My kind friend in Drogheda, to whom I am indebted for most of what I saw there, was the proprietor of an excellent private school, which I took an opportunity of visiting. The same friend told me of another distinguished school, which was founded at Grace Hill, not far from Drogheda, by the Moravian Brethren, and is said to be one of the largest and best establishments of the kind in Ireland. Unfortunately I had no time to devote any attention to this interesting institution; and on the following day I took my usual seat on a stage-coachnamely, an outside one, beside the coachman.
This place beside the coachman is always the most comfortable, and consequently the most sought after, of all outside places on English coaches, the coachman being a much more important personage than a passenger, and, of course, far better taken care of. Besides, it is generally provided with a cushion, while the other outside places are only bare wooden benches. Then the coachman has a leather apron, which he buckles before him as a protection against rain and cold, and usually shares with the passenger beside him. The other outside passengers may put their legs in their pockets, to keep them from the rain, if they have not brought leather aprons of their own. And then there are the four spirited and beautiful English horses always before you, the sight of which alone affords great pleasure; and, lastly, there is the coachman beside you, who knows every thing along the road, and every one who resides there, as well as his right hand, since he has probably driven backwards and forwards on this road some thousands of times. Then, should he happen to be silent, which is seldom the case, and not very communicative to the inquisitive stranger, the latter may make the coachman himself the object of his attention and observation.
The trade or art of horse-driving is, in the eyes of the English, one of the noblest of arts, and most worthy of a man,a very
p.326noble pursuit, as an Englishman said to me. Should an English Homer ever write an Iliad, the charioteers of his heroes will play a far more important part in it than those of the Grecian Homer. The charioteers of Hector and Achilles but rarely join in the contests of their masters, and punctually fulfil their commands; while the English driver sits on his box so broad and commanding, and behaves with so dignified and lordly an air towards his outside passengers, all of whom are doubtless heroes, that it looks as if he were the chief of the great hero-laden carriage. The public holds in no small estimation the man who can drive four horses with such dexterity, ease, and art: therefore it is, that very respectable and comfortable fellows devote themselves to the exercise of this, the nation's favourite pursuit. As he is very well paid, and is able to lay by no small sums out of the many and good fees which he receives from the passengers, he is generally very respectably dressed, usually enveloped from head to foot in a light-coloured waterproof top-coat, closely buttoned up, and never without white gloves. The reins are handed up to him by the stable boys, and he demands his fee from the passengers in quite a gentlemanly manner. It has even happened that persons, who were neither compelled to do so by birth nor by their pecuniary circumstances, have devoted themselves to the stage-coach, through mere passion for the noble pursuit of driving horses. A lord is said not to have been ashamed to receive his sixpence reward for many years on a public coach. Every thing belonging to his business the coachman understands most perfectly, and all his proceedings go on with a regularity which is astonishing, and unequalled in any other country. The four horses are always of the very best quality, the harness is of the simplest construction, and in the finest order. To see the entire equipage rattle away with this unsurpassable punctuality and quickness, as if winged and animated with reason and reflection by the two hands of the coachman, whose motions are imperceptible, though certain and sure, affords an inexhaustible source of pleasure to the outside passenger, and will make him join and sympathise with the driver, and all friends of the noble pursuit, in their lamentations over the present decline of this art, and every thing connected with it.
Since the construction of railways the famous crack coaches have vanished. As opposition is no longer so great, nor coaches so numerous, fame is no longer to be derived from the pursuit; consequently, few lords will in future be found to rival the coachmen. The occupation is losing its honourable character, and persons of an inferior grade are devoting themselves to it: in a word, the whole art is on the decline, nay, is already fallen, and
p.327deeply affecting are the lamentations of all admirers and partisans of the old state of things. In Ireland, however, this is less the case than in England, because Ireland as yet possesses but few miles of railway; and here, therefore, with the improvements of the roads, and the increase of internal traffic, stage-coaches are becoming more numerous. I do not, however, wish it to be understood that the arrangements of the Irish coaches are so perfect as those of England, even though the latter are on the decline.
The friends of animals, and the foes of cruelty to animals, will rejoice at the progress of railways, for to them the rapid driving of the English coachmen, who treated their horses as mere machines, was a revolting cruelty. According to one system, it was, and still is, considered most advantageous to drive the horses for five years; according to another it is deemed better to drive them for four years only; that is, those who adopt the former think that it is more to their interest to feed the horses well, and work them so little as to make them last for five years; whilst the advocates of the latter system consider it more profitable to feed a horse with a diet barely sufficient, and to subject him to such excessive work and speed that he will be knocked up after three or four years, when he is declared useless, and either killed, or harnessed to a cart.
The driver with whom I deposited myself at Drogheda, was, unfortunately, of a very taciturn and morose nature, and I was left altogether to these reflections on English coachmen, and to my own observation of the country through which we were passing. He did not even offer me (what properly and of right belongs to the box-passenger, who usually pays something more for the advantages he enjoys,) half of his apron, to protect me against the extremely temperate climate of Ireland, which alternately greeted us with rain, hail, and snow, intermixed with wind and occasional glimpses of sunshine, in order the better to dry us again. For the linen bleach-grounds, in the north of Ireland, this species of mild climate must be very welcome; but we found it not at all agreeable that our linen should be subjected to this bleaching process on our own bodies. One cannot help remarking, when he hears so much of the extraordinary mildness of the Irish climate, that to man it is of extremely little advantage. To the arbutus, the ivy, and other plants, it may be very beneficial; but man desires something more than such a mixture of sunshine and cold rain, of a tepid and moist cold atmosphere all through the year, notwithstanding the thermometer may declare it mild and temperate. To be regularly warm once in the year, one would willingly submit to be once cold also; but to be frozen the whole
p.328year through, in summer as well as in winter, will seem an advantage to no one.
Drogheda is surrounded on every side by a group of little mountains; then follows a plain; then, again, another little group of mountains, near Newry and Dundalk, followed by another plain at Belfast, which, in its turn, is succeeded by more mountains. Thus the surface of the country alternates in Ireland. The first plain between Drogheda and Dundalk is the county of Louth, the appearance of which affords but little pleasure. It is the most extreme county of the province of Leinster, towards the north, and seems to have participated least of all in the English improvements introduced into Leinster. Every thing is here so wretchedly Irish, the cabins of the people are so miserable, the appearance of the cultivated land so wild, the inhabitants so poor and ragged, as is usually seen only in the most remote western parts of Erin. Nay, it almost seems to become worse the nearer one approaches the confines of Leinster. To this, Dundalk, a clean town, very picturesquely situated on a little bay that runs far into the land, is the only exception; but the hills and mountains which succeed it resemble in appearance true hills of misery, and reminded me of the Hungry Hills in Kerry. The aspect of these bare hills is perfectly wild and uncomfortable. Excepting the fine level road, scarce a trace of the arranging, creating hand of man is to be seen; for the cabins, which stick to the hills like swallows nests, bear little resemblance to a work of man.
I dismounted from the coach as we were going up the hills; and, while the coachman was doing something to the coach, I took a look at some of these miserable habitations. Before one of them I found an Irish tinker, employed in mending a potato-pot. A great hole had been burnt in it, so near the bottom that it could never have been entirely filled. I asked the peasant woman, who was looking on, how long the kettle had been in this unpatched broken condition. Many a long year, your honour, replied she; for the last couple of years, when I boiled the potatoes, I had always to put it a little on one side on the fire, so that the water could not reach the hole. The tinkers do not often come here; and when they do, they charge so dear for every little job, that we have been obliged to do without them.
The tinkers in Ireland, as every where else, are a nomadic class, but here of course they are covered with rags from head to foot. The tinkers are rovers, was always the remark of the Irish to me; that is, they are constantly rambling about. The tinkers usually ramble about only in the fine season, and often with their families, like our gipsies. In the winter they dwell mostly in
p.329little mud-cabins, on some great bog, where they can get fuel cheap or for nothing. Sometimes these mud-cabins stand for several years; but sometimes they are built merely for the severe season, and the next year others are required.
On the other side of this miserable range of hillsthe inhabitants of which are for years looking forward for the time when they can resolve to get the potato-pot, the principal and most important piece of furniture in an Irish cabin, mendedis the boundary line of the provinces of Ulster and Leinster. The coach rolled over it; and scarcely had it done so than we seemed to find ourselves in a different world. As with the stroke of a magician's wandthe expression is not a whit too strongthe filthy cabins by the wayside were changed into habitable, yes, pretty houses, painted with various colours. Regular plantations, well-cultivated fields, even little gardens, and trees planted in rows, met the eye right and left. At first I would not trust my eyes, and imagined it was all an illusion, or that the change was perhaps only transient, and confined to the property of some individual landlord favourable to improvement; but it continued to Newry, and, beyond it again, the whole way to Belfast. I now saw that quite a different state of things prevailed here, and that at the boundary the physiognomy of Ulster, the land of the Scottish colonists, the industrious Presbyterians, had actually turned itself towards me.
Of course the entire province of Ulster, or the north of Ireland, does not present this prosperous appearance; nor is it inhabited wholly by Scotch colonists and Presbyterians. On the contrary, many districts of it, as I will hereafter show, are inhabited by genuine Celtic-Irish. In those portions there are whole tracts as wild as any other part of Erin; for instance, the great mountain county of Donegal, and, generally, most of the mountainous parts of Ulster; but just here, at the boundary, the contrast between the two provinces is as striking as I have described above. It seems as if every thing Irish and miserable had been driven from Leinster to her mountainous borders; and as if Ulster, on the contrary, had pushed out her best colonists here to the feet of the mountains. With a sigh the traveller takes leave of old Ireland, and with a shout of triumph Presbyterian Ireland receives him.
I have read the narratives of many travellers who crossed the boundary line of Ulster and the southern provinces at other points, and have invariably found that, as soon as they entered Ulster, even although they were not aware of having passed the boundary, they all remark the great improvement in the appearance and cultivation of the country. It seems that this line of contrast and
p.330boundary runs from sea to sea, from the bay of Newry to the bay of Donegal. I explain this phenomenon in the following manner: It is well known that since the conquest of Ireland, nearly 700 years ago, the English have done all in their power to destroy, or at least completely to Anglicize, the ancient Celtic race, and, at various times, have made use of various means, both peaceful and warlike, to accomplish their design. Persuasion, education, proselytism; then, again, force, war, punishment, death, banishment;all have been employed for this purpose. Once they attempted to root out the entire Irish people at one fell swoop,to destroy this curse-laden people like rats, to drive them into the sea, to pack them in ships, and thus banish or transport them to foreign lands. Then, again, they endeavoured, by persuasion, by force, by all kinds of disadvantageous laws, to lead the people away from their language, their national costume, their religion, and in all these points gradually to Anglicize them. All the persecutions which the English have for 700 years employed, lawfully and unlawfully, against the Irish, against their national dresses and education, against their right to property, against their language, against their church, against their antiquities, fill in English history some volumes, which are written in blood, and over which an Irishman might sing Jeremiads no less affecting and saddening than the lamentations of the Jewish prophet.31
The English, and especially the Scotch Presbyterians, and, above all, their hero Cromwell, resolved to clear the province of Ulster entirely of the Irish. As Cromwell saw that it was not possible completely to root out all the Irish at once, he determined to have Ulster at least for himself and his colonists, and to drive the Irish from it as far as possible into the west of Connaught. Without more ado, these poor people were forced, with bag and baggage, from their soil across the borders of Ulster; whilst the Scotch came over from the Lowlands by thousands, and took possession of the land, to which they had as little right as the pickpocket to the watch he niches. This process of banishment of the old population, and the new colonization of Ulster, must naturally have produced greater consequences on its borders; for there the expulsion was more easily effected, and there it was most important to settle new Scotch colonists. The poor expelled inhabitants
p.331naturally preferred settling in the neighbourhood of their old abodes; because, the further they went, the greater opposition would they meet from the older possessors. Thus it may be explained why, near the boundaries, the contrasts of the two races are even to the present day greatest and most striking.
Nor was it under Cromwell alone that these expulsions, confiscations, grants, and new colonizations took place in Ulster. Long before his time, they were had recourse to in the reigns of various English kings; and were repeated also after him, by William III., after the battle of the Boyne. Ulster is that part of Ireland which inclines most to Scotland, and approaches so near it, that at all times one may pass from one country to the other in a few hours. This is the point at which Great Britain and Ireland almost touch; whilst toward the south they diverge from each other. While, therefore, for a long period there was no connexion between the history of the south of Ireland and that of the south of Great Britain, the histories of the north of Ireland, or Ulster, and of the north of Great Britain, or Scotland, were long interwoven with one another. The population of these two districts were probably, from very remote times, alternately at peace and war with each other, and both without doubt, in the very earliest times, interchanged their inhabitants. The inhabitants of Erin frequently passed over to assist the Picts against the Romans, or to seek plunder on the coasts; and in like manner the inhabitants of Albion (the old Celtic name of Scotland) often came over to Erin, either to wage war with the Irish themselves, or to assist native warriors in their contests.
From the fusion of the histories of northern Ireland and southern Scotland has arisen a confusion of their names. For instance, about the end of the third century, and also in the fourth and fifth, we find that the inhabitants of Erin, as well as those of Albion, were called Scots; while at this time, and for many hundred years after, Ireland was called Scotland par excellence; and Scotland seems at a much later period to have gradually claimed this name for itself. In the middle of the third century, some Irish, calling themselves Scots, crossed over to Albion or Caledonia, under the command of their king, Carbry Riada. The Scottish, that is, Irish king, founded a colony in Argyleshire, by which at last the entire country was Scotticized and called Scotland; while the successors of Carbry Riada became kings of Caledonia, and Ireland gradually lost its name of Scotland, and again assumed its ancient one of Erin, which is concealed in Hibernia, Ireland, and Irland.
Newry is a large and handsome town; that is, it is large among
p.332the small, and has a very pleasing appearance. Its houses are prettily built, its streets are ornamented with trees, and its bay is always full of ships. Here begins the real flax, linen, spinning, weaving, and bleaching country; and the further north we go, the finer become the threads and texture of the linen. The little towns of Banbridge and Moyallan especially, are distinguished for their excellent and very fine flax. All these little placesBanbridge, Dromore, Hillsborough, and others which we passedlook clean, prosperous, pretty, and very thriving; and they all look bleached, orderly, and, what they ought to be, like the linen they produce.
This branch of industry is of a very peculiar nature. When flourishing, it is, for numerous reasons, unquestionably one of the most beneficial any country can desire. It gives food and a more healthy employment to a far greater number of hands, and is more conducive to culture and refinement than a multitude of other branches of industry. It is conducive to agriculture, because the flax can be grown in the country, and requires a very attentive cultivator. The cotton and silk trades are of no advantage to agriculture in our northern climates, as they must derive their materials from abroad. The wool trade requires only the rude care of the shepherd, and is less favourable to culture in proportion as the rank of the shepherd is inferior to that of the agriculturist. A flourishing corn trade gives employment to the rough hand of the peasant only. But linen requires a number of little manipulations, which are partly secure from the destructive influence of new machines and inventions. The first treatment to which flax is subjected, and its conversion into a material fit for spinning, will be always left to the peasants, and will scarcely ever fall into the hands of the manufacturers; while cotton is delivered to the machines just as nature supplies it. The spinning of the flax, too, remains much longer in the hands of the labourer and his family. At last, indeed, a flax-spinning machine has been invented, which is ruining the poor spinners. But flax is a much nobler production than cotton, and capable of being carried to much greater perfection. Some of the finest threads therefore can never be spun by machinery, and will always remain in the hands of men. The Brabant spinners of lace yarn fear not the most inventive heads, or the most ingenious machinery in the world. So is it also with the weaving of the linen. On account of its smoothness, its durability, and firmness, flax is capable of being worked with far greater art than cotton. What beautiful damask patterns we see made of flax and silk, but never of cotton! This gives, in the province of the linen manufacture, far more
p.333scope for the exercise of talent, and much greater independence, than the cotton manufacture, which can do every thing by machinery, has no need of the hand and intellectual talents of man, but makes mere unskilled slaves of all its labourers. The bleaching of the linen is now, indeed, carried on by rich capitalists, who are possessed of chemical secrets, for which they have patents; but I believe, the best bleached and least injured linen is always obtained from those who make use of the old natural means,the sun, the rain, and the wind.
Besides, all the manipulations to which the flax and linen are subjected, are of a clean and delicate nature: every thing aims at fineness and whiteness; and this requires a certain delicacy of hand, and refinement of mind, which is unnecessary in other employments, as the herdsman, the field-labourer, or the sailor. It therefore seems that a flourishing linen manufacture must be conducive to the extension of order, cleanliness, and intellectual refinement throughout the country. How pleasing and even poetical is the spectacle of girls employed in bleaching, at their spinning-wheels, and at their looms!
The linen manufacture is, moreover, far less pernicious in a moral point of view than many other branches of trade, which open door and gate to deceit and gambling. We need only call to mind the flour, tea, and corn tradesthe adulterators of flour, and the gamblers in corn. So detested a class as the corn-dealers, the linen trade can never produce, nor such a class as the deceitful millers; for the linen lies clear before the eyes of every one, and its fineness or coarseness is capable of no adulteration, though to this there are of course a few exceptions. The rude peasant, the rough thresher, the deceitful miller, the avaricious baker, the hard-hearted corn-dealer, are moral products, which ripen on the boughs and branches of the corn trade. The provident husbandman, the girl singing at her spinning-wheel, the industrious and attentive weaver, the poetic-looking bleaching-maid, the linen-trader, honest against his will,these are the persons to whom the salutary stream of the linen manufacture gives support, when, divided into many branches, it flows through a land. It is therefore always pleasing to the traveller to arrive in a country that produces flax, yarn, and linen, particularly when the trade is vigorous and flourishing. This is now, indeed, as we have hinted above, no longer the case in Ireland, since the establishment of rival manufactories in England. English speculators have also erected large factories in Belfast; so that at this moment nearly all branches of the manufacture of linen and yarn, even to the bleaching, are passing from the hands of the many poor people, into those of a few great capitalists.
The preparation of flax and linen in the north of Ireland has been brought over either by the Scotch settlers, or has flourished here in Ireland, and in the south of Scotland, from ancient times. It is curious that in Scotland, as in Ireland, the south-eastern parts near the sea are the principal seats of this manufacture. In Scotland, Dundee is the chief seat of this trade, as Belfast is in Ireland. Both countries produce, I believe, about equal quantities of linen, but Ireland seems to export more. It is impossible, however, to ascertain this point correctly, as the returns of the two countries are not founded on the same principles. The linen manufacture of Scotland is stated to have produced only 1,500,000 yards in the year 1707, whilst it now produces nearly twenty-five times as much. The production of this article has increased in the same ratio in Ireland since 1698, though at the expense of the woollen manufacture, which then flourished in the south of Ireland. This took place in consequence of the battle of the Boyne, which gave Ireland again into the hands of the English. The woollen was the only manufacture which had then made any progress in Ireland: it was confined to the south, and stood greatly in the way of the English woollen manufacture, which began to flourish in the reign of William III.. The English parliament therefore resolved to destroy the Irish manufacture, and passed a bill by which an exorbitant duty, equivalent to a prohibition, was imposed on its exportation; and thus this branch of industry was totally ruined. In order in some measure to remunerate the Irish for this loss, the linen manufacture was encouraged, as it was not feared by the English, who had as yet none of their own; and so long, at least, as the present union of the two countries continues, a repetition of the distinctive prohibitory regulations is not to be feared.
Nearly all the little towns through which we passed that evening were lighted with gas. It is remarkable how this important new invention has already penetrated all through this country. In Germany, only the largest towns can boast of being lighted with gas, and these too only partially. In the United Kingdom, towns lighted with gas can no longer be counted.
At last we arrived at the centre-point of all the present light of the north of Ireland, the centre of all the flax-spinning and linen-weaving,at the great thick hanks of men and houses which Irish flax has here twisted togetherat Belfast. I believed, at first, that some great festival was being celebrated; for, in whatever direction I looked, I saw the great four, five, and six-storied houses illuminated from top to bottom. There were buildings among them from which light flashed from one or two hundred windows at the same time. I had for a moment forgotten that I had
p.335arrived in a great manufacturing town, the only one of importance that Ireland possesses.