Sketches on Irish Highways – Irish Ruins



Extract from “Sketches on Irish Highways - Irish Ruins” Part 1...from the popular pen of Mrs Hall...We were wending our way to the ruins of the abbey of Dunbrody, Co. Wexford, leaving behind us the picturesque town of New Ross...

"Do you see that cottage there, ma'am to the left? There used to be a cottage there onc't — though but little else than the walls are in it now — bare and naked walls! and yet I mind when they were roofed, and dacency within them."

"Who lived there?"

 "James Tracey ; — but there's a beautiful place upon the hill"

"Tell me of the cottage, Laggin."

 "God bless you, ma'am dear, you're cruel fond of hearing of cottages ; sure the history of most of them in this country is alike ; — a wedding and little to begin with — a power of children, and little to give them — rack rent for the bit of land, turned out, bag and baggage, for that or the tithe — beggary— starvation-sickness - death! That a poor Irishmans calander, since the world was a world — barrin here and there — now and then — when he gets a sight of good fortune — by mistake "

" But the cabin "

 "Ay — poor James — I mind when he built it himself and the neighbours with him — and the ould landlord was over here, and gave him a promise of renewal of his father's lease, and we wanted James to get the promise in writing, but he put it off — 'twas a way he had— the only fault I ever knew in James — he didn't like to be bothered about what was coming, when he was satisfied with what was come. Well, the ould landlord died, and after that, the young one raised the rint in course, to get all he could to spend away from us ; and then poor James felt the want of a lease, for a dead man's promise is seldom thought of except by those who want to see it fulfilled ; by this time he had a young, heavy family about him, and he dipinded a good deal out of an old bachelor uncle of his dying and leaving him all he had — which was more than would fit in a midges eye — and this hindered him from doing what he otherwiae would have done : but it's ill waiting for dead men's shoes — sorra as much as would pay for a stone of praties did he ever get from that same man. Well, ma'am, gale day came and came and he got time at first, and they do say he could have pulled up, but somehow he had got fixed in the way of putting off, and one thing went to rack and another thing to rack,, and James got a hurt in his back from his horse, which he neglected to fasten in the stable ; and he'd pass the length of a summer day, propped against a post which stood at the gable end of the house, doing nothing only fuming with a neighbour, or keeping the hens out of the cabbages ; and so, in the long run, everything was distrained, and James turned into the road — himself and his children. It ^s little the land- lord got by the distraining, for no one would buy, nor no one would take the land over his head — for a reason they had — until a north-country- man ventured ; and sure it wasn't for want of the warning that himself was shot one harvest night against the very post where James used to stand — if you turn about you can see the spot now, madam, though we're so far from it — there^ against that post — and the house burnt — and three or four in it-and James himself, to crown the matter, and two more, hung for the same!"

"How dreadful! and all originated in the ruinous habit of prcastination"

"Oh sure you're going back entirely to say that, though maybe you're in the right. What's left of the children are scattered through the country with one friend or another — and the poor mother — Christ defend us ! — here she is ! — now for God's sake don't gainsay her— maybe she won't speak— only don't gainsay her — she's wild mad."

 A slight, tall woman had ascended the oppo- site side of the hill from which we were looking down upon the cottage that had been the scene of such a horrid act, and she came upon us so suddenly that the narrative, united to her sin- gular appearance, gave me a shock I shall re- member to my dying day. She wore a petticoat of black stuff, and a short cloak and hood of the same material ; her legs were bare, and her feet thrust into shoes much too large — they were strapped over her instep by leather thongs ; she had on neither cap nor bonnet, and her hair, which once must have been beautiful, hung in grey matted tresses over her bosom ; the hood was thrown back, so that her features were fully exposed — they were low and flat, but the expression of her large, blue, wandering eyes was fierce and fearful ! She advanced, curtseying at every step, towards us — we had been walking up the hill — and though she did not ask charity, I placed a small silver coin in her thin hand.

 Our guide was behind, or rather more to the right than we were, so that the maniac's eye, resting on him, would be led in a direct line to look down upon her once happy home.

"Save ye kindly, this fine morning,'' he said in a kindly tone. She turned quickly, looked at Laggin for a moment, then tossing her arms wildly in the air, uttered a long, loud, and appalling scream — I never before heard such a sound — It reverberated through the air like what one imagines would be the howl of those doomed to eternal agony — and then, as if exhausted by the effort, she sank on her knees on the earth) her right arm extended towards her cottage.

"Leave her alone — she'll come to presently ; there's one of her boys — an innocent — an' he's not far off; he tends and tracks his mother wherever she goes."

The man had hardly finished speaking, when a squalid, ragged youth, of about fifteen, crept from among some underwood — a copse of mingled furze and hawthorn — and without heeding he commenced turning her round. She appeared to have become rigid, for he moved her as though she were a kneeling statue, and having accomplished his purpose, which was to withdraw her from looking towards the ruined cottage, he sat on the earth beside her, staring up into her face with the calm, quiet air of one whose feelings are deadened — yet who once felt. I never saw so affecting a picture of human desolation as that mother and son, in sight of their blasted, ruined home !




11 April 1835 Wexford Conservative

Sketches on Irish Highways - Irish Ruins Part 1

The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 43, 1835



Anna Maria Hall. Lights and shadows of Irish life. Vol  1. 1838






Last update: 12 June 2015