1842 Thackeray's Journal of County Louth

 

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W.M. Thackeray (1811-1863)

 

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THACKERAY'S LOUTH

from

'THE IRISH SKETCH BOOK OF 1842'

by

William Makepeace Thackeray

 

(Scanned from the London 1879 edition, Smith Elder & Co. 15 Waterloo Place)

(pages 265 to 295)

…….. It would not be a bad rule for the traveller in Ireland to avoid those inns where theological works are left in the coffee-room. He is pretty sure to be made to pay very dearly for these religious privileges.

 

We waited for the coach at the beautiful lodge and gate of Annsbrook; and one of the sons of the house coming up, invited us to look at the domain, which is as pretty and neatly ordered as - as any in England. It is hard to use this comparison so often, and must make Irish hearers angry. Can't one see a neat house and grounds without instantly thinking that they are worthy of the sister country; and implying, in our cool way, its superiority to everywhere else? Walking in this gentleman's grounds, I told him, in the simplicity of my heart, that the neighbouring country was like Warwickshire, and, the grounds as good as any English park. Is it the fact that English grounds are superior, or only that Englishmen are disposed to consider them so?

 

A pretty little twining river, called the Nanny's Water, runs through the park: there is a legend about that, as about other places. Once upon a time (ten thousand years ago), Saint Patrick being thirsty as he passed by this country came to the house of an old woman, of whom, he asked a drink of milk. The old woman brought it to his reverence with the best of welcomes, and…. here it is a great mercy that the Belfast mail comes up, whereby the reader is spared the rest of the history.

 

The Belfast mail had only to carry us five miles to Drogheda, but, in revenge, it made us pay three shillings for the five mile; and again, by way of compensation, it carried us over five miles of a country that was worth at least five shillings to see - not romantic or especially beautiful, but having the best of all beauty - a quiet, smiling, prosperous, unassuming work-day look, that in views and landscapes most good judges admire. Hard by Nanny's Water, we came to Duleek Bridge, where, I was told, stands an old residence of the De Dath family, who were, moreover, builders of the picturesque old bridge.

 

The road leads over a wide green common, which puts one in mind of Eng - (a plague on it, there is the comparison again!); and at the end of the common lies the village among trees: a beautiful and peaceful sight. In the background there was a tall ivy-covered old tower, looking noble and imposing, but a ruin and useless; then there was a church, and next to it a chapel - the very same sun was shining upon both. The chapel and church were connected by a farm-yard, and a score of golden ricks were in the background, the churches in unison, and the people (typified by the corn-ricks) flourishing at the feet of both. May one, ever hope to see the day in Ireland when this little landscape allegory shall find a general application?

 

For some way after leaving Duleek the road and the country round continue to wear the agreeable, cheerful look just now lauded. You pass by a house where James II is said to have slept the night before the battle of the Boyne (he took care to sleep far enough off on the night after), and also by an old red-brick hall standing at the end of an old chace or terrace-avenue; that runs for about a mile down to the house, and finishes at a moat towards the road. But as the coach arrives near Drogheda, and in the boulevards of that town all resemblance to England is lost. Uphill and down, we pass low rows of filthy cabins in dirty undulations. Parents are at the cabin doors dressing the hair of ragged children; shock-heads of girls peer out from the black circumference of smoke, and children inconceivably filthy yell wildly and vociferously as the coach passes by. One little ragged savage rushed furiously up the hill, speculating upon permission to put on the drag-chain at descending, and hoping for a halfpenny reward. He put on the chain, but the guard did not give a halfpenny. I flung him one, and the boy rushed wildly after the carriage, holding it up with joy. "The man inside has given me one," says he, holding it up exultingly to the guard. I flung out another (by-the-by, and without any prejudice, the halfpence in Ireland are smaller than those of England), but when the child got this half-penny, small as it was, it seemed to overpower him: the little man's look of gratitude was worth a great deal more than the biggest penny ever struck.

 

The town itself, which I had three-quarters of an hour to ramble through, is smoky, dirty, and lively. There was a great bustle in the black Main Street, and several good shops, though some of the houses were in a half state of ruin, and battered shutters closed many of the windows where formerly had been "emporiums," "repositories," and other grandly-titled abodes of small commerce. Exhortations to "repeal" were liberally plastered on the blackened walls, proclaiming some past or promised visit of the "great agitator." From the bridge is a good bustling spectacle of the river and the craft; the quays were grimy with the discharge of the coal-vessels that lay alongside them; the warehouses were not less black; the seamen and porters loitering on the quay, were as swarthy as those of Puddledock; numerous factories and chimneys were vomiting huge clouds of black smoke: the commerce of the town is stated by the Guide-book to be considerable and increasing of late years. Of one part of its manufactures every traveller must speak with gratitude - of the ale namely, which is as good as the best brewed in the sister kingdom. Drogheda ale is to be drunk all over Ireland in the bottled state: candour calls for the acknowledgment that it is equally praiseworthy in draught. And while satisfying himself of this fact, the philosophic observer cannot but ask why ale should not be as good elsewhere as at Drogheda: is the water of the Boyne the only water in Ireland whereof ale can be made?

 

Above the river and craft, and the smoky quays of the town, the hills rise abruptly, up which innumerable cabins clamber. On one of them, by a church, is a round tower, or fort, with a flag: the church is the successor of one battered down by Cromwell in 1649, in his frightful siege of the place. The place of one of his batteries is still marked outside the town, and known as "Cromwell's Mount:" here he "made the breach assaultable, and, by the help of God, stormed it." He chose the strongest point of the defence for his attack.

 

After being twice beaten back, by the divine assistance he was enabled to succeed in a third assault: he "knocked on the head" all the officers of the garrison; he gave orders that none of the men should be spared, "I think," says he, "that night we put to the sword two thousand men; and one hundred of them having taken possession of St. Peter's steeple and a round tower next the gate, called St. Sunday's, I ordered the steeple of St. Peter's to be fired, when one in the flames was heard to say, "God confound me, I burn, I burn!'" The Lord General's history of "this great mercy vouchsafed to us" concludes with appropriate religious reflections: and prays Mr. Speaker of the House of Commons to remember that "it is good that God alone have all the glory." Is not the recollection of this butchery almost enough to make an Irishman turn rebel?

 

When troops marched over the bridge, a young friend of mine (whom I shrewdly suspected to be an Orangeman in his heart) told me that their bands played the "Boyne Water." Here is another legend of defeat for the Irishman to muse upon; and here it was, too; that King Richard II received the homage of four Irish kings who flung their skenes or daggers at his feet and knelt to him, and were wonder-stricken by the richness of his tents and the garment of his knights and ladies. I think it is in Lingard that the story is told and the antiquarian has no doubt seen that beautiful old manuscript at the British Museum where these yellow-mantled warriors are seen riding down to the King, splendid in his forked beard, and peaked shoes, and long dangling scalloped sleeves and embroidered gown.

 

The Boyne winds picturesquely round two sides of the town, and, following it, we came to the Linen Hall, - in the days of the linen manufacture a place of note, now the place where Mr. O'Connell harangues the people; but all the windows of the house were barricaded when we passed it, and of linen or any other sort of merchandise there seemed to be none. Three boys were running past it with a mouse tied to a string and a dog galloping after; two little children were paddling down the street, one saying to the other, "Once I had a halfpenny, and bought apples with it." The barges were lying lazily on the river, on the opposite side of which was a wood of a gentleman's domain, over which the rooks were cawing; and by the shore were some ruins - "where Mr. Ball once had his kennel of hounds" – touching reminiscence of former prosperity!

 

There is a very large and ugly Roman Catholic chapel in the town, and a smaller one of better construction: it was so crowded, however, although on a week-day, that we could not pass beyond the chapel-yard - where were great crowds of people, some praying, some talking, some buying and selling. There were two or three stalls in the yard, such as one sees near continental churches, presided over by old women, with a store of little brass crucifixes, beads, books and bénitiers for the faithful to purchase. The church is large and commodious within, and looks (not like all other churches in Ireland), as if it were frequented. There is a hideous stone monument it the churchyard representing two corpses half rotted away; time or neglect had battered away the inscription, nor could we see the dates of some older tombstones in the ground, which were mouldering away in the midst of nettles and rank grass on the wall.

 

By a large public school of same reputation, where a hundred boys were educated (my young guide the Orangeman was one of them: he related with much glee, how, on one of the Liberators visits, a schoolfellow had waved a blue and orange flag from the window and cried, "King William for ever, and, to hell with the pope!"), there is a fine old gate leading to the river, and in excellent preservation, in spite of time and, Oliver Cromwell. It is a good specimen of Irish architecture. By this time that exceedingly slow coach the "Newry Lark" had arrived at that exceedingly filthy inn where the mail had dropped us an hour before. An enormous Englishman was holding a vain combat of wit with a brawny, grinning beggar-woman at the door. "There's a clever gentleman," says the beggar-woman. "Sure he'll give me something." "How much should you like?" says the Englishman, with playful jocularity. "Musha," says she, "many a littler man nor you has given me a shilling." The coach drives away; the lady had clearly the best of the joking-match; but I did not see, for all that, that the Englishman gave her a single farthing.

 

From Castle Bellingham - as famous for ale as Drogheda, and remarkable likewise for a still better thing than ale, an excellent resident proprietress, whose fine park lies by the road, and by whose care and taste the village has been rendered one of the most neat and elegant I have yet seen in Ireland - the road to Dundalk is exceedingly picturesque, and the traveller has the pleasure of feasting his eyes with the noble line of Mourne Mountains, which rise before him while he journeys over a level country for several miles. The "Newry Lark," to be sure, disdained to take advantage of the easy roads to accelerate its movements in any way; but the aspect of the country is so pleasant that one can afford to loiter over it. The fields were yellow with the stubble of the corn - which in this, one of the chief corn counties of Ireland, had just been cut down; and a long straggling line of neat farm-houses and cottages runs almost the whole way from Castle Bellingham to Dundalk. For nearly a couple of miles of the distance the road runs along the picturesque flat called Lurgan Green; and gentlemen's residences and parks are numerous along the road, and, one seems to have come amongst a new race of people, so trim are the cottages, so neat the gates and, hedges, in this peaceful, smiling district. The people, too, show signs of the general prosperity. A national-school had just dismissed its female scholars as we passed through Dunlar [sic]; and though the children had most of them bare feet, their clothes were good and clean, their faces rosy and bright, and their long hair as shiny and as nicely combed as young ladies need to be. Numerous old castles and towers stand on the road here and there; and long before we entered Dundalk we had a sight of a huge factory-chimney in the town and of the dazzling white walls of the Roman Catholic church lately erected there. The cabin-suburb is not great, and the entrance to the town is much adorned by the hospital - a handsome Elizabethan building - and a row of houses of a similar architectural style which lie on the left of the traveller.

 

The stranger can't fail to be struck with the look of Dundalk, as he has been with the villages and country leading to it, when contrasted with places in the South and West of Ireland. The coach stopped at a cheerful-looking Place, of which almost the only dilapidated mansion was the old inn at which it discharged us, and which did not hold out much prospect of comfort. But in justice to the "King's Arms", it must be said that good beds and dinners are to be obtained there by voyagers; and if they choose to arrive on days when his Grace the Most Reverend the Lord Archbishop of' Armagh Primate of Ireland is dining with his clergy, the house of course is crowded, and the waiters, and the boy who carries in the potatoes, a little hurried and flustered. When their reverences were gone the laity were served; and I have no doubt, from the leg of a duck which I got, that the breast and wings must have been very tender.

 

Meanwhile the walk was pleasant through the bustling little town. A grave old church with a tall copper spire defends one end of the Main Street; and a little way from the inn is the superb new chapel, which the architect, Mr. Duff, has copied from King's College Chapel in Cambridge. The ornamental part of the interior is not yet completed; but the area of the chapel is spacious and noble, and three handsome altars of scagliola (or some composition resembling marble) have been erected, of handsome and suitable form. When by the aid of further subscriptions the church shall be completed, it will be one of the handsomest places of worship the Roman Catholics possess in this country. Opposite the chapel stands a neat low black building - the gaol: in the middle of the building, and over the doorway, is an ominous balcony and window, with an iron beam overhead. Each end of the beam is ornamented with a grinning iron skull! Is this the hanging-place? and do these grinning cast-iron skulls facetiously explain the business for which the beam is there? For shame! For shame! Such disgusting emblems ought no longer to disgrace a Christian land. If kill we must, let us do so with as much despatch and decency as possible, - not brazen out our misdeeds and perpetuate them in this frightful satiric way.

 

A far better cast-iron emblem stands over a handsome shop in the "Place" hard by - a plough namely, which figures over the factory of Mr. Shekelton, whose industry and skill seem to have brought the greatest benefit to his fellow-townsmen - of whom he employs numbers in his foundries and workshops. This gentleman was kind enough to show me through his manufactories, where all sorts of iron-works are made, from a steam-engine to a door-key; and I saw everything to admire, and a vast deal more than I could understand, in the busy, cheerful, orderly, bustling, clanging place. Steam-boilers were hammered here, and pins made by a hundred busy hands in a manufactory above. There was the engine-room, where the monster was whirring his ceaseless wheels and directing the whole operations of the factory, fanning the forges, turning .the drills, blasting into the pipes of the smelting-houses: he had a house to himself, from which his orders issued to the different establishments round about. One machine was quite awful to me, a gentle cockney, not used to such things: it was an iron-devourer, a wretch with huge jaws and a narrow mouth, ever opening and shutting - opening and shutting. You put a half-inch iron plate between his jaws, and they shut not a whit slower or quicker than before, and bit through the iron as if it were a sheet of paper. Below the monster's mouth was a punch that performed its duties with similar dreadful calmness.

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Rev. Elias Thackeray (1771-1854), Vicar of Dundalk and cousin of the author

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I was so lucky also to have an introduction to the Vicar of Dundalk, which that gentleman's kind and generous nature interpreted into a claim for unlimited hospitality; and he was good enough to consider himself bound not only to receive me, but to give up precious engagements abroad in order to do so. I need not say that it afforded me sincere pleasure to witness, for a couple of days, his labours among his people; and indeed it was a delightful occupation to watch both flock and pastor. The world is a wicked, selfish, abominable place as the parson tells us; but his reverence comes out of his pulpit and gives the flattest contradiction to his doctrine: busying himself with kind actions from morning till night, denying to himself, generous to others, preaching the truth to young and old, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, consoling the wretched, and giving hope to the sick; - and I do not mean to say that this sort of life is led by the Vicar of Dundalk merely, but do firmly believe that it is the life of the great majority of the Protestant and Roman Catholic clergy of the country. There will be no breach of confidence, I hope, in publishing here the journal of a couple of days spent with one of these reverend gentlemen, and telling some readers, as idle and profitless as the writer, what the clergyman's peaceful labours are.

 

In the first place, we set out to visit the church - the comfortable copper-spired old edifice that was noticed two pages back. It stands in a green churchyard of its own, very neat and trimly kept, with an old row of trees that were dropping their red leaves upon a flock of vaults and tombstones below. The building being much injured by flame and time, some hundred years back was repaired, enlarged, and ornamented - as churches in those days were ornamented - has consequently lost a good deal of its Gothic character. There is a great mixture, therefore, of old style and new style and no style; but, with all this, the church is one of the most commodious and best appointed I have seen in Ireland. The vicar held a council with a builder regarding some ornaments for the roof of the church, which is, as it should be, a great object of his care and architectural taste, and on which he has spent a very large sum of money. To these expenses he is in a manner bound, for the living is a considerable one, its income being no less than two hundred and fifty pounds a year; out of which he has merely to maintain a couple of curates and a clerk and sexton, to contribute largely towards school hospitals, and relieve a few scores of pensioners of his own, who are fitting objects of private bounty.

 

We went from the church to a school, which has been a favourite resort of the good vicar's: indeed, to judge from the schoolmaster's books, his attendance there is almost daily, and the number of scholars some two hundred. The number was considerably greater until the schools of the Educational Board were established, when the Roman Catholic clergymen withdrew many of their young people from Mr. Thackeray's establishment.

 

We found a large room with sixty or seventy boys at work; in an upper chamber were a considerable number of girls, with their teachers, two modest and pretty young women; but the favourite resort of the vicar was evidently the Infant-School, - and no wonder: it is impossible to witness a more beautiful or touching sight.

 

Eighty of these little people, healthy, clean, and rosy - some in smart gowns and shoes and stockings, some with patched pinafores and little bare pink feet – sate [sic] upon a half-dozen low benches, and were singing, at the top of their fourscore fresh voices, a song when we entered. All the voices were hushed as the vicar came in, and a great bobbing and curtseying took place; whilst a hundred and sixty innocent eyes turned awfully towards the Clergyman, who tried to look as unconcerned as possible, and began to make his little ones a speech. "I have brought," says he, "a gentleman from England, who has heard of my little children and their school, and hopes he will carry away a good account of it. Now, you know, we must all do our best to be kind and civil to strangers: what can we do here for this gentleman that he would like? - do you think he would like a song?"

 

(All the children.) – "We'll sing to him!"

 

Then the schoolmistress, coming forward, sang the first words of a hymn, which at once eighty little voices took up, or near eighty - for some of the little things were too young to sing yet, and all they could do was to beat the measure with little red hands as the others sang. It was a hymn about heaven, with a chorus of "Oh that will be joyful, joyful," and one of the verses beginning, "Little children will be there." Some of my fair readers (if, I have the honour to find such) who have been present at similar tender, charming concerts, know the hymn, no doubt. It was the first time I had ever heard it; and I do not care to own that it brought tears to my eyes, though, it is ill to parade such kind of sentiment in print. But I think I will never, while I live, forget that little chorus, nor would any man who has ever loved a child or lost one. God bless you, O little happy singers! What a noble and useful life is his, who, in place of seeking wealth or honour, devotes his life to such a service as this.! And all through our country thank God!. In quiet humble corners, that busy citizens and men of the world never hear of, there are thousands of such men employed in such holy pursuits, with no reward beyond that which the fulfilment of duty brings them. Most of these children were Roman Catholics. At this tender age the priests do not care to separate them from their little Protestant brethren: and no wonder. He must be a child-murdering Herod who would find the heart to do so.

 

After the hymn, the children went through a little Scripture catechism, answering very correctly, and all in a breath, as the mistress put the questions. Some of them were, of course, too young to understand the words they uttered; but the answers are so simple that they cannot fail to understand them before long; and in spite of themselves.

 

The catechism being ended, another song was sung; and now the vicar (who had been humming the chorus along with his young singers, and in spite of an awful and grave countenance, could not help showing his extreme happiness) made another oration, in which he stated that the gentleman from England was perfectly satisfied; that he would have a good report of the Dundalk children to carry home with him; that the day was very fine, and the schoolmistress would probably like to take a walk; and, finally, would the young people give her a holiday? "As many," concluded he, "as will give the schoolmistress a holiday, hold up their hands!" This question was carried unanimously.

 

But I am bound to say, when the little people were told that as many wouldn't like a holiday were to hold up their hands, all the little hands went up again exactly as before: by which it may be concluded either that the infants did not understand his reverence's speech or that they were just as happy to stay at school as to go and play; and the reader may adopt whichever of the reasons he inclines to. It is probable that both are correct.

 

The little things are so fond of the school, the vicar told me as we walked away from it, that on returning home they like nothing better than to get a number of their companions who don't go to school, and to play at infant-school.

 

They may be heard singing their hymns in the narrow alleys and humble houses in which they dwell: and I was told of one dying who sang his song of "Oh that will be joyful, joyful," to his poor mother weeping at his bedside, and promising her that they should meet where no parting should be.

 

"There was a child in the school" said the vicar, "whose father, a Roman Catholic, was a carpenter by trade, a good workman, and earning a considerable weekly sum, but neglecting his wife and children and spending his earnings in drink. "We have a song against drunkenness that the infants sing; and one evening, going home, the child found her father excited with liquor and ill-treating his wife. The little thing forthwith interposed between them, told her father what she had heard at school regarding the criminality of drunkenness and quarrelling, and finished her little sermon with the hymn. The father was first amused, then touched; and the end of it was that he kissed his wife, and asked her to forgive him, hugged his child, and from that day would always have her in his bed, made her sing to him morning and night, and forsook his old haunts for the sake of his little companion."

 

He was quite sober and prosperous for eight months; but the vicar at the end of that time began to remark that the child looked ragged at school; and passing by her mother's house, saw the poor woman with a black eye. "If it was any one but your husband, Mrs. C--, who gave you that black eye," says the vicar, "tell me but if he did it, don't say a word." The woman was silent, and soon after, meeting her husband, the vicar took him to task. "You were sober for eight months. Now tell me fairly, C--," says he, "were you happier when you lived at home with your wife and child or are you more happy now?" The man owned that he was much happier formerly, and the end of the conversation was that he promised to go home once more and try the sober life again, and he went home and succeeded.

 

The vicar continued to hear good accounts of him; but passing one day by his house he saw the wife there looking very sad. "Had her husband relapsed?" - "No, he was dead," she said – "dead of the cholera; but he had been sober ever since his last conversation with the clergyman, and had done his duty to his family up to the time of his death." "I said to the woman," said the good old clergyman, in a grave low voice, "'Your husband is gone now to the place where, according to his conduct here, his eternal reward will be assigned him; and let us be thankful to think what a different position he occupies now to that which he must have held had not his little girl been the means under God of converting him.'"

 

Our next walk was to the County Hospital, the handsome edifice which ornaments the Drogheda entrance of the town, and which I had remarked on my arrival. Concerning this hospital, the governors were, when I passed through Dundalk, in a state of no small agitation; for a gentleman by the name of -, who, from being an apothecary's assistant in the place, had gone forth as a sort of amateur inspector of hospitals throughout Ireland, had thought fit to censure their extravagance in erecting the new building, stating that the old one was fully sufficient to hold fifty patients, and that, the public money might consequently have been spared. Mr. -'s plan for the better maintenance of them in general is that commissioners should be appointed to direct them, and not county gentlemen as heretofore; the discussion of which question does not need to be carried on in this humble work.

 

My guide, who is one of the governors of the new hospital, conducted me, in the first place to the old one – a small dirty house in a damp and low situation, with but three rooms to accommodate patients, and these evidently not fit to hold fifty, or even fifteen patients. The new hospital is one of the handsomest buildings of the size and kind in Ireland - an ornament to the town, as the angry commissioner stated, but not after all a building of undue cost, for the expense of its erection was but £3,000 and the sick of the county are far better accommodated in it than in the damp and unwholesome tenement regretted by the eccentric commissioner.

 

An English architect, Mr. Smith of Hertford, designed and completed the edifice; strange to say, only exceeding his estimates by the sum of three-and-sixpence, as the worthy governor of the hospital with great triumph told me. The building is certainly a wonder of cheapness, and, what is more, so complete for the purpose for which it was intended, and so handsome in appearance, that the architect's name deserves to be published by all who hear it; and if any country-newspaper editors, should notice this volume, they are requested to make the fact known. The House is provided with every convenience for men and women, with all the appurtenances of baths, water, gas, airy wards, and a garden for convalescents; and, below, a dispensary, a handsome board-room, kitchen, and matron's apartments, &c. Indeed, a noble requiring a house for a large establishment need not desire a handsomer one than this, at its moderate price of £3,000. The beauty of this building has, as is almost always the case, created emulation; and a terrace in the same taste has been raised in the neighbourhood of the hospital.

 

From the hospital we bent our steps to the Institution; of which place I give below the rules, and a copy of the course of study, and the dietary: leaving English parents to consider the fact, that their children can be educated at this place for thirteen pounds a year. Nor is there anything in the establishment savouring of the Dotheboys Hall**. I never saw, in any public school in England, sixty cleaner, smarter, more gentlemanlike boys than were here at work. The upper class had been at work on Euclid as we came in, and were set, by way of amusing the stranger, to perform a sum of compound interest of diabolical complication, which, with its algebraic and arithmetic solution, was handed up to me by three or four of the pupils; and I strove to look as wise as I possibly could. Then they went through questions of mental arithmetic with astonishing correctness and facility; and finding from the master that classics were not taught in the school, I took occasion to lament this circumstance, saying, with a knowing air, that I would like to have examined the lads in a Greek play.

 

[** "Boarders are received from the age of eight to fourteen at £12 per annum, and £1 for washing paid quarterly in advance.

"Day scholars are received from the age of ten to twelve at £2, paid quarterly in advance.

"The Incorporated Society have abundant cause for believing that the in introduction of Boarders into their Establishments has produced far more advantageous results to the public than they could, at so early a period, have anticipated; and that the election of boys to their Foundations only after a fair competition with others of a given district, has had the effect of stimulating masters and scholars to exertion and study, and promises to operate most beneficially for the advancement of religions and general knowledge.

"The districts for eligible Candidates are as follow: -

"Dundalk Institution embraces the counties of Louth and Down, because the properties which support it lie in this district.

"The Pococke Institution, Kilkenny, embraces the counties of Kilkenny and Waterford, for the same cause.

"The Ranelagh Institution, the towns of Athlone and Roscommon, and three districts in the counties of Galway and Roscommon, which the Incorporated Society hold in fee, or from which they receive impropriate tithes.

(SIgned) "Caesar Otway, Secretary."]

 

 

Classics, then, these young fellows do not get. Meat they get but twice a week. Let English parents bear this fact in mind; but that the lads are healthy and happy, anybody who sees them can have; no question; furthermore, they are well instructed in a sound practical education - history, geography, mathematics, religion. What a place to know of would this be for many a poor half-pay officer, where he may put his children in all confidence that they will be well cared for and soundly educated! Why have we not State-schools in England, where, for the prime cost - for a sum which never need exceed for a young boy's maintenance £25 a year - our children might be brought up? We are establishing national-schools for the labourer: why not give education to the sons of the poor gentry – the clergyman whose pittance is small, and would still give his son the benefit of a public education; the artist, the officer, the merchant's office-clerk, the literary man? - What a benefit might be conferred, upon all of us if honest charter-schools could be established for our children, and where it would be impossible for Squeers to make a profit! [* The Proprietary Schools of late established have gone far to protect the interests of parents and children; but the masters of these schools take boarders, and of course draw profits from them. Why make the learned man a beef-and-mutton contractor? It would be easy to arrange the economy of a school so that there should be no possibility of a want of confidence, or of peculation, to the detriment of the pupil.]

 

Our next day's journey led us, by half-past ten o'clock, to the ancient town of Louth, a little poor village now, but a great seat of learning and piety, it is said, formerly, where there stood a university and abbeys, and where Saint Patrick worked wonders. Here my kind friend the rector was called upon to marry a smart sergeant of police to a pretty lass, one of the few Protestants who attend his church; and, the ceremony over, we were invited to the house of the bride's father hard by, where the clergyman was bound to cut the cake and drink a glass of wine to the health of the new-married couple. There was evidently to be a dance and some merriment in the course of the evening; for the good mother of the bride (oh, blessed is he who has a good mother-in-law!) was busy at a huge fire in the little kitchen, and along the road we met various parties of neatly-dressed people, and several of the sergeant's comrades, who were hastening to the wedding. The mistress of the rector's darling Infant School was one of the bridesmaids: consequently the little ones had a holiday.

 

But he was not to be disappointed of his Infant-School in this manner: so, mounting the car again, with a fresh horse, we went a very pretty drive of three miles to the snug lone school-house of Glyde Farm - near a handsome park, I believe of the same name, where the proprietor is building a mansion of the Tudor order.

 

The pretty scene of Dundalk was here played over again: the children sang their little hymns, the good old clergyman joined delighted in the chorus, the holiday was given, and the little hands held up, and I looked at more clean bright faces and little rosy feet. The scene need not be repeated in print, but I can understand what pleasure a man must take in the daily witnessing of it, and in the growth of these little plants, which are sat and tended by his care. As we returned to Louth, a woman met us with a curtsey and expressed her sorrow that she had been obliged to withdraw her daughter from one of the rector's schools, which the child was vexed at leaving too. But the orders of the priest were peremptory; and who can say they were unjust? The priest, on his side, was only enforcing the rule which the parson maintains as his: - the latter will not permit his young flock to be educated except upon certain principles and by certain teachers; the former has his own scruples unfortunately also - and so that noble and brotherly scheme of National Education falls to the ground. In Louth, the national-school was standing by the side of the priest's chapel: it is so almost everywhere throughout Ireland: the Protestants have rejected, on very good motives doubtless, the chance of union which the Education Board gave them. Be it so! if the children of either sect be educated apart, so that they be, educated, the education scheme will have produced its good, and the union will come afterwards.

 

The church at Louth stands boldly upon a hill looking down on the village, and has nothing remarkable in it but neatness, except the monument of a former rector, Dr. Little, which attracts the spectator's attention from the extreme inappropriateness of the motto on the coat- of-arms of the reverend defunct. It looks rather unorthodox to read in a Christian temple, where a man's bones have the honour to lie - and where, if anywhere, humility is requisite -that there is multum in Parvo: "a great deal in Little." O Little, in life you were not much, and lo! you are less now; why should filial piety engrave that pert pun upon your monument, to cause people to laugh in a place where they ought to be grave? The defunct doctor built a very handsome rectory-house, with a set of stables that would be useful to a nobleman, but are rather too commodious for a peaceful rector who does not ride to hounds; and it was in Little's time, I believe, that the church was removed from the old abbey, where it formerly stood, to its present proud position on the hill.

 

The abbey is a fine ruin, the windows of a good style, the tracings of carvings on many of them; but a great number of stones and ornaments were removed formerly to build farm-buildings withal, and the place is now as rank and ruinous as the generality of Irish burying-places seem to be. Skulls lie in clusters amongst nettle-beds by the abbey-walls; graves are only partially covered with rude stones; a fresh coffin was lying broken in pieces within the abbey; and the surgeon of the dispensary hard by might procure subjects here almost without grave-breaking. Hard by the abbey is a building of which I beg leave to offer the following interesting sketch.

 

The legend in the country goes that the place was built for the accommodation of "Saint Murtogh," who lying down to sleep here in the open fields, not having any place to house under, found to his surprise, on waking in the morning, the above edifice, which the angels had built. The angelic architecture, it will be seen, is of rather a rude kind; and the village antiquary, who takes a pride in showing the place, says that the building was erected two thousand years ago. In the handsome grounds of the rectory is another spot visited by popular tradition - a fairy's ring: a regular mound of some thirty feet in height, flat and even on the top, and provided with a winding path for the foot-passengers to ascend. Some trees grew on the mound, one of which was removed in order to make the walk. But the country-people cried out loudly at this desecration, and vowed that the "little people" had quitted the countryside for ever in consequence.

 

While walking in the town, a woman meets the rector with a number of curtsies and compliments, and vows that "'tis your reverence is the friend of the poor, and may the Lord preserve you to us and lady;" and having poured out blessings innumerable, concludes by producing a paper for her son that's in trouble in England. The paper ran to the effect that "We, the undersigned, inhabitants of the parish of Louth, have known Daniel Horgan ever since his youth, and can speak confidently as to his integrity, piety, and good conduct." In fact, the paper stated that Daniel Horgan was an honour to his country, and consequently quite incapable of the crime of - sack-stealing I think - with which at present he was charged, and lay in prison in Durham Castle. The paper had, I should think, come down to the poor mother from Durham, with a direction ready written to despatch it back again when signed, and was evidently the work of one of those benevolent individuals in assize-towns, who, following the profession of the law, delight to extricate unhappy young men of whose innocence (from various six-and-eightpenny motives) they feel convinced. There stood the poor mother, as the rector examined the document, with a huge wafer in her hand, ready to forward it so soon as it was signed: for the truth is that "We, the undersigned," were as yet merely imaginary.

 

"You don't come to church," says the rector. "I know nothing of you or your son: why don't you go to the priest?"

 

"Oh, your reverence, my son's to be tried next Tuesday," whimpered the woman. She then said the priest was not in the way, but, as we had seen him a few minutes before, recalled the assertion, and confessed that she had been to the priest and that he would not sign; and fell to prayers, tears, and unbounded supplications to induce the rector to give his signature. But that hard-hearted divine, stating that he had not known Daniel Horgan from his youth upwards, that he could not certify as to his honesty or dishonesty, enjoined the woman to make an attempt upon the R.C. curate, to whose hand-writing he would certify if need were.

 

The upshot of the matter was that the woman returned with a certificate from the R.C. curate as to her son's good behaviour while in the village, and the rector certified that the hand-writing was that of the R.C. clergyman in question, and the woman popped her big red wafer into the letter and went her way.

 

Tuesday is passed long ere this: Mr. Horgan's guilt or innocence is long since clearly proved, and he celebrates the latter in freedom, or expiates the former at the mill. Indeed, I don't know that there was any call to introduce his adventures to the public, except perhaps it may be good to see how in this little distant Irish village the blood of life is running. Here goes a happy party to a marriage, and the parson prays a "God bless you!" upon them, and the world begins for them. Yonder lies a stall-fed rector in his tomb, flaunting over his nothingness his pompous heraldic motto: and yonder lie the fresh fragments of a nameless deal coffin, which any foot may kick over. Presently you hear the clear voices of little children praising God; and here comes a mother wringing her bands and asking for succour for her lad, who was a child but the other day. Such motus animorullt atque hac certamina tanta are going on in an hour of an October day in a little pinch of clay in the county Louth.

 

Perhaps, being in the moralizing strain, the honest surgeon at the dispensary might come in as an illustration. He inhabits a neat humble house, a storey higher than his neighbours', but with a thatched roof. He relieves a thousand patients yearly at the dispensary, he visits seven hundred in the parish, he supplies the medicines gratis; and receiving for these services the sum of about one hundred pounds yearly, some county economists and calculators are loud against the extravagance of his salary, and threaten his removal. All these individuals and their histories we presently turn our backs upon, for, after all, dinner is at five o'clock, and we have to see the new road to Dundalk, which the county has lately been making.

 

Of this undertaking, which shows some skilful engineering - some gallant cutting of rocks and hills, and filling of valleys, with a tall and handsome stone bridge thrown across the river, and connecting the high embankments on which the new road at that place is formed - I can say little, except that it is a vast convenience to the county, and a great credit to the surveyor and contractor too; for the latter, though a poor man, and losing heavily by his bargain, has yet refused to mulct his labourers of their wages; and, as cheerfully as he can, still pays them their shilling a day.

 

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Re. Elias Thackeray: However benevolent in nature the author may have found his Dundalk namesake there was a more officious and less endearing side to the Vicar when it came to upholding his rights, privileges and entitlements as a churchman in the Established Church. On the 20th of March 1830 Rev. Thackeray had a man named Patrick Duffy confined to Dundalk Gaol. His crime was that he did not pay his tithe of £2 5s to the reverend gentleman. Duffy was a debtor, “extremely old and miserably poor[1]”. He was handed over to the custody of the Gaoler and kept in close confinement in a damp, cold cell. His health immediately began to deteriorate and within three weeks he was dead. By the time Thackeray heard about the wretched state of the man it was too late. As the newspaper says: “Forfeiture of life, the punishment of the murderer, was the penalty which this son of affliction had to pay for not being able to contribute £2 5s to support the minister of another creed”. The jury at the inquest found that Duffy “had died by the visitation of God”. Thackeray appeared to learn little from the Duffy case as the following quote shows. This concerns a tithe case being pursued by Thackeray in 1838, this in the wake of the recent “Tithe Wars”:

 

 “We are given to understand, by the advocates of the ministerial tithe bill, that, if it were no otherwise useful, it would be invaluable, because of its putting an end to the collisions between the law – church clergy and tithe payers. It would appear, however, that some, at least, of their reverences have a taste for that sort of thing; for we learn that Mr. McCann, a highly respectable farmer in the County Louth, has been arrested at the suit of Rev. Elias Thackeray, and committed to the careful guardianship of Mr. Gray, the gaoler of Dundalk. With the motives of the rev. defendant we are, of course, unacquainted; but it strikes us that it would be difficult to justify such proceedings under present circumstances. In the course of a very short time Mr. Thackeray might have given a receipt in full to all of his debtors – the legislature, in its bounty, and ministers, in their utmost munificence, having ensured him the payment of the uttermost farthing he had a right to claim, and far more that, perhaps, he ever expected to receive. Mr. Thackeray may have objections to take drafts on the exchequer, in lieu of arrears of tithes; and yet, if our memory serves us right, the rector of Dundalk claimed and pocketed a fair share of the million loan, which has since been converted into a gift. Perhaps, after all, his reverence was only hard up for cash, and that “his poverty, not his will, consented” to this very ungracious proceeding. If so, we can only say that his person would go to belie the state of his pocket, for he looks the very personification of “good fat living””.[2]

Brendan Hall
 

[1] The Duffy inquest is taken from the Liverpool Mercury, 23/04/1830

[2] The Freeman’s Journal of 01 October 1838

 

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