A Tour to Connaught

[From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 14, September 29, 1832]



Sir-The prevailing propensity to see oneself in print, urges me to present the following lucubrations and observations, the result of some recent wanderings towards the west, in the hope that through you they may reach your readers. Doubtless it requires no small confidence to expect that the journey of a day or two on a coach or jaunting car along what is considered one of the flattest and least interesting lines of road in Ireland, would enable me to purvey readable matter for a fastidious and well-supplied public-but strong in my Milesian assurance, and fortified with the brass of an O'Toole, (by the way, my ancestors possessed the Cronebawn copper mine,) I will try my hand, and make a trial. Blessings on the morning, when escaping out of Dublin through that awfully disgusting purlieu-Barrack street - we met the cool western breeze, as it swept along the Liffey, and advanced to salute the rising sun. Our road ran parallel to the river, and as we drove through its alluvial valley, and passed Chapelizod, once the retreat of La Belle Izod, where stood her bower and her chapel, and which was once the country residence of Ireland's viceroys, I could not, laughing philosopher though I may be, suppress a sigh, to see the old house so grievously modernized and deformed, where, it is said, King James slept after the battle of the Boyne. He must have used a pillow stuffed with hops, if he slept soundly on the night after that memorable day. Here is also a huge, disarranged, flax spinning manufactory, and large bleaching greens, ugly to the eye, offensive to the nose, redolent of muriatic gas, and other bleaching stuffs. I do not like those immense factories, where the youth of both sexes are crowded for twelve or fourteen hours on spinning lofts, and where the moral malaria is almost as pestilential as the physical. Commend me to the old flax-spinning system of Ireland, where the lass sat by her father's fire-side, urging her busy wheel, and modulating its monotonous hum by the soft sweet tones of our Irish melodies. Alas, it matters not to my mind that yonder
immense pile manufactures as much thread as formerly did the female industry of a whole country. In spite of political economy, my heart cannot but condemn the change.

Reaching Palmerstown, we rose from the river, and gained the fertile, undulating champaign that extends southward from the Liffey to the Wicklow mountains. To the right the deep-cut course of the river, its steep banks adorned and enriched by the strawberry cultivation, beyond it again the Phoenix Park, and more to the west the two beautiful hills of Castleknock, the one a smoothly circular green knoll, whereon the proprietor, as a record of his bad taste, has allowed an unmeaning pigeon-house to remain standing for years, and his only excuse is that he is accustomed to its ugliness ! the other crowned with its ivy-mantled castle, where the Bruce, some centuries ago, halted his army, when advancing to besiege Dublin, and where yet that ancient window still remains, of which says Stanihurst, "Though it be neither glazed or latticed, but open, yet let the weather be stormy, and the wind bluster boisterously on every side of the house, and place a candle there, and it will burn as quietly as if no puff of wind blew. This may be tried at this day, whoso shall be willing to put it in practice."

About two miles farther, we arrived at an eminence from whence extend westward and southward the plains of the Liffey, (as in ancient days they were called) and certainly in no part of the British empire can the eye wander over a richer expanse. To the geologist, it is interesting, as every where he sees assurance that before the Liffey had cut down for itself to the sea its present deep and tortuous bed, all before the view, until it touched the Curragh of Kildare and the Hill of Allen, must have been a wide spread lake; and when the observer gets down to the deep, dry, circular basin in which the village of Lucan is placed, he may notice the gradual depositions the subsiding waters made, and at the same time be led to conclude that some final force must have operated in the way of earthquake to form the river's present bed; the force from beneath which has been exerted to cause the disturbance of the strata must have been great, and the extraordinary disarrangement of the limestone stratification on the northern bank of the Liffey is worthy of the attention of the draughtsman or the geologist.

Not any of England's favoured vales-not any of Scotland's carses or straths-can show anything to the farmer's eye finer or more fertile than the view from the hill of Ballydowd. "Sir," says a fellow-traveller, who had the air of an English bagman, "what is the name of that there old building to the left? castles, don't you call them? Wherever I go in Ireland I have them in sight." "Yes, sir," I replied, "You will see them every where-yonder one is called Ballyowen; and if you look westward you may see another, and southwards another; and pass on from this to Galway or to Cape Clear, and you will see them covering and commanding, and within signal shot of each other. They stand as memorials of Ireland's different conquests, and as evidences that when conquered, each subsequent invader considered that what the sword won, it was needful for the sword to keep. Ireland is the land of ruins and memorials-of powers and people that have successively passed away. The ruined fortress-the devastated abbey-the lonely dun-the fairy-footed rath- the round tower that sends its slender shaft on high to say that the almost imperishable simplicity of its form can survive human record, and even outlast man's tradition- these are what render Ireland a land interesting to the traveller-and not all the magnificence of America-not all its mighty mountains, lakes, or waterfalls, can supply to the passenger such trains of mental association, such stores of romantic thought, as a few miles wandering through Erin. The castles of Ireland are not only numerous, but of different character. The old massive circular Anglo-Norman-the square and more regularly bastioned stronghold of the Elizabethan era-the more simple and solitary fortalice of the Cromwellian adventurer, who cased himself within his strait four walls like an armadillo or a hedgehog, to look out in security on his newly acquired grant; and save his soul alive from the skeins of marauding rapparees!

We passed on then through Lucan. On one side the richly wooded demesne of Colonel Vesey, once the castle and estate of General Sarsfield; to the right and just on the road side is the Spa-house, apparently a well kept and well resorted hotel, creditable to the owner, and in some respects a proof that were such accommodations as are here found, to be met with in other places, Irish families would stay at home, and rest satisfied with our own spa's, and the salt ablutions of our own sea shores. Just below the hotel, and on the other side of the road by the river's bank is the spa, impregnated as strongly, perhaps, as any other natural spring, with carbonate of lime and sulphureted nitrogen gas. That modification of limestone, by Kirwan and other mineralogists called calpe, is very abundant in the neighbourhood, and as it contains a large quantity of chrystalized sulphuret of iron, doubtless it is the decomposition of this sulphuret by water, that causes the impregnations of this spa. There, as at Harrowgate, citizens who because they were good livers have now bad livers, hope to have their visceral obstructions removed, and Connaught squires, whose noses are rubicund with the red juices of the grape and the limpid distillations of John Barleycorn, find the roses removing from the unseemly position on their noses, and retiring to the more natural and seemly station of their cheeks.

Any one passing over the bridge of Leixlip must, if his eye is worth a farthing for any thing else than helping him to pick his way through the puddle, look up and down with delight while moving over this bridge. To the right, the river winning its noisy, turbulent way over its rocky bed, and losing itself afar down amidst embossing woods: to the left, after plunging over the salmon-leap, whose roar is heard though half-a-mile off, and forming a junction with the Rye-water, it takes a bend to the east, and washes the rich amphitheatre with which Leixlip is environed. I question much whether any castle, even Warwick itself, stands in a grander position than Leixlip Castle, as it embattles the high and wooded ground that forms the forks of the two rivers. Of the towers, the round one, of course was built by King John, the opposite square one by the Geraldines. This noble and grandly circumstanced pile, has been in later days the baronial residence of the White family, and subsequently the residence of generals and prelates. Here Primate Stone, more a politician than a Christian, retired from his contest with the Ponsonbys and the Boyles, to play at crickets with General Cunningham: here resided Speaker Connolly, before he built his splendid mansion at Castletown: here the great commoner, as he was called, Tom Connolly was born. Like many such edifices this castle is haunted- character and keeping would be altogether lost, if towers of 600 years standing, with rich mullioned "windows that exclude the light, and passages that lead to nothing," with tapestried chambers that have witnessed pranks of revelry, and feats of war, of Norman, Cromwellian and Williamite possession-if such a place had not its legend. Mr. Folds, you may as well give it some week or another a place in your Journal; you will find it in one of the Annuals, I forget which: and one of Ireland's wildest geniuses, the eccentric and splendid Maturin, has decorated the subject with the colourings of his vivid fancy.

Leixlip is memorable in a historic point of view, as the place where, in the war commencing 1641, General Preston halted, when on his way to form a junction with the Marquis of Ormond, to oppose the Parliamentarians. Acknowledging that his army was not excommunication proof, he bowed before the fiat of the Nuncio, and lost the best opportunity that ever offered of saving his cause and his country from what has been called "the curse of Cromwell." Rising out of Leixlip the road leaves the line of the Liffey, and runs parallel to the small stream of the Rye-water; over which is thrown, at an immense expense, the largest aqueduct in Ireland, constructed by the Royal Canal Company; it is said that this enormous cost was gone into in compliment to the late Duke of Leinster, who desired that the canal should pass by his town of Maynooth; it certainly would have been more advantageous to the commerce of the kingdom and to the prosperity of the company, had they not deflected here to the south, but rather kept northwards through the plains of Meath, made Lough Sheelan instead of Lough Owel their summit level, and met the Shannon more towards its source, rather than run their line parallel, as it now does, at only a few miles distance from the Grand Canal, each starving, and interfering with the other, and acting like two rival shopkeepers who, instead of setting up at remote districts of the town, frown balefully at each other from opposite sides of the same street.
Just beneath the bridge that carries the road over the canal, is one of the most beautiful and abundant spring wells in Ireland-if it was known in old times it would have been sanctified, as most such are in Ireland-but it burst out for the first time from the depths of the earth on the excavation of the canal; and as it was discovered in winter, and as its deep seated source caused it to appear warmer than other more superficial springs, so immediately there were attributed to it virtues of no ordinary degree, and the crowds that in faith (for the Irish are rich in that cardinal virtue,) resorted to it were enormous. While the credulity lasted, the harvest of coach and noddy owners (for jaunting-cars were not yet in fashion,) was immense: strings of carriages, miles long, might be seen on Sundays issuing from Dublin, containing crowds anxious to apply, internally or externally, its healing waters; and attestations of its curing the blind- restoring the palsied-strengthening the lame, came before the public every day. But alas, the powers of ridicule were brought to bear against it, and one wicked wight drew a caricature in which he represented a broken down noddy as washed by the Leixlip spa water, and all its spokes and shafts, under the mopping of the jarvey, becoming strong and strait. This certainly was a pity; and no one in the world was served by dissipating such an innocent and salutary delusion, and after all it is not only a beautiful but an extraordinary spring; for if you believe all the neighbours, not a fish or frog will live in its waters; and though there is a floculent, rusty-coloured, ochreous matter constantly rising to the surface of the well, exactly similar to that which is found in springs strongly impregnated with iron, yet no test, either gallic acid or prussiate of potash, can detect any iron; but in the centre of this floculent matter is found a very red little worm about half an inch long, which all those who have still faith in the salubrity of the well say is the sovereignest remedy alive for a sore leg: nay more, let any one who has drank over night from fifteen to twenty tumblers of punch, and whose head is so hot that it makes the water fizz into which it is put, let him but take a quart or two of the water of this spring on the following morning, and he will lose all his whiskey fever and walk home as cool as a cucumber. I assure you, gentle reader, I have seen sundry making the experiment, and I actually saw them afterwards sober.

And now we arrive at the demesne of Ireland's only duke-a demesne, according to the exclusive propensities of all those who have this world's wealth-walled about with a skreen of trees, through which the eye of a curious traveller has no chance of penetrating. To the left rises an obelisk, built about a century ago, in that remarkable season in Ireland called the hard frost, by a lady of the Connolly family, in order to employ the people. These things are all called follies in Ireland: to give such things such names, only argues poor taste and sense in those who bestow them; would there were many such evidences in the land that the rich cared for the poor. Beyond that obelisk, southward, extend the rich wooded grounds, and rises the finest country mansion in Ireland-Castletown- once the estate of Dungan, Earl of Limerick-the house, built by Speaker Connolly, and presenting, perhaps, the most chaste and appropriate facade for a rich man's residence in existence. There the great commoner, as he was called, Thomas Connolly, the son of the Speaker, found an income of 30,000l. a year too small for the purposes of his expenditure: here were estates wasted and encumbered in keeping up of huntings and racings- in affording sport to a whole country, and lavishing of hospitality on all that would partake of it; so much so, that (as the legend goes,) he once afforded a day's hunting and a night's entertainment to the devil, who proved himself the most entertaining companion and prettiest gentleman of the party.

Just as our vehicle was passing along at this point of the road, we observed a heavy smoke brooding over the woods of Castletown, and the guard informed us that it arose from the smouldering remnants of a fire that had taken place the night before in the Celbridge Woollen Factory, when a large but partial destruction of property had occurred. "Ireland certainly is unfortunate," says I, "in its manufacturing adventures. This, the largest factory in the island, was established about twenty-eight years ago by a company from Leeds; and I question much whether that quiet and pretty village has been happier or better off during the vicissitudes of prosperity and adversity, of employment and non-employment, that have since occurred." "Then, sir," says the English bagman, "it would seem that you do not like manufactures: you seem disposed to prefer Hirish poverty to British prosperity." "By no means, sir; I would perhaps desire that our country should have manufactures established in its towns, and machinery driven by the power of its rivers, provided I saw a good system of poor laws also introduced; but I decidedly deprecate the introduction of any such speculations unaccompanied with some protection of the poor from the effects of their own improvidence, the fluctuations of trade, and the speculations of their betters. The vicissitudes that yonder establishment have undergone, might serve for the manufacturing story of all Ireland. It did not prosper with the original speculators, who found that the easy terms on which they had acquired a great water power, and the cheapness of Irish labour, did not compensate for the expense of fuel and the difficulties of obtaining trained labourers and men educated up to trustworthiness. I knew the worthy individual whose property it was for many years, and he often explained and deplored to me the difficulties with which he had to contend. If ever there existed an Englishman who feelingly adopted Ireland as his country, and had deeply at heart its prosperity as identified with his own, it was Jeremiah Haughton; and while giving the energies of his honest and intelligent mind towards the promotion of the interests of the Irish woollen manufacture, and eventually falling a premature victim to his exertions in its cause, he has often deplored to me that the spirit of combination-the want of common trustworthiness and habits of steady and persevering industry, coupled with a want of a proper and protecting system of poor laws, must ever disable Ireland from competing with England. The fact is, as he assured me, that the abundance of cheap and common labour could never compensate to the capitalist settling in Ireland for the want of those able and steady handicraftsmen which the principle of parochial settlement always provides, ready to meet the demand of all who wish to engage them. After Mr. Haughton's demise the factory remained some time out of work, when many of the good hands that could afford the money returned to England, while all the bad and coarse ones remained behind: then the establishment fell into the possession of an expert swindler, who contrived to hold it just long enough to rob the rich and beggar the poor: it was deplorable to see hundreds of weavers wandering in the vicinity, begging for a morsel of bread from door to door. Better had it been for Celbridge that no wool had ever been carded, or shuttle thrown, than have its inhabitants submitted to such vicissitudes. Grievously have they suffered, and grievously do they suffer-for cholera has come where improvidence, whiskey drinking, and poverty have invited it. Very lately a spirited Englishman has taken the concern, and commenced business and employment actively and with effect; and it is a grievous thing to find that this individual, at the outset of his adventure, should have to contend with a conflagration that has injured a large wing of his factory.

We have now, Mr. Folds, given but nine miles; if, on feeling the pulse of the public you find they have patience for such gossip, you may hear more next week from

Your very faithful
Friend to command,