Penelope's Irish Experiences by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Chapter IX. The light of other days.
'Oft in the stilly night, Ere slumber's chain has bound me, Fond memory brings the light Of other days around me.' Thomas Moore.
If you want to fall head over ears in love with Ireland at the very first sight of her charms, take, as we did, the steamer from Cappoquin to Youghal, and float down the vale of the Blackwater-
'Swift Awniduff, which of the Englishman Is cal' de Blackwater.'
The shores of this Irish Rhine are so lovely that the sail on a sunny day is one of unequalled charm. Behind us the mountains ranged themselves in a mysterious melancholy background; ahead the river wended its way southward in and out, in and out, through rocky cliffs and well-wooded shores.
The first tributary stream that we met was the little Finisk, on the higher banks of which is Affane House. The lands of Affane are said to have been given by one of the FitzGeralds to Sir Walter Raleigh for a breakfast, a very high price to pay for bacon and eggs, and it was here that he planted the first cherry-tree in Ireland, bringing it from the Canary Islands to the Isle of Weeping.
Looking back just below here, we saw the tower and cloisters of Mount Melleray, the Trappist monastery. Very beautiful and very lonely looked 'the little town of God,' in the shadows of the gloomy hills. We wished we had known the day before how near we were to it, for we could have claimed a night's lodging at the ladies' guest-house, where all creeds, classes, and nationalities are received with a cead-mile-failte,* and where any offering for food or shelter is given only at the visitors pleasure. The Celtic proverb, 'Melodious is the closed mouth,' might be written over the cloisters; for it is a village of silence, and only the monks who teach in the schools or who attend visitors are absolved from the vow.
*A hundred thousand welcomes.
Next came Dromana Castle, where the extraordinary old Countess of Desmond was born,--the wonderful old lady whose supposed one hundred and forty years so astonished posterity. She must have married Thomas, twelfth Earl of Desmond, after 1505, as his first wife is known to have been alive in that year. Raleigh saw her in 1589, and she died in 1604: so it would seem that she must have been at least one hundred and ten or one hundred and twelve when she met her untimely death,--a death brought about entirely by her own youthful impetuosity and her fondness for athletic sports. Robert Sydney, second Earl of Leicester, makes the following reference to her in his Table-Book, written when he was ambassador at Paris, about 1640:-
'The old Countess of Desmond was a marryed woman in Edward IV. time in England, and lived till towards the end of Queen Elizabeth, so she must needes be neare one hundred and forty yeares old. She had a new sett of teeth not long afore her death, and might have lived much longer had she not mett with a kinde of violent death; for she would needes climbe a nut-tree to gather nuts; so falling down she hurt her thigh, which brought a fever, and that fever brought death. This my cousin Walter Fitzwilliam told me.'
It is true that the aforesaid cousin Walter may have been a better raconteur than historian; still, local tradition vigorously opposes any lessening of the number of the countess's years, pinning its faith rather on one Hayman, who says that she presented herself at the English court at the age of one hundred and forty years, to petition for her jointure, which she lost by the attainder of the last earl; and it also prefers to have her fall from the historic cherry-tree that Sir Walter planted, rather than from a casual nut- tree.
Down the lovely river we went, lazily lying back in the sun, almost the only passengers on the little craft, as it was still far too early for tourists; down past Villierstown, Cooneen Ferry, Strancally Castle, with its 'Murdering Hole' made famous by the Lords of Desmond, through the Broads of Clashmore; then past Temple Michael, an old castle of the Geraldines, which Cromwell battered down for 'dire insolence,' until we steamed slowly into the harbour of Youghal--and, to use our driver's expression, there is no more 'onderhanded manin'' in Youghal than the town of the Yew Wood, which is much prettier to the eye and sweeter to the ear.
Here we found a letter from Salemina, and expended another eighteenpence in telegraphing to her:-
PEABODY, Coolkilla House, near Mardyke Walk, Cork. We are under Yew Tree at Myrtle Grove where Raleigh and Spenser smoked, read manuscript Faerie Queene, and planted first potato. Delighted Benella better. Join you to-morrow. Don't encourage archaeologist. PENESCA.
We had a charming hour at Myrtle Grove House, an unpretentious, gabled dwelling, for a time the residence of the ill-fated soldier captain, Sir Walter Raleigh. You remember, perhaps, that he was mayor of Youghal in 1588. After the suppression of the Geraldine rebellion, the vast estates of the Earl of Desmond and those of one hundred and forty of the leading gentlemen of Munster, his adherents, were confiscated, and proclamation was made all through England inviting gentlemen to 'undertake' the plantation of this rich territory. Estates were offered at two or three pence an acre, and no rent was to be paid for the first five years. Many of these great 'undertakers,' as they were called, were English noblemen who never saw Ireland; but among them were Raleigh and Spenser, who received forty-two thousand and twelve thousand acres respectively, and in consideration of certain patronage 'undertook' to carry the business of the Crown through Parliament.
Francesca was greatly pleased with this information, culled mostly from Joyce's Child's History of Ireland. The volume had been bought in Dublin by Salemina and presented to us as a piece of genial humour, but it became our daily companion.
I made a rhyme for her, which she sent Miss Peabody, to show her that we were growing in wisdom, notwithstanding our separation from her.
'You have thought of Sir Walter as soldier and knight, Edmund Spenser, you've heard, was well able to write; But Raleigh the planter, and Spenser verse-maker, Each, oddly enough, was by trade 'Undertaker.''
It was in 1589 that the Shepherd of the Ocean, as Spenser calls him, sailed to England to superintend the publishing of the Faerie Queene: so from what I know of authors' habits, it is probable that Spenser did read him the poem under the Yew Tree in Myrtle Grove garden. It seems long ago, does it not, when the Faerie Queene was a manuscript, tobacco just discovered, the potato a novelty, and the first Irish cherry-tree just a wee thing newly transplanted from the Canary Islands? Were our own cherry-trees already in America when Columbus discovered us, or did the Pilgrim Fathers bring over 'slips' or 'grafts,' knowing that they would be needed for George Washington later on, so that he might furnish an untruthful world with a sublime sentiment? We re-read Salemina's letter under the Yew Tree:-
Coolkilla House, Cork.
MY DEAREST GIRLS,--It seems years instead of days since we parted, and I miss the two madcaps more than I can say. In your absence my life is always so quiet, discreet, dignified,--and, yes, I confess it, so monotonous! I go to none but the best hotels, meet none but the best people, and my timidity and conservatism for ever keep me in conventional paths. Dazzled and terrified as I still am when you precipitate adventures upon me, I always find afterwards that I have enjoyed them in spite of my fears. Life without you is like a stenographic report of a dull sermon; with you it is by turns a dramatic story, a poem, and a romance. Sometimes it is a penny- dreadful, as when you deliberately leave your luggage on an express train going south, enter another standing upon a side track, and embark for an unknown destination. I watched you from an upper window of the Junction Hotel, but could not leave Benella to argue with you. When your respected husband and lover have charge of you, you will not be allowed such pranks, I warrant you.
Benella has improved wonderfully in the last twenty-four hours, and I am trying to give her some training for her future duties. We can never forget our native land so long as we have her with us, for she is a perfect specimen of the Puritan spinster, though too young in years, perhaps, for determined celibacy. Do you know, we none of us mentioned wages in our conversations with her? Fortunately she seems more alive to the advantages of foreign travel than to the filling of her empty coffers. (By the way, I have written to the purser of the ship that she crossed in, to see if I can recover the sixty or seventy dollars she left behind her.) Her principal idea in life seems to be that of finding some kind of work that will be 'interestin'' whether it is lucrative or not.
I don't think she will be able to dress hair, or anything of that sort--save in the way of plain sewing, she is very unskilful with her hands; and she will be of no use as courier, she is so provincial and inexperienced. She has no head for business whatever, and cannot help Francesca with the accounts. She recites to herself again and again, 'Four farthings make one penny, twelvepence make one shilling, twenty shillings make one pound'; but when I give her a handful of money and ask her for six shillings and sixpence, five and three, one pound two, or two pound ten, she cannot manage the operation. She is docile, well mannered, grateful, and really likable, but her present philosophy of life is a thing of shreds and patches. She calls it 'the science,' as if there were but one; and she became a convert to its teachings this past winter, while living in the house of a woman lecturer in Salem, a lecturer, not a 'curist,' she explains. She attended to the door, ushered in the members of classes, kept the lecture-room in order, and so forth, imbibing by the way various doctrines, or parts of doctrines, which she is not the sort of person to assimilate, but with which she is experimenting: holding, meantime, a grim intuition of their foolishness, or so it seems to me. 'The science' made it easier for her to seek her ancestors in a foreign country with only a hundred dollars in her purse; for the Salem priestess proclaims the glad tidings that all the wealth of the world is ours, if we will but assert our heirship. Benella believed this more or less until a week's sea-sickness undermined all her new convictions of every sort. When she woke in the little bedroom at O'Carolan's, she says, her heart was quite at rest, for she knew that we were the kind of people one could rely on! I mustered courage to say, "I hope so, and I hope also that we shall be able to rely upon you, Benella!"
This idea evidently had not occurred to her, but she accepted it, and I could see that she turned it over in her mind. You can imagine that this vague philosophy of a Salem woman scientist superimposed on a foundation of orthodoxy makes a curious combination, and one which will only be temporary.
We shall expect you to-morrow evening, and we shall be quite ready to go on to the Lakes of Killarney or wherever you wish. By the way, I met an old acquaintance the morning I arrived here. I went to see Queen's College; and as I was walking under the archway which has carved upon it, 'Where Finbarr taught let Munster learn,' I saw two gentlemen. They looked like professors, and I asked if I might see the college. They said certainly, and offered to take my card into some one who would do the honours properly. I passed it to one of them: we looked at each other, and recognition was mutual. He (Dr. La Touche) is giving a course of lectures here on Irish Antiquities. It has been a great privilege to see this city and its environs with so learned a man; I wish you could have shared it. Yesterday he made up a party and we went to Passage, which you may remember in Father Prout's verses:-
'The town of Passage is both large and spacious, And situated upon the say; 'Tis nate and dacent, and quite adjacent To come from Cork on a summer's day. There you may slip in and take a dippin' Fornent the shippin' that at anchor ride; Or in a wherry cross o'er the ferry To Carrigaloe, on the other side.'
Dr. La Touche calls Father Prout an Irish potato seasoned with Attic salt. Is not that a good characterisation?
Good-bye for the moment, as I must see about Benella's luncheon.