Stop at Ponton and Arrival at Castlebar

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (13) | Start of Chapter

We soon found ourselves on the borders of the celebrated Ponton Lakes; but who shall describe them? "Why," said one in Ballina, "among all the tourists who have visited Ireland, have none more particularly described these lakes, and the whole scenery?" For this plain reason, description must here fail. There is so much in such varied confusion and beauty, that nothing is particularly marked; the eye is lost in the view as a whole. Before the famine, I was whirled one cold day over the one-arched bridge by a surly coachman, who, in answer to my inquiries of the picturesque scenery, said, "That it was a divil of a starved rocky place, and he was glad when he saw the end on't." The lakes on this sunny day had the finest opportunity to set off their transparency; and for many miles they glistened, widening and narrowing, bordered by all manner of fantastic rocks and heath, till we reached the Ponton Bridge, which passes over a narrow neck, connecting the two lakes. These lakes are called Cullen and Coma. The current flows different ways in the course of the day, as Lough Cullen has no vent but to discharge its overflowing waters into the larger lake.

Lord Lucan has built an hotel, police barracks, and a few cottages, under the wooded rocks which overlook Lough Cullen; but all seem quite deserted under Cummer mountain, having only a care-taker to tell its pedigree. The rocks are thrown together upon one side, in masses, as if ready to fall asunder; some lying at the foot of cliffs, as if precipitated from them, and one of immense weight is poised upon a summit, by a small point, which to the passer-by appears as if jostling ready to fall; and we were told that a skein of silk could be drawn between the two rocks. We took the road from the lower lake to the left, and followed the tortuous ravine till we reached a small one-arched bridge, opposite which is a most picturesque barren island, covered with heath, and a black rock, which contrast beautifully with the blue water of the lake; the wooded hillocks, bordering the lakes with varied foot-paths, give the visitor all the advantages of pleasant views from their elevation upon the bold expanse, and the rocky shore upon the other side.

In its moss-covered rocks, and richly wooded hills, Ponton resembles Glengariffe, but it wants the curling smoke between the rocks, and the tree-tops, ascending from turf cabins, and here and there a flaxen-headed urchin upon the top of the thatch to make the whole picture. We wound along, meeting now and then a sudden peep, through trees, on the path which leads three miles farther to the once tasteful domain of Mr. Anderson, which afterward I visited with Mrs. Bourke, and found the mansion desolate, the walks grown up with weeds; and all the ancient grandeur, which once was here displayed, reminds one of the old blasted fortunes of a hunter, who had exhausted his wine-casks, drunk the last health, and sounded the last horn over these broad lakes, and now tattered and slip-shod, was recounting his hunting valor in some shebeen house, where whisky, pipes, and song enliven the present, and put out all light of the past. The declining sun warned my friends that they must return; leaving me to walk, or sit upon a stone, while waiting for the coach that was to take me to Castlebar. I saw the last wave of the hands of the kind young ladies and flirting of the handkerchiefs of the little Kellys, as they whirled around the point which took me from their sight. It was not a mawkish sentimentality that made me feel like giving up the coming lonely hours to an indulgence of weeping. I was alone, in a land of strangers, amid famine, pestilence, and death, going I scarcely know where, and could not expect to find another Ballina before me; and the last few weeks served to heighten the contrast of what had been suffered, and what must rationally be expected to await me. The coach came, and shut me in, and no more was seen till Castlebar was reached. Here was a town that had tasted deeply the cup of woe; she had a splendid poorhouse, and it lacked no inmates, yet the streets were filled with beggars. Many beautiful seats of respectable families are about the town, some in tolerable vigor, and some giving the last look upon former grandeur. Some interesting facts are recorded of this old assize town.

Many trees have borne on their limbs the bodies of miserable culprits; and now the more genteel drop effects the same work in a different way.