Hollywood, Cave Hill, Belfast

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume II, Chapter I-3 | Start of chapter

The finest view of the lough on this road is to be had between Bangor and Hollywood. The latter place is a pretty bathing village about four miles from Belfast. Leaving Hollywood behind us, we got the first view of the great emporium of Ulster, with its numerous tall chimneys and dingy factories, reminding us of a busy manufacturing English town. The inland scenery on every side of the town corresponds in character with that of the shores of the bay. It is varied and picturesque, but never rises into the sublime or magnificent. The surface of the adjacent country is mountainous to the north and north-west, where Divis Mountain, about two miles distant, rises to the height of one thousand five hundred and sixty-seven feet above the sea level. On the south and west the land forms some lofty hills, the most remarkable of which is the Cave Hill, that takes its name from some curious caves near its summit. It is topped with a large rath, or ancient earthen fortification, named M'Art's Fort, one side of which rests on the precipice that overlooks the bay, and the others still show traces of a rampart and broad ditch. This spot is a favourite place of recreation for the townspeople, particularly during the Easter holidays. A railway is carried from it for the purpose of conveying stone to the town.

Our entrance into Belfast, over a long, narrow, dilapidated, bridge, was ill-calculated to give a favourable opinion of the place: but we determined not to be prejudiced by first impressions; and confess that we were afterwards agreeably surprised to find, in our rambles through the town, fine broad streets and handsome squares, stretching in all directions from the centre of the town. Having now fairly got upon the paving-stones, Barney determined to show off the superior capabilities of his steed to the gazers, and, regardless of repeated injunctions to go slowly, he drove at full gallop through the streets, which were thronged with people, it being fair-day in Belfast. At last, after endangering the lives of sundry of her Majesty's lieges, and very nearly amputating the legs of a young lady who sat on an outside car near the footway, Barney, exulting in his dexterity, suddenly pulled up at the door of "The Donegal Arms." It is situated in a handsome broad street; and in its internal arrangements, its comfort and cleanliness, need not shrink from a comparison with some of the best hotels in England. After an early dinner, the landlord, a courteous and gentlemanly person, presented us with a ticket, signed by himself as a subscriber, to visit the Botanical Garden, and offered to procure a "walking dictionary" to the objects of curiosity in the town. We accepted the ticket, but declining the services of a guide, started off in the direction he pointed out, and strolled through a succession of clean and spacious streets to the suburbs of Belfast.

No town is so un-Irish in its appearance, or in the character of its inhabitants. Industry, temperance, and frugality, seem to be the guiding principles amongst every class. "Business is life here, and life is business:" we find none of the deep-drinking and careless merriment of the south, which leave to-morrow to do for itself. A shrewd calculating spirit pervades the whole mass of the community, proving incontestibly their genuine Scotch descent.

Yet, with all their money-getting habits, the people of Belfast are not so engrossed by business but that they can afford a large portion of their time and money to the advancement of literature and the fine arts. Their numerous scientific and literary institutions attest this sufficiently; and so celebrated has this town become for its patronage and love of learning, that it has acquired the proud title of "the modern Athens," and disputes the palm of literary fame with its southern rival, Cork; which boasts of having fostered a greater amount of native talent than any other town or city in Ireland: we shall not attempt to decide in favour of either. Amongst the most important of the societies intended for intellectual culture in Belfast, is the "Academical Institution," which comprehends a school and a collegiate department, affording education on a liberal and enlightened system. The Natural History Society, to which a museum is attached, the first ever erected in Ireland by voluntary subscription; the Literary Society, the Historic Society, a Mechanics' Institute, and a Botanical Garden.

Just at the edge of the town we were compelled to charge through a phalanx of car-drivers, whose obliging distress at seeing us on foot was expressed with a variety of eloquence that was worthy of a better theme. We persisted in thinking that the dirt was good enough for "the likes of us," and walked them off their beat, after receiving a solemn assurance that the Botanical Garden was three good Irish miles off, that is to say, four English miles, which we walked in the incredibly small space of five minutes. Not content with this enterprising investment of eloquence and imagination, one of the drivers gave what we took to be a purely ostentatious display of the paces of his horse, driving backwards, and in every description of gait that could be got up by cries, whipping, chirruping, coaxing, and other persuasives. The man never looked for applause between his flourishes, till within forty yards of our destination, when he suddenly drove up, and with a smile of the most winning sincerity recommended us to take his car to the Botanical Garden. "Where is the Botanical Garden?" we asked of a little girl who was standing near: she pointed to the gate a few steps further on. "Then, sir," said the driver, by no means disconcerted at the failure of his impudent attempt, "perhaps your honour 'ud like me to wait for you going back?" Our resentment at the imposition was entirely absorbed in admiration of the boldness, fertility of invention, readiness, and perseverance displayed by this character. What would not such qualities achieve (and we believe they are natural to the whole nation) if well-regulated and directed into proper channels!

The Botanical Garden is laid out with great taste and beautifully kept. We enjoyed extremely the stroll through the long alleys; and in spite of a cautionary placard, and the keeper standing under the porch looking on, plucked a heart's-ease as an expressive remembrance of our visit.