Visit to Ballina

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (11) | Start of Chapter

But Croy Lodge must not be forgotten. In and around it, upon the exciting sea-shore, was much that would have given delight, had all been as plentiful about every hearth and table as was around the one at which I was sitting. The first Sabbath after my arrival, a written invitation from an officer of the coastguard was sent us to attend church service across the strand in his watchhouse. An open boat conveyed the family and myself to the thatched station-house, where in tasteful array were arranged officers, and all the instruments for killing, hanging in glistening order upon the walls, while in the midst of this embryo battle-field the young curate from Belmullet read his prayers and sermon in a most becoming manner; and we returned in company with Mr. Hamilton, the coast-guard officer, who closed the evening by reading and prayer. A Sabbath of singular mixture—boating, prayers, and warlike paraphernalia, all in the same breath; by ministers, officers, and hunters, all believing and practicing these different professions. Religion is strangely stirred up in Ireland, it makes a kind of hodge-podge in everything, and is marked with little or no distinction in anything.

Monday, a visit to Doona across the strand, introduced me to some curiosities. The tide was ebbing, and for a quarter of a mile before reaching the castle we were to visit, we saw stumps of large trees, which centuries ago must have been a rich grove, though not a tree at present is anywhere on the coast, and the sea now occupies the entire lawn, where these once stood. The family residing near the castle are of respectable lineage, by the name of Daly, and in true Irish ancient style set before us meat, bread, and potatoes, the last the greatest compliment that could be paid to a guest. The castle, Maxwell says, was built by Granauile; but not so, its whole structure is so different, its walls so much thicker than any in the days of Grana's reign, that its date must have been centuries before. Its history has an incident which will render it a lasting name.

Not a century ago, the christening of a farmer's child was in progress one night in a house near by—the waiting-boy was sent to get a fresh supply of turf—he dropped his torch of bogwood among the dry heap, which was piled in the castle, which so heated the walls that they crackled and tumbled, and in their fall set fire to a multitude of casks of contraband spirits. The explosion so frightened the jolly inmates, that they fled in dreadful terror from the ruins, and they now stand as that night's festival left them, giving the solitary advantage of showing the thickness of the walls, and the curious construction of a building, whose true origin has not been certainly defined. Once, it was a spot of proud grandeur; now a heap of desolation marks the whole for many a mile, where gardens and groves once were planted.

Wednesday morning, at five, I took a car for Bangor, met the mail-coach, and went through a cold, dreary country for twenty miles, to Crossmolina. A little cultivation and a few trees tell the traveler that the town is near. Six miles further we reached the hospitable house of Peter Kelly, mentioned in these pages—and surely no character is better deserved than is his for that excellent trait; and the kindness I received under his roof never can be forgotten. Such families should live in the records of history as pleasant mementoes for the grateful, and examples for the parsimonious, that if such can be taught, they may have the benefit of using hospitality without grudging. The cheerful sacrifices made in the house, that I might not only stay, but be made comfortable, were so in contrast with the pinching and squeezing which often is met in families of the "would-be-thought hospitable," that surely it might be said, that he descended from a generous stock, as instinct not cultivation seemed entirely the spring of action in him.

The remembrance of Ballina is "sweet and pleasant to the soul." That "Codnach of gentle flood," , the sweet river Moyne, that flows quietly and richly through the green meadows there, must leave pleasant associations in the minds of all lovers of nature who have wandered upon its banks. Though it was in the dark days of the famine, in the dreary month of February, that I entered Ballina, yet everything looked as if men and women of good taste and good feeling dwelt there. It was here that the indefatigable Kincaid labored and died, in the year 1847. His simple tablet hangs in the church where he preached; but he needed no marble monument, for his name will be held in everlasting remembrance. "He was eyes to the blind, and the cause he knew not he sought out." Free from sectarianism, he relieved all in his power, and spoke kindly to the bowed down; he wiped the tear from the eye of the widow and fatherless, and brought joy and gladness into the abodes of those who were "forgotten by their neighbors." He had a co-worker in his labors of love, who died a little before the famine, in the person of Captain Short. He had been a naval officer; but by the grace of God had become a follower of the meek and lowly Jesus, and devoted his time, talents, and wealth, to the cause of God and his fellow-creatures. In their lives, these two, like Jonathan and David, were united; and in their deaths they were not long divided. Mr. Kincaid, who was but thirty-five, left a widow, and son and daughter. The widow is worthy to bear his name. She too, like him, is found among the poor, promoting their temporal and spiritual good in every possible way. In her are united much that makes woman appear in that dignified light, that tells for what she is intended, and what she might be, if kept from the trammels of a false education, and early brought into the covenant of grace.

I met the widow of Captain Short in the wilds of Erris, and her name and remembrance were pleasant to my heart. In her house in Ballina I passed happy hours. She entered feelingly into my object in visiting Ireland, and it is but just to say, that though not one pound was then at my command to give in charity, yet had thousands been in my possession to bestow, I could not have wished more kindness than was manifested to me then. Their courtesy seemed to be of the genuine kind flowing from the heart. The town has a population of ten thousand inhabitants, Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Roman Catholics; the latter claiming the majority. The ladies here were much interested for the poor; a society for spinning and knitting was in operation, and the eagerness of the women to procure work was affectingly manifested on the day of meeting, when crowds would be waiting in the hall, some falling upon their knees, begging for spinning to be given them, when the most that spinners could earn would be eightpence a week. Those who prepared the flax by hackeling could earn from eighteen-pence to two shillings a week. So far have manufactures cheapened this work, that the ladies who give it lose at that low price. The distress of Ballina was increasing, the poor-law system is impoverishing all the middle classes, who must become paupers, if not beggars, unless their taxes are reduced. No complaint was made in this place of the partiality or neglect of relieving officers, all seemed to bless the hand that fed them; and however rebellious the Connaught people may be, no indications were here given of insurrection.

The Baptist minister, who is a missionary, stationed there, with his praiseworthy wife and children, has been an instrument of doing much good. Without being a proselyter, he had gathered a church counting nearly a hundred, chiefly from the Romish population; his humble chapel stands open, the seats free; and passers-by often step in from curiosity, and stay from inclination, till their hearts become impressed with the truth, and they are finally led to unite in building up a church which they once supposed was heresy. The character of this missionary may be told in a few words which a lady in the Protestant church uttered, in answer to—"Who is the most active laborer in town among the poor?" "Mr. Hamilton does the most good with the least noise, of any man among us."

A respectable banking-house is established in the town, at the head of which is an Englishman; his active wife is an Irish lady. They are friends to Ireland, and not blind to the causes of its evils.

It has been remarked, that most of the English who reside in Ireland become quite attached to both country and people, prejudices being blunted by nearer acquaintance. The six weeks of pleasant acquaintance there cultivated, must be exchanged for different scenes. This old seat of kings, with its raths, stones of memorial, green meadows, gentle flowing Moyne, and abbeys, but above all the people, courteous in manner, and kind in action, must be left forever.