Extract from My Ireland, written by Kate O’Brien, first published 1962. Out of print. From Antrim and Belfast.
“When I walked into the hotel in Cushendall on a bright, cold Wednesday afternoon, the first Wednesday in March, I was puzzled to find on each open, welcoming brow that turned towards, me a central smudge of black. Schooldays, Mother Philomena, Sister Bernard -I remembered. Ah yes – Ash Wednesday! But this is Antrim! I am in the north! And so I learnt to my surprise that the population of the Glens of Antrim is almost ninety per cent Roman Catholic. A point of no relevance, save that it was dramatically, amusingly, presented to me by the admonition, “Remember man that thou art dust”, written on every forehead in a remote, lovely village to which I came a stranger with misconceptions.
I can hardly have had misconceptions about the look of this region, however, for the coast and glens of Antrim are renowned, as Kerry is. Placed diagonally to each other, north and south, the two counties have long been clich?s for scenic beauty in Ireland. And undeniably they are superb; endearing also, their lovers tell us. But in neither case am I in that secret, but only an acquaintance standing about in admiration, presuming nothing and keeping the word love under cover.
I had what old-fashioned people call ‘great crack’ in Cushendall. I wonder does Mrs Stone remember me? She has a pleasant, low- ceilinged shop – stationery, postcards, rosary beads – and she lives alone in a deep old house behind it.
She is old herself; she says she is over ninety, and her memories justify her claim, but she suggests an ascetic and very handsome seventy. Her eyes shine starrily in a pale, aristocratic face and grey-white hair sweeps off her temples poet-fashion; she is lean and moves quickly, and she looks at and listens to everything alive with an open interest which is at once benevolent and critical. She was born into poverty and hard work in Belfast; and, without any hyperbole, she must have been one of the most beautiful and thoroughbred-looking girls that ever stepped anywhere in Ireland. Marriage brought her at twenty years of age to Cushendall and the little shop. And ever since she has watched and loved the Glens, their glamour, their legends, their people and their history. She has read all her life, eclectically and impatiently; and she has kept informed of the world and events. She has talked with high and low, loves to talk with all sorts. She was born an intellectual, every experience and observation filters through her analytic brain. She is, indeed, an original – one does not meet her like. And that not merely because now, over ninety, she is so handsome, so gracious and witty and, unwillingly, so clear a reproach to us all – but always she must have stood alone, I think.
Mrs Stone is a woman who speaks of the past lightly, and with no pause or drag for sentiment. She remembers neatly – and if she does not she tosses the attempt behind her. So, nothing of a bore!
Our first conversation settled it that we were to get acquainted. I was in her dark shop looking at postcards – and a poor selection they were. I had just come up the Antrim West Road and entered the Glens for the first time in my life; I was under the impression of the noble sights of the day, and I babbled, I suppose, and asked ignorant questions. These were answered with humour and charm so I dawdled about the shop. There were old Penguins* and Magazines; turning them over I talked of some writer or other who had known the Glens, and we went on a bit about books. It came out that I wrote, and I was amused at the care and light courtesy with which that fact was received. None of your “Oh, indeed! Isn’t that wonderful? Imagine it!” technique. In fact, Mrs Stone was almost too calm in getting past the dangerous boredom of ‘writer’ talk. But, a few sentences later, Limerick and surnames coming up she suddenly paused and smiled very accentedly. “Ah! I see! Ah – You do really write.”
She had got my name, and it happened that she had read and liked my novels, or some of them. So now, since I truly was a published professional, and in her opinion a good one, she could talk about books and writers without discomfort.
It was refreshing – this non-conformity.
“Why were you so cool at first when I said I was a writer?”
“Ah – it’s often difficult! So many ladies, and gentlemen, tell you that they write, you know – and then, there’s nothing more to be said!”
But we found between us much to say. Mrs Stone, though at case with local legends, ghosts and ‘tall’ stories, and with the passions of history and event – all crowded and pressed up and down the Glens – preferred to talk of living people, or of events and people within her ninety years. Good and true enough Finn MacCool’s palatial caverns up along Glenariff, and Ossian’s grave too, and tales of history and invention all about, but Mrs Stone referred one to Professor De Largy for all such. And was he not the best reference, being child and son of this very Cushendall? Herself however liked in our evening talks to argue about the art of writing and about modern writers-poets and novelists her chief targets. She is a severe critic, sometimes severe, as I thought and said, irrelevantly to literature. I had to fight hard for some twentieth-century novelists whom I know to be good, whatever Mrs Stone may say. But pleasure of our talk lay in its being more accurate than its kind often is, because we confined it to works we really knew. And she had much to tell me of writers and others of Irish fame who in her time had lived in or frequented the Glens and who had known her shop and her fireside.
She remembered Standish O’Grady, for instance, and laughed softly, sixty-five or more years beyond it, over some exaggerated impatience of his one day about a bicycle. She re-created the kind of angry charm he may have had -and we agreed as to our happy past delight in The Bog of Stars. She had known Alice Milligan, and ‘Eithne Carbery’; and the poet of Songs of the Glens of Antrim had been a life-neighbour of Cushendall. Mrs Stone knew many younger poets and folklorists too, and some of the uncompromising Ulster patriots of before 1916 – Bulmer Hobson, for instance, and Denis McCullough, and Roger Casement.
Of the last she spoke with some poignancy. “When he was only a lad I used to argue with him, here in this shop. He was a beautiful young boy, God bless him. Do you think they’ll ever let us bring him home? His place is ready for him, you know, just on the shore up there, under Tor Head. He should be at home in Antrim – instead of where he is, the child!” She looked at me shrewdly. “There was nothing bad in Roger Casement,” she said. “I’d have known, I think, if he was bad. Oh, he was foolish. He had wild ideas, and often I told him they were impossible – nonsensical. The way he’d laugh at that! I can see him now, sitting up there on that counter, swinging his legs, and talking nonsense!”
The last night I was in Cushendall I talked over Mrs Stone’s fire until half-past one in the morning. And then she insisted on walking the length of the street with me to my hotel. It was a clear, cold night, very still; we could bear the gentle voice of the sea off to the left. At the hotel door I wanted to walk her home again – after all, she is over ninety. But she wouldn’t hear of it. She thrust a great roll of paper into my hands. “It’s foolscap,” she said, “hard to get now. Do you write on it?”
I told her that indeed I always did, when I could get it, but that I could not take that great roll from her.
“You must,” she said. “It’s a present. Cover it with good words.” And off she turned, over the bridge and down the moonlit street as quick as a boy, in her grey tweed coat.
Extract from ‘Irish Miles’ : Author Frank O’Connor, published 1947. Out of print.
Roscrea, Monaincha, sayings and a bit on the Birch family:
“When I asked the boots in Roscrea the way to Monaincha, pronouncing it as it is spelled, he said he had never heard of it. “Would it be Monaheensha ? ” he asked, and of course, Monaheensha it was, and already it began to assume an existence outside the pages of a guide-book.
Roscrea is one of the most charming of Irish towns – potentially at least. It is tossed about in choppy country of little hills which you find looking at you from the end of every street; streets of pleasant little houses with sculped-in doorways ; a fine castle on the hilly main street with a magnificent Queen Anne house in stone built in the courtyard, and a Franciscan abbey with a sentimental little tower behind.
But the best thing in it is the fragment of a parish church which was abandoned at the beginning of the last century merely because the Protestant Church Sustentation Fund would advance money only for new buildings, not for the restoration of old ones. It now consists of nothing but a west wall, and it is remarkable that even this has survived, for a main road was driven clean through the monastery enclosure, isolating the belfry in a garage at the opposite side of the road.
It had poured steadily all the evening, and the wet, woodbine-coloured light was bringing out all the gold in the spongy yellow sandstone while the churchyard sulked behind in a cold, cavernous, sea-green light. It was a recollection of Cormac’s Chapel; a porch set in an arcade of four arches, each with a pediment that echoed the pediment of the porch and what (before they lowered the level of the roof and tacked on the little bell-cote) must have been a high gable. It was fearfully worn, for the chalky stone laps up the rain like blotting-paper, and the saint in the pediment and the heads on the capitals had almost crumbled away; but it still had some of the elegance of Cashel, the same sense of a civilised life directing it. The exterior arches were ornamented, the inner ones plain : the variation was Irish, the symmetry European.
We arrived in the heel of the evening at Roscrea, and, suddenly turning a right-angled bend, found ourselves passing this plain little Romanesque front. …………I returned to the little church just as the shadow had worked up to the level of the roof, and the little bell-cote seemed to float on the air, and stood there looking at it till darkness fell. I could barely remember a time when I didn’t understand what people meant when they talked in poetry and music, and before I could read or write I understood the music of ‘How Dear to Me the Hour when Daylight Dies’ and the poetry of
“Though lost to Momonia and cold in the grave
He returns to Kincora no more.”
……. it wasn’t until I found myself delighting in a row of little eighteenth-century houses by a river that I realised the art with which a builder erects a house so that to the memory it spells ‘home’.
We left the main road and turned along a bumpy bog road with a disused distillery at the top of it, and there came to us over the ridges of it a long procession of high blue-and-orange creels, laden with turf the heads of the little asses forced level with the shafts. It was drawing on to dusk; the fields were filled with brown rushes, and where the ground rose out of the bog to right and left there were groves of beeches, black with rain and bronzed with mast. The smell of burning turf clung like mist to the ground.
And then where the narrow road made a sudden bend over-hung with beeches we came to a wicket gate in a demesne wall. It was a gate I shan’t forget in a hurry because the sagging wall had pulled it awry ’till it looked like a mouth in a paralysed face; and quite suddenly there flashed before my mind a picture of a winter night glittering with frost and a cart with a little candle lamp, rattling home from Roscrea. There was a child sitting at the back of the cart, and as it passed the gate he drew a bit of sacking over his head because he was afraid of the ghosts.
I saw it quite plainly because I was the child on the cart, and I was terrified of the ghosts. I pulled up and said to “This is a place they see ghosts in”…….Now, I had no idea that the fields where the rushes were growing was once a wide lake, or that the church we were going to see stood on a one-time island called in all mediaeval documents Insula Viventium because nobody was supposed to be able to die on it, and when they got really ill, had to be sent across to the mainland. I found that out weeks after.
The only one of the island churches that remains stood on a hillock in the middle of the boglands with a wall of beeches about it; three bare cottage gables, the one that faced us touched by the woodbine-coloured light till it was one tone with the trees. A muddy lane led to the little Protestant cemetery where the graves were marked with small flat slabs of sandstone from the church roof or tiny ornaments from the Early English windows. The doorway had been restored by somebody with no eye for the tapering. I didn’t realise until I started looking at English churches, which all seemed for some reason to be standing to attention, how much of the character of Irish ones depends on the diminishing perspective of windows, doors, gables and towers that makes them all seem to be standing easy, legs spread, firmly based on the landscape.
Yet it still gave the church its atmosphere; a touch of -Egypt, of the hooded falcon in the high-shouldered pilasters gripped as in a steel band by the frieze of capitals, it certainly wasn’t the charming little chancel arch, woman-curved, with smooth columns, scalloped capitals and a web of smoothly flowing superficial ornament, the colour of red bronze in the evening light, nor the thirteenth-century cast window which opened on to a clump of sunlit beeches. There was a family called Birch buried inside; one was described as a native of London.
The cold drove us away at last, the penetrating cold that comes out of half-reclaimed land. We had disturbed the haunt of some yokels who were having the time of their lives, trying to scare us by popping up over walls and through window openings. When we came out it was just as if the church were islanded again because all round us was a lake of white mist, with the lamps twitching in the little cottages upon its banks.
We came back next morning when the sun was shining brightly and the gaily-coloured carts were clattering back to the bog, but the little church seemed to cling to its secret. One of the minor pleasures of architecture is the way in which buildings which haven’t been too much looked at seem to secrete some- thing of what they have experienced. Monaincha somehow suggested remoteness. It wasn’t a place you could ever grow fond of Perhaps it has seen too much. In the Middle Ages it had been a place of mystery. In the Penal Days it had been a place of refuge, and Catholics put off in boats at dawn from the shores around to hear Mass said by some hunted priest. Then the Birches came, drained the lake, buried their dead in the chancel and removed the church of the nuns to make decorations for their new garden. But the old church waited in its remoteness.
“The family”, said the old cattle dealer with whom we cycled on to Borris-in-Ossory, “is now extinct.” I guessed his business from the switch tied to the lady’s bicycle he was riding in the place where the cross-bar would normally be He was going to Borris to complete a deal, and it would not be binding without the traditional touch of ‘the rod’.
He was a chirpy, light-hearted old man and a great repository of traditional topographical lore like “wracked and wrecked like Mitchelstown”; “wherever the devil is by day, he’s in Cappawhite by night”; Carlow, “poor but proud”; and Leix, “poor, proud and beggarly; kiss you and cut your throat”. (The woman in the pub in Rathdowney solemnly assured us of the exactness of the last statement, and added the further information that while the most respectable Tipperary man would appear on Sundays with an open neck, a Leix man wouldn’t even go to the workhouse without a collar and tie on.) When we asked what he thought of Clare men he merely groaned. In fact, the only foreigners he had a good word to say for were Kerry men. “A good Kerry man is as good a man as you’ll meet.”
“And what part are ye coming from ?” he asked. “Monaincha,” said I.
“Monaincha?” he exclaimed in surprise. “What were ye doing in Monaincha?”
“Looking at the old church,” said I. “Ye didn’t see any ghosts?” he asked. “No,” said I, but at the same time my heart gave a bit of a jump. “Are there ghosts ?”
“The place is full of them,” he said. “Ye didn’t happen to see a little gate in a wall by the bend of the road?”
“We did,” said I. “Is it there the ghosts are seen?” “The very place,” he said. “There’s people wouldn’t pass that place after dark.”
The little gate, it seemed, led to the Birches’ garden, and he told us about the Birches and their distillery…………”
Foreword (written by Eamonn Kelly) for the ‘Stone Mad for Music. The Sliabh Luachra Story’
Author: Donal Hickey. Published by Marino Books.
ISBN 1 86023 097 0
I often say to myself, ‘Is Sliabh Luachra a place or a state of mind?’ Something of both, I suppose. The exact borders of the territory are never very clear to me. Some say they form a triangle from Millstreet to Killarney with its apex in Castleisland. By the base of the triangle is Cathair Chrobhdhearg, known locally as the City, a place of pilgrimage going back to the time when Homer was a boy.
Rising to the south of the City are Na Cionna, the Paps. In Irish these twin mountains of great grandeur are called AnDá Chích Dannan, the Breasts of the Goddess Dana. From either summit, I am told, one gets the best view of Sliabh Luachra, a wild landscape of bog and farmland reclaimed from the moor. The Abhainn Uí Chriadha, which carried the famous moving bog of a century ago, makes its way to the Flesk, and the white straight-as-a-dye by-road runs from Bealnadeega to Guilane before it turns cast to the area’s capital, Gneeveguilla.
Donncha Ó Céilleachair in his biography (co-written with Pronsias Ó Conluain) of an tAthair Pádraig Ua Duinnín called the Paps the Olympus of Ireland, where the gods of the old Celts lived. From their front doors the poets Aodhagán Ó Rathaille and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin saw these mountains each morning as they rose to sniff the air, and they were ever their inspiration.
I heard an old man say that before the Elizabethan plantations Sliabh Luachra was a wilderness. Men who had been deprived of their rich Munster lands found shelter within the triangle and wrenched a place to live from the moorland.
All my people had their roots in Sliabh Luachra, and when my Auntie Bridgie sat down to trace relationships it seemed to us children that we were connected by blood to a great many people in that place.
Later when we lived at Carrigeen in Glenfiesk my mother would send me at the age of ten to walk all the way to Gullane with news of our well-being for my grandfather and grandmother. From our house to theirs was a tidy step, and even in the daylight I was fearful passing Béalnadeaga because of a story my mother told us about that crossroads. A spirit used to appear there at the dead of night and men out late were frightened to death by her. She had the power to drag a man from a galloping horse, and was said to blind her victim by squirting her breast-milk into his eyes.
Priests came to bless the place where she haunted, but the spirit remained until a holy friar in a brown habit read over the spot. His reading of Latin was effective. He banished the spirit to the Dead Sea and the sentence he pronounced on her was that she should drain its waters with a silver spoon for all eternity.
During these visits to Gullane I remember meeting Charlie O’Leary, the last Irish speaker of Sliabh Luachra. When I was older and able to understand Irish he said to me,’Duine de mhuintir Chíosain tusa.’
‘I am not,’ I said. ‘My name is Kelly.’
‘Then your mother was a Kissane,’ he persisted. ‘No,’ I told him, ‘her name was Cashman.’
‘Ah, that explains it,’ he said. ‘The first man of your mother’s name to come to these quarters to rent a bit of land was asked by Lord Kenmare’s agent, “What is your name?” “Tadhg Ó Cíosáin,” the man answered. “I am tired of unpronounceable and unwritable names,” said the agent. “From now on you are Cashman.” The new name went down in the book and my ancestor lost his Gaelic nomenclature.
Donncha Ó Céilleachair, who interviewed Charlie O’Leary when he was researching the book on Father Dineen, told me that Charlie could recite Eoghan Rua’s verse and, unusually, he had an air to each poem to which he sang the lines.
Though the neighbouring men sitting around my father’s fire when I was small knew no Irish they had a wealth of stories about Eogban Rua. It seems he was one day going to Cork and outside Millstreet a school-master picked up something from the road and said to Eoghan, “Look at that, I am in luck for the day – I found a horseshoe.”
“No doubt,” Eogban remarked, “education is a wonderful thing. I wouldn’t know whether that was a horseshoe or a mare’s shoe.”
The parish priest calling out the names of those who hadn’t paid their dues enquired, “Where is Eoghan Ó Súilleabháin?” Eoghan answered and the priest asked, “Are you Eoghan a’ Dirrín?” “Ní mé,” arsa Eoghan, “ach Eoghan a’ bhéil bhinn.””
Sweet, melodious and eloquent was Eoghan’s voice, and those characteristics are evident today when a Gneeveguilla man or woman gets up to sing. And men still follow Eoghan’s trade of making noise. When I was young we looked forward on Saturday to the Cork Weekly Examiner for the songs of my mother’s cousin, the Bard of Knocknagree, one Ned Owen Buckley.
Snatches of a ballad I recall which lamented the passing of an aged neighbour. After more than a modicum of praise for the departed soul, each verse ended with the line, ‘But he wasn’t long going in the end.’
Nowadays at the mention of Sliabhh Luachra we think of music and song, storytelling and dancing. The music of Denis Murphy – that divine fiddler – is in the archives of RTÉ, and every time I hear it my feet itch for the flagged kitchen floor from which we knocked sparks when I was growing up. My friend and relative Johnny O’Leary played the button accordeon and accompanied Denis Murphy’s fiddle. Johnny is among those who carry on the tradition.
Sliabh Luachra features in the stories of Fionn Mac Cumhail’s time that tradition has handed down to us. It was from there that Bodach an Chóta Lachtna, that great big ugly laughing clown, set out to race the Greek hero Caol an larainn, all the way to the Hill of Howth.
Sliabh Luachra is as vital today as it ever was. Long may it be so, whether it is a state of mind or a mystic moorland defined by an isosceles triangle.
Extract from RAMBLES IN EIRINN – William Bulfin.
1907 Out Of print: Chapter II
Around Lough Gill – Knockarea – Sligo – The Lake – The Hills – The Valley of O’Rourke – Drumahaire – O’Rourke’s Table
“Had I hearkened to the oracular guidance of a road book, edited by a West Briton, which had cost me a shilling, I would have gone to Sligo by train, for, according to the book, the road from Dublin to Sligo is “is an uninteresting route and road in-different.” But a month’s experience had taught me that the most I could expect from this book was an occasional piece of unconscious humour.
The “uninteresting route” alluded to above is really one of the most interesting in all Ireland. It crosses the magnificent plain of Meath, passing close to Tara. It takes you past scores of historic and beautiful places in fair Westmeath of the lakes. It leads you over the most picturesque of the Longford uplands; and whether you decide to cross the Shannon at Lanesborough or at Carrick, it shows you the hills of Annaly of the O’Ferralls, and gives you the choice of a look at beautiful Lough Ree, or a ramble through the delightful country between Newtownforbes and Drumsna.
When You Cross the Shannon the Sligo road takes you over the Connacht plains and brings you within sight of royal Cruachain, It leads you into Boyle, and thence through the Pass of the Curlews, or you have an alternative road to Sligo round the northern spur of the Curlews by the rock of Doon, and the shore of Lough Key and to Sligo by Knocknarea.
“An uninteresting route?” Not if you are Irish and know some of the history of your land, and feel some pleasure in standing beside the graves of heroes and on ground made sacred by their heroism. Not if you delight to see the hay-making, and the turf cutting, and in observing the simple, beautiful life of rural Ireland. Not if you are at home among the boys and girls at the crossroads in the evening time, or if you know how to enjoy a drink of milk and a chat with the old people across the half door, or on a stool beside the hearth. Not if you love the woods and the mantling glory of waving corn ripening in the sun, and the white, winding roads made cool on the hottest day by the shade of flower-laden hedges.
But if you are one of those tired and tiresome souls desirous only of treading in the footsteps of the cheap trippers who follow one another like sheep, if you have no eye of your own for the beautiful, and if you think it your duty to go out of your way to put money into the pockets of vampire railways, then in the name of all the Philistines and seoinini take the train, or stay away out of the country altogether, or go to some peepshow and surfeit your narrow photographic soul on “views.”
The road over the Curlew Mountains from Boyle is a grand one. If you are an average roadster you can pedal up the greater part of the gradient. They tell a story in Boyle of a man who negotiated the mountains in night time without becoming aware of it. He said, when asked how he had found the roads that they were all right, but that he thought he had met a sort of a long hill somewhere. He was either a champion rider or a humorist.
Anyhow the ordinary tourist will have to get off his machine for a few steep zigzags. The rest is nothing more formidable than a good tough climb. You can rest now and then and admire the spreading plains behind you to the eastward. You can see into Mayo and Galway to your right, and Boyle is just below you, the old abbey lifting its twelfth century gables over the trees. To your left is beautiful Lough Key.
A little higher up you come to the verge of the battlefield of the Curlews. They call it Deerpark or some such history-concealing name now. Ballaghboy is what the annalists call it. You can see the stone erected on the spot where Clifford, the English general, fell. You can see where the uncaged Eagle of the North prepared for his swoop, and the heart within you leaps as your eye follows adown the slope the line of his victorious onset. God’s rest and peace be with your soul, Red Hugh! You were a sensible, practical patriot, although there is no big tower one hundred and goodness knows how many feet high erected to your memory on Ireland’s ground. And although you had no blatant press to give you high-sounding names and sing your praises to the world, you believed that liberty was worth the best blood in your veins, and you did not waste breath on windy resolutions. And when you raised your hand, a bouchal, it was not the everlasting hat that you held out in it to the gaze of the nations, for it had that in it which was worthy of Ireland and of you. ‘Twas something that gleamed and reddened and blazed and that flashed the light of wisdom and duty into the souls of manly men. After passing Ballaghboy the road leads upward into the fastnesses of the Curlews, where for a while the world is shut off. The heath-clad summits of the peaks hem you in. For about a mile you ride in this solitude and then suddenly there is a turn and the world comes back again. Below you the valleys and woods are alternating in the near distance. In front of you is a green hillside dotted with farm houses. There, too, is Lough Arrough, and beyond it, away in the hazy distance, is the purple bulk of Slieveanierin and the gray masses of Knocknarea and Benbulben. Ten minutes will bring you to the town of Ballinafad. The road from here to Sligo is a grand one for the cyclist. It is smooth and level nearly all the way. After a few miles of this pleasant road you come to an ancient-looking demesne. The timber is old and lofty, the wall along the roadside is moss-grown, the undergrowth beneath the oaks and pines is thick and tangled. This is the Folliat or Folliard estate. It is where the scene of “Willie Reilly” is laid. Here lived the “great Squire Folliard” and his lovely daughter – the heroine of one of the most popular of Anglo-Irish love tales, and the subject of a ballad that has been sung in many lands:
“Oh! rise up, Willie Reilly, and come along with me!”
The suggestion of the metre must have come to the balladist in the lilt of some old traditional air of Connacht. I have nearly always heard it sung in the Irish traditional style – the style which lived on even after the Irish language had fallen into disuse. I, have heard it sung in two hemispheres – by the Winter firesides of Leinster and under the paraiso trees around the homes of the Pampas. I had followed it around the world, through the turf smoke and bone smoke – through the midges and mosquitoes and fire-flies. I was glad to find that I had run it to earth at last, so to speak.
There is a gloom over the Folliat demesne now. The shadow of a great sorrow is on it. A few years ago a daughter of the house went out on the lake in a boat to gather water lilies for her affianced lover, who was returning that evening to her after a long absence. She was drowned. They were to have been married in a day or two. The place has never been the same since then.
Collooney was meant by nature for great things. The river flowing by the town supplies it with immense water power. Under the rule of a free people, Collooney would be an important manufacturing centre. At present it is a mere village, struggling to keep the rooftrees standing. There are various mills beside the river, some of them, I fear, silenced forever. There is a woollen factory which is evidently trying conclusions with the shoddy from foreign mills. It is engaged in an uphill fight, but I hope it is winning. After passing the woollen factory you cross the bridge, and, skirting a big hill, you drop down on the Sligo road, which takes you through one of the battlefields of ’98.
The battle was fought close to the town. On the 5th of September, 1798, the advance guard of Hum- bert’s little army arrived at Collooney from Castlebar. Colonel Vereker, of the Limerick militia, was there from Sligo with some infantry, cavalry and artillery. He was beaten back to Sligo, and he lost his artillery. Humbert then marched to Drumahaire and thence towards Manorhamilton, but suddenly wheeling he made for Longford to join the Granard men. Ballinamuck followed. , Bartholomew Teeling and Matthew Tone (brother of Theobald Wolfe Tone) were among the Irish prisoners who surrendered with Humbert to Lord Cornwallis. They were executed a few days afterward in Dublin.”
“Close beside the road on a rocky hill they have erected a monument to Teeling. The statue, which is heroic in its expression, looks toward the “Races of Castlebar” and reminds one of that splendid day. One uplifted hand grasps a battle-flag. The face is a poem, grandly eloquent in its chiselling. You think you can catch the thought that was in the sculptor’s mind. You can feel that his aim was to represent his hero looking out in fiery appeal and reproach over the sleeping West!
Sligo should by right be a great Irish seaport town, but if it had to live by its shipping interests it would starve in a week. Like Galway, it has had such a dose of British fostering and legislation that it seems to be afraid of ships and the ships seem to be afraid of it. The city lives independently of its harbour, which it holds in reserve for brighter and greater days. There are, as far as one can judge, three Sligos – the Irish Sligo, the ascendancy Sligo and the Sligo which straddles between ascendancy and nationalism. The Gaelic League is strong in the city, and one of the hardest workers in the West when I was there was Father Hynes.
Sligo is very picturesquely situated. Knocknarea guards it on one side and Benbulbin on the other. The hills which face the city to the northward are very beautiful, and beyond and above their fresh verdure are the rocky heights that beat off the keen and angry winds from the Atlantic. You ride down into the streets from a hill which overtops the steeples, and it is only when you come into the suburbs that you can see the bay. Clear and calm it looks from the Ballysodar’s road, but, alas! not a smoke cloud on the whole of it, not a sail in view, not a masthead over the roofs along the water front. The harbour is not, of course, entirely deserted. A steamer or a long boat comes in now and then. The same thing happens in Galway.
But I am not comparing the two cities, because there is no comparison between them. Galway drags on an existence. Sligo is very much alive. Galway went to the bad when its ocean trade was killed. Sligo is able to maintain itself by doing business with the district in which it is situated. Behind Galway there was no populous and fertile land near enough to be a support to business. Behind Sligo are the valleys which support a relatively thriving rural population.”
This section of this website will give with extracts from books and journals which in one way or another give some glimpse of the character of a person or a place, or the Irish in general. The extracts will change from time to time, new ones added and old ones taken away. The title and the name of the place however, will remain in the Name and Surname indices section of this web site and can be shown in the future to anyone who has an interest in either.