A Day In Ireland
( Originally Published 1889 )
On calling at the steamboat office in Liver pool, to take passage to Port Rush, we found that the fare in the fore cabin was but two shillings and a half, while in the chief cabin it was six times as much. As I had started to make the tour of all Europe with a sum little higher than is sometimes given for the mere passage to and fro, there was no alternative-the twenty-four hours' discomfort could be more easily endured than the expense, and as I expected to encounter many hardships, it was best to make a beginning. I had crossed the ocean with tolerable comfort for twenty-four dollars, and was determined to try whether England, where I had been told it was almost impossible to breathe without expense, might not also be seen by one of limited means.
The fore cabin was merely a bare room, with a bench along one side, which was occupied by half a dozen Irishmen in knee-breeeh es and heavy brogans. As we passed out of the Clarence Dock at 10 P. M, I went below and managed to get a seat on one end of the bench, where I spent the night in sleepless misery. The Irish bestowed themselves about the floor as they best could, for there was no light, and very soon the Morphean deepness of their breathing gave token of blissful unconsciousness.
The next morning was misty and rainy, but, I preferred walking the deck and drying myself occasionally beside the chimney, to sitting in the dismal room below. We passed the Isle of Man, and through the whole forenoon were tossed about very disagreeably in the North Channel. In the afternoon we stopped at Larne, a little antiquated village, not far from Belfast, at the head of a crooked arm of the sea,. There is an old ivy-grown tower near, and high green mountains rise up around. After leaving it, we had a beautiful panoramic view of the northern coast. Many of the precipices are of the same formation as the Causeway; Fairhead, a promontory of this kind, is grand in the extreme. The perpendicular face of fluted rock is about three hundred feet in height, and towering up sublimely from the water, seemed almost to overhang our heads.
My companion compared it to Niagara Falls petrified; and I think the simile very striking. It is like a cataract falling in huge waves, in some places leaping out from a projecting rock, in others descending in an unbroken sheet.
We passed the Giant's Causeway after dark, and about eleven o'clock reached the harbor of Port Rush, where, after stumbling up a strange old street, in the dark, we found a little inn, and soon forgot the Irish Coast and everything else.
In the morning when we arose it was raining, with little prospect of fair weather, but having expected nothing better, we set out on foot for the Causeway. The rain, however, soon came down in torrents, and we were obliged to take shelter in a cabin by the road-side. The whole house consisted of one room, with bare walls and roof, and earthen floor, while a window of three or four panes supplied the light. A fire of peat was burning on the hearth, and their break fast, of potatoes alone, stood on the table. The occupants received us with rude but genuine -hospitality, giving us the only seats in the room to sit upon, except a rickety bedstead that stood in one corner and a small table, there was no other furniture in the house. The man appeared rather intelligent, and although he complained of the hardness of their lot, had no sympathy with O'Connel or the Repeal movement.
We left this miserable hut as soon as it quit raining-and, though there were many cabins along the road, few were better than this. At length, after passing the walls of an old church, in the midst of older tombs, we saw the roofless towers of Dunluce Castle, on the sea-shore. It stands on an isolated rock, rising perpendicularly two hundred feet above the sea, and connected with the cliffs of the mainland by a narrow arch of masonry. On the summit of the cliffs were the remains of the buildings where the ancient lords kept their vassals. An old man, who takes care of it for Lord Antrim, on whose property it is situated, showed us the way down to the castle. We walked across the narrow arch, entered the ruined hall, and looked down on the roaring sea below. It still rained, the wind swept furiously through the decaying, arches of the banqueting hall and waved the long grass on the desolate battlements. Far below, the sea foamed white on the breakers and sent up an unceasing boom. It was the most mournful and desolate picture I ever beheld. There were some low dungeons yet entire, and rude stairways, where, by stooping down, I could ascend nearly to the top of one of the towers, and look out on the wild scenery of the coast.
Going back, I found a way down the cliff, to the mouth of a cavern in the rock, which extends under the whole castle to the sea. Sliding down a heap of sand and stones, I stood under an arch eighty feet high; in front the breakers dashed into the entrance, flinging the spray half-way to the roof, while the sound rang up through the arches like thunder. It seemed to nie the haunt of the old Norsemen's sea-gods !
We left the road near Dunluce and walked along the smooth beach to the cliffs that surround the Causeway. Here we obtained a guide, and descended to one of the caves which can be entered from the shore. Opposite the entrance a bare rock called Sea Gulf Isle, rises out of the sea like a church steeple. The roof at first was low, but we shortly came to a branch that opened on the sea, where the arch was forty-six feet in height. The breakers dashed far into the cave, and flocks of sea-birds circled round its mouth. The sound of a gun was like a deafening peal of thunder, crashing from arch to arch till it rolled out of the cavern.
On the top of the hill a splendid hotel is erected for visitors to the Causeway; after passing this we descended to the base of the cliffs, Which are here upwards of four hundred feet high, and soon began to find, in the columnar formation of the rocks, indications of our approach. The guide pointed out some columns which appeared to have been melted and run together, from which Sir Humphrey Davy attributed the formation of the Causeway to the action of fire. Near this is the Giant's Well, a spring of the purest water, the bottom formed by three perfect hexagons, and the sides of regular columns. One of us observing that no giant had ever drunk from it, the old man answered-"Perhaps not: but it was made by a giant-God Almighty !
From the well, the Causeway commences-a mass of columns, from triangular to octagonal, lying in compact forms, and extending into the sea. I was somewhat disappointed at first, having supposed the Causeway to be of great height, but I found the Giant's Loom, which is the highest part of it, to be but about fifty feet from the water. The singular appearance of the columns and the many strange forms which they assume, render it nevertheless, an object of the greatest interest. Walking out on the rocks we came to the Ladies' Chair, the seat, the back, sides and footstool, being all regularly formed by the broken columns. The guide said that any lady who would take three drinks from the Giant's Well, then sit in this chair and think of any gentleman for whom she had a preference, would be married before a twelvemonth. I asked him if it would answer as well for gentle-men, for by a wonderful coincidence we had each drank three times at the well! He said it would, and thought he was confirming his statement.
A cluster of columns about half-way up the cliff is called the Giant's Organ-from its very striking resemblance to that instrument, and a single rock, worn by the waves into the shape of a rude seat, is his chair. A mile or two further along the coast, two cliffs project from the range, leaving a vast semicircular space between, which, from its resemblance to the old Roman theatres, was appropriated for that purpose by the Giant. Half-way down the crags are two or three pinnacles of rock, called the Chimneys, and the stumps of several others can be seen, which, it is said, were shot off by a vessel belonging to the Spanish Armada, in mistake for the towers of Dunluce Castle. The vessel was afterwards wrecked in the bay below, which has ever since been called Spanish Bay, and in calm weather the wreck may be still seen. Many of the columns of the Causeway have been carried off and sold as pillars for mantels-and though a notice is put up threatening any one with the rigor of the law, depredations are occasionally made.
Returning, we left the road at Dunluce, and took a path which led along the summit of the cliffs. The twilight was gathering, and the wind blew with perfect fury, which, combined with the black and stormy sky, gave the coast an air of extreme wildness. All at once, as we followed the winding path, the crags appeared to open before us, disclosrng a yawning chasm, down which a large stream,' falling in an unbroken sheet, was lost in the gloom below. Witnessed in a calm day, there may perhaps be nothing striking about it, but coming upon us at once, through the gloom of twilight, with the sea thundering below and a scowling sky above, it was absolutely startling.
The path at last wound, with many a steep and slippery bend, down the almost perpendicular crags, to the shore, at the foot of a grant isolated rock, having a natural arch through it, eighty feet in height. We followed the narrow strip of beach, having the bare crags on one side and a line of foaming breakers on the other. It soon grew dark; a furious storm came up and swept like a hurricane along the shore. I then understood what Horne meant by "the lengthening javelins of the blast," for every drop seemed to strike with the force of an arrow, and our clothes were soon pierced in every part.
Then we went up among the sand hills, and lost each other in the darkness, when, after stumbling about among the gullies for half an hour, shouting for my companions, 1 found the road and heard my call answered ; but it happened to be two Irishmen, who came up and said-" And is it another gintleman ye're callin' for? we heard some one cryin', and didn't know but somebody might be kilt."
Finally, about eleven o'clock we all arrived at the inn, dripping with rain, and before a warm fire concluded the adventures of our day in Ireland.