Irish Scenery

By Thomas Davis

WE no more see why Irish people should not visit the Continent than why Germans or Frenchmen ought not to visit Ireland; but there is a difference between them. A German rarely comes here who has not trampled the heath of Tyrol, studied the museums of Dresden and the frescoes of Munich, and shouted defiance on the bank of the Rhine; and what Frenchman who has not seen the vineyards of Provence and the bocages of Brittany, and the snows of Jura and the Pyrenees, ever drove on an Irish jingle? But our nobles and country gentlemen, our merchants, lawyers, and doctors--and what's worse, their wives and daughters--penetrate Britain and the Continent without ever trying whether they could not defy in Ireland the ennui before which they run over seas and mountains.

The cause of this, as of most of our grievances, was mis-government, producing poverty, discomfort, ignorance, and misrepresentation. The people were ignorant and in rags, their houses miserable, the roads and hotels shocking; we had no banks, few coaches, and to crown all, the English declared the people to be rude and turbulent, which they were not, as well as drunken and poor, which they assuredly were. An Irish landlord who had ill-treated his own tenants felt a conscientious dread of all frieze-coats, others adopted his prejudices, and a people, who never were rude or unjust to strangers, were considered unsafe to travel amongst.

Most of these causes are removed. The people are sober, and are rapidly advancing to knowledge, their political exertions and dignity have broken away much of the prejudices against them, and a man passing through any part of Ireland expects to find woful poverty and strong discontent, but he does not fear the abduction of his wife, or attempts to assassinate him on every lonely road. The coaches, cars, and roads, too, have become excellent, and the hotels are sufficient for any reasonable traveller. One very marked discouragement to travelling was the want of information; the maps were little daubs, and the guide-books were few and inaccurate. As to maps we are now splendidly off. The Railway Commissioners' Map of Ireland, aided by the Ordnance Index Map of any county where a visitor makes a long stay, are ample. We have got a good general guide-book in Fraser, but it could not hold a twentieth of the information necessary to a leisurely tourist; nor, till the Ordnance Memoir is out shall we have thorough hand-books to our counties. Meantime let us not burn the little guides to Antrim, Wicklow, and Killarney, though they are desperately dull and inexact--let us not altogether prohibit Mrs. Hall's gossip, though she knows less about our Celtic people than the Malays; and let us be even thankful for Mr. O'Flanagan's volume of the Munster Blackwater (though it is printed in London), for his valuable stories, for his minute, picturesque, and full topography, for his antiquarian and historic details, though he blunders into making Alaster M'Donnell a Scotchman, and for his hearty love of the scenery and people he has undertaken to guide us through.

And now, reader, in this fine soft summer, when the heather is blooming, and the sky laughing and crying like a hysterical bride, full of love, where will ye go--through your own land or a stranger's? If you stay at home you can choose your own scenery, and have something to see in the summer, and talk of in the winter, that will make your friends from the Alps and Apennines respectful to you.

Did you propose to study economies among the metayers of Tuscany or the artisans of Belgium, postpone the trip till the summer of '45 or '46, when you may have the passport of an Irish office to get you a welcome, and seek for the state of the linen weavers in the soft hamlets of Ulster--compare the cattle herds of Meath with the safe little holdings of Down and the well-fought farms of Tipperary, or investigate the statistics of our fisheries along the rivers and lakes and shores of our island.

Had a strong desire come upon you to toil over the glacier, whose centre froze when Adam courted Eve, or walk amid the brigand passes of Italy or Spain--do not fancy that absolute size makes mountain grandeur, or romance--to a mind full of passion and love of strength (and with such only do the mountain spirits walk) the passes of Glenmalure and Barnesmore are deep as Chamouni, and Carn Tual and Slieve Donard are as near the lightning as Mount Blanc.

To the picture-hunter we can offer little, though Vandyke's finest portrait is in Kilkenny, and there is no county without some collection; but for the lover of living or sculptured forms --for the artist, the antiquarian, and the natural philosopher, we have more than five summers could exhaust. Every one can see the strength of outline, the vigour of colour, and the effective grouping in every fair, and wake, and chapel, and hurling-ground, from Donegal to Waterford, though it may take the pen of Griffin or the pencil of Burton to represent them. An Irishman, if he took the pains, would surely find something not inferior in interest to Cologne or the Alhambra in study of the monumental effigies which mat the floors of Jerpoint and Adare, or the cross in a hundred consecrated grounds from Kells to Clonmacnoise--of the round towers which spring in every barony--of the architectural perfection of Holycross and Clare-Galway, and the strange fellowship of every order in Athassel, or of the military keeps and earthen pyramids and cairns, which tell of the wars of recent, and the piety of distant centuries. The Entomology, Botany, and Geology of Ireland are not half explored; the structure and distinctions of its races are but just attracting the eyes of philosophers from Mr. Wilde's tract, and the country is actually full of airs never noted, history never written, superstitions and romances never rescued from tradition; and why should Irishmen go blundering in foreign researches when so much remains to be done here, and when to do it would be more easy, more honourable, and more useful?

In many kinds of scenery we can challenge comparison. Europe has no lake so dreamily beautiful as Killarney; no bays where the boldness of Norway unites with the colouring of Naples, as in Bantry; and you might coast the world without finding cliffs so vast and so terrible as Achill and Slieve League. Glorious, too, as the Rhine is, we doubt if its warmest admirers would exclude from rivalry the Nore and the Blackwater, if they had seen the tall cliffs, and the twisted slopes, and the ruined aisles, and glancing mountains, and feudal castles through which you boat up from Youghal to Mallow, or glide down from Thomastown to Waterford harbour. Hear what Inglis says of this Avondhu--

"We have had descents of the Danube, and descents of the Rhine, and the Rhone, and of many other rivers; but we have not in print, as far as I know, any descent of the Blackwater; and yet, with all these descents of foreign rivers in my recollection, I think the descent of the Blackwater not surpassed by any of them. A detail of all that is seen in gliding down the Blackwater from Cappoquin to Youghal would fill a long chapter. There is every combination that can be produced by the elements that enter into the picturesque and the beautiful--deep shades, bold rocks, verdant slopes, with the triumphs of art superadded, and made visible in magnificent houses and beautiful villas with their decorated lawns and pleasure-grounds."

And now, reader, if these kaleidoscope glimpses we have given you have made you doubt between a summer in Ireland and one abroad, give your country "the benefit of the doubt," as the lawyers say, and boat on our lake or dive into our glens and ruins, wonder at the basalt coast of Antrim, and soften your heart between the banks of the Blackwater.