The Irish Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Templemoyle — Derry

From Newtown Limavaddy to Derry the traveller has many wild and noble prospects of Lough Foyle and the plains and mountains round it, and of scenes which may possibly in this country be still more agreeable to him — of smiling cultivation, and comfortable well built villages, such as are only too rare in Ireland. Of a great part of this district the London Companies are landlords — the best of landlord, too, according to the report I could gather; and their good stewardship shows itself especially in the neat villages of Muff and Ballielly, through both of which I passed. In Ballikelly, besides numerous simple, stout, brick-built dwellings for the peasantry, with their shining windows and trim garden plots, is a Presbyterian meeting-house, so well built substantial, and handsome, so different from the lean, pretentious, sham Gothic ecclesiastical edifices which have been erected of late years in Ireland, that it can t fail to strike the tourist who has made architecture his study or his pleasure. The gentlemen’s seats in the district are numerous and handsome, and the whole movement along the road betokened cheerfulness and prosperous activity.

As the carman had no other passengers but myself, he made no objection to carry me a couple of miles out of his way, through the village of Muff, belonging to the Grocers of London (and so handsomely and comfortably built by them as to cause all Cockneys to exclaim, “Well done our side!") and thence to a very interesting institution, which was established some fifteen years since in the neighbourhood — the Agricultural Seminary of Templemoyle. It lies on a wooded hill in a pretty wooded country, and is most curiously secluded from the world by the tortuousness of the road which approaches it.

Of course it is not my business to report upon the agricultural system practised there or to discourse on the state of the land or the crops; the best testimony on this subject is the fact, that the Institution hired, at a small rental, a tract of land, which was reclaimed and farmed, and that of this farm the landlord has now taken possession, leaving the young farmers to labour on a new tract of land, for which they pay five times as much rent as for their former holding. But though a person versed in agriculture could give a far more satisfactory, account of the place than one to whom such pursuits are quite unfamiliar, there is a great deal about the establishment which any citizen can remark on; and he must be a very difficult Cockney indeed who won’t be pleased here.

After winding in and out and up and down, and round about the eminence on which the house stands, we at last found an entrance to it, by a court-yard, neat, well-built and spacious, where are the stables and numerous offices of’ the farm. The scholars were at dinner off a comfortable meal of boiled beef, potatoes, and cabbages, when I arrived; a master was reading a book of history to them; and silence, it appears, is preserved during the dinner. Seventy scholars were here assembled, some young, and some expanded into six feet and whiskers — all, however, are made to maintain exactly the same discipline, whether whiskered or not.

The “head farmer” of the school, Mr. Campbell, a very intelligent Scotch gentleman, was good enough to conduct me over the place and the farm, and to give a history of the establishment and the course pursued there. The Seminary was founded in 1827, by the North-west of Ireland Society, by members of which and others about £3,000 were subscribed, and the buildings of the school erected. These are spacious, simple, and comfortable; there is a good stone house, with airy dormitories, school-rooms, &c., and large and convenient offices. The establishment had, at first, some difficulties to contend with, and for some time did not number more than 30 pupils. At present, there are 70 scholars, paying ten pounds a year, with which sum, and the labor of the pupils on the farm, and the produce of it, the school is entirely supported. The reader will, perhaps, like to see an extract from the Report of the school, which contains more details regarding it.

“On Tuesday B commences work in the morning and A at school, and so on alternate days.

“Each class is again subdivided into three divisions, over each of which is placed a monitor, selected from the steadiest and best-informed boys; he receives the Head Farmer’s directions as to the work to be done, and superintends his party while performing it.

“In winter the time of labour is shortened according to the length of the day, and the hours at school increased.

“In wet days, when the boys cannot work out, all are required to attend school.

“Rules of the Templemoyle School

“1. The pupils are required to say their prayers in the morning before leaving the dormitory, and at night, before retiring to rest, each separately, and after the manner to which he has been habituated.

“2. The pupils are requested to wash their hands and faces before the commencement of business in the morning, on returning from agricultural labour, and after dinner.

“3. The pupils are required to pay the strictest attention to their instructors, both during the hours of agricultural and literary occupation.

“4. Strife, disobedience, inattention, or any description of riotous or disorderly conduct, is punishable by extra labour or confinement, as directed by the Committee, according to circumstances.

“5. Diligent and respectable behaviour, continued for a considerable time, will be rewarded by occasional permission for the pupil so distinguished to visit his home.

“6. No pupil, on obtaining leave of absence, shall presume to continue it for a longer period than that prescribed to him on leaving the Seminary.

“7. During their rural labour, the pupils are to consider themselves amenable to the authority of their Agricultural Instructor alone, and during their attendance in the school-room, to that of their Literary Instructor alone.

“8. Non-attendance during any part of the times allotted either for literary or agricultural employment, will be punished as a serious offence.

“9. During the hours of recreation the pupils are to be under the superintendence of their Instructors, and not suffered to pass beyond the limits of the farm, except under their guidance, or with a written permission from one of them.

“10. The pupils are required to make up their beds, and keep those clothes not in immediate use neatly folded up in their trunks, and to be particular in never suffering any garment, book, implement, or other article belonging to or used by them, to lie about in a slovenly or disorderly manner.

“11. Respect to superior, and gentleness of demeanor, both among the pupils themselves and towards the servants and laborers of the establishment, are particularly insisted upon, and will be considered a prominent ground of approbation and reqward.

“12. On Sundays, the pupils are required to attend their respective places of worship, accompanied by their Instructors or Monitors; and it is earnestly recommended to them to employ a part of the remainder of the day in sincerely reading the Word of God, and in such other devotional exercises as their respective ministers may point out.

*

At certain periods of the year, when all hands are required, such as harvest, &c., the literary labours of the scholars are stopped, and they are all in the field. On the present occasion we followed them into a potato-field, where an army of them were employed digging out the potatoes; while another regiment were trenching in elsewhere for the winter: the boys were leading the carts to and fro. To reach the potatoes we had to pass a field, part of which was newly ploughed: the ploughing was the work of the boys, too; one of them being left with an experienced ploughman for a fortnight at a time in which space the lad can acquire some practice in the art.

Amongst the potatoes and the boys digging them, I observed a number of girls, taking them up as dug and removing the soil from the roots. Such a society for 70 young men would, in any other country in the world, be not a little dangerous; but Mr. Campbell said that no instance of harm had ever occurred in consequence, and I believe his statement may be fully relied on: the whole country bears testimony to this noble purity of morals. Is there any “other in Europe which in this point can compare with it?

In winter the farm works do not occupy the pupils so much, and they give more time to their literary studies. They get a good English education; they are grounded in arithmetic and mathematics; and I saw a good map of an adjacent farm, made from actual survey by one of the pupils. Some of them are good draughtsmen likewise, but of their performances I could see no specimen, the artists being abroad, occupied wisely in digging the potatoes.

And here apropos, not of the school but of potatoes, let me tell a potato story, which is, I think, to the purpose, wherever it is told. In the county of Mayo a gentleman by the name of Crofton is a landed proprietor, in whose neighbourhood great distress prevailed among the peasantry during the spring and summer, when the potatoes of the last year were consumed, and before those of the present season were up. Mr. Crofton, by liberal donations on his own part, and by a subscription which was set on foot among his friends in England as well as in Ireland, was enabled to collect a sum of money sufficient to purchase meal for the people, which was given to them, or sold at very low prices, until the pressure of want was withdrawn, and the blessed potato-crop came in. Some time in October, a smart night’s frost made Mr. Crofton think that it was time to take in and pit his own potatoes, and he told his steward to get laborers accordingly.

Next day, on going to the potato-grounds, he found the whole fields swarming with people; the whole crop was out of the ground, and again under it, pitted and covered, and the people gone, in a few hours. It was as if the fairies that we read of in the Irish legends, as coming to the aid of good people and helping them in their labours, had taken a liking to this good landlord, and taken in his harvest for him. Mr. Crofton, who knew who his helpers had been, sent the steward to pay them their day’s wages, and to thank them at the same time for having come to help him at a time when their labour was so useful to him. One and all refused a penny; and their spokesman said, “They wished they could do more for the likes of him or his family.” I have heard of many conspiracies in this country; is not this one as worthy to be told as any of them?

Round the house of Templemoyle is a pretty garden, which the pupils take pleasure in cultivating, filled not with fruit (for this, though there are 70 gardeners, the superintendent said somehow seldom reached a ripe state), but with kitchen herbs, and a few beds of pretty flowers, such as are best suited to cottage horticulture. Such simple carpenters’ and masons’ work as the young men can do is likewise confided to them; and though the dietary may appear to the Englishman as rather a scanty one, and though the English lads certainly make at first very wry faces at the stirabout porridge (as they naturally will when first put in the presence of that abominable mixture), yet after a time, strange to say, they begin to find it actually palatable; and the best proof of the excellence of the diet is that nobody is ever ill in the institution: colds and fevers and the ailments of lazy, gluttonous gentility, are unknown; and the doctor’s bill for the last year, for 70 pupils, amounted to 35 shillings. O beati agricoliculae!You do not know what it is to feel a little uneasy after half a crown’s worth of raspberry-tarts, as lads do at the best public schools; you don’t know in what majestic polished hexameters the Roman poet has described your pursuits; you are not fagged and flogged into Latin and Greek at the cost of £200 a year. Let these be the privileges of your youthful betters; meanwhile content yourselves with thinking that you are preparing for a profession, while they are not; that you are learning something useful, while they, for the most part, are not: for after all as a man grows old in the world, old and fat, cricket is discovered not to be any longer very advantageous to him — even to have pulled in the Trinity boat does not in old age amount to a substantial advantage; and though to read a Greek play be an immense pleasure, yet it must be confessed few enjoy it. In the first place, of the race of Etonians, and Harrovians and Carthusians that one meets in the world, very few can read the Greek; of those few — there are not, as I believe, any considerable majority of poets. Stout men in the bow windows of clubs (for such young Etonians by time become) are not generally remarkable for a taste for Aeschylus [And then, how much Latin and Greek does the public school boy know? Also does he know anything else, and what? Is it history, or geography, or mathematics or divinity?] You do not hear much poetry in Westminster Hall, or I believe at the bar tables afterwards; and if occasionally, in the House of Commons, Sir Robert Peel lets off a quotation — a pocket-pistol wadded with a leaf torn out of Horace — depend on it it is only to astonish the country gentlemen who don’t understand him: and it is my firm conviction that Sir Robert no more cares for poetry than you or I do.

Such thoughts would suggest themselves to a man who has a had the benefit of what is called an education at a public school in England, when he sees 70 lads from all parts of the empire learning what his Latin poets and philosophers have informed him is the best of all pursuits, — finds them educated at one-twentieth part of the cost which has been bestowed on his own precious person; orderly without the necessity of submitting to degrading personal punishment; young, and full of health and blood, though vice is unknown among them; brought up decently and honestly to know the things which it is good for them in their profession to know. So it is, however; all the world is improving except the gentlemen. There are at this present writing 500 boys at Eton, kicked, and licked, and bullied, by another hundred — scrubbing shoes, running errands, making false concords, and (as if that were a natural consequence!) putting their posteriors on a block for Dr. Hawtrey to lash at; and still calling it education. They are proud of it — good heavens — absolutely vain of it; as what dull barbarians are not proud of their dullness and barbarism? They call it the good old English system: nothing like classics, says Sir John, to give a boy a taste, you know, and a habit of reading — (Sir John, who reads the “Racing Calendar,” and belongs to a race of men of all the world the least given to reading,) — it’s the good old English system: every boy fights for himself — hardens ’em, eh, Jack? Jack grins, and helps himself to another glass of claret, and presently tells you how Tibbs and Miller fought for an hour and twenty minutes “like good uns.” * * * Let us come to an end, however, of this moralising; the car-driver has brought the old raw-shouldered horse out of the stable, and says it is time to be off again.

Before quitting Templemoyle, one thing more may be said in its favour. It is one of the very few public establishments in Ireland where pupils of the two religious denominations are received, and where no religious disputes have taken place. The pupils are called upon, morning and evening, to say their prayers privately. On Sunday, each division, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Episcopalian, is marched to its proper place of worship. The pastors of each sect may visit their young flock when so inclined; and the lads devote the Sabbath evening to reading the books pointed out to them by their clergymen.

Would not the Agricultural Society of Ireland, of the success of whose peaceful labours for the national prosperity every Irish newspaper I read brings some new indication, do welt to show some mark of its sympathy for this excellent institution of Templemoyle? A silver medal given by the Society to the most deserving pupil of the year, would be a great object of emulation amongst the young men educated at the place, and would be almost a certain passport for the winner in seeking for a situation in after life. I do not know if similar seminaries exist in England. Other seminaries of a like nature have been tried in this country, and have failed: but English country gentlemen cannot, I should think, find a better object of their attention than this school; and our farmers would surely find such establishments of great benefit to them: where their children might procure a sound literary education at a small charge, and at the same time be made acquainted with the latest improvements in their profession. I can’t help saying here, once more, what I have said apropos of the excellent school at Dundalk, and begging the English middle classes to think of the subject. If Government will not act (upon what never can be effectual, perhaps, until it become a national measure), let small communities act for themselves, and tradesmen and the middle classes set up Cheap Proprietary Schools. Will country newspaper editors, into whose hands this book may fall, be kind enough to speak upon this hint, and extract the tables of the Templemoyle and Dundalk establishments, to show how, and with what small means, boys may be well, soundly, and humanely educated — not brutally, as some of us have been, under the bitter fagging and the shameful rod. It is no plea for the barbarity that use has made us accustomed to it; and in seeing these institutions for humble lads, where the system taught is at once useful, manly, and kindly, and thinking of what I had undergone in my own youth, — of the frivolous monkish trifling in which it was wasted, of the brutal tyranny to which it was subjected, — I could look at the lads but with a sort of envy: please God, their lot will be shared by thousands of their equals and their betters before long!

It was a proud day for Dundalk, Mr. Thackeray well said, when, at the end of one of the vacations there, 14 English boys, and an Englishman with his little son in his hand, landed from the Liverpool packet, and, walking through the streets of the town, went into the school-house quite happy. That was a proud day in truth for a distant Irish town, and I can’t help saying that I grudge them the cause of their pride somewhat.

Why should there not be schools in England as good, and as cheap, and as happy?

With this, shaking Mr. Campbell gratefully by the hand, and begging all English tourists to go and visit his establishment, we trotted off for Londonderry, leaving at about a mile’s distance from the town, and at the pretty lodge of Saint Columb’s, a letter, which was the cause of much delightful hospitality.

Saint Columb’s Chapel, the walls of which still stand picturesquely in Sir George Hill’s park, and from which that gentleman’s seat takes its name, was here since the sixth century. It is but fair to give precedence to the mention of the old abbey, which was the father, as it would seem, of the town The approach to the latter from three quarters, certainly, by which various avenues I had occasion to see it, is always noble. We had seen the spire of the cathedral peering over the hills for four miles on our way; it stands, a stalwart and handsome building, upon an eminence, round which the old-fashioned stout red houses of the town cluster, girt in with the ramparts and walls that kept out James’s soldiers of old. Quays, factories, huge red warehouses, have grown round this famous old barrier, and now stretch along the river. A couple of large steamers and other craft lay within the bridge; and, as we passed over that stout wooden edifice, stretching eleven hundred feet across the noble expanse of the Foyle, we heard along the quays a great thundering and clattering of iron-work in an enormous steam frigate which has been built in Derry, and seems to lie alongside a whole street of houses. The suburb, too, through which we passed was bustling and comfortable; and the view was not only pleasing from its natural beauties, but has a manly, thriving, honest air of prosperity, which is no bad feature, surely, for a landscape.

Nor does the town itself, as one enters it, belie, as many other Irish towns do, its first flourishing look. It is not splendid, but comfortable; a brisk movement in the streets: good downright shops, without particularly grand titles; few beggars. Nor have the common people, as they address you, that eager smile, — that manner of compound fawning and swaggering, which an Englishman finds in the townspeople of the West and South. As in the North of England, too, when compared with other districts, the people are greatly more familiar, though by no means disrespectful to the stranger.

On the other hand, after such a commerce as a traveller has with the race of waiters, postboys, porters, and the like (and it may be that the vast race of postboys, &c., whom I did not see in the North, are quite unlike those unlucky specimens with whom I came in contact), I was struck by their excessive greediness after the traveller’s gratuities, and their fierce dissatisfaction if not sufficiently rewarded. To the gentleman who brushed my clothes at the comfortable hotel at Belfast, and carried my bags to the coach, I tendered the sum of two shillings, which seemed to me quite a sufficient reward for his services: he battled and brawled with me for more, and got it too; for a street-dispute with a porter calls together a number of delighted bystanders, whose remarks and company are by no means agreeable to a solitary gentleman. Then, again, there was the famous case of Boots of Ballycastle, which, being upon the subject, I may as well mention here; Boots of Ballycastle, that romantic little village near the Giant’s Causeway, had cleaned a pair of shoes for me certainly, but declined either to brush my clothes, or to carry down my two carpetbags to the car; leaving me to perform those offices for myself, which I did: and indeed they were not very difficult. But immediately I was seated on the car, Mr. Boots stepped forward and wrapped a mackintosh very considerately round me, and begged me at the same time to “remember him.”

There was an old beggar-woman standing by, to whom I had a desire to present a penny; and having no coin of that value, I begged Mr. Boots, out of a sixpence which I tendered to him, to subtract a penny, and present it to the old lady in question. Mr. Boots took the money, looked at me, and his countenance, not naturally good-humoured, assumed an expression of the most indignant contempt and hatred as he said, “I’m thinking I’ve no call to give my money away. Sixpence is my right for what I’ve done.”

“Sir” says I, “you must remember that you did but black one pair of shoes, and that you blacked them very badly too.”

“Sixpence is my right,” says Boots; “a gentlemanwould give me sixpence!” and though I represented to him that a pair of shoes might be blacked in a minute — that fivepence a minute was not usual wages in the country — that many gentlemen, half-pay officers, briefless barristers, unfortunate literary gentlemen, would gladly black 12 pairs of shoes per diem if rewarded with five shillings for so doing, there was no means of convincing Mr. Boots. I then demanded back the sixpence, which proposal, however, he declined, saying, after a struggle, he would give the money, but a gentleman would have given sixpence; and so left me with furious rage and contempt.

As for the city of Derry, a carman who drove me one mile out to dinner at a gentleman’s house, where he himself was provided with a comfortable meal, was dissatisfied with eighteenpence, vowing that a “dinner job” was always paid half a crown, and not only asserted this, but continued to assert it for a quarter of an hour with the most noble though unsuccessful perseverance. A second car-boy, to whom I gave a shilling for a drive of two miles altogether, attacked me because I gave the other boy eighteenpence; and the porter who brought my bags 50 yards from the coach, entertained me with a dialogue that lasted at least a couple of minutes, and said, “I should have had sixpence for carrying one of ’em.

For the car which carried me two miles the landlord of the inn made me pay the sum of five shillings. He is a godly landlord, has Bibles in the coffee-room, the drawing-room, and every bedroom in the house, with this inscription-

Ut Migraturus Habita.

The Travellers True Refuge

Jones’s Hotel, Londonderry.

This pious double or triple entendre, the reader will, no doubt, admire — the first simile establishing the resemblance between this life and an inn; the second allegory showing that the inn and the Bible are both the traveller’s refuge.

In life we are in death — the hotel in question is about as gay as a family vault: a severe figure of a landlord, in seedy black, is occasionally seen in the dark passages or on the creaking old stairs of the black inn. He does not bow to you — very few landlords in Ireland condescend to acknowledge their guests — he only warns you — a silent solemn gentleman who looks to be something between a clergyman and a sexton — “ut migraturus habita!" — the “migraturus” was a vast comfort in the clause.

It must, however, be said, for the consolation of future travellers, that when at evening, in the old lonely parlour of the inn, the great gaunt fireplace is filled with coals, two dreary funereal candles and sticks glimmering upon the old-fashioned round table, the rain pattering fiercely without, the wind roaring and thumping in the streets, this worthy gentleman can produce a pint of port-wine for the use of his migratory guest, which causes the latter to be almost reconciled to the cemetery in which he is resting himself, and he finds himself to his surprise, almost cheerful. There is a mouldy-looking old kitchen, too, which, strange to say, sends out an excellent comfortable dinner, so that the sensation of fear gradually wears off.

As in Chester, the ramparts of the town form a pleasant promenade; and the barriers, with which the stout ‘prentice boys of Derry beat off King James in ‘88. The guns bear the names of the London Companies — venerable Cockney titles! It is pleasant for a Londoner to read, and see how, at a pinch, the sturdy citizens can do their work.

The public buildings of Derry are, I think, among the best I have seen in Ireland; and the Lunatic Asylum, especially is to be pointed out as a model of neatness and comfort. When will the middle classes be allowed to send their own afflicted relatives to public institutions of this excellent kind, where violence is never practised — where it is never to the interest of the keeper of the asylum to exaggerate his patient’s malady, or to retain him in durance, for the sake of the enormous sums which the sufferer’s relatives are made to pay! The gentry of three countries which contribute to the Asylum have no such resources for members of their own body, should any be so afflicted — the condition of entering this admirable asylum is that the patient must be a pauper, and on this account he is supplied with every comfort and the best curative means, and his relations are in perfect security. Are the rich in any way so lucky? — and if not, why not?

The rest of the occurrences at Derry belong, unhappily, to the domain of private life, and though very pleasant to recall are not honestly to be printed. Otherwise, what popular descriptions might be written of the hospitalities of St. Columb’s of the jovialities of the mess of the -th Regiment, of the speeches made and the songs sung, and the devilled turkey at twelve o’clock, and the headache afterwards; all which events could be described in an exceedingly facetious manner. But these amusements are to be met with in every other part of her Majesty’s dominions; and the only point which may be mentioned here as peculiar to this part of Ireland is the difference of the manner of the gentry to that in the South. The Northern manner is far more Englishthan that of the other provinces of Ireland — whether it is better for being English is a question of taste, of which an Englishman can scarcely be a fair judge.

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