An Excursion in the County of Cavan

[From Dublin University Magazine, Vol. II, No. X, October 1833]


I arrived here on --, and am happy to say, that as yet my excursion has more than realized my expectations. The County of Cavan possesses much more of romantic beauty than I had supposed. The best idea that I can convey of it will be formed, by imagining a congregation of inverted teacups and saucers, separated at small intervals upon an undulating surface, and covered with a green sward, the spaces between in most instances being filled by fine sheets of water, and the summits, in many, covered, and the sides clothed by fine plantations. You may judge of the capabilities of a country like this; and it is gratifying to perceive, that the gentry have not been slow to take advantage of them; as, in several places, it is easy to see, that nature has scarcely done more for them, than they have done, and are doing for nature.

My first drive was to the Bishop's residence at Kilmore. The old house is condemned, and a new one being erected. The interest was, you may believe, profound, with which I traversed a mansion consecrated by the residence of Bedell, where the room which he used to occupy, and the garden which he loved to tread, as he went forth, like the patriarch, to meditate at even-tide, are still fondly exhibited. The house is plain and spacious, with more of comfort than pretension; and, what I am persuaded must have endeared it to Bedell, immediately connected with the cathedral, into which the bishop and his family may enter by a private door. This house is now condemned; and a new palace is rising at a short distance, and on the sloping ground which commands the rich prospect of the demesne of Lord Farnham. It is one of the most admirably contrived, and the best put together pieces of architecture I ever saw. It will, I have no doubt, when entirely finished, exhibit the very perfection of elegance, solidity, and convenience. I could not but think, that it was strangely contrasted with the present fortunes of the church, which, unless the providence of God should counteract the malice and the ignorance of man, would seem to be as unstable and precarious, as this admirable structure is likely to be durable. The present bishop has been, I believe, three and thirty years upon the bench; and although at present a hale old man, it is not in the course of nature that he should continue in existence very many years. The proverb that, "one man builds and another inhabits," will, in all probability, be fulfilled in his case, if, indeed, it may not be taken in a more extensive latitude, and exemplified, under the auspices of a reformed parliament, by shameless and sacrilegious secularization.

But "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." Let us not aggravate the pressure of actual suffering by desponding anticipations. Here, at least, the wisdom of God, and the beauty of nature, is before us and around us, and let that, for the present, prevail to obliterate from our thoughts the wickedness and the folly of the government, and the madness of the people.

On Saturday, the morning being remarkably fine, my friend ---- prevailed on me, without any great difficulty, to visit Crum, upon the border of the County of Fermanagh, through a country rich in fertile beauty; indeed, so much so, that it would be scarcely possible to erect a house any where which would not possess advantages of prospect and scenery of no ordinary kind. We passed through Killeshandra, which is finely situated upon the margin of an extensive lake, and overlooked by the mansion and the richly wooded, and beautifully cultivated grounds of Castle Hamilton. Having called on the way at the glebe of the zealous and excellent Mr. Saunderson, the rector of the adjoining parish of Kildallen, we proceeded towards Belturbet, but into which, after the view we had of it, I would not have entered for the world. I never yet saw anything which so perfectly realised the vision of "a romantic town," as the glimpse we caught of this hanging village, which is built upon a sloping hill, surmounted by a venerable church, and interspersed with trees and gardens. There was an air of Arcadian elegance and simplicity, combined with indications of more than pastoral comfort and intelligence, which, I fear, would not stand the test of a more minute enquiry; and I was well content, for once, to suffer fancies to predominate over realities, and did not, by encountering any actual exhibition of Irish misery, or Irish filth, which must, I take it for granted, have been obtruded upon me had I gone into the town, seek to disturb the pleasing imaginings which were elicited by the sights and sounds of rustic nature.

We were now within four miles of our destination; and he must, indeed, be dead of soul and sullen of heart who could pass through such a country without being soothed and delighted. Crum is situated upon the banks of Lough Ern, and commands advantages of wood and water that are almost unrivalled. Upon arriving at it, the spacious lake, spread before us, the venerable ruin of the old castle, which, in former generations, was a very strongly fortified place, came out boldly on the opposite side, and the rising towers of the new and splendid edifice, which is at present being erected, were just beginning to be visible upon the eminence a little beyond it. Boats were scattered over the lake, which was enlivened by the gay parties whom the fineness of the day and the splendour of the scenery had drawn abroad, and altogether, to one who can so rarely enjoy the advantage of such an excursion as myself, the panoramic spectacle now inexpressibly delightful.

I have always remarked that the manners and character of the peasantry inhabiting such a place are determined by those of the proprietor. We met the promptest and the kindest attention from every one about the demesne. The boatmen most good-naturedly conveyed us from place to place, and the superintendent of the works, an intelligent Scotchman, most obligingly afforded us every facility for viewing and examining the new building. It will, when finished, be a most splendid pile. The situation is both sheltered and commanding; and the view, from the higher rooms, will be one of the richest and most extensive that can be conceived. But, I am not sure that, take it altogether, I would not prefer the situation of the old castle. It adjoins the lake, which must at one time have reflected its massy bastions, and is, I think, more than compensated for any superiority of prospect which the other possesses, by its closer neighbourhood with this splendid inland sea, and the umbrageous magnificence with which it is surrounded. But, possibly, old associations are not without their influence in determining my preference. In taste as well as in principle I fear I am an incorrigible Tory, and cherish, it may be, a most unenlightened partiality for "the wisdom of our ancestors."

The new building is in what is called the Elizabethan style of architecture, and combines elegance with grandeur. To me, however, I will confess, the contrast was too strong to be pleasing between the light and almost aerial trellice work of one story, and the strong and rough solidity of another. It is like an opera dancer on the shoulders of a man in armour. And the contrast becomes even ludicrous when the huge blocks of unchiselled stone, compacted into an adamantine front, begin to surmount the slender and graceful portion of the building, which would seem formed less for support than for embellishment. Two opposite styles of building appear to be playing leap-frog. You will observe that my objection is not to the execution of this splendid pile, which indeed, seems admirable, but to the order of the architecture itself, which to me appears unnatural. It is as it were, the transit stage of the Gothic passing into the Grecian, combining some features of both without the character of either.

I endeavoured to account for the different effect produced on the mind by the scenery as we beheld it from the old castle and from the new. In the former case the venerable ruin seemed to claim kindred with primeval nature. It was, as it were, incorporated with, and part and parcel of the scene. The lake was united to it in loving sisterhood, and had there been a mountain in the immediate neighbourhood, it would have almost suggested the idea of "shake hands, brother." In the latter, the new castle seems finely raised above the scene, drawing back, as it were, from too great familiarity, and regarding wood, and lake, and even the venerable ruin, of which it commands an excellent view, only as they were ancillary to its own grandeur. I need not say how much more in accordance with my feelings the first mentioned effect was than the last. In the one case, we behold the work of man identifying itself with the works of God, and only claiming attention as it conspired with the natural beauties to give interest and dignity to the landscape. In the other case we behold human art rather too ostentatiously exercising its sovereignty over nature, and the very splendour of this majestic edifice imprints a character of vassalage upon all around it, which seems to say they were created for its adornment, and are only valuable in as much as they reflect "To proud self-love its own complacency."

I must not forget to mention a venerable yew tree which is one of the greatest curiosities of the place. I almost fear to say how old it is; but it must have seen many hundred years. Its branches are supported by wooden pillars, and extend on all sides to a circumference of two hundred and twenty-five feet. It appears in perfect health, and will, I trust, long continue to repay by its grateful shade the hundreds who are annually attracted to behold it.

The possessor of this noble property is not to be envied. It has pleased the gracious Being, by whom the goods and ills of life are scattered with such an impartial hand, to visit him with one of the most afflicting maladies to which human nature is subject. His nephew and heir, Mr. Creighton, at present superintends the estates; and there is reason to believe that they could scarcely have fallen into better hands. He appears to be a person strongly under the influence of Christian convictions, and is, I understand, actually about to make a provision out of his private means for the moral and religious improvement of the people. I shall only say "macte virtute tuâ puer." Assuredly he will have his reward.

The day continued fine to the close, and I do not know that I ever passed one more entirely to my mind. The friend, by whom I was accompanied served to heighten my enjoyment. He possesses a noble, as well as a highly gifted and richly cultivated mind, and entered into the spirit of the scene with an ardour that owned the influence of nature. We conversed, or were silent, just as it listed us. Our topics, you may be sure, were not of dogs or horses, not of Pasta or Taglioni, but the deepest and the highest that can concern human creatures, either in this world or in the world to come. We thus combined instruction with amusement, and, while we appeared only intent upon present pleasure, contrived in the sweet language of Professor Wilson, to lay up a store "Of memories and precious thoughts, That will not die, and cannot be destroyed."*( I cannot verify my quotation at present, and am not certain that the above-lines are not Wordsworth's).

I know you will be desirous to hear something of the moral and religious state of the parish of Killeshandra. It has of late come into the hands of the Rev. Mr. Martin, late a Fellow of our University, and I am happy to be able to say, that he who was so eminent amongst his brethren in science has become a strenuous evangelizer. There were few better men in his way than the late Dr. Hales. In learning he had scarcely an equal, if, indeed, he had any at all; and his child-like simplicity as well as goodness of heart reminded all who knew him of the Vicar of Wakefield. But he was more fitted for the closet than the pulpit; for the professor's chair, than for the ordinary routine of parochial duty. He lived, in truth, in the past, and for the future; and if the concerns of the present, both in his own case and that of his parish, were neglected, it was a neglect which enabled him to confer a lasting benefit upon the Church, and for which he will be regarded with reverence by a distant posterity.

Killeshandra is a very extensive parish. You may imagine how extensive, when I tell you it consists of twenty-five square miles. The Protestants are numerous, but, it so happens, that the parts where they congregate most are least furnished with facilities of enabling them to hear divine service. Indeed, in some places, the sound of the preacher's voice had not been heard for many years; and the only instances in which the poor people had any opportunity of seeing "how beautiful are the feet of him that bringeth glad tidings" was, when some dissenting missionary appeared, who, in general, contrived to infuse into them as much of hatred to the church, as of attachment to the gospel. All this is now changed; Mr. Martin is zealous, in season and out of season, in the discharge of his sacred duties. He has established, in those neglected places, a regular service and a lecture, to which the people come in great numbers. I had the good fortune to hear him last Sunday address a congregation of from two to three hundred in one of the school-houses of Lord Farnham, with great effect; his discourse was evidently a continuation of one which he delivered on the former Sunday; and his humble auditors, to whose capacities he most happily accommodated himself upon one of the highest themes that can occupy the human mind, listened to him with that intense earnestness which fervent sincerity never fails to produce, and which fully proved how deeply he had contrived to engage their hearts, and convince their understandings. He announced at the close of the service, that he would attend again on Tuesday evening. I did not, you may be sure, fail to be a second time his auditor, and seldom was my attention more richly repaid. He began by catechising the children, which he did with a simplicity and impressiveness that could not fail to interest, as well as to instruct them; and not them only, but the grown persons-the aged children, who had never had the same early advantages, but who now, with greedy ears, imbibed the words of eternal life. Thus, he circulates through his parish, contriving, either in person or by his curates, to preach the gospel to every creature committed to his charge, setting forth, both in his life and actions, "the true and lively word," and doing what in him lies, that those for whom he is responsible shall not only hear, but feel it.

If our establishment were thus upheld, it would be almost as popular as it would be useful. Ask, in any part of this parish, who is the most useful gentleman - who could least be spared, and they will tell you with one accord "the Rector." His time, his talents, and his property, are all employed in doing good. If the church were subverted, and its property confiscated, the gentry might, perhaps, be enriched to some small amount, by sharing its possessions; but who amongst them would represent the zeal, the learning, or the ability of the admirable man to whom I have alluded, or stand forth in the discharge of his Christian duty as the rich man's counsellor, and the poor man's friend?

But a good clergyman is scarcely a greater blessing, than a bad, or even an indifferent one is a curse. The church suffers more reproach, where the interests of religion are badly attended to, than even where they are entirely neglected. Pluralities are a great evil. I never saw the practical mischief resulting from them so strongly exemplified as since I have came here. The same individual is Rector both of Cavan and of Belturbet; and although both these towns are furnished with able and zealous curates, it may be easily conceived that there are many occasions upon which the presence of a well endowed incumbent, would be desirable; nor is it at all to be wondered at that the people pay with reluctance a large sum of money, which ought to be employed in the promotion of Christian knowledge and piety, but a single shilling of which is not spent amongst themselves. In this case the Rector is an absentee from both his parishes; and this is not the less to be deplored because he is a truly good and amiable man, whose heart is in his sacred calling, but whose circumstances are such that he cannot appear.

The parish of Killigar is another instance of the evils of non-residence. The Rector is a pluralist, and it is only perhaps charitable to suppose, that the inconveniencies arising from his absence in one place, may be compensated by the advantages of his presence in another. But in the latter case the evil is mitigated by the Christian zeal and benevolence of Mr. Godley and his admirable lady, whose lives could hardly be more devoted to religion if they had been regularly consecrated to its service. If I wished to exemplify the blessings arising from the constant presence of a Christian country gentleman upon his own estate, I could not desire any better opportunity than is here afforded. The cottages are all of a superior description, and remarkable for their cleanliness and neatness. The peasantry are sober, frugal, and industrious; no revolting vice, no squalid poverty is to be found amongst them; and their manners, without the slightest departure from rustic simplicity, exhibit much of the blandness and courtesy which are generally found amongst sincere professors of the gospel. Mr. Godley has, out of his own means, built a Church, which he intends, I believe, to endow. For the present he has provided a residence for, and pays a salary to, a clergyman, who is both intelligent and active, and who cordially co-operates with the curate of the parish in every good word and work, by which its spiritual interests may be promoted.

Our first visit in this parish was to Mrs. Godly's school-room. We found the excellent lady there, superintending the education of a numerous assemblage of clean and well dressed children, whose manners and attainments reflect credit upon their instructors. It was impossible to see the delight with which she prosecuted her benevolent labour, without perceiving that even in this world "she has her reward." Little reason have those who are thus occupied to sigh after the festivities of "Almack's." Theirs' are pleasures which the world can neither give nor take away,-they are building up their immortal being, and experiencing the richest recompence upon earth, even while they are "laying up treasures in heaven." Mrs. Godley is a sister of Robert Daly, and was brought up in the neighbourhood of Belview, in the County of Wicklow. This made what I saw on the present occasion more interesting to me, as exhibiting, in some sort, an exemplification of the manner in which human excellence, under the influence of divine grace, has a tendency to propagate its kind. I could not but believe that what Mrs. Godley early saw of the "alms deeds and good works" of the orphan's mother, Mrs. Peter La Touche, was not without its effect in forming her character, and that the County of Cavan is at present indebted to what was then exhibited in the County of Wicklow.

An instance was mentioned to me yesterday, by which it would appear that, in this part of the country, the New Board of Education is doing mischief. In the parish of Kildallen there was an excellent school, under the superintendence of the clergymen of the Established Church, which Roman Catholic children attended in great numbers, and to which even the Roman Catholic priest subscribed. Of course the Holy Scriptures were not placed under any interdict, nor was any objection made to the free use of them by the children. But when the New Board issued its prospectus, the priest naturally thought that it would be better for him to have a school under their auspices, and he applied to Mr. Saunderson, the rector, to join him in an application to that effect. Mr. Saunderson declined, stating his reasons for so doing with equal strength and mildness. But, in a country like this, his popish reverence could not be at a loss to find those who, without any great solicitude either for education or religion, were willing to come forward at his call, and lend their names to a representation by which he not unreasonably calculated that his end would be answered. His memorial, accordingly, was forwarded to "The Board," accompanied by one from Mr. Saunderson, stating that the representation contained in it was unfounded, and shewing, by reference to a map of the parish, which was also sent up, that the school which was already in existence, and which, up to that moment, the Roman Catholic children freely attended, was abundantly sufficient for the moral and intellectual wants of the people. The Board replied by asking him, whether that school was conducted according to their rules? a school which existed before they were a Board, and which, of course, must have been furnished with regulations before their Rules were in existence! The answer was, as must have been anticipated, in the negative; and the Board lost no time in complying with the requisition of the priest. A new school-house is now being erected; the Roman Catholic children have ceased to attend the old one. Mr. Saunderson has been denounced from the altar as an intolerant bigot. Where there was union, there is division; where there was cordiality and concord, there is heart-burning and strife. And this blessed education project, which has upon its surface the plausible appearance of being calculated to soften religious animosities, has only had, in this as well as in other cases, the effect of creating them where they did not exist, and confirming them where they were rapidly expiring.

Before I conclude, I must make two or three observations which suggested themselves to me most forcibly, while exploring, with my friends, the many beauties of Farnham demesne.

The residence of our nobility and gentry, when they are really what they ought to be, is a blessing which can hardly be too highly valued in Ireland. Of this we have the most convincing proofs, both negative and positive; as well from the misery, both physical and moral, which is the consequence of their absence or their neglect, as from the effects produced by their judicious beneficence and their good example. Of the latter, this part of the country is blessed with a remarkable instance, in the person of Lord Farnham. He literally seems to consider himself but as the steward of his great possessions, which are employed in promoting the comfort and happiness of all around him. He has built school-houses at various places upon his extensive estates, which are attended by the children of the peasantry in great numbers. The education which they receive is solid and useful, and, although the Holy Scriptures are read, the Roman Catholics attend without scruple. The truth is, in this part of the country they breathe a Protestant atmosphere, and it would be difficult for the most devoted adherent to Popery to keep them altogether benighted.

One part of the system which is here adopted pleased me greatly. It is customary at this time of the year to give the children who attend the school, a fete champetre, to which they look forward with great joy, and which I am sure must have a considerable effect in promoting the regularity of their attendance. I was fortunate enough to witness one of these exhibitions yesterday. The children belonging to the school-houses of Derrilane and Portlongfield, in number about four hundred, were assembled upon the grounds of Miss Godley, in the immediate neighbourhood of Killegar. They were preceded by a band which played some excellent music, and, as it is an object of pride with the parents that they should be well dressed, most of them were neatly attired, and the eye was not in any instance offended by the squalidness and filth which is unhappily but too often characteristic of the children of our peasantry. But what chiefly gratified me was the happiness and delight which was expressed in their little countenances. There they were, Protestants and Roman Catholics, without religious distinction, enjoying the blessings of Providence. Surely, thought I, the only system which can truly promote the glory of God, is that which thus promotes peace upon earth, and good will amongst men. There they were, the children of Irish peasants, not ground down and persecuted by ruthless and overbearing task-masters, but sunning themselves in the beneficence of kind and generous protectors. Is it possible that those who are thus considered must not grow up with a love and a reverence for their benefactors, which must not only knit the upper and the lower classes, by the reciprocal bond of kindness and gratitude, but also to a considerable extent, abate the religious and political animosities by which the people are divided? Such, at least, were the thoughts which passed through my mind, and which made me bless in my heart the generous nobleman, to whose parental care of his tenantry the present scene of rustic festivity was to be attributed; and heartily did I wish that the frequenters of Crockfords or Newmarket could witness what I beheld, if haply they might be made to feel how much more delightful, even humanly speaking, would be such an employment of their wealth and time, that those frivolous, if not criminal pursuits, upon which the one is so often abused and the other wasted. We might then, with some prospect of success, say to them, "go, and do thou likewise." Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell were present - the former, in the absence of Lord Farnham, acted as butler, and was sedulous in his attendance upon the children. The fare was excellent, bread and cold mutton in abundance, after which a good substantial pudding made its appearance, to which, you may be sure, the little ones did ample justice. They were then dismissed, the boys in one direction, the girls in another, to amuse themselves through the beautiful grounds. And when they were tired with play, tea was provided for them. It was, altogether, a scene to feast the heart of a philanthropist; nor is it possible to conceive the system general throughout the country without anticipating the happiest results.

But Lord Farnham is a Tory;- of course, an enemy to the people. Thus it is that he proves his enmity. There are other noblemen and gentlemen not very distant from him, who are Whigs, and therefore friends to the people. Glad would I be that their advocates had an opportunity of contrasting their estates, their tenantry, and their conduct with his, and thus judging of the tree by its fruits. In one case they would see profligacy, squalidness, and misery; on the other, cheerfulness, morality, and contentment.

The Church, in this part of the country, is ably supported. I do not mean politically, (although in that sense it has some strong friends,) but morally and intellectually, by the excellent and able men who have devoted themselves to its service. I recognized some individuals of ample fortune, and very considerable collegiate celebrity, who have resolutely turned from the most tempting worldly prospects, and embraced the cause of their persecuted Church, with an ardour proportioned to its wants and its danger. I believe you knew Carson;- he is a nephew of Wagget, the Recorder of Cork. He was, when in college, the most distinguished man in his class, and he is here in season and out of season, preaching the Gospel, and voluntarily relinquishing every distinction but that of a good and faithful servant of his Divine Master. "Is it possible," some one said to me, "that a church so administered should be doomed to fall?" My answer was, "When the Lord wishes to disseminate his holy religion, he does not choose damaged seed. Look across the Atlantic, and you will almost hear a voice saying, "come and help us." But I must conclude, unless I mean, (which I do not,) to make my excursion as fatiguing to others as it was agreeable to myself. Farewell- if you are tempted by any thing that I have said, to ruralize for a few weeks in the County of Cavan, I promise you that you will not be disappointed.