Sir Walter Raleigh's House at Youghal, County Cork

From the Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 48, May 25, 1833

Sir Walter Raleigh's House at Youghal

The small town of Youghal, in the County of Cork, is a place of considerable antiquity and consequently possesses much interest for the stranger, which, doubtless, is not lessened when his attention is directed to the house and gardens once the residence of the celebrated Raleigh.

This house, which was originally the College, or residence of the Warden, Fellows, &c. of the Collegiate Church of Youghal, was founded, as already noticed in our 44th number, in the year 1464. But its present appearance exhibits more the ordinary style of the old English manor house of the age of Elizabeth and the first James, having been repaired by Sir George Carew, Lord President of Munster, in 1602, and again, in a few years after, at considerable expense, by Sir Richard Boyle, afterwards earl of Cork, being reduced almost to ruins during the Desmond rebellion. It was successively used as a residence by Sir Richard Norris and Sir George Carew, Lord Presidents of Munster, and by Sir Richard Boyle, which was made one of the articles of complaint against the latter by the Lord Strafford. It is now the property, and residence when at Youghal, of Lord Cork's descendant, the Duke of Devonshire.

Since its restoration in the commencement of the seventeenth century, the college house has undergone but little other change than the alteration of some of the windows; the walls are nearly five feet in thickness. The interior is in its original state; wainscotted throughout with fine old Irish oak, in excellent preservation. The pannels in some of the rooms are richly carved, especially in the drawing room, the chimney piece of which presents an exquisite specimen of the elaborate work of the day, being enriched with various grotesque figures and emblems. The roof being also of Irish oak has remained untouched, having apparently suffered nothing from the hand of time. This interesting place derives its present name, of Myrtle-grove, from the many beautiful myrtle trees which still flourish luxuriantly here; some of them having attained a height of nearly twenty feet.

The strawberry-arbutus also, and many other delicate shrubs, afford abundant evidence of the extreme mildness of the climate. These remind one strongly of the refined taste and feeling exhibited by Raleigh, in the cultivation and adornment of this, for some time, his favourite retreat from the turmoil and storms of Court life. In these gardens we are told he first propagated the potato, which he brought from America. Tradition says, that the person to whom he entrusted the care of those first planted, "imagining that the apple which grows on the stalk was the part to be used, gathered it, but not liking the taste, neglected the roots, till the ground being dug afterwards to sow some other grain, the potatoes were discovered therein, and to the great surprise of the planter, vastly increased; and from those few this country was furnished with seed."

It does not appear that Raleigh resided long here; a life of calm and unchequered repose seems to have been quite unsuited to his temperament. The following beautiful lines would almost induce one to think otherwise; but in truth nothing can be less indicative of the real tone of his enterprising mind, ever restless, ever bent on forming new projects. If, however, he wrote as he felt—and indeed every line seems convincingly to shew that he did so —we have only here an additional proof of the manner in which men, for a while, can cheat themselves into an utterly illusive estimate of their own dispositions and inch-nations:—

Heart-tearing cares and quiv'ring fears,

Anxious sighs, untimely tears,

Fly, fly to Courts,

Fly to fond worldlings' sports;

Where strain'd sardonic smiles are glosing still

And grief is forc'd to laugh against her will;

Where mirth's but mummery

And sorrows only real be.

Fly from our country pastimes, fly,

Sad troop of human misery!

Come, serene looks,

Clear as the crystal brooks,

Or the pure azur'd heaven that smiles to see

The rich attendance of our poverty.

Peace, and a secure mind,

Which all men seek, we only find.

Abused mortals, did you know

Where joy, heart's ease, and comforts grow,

You'd scorn proud towers,

And seek them in these bowers;

Where winds perhaps our woods may sometimes shake,

But blustering care could never tempest make,

Nor murmurs e'er come nigh us,

Saving of fountains that glide by us.

It is much to be regretted that but little of Raleigh's poetry should have come down to us, as he appears to have wooed the muse not unsuccessfully. His intimacy with Spenser is well known; and his biographer of the present day, Mr. Tytler, would have us to believe it is to is tasteful discernment and encouragement of the poet, rather than, according to the generally received opinion, the patronage of Sir Philip Sydney, that the world is indebted for the celebrated poem of the "Fairy Queen;" the three first cantos of which, having been submitted to Raleigh in an unfinished state, elicited such warm approbation as induced Spenser to persevere in completing it. Mr. Tytler's life of Raleigh, which has been recently published as No. XI of the Edinburgh Cabinet Library, forms an elegant little volume, and contains much information, hitherto unpublished, derived from state papers and other authentic sources; but is, however, rather scanty in its details respecting Raleigh's residence in, and connection with this country.

When Raleigh first visited Ireland, he was, indeed, a mere soldier of fortune. At an early age he had discovered a more than ordinary share of talent, and was pursuing his studies at Oriel College, at Oxford, when the wars of the Low Countries and France holding out an irresistible temptation to one of his adventurous disposition, he embarked, as volunteer, with a troop of one hundred gentlemen, which, by the permission and approbation of Elizabeth, were then proceeding to the aid of the Huguenots. The knowledge of military tactics, which he there acquired, speedily brought him into notice in this country, where he first landed in 1579, as a captain in a levy of troops, sent over from England to the Deputy, Lord Grey de Wilton, to assist in quelling the rebellion of the Desmonds, excited by the intrigues of Philip II. of Spain. The intrepidity and skill of the young soldier recommended him to the attention of the Lord Deputy and the Earl of Ormond, by whom he was quickly promoted to posts of considerable importance.

The Desmonds having been reduced to submission, Raleigh, to whom a life of inactivity would have been intolerable, hastened back to England, to push his fortunes there, under the auspices of his patron at Court, the gay and profligate Dudley, Earl of Leicester; enriched, however, by a grant of a considerable tract of the former territory of the Desmonds, which, having become forfeited to the Crown by their rebellion, had been parcelled out among the soldiers of Elizabeth's army as a reward for their services. Sir Richard Cox, and others following him, have said that Raleigh had but 12,000 acres granted to him, being led into this error by its hating been declared in the "Plot of the Queen's offer for the peopling of Munster" that no person was to be an undertaker for more than that quantity of land. It, however, appears that Raleigh had interest enough to procure a warrant of privy seal, dated February 3, 1585-6, granting him three seignories and an half, in the Counties of Cork and Waterford; and, accordingly, letters patent were passed dated the 16th of October, 29. Eliz.( 1586,) whereby the same were confirmed to him. The Privy Seal and Letters Patent above-mentioned were preserved among the papers of the Boyle family at Lismore castle.

It is said, that in point of territory and power, the earl of Desmond was one of the greatest subjects at that time in Europe. Independent of his vassals, he had five hundred gentlemen of his kindred and surname; and his attainder was followed by the confiscation of 574,628 English acres.

At the court of England it would appear that, even at this time, Raleigh bore no undistinguished or ignoble character. The discovery of that part of America, which he named Virginia, in honor of his royal mistress, brought him into great favour, and obtained for him the distinction of knighthood, her distribution of which, it is well known, was neither indiscriminate nor profuse. We find, also, that at the time of the expected invasion of England, by the Spanish fleet, which history informs us had been pompously but vainly designated by the title of the Invincible Armada, he was called to take an active part in the councils of the Queen. But the breezes of court favour have long been proverbially uncertain, and it is supposed that some difference with Essex, who, after the death of Leicester, held the highest place in the favour of Elizabeth, was the cause of Sir Walter's paying a visit to his estates in Ireland. How long he remained here is not well ascertained; and can only be conjectured from his having resided some time in the house represented in our illustration at Youghal; and from his having founded a free school at Lismore, the castle and manor of which formed part of his possessions in this country. He also spent some time on a visit with Spenser, at Kilcolman Castle, which had been allotted to the poet as his share of the spoil at the suppression of the Desmond rebellion—and on his return to England, Raleigh brought Spenser with him, and introduced him at Court, where he presented and dedicated to the Queen, the three first books of his poem.

Although Raleigh was afterwards much engaged both with his foreign expeditions, and attendance at Court, where he filled the office of Captain of the guard to Elizabeth, he, notwithstanding, continued to expend considerable sums upon the lands which had been granted to him in Ireland; which, as well from the mountainous nature of the tract, as from the turbulent and unsettled state of the country, proved anything but productive. At length, in 1602, he was induced to dispose of the entire of his Irish estates, to the well-known Richard Boyle, afterwards Earl of Cork, who coming over to England, presented to him a letter from Sir George Carew, the president of Munster, in which he drew such a picture of the state of that province, that Raleigh made little difficulty in concluding the bargain with the politic Boyle. The deed of sale bears date the 7th of December, 1602.

It has been said that in this sale Sir Walter Raleigh was overreached, being induced to dispose of his lands considerably at an under-value; and we confess that this does not seem to be at all satisfactorily cleared up, by a letter written by the same Earl of Cork, to Carew Raleigh, Sir Walter's son, who survived him, and who, probably, at this time was seeking to retrieve something from the wreck of his father's property. It is dated at Dublin, January 16th, 1631, and commences by a declaration from the Earl that, "he payed Sir Walter the full of what he owed him for his estate, long before this event;" namely the departure of Raleigh from the harbour of Cork, on the 6th of August, 1617, on his last voyage to the West Indies; and that "he purchased the estate at a time when it was utterly waste, and yielded him no profit." He then proceeds to state that, "Sir Walter's last coming into Ireland cost him above 1,000 marks, whereof he had supplied him in ready money with £350, besides the oxen, biscuit, beer, iron, and other necessaries he furnished him with." And adds, "that the day he took shipping upon his last fatal voyage from Cork, he dined with him at Sir Randal Clayton's house, where he let fall some speeches as if he was not fully furnished for his voyage, which the Earl observing, immediately procured him 100 French crowns, which he knew would be current money in any place he should put in to water, or victual.

After dinner he and the Earl withdrawing to a window, the Earl offered him £100 more, telling him he feared, from his discourse, that he was not sufficiently furnished with money for his voyage, and therefore made him this offer; which he refused, protesting that all his defects were supplied by the Earl, beyond his hope or expectation; adding that, if he was driven into any harbour, he had jewels that he would sell, rather than take any more money from him. Upon which he called to him the Lord Barry, the Lord Roch, his son Mr. Walter Raleigh, Captain Whitney, and several others who dined there, and taking his son by the hand, told him and the other gentlemen, how that the Earl had kept a continual open house for three weeks, to entertain him and all his company; that he had supplied his ships with several kinds of provisions, and with £350 in ready money, and had given money to most of the captains of his fleet, and that the Earl would now press £100 more upon him, which he did not want; and addressing himself to his son, said—Wat, you see how nobly my Lord Boyle hath entertained me and my friends, and, therefore, I charge you, upon my blessing, if it please God that you outlive me and return, that you never question the Lord Boyle for anything that I have sold him; for if he had not bought my Irish land, it would have fallen to the Crown, and then one Scot or other would have begged it, from whom neither I nor mine should have anything for it, nor such courtesies as now I have received. And thereupon the Earl accompanied him to the boat, where, at taking leave, Sir Walter repeated all the Earl's civilities. And this, says Lord Cork, was the last time I ever saw him."

For the gratification of our readers, we give a fac simile of Sir Walter's autograph, and a wood-cut of an impression of his private seal, copied from Mr. Tytler's able and interesting work. Why is it that moderns spell Sir Walter's surname, Raleigh, while he himself and his cotemporaries write it almost invariably Ralegh, omitting the i?