Edenvale is one of the prettiest country-seats in the county of Clare; and its proprietor is an influential Protestant landowner, from whom I received, and accepted with pleasure, an invitation to spend some days in his Eden. The British, including the Irish, understand better than any other people how to select a site for a country house, and to encircle it with a little Eden: perhaps, therefore, this will be a sufficient inducement to my readers to accompany me thither, especially when I add that Edenvale has obtained some celebrity in Ireland for its charming situation. The house is situated upon the steep slope of a little glen, and is approached by a slight ascent from the Ennis road. In the bosom of the glen is a small oblong lake, in which its leafy shores are mirrored. I found my hospitable host in his garden, busied with his trees and flowers, and immediately set out with him to inspect his charming property.
The French and the Dutch drive almost every charm of wild, uncultivated nature from their gardens, in which nothing but art is to be seen. We Germans, on the contrary, have too much of this wildness in some of our country-seats. The English alone know best how to unite art and nature; and in their parks and ornamental grounds the grace and beauty of the former are better blended with the wild strength and magic charms of the latter, than in the landscape-gardening of any other nation.
The glen of Edenvale has two declivities or sides: the one is rugged, the other gently sloping to the lake. The former has been allowed to retain its original character, except that it is closely planted with the most beautiful forest trees, above which project steep cliffs, partly covered with the thickest ivy. Footpaths lead along the lake and over the rocks; and on a projecting cliff which juts out into the lake, is a little wooden hermitage. This wild part, as opposed to the garden, is called par excellence the Glen. A portion of the Glen, which affords good pasture,
p.81is set apart for the deer; and on another the cattle graze. In a third is the rabbit-warren, which no English park is without. As on terra firma the deer mingle with the cows, even so on the waters of the lake, amid the graceful, slow, tame swans, swim wild ducks, and other waterfowl, which have not yet been induced to breed in the neighbourhood of our dwellings, nor even in the midst of our pleasure grounds. The English enjoy so little of the pleasures of hunting and shooting, that they are very fond of those animals which afford occasional sport, and are careful not to drive them entirely from their neighbourhoods.
Such is the wild side of the valley. Opposite to it lies the cultivated side. First, the pretty dwelling-house, with its pleasure grounds, as the English term those which immediately surround the mansion, the beautifully-kept grass plot, and the shrubberies, through which serpentine walks meander. Further on, the gardens, properly so called, are seenfruit, vegetable, and flower gardens the latter displaying the most beautiful profusion of flowers on its several terraces, which run down close to the lake, while its many-coloured tints form a charming contrast with the simple green of the opposite side. Taken on the whole, landscape gardening has not attained such perfection in wild Ireland as in England; yet as the climate of this country is much more favourable to plants and trees, when, as is sometimes the case, Irish art does its best, Irish gardens far exceed those of England in beauty.
The chief charm of English gardens consists in their richness in evergreens, and of those the Irish have still more, as the climate of the latter is milder than that of the former. In the gardens of the north of France there is scarcely an evergreen to be met with, although many attempts have been made to introduce some of the species into that country; the holly, for instance, which is quite common in England and Ireland. The list of English evergreens comprises no fewer than thirty-six genera, many of which, as the holly, possess an almost infinite number of species. Those which are to be seen in almost every garden in great numbers, and in complete thickets, are many species of cistus, cytisus, lauristinus, juniper, ivy, lignum vitae, rhododendron, magnolia, cypress, cedar, the most beautiful hollies, laurels in the greatest abundance, (whole hedges and walls of them,) numerous evergreen oaks, roses, and jasmines. To these, in Ireland, is added the arbutus, (which here even grows wild,) and several others which do not flourish in England. These evergreens are found in every part of Ireland; and most of them, if not the whole, grow in the extreme north of the island, beyond the 55th degree of latitude, and beneath the parallels of the northern parts of Poland and Lithuania, where
p.82there is not a single evergreen, with the exception of the silver fir.
The most remarkable thing I saw in this charming glen was an obscuration of the sun, towards evening, caused by an immense flock of rooks. Never, at any time of my life, have I seen so many birds collected together. It seemed as if all the twenty thousand ruins of Ireland had at once assembled and sent forth their troops of feathered inmates. The air appeared literally to be filled with them up to the stars. The cawing of these myriads occasioned an uproar in the lately so quiet glen, beyond any I had ever heard, and their droppings rained down like a shower of hail. Their number was beyond computation. At first I thought, as I have said, of the many castles of the old chieftains and of the Danes, who themselves have a rook in their national standard; but these castles are inhabited chiefly by owls and Jack Daws, while the objects of my astonishment were rooks only. My friends at Edenvale assured me that this phenomenon was quite common, and that the glen was one of their chief gathering-places. I can only compare these flights of myriads upon myriads of rooks with what we read of the migrations and associations of the wild pigeons in America. After continuing their thousand-voiced concert for a considerable time, they gradually dispersed; and when the air was again cleared of them, I breathed more freely. These rooks generally build their nests about large farm-yards, in the neighbourhood of churchyards and old mansions; and these settlements are by the English termed rookeries.
For what purpose these birds collect in immense suffocating masses, is to me a riddle. Even in the very heart of London there are many well-known rookeries. Rook-shooting is one of the rural sports of the English; and as all their sports are cultivated in the minutest details, Jackson's patent steel crossbow is greatly recommended and used for this particular pastime. The English make of these birds the well-known rook-pies, which we do not envy them. The Irish do not eat them, and, when the numerous flocks are seen, will deridingly say to the foreigner, the English soldiers here shoot them, and make pies of them. I know not why these birds are so numerous in Ireland. They feed partly on the wheat in the fields, and thus may be supposed to diminish the produce. At the same time, however, they devour the larvae of many insects which are injurious to the seed, and are therefore so far a benefit. It has been remarked that, on the destruction of extensive rookeries, certain larvae have so much increased as entirely to destroy the corn; and the failure of the grain-crops in Ireland, in 1747, is ascribed to this cause.
In England, where servants are always kept at a proper distance, they seldom display that impertinent familiarity which is so often met with in Ireland, and of which the coachman of my friend, a well-fed, good-humoured-looking fellow, who attended us through the stables and farm-buildings, was a striking instance. Although his master was present during the whole time, the servant never ceased talking, and he ever preceded his master, who followed silently and modestly behind us. This stable we finished only last year, said the coachman to me. It has given us a deal of trouble, for we had first to blow away the whole of that great rock. May it please your honour to remark how much we had to blast there. But we shall have a beautiful view when those trees there are felled. Look down there, your honour, all that are his dominions, continued he, pointing to his master. In two months he'll have finished the new building he has begun. No English servant would have presumed thus to conduct himself towards his master, and yet these Irish servants are taken from a tenantry infinitely more dependent than the peasantry of England. There is, however, a great deal of familiarity in the character of the Irishman, which enables him readily to assume an equality with his superiors; and as with this familiarity he also unites wit and humour, he is enabled, like the fools of the middle ages, to take more liberties with his master. Despotism, too, has the effect of making its slaves insolent and forward. Domestic fools were kept only by the despots of the middle ages, but not by the Roman consuls, the presidents of America, or constitutional kings.
Whilst at Edenvale I heard of another old crone, named Consideen, to whom the people ascribed supernatural powers. During a short excursion into the country, I met her in a neighbour's house which I happened to enter. The cabin of this neighbour stood quite alone, on a desolate rocky hill, which formed a dismal contrast to the beautiful bushy glen. The old octogenarian dame sat leaning on a stick, by the turf fire of her friend. She told me she had often seen Death, supported upon two crutches, standing at the end of the meadow, when any one of her family was going to die. She knew for certain, too, that, old as she was, she was not to die yet a while, as Death would first come and give her notice.
There are few old women in Ireland who have not visions of some kind or other, in which they inflexibly and firmly believe. Oh, if your honour could only hear these two women talking together, said my guide who had brought me to Consideen, you'd then be astonished at the hundreds of beautiful stories they can tell; but you are strange to them now, and they have not the courage to speak out.
I had been informed that in the same neighbourhood was a spot which the people regarded as a meeting-ground of the fairies; and after some entreaty I was conducted to the place. Passing across the rough rocky crown of the hill, we gained its extreme edge, where I found a round grass-plot, some two hundred paces in circumference, which, they said, was sacred to the good people. I inquired whether they had themselves ever actually seen the fairies. Very often, in whole troops, they replied. However, remarked one, I am always on my guard against them, for they once led me on a bad road, where I went astray, tumbled over something I took for the root of a tree, and broke my little finger.
But, said I, I cannot conceive why you call such folk, good people. If they treated me this way, I would call them bad people.
That may be, your honour; but may be I annoyed them in some way or other, unknown to myself, and sure it was very good of them to break my little finger only; but I should not like to vex them by calling them what your honour calls them.
See what a brain these people have! whispered my companion in my ear. Wondrous indeed are the contrasts and strange the thoughts which present themselves to the mind when standing on a bare, rocky, boggy fairy-haunted hill, with a few smoky turf-cabins sticking to it, and inhabited by a couple of old visionaries, whilst opposite to it is another hill, beautiful, flowery, bushy, park-like, with enlightened inhabitants.
On my return to Edenvale I visited some of the splendid mansions in its neighbourhood. They appeared to me not less spectral than that fairy-ground, for not a human being was to be found in them. The white window-blinds were drawn down, and all was still and silent as the grave. Their proprietors were absentees in England, where they spend their Irish revenues. Such spectral deserted palaces are, alas! like the fairy-grounds and ruins, but too often to be seen in Ireland. The wealthy Protestant proprietors have a hundred reasons for not finding themselves at home among their poor Roman Catholic tenants. The wild and uncultivated country, which is not so easily remediedthe barbarism of the people, who sometimes make attempts on the lives of their landlordsthe greater attractions of English societythe unfortunate division of the Irish community into a number of hostile partiesand perhaps a certain feeling of shame and remorse for the injustice of the legalized tyranny which the rich Irish landlords exercise over the poor;all this may have driven many wealthy persons from the country, and produced the
p.85evil called absenteeism. There are many families, also, who possess estates both in Ireland and England; and all these prefer residing in the latter. The more to be praised, therefore, are those landlords who remain at home, live on good terms with their tenantry, and, by ruling them in person, heal many of their wounds. There are many who make themselves, in a certain degree, voluntary martyrs; and as my hospitable host of Edenvale was one of these, I returned to his house with stronger feelings of esteem for his character, and unwillingly took leave of him on the following day.