A Tour to Connaught: Letter V (Gaulstown, and tobaco growing in Ireland).

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 24, December 8, 1832.

To the Editor of the Dublin Penny Journal.

SIR--A journey any where on the outside of a coach, becomes, after a time, rather a tedious and undesirable thing. Conversation with your fellow travellers begins to lag--materials for discourse before long wear down to the fag end--your animal spirits are almost all decanted off, and dregs are beginning to come with the clearer liquid; and this more especially, if the country is uninteresting--nothing to catch or fix attention. This I found to be the case on leaving Kinnegad. Suppose, says I, I change my position--try the people at the rere of the coach, as I had already my fellow travellers in front. I remember once making an experiment of this sort in England: travelling through Cumberland, a man at Kendal appeared from the travellers' room of the inn, to take a ride (as the English have it,) on our vehicle as far as Ambleside. He was a broad-faced, broad-shouldered, broad bottomed sort of a man; his hat was broad-brimmed--his coat must have been broad-cloth, cut broad and to the selvage, or else it would not have compassed him--his calves were broad--his galligaskins broader--and cased in square-toed shoes, his broad foot was wide and weighty enough to have crushed a tortoise or an armadillo; but what specially caught my attention, (for stall-fed men are very common in England,) was a most magnificent beard--an Aga of Janisseries might have envied its exuberant flow--a Russian Papa, for the mere merit of such a beard, would have deserved the Patriarchate of Moscow; flowing adown his ample chest and protuberant abdomen, it expanded itself in waving richness--unlike the bardic beard, it streamed not like a meteor in the troubled air--no, but as the grey morning mist reposes on the mountain side, so this virile adjunct lay incumbent on his paunch--and what was more remarkable, its pepper and salt hue seemed to have been matched with sedulous selection in the colour of his coat, which, mounted with broad and exquisitely polished steel buttons, reflected, in a thousand positions, the extravagant beard, and gave, as it were, so many miniature pictures of the hirsute ornament. This must be a singularity, thinks I to myself; a man who would venture thus to go forth before the world, must be no common man. This is a brave original, a man so unique in his exterior must have a oneness of mind, and let what will happen, I'll get into conversation with him; so with a world of maneuvering, I at length so managed as to get beside him, and immediately commenced an attempt at conversation--of course began with the weather. "It's a fine day, Sir." "Umph!" "Morning rather sharp though!" "Umph!" "Country beautifully diversified." "Umph!" "Varied outline of hills."

"Umph!" To make my story as short as it should be, he "umphed" me whenever I addressed a sentence to him, and looked so grave and grumpy, that he actually put my forwardness to silence, and for the first time Irish loquacity was brought to fault before an English "sumph;" and I think I was never so delighted as when this personification of a grey and shaggy goat, relieved me from his presence, and the coach of his weight, at Ambleside. Therefore I have ever since been cautious how I trust to outside promise; but there is one manifestation I am never out in--a young man with a cigar in his mouth, and who is constantly polishing up his whiskers--"faenum habet in cornu" "she has a knob in her horns," is not a bad mark of a cross cow--"quiddum habet in ore" is not a bad test of an empty minded gemmen--good for nothing but blowing a puff--I always move off from such. In my present movement from the front to the rere of the coach, I certainly met with a queer fellow, a Tobacco farmer, from the county of Wexford; as clever, intelligent, and active minded man in his way, as ever I came across. He was on his way to the west, to dispose of his crop of tobacco, which he had reared and saved on his farm near Enniscorthy. He and I, in a few minutes, got into full converse concerning the growing of this extraordinary plant, which, contrary to nature and common sense, in spite of the preaching of divines, sneers of satirists, and the "Counterblast" of a mighty king, has increased in use, and is increasing, so as to be one of the greatest objects of agriculture and commerce, and the amplest source of fiscal wealth in the world; extending itself every clay as a growing custom, though, as worthy King James in his "Counterblast" says, that "it is loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless." But what is all this to the shrewd fellow who now sat beside me, who seemed, with no little pleasure, to tell forth to any one that would listen to him, what it was that brought him and his neighbours into the tobacco culture, and how much he had made in a few years by it. It seems that at the commencement of the war of the American revolution, a law, was passed, by way of punishing the Virginia planters, permitting the Irish to grow and cure tobacco. This proved a profitless statute for Ireland, and none took advantage of it, or attempted, in our cold and variable climate, to embark in the culture, save and except a mad, speculating, uncle of my own, who ventured on a sowing of fifteen acres, and lost three hundreds pounds, and three thousand cares, upon the experiment. But within the last seven years, the culture had crept in amongst the Wexford farmers. A young man from the vicinity of Enniscorthy, had been over in Maryland, and on his return he brought some seed, and some experience, and encouraged his brother to commence the culture, which he did on a moderate scale, as few ventured on the husbandry beyond the means of drying and saving afforded by their own houses and families. It turned out one of the best things imaginable; and from half an acre, £100. sometimes £200, have been produced. It was a pity that such a culture was found so materially to interfere with the fiscal regulations of the Government, as to require its annihilation by Act of Parliament , for it was just the thing calculated for Ireland--a culture which required little capital and numerous hands--which called into operation the usefulness of every inmate of an Irish cabin, from the grown man to the women and children--a cultivation which depended for its success, on the cleanliness, the exactitude, and attention which was bestowed on it--was likely, in respect to other matters of rural economy, to produce a similar nicety of management, and so, in process of time, counteract the slovenly habits of the people. My companion was an evident proof "that the Irish, when they see their way clearly before them, and when they know that their labour and skill will bring returns to themselves, and not to others, are as industrious as any people under the sun. He had made hay while the sun shone, and confessed that holding as he did a farm of 16 acres, he had realised by tobacco, in the space of seven years, £ 1,200. But he certainly was no idler; for besides growing the plant, he had constituted himself factor amongst his neighbours--and buying up their crops when saved, his business was to proceed through the towns, and more especially those where Irish grown tobacco was not heard of, and there sell it, sometimes, as the case might be, at a discount, because it was Irish--sometimes, with softer dealers, as prime Virginia. This man, it may be expected, was not very measured in his reprehension of the Irish Secretary, for putting an extinguisher on the trade; and he made no secret of his intention of endeavouring to evade the new Act, and of his ability to do so; and these feelings, and these intentions, had evidently a bad influence on his mind--and such will ever be the effect of severe fiscal laws; they will induce people to believe that there is no moral wrong committed in their breach or their evasion; they tend, therefore, to break down the barrier of invioability which should encompass all existing law, and afford a conventional excuse, if not a license, for the smuggler, the poacher, and the illicit distiller, which, as a breaker of THE LAW, he should not have: the man stands relieved, by the equity of political opinion, from the sentence which the law awards, and leaves him in that position which no wise Government should ever contemplate, namely, the possibility of a man's being deemed fiscally, but not morally, a culprit.

My coach companion did not seem to be made a better man by his new mode of life; there was not a place where the coach stopped to harness fresh horses, where he did not get down to take in a fresh tumbler of whiskey punch, and yet he was not drunk: he was a large, full-chested man, and his constitution seemed to be surprisingly case-hardened against intoxication--his eye, only, had a watery, maudlin, coddled appearance--he boasted that he had already taken fourteen glasses of whiskey made into punch, and that he supposed he would not go to bed before he made up the twenty-fifth tumbler--that he always made a bargain best, when he had drank most, and that what made other men lose their wits, only made him cute and chew: he rejoiced, with exceeding satisfaction, in the contemplation of how many tobacco twisters he had taken in, by showing them, to their sorrow, that the harder he drank, the harder he drove his bargain. I wish I may have had some effect on his natural good sense and sound understanding, when I attempted to prove that in a very few years such a mode of living must bring on debility, disease, and death. But, I fear me, there is as little hope of the reformation of a confirmed drunkard, as a confirmed tobacco consumer--both only will feel, when they are dying of debility, that to live on stimulants is about as wise as to set fire to a candle at both ends.

While passing by a well wooded and enclosed demesne, with a fine manor house in the centre, some one remarked that it was Gaulstown, now the property of Lord Kilmaine, but formerly the mansion of the Earls of Belvidere. It is astonishing how previous knowledge causes you, by association, to think well or ill of things and places. Gaulstown, without any grand feature, is as pretty as good land, a good house, and fine trees can make it, yet when considered as the prison of a pretty woman, as the lock-up house of a man who was instigated by more than Spanish jealousy, and lived and died under the influence of more than Spanish revenge--even if the sun was shining on it--the thrush was amusing its incubating mate, with all the harmony of conjugal fidelity, and the ring-dove was cooing its querulous note from every grove, I could not but consider it as a dismal place. Robert, the first Earl of Belvidere, married in 1736, as his second wife, Mary, the daughter of Lord Viscount Molesworth; she was wondrous beautiful, and bore him four children, but for some cause that excited to jealousy his determined spirit, he had his countess locked up in Gaulstown house for nearly twenty years, allowing her only the attendance of a confidential servant; and this most admired woman of her day, lingered away the prime of her life, neither the world forgetting, nor by the world forgot--but unknown, and unknowing--guarded with a vigilance that knew no intermission, until, by her lord's demise, she was liberated from her thraldrom; it is questionable whether the afterlife of this liberated lady evinced that her long incarceration was instrumental to mental improvement, or was conducive to an amended life; at all events, during the Earl's life, no one ventured to call his severe and illegal act into question, for he was too useful to the Government for them to interfere, and the personal courage of this clever and handsome Bluebeard, was of that exorbitant and reckless character, that no preux chevalier was found hardy enough to attempt the rescue of the lovely dame from durance vile--in this way they managed matters in Ireland 100 years ago.

Our next change of horses took place at a village called Beggars'-bridge--a beggarly place, in sooth, as its name imports. The cause of its name is not a little remarkable. In old times, as was the case in most parts of Ireland, the traveller was obliged to ford over the small river here, and here stood a beggar, who, as the wayfaring man slowly picked his passage over the water, from an adjoining bank asked alms, and invoked all the saints in heaven to aid and bring to his journey's end him that lent to God by showing pity on the poor. It was surely an Irishman who said or sung this stave--

"Of all the trades a going, a begging is the best,"

for our beggarman throve surpassingly, so ragged, so wretched, so squalid looked he, that no man could pass by, (and it was a great thoroughfare,) without giving him alms, and it so happened that the beggarman died and was buried, and a coffin and winding sheet were provided for him at the expense of the neighbours, and his filthy rags, as altogether useless and unfit for any use, were cast out on the wayside, to be trodden under foot, and so resolve themselves into the element of dirt and dung they had for years approximated to--but it so happened that some boys were playing by the road side, one of them gave an unusual toss to the beggar's rags, and out fell a piece of money, whereupon a more accurate search was made, and it was found that the ragged inside waistcoat was quilted with guineas; this money the young men who found it had the honesty to bring to a neighbouring magistrate, who directed that with it a bridge should be erected on the stream on whose banks stands the little village inde derivatur, Beggar's-bridge.

Terence O'Toole.