The Mathew Tower

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (40) | Start of Chapter

Among the many interesting subjects of people and things in the city of Cork, may be included as preeminent this beautiful tower, standing upon Mount Patrick, overlooking the pleasant waters of the Lee. It is three miles from Cork, on an elevation of eight hundred feet, and was erected by William O'Connor, entirely at his own expense. Theobald Mathew visited London in the year 1843, and his generous reception suggested the idea to O'Connor, who was present, to erect a monument in commemoration of the event, and as an honorable memento to future generations of the indefatigable labors of the great Apostle of Temperance. The history of this spot gives to the visitor a double interest, especially so, when he is told that the founder was a tailor, who, through his shears, was enabled to give three thousand guineas for the tower alone.

A few years since, this now blooming garden of trees, shrubs, and flowers, was a wilderness of woods, and the soil the most unpromising. O'Connor purchased twenty acres, cut down the trees, leaving a few for ornament, dug up the roots, and made an entirely new soil, by materials taken from the mud and gravel of the Lee, at Cork, and planted this new-made land with potatoes, giving employment to a great number of men; and when the harvest was gathered he made the whole of it as an offering of the first fruits to the poor. The Sisters of Mercy shared largely in this donation, as almoners of the gift. He then built a neat cottage, which he inhabited with a sister, who has since deceased. A fine gravelly walk conducts the visitor from the gate leading to the cottage through a rich thicket of laurel, arbutus, and firs, opening upon a tasteful flower ground, descending from the cottage, which is ascended by fourteen stone steps with iron railings. On the right and left from the hill, two rooms are fitted up in good modern taste for the reception of visitors. In the center of each stands a table, one containing the periodicals of the day, the other only a large ancient Bible. The walls are adorned with a variety of pictures, some of which are the best specimens of drawing. Two, which are dedicated to the Queen and Prince Albert, and executed entirely with a pen, by McDonnell of Cork, are almost without a parallel. They contain an address by the Mayor, Aldermen, and Council of the city of Cork, on the birth of the Prince of Wales, in 1841. They are both executed in a manner that entitles them to a standing among the highest ornamental works. A portrait of O'Connor hangs in the same room, with one of Edim Forest, and a few others, of the best model. The left-hand room represents the Queen, with an infant on her lap, and another child standing by her side; another of the Virgin and Child of peculiar beauty. A frame-work containing the baptismal cake of one of the Queen's children, and a vial of caudle. The frame is lined on the back with a piece of satin, embroidered with the crown of the King of Prussia, and is a piece from the vest he wore; the sides are of embroidered satin, like that worn by the Queen, with her crown wrought upon it, and which is worn on the baptismal occasions of her children. A fourth is Louis Philippe receiving the visit of Victoria, in France, beside two other pictures not named. In the hall hangs the picture of the "testimonial" or tower, and opposite is the monument of Scott.

In a little opening at the back of the hall, is a glass case, containing a choice collection of shells, and on each side from this are two nicely-furnished bed-rooms; these rooms with a kitchen include all the dwelling part. Two wings, with artificial windows, are attached to the cottage; the glass, frame and blind, are such a finished imitation of the reality, that one must touch them to be convinced of their mockery. Two winding paths from the cottage lead up the ascent to the monument. A circular stone-wall containing a small fountain is the first object, in the center of this is a curiously-wrought pedestal, surmounted by a large basin, in which is seated a boy, whose business is to spirt water from his mouth through a small tube, when any one is so kind as to open a pipe underground, by a key, which pipe communicates with one from the top of the tower, which conveys the water from a cistern fixed near the top; near this fountain stands a boy, grasping in his hands a snake, which is wound about one leg; but the boy holds him fast in defiance: this is the serpent alcohol. On the right of the boy stands an angel to strengthen him. Theobald Mathew is standing back, and over this group, in a figure larger than life, with his right hand pointing to the fountain, while his left arm rests upon a pedestal. Above all this stands the testimonial, the door facing the west. Two dogs are resting upon a pedestal at the entrance; both are portraits of one dog, who saved the lives of eight men who fell into the Thames. He was elected a member of the Humane Society of London, and now wears a gold collar. Next the door stand two warriors, one a Roman, the other a British officer, representing the two religions.

Peeping over the wall is the head of a gray horse, and around the tower are various statues; the first is Fidelity, represented by a female with a dog looking up to her face; Faith, with a cross; Hope, with an anchor; Charity, with a child in her arms; and Plenty, with a bunch of wheat in her hand.

The tower is circular, though all in one massive pillar, yet it has the appearance of two, one smaller and taller, with the union jack waving from the top. There are two apartments in this tower, the window cases and frames are of fluted oak, surmounted by carved heads, stucco-work is over these, and continued along the ceiling. Inclosed in a glass shade, on a rosewood pedestal, is a model bust of the apostle Mathew, and over this, one of the Right Rev. Dr. Murphy, Bishop of the Catholic church. A massive chimney-piece has upon it a basso-relievo figure of Father Mathew, holding in one hand Britannia, in the other Erin, the emblems of both countries surrounding them. A large chandelier is suspended from the ceiling, and the upper portions of the windows are of stained glass. This circular room is sixteen feet in diameter.

This description is minutely given because there are pleasant and painful reminiscences of my visit to that spot. Theobald Mathew was there, he is now in the land of my fathers; friends were there that will meet me no more; and the generous heart was there who fitted this enchanting elysium for the man he so much honored, and for the happy resort of friends who might honor him too. The cottage, the garden, and testimonial are there. The hyacinth, the rose, the holly, and fir, are still blooming in fragrance and verdure; but, alas! the heart that designed and the hand that completed them are cold in the dust. That relentless scourge the cholera, which has spared neither age nor station, has laid him low; and who will trim afresh that hill-side, and brighten the neat cottage and pretty summer-house, for the happy eye and sweet resting spot of the visitor and stranger? Who will keep open the welcome gate that introduces to shrubbery walks of arbutus and flower-beds; and to the chaste testimonial, which has been and must be the admiration of every eye that has rested upon it? Will it fall into hands that will add fresh garlands to honor the memory of him who erected it? Who will still say to every lover of temperance and beauty, "Come in freely and banquet on these delights of nature and of art?" Or will contracted minds and penurious hearts close its gates to all but aristocratic passports and shilling fees? Let sacred respect for the honor of the generous departed forbid it; and let love for the benevolent apostle to whom it was dedicated, forbid it.

While penning these pages, intelligence of the death of O'Connor was forwarded me by the pen of one who first introduced me to that spot, and this circumstance prompts to the insertion of the following documents, as a tribute of respect due to the deceased, and which to me are doubly valued, because this tribute did not wait till he to whom it was owing should be no more. What a comment on good sense and justice, what a mockery of the dead, to write eulogiums and build costly monuments to him who, while living, was carelessly neglected, or willfully despised! O'Connor's history, as was related by a friend, was simply this: He was the son of a poor widow, belonging to a rural district, and was early sent to Cork, where he acquired the trade of a tailor, and by persevering industry, good conduct, and economy, he became first in the profession of a merchant tailor, and through his shears he amassed a handsome fortune, before reaching the meridian of life. With this fortune, let the Mathew Testimonial tell part of the honorable use he made of his money. He had no family, but his attachment to friends was deeply manifest in the love he bore toward the sister, who lived with him in the cottage on Mount Patrick. He left it when she was buried, and said he could never tarry in it another night, and observed that it was purely out of respect to strangers that he ever visited it.