Gweedore to Glenties

Samuel Gamble Bayne
Gweedore to Glenties

THE Gweedore is a famous inn, built over fifty years ago by Lord George Hill on the river Clady; it has held its supremacy as a centre for salmon-fishing and grouse-shooting for half a century. The guests supplied the table so bountifully with fish in the early days that the writer has recollections, as a boy, of thinking that scales were growing on his back after having been at the hotel for a week. Many celebrities have fished and shot there—Thackeray, Dickens, Lord Palmerston, Carlyle, and a host of others have had their feet under its mahogany and have looked out of its windows at Errigal, popularly known as the "peerless cone," the base of which is not over a mile distant. This mountain rises to a height of two thousand four hundred and sixty-six feet, scarred and naked to its peak. Slieve Snaght, two thousand two hundred and forty feet, is another fine peak near it.

Natives of County Donegal

Natives of County Donegal

The name of Lord George Hill, the late proprietor of the estate, is so thoroughly identified with that of Gweedore that it will not be amiss to retail a few facts concerning him. He first settled in this part of the country in 1838, purchasing twenty-three thousand acres in the parish of Tullaghobegly, which he found in a state of distress and want so great that it became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry. Although there appeared to have been a considerable amount of exaggeration in the statements made, enough remained to show that famine, pestilence, and ignorance were lamentably prevalent.

The prospects of the landlord were far from encouraging, on account of the stony nature of the ground, the severity of the climate, and the difficulty of collecting his rent; but, more than all, the extraordinary though miserable system of rundale, which was universal throughout the district. By this arrangement a parcel of land was divided and subdivided into an incredible number of small holdings, in which the tenant very likely held his proportion or share in thirty or forty different places, which had no fences or walls whatever to mark them. The utter confusion and the hopelessness of each tenant's being able to know his own land, much less to plant or look after it, may well be imagined. And not only to land was this system applied, but also to portable property. With much perseverance and many struggles, Lord George Hill gradually changed the face of things. He overcame and altered the rundale system, improved the land, built schools, a church, and a large store at Bunbeg, made roads, established a post-office, and, what is perhaps of more importance to the traveler, a hotel. He took a direct and personal interest in the good management of the hotel and in the comfort of the guests who patronized it, frequently stopping at the house himself, dining and spending the evening with them.

Since his death, in 1879, the hotel has kept up its traditional reputation for comfort and general good management. Carlyle visited Lord Hill at Gweedore in 1849, and this is the way in which he described his host afterwards: "A handsome, grave-smiling man of fifty or more; thick, grizzled hair; elegant nose; low, cooing voice; military composure and absence of loquacity; a man you love at first sight." This was indeed high praise from a man of Carlyle's cantankerous temper. Lord Hill was so popular with his tenantry that when his horse broke down they would take the animal out of the shafts, fasten ropes to the car, and pull it home triumphantly with the owner seated in state, no matter how many miles they had to cover. He was a most courteous and obliging man. I well remember how, in the early sixties, he walked a considerable distance and took particular pains to show me the best fishing spots on the river.

They tell a joke at the hotel, on an English dude who asked Pat, the gillie, " Aw, my good man, do you mind telling me what—aw—sort of fish you catch here?" "Well, to tell ye the truth," was Pat's quick reply, "ye niver can tell till yez pulls 'em out!"

There was a big fishing crowd there, and when I announced at dinner that it was more than forty years since I had sat at that table and fished in the river, they all doffed their caps to me—metaphorically—and gave me more salmon and other good things than I could eat or drink.

We hadn't time to fish, and so we pushed on next day through the Rosses district, with all its innumerable fresh-water lakes and salt-water inlets. So intermingled were they that it was hard to decide which was which, and we finally got to know that where wrack grew on the shore the water was salt and connected somewhere with the sea. We stopped at Dunlow for lunch and then descended into the Gweebarra River valley and crossed the large, new steel bridge of that name, erected by the Congested Districts Board to give the people employment on that and the roads connecting with it at both ends. The way lies through an untamably wild country, but with such constant and shifting panorama of mountain scenery that the attention is never fatigued. You see in review the Dunlewy Mountains, Slieve Snaght, Errigal, Dooish, and the Derryveigh chains; in fact, if the weather is fine—and it all depends on that—there is scarcely such another mountain view in the kingdom.

The head of Gweebarra Bay, where the river joins it, is a queer-looking place; we skirted its shores for miles and enjoyed its peculiarities. When the tide is out the water is of a seal-brown color, due to the peat; when it is in, the color is bright green. Where the tides meet is a mixture of both colors, and frequently some of the shallows, side by side, will be of either brown or green, making a checkered appearance. While all this is going on, water-falls from the hillsides pour their brown waters into the bay and very often into pools of green. This phenomenon, in connection with the pleasing picture formed by the numerous small islands which dot the surrounding waters, makes it well worth while to wait and witness the tide in its changing stages. We finished our twenty-five mile drive in an hour or so, and put up for the night at O'Donnell's, Glenties.

Read "On an Irish Jaunting Car through Donegal and Connemara" at your leisure

On an Irish jaunting Car through Donegal and Connemara

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Samuel Gamble Bayne was born in Ramelton, County Donegal, and educated at Queen's University in Belfast. At the age of twenty-five he left for America with a view to making his fortune. He invested in an oil well in Pennsylvania and later founded a bank which subsequently came to be the JP Morgan Chase bank in New York. By the time this book was written he was wealthy enough to be referred to as a billionaire. His account of the tour through the north, west and south of Ireland is a pleasant snapshot of how that part of the country was in the early part of the 20th century. He describes what is to be seen, gives some background history and, through the illustrations especially, provides wonderful glimpses of the area's social history.

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