With this we concluded our sigh about Dunluce, as we sat by the Bay of Sighs. In the mean time it had become perfectly dark, and with some trouble and difficulty I found my way to my car, and returned, late in the evening, to Ballycastle, and found, alas! that the Misses Mac Donnell had also sunk, if not into the lowest rank of their clan, at least into the pillow of their soft couch.
On the following day (the 25th Oct.) I hoped at last for a change of weather; and so, in fact, it happened. The storm, which the day before had been dry, had during the night laden itself with snow, and was busily engaged in powdering the rocks, as I set out in the morning on my return to Belfast. This return journey I had intended to make by Coleraine and Antrim; but
p.413thinking that I could hardly find in the interior any thing more interesting than a repetition of the noble coast of Antrim, which besides would present a very different appearance in the snow, I returned by the road I came. The shading of snow was different on every field I passed. On the stubble-fields it had melted less than on the grass; on the moors, more than on the heaths; and the figures of many districts were distinctly to be recognized on the snow-covered surface. I had thus, doubtless, in the snowflakes, a very neat thermometer for the different degrees of warmth of the soil, and the living and dead plants.
It is generally said that the coast of Antrim is so mild, that the snow never remains on the ground, even when, some miles inland, the hills are deeply covered with it. This may be the case; but I have the evidence of my own eyes that it falls at least as early as October on this mild coast. The blooming roses, that showed themselves in great abundance on some farms, glowed like fire from beneath the snow-flakes that hung on them. Yet mild as the climate is, it is in many respects extremely disagreeable to man. How well some plants bear it, is shown by the myrtles of Glenarm, which I visited once more. Those myrtles, like the arbutus of Mount Kennedy, are the most famous and largest of their kind in Ireland. I was informed that a gardener from the Royal Gardens at Kew, once made a pilgrimage in person to see these myrtles, and to examine closely their situation, and the nature of the country around them.
Among other remarkable things in the Castle of Glenarm, besides a model of the Giant's Causeway, I saw also a large piece of Irish rock-crystal, which is found here in the basaltic caves. It was from four and a half to five inches long, and is said to be the largest ever found here. I was also told that the people of the north of Ireland every where call the basalt, Whinstone. I had, indeed, often before heard this word; but I did not know that it was a peculiar North-Irish and Scotch provincialism. Whin is the shrub called furze, so common in Ireland, and which grows in abundance on the basalt rocks. The fair lady who told me this, also informed me, that here, in the north of Ireland, what the English call family names, are often called clans-names by the common people; and that if I wished to get a clear conception of the meaning of the word clan, I had only to think of what is called in the Bible the Children of Israel. For the Irish and Scotch used the word precisely in the same sense, as is proved by their translating the Children of Israel, always by Clan Israel. It is remarkable that every thing here, both in customs and
p.414language, even among the native Irish, approaches to the north of England and Scotland. Thus, what in all the rest of Ireland is called bog, the people here term moss as in England and Scotland. The moss here is at a great distance, said the people in Glenarm, when I complained of their putting so little turf on my fire. That the moss or bog is so far off, is the daily complaint of thousands of poor Irish. That they have a moss or a bog near, is the daily joy and happiness of many thousands more. Whether the moss or bog be nearer far off, is a question inquired into and carefully examined in purchases, in taking leases, and on a hundred other occasions.
The storm had thrown up an unusual quantity of seaweed at Glenarm, and different other places along the coast. Half the population were next morning, when the wind had somewhat abated, busy gathering it, and taking it away on little cars. All the wet basalt and limestone rocks, which rolled about on the seashore, were covered with men, women, and children, who, as at a joyful harvest-home, gathered the long snake-like slimy weeds, and collected them all carefully into little heaps. The Irish turn these plants to many uses: in the first place, they eat them, and, indeed, in no small quantities. Several of my twenty guides at the Giant's Causeway amused themselves on the way with chewing different marine plants, just as they picked them out of the surf. I saw the people in Ballycastle, too, putting seaweed on their bread and butter, and eating it as we do watercresses. In Belfast, I saw the peasants bring sea-plants to market as a common vegetable, just as they do peas or beans in our country. Some seaweed they salt and boil, and then it has exactly the same appearance as our German plum jam. One may call those boiled seaweeds, Irish jam. Besides, as I have already said, they make kelp from the ashes of the burnt sea-plants, both in Ireland and Scotland; and those which they neither eat nor burn for kelp, they use as manure. Yet I believe they are not here so often used for the latter purpose as on our Baltic coasts, the sandy shores of which gain more benefit from this kind of manure than the wet morass lands of Ireland, which would be more benefitted by lime, sea-sand, and shells, which latter are here and there on the coast of Ireland, at Lough Foyle, for instance, piled up in large heaps, even in entire hills.
All the coasts of Ireland are very rich in various kinds of sea-plants, and accordingly it seems that the green vegetation of the Emerald Isle is continued even beneath the sea. The coasts of Antrim are said to be the richest of all the coasts of Ireland, in those plants, which grow and spread more quickly on limestone
p.415and basalt than on other kinds of stone. Those sea-plants which the Irish consider edible, are pretty numerous. The following are some of the most esteemed:Above all, the Dillisk (Rhodominia palmata); then the kind they call Murlius (Laminaria saccharina); and, lastly, the Carrigeen Moss (Chondrus erispus). This latter kind they dry in the sun, and use as a substitute for Iceland moss. Hence it is generally termed Irish Moss. At Belfast, and on the sea-coast, a pound of dillisk often costs no more than a penny; while in the interior of the country it costs threepence or fourpence. They often praise highly its fine taste and flavour, and sharply criticise the bad qualities of the inferior kinds of dulse, as dillisk is frequently called; whilst to one who is not experienced in those niceties of taste, both the delicate and spoiled kinds are equally nauseous. In some places on the coast of Antrim, as well as in some coast districts of Scotland, the people are so much in the habit of eating various kinds of seaweed, that they never cease chewing it, and always carry some dulse or dillisk about with them, as the common people in Germany do tobacco. The sea-plant which they cook is called Sloke, Slokaun, or Laver (Porphyra laciniata). It is generally collected during the autumn and winter, as in summer it is too tough. After being washed and cleansed, this laver is boiled with butter, and then sold in tin measures: it is eaten with pepper and vinegar, and is sent in barrels even to London.
For manure, a kind which is distinguished by the name of sea-wrack, is principally used. This is the Laminaria digitata, which is so good a manure, especially for potatoes, that it is proverbially said here, on the coast of Antrim, a sack of sea-wrack will produce a sack of potatoes. It is, however, in quantity rather than in quality that the potatoes are improved by it. After every storm, the coast of Antrim is crowded like a fair, and all the people come down from their hills to gather sea-wrack for their potatoes. When the sea is perfectly calm, they wade as far into the water as they can, and cut away the weeds under the water with sickles. What does not the poor Irishman do to get a few 'tatoes! They take with them their little mountain horses, and load the manure on their backs; or, if the ground is too rocky for horses, they load their own backs with the briny, dripping manure.
From the difficulty of observing them beneath the water, where alone they unfold all their splendour, very few know the delicacy, and uncommon beauty and elegance of form, assumed by these products of marine vegetation, which are scarcely inferior in any respect to those of our gardens. When
p.416drawn out, they have commonly a very melancholy appearance, on account of the mud and water with which they are covered. Nothing but drying and unfolding them in an artist-like manner can restore them in some degree to their natural state. While all other flowers and plants lose by drying and preserving in the herbarium, sea-plants are the only ones which gain in the process; and a careful drying is the only means of enabling their beauty to be observed and enjoyed by the lovers of nature. Dr. Drummond, of Belfast, has written a very learned little treatise on the drying of those plants, of which he has a beautiful and perfect collection.
It is inexplicable that the importance of this art is not more perceived, and that all museums do not contain herbaries of these wonderful little plants which the sea conceals. If museums are intended for the use of the lover of nature, and in particular to furnish him with knowledge and instruction in matters which would be otherwise inaccessible, then a herbary of sea-plants is infinitely more pressingly necessary in every museum than a herbary of land-plants. The latter, showing but imperfectly the forms of nature, can add but little to her glory; but a herbarium of marine plants is absolutely an elevating and beautifying of the works of creation, and adds to the glory of the Creator. Dr. Drummond also remarks, in the treatise I have mentioned, that one description of seaweed (Polysiphonia violacea), which has very long black stalks, when it is driven about by the waves in a storm in great quantities on the coast of Antrim, entangles and felts itself with its long branches so as to accumulate in large lumps, which roll about on the shore, and often form knots so firm that it is almost impossible to unloose them.
I drank another glass of whisky in Glenarmthe mild climate of Ireland soon teaches one whisky drinkingfor my car-driver told me it was the last good whisky we could procure on the coast,the Larne whisky was no good, and the Carrickfergus whisky was still worse. We then proceeded towards Belfast. I felt myself exceedingly comfortable on one side of my body, which, in one corner of my car, was sheltered from the attack of the snow and wind, and I did all in my power to concentrate all my sense of feeling and my whole soul into this comfortable corner, and to let all my other limbs freeze and shiver in the wet and cold as much as they pleased. Most people say that if one part of the body, the feet, for instance, or the head, is cold, one feels uncomfortable all over, however warm the rest of him may be; but I think my theory is better, and that one may bring himself, with some persuasion and management, to feel contented and warm if
p.417but one limb be well off. I occupied my thoughts with this theory till I arrived at Belfast, where I had an opportunity of drying my papers and clothes one by one.
And when I had effected this, I took my leave of Erin, and embarked for Caledonia.
End of Travels in Ireland