ISLE OF RATHLIN
THE COAST ROAD
THE ISLE OF RATHLIN.
“Had I the plantation of this isle, my lord, and were the king on’t,
would I do.”― THE TEMPEST.
DURING my rambles about the bold headlands in
the neighbourhood of the Giant’s Causeway, I had often seen the wild
Isle of Rathlin, far away in the sea, between Bengore, the most
northern part of Ireland, and the Mull of Cantyre, in Scotland,
sometimes looming weird and dim amongst the misty waters, at others,
so clear that the green land was distinguishable from tracts of
heather; and white streaks seemed to glitter in the sun, here and
there, where the limestone crops out upon its sombre shore of
basaltic rock. Rathlin is a singular spot, both in its
character and in its history. Although less than eight miles
from Ballycastle, on the Irish coast, its inhabitants have very
little trafﬁc with the mainland, and they are accustomed to speak
both of Ireland and Scotland as of foreign kingdoms. I found
that the island was difﬁcult of access, on account of the rarity of
communication, and also on account of the dangerous nature of the
channel, — “Slunk na Marra,” or, “The hollow of the sea,” — which
divides it from the Irish coast; and, I think, this made me long,
more than ever, to see the place. However, as there seemed to
be no ordinary chance of getting there, I dismissed the thing from
my mind again and again. But, during my stay at Portrush, a
pretty little bathing town, about seven miles from the Causeway, I
learnt, by accident, that a new Catholic Chapel was to be
consecrated in the Isle of Rathlin on a certain day, and the
steamer, “Kitty of Coleraine,” was to call at Portrush to take the
clergy and their friends to the island. This seemed a good
opportunity for getting across, and I said so to my landlord, who
promised to get me a place in the steamer, but I heard nothing more
of the matter till the evening before the day of consecration.
As I sat at the open window, watching the play of the tide upon “The
Long Strand,” and the gorgeous glow of sunset melting away in hues
of deepening splendour as the day declined upon the towers of
Dunluce, and the headlands and rocky bays that sweep along the coast
in stupendous semi-circles, my landlord entered :—
“After all,” said he, “there will be no steamer to Rathlin tomorrow.
The ‘Kitty’ can’t go. I suppose she’s too busy on the Bann.
But a friend o’ mine laves this at four in the morning, for
Ballycastle; an’ I’ll go bail he’ll give ye a sate on the car, with
a heart an’ a half.”
“Well,” said I, “ if you think he will, I’ll go.”
“Och, man, dear,” replied he, “don’t I tell ye he’s a friend o’
mine, an’ a right good fellow to the back of that. I’ll lay my
head to a clamp o’ turf it’s all right.”
“If you’re sure of the man,” said I, “it’s all right.”
“Sure, is it?” replied he, “och, don’t I know Dan to the back-bone —
every tether-lenth — as true as guinea-gowld. Come along, man
alive; we’ll go down and spake to him. Faith, if ye knew Dan
as well as I do ye’d take a rise out of yer skin at the bare mention
of the crayter. Come along, now! Sure, ye’ll have
lashins o’ time to tuck in yer breakfast after ye get to Ballycastle.
The boats don’t lave that wi’ the bishop and clargy till nine
o’clock. Oh, faith, man dear, if I could only go with ye!
Come along, now! Av ye say ‘paes’ by the mortial I’ll
disinherit ye for evermore!”
“We’ll go, at once,” said I, and away we went to see the agent; my
landlord chatting merrily all the way. “That fellow’s behind
in his rent, any way,” said he, as a starved looking farmer
trailed dolefully by.” “It’s well seen in the cut of his jib —
the crayter.” Turning out of the main street, which,
by-the-bye, means nearly the whole town, — he went into a little
yard behind the houses near the Antrim Arms, and there he knocked at
the door of a clean-looking cottage. It was the only house in
the yard. As we stood waiting he whispered to me, “Och, man,
dear; Dan’s a right daycent man; one o’ the rale ould stock.
The Lord be good to his four bones!”
The door was opened by a sonsie, middle-aged waman, who held a
new-baked “fadge" in her hand, hot from the girdle. The family
was just sitting down to tea.
“Is Mister Daniel in?” said my landlord.
“Can I can see him for a minute?” continued he.
Before he had done speaking, Dan had risen from his seat at the
tea-table, and he stood in the doorway, — a stout, broad-set man, of
middle-height, and apparently about sixty years of age. There
was a shrewd look upon his round face, and a quiet twinkle gleamed
from under his bushy eyebrows; although the snows of time had
drifted a little about the sides of his temples, and care had begun
to carve crow-feet at the corners of his eye. But the old man
was evidently hale and genial-hearted withal.
“Hollo, Ned,” said he, giving his hand to my landlord, “is that you?
Come in here.”
“No, thank ye, Dan,” replied my landlord. Then, laying his
hand upon my shoulder, he continued, “This is a friend o’ mine.
He wishes to go to Ballycastle early in the morning; an’ I thought
maybe ye would oblige him with a sate on the car that lenth.”
“A sate is it?” answered the old man. “Bedad, I’ll make him a
present o’ the whole vayhicle, — horse an’ all, — barrin’ he’ll
allow me the pleasure of riding with him. Faith, sur,”
continued he, as he shook me warmly by the hand, “I’ll be heartily
thankful for the honour o’ your company! Any friend o’ this
fellow’s is a friend o’ mine. Sure, Ned (turning to my
landlord), ye know that rightly. Step in here, now, — the two
o’ yees, — an’ take a taste o’ somethin’ lively.”
My landlord excused himself, on account of the lateness of the hour;
and so we came away. I parted with him at the entrance to the
yard, and took my road, alone, towards the little harbour, where a
large Norweigan trader lay rocking in the moonlight, amongst
half-a-dozen smaller craft.
The air was exquisitely clear; the full moon was up in a cloudless
sky; and the little sea-washed town looked more beautiful than usual
in its soft radiance. I took a walk round Ramore-hill, from
whence the view of the sea, and the whole of the fantastic coast,
from the dim mountains of wild Donegal to the bold bluff of Fairhead,
in the far north, is very grand. There I sat down awhile,
watching the moonlit waves breaking upon the “Skerries,” and upon
the rocky shoal, near the Wash Pot, — like molten silver! The
two lights at the mouth of Lough Foyle gleamed steadily across the
waters; now and then, the strong revolving light upon Enistrahull,
off the coast of Inishone, ﬂashed into view; and the light upon the
Isle of Islay, — the nearest of the Hebrides, — shone far beyond the
sea, like a dim and distant star. It was a glorious night.
As I sauntered slowly homeward, delighted with the scene, there was
a crowd about the windows of the Antrim Arms. Some great
notability had arrived by the last train, and the little town was in
a state of ﬂustration. I sat up late, reading “The Tempest,”
and looking out, now and then, at the phosphorescent glitter rolling
along the crest of the moonlit surge.
The fear of sleeping too long made my slumbers ﬁtful, and I was out
of bed by three in the morning. “Night’s candles” were not
quite burnt out, and the waning light of the moon was mingling with
the grey tinge of dawn. All was silent except the drowsy
murmur of the tide, surging along the beach, within a few yards of
my window. Earth and sky, the long smooth strand, the grassy
sand hills, the craggy headlands, and the little town, all — except
the murmuring sea — was silent and still, and clear and fresh, as if
it was the ﬁrst morning of a new created world. As I crept
softly down stairs, for fear of awaking the sleeping household, the
cheerful aroma of hot coffee met me half-way. There was
a bright ﬁre in the kitchen. The servant had been up an hour,
and my breakfast was ready. As I sat by the new-lit ﬁre,
sipping my coffee, and wondering what sort of place the Isle of
Rathlin could be, the old clock upon the stair head struck four in
solemn, sonorous, and lonely tones; and the sounds seemed to rush
into every nook and cranny of the silent house. There was no
other sound astir, except the clear chirp of one strong cricket, and
the timid jingle of my spoon against the cup, for I felt almost
afraid to stir anything, lest I should disturb the ﬁne silence which
lay on everything around me, like a spell. The last stroke had
hardly died away, when the solitary rattle of a pair of wheels came
up the road, and it stopped at the door of my lodging.
“That’s the car, sir,” said the servant, as she quietly laid the
coffee-pot down. She said this in a soft undertone, quite
unlike the usual sharp shrill pitch of voice with which she could
cleave through all the busy sounds that ﬁll the air at noon-day.
She said it as if the silence around was peopled with something
unearthly, which she was afraid to waken. A knock came to the
door. It was the driver. I took a parting gulp of the
hot coffee, whipped my blue cape over my shoulders, donned a white
hat, which had seen “a little service,” and went out, followed by my
landlord’s terrier, “Trick,” whose barking rang loud and clear all
over the sleeping town; and seemed to ﬁll the unoccupied ear of
morning with an untimely activity.
It was a “nipping and an eager air,” and I was cold. The
driver looked very cold, for he seemed to shrink into the woollen
tie which swathed his throat, and his pinched nose was red and raw;
and the whip in his hand gave a quiet shiver now and then, as if it
needed a drop of something warm to waken it up to the business of
the day. The car, too, had a chill and shrivelled appearance —
it was evidently very much less than it would have been at warm
noon-day; and the horse looked as if it had been sleeping in a windy
ﬁeld all night with the gate open. The very pavement was
starved and still, like an old woman, waiting for relief at the door
of a parish office, on a wintry day. The streets, the houses,
the pale blue sky, the waning moon, and the world altogether seemed
as if it had just stepped out of a cold bath, and was waiting to be
rubbed down with a rough towel. The moan of the sea had a kind
of shiver in it; and even old Dan, who was usually so genial, sat
upon the car as stiff and stirless as a mummy three thousand years
Nothing on earth seemed to have much warm life in it that morning,
except the Skye-terrier, and even that little bunch of
indestructible animation, whose progenitors had wintered with the
hawk and fox, far away in the cold mountains of the north, looked as
if it had been begotten by an icicle out of a snow-drift. It
made my teeth chatter as I drew my cape closer about me, and looked
around; but I was, nevertheless, pleased at heart; for it was,
indeed, a lovely morning — of the kind. None of us had much to
say. It was not only too chill, and too soon in the day, but
there was something about the ﬁne repose of the scene that seemed to
warn us not to disturb its beauty by any impertinent gabble.
As the driver sat upon his seat, gazing with petriﬁed eyes at his
starved horse — which stood as still as if every hair of its tail
was cut in stone — he looked as if the elements of which he was
composed had been put together in a cold state, and would certainly
fall asunder if ever that old drab coat of his came unbuttoned.
Dan was “hutched” up into the smallest possible compass in one
corner of the car. His old limbs had crept close together to
keep one another warm. He was cased in a strong blue overcoat;
and he had a thick muffler round his neck, and a heavy rug well
tucked in about his legs. He bade me “Good morning” and then we
shook hands, like two marble statues saluting. And then his old eyes
tried to look lively from under the thick sheltering bushes of grey
hair, beneath which they seemed to have crept as far as possible out
of the cold. But it was no use. Nature would not be cajoled; and the
old man’s unthawed constitution entered a quiet protest against
doing anything warm at such a chill and untimely hour. His heart had
not taken down its shutters for the day; and even the tone of his
voice had a cold sound, like a frosty wind whistling through leaﬂess
Without preamble, we lapsed into silence; and when I got up to my
seat, I felt as stiff as a pair of rusty compasses, which had been
left out in the rain for a week.
The petriﬁed driver woke up his frozen horse with a touch of the
starved whip. The chill car started, and away we went out at
the end of the cold town, like three dead fish, packed up in ice,
for a distant market. The rattle of the wheels sounded strange
with all that world of silence to play in; and the old car seemed
ashamed of the noise it was making: like a man startled by the din
of his own footsteps in the stillness of an empty church. In
that quiet morning hour, many a triﬂing thing caught the eye which
would have been passed unobserved when the senses were crowded with
the importunate activities of noon-day; — the bits of stone on the
road, knocked hither and thither by horses’ feet; the little pools
of water left by the rain; the piece of torn newspaper, which I saw
“Trick” worrying with such wild delight, as it drifted about in the
wind, the day before; the driblets of hay, where carts had stopped,
and horses had time to munch a mouthful in peace; the sugary dust,
and fragments of pack-thread, and tea-paper, and raisin-stalks, and
mealy sweepings, in front of the grocer’s shop; the mussel-shells,
thrown out from cottage doors, after last night’s supper; the broken
pipe, dropped by a lounging carter; and the fag-end of a cigar, ﬂung
away by some careless swell as he sauntered along, with a glass too
much — stuck in his eye; the crushed mouse, run over by a passing
cart-wheel; the dead leaves, trailing wierdly in the wind; the bits
of turf, and splinters of bog-ﬁr, where a load of ﬁring had been
emptied; the picked ﬁsh-ﬁns; aye, even the very wheel-ruts, and
prints of horses’ feet upon the road — which garish noon would have
drowned in obscurity — had now a chance of asserting their presence;
and each little pebble seemed to look up, and say, “Now, don’t you
see me? Am I not something, also? Ask me questions; and
I can put you to your wits’ end; for I am older than you dream of.”
As that grey morning dawned upon the unawakened world, our cold car
rattled out at the end of the cold town; and the sound ﬁlled all the
silent street — like a pebble rolling in an empty barrel. We
passed “jolly Ned’s” public, “where drouthy neebors, neebors meet,”
we passed the whitewashed house, with the verandah in front, where
the old gentleman lives who owns the ﬁshery, near Ballintoy; we
passed the little white cottage, where the washerwoman lives; we
passed the house that is “To Let,” at ten pounds a year; and the
cottage where the smiling car-man dwells, who always “laves it to
your honour;” we passed the house where the windows are so thronged
with pretty faces, in the day-time, that they look like so many beds
of flowers; and we passed the old iron pump, where bare-footed
lasses stand in tattling clusters, waiting their turns to get water;
and then the houses began to trickle away in twos and threes, till
we came to the sandy road, which leads down to “The Long Strand.”
A few yards farther on, we passed the pretty Catholic chapel, with
its school, and priest’s house, in enclosed ground; and a little
beyond that, the tiny gasworks of Portrush — the last building of
all — which seemed to hang on the rest, like a drop at the cold
nose-end of the town. And now we were out among the open
Our way led between low hedge-rows; and sea and land lay open to
view; except that a straggling ridge of grassy sand-hills shut from
sight the “Long Strand,” which is such a ﬁne wandering ground for
the people of Portrush. There was a strange charm upon all the
scene that morning. The moon, — pensive queen of the silent
hours, — silvery hap of the sleeping world, — was paling her soft
radiance before the approaching light of day, as she set beyond the
wide sea; and the murmur of the tide, which came ﬂoating over the
sand-hills, harmonised well with the contemplative beauty of that
spell-bound dawn. On the other hand, the landscape was a
pleasant rural scene. The green hedgerows; the ﬁelds — here,
yellow stubble; there, pasture; and there, healthy-looking green
crops — scattered with white-washed farmhouses, often with a few
trees clustered about them; the whole of that landward slope, up to
the heathery ridge which closes the view, was quite English in
appearance; not unlike some of the richest parts of the “Fylde
country,” but with a more picturesque diversity of surface. About
half-way up between the road and summit of the mountain ridge, the
rooﬂess, ivy-clad walls of Ballywillan Church stood clear in the
sharp. The wild Atlantic sings to the traveller all the way
from Portrush to the town of Bushmills; and the coast-line is full
of rocky grandeur, as far as the eye can see.
About three miles and a half beyond Portrush, the ruins of Dunluce
Castle stand upon the summit of a tall crag, lashed by the sea
half-way round its base. A deep green cleft divides it from
the main land; and that ruin-crested rock has a singularly wild
appearance. This castle was anciently the seat of the
McQuillans, and, afterwards, of the O’Donnells. It is now a
picturesque piece of savage desolation; and all is silent and wild
around it. Those mouldering “towers of other days” stand, in
ragged decay, upon the lonely crag, like cold ashes in a rusty
ﬁre-grate. At one point a narrow arch spans the chasm between
the rock and the mainland; and the unprotected path leading to the
castle, along the summit of this arch, is not more than eighteen
inches wide. In the hollow of a little green vale, about a
quarter of a mile from the castle, the ruined Church of Dunluce
stands in its ancient graveyard. It is the only building in
the valley now. All the rest is cultivated land. Around
that ancient church the town of Dunluce once gathered. Here
and there, outlines of the old foundations are still visible.
But the little vale where the old town of Dunluce once stood is
silent now, — except when a car rattles by, on the road to the
Causeway; or the sea-breeze whistles through the weeds of that
deserted graveyard; or the wild bird sings among the ivy upon the
ruined walls of its ancient church. The streams let that
“wimples” through that little valley has often run with blood in
times gone by; but all is peace there now-such peace as solitude
Leaving Dunluce, the road rises again; and, when about ﬁve hundred
yards past the rock, let the traveller look back. The wild
crag, with the ruins upon it, are seen thence from their most
striking point of view. If he looks upon them then, he can,
indeed, say that he has seen the ruins of Dunluce Castle.
About half a mile still further on we gain a still higher point of
the road, and a new scene opens upon our sight. There is more
variety in the great sweep of shore now before the eye — more of
picturesque feature in the landward scene. The pretty white ﬁshing
village of Port Ballintray, with its little harbour — so little
indeed, as to be hardly distinguishable at two miles’ distance; and,
immediately beyond that, the little craggy inlet, called “The Black
Rock,” — Where, one wild night, a few years ago, poor old Dan
Graham, the ﬁsherman, lost his entire family of four sons, who were
all drowned within sight of their own hearth-light. They were
so near their own home, in fact, that the old man hailed them from
the door-way, and heard their responding cry, as they struggled
amongst those fatal waters. But then and there they all
perished, — those four bold young ﬁshermen, — the only children of
their aged parents; and there was wild sorrow in the ﬁsherman’s hut
that stormy night. Every port, and almost every sea-washed
crag on this coast, is associated with similar tales of disaster.
Beyond “Black Rock ” the headlands rise wilder and loftier,
sweeping, one after another, in grand semi-circles, called “Ports,”
— Port Coon, Port-na-Gagne, Port Noffer, Port-na-Spagne, Port Moon;
and beyond that the ruins of Dunseverick Castle; and the remarkable
rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, or “The Rock of the Road.” The
view of the coast line then closes in with the grand headland called
“Fair-head.” The distance from Portrush to “Fair-head” is
about twenty miles, and it may be said to embrace the greatest
wonders of the Causeway system. The whole coast abounds in
caves, fantastic rocks, and magniﬁcent headlands.
But now the road gradually leaves the shore, and we turn away
inland, within about two miles of the Giant’s Causeway, — of which
we may have something to say at another time. The way to
Ballycastle leads through the town of Bushmills, and then across a
wild inland tract, in the direction of Knocklade.
As we approach the little town of Bushmills, — famous for salmon and
whisky, — the road descends gently into the pleasant valley watered
by the Bush, which is an excellent ﬁshing stream, though of no great
volume. It is, perhaps, twenty yards wide under the bridge;
and, looking thence, up the stream, it has a very picturesque
appearance. Its water is often tinged with peat, from the
tracts of bog through which it ﬂows. Bushmills is a clean
town, almost entirely in one street of little shops, cottages, a
chapel, an enclosed market-place, a doleful-looking courthouse, a
tolerable inn or two, and half-a-dozen little whisky-shops.
It wanted a few minutes to ﬁve as we rode into Bushmills that cold
morning; and we had still thirteen miles to go. I began to
think more of the famous Bushmills “dew” than of the water of its
picturesque river, and I soon found that there was a general opinion
upon the car that a “nip” of it might not be injurious, under the
“Do you think Hopkins will be up?” said I to the driver, pointing to
a well-known house.
The driver’s face ﬂashed into sudden animation. “Faith,” said
he, “I’ll go bail he is. He’s an airly riser. Will I
drive to the door, sur?”
“What do you say?” said I to Dan, who sat on the other side of the
The old man smiled, and rubbed his hands, as he replied, “Oh, with
all my heart! Bedad, I’ve not the laste objection in the
world. If ye require a taste of anything, ― that’s your only
chance before we get to Ballycastle. An’ it’s just the wan
(one) spot where ye’ll get a drop that’ll make your ten toes tingle
all the way.”
“That’s true, any way,” said the car-boy. “Divil a better
place I know, for the rale stuff! Will I drive to the door,
yer honour? Sure, if he’s not up, I’ll be able to rise him out
o’ that before ye’d say ‘trap-sticks!’”
“Try it on,” said I; and, in an instant, the car whisked round, and
we rattled up to the door.
All was silent from end to end of the little town. Not a mouse
stirring. It was so still that as we stood looking up at the
white blinds of the landlord’s bedroom window, we could hear the
murmur of the Bush, ﬁlling the little valley with its somnolent
song. Whilst old Dan and I were clapping our hands and
stamping about, to restore the circulation, the driver knocked at
the door with his whip-handle, and we all looked up, but still
“Touch him again,” said I.
He knocked again, louder than before, and, as he gazed aloft once
more, he said, “Begorra, that’s enough to waken Phin MacCoul!”
The window-blind began to rise slowly.
“There he is at last,” said the driver, clapping his hands.
“Faith, didn’t I make him lave that?” We heard a sound of slow
descending feet upon the stairs inside, and then a muttering voice
accompanied the turning of the key, and then the door opened, and
the landlord stood before us, in his shirt-sleeves, yawning, and
stretching his arms.
“Good mornin’ t’ye, Robert,” said old Dan.
“Good rnornin’!” replied the landlord, as he gazed vaguely at the
car, and then at each of us in turn. “Faith, you’re airly on
the road. Are ye for the Causeway? . . . Oh, is that
you, Dan? How are ye? You’re for Ballycastle, I know.
Faith, I was dramin’ that I was as hungry as a hunter; and just as
the knock came to the door, I was planted, knife in hand, ready to
cut into one o’ the ﬁnest Port Moon salmon I ever saw.”
“Bedad, that was a mighty pleasant drame, too,” said old Dan,
“barrin’ that ye hadn’t time to ﬁnish it."
“Ten minutes more would have done the trick,” continued the
landlord. “Faith, it’s not always one’s drames are worth
dramin’ out, but that was.”
“Faith,” said the driver, “it’s little chance I have of aitin’
salmon, barrin’ I get a taste in a drame."
“Bi my soul, then,” replied the landlord, “ye’re welcome to help
yourself to the one I left just now. Take yer ﬁll of it; for
divil a mouthful I got. But what can I do for yees this mornin’?
Faith, it’s tatterin cold.”
“We’ll try a drop o’ the malt, Robert,” said old Dan.
“All right,” said the landlord, as he retired into the house,
followed by the three shivering travellers. The shutters were
still up, and, as we stood at the counter side, in the dim light
from the doorway, the landlord ﬁlled “three half-uns o’ malt,” for
which he refused to receive any money, on the plea that it was
unlucky to begin the day stingily. The dose was repeated with
general satisfaction, and, after a little cheerful chat, we mounted
the car again, and rode away as the landlord took down his shutters.
Buried and cold, when this heart stills its motion,
Green be thy ﬁelds, dearest isle of the ocean,
Thy harp-striking bards, singing loud with emotion,
Erin, mavourncen, slan laght go bragh!
THE ﬁngers of the market clock pointed to ﬁve,
as we rode through Bushmills. We met a few starved-looking
stragglers, on their way to work; and we caught sight of at
half-awakened face, here and there, peeping through cottage-windows,
as we rattled by. We passed a grocer’s shop, or two; a
shoemaker’s shop; three or four whisky shops, in different states of
dinginess; a gloomy-looking building, called a “court-house;” an
hotel — at least it said so on the sign — and a sleepy-looking
draper’s shop, at a drowsy corner, in which there is one of the
serenest post-offices in all Christendom; and, after that, the
houses seemed to grow poorer and smaller, till the last of them
dribbled away behind us; and we were out at the town-end, once more,
with the morning breeze blowing about us fresh from the sea.
The Bushmills’ “dew” had warmed us a little, and Dan and I began to
chat across the car, but we very soon lapsed into silence again; and
then we rode on, mile after mile, through the cold wind,
unaccompanied by any sound, except the lonely sough of the wind, the
chirrup of birds in the hedges, the cackle of geese, as we passed
some poverty-stricken roadside farmstead, and the wailing voice of
the car-boy, who had begun to croon an old Irish song, —
On the deck o’ Patrick Lynch’s boat,
I sat in woful plight,
With my sighing all the weary day,
And weeping all the night;
Were it not, that full of sorrow,
From my people now I go,
By the blessed sun, it’s royally
I’d sing thy praise, Mayo.
When I dwelt at home, in plinty,
An’ my gold did much abound,
In the company of fair young maids,
The Spanish ale went round,
Then pointin ahead with his whip, he cried out “Oh, murther sheery!
Did you see that?”
“What was it?”
“A thunderin’ big weazle, crossin’ the road beyant there! An’
a mighty great hurry he was in too — the blackguard!” Then
giving the horse a switch, he cried, “Go along out o’ that!
Are ye dramin’, or schamin’, ye divil? Bedad, your memory’s
not half so long as your tail, anyhow; for I’ve no sooner laid the ﬂax
on your bones than ye forget it’s been there.” Then he struck
up the song again: —
Oh, they’re altered girls in Irrul now,
They’re grown so proud an’ high,
With their ribbons an’ their top-knots,
For I pass their buckles by;
But it’s little now I heed their airs,
Since God will have it so,
That I must depart for foreign lands,
And lave my own Mayo!
Then, giving his horse another switch, he cried, “Och, quit yer
capers, ye divil, an’ don’t be after tryin’ to walk on three legs.
Sure, it’s not a funeral yer at.” And then he broke into song
Oh, where are ye going, ma bouchaleen bawn,
From father and mother so early at dawn?
Och, rather run idle from evening till dawn,
Than darken their household, ma bouchaleen bawn.
The next ten miles of our journey lay across a great dark waste —
level, lifeless, and lonely — except that it was relieved a little,
at long intervals, by some poor, slobbery farmstead, or a little
ramshackle hamlet, of most miserable looking huts. And, here
and there, the rooﬂess walls of a ruined cottage stood, far apart,
upon the bleak landscape, making the solitude around look more
solitary still, or a half-dressed unkempt cotter, crept listlessly
out of some wretched sheiling by the wayside, and as he stood
stretching his arms, and gazing with hopeless eyes across the sombre
expanse, he seemed as if he was looking out for something to help
him through another dreary day.
Then came a vast tract of bog land. Turf, turf, turf, — dark
turf — everywhere around. Turf cut in clods, and ranged in
long, open lines, for drying, — “win-rows,” as a Lancashire
hay-maker would call them, — turf “footed,” turf “rickled,” and turf
“castled.” These are the terms used by turf-cutters for the
different modes of arranging the clods after they are cut.
Here was dry turf, piled in great stacks, to protect it from the
rain, until it was carted away by purchasers, and there were immense
gaps in the bog, from which the turf had been excavated. This
was, indeed, a wild-looking bit of our planet, — a kind of doleful
scab on the face of the earth, with very little visible life upon
it, and what life we found upon it, here and there, seemed to be of
such a downcast kind that it absolutely saddened the aspect of the
desolation around. It reminded one a little of “Chat-Moss,”
only this is far more solitary; for, in the bleakest part of
“Chat-Moss,” some evidence of cheerful life, and some bright streaks
of cultivation are within the range of vision, but upon this spot,
there seems to be nothing but bog between us and the round top of
Knocklade — ten miles off.
As we rode on, in silence, I fell into a kind of dream of the days
when the ancient chieftains of Ulster — the O’Neills, the O’Cahans,
and the O’Donnells — rode across the dark plain, at the head of
their wild clans. This tract may then have been more of a bog,
it may have been less drained even than it is now, but its general
aspect cannot have been very much unlike what it is today. The
summit of Knocklade — and yon more distant range of mountains, among
which the great truncated cone of Sleimis holds dominion over the
surrounding scene, must have looked much the same to them as they
did to us, riding silently along, on that cold, contemplative autumn
morning. By the way, Sleimis is the mountain upon which Saint
Patrick is said to have kept sheep when a captive boy. And a
ﬁne nursery-ground it must have been for the development of such a
Rise, rise ye ages, from the mists of night,
Rend time’s dark veil, and burst upon my sight !
Round Sleimis see what beams of glory play,
A sainted stranger pours the ﬂood of day!
A cross he bears, whose high and potent swell
Has burst the adamantine gates of hell;
And in his hand the sacred charter brings
Of life immortal from the King of kings.
Where’er he treads, what new-born joys abound,
Serpents and dragons ﬂee the hostile ground,
The monsters of the wild, his voice obey,
And pride and lust more furious far than they.
We are now at the head of a gentle slope, which descends to the town
of Ballycastle, in the pleasant valley, about a mile of. On a
slight eminence, at the left-hand side of our way, stands the
ancient burial-ground of Romoan. The old church is gone.
In my wanderings about this part of Ireland I have noticed how many
such ancient graveyards there are, where the churches to which they
belong are either in utter ruin, or else have wholly disappeared.
The houses of the dead last longer than the houses of the living,
and mouldering bones have not much temptation for the spoiler.
But we are approaching Ballycastle, which, in the ancient Irish, is
called “Ballycashlain,” or “Castletown.”
Ballycastle is a small seaport, on the coast of Antrim, in the
extreme north of Ireland. It derives its name from a castle
built there in 1609, by Randolph, Earl of Antrim, who was directed
by James I. to raise “faire castles,” at reasonable distances, upon
his vast estates, that the country might be more speedly civilised
and reduced to obedience. The town is situated at the head of
the ﬁne bay to which it gives name, and in a beautiful valley, at
the foot of Knocklade, opposite to the Isle of Rathlin. Knocklade is
a great, round-shaped, graceful mountain, and, as we approached it
from about a mile’s distance, it looked as if it was cultivated to
the very top. The whole slope is divided into different ﬁelds,
and its general aspect is mottled, in a kind of mosaic way, with
different hues of growth, in different states of cultivation.
On the summit of the mountain stands a lonely cairn, called in the
ancient Irish Cairn an truir, or “the grave of three.” But
even tradition itself is silent as to what three they are that have
been buried there so long. A thousand storms have swept over
their lonely grave, on the wild top of Knocklade; their history is
as mute as the mountain upon which they lie, their very memories are
as dead as themselves. There are some ruins of the castle,
from which the town derives its name, and also some ruins of the
abbey of Bona Margy, a religious house, founded in 1509, by Charles
MacDonnell, for monks of the Franciscan order.
Where Margy’s walls, unroofed and mouldering stand,
’Mid the long rye-grass rustling o’er the sand,
Where many a heaving sod, and rustic stone,
Death, dread destroyer, mark the place thy own.
What sacred orisons with morn arose,
What heaven-taught vespers blest the evening’s close!
Lost to the world, its follies all forgot,
There chose the monk his calm contented lot,
Told o’er his beads, his useless vigils kept,
Or, o’er the pages of the fathers slept.
Bona Margy is still the burial-place of the Antrim family, who have
put a new roof on a small oratory erected over the ashes of their
ancestors, over the window of which is a Latin inscription, scarcely
legible, importing that it was built in 1621, by Randolph
MacDonnell, earl of Antrim. In 1811 there was found, by the
side of a rivulet, near the town, a ﬂexible rod of gold, composed of
twisted bars, thirty-eight inches long, hooked at each end, and
weighing twenty ounces and a half; it was, undoubtedly, a Roman
torques, and probably brought here by some of the Danish or Scottish
ravagers of Roman Britain.
Ballycastle was once a manufacturing town of some importance.
It had a good harbour, and, in the immediate neighbourhood, there
were breweries, glass-works, and collieries, all in full work.
It also produced a considerable amount of linen-yarn. But
almost all these elements of industry have declined. The
harbour is choked up, the pier and quay are a heap of ruins, and the
town is now chiefly notable for agricultural produce. There is
a little ﬁshing in the bay, and the Isle of Rathlin sends ponies,
horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, beans, peas, oats, and some linen-yarn
to its market.
As we drew near Ballycastle we began to meet people hurrying on
their way to work. Shutters were being taken down here and
there, dogs were barking and frisking together about the ﬁsh stones,
and the life of a new day was just beginning to stir. The road
enters the town about the middle, just in front of the market-place.
The car whisked round, at the right-hand corner, and almost
immediately stopped at the door of Laverty’s Inn. There was a dusty,
rough-and-tumble appearance about the exterior, and the smell of
whisky mingled with a damp earthy aroma — as if the place had been a
potato warehouse a fortnight before, and had not been cleaned out
since it changed hands. But when I got into the house I found
the kernel a vast deal better than the shell had led me to expect.
It was about seven in the morning when we got to Laverty’s door.
The moment the car stopped Trick leaped down and ran among a swarm
of mongrels which were at play in the market-place, and he began to
romp and sniff with them at once, as if they had been thick together
all their born days.
By this time I felt as if I could do with another breakfast, and I
was very glad to ﬁnd that old Dan was of the same inclination as
myself; indeed, he had already ordered breakfast for two, and he was
pacing to and fro, and rubbing his hands in anticipation of the
feast. An eighteen-mile ride, on a cold morning, in a keen
sea-breeze, on a jaunting car, would almost waken an appetite under
the ribs of death. The landlord came smiling towards us from
the shady rearward of the house. He was a stout, middle-aged
man, with a shrewd, and yet a very good-humoured countenance.
He wore a cloth cap, and there was a mealy work-like appearance
about his clothing. He looked like a man who was ready to
tackle any kind of job that might turn up. He was not unlike
some active, well-conditioned grocer, in a Lancashire manufacturing
town. But I soon found that he was a genuine Irishman to the
“Good mornin’ to ye, Mister Dan,” cried he, recognising my
fellow-traveller. “How are ye the day? Faith, ye had a
cold ride this rnornin’. Come along here — the pair o’ yees.
Just take half-uns apiece wi’ me, afore ye go to breakfast.
Come along, sir,” continued he, as he shook hands wi’ me, “You’re a
friend o’ Dan’s, an’, faith, I’m glad to see ye.”
The buxom landlady stood smiling on the other side of the counter.
She ﬁlled the glasses in an instant, and as she handed the drink to
us, she said, in most musical Milesian brogue, “There’s for yees,
gentlemen! That’s the stuff for a cough or a cowld. The
breakfast ’ll be ready in a couple o’ minutes, Mister Dan. In
the old room to the fore, Mister Dan. An’, faith, I hope yees
are in dacent trim, for it’s a cowld journey yees left immediately
behind yees this mornin’.”
As she was speaking a bare-footed girl hurried by with a tray full
of boiled eggs.
“Norah, dear,” said the landlady, “did ye mind the eggs? Sure
ye know Mister Dan requires them boiled aisy.”
“Sure, I kept my eye on them, ma’am,” replied the girl, “an’ the ham
is at the ﬁre.”
“That’s right, dear,” answered the landlady. Then, turning to
Dan, she continued, “Sure, I done a nice dish o’ chops for yees
myself, Mister Dan.”
“Thank ye, ma’am,” says Dan.
“An’, look here now, gentlemen,” says the landlord, “if there’s
anything else ye can think of, bi way of a little divarsion for the
teeth this cold mornin’, faith, I hope ye’ll spake out; an’ don’t be
lavin’ the house longin’.”
“Och, what ’ud we want more?” replied Dan. “Sure the mistress
knows right well how to spread the board for a hungry traveller —
divil a one better. Faith, I don’t know what else we’d
require, barrin’ it was a stuffed shark, done on the gridiron, bi
way of a change.”
“Oh, well, indeed, then, Mister Dan,” said the landlord, “ye might
as well ask for holy water in an Orange lodge.”
As we stood chatting thus at the counter side, a startling object
came into the doorway. It was one of those mendicants known in
the south of Ireland by the name of “lamiters.” The head and
bust were those of a man of more than ordinary size and strength,
ending in a little bundle of ﬁlthy rags upon a kind of sledge.
This strange fragment of humanity was propelled to and fro by a pair
of long and powerful arms, which worked with wonderful alacrity.
As the “lamiter” came slinging up to the counter side it was evident
that he was well known in the place, for he cried out in a free and
“Mornin’ t’ye, Missis Laverty!”
“Mornin’, sur,” replied she, looking down across the counter.
“Would you oblige me wid a half-un o’ malt, ma’am, plase?” said he,
rubbing his hands.
“I will,” replied she, whisking round to reach a glass.
“An’, for the love o’ God, Missis Laverty,” continued he, gazing
upward, “give us a good taste this cold mornin’; ma’am, an’ good
luck to ye.”
“Faith, I will,” replied she, and when she had ﬁlled the glass she
bent down, over the counter, and, as she handed the drink to him,
she said, “Try that, now.”
“Long life t’ye, ma’am!” replied he, reaching his arm up for the
glass. “Here’s t’ye, Missis Laverty!”
And in an instant the whisky was gone.
The “lamiter” uttered a slow inarticulate sigh of satisfaction, as
the drink trickled down his throat; and then, giving his lips a
smack, as a kind of farewell kiss to a departing joy, he cried “Good
mornin’ t’ye, Missis Laverty!”
And then the brawny arms slung the strange trunk out at the doorway,
and we saw him no more.
Dan and I went aloft to breakfast, and we did justice to the
bountiful spread before us, that morning. When we had ﬁnished
I took leave of him, and he promised to wait with the car for me
till the boats returned from the island in the evening, that we
might ride back to Portrush together. I then took my way,
alone, towards what is called “The Lower Town,” down by the seaside.
There is nothing very remarkable in “The Upper Town” of Ballycastle,
with its little shops and whisky stores, its modern church, its worn
ﬁsh-stones in the centre of the market-place, its dingy cottages,
which wear a faint appearance of having been whitewashed some time
long ago, and its head inn, “The Antrim Arms,” which, in spite of
its heraldic sign, has a very cheerless look outside. Indeed,
the whole town has a kind of washed-out appearance, as if it was
brooding with a disappointed heart upon days gone by, and had
hopelessly given up struggling against the approach of decay.
A broad road, about half-a-mile long, divides the upper from the
lower town, and it is lined with ﬁne trees, and overlooks a
beautiful little green valley on the right hand side. The
dwellings improve in appearance as we descend this pleasant road;
they grow cleaner, more tasteful, and better appointed in every way,
— in fact, the whole suburb, if I may call it so, hangs upon the
hive of listless humanity in the upper town like a fringe of new
silk upon a worn-out shawl.
It wanted a few minutes to nine o’clock when I got down to the rude
landing-place, from which the boats were to start for the island.
The passengers had not all mustered, and the boatmen were wandering
in and out among the white cottages facing the sea.
“Ye’re all in good time, sir!” cried one of the boatmen. “Sure
the clargy are not down yet!”
There were two boats going over to Rathlin, chartered for Dr.
Dorrian, the Bishop of Down and Connor, and about a dozen of the
clergy of his diocese, and their friends; and I think I must have
been the only person in the company who was not going specially to
be present at the consecration of the Catholic chapel on that wild
island. Whilst waiting the arrival of the bishop and his
clergy, I sauntered about among boatmen, and ﬁshermen, and folk from
the town, who had come down to see the boats off.
“Are ye goin’ over to the island, sir?” cried old Archy Weir, a
short, stiff-built, weather-beaten Triton, who looked as shrivelled
and as tough as dried haddock.
“That’s right,” replied he. “Ye’ll go over in our boat, the
‘Old Erin;’ the other boat is taking the bishop, and as many o’ the
clargy as possible. The rest o’ the clargy is goin’ over with
us, in the ‘Old Erin.’ There’s plenty of time yet, sir.
The other boat starts ﬁrst. I’ll look out for ye,” and then,
as he looked quietly around, and up from sea to sky, he said, “I
hope we’ll have a good passage — plase God.”
Our boat was the worst of the two, and it was worst manned.
The crew consisted of a lad about sixteen years old, another
hungry-looking slip scarcely twenty, old Archy Weir, who acted as
skipper, and a little simple-hearted boatman called Hugh MacKinley,
who was joint owner of the boat with John Brown, landlord of a
little “public” near the landing-place.
Somehow, whilst wandering about the cottages by the beach, I got
into talk with a young tailor, who sat at work upon his shop-board
close to the window, whilst his tall, fresh-looking wife sat upon a
three-legged stool by the ﬁre, with her bare-footed children playing
about her. He was at work upon a pair of fustian trousers.
I asked him what a full suit of the same would cost making. He
said about ten shillings. I then asked him if he never felt
any desire to try his fortune where there was more work to be had
and better pay for it, and he said, with a smile, that he was quite
content to live and die where he was. And, as he squatted
there upon his little shop-board, smiling and stitching away in the
sunshine, with his little household gods around him, he looked a
kindly, quiet-minded, soil-bound man, with great adhesiveness, and
no ambition beyond his own ﬁreside, and as happy as a little ﬁeld
mouse that lives and dies in an untroubled nook of the country
green. That gentle domestic spirit would have gone to the wall
amongst the cunning aggressive crowds of great cities. As I
sat talking with him, old Archy Weir looked in at the window and
“We’re getting ready for a start, sir.”
“All right;” and I bade the tailor and his family “Good day,” and
went towards the landing-place, followed by “Trick,” the little
terrior belonging to my landlord.
There was a little crowd gathered to watch us off, and I found that
the passengers — among whom were three Catholic clergymen and two
women — were getting shaken into their places in the boat; so, with
the dog in my arms I stepped in, and took my seat near the stern.
The other boat had got well away nearly half-an-hour before, and was
scudding across the channel under sail with a fair wind.
“Come now, boys; hurry, or else they’ll make Rathlin before we
start! Come now, Hughie, man; what’re schamin’ an’ dramin’
about! Take ye’r places, gentlemen, plase, an’ we’ll be away.
Is that your dog, sir? Go down my bonny man! Now,
“Good-bye, Archy! We’ll see you again this evening, plaze God!
Good-bye, Hughie, man, an’ a fair wun to your wee boat.”
“Good-day t’ye, boys! We’ll have a good passage, wi’ the help
“Good luck to yees! Ye’re all right wi’ the clargy aboard!”
And away we glided from the wild shore of Antrim into one of the
most dangerous channels in all the northern seas.
“Where Rathlin braves the surge that round her rolls,
With chalky bastions and basaltic moles,
Dwelt fair Blanaid, of poets’ song and theme,theme,
Fair as the maid of every poets’ dream;
Tinged was her check with health’s vermillion dye,
And joy and beauty frolicked in her eye;
For every youth her subtle charms she wove,
And bound in fetters of relentless love,
Till Ullin’s arms prevailed, and Conrigh’s blade
Had widowed Rathlin’s towers, and won the maid.”
AS our boat glided awa from the Ballycastle
shore into the dangerous channel called “Slunk nu marra,” or “The
hollow of the sea,” which divides it from the Isle of Rathlin, the
little crowd of town’s-folk, who had gathered upon the pier to see
her off, shouted farewells to their friends, the boatmen of the Old
Erin. “Good-bye, Archy!” “Good-bye, Hughie, dear!” “A fair
wind to yer wee boat, boys!” “A safe passage to ye, Hughie, darlin’!”
“Good mornin’ to yees, boys!” cried Hughie. “We’ll be with
yees again, safe and sound, this evening — plaze God! Sure,
we’re all right wi’ the clargy aboord. Good-bye!”
And away went the Old Erin into one of the most difficult channels
in all the northern seas. The sky was cloudless and the air
was cool, and there was a fresh breeze, though not exactly in our
favour. The tide had begun to run out at a tremendous rate
before we left the shore, so that we had to strike out considerably
to southward, so as to fetch Church Bay, in Rathlin, which is the
principal port or harbour of the island, and nearly opposite to
Ballycastle. The distance we had to go, including the circuit
made on account of the drift of the tide, was between nine and ten
miles. And we no sooner got clear of the shelter of the Irish
shore than the boatmen began to feel the extraordinary force of the
tide in this famous channel. Even in the calmest weather the
tides are so irregular, and set down the channel with such force
that the mariner’s dangers and difficulties are greatly increased in
coasting by the Isle of Rathlin, where he has everything to contend
with. An eminent writer says of this channel, “The channel
between Rathlin and the mainland has, it is said, a strong
resemblance to the Straits of Reggie, between Sicily and the coast
of Calabria, particularly in the indenting of its shores, the
velocity of its tides, and the vortices produced by
counter-currents. Like it, the water is frequently agitated
and thrown into ridges and whirlings by the violence of the current,
the particular direction of certain winds, and the irregular
conformation of the coasts.” I had heard something of this
before, but I had not thought much of it till this day, when we
crossed over to the island in the Old Erin.
Long before we reached mid-channel, we became sensible of the
tremendous run of the water, and the wind being opposite to the
tide, we met with a glorious tossing. The boatmen had a hard
time of it, and they began to tug close and silently at their oars,
but, for the rest of us, the day was so clear and beautiful, the
agitated sea was so grand, the breeze was so refreshing, and the
lively action of the boat, and all together, was so inspiriting that
we, — I mean we who were not tugging at the oars, — we all enjoyed
the thing very much, all of us except little Trick, the terrier, who
blinked, and shivered, and nuzzled close into the folds of my cloak
every time the spray flew over us. But, up to this time, all
the passengers were so delighted with the novel beauty of the scene
that nobody seemed to think anything of the tide and currents of the
channel, except the boatmen, who had begun to talk less, and work
harder and harder. We were on the water-path of the ancient
Dalraidic invaders, who peopled the isles and islands of Scotland
from the shores of Ulster.
The island had a striking appearance as we saw it from the channel.
It is about ﬁve miles long and one broad, and it is something like a
boot in shape, the toe pointing to the Irish shore, at Ballycastle,
the heel towards the Mull of Cantire, in Scotland, and the top to
the great western ocean. There the singular little historic
island stood shining in the sun before us, in the midst of a wild
and turbulent sea, and hemmed round by steep barriers of frowning
rock everywhere, except at Church Bay, the green harbour in front of
us, to which we were making the best of our way through the wild
waters of “Slunk na marra.”
Church Bay, in Rathlin, is a great sweeping semicircle. Taken
from the outermost points of its rocky wings, the landing-place is
almost four miles inward, and until we got within the shelter of
these wide-spread wings of the bay, the struggle of the boatmen with
the tide was very great, and they laboured and perspired in silence,
as if working for the bare life. Old Archy seemed as if he was
getting done up, and one of the passengers took a spell at the oars
to relieve him. The old man then went to the stern of the
boat, and lifting up a little loose board he showed us that the Old
Erin was leaky, and there was a considerable quantity of water in
her concealed by the boards under our feet. “There’s nothing
worse than that in her,” said he, as he began to bale it out with a
little rusty tin can. “It’ll make one man’s work difference,”
continued he, as he laded away with his little rusty can.
“It’ll make one man’s work difference when that gets out.”
The passengers now began to see more of the difﬁculty the boatmen
had to contend with, and two of them held out a large rug by way of
a sail, which helped the men a little, and then, a wild-eyed
islander on his way home to Rathlin, and seemingly lost in dreamy
thought, struck up a wailing Gaelic song, which he crooned as he
gazed across the wide sea, apparently unconscious of all that was
going on around, until my little dog, Trick, began to howl an
accompaniment, which set us all a-laughing. Even the boatmen,
in spite of their great exertions, began to be a little more lively.
Old Archy Weir was evidently looked upon by the little crew as their
skipper. He spoke to them with a tone of experience and
authority, and even Hughie MacKinley, who was part owner of the
boat, obeyed him like a child. “Come now, boys, dear,” cried
he, with big drops rolling down his weather-beaten face, “Come, now,
boys dear, tug the Old Erin out of this! Pull away now!
Hughie, faith yer not doin’ much; that oar o’ yours is goin’ in an’
out like a knife! Pull away, my bonny men! Jerk her out
o’ this! We’ll make Rathlin pier in good time yet — plaze God.
Come now, Hughie man, dear!” And old Hughie MacKinley seemed
to blush like a child reproved by his father, as he bent himself
silently to his oars with redoubled will.
There was one of the passengers, too, a Catholic clergyman, who did
no little to cheer and encourage the toiling boatmen. Indeed,
he kept us alive the whole way with an incessant flow of good
spirits and dry humour, which made the men laugh at their work, and
drew out all their mettle with a right good-will. His racy
geniality delighted everybody in the boat that day. He had
caught the names of the boatmen, and, taking up the tones of Old
Archy, the skipper, to the amusement of all on board, he cried,
“Come now, Hughie, my bonnie man, don’t be scatterin’ talk!
Faith, yer workin’ too much with yer tongue, and too little with yer
oars! Tug away, man alive, or we’ll be down wi’ the tide.
Pull away now, my brave fellows! Crush her along, boys!
Pull away now! Make her smoke! Come, Hughie, man, dear,
are ye dramin’ or schamin’? Don’t ye see they’re all dyin’
about ye. Now she’s awa!” He said this in broad Scottish
dialect. “Now, she’s awa! Pull away now, my lucky lads.
Faith, ye’re doing it rightly now!” and thus, with a kind of
dexterous geniality, he kept the struggling boatmen cheerily to
their work, and contributed no small pleasure to the novel charm of
the trip across the channel that day.
As soon as we got within the outer clip of the rocky headlands which
terminate the two great wings of Church Bay, we were out of the
strong drift of the tide, and the boatmen began to take it easy.
All anxiety was over, and everybody seemed to be in high spirits.
Even the little terrier, Trick, came out from the folds of my cloak,
and, with his fore-feet upon the edge of the boat, gazed with a
mixture of wonder and satisfaction at the island we were
approaching. The view of the bay, as we rowed slowly in that
bright forenoon, was very ﬁne. The shores which ﬂank the bay
are composed of steep crags, of dark basalt, relieved, here and
there, by bright limestone; and the play of light and shade upon the
beautiful hues of these rocks was exquisite.
At the head of the bay, too, the green lands of the island, which
are concealed all round by its rocky shores, began to show
charmingly-the sweet kernel of a rugged nut. Low down, by the
green shore, at the head of the bay, stands the episcopal church of
the island, from which the bay takes its name, “Church Bay,” and
near it is the residence of Mr. Gage, the rector, who is also sole
owner and magistrate of the island, and well known there, and to all
who visit the island, as a very kindly and hospitable gentleman.
As we drew near the rude landing-place, a little crowd of
brown-faced islanders was waiting to welcome us, and to help us
As soon as I got clear of the slippery landing-place, I stopped to
look about me, and the ﬁrst impression that struck me was that the
country, inland, had much the appearance of a bit of Cumberland, in
its cultivated parts. And this is the wild isle of Rathlin!
This is the historic nest in the sea, which has so often felt the
fury of Danish, English, and Hebridean arms. This is the spot
where St. Columba founded the famous monastery, which was desolated
and destroyed, again and again, by the piratical Dane. This is
the lonely isle to which the famous Robert Bruce ﬂed for shelter
from his foes when a heavy cloud lay upon his fortunes. Upon
the summit of a wild sea-washed crag, looking towards the Scottish
coast, stand the mouldering ruins of the fortress which afforded him
an asylum, and which still bear the name of the illustrious
fugitive. This is the spot where the Campbells destroyed all
the old women of the island by precipitation over the rocks, at a
point still known by the name of Sloc na Calleach.
The little dog, Trick, was wild with delight when he found himself
running about on land again after that tossing in the channel.
He had got safely through his ﬁrst sea-trip, and he frisked and
barked with furious glee around me, as I took my way towards Michael
McOuigh’s house, which is the only inn on all the isle of Rathlin.
“A sailor coorted a farmer’s daughter,
’Twas all contagious to sweet Rathlin’s Isle.”
“Be not afraid: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometimes voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again.”
AS our tired boatmen rowed slowly up to the
weedy landing-place, which was all slippery with green moisture, —
they were hailed again and again, by ﬁrst one, then another of their
friends amongst the little crowd of islanders who had come down to
the pier to meet the boat. Judging from their garb and general
appearance they were mostly sea-faring folk; and perhaps the risky
nature of the channel we had crossed had something to do with the
warmth of our welcome to land. Beside, strangers are rare in that
spot at any time, and are always received with great hospitality;
but, on this occasion, an unusual number of the inhabitants had
gathered about the shore to witness the extraordinary visitation
which had crossed “Slunk na Marra” to the consecration of the
new chapel in their lonely isle that day. And then — a bishop — a
bishop and his clergy had come over in the boats! It was a great day
for Rathlin, and no wonder that the little island was stirred to its
centre by such a rare event. I could see these weather-beaten
natives of Rathlin’s ocean nest ﬂuttering about in all directions;
some crowding the little weedy pier where we landed; some standing
in knots, here and there, upon the sea-washed rocks; and others
lounging upon the road which winds along the head of the bay — their
eyes all ﬁxed with an expression of gleeful curiosity upon the
passengers as they stepped ashore from the boat. Everybody was
uttering words of welcome, and everybody’s hand was held out to
steady our steps along the slippery pier. It was amusing to see the
terrier’s feet slide now and then, as he tried to run over the slimy
verdure. But as soon as we got clear of the weedy landing-place, the
little fellow was wild with delight to ﬁnd himself upon dry land
again after after his sea-trip that day. And so we got to the Isle
of Rathlin at last, and I began to look about me with curious eyes
to see what the place was like, of which I had heard so much. I did
not know a single soul in the place, but I found that there was a
little hostelry, kept by one Michael McOuig, about half-a-mile from
the landing-place. This was the only hostelry upon the island,
and I took the road thither, among a straggling party of ﬁshermen
and others who were going to the same place. As I got further
away from the shore, the cultivated lands of the interior began to
meet the eye, and I was surprised to ﬁnd that the island’s wild
girdle of frowning rock concealed so much verdant beauty.
And now, before I enter old Michael McOuig’s quaint hostelry, I will
say something about the island in general; and ﬁrst, of its
appearance from the sea.
Rathlin is so hemmed in by lofty head-lands and rocks of mixed
basalt and limestone — rich in colour and fantastic in form — that a
sail round it affords a constant succession of impressive pictures.
The whole of the coast-scenery of the island is remarkable for its
rocky wildness, but especially that part of it which is north-west
of “Bruce’s Castle” — where it is strikingly grand. The rocks
are not of very great height, but rising, as they do, almost
perpendicularly from the water, they look much loftier than they
really are. The line of the coast, too, is broken into wild
amphitheatres, the bases of which are composed of immense masses of
limestone, worn by the waves into all sorts of fantastic forms.
Above the limestone the grass and earth appear, and, still higher,
the dark basaltic rock.
In the rocky shores of the island there are numerous caves.
The ﬁnest of these is “Bruce’s Cave,” situate a little north-west of
the ruins of “Bruce’s Castle.” It rises at its entrance about
seventy feet, and it is about ﬁfty feet in depth. It is formed
of noble arches of sombre basalt resting in layers behind one
another. It faces the northern ocean, and the sea which sets
in on that part of the coast is tremendous.
Rathlin is about nine miles from Ballycastle, on the Irish coast.
It is rather more than six miles long, and about one mile in average
breadth, and it contains something more than two thousand plantation
acres of land. The inhabitants are employed in agriculture, ﬁshing,
and kelp-burning. They generally speak of Ireland as a foreign
kingdom — although only divided from it by nine miles of wild sea —
and they have very little communion with it, except what is
necessary for the small trade of the island. The form of
Rathlin has been compared — like Italy — to that of a boot, the toe
pointing to the coal-works of Ballycastle, the heel — where “Bruce’s
Castle” is situated — to Cantire, in Scotland, and the top to the
great western ocean. Towards the middle, which lies opposite
Ballycastle, it is bent in an angle — the instep of the boot — and
thus is formed “Church Bay,” the only good harbour in the island.
Sir William Petty says, that Rathlin resembles “an Irish stocking,
the toe of which pointeth to the mainland.”
The island contains several small mountains, the highest of which is
447 feet above the level of the sea, the lowest something less than
300 feet, and so precipitous are the cliffs which encircle the isle,
that “from the vicinity of ‘Bruce’s Castle,’ round the whole
northern shore, by the Bull Point to the church in Church Bay, the
lowest point is 180 feet above the level of the sea, and the mean
height may be said to be 300 feet.” The land in the valleys is
rich and well cultivated, and the western end of the island is the
most craggy and mountainous part, and its coast is quite destitute
of harbours. On the contrary, the soil of the instep end is
poor, the coast is more open, and is well supplied with little
harbours; hence the inhabitants of that part of Rathlin are
fishermen, “and are accustomed to make short voyages and to barter.”
At this end of the island there is also a lake of fresh water,
rather more than a mile in circumference, and 104 feet above the
level of the sea. At the opposite end there is another lake,
called “Cligan,” 238 feet above the level. In addition to
these lakes, the island is well supplied with springs of fresh water
— of which it contains more than thirty — the most remarkable of
which is situate about a quarter of a mile north-west of “Bruce’s
Castle.” The water of this well rises and falls with the tide,
although it is about 100 feet above the level of the sea.
Amongst the wild crags at the western end of the island, “a single
native is known to ﬁx his rope to a stake driven into the summit of
a precipice, and from thence, alone and unassisted, to swing down
the face of a rock in quest of the nests of sea-fowl.”
The inhabitants of the island have had so little intercourse with
strangers, that they retain many remarkable ancient peculiarities of
speech and manners, — many wild legends and isolated prejudices; and
the native Irish still continues to be a common language amongst
them. With respect to the geology of the island, I glean the
following particulars from the Transactions of the Irish Academy: —
“From the striking similarity existing between the Isle of Rathlin
and the adjoining continent, it is the general opinion that this
island had, at one period, formed part of the county of Antrim, from
which it has been separated by some violent convulsion of nature.”
Like the adjacent continent, its principal strata are limestone and
basalt. “Along the north-eastern coast of Ireland, for a space
of at least sixty miles, these strata everywhere present themselves,
— in one place the limestone rises to a considerable height above
the level of the sea, and in another gives place to the basalt.
On the range of cliffs running west-ward, and forming the northern
boundary of Church Bay in Rathlin, we see the limestone rising
abruptly from the ocean, and forming a line of coast fantastically
beautiful.” I was very much struck by the beautiful appearance
of these cliffs, as we entered the bay. “At some period of
time, Rathlin has been buried in the deep, and may have formerly
united Staffa and the Giant’s Causeway.”
The basaltic pillar formation of which the Causeway is the best
known example, shows itself in this island in many peculiar
arrangements. It seems that dense vapours sometimes accumulate
over the waters of the channel which divides Rathlin from Ireland;
land, “if the atmosphere be highly impregnated with these vapours,
and dense exhalations not previously dispersed by the action of the
winds or waves, or rariﬁed by the sun, it then happens that in this
vapour, as in a curtain extended along the channel for some height
above the sea, the extraordinary phenomena called the Fata Morgana
may be observed.” “A belief was formerly prevalent among the
inhabitants that a green island rises, every seventh year, out of
the sea, between Bangore and Rathlin. Many individuals, they
say, have distinctly seen it adorned with woods and lawns, and
crowded with people selling yarn, and engaged in the common
occupations of a fair. Could this have been the “Fata Morgana?”
And now, after this brief sketch of the physical features of the
island, for the particulars of which I am mainly indebted to the
“Transactions of the Irish Academy,” I will return to my own
personal experience whilst on the island.
After a leisurely walk from the landing-place, I came, with the
terrier at my heels, to the one hostelry on the island; and I found
it a little range of rude, low building, standing endways by the
road-side, with some rough out-housing about it for farming
purposes. The place was ﬁlled with weather-beaten islanders,
who had gathered from all parts to see the visitors from Ireland,
and to be present at the consecration; and, as each stranger
presented himself in that rough hostelry, he was received by the
company assembled there, — and especially by the landlord, — with a
natural politeness, and a warmth of welcome highly characteristic of
such a people in such a place.
Old Michael McOuig, the lame landlord, was unusually excited by the
rare event of that day. He seemed to give away far more drink
than he sold. He certainly did so in my case; and he would
have it so. But the time was drawing near for the consecration
of the chapel, and, as I wished to see the ceremony — especially
under these singular circumstances — I handed the terrier “Trick”
into the care of old Michael, and when I had seen him lock it up in
the stable, with many assurances that it would be quite safe there
till my return, I took my way, alone, towards the chapel, which
stood in a picturesque nook of the hill-side, overlooking Church
“This music crept by me upon the waters,
Alloying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air: thence I have followed it,
Or it hath drawn me rather. But ’tis gone.
No, it begins again.
What should this music be? i‘ the air or i‘ the earth?
It sounds no more! and sure it waits upon
Some god o’ the isle.”
FROM the time of the Reformation until the
year 1832, the Catholics of this little isle, which stands, “as
Neptune’s Park, ribbed and paled in with rocks unscalable and
roaring waters,” had worshipped God in a hollow on the mountain
side; and the bishops of the diocese administered conﬁrmation under
the shadow of a limestone cliff. In the year 1832, an old
deserted mill was procured, and there the Holy Sacriﬁce was offered
up until the day of which I am writing. It seems that, for
many years previous, this old mill — the dilapidated shelter of
Catholic worshippers in the isle of Rathlin, — had been sinking into
utter ruin, and therefore the pastor of the island, Father Michael
McCartan, “girding himself resolutely to the work — by his own
exertions, the sacriﬁces of his people, and the generosity of his
friends — had built one of the most beautiful little churches to be
found in the diocese of Down and Connor.
To consecrate this church, Dr. Dorrian, the bishop of the diocese,
accompanied by the Very Rev. Canon Keogh, of Ballybriggan, a large
number of other clergy, and some of the most respectable of the
Catholic laity of the contiguous parts of Ireland,” crossed the
waters on the day when it was my fortune ﬁrst to visit this singular
spot in their company, and, as the newspapers afterwards said, “The
religious functions and the appropriate ceremonies were carried out
in the most impressive and elaborate manner. High Mass was
chanted by the Reverend Felix Connolly, of Caledon, county Tyrone.
The psalms, litanies, &c., were sung in a most superior manner by
the Rev. Messrs. Macgill, of Saintﬁeld; McCartan, of Crossgar; and
Stewart, of Belfast. Canon Keogh acted as master of
ceremonies, and the dedication sermon was preached by the bishop.
And it was the dedication of this little church “to the worship of
God, under the invocation of Mary Immaculate,” of which I became
accidentally a witness that day. I had never seen the ceremony
before, and the chance of seeing it under such singular
circumstances, lent a double interest to the occasion in my mind.
The distance from Michael McOuig’s hostelry to the church was
something more than a mile; and when I had seen the old man lock the
stable-door upon “Trick,” I took my way thitherward, among a
straggling company of islanders who were all going in the same
direction. The road wound round the head of “Church Bay,” and,
as it approached the chapel, it rose steeply, affording a ﬁne view
of its craggy shores, and of the opposite coast of Ireland, where
the stupendous mass of Fair Head rose sheer from the waters, almost
perpendicularly, to a height of nearly six hundred feet. I
needed no guide to the church that day; there was a curious ﬂutter
of life along the whole of the road thither. I found the
church in a secluded nook, high up upon the hill-side; and I was
surprised to see such a numerous gathering of hardy, weather-beaten
people there, whose lives were spent in farming this singular
island, and ﬁshing in the wild waters that lash its craggy shores.
There were nearly two hundred people present — which is a large part
of the entire population of the island — and, though bent age and
poverty were visible here and there, amongst the number, there was
nothing like tatters nor squalor to be seen.
I had bought a
ticket of admission, in Ballycastle, before starting.
Delivering this at the door, I entered the church, took my seat a
few minutes before the ceremony began; feeling a little awkward and
out of place, on account of my ignorance of the observances of the
service, which made me look singular, as well as feel so. In
addition to this, I was an entire stranger in Rathlin, and I
imagined that this gave rise to curious speculations as to what
brought a person wholly unknown, and a Protestant, across the water,
to the consecration of the little Catholic Church in Rathlin that
The place was crowded when the service began; and the wrapt
earnestness of that simple congregation of island-folk was very
remarkable. There was something very impressive in the whole
of the service, even though it lacked the powerful aid which music
lends to the ceremonials of the Catholic Church. Perhaps the
most striking part of the ceremony, to my mind, was the procession
of the bishop and his clergy, in their robes, around the outside of
the church, chanting.
When the consecration was over, the principal part of the
congregation began to straggle off homeward, over the hill, in
different directions. A few lingered about the place, absorbed
in admiration of the building, which was evidently invested with a
new interest to them, after the impressive ceremonial they had just
witnessed. No inconsiderable number of the congregation,
however, wended their way from the spot, straight towards the
hostelry whither I was going.
It was a great day for old Michael, the landlord. His stabling
was crowded with shaggy ponies; and every room of the house swarmed
with people from all parts of the island. He was in a state of
extraordinary excitement; for many old friends, from remote nooks,
were there that day; and, as he went limping in and out, with the
perspiration glittering on his brown face, he seized ﬁrst one and
then another, saying, “Come here, now! Take a half-un wi’ me
now! Here, Jemmy Dhu M‘Curdy! Come here, now, Jemmy Beg
M‘Curdy! Angus Roe M‘Curdy, come you! Let’s take half-uns
a-piece, now!” There were several strangers to the island
there, too, that day; and, with characteristic hospitality, the old
man — indeed, everybody in the place — paid no small kindly
attention; of which I came in for my share. Michael’s wife had
recently made him a present of a thumping young islander. A
few of his friends and relatives were holding the christening feast
in the bedroom where she lay; and nothing would serve but I must go
in, and drink to the health of his wife and child, which I did.
After this, he went with me to the stable, to let the dog out; but,
to my dismay, I found that the door had been opened, and the dog was
gone. He immediately began to stump about the house in great
trepidation, dispatching scouts in search of the dog; and boatmen,
and ﬁshers sallied forth; and seeing that I was a little concerned
about the matter, they, one and all, assured me that the dog should
not be lost.
In about half-an-hour, old Michael came in with “Trick” in his arms;
and, as he set the dog down, he said, “Oh, see now, sur; if the
little fellow had been left, by my soul, I would have sent it after
you, rightly! Faith, I know the man that owns it, — I know
your landlord! I knew his father, well. He was a bonny
man! An’, by my soul, I would do anything in the wide world to
plaze a son of his, — aye, faith, or a dog of his! Give us
your hand, sur! Didn’t I tell you we’d ﬁnd the dog? Come
on, here, now; an’ take a half-un wi’ me!”
It was a singular scene in the interior of that island hostelry,
“with ground for the ﬂoor.” Fish and beef hung about the
chimney, drying; large hanks of home-spun yarn hung against the
walls; and on a rude shelf in the corner, there was a number of
home-made candles, with wicks of the pith of rushes.
As the day advanced “the fun grew fast and furious.” In one
corner a company of wild-eyed islanders were singing Gaelic songs;
in another three or four ﬁshermen were “discoorsin’ on things
consarnin’ the ocean wide,” but the principal topic of conversation
amongst that curious company was the visit of “the clargy,” and the
consecration which had taken place that day. As the time for
our return drew near, the boatmen went out to see the state of the
tide, returning soon after with the news that we should not be able
to leave the island until about nine o’clock next morning; and,
after I had arranged with old Michael for a bed in the house, I went
out, in the cool of the evening, to visit the ruins of Bruce’s
Castle, about two miles off.
Bruce’s Castle is now the principal relic of antiquity upon the isle
of Rathlin. According to tradition, this ancient fortress, so
long associated with the name and fortunes of Scotland’s royal hero,
was ﬁrst built by the Danes, who ruled the inhabitants of the island
with great tyranny, until they effected their deliverance in the
following manner: — Being compelled by their ﬁerce conquerors to
furnish straw, fuel, and other necessaries for the use of the
castle, they were, at last, so goaded by the cruelty of their
oppressors, that they contrived to conceal in each creel, a
native of the island, armed with a skein, or dagger — who,
during the night, issued from their hiding-places, and killed the
guard; and, having admitted the enraged inhabitants from without,
they put the whole of the garrison to the sword. And thus,
according to tradition, ended the ruthless domination of the Danes
in the isle of Rathlin.
On a beach near the ruin there is a remarkable natural cavern,
called “Bruce’s Cave,” which oral history points out as a place of
retreat used by the Scottish king. And, in the gloomy recesses
of the same cavern, in the year 1797, every male adult in Rathlin,
except the parish priest and one other gentleman, took the test of a
Adjoining this cavern there is a small haven, called “Port na
Sassanach;” and near the same place, a ﬁeld of battle is pointed
out, called “The Englishmen’s Graves.” This battle is said to
have been fought in 1551-2, when an English army landed here, and
was totally routed by the McDonnell’s. During his exile in the
isle of Rathlin, Robert Bruce was accompanied by several of his
principal adherents, amongst whom were Sir Robert Boyd, Sir James
Douglas, commonly called “Sir James the Good,” and Angus McDonnell,
sixth king of the Isles, — of whose dominion Rathlin was then
reckoned a part.
“Early in the spring of 1307, Angus McDonnell returned from Rathlin
to Kintire, in Scotland, to circulate a report of the death of
Bruce, and also to draw secretly together a body of troops, ready to
act, when occasion might require, on behalf of his illustrious
friend. Soon after that Sir James Douglas, and Sir Robert
Boyd, also, took leave of Bruce, and departed for Arran, where they
effected their landing in safety. Ten days after, they were
followed by Bruce, who, receiving by his spies, favourable
intelligence from the mainland, landed at Turnberry, in Carrick,
and, with three hundred followers, cut to pieces a body of English
quartered in that neighbourhood. However, soon after, succours
arriving to his enemies, he was obliged to seek shelter in the wilds
of Carrick, the patrimonial country of his family.”
Such is the story history tells of the connection of Scotland’s
heroic monarch with the Isle of Rathlin, to which he ﬂed during the
civil wars which devastated that kingdom after the appointment of
Baliol to the throne by Edward of England. The ruins of the
castle which bears his name, stand on the summit of a bold headland,
at the extreme eastern part of the island, immediately fronting
Cantire, in Scotland. The height of the rock upon which the
ruins stand is about eighty feet. It rises perpendicularly
from the water, which makes its height seem much greater; and, about
ﬁfty feet from its eastern extremity, a gloomy chasm traverses the
ground, almost insulating the huge mass upon which the outer part of
the fortress was situated. Upon the rock itself all that is
left of the ancient fortress now is a massive fragment of the walls,
of great thickness; but, about one hundred feet on the western side
of the chasm which divides the rock from the mainland of Rathlin,
the remains of another part of the building are still visible, which
show that the castle has been of much greater extent than the walls
now standing upon the rock itself would suggest. It is a
singularly wild scene; and the mouldering walls of the fortress
deepen the desolation around. The cry of the sea-mew, the
dismal croak of the cormorant, and the lonely roar of the sea in the
dark chasm below the ruin, were the only sounds which broke the
The shades of night were sinking on land and sea, when, after a
rugged walk, I stood upon the narrow neck which connects the rock
with the mainland, gazing upon the ruined walls of the fortress
which once sheltered Scotland’s famous exiled king.
“At the silence of twilight’s contemplative hour,
I have mused in a sorrowful mood,
On the wind-shaken weeds that embosom the bower,
Where the home of my forefathers stood;
All ruined and wild is their roofless abode,
And lonely the dark raven’s sheltering tree;
And travelled by few is the grass-covered road,
Where the hunter of deer and the warrior trode,
To his hills that encircle the sea.”
HERE, then, upon the summit of this savage
crag, lashed by the waves of the Atlantic, stand the ruins of the
ancient Danish fortress, which once sheltered Scotland’s royal hero
from his enemies. Here, in this wild nook of Rathlin’s Isle,
accompanied by a few faithful friends, did the patriot monarch
patiently bide his time till the cloud which lay upon his fortunes
had passed away. It is a scene of gloomy desolation now.
The raven, the cormorant, the wild sea-mew, and the roaring ocean
have it all to themselves. And there, low down by the beach,
on the right hand of the ruins, is the dark cave, still associated
with the name of the royal exile.
Near that cave too, is “Port na Sassanach,” — the landing-place of
the English who fell beneath the swords of the McDonnells, in 1551,
and were buried near the same spot, in a place still pointed out as
“The grave of the English.” There was something singularly
impressive in the appearance of the scene, as I looked around from
the summit of that wild rock, in the twilight. On the east,
divided from the island by the narrow channel, called “Slunk na
marra,” lay the Irish shore, with the gloomy mass of “Fairhead”
rising, steeply, 600 feet from the sea. On the west, the coast
of Cantire lay in sight; and the hills of Scotland loomed grandly in
the twilight sky, — those blue hills towards which the Scottish king
has often gazed with thoughtful eye and throbbing heart, during his
exile in this lonely sea-nest.
I had found it a rough walk from old Michael’s up to “Bruce’s
Castle,” though the distance was only two miles and a half.
When I came to the mountain land which leads up to the ruins, the
way grew wilder at every step, and I scrambled among wandering
footpaths — tangled and rocky, and sometimes scarcely perceptible to
the eye — mere sheep-tracks, winding erratically about the uneven
I had some difficulty in ﬁnding my way, and I made many a tedious
detour. But, as I ﬂoundered along, I chanced to spy a little
farmhouse in a sheltered nook of the mountain side, and, making as
straight as I could to the spot, I there inquired for the path.
The mistress of the house came to the door of her rude sheiling, —
for though it was evidently a farmhouse, it was only a small,
thatched building of one storey, and of the simplest construction, —
she came to the door, and, pointing out the shortest route, she gave
me the best directions she could, in a kind of Scottish dialect,
which is the ordinary language of these islanders, except when
speaking to one another, when they commonly use the Gaelic tongue.
Day was fast declining, so I lost no time in striking up the
hillside again, in the direction she had indicated. I had not
gone far before I became aware of the presence of a barefooted lad,
who was hovering in a playful way in the rearward of my track.
This was the farmer’s son, whom his mother had kindly sent to take
care that I did not lose my way. I called to him, and the
little fellow smiled, but he still kept shyly in the rearward, yet
always within sight.
I made my way up to the ruins without further guidance, and I had
lingered about the spot till I had almost forgot that the lad was in
the neighbourhood; and, when I turned to leave the place the shades
of night had so shrouded the landscape that I was glad to be able to
summon him to my assistance. The little fellow evidently knew
that this would be the case, for he came to my call at once; and
though I could scarcely get an intelligible word from him, he
immediately took the way before me down the hillside, which was so
tortuous, so broken, and so obscured by the deepening gloom that he
had to lead me by the hand. At last we saw a glimmering light
in a dark hollow below, and the lad led me by a winding footpath
down into a sheltered dell, in which stood the little farmstead from
which he had followed me up to the ruins.
The lad’s mother had heard our approach, and she met us at the door,
kindly inviting me to enter. The islander’s little family was
all gathered about their homely hearth, upon which there was a
bright turf ﬁre, ﬁlling all the room, from the earthen ﬂoor to the
ceiling, with a cheerful glow. In front of the ﬁre oaten cakes
were reared on edge, baking; and over it, hung a large pan
containing oatmeal porridge. There was a general murmur of
welcome when I entered the place; and they all made way for me to
take the best seat by the ﬁre, and not one of them would sit down
till I had taken it.
The inmates consisted of the father, — a tall, gray-haired man, of
hard, weather-beaten appearance; the mother, — a kindly-looking,
sonsie body, about ﬁfty years of age; the eldest son, — a
square-built, dark-eyed young fellow, about twenty-ﬁve; a strapping,
bare-legged lass, about eighteen — their only daughter — and the lad
who had been my guide. The mother whispered to her daughter,
and then the girl brought me a bowl of new milk, which she set down
upon a stool by my side. As soon as all were comfortably
seated again — except the daughter, who stood shyly in the
background looking on — the mother began to stir the oatmeal
porridge, stopping now and then to turn the cakes in front of the
ﬁre, meanwhile saying a few words in Gaelic, by ﬁts, to my little
bare-legged guide, who answered her timidly in the same tongue.
The furniture was of the simplest kind, but it was clean, and seemed
sufficient, and quite in harmony with the general character of the
place. A rude delf-rack, well ﬁlled with the clean
earthenware, occupied one side of the wall, close by the little
window which lighted the room. Beneath the rack stood a rough,
unpainted, substantial deal table, upon which bowls of milk were
set, ready for the supper. Two well-worn oak chairs — which
looked like heir-looms — mended and stayed, here and there, to keep
them together, stood, one on each side of the ﬁre. There was a
rude bench, about ﬁve feet in length, and three low stools, all well
polished by long usage. In one corner there was an ancient
spinning-wheel; in another, a few farming tools were reared; and
against the wall hung nets and other ﬁshing tackle.
The land at this end of the island is so poor that the farmers are
almost all ﬁshermen. Among the open rafters — which were quite
black with smoke — I could see, by the ﬁre-light, rude staves and
other lumber stowed away.
After half-an-hour’s chat with the hospitable old couple, I got up
to go. The farmer’s eldest son rose from his seat also, and,
after saying a few words in Gaelic to his father, he offered to
accompany me as far as McOuig’s, for which I was thankful, the
distance between us and the high road being still rough and almost
trackless, and the night being, by this time, “as dark as a fox’s
mouth,” although a patch of sky, here and there, was clear and
starry. Few words passed between us, as we went our lonely way
that night, and the distant moan of the sea on Rathlin’s rocky shore
came wild upon the ear.
Old Michael’s hostelry was more crowded than before I left; and, by
this time, it had become a scene of most bewildering excitement.
The crews of the two boats were there; and many people from distant
parts of the island had lingered amongst the strangers who had
crossed the water that day; and the majority of that singular
company seemed quite triumphant over the ills of life — for that
night. It was “a red-letter day” with the islanders of
Rathlin. Many of them were ﬁshermen; and they had all, more or
less of a sea-look about them. Their hospitality to the
strangers present was unbounded. I stayed inside awhile
listening to talk that was only half intelligible to me — and to
sounds of revelry that “made the girdle ring,” and then, I went
forth, to shake the din out of my ears, and to breathe a fresher
It was, now, a ﬁne night; and the sky was cloudless. Under the
window, outside — and upon the hedge-side opposite, I found several
of the islanders — for whom there was no room inside — carousing in
the starlight. Some of them were considering where they were
to sleep during the night — for the house was full; and the
out-houses were already partly occupied by somnolent wassailers —
but most of them seemed utterly careless about their quarters, if
they could only get more drink.
It was nearly midnight when old Michael showed me into the room, on
the ground ﬂoor, in which he had reserved a bed for me. This
room was next the one in which the main body of the company were
still lingering at their cups. It was partly a bedroom and
partly a storeroom; and it had evidently been used as a
drinking-room that day. Pots and glasses stood here and there;
and rings of whisky were still visible upon the one little table.
It had a damp and dingy appearance; and the ﬂoor was the bare earth.
There were two beds in the room, ranging end to end, along one side
of the walls. In one of them, a drunken ﬁsherman had
already taken up his quarters — and was snoring with might and main.
I crept into the other bed; but, tired as I was, sleep was out of
the question. “Nature’s soft nurse” would not “weigh mine
eyelids down, and steep my senses in forgetfulness;” and I lay awake
through half the night, thinking over all I had seen during the day;
and listening to boatmen and ﬁshers, crooning Gaelic wails, in the
About two hours after I retired, the drunken ﬁsher in the other bed
was joined by another — in the same condition. He came
muttering into the room, in the dark; and, as he groped his way
towards his comrade’s nest, he chanced to lay hold of the unhinged
door of an old wardrobe, which came clattering to the ground, with a
terrible din. About four in the morning, when the noise in the
adjoining room had died out, I heard somebody shaking at the door of
that room, and beseeching old Michael to let him in. This went
on for some time; but, the houseless wretch, getting no reply to the
din with which he had been “making night hideous,” he went away;
and, for a little while all was still. After this, I sank into
a kind of half-conscious dose; from which, however, I was soon
startled again. The room was lighted by one window — which was
opposite to my bed. I was awakened by some one lifting up the
lower half of this window, from the outside, and then, the dark ﬁgure
of a man, pushing himself through, intervened between me and the
dawn, which had just begun to tinge the room with a faint grey
light. “Hello!” said I; “who’s there?” and, in an instant, the
ﬁgure drew back; and down went the window again—with a clash.
This, no doubt, was the same man who had been trying to get in at
the front door. After this, I slept a broken sleep, for about
two hours; and then turned out — as the household were beginning to
stir. As I stood dressing myself in that rude chamber, the
glimpse of the island, through the window, at sunrise, was
The moment the house-door was opened lounging islanders began to
creep out of the strange corners in which they had passed the night.
Some came from the out-houses; some from the ﬁelds; and some
gathered up their limbs from wood benches, and shook themselves.
Come from where they would they all seemed ready for their
“morning,” — as they call the ﬁrst dram of the day. Old
Michael was early astir, and he did not seem much soberer for his
night’s rest; and his ﬁrst cry to the strangers in the house was, as
before, “Just take a half-un wi’ me, now!” The crew of “The
Old Erin” began to muster about seven in the morning, in the room
where I had slept, where we breakfasted together on tea, ship
biscuits, sweet island butter, and hard boiled eggs.
When I had ﬁnished breakfast it still wanted an hour and a half to
our starting-time; so I turned to look at the island. It was a
glorious morning! Several of the Catholic clergymen, attendant
on the bishop, were wandering about; and, in a quiet part of the
road, I saw the bishop himself, pacing contemplatively to and fro,
with an open book in his hand, apart from his clergy, — who seemed
to hold themselves reverently aloof from their pastor, in his
“Isle of beauty, fare thee well!”—BAYLEY.
OLD Michael’s hostelry had no sign or
distinguishing cognizance whatever, so far as I can remember; and,
indeed, it needed none, being the only place of public entertainment
upon the island. As the time of our departure was drawing
near, I went into a rude kind of “bar,” from which Michael was
dispensing “heather broth” to the thirsty islanders who had
straggled in to get their “morning.” They came from all sorts
of nooks and corners, in and outside of the house; and some of them
had a foggy look, and seemed inclined to make a second day’s holiday
of it. Michael was in the same state of whisky and
good-natured glee as on the night before. Indeed, it seemed to
be a kind of half-chronic condition with him. I asked him what
I had to pay. “Hut, tut, man,” said the hospitable old fellow,
as he shook hands with me, “Hut, tut, man; never name it mair!
Bi my saul, man, but I’m right glad to see ye under the roof!
But, what the deil, ye’ve had naething! Haud your tongue, now;
an’ jist tak’ aff a roozer wi’ me, — bi’ way o’ deochen durrish!
Pay, is it? Hut, man, alive, — what, we’re no to a bite an’ a
sup! Deil’s be in it,—an’ you a stranger, too! Houts, —
pay, — no, faith! The best thing ye can do is jist to lave the
island without sayin’ anither word about the matter,—especially to
the wife, yon! Come here, now! Here’s wishing ye a safe
passage across the channel! an’ bright good luck to ye, wherever ye
go! Give us your han’, now! and, by my saul, I don’t care how
soon ye gie us anither ca’ at this poor house in the Isle of
Several of the islanders present, I had met on the previous night,
and, as they shook me by the hand, ﬁrst one and then another pressed
me to take a “half-un,” before I came away.
It was a lovely morning. The sky was cloudless; and a
refreshing sea-breeze swept across the island from the north-west.
The highway, which passes the end of the little inn, commands a fair
view of a large tract of cultivated land, in the interior; and, for
an hour and a half I paced to and fro, upon that elevated path,
delighted with the scene, and regretting that my brief stay did not
afford a wider and more delicate acquaintance with the singular
“qualities of the isle,” and with the life upon it, which is so
strongly imbued with the peculiarities of a strange insulation.
There were no trees visible in all the landscape; but that inland
tract of the island looked beautiful in the morning sun; and, as I
have said before, it reminded me of some of the level and cultivated
parts of Cumberland.
And now, before I take leave of the place, I will give another
glance at its general physical features, and at its traditions.
The quality of the soil, taken all together, is very good; and the
crops are often above the average. The potato grows well
there; and the pasturage ground is extensive, in proportion to the
area of the isle. Whilst sailing along the base of the cliffs
in Church Bay, little plots of healthy-looking potato are visible,
here and there, among the masses of rock which have fallen from the
precipices. These plots of vegetable growth — relieving the
wild crags with verdant beauty — are often in places which seem — to
the eye of a stranger — almost inaccessible.
The climate of Rathlin is little different to that of the mainland;
except that, in winter, there is less snow upon the island, and the
weather is generally milder there than upon the mainland.
Fogs, however, are very prevalent in Rathlin, especially in spring
and autumn; and — as is the case in “Mona, the lone where the silver
mist gathers” — these fogs are sometimes so dense as to render the
island completely invisible, even at a very short distance.
Hence vessels were often exposed to great danger in approaching this
rocky isle, before the two lighthouses were erected upon it; and
shipwrecks, from which none survived to tell the tale, frequently
took place upon its wild shores.
Rathlin is rich in historic traditions — even apart from the
romantic story of Bruce’s connection with the isle. To some of these
traditions I have already alluded. About the beginning of the
ﬁfth century, St. Comgall landed in Rathlin, but was seized and
driven out of the island. After him, St. Columba, the famous
missionary — “after being tossed for three hours upon the whirlpool
called Cluag-na-muire” — landed in Rathlin, and founded a
religious house there, which ﬂourished for nearly three centuries,
in peace, until the end of the eighth century, when (as Dr. Hamilton
says) “the northern storm, ﬁlling at once the whole horizon, and
bursting impetuously from the ocean, overwhelmed the island, burying
in blind and brutal destruction the inoffensive ministers of the
Christian religion.” In 790, the monastery, established by St.
Columba, was ravaged by the Danes; and it was again ravaged and
ruined by these ﬁerce pirates in 973, when they put the Abbot to
In times past, the vicinity of Rathlin to Ireland rendering it an
important ground of occupation for an invading army, it became the
scene of ﬁerce contention between the inhabitants of the opposite
coasts of Ireland and Scotland. The memory of a dreadful
massacre, perpetrated by the Campbells, a Highland clan, is still
preserved; and a place called Sloc-na-Colleach perpetuates a
tradition of the destruction of all the old women on the island, by
precipitation over the rocks. Dr. Hamilton says, “The
remembrance of this horrid deed remains so strongly impressed on the
minds of the inhabitants, that no person of the name of Campbell is
allowed to settle on the island.” The following passage, from
“The Annals of the Four Masters,” relates to the battle already
mentioned, in which the English invaders, in the sixteenth century,
were utterly destroyed, and who were all “in one red burial blent,"
at the spot still known as “The grave of the English,” near the
ruins of “Bruce’s Castle:” —
“In 1551, the Lord Chief justice (Anthony Saint Leger) marched at
the head of an army into Ulster, and dispatched the crews of four
ships to the island of Rathlin to plunder it. James and Colla,
the two sons of MacDonnell, of Scotland, were on the island to
defend it. A battle ensued, which ended in the total defeat of
the English, not one of whom survived, excepting the lieutenant who
commanded them on this excursion.”
In 1558, the Scots took possession of the island, but were soon
expelled, with dreadful slaughter, by the Lord Deputy Sussex, who
seized upon it for the English Crown. In 1575, General Morris
landed here with a body of men from Carrickfergus, and, having
killed 240 of the inhabitants, seized the Castle.
In consequence of successive barbarities committed upon the
inhabitants by various savage invaders during the unsettled ages of
Ireland, this island became at length totally uninhabited, in which
state it is represented in a manuscript of the country so late as
1580, now in the hands of the MacDonnells; and it is further stated
that some Highlanders, who ﬂed to it for safety during that period,
were forced to feed on colt’s ﬂesh for want of other provisions.
Such, brieﬂy told, is the wild story of Rathlin’s isle, in the days
of the iron hand.
A few minutes before nine o’clock, which was the time appointed for
the departure of the boats, I walked down to the little pier at the
head of Church Bay, followed by my little terrier. The
passengers were nearly all mustered at the landing-place, for, I
fancy, that most of them were afraid of being left upon the island.
They came trickling down to the pier in twos and threes. The
boat, containing the bishop and the principal part of the clergy,
pushed off, and the Old Erin was only waiting for the return of one
man, who had run back to old Michael’s for a forgotten umbrella.
Our passengers were the same as before, with the addition of two
young women of the island, who were going over to Ballycastle.
Our boatmen had purchased a number of ﬁsh upon the island, and they
lay in the bottom of the boat. We were all ready for starting,
except the man who had run back to the inn for his umbrella, and as
soon as he came in sight, panting on his hurried way, old Archy
cried out, “Now, gentlemen, we’re a little late, and the tide is
running very strong. But we’ll get across yet, wi’ the help o’
In two or three minutes more, the man for whom we had been waiting
was seated in the stern of the boat, pufﬁng fearfully, and wiping
his moist forehead, as the Old Erin pushed off from shore. The
boatmen stretched to their oars, as if conscious there was no time
to lose. The little church and the rectory, with its garden
and plantation, lessened behind us, and the beautiful crags of
Church Bay glided swiftly by. The boat containing the bishop
and the principal part of the clergy had pushed off before us, and
was now considerably ahead. As we drew near the open channel,
the immense force of the tide became visible to everybody in the
boat, and the rowers bent to their work with a will. “Pull
now, boys! Pull Hughie! Pull Archy!”
We were now about four miles from the head of Church Bay, and every
boats’ length brought us further into the tremendous pull of the
stream. The men were struggling with might and main. At
last, old Archy cried, “It’s no use, boys! We may as well turn
back soon as late; and far better. We cannot do it.”
Just then, the boat ahead of us, which was better manned than ours,
turned back, and making towards us they made signals, they cried
out, “Turn back! Turn back! Make for Ushat!” Ushat
was a rude ﬁshing port near the north-east end of the island, and
much nearer the spot where we then were than the head of Church Bay
was. Our boatmen turned back at once, and, keeping in shore as
much as possible to avoid the run of the stream, they struck up
towards Ushat, in the teeth of the tide, and amongst masses of ﬂoating
wreck and weedy sunken rocks, which increased the danger
considerably. It became necessary to keep a sharp look-out
Nothing was heard in the boat now, but the voice of the man at the
bow, “Keep her off, boys! Keep her off! In again!
Now, pull! Keep her off! Keep her off — quick!
Pull now, my bonny men! Pull for your lives, or we shall be
carried out again!” And they did pull. “Now, We have
it, boys!" said old Archy, with the perspiration running down his
face. “Now we have it, — wi’ the help o’ God! Now she
goes!” And so, by dint of great exertion, our boatmen made the
little port of Ushat, at last. Old Archy told us that we
should have to stop there two hours till the tide slackened, and so
we all went ashore, clambering over weed-covered rocks, from which
we slipped into the water now and then.
It was a wild and barren scene. There was nothing in sight
upon the Ushat shore, but weedy sea-worn rocks, and the little bleak
hills which shut out the landward scene. But, on the opposite
side of the channel, the Irish shore was in full view, in all its
wild beauty; with the grand mass of Fairhead rising sheer from the
waters; and the round. top of Knocklade overlooking all the landward
scene. The crews and passengers of the two boats now began to
squander, — some to gather limpets, and eat them; some to bathe in
retired nooks amongst the rocks; others to wander about the bleak
hill side. Old Archy announced to the passengers that there was a
“dwell-house” a little way from the landing-place. It was the only
building of the kind at Ushat; and it certainly was a poor rude hut
of a place, where all we could get was a drink of water. There was a
lad in the house who had a tame hawk and a sea urchin, which he
wanted to sell to some of the passengers. The priest of the island,
seeing the boats turn back, had walked over the hills to meet his
friends again. The two hours sped by, even in that wild nook of
Rathlin’s Isle, and the boats put to sea once more; the best boat,
with the bishop on board, leading the way, as before.
As soon as our boat got well off the shore, the sail was hoisted,
and we struck out to the north-west, so as to get back with the run
of the tide, along the Irish shore, to Ballycastle. But the
sail was soon taken down again, and the boatmen had to struggle once
more with the ﬁerce tug of the tide. The Catholic clergyman,
who had so much cheered their labours with his humorous geniality,
as we crossed over to the island, now began to enliven them with the
same strain. “Now, my bonny men!” cried he, “come Hughie, now!
Crush her along, my lucky lads! Switch her through it!”
Then one of the oar-pins broke, and old Hughie, half-despairing,
said he shouldn’t wonder if we had to pass the night on Rathlin
again, yet. Two of the clergymen stripped their coats, and
took a spell at the oar, to relieve the boatmen. The sky
became overcast, and the wind rose amongst us, and there was a
terrible struggle to make a point below Ballycastle, so as to pull
back to the pier, under shelter of the shore, through comparatively
The other boat landed two hours before; and, having seen our
difficulty, they came out to tow us in. But the boatmen of
“The Old Erin” had fought so near home, that they were determined to
ﬁnish the trip without assistance; and we landed, all safe, at
Ballycastle pier, about ﬁve o’clock in the afternoon. I stayed
in Ballycastle about three hours; after which I had a glorious ride
of eighteen miles to Portrush, by the light of the moon. And
thus ended my trip to the Isle of Rathlin.
FROM THE COAST OF ANTRIM.
I. — PORTRUSH.
“Come unto these yellow sands,
Then, take hands;
Curt’sied, when you have, and kist,
The wild waves wist."
HERE I am — a poor, city-bewildered sinner,
and not wholly unconnected with publicans; here I am, in “The Isle
of Saints,” at last — the “Emerald Gem,” whose brilliance gave light
to all the Western world of antiquity. I sometimes wonder what
sort of place it was when it deserved the name of “The Isle of
Saints;” for, — but never mind. It is a delightful country,
and I feel as if I could like to stop in it a good deal, and go away
from it very little. Oh, Erin! the green and the
bland — so beautiful and so sad!
What wonder is it that thy warm-hearted children should love their
own sea-beaten isle so well! Here I am, — after the usual
steam-boat and railway experiences; — wandering by the shore of the
many-sounding sea, in search of a little renovation. And,
certainly, if a charming country, rich in the associations of a long
and eventful history — if fresh Atlantic breezes — if twenty miles
of grand fantastic sea-worn rocks and headlands, and long stretches
of smooth beach, as beautiful as mottled marble — if easily
accessible solitudes, where berries of the brightest red peep
through verdure of the richest green — if these, with the music of
the wild ocean for ever singing in the ear, and with just enough of
a racy tone of bathing-place life to give a ﬁllip to the quietness
around — if these can do anything to restore the spirits of a tired
citizen, “the heart that is humble,” as the song says, “may hope for
it here,” — on the coast of Antrim.
But, I had better tell you, exactly, where I am, without any
wearisome preamble about how I got here. Well, then, my
resting place, after the usual small perils on land, and perils on
water, is the little bathing-town of Portrush, far away in what
southern Irishmen sometimes call “The Black North.” It is a
very interesting spot to me — this little Portrush. I like its
remoteness and comparative quietude; I like the novelty and quaint ﬂavour
of its life during the summer season, for it hibernates in winter; I
like its life; — of which there is quite as much as a body can
handle and understand, without being either bewildered or swallowed
up by it.
There are great differences in bathing-places; and those in which
one can bathe both in saltwater and in quietness at the same time,
have the greatest charm for me. The Lancashire people seem to
go to Blackpool quite as much for change of drink as for change of
air. They continue their city habits; they meet the same
familiar city faces; and they devote even more time than usual to
billiards and bacchanalian sacriﬁces with “jolly companions,” who
have as much leisure as themselves; and when they return home a
little more scorched by the sun and the salt sea-breeze, and a great
deal more inﬂamed in the vitals, they wonder how it is that they ﬁnd
themselves rather worse than better for the change. The fact
is that Blackpool is just Manchester over again, with a little
saltwater, a little sand, and a great deal of snobbishness added to
it. Blackpool is a salted epitome of Manchester; — with its
best clothes and its worst manners on. There is too much of
the old hurry-scurry; too much of a weltering swarm of familiar
pleasure-seekers, — all tumbling over one another in pursuit of
happiness, and dragging one another into all sorts of devilment.
It is not quiet enough, — not remote enough, — not different enough
in tone, — at least for anybody whose nerves need peaceful
restoration. In Portrush, a man has, at least, a chance of
being as quiet as he wishes to be. These northern Irish, too,
are a staid, church-going race, endowed with many excellent solid
qualities, as the state of the country shows. They are, as an
old Lancashire man might say — “A lot o’ nice level lads;” and, in
spite of their famous whisky, there is less drinking amongst them,
in proportion to population, than in Lancashire.
Portrush itself is a little wind-swept town, occupying a rocky nose
of land, about ﬁve miles north of Coleraine. The wild Atlantic
sings to it, night and day; for, in any part of the town, you are
not many yards from the sea; and, if either wind or wave be
stirring, you can scarcely help both seeing it and hearing it, —
aye, and feeling it too, sometimes. It is on the high road to
the Giant’s Causeway; and, therefore, it sees many strange birds of
passage, from all parts of the earth. On each side of the town
there is a strand. The “Long Strand,” on the north side of the
promontory, is a smooth, curving beach, nearly two miles long;
ending in great piles of limestone crag, known as “The White Rocks.”
There is a peculiar sweetness in the song of the surge along this
strand. The strand on the other side of the town is more
pent-in by the rocky shore, and less frequented, but nevertheless, a
pleasantly-retired wandering-ground, commanding a ﬁne view of the
wild mountains of Donegal.
The harbour looks a pretty little sea-nest, from this side, with its
half-dozen craft, rocking idly in the wind. Glasgow steamers call
here; and steamers from the Hebrides; and, sometimes, strange
vessels from strange quarters; and then, the whole little town runs
down to see them. There is, almost always, some novel bit of
excitement connected with sea-faring life going on there; and the
bustle upon the little quay is of a quaint character, and easily
taken in by the eye.
The promontory on which the town is situated, ends in a high ridge
of rock, called “Ramore Hill.” It is covered with green land;
and it is soft, and dry, and springy to the foot. This is the
fashionable promenade of Portrush; where the curled darlings of the
town air their scented locks in the sea-breeze, “when the clear cold
eve’s declining;” and, as Norah meets Shelah on the street, she
whispers, “Are you going to the hill this evening?” This
eminence is the best station for watching vessels entering and
leaving the harbour; and it commands a ﬁne view of the coast, from
wild Innishone up to the bold bluff of Fair Head, in the far north.
A few yards from the centre of the town, there is an excellent
bath-house, almost close to the sea; and, as we wander by, between
eight and nine in the morning, we see a few half-dressed visitors
sauntering about, waiting for their baths, and we hear the old
superintendent shouting to his myrmidons, aloft, “A tepid shower of
eighty-ﬁve in number one; and a cold shower in number three!
Look alive, please!”
Portrush has a little gas-works, the last building of all, before we
get into the green country, northward; it seems to hang on the rest,
like a drop at the nose-end of the town, on a wintry morning.
It has a dozen, or so, of street lamps, which — like the sea — are
very much inﬂuenced by the state of the moon; it has, also, our
public pumps, I believe—and three wells. No doubt they will
have both more light and more water as the little place grows
richer, but for the present — well, neither man nor town “can
whistle without top-lip.” Portrush has a rather remarkable
post-ofﬁce, — a little shop, with a ﬂower-grown rockery in front.
The place is crowded with curious nick-nacks. There you can
get any kind of toys, trinkets, lace, stationery, photographs,
physio, fruit, shells, corals, boot — laces, baby linen, and Bibles,
— anything, in fact, from a wheelbarrow to a penny-stamp, and change
for a shilling; and a pleasant chat, too, — if you drop in at the
right time, — for the quaint spinster who rules that remarkable
establishment is, by far, the most interesting presence there.
She is the right woman in the right place, chatty, natty,
intelligent, and obliging in the extreme, — although she can be
pungent enough when occasion demands; and is not too long-tempered
when stupid people annoy her during the heat of ofﬁce-business.
That little post-office may well be a favourite resort of rich and
poor. By the way, — Portrush is the birth-place of the famous
Dr. Adam Clarke; and the little Wesleyan Chapel, in which he
preached, stands at the entrance to the town, and upon a mound close
by it a stone obelisk, erected to the memory of the great man.
A Portrush Sunday has all the subdued tone of a Scottish Sabbath
about it. Everybody seems to have screwed his mouth up for the
day; and hardly a soul dare show himself in the open air, without a
hymn-book in his hand. There are not even half as many dogs on
the street as usual.
The town is well supplied with places of worship for the number of
worshippers. There is an Episcopalian Church and a
Presbyterian Church, — rather handsome buildings for the place, —
and there is the little white-washed Wesleyan Chapel; these three
represent, what may be called, the staple theologies of the north.
And then, at the end of the town, there is a pretty, secluded
Catholic Chapel, with its clergy-house and school-house, all neatly
enclosed. And this ends the list of spiritual provision in
And now, turning from that to the spirituous. There are two
large inns, — one where the upper ten thousand go, — the lords,
bishops, judges, and such like; the other an excellent hotel, which
walks on rather shorter stilts than the ﬁrst, and catches its overﬂow,
— when there is any. The windows of the “ﬁrst” hotel are a
great attraction to passers-by, after nightfall; for the
full-dressed swells are then in view, lounging about the great room,
in statuesque attitudes; whilst the crowd outside gaze upon them,
with mouths a-gape, as if they were so many strange animals caged in
a menagerie. Of course, there are other places of refreshment,
of less pretensions than these. In fact, each of the two
inlets to the town has its favourite “calling-shop.” Folks
coming from Coleraine, like to drop in at “The Captain’s;” and
country people, going towards the “Causeway,” have some difficulty
in getting out at the town-end without taking “a half-un” at
“Ned’s.” The popularity of these places owes a good deal to
the characteristics of the men who keep them. It is the same
with “Mickey’s” whisky-store, down at the sea-ward end of the town,
overlooking the harbour. This is the favourite resort of ﬁshermen,
and “old salts,” — and ﬁne fellows they are, with their calm, manly
faces, which have confronted death and danger so habitually that it
seems to have endued their demeanour with a kind of digniﬁed
meekness, which is all their own. “Mickey” himself is a great
favourite with these wanderers of the wave. He is always ready
to befriend a stranded ﬁsher; and they never forget his kindness.
This is the place to hear any news of the sea; for there are almost
always a few of these quiet-looking ploughmen of the ocean lounging
There are certain public features of life, here, which must catch
the eye of a stranger, they are so peculiar. For instance, the
characteristics of people who go about the streets, selling things.
The fruit trade seems to be principally in the hands of three or
four men, who are perpetually stopping you on the public way, with
“Dy’e require ony ﬁne plums, the day?” These peripatetic
fruiterers seem to be the same persons from year to year, without
the slightest change in their appearance. One of them is a
surly-looking fellow, who will insist upon your tasting something,
which, if you decline, he stands stock-still, and glares as you walk
away; as if he was inwardly resolving to have your blood the ﬁrst
sly opportunity that presented itself. Each morning’s fresh ﬁsh
is dispensed by bare-footed ﬁshermen’s wives; who generally go in
couples, from house to house, asking if you “require ony ﬂat ﬁsh, or
ony crabs or lobsters, the day?” Eggs and butter are brought
in by clean, timid farm-lasses, and mild-faced, fresh-looking
country women; and milk comes in on carts, in long, blue-painted
churns. Now and then a quiet-looking countryman enters the
town, leading a load of turf, and looking wistfully from side to
side for a customer, as he wends his way slowly along. As for
the butchers, — blessing o’ their hearts, — they sell good meat;
but, — beware! for if you send for a chop, they are almost sure to
bring you a sheep.
There are other features of street life, too, which strike a
stranger here. Sometimes a stray piper comes into Portrush, by
the “Islay” steamer, from the Hebrides; — and away he goes through
the town, screaming forth wild pibrochs — savage and shrill. A
German band has been here lately too, playing — well, I only know
that one of the four tunes they murdered so industriously was, “Now
pray we for our country;” and it is well enough for them to pray
for their country, but, — if they played for it, as they have
been playing here, — they have indeed left their country for their
country’s good; for such playing would ruin any country on earth!
They lingered a long while, here, turning up at every turn, in all
sorts of places, and working away most industriously at the same ﬁve
tunes, and cadging with a persistence worthy of the noblest cause on
earth! There is hardly a door at which they have not knocked,
— hardly a window up to which they have not thrown solicitous
Teutonic leers. And then, the noise they made! It seemed
to ﬁll the town to overﬂowing, with a most excruciating uproar.
Portrush could not have held a note more of such brazen discord.
The very air seemed ashamed of being a party to such an abominable
riot. The blatant janglement murdered every ﬁne sound that was
going in the little town, and then ﬂoated across the sea, dying out
upon the affrighted waves, about half-way over to the Hebridean
“Oh, ’twas foul!” Since that German band was here the people
of Portrush complain that all kinds of ﬁsh, endowed with musical
taste, have left their shore. But the band is gone at last;
and it will be a long time before the town recovers from the throes
of discordant agony in which they have left it. These,
however, are only stray waifs, — noisy pestilences gliding from
place to place, and leaving a trail of pain behind them all the way.
But the stock musicians of Portrush, those who are “natives and to
the manner born;” and who are known as “institutions” upon its
streets, may be told upon the ﬁngers of one hand; indeed they
principally consist of three — performers, — I suppose I must call
them, — two old ﬁddlers, and a little cracked player upon a crazy
dulcimer, whose musical repertory consists chiefly of “Oh, Bob
The two ﬁddlers, however, are quaintly distinct in characteristics.
The ﬁrst, — begging the other’s pardon, — is a blind man, a tall,
brown-faced, beery, old fellow, decently clad in dingy blue cloth,
from top to toe; and, like most blind men, he goes with his face
turned up to the sky, and with an unconsciously pleading look upon
his countenance; yet he is a merry fellow withal. He is
occasionally led by his daughter, a clean, sweet-faced girl, about
sixteen. This man has some music in his soul; and when asked
for any stupid melody of the “Champagne Charlie” kind, he begins it
with a low grunt of dissatisfaction, — he hurries through it with
careless ﬁngers, — and he ﬁnishes with as short measure as possible.
But there is nothing on earth — except sixpence — pleases him better
than to be asked to play some old Irish air. Then you see the
old minstrel in all his glory; as he sits tuning his instrument,
with many a wailing prelude, his blind face beaming with joy, and
his limbs quivering with exstatic thrill; and as the glad old man
tones his strings for “Let Erin remember the days of old,” he will
turn his face towards you, and, with tears in his eyes, he will say
— “Oh, my big son, — but that’s a noble tune!” The other ﬁddler
is chieﬂy noticeable for his helpless age and the general
plaintiveness of his condition, the inarticulate croon with which he
accompanies his ﬁddle, — and which is so like a wail of distress;
his long coat, his short trousers, his bowed back, and shrunk
shanks, and his three tunes. I have known him several years,
and the poor old fellow is struggling still, — with one foot in the
grave, — to wriggle a thin living out of the same three tunes; and
God help him, say I!
And now, a word about beggars; and I have done for the present.
There is a great deal less mendicancy here than in some parts of
Ireland; but, the other day, an old woman asked alms of me, and when
I had relieved her, she burst forth, with all the passionate
gratitude of her nature: — “Ah!” see now, darlin’,” said she, “see
now what heaven prepares for us, an the way! Oh, thin, your
honour, God put that into your heart! May health an’ good
fortin’ attind ye all your days! Oh, indeed, sir, I am old,
an’ broken, an’ waitin’ my time, which is not long now, glory be to
God! Oh, thin, I am old, an’ ill, an’ broken to the bare bone
o’ me entirely; an’ I am a poor, lone wanderer on the face o’ the
ground. Oh, I had seven childer, your honour, an’ a good man
to my husband; but they are all dead — they are all dead, and laid
low, long since, your honour; an’ I am left wanderin’ my lone, with
nothin’ but poor neighbours, an’ the kind heart the good God an’ the
blessed queen of heaven makes warm to me on my solitary way!
May the Lord reward your honour, an’ that ye may be blest with kind
hearts about ye, an’ that ye may have lashins an’ lavins’ o’ the
best, to your dying day! Oh, indeed, indeed, I am old an’
broken, your honour! If I was to ﬁnd death comin’ on me, I
would make for Rasharkin, the place where I was born, that I might
lay me down to rest among my own people — glory be to God! Ah,
thin, — signs on, — there’s good fortin forninst ye, darlin’; and
the kind heart of her ye love shall attend ye all your days!
Good luck to your honour’s four bones! May the hand of the
Lord be about ye, an’ mark ye to grace, for evermore, — wherever ye
“ Sure, a man can’t be in two places at once, —barrin’ he’s a burd.”
BEFORE I attempt to describe any part of this
coast, I will notice a few peculiarities of speech and manners which
have interested me during my sojourn here; and, by way of
introduction, I may say that the dialect of Antrim, — like the
people who dwell there, — is more Scottish than Irish, although one
sometimes ﬁnds it quaintly inlaid with genuine Hibernicisms.
These racy distinctions of language can hardly fail to arrest the
attention of any observant stranger, wandering among scenes that are
new to him. Whilst moving about here in leisurely fashion, and
in all sorts of unpremeditated directions, — chatting with whatever
people fell in my way; now with weather-beaten ﬁshers in the
harbour; now amongst the ﬂuttering life of the public street; now
sauntering with some chance wayfarer along a quiet country road; now
lounging by the open doors of lowly cots where poor folk nestle; now
meandering through the market-place of a little rural town; wherever
I have strayed, some ﬂeeting snatch of quaint phraseology has fallen
upon my ear, — hot from the heart, and with the clear ring of
natural eloquence about it; some ﬁtful burst of life-like
earnestness, which has not been pared down to ﬁt the nice narrowness
of any exclusive speciality; or I have met with some racy bit of
anecdote, richly redolent of the life from which it sprang.
In the ﬁrst place, there is a touch of novelty in — what one may
call — the weather salutations, here. Of course, wherever
people meet, the commonest topic of conversation, to begin with, is
the weather. It is a little neutral ground of talk, upon which
the common kindliness of our nature can meet without fear of
disturbance. In England these weather-salutes are as frequent
and as genial as anywhere in the round world; but here, in the north
of Ireland, it is the form which strikes a stranger’s ear with its
novel peculiarity of tone. “That’s the darlin’ weather,” says
Jemmy Morning, as he trots by, in the direction of the Causeway, at
the rate of six miles an hour, tupping his head through the wind,
and with the upper part of his body aslant, as if he was anxious
that his hat should arrive at the place he was going to, a few
minutes before his trousers. “Varry wunny, the day,” says “Tam
o’ the Aird,” as he saunters slowly along the highway, staff in
hand, with his one cow at his heels, cropping the scanty herbage
upon the borders of the road. “We’ll hae a coorse nicht in the
channel, the nicht,” says an old ﬁsherman, gazing from the head of
“The Shepherd’s Path,” which leads in slippery windings down the
steep face of the precipice into Port Noffer. “Saft mornin’,
boys,” says “Long Dominick,” to the guides lounging about the road,
on the look-out for visitors. “Gran’ breeze for the stooks,”
cries old David of Dulusk, as he peeps over the hedge at a passing
acquaintance. “Feighn day, noo,” says Andy McCurdy,
whilst the rain is falling in torrents around him — and this is the
one phrase he uses in relation to the weather, whatever it may be.
“There’s rain in the wind — Bush Foot is sounding,” says old Robert
of the Glen-side, as he looks pensively down the vale, to where the
sea is breaking in white foam upon the shore, near “Black Rock.”
And it seems that there is a certain combination of wind and tide
which wakens the water into a roar at the point where the Bush
empties itself into the ocean, and which is almost a sure indication
of rain. “Beautiful morning for the Causeway, — will you
require a car, sur?” says a Portrush driver, jerking his thumb in
the direction of the vehicle.
“The Causeway” is in every mouth in Portrush, either on one account
or another; indeed, if it were not for “The Causeway,” the majority
of the mouths in Portrush could not be kept going at all, unless
they went away altogether. But for “The Causeway,” Portrush
would probably never have been anything more than an obscure ﬁshing
village, and the very life-current of its existence is the stream of
visitors which pass through to “The Causeway,” from all parts of the
world. This pretty marine village — indeed, the whole coast of
Antrim — seems to be thoroughly steeped in two peculiar elements,
the wonders of “The Causeway,” and the shadowy renown of Phin McCoul,
the Irish giant. The ﬁrst is a constant attraction to
strangers, and a source of proﬁtable employment to the whole
And as for Phin McCoul, — the common people here not only attribute
“The Causeway” itself, but everything else that is grand, or
stupendous, or powerful in nature, to that traditionary hero, who ﬁlls
all the vague dawn of Irish history with a world of misty miracles.
Wherever we go, — by mountain, or glen, or sea-worn crag, — we meet
with the shade of the giant who used the Round Towers of Ireland as
tooth-picks; and who was stepping across the sea to England, with
the Isle of Man in his apron, when the strings broke, and down went
“Mona the lone,” plump into the waves, where it stands now, about
equi-distant between the three shores.
Whereever we wander upon this coast, we are shewn, among its
fantastic rocks and wild headlands, Phin McCoul’s this and Phin
McCoul’s that — his head, his chair, his spy-glass, his well, his
kitchen, his loom, his organ, his grandmother, and his grave.
Phin McCoul is on every tongue, — especially when anything large
needs to be expressed. He is more remote and mythical, and he
looms larger in the imaginative mind than our own Robin Hood — the
liberty-loving king of merry England’s ancient green woods. If
any man here is bigger or stronger than common, the people say he is
“as big as Phin McCoul,” or he is “as strong as Phin McCoul;” or, if
he has a larger nose than his neighbours, he has “a nose like Phin
McCoul’s.” Indeed, all over the country we ﬁnd the trail of a
shadowy ancient renown, to which distance has lent a vast
accumulation of imaginative enchantment, and “The Giant” and “The
Giant’s Causeway” seem to tinge the whole mental air of the
And now I will give a few samples of the phraseology of this part of
“The Green Isle;” I mean only such ﬂying ﬁts of speech as have
accidentally met my ears, whilst roving to and fro, in a lazy way.
In the ﬁrst place I ﬁnd that the custom of nick-naming people,
according to some remarkable feature of body or mind, is almost as
common here as it is in Lancashire. For instance, I have met
with such names as “Tam Tak,”— for one who thinks it more blessed to
receive than to give; “Auld Disobleege,” — for a man remarkable for
disinclination to do a good turn; “Holy Andy,” — for an
over-righteous man, of Pharisaic mind; “Johnny Peevish,” — for one
of plaguey temper; “Billy the Geck,” — for a man given to mimicry;
and “Soon Barney,” — applied to one who is usually in good time for
The following is a little specimen of a tippling scream between two
ﬁsh-women, at the door of a Belfast spirit store: — “Och!” says a
stout Amazon, snapping her ﬁngers at a second, who sat upon an empty
creel, by the doorway. “Och, that’s talk for scutchers!
Shut yer gob, my darlin’, and don’t be makin’ a holy show o’ yersel’!
Faith, ye’re gettin’ too fat an’ too full! Ye needna’ be
stickin’ wedges o’ beef into yer face, as if ye were postin’
letters? It’ll be a long time till ye meet with a man that’ll
tak ye before the clargy! Bad cess to ye, Norah dear!
The’re ten deevils in some folk, but there’s eleeven in you!”
“Barney,” says a carman, to his friend standing by, — “Barney; how
would ye like to wed that un?” “Wed her!” cried Barney,
switching his whip at the air, “Bi my soul, I’d rather welt her!”
It seems that a common marriage portion of the country maidens in
some parts of the north of Ireland, used to be “a bed, and a chest,
and a wheel:” indeed it is still familiarly known in this quarter of
the island, as “a County Derry Portion,” and, by the way, I met with
a little anecdote, lately, relative to marriage portions, which is
perhaps worth a place here: — A country farmer and his wife went to
make the preliminary arrangement for the marriage of their son with
the daughter of a neighbour, whom the lad had been courting.
After a good deal of higgling between the two sets of parents, the
lad’s father cried, — “Well, noo; to mak a lang story short, —
what’ll ye gie wi’ the lass?” “Weil; I’ll e’en just gie her ﬁfty
pun’!” replied the girl’s father. “Well, indeed then,” replied
the other, “if that’s a’, she’ll no be ours at the money!”
The other day I heard of a young couple who had got married, and,
having no house of their own to put their heads in, they were
obliged to dwell with the lad’s parents until the building was
ready, which was preparing to receive them. In the meantime,
children began to make their appearance; and their crying was such
an evident annoyance to the old couple, that the young wife was
constantly grieved thereat. “Whisht, darlin’,” said she, to
the weeping infant on her breast one day, “Whisht, darlin’; ye’ll
suin be whaur ye can get greetin’ your ﬁll, an’ naebody to hinder
ye.” “There goes poor old Molly,” said Robert o’ the Glen-side
to me, one day, as he pointed to a tattered crone who was hobbling
by. “There goes poor old Molly; she’s always at the edge
her foot — meaning that she was always in a needy condition.
In Lancashire they say of a man who is reduced to penury, that he
has “etten his cake to th’ edge,” or, if he has been a luxurious
liver, they will say of him that he has “come’d to his cake an’ milk
One day, when a knot of the Causeway guides were lounging upon the
headland above Port na Gagne, in lazy chat together, one of them was
trying to trace the age of a neighbour, in the following manner: —
“I ken the hail lot o’ them, rightly,” said he, “an’ this is the way
of it, — Alick’s the same age as Bill; and Davy’s the age o’ Bill’s
mother; an’ Bill’s mother was born the year o’ the great water.”
“Well, indeed,” replied a second, “if that be sae, she maun be ane
o’ auld Noah’s family.” When speaking of a man of no endurance
or of an impatient temper, the people here say that “he comes o’ a
breed that arena good tholers;” or of a fool they will say,
“Och, I ken him, rightly, — an’ a well-lookin’ man, tee, — but daft,
daft, varra daft, fra heed ta heel! Indeed, indeed, ye might
as well ask for holy water in an Orange Lodge, as expect onything
sensible fra the crayther. But, what then, — gude guide us, —
fools are no the warst kin’ o’ folk i’ the world, after a’.”
The strong ﬂavour of Scotch which pervades the language of the
common people, here, is very remarkable. I heard a delusive,
and garrulous man alluded to, the other day, as “an auld sluisterin
deevil;” and a little while ago, an old Bushmills’ shopkeeper was
taking the different weights of a small party of young ladies; and,
after he had weighed two or three of more sylph-like proportions, he
came, at last, to a magniﬁcent damsel who drew the beam up
handsomely at ﬁfteen stone. “By my saul,” cried the old man,
“but ye’re no a mountain grazer, ony way!
During a short stay at a picturesque and hospitable farmstead in
this part, I was very much interested by the free and racy snatches
of humorous speech that fell from one of the maidens of the family,
as she ﬂitted to and fro about her household work — a sweet and
sonsie lass, tall and straight, and as lithe as an eel, and brisk as
a bee. “Whaur-ever’s that woman gane te?” said she, as she
wandered about the outhousing in search of the mistress,
“Whaurever’s that woman gane te? But, — ﬁen’ a fears o’ her!”
continued she, “she’ll be no far awa, wi’ the sair foot on her.
I’ll just e’en girn an’ bide a wee.” “Yees are at it again,
weans!” cried she, to a company of youngsters, who were jerking at
play, round the peat stack. “A-way to the ﬁeld, Lizzy, or I’ll
warm your lug for ye! An’ ye hand away to the horses, Willy;
an’ dinna be rinnin’ hame, an’ collougin’ wi’ yer faither, till he
puts bad into your heed, — or ye’ll get the waur o’t!” “Od’,
but yon’s a quare variety!” said she, gazing after a curious ﬁgure
which wandered by the gate of the yard, — “yon’s a quare variety!
Faith, there’s mony a strange crater i’ the warld, forbye a body’s
sel’!” “I doot ye’ve bin treatin’ Paddy the day, Jemmy dear,”
said she to an old guide, who was returning home from the Causeway.
“I doot ye’ve bin treatin’ Paddy, the day; ye’re e’en are like twa
burnt holes in a blanket! Oh, man, but ye’ll get your hair
kempt rightly, when ye win hame!” and when somebody began to tease
her about a rejected lover who had crossed the sea, she cried, “Och,
a fair wun te his wee boat! There plenty a’ guid ﬁsh i’ the
sea, forbye ane! I doot ye’re varry funny, the day, guid folk;
but just hae ’t e’en as ye will; things ’ll still aye be some
As I have said before, the very existence of Portrush depends mainly
upon its being the great thoroughfare to the Giant’s Causeway; and
for one car which leaves Portrush in any other direction there are a
score go to “The Causeway.” The chief reason for this is that,
from Belfast to Portrush, we have the railway; beyond Portrush we
have no railway. Still, “The Causeway” is the principal thing
that draws travellers to the town of Portrush, and every hour of the
day, and in all weathers, two streams of cars pass and repass upon
the picturesque seven miles of coast road which divide Portrush from
“The Causeway.” As we walk about the little town, too, we are
constantly meeting with drivers who ask if we “require a car to the
Causeway the day?” These northern drivers lack the quick,
sparkling mother-wit of the ancient Irish race; though they are not
deficient of a certain dry, pawky humour, which steals out now and
then in a quiet way. There is one of them here who is known as
“The Smiler.” He is a favourite on account of his easy,
obliging disposition; and, when you have paid for the car, at the
end of the journey, he always “laves the rest to your
honour’s generosity; an’ faith, whether it’s a sovereign or a crown
— it’ll do me!” And, by the way, an English stranger
might be surprised to ﬁnd that after he has paid for his car, at the
rate of sixpence a mile, — which is about the usual charge, — he is
liable to a claim from the driver, for what is called “whip-money,”
an elastic sum, the amount of which depends upon the play of the two
dispositions of the driver and the traveller. The driver
always urges this claim as being totally separate from his
employer’s interest, and being “all he gets for himself.”
And now I will conclude my second wandering paper, in the words used
at the Ulster christening feast, — “Here’s you in the shawl, good
health! You against the wall, good health! Mrs. McFall, good health!
An’ ladies an’ gentlemen all, good health!”
III.—THE COAST ROAD.
“Still convarsin’ and still discoorsin’
On things consarnin the ocean wide.”
“PAPA,” said a little blue-eyed fellow,
daintily dressed in Knickerbocker suit, — “Papa,” said he, looking
up at the gentleman who led him into the Portrush Post-ofﬁce, out of
the passing shower, — “Papa, does it rain salt water here?”
They entered the shop, and, as I stood in the doorway, watching the
rain, I heard the little fellow twittering, as his blue eyes fell on
the trinkets around him, — twittering in liquid trebles, full of
pretty wonderment, like a new-ﬂedged throstle taking its ﬁrst ﬂight
into the woods. In a few minutes the rain was over, and the
strong sunshine burst forth again, ﬂushing all the moist ﬁelds with
orient splendour. The bloomy spray, gushing over the garden
wall opposite, seemed to thrill with a new delight; and every blade
of grass, sprouting timidly amongst the rubbish at the wayside, had
“kepped its ain drap” of pearl from the falling shower. I
sallied forth down by the manse, and out upon the Coleraine road,
not thinking of where I was going.
“That’s the darlin’ mornin’,” said a Portrush driver, who stood
waiting for the Belfast train.
“Beautiful I” said I.
“Lovely day for the Causeway,” continued he.
“Delightful!” said I.
“Will ye require a car, your honour?” said he, jerking his thumb
over his shoulder.
“What’s the fare?”
“Fare, is it?” replied he, running to the horse’s head.
“Faith, ye know that rightly, your honour. Get on, sur, — if
ye plaze, — till I tuck the rug about ye. Sure, ye’ll take the
shore side o’ the cart. Wait till I dry the sate, your honour.
Now, jump up, sur, — if ye plaze, — an’ away we go, like one
After a little higgling about the fare, we agreed, and I mounted the
car. The driver was evidently in great spirits, and, as he
gathered up his reins, he began to croon to himself: —
One pleasant evening, when pinks an’ daisies closed
in their bosoms the drops o’ dew,
An’ feathered warblers, of every species, together
chanted their notes so true,
As I did wander in meditation, it charmed my heart for
to hear them sing;
Night’s dreamy shades they were softly falling, and all
the air did with music ring.
With joy transpoorted each sight I coorted, and gazing
round with inspective eye,
Two youthful lovers, in conversation, all close engaged,
I did espy;
Those couple spoke with such force of raison, — their
sintimints they expressed so clear —
That for to hearken their conversation, my inclination
was to draw near.
Then, jumping up to his seat, he gave the horse a switch, and away
went the car, like a bird on wheels. As we whisked round the
corner where the little chapel stands, he glanced sea-ward at “The
Ladies’ Bathing Rock,” where a crowd of fair nymphs were sporting
among the waves in the smooth creek, at the foot of the rock, and
within sixty yards of the Queen’s highway. “Ah, there they
are!” said he, pointing with his whip, — “There they are, — the
darlins’ — dabblin’ their beautiful limbs in the say, — forninst the
wide world! Oh, bi my soul, — isn’t it provokin’, now, to see
them so contagious, — an’ me compelled to lave the sight! Oh,
murder alive! — what’ll I do? Get along out o’ that!” cried
he, giving the horse another switch. And then, as we shot
ahead, he went on with his song :—
He pressed her hand, and he said, “My darlin’, tell
me the raison you’ve changed your mind,
Or why this heart should be so degraded, that in my
breast for my love has pined.
It’s I am slighted an’ ill requited for all the favours
I did bestow;
Oh, tell me, darlin’ ! before you lave me, why you’re
inclined for to trate me so.”
Says she, “Young man, — for to tell you plainly, — its
to refrain you, I am inclined:
Another young man, of birth and fortune, has gained my
favour an’ changed my mind.
My future welfare 1 have consulted, — on ﬁckle footing
I’ll never stand, —
Besides, my parents might be affronted to see you
walking at my right hand.”
As we swept along Spring-hill, a little bright-eyed fellow, dressed
in dingy black, like an ill-paid clerk, beckoned to me from the
road-side. “Are yees goin’ to the Causeway?” said he.
“Yes.” He then asked if I would be kind enough to allow him “a
sate” on the car, “the linth o’ Bushmills, — in regard o’ the
lameness in his knee.” To which I consented, and I soon found
that he was a genuine Milesian, from the south of Ireland, and
brimming over with racy chat. He no sooner got settled upon
the car than he began to hum a plaintive Irish air; and when I asked
him the name of it, he turned round and gave me the whole history of
“D’ye like that tune, sir?” said he. I told him that I did
“Ah, well, indeed, then,” continued he, “it’s a beautiful air
entirely. Aan’ mind ye, there’s a quare story connected with
that same melody. Many’s the time I heard it. It’s
called “The Dark-haired Lady;” an’ the way it got the name is this,
d’ye see. A long time gone by, a famous ﬁddler wint to play at
a nobleman’s castle, in county Mayo; an’, bedad, that same ﬁddler
fell desperately in love wi’ the nobleman’s daughter, — and she with
him, — in regard o’ the bewitching music he played; more bi token,
he was a handsome fellow, entirely. An’, faith, the rogue of a
ﬁddler knew it all right well bi the language o’ the eye, d’ye see;
an’, bi the same token, the lady knew it too. So, d’ye mind,
the ﬁddler thought that, as all her grate kinsmen were ﬂutterin’
about the place, he would make the ﬁddle coort the lady, unbeknownst
to them all, — barrin’ the lady herself, d’ye see. An’ right
well he knew it was able to do that same, for it was a raal beauty;
an’ he was a grate player, all out. An’, mind ye, there’s not
an instrument in the wide world able to contind wi’ the ﬁddle, in
the regard of a coortin’ tale. Well, the bowld ﬁddler made an
illigant song right out, — all ﬁlled wid consumin’ radiations of
affectionate glory; for, mind ye, the poor fellow’s heart was nigh
burstin’ wid enchantin’ bewilderment. An’, oh, man alive, but
that same love’s a rale tender thing! Many’s the poor crayther
lost their rest through it! It’s myself knows that right well; for I
suffered a dale from it, now an’ agin, since I was the hoight of a
How-an’-ever, as I was telling ye, — the ﬁddler was a larned man,
d’ye see; but, faith, it’s not to tall English he trusted to coort
the lady — och, no — but he made the ﬁddle tell the whole story in a
kind o’ conversational tune, d’ye see; an’, mind ye, the ﬁddle was
transpoorted with the acquirement of such an occupation; an’ it
spoke out the illigant pains that were brakin’ the poor fellow’s
heart in such meltin’ tones, that, faith, the very strings o’ the
instrument were nigh burstin’ into tears; an’, bedad, there was not
one in the whole coort could stand before the strains came from the
ﬁddle that blessed day! It began by sayin’ as plain as words
could spake, ‘Oh, what’ll I do with this heart o’ mine! Oh,
darlin’, darlin’, what’ll become o’ me!’ an’ so the whole coorse o’
the story was told bi the music, till it ended in the culmination of
a transpoortin duet. An’ that’s how the ﬁddler put the
comether an the noble lady. An’, at last, she caught the
beautiful infection to that degree, that she and the ﬁddler schamed
to run away with aich other across the water; an’ there they got
married — to their hearts’ contint.
Well, — worse luck, — the lady’s father purshues the pair o’ them
from place to place, till, at linth, he ﬁnds them collougin’
together in the hoight of domestic enchantment; an’, bad cess to me,
but he imprisons the ﬁddler for nine year, an’ brings his daughter
home again — drowned in tears, from the heart out, for the bowld
fellow she was lavin’ behind. An’, oh, man dear, — wasn’t that
same ﬁddler a sad an’ solitary soul when the wife of his heart was
taken away from him; an’ the ﬁddle and he moorned together many a
long year for the darlin’ that had won their hearts for evermore.
At last the ﬁddler got relased, d’ye see; an’ he turned out into the
wide world to seek the bird of his heart, — an’, faith, by this
time, the poor fellow was as ragged as a Raghery colt.
How-an’-ever, he wandered to an fro with his ﬁddle through all the
coorts o’ Europe, playin’ the tune that won the heart o’ the
dark-haired lady — bi the way she might hear it, wherever she
chanced to be. An’ so the poor ﬁddler wandered, with a sad
heart, year after year, sighin’ an’ seekin’ among strange crowds for
the face he could not ﬁnd. An’ so the days wint on, d’ye see,
till, at last, the lady’s father died, an’ she was left in the
castle in lonely splindour, moornin’ for the poor fellow that was
seekin’ her the wide world over. At linth, at the close of one
stormy day, he came, faint an’ weary, into the coort-yard o’ the
castle, little dramein’ that the darlin’ of his heart was nigh; and
in a despondin’ tone he struck up the beautiful tune that won his
own lost Norah. Well, bedad, who should be sittin’ at the
windy but the lady herself, sighin’ an’ thinkin’ o’ the man she
loved above all the world, and when she heard the music she threw up
her arms with a grate cry, an’ fainted away, right out o’ the face.
An’ the ﬁddler an’ his lady lived in the castle, in glory an’
splindour, enjoyin’ connubial transports of affectionate regard to
their dyin’ day. An’ when they were laid at rest among the
lords o’ the place, the ﬁddle hung agin the castle wall for many a
long year; an’ oft, in the dead o’ the night, it was heard playin’ a
sorrowful lamint — of its own accoord, mind ye — for thim that was
gone. But bad luck to the note the ﬁnest performer in the
world could get out o’ that same ﬁddle, — barrin’ itself, d’ye see,
— after the bowld ﬁddler an’ his lady died.”
We had now cleared the last house at the town-end, and were out upon
the open road to the Causeway. The landward scene was a
pleasant rural tract — here, yellow stubble; there, pasture; and
yonder, green crops, with whitewashed farmhouses scattered about up
to the heathery ridge which closes the view. About halfway up
the verdant slope, the rooﬂess walls of the ancient church of
Ballywillan was in sight, clothed with ivy, and leaning towards
their fall — the sole relic of the old town which once surrounded
it. Seaward, a low ridge of little grass-grown sand-hills hid
us from the sea, and the beautiful “Long Strand” north of Portrush.
The driver, heedless of the tale of my fellow-traveller, was still
crooning at his Irish song. It seems the discussion between
the lovers had gone on some time, ending in the following climax:
You speak exceedingly, but not correctly; with words
supported, your cause is vain;
Had you the tongue of the Siren goddess, your exultation
I would disdain.
It was your love that I did require; but since you place
it on golden store,
I’ll strike my harp, an’ its tones shall murmur,
“Farewell, my darlin’, for evermore.”
She seemed affected, and half distracted, and in
exclamation she thus gave way: —
“Oh, my denial was but a trial! Ye gods, be witness to
what I say!”
Says she, “My dear, if you don’t forgive me, and quite
forget my incredulity,
All for your sake I’ll a virgin wander, while green
leaves grow on the laurel tree.”
And thus ended the driver’s song, of which I only caught snatches.
About two miles beyond Portrush, the rise of the road brought us in
sight of the open sea, and we had now a ﬁne view of the wild coast
in both directions. Looking backward, we saw the tall
limestone cliffs called “The White Rocks,” worn fantastically by the
action of the waves; and “The Skerries,” a low ridge of rocks, here
and there “with verdure clad,” and making this side of Portrush a
kind of natural harbour. The beautiful “Long Strand,” too, was
partly in sight, stretching away in a curve towards the town behind
us. On one part of the smooth beach a large schooner, driven
ashore by the storm, lay high and dry, where it had been lying many
a month, looking dolefully out of its element. On another part
of the beach, the ﬂuke of a rusty anchor stuck up from the sand;
and, here and there, fragments of broken masts and other wreck lay
half-embedded, telling silent tales of the dangers of the sea.
And from this point of view, Portrush looks very picturesque on its
sea-washed promontory. It is a pretty and a thriving town now,
and brisk enough in summer-time. But I remember old Jack
M‘Connell telling me, not long ago, what the place was like half a
century gone by. “When I ﬁrst came to Portrush,” said he,
“more than ﬁve-an’-forty years ago, it was just a little rough
village, where a few ﬁshers liv’t, an’ naethin’ more. There
was just one little steamer — a Hielan’ boat — came in, an’ that was
a’. I had sair wark to ﬁnd a lodgin’ there at ﬁrst.
Where the grand hotel stands now, there was just a little wheen o’
thatched cots, so low that ye could put your hands upon the roofs o’
them. I mind it well. The ﬁrst house I went to the
windeys were a’ mendit wi’ auld hets, an’ raggit trowsers, an’ the
like o’ that; an’ the woman that own’t it had a black eye — so I
didn’t stop there. Butter was sell’t just i’ the lump then —
not prentit. Whenever they began to prent the butter, it did
nae mair good.” Such was old Jack’s rough glimpse of Portrush
sixty years ago.
For the next three miles the road runs near to the edge of wild
clefts of rock, in the bottom of which the sea rages with such
violence that, sometimes, clouds of foam ﬂy over the highway, at a
height of 400 feet. There are two or three points at the edge
of these cliffs where car-drivers are so accustomed to pull up to
give travellers a chance of looking into the chasms below, that
horses, used to the road, stop there of their own accord. One
of the gloomy clefts is known by the name of “The Priests’ Hole,” —
and the traditions of the country give a fearful origin to the name,
— which brings to mind how oft this fair province of Ulster has been
ﬂooded with the red waves of war, — how oft it has been reduced to a
blood-stained wilderness, peopled only with terrible remembrances.
The stupendous sea-beaten cliffs upon this coast are worn into all
sorts of fantastic shapes, and, as we ride along, the driver points
them out by name. Here one presents the striking appearance of
an enormous lion couchant; and another is shown as “Shelah’s Head;”
but, perhaps, the most remarkable of them all is the one known by
the name of “The Giant’s Head,” — an immense sea — worn rock, the
whole face of which presents a singular resemblance to a benign
human countenance, ﬂushed with humorous expression. The driver
pointed to this with especial emphasis. “An’ yon rock, your honour,”
said he, “yon rock’s called the ‘Giant’s Head.’ Don’t you see
the beautiful face on it?” My fellow-traveller, who had got
upon the “well” of the car, to get a sight, cried out, “Yes, begorra,
— an’ there he is, sure enough — smilin’ acrass the waves!
Divil at ha’porth he cares for the stormy say! More power t’ye,
my bowld fellow!”
The road now leaves the rocky shore a little, and another mile
brings us in sight of the ruined towers of Dunluce Castle,
mouldering upon the summit of a lofty, sea-worn crag.
JOHN HEYWOOD, 141 AND 143; DEANSGATE, MANCHESTER.
OLIVER FEARNLEAF’S WATCH
TH’ wynt blows keen through th’
An th leet looks wild i th’ sky;
Come, Tet, stir up that ﬁre; an’ draw
That keyther gently by;
Aw’ve done my weshin’, gronny; an’
Aw’ve tidied everything;
So neaw aw ’ll sit me deawn to sew,
An’ hearken th’ kettle sing.
Bring in some coals; an’ shut that dur, —
It ’s quite a wintry day;
Reitch deawn that ham: eawr Robin likes
A relish to his tay.
Sweep th’ grate, an’ set this table eawt:
Put th’ tay-pot upo’ th’ oon;
It’s gettin’ on for baggin’ time,
An’ he’ll be comin’ soon.
Th’ ﬁre bruns clear; an’ th’ heawse begins
A-lookin’ brisk an’ breet,
As th’ time draws neer when he gets back
Fro’ th’ teawn at th’ edge o’ neet;
It makes one hutch wi’ glee to yer
A favourite fuut come whoam;
An’ it’s very ﬁne to hearken, when
One knows it ’s sure to come.
Th’ cat pricks up her ears at th’ sneck,
Wi’ mony a leetsome toot;
An’ th’ owd arm-cheer i’ th’ corner seems
As if it yerd his fuut;
Th’ window blinks; an’ th’ clock begins
A-tickin’ leawd an’ fain;
An’ th’ tin things winkin’ upo’ th’ wole, —
They groon as breet again.
Th’ kettle’s hummin’ o’er wi’ fun —
Just look at th’ end o’ th’ speawt;
It ’s like some little sooty lad
’At’s set his lips to sheawt:
Th’ wayter-drops ’at fo’n fro’ th’ tap,
Are gettin’ wick wi’ glee;
An’ yo ’re fain, gronny, too, aw know, —
But noan as fain as me.
Keep th’ rockers gooin’ soft and slow,
An’ shade that leet away;
Aw think this little duck ’s o’ th’ mend,
Hoo sleeps so weel to-day;
Doze on, my darlin’; keep ’em shut, —
Those teeny windows blue;
Good Lord! iv aught should happen thee
What could thi mother do?
Here, gronny, put this cover on,
An’ tuck it nicely in;
Keep th’ keyther stirrin’ gently; an’
Make very little din.
An’ lap thoose dimpled honds away
Fro’ th’ frosty winter air;
They lie’n a-top o’ th’ bit o’ quilt,
Like two clock-hommers theer.
But stop; hoo’s laughin’! Come, hie up;
My bonny little puss!
God bless it! Daddy’s noan far off;
Let mammy have a buss!
He’s here! He ’s here; Tet, bring that cheer:
Eh, dear; these darlin’s two!
Iv it wur not for this chylt an’ him,
What could a body do?
OR, AN ADVENTURE ON ULVERSTONE SANDS.
“The wills above be done! but I would fain die a dry death.” ―
I HAVE spent many a pleasant day at the
village of Bardsea, three miles south of Ulverstone. It stands
close to Conishead Park, high upon a fertile elbow of land, the base
of which is washed on two sides by the waters of Morecambe Bay.
It is an old hamlet, of about ﬁfty houses, nearly all in one
wandering street, which begins at the bottom of a knoll, on the
Ulverstone side, and then climbs to a point near the summit, where
three roads meet, and where the houses on one side stand back a few
yards, leaving an open ground, like at little market-place.
Upon the top of the knoll, a few yards east of this space, the
church stands, overlooking sea and land all round. From the
centre of the village the street winds on, towards the beach.
At this end a row of neat houses stands at a right angle, upon an
eastward incline, facing the sea. The tide washes up within ﬁfty
yards of these houses at high water. At the centre of the
village, too, half a dozen pleasant cottages leave the street, and
stand out, like the ﬁn of a ﬁsh, in a quiet lane, which leads down
into a little shady glen at the foot of Birkrigg. The same
lane leads, by another route, over the top of that wild hill, into
the beautiful vale of Urswick.
Bardsea is a pretty, out-of-the-way place; and the country about it
is very picturesque. It is close to the sea, and commands a
ﬁne view of the bay, and of its opposite shores, for nearly forty
miles. At a mile west of the village Birkrigg rises high above
green pastures and leafy dells that lap his feet in beauty.
Northward, the road to Ulverstone leads through the ﬁnest part of
Conishead Park, which begins near the end of the village. This
park is one of the most charming pieces of undulant woodland scenery
I ever beheld. An old writer calls it “the Paradise of
On the way to Ulverstone, from Burdsea, the Leven estuary shows
itself in many a beautiful gleam through the trees of the park; and
the fells of Cartmel are in lull view beyond. It is one of the
pleasantest, one of the quietest walks in the kingdom.
The last time I saw Bardsea it was about the middle of July. I
had gone there to spend a day or two with a friend. There had
not been a cloud on the heavens for a week; and the smell of new hay
came on every sigh that stirred the leaves. The village looked
like an island of sleepy life, with a sea of greenery around it,
surging up to the doors of its white houses, and ﬂinging the spray
of nature’s summer harmonies all over the place. The songs of
birds, the rustle of trees, the ripple of the brook at the foot of
the meadows, and the murmur of the sea, all seem to ﬂoat together
through that nest of man, making it drowsy with pleasure. It was
fairly lapped in soothing melody. Every breath of air brought
music on its wings; and every song was laden with sweet smells.
Nature loved the little spot, for she caressed it and croodled about
it, like a mother singing lullabies to a tired child. And
Bardsea was pleased and still, as if it knew it all. It seemed
the enchanted ear of the landscape; for everywhere else, the world
was alive with the jocund restlessness of the season.
My friend and wandered about from morning to night. In the
heat of the day, the white roads glared in the sun; and, in some
places, the air seemed to tremble, at about a man’s height from the
ground, as I have seen it tremble above a burning kiln sometimes.
But, for broad day we had the velvet glades and shady woods of
Conishead to ramble in; and many a rich old lane, and some green
dells, where little brooks ran whimpling their tiny undersongs, in
liquid trebles, between banks of wild ﬂowers. Our evening
walks were more delightful still; for when soft twilight came,
melting the distinctions of the landscape in her dreamy loveliness,
she had hardly time to draw “a thin veil o’er the the day” before
sea and land began to shine again under the radiance of the moon.
Wandering among such scenes, at such a time, was enough to touch any
man’s heart with gratitude for the privilege of existence in this
world of ours.
My friend’s house stands upon a buttressed shelf of land, half-way
up the slope which leads from the shore into Bardsea. It is
the most seaward dwelling of the place; and it is bowered about on
three sides with little plots of garden, one of them kept as a
playground for the children. It commands a glorious view of
the bay, from Hampsfell, all round by Arnside and Lancaster, down to
Fleetwood. Sometimes, at night, I have watched the revolutions
of the Fleetwood light, from the front of the house, whilst
listening to the surge of the tide along the shore, at the foot of
One day when dinner was over, we sat smoking at an open window,
which looked out upon the bay. It was about the turning of the
tide, for a ﬁsherman’s cart was coming slowly over the sands, from
the nets at low water. The day was unusually hot; but, before
we had smoked long, I felt as if I couldn’t rest any longer indoors.
“Where shall we go this afternoon?” said I, knocking the ashes out
of my pipe upon the outside sill.
“Well,” replied my friend, “I have been thinking that we couldn’t do
better than stroll into the park a while. What do you say?”
“Agreed,” said I. “It ‘s a ﬁne piece of woodland. I
daresay many a Roman soldier has been pleased with the place, as he
marched through it, sixteen centuries ago.”
“Perhaps so,” said he, smiling, and taking his stick from the
corner. “Come along.”
At the garden gate we found three of his ﬂaxen-headed children,
romping with a short-legged Scotch terrier, called Trusty. The
dog’s wild eyes shone in little slits of dusky ﬁre through the rusty
thicket of gray hair which overhung; them. Trusty was beside
himself with joy when we came into the road; and he worried our
shoes, and shook our trousers’ slops in a sham fury, as if they were
imaginary rats; and he bounced about, and barked, till the quiet
scene, from Bardsea to Birkrigg, rang with his noisy glee.
Some of the birds about us seemed to stop singing for a few seconds,
and, after they had taken an admiring look sideway at the little
fellow, they burst out again, louder than ever, and in more
rollicking strains, heartily infected with the frisky riot of that
little four-legged marlocker.
Both the dog and the children clamoured to go with us. My
friend hesitated as ﬁrst one, then another, tugged at him, and said:
“Pa, let me go.” Turning to me, he scratched his head, and
said: “I’ve a good mind to take Willie.” The lad instantly
gave a twirl round on one heel, and clapped his hands, and then laid
hold of his father’s coat-lap, by way of clenching the bargain at
once. But just then his mother appeared at the gate, and said:
“Eh, no, Willie, you’d better not go. You’ll be so tired.
Come, stay with me. That‘s a good boy.” Willie let go
his hold slowly, and fell back with a disappointed look.
Trusty seemed to know that there was a hitch in the matter, for he
suddenly became quieter; and, going up to Willie, he licked his
hands consolingly, and then sitting down beside him, he looked round
from one to another, to see how the thing was to end.
“Don’t keep tea waiting for us,” said my friend; “we’ll be back in
time for an early supper.”
“Very well,” replied his good-wife, “We’ll have something nice.
Don’t be late.”
The dog was now whining and wrestling in the arms of Willie, who was
holding him back. We made our bows, and bade “Good-bye” to the
children and to their mother, and then turned up the road.
Before we had gone many yards she called out,—
“I say, Chris; if you go as far as Ulverstone, call at Mrs Sealle’s,
and at Town and Fell’s, for some things which I ordered. Bella
Rigg can bring them down in her cart. These children want a
new skipping rope, too; and you might bring something for Willie.”
The little girls began to dance about, shaking their sunny locks,
and singing, “Eh, a new skipping rope! A new skipping rope!”
Then the youngest seized her father’s hand, and cocking up her rosy
button-hole of a mouth, she said, “Pa! pa! Lift me up! I
want to tell you somefin.”
“Well; what is it, pet?” said he, taking her in his arms.
Clipping his his neck, as far as she could, she said, “Div me a tiss,
ﬁrst.” And then she whispered in his ear, “If — you’ll —buy —
me —a big, doll, I’ll sing ‘Down in a low and drassy bed,’
four times, when you turn home, — now then. Trusty
eated my odder doll, when we was playin’ shop in de dardin.’
And then he had to kiss them again, and promise — I know not what.”
Once more we said “Good-bye,” and walked up towards the white
village; the chime of sweet voices sinking into a silvery hum as we
got farther off. Everything in Bardsea was unusually still.
Most of the doors and windows were open; and, now and then, somebody
peeped out as we passed by, and said it was “a ﬁne day.”
Turning round to look at the sands, we saw the dumpy ﬁgure of Owd
’Manuel, the ﬁsherman, limping up from the foot of the slope, with
his coat slung upon his arm. The old man stopped, and wiped
his forehead, and gave his crutch a ﬂourish, by way of salutation,
we waved our hats, in reply, and went on.
At the centre of the village stands the comfortable inn, kept by Old
Gilly, the quaint veteran who, after spending the prime of manhood
in hard service among the border smugglers, has settled down to
close the evening of his life in this retired nest. Here, too,
all was still, except the measured sound of a shoemaker’s hammer,
ringing out from the open door of a cottage, where Cappel sat at his
bench, beating time upon a leather sole, to the tune of a country
song. And, on the shady side, next door to the yard wall,
which partly encloses the front of the old inn, the ruddy,
snow-capped face, and burly ﬁgure of Old Tweedler was visible, as
still as a statue. He was in his shirt sleeves, leaning
against the door-cheek of his little grocery shop, smoking a long
pipe, and looking dreamily at the sunny road. Tweedler needs a
good deal of wakening at any time; but when he is once fairly
wakened, he is a tolerable player on the clarionet, and not a very
bad ﬁddler; and he likes to talk about his curious wanderings up and
down the kingdom, with show-folk. When the old man had found
us out, and had partly succeeded in getting his heavy limbs into a
mild disposition to move, he sidled forth from his little threshold,
and came towards us, gurgling something from his throat that was not
unlike the low growl of an old hoarse dog. His gruff,
slow-motioned voice sounded clear all round, waking the echoes of
the sleepy houses, as he said, “Well, — gentlemen. What?
Wheer are you for, — to-day?” We told him that we were going
down to the Priory, for a stroll; but we should like to call at
Gilly’s ﬁrst, for a few minutes, if he would go in with us.
“Well,” said he; “it’s a verra het day. An’ I don’t mind hevin’
an odd gill. In wi’ ye, — an’ I’ll follow, — in a minute,” and
then he sidled back to his nest.
There was not a sound of life in Old Gilly’s house; but the trim cap
of his kind dame was visible inside, bobbing to and fro by the
window of the little bar. Gilly, in his kind-hearted way,
always calls her “Mammy.” We looked in at the bar, and the old
lady gave us a cordial welcome. “My good-man has just gone to
lie down,” said she; “but I’ll go and tell him.” We begged
that she would let him rest, and bring us three glasses of her best
ale. The sun shone in strongly at the open back door. At
the rear of the house, there is a shady verandah, and a garden in
front of it. There we sat down, looking at the bright bay.
The city of Lancaster was very distinct, on the opposite side of the
water, more than twenty miles off. In a few minutes we heard
Tweedle’s cart-horse tread, as he came through the lobby, with two
books in his hand.
“There,” said he, handing one of them to me; “I ’ve turned that up
amang a lot o’ lummer i’ th’ house. I warnd it’s just the
thing for ye. What the devil is ’t, think ye? For it ’s
past my skill.”
It was an old, well-thumbed, Latin Delectus, with one back off, and
several leaves gone. It was not of much use to me; but when
the old man said, “Now, that’s a ﬁne book, I’ll awarnd; an’ I’ll mak’
ye a present on’t,” I felt bound to receive it thankfully; and I did
“An’ this,” said he, holding up the other; “this is a book o’ sangs.
It was a thin volume, in papered boards, — a cheap edition of
Andersor’s Ballads; printed in double column, royal octavo.
“Ay,” replied my friend; “I should like to look at that.”
“Varra well,” said Tweedler; “put it i’ your pocket. I’ll land it
ye.” And then, as if half-repenting, he continued, “But I set
a deal o’ store o’ that book. I don’t think as I could get
another for ony money.”
“You shall have it back in a day or two,” said my friend.
“Oh,” replied Tweedler, “it’s all reight wi’ ye. But I
wouldn’t ha lant it onybody, mind ye.”
My friend put the book in his pocket, promising to take especial
care of it; and then we drank up, and came away; and Tweedler
sauntered back to lean against the door-cheek, and smoke.
It was about half-past one when we walked out at the landward end of
the village. The only person we met was a horseman, riding
hastily up from the skirt of the park. As he sped by, I
recognised the tall ﬁgure and benevolent face of Dr. A—n, of
Near Bardsea Hall, an old lane leads off at the right-hand of the
road, down to the sea-beach, from whence there is a pleasant wall;
along the shore of the Leven estuary, to a ﬁshing village, called
Sandside, and thence a good road, bewteen rich meadow lands, up into
Ulverstone. After a minute’s conversation, at the end of this
lane, we agreed to go that way. When we came out upon the
shore, my friend stopped, and looked across the sands.
“Was you ever on Chapel Island?” said he, pointing towards it.
“No,” replied I; “but I should like to see that spot. Is there
any part of the old chantry left?”
“A little,” said he; “mostly incorporated with the house of a ﬁsherman
who lives on the island. But we’ll go over to it.
There’s nice time to get across before the tide comes in. It’s
not much more than a mile.”
I was pleased with the idea of seeing this little historic island,
of which I had read and heard so much: so we strode out towards it
at once. The sands between looked as level as a bowling-green,
and perfectly dry; and it did not seem to me more than half the
distance my friend had said. Before we had gone many yards he
began a story :—
“The last time I was on the island there were several friends — But
hold! we had better take something to eat and drink. They’ll
have next to nothing there; and we shall have to stop till the next
ebb. Wait here. I’ll run back. I shan’t be many
minutes.” And away he went to the green lane.
There was an old black boat on the sands, close to where he had left
me. I got into it, and, pulling my hat over my eyes to shade
the sun away, I lay down on my back and listened to the birds in
Conishead Park. It was something more than a quarter of an
hour before he appeared at the end of the lane again, with a brown
bottle in one hand, and with pockets well stored. Without
stopping an instant, he walked right out upon the sands, wiping the
perspiration from his brow as he went. Staring straight at the
island, he said, “Come on. We’ve no time to lose, now.
But we can manage it.” I remember fancying that there was an
unusual earnestness in the tone of his voice; but I did not think
much more about it at the time, for the sands still seemed quite dry
between us and the island; so I followed him in silence, looking
round at the beautiful scene, with my mind at ease.
My friend was a tall, lithe man, in the prime of life; and a very
good walker. I had not been well for some days previous, and I
began to feel that the rate he was going at was rather too much for
me. Besides, I had a pair of heavy, double-soled boots on, and
my thick coat was loaded with books and papers. But I laboured
on, perspiring freely. I thought that I could manage well
enough to keep up with him for the distance we had to go.
In a few minutes we began to come to patches of wet sand, where the
feet sank at every step, and our progress was slower, and a good
deal more difficult. We did not seem to get much nearer the
island, though we were walking so hard. This tried me still
more; and, not seeing any need for such a desperate hurry, I said,
“Don’t go so fast!” But he kept up the pace, and, pointing to
where a white sail was gliding up the other side of the island,
towards Ulverstone, he said, “Come along! The main channel’s ﬁlling!
We’ve a channel to cross on this side, yet. D’ye see yon white
line? It’s the tide rushing in! Come on! We can’t turn
back now!” It was only then that I began to see how we were
situated; and I tramped on at his heels, through the soft wet sand,
perspiring and panting, and still without seeming to get over much
ground. In a few minutes we came to a shallow channel, about
eight or ten yards across. We splashed through, without
speaking. It only took us a little above the knee; but I
perceived that the water was rising rapidly.
Thinking that the danger was over, I stammered out, “Stop!
Slacken a bit! We’re all right now!” But the tone, as
well as the words of his reply, startled me, as he shot ahead,
crying, “This is not it! This is nothing! Come on!”
I was getting exhausted; and, when he cried out, “Double!” and broke
into a run, I had not breath to spare for an answer; but I struggled
on desperately. The least false step would have brought me
down; and, if I had fallen, I think that even that delay would have
been more than we had to spare.
Three or four minutes brought us up to the channel he had spoken of.
It was an old bed of the river Leven. It must have been from ﬁfteen
to twenty yards wide at that moment, and the tide was increasing it
at a terrible rate. When we got to the edge of the water, I
was so done up that I panted out: “Stop! I can’t go so fast!”
But my friend turned half round with a wild look, and almost
screamed: “But you must! It’s death!” Then we went into
the water, without any more words. I was a little on one side
of him, and about two yards in the rear. It is a wonder to me
now, how I got through that deep, strong, tidal current. The
water must have revived me a little, unconsciously to myself, at the
time. Before we had got to the middle, I saw the book of
ballads which stuck up in the side pocket of my friend’s shooting
coat disappearing in the water as he went deeper into the channel.
My clothes began to grow heavy, and the powerful action of the tide
swayed me about so much that I could hardly keep my feet, and I
expected every moment being whelmed over. But somehow I strove
on, the water deepening at every step.
A thousand thoughts crowded into my mind whilst wading that channel.
I remember distinctly the terrible stillness of the scene; the
frightful calm of the blue sky; the rocky island, with its little
grove of trees waving gracefully in the sunshine — all so beautiful,
yet all looking down with such a majestic indifference upon us, as
we wrestled for life with the rising tide. About mid-channel,
when the water was high up my breast, my friend gave a wild shout
for help, and I instantly did the same.
The nearest shore of the island was not much more than forty yards
off. As my friend turned his head, I caught a glimpse of his
haggard look, look, and I thought all was over. The rocks re-echoed
our cries; but everything was still as death, except the little
grove of trees waving in the sunshine. There was not a living
soul in sight. My heart sank, and I remember feeling, for an
instant, as if it was hardly worth while struggling any longer.
And here let me bear testimony to a brave act on the part of my
friend. In the deepest part of the channel, when the water was
near the top of my shoulders, he put out his stick sideway, and
said, “Get hold!” I laid only a feeble grasp upon it, for I
had enough to do to keep my feet. When we had waded about
three yards in this way, we began to see that we were ascending the
opposite bank rapidly, for it was steeper than the other one.
In two minutes more we were out upon the dry sands, with our clothes
clinging heavily about us, and our hearts beating wild with mingled
emotions. “Now,” said I, panting for breath, “let’s sit down a
minute.” “No, no!” replied he in a resolute tone, pushing on;
“Come farther off.” A walk of about thirty yards brought us to
the foot of the rocks. We clambered painfully up from stone to
stone, till we came upon a little footpath which led through the
grove and along the garden to the old ﬁsherman’s cottage, on the
north side of the island. As we entered the grove I found that
my friend had kept hold of the brown bottle all the way. I did
not notice this till we came to the first patch of grassy ground,
where he ﬂung the bottle down and walked on in silence, panting for
breath. He told me afterwards that he believed it had helped
to steady him whilst coming through the channel.
The ﬁsherman’s cottage is the only dwelling on the little island.
We found the door open and the birds were singing merrily among the
green bushes about the entrance. There was nobody in but the
old ﬁsherman’s wife, and she was deaf. We might have shouted
long enough before she could have heard us; and if she had heard,
the poor old body could hardly have helped us. When we got to
the door she was busy with something at the ﬁre, and she did not
hear our approach. But, turning round, seeing us standing
there, she gazed a few seconds with a frightened look, and then
lifting up both hands, cried out,
“Eh, dear o’ me, good folk? Whatever’s to do? Whereivver
han yo cam fra? Eh; heawiwer han yo getten ower?”
We told our tale in a few words; and then she began again:―
“Good lorjus days, childer! What browt yo through t’ channel
at sich an ill time as this? It’s a marcy ’at yo weren’t
draan’d mony a time ower! It mud ha’ bin my awn lads!
Eh, what trouble there’d ha’ bin, for someb’dy. What, ye’ll
ha’ mothers livin’, likely; happen wives and childer? . . . Eh, dear
o’ me! Bud cum in wi’ ye! Whativver are ye stonnin’
theer for? um in; an get your claes off,—do! An’ get
into bed, this minute,” said she, pointing to a little, low-roofed
room in the oldest part of the house.
The water from our clothes was running over the ﬂoor; but when we
spoke about it in the way of apology, the old woman said, “Niwer ye
mind t’ watter. Ye’ve had watter enough for yance, I should
think. Get in theer, I tell ye; an’ tak your weet claes off.
Now, don’t stan’ gabblin; but creep into bed, like good lads; an’
I’ll bring ye some het tea to drink . . . . Eh, but ye owt to be
thankful ye are where ye are! . . . Ye’d better go into that inside
room. It’ll be quieter. Leave your claes i’ this nar
room, an’ I’ll hing ’em up to dry. An’ put some o’ thoose aad
shirts on. They’re poor, but they’re comfortable. Now,
in wi’ ye! Ye can talk at efter . . . . Eh; the Lord help us!
It’s a grate marcy! It’s a grate marcy!”
The old woman had four grown-up sons, labourers and ﬁshermen; and
there was plenty of working clothes belonging to them, lying about
the two bedrooms. After we had strip’d our wet things, and ﬂung
them down, one after another, with a splash, we put on a rough shirt
apiece, and crept into bed. In a few minutes she came in with
a quart pitcher full of hot tea, and a cup to drink it from; and
setting it down upon a chair at the bedside, she said, “Now; get
that into ye; an’ hev a bit ov a sleep.”
We lay still, talking and looking about us; but we could not sleep.
The excitement we had gone through had left a band of intense pain
across the lower part of my forehead, as if a hot wire was burning
into it. The walls of the room we lay in were partly those of
the ancient chapel which gives its name to the island. In
fact, the little ragged weed-grown belfry still stood above our
heads, almost the only relic of the ruined chantry, except the
foundations, and some pieces of the old walls built up into the
cottage. This chapel was founded above ﬁve centuries ago, by
the monks of Furness. Here they prayed daily “for the safety
of the souls of such as crossed the sands with the morning tide.”
The Priory of Conishead was charged with the maintenance of guides
across this estuary, which is perhaps the most dangerous part of the
Morecambe Sands. Baines says of the route across these sands:
“The tract is from Holker Hall to Plumpton Hall, keeping Chapel
Island a little to the left; and the mind of a visitor is ﬁlled with
a mixture of awe and gratitude, when, in a short time after he has
traversed this estuary, almost dry shod, he beholds the waters
advancing into the and bearing stately vessels towards the harbour
of Ulverstone, over the very path which he has so recently trodden.”
I can imagine how solemn the pealing of that little island chapel’s
bell must have sounded upon the shores of the estuary, ﬂoating over
those dangerous waters its daily warning of the uncertainty of human
life. Perhaps the bodies of drowned men might have lain where
we were lying; or travellers, rescued from the tide by those ancient
ministers of religion, might have listened with grateful hearts to
the prayers and thanksgivings offered up in that venerable chantry.
The chastening interest of old pious usage clings to the little
island sill; and it stands in the midst of the waters, preaching in
mute eloquence to every thoughtful mind. There was something
in the sacred associations of the place; there was something in the
mouldering remnant of the little chapel, which helped to deepen the
interest of our eventful visit that day.
We could not sleep. The sun shone in aslant at the one tiny
window of our bedroom, and the birds were merrily outside. As
we lay there, thinking and talking about these things, my friend
said, “I feel thankful now that I did not bring Willie with me.
If I had done so, nothing could have saved us.” The tide had
come in behind, and a minute more at the channel would have been too
After resting about three hours we got up, and put on some of the
cast-off clothes which had been worn by the old woman’s sons whilst
working in the land. My trousers were a good deal too long,
and they were so stiff with dried slutch that they almost stood up
of themselves. When they were on, I felt as if I was dressed
in sheet-iron. I never saw two stranger ﬁgures than we cut
that day, as we entered the kitchen again, each amusing himself with
the other’s comical appearance.
“Never ye said the old woman; “there’s naabody to see ye bud mysel;
ye may think varra weel ’at ye’re alive to wear owt at all.
But sart’ny ye looken two bonny baygles! I daat varra mich
whether your awn folk would knaw ye. It quite alters your
fayturs. I shouldn’t tak ye to be aboon ninepence to t’
shillin’, at the varra most. As for ye,” said she, addressing
myself; “ye’n na ’casion to talk; for ye’re as complate a ﬂay-crow
as iwer I set een on.”
The kitchen was cleaned up, and the things emptied from our pockets
lay about. Here books and papers were opened out to dry.
There stockings hung upon a line; and our boots were reared against
the fender, and their soles turned to the ﬁre. On the dresser
two little piles of money stood, and on a round table were the
sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs which my friend had brought in his
“What are ye for wi’ this?” said the old woman, pointing to the
eatables. “One or two o’t eggs are crushed a bit, but t’ ham
’s naa warse, ’at I can see.”
“Let us taste what it is like,” said my friend.
“That ’s reight,” replied she; “an’ ye ’ll hev a cup o’ het tea to
it. I have it ready here.”
The tea was very refreshing; but we couldn’t eat much, for we had
not quite recovered from the late excitement. After a little
meal, we went out to walk upon the island. Our damp clothes
were ﬂuttering upon the green bushes about the cottage. They
were drying fast; for, though the sun was hot, a cool breeze swept
over the bay from the south-west.
We wandered through the grove, and about the garden, or rather the “kail-yard,”
for the chief things grown in it were potatoes, cabbages, broccoli,
pot-herbs, and such like things, useful at dinner time. There
were very few ﬂowers in it, and they were chieﬂy such as had to take
care of themselves. In the grove, there were little bowery
nooks, and meandering footpaths, mostly worn by visitors from the
The island has been much larger than it is now. Great
quantities of limestone rock have been sold, carried to the
mainland; and it seems as if this little interesting leaf of local
history was fated to ultimate destruction in that way. We
walked all round it, and then we settled down upon a grassy spot, at
the south-western edge, overlooking the channel we had waded
through. There was something solemn in the thought, that
instead of gazing upon the beautiful bay, we might have been lying
at that moment in the bed of the channel there, with the sunny
waters rippling above us, or drifting out with the retiring tide to
an uncrowded grave in the western sea. The thick woods of
Conishead looked beautiful on the opposite shore, with the white
turrets of the Priory rising out of their embowering shades. A
little south of that the spire of Bardsea church pointed heavenward
from the summit of a green hill, marking the spot where the village
stood hidden from our view. White sails were gliding to and
fro upon the broad bay, like great swans with sunlit wings. It
was a beautiful scene.
We sat looking at it till we began to feel chill, and then we went
back to the cottage. About six o’clock the old ﬁsherman
returned home from Ulverstone; and, soon after, two of his sons
arrived from Conishead Park, where they had been working at a deep
drain. They were tall, hardy-looking men, about middle age.
The old ﬁsherman, who knows the soundings of the sands all round,
seemed to think we had picked our way to the island as foolishly as
it was possible to do. He talked about the matter as if we had
as good a knowledge of the sands as himself, and had set out with
the express intention of doing a dangerous exploit.
“Now,” said he, pointing a good way north of the track we had taken,
“if ye’d ha’ come o’er by theer, ye mud ha’ done it easy. Bud,
what the devil, ye took the varra warst nook o’ th’ channel. I
wonder as ye weren’t draan’d. I’ve helped to get mony a ane
aat o’ that hole, — baith deead an‘ alive. I yence pulled a
captain aat by th’ yure o’ th’ yed, as had sailed all ower th’ warld,
nearly. An’ we’d summat to do to bring him raand, an’ all.
He was that far geean. . . . Now, if ye’d ha’ getten upo’ yon bank,”
continued he, “ye mud ha’ managed to ha’ studden till help had come
to ye. What, ye wadn’t ha’ bin varra mich aboon t’ middle . .
. But it’s getten near law watter. I mun be off to t’ nets.
Will ye go daan wi’ me?”
There were two sets of “stake nets” belonging to the island; one on
the north end, and the other on the western side, in our own
memorable channel. The sons went to those on the north; and
the old man took a stick in his hand, and a large basket on his arm,
and we followed him down the rocks to the other nets. They are
great cages of strong net-work, supported by lofty poles, or stakes,
from which they take their name. They are so contrived that
the ﬁsh can get into them at high water, but cannot escape with the
retiring tide. There was rather more than a foot of water at
the bottom of the nets; but there was not a ﬁsh visible, till the
old man stepped in; and then I saw that ﬂukes lay thick about the
bottom, half-hidden in the sand. We waded in, and helped to
pick them up, till the great basket was about half full. He
then closed the net, and came away, complaining that it was “nobbut
a poor catch.”
When we got to the cottage, we put on our own clothes, which were
quite dry. And, after we had picked out two dozen of the ﬁnest
flukes, which the old man strung upon a stout cord for ease of
carriage, we bade adieu to the ﬁsherman and his family, and we
walked away over the sands, nearly by the way we had come to the
The sun had gone down behind old Birkrigg; but his westering
splendour still empurpled the rugged tops of the Cartmel hills.
The woods of Conishead were darkening into shade; and the low of
cattle came, mellowed by distance, from the rich pastures of
Furness. It was a lovely evening. Instead of going up
the green lane which leads to the landward end of Bardsea, we turned
southward, along the shore, and took a grass-grown shady path which
winds round the sea-washed base of the hill upon which the church
stands, and so up into the village by a good road from the beach.
The midges were dancing their airy rounds; the throstle’s song began
to ring clearer in the stilling woods; and the lone ouzel, in her
leafy covert, chanted little ﬁts of complaining melody, as if she
had lost something. There were other feathered lingerers, here
and there in those twilight woods, not willing yet to go to rest,
through unwearied joyfulness of heart, and still singing on, like
children late at play, who have to be called in by their mothers as
night comes on.
When we drew near my friend’s house, he said, “Now, we had better
not mention this little affair to our people.” But, as we sat
at supper that night, I could not help feeling thankful that we were
eating fish, instead of being eaten by them.
OWD Enoch o’ Dan’s laid his pipe
deawn o’ th’ hob,
And his thin ﬁngers played i’ th’ white thatch ov
“Aw’m gettin’ done up,” to their Betty he said;
“Dost think thae could doff mo an’ dad mo to bed?”
Derry down, &c.
Then hoo geet him to bed, an’ hoo happed him up
An’ hoo said to him, “Enoch, lad, heaw doesto feel?”
“These limbs o’ mine, Betty — they’re cranky an’ sore;
It’s time to shut up when one’s getten four-score.”
As hoo potter’t abeawt his poor winterly pate,
Th’ owd fellow looked dreawsily up at his mate;
“There ’s nought ou mo laft, Betty, — do what tho
But th’ cratchinly frame o’ what once wur a mon.”
Then he turn’t hissel’ o’er, like a chylt tiret wi’
An’ Betty crept reawnd, while he’re dozin’ away;
As his ee-lids sank deawn, th’ owd lad whisper’t, “Well
Aw think there’s a bit o’ seawnd sleep comin’ on.”
Then hoo thought hoo’d sit by till he’d had his nap
Iv hoo’d sit theer till then, hoo ’d ha’ risen no moor;
For he cool’t eawt o’ th’ world, an’ his een lost their
As quiet as a cinder i’ th’ ﬁreegrate at neet.
As Betty sit rockin’ bi th’ side ov his bed,
Hoo looked neaw an’ then at owd Enoch’s white yed;
An’ hoo thought to hersel’ that hoo’d not lung to
Iv ever th’ owd prop ov her life should give way.
Then, wond’rin’ to see him so seawnd an’ so still,
Hoo touched Enoch’s hond, an’ hoo fund it wur chill;
Says Betty, “He’s cowd; aw’ll put summat moor on!”
But o wur no use, for Owd Enoch wur gone.
An’ when they put Enoch to bed i’ the greawnd,
A rook o’ poor neighbours stoode bare-yedded
They dropt sprigs o’ rosemary; an’ this wur their
“Th’ owd crayter’s laid by, — We may haply be th’
So, Betty wur laft to toar on bi hersel’;
An’ heaw hoo poo’d through it no mortal can tell;
But th’ doctor dropt in to look at her one day,
When hoo’re rockin’ bi th’ side ov an odd cup o’
“Well, Betty,” said th’ doctor, “heaw dun yo get on?
Aw’m soory to yer ’at yo’n lost yo’r owd mon.
What complaint had he, Betty?” Says hoo, “Aw
We ne’er had no doctor; he dee’d ov hissel’.”
“Ay, Betty,” said th’ doctor; “there’s one thing quite
Owd age is a thing that no physic can cure.
Fate will have her way, lass, — do o that we con,—
When th’ time’s up, we’s ha’ to sign o’er an’ be
“Both winter an’ summer th’ owd mower ’s at wark,
Sidin’ folk eawt o’ seet, both bi dayleet an’ dark;
He ’s slavin’ away while we’re snorin’ i’ bed;
An’ he ’d slash at a king, iv it coom in his yed.”
“These sodiurs, an’ parsons, an’ maisters o’ lond,
He lays ’em i’ th’ greawnd, wi’ their meawths full o’
Rags or riches, an’ owd greasy cap or a creawn —
He serves o alike, for he switches ’em deawn.”
“The mon that’s larn’t up, an’ the mon that’s a foo—
It maks little odds, for the’n both ha’ to goo;
When they come’n within th’ swing ov his scythe they
Iv yo’n root amung th’ swathe, yo’n ﬁnd doctors an’ o.’
OLIVER FEARNLEAF’S WATCH.
O thou who dost these pointers see,
That show the passing hour;
Say, do I tell the time to thee,
And tell thee nothing more?
I bid thee mark life’s little day
With strokes duty done;
A clock may stop at any time —
But time will travel on.
WHEN I was ﬁrst bound apprentice, I was so
thick-set, and of such short stature for my age, that I began to be
afraid that I was doomed to be a pigmy in size; and it grieved my
heart to think so. I remember how anxiously I used to compare my own
stunted ﬁgure with the height of other lads younger than me; and
seeing myself left so much below them, I remember how much I longed
for a rise in the world. This feeling troubled me sorely for
two or three years. It troubled me so much, indeed, that, even
at church, when I heard the words, “Which of you, by taking thought,
can add one cubit unto his stature?” the question touched me
sometimes with the pain of a personal allusion to my own defect;
and, in those days, I have many a time walked away from service on a
Sunday, sighing within myself, and wondering how much a cubit was.
But I had a great deal of strong life in my little body; and, as I
grew older, I took very heartily to out-door exercises, and I
carefully notched the progress of my growth with a pocket-knife,
against a wooden ceiling, in the office where I was an apprentice.
As time went on, my heart became gradually relieved and gay as I saw
these notches rise steadily, one over the other, out of the low
estate which had given me so much pain.
But, as this childish trouble died away from my mind, other
ambitions awoke within me, and I began to fret at the tether of my
apprenticeship, and wish for the time when I should be ﬁve feet
eight, and free. Burns’s songs were always a delight to me;
but there was one of them which I thought more of then than I do
now. It was —
“Oh for ane-an’-twenty, Tam!
An’, hey for ane-an’-twenty, Tam!
I’d learn my kin a rattlin’ sang,
An’ I saw ane-an’-twenty, Tarn!”
About two years before the wished-for day of my release came, I
mounted a long-tailed coat, and a chimney-pot hat, and began to
reckon myself among the sons of men. My whiskers, too, (they
never came to anything grand — never will) — but my whiskers began
to show a light-coloured down, that pleased the young manikin very
much. I was anxious to coax that silken ﬂuz lower down upon my
smooth cheeks; but it was no use. They never grew strong; and
they would not come low down; so I gave them up at last, with many a
sigh. The dainty Ariels were timid, and did their sprouting
gently. This was one of my ﬁrst lessons in resignation.
I remember, too, it was about the same time that I bought my ﬁrst
watch. It was a second-hand silver verge watch, with large
old-fashioned numerals upon the face, and it cost twenty-one
shillings. I had a good deal ado to raise the price of it by
small savings, by working over-hours, and by the sale of an old
accordion and a sword-stick. Long before I could purchase it,
I had looked at it from time to time as I passed by the watchmaker’s
window, which was on the way between my home and the shop where I
was an apprentice. At last I bore the prize away. A few
pence bought a steel chain; and my eldest sister gave me a little
old seal, and a lucky sixpence, to wear upon the chain ― I felt for
the time as if it was getting twelve o’clock with my fortunes.
A long-tailed coat; a chimney-pot hat; a watch; a mild promise of
whiskers; a good constitution; and a fair chance of being ﬁve feet
eight or so. No wonder that I began to push out my shins as I
went about the streets.
For some weeks after I became possessed of my watch, I took great
pleasure in polishing the case, looking into the works, winding it
up, and setting it right by public clocks, and by other people’s
watches. I had a trick, too, of pulling it out in public
places, which commanded the range of some desired observation.
But after a year or so, the novelty wore off, and I began to take
less interest in the thing. Besides, through carelessness and
inexperienced handling, I found that my watch began to swallow up a
good deal of pocket-money, in new glasses, and other repairs.
I was fond of jumping, too, and other rough exercises; and through
this my watch got sadly knocked about, and was a continual source of
anxiety to me. At last I got rid of it altogether. It
had never done well with me; but it went from me ― for good; and I
was cured of the watch mania for a long while. In fact, nearly
twenty years passed away, during which I never owned a watch; never,
indeed, very much felt the want of one. When I look back at
those years, and remember how I managed to mark the time without
watch of my own, I ﬁnd something instructive in the retrospect.
In a large town there are so many public clocks, and bells, and so
many varied movements of public life which are governed by the
progress of the hours, that there is little difﬁculty in the matter.
But in the country — in my lonely rambles — I learned, then, to read
the march of time, “indifferently well,” in the indications of
nature, as ploughmen and shepherds do. The sights, and
“shapes, and sounds, and shifting elements,” became my time-markers;
and the whole world was my clock. I can see many compensations
arising from the lack of a watch with me during all that time.
And now, after so many years of sweet independence in this respect,
I ﬁnd myself unexpectedly the owner of a watch once more. I
became possessed of it rather curiously, too. The way of it
was this. I was on a visit in a neighbouring town; and the
afternoon, I called to pass an hour with an old friend, before
returning home. After the usual hearty salutes, we sat down in
a snug back parlour, lighted our pipes, and settled into a dreamy
state of repose, which was more delightful than any strained effort
at entertainment. We puffed away silently for a while; and
then we asked one another questions, in a drowsy way, like two men
conversing in their sleep; then we smoked on again, and looked
vacantly round about the room, and into the ﬁre. At last I
noticed that my friend began to gaze earnestly at my clothing; and
knowing him to be a close observer, and a man of penetrative spirit,
I felt it; though I knew very well that it was all right, for he
takes a kindly interest in all I wear, or do, or say. Well; he
began to look hard at my clothing, beginning with my boots. I
didn’t care much about him examining my boots; for, as it happened,
they had just been soled, and heeled, and welted afresh; with a bran
new patch upon one side. If he had seen them a week before I
should have been pained, for they were in a ruinous state then; and,
being rather a dandiﬁed pair originally, they looked abominable.
I think there is nothing in the world so intensely wretched in
outward appearance as shabby dandyism. Well, he began with my
boots; and, after he had scrutinised them thoroughly for a minute or
two, I felt, instinctively, that he was going to peruse the whole of
my garments from head to foot, like a tapestried story. And so
it was. When he had ﬁnished my boots, his eyes began to travel
slowly up my leg; and, as they did so, my mind ran anxiously ahead,
to see what the state of things was upon the road that his glance
“How are my trousers?" thought I. There was no time to lose;
for I felt his eye coming up my leg, as sharp as a dissecting knife.
At last, I bethought me that I had split them across one knee, about
a fortnight before; and the split had only been indifferently
stitched up. “Now for it,” thought I, giving myself a sudden
twitch, with the intention of throwing my other leg over that knee
to hide the split. But I was too late. His eye had
already fastened upon the place like a leech. I saw his keen
glance playing slyly about the split, and my nerves quivered in
throes of silent pain all the while. At last he lifted up his
eyes, and yawned, and looking up at the ceiling, he sighed out the
word “Ay,” very slowly; and then he turned aside to light his pipe
at the ﬁre again; and whilst he was lighting his pipe, I very
quietly laid the sound leg of my trousers over the split knee.
Pushing the tobacco into his pipe with the haft of an old penknife,
he now asked me how things were going on in town. I pretended
to be quite at ease; and I tried to answer him with the air of one
who was above the necessity of such considerations. But I knew
that he only asked the question for the purpose of throwing me off
my guard; and I felt sure that his eyes would return to the spot
where they had left off at. And they did so. But he saw
at once that the knee was gone; so he travelled slowly upwards, with
persistent gaze. In two or three minutes he stopped again.
It was somewhere about the third button of my waistcoat — or rather
the third button hole, for the button was off. He halted
there; and his glance seemed to snuff round about the place, like a
dog that thinks he has caught the scent; and I began to feel
uncomfortable again; for, independent of the button being off, I had
only twopence halfpenny, and a bit of black lead pencil, and an
unpaid bill in my pocket; and somehow I though he was ﬁnding it all
out. So I shifted myself round, and began to hum within
“Take, oh take, those eyes away!”
But it was no use. He would do it. And I couldn’t stand
it any longer; so I determined to bolt before he got up to my shirt
front, or “dickey,”—for I had a “dickey” on, and one side of it was
bulging out in a disorderly way, and I durst not try to put it right
for fear of drawing his attention to it. I determined to be
rid of the inﬂiction at once, so I pretended to be in a hurry.
Knocking the ashes out of my pipe, I rose up and asked if he had a
“There ’s a train about now, I think.”
“Yes; but stop till the next. What’s your hurry? You’re
not here every day. Sit down and get another pipe.”
“How’s your clock?” said I, turning round and looking through the
window, so as to get a sly chance of pushing my “dickey” into its
place — “How’s your clock?”
“Well, it ’s about ten minutes fast. Isn’t it, Sarah?” said he
to the servant, who was coming in with some coals.
“No,” replied she. “I put it right by th’ blacksmith, this
By “the blacksmith,” she meant the ﬁgure of an old man with a
hammer, which struck the hours upon the bell of a public clock, a
little higher up the street.
“Well,” said my friend, looking at the time-table, “in any case, you
’re too late for this train now. Sit down a bit. I left
my watch this morning, to have a new spring put in it; but I’ll keep
my eye on the clock, so that you shall be in time for the next.
Sit down, an’ let’s have a chat about old times.”
I gave a furtive glance at my “dickey,” and, seeing it was all
right, I sat down again with a sigh, laying the sound leg of my
trousers carefully over the split knee. I had no sooner sat
down, than he looked at my waistcoat pocket again, and said, “I say,
old boy; why don’t you carry a watch? It would be a great
I explained to him that I had been so many years used to notice
public clocks, and to marking the time by the action of nature, and
by these movements of human life that are regulated by clock-work,
that I felt very little need of a watch. Besides, it was as
easy to ask the time of day of people who had watches, as it would
be to look at one’s own; and then, if I had a watch, I did not know
whether the convenience of the thing would compensate for the
anxiety and expense of it. He listened attentively, and then,
after looking into the ﬁre musingly for a minute or two, as if he
was interpreting my excuse in some way of his own, he suddenly
knocked his pipe upon the top bar of the ﬁre-grate, and said, “By
Jupiter Ammon, I’ll give you one!” My friend never swears,
except by that dissolute old Greek; or, by a still more mysterious
deity, whom he calls “the Living Jingo!” Whenever he mentions
either of these persons, I know that he means something strong; so,
I sat still and “watched the case,” as lawyers say.
“Mary,” said he, rising, and calling to his wife, who was in another
room — “Mary, where’s that old watch?”
“I have it up-stairs in an old rosewood writing-desk,” replied she.
“Just fetch it down; I want to look at it.” He listened at the
door, until he heard her footsteps going up-stairs; and then he
turned to me, chuckling and rubbing his hands; and, slapping me on
the ###shoulder, he said, “ Now then, old fellow, ﬁll your pipe
again! By the Living Jingo, you shall have the time o’ day in your
pocket before you leave this house.” She was a good while in
returning; so he shouted up the stairs, “Haven’t you found it yet,
“Yes,” replied she, “it’s here. I’ll be down in a minute.”
I began to puff very hard at my pipe; for I was getting excited.
She came at last, and said, as she laid the watch in his hand, “I
have thought or selling it many a time, for it is of no use lying
“Ay,” replied my friend, pretending to look very hard at the works.
As long as she remained in the room, he still kept quietly saying,
“Ay, ay,” as short intervals. But when she left the room, he
earnestly watched the closing door, and then, shutting the watch, he
came across to me, and, laying it in my hand, he said, “There, old
boy, that’s yours. Keep it out of sight till you get out of
And I did keep it out of sight. But I was more than ever
anxious to get away by the next train, so that I could fondle it
freely. It was an old silver lever watch, without ﬁngers.
It was silent, with a silence that had continued long; its face was
dusty; and the case wore the cloudy hue of neglect. However, I
bore my prize away at last; and before the day was over I had spent
eighteen-pence upon new ﬁngers, and sixpence upon a yard-and-a-half
of broad black watered silk ribbon for a guard. Next day after
I had polished the case thoroughly with whitening, I put on a clean
shepherd’s plaid waistcoat, in order to show the broad black ribbon
which led to my watch. Since then, I know not how oft I have
stopped to put it right by the cathedral clock; and I have found
sometimes, as the Irishman did, that “the little divul had bate that
big fellow by two hours in twelve.”
It is a curious thing, this old watch of mine; and I like it; there
is something so human about it. It is full of “Quips, and
cranks, and wanton wiles.” Sometimes the ﬁngers stand still,
even when the works are going on. Even when wound up, it had a
strange trick of stopping altogether for an hour or two now and
then, as if smitten with a ﬁt of idleness; and then it will set off
again, of its own accord, like a living thing wakening up from
sleep. It stops oftener than it goes. It is not so much
a time-keeper as a standing joke; and looking at it from this point
of view, I am very fond of this watch of mine. Before I had
it, whenever I chanced to waken in the night-time, I used to strike
a light, and read myself to sleep again. But now, when I waken
in the night, I suddenly remember, “Oh, my watch!” Then I listen;
and say to myself, “I believe it has stopped again!” and then,
listening more attentively, and hearing its little pulse beating, I
say, “No: there it goes. Bravo!” And I strike a light,
and caress the little thing; and wind it up. I have great fun
with it, in a quiet way. I believe, somehow, that it is
getting used to me; and I shouldn’t like to part with it any mote.
There is a kind of friendship growing between us that will last
until my own pulse is stopped by the ﬁnger of death. And what
is death, after all, but the stopping of life’s watch; to be wound
up again by the Maker? I should not like to lose this old
watch of mine now. It is company when I am lonely; it is
diversion when I am tired; and, though it is erratic, it is amiable
and undemonstrative. I will make it famous yet, in sermon or
in song. I have begun once or twice, “O thou” — and then
stopped, and tried, “When I behold”— and then I have stopped again.
But I will do it yet. If the little thing had a soul, now, I fear
that it would never be saved; for, “faith without works is vain.”
But I have faith in it, though it has deceived me oft. My
quaint old monitor! How often has it warned me, that when man
goes “on tick,” it always ends in a kind of “Tic Doloreaux.”
But the hour approaches, when its tiny pulse and mine, must stand
still for ever; for —
“Owd Time, — he’s a troublesome codger, —
Keeps nudgin’ us on to decay;
An’ whispers you’re nobbut a lodger;
Get ready for goin’ away.”
And when “life’s ﬁtful fever” is past, I hope they will not sell my
body to the doctors; nor my watch to the jews; but bury us together
and let us rest when they have done so.
JOHN HEYWOOD, PRINTER, DEANSGATE, MANCESTER.