William R. Wilde's Loch Coirib - Its Shores and Islands

Chapter 1: Introduction


Chapter 1: Introduction

  • Introductory

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Westward, Ho! Let us rise with the sun, and be off to the land of the West--to the lakes and streams--the grassy glens and fern-clad gorges--the bluff hills and rugged mountains--now cloud-capped, then revealed in azure, or bronzed by evening's tints, as the light of day sinks into the bold swell of the Atlantic, and leaves his reflection in long level streaks of crimson, green, and orange, among the greyish-purple robe of twilight, when the shadows of the headlands sink deep into the placid waters of the lake. But, whether seen in sunshine or in shade-- curtained by the mist, or with the bright light of morning playing upon the brown scores and land-slips on the mountain side, or when the streamlets form threads of molten silver as they gleam through the purple heather and the yellow-lichened rocks ere they leap into the lake--the land we invite you to is ever beautiful in outline, and graceful in form; and as the warm breezes, carried on to us with the great Gulf stream, steal in among the West Connacht, Joyce Country, and Connamara ranges the Jura and the Alps of Ireland--and give fitful atmospheric changes to the colouring of the landscape, from bright early dawn to sombre eve, scenes of beauty and sublimity are presented that leave us nothing to envy, even in the everlasting snowtops with their vine-clad slopes and dark pine-robed sides, the mighty glaciers, the rushing avalanches, nor the deep ultramarine skies of other lands.

Let us then be off to the Far-West, to which (with a choice for a warmer region) the inhabitants of other portions of this island were transplanted some centuries ago;--to the ancient homes of the aborigines--the land of the Fir Bolg, the Tuatha Dé Danann, and the Milesians-the last resting-place of the Celt, ere, fulfilling the destiny of his race, and the earliest impulses of mankind, he has followed from the cradle of humanity the declining sun. Here we can view the battlefields and civic vestiges of our Pagan ancestors, crowded with caves and cairns, raths, tumull, monoliths, and stone circles, memorials of one of the earliest human occupancies in North-Western Europe; or investigate the small primitive churches that mark the footprints where the early Christian Missionary replaced the Druid Priest; or linger by the thorn-shaded holy wells, or admire the noble abbeys and extensive monasteries of the learned and artistic Franciscans and Augustinians.

Let us take a peep at the Citie of the Tribes, of the Blakes, Bodkins, and Browns, Ffonts, Martins, Morrisses, Lynches, D'Arcys, Athys, Frenchs, Joyces, Kirwans, and Skerretts, etc., and then launch on the blue, island-studded waters of Loch Coirib, where, traversing its breadth in a trim and commodious steamer, or gliding into its glassy bays in a rowboat, we can enjoy some of the most picturesque scenery in the land, explore the natural curiosities, and speculate upon the influences and actions which, in remote times, produced these fantastic forms and disruptured chasms that present at the western termination of our great limestone formation;--or examine the architecture of the old feudal castles and ecclesiastical buildings along its peaceful shores. Our object is rather to interest the reader and the tourist in the history, antiquities, and scenery of this portion of the West, than amuse him with tales respecting pigs, pipers, praties, potheen fools or fiddlers ; bailiffs, bullocks, buckeens graziers, gaugers, or ganders ; wayside waiters, with their dry jokes for the "gintlemen," or wandering dancing masters, and poetasters, once so common in the West. We do not claim your sympathy for facetious car drivers, cunning codgers, or knowing gossoons ; nor present to you miserably-clad spalpeens, ragged urchins, wretched peat hovels, importunate beggars, lying guides, oppressed tenantry, griping landlords, or tyrannical agents. We have nothing to say about priests or patterns ; politics, peelers, or parsons ; soldiers, soupers, or sagarts ; Young Irelanders or old ones ; Fenians or Repealers. There is still plenty of fun, frolic, and folk-lore in the West ; but, for the present, we have no stories to relate about friars or fairies ; and we have no opinion to obtrude upon you respecting tithes or tenant-right ; High Church or Low Church; Ultramontanism. or Muscular Christianity ; we have no official advertisements nor railway puffings, with which to enrich our pages or our publisher ; nor can we stop to repeat Syphie Burke's "Costello Shentlemen , or gossip among the "Rakes of Galway" about--

"The herrings and the haikes,

And the Bodkins and the Makes."

We may look at the turnips, and taste the murphies ; but we promise not to remind you of the fearful scenes of the famine,[3cp4-1] or anticipate the ravages of a Rinderpest. We have no desire to introduce imaginary conversations in broken English, to amuse our Saxon friends at what is styled "the vulgarity of the lower order of Irish." We wish to take you, as intelligent tourists, with eyes to see and hearts to admire the beauties of nature ; where the stately ruin or the cultured demesne blends harmoniously with the graceful outline of the surrounding landscape ; where your architectural or antiquarian tastes may be gratified; your historic knowledge increased by the legend or the annal ; your scientific inquiries into the geological structure and biological productions of the country obtain a wide scope ; and the hitherto neglected resources of a portion of our island may be glanced at if not profoundly studied ; and we hope to bring you back from your pleasant and cheap excursion on Loch Coirib in good health and spirits, pleased with the scenery and the inhabitants of the west, satisfied with our guidance, and better acquainted with an, as yet, undescribed district than you have been heretofore by flying visits to this portion of the Emerald Isle.

Leaving the Broadstone Terminus of the Great Southern Railway by the morning train for Galway, and running for a great portion of our way along the Royal Canal, through which we were formerly dragged at the rate of four miles an hour to Alma Mater by a pair of gearráins, we traverse the uninterrupted plain that extends across the island from East to West, for 126 miles, from the Channel to the Atlantic. Glancing at O'Connell's round-tower monument as we start ; getting glimpses of ancient raths, barrows, churches, and some of the ruined castles of the Pale, as we proceed, we obtain views of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains on our left ; and, passing rapidly over the valley of the Rye-water, where, leaving Carton Demesne, it courses to the Liffey, we proceed onwards to Maynooth, where the noble keep of the ancient castle of the Fitzgeralds contrasts with the formal modern buildings of the College of St. Patrick, where the parochial Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland are chiefly educated. We rush by the village of Kilcock, in the county of Kildare; over portions of the great Bog of Allen, with its thousands of unreclaimed acres, tenanted by grouse and hares ; and pass within view of Clonard, the ancient seminary, whither, even in the time of Alfred, our Saxon neighbours came in hundreds to be instructed. On with us over the Boyne Water, with greater speed and safety than it was crossed in 1690 ; through the fat lands of Westmeath, over the Brosna, into Mullingar; beside the clear troutfull waters of Loch Ennel (now styled Belvidere), and beyond it catch a distant view of the famed hill of Uisneach, second only to Tara and Emania in importance in early Irish history ; margining the site of the rath and crannóg of Moate-glancing at sections of the great esker that stretches from east to west, and formed the ancient boundary between the north and south portions of the kingdom--we speed onwards to the noble Shannon, the fords and tóchars of which were often invaded and defended by the Laighin and Connachta ; and here, over the splendid iron railway bridge, enter Connacht. Onwards still we pass, under the batteries of Athlone (Ath Luain, "the Ford of Luain "), which Ginkell wrested from St. Ruth in 1691 ; along the intersecting stone walls and patches of russet bog through the county of Ros Comáin; across the deep sullen waters of the Suck, winding through the low callows and green inches of Béal Á'na Slua [Ballinasloe], the seat of the Clancartys, and the site of the greatest stock fair in Europe [3cp7-1] --forwards through the county of Galway, by the lovely Abbey of Cill Chonaill-passing Woodlawn, the residence of Lord Ashtown ; then to Athenry, the city of " the ford of the king," crowded with ancient remains, civil, military, ecclesiastical, and domestic. Coursing now along the northern margin of the great plain, once the hunting ground of Queen Meabh, that sweeps the lower edge of the Boireann hills, and on which stand the towns of Gort and Loch Riach [Loughrea], and the round towers of Ard Raithin [Ardrathan] and Cill Mac Duach, we pass Doire-Dónaill Castle, and soon feel the western breezes playing upon us from Galway Bay, as it indents the shores and laves the walls of the old castle of Óran Mór [Oranmore]; we cross the great level, studded with the feudal halls of the De Burgos, and get a foretaste of the petraea, upon which our pilgrimage in search of the picturesque and beautiful is about to commence. But the sterility in the foreground is relieved by a view of the blue hills of Clare, and occasionally in clear weather with glimpses of the distant Isles of Aran, that sentinel the magnificent bay of Galway, and break the swell of the mighty waves of the Atlantic. We must keep a sharp look out to the south-west to see "the round tower of other days," standing by the lone sea shore, and cutting tall and dark against the leaden sky that is now obscuring the outline of Black Head on the distant side of Loch Lurgan,[3cp8-1] catching a view of Mutton Island and its lighthouse, beside which we could recently admire those great leviathans of the deep that brought us in six days to American land--but by which, alas! we lost our cash, the Government its subsidy, and the London directory some of its credit. Well, while "we mourn the hopes that leave us," we still expect to see that good time come, when, with capital and common prudence, the great natural and geographical advantages of the nearest seaport in the old world at which to launch us for the new will be appreciated. Swiftly we glide over the salt water estuary of Loch a' tSáile, into the great terminus of Galway City, and passing out through it into the enormous limestone hotel, built, "regardless of expense," by the original directors of the railway, and from whence, after a "bit and a sup," we emerge among the beggars into Eyre Square, surrounded by hotels, club-houses, banks, private residences, and coach offices, Whence the great "Bian" can forward us to "anywhere," and in which we can choose our newspaper according to our politics or polemics. Down let us pass through William Street, to look at the old mansion of Geoffrey Lynch, the "Spanish Parade," and on by the house where the skull and crossbones commemorate the scene of the "Warden of Galway " ; among the turf-kishes, and potato baskets, and the carts of sea wrack-along through handsome groups of blue-eyed, black-haired, barefooted colleens, with their graceful carriage, red petti oats, and blue and scarlet cloaks-down to the ishmarket gate, erected to defend the peaceful burgesses against the "Ferocious O'Flahertys," where we may see the Aran fishermen, in his kneebreeches and pampútaí, bargaining with the silver haired Cladach crone, whose shrimps are jumping out of her apron ; where the cockles are smacking their lips with the heat, the johndories are alive, and the lobsters are playing pitch and toss with the crabs till we reach the bridge, in the bright stream beneath which

"The trout and salmon

Played backgammon,"
long before Dick Milliken immortalized that feat in song, or the gifted Father Prout heard "The Bells of Shandon," or Wandered by the banks of "Sweet Castlehyde."

Give a look at the Queen's College, and the Eglinton Canal ; carry your eye along the bright gleam, where the waiers of the lake in one unbroken line pour over the weir, and arrange for a day's fishing with Mr. Miller on your return. Do not stop to see which of the six salmon now hooked will be killed first, but get round to the Wood Quay, for there goes the steamer's first bell at a quarter to three o'clock.

Now, that we are on the quarter deck, and have made the acquaintance of Ellis, the polite and intelligent Captain of the Eglinton, and arranged with that most attentive and careful of clerks, Mr. 0 Hara, let us, while the steam is getting up, have a short chat about Galway, the Metropolis of the West, a corporate town, a Bishop's see--the last locality of a "Warden" in Ireland--the birthplace, or the early home or school residence of Kirwan, the chemist, and Kirwan the orator ; of Duald Mac Firbis, the genealogist and antiquary ; of Ruairi O'Flaherty [3cp11-1] and James Hardiman, the historians and of Father Peter, who was for so long a period, the man for Galway." It contained in early days the chief establishments of the Dominican, Franciscan, Capuchin, Augustinian, Jesuit, and Carmelite Orders in Connacht, and was at one period the principal trading and commercial city in this portion of the United Kingdom, and in that respect considered second only to London and Dublin. It was formerly renowned for its foreign trade, and celebrated for the hospitality of its merchants ; but, while the latter remains unimpaired, the former is, alas! at a low ebb ; and, with immense natural capabilities and vast resources the Metropolis of Connacht, and the great western seaport of Europe, with a population of 16,967 persons in 1861, although it still manufactures whiskey, flour, and paper ; beer, brushes, and boats ; besides the ordinary necessaries of daily life, lacks the energy or means of raising itself from the applicability of the old adage of "pride poverty, and devotion."

The name of Galway has given rise to several philological speculations ; but it is plainly derived from that of Gailleamh, the daughter of Breasal, the prosperous King of the Fir Bolg, who, it is said, having

Bathed in the full cool stream,

The bright branch was drowned
and whose monument stood on the river's bank at the time the original of this ancient Irish distich was written in the Dinn Seanchus, a MS. of great antiquity, still in existence. The rock at which she was drowned is marked on the western bank of the river in the celebrated Map of Galway, made in 1651, when the Lord Deputy Clanricarde pledged the City of the Tribes to the Duke of Lorraine ; and is thus referred to on the margin of that remarkable document : "The rock where the woman Galvea, is said to have been drowned, from which the city of Galway is named." Hardiman in his notes to Ruairi O'Flaherty's West Connacht, says, "Here it is intended by some of the spirited inhabitants of the town to restore that remarkable monument, by erecting a column on the spot, with the above inscription, in order to distinguish the place from which so large a portion of that part of Ireland has been named." And now that the Crimean guns, which were pointed against the Railway Hotel in Eyre Square, have been removed from the grasp of the "Irish Republic virtually established," we really think some of the public spirit alluded to by our deceased friend might find vent for itself in commemoration of the lady who left her name to the locality, and give at least one statue to the Metropolis of Connacht. [3cp13-1]

In ancient Irish writings the city of Galway is styled Dún Gaillimhe, the Dun or fortified place at the mouth of the River Gaillimh; and in the modern vernacular it is always called Cathair na Gaillimhe.

It is related that the river of Galway was dry on several occasions, both in summer and winter ; so much so, that articles dropt therein centuries before were then discovered, as in A.D. 1178, in 1190, in 1647, and in 1683, etc. [3cp13-2]

The present arms of Galway are an antique galley, bearing a shield with a lion rampant at the masthead, and having this motto, Laudatio ejus manet in seculum seculi.

The Wardenship of Galway, last held by the Rev. James Daly, of the Dunsandle family, was done away with in 1840, and the title of city reduced to that of town. It is in the Protestant diocese of Tuam, which includes the whole region of South-west Connacht ; but the town and parishes of St. Nicholas and Raúin form a special Roman Catholic diocese, and the jurisdiction of its present Bishop, Dr. Mac Evilly, has lately been increased by his accession to the administration of the ancient sees of Cill Mac Duach and Cill Finnabhra.

Now, that the reader is about to launch on Loch Coirib--whether as a peruser of this work in Belgravia or Merrion Square, or absolutely on board the Eglinton, it matters little--we will develop our plan. Generally speaking, our survey will be littoral and parochial ; beginning on the east, traversing the north and pursuing our route in the most convenient manner round the north and west shores of the lake, but occasionally, when objects of interest connected with the locality present, diverging a short distance inland.

The road from Galway to Cunga, through Baile Cháir na Gaillimhe, by Eanach Dúin, Áth Chinn, and Cross, etc., is a fair day's journey of about thirty miles, and will enable the antiquarian tourist to visit everything of note on that side of the lake, either going or coming. Arrived at Cunga by road or lake, and taking up his quarters there for a couple of days, the objects of interest surrounding that locality, as well as the eastern shores of Loch Measga and the plain of Magh Tuire, may be investigated ; and the island of Inis a'Ghaill can be visited within the space of an hour by a rowboat. Pedestrians will be amply rewarded by a walk over the hills from Cunga to Mám, and ladies can have conveyances for the same purpose ; or, what is preferable in calm weather, a boat may be obtained at Cunga to visit the upper lake, and proceed by Dún and the Caisleán na Circe to Mám Hotel, a distance of about twelve miles by land, and thirteen or fourteen by water.

During summer, excursions are frequently made by the steamer from Gaillimh to Uachtar Árd, and thence by the south of Inchingoil through the upper lake to Caisleán Circe, and as rar as the Hen's Castle.

From Mám a road four miles long, proceeding nearly due south, and commanding scenes of great beauty, takes us to the high road leading from An Clochán, by Béal Atha na hInnse and Uachtar Árd, to Gaillimh, on which public cars ply twice daily. Thus, the shores of the lake may be circumambulated with facility.

Tourists pressed for time, or not much interested in archaeological investigations, but anxious to obtain a general view of the extreme western limit of the British Isles in the shortest possible space of time, can leave London by the night mail, and at a very trifling expense, and with little wear and tear, reach Galway at 1.45pm, next day ; and dine at Cnuga at 6.30; or, if determined on a rush, take a seat on Bianconi's long car, and, passing through some of the wildest portion of Connamara, sleep at An Clochán, proceed next day by public or private conveyance, by Coill Mór and Líonán, and, leaving the Cathair na Mart road at the head of the Killeries, pass down through the lovely valley of Mám to Loch Coirib ; and there either take boat or car for Cunga; and, returning by the steamer next morning, be in Dublin at 5.15 o'clock in the afternoon of the third day, and in Euston Square early the next morning. He will thus have traversed about 1,031 miles by railway (first class), and other conveyance, for about £6.

Good accommodation, although not very extensive, may be procured at Ath Chinn [Headford], Cunga, Mám, and Uachtar Árd, each locality possessing a post office ; and what may be wanting in hotel appliances will be found to be made up for in civility and moderation of charges.

The tourist may also proceed by Mám, through the valley between Joyce Country and Connamara to the Killeries, by An Líonán and Coill Mór, to An Clochán, where good accommodation can be procured ; or from An Líonán to Cathair na Mart, which, however, is the less attractive route. The romantically situated hotel at the Coill Mór Lake has been recently refitted, and good fishing and boats may be procured there. There is also good accommodation, and great civility to be had at the Líonán hotel.

Whether by land or water, our descriptive route, proceeding parochially, will describe the lacustrine margins of St. Nicholas, the western extremity of Orán Mór, then Baile Chláir na Gaillimhe, Eanach Dúin, Cill Chuana, Cill Éinne, Cairrgín, Cill Fhursa, and Sriúil on the east; Cunga upon the north; Ross at the extreme west, Cill Chuimín on the southwest; and Cill Eanainn, Magh Cuillinn, and Rathúin on the south and west shores of the lake and its tidal river.

The Eglinton steamer, of 40 horse power, and 67 tons, which was built specially for Loch Coirib, is 120 feet long, and 15.5 in beam, and is most commodiously fitted up in every respect.

In the following Chapter will be found a description of Loch Coirib, which the tourist can read at his leisure, or during the progress of the voyage ; but which, if time presses, or that he has already perused it in the train, he can now skip, and pass on to Chapter 3, where our aquatic excursion commences.

Chapter 1

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