Edgeworthtown is a cheerful little place, in the county of Longford, in the centre of Ireland, and has received its name from the Edgeworth familya name which the amiable authoress, Maria Edgeworth, has made celebrated throughout the whole world. This family came overthat is, from England, whence almost the whole of the landed proprietary of Ireland derive their origin; and this expression they often use to inform each other, and strangers who may be their guests, at what time and on what occasion their family first came over. In England this came over refers to the Continentto Normandyfrom whence so many English families derive their descent. The Edgeworths, then, came over in 1583, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. They were previously established at Edgeworth, a gentleman's seat in Middlesex. In Ireland they became possessed of several considerable estates and castles, including Castle Crarallagh, Castle Lissard, and others. The village of Fairymount, which they also possess, has, in modern times, become well known throughout the world under a slight change of name. Fairymount, which derives its name from a hill in the neighbourhood, was afterward shortened into Firmount; and the Abbé Edgeworth, who attended Louis XVI. to the scaffold as his confessor, called himself Monsieur de Firmont, after this mount and village.
Besides this Abbé de Firmont, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and his daughter Maria, are well known to the world; the former by a series of little essays, nearly all of which treat of subjects in mechanics; and the latter by her so universally admired, pleasing, and talented tales, works on education, and juvenile works. As
p.24evidence of the inventive mechanical genius of her father, there still exist in Edgeworthtown many interesting little works: for instance, doors which can be easily opened with the foot or the knee, so that the servants, laden with viands or other matters, require no assistance to open them. But what more especially attracts attention is a remarkable iron church-steeple, which was erected in a very easy, ingenious, and economical manner. The lower, square half of this steeple was built of stone in the usual way, inside of which the upper round and pointed portion was constructed of iron bars and plates; and when it was completed to the very last nail, by a very simple contrivance it was drawn out from the lower partjust as one part of a telescope is drawn out of the otherand in a few minutes fixed and screwed on to the masonry. All costly external scaffolding was thus avoided: and a large company who were invited to witness it, enjoyed the pleasure of seeing the whole steeple rise, as if out of the ground, to the accompaniment of music.
Mr. Edgeworth wrote several works jointly with his daughter Maria; for instance, the Essay on Practical Education, and the humorous Essay on Irish Bulls. And now, I suppose, many of my German readers will expect from me a perfect picture of the life and habits of the amiable, cheerful, and talented authoress whom they esteem so highly, and that I should minutely describe the little spot near the window of the pretty library, her customary sitting-room, with the little writing-table, and all the comfortable and agreeable environments, in which the Moral Tales, the Popular Tales, Belinda, Leonora, Griselda, Castle Rackrent, Helen, and all her other charming works, were conceived and written. No doubt all this would be extremely interesting to many; but I feel so great an aversion to speak of those living persons who have received me under their roofs, that, adhering to my old rule, I will keep all this to myself, and entreat my readers to accompany me in my walks in the neighbourhood of Edgeworthtown, where they will probably find much that is generally characteristic of the country and of the people, with whom I am always fonder of employing myself than with personalities.
The Edgeworths have been long resident in the countrythat is, they are not absentees, but live upon their property, attending to its improvement, and to the well-being of their dependents. Many other gentle and noble families who have property in the neighbourhood, (among others the Tuites,) also reside upon their estates. I had therefore the opportunity of here experiencing the remarkable effects of the presence and attention of a
p.25resident proprietary, and of seeing in how great a degree those Irish landlords who devote no attention to their tenantry are answerable for the misery of their country. I would never have believed that such good, such solid farmers and farms could exist in Ireland, as I saw here, upon the estates of the two families I have mentioned. And since, even in English authors, such expressions may be found as the following from Wakefield, who says, With the exception of those which belong to the gentry, there is nothing throughout Ireland that deserves the name of a farmhouse; it will be worth the trouble to show that this declaration has its exceptions.
Upon my many excursions into the country about Edgeworthtown, I saw farm-houses which were just as substantial and as stately as the best in England. Every thing was in the neatest and most perfect condition: the rooms were as comfortable as any one could desire, the stairs and the rooms were carpeted, and I was offered wine and refreshments. On the property of Mr. Tuite I visited a whole series of farm-houses which were all equally neat, and in as good order; each had sides of bacon hanging in the vestibule; the kitchen utensils all bright and shining, and the furniture and beds in the chambers all as excellent as in the houses of the wealthier peasants in Germany. The Tuite family, I was told, had resided on their property for more than three hundred years, had always managed it themselves, and the present possessor is a particularly zealous and active agriculturist. As it is extremely rare to see any thing like this in Ireland, it is therefore the more interesting. But the fact that it is sometimes to be seen shows it is possible, with care and loving kindness, to raise the Irish peasantry from their miseryan improvement which those who could best effect are usually least inclined to believe, whilst they attribute the entire blame to the want of order, the dirty and drunken habits, and the improvidence of the people. In the memoirs of her father, Miss Edgeworth gives a description of an intelligent landlord, animated by a wish to better the condition of his tenantry; a description which is at this moment very applicable and full of interest, since the relations of landlord and tenant have remained pretty much the same.
Farms which were originally sufficient for the support of a man and his family, have, in many cases, been divided from generation to generation, the father always giving a bit of land to each of his sons, to set them up in the world. This subdivision of farms is universally prevalent in Ireland, and is one of the many sources of her great poverty. Every one is anxious to possess a bit of ground to till for himself; and however praiseworthy this desire
p.26may be, yet when carried too far, as in Ireland, it causes the greatest mischief. Irish parents are too fond of their children: they cannot bring themselves to favour one more than another, and always endeavour to divide their farms, for whatever term they may possess them, between their sons in equal shares. From this endless division it arises that every one at last possesses a piece of ground so small, that the occupier and his family are always in a slate between bare existence and starvation. Were the extent of the farms fixed, and were they made indivisible, and the younger sons sent out to make their own fortunes, the elder would have a greater interest in the improvement and good cultivation of the land that feeds them; whilst the younger, being sent out into the world, would manifest more industry and speculation.
With this progressive minuteness and subdivision of farms into smaller and smaller potato gardens for the poor peasants, the preservation of the estates of the landowners in their original size stands in sad contrast. For, since the landlords inherit their lands, not according to the custom of Ireland, but the old Norman feudal laws, the great mass of each estate descends to one individual. Had the law countenanced the division of property, the smaller landlords would by degrees have approached nearer to the farmers, and the division of estates would have set a limit to the division of farms. As matters were, and are, there is no country in Europe where the property of the peasant in the land he cultivates bears so small a proportion to that of the proprietor of the soil. In Russia, individuals possess vast tracts; but there the peasants also have extensive districts. In Ireland, there are estates as large as dukedoms in Thuringia, and farms, if one may apply this expression to a potato garden, scarcely as big as the piece of ground which an English gentleman sets apart for his rabbits in a corner of his park. In the county of Tipperary, out of 3400 farms, 280 are less than one acre, 1056 between one and five acres, and the remainder are above five acres.
The careful landlord should therefore do every thing to counteract this propensity of his tenant for a little potato garden of his own, which he can till without much exertion of mind or body; and, on the expiration of leases, by uniting several of the smaller farms, which are now scarcely capable of supporting their possessors, gradually introduce an able, active, and wealthy class of farmers. The provident and thrifty landlord will not (as in Ireland is unhappily too often the case, by reason of the general propensity to prodigality and extravagance,) be in want of ready money, and will not be therefore compelled to let his farms to
p.27the highest bidders. He will, on the contrary, prefer the farmer who has industry and a good character to him who offers most. Just as little will he be influenced by party-prejudice or election interests(many gentlemen divide their lands, solely for this purpose, into the smallest possible lots, in order to have a greater number of votes at forthcoming elections,)and will not reject this or that individual merely on account of his religious convictions. If he offers his land on reasonable conditions, he will find the competence of the bidders sufficiently great to determine his choice. In many farm-leases one of the principal conditions was, and I believe is partly at the present day, the delivery of a certain number of game, fish, cattle, and the performance of a certain amount of labour (duty-fowl, duty-work, as it was called). But most good landlords have abandoned this custom as pernicious.
Another pernicious custom in Ireland is the letting the land in partnership, as it is called, often to whole villages, the members of the partnership being jointly and severally liable for the rent. These community-farms the good landlord will oppose, from the same motives which, in modern times, have operated in Germany and other countries, to dissolve and divide the commons of tillage and pasture grounds. Unfortunately this is still so much the case in many districts of Ireland, that, according to the report of Mr. Nicholls, one of the Poor-law Commissioners, the commons of pasture grounds are to be seen continually over-stocked with cattle, and the people are for ever disputing with each other as to who is entitled to send the greatest number of wretched animals to pasture there. If the piece of ground thus let in common is arable, they share it among themselves in little lots. But these divisions lead to continual quarrels and law-suits, each selfishly insisting on his right to some inch of miserable land, and each in continual fear of being overreached by his neighbour. In these divisions, should the land permit it, two roods of good ground, two of stony, and two of bog, are appropriated to each tenant; and for the sake of this small allotment, each one becomes responsible for the defalcations of the whole.
One of the greatest evils beneath which the Irish agricultural system groans, is the existence of middlemen. To this the good landlord will direct his attention. In order to avoid the trouble of a number of small tenants, and to receive the revenues of their estates (on which they never reside,) in one large sum, many landowners have introduced the custom of letting entire tracts of land together, to persons possessing some capital; these again let it in lots to others, either to the real tillers of the soil, or to other middlemen possessing less capital than themselves,
p.28who then let it to the actual cultivators. Thus there often stand between the landlord and the cultivator a series of middlemen, not one of whom has any natural interest in the improvement of the soil, and whose only aim is to make the peasant pay as high a rent as possible, in order the more easily to pay to the landlord his moderate chief-rent. The most pernicious, unjust, and disgraceful part of this system, however, is, that in case the middleman becomes bankrupt, or spends the money, or does not satisfy the head landlord, the latter can come down on the occupier, and make him pay his rent over again, although he has already paid the middleman. An act of parliament, entitled The Subletting Act, passed, I believe, in the year 1830, has entirely forbidden subletting; but of course this can only apply to contracts made subsequent to that date; and as there are districts which have been let for terms of from 20 to 30 years to undertenants, and tenants under them again, nay, even in perpetuity, upon these this law can operate but slowly, if at all. Besides, such a law can always be evaded, and an evil practice of long standing can hardly be at once removed by legislation. The tyranny and the misery to which the poor undertenants were (and, I must add, still are) subjected by this system of middlemen can scarcely be credited. It often happens that if the first middleman, either through knavery or extravagance, or any other cause, be unwilling, or unable to pay, the landlord has no other means of obtaining his rents but by going to the land itself, i. e. by sending his driver to seize, impound, and sell, for the payment of the rent, the cattle, or whatever produce may be found on the farm. Instances of this shameful injustice were (and are?) not unfrequent.
These are, no doubt, things unheard-of in the rest of Europe. But just as unheard-of things present themselves in their mode of agriculture, and the implements employed. There are localities where the people do not know how to form a threshing-floor, and where they use any hard spot of ground, or even a piece of a macadamized road, for that purpose. Even at the present day, cars with wheels without spokes, nay, cars without wheels, called slide cars are in existence in some quarters.
The term for which leases are granted is also very important. Great numbers of Irish farmers are tenants at will, i. e. they hold their farms only so long as it pleases their landlords to permit them, and can therefore have no great interest in the improvement of their lands, since they are never certain that they may not be turned out at a moment's notice. It is of course entirely at the option of the landlord to let his ground for as long or as short a period as he pleases. But the terms most used in
p.29Ireland are, for ever, for ninety-nine years, for thirty-one years, for twenty-one years, and leases for three lives, as they are called. I have been informed, I am sorry to say not falsely, that tenants at will are much on the increase, in consequence of the late extension of the electoral franchise, and of the O'Connell agitation. The landlords, who have found by experience that tenants secured in their farms by long leases are self-willed, and often vote contrary to their (the landlords') interests, prefer granting only short terms, that they may keep them in dependence by the fear of expulsion. These tenancies at will should, if possible, be entirely forbidden, and the landlords compelled by law to give leases for longer terms. This is the universal wish of the agricultural class in Ireland, by whom it is termed fixity of tenure; but no one sees any means of effecting this change, by which the tenants at will would be converted into hereditary tenants of the soil.
The Irish being so much behind in every thing, it has not of course occurred to any one to inquire by what step this object may be accomplished. Even the daring O'Connell, I believe, has not once thought or spoken of this. And it is the more remarkable, since it shows how far the cause of the agricultural populationthe most important and first class of society, upon which rests the whole fabric of the state, as upon its basehas advanced in the other states of Europe beyond the condition of the Irish peasantry. In most of the civilized countries of Europein France by a revolution, in almost all the states of Germany by wise reformsthe nobility have been deprived of their old feudal rights over the oppressed and subjugated peasantry; and these, from serfs and slaves, have been turned into small free proprietors of the soil. Nay, even in Russia, within the last ten years, many introductory measures have been taken towards making the peasants more independent of their lords, and gradually to give them the ownership of the land which they till. In England and Ireland only, people have not ventured even to think on the question, whether it would not be very wise to grant the poor serfish Irish farmers the freehold of their soil; or, if this could not be effected without a revolution, at least to follow the example of Prussia, Saxony, &c., and by reforms and measures introductory to changing the tenants at will into hereditary possessors, to regulate and reduce the rents of these tenants by law, and then to permit, and finally to insist on the tenant's right to purchase his land; and by these means to form a class of free peasants and small independent landowners. No one has for a moment thought of inquiring, as has been done in France and
p.30Germany, nay, even in the Baltic provinces of Russia, whether the peasant has not an older and a better right to the soil than the noble landowner, who grew over his head gradually by force and oppression, and took away from him by degrees the land of his fathers. There is in England so holy an awe of interfering with the rights of property as recognized by the state, that no one is capable of taking so comprehensive and elevated a view of the subject as would enable him to perceive, that, under certain circumstances, it would be the highest wisdom for the state herself to violate these rights.
The titles by which the landed nobility in the various states of Europe hold their property and serfs, are of various kinds. Generally speaking, they are held by possession from time immemorial. Among the original inhabitants, individuals had raised themselves to power by cunning or bodily strength; and these, partly by just and legal treaties, and partly by force, gradually obtained their soil from others, and made them their dependents. In many countries, however, the peasants were deprived of their property and independence by conquest, and the partition of their country amongst the conquerors. Almost everywhere this period of conquest goes so far back into the times of gray antiquity, that the injustice to which they owe their titles is well-nigh wholly forgotten; nay, even the descendants of the unjust conquerors are, for the most part, long since dead and extinct, and new families have succeeded to their possessions by purchase, or other just titles. Could the original conquerors or their descendants be found, the state might justly say to them, You possess your estates by an unjust title; we will therefore take them away from you, and restore them to the poor peasants from whom your forefathers wrested them. Prussia and other countries not only did this, but, since they could not distinguish the just possessors from the unjust, they treated both alike, and compelled them, willing or unwilling, with or without title, to resign their pernicious and foolish privileges, and to accept a certain moderate indemnity. What Prussia and other countries have done towards a nobility with much better titles, people in Ireland do not dare even to think of doing with respect to a nobility with the worst of all possible titles. Landowners growing as it were out of the people themselves, and possessing their estates from time immemorial, may be said not to exist in Ireland; for the old national-Irish nobles and landlords have, with a few exceptions, been completely destroyed. The most honourable and best title an Irish family can show is force and conquest. This force, however, almost never goes beyond the memory of man; for although in the time of
p.31Henry II., about the middle of the twelfth century, all Ireland was claimed by the English, by virtue of a grant from the Pope, it was not till the time of Henry VIII. and Elizabeth, that they fixed themselves firmly in a small portion of the country, and became the rulers of not more than a third or fourth part of the island, called The Pale.
The conquest of Ireland, properly so called, was first completed by Elizabeth, and after her by Cromwell, which was in a measure once more repeated by William III. All these conquests, of comparatively modern date, were followed by the expulsion of the old immemorial proprietors from their estates, and the investiture of new lords and masters; so that fully nine-tenths of the soil are the property of families of English descent, almost all of whom can still point out the date when their ancestors obtained their forcible possession. I have said that force and conquest are the most honourable and best titles which the Irish landlords can show, for many obtained them by procuring confiscations in their favour, surreptitiously, by treachery and fraud. One can easily imagine by what villanies estates were acquired in a land where, for a long time, there existed a law by which a younger brother, on turning protestant, could deprive his elder brother, or a son his father, of his estates. And to these villanies, and frauds of their ancestors, most of the landowning families of Ireland can be proved to owe their estates. When lands are held by such titles as these, might not any reasonable government justly interpose, and, if it could not be accomplished without a revolution, yet at least by gradual reform, convert the poor tenants at will and leaseholders into freeholders, so that the suffering millions may not for ever live in misery for the advantage of a few oligarchs?
On one of our excursions to the farmers of Sunna, we found an old woman who understood Irish, and spoke very bad English. She said that in her youth, some fifty years ago, almost nothing else but Irish was spoken or understood here, in the centre of Ireland; but that many who understood it in their youth had now entirely forgotten it, and the children were no longer taught Irish. There are but very few, she said, who can even bless themselves in Irish. She told us the old Irish name of Edgeworthtown, but I have unfortunately forgotten it.
It is worthy of notice, that nearly throughout Ireland, even in the most Anglicized or Saxonized districts, the original names of the divisions of the country have been retained, and particularly those of the smallest divisions, called townships. This is the more remarkable, as many of them must sound very strange to the Saxon ear of Englishmen, such as Camliskbey, Agadonagh,
p.32and Ballinloughtagh, which are the names of some townships in the neighbourhood of Edgeworthtown. Several of these townships united make a parish, and several parishes a barony. The names of these baronies are in part English, but in the west of Ireland they are entirely Irish, as for instance, Truchanakmy, Doskacuiny, Iricticonnor, Mucunchy, &c. From six to eight baronies form a county, of which there are thirty-two, many of which have English names, as Waterford, Longford, Down, Queen's County, King's County; whilst many yet retain the old Irish appellations, as Monaghan, Fermanagh, Donegal, and others. Of these counties, again, four provinces are formed, which are the largest divisions of the country, and in former days were Irish kingdoms.
The nobility and gentry in this part of Ireland know nothing of the Irish language; nay, there are but few places where the landowners can converse in Irish with their peasantry. In the vicinity of Galway alone, the most completely national Irish town, do the gentry understand and sometimes speak the language. Here, too, the priests are bound to preach in Irish every Sunday. The best Irish scholars also dwell here; among these the most distinguished are Dr. M'Hale, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, and his Vicar-General, Dr. Loftus. The former is now publishing a translation of the Iliad in Irisha language which, as it possesses numerous epic and elegiac poems, is certainly not a little suited for such a translation. The same scholar has also lately published an Irish version of the poems of Thomas Moore, which has been much praised.
Most of the farmers whom we visited had arms in their possessionguns, sabres, and bayonets. We could not do without them, said they. With regard to the Peelers,4 a species of police force, armed like soldiers, and very numerous in every part of Ireland, they also said, We could not do without them. These rich farmers express the same opinions as their landlords, and to a man stand on their side; for since, as middlemen, they often have their under-tenants, so also they have as much to apprehend from the peasantry as their landlords. Many conspiracies are constantly formed among the poor farmers and labourers; and as these conspiracies are said to be as plentiful as the grievances complained of, they must, indeed, be numberless. Almost every regulation which an Irish landlord adopts, even those which are for the advantage and comfort of the tenants
p.33themselves, are sure to be opposed and resisted by his tenantry, either by means of an open or concealed conspiracy. Thus, for instance, should a landlord wish to reclaim a bog, from which, whether entitled to it or not, the neighbouring tenants have been accustomed to obtain a scanty supply of fuel, those who have an interest in the preservation of the bog immediately conspire against all the works undertaken by the landlorddestroying and throwing down his fences, scattering or removing the lime and manure which he has collected for the improvement of the land, and otherwise annoying him, until he abandons all intention of continuing his projected improvement. Or if a landlord, by raising his rents, has brought down on himself the hatred of his tenants, a conspiracy is frequently formed among the neighbouring farmers, who mutually pledge themselves to pay no higher rent in future, or perhaps no rent at all, and not even to permit others to do so. By this means the landlord is, of course, much embarrassed, as his income is lessened, or often entirely cut off. For even if he should find any one to take the ground, the new tenant is exposed to so many annoyances from the conspirators(who give him no neighbourly assistance, but evince their hostility by frequently quarrelling with him, sometimes beating or even murdering him)that he must give up his farm, and the landlord is forced to accede to the wishes of his refractory tenantry. When leases expire, it is often difficult for the landlord, should he wish to dispose of his farms in any other way, to remove the tenants, who are naturally inclined to overhold what they have so long possessed, and accordingly retain forcible possession. A compulsory removal, however necessary, has here so much the appearance of injustice, that the farmer has many to sympathize with him, and thus another conspiracy is formed. Threats are now held out against the landlord, in case he attempts to eject the tenant by force or by law. If he is not thus deterred, but appeals to the law, the conspiracy again meets him in the shape of a jury composed mostly of farmers, who are united in the determination, as they say, not to give a verdict against themselves. Should the landlord, however, gain his suit, set the threats at defiance, discover and prosecute those who threatened himshould he escape their waylayings and their bulletshe obtains his farm, it is true, but in a very altered and good-for-nothing state; for the farmer has done his best to wear out the ground, and to break it up. These conspirators often go so far as to murder a landlord, or one of his chief middlemen; and then it is usually impossible to discover the murderer, because all concerned are pledged to inviolable secrecy. Nearly all the great and widespread
p.34combinations and conspiracies among the Irish people, of which we have so frequently heard, owe their origin not so much to political feeling as to the complicated and unfortunate agricultural relations of the country, which, however, are very closely connected with politics. The Whiteboys, the Defenders, the Heart of Oak Boys, the Peep-o'-day Boys, the Ribbonmen, and those bands which are known by the assumed names of their leaders, as John Doe, Richard Roe, Captain Dreadnought, Captain Moonshine, Captain Starlight, Captain Rockall these conspiracies, and the like, start up and disappear one after another, and emerge again under a different name. Of many, however, it is impossible to say that they ever disappear, for they are heard of everywhere, and are everywhere feared.
Numerous parties of poor Irish reapers and labourers passed through Edgeworthtown during my sojourn there, and excited compassion by their miserable appearance. On my way from Dublin I had already met with vast swarms of them, who all complained of the little they had earned in England. They were mostly of that class of labourers who wander every year chiefly from the western parts of Ireland, and principally from Connaught, in order to assist the rich English farmers in their harvest. The last year's harvest was very good, but there were so many unemployed hands to be hired at low wages in England, that the Irish emigrants found themselves badly off: hungry and in rags, they crossed over to England; and in the very same plight they came back, since they had scarcely earned enough to pay the expenses of the journey. The wanderings of the Irish labourers, backwards and forwards, between England and Ireland, take place every year as regularly as the migrations of birds of passage. As the price of labour is twice as much in England as in Ireland, (it is here between 6d. and 8d. per diem; there it varies between 1s. and 1s. 6d.) the poor Irish, who live on the cheapest food, are able to pay the expenses of their journey, and generally to bring back some small savings. These people are called Irish harvesters. The period of these migrations is from June to October. In Donegal, Clare, Mayo, Connemara, and other quarters of this mountainous rocky province, each peasant has a little plot of ground; and as soon as they have ploughed their field and sown their seed, leaving their families behind, they set off towards the eastern portsDublin, Belfast, Dundalk, &c.,in little parties, from whence they cross over to England and Scotland. Their own little harvest is, meanwhile, attended to by their wives; or, as every thing ripens slowly in the temperate climate of Ireland, and particularly in the mountains of western Connaught, they may be
p.35back themselves time enough to save their own harvests. During the haymaking and harvest in England and Scotland, the services of these reapers are of considerable importance, and in many districts the crops could not be secured without their aid. They are, generally speaking, sober, well-behaved, and peaceable, hard-working, and easily fed. They usually return, year after year, to those places in which they are known; and as the English farmer generally engages the same labourers he employed during the preceding year, in certain districts of England the fields are reaped every year by labourers from the same districts of Ireland.
In consequence of the cheapness and facility of the communication between England and Ireland, produced by steamers, these migrations are every year becoming more extensive. The Irish labourer, since he can cross over into England for a few shillings and in a few hours, is able to seek employment there with as much convenience as the English, and to take advantage of every favourable conjuncture. It is only when they have come from so great a distance as Connaught that it must often disappoint them bitterly to find themselves deceived in their expectations. It is the more affecting to see Paddy with a rueful look, since he is usually quite free from care, whilst all who returned across the Channel this year had care depicted in their countenances. Some of them complained that the riotous manufacturers had robbed them of all they possessed. They thought of their wives at home, who were anxiously looking out for their return with their earnings, and to whom they were now bringing no harvest-money, to pay the rent and satisfy a few pressing wants. Their only hope was placed on their little potato garden, which this year promised a crop large enough at least to save them from starvation. How they got over the winter, with the Driver, and with the middleman demanding the rent, Heaven only knows. Such wanderings of reapers I have seen in various countries of Europe, but none made so sad an impression on my mind as these Irish swarms neither those who march from the heath-tracts and moors of northern Germany into the rich marshes of Holland; nor the poor Croats, Bohemians, and Styrians, who, for the same purpose, wander from Hungary, Bohemia, and Styria, towards the fertile lowlands of the Danube; nor those who, from the Alps, descend to the abundant plains of the Po; nor, in fine, the mowers, who, from the interior of Russia, yearly swarm to the uninhabited steppes of the south.
I visited, while at Edgeworthtown, a neighbouring bog, and here saw, for the first time, the various sorts and states of the Irish
p.36moors, as also the way in which the turf is cut for fuel. Turf is one of the chief productions of Ireland; and the whole country being more boggy, morassy, and turfy than any in the world, it is quite impossible that this peculiar feature can fail in attracting the traveller's attention. The hills, the tops of rocks, the valleys, the plains, and even sometimes the caves of this island are one and all covered with bog; so much so, that where the spade, the plough, the stone of the highways, or cultivation ceases, the moor immediately begins; nay, one may say that the entire island is a moor with interruptions. There are, indeed, other countries in the northern temperate zone, northern Germany, France, the Netherlands, &c., which are much inclined to produce bog, but none in so great a degree as Ireland. In the north of Germany we have tracts, just as little cultivated as many in Ireland, and yet they show little and often no bog. Our north German mountain ranges, as the Harz, have, to be sure, some bog; but in Ireland, the very summits of such mountains, if the plough has not been there, are quite covered with it. Wherever human cultivation is not ever active, there the bog (for the luxuriant and ceaseless production of which nature seems to have gifted Ireland with an extraordinary propensity,) immediately begins to prevail. These bogs arise from the decay of plants in the neighbourhood of springs, where the deposit of moisture from the atmosphere is greatest, and the extreme humidity of Ireland is, I believe, the chief, though perhaps not the only cause of this phenomenon. In drier countries, the decayed plants and grasses are changed into dust and earth, and hence no bogs are there formed. But in Ireland the process of the decay of plants is different and slower; and a considerable residuum, which in other countries would fly away in dust, is here always kept moist and consequently fixed. In course of time, from the continued processes of fermentation and decay, it would resolve itself into air and water; but as new plants grow and new residua are deposited upon it year after year, the progress of turning into air, dust, and water is interrupted; the deposit is preserved; and thus are gradually formed those immense compact masses of half-decayed plants which the Irish call bogs. A young bog which is yet growing, and in which the plants are yet loose, is called a quaking bog. But when the bog grows older, and the entire mass is penetrated by the deposit and slime of the water, a compact mass is formed, which assumes a black colour, and this is termed a turf bog, or a peat bog. The plants being of various descriptions, their half-decayed residua, and their product, the bog, are also different in their character. Thus there is a vast number of various kinds of mosses in Ireland,
p.37which, as they decay, form a very loose, spongy mass, often so tough and elastic that the turf-spade can scarcely cut it; and this, in some localities, is called old wife's tow. Sometimes these mosses, united with other vegetables, form a bog; sometimes, however, they predominate so much as to be its sole composition. Hence arise two principal distinctions of morasses in Ireland: the so-called red or dry bogs; and the green, black, or wet bogs. The former yield a light, spongy, rapidly-burning species of turf; the latter, a black, heavy, solid species. Some of these wet bogs are unfit for yielding turf at all.
The turf which is obtained from the dry bog, by simply cutting it with a turf-spade, or slane, is called slane-turf, or slane-peat, for it is as often called peat as turf in Ireland. The upper strata of the bog being less dense than the lower, they yield each a different sort of turf; and that obtained from the upper is called brown-turf; that from the lower, stone-turf. The turf obtained from the wet bog is called hand-turf, because it is shaped with the hand. The process is as follows:A place in the middle of the bog, to which there is a moderately dry and firm approach, is first selected, and pits are dug, in order to draw off a portion of the water from the spot in which they intend to work. The mud-like boggy substance is now shovelled up in heaps beside the pits, where it is mixed and worked up over again, and large troughs, called lossels, are filled with the turf. These troughs are then drawn by ropes to some drier spot, where it is the women's business to work and shape it with their hands. They usually mould it into little pyramidal forms, pointed above and wide below, and then leave it to dry.
The bogs are thus at once a source of wealth and of poverty; for whilst they supply fuel, they at the same time cover much fertile soil, which they withhold from cultivation; they spoil the waters of the rivers, fill the entire atmosphere with a turfy smell, and infect the air with foul exhalations; are an impediment to traffic, and have long supplied a protection and a refuge to the thieves and robbers of Ireland, who, as Boate remarks, could not live without them. The exertions of the Irish should therefore be equally directed to the reasonable preservation and the reasonable draining of these bogs. All those which promise good fuel should be worked with economy; whilst all which are not of this description should be drained and cultivated. But hitherto neither the one nor the other has been done. An economical system of cutting turf has not been adopted, because the supply was deemed inexhaustible; whilst draining has been neglected, because the morasses were regarded as the best defences against conquest by the
p.38English. Even when this conquest was completed, the cabins were still built in the neighbourhood of the bogs, not so much through negligence and inattention to their own interests as from a slight remaining fear of the conquerors. The English, the introducers of all that is good into Ireland, as Boate calls them, (he might with equal justice have designated them the introducers of much that is evil,) have for centuries laboured at the draining of these bogs; and a company has lately been formed in London for the purpose of reclaiming them, by pumping out the water by means of steam-engines, in those places where a sufficient fall to carry it off cannot be obtained. But compared with the mass of bog in Ireland, and with what has been done in England and Scotland, very little has yet been accomplished, and at the present day a traveller in Ireland is rarely unable to see a bog within his horizon. In some places it seems as if there had once been a time when some parts of Ireland, if not the whole of it, were better cultivated and loss boggy than at present; for large tracts of bog are known, beneath which the ground bears the most evident traces of former cultivation with the plough. Nay, some Irish writers even prove that certain districts, after having been systematically and thoroughly wasted by this or that English general or leader, became converted into swamps and morasses.
I heard the people in this quarter speak much of the centre of Ireland; and a farmer one day led me to a great artificial mound, which he informed me the people look upon as that centre. This mound is called The Moat of Lisserdowling. Although we were undoubtedly near the centre of the island, yet I feel certain that this hill is not that centre, which it would be somewhat difficult to determine. But I would like to know what gave rise to the idea among the people. The celebrated hill of Usneagh, mentioned by Thomas Moore, lies not far from here, in the neighbouring county of Westmeath. On its summit the boundaries of all the provinces of Ireland meet, and near it the old national conventions of Ireland were often held. The Moat of Lisserdowling is a circular, conically-pointed hill, about 40 feet high, and 500 feet in circumference. It stands in the middle of a plain, and is surrounded by arable land. At a distance from it of about 100 paces, and again of about 200, it is encircled by traces of not very deep trenches, and not very high walls. The mound itself is planted with trees and whitethorn bushes, so that it presents a stately appearance on the naked plain. On the summit it is flat, with a slight hollow in the centre, and covered all over with a beautiful green sward. In the centre of that indentation on the summit a few naked stones only were to be seen, as if mason-work
p.39was concealed beneath the turf. The farmer told me that there was a tradition among the people, that on this mound, and within its walls, dwelt an ancient Irish chief, named Naghten O'Donnell, and a little by-road, not far from the mound, is called, after him, Naghten's-lane. The hill is highly revered by the people, particularly in the twilight and the night-time. On fine holidays, hundreds of people come and sit on its sloping sides, and enjoy its shade and the prospect. But not one remains till dusk, at least no peasant or peasant's child; for they believe that the good people, i. e. the fairies, dwell in it. Hence, too, Naghten's-lane is much feared, and no one ventures to enter it after nightfall. Nor will any one touch stick or stone on the hill, unless they dreamt, said my farmer, and have a commission to do so from the good people. On the slope of the mount I saw the stump of an old whitethorn. The bush itself, the farmer informed me, was blown down one stormy night, some years since; it lay for a long time where it fell, and no one ventured to touch it, although the people are much inclined to make free with any thing in the shape of fuel they may find; at last it decayed away. Plantations they frequently rob; but the wood growing wild on these fairy mounts they never touch.
On the following day I made an excursion to a similar hill, called the Monte-o'-Ward. It was also covered with old whitethorn bushes, and has a beautiful prospect from its summit. The embankments and trenches which surround it were not so completely separated from the hill as in the former case, but mingled with the hill itself. I afterwards saw a vast number of such mounds, with which Ireland is more thickly sown than England or Scotland. In Ireland people call them moats, an English word meaning the ditch of a fortress; in Irish they are called raths, which has the same meaning. With reference to the people by whom they are supposed to have been built, they are also called Danes' mounts; for as, in Ireland, the destruction of every old work is attributed to Cromwell, so the erection of every ancient structure is ascribed to the Danes. The people are quite unanimous in saying that the Danish captains built these mounds for fortresses, in which they dwelt with their warriors, holding the whole country in subjection; and when the Danes were expelled, some Irish chieftain took possession of the deserted fortress. The learned are not so unanimous as the people. Some ascribe them to the Danes; others againthe patriotic Irishagree with Thomas Moore, that they were the dwellings of the old Irish kings and chieftains, and that their erection belongs to a period in which towns were not yet known. In the north of
p.40Ireland is one of these hill-fortresses, of enormous size, supposed to be the former seat of a very ancient Irish King of Ulster.
It is highly probable that all these hill-shaped structures, called Danes' mounts, raths, or moats, and which are widely diffused throughout Ireland, were built at very different periods, by different races, and for very different purposes. Not only did the Danes or Scandinavians erect artificial mounds, but, as it appears, all the nations of Europe, in the first period of their architecture. The whole of Southern Russia is filled with them. In Hungary, in European Turkey, and in Asia Minor, we find artificial hills, built of stone and earth; also in the north of Europe, in the Baltic countries, in Scandinavia, Denmark, and England; but in none of these countries are they so numerous as in Ireland. It is therefore probable that they were not built by the Danes, but were thrown up at a much more remote period by the ancient Irish themselves, for a variety of purposes. We know that mounds were erected for boundary-marks where provinces met, and also as monuments over the graves of heroes and chieftains. From these hills the ancient judges and legislators of the Irish proclaimed their decisions and laws to the people; on some of them their kings were anointed and crowned; and on others their national assemblies were held. The Druids also required sacred hills upon which to offer their sacrifices, and for this purpose artificial as well as natural hills were used. Finally, many may have been erected as fortresses. Hence, these hills, which the Irish are unanimous in calling fortresses, (raths, moats), were partly monuments, partly boundary-marks, partly political or religious structures, and, finally, partly fortresses. The original use of many is, however, quite unknown, and in fact remains an enigma yet to be solved. In the interior of several have been found little passages and cells, which are too small for storehouses, while they cannot have been tombs, since they have no resemblance to those in which bones have been found. Such as are like Lisserdowling, with a high pyramid in the centre of a low rampart, seem to be much more suited for a religious monument than for a fortress. For if intended as a fortress, would not the extraordinary labour bestowed in giving it a conical form have been more likely to be expended in increasing the height of the surrounding ramparts? As a fortress, it would be the strangest and most unsuitable in the world. The space on its summit is so small as scarcely to allow room for two huts; and if we suppose that it was intended as a place of safety for the women and childrenthe heart and citadel of the entire fortressit must be confessed that no form worse adapted for that purpose
p.41than the conical could have been devised; since, if the exterior bulwarks and walls were stormed by an enemy, the defenders could do nothing but either retreat, fighting backwards up the steep side of the cone, or at once turn their backs to their assailants; and in either case they would soon discover that their labour, and earth, and stones might have been used with greater advantage in constructing a ditch and rampart. Probably the ramparts and ditches which surround these conical hills have given rise to the belief that they had served as fortresses; but we find that other hills, manifestly religious, were encircled in a similar manner, as Stonehenge, which no one ever took to be the wall of a fortress. These circumvallations were probably merely intended to mark the boundaries of the holy place, and to cut it off from all connexion with profane soil.
So much for the Danes' mounts and Irish moats. I will proceed with matters which may be of more general interest, and characteristic of the country and its inhabitants.
In the little Protestant church of Edgeworthtown I found a wooden gallery, which, as an inscription informed me, was erected sixty years ago, by a vicar of the place, and was open to the public at large, without distinction. The small space below was occupied almost entirely by the pews of the wealthy, and left but little room for those who could not pay for them. This is also usually the case in the Protestant churches of England. The pews produce a considerable income, and have gradually become so numerous, that no place remains for the poor. Some well-meaning clergymen have often opposed this increase of pews, and many have, at their own expense, provided a place for the poor. I was told that it cost the clergyman I have mentioned much trouble to obtain the act of vestry permitting him to erect his gallery. At the present day the Puseyites have raised a great opposition against the monopoly of pews, which it is to be hoped will be attended with beneficial consequences.
There are 800 Roman Catholics in Edgeworthtown, and 300 Protestants. Yet the latter do not progress so rapidly as the former, who have increased much in wealth and power, as well as in numbers, since the passing of the Emancipation Act. This remark, I was every where assured, applies to the whole of Ireland, where the Roman Catholics are now endeavouring to induce members of better families than was formerly the case to enter their priesthood.
I also visited the boys' and girls' schools at Edgeworthtown. The use of the Chinese-Mongolian-Russian reckoning-board was the most remarkable thing I found there. It was introduced
p.42into the Irish national schools two years before, and was found so serviceable that its use will be continued. The teacher informed me that it was first made known in Ireland by a Russian gentleman. It is also possible that the English may have brought it direct from China. But I am somewhat surprised that it has only so recently occurred to our European teachers to introduce an instrument of so much practical utility in instruction, and which has been in use in Asia from time immemorial. The Chinese are doubtless its inventors, and from them the Monguls and Russians have received it. The latter have introduced it into Poland, and, about nine years since, into all the German schools in their Baltic provincesCourland, Livonia, and Esthonia The Japanese have likewise adopted this reckoning-board: so that, from Japan to Ireland, this Chinese invention has been spread through the world on the wings of the nation-connecting traffic of modern times.
The farmers of the neighbourhood told me some interesting murder-stories, such as the following:An Irishman was hired, probably by Ribbon-men or Peep-o'-day Boys, to murder a certain gentleman. Whilst in search of his victim, he was overtaken by a terrific storm. A gentleman found him unprotected and moaning on the road, and took him home in his carriage to his residence, where he sent him into the servants' hall to dry himself and obtain refreshment. When the man heard the name of his benefactor, he discovered that he was the gentleman whom he was employed to murder, and he accordingly returned without having perpetrated the deed. An associate who had received a similar commission for the destruction of another gentleman, proposed an exchange of victims. To this the murderer assented; and his conscience being thus freed from any scruple on the score of ingratitude, both assassins perpetrated their crimes.
At Edgeworthtown I saw some Italian poplars, which are somewhat rare in Ireland as well as in England, at least compared with some parts of Germany and France, where whole alleys and roads are planted with them. The bog-wood, too, which the Irish dig out of their morasses, and use for a variety of purposes, interested me much. At first it is somewhat soft and wet, but afterwards becomes hard as iron, and is then extensively used in their buildings and furniture. Some of it, however, retains so much softness and elasticity, that the people make ropes of it. The ropes they call deal ropes, and a network is formed of them, on which they lay the bags of straw that compose their beds. Sometimes this bog-wood is made into furniture, particularly when it consists of oak or yew, in which
p.43case it is very hard, takes a high polish, and is of a beautiful brown colour. I saw a table-leaf of yew, in which the rings of the yearly growths might be reckoned by hundreds, with the aid of a microscope. Besides ropes and fuel, light is also procured from the bogs. Candles being an expensive article, most of the Irish cabins are lighted with rushes, from which they peel the outer rind, and soak them in fresh butter, (which is much more common than oil,) or in a pale yellow fatty substance which is often found in the bogs.5
The slowness with which all kinds of grain ripens in Ireland was to me a matter of continual surprise. The winter corn is sown in November, and the spring corn in February; yet no one thinks of reaping wheat till the middle of September. Oats, which is the principal grain, are still later. Rye there is none. When the summer is cold and wet, the wheat is frequently not cut till the middle of October, and the oats in November. In the south of Germany, on the Rhine, rye is got in about the 22nd of July, and wheat, barley, and oats follow at short intervals. In Courland and Lithuania, countries that lie nearly under the same latitude with Ireland, (the 55th degree passes through Lithuania and the north of Ireland,) the harvest is gathered about the end of July or the beginning of August, though the summer corn is not sown till April, when the winter snow first leaves the ground. Thus, corn which ripens in three or four months in those countries, takes seven or eight months in Ireland.
While I was in the neighbourhood of Edgeworthtown, a little fair was held, which afforded me an opportunity of observing the conduct of the Irish market-people in selling their wares. Some of them, such as those who sold fruit, meat, and the like, sat beside their wares, and waited for purchasers; but those who sold knives, scissors, and innumerable other little articles, acted in a more mountebanklike manner than I had ever seen in any other country out of Great Britain. They had their wares arranged on a booth that moved on wheels, or on a cart turned into a booth, and ornamented with their goods. To one side of the cart was attached a kind of little gallery, on which the merchant stood, exhibiting some articles to the surrounding public, to whom he praised them in the manner of an Italian dealer in medicines, with extraordinary volubility of speech, accompanied with frequent jokes, not devoid of wit. He then named the price. The people laughed, and offered him a few pence. They then outbade each other till the offer seemed sufficient to the merchant, who all the time continued speaking in a loud
p.44voice, or, if the offer did not satisfy him, till he laid by the article and produced another. In England, such merchants are frequently to be seen at fairs, selling their wares in this way; and even in many English towns, as well as in London itself, there are those who dispose of their goods by means of a perpetual auction.
Neither at this fair, nor at any other in Ireland, did I see any gipseys. Indeed, I was every where told that there never had been any in the country. I have been unable to obtain any information on this subject from books on Ireland; for unfortunately authors too often forget to notice what is not in a country, and yet it is frequently as interesting to know this as to learn what is in it. Wonderful as it may seem that gipseys, who have found their way into every country of Europe, even into England, where they have spread themselves through the whole kingdom, should not have crossed over into Ireland, many Irishmen have assured me that it is the fact; and as Ireland is distinguished from all other countries by so many peculiarities, (as the absence of toads, serpents, and other venomous creatures, which are found in every other part of Europe,) I am inclined, a priori, to believe the fact. Perhaps some gipseys may have come over now and then; but finding a race almost as barbarous and wretched as themselves, they have turned back again, without spreading themselves through the country. Even the Romans, who once occupied all the rest of Europe, never went over to Ireland.
It is a fact equally remarkable, and not less strange, that there are no Jews in Ireland; at least there does not exist a single synagogue in the whole island, not even in Dublin, although it contains 270,000 inhabitants. Jews came to Ireland with Cromwell; and in 1746 there were 200 individuals, or 40 families, of that nation in Dublin, where they had a synagogue and a burial-ground; but this number, in 1821, had decreased to nine individuals! In this respect Ireland and Dublin probably stand alone in Europe. In England, and in Scotland also, gipseys and Jews are every where to be met with. Even in China there are Jews. In Ireland alone there are none. What a short distance we need travel to find the marvellous!