An Irish Jaunting-car

The distance from Donaghadee to Belfast is about twenty miles by the shortest route; but having heard that the coast-road was the more interesting in point of scenery, we determined to go by that way; and for which purpose were obliged to hire a jaunting-car, a vehicle peculiar to this country. The landlady, a stout, smiling personage, came out of doors, and with a good-natured energy that amused as, arranged the quo modo of our conveyance with a strange-looking, squinting fellow, whose age might be taken at any figure between twenty and forty. By his careless air, his battered hat on the side of his head, and the indicative accompaniment of a short whip, with which he continued to lash an unoffending paving-stone until the negociation was concluded, we set him down rightly for the driver of the vehicle by which we were to be transported to Belfast.

Those who have never had the pleasure of recreating on an Irish jaunting-car must fancy two low-backed garden-chairs, with cushioned seats, placed dos-à-dos; with a space of about eighteen inches between them, forming a receptacle called a well, in which loose coats, cloaks, or a small trunk may be deposited. A board or step on which the traveller's feet rest is attached to either seat. The entire machine is fixed on springs and wheels, and a pair of shafts project from one end, between which is harnessed a lean, ill-groomed, ill-conditioned horse; and above his crupper in a small seat sits the horse's counterpart, a ragged, lounging, unpromising-looking driver. But horse and man are both deceptions; the one generally turns out to be a hardy, wiry creature, with a pace that would soon blow the élite of many aristocratic stables—and the other a shrewd intelligent fellow, that by his drollery could create laughter for a long summer's day.

In a few minutes our luggage was thrust by Barney, along with a remnant of hay snatched from his horse's head, into the above-mentioned well. Our new charioteer then giving a preliminary crack of his whip, and a jerk of his loose great-coat upon his shoulder, mounted his perch. Following his example, we took our seat on one side of the vehicle, and away we dashed, with a wild whoop from Barney, and an encouraging cheer from half-a-dozen of his companions, accompanied by the barking of an equal number of curs of low degree, which gave us what Barney called a "chivvey" for some hundred yards on our journey. The scenery of the lough is not bold, it is rather soft and pleasing: its breadth may be about five miles, and the shores on both sides are thickly studded with the most interesting objects: here a noble mansion, with its thick woods behind and spacious lawn in front, sloping to the water; there a cluster of neat cottages, frequented in the summer by bathers from Belfast and other adjoining towns. The cottages in Ireland being generally white, it is impossible not to admire their picturesque appearance, embosomed as they are amidst trees of delicious verdure.

Indeed, the singular freshness of the foliage and the sward always strikes the eye of a stranger, and fully justifies the epithet of "The Emerald Isle" being bestowed upon this favoured country. The day was delightfully serene; the quiet beauty of the scenery and the quaint humour of our companion, who was highly pleased to have an opportunity of displaying his descriptive and anecdotal talents, made us not regret the mode of conveyance we had chosen. A specimen or two, which just now occurs, of the readiness of the Irish peasantry in jest and repartee, may entertain our readers. A young fellow, driving an ass before him, was coming towards us, when Barney, who never let a chance for a joke escape him, gave us one of those sly glances of humour over his shoulder, which it would be impossible to describe, and hitching up his coat, thus accosted the ass-driver, with the utmost gravity:—

"Good morrow, neighbour!—Is that ass your own?" "No," replied the boy, "he's my father's."

"In troth—I knew he was one of the family, for he's the very picther of the ould man," retorted Barney, with a loud guffaw; at the same time applying the whip vigorously to his horse, to escape the vengeance of the irritated lad, who was searching on the road for a "lump of a two-year old," i. e. a stone not larger than a bullock's kidney, with which he meant to return Barney's witticism. His next essay was upon a good-looking country-girl, who, with bare feet and well-gathered-up petticoats, was daintily picking her steps along a plashy part of the road.

"Mind your steps, ma cailleen dhas, or you'll dirty your birthday stockings!" cried he.

"Never fear, abouchal. But if I do, where's the harm? Sure they're warranted to wash and hould the colour always," replied the girl, smartly.

"I wonder then how they'd look turned?" inquired Barney, with a grin. "About as purty as your own eyes," answered she, glancing knowingly at the questioner.

The girl's allusion to the obliquity of Barney's optics disconcerted him a little; he flourished his whip, began to whistle vehemently, and looked out for a fitter object to crack his next joke upon. In this manner we proceeded; Barney maintaining a running fire of raillery upon every person that came within hail; sometimes gaining an easy victory, but oftener provoking a biting retort upon the appearance of himself, his horse, and not unfrequently of his passenger. At the foot of a sharp hill, where a convenient roadside public-house offered "ENTERTAINMENT FOR MAN AND HORSE," Barney threw the reins over his steed's neck, and telling him to stand quiet while he was lighting his pipe, he darted into the whiskey-shop, from whence in less than a minute he returned with a black dhudeen stuck in the corner of his mouth, and a thick cloud of tobacco-smoke curling round his nose. This practice of smoking, which is so prevalent among the lower classes of Ireland, is of much greater antiquity than the introduction of tobacco into Europe, Bronze pipes are found in the most ancient tumuli, or sepulchral mounds; and "A curious instance of the bathos in sculpture," says a writer on the subject, "but which also illustrates the antiquity of the custom, occurs on the monument of Donogh O'Brien, King of Thomond, who was killed in 1267, and interred in the Abbey of Corcumroe, in the county of Clare, of which his family were the founders. He is represented in the usual recumbent posture, with the short pipe or dhudeen of the Irish in his mouth." Certain indigenous herbs are still smoked by the peasantry in some of the remote districts where tobacco cannot be procured.


Library Ireland Facebook