The Needles – Howth

[From the Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, No. 21, November 17, 1832]

The Needles, Howth.

We citizens of Dublin are proud of the beauty of our suburban scenery, and justly, for there is, perhaps, no other city in the British empire that can boast of such a variety of picturesque landscapes, as are comprised within a circuit of ten or twelve miles of our metropolis. Other cities may rival, or perhaps, excel us in the beauty or magnificence of some particular feature, but in diversity of scenic beauty, we may defy competition. There is no variety of landscape or marine scenery, that will not be found within this limited circumference. As, for example, the river scenery of the Liffey, the Bray river, the Dodder, the Tolka, and the Nanny-water, each differing in its character, and yet beautiful of its kind; the solitary mountain-valleys of Glencullen, Glen-dubh, and Glenasmol; the Dargle; the sublime mountain tarn, Lough Bray; the richly-wooded undulating country to the south of the city, and the green pastoral plains of Fingal to the north; the low villa-spotted shores of the bay, and the more solitary and magnificent coast-scenery of Howth and Killiney; the island-cliffs of Dalkey and Ireland's eye. In short, it is almost impossible even to enumerate, within our limited compass, the various beautiful objects which, on every side of Dublin, are presented to the eye, and that may be visited in a drive of an hour or two. Nor is our vicinity less rich in the various objects interesting to the naturalist, the botanist, or the geologist, and which should not be wholly unfamiliar to every inquiring mind. In the memorials of man in by-gone times, it is equally well stored: the rude Druidic tomb or altar; the Cairn; the Rath or Moate; the simple oratory of the earliest Christian times; the Round Tower so peculiar to our island; the Abbey; the baronial castle, and the old venerable triangular-gabled mansion of the resident squire of former days; - all these are to be found dispersed over its surface, and with their traditions, supply food for pleasing contemplation and instructive thought.

Notwithstanding, however, this profusion of attractions to tempt us to the purest and most purifying, the cheapest and most valuable of all enjoyments - the pleasures derivable from the charms of nature, we are of opinion, that the great majority of the inhabitants of Dublin have as yet but very imperfectly learned to appreciate the treasures of this kind which they possess, and we are quite sure that they do not enjoy them as they should. We know, indeed, that they pour forth in thousands, to indulge in the unhealthy excitement of the bustle and dust of the drive to Kingstown; but this is mere fashion, habit, or call it what you will, - it is not the sober and quiet enjoyment of nature. The more solitary and sublime scenery of the country is wholly deserted, or only known to the musing spendthrift of time, the angler. This want of feeling for the enjoyment of nature's beauty we deeply regret, in the poet's words, -

"Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The heart that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings." – Wordsworth.

Many causes, unfortunately, have concurred and still con-cur to produce this apathy; - political excitements, - artificial habits, - as the same great poet says,

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The Winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. - Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn."

Other causes, arising out of the want of cultivation of intellectual tastes, we shall apply ourselves earnestly to remove. With this object, it is our intention shortly to commence a series of walks in the vicinity of Dublin, directing the attention of our readers to the various objects to be met with, either of picturesque or historic interest, and occasionally illustrating our subject with illustrations.

We have been led into these observations, on looking at our prefixed wood engraving, which represents a subject of no common sublimity and grandeur, and which notwithstanding is, we are persuaded, but little known to our fellow-citizens. Such a scene, if it happened to be a hundred miles off, would be visited, at least by our aristocracy, to show their fashionable taste and disregard of expense; but within the short distance of an humble pedestrian walk, it offers no such gratification, and consequently remains unknown or disregarded. It is a view of the Light-house of Howth as seen from the shore, through a vista between the two remarkably pointed rocks on the south side of that beautiful promontory, popularly known to mariners by the name of "the Needles," or sometimes, "the Candlesticks." These singular features are the remains of a rocky headland worn into these fantastic forms by the action of the powerful element to whose fury they are exposed. Nothing can he more picturesquely imagined than the situation of the distant Pharos, placed upon a lofty and precipitous conical rock, almost insulated, and connected with the land by a bridge; - standing out boldly among the waves, and commanding both the southern and eastern iron bound cliffs of the great promontory with which it is connected, it seems predestined by nature for the purpose to which it is applied. This rock is popularly called the Baily, a corruption of Bally, (Ballium, a habitation,) a name originally applied to the ancient circular fortress which crowned its summit previous to the erection of the present buildings. This fortress was traditionally said to have been the work of the Danes. The Light-house is a building of very modern date, erected by the Ballast Board, the older light-house having been found inefficient from the greater loftiness of its situation, which rendered it subject to be obscured by clouds and mists. It is now disused. The light in the present structure is produced by a set of reflectors ground to the parabolic form, in the foci of which large oil lamps are placed, according to the system now generally adopted by the Trinity-house, The scenery of the South side of Howth, of which our illustration forms a part, presents a succession of beautiful and picturesque features, but which can only be properly enjoyed by the pedestrian, as the road, for the greater part, winds too far away to allow of their being seen. And it is only from these bold crags that the beauty of our bay can be fairly appreciated, as they command the whole of its spacious marine amphitheatre, and the entire range of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.