Visit to Wicklow Lighthouses

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter XII (9) | Start of Chapter

"Will you see the light-house under the rock?" I followed the wary steps of my courteous pioneer and her two little ones, till she led me to the top of the awful precipice. A high wall was on the right, and stone stairs made the descent safe, and the wall partly kept from the view the awful abyss at our feet; when we had descended thirty or more steps, the wall turned and passed before us, and peeping over, the top of the light-house in the deep below met our eyes, as if actually coming out of the gulf beneath, and casting its glaring light upon the dark waters around. A kind of horror mixed with admiration came over me; the first impression being, that this was a picture of the abode of the lost; but looking up over the top of the rock, I saw the crescent moon looking down with such complacency, that I knew the despairing were not there. I gazed in silence, for I had nothing to say.

At the bottom of this frightful precipice, a tabular rock juts into the sea, on which the light-house stands. Sufficiently broad is this rock for the neat little dwelling-house of the keeper, sheltered from the wild winds, which are often blowing furiously over the precipice above. When I had wondered and wondered again, I was introduced into the cottage of the keeper, who kindly showed me into the light-house, and explained the principle on which it is built. Government has mercifully provided this guide, at the bottom of this dangerous precipice. While the one from the top tells the mariner, at a great distance, that difficulties are near, the one at the bottom kindly shows him how to avoid them. Four paid keepers are here, two Catholics and two Protestants, with salaries that give them a genteel support, accompanied with but a little labor. Mr. Page took me a winding path up the rock, avoiding the steps, and I tarried with the young guide, meeting again the laughing boy, who had followed me in the morning; and who fixed himself behind my chair, pulling my dress at every pause, and whispering, "Won't ye sing, ma'am, and take me along with ye when ye go?" I actually sang in self-defence, for he would not take a denial; and at every close he laughed outright by way of chorus. "Pat," said the young housekeeper, "keep your laughing till the lady is done." Pat heeded not, but laughed on at every pause, turning my grave psalmody into the highest merriment.

The scene now changed; clouds suddenly covered the heavens, and furious winds howled dismally through the night. "You see," said the keeper, "the necessity and mercy of these lights. Storms like these are often howling, and they come so suddenly, that vessels would be in continual danger without them."

The next day I dined on kale and excellent potatoes at the house of a Roman Catholic, who was one of the four keeping the light-houses, and father to the merry Pat, whom they had excluded from my presence, because "he is bold, ma'am; he is a bold boy." The lateness of the hour urged my departure from this hospitable place, and peeping into the barn where the banished Pat was busied, I told him he must sober his face, for I was going to leave him. And the question, "Why don't you take me along? and ye aint going without me?" made me hurry, lest he should be in pursuit. I was left at the gate by the husband of my young Protestant guide, with a "God bless ye," to combat with furious winds and pelting rain. Hurrying to the cabin of the graceful old man, he said, "And I'll show ye to the gate, for the night'll be heavy on ye, and the road 'ill be muddy under your fut." The road was indeed muddy, and cracked stones had been put on for a mile, which made the walking almost intolerable. It was a long, dreary, bewildering walk, and a "Welcome, welcome!" at the door of my lodging, "ye'r destroyed," was a gladsome salute to my ears.

The town of Wicklow, with its narrow unpaved streets, presented few enticements to a stranger; but her glens, her richly cultivated fields, bordering on the sweet Vale of Avoca I had traversed before, were pleasant mementoes; and now the wild mountains, with my graceful old man, light-houses, and the laughing boy, were increasing the load of pleasant and painful remembrances, which, in spite of all stoicism, did force a womanish tear from my eye.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.