On the following morning, when I came to the river, it was exactly low water. Several vessels were lying on their sides in the mud, as if stranded. Above the beautiful bridge, the Suir seemed almost entirely drained, and the banks were slimy and muddy. But as the tide rolled in, the sand-banks were covered, the ships righted themselves and danced upon the waves, the artery of the river was filled, and the landscape again reflected in its restored mirror. The sun mounted high in the heavens, and our steamboat, The Repealer, rushed forth through the waves. What is there to be found in Ireland that has not some connexion with repeal? I was informed that the repealers go almost exclusively by this boat, and hence it was also called the People's Steamer. On the flag which waved from the quarter-deck were the words, Hurrah for the Repeal of the Union! O'Connell can now, at his meetings, truly boast that the repeal cause is progressing with the rapidity of steam. In this corner of the earth, indeed, steam does not go very faronly to the town of New Ross, fifteen miles distant, whither we were bound. Nor does it afford any exclusive advantage to the repealers, as the anti-repealers also employ steam in their cause. Another steamboat, bound to the same place,
p.215splashed alongside of us, in opposition to ours. In England one never gets rid of this opposition: it follows him every where.
Had I not been in Scotland, and sailed down the Firth" of Clyde, I would pronounce this trip on the arms of Waterford Harbour to be the finest in the United Kingdom. Or, were there not much that is beautiful out of the United Kingdom, I could also say that it is the most delightful journey I ever made in my life. But it is sufficient to affirm that the landscape on the shores of these waters is as picturesque, pleasing, and diversified in its kind as any other in the world. The waters flow through the deep and convenient bays somewhat more quickly than through a lake; and as its entrance from the sea is concealed from the spectator by a very sudden turn, he actually believes he is on an inland-lake, and is astonished at the large ships which ascend it, seeking harbours hidden far in the heart of the land. At times the shore is a hill, sloping down to the water, which, like almost every river-bank in the United Kingdom, is studded with charming seats and pleasure-grounds; at others, it juts out in steep, rocky, and wooded headlands, which the Repealer almost grazes as she speeds past.
At no great distance below United Kingdom are seen, in the background of a bay, the immense ruins of the far-famed Abbey of Dunbrody, one of the most celebrated and beautiful ruins of Ireland, which are here held in about the same estimation as the ruins of Melrose are in Scotland. Alas! they are now, like the times of their grandeur, in the far distance; and the Repealer has too much to do with the opposition steamer, which is walking close upon her heels, and forces her to keep her straightforward way, to turn from her course, and give the traveller a look at the ruined abbey. In truth, it afforded us no little amusement to see our rival, as she was about to turn into the mouth of the Barrow, run aground on a sand-bank, where, as our captain drily observed, she must stick till the tide would rise somewhat higher, and float her off. As for the Repealer, being obliged to be at New Ross by a certain time, she soon left Dunbrody far behind, and splashed away with the flowing tide up the Barrow. The British Islands must reap important benefits from the double alternating currents, one landwards, the other seawards, of the navigable rivers. In no other country do the waters of the sea flow so far inland, bearing ships into the very heart of the country.
On the deck of an Irish steamer there is seldom a want of entertainment. On the quarter-deck the company is twice as talkative as on that of an English steamer; and the forecastle resounds even with music and singing. To the music, which, of course, was that of the bagpipes, we had dancing. Since Paddy,
p.216as I have before remarked, generally uses only an old door, or a couple of boards laid close together, for a dancing-floor, he naturally finds it impossible to leave unoccupied the beautiful space which, on the deck of a steamer, remains vacant, between butter-firkins, flour-bags, egg-boxes, hen-coops, baskets of turkeys, tied-up cows, and a confused heap of grunting pigs. He therefore lays aside his stick, and throws his cares and his sorrows to the winds, with much greater ease than can be done by the rich man of five thousand a year who is looking at him; with good-humour in his face, he seizes a struggling maiden, and, in a merry and lively jig, or Scottish reel, he shakes his rags as if they were the bell-tipped lappets of a fool's dress. The splashing paddles of the steamer beat the time for him, and the lovely banks of the Barrow give to this spectacle a decoration which the ballet-dancers on the boards of Covent-garden or Drury-lane cannot boast of.
The evening was wondrously calm, and even the fishes, though still poorer than Paddy, jumped in the water for joy. I planted myself beside the captain, on the high platform in the centre of the vessel, and, while I observed the grave and serious rich on the quarter-deck, and the merry poor in the forecastle, I could not refrain from praising the justice of God, who, while he makes man poor, at the same time renders him more capable of taking delight in the most trifling things.
The beautiful seats of the Powers, the Asmonds, and other families which lay along the banks, are all so charming that one would like to take a sketch of each separately. Near Castle Ennis, in a broad beautiful meadow, stands the largest, most lordly, and picturesque oak I ever saw. One looks on these mansions with increased interest, if, as I had, he has an Irish priest as confessant at his side, who, from being intrusted with the private affairs of the families that reside in them, can give him a sketch of the history of each. While I listened to my priestly confessant, I was somewhat amazed at the extra-ordinary things which happen in the usual every-day life of these families. In one of these mansions there yet dwells an old lady, the widow of one of the most distinguished of those rebels who were beheaded by the English during the last rebellion in Ireland.
As we passed a rock, our cannon were fired, in memory of a sailor, who, some months previously, had fallen overboard at this spot, and was drowned. The reports were re-echoed from the rock, and the manes of the dead were no doubt highly gratified by the honour thus conferred upon them.
We anchored at New Ross, and as this place is the extreme end of the Barrow navigation, and the brightest gem in the entire
p.217landscape-gallery of the neighbourhood, it would no doubt have well repaid us to pass this delightful evening here. It is at once apparent that New Ross is an old town, since it does not present that picturesque grouping which is peculiar to new regular towns: at the same time it is also a fallen place, for it is said once to have possessed a great part of the trade which Waterford has now entirely drawn to itself. It no longer dispatches a single ship to sea, and merely sends agricultural produce to Waterford, to be from thence exported. Beyond New Ross the waters, which had hitherto been broad and deep, seem entirely to lose themselves in a thicket of woods and rocks. In this thicket there are said to be most beautiful scenery, splendid landscapes, and waterfalls. Yet it was not granted me to explore these beauties any further. As I found my travelling companion disposed to avail himself of the beautiful moonlight night to continue his journey, at eleven o'clock we troubled an Irish horse and a little jaunting-car to take us over to Wexford, about twenty miles distant.
The country between New Ross and Wexford is pretty level, fertile, and entirely under tillage. This is the case with the whole county of Wexford, which occupies the most south-easterly point of Ireland. By nature it is quite cut off from the rest of the country; for on one side it is bounded by the Wicklow and Carlow mountains, and on the other by the sea and Waterford Harbour. The most extreme point of this county, a peninsula that runs out into the sea, is again separated from it by the Forth mountains. This point is the far-famed Barony of Forth, which is inhabited by a separate little population of its own.
The county of Wexford is one of the districts of Ireland which the traveller beholds with peculiar satisfaction, for the annals of Irish crime and criminals declare that it is in it that morality must be highest, as the fewest crimes occur here. I even found many years in which, out of the 300, or 200, or 160 murders which were committed in Ireland, not a single one had taken place in Wexford. In fact, the inhabitants boast of much greater enlightenment than is possessed by those in the west. They every where speak of the dark west, and believe themselves more intelligent, better educated, and better farmers.
The Barony of Forth, that extreme little peninsula, is the crown of the entire county, for here dwell the most orderly people in all Ireland. It is celebrated throughout the south of Ireland, and when it is mentioned every one takes off his hat, for its very name awakens ideas of a nobler race of men. The people are said to be the descendants of a colony which Strongbow, the famous Welsh knight, who first came to Ireland with English troops to
p.218take a part in the domestic concerns of the country, brought over with him, and presented with this tract. It is, as I have already remarked, a level neck of land, cut off from the main body of Ireland by a little chain of mountains, and every where else surrounded by the sea, which, moreover, runs into the land in four great haffs or loughs, and thus cuts it off still farther in a peculiar manner. The inhabitants of this district have, for nearly seven centuries, kept themselves unmixed and apart from the rest of the Irish. They have always married among themselves, and this they even still do. Until near the close of the last century, they all understood and spoke the Welsh language, and many old people still understand it. They haveO mirabile dictu!no beggarsI say, no beggarsnor rags. In Ireland, it is as difficult to imagine the existence of an entire district without beggars, as, in other countries, it is to imagine a people composed of nothing else. In the manner of living of the inhabitants of the barony of Forth there are a number of little peculiarities, which are totally opposed to those rules generally prevalent in Great Britain. Thus, for instance, they breakfast very early in the morning, about six or seven o'clock, and before going to work; they dine about twelve, and afterwards take a siesta; while the rest of the English and Irish divide their day in quite a different manner.
The Barony of Forth! must sound to an Irishman something like Eldorado once did to our German ancestors. It is alleged of the county of Wexford, that it is divided into smaller lots or holdings than the rest of Irelandthat there are here large proprietors, and consequently more persons who are well-off and comfortable; andanother wonderthat there are no absentees; and all this is still more applicable to the barony of Forth. Here estates are still smaller, and many peasants are the lords of the soil they cultivate. Great wealth does not exist among them, yet every one has a competency. They have a better system of agriculture, and cleanliness and order prevail in their houses. Nay, they haveand in this too they differ from the inhabitants of every other district of Irelanda feeling that rags, holes, and tattered clothes are no ornament, but a disfigurement. Their houses are even generally surrounded by little flower-gardens. They know nothing either of the political or religious party-spirit which divides the rest of Ireland, and therefore have no party-fights; whilst Protestants and Catholics live together in peace and concord. In a word, the barony of Forth seems to form a sort of moral looking-glass for the rest of Ireland; and every thing is so natural, and so like what might be expected in a civilized people, that one cannot enter it without exclaiming, Why is it not thus
p.219throughout the entire country? The traveller in Ireland must sometimes picture to himself some such reasonable spot as the barony of Forth, to be enabled fully to perceive the unnatural condition of the other districts.
Half-way between New Ross and Wexford we changed our horse, and while this was being done we entered a public-house to refresh ourselves with a glass of whisky. In the next room some people were reclining and sitting, sleeping and chatting; they were temperance men, and wore their medals around their necks. The hostess told me that these people, though continually in the vicinity of her whisky bottle, yet never desired to taste a drop of it. These temperance men are such a phenomenon that I could never look on them without astonishment. They informed me themselves that they were once great drunkards, but that in their present condition they were more than happy. They appeared to me like wild beasts, that had put on chains of their own accord, and now wore them with pride and joy. When one thinks what charms the poisonous fire-water must have for a poor badly-clothed man, who is often labouring under deep dejection, in a wet, cold climate, he can scarcely believe that they do not continually suffer, on account of these frequent temptations, the torments of Tantalus.
They were talking of Father Mathew, and had in their hands a bill announcing his intended arrival in Wexford in a few days. Perhaps it would be interesting to my German readers who have never been in England to read a faithful translation of one of these bills. There was printed at the top, in very large letters, FATHER MATHEW IN WEXFORD! and it then proceeded:The teetotallers and friends of the temperance cause are informed, that it is intended to form a procession, consisting of the united Total Abstinence Societies of Wexford, and generally of all teetotallers who may be willing to join it. in order to meet the Very Reverend Father Mathew at Arkandrish, on his way from New Ross to Wexford, as a testimony of the high and deserved esteem in which he is held by them. Each society will be accompanied by its respective band, and all are requested to assemble on the Quay of Wexford at half-past nine o'clock precisely. The people expected that on this occasion many hundreds of persons from the surrounding country would be certain to take the pledge. Temperance must be the more valuable to the Wexford men, as they are all hard-working and industrious people.
As we drew near to Wexford we again passed some country-seats, and my companion was malicious enough to make me, a
p.220total stranger, acquainted with the family affairs and the characters of their inmates,a highly treacherous proceeding on his part, especially as they were at the moment all buried in the deepest sleep. One he described as a very great sporting man, and passionately fond of field-sports; another, when a young man, had been very wild in London, where he had distinguished himself by his exploits in breaking windows, knocking down watchmen, and kicking up riots; but he was now married, and leading a quiet life in the happy county of Wexford. A third was a reading man, and my informant seemed to know every thing about his books and his occupations. These reading and sporting men, as well as those who are fond of kicking up riots, are to be found every where in England, and may be reckoned among the standing figures of the land.
A few miles further south our road again ran along the sea-shore, where the following natural curiosity is to be seen. A row of four or five little islands runs out in a straight line from the coast into the sea. At low water a long, narrow sand-bank emerges from the sea, and connects them with the shore, so that they then look like a single tongue of land, on which a carriage may drive from one island to the other; but when the tide returns, they are again changed into a series of islands. This tongue the Irish call St. Patrick's Bridge. The name of this saint is also applied to multitudes of other natural curiosities. It is strange that the celebrated Giant's Causeway has not been dedicated to him instead of Fingal; but St. Patrick has been often obliged to go shares with this giant, and sometimes even with Old Nick himself. Do my readers remember The Devil's Bite?