Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter II. Irish itineraries.
'And I will make my journey, if life and health but stand, Unto that pleasant country, that fresh and fragrant strand, And leave your boasted braveries, your wealth and high command, For the fair hills of holy Ireland.' --Sir Samuel Ferguson.
Our mutual relations have changed little, notwithstanding that betrothals and marriages have intervened, and in spite of the fact that Salemina has grown a year younger; a mysterious feat that she has accomplished on each anniversary of her birth since the forming of our alliance.
It is many months since we travelled together in Scotland, but on entering this very room in Dublin, the other day, we proceeded to show our several individualities as usual: I going to the window to see the view, Francesca consulting the placard on the door for hours of table d'hote, and Salemina walking to the grate and lifting the ugly little paper screen to say, "There is a fire laid; how nice!" As the matron I have been promoted to a nominal charge of the travelling arrangements. Therefore, while the others drive or sail, read or write, I am buried in Murray's Handbook, or immersed in maps. When I sleep, my dreams are spotted, starred, notched, and lined with hieroglyphics, circles, horizontal dashes, long lines, and black dots, signifying hotels, coach and rail routes, and tramways.
All this would have been done by Himself with the greatest ease in the world. In the humbler walks of Irish life the head of the house, if he is of the proper sort, is called Himself, and it is in the shadow of this stately title that my Ulysses will appear in this chronicle.
I am quite sure I do not believe in the inferiority of woman, but I have a feeling that a man is a trifle superior in practical affairs. If I am in doubt, and there is no husband, brother, or cousin near, from whom to seek advice, I instinctively ask the butler or the coachman rather than a female friend; also, when a female friend has consulted the Bradshaw in my behalf, I slip out and seek confirmation from the butcher's boy or the milkman. Himself would have laid out all our journeyings for us, and we should have gone placidly along in well-ordered paths. As it is, we are already pledged to do the most absurd and unusual things, and Ireland bids fair to be seen in the most topsy-turvy, helter-skelter fashion imaginable.
Francesca's propositions are especially nonsensical, being provocative of fruitless discussion, and adding absolutely nothing to the sum of human intelligence.
"Why not start without any special route in view, and visit the towns with which we already have familiar associations?" she asked. "We should have all sorts of experiences by the way, and be free from the blighting influences of a definite purpose. Who that has ever travelled fails to call to mind certain images when the names of cities come up in general conversation? If Bologna, Brussels, or Lima is mentioned, I think at once of sausages, sprouts, and beans, and it gives me a feeling of friendly intimacy. I remember Neufchatel and Cheddar by their cheeses, Dorking and Cochin China by their hens, Whitby by its jet, or York by its hams, so that I am never wholly ignorant of places and their subtle associations."
"That method appeals strongly to the fancy," said Salemina drily. "What subtle associations have you already established in Ireland?"
"Let me see," she responded thoughtfully; "the list is not a long one. Limerick and Carrickmacross for lace, Shandon for the bells, Blarney and Donnybrook for the stone and the fair, Kilkenny for the cats, and Balbriggan for the stockings."
"You are sordid this morning," reproved Salemina; "it would be better if you remembered Limerick by the famous siege, and Balbriggan as the place where King William encamped with his army after the battle of the Boyne."
"I've studied the song-writers more than the histories and geographies," I said, "so I should like to go to Bray and look up the Vicar, then to Coleraine to see where Kitty broke the famous pitcher; or to Tara, where the harp that once, or to Athlone, where dwelt Widow Malone, ochone, and so on; just start with an armful of Tom Moore's poems and Lover's and Ferguson's, and, yes," I added generously, "some of the nice moderns, and visit the scenes they've written about."
"And be disappointed," quoth Francesca cynically. "Poets see everything by the light that never was on sea or land; still I won't deny that they help the blind, and I should rather like to know if there are still any Nora Creinas and Sweet Peggies and Pretty Girls Milking their Cows."
"I am very anxious to visit as many of the Round Towers as possible," said Salemina. "When I was a girl of seventeen I had a very dear friend, a young Irishman, who has since become a well- known antiquary and archaeologist. He was a student, and afterwards, I think, a professor here in Trinity College, but I have not heard from him for many years."
"Don't look him up, darling," pleaded Francesca. "You are so much our superior now that we positively must protect you from all elevating influences."
"I won't insist on the Round Towers," smiled Salemina, "and I think Penelope's idea a delightful one; we might add to it a sort of literary pilgrimage to the homes and haunts of Ireland's famous writers."
"I didn't know that she had any," interrupted Francesca.
This is a favourite method of conversation with that spoiled young person; it seems to appeal to her in three different ways: she likes to belittle herself, she likes to shock Salemina, and she likes to have information given her on the spot in some succinct, portable, convenient form.
"Oh," she continued apologetically, "of course there are Dean Swift and Thomas Moore and Charles Lever."
"And," I added "certain minor authors named Goldsmith, Sterne, Steele, and Samuel Lover."
"And Bishop Berkeley, and Brinsley Sheridan, and Maria Edgeworth, and Father Prout," continued Salemina, "and certain great speech- makers like Burke and Grattan and Curran; and how delightful to visit all the places connected with Stella and Vanessa, and the spot where Spenser wrote the Faerie Queene."
"'Nor own a land on earth but one, We're Paddies, and no more,'"
sang Francesca. "You will be telling me in a moment that Thomas Carlyle was born in Skereenarinka, and that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in Coolagarranoe," for she had drawn the guidebook toward her and made good use of it. "Let us do the literary pilgrimage, certainly, before we leave Ireland, but suppose we begin with something less intellectual. This is the most pugnacious map I ever gazed upon. All the names seem to begin or end with kill, bally, whack, shock, or knock; no wonder the Irish make good soldiers! Suppose we start with a sanguinary trip to the Kill places, so that I can tell any timid Americans I meet in travelling that I have been to Kilmacow and to Kilmacthomas, and am going to-morrow to Kilmore, and the next day to Kilumaule."
"I think that must have been said before," I objected.
"It is so obvious that it's not unlikely," she rejoined; "then let us simply agree to go afterwards to see all the Bally places from Ballydehob on the south to Ballycastle or Ballymoney on the north, and from Ballynahinch or Ballywilliam on the east to Ballyvaughan or Ballybunnion on the west, and passing through, in transit,
Ballyragget, Ballysadare, Ballybrophy, Ballinasloe, Ballyhooley, Ballycumber, Ballyduff, Ballynashee, Ballywhack.
Don't they all sound jolly and grotesque?"
"They do indeed," we agreed, "and the plan is quite worthy of you; we can say no more."
We had now developed so many more ideas than we could possibly use that the labour of deciding among them was the next thing to be done. Each of us stood out boldly for her own project,--even Francesca clinging, from sheer wilfulness, to her worthless and absurd itineraries,--until, in order to bring the matter to any sort of decision, somebody suggested that we consult Benella; which reminds me that you have not yet the pleasure of Benella's acquaintance.