The New York Times, July 15, 1883, p.4:|
FAMOUS SPOTS IN IRELAND.
CORK HARBOR, July 3—Like the sanguine individual whose first step toward possessing a horse of his own was the finding of an old horse-shoe, we have got as far as Ireland on our way to Madagascar. What resemblance I may ultimately trace between the civilization of the two islands remains to be seen. But the kingdom of the Hovas must be picturesque indeed if it can show anything to surpass the south-western coast of Munster at any point from Smerwick Bay [Ard na Caithne] to Queenstown Roadstead [Cobh].
Far as the eye can reach it is one great panorama of bold, ridgy hills, now surging up in endless waves of dark purple, now melting away into green sunny slopes, checkered with a play of light and shadow that might have satisfied Rembrandt himself, and now falling sheer down to the sea in mighty precipices of stern gray rock.
All around the foot of this great rampart—cliffed here and there into tiny bays, white with glittering foam—the blue, bright waters of the Atlantic sparkle in the sunlight, and the white sails of countless boats flit to and fro over the shining surface almost as nimbly as the wide-winged sea-birds around them.
Here is, indeed, a matchless play ground for any man who can "rough it" a little without thinking himself a martyr. What a view one would have from the dizzy path that winds around yonder headland, just between the precipice below and the steep, slippery grass slope above, upon which the grazing sheep look no larger than sleeve-buttons. How one would drink in the fresh sea breeze while striding over these wide green uplands, with a huge gray boulder starting up from them every here and there, like the tomb of some primeval Irish hero.
And then the "deep-sea fishing" at midnight—the universal hush, broken only by the muttered recital of some grim native legend by the oldest of the band, whose dark, bearded faces look quite unearthly in the ghostly glimmer of the moonlight—the plunge of the net into the shadowy depths below, and the dead silence of expectation. Then the haul, the shout of excitement, the flapping of countless fins and tails, the silvery gleam of wet scales through the dripping meshes, and the shoreward struggle through the cold, gray dawn against wind and sea.
After such a holiday, Mr. Forster himself might hope for the coming of a time when a land so gloriously gifted by nature shall do itself justice in the eyes of men, and when the great name of Ireland shall no longer be profaned by a rabble of boastful and cowardly cut-throats, with the intellect of a Guiteau and the heart of a O'Donovan Rossa.
But quiet and peaceful as this splendid seaboard looks now, there are few spots upon the face of the earth that have witnessed fiercer storms, whether sent by the wrath of heaven or by the passions of man. What this ill-fated region was like even in the age of Shakespeare and Cervantes has been photographed for us in the trenchant words of one of Elizabeth's English Lieutenants, who held office here toward the close of her reign.
"First," says he, "I wish that order were taken for the cutting and opening of all places through woods, so that a wide way, of the space of 100 yards, might be laid open in every one of them for the safety of travelers, which use often in such perilous places to be robbed and sometimes murdered. Next, that bridges were built upon the rivers, and all the fords marred and split, so as none might pass any other way but by those bridges, and every bridge to have a gate and a gate-house set thereon..."
Such precautions seem to belong rather to a Russian outpost in Central Asia, or a British garrison on the border of Afghanistan than to any district actually within a few hundred miles of the English capital itself. If this was the kind of legislation which one of the wisest and most humane men of that period considered, from personal experience, to be essential to the maintenance of peace in Ireland, the "finest peasantry upon earth" must have possessed very respectable powers of disturbance even in an age ignorant of the blessings of dynamite.
But whatever the crimes of the "wild Irishry" may have been, the vengeance poured out upon them was such that even the trained soldiers of that iron age, used as they were to scenes of blood and terror, stood aghast at it. Nothing in history or in fiction, not even Dante's awful picture of the lingering agony of Ugolino and his sons upon the Tower of Famine, can surpass the horror of the graphic detail given by an English eye-witness of the state to which Munster was reduced by the ravages of the contending armies during Sham O'Neill's last struggle against England.
"Ere one year and a half," says he, "they [the Irish] were brought to such wretchedness as that any stony heart would have rued the same. Out of every corner of the woods and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands and knees, for their limbs could not bear them. They looked like anatomies of death, they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves. They did eat the dead carrions, [happy when they could find them,] yea, and one another soon after, insomuch that they spared not to scrape the very carcasses out of their graves. If they found a plot of watercresses or shamrocks, thither they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able to continue long withal. So that in short space there were almost none of them left, and a most populous and plentiful country was suddenly left void both of man and of beast."
In reading of these and other horrors one has not even the consolation of thinking that they are now long past and never to be repeated; for any man who was in the West of Ireland during the potato famine of 1846-7 can match even these ghastly details with others equally hideous. And see how, as if in sympathy with these gloomy recollections, the bright afternoon sky is already beginning to cloud over, darkening the sullen sea with its dim and cheerless shadow. The close-ranked houses of Queenstown, fast growing blurred and indistinct in the deepening glooom, seem huddling like storm-beaten sheep under the shelter of the great ridge above them. Against the gathering blackness overhead the tall signal tower on Roche Point stands out gaunt and spectral, while the trim white outline of Fort Carlisle looks livid and unearthly upon the shadowy vastness of the broad hillside behind it.
Well will it be for those poor fishermen whose red sails stud the southern horizon if they can regain the sheltered bay before the storm swoops down upon them, for by midnight there will be wild work in the Atlantic. No holiday time will it be now for the keepers of the Fastnet Light-house, which looked so trim and pretty when we passed it at daybreak this morning, with the sky clear and bright overhead and the dancing ripples glittering all around in the first beams of sunrise. A charming place on a fine Summer day, with the great sea heaving as softly as the breast of a slumbering child, but a grim place on a black, stormy night, when the clouds are rushing across the sky before the blast of a roaring gale, and the waves are leaping as high as the tower itself, dimming the cheering light with volleys of lashing spray.
At such a time one might well call to mind with unpleasant vividness the hideous tale which every light-keeper in the West of England knows by heart, how one of the two guards of the Eddystone died during a storm which cut off all hope of communication with the land, and how the survivor, fearing to be suspected of murder if he should throw the body into the sea, headed it up in a cask, and kept his dreary vigil alone with the dead till his reason failed under the awful trial, and when the tardy aid came at last, it found the lonely tower tenanted by a madman and a corpse.
Such gloomy visions harmonize only too well with a region in which have been enacted not a few of the blackest tragedies of modern times. Well may the great headland of Cape Clear, looking silently forth over the infinite sea, appear to be watching for tidings of the thousands of brave men who have gone hence never to return, or mourning over countless thousands more who have been engulfed in the cruel waters below. In the far-off days when Spain was the terror of Europe, under Philip II., there landed on the south-westernmost corner of Munster, where the Atlantic breakers chafe unceasingly upon the desolate sand-hills of Smerwick Bay, a small army of Italian and Spanish soldiers of fortune, led by Sebastian de Modena [Sebastiano di San Giuseppe], one of the most famous ruffians of the time. Here they built a fort, hoisted the yellow flag of Spain, and called upon the Irish to join them in exterminating the "English heretics," "purposing from that point to have conquered all Ireland in the name of the Pope and the King of Spain."
Better had they carried their dreams of conquest elsewhere, for the English of that age were men who met treason and murder not with smooth words and "measures of conciliation," but with the edge of the sword. A sudden gathering of English troops from every quarter, a short siege, a furious bombardment, two or three desperate but hopeless sortees of the doomed garrison, and then the last scene of all, which dismayed even the fierce Irish banditti that watched it from the skirts of the distant forest. The English Deputy, Lord Grey—in whom Spenser typified justice itself under the title of "Sir Artegall"—was not one to do his work by halves, and the Spanish and Italian mercenaries of that age were men to spare whom was the worst of cruelty. Accordingly, one company of English soldiers having been sent into the fort to drive out its defenders and another posted to meet them as they came forth, "they slew them all, even unto the last."
But this was only the beginning of sorrows for unhappy Spain. A few short years later, the gloomy Autumn daybreak beheld the mighty hulls of several stately war-ships looming through mist and spray as they drifted helplessly to their doom on the wild Kerry shore, the Spanish crews shrieking in vain to the saints in whom they trusted, while their fellow-Catholics of Munster flocked down to the beach by hundreds and by thousands, not to save, alas! but to plunder and to slay. The corpses of 8,000 gallant men were flung like sea-weed upon the Irish coast, and few indeed returned to tell the fate of the "Invincible Armada."
A century later the wind that swept over the same coast swelled the sails which bore into exile brave Patrick Sarsfield and the heroes who had made good the walls of Limerick against William III. of England and his ablest Captains. They went forth from their homes forever, to fight against England in the ranks of Louis the Great on many a memorable field, and to bequeath to their descendants that legacy of undying hatred which clung around "the curse of Cromwell" and "the Saxon faith of Limerick."
Happily the world has grown wiser since then, and the short-sighted oppression denounced in the words of fire by Lord Macaulay is now giving place to a sounder, because more humane, policy. The names of Burke, Grattan, and Curran; of Wellington, Lake, and Neill; of Swift and Goldsmith; of Moore and Sheridan; of "Kabul Roberts," and many another gifted Irishman who has done noble work for England with pen or tongue or sword, are surely a more agreeable retrospect than the scaffold of poor Robert Emmett, the self-slain corpse of Wolfe Tone, or the blood-stained slope of Vinegar Hill...
Any traveler who may have a month to spare—for a shorter term would do but scanty justice to such scenery—cannot do better than strike inland from Cork (a notable spectacle in itself) and head north-westward as far as Mallow, inspecting on the way Blarney Castle and the famous stone which has bequeathed a proverbial jest to the whole civilized world.
Thence he might turn westward up the valley of the Blackwater, look down from the summit of Mangerton upon the long vista of Kenmare Bay, admire the bold outline of McGillicuddy's Reeks [MacGillycuddy's Reeks or Na Cruacha Dubha, "The Black Stacks"], (the highest mountains in Ireland,) and drink his fill of picturesque national legends and fairy tales amid the quiet beauty of the Lake of Killarney.
Fairylike indeed is the famous region, which can bear comparison even with its East Irish rival, the reknowned "Vale of Avoca" (celebrated in one of the loveliest of the "Irish Melodies,") from whose "bright waters" came the gold that formed a harp-shaped vinaigrette now in my possession, formerly presented by an Irish poet called Thomas Moore to a Scottish poet called Sir Walter Scott.
But our traveler's journey would not end here. From Killarney he would turn to the north-west again, cut across the head of Dingle Bay, and come down over the side of Sliebh-Mish [Slieve Mish Mountains, Sliabh Mis] upon Tralee, in the hollow of one of the most picturesque of those countless clefts hewn in the western coast of Ireland by the restless waves of the Atlantic. Then northward again through the dark hills around Kerry Head and across the Feale to Listowel, till, by the time he reached the mouth of the Shannon, he would have seen enough to assure him that the enthusiastic admiration of Moore, Carleton, and Lever for "the emerald gem of the western world" was amply justified.
But no one can consider his survey of this charming region complete till he has penetrated northward to the mountains which separated the county of Cork from that of Limerick, and reached a spot two miles from Doneraile, where, on a high bluff overshadowing the clear, smooth lake below, a ruined but still massive tower, festooned with clustering leaves, and half-encircled by the broken, grass-grown remnant of a boundary wall, marks the site of the once famous Kilcolman Castle. The grand old woods that once clothed the surrounding uplands have long since been swept away, but they were still in their glory 300 years ago, and formed a matchless foreground in that splendid panorama which extended as far as the hills of Kerry on one side and those of Waterford on the other, while through the plain around the castle wandered the "winding Mulla," [Mullagh, Awbeg River An Abhainn Bheag] little dreaming of the immortality which it was soon to attain.
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The Republic of Ireland, Europe, occupies the majority of an island to the west of Great Britain, excepting Northern Ireland (United Kingdom) in the northeast corner of the island. The capital is Dublin. The area of Ireland is 27,137 square miles (70,285 square kilometers). The estimated population of Ireland for July, 2009 is 4,203,200.
Celtic tribes settled on the island from 600-150 B.C. Invasions by Norsemen that began in the late 8th century were finally ended when King Brian BORU defeated the Danes in 1014. English invasions began in the 12th century and set off more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions.
A failed 1916 Easter Monday Rebellion touched off several years of guerrilla warfare that in 1921 resulted in independence from the UK for 26 southern counties; six northern (Ulster) counties remained part of the United Kingdom.
In 1949 Ireland withdrew from the British Commonwealth; it joined the European Community in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful unification of Ireland and have cooperated with Britain against terrorist groups.
A peace settlement for Northern Ireland is gradually being implemented despite some difficulties. In 2006, the Irish and British governments developed and began to implement the St. Andrews Agreement, building on the Good Friday Agreement approved in 1998.
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