A Tour to Connaught: Letter IV.

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 23, December 1, 1832.

To the Editor of the Dublin Penny Journal.

Well, Terence O'Toole, you will prove yourself a right worthy Milesian, if you can make any thing of Kinnegad. A learned wight, in the last Penny Journal, says, `Terence knows something of Irish Topography," and with recondite insight into the ETYMON of my Christian name, announces that it means, in Irish, "the Tower-like." I suspect he is the least in life mistaken, and may be set right by the substitution of one letter, and should have said that Toirdhealbhach, meant "Tour-like;" and, verily, I must like tour-making very much, when I would venture to describe the amenities of Kinnegad. Like most towns in east and west Meath "a lean place amidst fat lands." What a sleepy spot: few up and doing, but the cur dogs and beggars. The bugle of the passing coach sends its clangor along the quiet street, it reverberates amongst the mud walls and dunghills--the lazy cobler lifts his head from his last, and scratches, significantly, beneath his woollen nightcap--the taylor lays down his goose, scratches ruminatingly at the organ of destructiveness, and stares at the passing vehicle--the tinker's ass brays responsively as the guard blows--the sow rises from her wallowing in the green puddle that stinks and festers before the huxter's door, to grunt in unison--mendicants and cur dogs rush forth and surround us, the one barking, the other begging. Oh, why have we not the pencil of a Wilkie or an Ostade, a Callot or Delia Bella, to picture the grouping of a coach changing horses at an Irish village. Here I challenge all the mendicant countries in Christendom, to match me Ireland in the trade, or costume, or aptitude for begging--France, Italy, aye, even Spain itself, must yield the palm. Where, under the sun, could you find such eloquence of complaint-- such versatility of supplication--such aptitude of humour --suiting, with felicitous tact, the appeal to the well guessed character of the applicand? Observe, there is always a leader of the begging band, who controls the rest, and asserts a manifest superiority in striking the keynote of supplication. Take, for instance, the queen bee, or rather wasp, of the Kinnegad swarm that surrounded us: what a tall, sturdy, sinewy virago--her dark rapid eye, bespeaking her quick spirit--her powerful form, the danger of disputing with her--her sallow skin and sharp features, that the pabulum of her existence was drawn more from whiskey than from wholesome eatables: alas, for the body, soul, and spirit of that being whose existence depends on whiskey and potatoes. Look at her, with her filthy faltering hand fixed now on the coach door, in the attitude of threatening requisition, and almost frightening a delicate female within into the reluctant bestowment of sixpence. Again, see with what a leer of cunning she addresses herself in flattering guise to an outside passenger, and how knowingly she smokes a youth with a cigar in his mouth, and while coaxing him out of a penny, which he flung at her head, she played upon the puffer, offered to lend him her dudeen, quizzed him for his parsimony, in attempting to smoke and chew at the same time from the same tabaccy twist, and exhibited him in the truth of his nature, as a jackanapes. Then she moved off to the rear of the coach, and commenced flattering a farming sort of young man, large, rude, and ruddy. "Och! then is that yourself, Master Tom--I hope your honour's heifers sold well last market--maybe it's yourself that has'nt the pocketfull of money coming out of Smithfield--and long may your father and your father's son reign, for it's he that's the good warrant to give to the poor--my blessing, and the blessing of poor Judy's children light upon him every day he gets up, for it's he that never passes through Kinnegad without throwing me a silver shilling. Do, Master Tom, and the heavens be your bed, throw us a half-crown, and we'll divide honestly. Yes, your honour, I know you'll be afther putting your hand in your pocket. Molly, agra," turning to another beggarwoman, "what a sweet smile Master Tom carries--isn't he as like the dear man his father, as if he was spit out of his mouth--but why shouldn't he be good, seeing as how he's the rale ould sort, none of your upstart jackeens." Here a sixpence, thrown at her head, rewarded her pains, and immediately she turned to a respectable looking man, with broad brimmed hat and sad coloured attire, who stood on the other side of the vehicle, preparing to mount. "Do, your riverence, throw us a tester before you go, and soon and safe may you return, for the prayer of the fatherless and widow will be along wid ye--blessing on his sweet, charitable face-- would'nt ye see, Honor," addressing herself to another beggarwoman, "with the wink of an eye, that there was a heart within him for the poor." Here Honor interposed--"Judy Mulcahey, and bad luck to yes, why call the gentleman his Riverence, when you know no more than my sucking child whether he be a clargy at all, at all." "Yes, but I do know, and for why shouldn't I; don't I see his galligaskins covering so tignt and nate his comfortable legs--blessings on his Riverence every day he rises"--and then, in an under voice, and turning to a beggarman behind her, "Jack, what matters it to the likes of uz, whether he be the right sort or not--what concarn is it to Judy and the childer, whether he be priest, parson, or methody preacher, so as I slewder him out of sixpence. Do, your Riverence, do, and the poor widow's blessing attend ye, throw something before ye's go amongst us." Thus she carried on her attacks--praised and joked-- prayed and imprecated--now a blessing, now a blasphemy--and when the guard sang out "all's right," and the coach drove off, she heaped curses, for shear fun sake, upon all those whom, for herself and fellows, she failed to put under contribution--and then for the whiskey shop, to dissolve, with all rapidity, the proceeds of her morning's occupation. But "adieu to the village delights."

"Strange," says our English fellow traveller, as we passed along some beautiful pasturage lands westward of the village, "that a soil seemingly so rich, does not produce cheese: is it the fault of your land, or is it owing to the laziness of your people, that Ireland, even from her richest soils, produces none?" "I beg your pardon, sir," said I, "in my younger days I remember eating cheese made in this vicinity. To be sure, the manufacture of Kinnegad was not equal to that of Berkeley Hundred, and was, in sooth, a tough, thin, leathery sort of thing, very like, when cut into slices, so many razor strops, and I agree with you that it is very strange that our confessedly rich pastures cannot supply good cheese, though I have known great pains taken by sundry spirited landed proprietors to produce a good article, and still the attempt proved abortive, though the method of manufacture, the machinery and the makers were brought over from the most approved places in England, as Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire; they made cheese to be sure, but it proved not either Cheshire, Gloucester, or Stilton." "Gentlemen," said a shrewd farming-looking fellow-traveller, "this may not be so strange as many superficial observers might be apt to suppose. The failure, instead of proving a mark of inferiority in our pasture lands, only serves as a proof of their abundant and succulent fertility. The truth is, and on this subject I am informed by a good practical chemist, that our Irish soils laid out for dairy husbandry supply the cream instead of the curd; or as my friend in learned phrase said, they enrich the cow with more of the butryaceous than the caseous matter. If unable to produce cheese in sufficient quality or quantity, we can yet supply abundantly our own and foreign markets with butter the best in the world. The bounties of Providence are various, and every country has its peculiar blessing. France has her wine--Italy her oil--England her cheese--Ireland her beef and her butter; and as my farm in Westmeath supplies me with my daily `mate, washing, and lodging,' I do not envy the Englishman his bread, cheese, and ale." There, Mr. Editor, was a sensible fellow, and just the sort of intelligent Irish farmer I would like more frequently to meet with.

In a short time we came in sight, for the first time, of one of those red bogs which are so numerous and extensive in the centre of Ireland, and which, as in a great measure linked, though here and there separated by gravel hills and belts of arable land, form what is called the Bog of Allen. That part of it which now came into view extends south-westwards the high and fertile Hill of Croghan. "Is it not," said I, "a disgrace to the science, the skill, the enterprise and wealth of the nineteenth century, that these immense wastes should still pervade our island, when a teeming population is calling out for land from whence it can draw sustenance, and when thousands are seeking for settlements in the American forests." To this very trite remark the farming gentleman, who seemed so well informed as to cheese, replied, by observing, "that he had hopes that very shortly there would be some efficient means brought to bear upon these bogs, so as to bring them into productive cultivation; for," says he, "in that very bog we are now directing our attention to, a gentleman, Mr. F., either has began, or is about to commence a system which he saw practised with perfect success in Chatmoss--the red bog over which the rail-road runs on its way from Liverpool to Manchester--there by a judicious system of drainage, manuring, and cultivation, the bog has been brought to produce abundant crops of wheat; and, as I understand, he has contracted with a person from Chatmoss, who is himself conversant with the process there used, to bring either the whole, or part of the bog now before you, under similar cultivation, at an expense not exceeding £5. per acre." "This, indeed," I observed, "would be a truly patriotic experiment; and, if successful in bringing a red flow bog into such productiveness as to grow wheat, he would prove an eminent benefactor to his country. But, I confess, I have my misgivings as to any success such as may alter the face of one great flow bog; there may be some skirtings of them reclaimed; the black bogs, and such parts of the red as are so drained and compressed to have passed from their spongy, living, and growing state, may be cultivated, as I have seen them before now, but for a deep red bog, consisting of upwards of a thousand acres, plantation measure, and which is, in fact, so wet and loose in its centre as to resemble more a mass of stirabout or porridge than any thing else; 'a crude consistence,' as Milton called his Chaos, 'neither sea nor good dry land.' This to drain, to compress, to consolidate, will require a process carried on perseveringly through a series of years; and though the work should have a beginning, and should be made a great object of national expenditure, yet to have fields of corn waving in the space of one, two, or five years, where now the Bittern booms in safety, and which now is only productive of bog beans and bog berries, is too much to expect, and those who do expect it will surely be disappointed." "But, sir, though millions of acres may not, by any rapid progress, be brought under cultivation, yet the reclaiming of the skirts and more solid parts of these bogs, is a praiseworthy and patriotic attempt." "Allow me to ask, what is the process employed by those whom Mr. F. intends to employ?" "Why, sir, as far as I can understand, it consists in superficial draining, so as to allow horses shod with bog shoes or wooden pattens, to walk on and plough the moss. In the using of moveable wooden railways to cart on, gravel, lime, and manure--in bringing the surface to minute fineness, by ploughing, harrowing, and by keeping thus that surface neither too wet nor too dry, (for such a state is essential to its productiveness,) and, above all, by manuring what is expected to produce a good crop with farm-yard dung." "Well, Sir, I wish the experiment all success; and make no doubt but that, to a limited extent, it will turn out satisfactory; and all I would say, is, that if the landlords of Ireland, instead of spending their income abroad, despised and scorned as they are by the very people who live upon their folly, would come home and spend what they have to spend, in reclaiming a bog, or part of a bog on their estates, I think they would not only be more honoured, but happier men. After all, what is it forms the blessing, and what the curse of human life?--occupation--hopeful, legitimate occupation, the blessing--ennui, mental repose, without an object to fix on, or bodily leisure without a work to perform--the curse of nobility; this sends them grouping and trooping to the gambling table and the race ground. O, give these men the desire to improve a bog--procure such a hobby horse for them to ride--let them have this excuse, when urged to go off to Cheltenham, or to Spa, or Bareges, 'Oh, I have a great red bog to reclaim, and I must be up early and out late to mind MY WORK.' Why, sir, such men, instead of being the most unhappy, unworthy, shall I say cursed men in society, instead of lying heavy as lead upon heaps of down, why, sir, they would prove happy in themselves, and useful to others--the useful working ants in social life, instead of the ignavum pecus, but fruges consumere nati, they now are.

This is a pretty Mr. Toirdhealbhach, you work up your Tour to Connaught by twaddling about red bogs and bad landlords. Your pardon, good reader, sure my lucubrations are worth ten minutes of your time, or the fourth part of a penny.

Terence O'Toole.