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Romantic Ireland, Volume 1
IN times past books of travel were frequently written for the perusal of “a few intimate friends.” Such was the purpose of a little pamphlet entitled “A Trip to Ireland,” which a few years ago fell into the hands of the writer. Its author and place of publication are unknown, but it bore the date of 1836.
The writer of this book has not the excuse of this unknown author and admirer of Ireland’s sylvan, historical, and romantic beauties for compiling the present work, nor is he possessed of the belief that he is called upon to attempt the task of merely imparting knowledge to the untravelled. But, since his attention was thus first directed to Ireland, — with the result that he has made a more or less intimate acquaintance with the allurements and charms of this delectable, if impoverished, land, — he has come to believe that there are a large number of interested people who would be glad to have an attractive presentation of some of the sights, scenes, and incidents which come to those who are fortunate enough to be able to sojourn there for a time.
In other words, this book is a record of, and some impressions of, a few of those ever-present charms of the green isle which have so permeated its history, its romance, and its literature.
As a record of a pilgrimage, this book will doubtless appear less satisfactory than as a presentation of facts relative to both the storied past and present-day affairs of the country, though it deals not so much with political issues and economic aspects as it does with the more pleasing and more tangible features of historic sites and scenes.
It is not expected that this book will escape criticism; probably it will not. It is impossible to attempt to compress a history of Ireland, a monograph on its ancient civilization, a treatise on manners and customs, or even an account of its architectural remains, at all consistent with the deserts of the subject, within the confines of a work such as this.
All that is claimed is that it is a résumé of the facts and the romance which, garnered from various sources, have impressed themselves upon the minds of the collaborators of this book in their journeyings through Erin’s Isle.
It is hoped, however, that these chapters, or, perhaps, more assuredly, the pictures with which they are adorned, will awaken a curiosity on the part of some to know more of Britain’s sister-isle.
Unfortunately, to many travellers — and to most American travellers — Ireland is a mere name, with a handle at either end, Queenstown in the south, and Londonderry or Moville in the north, where ships stop, in the dead of night, to land or embark the mails.
Usually, travellers from the Western world are in too much of a hurry to partake of the delights of London or the “dainty prettiness” of the Thames valley, the sanctity of the cathedral precincts of Canterbury or Salisbury, or even the more alluring attractions which lie “across Channel,” to think for a moment of disembarking at Cork harbour, with the mails, on board a rather uncomfortable “tender,” and, usually, amid much discomfort of weather.
Once the opportunity is missed, they are unlikely to retrace their steps in that direction, since one’s enthusiasm or desire pales before charms and attractions then present.
It ought to be a part of every traveller’s experience for him to pay a visit to Ireland — the “Emerald Isle,” or “Romantic Ireland” — and judge of its attractions, the places and the people, as seen on their native soil.
With a warm heart she will welcome him; with lip-liveliness and sparkling language she will entertain him; with impulsive zeal she will conduct him over her diversified domain, and bring under his eye scenes where —
“Grace and Terror smiling stand
Like sisters hand in hand.”
Though less fastidious than England, and without the canny cautiousness of Scotland, yet, of the Three Graces of the United Kingdom, fair Erin, for natural gifts and spontaneous beauties, stands preëminent.
“To the Bretons, the Basques, and the Irish,” says an observant French writer, “races not dissimilar in their hidden habits of thought and in the vague sadness of their eyes, the Atlantic Ocean is a boundary for the mind.... It is their climate background, resting-place, and grave ... the green hills into which Europe breaks to meet the southwest wind.”
All this, and more, is the Atlantic to the whole of northwest Europe, — Ireland in particular, — and its influences are not only great, but far-reaching.
The Irish, they say, have never been great seafarers. This, it is feared, is true to no small extent. They are not even great fishermen, as they well might be in their sea-girt isle. The Irishman himself will tell you that it is because the thrifty and hardworking west-coast Scotch have usurped their market. This may be so to a certain degree; but, to a still greater degree, their lack of capital to properly equip the industry is the reason why the harvest of the sea is garnered under their very sight.
It is not given to all who would travel and muse en route to be able to express their thoughts with that beauty of language which graces the lines of Stevenson or of Sterne. One may not even have the temerity to attempt to imitate their style.
He may, however, — and with propriety, thinks the writer, — consider, if he will, that theirs was the view-point of the acute observer and lover of the beautiful, and, as near as may be, imbibe somewhat of the emotions and sentiments with which these masters beheld the spots covered by their wanderings. Their words have come down to us as a variety of topographical description which can only be recognized as a new and precious thing, compared to the descriptions before and since.
With such an end in view were the various wanderings which are set forth in these pages undertaken. Not consecutively, nor even methodically, was the route laid out, but in the end it covered practically the entire island at varying seasons and under equally varying conditions of comfort or discomfort, though no hardships or disagreeable experiences were encountered, and it is confidently asserted that nothing of the kind would be met with by any who might make the journeys under similar conditions.
“June the nineteenth, arrived at Holyhead after an instructive journey through a part of England. Found the packet, the Claremont, Captain Taylor, would sail very soon.
“After a tedious passage of two and twenty hours, landed on the twentieth, in the morning, at Dunleary (now Kingstown), four miles from Dublin, a city which much exceeded my expectation.”
Thus wrote Arthur Young in his simple and quaint phraseology in 1776.
Arthur Young was a great traveller, one might say an inveterate traveller. He observed and wrote mostly of matters agricultural, but his side-lights thrown upon the screen — if not exactly illuminating it to a marked degree — were of far more interest and value to the general reader or travel-lover than the dicta of pedants or the conjectures of antiquarians.
Arthur Young was an agriculturist, an economist, or whatever you like to think him; but he evidently could not repress the temptation to put the results of his observations into print, as the many scores of entries to his credit in the history of book-making and authorship will show.
He sought to chronicle his “Tour in Ireland” for posterity, and conceived the thought of publishing the work “by subscription.” This he did in the year 1780 — and a most unlovely specimen of book-making it was. It was foredoomed to failure, and it apparently met it forthwith; for the author states in his preface that he was only able to complete the work at great expense to himself.
No further criticism shall be made. It remains now but to praise. The book is a veritable mine of fact — with precious little fancy — of the farming, fishing, weaving, and allied interests of the Ireland of that day, with not a little detail concerning the history, romance, and plain matter-of-fact social and economic conditions of life.
To-day, conditions for all but the well-to-do classes have changed but little, and here is a splendid framework to suggest a line of thought as far different from that conveyed by the “impressions” of one travelling for mere pleasure, as it is from the cut-and-dried bits of scrappy information which fill the guide-books to-day.
Until the indefatigable German comes to the rescue, it may be ventured that we shall have no comprehensive, concise, and correct guide-book to Ireland, and will have to take our pickings where we find them.
This book attempts merely the task of compiling fact and fancy, drawn from many sources, in connection with current comment — based upon actual observations.
There is much contributory and allied matter to be found in the wealth of illustration “done by the artist on the spot,” which, like the letter-press, professes truthfulness and attractiveness in its presentation.
Such economic questions as are dealt with herein are those only which would be observed by all, no matter how rapid their passage; and references to political questions have only been made when they bear some relation to historical events of a past long gone by.
The controversial side of the religious question is omitted, though, considering the many noble monuments, ancient shrines, ruined abbeys, and existing church edifices throughout the land, references to it, and many of its acts and functions, were here and there necessary.
So, too, mention has been made of many of the romantic and eery legends of the country, many of which are, in the light of recent history, considered somewhat apocryphal as to their genuineness. But, reader, what would you? You surely would not go to Ravenna and not see Juliet’s tomb, even though you know that Juliet had no real identity. Neither would you go to that gay little city of mid-France, Nevers, without visiting the tomb of “all the Montmorencies,” nor to Warwickshire without going to Stratford. Hence you must, if you would know aught of Ireland, see Muckross Abbey, Blarney Castle, and the Giant’s Causeway. The harps, the shamrocks, the blackthorns, and the peat-bogs, all of which are genuine enough, will then fit themselves accommodatingly into the ensemble, and you will have a picture so impressed upon the memory that the recollection of it will rival most things of this earth with which one has had but a passing intimacy.
This work, then, may in some small measure give a more favourable impression of the country than has commonly been produced even by Ireland’s pseudo-humourous novelists — that it is simply a land where mud huts, misery, discord, and violence predominate — by recognizing it as a land blessed by Heaven, in the first instance, at any rate, with nearly every natural gift.
If there be no end to the making of books, there should at least be a suitable and preconceived ending to all so made; and herein lies the difficulty for most writers.
The popular fictionist seems under the impression that the public want close upon a couple of hundred thousand words, filling a plump, ungraceful volume, for their few modest pennies; the compiler of books of pedantic information pads his product into a stately quarto, and the guide-book maker descends to small type and badly designed pages and crowds as much as he can into a small pocketable volume.
From these species of printed things ramify many varieties, and the author of this work has many times been placed in a quandary as to what mammoth proportions it might not assume were he to allow his predilections to run riot through its pages.
It is easy to say with Sterne, “Let us write a duodecimo,” but with what measure may an enthusiastic or just admiration be limited as to the overflowing volume of appreciation?
Mere cubic capacity as to size of the volume, or the superficial area of its pages, will not serve. The arts of the publisher and his printer can nullify any preconceived plans of this nature.
A judicious selection of the material to be used would be much more likely to bring about the desired result, though again we are confronted by the moving question as to how elaborate or extensive a work is necessary in order to cover the ground as minutely or as broadly as might be desired.
The result will not be found to approach the completeness of an historical record, nor yet the flimsiness of a mere sentimental journey along well-worn roads. It fills, rather, the gap which lies between, in view of the greater interest which is daily being shown in all things relating to Ireland — its literature, its history, its architecture, and its arts. Hence to a considerable public, which, it may be presumed, will ultimately show an interest therein, it is offered as an appreciation of the Ireland of the past and the present, based upon something more than a personally conducted tour to Killarney, or a jaunting-car ride about Queenstown, while awaiting the departure of the Atlantic mail-boat.