The Irish Sketch Book, by William Makepeace Thackeray

Rainy Days at Glengariff.

A smart two-horse car takes the traveller thrice a week from Bantry to Killarney, by way of Glengariff and Kenmare. Unluckily, the rain was pouring down furiously as we passed to the first-named places, and we had only opportunity to see apart of the astonishing beauty of the country. What sends picturesque tourists to the Rhine and Saxon Switzerland? within five miles round the pretty inn of Glengariff there is a country of the magnificence of which no pen can give an idea. I would like to be a great prince, and bring a train of painters over to make, if they could, and according to their several capabilities, a set of pictures of the place. Mr. Creswick would find such rivulets and waterfalls, surrounded by a luxuriance of foliage and verdure that only his pencil can imitate. As for Mr. Catermole, a red — shanked Irishman should carry his sketching-hooks to all sorts of wild noble heights, and vast, rocky valleys, where he might please himself by piling crag upon crag, and by introducing, if he had a mind, some of the wild figures which peopled this country in old days. There is the Eagles’ Nest, for instance, regarding which the Guide-book gives a pretty legend. The Prince of Bantry being conquered by the English soldiers, fled away, leaving his Princess and children to the care of a certain faithful follower of his, who was to provide them with refuge and food. But the whole country was overrun by the conquerors; all the flocks driven away by them, all the houses ransacked, and the crops burnt off the ground, and the faithful servitor did not know where he should find a meal or a resting-place for the unhappy Princess O’Donovan.

He made, however, a sort of a shed by the side of a mountain, composing it of sods and stones so artfully that no one could tell but that it was a part of the hill itself; and here, having speared or otherwise obtained a salmon, he fed their Highnesses for the first day; trusting to heaven for a meal when the salmon should be ended.

The Princess O’Donovan and- her princely family soon came to an end of the fish; and cried out for something more.

So the faithful servitor, taking with him a rope and his little son Shamus, mounted up to the peak where the eagles rested; and, from the spot to which he climbed, saw their nest, and the young eaglets in it, in a cleft below the precipice.

“Now,” said he, “Shamus my son, you must take these thongs with you, and I will let you down by the rope” (it was a straw-rope, which he had made himself, and though it might be considered a dangerous thread to hang by in other countries, you’ll see plenty of such contrivances in Ireland to the present day).

“I will let you down by the rope, and you must tie the thongs round the necks of the eaglets, not so as to choke them, but to prevent them from swallowing much.” So Shamus went down and did as his father bade him, and came up again when the eaglets were doctored.

Presently the eagles came home: one bringing a rabbit and the other a grouse. These they dropped into the nest for the young ones; and soon after went away in quest of other adventures.

Then Shamus went down into the eagles’ nest again, gutted the grouse and rabbit, and left the garbage to the eaglets (as was their right), and brought away the rest. And so the Princess and Princes had game that night for their supper. How long they lived in this way, the Guide-book does not say: but let us trust that the Prince, if he did not come to his own again, was at least restored to his family and decently mediatized and, for my part, I have very little doubt but that Shamus, the gallant young eagle-robber, created a favourable impression upon one of the young Princesses, and (after many adventures in which he distinguished himself,) was accepted by her Highness for a husband, and her princely parents for a gallant son-in-law.

And here, while we are travelling to Glengariff, and ordering painters about with such princely liberality (by the way, Mr. Stanfield should have a boat in the bay, and paint both rock and sea at his ease), let me mention a wonderful, awful incident of real life which occurred on the road. About four miles from Bantry, at a beautiful wooded place, hard by a mill and waterfall, up rides a gentleman to the car with his luggage, going to Killarney races. The luggage consisted of a small carpet-bag and a pistol-case. About two miles farther on, a fellow stops the car: “Joe,” says he, “my master is going to ride to Killarney, so you please to take his luggage.” The luggage consisted of a small carpet-bag, and-a pistol-case as before. Is this a gentleman’s usual travelling baggage in Ireland?

As there is more rain in this country than in any other, and as, therefore, naturally the inhabitants should be inured to the weather, and made to despise an inconvenience which they cannot avoid, the travelling-conveyances are arranged so that you may get as much practice in being wet as possible. The traveller’s baggage is stowed in a place between the two rows of seats, and which is not inaptly called the well, as in a rainy season you might possibly get a bucketful of water out of that orifice. And I confess I saw, with a horrid satisfaction, the pair of pistol-cases lying in this moist aperture, with water pouring above them and lying below them; nay, prayed that all such weapons might one day be consigned to the same fate. But as the waiter at Bantry, in his excessive zeal to serve me, had sent my portmanteau back to Cork by the coach, instead of allowing me to carry it with me to Killarney, and as the rain had long since begun to insinuate itself under the seat-cushion and through the waterproof apron of the car, I dropped off at Glengariff, and dried the only suit of clothes I had by the kitchen-fire. The inn is very pretty: some thorn-trees stand before it, where many bare-legged people were lolling, in spite of the weather. A beautiful bay stretches out before the house, the full tide washing the thorn-trees: mountains rise on either side of the little bay, and there is an island, with a castle in it, in the midst, near which a yacht was moored. But the mountains were hardly visible for the mist, and the yacht, island, and castle looked as if they had been washed against the fiat gray sky in Indian-ink.

The day did not clear up sufficiently to allow me to make any long excursion about the place, or indeed to see a very wide prospect round about it; at a few hundred yards, most of the objects were enveloped in mist; but even this, for a lover of the picturesque, had its beautiful effect, for you saw the hills in the foreground pretty clear, and covered with their wonderful green, while immediately behind them rose an immense blue mass of mist and mountain that served to relieve (to use the painter’s phrase) the nearer objects. Annexed to the hotel is a flourishing garden, where the vegetation is so great that the landlord told me it was all he could do to check the trees from growing: round about the bay, in several places, they come clustering down to the water’s edge, nor does the salt-water interfere with them.

Winding up a hill to the right, as you quit the inn, is the beautiful road to the cottage and park of Lord Bantry. One or two parties on pleasure bent went so far as the house, and were partially consoled for the dreadful rain which presently poured down upon them, by wine, whiskey, and refreshments which the liberal owner of the house sent out to them. I myself had only got a few hundred yards when the rain overtook me, and sent me for refuge into a shed, where a blacksmith had arranged a rude furnace and bellows, and where he was at work, with a rough gilly to help him, and of course a lounger or two to look on.

The scene was exceedingly wild and picturesque, and I took out a sketch-book and began to draw. The blacksmith was at first very suspicious of the operation which I had commenced, nor did the poor fellow’s sternness at all yield until I made him a present of a shilling to buy tobacco — when he, his friend, and his son became good-humoured, and said their little say. This was the first shilling he had earned these three years: he was a small farmer, but was starved out, and had set up a forge here, and was trying to get a few pence. What struck me was the great number of people about the place; We had at least twenty visits while the sketch was being made; cars, and single and double horsemen, were continually passing; between the intervals of the shower a couple of ragged old women would creep out from some hole and display baskets of green apples for sale: wet or not, men and women were lounging up and down the road. You would have thought it was a fair, and yet there was not even a village at this place, only the inn and post-house, by which the cars to Tralee pass thrice a week.

The weather, instead of mending, on the second day was worse than ever. All the view had disappeared now under a rushing rain, of which I never saw anything like the violence. We were visited by five maritime — nay, buccaneering-looking gentlemen in moustaches, with fierce caps and jackets, just landed from a yacht: and then the car brought us three Englishmen wet to the skin and thirsting for whiskey-and-water.

And with these three Englishmen a great scene occurred, such as we read of in Smollett’s and Fielding’s inns. One was a fat old gentleman from Cambridge — who, I was informed, was a Fellow of a college in that university, but whom I shrewdly suspect [The suspicion turned out to be correct. The gentleman is the respected cook of C — as I learned afterwards from a casual Cambridge man.] to be butler or steward of the same. The younger men, burly, manly, good-humoured fellows of seventeen stone, were the nephews of the elder — who, says one, “could draw a check for his thousand pounds.”

Two-and-twenty years before, on landing at the Pigeon-House at Dublin, the old gentleman had been cheated by a carman, and his firm opinion seemed to be that all carmen — nay, all Irishmen — were cheats.

And a sad proof of this depravity speedily showed itself: for having hired a three-horse car at Killarney, which was to carry them to Bantry, the Englishmen saw, with immense indignation, after they had drank a series of glasses of whiskey, that the three-horse car had been removed, a one-horse vehicle standing in its stead.

Their wrath no pen can describe. “I tell you they are all so!” shouted the elder. “When I landed at the Pigeon-House * * * ““Bring me a post chaise!” roars the second “Waiter, get some more whiskey!” exclaims the third. “If they don’t send us on with three horses, I’ll stop here for a week.” Then issuing, with his two young friends, into the passage, to harangue the populace assembled there, the elder Englishman began a speech about dishonesty, “d — d rogues and thieves, Pigeon-House: he was a gentleman, and wouldn’t be done, d — n his eyes and everybody’s eyes.” Upon the affrighted landlord, who came to interpose, they all fell with great ferocity: the elder man swearing, especially, that he “would write to Lord Lansdowne regarding his conduct, likewise to Lord Bandon, also to Lord Bantry: he was a gentleman; he’d been cheated in the year 1815, on his first landing at the Pigeon-House: and, d — n the Irish, they were all alike.” After roaring and cursing for half an hour, a gentleman at the door, seeing the meek bearing of the landlord — who stood quite lost and powerless in the whirlwind of rage that had been excited about his luckless ears — said, “If men cursed and swore in that way in his house, he would know how to put them out.”

“Put me out!” says one of the young men, placing himself before that fat old blasphemer his relative. “Put me out, my fine fellow!” But it was evident the Irishman did not like his customer. “Put me out!” roars the old gentleman, from behind his young protector. “ — my eyes, who are you, sir? who are you, sir? I insist on knowing who you are.”

“And who are you?” asks the Irishman.

“Sir, I’m a gentleman, and pay my way I and as soon as I get into Bantry, I swear I’ll write a letter to Lord Bandon Bantry, and complain of the treatment I have received here.”

Now, as the unhappy landlord had not said one single word, and as, on the contrary, to the annoyance of the whole house, the stout old gentleman from Cambridge had been shouting, raging, and cursing for two hours, I could not help, like a great ass as I was, coming forward and (thinking the landlord might be a tenant of Lord Bantry’s ) saying, “Well, sir, if you write and say the landlord has behaved ill, I will write to say that he has acted with extraordinary forbearance and civility.”

O fool! to interfere in disputes where one set of the disputants have drunk half a dozen glasses of whiskey in the middle of the day! No sooner had I said this than the other young man came and fell upon me, and in the course of a few minutes found leisure to tell me “that I was no gentleman; that I was ashamed to give my name, or say where I lived; that I was a liar, and didn’t live in London, and couldn’t mention the name of a single respectable person there; that he was a merchant and tradesman, and hid his quality from no one;” and, finally, “that though bigger than himself, there was nothing he would like better than that I should come out on the green and stand to him like a man.”

This invitation, although repeated several times, I refused with as much dignity as I could assume; partly because I was sober and cool, while the other was furious and drunk; also because I felt a strong suspicion that in about ten minutes the man would manage to give me a tremendous beating, which I did not merit in the least; thirdly, because a victory over him would not have been productive of the least pleasure to me; and lastly, because there was something really honest and gallant in the fellow coming out to defend his old relative. Both of the younger men would have fought like tigers for this disreputable old gentleman, and desired no better sport. The last I heard of the three was that they and the driver made their appearance before a magistrate in Bantry; and a pretty story will the old man have to tell to his club at the “Hoop,” or the “Red Lion,” of those swindling Irish, and the ill-treatment he met with in their country.

As for the landlord, the incident will be a blessed theme of conversation to him for a long time to come. I heard him discoursing of it in the passage during the rest of the day; and next morning when I opened my window and saw with much delight the bay clear and bright as silver — except where the green hills were reflected in it, the blue sky above, and the purple mountains round about with only a few clouds veiling their peaks-the first thing I heard was the voice of Mr. Eccles repeating the story to a new customen

“I thought thim couldn’t be gintlemin,” was the appropriate remark of Mr. Tom the waiter, “from the way in which they took their whishky — raw with cold wather, widout mixing or inything.” Could an Irish waiter give a more excellent definition of the ungenteel?

At nine o’clock in the morning of the next day, the unlucky car which had carried the Englishmen to Bantry

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