The Irish Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

From Glengariff to Killarney

The Irish car seems accommodated for any number of persons: it appeared to be full when we left Glengariff, for a traveller from Bearhaven, and the five gentlemen from the yacht, took seats upon it with myself, and we fancied it was impossible more than seven should travel by such a conveyance; but the driver showed the capabilities of his vehicle presently. The journey from Glengariff to Kenmare is one of astonishing beauty; and I have seen Killarney since, and am sure that Glengariff loses nothing by comparison with this most famous of lakes. Rock, wood, and sea stretch around the traveller-a thousand delightful pictures: the landscape is at first wild without being fierce, immense woods and plantations enriching the valleys-beautiful streams to’ be seen every-where.

Here again I was surprised at the great population along the road; for one saw but few cabins, and there is no village between Glengariff and Kenmare. But men and women were on banks and in fields; children, as usual, came trooping up to the car; and the jovial men of the yacht had great conversations with most of the persons whom we met on the road. A merrier set of fellows it were hard to meet. “Should you like anything to drink, sir?” says one commencing the acquaintance. “We have the best whiskey in the world, and plenty of porter in the basket.” Therewith the jolly seamen produced a long bottle of grog, which was passed round from one to another; and then began singing, shouting, laughing, roaring for the whole journey. “British sailors have a knack, pull away — ho, boys!” “Hurroo, my fine fellow! does your mother know you’re out?” “Hurroo, Tim Herlihy! you’re a fluke; Tim Heriihy.” One man sang on the roof, one hurroo’d to the echo, another apostrophised the aforesaid Herlihy as he passed grinning on a car; a third had a pocket-handkerchief flaunting from a pole, with which he performed exercises in the face of any horseman whom we met; and great were their yells as the ponies shied off at the salutation and the riders swerved in their saddles.

In the midst of this rattling chorus we went along: gradually the country grew wilder and more desolate, and we passed through a grim mountain region, bleak and bare, the road winding round some of the innumerable hills, and once or twice by means of a tunnel rushing boldly through them. One of these tunnels, they say, is a couple of hundred yards long; and a pretty howling, I need not say, was made through that pipe of rock by the jolly yacht’s crew. “We saw you sketching in the blacksmith’s shed at Glengariff,” says one, “and we wished we had you on board. Such a jolly life we led of it!” They roved about the coast, they said, in their vessel they feasted off the best of fish, mutton, and whiskey; they had Gamble’s turtle-soup on board, and fun from morning till night, and vice versa. Gradually it came out that there was not, owing to the tremendous rains, a dry corner in their ship; that they slung two in a huge hammock in the cabin, and that one of their crew had been ill, and shirked off. What a wonderful thing pleasure is! To be wet all day and night; to be scorched and blistered by the sun and rain; to beat in and out of little harbours, and to exceed diurnally upon whiskey punch — faith London, and an arm-chair at the club, are more to the tastes of some men.

After much mountain-work of ascending and descending, (in which latter operation, and by the side of precipices that make passing cockneys rather squeamish, the carman drove like mad to the whooping and screeching of the red-rovers,) we at length came to Kenmare, of which all that I know is that it lies prettily in a bay or arm of the sea; that it is approached by a little hanging-bridge, which seems to be a wonder in these parts; that it is a miserable little place when you enter it; and that, finally, a splendid luncheon of all sorts of meat and excellent cold salmon may sometimes be had for a shilling at the hotel of the place. It is a great vacant house, like the rest of them, and would frighten people in England; but after a few days one grows used to the Castle Rackrent style. I am not sure that there is not a certain sort of comfort to be bad in these rambling rooms, and among these bustling, blundering waiters, which one does not always meet with in an orderly English house of entertainment.

After discussing the luncheon, we found the car with fresh horses, beggars, idlers, policemen, &c., standing round of course; and now the miraculous vehicle, which had held hitherto seven with some difficulty, was called upon to accommodate thirteen.

A pretty noise would our three Englishmen of yesterday — nay, any other Englishmen for the matter of that — have made, if coolly called upon to admit an extra party of four into a mail-coach! The yacht’s crew did not make a single objection; a couple clambered up on the roof, where they managed to locate themselves with wonderful ingenuity, perched upon bard wooden chests, or agreeably reposing upon the knotted ropes which held them together: one of the new passengers scrambled between the driver’s legs, where he held on somehow, and the rest were pushed and squeezed astonishingly in the car.

Now the fact must be told, that five of the new passengers (I don’t count a little boy besides) were women, and very pretty, gay, frolicsome, lively, kindhearted, innocent women too; and for the rest of the journey there was no end of laughing and shouting, and singing, and hugging, so that the caravan presented the appearance which is depicted in the frontispiece of this work.

Now it may be a wonder to some persons, that with such a cargo the carriage did not upset, or some of us did not fall off; to which the answer is that we did fall off. A very pretty woman fell off, and showed a pair of never-mind-what-coloured garters, and an interesting English traveller fell off too: but heaven bless you I these cars are made to fall off from; and considering the circumstances of the case, and in the same company, I would rather fall off than not. A great number of polite allusions and genteel inquiries were, as may be imagined, made by the jolly boat’s crew. But though the lady affected to be a little angry at first, she was far too good-natured to be angry long, and at last fairly burst out laughing with the passengers. We did not fall off again, but held on very tight, and just as we were reaching Killarney, saw somebody else fall off from another can But in this instance the gentleman had no lady to tumble with.

But almost half the way from Kenmare, this wild, beautiful road commands views of the famous lake and vast blue mountains about Killarney. Turk, Tomies, and Mangerton were clothed in purple like kings in mourning; great heavy clouds were gathered round their heads, parting away every now and then, and leaving their noble features bare. The lake lay for some time underneath us, dark and blue, with dark misty islands in the midst. On the right-hand side of the road would be a precipice covered with a thousand trees, or a green rocky flat, with a reedy mere in the midst, and other mountains rising as far as we could see. I think of that diabolical tune in “Der Freischutz” while passing through this sort of country.

Every now and then, in the midst of some fresh country or in-closed trees, or at a turn of the road, you lose the sight of the great big awful mountain: but, like the aforesaid tune in “Der Freischutz,” it is always there close at hand. You feel that it keeps you company. And so it was that we rode by dark old Mangerton, then presently past Muckross, and then through two miles of avenues of lime-trees, by numerous lodges and gentlemen’s seats, across an old bridge, where you see the mountains again and the lake, until, by Lord Kenmare’s house, a hideous row of houses informed us that we were at Killarney.

Here my companion suddenly let go my hand, and by a certain uneasy motion of the waist, gave me notice to withdraw the other too; and we rattled up to the “Kenmare Arms: and so ended, not without a sigh on my part, one of the merriest six-hour rides that five yachtsmen, one cockney, five women and a child, the carman, and a countryman with an alpeen, ever took in their lives.

As for my fellow-companion, she would hardly speak the next day; but all the five maritime men made me vow and promise that I would go and see them at Cork, where I should have horses to ride, the fastest yacht out of the harbour to sail in, and the best of whiskey, claret, and welcome. Amen, and may every single person who buys a copy of this book meet’ with the same deserved fate.

The town of Killarney was in a violent state of excitement with a series of horse-races, hurdle-races, boat-races, and stag-hunts by land and water, which were taking place, and attracted a vast crowd from all parts of the kingdom. All the inns were full, and lodgings cost five shillings a day-nay, more in some places; for though my landlady, Mrs. Macgillicuddy, charges but that sum, a leisurely old gentleman whom I never saw in my life before made my acquaintance by stopping me in the street yesterday, and said he paid a pound a day for his two bedrooms. The old gentleman is eager for company; and indeed, when a man travels alone, it is wonderful how little he cares to select his society; how indifferent company pleases him; how a good fellow delights him: how sorry he is when the time for parting comes, and he has to walk off alone, and begin the friendship-hunt over again.

The first sight I witnessed at Killarney was a race-ordinary, where, for a sum of twelve shillings, any man could take his share of turbot, salmon, venison, and beef, with port, and sherry, and whiskey-punch at discretion. Here were the squires of Cork and Kerry, one or two Englishmen, whose voices amidst the rich humming brogue round about sounded quite affected (not that they were so, but there seems a sort of impertinence in the shrill, high-pitched tone of the English voice here). At the head of the table, near the chairman, sat some brilliant young dragoons, neat, solemn, dull, with huge moustaches, and boots polished to a nicety

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And here of course the conversation was of the horse, horsey: how Mr. This had refused fifteen hundred guineas for a horse which he bought for a hundred; how Bacchus was the best horse in Ireland; which horses were to run at Something races; and how the Marquis of Waterford gave a plate or a purse. We drank “the Queen,” with hip! hip! hurrah! the “winner of the Kenmare stakes” -hurrah! Presently the gentleman next me rose and made a speech: he had brought a mare down and won the stakes — a hundred and seventy guineas — and I looked at him with a great deal of respect Other toasts ensued, and more talk about horses. Nor am I in the least disposed to sneer at gentlemen who like sporting and talk about it: for I do believe that the conversation of a dozen foxhunters is just as clever as that of a similar number of merchants, barristers, or literary men. But to this trade, as to all others, a man must be bred; if he has not learnt it thoroughly or in early life, he will not readily become a proficient afterwards, and when therefore the subject is broached, had best maintain a profound silence.

A young Edinburgh cockney, with an easy self-confidence that the reader may have perhaps remarked in others of his calling and nation, and who evidently knew as much of sporting matters as the individual who writes this, proceeded nevertheless to give the company his opinions, and greatly astonished them all; for these simple people are at first willing to believe that a stranger is sure to be a knowing fellow, and did not seem inclined to be undeceived even by this little pert, grinning Scotchman. It was good to hear him talk of Haddington, Musselburzh — and heaven knows what strange outlandish places, as if they were known to all the world. And here would be a good opportunity to enter into a dissertation upon natural characteristics: to show that the bold, swaggering Irishman is really a modest fellow, while the canny Scot is a most brazen one; to wonder why the inhabitant of one country is ashamed of it — which is in itself so fertile and beautiful, and has produced more than its fair proportion of men of genius, valour, and wit whereas it never enters into the head of a Scotchman to question his own equality (and something more) at all: but that such discussions are quite unprofitable; nay, that exactly the contrary propositions may be argued to just as much length. Has the reader ever tried with a dozen of De Tocqueville’s short crisp philosophic apophthegms and taken the converse of them? The one or other set of propositions will answer equally well; and it is the best way to avoid all such. Let the above passage, then, simply be understood to say, that on a certain day the writer met a vulgar little Scotchman — not that all Scotchinen are vulgar -that this little pert creature prattled about his country as if he and it were ornaments to the world — which the latter is, no doubt; and that one could not but contrast his behaviour with that of great big stalwart simple Irishmen, who asked your opinion of their country with as much modesty as if you — because an Englishman — must be somebody, and they the dust of the earth.

Indeed, this want of self-confidence at times becomes quite painful to the stranger. If in reply to their queries, you say you like the country, people seem really quite delighted. Why should they? Why should a stranger’s opinion who doesn’t know the country be more valued than a native’s who does? — Suppose an Irishman in England were to speak in praise or abuse of the country, would one be particularly pleased or annoyed? One would be glad that the man liked his trip; but as for his good or bad opinion of the country, the country stands on its own bottom, superior to any opinion of any man or men.

I must beg pardon of the little Scotchman for reverting to him (let it be remembered that there were two Scotchinen at Killarney, and that I speak of the other one); but I have seen no specimen of that sort of manners in any Irishman since I have been in the country. I have met more gentlemen here than in any place I ever saw: gentlemen of high and low ranks, that is to say: men shrewd and delicate of perception, observant of society, entering into the feelings of others, and anxious to set them at ease or to gratify them; of course exaggerating their professions of kindness, and in so far insincere; but the very exaggeration seems to be a proof of a kindly nature, and I wish in England we were a little more complimentary. In Dublin, a lawyer left his chambers, and a literary man his books, to walk the town with me-the town, which they must know a great deal too well: for, prettv as it is, it is but a small place after all, not like that great bustling, changing, struggling world, the Englishman’s capital. Would a London man leave his business to trudge to the Tower or the Park with a stranger? We would ask him to dine at the club, or to eat whitebait at Lovegrove’s, and think our duty done, neither caring for him, nor professing to care for him; and we pride ourselves on our honesty accordingly. Never was honesty more selfish. And so a vulgar man in England disdains to flatter his equals, and chiefly displays his character of snob by assuming as much as he can for himself, swaggering and showing off in his coarse, dull, stupid way.

“I am a gentleman, and pay my way,” as the old fellow said at Glengariff. I have not heard a sentence near so vulgar from any man in Ireland. Yes, by the way, there was another Englishman at Cork: a man in a middling, not to say humble, situation of life. When introduced to an Irish gentleman, his formula seemed to be, “I think, sir, I have met you somewhere before.” “I am sure, sir, I have met you before,” he said, for the second time in my hearing, to a gentleman of great note in Ireland. “Yes, I have met you at Lord X—’s.” “I don’t know my Lord X — ” replied the Irishman. “Sir,” says the other, “I shall have great pleasure in introducing you to him.” Well, the good-natured simple Irishman thought this gentleman a very fine fellow. There was only one, of some dozen who spoke about him, that found out Snob. I suppose the Spaniards lorded it over the Mexicans in this way: their drummers passing for generals among the simple red men, their glass beads for jewels, and their insolent bearing for heroic superiority.

Leaving, then, the race-ordinary (that little Scotchman with his airs has carried us the deuce knows how far out of the way), I came home just as the gentlemen of the race were beginning to “mix,” that is, to forsake the wine for the punch. At the lodgings I found my five companions of the morning with a bottle of that wonderful whiskey of which they spoke; and which they had agreed to exchange against a bundle of Liverpool cigars: so we discussed them, the whiskey, and other topics in common. Now there is no need to violate the sanctity of private life, and report the conversation which took place, the songs which were sung, the speeches which were made, and the other remarkable events of the evening. Suffice it to say, that the English traveller gradually becomes accustomed to whiskey-punch (in moderation of course), and finds the beverage very agreeable at Killarney; against which I recollect a protest was entered at Dublin.

But after we had talked of hunting, racing, regatting, and all other sports, I came to a discovery which astonished me, and for which these honest, kind fellows are mentioned publicly here. The portraits, or a sort of resemblance of four of them, may be seen in the foregoing drawing of the car. The man with the straw hat and handkerchief tied over it is the captain of an Indiaman; three others, with each a pair of moustaches, sported yacht-costumes, jackets, club anchor-buttons, and so forth; and, finally, one on the other side of the car (who can not be seen on account of the portmanteaus, otherwise the likeness would be perfect,) was dressed with a coat and a hat in the ordinary way. One with the gold band and moustache is a gentleman of property; the other three are attorneys every man of them: two in large practice in Cork and Dublin, the other, and owner of the yacht, under articles to the attorney of Cork. Now did any Englishman ever live with three attorneys for a whole day without hearing a single syllable of law spoken? Did we ever see in our country attorneys with moustaches; or, above all, an attorney’s clerk owner of a yacht of thirty tons? He is a gentleman of property too — the heir, that is, to a good estate; and has had a yacht of his own, he says, ever since he was fourteen years old. Is there any English boy of fourteen who commands a ship with a crew of five men under him? We all agreed to have a boat for the stag-hunt on the lake next day; and I went to bed wondering at this strange country more than ever. An attorney with mustaches! What would they say of him in Chancery Lane?

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 19:07