goes around in a small piggin, a sort of miniature English pail. (pp.36-37.)

§

[Buttevant ... The name is said to be derived from the war-cry Boutez-en-avant used by David de Barry, one of the early English invaders; ....]

Buttevant and its neighbourhood - its hills, valleys and rivers, Imve been rendered classic by the pen of the immortal poet, Edmund Spenser, for he not only resided at Kilcoleman, but here he also composed his Faerie Queene, and made the surrounding objects the themes of his undying song.

Spenser first visited Ireland in the year 1580, as secretary to the Lord Deputy, Lord Grey de Wilton, and he discharged his duties of the office with ability and integrity. In 1582 he returned to England and in 1586 he obtained a grant, dated the 27th June, for 3028 acres of the fortified estates of the Earl of Desmond at the rent of seventeen pounds, thirteen shillings and sixpence. He received it on the same conditions as the other undertakers - conditions which implied a residency on the property thus acquired, the policy of the Queen being to people the province of Munster with English families.

Spenser took up his residence at the castle of Kilcoleman, and spent four years here, working upon the first three books of the Faerie Queene. He then journeyed to London with his friend, Sir Walter Raleigh, and published them. On his return to Ireland he married a country lass of mean birth, whose name was Elizabeth. During the following six years, he wrote the fourth, fifth and sixth [39] books of the Faerie Queene and printed an able and statesmanlike view of the condition of Ireland.

In 1598 the Tyrone rebellion broke out, his estate was plundered and burned and in the flames his youngest child perished, and he was driven into England with his wife and remaining children - a wretched exile. He never recovered from this affliction and died a year later in an obscure lodging in London in extreme indigence, if not in absolute want. (pp.39-40.)

[... ; continued]

[ close ]

[ top ]