From Belfast To Dublin
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
We left Glasgow on the morning of the 22d, and taking the railway to Ardrossan were soon at the beach. One of those iron steamers which navigate the British waters, far inferior to our own in commodious and comfortable arrangements, but strong and safe, received us on board, and at ten o'clock we were on our way to Belfast.
The coast of Ayr, with the cliff near the birthplace of Burns, continued long in sight; we passed near the mountains of Arran, high and bare steeps swelling out of the sea, which had a look of almost complete solitude; and at length Ailsa Craig began faintly to show itself, high above the horizon, through the thick atmosphere.
We passed this lonely rock, about which flocks of sea-birds, the solan goose, and the gannet, on long white wings with jetty tips, were continually wheeling, and with a glass we could discern them sitting by thousands on the shelves of the rock, where they breed. The upper part of Ailsa, above the cliffs which reach more than half-way to the summit, appears not to be destitute of soil, for it was tinged with a faint verdure.
In about nine hours we had crossed the channel, over smooth water, and were making our way, betwen green shores almost without a tree, up the bay, at the bottom of which stands, or rather lies, for its site is low, the town of Belfast. We had yet enough of daylight left to explore a part at least of the city. "It looks like Albany," said my companion, and really the place bears some resemblance to the streets of Albany which are situated near the river, nor is it without an appearance of commercial activity.
The people of Belfast, you know, are of Scotch origin, with some infusion of the original race of Ireland. I heard English spoken with a Scotch accent, but I was obliged to own that the severity of the Scotch physiognomy had been softened by the migration and the mingling of breed. . . . At an early hour the next day we were in our seats on the outside of the mail-coach. We passed through a well-cultivated country, interspersed with towns which had an appearance of activity and thrift. The dwellings of the cottagers looked more comfortable than those of the same class in Scotland, and we were struck with the good looks of the people, men and women, whom we passed in great numbers going to their work.
At length, having traversed the county of Down, we entered Louth. . . Close on the confines of Armagh, perhaps partly within it, we traversed, near the village of Jonesborough, a valley full of the habitations of peat-diggers. Its aspect was most remarkable, the barren hills that inclose it were dark with heath and gorse and with ledges of brown rock, and their lower declivities, as well as the level of the valley, black with peat, which had been cut from the ground and laid in rows.
The men were at work with spades cutting it from the soil, and the women were pressing the water from the portions thus separated, and exposing it to the air to dry. . . It is the property of peat earth to absorb a large quantity of water, and to part with it slowly. The springs, therefore, in a region abounding with peat make no brooks; the water passes into spongy soil and remains there, forming morasses even on the slopes of the hills.
As we passed out of this black valley we entered a kind of glen, and the guard, a man in a laced hat and scarlet coat, pointed to the left, and said, "There is a pretty place." It was a beautiful park along a hillside, groves and lawns, a broad domain, jealously inclosed by a thick and high wall, beyond which we had, through the trees, a glimpse of a stately manour guard was a genuine Irishman, strongly resembling the late actor Power in physiognomy, with the very brogue which Power sometimes gave to his personages. He was a man of pithy speech, communicative, and acquainted apparently with everybody of every class, whom we passed on the road. Besides him we had for fellow-passengers three very intelligent Irish-men, on their way to. Dublin. One of them was a tall, handsome gentleman, with dark hair and hazel eyes, and a rich South-Irish brogue. He was fond of his joke, but next to him sat a graver personage, in spectacles, equally tall, with fair hair and light-blue eyes, speaking with a decided Scotch accent. By my side was a square-built, fresh-colored personage, who had traveled in America, and whose accent was almost English. I thought I could not be mistaken in supposing them to be samples of the three different races by which Ireland is peopled.
We now entered a fertile district, meadows heavy with grass, in which the haymakers were at work, and fields of wheat and barley as fine as I had ever seen. . . . One or two green mounds stood close to the road, and we saw others at a distance.
"They are Danish forts," said the guard.
"Every thing we do not know the history of, we put upon the Danes," added the South of Ireland man.
These grassy mounds, which are from ten to twenty feet in height, are now supposed to have been the burial places of the ancient Celts. The peasantry can with difficulty be persuaded to open any of them, on acount of a prevalent superstition that it will bring bad luck.
A little before we arrived at Drogheda, I saw a tower to the right, apparently a hundred feet in height, with a doorway at a great distance from the ground, and a summit somewhat dilapidated.
"That is one of the round towers of Ireland, concerning which there is so much diseussion," said my English-looking fellow-traveler.
These round towers, as the Dublin antiquarians tell me, were probably built by the early Christian mlssionaries from Italy, about the seventh century, and were used as places of retreat and defense against the pagans.
Not far from Drogheda, I saw at a distance a quiet-looking valley.
"That," said the English-looking passenger, "is the valley of the Boyne, and in that spot was fought the famous battle of the Boyne."
"Which the Irish are fighting about yet, in America," added the South of Ireland man.
They pointed out near the spot, a cluster of trees on an eminence, where James beheld the defeat of his followers. We crossed the Boyne, entered Drogheda, dismounted among a crowd of beggars, took our places in the most elegant rail-way wagon we had ever seen, and in an hour were set down in Dublin. . . I have seen no loftier nor more spacious dwellings than those which overlook St. Stephen's Green, a noble park, planted with trees, under which this showery sky and mild temperature maintain a verdure all the year, even in mid-winter. About Merrion square, another park, the houses have scarcely a less stately appearance, and one of these with a strong broad balcony, from which to address the people in the street, is inhabited by O'Connell. The park of the University, in the midst of the city, is of great extent, and the beautiful public grounds called Phenix Park, have a circumference of eight miles.